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 fanfic universe and timeline, and is posted with her
For those who’d like to refresh their memories first:
the psi-powered children from the Institute for the Human Mind appeared
in Christine’s stories Dark Beauty, Part Two: The Institute and
The Boy with the Healing Hands, and my The Quiet Ones and
Just Visiting; Vanessa Green previously appeared in my story Special
Brittany Williams lay facedown in her bed and wished that the Institute for the Human Mind had killed her in their experiments years ago; then she wouldn’t be hurting so much right now.
A few hours ago, she hadn’t been wishing that. Only a few hours ago, she’d been telling Angus that she and all the other kids with mind-powers would always be grateful to Gabriel for risking everything to break them out of that horrible place. But then at the time, she’d been thinking that Angus actually liked her …
Angus and Gabriel and their parents had been in Manhattan for three months now; when they’d first come in from the wilds up north, Coldstone had insisted that they were there for just a brief visit, but they hadn’t shown any signs of packing to leave yet.
Coldfire could often be found down in the rookery, keeping Angela company and passing on to all the females in the castle every tip she could remember about caring for gargoyle hatchlings. Gabriel took turns on patrol duty with the rest of the clan (and Coldstone went along too sometimes, though he spent more time just sitting with Hudson and talking about old times back when the castle was in Scotland). And Gabriel and Angus often came with Amber, Dee and Tom over to the Maza house, for visits with everyone there.
Other times Ms. Elisa would bring the kids to the castle, so Mr. and Mrs. Maza could have some time to themselves; Brittany had overheard them calling such times “sanity breaks”, and she was a little insulted but had to admit that the boys got pretty rowdy sometimes. Some other folks visited the castle even more often; whenever she and the other kids visited, Brittany usually saw Gabriel talking with Sapphire Johnson and Vanessa Green, other friends to the clan.
Vanessa had been a friend to the clan for a couple of years now; she was an artist, and she’d done portraits of almost everyone in the castle, and had even made a fancy painting of Brittany as a medieval princess. It was the best birthday present Brittany had ever received, and it hung proudly on her bedroom wall. Sapphire had only been in New York for a few months, but she was Vanessa’s roommate now and lately she’d been coming over to the castle every time Vanessa did, and a few more times besides.
Sapphire was an artist too, but with sculptures instead of painting, and sometimes she was down in the rookery getting Angela interested in sculpting and showing her tips on making figures out of clay. But she spent more time in the living room with Gabriel, parking her wheelchair next to where he sat on the couch while they talked for hours about all sorts of things. Brittany hadn’t paid too much attention to their talk, because while she loved Gabriel dearly, he was more of a big brother or uncle to her and the others. But Angus was her age, and he was really cute for a gargoyle… and really strong too, and when they glided together it was wonderful…
She’d talked Angus into gliding with her a few times, but so far it had only been while Gabriel glided alongside with Sapphire; the older couple insisted that their relationship was strictly platonic, they were just friends, and they never minded having company when they went on outings. And Gilberto usually went along too, sitting on a broomstick that he kept in the air with his telekinesis and pretending that he was a wizard from the Harry Potter books. And sometimes some other adult gargoyles came along, carrying the other kids, and… it had just been real hard to get any time alone with Angus!
But a few hours ago, she’d finally managed. Mr. and Mrs. Maza had arranged another castle visit, while they went out for a fancy dinner and movie to celebrate their anniversary. When Ms. Elisa came to pick them up, Brittany had deliberately left behind the book she’d borrowed from Delilah and promised to return. And some time after they’d arrived at the castle, while all the younger kids were busy playing games, Brittany mentioned the book; she’d said to Angus that she felt bad about not returning it like she’d promised Delilah, and that she’d really appreciate it if Angus flew her back to the brownstone so she could go get the book…
If Mulan had been listening, she’d never have been able to pull it off. But Mulan had been too busy playing with Dee and Amber to pay attention to her, and Angus had agreed with a smile on his face. And she’d finally gotten him alone and all to herself for a while!
But he just hadn’t picked up on all the clues and hints she’d dropped, all the while they were gliding to her home. Boy gargoyles were just like boy humans that way; dense as rocks sometimes. So after they’d climbed in through the window beside the fire escape and picked up the book, Brittany decided it was time for drastic measures. She went into the bathroom and brushed her hair till it was perfect again, and put on some of the lipstick she’d sneaked off of Mrs. Maza’s dresser the night before. And when she came back out again and Angus asked her if she was ready to go, she’d taken a deep breath, grabbed him and kissed him.
But he hadn’t kissed her back; instead, as soon as she let go he backed off, with lipstick on his face but sheer horror in his eyes. Then he’d jumped out the window and glided away, as fast as he could. Brittany had just stood there staring after him, while the horrible truth slowly sunk in: Angus didn’t want her for a girlfriend at all.
She’d collapsed on her bed and cried for what seemed like hours. Mr. and Mrs. Maza came back from their dinner date at about the same time as the other kids came back from the castle, and they’d asked her what had happened. She’d tried to explain, and Mrs. Maza and Ms. Elisa had both sighed… and Mrs. Maza had made her a milkshake and tried to talk to her about it, but it hadn’t helped. What could possibly help now? She was ugly, and everyone was scared of her powers, and now everyone probably thought she was a slut too, for making the first move. It all made her just completely unlovable, and no milkshake could change that…
Mrs. Maza finally sent her off to bed, in the room she shared with Mulan and Neesha; the other girls had gone to sleep already. And now, after a long time of either lying stiff as a board or crying into her pillow, Brittany finally began to slip into an exhausted slumber, when she heard a tapping on the window. The tapping that usually meant a gargoyle was out on the fire escape.
Brittany went rigid again, her mind whimpering, Angus? The sudden hope it brought was almost more painful than her earlier feelings of rejection had been. Slowly, she rolled over, to see a silhouette much too large to be Angus, though still one familiar to all the children: Gabriel. Peering through the glass, once Gabriel saw she had noticed him, he gestured for her to come to the window. Slowly, half-guessing what he was there for and feeling a fresh surge of pain for it, she dragged herself to the window and quietly unlocked and opened it.
Once the window was open, Gabriel brought a finger to his lips, indicating the need for silence, before he reached in and pulled her out through the open window as easily as if she were a sack of apples. “We’ll talk on the roof,” he whispered as he leaped backwards off the fire escape, and caught a warm summer breeze wafting upwards.
They rode the updraft up to the roof, and Brittany saw an auburn-haired woman sitting in a wheelchair parked near the edge; Sapphire Johnson, tucking that green plaid blanket around her withered legs while looking at Brittany with sympathy in her eyes. Oh, great; that meant that probably everyone in the whole castle knew what she’d done! Angus had probably blabbed to everyone about it--about the stupid, stupid thing she’d done--as soon as he’d gone back.
Gabriel landed softly on the roof, right next to Sapphire’s wheelchair, then settled into a crouch and turned Brittany to sit on his lap, so she wouldn’t get the soles of her bare feet or her nightgown dirty. “I think we need to have a talk,” he said quietly. “About some basic facts of life for humans and gargoyles.”
“Gabriel, I know you mean well, but I really don’t want to talk about it,” Brittany said dully, trying to avoid meeting his eyes. “I goofed, okay? I’ll never do it again.” If she was lucky, she’d never even see Angus again, ever; never have to be faced with such humiliation and rejection again every time she saw that grey-blue face.
Gabriel was silent for a moment, then asked softly, “How, precisely, do you think you ‘goofed’?” When she only turned her face further away from him, he said softly, “Brittany… this is important. What do you think happened tonight?”
“I… I came on too strong,” she muttered finally. “I gave him the wrong impression, I guess.” Gave the gargoyle youth she adored the impression that Brittany Williams was a domineering, sex-starved slutbitch…
“Oh, there was a wrong impression involved, all right,” Gabriel said softly, “But not the way you seem to think. Brittany, Angus told us what happened, when I finally cornered him and made him talk.” Brittany cringed, fearing he was going to recount her worst moments right back at her. But she was unprepared for his next words: “You didn’t come on too strong, poppet; you just came on too soon.”
Now she finally met his eyes, her own eyes puzzled. “What do you mean, too soon?”
“Brittany, Angus may look like the equivalent of a human teenager now, with hormones running rampant, but he’s not, not yet. Gargoyles tend to mature sexually much later than human counterparts, even adjusting for the different aging rates. If he follows the same pattern that I and all my rookery brothers did, he won’t start really noticing how females are different, and wanting to do loveplay with them, for a long time yet. Why, I myself didn’t begin frolicsome matings with Angela and my other rookery sisters until I was thirty years old!”
Brittany found herself blushing hot red at the blunt term ‘mating’, even as she stammered, “Thirty years old?! That’s a long time!”
“Well, I suppose it was, but my brothers and I all made up for lost time in a hurry. Anyway, Angus is only twenty-six years old; give him another year or two, and he’ll be more ready to court you, if you’re still interested in him.”
Brittany blinked at him in surprise. “Angus is twenty-six?”
“Mm-hmm. What, don’t you remember what I told you once, back at the cottage, about aging rates? Because we hibernate in stone sleep every day, we age only at night, and so we age at roughly half the rate that humans do.”
“Twenty-six years old,” Brittany mused. Twenty-six years old, and Angus looked like he was only her age… and was still really just a kid inside. Wow… She looked at up Gabriel again as she asked curiously, “How old are you?”
Gabriel smiled wryly. “In calendar years, or growing years? In growing years, I’m about forty-three years old now. In calendar years… I figured this out once, when Angus asked me… I’m either nine hundred thirty-eight or nine hundred forty years old now.”
Nine hundred forty years old?! Brittany just gaped at him, while Sapphire spoke up for the first time, saying curiously to Gabriel, “Y’all told me about Avalon’s 24-to-1 time difference, and how years spent there add up to centuries in our world. But why the two-year range in your age?”
Gabriel shrugged as he said, “Our guardians kept track of time as best they could, considering there was no change of seasons, but they admitted once that they’d lost track of the calendar in the first few years of minding me and my siblings, when we kept them so busy they hardly had time to breathe between sunset and sunrise. So there’s a moon cycle’s worth of difference, which is really nearly two years’ worth of difference, between when Princess Katherine thinks we hatched, and when Guardian Tom thinks we did.”
Sapphire nodded in understanding, but Brittany still had trouble taking it in; she whispered aloud without realizing it, “Over nine hundred years old…”
“I prefer to think of myself as only forty-three,” Gabriel said with another wry smile. “So, poppet… feeling a little better now?”
Brittany was mildly surprised to find out that she did. Oh, she was still majorly embarrassed, but now that she knew it was just that Angus wasn’t ready for girlfriends yet, she’d lost a lot of that I’m-so-unlovable feeling that she’d had for the last few hours. “Yeah, a little better.”
“Good. Now let’s get you back to your bed before Diane notices you’re missing,” as he gathered her in his arms again and leaped off the roof, to land light as a feather on the fire escape by their window.
