The Horror of Innsbrook

by Christine Morgan

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and used here without their creators' knowledge or consent.

        There was, for instance, the belief that a legion of batwinged devils kept witches' sabbath each night at the priory ... ( Lovecraft, "The Rats in the Walls." )         Once a specimen was seen flying -- launching itself from the top of a bald, lonely hill at night and vanishing in the sky after its great flapping wings had been silhouetted an instant against the full moon. ( Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness." )
FROM THE PAPERS WRITTEN BY ONE H.M. : An Accounting of Events in Innsbrook --         I never imagined, though I passed the great gates several times a week during my course of study at the university, that I would one day see those gates from within. Not briefly and from the cobbled path, either, but from behind the barred and narrow window of my room, and for an undetermined amount of time.         It is at the behest of my doctors that I write this. I swear before the heavens that it is the truth, yet they will think it only further proof of the ravings that brought me back to Arkham, this time not as a student but as an inmate of the very asylum that I passed frequently as I went between the university and the house in which I had taken a fifth-floor room.         It was over my mother's protests that I attended Miskatonic. She, having fled New England in favour of the languid South following the tragic accident that claimed the life of my father and very nearly taken mine as well when I was but a child, could not deter me once I had come of age.         At Miskatonic, I studied literature and mathematics, and now free of my mother's watchful eye, renewed correspondance with my cousin Phillip in Innsbrook.         Innsbrook! Memories of my childhood there haunted me. The house, perched atop its hill like some brooding stone beast, overlooked the empty cluster of buildings below -- for the town of Innsbrook had been deserted since well before my time. The nearest town was ten miles away, and even there they shunned us, having heard and believed the mad rumours of Innsbrook, and of the Mosswell family.         I remembered the house, its rooms so large and grand seen through young eyes. It had been a strange house, a quiet house, where ancestors stared down from the walls and the rooms never seemed quite to fit together.         Even so, I had been happy there. Phillip, older than me, had always and jestingly referred to our uncle as Richard III. This although his resemblance to Shakespeare's character was in body only, as he was of a gentle and kindly nature.         Infirmities had abounded in our family, that also I remembered. Uncle Richard, with his hunched back and his malformed hand that had but three fingers. My infrequently-seen great-grandfather, whose skin was so averse to the sun that he would only emerge from his windowless rooms on the cloudiest of days. Even my father, whose strange lassitude during daylight hours was something that I, in small part, shared.         My mother had come to hate that house, located as it was so far from what she termed civilization. The village stood empty and had for many years, with only our family remaining. It must have come as quite a shock to my mother when she found that her new life as a married woman would be one of isolation, with only my father's family for company. Even when she attempted to strike up friendships with women from the neighbouring townships, she was not welcomed, due in part to the unsavoury reputation of Innsbrook.         The path alongside the brook eventually met the road by the river, which led to Innsmouth by the sea, but even Uncle Richard admitted that queer things went on in Innsmouth. While we Mosswells were not precisely ostracized there, neither were we quite welcomed. There was a _look_ to the Innsmouth people that had frightened me as a child, and Phillip delighted in telling me tales of sea creatures and sacrifices.         Suffice to say, when my father died, my mother quickly left Innsbrook. She took me with her, though I had not recovered from my injuries, and very much over my uncle's objections. It was his wish that Phillip and I, the last of the Mosswells, stay in our ancestral home.         Phillip stayed; I did not. But thoughts of the house on the hill were never far from my mind, especially on those hot days when I could not bear to set foot outside of my room, and kept the blinds drawn. On those days, my mother would become frightfully upset and worried, but never brought doctors around to see me. In fact, she had always shown a great reluctance when it came to physicians, and even went so far as to falsify my school records to show that I had gotten the requisite examinations and injections, when I had not.         I escaped to Miskatonic's somber halls over her tearful protests. She would thereafter call me at odd hours, begging me to leave New England. I was most disturbed by one of the last things she said to me, proof of how far her madness had progressed.         "He has found me," she told me in that final call. "I hear him flapping in the night. He's found me, Howard, but it's _you_  that he wants."         I dismissed her fears with a laugh, to my shame; days later I received word that she was dead. She had hanged herself in the attic, leaving a note filled with the same incoherent ramblings she had said to me.         In the months following her death, I achieved a respect and obedience for her wishes that I had not been able to accomplish while she lived. I returned to the South and lived there for a time, but found that my intolerance for the long days had increased. When the summers came, there would seem to settle over the land a damp and droning blanket of heat and insects, and I would yearn for the cool and shadowed woods around Innsbrook.         It was another death that gave me reason to go there. My cousin Phillip, who had inherited the house from Uncle Richard, had in turn left it to me. I had received a letter from him in the weeks preceding his death, a letter which seemed in retrospect both suicidal and weirdly jubilant, in which he wrote of joining our ancestors and embracing the family heritage.         I knew little of our ancestors, and only that there seemed to be a family heritage of dying by one's own hand, which I did not much desire to undertake for myself. Yet there was never a question of not going.         I had some money left to me from my mother, and though it would have been her death all over again if she knew for what use I intended it, I used it to settle my affairs in the South and move to Innsbrook.         I shall never forget that first adult sight of the house, which came after a drive along the narrow and overgrown road through the town itself and past the still, nameless lake-spring which was the source of the brook for which Innsbrook was named.         It would have been easy to believe that I was driving not only across a distance but time itself. A foreboding rose within me, mingled with what I later came to know as exhileration.         The house had fallen into disrepair, the high stone walls crumbling under the tendrils of creeping ivy and moss that seemed in the dusk to glow with some strange phosphoresence. It seemed smaller than I remembered, only reasonable as it had been now some twenty- eight years since I had laid eyes upon it. More, it seemed _wrong_ somehow, as if the angles of the roof defied geometry.         To some, the vast and empty house might have been forbidding, as a silent city of the dead where only rats and carrion birds move among the weathered bones and onyx sepulchures. As I stood in the grand hall where the twin staircases swept upward and the mullioned windows were dimmed with dirt but unbroken, I felt only a sense of homecoming at long last.         In a fit of nostalgia, I took the room that had been mine as a child, although it was small and had a peaked roof that necessitated stooping should I wish to look out the window.         I devoted myself to the cleaning and restoration of the house, again using my mother's money to do so. I found I had to go three towns over to find the help I needed for carpentry and masonry repairs, for in the nearer villages, they closed their doors in my face when I introduced myself. Even the men I eventually hired were persuaded only by a generous sum, for they had heard of the Mosswell family, and Innsbrook.         I recalled the stories with which Phillip had so delighted in tormenting me as a boy, he never knowing that I did not find them frightening but oddly comforting. A boy of my tender years should have been left wakeful and terrified by the thought of monstrous creatures dwelling in secret cellars below the house, emerging on moonless nights to feed on the villagers.         I did find it strange, however, that the locals believed those old tales. Believed them to the point that they shunned honest work and honest pay.         Of particular note was one old shawl-wrapped beldame who drove me from her stoop with threats of a licking from her walking- stick, when I came to inquire after the chance of hiring her strong but thickwitted son, who, I hoped, would lack the imagination to believe such wild stories. This woman declared that I had the look and stench of evil about me, and even went so far as to fork the sign of the evil eye.         For a time, the house was a place of noise and activity, but the work was left unfinished when accidents began to befall the men. One fell from the roof and broke his neck, another severed his hand when he claimed some hideous thing startled him as he sawed. Those were the most serious, but it seemed each of the men either cut himself on some jagged piece of ironwork or stumbled on the stairs or somesuch.         The last straw was the man who became lost in the sub-cellar and wandered there a whole night before he was found -- and when he was, his hair had gone mostly grey and he spoke in a hushed tone of eyes that glowed at him from the darkness.         