Mulan was sitting up in her bed when they landed there, probably having sensed Gabriel’s arrival in her sleep, and she silently slipped out of her bed and over to the window as Brittany slipped back in. “You feel better now,” she whispered to Brittany with complete assurance, then turned to Gabriel to whisper, “Thank you.”
“ ‘Twas nothing. And I’d do anything for my poppets, you know that,” he whispered back as he fondly stroked Mulan’s hair. “Now go back to sleep, both of you, and I’ll see you next Sunday night.”
* * *
After Brittany was tucked back in bed, her visitors left the roof of the brownstone and glided away, heading south. “All things considered, that went pretty well,” Sapphire commented from her perch, strapped via a homemade leather harness to Gabriel’s back while he carried her wheelchair in front.
“All things considered,” Gabriel agreed. “Though
I really should have had that talk with her some time ago, when I first
noticed she was interested in Angus.”
“I hope you’re right,” Gabriel said as he glanced over his shoulder at her. “I admit, counseling young humans isn’t one of my strengths.” He faced forward again as he finished with a sigh, “And sooner or later, she’s apt to find out that I didn’t tell the whole truth.”
“Whole truth? What did you leave out?” Sapphire asked curiously.
“Well, I and my rookery brothers didn’t begin frolicsome matings with our rookery sisters until we were thirty years of age, but that’s only because we didn’t know how it was done! Our guardians never explained sex to us; we finally learned by accidentally spying on them one night. But we males had already been pleasuring ourselves with our hands for years before then… since we were only a year or so older than Angus, in fact. And if we’d known then about how sex is done, we’d have been asking the females to join in the fun right from the start!”
“And in this human culture, sex is everywhere; nearly every other show I’ve ever seen on your televisions has featured humans kissing and fondling each other and taking their clothes off and pouncing on each other. I’m told that television shown during the daytime is different, but really, from what we gargoyles see, you humans are utterly obsessed with sex at every hour! And Angus was raised in your culture, by a human mother; he’s got to know by now how mating works. It may be that he’s just not attracted to her… and Brittany may have her heart broken anyway, if Angus starts pleasuring himself but doesn’t ask her to join in the fun. And he’s of the right age to start using his hands for pleasure, nearly the same age we were on Avalon; he may start doing it any night now. I should talk to him and make sure he understands to pleasure himself in private, instead of in the castle’s living room or--”
“TMI!” Sapphire almost shrieked. Startled, Gabriel twisted to look at her, and her face was beet-red with embarrassment.
Blushing himself, he turned back to facing the city. “Ahem… My apologies; I didn’t mean to cause any embarrassment.” Half-defensively, he added, “I still don’t understand why humans are almost as ashamed of sex as they are obsessed with it.”
Sapphire sighed. “It’s one of the many hangups of Western Civilization. But I already told you that before the Wreck, I grew up on a farm, with livestock doing their business every season; I was doing okay, until you gave me the mental image of your little brother… ‘pleasuring himself’ in the castle living room, while he’s sitting right there on the couch next to us.”
“That would be embarrassing… which is why I need to make sure he doesn’t try it,” Gabriel said wryly. After a brief pause, he said, “Again, I am sorry… but when I’m with you, I often find myself thinking out loud, saying things I don’t even talk to other gargoyles about.” He twisted to look at her again as he said with a half-sheepish smile, “It seems like I can talk to you about anything…”
She smiled back. “Thanks for the compliment.”
“It’s the simple truth,” as he faced forward again. And a few moments later he sighed, “And in truth, I’m actually a little concerned that Angus hasn’t been doing what I and my rookery brothers were doing when we were only a little older than him, with no coaching from the television or our elders.”
“Maybe he’s already doing it… in private, just like most humans do,” Sapphire suggested.
Gabriel shook his head. “I’d know about it if he had; there’s a certain scent that… well, to spare you the details, I’ll just say that I know he hasn’t. Coldfire has been asking me about it for months now, since she has no sense of smell, and every time I tell her ‘not yet’ I can tell she’s just a little more worried…”
“What, she’s worried he’s some kind of neuter?” Sapphire snorted. “It’s a lot more likely that he’s just not ready to be interested in sex just yet. As you said, he was raised in human culture, and human boys change from having a ‘girls have cooties!’ attitude to actually being interested in sex at different ages; some start pretty early, before they’re in junior high, while others wait ‘till high school. Angus might just be a slow developer; there’s nothing wrong with that. …And for that matter, he could turn out to be gay, but there’s really nothing wrong with that either. Didn’t you tell me you had a rookery brother who was gay?”
“Yes, I do; Corwin definitely preferred males to females. But I hope that’s not the case with Angus; if it turns out he prefers males, Coldfire won’t take it at all well....”
“Because she really, really wants you and Angus to give her some gargoyle grandchildren,” Sapphire finished for him.
“She’s obsessed with that idea,” Gabriel muttered. “I swear we can’t go for more than a handful of nights without her bringing that up, reminding us…”
“Reminding everybody,” Sapphire said with a roll of her eyes. “She sure as heck reminds me of it often enough. It doesn’t matter that I’ve told her any number of times that I agree with the general principle, that you guys should find gargoyle ladies for mates; let’s face it, there just aren’t enough of you folks around, and you need a serious increase in numbers. But even after I told her that, she keeps finding some way of bringing the subject up; like she’s afraid I’m gonna stick a ring on your finger any night now. It’s like she just won’t believe me when I tell her we’re strictly platonic…”
“Strictly platonic,” Gabriel echoed; still facing forward, so Sapphire wouldn’t see his wry and somewhat wistful smile.
“Strictly, utterly, completely platonic,” Sapphire said firmly; so firmly, it sounded as if she was still trying to convince someone. “Like brother and sister, really.”
“Rookery brother and sister,” Gabriel agreed. And he carefully didn’t mention the fact that gargoyles usually chose their mates from among their rookery brothers and sisters. Instead, he pointed out, “But if Angus discovers he prefers males, Coldfire’s almost certain to take it badly… and she might decide to make life difficult for him. I’ve seen how your culture treats gay humans, and I’d hate for that to happen to Angus just because he can’t breed with a female…”
“Well, there might be a way around the gay preference, when it comes time for breeding,” Sapphire mused. “Remind me to tell you about horses and breeding, and what teasers are for… but that’s only for a last resort, if it turns out Angus is gay and Coldfire gets all fundie about it.”
“Fundamentalist. Them folks that think homosexuals is a sin against God because sex is supposed to be only used for breeding… never mind that there’s already plenty of breeding going on, and what’s needed are more folks who aren’t breeding, who can help take care of the kids who’ve been orphaned or abandoned. Anyway, is that my apartment that’s got the light on?” as she pointed over his shoulder at the building they were approaching.
“Yes, it is; Vanessa must be home already.”
And when they landed on the balcony outside the apartment, Gabriel’s guess was proven correct; a young woman with café-au-lait skin, wearing a painter’s smock and with her long jet-black curls tied back with a bandanna, opened the balcony door for them. “Hey, ‘Nessa!” Sapphire said cheerfully as Gabriel unfolded and set up her wheelchair with the ease of much practice, then swung around and positioned himself so Sapphire could unbuckle her harness and slide off Gabriel’s back to drop into her seat. “How are the folks back in Baton Rouge?”
“Just fine; I brought back a double batch of my mom’s fudge for sharing with everyone,” Vanessa said with a smile.
“That mocha-caramel fudge Broadway was talking about a few weeks ago?” Gabriel grinned. “I’m surprised he hasn’t smelled it already and beaten us here!”
“While you were gone no one touched your easel, like I promised, but now that you’re back… can you show me and Gabriel what you’re working on now?” Sapphire asked as she tucked the plaid warming blanket back in place over her withered and deformed legs; legs that had been rendered useless when she’d been paralyzed in a devastating car wreck several years ago.
“Well…” Vanessa looked at Gabriel a little uncertainly. “You promise not to tell anyone at the castle about it yet?”
“I promise,” Gabriel said with his brow ridge raised in curiosity. “But why is this a secret? You’ve shown us your works-in-progress before…”
“Yeah, but this one… might be a touchy subject,” Vanessa said as she went over to her easel, and carefully drew the cover off.
Gabriel stopped in his tracks and just stared, his jaw gaping. Sapphire cocked her head as she studied the partially finished work, and said, “Okay, that’s Coldstone on the left… but who’s he looking at through the window?”
“Not a window; it’s supposed to be a mirror,” Vanessa said with a wry smile. “One of those magic mirrors, that shows people their heart’s desire, or the past…”
“Or both,” Gabriel said slowly. “And the figure on the right… that’s what Coldstone looked like back when he was all flesh and blood. Aiden once made that image with her magic, two nights after we arrived here, when Xanatos was still trying to persuade him to let the technicians do more extensive work than just repairs… but neither of you were there that night,” as he looked curiously at Vanessa. “How did you know what he once looked like?”
“I sorta put it together, from looking at what’s left of his flesh now… and from looking at you and Angus,” Vanessa said with a smile. “You both resemble him in different ways, and I’ve heard Coldfire talking about the resemblance, especially when she’s thinking about future--”
“Grandchildren,” Gabriel interrupted, looking pained.
Vanessa grinned wider at Gabriel’s discomfiture, then asked, “So, d’you think your papa would be offended by this if he saw it?”
“He might… but Coldfire wouldn’t let him say a word about it,” Gabriel said with a half-smile. “And she’d probably ask you to paint a portrait of her in the mirror as well. I think she was very tempted by Xanatos’ offer, even if she doesn’t really trust him any more than Coldstone does…”
* * *
Vanessa said she expected to finish the painting sometime in the next week, but she’d come by the castle tomorrow night with Sapphire—and the homemade fudge she’d brought back from Baton Rouge. Gabriel left Sapphire and Vanessa’s apartment shortly afterwards, but instead of heading straight back to the castle, he glided over to Cloisters and perched on the roof there. The quiet beauty of the building and grounds there reminded him strongly of Avalon, before the Fey had returned to it; he didn’t know why the rest of the clan always avoided this place like the Plague. He thought it had something to do with Demona, but no one had ever said exactly why and he frankly had never asked for details; as much as he liked having a large clan around him again, there were times when he needed to be by himself for a while.
After a while of just perching there and letting his mind drift, thinking about everything and nothing in particular, Gabriel shook himself and set off again for the castle. He thought he might spend some time down in the gymnasium, sparring with Goliath if the clan leader was available. While he had improved a lot in the last few years, learning to fight again practically from scratch after his hand was crippled, he still wasn’t fully satisfied with his abilities, and Goliath was always happy to instruct warriors in advanced combat techniques.
The faint sound of a police siren came from a few blocks away, and he changed course to the South to investigate; the clan had rules about always going on patrol in pairs, but no gargoyle worth his wings would turn away from trouble just because he wasn’t officially on patrol. Besides, he’d grabbed a communicator before leaving with Sapphire to visit Brittany, so he could call for backup if needed.
He found a patrol car chasing a drunken driver, who was pulling over even as he soared overhead. He perched on a rooftop nearby just long enough be sure that his help wouldn’t be needed after all, then left for the castle again. After a couple blocks, though, he heard the sound of several voices raised in fear and anger, and looked down to see a small group of men dressed in bright blue bulky jackets, wielding knives and a couple short lengths of chain, chasing a single frightened youth down an alley. The scene couldn’t have spelled out GANG TROUBLE any clearer if they’d spray-painted it on the alley walls.
The seemingly weaponless youth dodged into a small space between two dumpsters and turned around, evidently determined to make his stand there since he couldn’t outrun the gang forever. Gabriel mentally saluted the lad’s hopeless bravery even as he came down with a thump right on the shoulders of the lead gang member, driving him hard down to the pavement. “Let’s even the odds here!” he shouted to give the lad courage, as he lashed out with his tail to take another one out at the knees. He spun around to face the rest of the gang with fangs bared, talons out and eyes glowing. He counted five gang members left, who skidded to a halt just out of arm’s reach as he roared, “Who’s next?!”
His back was on fire, black flames eating him alive from the inside, hollowing out his bones while ripping through every nerve. He sank to his hands and knees, his head bowed till his horns scraped the pavement. He glimpsed upside-down behind him, through vision that blackened at the edges from agony, that the ‘weaponless’ youth was now wielding a compact sledgehammer, that faintly glowed with a crackling blue light. A Quarryhammer! And he was grinning nastily as he whipped a dark blue hood out of his pocket and put it on.
Sudden fear gave him enough strength to raise his head, to see the other gang members donning similar blue hoods and some of them discarding their knives for the Quarryhammers tucked in their jackets. Curse him for an idiot, he’d fallen right into a Quarryman trap! And a soon-to-be-dead idiot, if he didn’t get moving right now!
He rolled to his side, just as the youthful Quarryman took another swing at his unprotected back, and he felt as much as heard the crackle of electricity as the Quarryhammer missed him by millimeters. He kept rolling, till he was on hands and knees again, and set off on a staggering four-limbed run down the alley. Evidently these Quarrymen didn’t know that a gargoyle was even faster on four limbs than he was on two, because it took them by surprise, and the one Quarryman near enough to swing at him swung just slightly too high and missed by fractions.
He needed height, and he needed it fast, he thought as he dodged around them and ran for the farther alley wall. The certain knowledge that they were going to kill him if he didn’t evade them provoked enough adrenaline that he ran right up the wall, his talons digging into the bricks as he clawed with all four limbs as fast as he could. He was about twenty feet from the top when he heard the gunshot, and felt the Dragon’s own talon rip through his wing and slam into his side. He jerked and nearly lost his grip, but knowing that Death awaited him below made him hang on and keep climbing, leaving their shouts and other shots behind as he flopped over onto the rooftop.
* * *
“Shit!” Mick Darden the Quarryman cursed as the gargoyle reached the top of the wall and tumbled over onto the roof, out of sight. They’d spent over two months waiting and preparing for this night; first getting reacquainted with their weapons and transportation, then practicing the routine for their trap, then waiting for a chance to get a gargoyle flying alone instead of as part of a patrol team. Ten weeks of effort, and now that bastard was getting away from them! But at least he was wounded now; Mick knew his shot had hit, and not even a goddamn gargoyle could shrug off a slug from a .45. “You two!” as he pointed at the fastest runners on his team. “Go back to the other alley and get your goddamn hovercycles now!”
* * *
On the rooftop, gasping for precious air, Gabriel fumbled for the communicator around his neck. He needed backup, and the clan needed to know that the Quarrymen were on the rise again. What the--?! It wasn’t there! Then he remembered feeling the thing swing forward and brush against his chin spurs when he’d gone to his hands and knees. The leather strap must have snapped, or it must have slipped completely off when he’d hung his head down; why had it picked now to come off so cursed easily, instead of catching on his horns and ears as usual?!
From below he heard the leader of the Quarryman pack shouting for his men to get to their hovercycles, that their prey was wounded and it was time to finish him off. Gabriel knew he was right about one part, as he spared a quick glance at his left wing. The bullet had torn a jagged rent in the membrane between the first and second vanes on its way into his torso; a tear that agonizingly widened even as he spread the wing to examine it. There was no way he’d be able to fly all the way back to the castle, but he couldn’t stay on this roof and be a sitting duck for the Quarrymen once they were on their hovercycles.
He got to his feet, suppressing a groan and instinctively bracing his hand over the agony in his side, where he knew the bullet was still lodged. Staggering at first, he forced himself into a run across the rooftop. At the last second, he spread his wings to catch the air, to give him enough lift to assist his leap to the next roof. He was unable to completely suppress the bellow of agony as his wing membrane split even wider and the bloody hole in his side tore open farther, but he made it to the next rooftop. He teetered on the high edge of the roof for an instant, then fell forward, landing heavily on his hands and knees again.
This turned out to be a good thing, as it dropped him just out of sight of the first hovercycle he could hear rising into the air from a few alleys away. He flattened himself into the shadow of the roof’s low wall as it passed perilously close by, and by some miracle it hid him enough for now. But he knew it wouldn’t last; the Quarrymen knew he was wounded, and they would likely go over this area again. As much as he wanted to just lie there and wait for either rescue or oblivion to claim him, he had to move to survive.
Groaning, he got to his feet again, and looked across the rooftops. The Aerie building and its crowning castle rose up in the distance, less five minutes’ flight away if he’d been hale and uninjured, but right now it might as well be on the moon. If only his communicator hadn’t been lost! Right now, he’d kiss everyone in the castle, even Brooklyn, if only someone would glide by and see him here.
And ‘if onlies’ were as useful as teats on a boar, as Guardian Tom used to say when the hatchlings whined. No one there had any idea anything was wrong, so no one was looking for him or apt to find him, and so he had to find a safe place to lair, to wait out the night and embrace the healing sleep of stone at dawn. But where? This rooftop was too exposed; he knew that any minute a Quarryman could fly by on a hovercycle and have him in his sights, helpless as a fish in a barrel.
He turned to the north. If he remembered right, he was only ten city blocks from Sapphire and Vanessa’s apartment building. If he could make it there, he knew they would shelter him, hide him from his pursuers. They could even call the clan and have someone pick him up and take him home! Only ten blocks away, surely he manage that far, going from rooftop to rooftop… He had to manage that far. He staggered across the roof, and teetered at the edge, before gathering himself and leaping across the gap to the next rooftop. Only ten blocks, he could make it…
From roof to roof he shambled, stopping to crouch and hide behind whatever cover he could find whenever he heard the whine of a hovercycle. Twice he saw Quarrymen buzzing across nearby roofs, but each time they somehow missed seeing him, thank whatever gods were watching. Whenever he thought the coast was clear he continued on, leaping across gaps and climbing up walls when necessary. Bridging the gaps over the city streets was hardest; his wing bled anew each time he forced it into position for the short glide.
He made it across six blocks before finally acknowledging he’d reached his limit, when he fell short on a leap and nearly ended up as a serving of gargoyle “street pizza,” barely managing to snag a fire escape on the way down. Metal screamed with the unexpected stress of over three hundred pounds of gargoyle swinging from it even as his side screamed agonizingly from the sudden strain, and he heard angry shouts from below, but he ignored them as, in sheer desperation, he broke the glass in the window closest to him and clambered inside.
Luck was definitely not with him tonight; the apartment was occupied, by a man who emerged from another room armed with a gun. “Shelter, please, I beg you,” Gabriel wheezed as he crouched on hands and knees, but he doubted the man heard him over his own shouted curses and threats. The first shot fired went over his head, but the next one grazed his previously uninjured wing, scraping a long bloody furrow across the back. Fresh pain gave him enough impetus to turn and go back out the window, scrambling up the fire escape as another shot chased him on his way.
He clawed his way up to the roof, sobbing with pain and exhaustion but knowing he couldn’t collapse yet; those shots would bring any Quarrymen within hearing distance down on him like flies on dung. He crawled over to an air conditioning unit and behind it, and prayed that the Quarrymen wouldn’t notice, in the dark, the blood trail he’d surely left behind him.
This was it, he could go no farther. The air conditioning unit inside its housing was howling as it operated, bringing semi-cool air to the apartment dwellers below, but at first he could hardly hear it over the thundering of his own overstressed heart and wheezing of air into and out of his tortured lungs. Finally, he eyed the small door of the housing. The maintenance door had a lock on it, but even in his weakened state he was able to snap it off.
Slowly and painfully he crawled inside, barely fitting into the tiny space left around the main cooling unit, and pulled the door shut behind him by catching its edge with a tail spike. He curled into as tight a ball as he could manage, and waited for the pain to drag him into oblivion. His last conscious thought was wondering if he would ever see another sunset.
* * *
Back when she’d been a hatchling and entirely flesh and blood, she’d had the habit of nibbling on the smallest talon of her left hand when she was bothered by something. Now that she was considered a clan elder, the gargoyle called Coldfire refrained from such infantile habits. Besides, the metallic screen over her voicebox wouldn’t let her put a talon in for nibbling.
That didn’t prevent her from being bothered, though. And this had proven to be a very bothersome night.
As much as she wanted to see her Angus showing interest in females, she did not want him falling in love with a human female! Not when successful crossbreedings between the species were so rare and always required the aid of magic, a force that Coldfire distrusted almost as much as Coldstone distrusted human-made technology. She just knew that somewhere out in the world were female gargoyles who would make her sons very happy; would become mates to them and lay eggs to carry on the bloodline that Coldfire and her mate could no longer contribute to. And she did not want her sons becoming attached to human females in the meantime.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the universe had absolutely no interest in what she wanted for her children.
She had already noted, with some alarm, the closeness shared between Gabriel and the human named Sapphire Johnson; for having known each other for scarcely three months, they were almost as easy and familiar with each other as rookery kin. She knew she should be happy for Gabriel, who’d had his heart broken and battered so often in his life, that he had found a companionable female again; just she knew she should probably be reassured that Sapphire had insisted repeatedly that she and Gabriel were strictly platonic.
But only two weeks after meeting her, Gabriel had crafted that leather harness that let Sapphire ride on his back, while he carried her wheelchair in his stronger hand. He’d spent two full nights with a pile of leather straps and buckles that Xanatos had brought in, cutting and sewing and muttering as he repeatedly stuck himself with the needle, and all because he refused to even consider the risk of his crippled hand losing its grip on her while carrying her in the normal fashion. And he would not listen to suggestions that he simply let others carry Sapphire instead, on the occasions that she needed the aid of wings in order to get somewhere.
Just as Brittany had not listened last week, when Coldfire had obliquely suggested that she would be better off pursuing a boy of her own species, rather than Angus. She hadn’t dared say exactly what was on her mind--not with Angus, Goliath and Goliath’s mate Elisa in the room at the time--but she’d done her best to get Brittany interested in the pop culture stars on the television, like that singer Joey Mack, rather than Angus. Her praise of the human singer had garnered her some peculiar looks from Elisa and Goliath, but Brittany had been oblivious to everything she’d said, instead focusing on Angus with that particular dreamy, somehow predatory look on her face...