This all struck me as nonsense. I myself had spent long hours in the sub-cellar, for it was there my cousin Phillip had taken it into his head to store his vast library of old books. His collection put even the library at Miskatonic to shame, and although I had not previously shared his interest in esoteric lore, I soon found myself captivated by the passages in von Junzt's and Alhazred's works.         Some nights, I stayed in the sub-cellar until well past dawn, when I would then stumble up to my room and fall into a deep, dreamlike, almost deathly sleep. In all that time, I had heard nothing untoward. The scuffling of rats in the walls, perhaps, although I had not seen any other sign of rodent infestation. And if I once saw a brief eldritch marshfire-green glow that might have looked like that which came from two eyes, eyes that would have stood a full six feet off the floor, what of it? Here and there along Phillip's bookshelves were set various objects which could have caught and thrown back the light of my single lantern.         Nonetheless, the workmen departed, even leaving behind their tools and their final paycheques. I undertook myself what of the repairs I could, and soon had the house habitable. While it was not luxurious, and there remained a faint mouldering scent throughout that no amount of cleaning could remove, I found it quite comfortable.         Now that I felt I had earned my place in this house, I moved my personal effects to the large suite that had once belonged to my uncle. The rooms had wide, shuttered windows which gave onto a small balcony facing westward.         I soon found myself with a new habit. Each dusk, I would feel a restlessness within myself and stop whatever I might be doing, to climb the stairs and open the shutters so that I might step out onto the balcony. From here, I could see the abandoned village below, and the spring like a mirror of polished obsidian.         I would stand upon the balcony, motionless, watching the sun sink behind the mountains. As it vanished, I always felt a curious lightening within myself, and when the first cool evening's breeze touched me, I felt as refreshed as if I had just woken from a long sleep. Sometimes I would stand there for hours, looking out over the countryside with a strange and nameless urge burning in me.         What was I to make of it when I found among my cousin Phillip's letters and correspondance a mention that he himself had often done just as I was now doing? When, by all indications, he had jumped to his death from this very balcony?         This, I recognized, was the very same urge that I felt. To clamber upon the cast-iron railing, its posts and finials shaped into leering demon's faces, and then to leap. But the urge was weak, or perhaps my madness was not yet as strong as that of Phillip -- or my grandfather, who had drowned himself in the black spring and whose body had never been found.         I put these things from my mind, and went on about my business. My investments did well, and I lived for some time the quiet life of a not-unhappy recluse. I had Phillip's books to keep me company, and I had never been one for the idle chatter of friends. Of the rats in the walls, or whatever caused the occasional sounds in the cellar, I had no complaints.         I am now to the point of reaching the events that so interest my doctors, although it is not an interest born of belief but one born of awe at the complex delusions and hallucinations the mind can devise.         Of late, I had felt an increase in restlessness. I had always been a night owl, but now I had begun sleeping the day through, and going about the quiet house at night with the feeling that strange events of momentous importance were afoot, events that I did not comprehend but was aware of, just as a primitive man might not have understood the signs of impending thunderstorms but still felt the heaviness and expectance in the air.         It was as if there was another world over which mine was laid, a world of far greater complexities and power than I could possibly comprehend. A world where vast and unspeakable forms moved through unimaginable inky voids. I began to be troubled by unsettling dreams of abysses and caverns, of hideous winged shapes, and most alarming of all, of a disk of fire. It was this last image that often caused me to awaken in a sudden terror.         I also became aware of sounds in the cellar. I found myself often looking up from some yellowed and crumbling tome, disturbed from my reading by what I first thought to be gutteral chantings in a language that I could not identify, though it seemed at times ancient and pre-Druidic, and at other times the timbre of it was such that might have been made by a reptilian beast taught to speak.         It was on one of these occasions that I was impelled by curiosity to investigate. I had never found the sounds anything other than comforting, though I suppose another in my position might have been alarmed by the suggestion of peculiar chantings seemingly coming up through the floor.         