Tonight, Brittany had evidently decided to stop merely stalking her prey and pounce on him. The sight of Angus’ face when he’d come gliding back to the castle with lipstick on his features would have made Coldfire’s heart skip a beat, if she’d still had one. But Gabriel had gotten Angus to talk to him, and determined that Brittany’s seduction attempt had failed before it was barely out of the shell.
Coldfire had been greatly relieved… but bothered again moments later, when Sapphire had drawn Gabriel aside and insisted that they had to go see Brittany and tell her about the “gargoyle facts of life”, to reassure her of the greatest reason why Angus wasn’t interested in her. Coldfire knew Gabriel was very fond of Brittany, as he was of all the psychic children he’d rescued and taken care of for nearly a year before they came to Manhattan, and he would want to comfort her if he could… but Coldfire herself was of two minds about telling the child-woman anything. Her own memories of young love and heartache made her sympathize with Brittany; it surely hurt most painfully to be just rejected out of hand… But at the same time, she did not want Brittany to become encouraged to stalk Angus again later!
Gabriel had assured his mother before he and Sapphire had left, that he would be sure to emphasize the span of years it might take before Angus would become interested in mating. Coldfire privately hoped he exaggerated that span of years in his talk with Brittany… even as she privately worried that, once he did mature enough, Angus found he wasn’t interested in gargoyle females after all.
And now, added to all those nebulous worries was a more immediate one. Gabriel had told her that after talking with Brittany, he’d take Sapphire to her home. Both errands shouldn’t have taken more than an hour… but now it was only an hour before dawn, six hours after he’d left, and Gabriel had not returned. It could be that he and Sapphire had spent all the intervening hours merely talking in the living room of her home, just as they talked so often in the castle… but a mean little voice in the back of her mind whispered another possibility, that those two had decided to take their relationship beyond platonic.
Well, she was reasonably sure that Gabriel had taken a communicator with him when he’d left with Sapphire; Goliath had standing orders in place about traveling with a communicator when out of sight of the castle. She would simply invent some pretext to call him up… yes, that would do it; since some of the bakeries were already open and producing goods in the cool of the morning, she’d ask him to pick up some freshly-baked bagels on the way home. Elisa was very fond of bagels, so it would be as a favor to the Manhattan Clan leader’s mate…
* * *
The ringing of the telephone woke Vanessa up, and she yawned and blearily rubbed her eyes as she staggered out to the phone in the living room. She glanced at a clock as she went past; only 4:35 a.m. On a Thursday, yet! Which meant that either somebody was dead—bad news never waited until morning—or that the gargoyles wanted to talk to one of them really bad, she figured as she grabbed the receiver on the second try and held it to her ear. “(yawn) H’lo?”
“Hello, Vanessa?” Coldfire’s voice came through the receiver. “I apologize if I woke you, but… is Gabriel with you now?”
“Haven’t seen him since about midnight.,” Vanessa yawned, turning to face Sapphire’s door as she heard the faint but already familiar sound of her wheelchair rolling on the carpet. “Why, whassup?”
“When Gabriel left here with Sapphire, he said he’d be back soon,” Coldfire said. “But dawn is less than an hour away, and he has not returned. And a communicator is missing, like he took it with him when he went out, but he isn’t answering any calls.”
Vanessa forced herself more awake. “And you’re thinking something nasty may have happened?”
“We are becoming concerned, yes…”
By that time, Sapphire had slid her door open and rolled out, a silent question in her eyes. Vanessa covered the mouthpiece long enough to tell her, “It’s Coldfire. Gabriel’s gone missing, and she’s worried.”
Sapphire’s gaze sharpened even before she’d finished rubbing the last of the sleep out of her eyes. Just then, on the other end of the line, Elisa took over the phone from Coldfire; Vanessa overheard the detective’s muffled words as she mildly chastised the robotic gargoyle for waking up their friends so early in the morning. Sapphire gestured wordlessly at the speakerphone button, and Vanessa put the phone on speaker just as Elisa spoke to them, saying, “We don’t want you to worry yet; it may be that he simply wanted more time to himself tonight and turned his communicator off, and figured that as long as he was home by dawn no one would mind. But Goliath is already sending out search parties, just to be on the safe side; I’m sure we’ll find him.”
Sapphire said urgently, “Gabriel likes to visit Cloisters sometimes, when he’s by himself; he told me it reminds him of his old home on Avalon. He might have gone there from here…”
They heard Elisa give a muttered curse, and hiss the word “Demona” before covering the receiver on her end to shout something at the gargoyles in the castle. Sapphire raised an eyebrow as she asked Vanessa, “Ain’t Demona been banished to Hell now?”
“That’s what they told me, too… but Brooklyn’s said more than once that if anyone could beat up the Devil himself and break out of Hell, it’d be her,” Vanessa said worriedly.
Elisa came back on the line just long enough to thank Sapphire for the information, and to promise that someone at the castle would call back to let them know when Gabriel had been found, which he probably would be very shortly. “Well, call back whether you find him or not, all right?” Sapphire spoke up. After Elisa agreed to do so and hung up, Sapphire snorted, “We’re already awake to hear that he’s missing, but she tells us not to worry. Yeah, that makes sense!” She shook her head and rolled into the kitchen. “I’m starting the coffeepot. No point in going back to sleep now…”
* * *
Xanatos grumbled about the bad timing of the search, as his battle armor had been stripped down the night before for maintenance after a cybernetic relay in his helmet had stopped working. Fortunately, he still had the old handheld remote control for controlling the Steel Clan robots; it took only ten minutes to show Coldstone how to operate it, and reconfigure the voice recognition software to recognize Coldstone as the robots’ commander.
While Xanatos and Coldstone were occupied, Goliath organized the search parties. Angus stayed behind with Claw and Angela to watch over the children and the eggs, but Broadway and Elektra went out to search near where the psychic children lived, Coldfire and Delilah went to search the area near Vanessa and Sapphire’s apartment… and Talon, Brooklyn and Goliath grimly went together to search the Cloisters.
Talon didn’t know the story of what had happened at Cloisters between Demona, Brooklyn and Goliath a full decade ago, but he didn’t need to know; just saying that Demona had once used the place as part of a trap was enough to raise a small static charge on his fur, and insist to Goliath that they take along someone able to fight at a distance. Goliath had grimly agreed.
Coldstone felt like grumbling at how everyone just assumed that he’d be willing and able to command the Steel Clan. He’d never chosen to have more than half of his body turned into a machine, and being a cyborg certainly didn’t give him an affinity for other machines! But the controls and command sequences weren’t that difficult to memorize, and he knew better than to turn down any extra help in finding Gabriel, particularly with dawn so close now. The fully flesh-and-blood gargoyles had a very limited amount of time to search in before they would need to return to the castle and take their perches for stone sleep.
* * *
“Gabriel? Hey, Gabriel!” Broadway shouted again as he glided alongside Elektra, looking all around them for some sign of their missing friend. He had to admit, he was getting pretty worried; it wasn’t like Gabriel to do something like this. Yeah, sometimes he went off by himself; there were times when a guy wanted to be alone for a while, particularly when (and Broadway tried not to blush at the thought) he wanted to release some tension by jerking off. But it was getting too close to dawn for comfort, and—
Elektra gasped, a sharp intake of breath, then veered sharply to throw herself almost in front of her mate; he’d been getting ready to bellow Gabriel’s name again, but he ended up swallowing back a gasp as he banked hard to avoid collision, and as she hissed to him, “Hush, beloved!”
“What did you see?” he hissed back as he regained stability in the air.
She wordlessly pointed off to the left, and when Broadway looked in that direction, he saw a hovercycle about eight blocks away… with two riders, both wearing dark blue clothing.
Broadway didn’t cuss often, but sometimes a guy just had to say “Oh, shit…”
* * *
Sapphire and Vanessa were sipping coffee and trying to act relaxed, but both of them were eyeing the phone, and when it rang again Vanessa jumped on it faster than a New York cabbie on the prospect of a big tipper. “Hello?!”
It was Elisa, and her voice was grim. “We’ve got big problems. We still haven’t found Gabriel, and--”
“Hang on, I’m putting this on the speaker again,” Vanessa interrupted, and pressed the speaker button. “Okay, we’re both listening.”
“We still haven’t found Gabriel, but Broadway and Elektra called in with a report of spotting a hovercycle with Quarrymen aboard! If the Quarrymen are rising again, Gabriel may have encountered them already, in which case he’s in serious trouble, and we’ve got to find him immediately.” She didn’t add, but everyone knew she was thinking, Assuming he’s still alive. “We’re putting together the auxiliary search teams now. Talon’s out looking already, but Claw is going out to team up with Coldfire, Fox and I are going in one copter, Xanatos and Owen are taking another, and I just called Macbeth to help out on his hovercycle, and team up with Talon; he said he can be airborne in five minutes, and here in Manhattan in less than twenty. And frankly, we wouldn’t turn down anyone willing to search at ground level as well.”
Five minutes later, Sapphire was on the street and riding the hydraulic lift up into her handicap-modified van, her expression grim. When it stopped and she rolled in, she shouted over her shoulder, “Come on, Vanessa! What are you getting anyway, a map or something?”
“Not exactly,” Vanessa threw back over her shoulder as she finally managed to untie the knot she’d tied nearly five years ago, and jerked the cord away from the rear-view mirror of her Ford Festiva. Hanging from the cord was a small flannel bag, containing the gris-gris that her Great-Grandmother Marcella had made for her just before she’d died. The magical charm that, if her great-grandmother was to be believed, let her find a good parking spot anywhere in Manhattan…
Vanessa had never more than half-believed in the powers of Voodoo, despite her ancestress’ teachings and that cockeyed ‘magic sense’ she had. But now that they had to find one lone gargoyle in the middle of this city, before the Quarrymen found him first… Now was a time for grasping at straws if there ever was one. “Great-Grandmother,” Vanessa whispered as she momentarily closed her eyes, “I hope you keyed this thing to me, and not to the Festiva. Papa Legba, Loco Attison, I need your help this morning…” Seconds later they were peeling out, with Vanessa keeping one hand on the dashboard of Sapphire’s van and the other on the gris-gris.
* * *
He hadn’t taken his service revolver out of its gun safe for years, but some premonition had told Peter Maza to take it out, clean it and load it after they’d received that first call from Coldfire, looking for Gabriel. He’d been ready to roll within seconds of Elisa’s phone call about the Quarrymen, and the only delay had been over a low-voiced argument between him and Brittany about her coming along.
The boys had apparently slept through both phone conversations, but Mulan’s power had awakened her when the tension level in the house had risen, and she’d woken the other two girls; they’d been in the kitchen with Diane drinking apple juice when the second call came in. And Brittany put forth a powerful argument for her accompanying Peter on the search for Gabriel. If they did encounter trouble and they needed to defend Gabriel from Quarrymen, bullets from Peter’s gun might be traced back to him, and bring on the attention he and Diane had been trying to avoid for the last three years of raising psi-powered children. But Brittany’s power left no trace afterwards, except for a blank space in the memory of whomever she took over.
Peter finally agreed, and together he and Brittany ran out to the car to begin searching. Diane closed the door after them with a sigh and a whispered prayer that Gabriel would be found soon. And as she walked back to the kitchen, she heard a muffled scraping sound… coming from the direction of the boys’ room.
Sudden cold suspicion seized her heart, and she hurried over to yank open the door to the boys’ room. They’d deliberately never gotten around to oiling that particular window frame, figuring that the noise of it opening would alert them to—
Too late! The boys’ beds were empty, their closets open and rifled through, the window was open, and Gilberto’s new 12-speed bicycle was missing from where it had been stored under his bed.
* * *
“Time to turn back, honey, or we’ll be stuck out here ourselves,” Broadway said tersely to Elektra. But as they banked in flight together and turned towards the castle, Broadway spotted something off to the right; something flying that wasn’t a hovercycle. A… regular bicycle, flying through the air with two passengers?
He firmly put thoughts of a remake of E.T. out of his head, and hurried over to where the bike and two boys were flying. The bigger one, sitting on the bike’s saddle, was wearing a Batman cape and cowl, and the littler one, perched with his butt on the handlebars, was wearing a Spider-Man mask. But that didn’t stop Broadway from identifying them: “Gilberto, Blaze, what are you doing up here?!”
“We’re going to help find Gabriel!” Gilberto told him, with a very Batman-like grim look from under the cowl of his old Halloween costume.
“Mrs. Maza said you needed all the help you could get, and it was okay for us to help so long as we’re disguised—and we are!” Blaze piped up from his perch on the handlebars, pointing at his Spider-Man mask.
Broadway sincerely doubted that Mrs. Maza had really said that, but he had no time to find out. He thumbed his communicator and said tersely, “I’m handing my comm over to Gilberto and Blaze—yes, they’re up in the air searching too, and there’s no time left to argue,” as he took the cord off his neck and handed the communicator over to Gilberto. Then he banked away and headed for the castle, following Elektra’s silhouette against the sky that was turning lighter by the minute.
As they watched the gargoyles glide off Gilberto muttered
under his breath, “Great; now we’re going to be grounded twice as long,
for lying.” Then he turned his concentration back to keeping the
bicycle and its passengers in the air, while he and Blaze searched for
Vanessa and Sapphire were cruising down 42nd Street when they heard a heavy thump on the roof of the van, and moments later Brooklyn’s face appeared upside-down in the open passenger window. “Here’s a comm unit,” he said tersely as he thrust it into Vanessa’s hands. “And Gabriel’s definitely in trouble; Delilah found his comm smashed to bits in an alley about four blocks from here.”
“Where?” Sapphire demanded, her eyes still on the road.
He gave the location, saying, “Xanatos and Owen are going over that area now, and Fox and Elisa are searching from that point on a line to the castle. Dawn’s less than fifteen minutes away, and I’ve got to get to a safe perch. Best of luck to us all!” as Brooklyn caught the air moving past the van in his wings, and used the lift to soar off towards the castle.
All across the city, the gargoyles of the clan were also converging on the castle. Brooklyn made it with maybe five minutes to spare, and waited anxiously with other recent arrivals for the last few to fly in. “Come on, come on…” he muttered under his breath as the silhouettes of gargoyles raced across the lightening sky.
Delilah was the last one to land on the roof, backwinging to a landing right in front of her anxious mate Samson. They had barely enough time for a hug before Samson found himself holding a stone statue in his powerful arms. He set her down ever-so-carefully, making sure she was balanced on her feet and tail, then looked worriedly out over the city. If Gabriel was still alive, he was also a statue now, unable to defend himself from anything or anyone…
* * *
Gripping the communicator that Delilah had hurriedly passed to him before heading back to the castle, Peter growled into the transmitter, “Gilberto, Blaze, you boys better get your butts back home!” But only static answered him, and he finally set it aside with a grimace of exasperation. Most of the time they were good boys who listened to their elders, but when they were determined to do something, there wasn’t much he and Diane could do to stop them. Particularly when they could claim that they’d “accidentally” turned their comm unit off at the critical moment or simply got behind a structure that interfered with radio signals, and never heard the order to turn back.
From the passenger seat, Brittany was sporting an unhappy frown as she tentatively offered, “I could keep an eye out for them, and if I see them I--”
“Will do absolutely nothing,” Peter interrupted tersely. “Gilberto needs to concentrate to levitate himself, and levitating Blaze as well will take even more concentration. If you try to take him over in flight, they’ll fall out of the sky like stones, and he and Blaze could be street pizza before you could turn his telekinesis back on. We’ll just have to let them search for as long as they can stay aloft, while we search from down here,” as he peered intently down the dark but empty alley they were passing.
* * *
Back in the handicap-equipped van, Vanessa hung onto her seat as Sapphire made an unexpected hard right turn. “Hey! What, did you see something?”
“No, but I just realized something,” Sapphire said as she headed down an alley. “Fox and Elisa are searching between that alley and the castle, assuming that an injured gargoyle would try to head back home. That’s a good assumption, but it’s also assuming he could fly at all. If he couldn’t, he’d be heading for a sanctuary that he could walk and climb to, homes of known friends to the clan, and Gabriel knows where we live, at least. I’m going to start searching the alleys between that site and our place. Get on the horn and tell folks that someone should start searching between there and the Maza family’s home.”
In short order they were cruising slowly around and through the blocks between the alley where the comm unit had been found and their apartment, searching the building walls and alleys for signs of recent gargoyle activity. Coldfire and Claw occasionally passed over them, skimming low over the rooftops in their own search pattern.
Xanatos reported that he had happened upon a hovercycle being ridden by a pair of Quarrymen, and had forced it out of the sky and onto a rooftop with the ‘prop-wash’ from the helicopter’s blades. “I’m going to land now, and have a little ‘chat’ with these two,” he said. “Let you know what we find out.”
Peering down another alley, Sapphire muttered under her breath, “Gabriel, where are you?” then a little louder, “ ‘Nessa, Do you really have to keep beating on my dashboard? I’m kind of tense right now, and that ain’t helping…”
In the passenger seat, Vanessa paused momentarily in her rhythmic drumming on the dashboard with one hand, startled; until Sapphire had spoken up, she hadn’t even realized she was doing it. Then she firmed her lips into a thin grim line and started again, even more firmly than before. “Got to. It’ll take too long to explain, but I got to do this right now.” She knew now, she had to keep drumming the rhythm to summon Papa Legba, keeper of the gates and always first to be summoned when communing with the loa…
Sapphire at first glared at her in irritation, then blinked as a thought occurred to her. “Does this have something to do with that ‘magic sense’ of yours?”
“Keep it up.” And with that, they resumed peering into alleys and up at rooftops.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Xanatos’ voice was heard over the communicators again. “I got one of them to talk,” though he didn’t say how. (Riding beside Fox, Elisa frowned but decided that she didn’t really want to know.) “And we were right, they got Gabriel in an ambush last night. The good news is, he escaped them. The bad news is, they’re hunting for him just as we are. Worse, this bozo said there are at least three other Quarryman teams out searching!”
* * *
Halfway across town, “No shit!” Talon shouted into his comm, as he dodged another shotgun blast from a hovercycle’s riders. “We just got ambushed by one right now! They already shot down Macbeth; we could use some backup!” as he glanced worriedly down to the pavement far below, where Macbeth was lying crumpled amid the wreckage of his own hovercycle.
Macbeth had been too far away for Talon to catch him when the ambush had struck, the first unlucky blast wrecking his hovercycle’s blades and knocking him out of the sky; now he lay there seemingly dead, which if he were anybody else, he undoubtedly would be. Elisa had assured her brother before that Macbeth was immortal, that only Demona could kill him, but Talon didn’t really want to think about what anybody who could survive that fall must be feeling now… And then he didn’t have time to think about that anymore, as another blast from the Quarrymen came within inches of ripping his right wing to shreds.
* * *
“On our way!” Elisa shouted into her comm, as Fox whipped the copter around and headed for the battle zone. Coldfire also radioed that she was coming, and increased power to her jets as she streaked off to the east, with Claw gliding after her as fast as he could.
In the van, Sapphire and Vanessa heard the talk on the communicators and stared at each other in dismay and fear. “This is really bad!” Sapphire had to say, and Vanessa heartily concurred. “How can these people be doing this?! I mean, I know this is New York, but they’re turning it into an honest-to-God war zone!”
“Quarrymen ain’t renowned for their wisdom,” Vanessa said dryly. “And most active hate groups are largely made up of people who don’t really give a damn about the welfare of John Q. Public, even if they reserve their hatred for a particular race or creed.” As a half-Black, half-White woman, she’d had plenty of experience with both covert bigots and overt racists, enough to consider herself almost a connoisseur of the varying degrees of bigotry.
“There are times when I think I should just go back to Nevada and let the Jabberwock get me,” Sapphire grumbled as she turned another corner. “Quarrymen… Dammit, Gabriel, where are you?!”
Even as they searched, Vanessa kept drumming on the dashboard, still reciting in her mind as she craned her neck out the windows to stare at alleys and rooftops and fire escapes, Papa Legba, show us the way! Loco Attison, give me your wisdom! Papa Legba, give us a sign! Loco Attison, make us cleverer than those Quarry-bastards! Please, anyone who’s listening, lead us to our friend!
Suddenly she spoke, her voice ringing oddly in the van’s interior. “Stop here!”
Sapphire immediately pulled over into a parking spot nearby, then looked hopefully over at Vanessa. “What did you see?”
Vanessa gave a small start, and looked back at her confusedly. “Huh?”
“C’mon, you said for us to stop! What did you see?!”
“I…” for just a split-second, Vanessa looked absolutely shocked, then almost visibly forced that shock aside as she shoved her door open. “He’s gotta be right around here somewhere!” She scrambled out on the sidewalk, and did a series of 360-degree turns as she set her eyes at a different height for each turn. At the third turn, she grinned and pointed triumphantly upwards. “That building! That fire escape’s been busted real recently, if no one’s hauled in the clothesline dangling from it yet!”
Sapphire was already activating her chair lift, to roll out of the van. “D’you think that rooftop… But how are we going to get up there? Do you think that’s still climbable? And if I drove the van right under it, do you think you could--wait!” as she looked over to one side, to the door that had just opened at the front of the building. She spun around and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Hold the door!” at the man who was coming out.