The local rumours did cross my mind, as did the thought of my cousin Phillip and his interest in esoteric arts. Yet even that, the prospect of interrupting a demonic rite or sabbat, did not cause so much as a single stirring of fear in my breast.         My investigation turned up nothing out of the ordinary -- no secret passages or concealed doors. The only thing of note was a portion of the flagstones in one antechamber to the subcellar, that seemed not to fit quite flush with their neighbours. There were several of them, forming a circle a dozen paces wide. These stones were of a slightly different colour and texture, raised a fraction. Looking upon it, I had the sudden impression that they formed a wellcap, sealing off a circular shaft in the floor of the subcellar.         A well, perhaps? Given the preponderance of damp moss that lined the antechamber, combined with the ancestral family name of Mosswell, it was not so unlikely as to conclude that there had been at one time a well beneath the very house.         I was most intrigued by this discovery, and contemplated having the flagstones taken up to see what was hidden beneath. But, given the manner in which the workmen had resisted hiring on and departed with undue haste, I doubted my ability to find any assistance in such a project.         Once I had become aware of it, I found that thoughts of the well would not leave my mind. It took to haunting my dreams, dreams in which I descended a lengthy circular stairway into a darkness as cold and hollow as that which lies between the stars.         I resolved to settle this matter myself. Armed with pickaxe and tools, I set about attempting to loosen the flagstones and lift them clear. As I opened the first crevice between the stones, the chipped- away mortar having fallen away into some unseen depth, I felt a breath of cold and moist air upon my face. There was an odour to it that put me in mind of my dreams of cyclopean tombs beneath the earth.         I succeeded in freeing several flagstones, and shined a light into the hole I had made. I saw before me exactly that which I had expected to see, a moss-lined throat of a well with stairs curving away into blackness. If there was water at the bottom, my light could not reveal it.         Weariness from my labours had nearly overwhelmed me. I looked at my watch, the antique pocket-watch that had belonged to Uncle Richard and then to Phillip, and then to me -- it had been enclosed with the will, and had upon its gold casing a design that at first look seemed Celtic but upon closer examination looked almost like monstrous figures engaged in unholy deeds.         My watch showed the hour to be well past dawn. I had taken to sleeping during the day, finding it more restful. Now I set aside my tools and climbed from the cellar to my room, where I fell upon the bed without even changing from my rumpled and foul-smelling clothes, and slept like a stone.         I slept the whole day through, awakening to find the evening star winking through the shutters. I rose, my muscles protesting from their exertion of the previous night, and went to the window. As was my habit, I opened it and stepped onto the small balcony, welcoming the night wind.         The skies were clear, the stars bright points. Yet I saw that the village below was nearly lost in a thick fog that centered around the spring.         Even as I watched, the fog came apart and I saw the normally placid surface of the spring rippling. It looked like a sheet of black satin with a breeze blowing across it.         To my astonishment, there was a boat upon the water. I had never seen a single living thing in the town, not even a bird or animal. The men who had come to work on the restoration of the house had always given Innsbrook Village a wide berth. I had not even gone there myself, meaning to do so once the house was in order but then becoming involved with my cousin's library and lately with my excavation in the cellar.         This boat, therefore, took me utterly by surprise. It was unlike any boat I might reasonably expect to see crossing the spring. Its prow rose into a high, carved figure not unlike that of a Viking longboat, and seemed to be steered by means of a pole in the hands of one of the passengers.         A strange chill ran through me at the sight of that large, hulking figure. I could not see clearly, for although I have always had excellent night-vision, it was dark and far and there were wisps of fog still surrounding the boat. Clinging to it, as if the boat had brought the fog rather than come through it.         I told myself that they would soon see that the village was deserted -- but this was an odd thought to have, for surely they had come from the village -- where else would they have come from? Yet I could not shake the feeling that they had come from somewhere else entirely, that the mist itself had brought them here on a voyage across mysterious space.         