Obviously on his way to work, the man frowned at the strange woman in the wheelchair wheeling herself so determinedly towards him, even though there were five steps obstructing the way for her. Then he frowned even more at the second woman who came flying up from behind, saying, “I got it!” She dashed up the steps and smiled widely at the man as she took the door from him. “Sugar, you look like such a real stud, but are you a real gentleman too? C’mon, honeychile, show me your muscles and how well you can get my friend up those steps…”
One should not underestimate the power of a hopeful smile from a pretty woman… especially one who’s just been possessed by a Voodoo loa, or filled by some other power beyond comprehension, even if only long enough to get a van to stop. The man found himself grunting as he dragged Sapphire and her chair backwards up the steps towards the door Vanessa was holding open for him. And only after they had thanked him profusely and sent him on his way, did it occur to him to wonder what the heck those women were doing at his apartment building in the first place. By that time, they were already inside the elevator and heading for the roof.
* * *
Back at the scene of the rooftop battle, Talon had ducked behind a chimney and was using it as cover while he fired electrical blasts at the hovercycle’s riders, firing enough power in each burst to thoroughly stun the average human. A scream of pain told him that he’d gotten one of them, and the Quarryman on the back who’d been wielding a shotgun jerked wildly and fell off the cycle, onto the roof below. But the rider pulled an automatic out of his shirt and began firing back, and Talon pulled back just in time to avoid getting his head shot out from between his ears.
“Murdering bastards!” he hissed. It was the Quarrymen attacking his old home who had been the last straw, had driven him and his family out of the Labyrinth, and up to the castle in time to get involved in Devil’s Night! It was partly the Quarrymen’s fault that Maggie was dead now, and the thought stood all his fur on end as he built up a monstrous charge of electricity, powered by three years of held-in grief and rage. “FOR MAGGIE!!” he roared as he fired off a burst big enough to power an apartment building.
The Quarryman still mounted on his hovercycle died screaming, his body roasting like a turkey in an oven even as the cycle blew apart beneath him.
* * *
There were witnesses to the explosion. Fox, flying towards the scene, pulled up another fifty feet to be sure of staying clear of the chunks of burning metal that were headed in their direction. Elisa, braced in the opened door with a safety strap around her waist and her weapon drawn and ready, slowly lowered it as she whispered, “Derrek…”
In his four years on the force before he’d been mutated, Derrek had never ‘crossed the line’, never had to kill in the line of duty. She knew that he had killed one of Anton Sevarius’ clone bodies, on that awful night that Sevarius had kidnapped Maggie while she was giving birth, but by then Sevarius had hardly counted as a human being in anyone’s mind. This was…
“Self-defense,” Fox said grimly, as if she could somehow read Elisa’s mind. “And I’m a witness.”
Elisa nodded slowly. “Self defense,” she agreed, then said no more about it as they landed on the rooftop where Talon was waiting for them.
Far below, Macbeth was slowly and painfully stirring, muttering something under his breath about immortality being a right bugger sometimes…
* * *
On the roof of an apartment building four blocks from their apartment, Vanessa leaned over the edge of the roof while Sapphire held onto her jacket as a safety anchor, to get a closer look at the wall above the fire escape. “Paydirt!” she crowed. “There are fresh talon marks in the wall right here!”
“Then we know he came this way; we’re getting close!” Sapphire pulled Vanessa back to safety, then spun her chair around to peer at the surface of the roof. “These stains, here and here… could they be gargoyle blood?”
“I dunno, but if they are, they’re leading… this way.” They went over to the air conditioning housing, and Sapphire tugged on the door so they could look inside. There was no light inside, as the door had been facing west, but they could still see into the gloom just well enough to see that there was a large, nonmetallic heap lying at the base of the generator. Vanessa ducked inside and reached for it, and her fingers encountered hard stone ridged like a gargoyle’s folded wings. “I think… Yes, it’s him! Here’re his horns! And if he’s still solid stone at sunrise, then he’ll live to see sunset!”
Sapphire whooped for joy and spun her chair around a few times. “We did it! Call Fox or Xanatos, so they can come pick him up!”
Vanessa backed out of the shack to stare at her. “Call them? I left the comm on the van console; didn’t you grab it?”
“No, I thought you still had it! Oh, for God’s sake…” Sapphire tossed her keys at Vanessa. “Here, go call them; I’ll wait up here till they come. And hurry; we’ve got to get him out of there before the Quarrymen come calling!”
Vanessa need no further urging, running for the roof access door. After a few moments of just sitting there waiting, Sapphire slipped down out of her chair, and crawl-dragged herself into the air conditioning shack to touch Gabriel’s sleeping stone form, reassuring herself that he was really there. “Help’s on the way,” she whispered, though she knew he couldn’t hear her. “We’ll have you home safe and sound in no time…”
Just then she heard the sound, somewhat muffled inside the shack, of what seemed like a helicopter approaching. “They’re here already!” she said with a smile as she patted him reassuringly, then crawled out to wave to her friends.
Except they weren’t her friends. Her smile froze in horror and her hand stopped halfway through the welcoming wave as she found herself staring at an approaching hovercycle, with two riders wearing dark blue jumpsuits. Quarrymen! “Oh shit oh shit oh shit…”
By now the Quarrymen had to know that the gargoyles’ allies were out searching as well. They’d be suspicious about anyone up in an odd place where people didn’t normally go. By being visible up on the roof, she’d just attracted them to Gabriel’s hiding place!
She had a taser stowed in a pocket sewn onto her wheelchair, but that could only take out one of the two riders, and only if they got close enough for her to use it. And if they recognized her as an ally to the clan, they’d probably assume that she was armed and dangerous, and take her out from a distance. For all she knew, these bastards had been discretely observing the Aerie Building and the castle for months, conducting surveillance on their enemy, and keeping tabs of visitors to the clan. Her wheelchair made her too damn easily recognizable… but she wasn’t in her wheelchair right now, and a quick glance backwards confirmed that it couldn’t be seen from the angle that hovercycle was approaching at.
Thinking fast, she discreetly shouldered the maintenance door shut, then rubbed a hand along her cheek, smearing it with soot and dust from the rooftop. Mind of a child, she told herself. Most folks stay far, far away from people with mental retardation, even more than they avoid cripples. You have the mind of a child, and children don’t mind getting dirty… Then she plastered the dumbest smile she could manage on her face as she waved to the Quarrymen again in a clumsy, friendly fashion, crawl-dragging herself straight for them. … “Hello! Hello! Hello! You wanna play?”
The hovercycle landed on the roof in front of her, and one of the two riders got off to approach her. “Hey, girlie, what are you doing up here? And have you seen any winged monsters around here?”
“Monsters?” Sapphire looked frightened… which wasn’t hard, considering the situation. “Bad spider monsters? No monsters, I’ll be good!”
The two Quarrymen exchanged a long look, then tried again. “No, no spider–monsters, missy,” the one still sitting on the hovercycle said gently. “We’re looking for a creature with wings. He might be trying to hide somewhere around here. Have you seen anybody with wings around here? Considering it’s after dawn now, have you seen any new statues here, scary statues that weren’t here before?”
Sapphire shook her head. “Uh-uh. No statues. Are you friends of Mommy? She said someday she’d bring friends up here for me to play with. That’s my playhouse,” as she pointed proudly at the air conditioning housing, then turned back to them eagerly. “Did you bring me a new dolly?”
The one still on the Hovercycle just shook his head sadly. “No, missy, we didn’t bring you a dolly. Sorry. And we really should be going now; we’ve got more territory to search. But if we find a scary monster, we promise to destroy it for you, okay? C’mon, Harris, let’s get going.”
But Harris, the other Quarryman, was still looking at Sapphire… and Sapphire didn’t like the way he was looking at her. He said to his buddy, “Why don’t you go search on your own for a few minutes; I think I’ll stay here and… play with her for a while.”
“Hey, by now he’s a statue, so you don’t need anyone riding shotgun. And this little girl is lonely for company…”
“Harris, for Christ’s sake, she’s…”
Harris said in a nasty voice, “Hey, you had your fun last week, amigo; now it’s my turn. Come back in half an hour.” The other Quarryman flinched, but started up the hovercycle again, and Sapphire decided she didn’t want to know what kind of ‘fun’ he had indulged in last week, to make him back off like that at the mere reminder. But she kept the stupidly hopeful expression on her face, even while mentally screaming for Fox or Xanatos or anybody friendly to get their asses here right now; she was about to be molested, or outright raped!
* * *
“We found him!” Vanessa’s voice rang joyously out of every comm. unit, and all over Manhattan, people of assorted species heaved sighs of relief. “He’s okay, but we’re going to need some help getting him out of the spot he jammed himself into, and back to the castle!”
“Give us an address, and Owen and I are on our way,” Xanatos said with a grin of sheer relief. Vanessa gave the address, and they heard Coldstone and Coldfire announce that they were coming too. Though Coldstone said emphatically that first he’d be sending those Steel Clan robots back to their storage units at the castle, if they were no longer needed.
Xanatos gave a half-smile as he deduced that Coldstone evidently hadn’t had nearly as much fun playing with the Steel Clan robots as Lexington had last year, when he’d sneaked in a program to make them perform the Nutcracker Suite in midair, in honor of Amber’s birthday. Then he dismissed that from his mind as Owen turned the helicopter in flight, and they headed for the apartment building that Vanessa had spoken of.
* * *
The hovercycle flew off with one Quarryman aboard, while the other one gave Sapphire a nasty smile and said in a falsely sweet voice, “Yeah, I’ll play with you for a little while, girlie. And we’re going to play a new game. You’ll like it, too!”
NOT!!! But Sapphire kept her face straight, praying that she could somehow stall him until help arrived. “A new game? With spacemen? Or dinosaurs? Mommy brought me a dinosaur. I call him Binkowitz!”
That non-sequitor threw even her would-be rapist off for a moment… But only for a moment, dammit. “No, no dinosaurs. This is a big-girls game, and you look big enough to me to play it,” as he leered at her breasts.
Sapphire almost flinched back, but just barely caught herself in time. She had to play dumb, had to lull him into a false sense of security, or she was screwed… Literally! So she kept the stupid smile on as she said, “A big-girls game? With make-up! Mommy lets me wear lipstick sometimes, if I’m good!”
“Yeah, I’ll bet she does,” as the Quarryman reached for his zipper. “And let’s start this game by sticking your lips right… on… this!” as he proudly displayed himself. “Ever seen one of these before?”
“Uh-uh. What is it?” as she reached a hand up very hesitantly to touch it… Then darted her hand past it, to grab his testicles with a grip strengthened by six years of shoving herself around in a wheelchair, dug in and squeezed as hard as she could.
Harris screamed, a high-pitched scream like a girl, and immediately fell first to his knees, and then onto his side as Sapphire let go of his sac, which was now a crushed and bloody pulp. He curled up into a fetal ball on the rooftop, sobbing with pain. Sapphire grinned savagely as she said, “Stupid is as stupid does, asshole!” Then she dragged herself over to his head, heaved up as high as she could, and threw herself, elbow-first, down hard on Harris’s skull.
Harris was knocked unconscious, which was probably a mercy for him in his current condition. Unfortunately, Sapphire happened to hit him right on her funnybone, which didn’t feel funny at all as she rolled off him, cursing at the pain shooting up her arm.
Through the haze of tears that sprang into her eyes, she glimpsed more trouble; the Quarryman who’d ridden off was coming back, possibly alerted by Harris’s scream, and holding a gun in one hand.
There was no way she could crawl to cover or retrieve her taser in time, and if he’d seen her knock his buddy out, he would know she wasn’t as feeble-minded as she’d seemed. So, thinking fast again, she grabbed Harris and rolled him on top of herself as a human shield. Hopefully, he would have second thoughts about shooting through his unconscious buddy to get to her, and if she could get him off that cycle and within arm’s reach, maybe she’d have a chance…
* * *
Rankin hadn’t really wanted to look back at what Harris was doing to that poor crippled moron; yeah, maybe he wasn’t a perfectly upstanding citizen himself, but Christ, a man had to have some standards. (But he knew that if he’d tried to stop Harris, then Harris would have gleefully told the other Quarrymen about last Tuesday, and there were a few members who would probably lynch him for that.) But he’d glanced back anyway… just in time to see Harris go down like a sack of potatoes. And that crippled moron—
Shit, the crippled bitch! He’d seen her picture from the surveillance photos they’d made of visitors to the castle. She’d been in a wheelchair in the pictures, with her legs always covered by a blanket so they’d never seen how withered and deformed the legs were, but they’d gotten a few stills of her face; why the hell hadn’t he recognized her till now?
He set the cycle down on the roof hard and fast, snarling, “Bitch, that was a Quarryman you just screwed with!”
“He was about to screw with me!” the bitch shouted back, keeping Harris between them so he couldn’t get a clear shot at her. “What, do you like to hang with the kind of scum who rape cripples?!”
That gave him pause for just a moment, and in that moment, they heard the rotors of a helicopter approaching. Rankin looked over his shoulder, and saw the red-and-black helicopter with the Xanatos Enterprises logo coming at a fast clip. He cursed, knowing that Xanatos was one of the most infamous traitors to the race the Quarrymen had ever encountered, second only to that Maza bitch.
He didn’t have time to get back onto his hovercycle, start it and get away before that helicopter would be right on top of them, so instead he shoved Harris off of his would-be victim with a hard boot, then reached down to grab her and yank her up by the hair with one hand, while pointing his gun right in her face with the other. She froze, staring in sheer terror down the black barrel, as he snarled, “Friends of yours? Let’s see how much they value you!”
* * *
At the controls of the helicopter, Owen let out an extremely rare but vile curse as he saw the gun being held on Sapphire. Part of Xanatos’ mind marveled at the occasion, but the rest of him was busy with training his own high-powered laser rifle on the Quarryman’s skull as his voice boomed out through the helicopter’s speakers, “Back away from the girl!”
“So she is a friend of yours!” the Quarryman shouted triumphantly. “And a fellow gargoyle-lover, right? So that’s another reason to kill her right now, unless you back off!”
* * *
They’d heard Vanessa’s report that Gabriel had been found, but instead of turning around and heading for home, Gilberto had turned the bicycle to head for the van’s location. Gabriel was like their big brother, and they just had to see for themselves that he was all right, before they went back and got grounded for probably the rest of their lives.
And when they got closer, they saw that everything was not all right. Gabriel’s statue was nowhere in sight, but there was a Quarryman on the roof, and he was holding a gun on Sapphire! “Crap!” Gilberto cursed, as he unconsciously pedaled harder, trying to push the bike faster. He was still out of range to do anything with his powers, especially while keeping himself and Blaze in the air…
* * *
Keeping the gun trained on his hostage, Rankin took his eyes off the helicopter for a moment to grin savagely down at her terrified face, knowing that the copter would back off in a few moments, for fear of him doing as he threatened. “And once they back off, you traitorous bitch, you and I are going for a nice long riiiii!!!!” as his gloating turned into a scream, because that’s when he noticed that he was on fire.
His hood was aflame, and even as he yanked it off his hair caught fire as well. The agony of his own cooking flesh was unspeakable, unbearable; he dropped the gun and ran blindly, beating at the flames.
It took him a moment to realize he’d run right off the roof… but since he was already screaming, he just kept it up until he hit the pavement.
* * *
The Quarryman’s fingers had spasmed on the trigger as he’d jerked in his agony, and the gun went off with a sharp report that was almost drowned out by his screams. Sapphire collapsed to the ground as he dropped her, and lay there unmoving and as he ran blindly right off the roof.
“NO!” Xanatos tore off his safety harness and leaped out of the helicopter, landing catlike on the roof, while still chanting desperately, “No, no, no…” He rushed over and fell to his knees beside Sapphire, begging, “Dammit, don’t be dead, please don’t be dead…”
Then he found her pulse, and saw that she was still breathing shallowly. “Thank God!” Xanatos gave her head wound a closer look. Blood was seeping out of it, but it was just a scalp wound; the bullet had just grazed her head, enough to rip away a little hair and skin, but no more than that. Sapphire fluttered her eyes open again as he said wonderingly, “You are luckier than a boatload of cats, you know that?”
“…Did I just get s-shot?” she asked him weakly.
“Bullet just grazed your scalp,” Xanatos told her, then turned to face the bicycle and its two passengers that had landed on the roof beside them. “She’s hurt, but she’ll live.”
Gilberto and Blaze were both white-faced as they pulled their masks off, and Blaze was stammering something; something about how he hadn’t been thinking, he’d just saw her and the Quarryman and the gun and he hadn’t been thinking but he was really sorry, and, and…
“Blaze, you… probably saved my life,” Sapphire interrupted him, even as she winced and gingerly felt at her scalp wound and panted with pain. “That bastard was… was going to kill me as a… ‘race-traitor’, as soon as h-he’d used me as a hostage to g-get himself to safety. Where… where is he, anyway?” as she slowly, carefully looked around. “I saw… saw his hood catch fire, but…”
“He went bye-bye… the fast way,” as Xanatos gestured towards the roof edge.
Owen landed the helicopter on the far side of the roof, just as the other Quarrymen lying at their feet groaned and started to stir. Xanatos glanced down and almost absent-mindedly kicked him in the head, the sound of impact drowned out by the rotor’s blades, and the thug fell unconscious again.
Vanessa burst back onto the roof just as Owen, after landing the helicopter on the roof with only inches of clearance to spare, began tying up the unconscious Quarryman with some rope they’d had handy in the helicopter. “Sweet Jesus, they found him after all! I tried to get back up here as fast as I could, but the damn door--Is Gabriel okay? Sapph, what happened to you, are you okay?” as she spotted Sapphire starting to sit up again.
Sapphire explained what had happened while Vanessa had been calling on the communicator and coming back upstairs, while Owen and Xanatos went to work on the problem of getting Gabriel out of his hiding place. They finally decided it was easier to simply remove the walls of the air conditioning housing, than try to bring his stone form out by the small access door.
Just as Coldfire and Coldstone arrived in a whoosh of jets, Vanessa tried to take Sapphire back to their apartment for some needed rest and proper bandaging, and some aspirin for the pain she was clearly in from her head wound. But Sapphire slowly and carefully shook her head, set her wheelchair’s brakes and refused to budge until she saw Gabriel taken to safety. After all the trouble they’d gone through to find him, Vanessa could understand that, so they waited while Coldstone carved out a gaping hole in one wall of the air conditioning housing with his forearm laser. “The landlord’s gonna throw a shit-fit when he sees this,” Vanessa commented.
“No, he won’t,” Xanatos said as he snapped his cell phone shut with some satisfaction. “I just bought the building. And the building manager has been informed that this rooftop is not to be disturbed for the next two days, so we should have some privacy from curious onlookers. Okay, let’s get the loading dolly out…”
In the end, they had to almost dismantle the air conditioning unit entirely to get Gabriel’s stone form free of it and onto the loading dolly; metal screeched and groaned as Coldstone and Coldfire bent it this way and that to carefully get their sleeping son clear. Finally, they lifted the stone form out and onto the dolly; then it was just a matter of wheeling the dolly over to the helicopter and using the hydraulic lift installed for just this sort of occasion to get him aboard.
Gilberto and Blaze were ordered aboard as well, and they didn’t argue; Gilberto had used his telekinesis more that morning than he’d ever done before in his life, and he was too close to exhaustion to get safely back home again. Setting down the pressure bandage Vanessa had made for her from a Quarryman hood, Sapphire wheeled herself up to the copter as the two men climbed into it and asked, “Got room for two more?”
“With a head wound, she’s not safe for driving, anyway, and now that I think about it, I don’t know how to operate the hand controls for her van,” Vanessa said as she glanced sideways at Sapphire’s pleading face. “So we’re stranded here otherwise.” Xanatos couldn’t argue with that, not that he really wanted to, so the two women were loaded aboard as well, and the ever efficient Owen called for a tow truck to pick up Sapphire’s van and take it to the Aerie building.
* * *
Fox’s helicopter and the mutates had already returned to the building, and though their helicopter had already been wheeled into the nearby hangar, everyone was gathered at the edge of the helipad to wait for the other searchers’ return. Macbeth was still limping slightly and irritatedly batting away Claw’s concerned hands, assuring the mutate that the compound fracture in his leg was almost healed, and that he could save his concern for someone who really needed it… And they both froze in their tracks at the sight of Sapphire as Xanatos rolled her wheelchair out onto the helicopter’s hydraulic lift, clearly dizzy and weak from pain and with blood matting her hair. “What happened to the lass?!” Macbeth blurted out.
“One Quarryman tried to rape her… then another one shot her while trying to take her hostage,” Xanatos said grimly as he lowered the lift for her, while Vanessa hopped out to take over wheeling once she was on the ground. “The one who shot her is dead, and the would-be rapist is still tied up on the rooftop where we found Gabriel. I’ll let the police know where to find him… eventually.”
Dr. Masters sewed up and bandaged the small gash in Sapphire’s scalp, and gave her an icepack to hold against it to reduce the swelling. He also recommended that Sapphire stay under observation for the next few days, to be sure she didn’t have a concussion. Sapphire agreed to stay at the castle for the rest of the day for observation, and asked Vanessa to call the shop where she worked, to let them know she wouldn’t be in for work as usual. But she stubbornly insisted that the only painkillers she needed were Extra-Strength Tylenol, and refused to be put to bed. Instead, as soon as the painkillers took effect she wheeled herself over to the elevator and went up to the roof, where Gabriel’s statue, still curled up on his side, had been placed in the center.
His wings were tightly folded, so she couldn’t see what damage had been done to them, nor see under the hand covering his side. But she could see the lines of strain and agony in his expression; whatever had been done to him had hurt him badly. She’d been told repeatedly that stone sleep could heal nearly any damage done; it had even reattached Gabriel’s hand after it had been severed in battle. But he’d never completely recovered from that; his left hand wasn’t fully functional, as he was still clumsy with his second and third talons. Would he be able to recover from this?
“He’ll be fine.”
Startled, Sapphire whipped her head around to see Fox standing behind her. For one wild moment, she wondered if Fox’s half-Fey nature had allowed her to read her thoughts.