I leaned over the rail, trying to see more clearly, and instead of making out more details as to the identity of these sudden visitors, I saw to my alarm that I had left lights burning in the front room all the previous night and day. They glowed from behind the shutters, giving every indication that the house was inhabited.         I thought of trying to douse the lights, but before I could even begin to do so, I saw one of the figures below raise an arm and point toward the house. And then all three of them began heading for the road which curved up the hill.         Angry at myself for inviting this unwelcome intrusion, I quickly made myself presentable -- my clothes all the worse for having been slept in -- and hurried downstairs.         Something Phillip had mentioned in one of his many letters came back to me now as I glanced around to be sure that nothing was amiss. "I fully uphold, dear Howard," the letter had read, "the importance of keeping up appearances."         The doorbell rang, and I waited until it rang a second time before moving to open the door.         Two people stood on my porch. Of the third, the large and hulking one I had seen earlier, there was no sign. Only these two.         The first was a man in a worn and wrinkled tuxedo more fitting a dinner in a fine restaurant than unfathomable boat-rides in abandoned villages. His hair was an indifferent blond and brown colour, and there was a peculiar look to his eyes. They were the eyes of a man who is caught in a reality that he wishes is a dream from which he earnestly wishes to awaken.         The other was a woman in an overcoat and galoshes many sizes too big for her. I did not at first notice the oddness of her apparel, however, because I was almost forcibly struck by something about her face.         There was a quality to her that, bewilderingly, seemed familiar to me. She reminded me almost of my cousin Phillip. Though, to my knowledge, there had not been a female born to the Mosswell line since my great-great-grandmother. As her portrait in the upstairs hall attested, she had been a woman of striking beauty, with none of the evident illnesses and deformities that would plague her descendants.         From family and local lore, I knew what had been thought of that. My great-grandfather had been born out of wedlock, given his mother's surname in lack of another. The villagers believed his poor health to be either a punishment for his mother's affair, or proof of her reputed practicing of witchcraft.         The man in the tuxedo spoke, startling me from my thoughts just when they had seemed on the verge of bringing me some great revelation.         It seemed he, a Mr. Vandermere of Boston, and his cousin, Elektra, had been on their way to visit relatives when they'd taken a wrong turn. Their car -- he lied, for I had seen the boat with my own eyes -- was at the bottom of the hill, because he hadn't wanted to chance driving it up the steep road.         The importance of keeping up appearances. I could not turn them away and risk them spreading tales about the Mosswells. I don't know why that seemed so urgent to me, but I felt that especially now that I was on the verge of what I knew would be a discovery of tremendous worth in the cellar, I could ill afford stirring up the curiosity and malice of the locals.         And so I greeted them warmly, introducing myself, and invited them in. I made no mention of their third companion, and neither did they.         The phone, of course, did not work. What use did I have for it? My few friends were content with the occasional letter. When this man, who insisted on being called Brendan, lifted the reciever, he did not even hear the hiss of a dead line. I apologized, remarking on how poor the service was this far out, and he accepted my story with glum disappointment.         I was curious about these two, and more curious about their unseen third. But I was most of all interested in returning to my labours in the cellar. I could feel the urge to explore that dark stair rising within me, like a blind but seeking sea creature from unimaginable depths.         Upon discovering that the phone was of no use, and when I failed to offer the hospitality of a room for the night, the two strangers said farewell. I closed the door behind them but stood listening to them as they talked for a moment on the porch, though what they said made little sense to me.         The woman had not spoken in my presence, but now she spoke of islands and quests, and hinted that they had been sent here on some unnamed _purpose_. There was a timbre to her voice, a tone, an indescribable element that seemed at once familiar and alien.         They walked off, and as I saw they seemed to be heading for the road, I considered myself shut of them. I turned the bolt, switched off the light, and descended to the subcellar library.         It was not as I had left it.         The books had been moved about, and there were markings on the floor, a trail of greenish-black ichor spread about in such a fashion that it could not have been left by foot-tracks. Breathless, with lantern in hand, I followed the trail though I knew where it would lead.         It led as I knew it would, to the well. More stones had been loosened and removed, in such a manner that led me to think they had been _pushed_ upward from below.         What mould-reeking visitor had risen from that timeless darkness? What form did it have?         I set aside my lantern, for its light did little against the stygian blackness that lurked at the bottom of the moss-lined well. I now had an opening more than big enough to admit myself, and set my foot upon the first of the stairs.         The stairs were narrow and steep, necessitating that I keep one hand on the wall. The moss was slick and loathesome beneath my touch. It crept over the stone as if possessed of some sinister life beyond that of vegetation. Spongy tendrils of it curled over my fingers, as if in greeting.         I had descended a full turn, so that the opening was no longer visible by looking straight up, only the underside of the winding stair above me, and dangling ropes of moss where tiny white worms crawled.         At one point I leaned out over the well itself. It plunged into fathomless distance, smelling of sour earth and dampness. A movement of air, too much like the breath of a corpse to be called a breeze or even a draft, chilled my face.         I kept on, down and down, until the dim glow of my lantern in the cellar above was as small and distant as an unfamiliar star. But now there was new light, a sickly pulsing phosphorescence that came from spores and pustules in the moss. These broke open as I touched them, smearing my hands with their pallid glow.         This new light, faint though it was, let me see clearly. The first thing I saw was that I had drawn near the bottom of the well, or at the very least, the bottom of the stairs. The final step gave onto a wide ledge which skirted a pool of water as oil-black and still as the Innsbrook spring.         I walked onto the ledge, and a colossal space opened before me. The pool which rested at the bottom of the well was only a part of a vast subterranean lake which spread amoeboid through a vaulted cavern.         At the center of the cavern, rising from the stagnant surface, was an islandlike prominence fully twice as large as the house above. It was pock-marked with caves and hideous excrecenses of moss-slick limestone. At the very pinnacle of it was a wide flat column, black stone flecked with yellow. The column was carved all about with symbols and glyphs.         This was the landscape of my half-remembered dreams!         As I stared, the chanting began anew. The voices, now unmuffled by the wellcap's flagstones, were deep and echoey. Although I had up until now been more fascinated than frightened, fear took sudden hold.         I shrank against the wall, my back pressing against the moss. Pain flashed across my shoulderblades, a souvenir of that childhood injury when I had been no more than four years of age.         I suddenly recalled my father ranting fiercely at my mother, as if it had somehow been her fault. Yet that had to be a false recollection, for my father had died in that accident.         It had been many years since I had given thought to those twisting, gnarled scars. Now they ached and burned as if the injury was fresh.         The water began to move, not rippling as the spring had but churning.         All thoughts of my back were forgotten as I stared at the roiling water. Dark forms breached and descended, affording me brief glimpses of glistening skin that seemed neither scaled nor ridged, akin to an alligator's hide yet different. Flickers of luminesence, the same hue as the pallid moss-light, glimmered beneath the surface.         A tentacle slithered over the edge near to where I stood. It was of roughly the thickness of my leg at the furthest point, tapering to a fingerwidth at the tip. Its colour was a dark olive-green covered with black wartlike nodules. The underside was a pale pinkish yellow, with grasping suckers that walked the tentacle along the stone ledge in a humped rippling series of movements.         The questing tip of it brushed against my shoe, then rose with quivering obscene eagerness to caress my calf. I envisioned it cinching tight and dragging me into that oily water, and a weak cry escaped me as I stumbled away in horror and loathing.         More tentacles now joined the first, and with a great convulsive heave, they pulled  a dripping foam-streaked body onto the ledge.         It was just over the height of a man, its muscular trunk resting upon four tentacles that each branched where the knee might have been, these all forming a writhing next beneath its body. The arms were normal enough except that short, thin tentacles sprouted from the backs of the elbows, and the hands were wide and webbed with three thick fingers. Each ended in a blunt claw that resembled the carapace of a crustacean.         