“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Fox continued, “and I can almost guarantee that come sunset, he’ll be up and at ‘em with the others. I’ve seen these guys recover from gunshot wounds before, from broken bones and stab wounds and burns and everything else, and it all took only one day of the ‘concrete cure-all’ to fix them up. It takes something really, really bad,” and she mimed chopping one of her hands off at the wrist, “to do permanent damage.”
“Then what about Hudson’s eye?” Sapphire retorted. “It’s still there, but he’s blind in that one.”
“I understand that was done by magic, the very first time the clan fought the Archmage, way back in the Middle Ages. Hurts done directly by magic usually need to be healed by magic, whether you’re human or gargoyle.” That was the best reason Fox could think of as to why Julian hadn't healed Hudson’s eye when he’d been here, in the same fashion that he’d healed Claw after over two years in a coma, and her father after over two decades in a wheelchair. Or maybe it was because Hudson was so used to being blind in one eye, after decades of dealing with it, that he wasn’t at all bothered by it anymore.
* * *
Peter and Brittany arrived in the castle, and saw for themselves that Gabriel was there and intact. Peter left Brittany with Sapphire, while he went searching for Gilberto and Blaze, and found them in the kitchen with Talon, Samson and Claw; Samson and Claw were busy preparing breakfast, while Talon sat with the boys at the kitchen table, all nursing cups of hot cocoa.
“Ahem. Blaze, Gilberto, would you mind stepping out into the hall with me?” Peter said pointedly. He’d been raised on the adage of “praise in public, punish in private,” and didn’t need witnesses to the chewing-out he was about to give those boys.
Blaze and Gilberto looked glumly at each other and started to get up, but Claw put one massive paw each on their shoulders and pushed them gently back down into their chairs. Then Claw and Samson traded glances, and Samson nodded as he wiped his hands on a towel and stepped away from the stove, saying in his somewhat eerie voice, “Actually, Mr. Maza, I’d like to talk with you first…”
Peter scowled; he didn’t need someone else telling him how to raise kids, not after raising three of his own to adulthood! But Samson gently but firmly pushed him out into the hall and down a ways, out of sight and hearing of the kitchen. Then he said softly, “In case no one told you this yet… the clan has seen death today, Mr. Maza.”
Peter paled, as much as his skin tone would allow. “Who? Dammit, not Elisa, not my--”
“Elisa’s fine,” Samson said with a raised hand to forestall him. “No clan members died… but two Quarrymen did. Talon killed one, in self-defense. And…”
And Talon was sitting at the table with his boys. And they were all drinking hot cocoa, a drink nobody in their right mind served in the middle of summer unless someone was in serious need of comfort food…
“No! They’re… they’re too young!” Peter said, his voice harsh and his fists clenched. Gilberto was only thirteen, for God’s sake! And Blaze was only eleven!
But Samson nodded slowly, solemnly. “Too young… but Sapphire was being threatened at gunpoint. Blaze set the Quarryman’s hood afire… and while trying to beat the flames out, he ran right off the roof.”
Peter looked away and muttered after a few moments, “Death by misfortune.”
“I don’t know how a court would rule it… but Blaze feels responsible. And Gilberto feels bad that he was too far away to simply yank the gun out of the Quarryman’s hand with his power, to save his little brother from doing what he had to do…”
Peter slowly nodded, remembering the day when young rookie Peter Maza, less than a year after joining the force, first killed in the line of duty. A man had been threatening to slit his little girl’s throat, rather than let her mother have custody of her after the divorce court ruling came out. He’d lifted the butcher knife away from her throat just long enough to point it at Officer Chavez, Maza’s partner, while haranguing him; Peter had seen his shot, and taken it. And afterwards, after the mother of the sobbing and blood-spattered child had hugged her close and taken her away, after the coroner had hauled away his grisly load… Carlos Chavez had taken Peter out and gotten him stinking drunk, so he’d have an excuse for crying.
Peter nodded again, then walked past Samson and back into the kitchen. He pulled out a seat next to the boys, and sat down without saying anything, while the boys kept their eyes on their hot cocoa.
He finally spoke just as Claw set a platter of scrambled eggs in front of him. He said simply, “For leaving the house without permission, you’re both grounded for two weeks. No TV or video games, and no going to friends’ homes. But we’ll make an exception for visits to the castle.”
Gilberto just nodded. Blaze said “Okay,” very softly… and then he burst into tears.
In an instant Peter had pulled him into his arms, and he hugged the boy close, murmuring, “That’s right, cry it out… there are times when a guy’s just gotta cry.” He gestured for Gilberto to join them in a group hug, and the three of them just clung to each other for a long time, while their eggs and toast went cold.
* * *
Diane arrived with Neesha and Mulan soon afterwards, and the children all spent the day at the castle; Vanessa returned just before sunset. They gathered on the roof, and as the last of the solar crescent slipped under the horizon the parapets echoed with the sound of crackling stone. Moments later, stone shells burst and roars resounded all over the castle, a deafening noise that everyone had come to love dearly.
Gabriel awoke with the others, kicking out and uncurling from his fetal position as stone fragments fell away. Having parked her wheelchair right in front of him, barely out of shard-scattering range, Sapphire thought Gabriel’s awakening was the most wonderful thing she’d ever seen in her life.
After finishing his waking roar and the first glow of return-to-life faded from his eyes, he focused them on Sapphire, and smiled. It was the shaky, weak but delighted smile of a male who had clearly been in doubt about his ever seeing another night, and was very relieved to find out he had. Sapphire decided that such intense relief was making him a wee bit giddy and silly, because the first words out of his mouth as he looked at her were, “You’re beautiful.”
Instantly flustered, Sapphire stammered, “Um, ah, a-are you all right? How do you feel?”
“Very glad to be alive,” Gabriel said as he started to get up… then winced and gripped his side again. “Shards!”
“GABRIEL!” “You found him!” “Gabriel, what happened to you?” “Where were you?” and other questions came from the anxious gargoyles crowding around them as Gabriel tried again to get up, while the day-dwellers crowded in as well trying to explain what had happened while they’d slept.
It was cacophony for a few seconds until Sapphire’s snarl ripped across it all with a sharp, “Gabriel, stay down! And you,” as she twisted to glare at Brooklyn, standing closest to her, “don’t just stand there, get the doctors, now!” Brooklyn gave her a brief startled glance before hustling off to get the doctors as ordered. Sapphire turned back to Gabriel with near-frantic worry written large on her features as she said, “I thought stone sleep was supposed to heal you!”
“It can cure a lot,” Gabriel said with a wince as he lay back on his side again, “but it can’t cure a bullet that’s still lodged inside me. It went too deep to be pushed out when the wound healed, and I was too weak to try to dig it out myself last night; now they’ll have to cut me open again to get the cursed thing out. Shards and gravel!” Then he opened his eyes and tried to smile at her again. “But by tomorrow night I’ll be as fit as ever again; you’ll see.”
“He’ll be fine,” Goliath reassured her with a hand on her shoulder. “Surgeons and stone sleep together will see to that. Gabriel, was it Quarrymen?”
“Aye,” Gabriel said with a grimace as he remembered.
“They laid a trap for me, and I stepped right into it.” But then
he was interrupted by Dr. Masters and an orderly, rolling a gurney out
of the elevator, and further questioning was delayed while they lifted
him onto the gurney and took him down to the medical suites for X-rays.
But before he would let them operate on him, he insisted on telling the
clan just what had happened to him last night, and on learning what had
happened after he’d fallen unconscious.
“So now they hate not from fear, but simply for the sake of hating,” Goliath rumbled. “Which makes them even more dangerous… Go on, Gabriel. What happened after that?”
Gabriel told them about his escape and evasion across the rooftops, and how he had ended up inside that air conditioning housing. Then Goliath related the story of the gargoyles’ search for him, ending with passing their communicators to the humans at sunrise. Xanatos took up the story from there, telling about the day-dwellers’ first two encounters with the Quarrymen. Growls echoed again as the gargoyles heard about the ambush Macbeth and Talon had faced. When hearing of the fate of the second Quarryman, Elektra and Broadway turned to look in concern at where Talon stood silently at the back of the crowd, but he looked back at them with his face utterly expressionless.
Then Sapphire told of how she and Vanessa had found Gabriel just before the Quarrymen had come along. And how she had tried to fool the Quarrymen into leaving, but her charade had backfired… The growls became louder and even Elektra joined in with a low, dangerous rumble when they learned of what the Quarrymen had tried to do with her, but growls of rage became savage grins of satisfaction when they learned of how she had defended herself from the first man, and what had happened to the second.
Gabriel reached out from his hospital bed to lay a hand on Sapphire’s shoulder as he said quietly, “Thank you. If not for your insight and courage, I’d probably be in pieces now.” Then he smiled wryly. “But that’s not how it’s supposed to work; we’re supposed to be protecting you!”
Sapphire shrugged and smiled back. “Hey, you know the saying: ‘What goes around, comes around.’ Next time it’ll be your turn.”
Gabriel looked past her to where Gilberto and Blaze were standing, and said to them solemnly, “And you saved Sapphire’s life, and likely mine as well... and became blooded warriors in the process.”
“Aye, they did,” Hudson said as he stepped forward and laid his hands on Gilberto and Blaze’s shoulders. “And to be blooded at such a young age can become a heavy burden on the soul… but there are those of us who have experience in this matter. If ever you lads care to talk about it, Goliath and I are here to listen.”
Dr. Masters came in then, wielding Gabriel’s X-rays. “Now that you all know how that bullet came to be stuck inside my patient, it’s time for me to take it out,” he said firmly. “Anyone other than Gabriel who’s still in this room ten seconds from now will be considered ready for their annual physical.” There followed an immediate rush for the exits by everyone, Sapphire even shoving her wheelchair past Broadway in order not to be the last one out.
They were met in the hallway by Owen, who carried a manila folder and an expression of vague distaste. “The official announcement,” he said simply, as he opened the folder to show them a flyer with tape residue at the corners, as if it had been pulled off a light pole on a street corner.
The flyer announced a public gathering on the Great Lawn of Central Park, to discuss “The true nature of Gargoyles” and “What Really Happened on Devil’s Night!” And there was no mistaking the stylized Q in the lower right corner.
Elisa grabbed at the flyer and gave a very convincing gargoyle snarl. “Those filthy…!” She was literally too angry to say more, as she clutched at the sheet hard enough to rip it in half.
“Lemme see that,” Vanessa said as she shoved past Brooklyn for a closer look. She said aloud for the others’ benefit, “It’s this Saturday, only two days away… and of course it’s being held at 1:00 p.m., so those Q-Balls can have hours to spew their hatred and lies before you guys could ever be asked for an opposing view,” as her lip curled in disgust.
General exclamations of disgust and outrage rose up all around. Sapphire gave the flyer a glare hot enough to nearly burn a hole in it, but said nothing. Instead, after a few seconds she slowly looked around until she saw Brittany, who was just as furious as everyone else. And she smiled. It was not a nice smile…