The head was a bulbous knob with a chitinous sharp beak similar to that of a squid. The beak was ringed with small lidless eyes, a dozen or more of them, that glowed with the same green radiance I had noticed earlier. From above each eye grew a long thin fleshy tendril, forming a Medusa's corona around this unspeakably hideous face.         It shambled toward me, the facial tentacles waving delicately in my direction like a forest of undersea grasses stirred by a suboceanic current. I backed away, unable to scream, seeing beyond it still more of the creatures pulling themselves from the lake.         Some of them unfurled wings from their backs, wings that looked like a cross between those of a bat and a manta ray. On these clumsy things, they glided through the chill air with unusual grace.         My terror became unbearable and I turned to flee. As I did so, I encountered a figure blocking my path. A figure I knew, and yet I did not know. It was my uncle, who Phillip had called Richard III as a jest against his hunched back and deformities.         I now saw the reason for that, in a burst of horrific understanding that blotted out any delight I might have felt at seeing him alive, horror because I now saw what he had concealed between his heavy shirts and coats!         With the strength born of fear, I threw myself past him and ran toward the stairs. But it was not even the unimaginable scene in the cavern that I was fleeing now, but a shattering memory that insisted on forcing its way into my mind.         Now I remembered! Now I remembered the truth of my father's death, how he had raged and threatened my mother until she buried in his head the bloodied cleaver that she had just used to sever the **malformed and vestigial wings from my back!**         The stairs seemed as endless as the road to hell. Although they rose instead of descending, it made no difference, for the hell I had found could not be escaped no matter how far I fled. The hell was in me, the proof of my monstrous heritage!         I understood it all now. My great-grandfather's nameless sire had been one of those beasts from beneath the cellar! Though his descendants had all bred with humans -- or had they? were there yet other Mosswells of which I knew nothing? -- ** the mark of that horrendous race had not been eradicated!**         What had it been, for my mother? Had my father concealed the truth from her? Had she been reconciled to it, but in the years following my birth found it preying more and more upon her mind, until she could bear it no longer and set out to cut away the outward signs of her son's inhumanity?         Endless as the stairs had seemed, I soon realized that I could see the light from my lantern. I also realized that I was uttering lung- bursting screams, and raving aloud all my terrible suppositions and certainties about my family.         I knew now what Phillip's last letter had meant -- joining our ancestors. If I had lingered a moment longer, would I have seen my cousin's face coming at me out of the shadows? Or had he really leapt from the high balcony, trusting to wings that could not support his weight? Was that why the coroner had been so evasive with me about his death?         And my mother's final words to me -- flapping in the night. She imagined them seeking us out, to make her pay for the murder of my father, to bring me home.         Yes, that was what they wanted. What they had always wanted. To bring me home. To take me down into the darkness, down into the depths. To make me one of them.         Mounting the stairs, lurching upward on their tentacles, graceless but purposeful. Any moment now, and I would feel the stealthy slick curl of their touch around my legs, dragging me with slow inexorable strength away from the light.         I risked a glance back, unable to stop my own screaming long enough to hear the fetid slopping of their bodies on the steps, but knowing they were coming. The glow, was it the glow of the moss or of their rings of eyes?         The light above and ahead of me was blotted out.         They had somehow gotten past me!         I stumbled, barely avoiding a headlong plunge into the well, my hands clutching for purchase on the moss-slick stone.         A huge three-fingered hand clamped over my wrist. The colouring was different, a paler blue-green, and the skin was dry and somehow leathery. I looked up into eyes that shone frost-white.         I sucked in breath for a new shriek, readying myself to leap into the well rather than be taken back to the cavern.         The creature spoke. "Take it easy, buddy. We're here to help."         And that was the last that I knew until much later, when I came to my senses and found myself in Dunhill's modest hospital, where they had somehow been persuaded to care for me until such time as the psychiatrists could arrive from Arkham.         They tell me I was in a state of catatonia. They tell me that I have been suffering delusions.         But they have sent for other doctors, medical doctors, scientists. They've drawn my blood. They've examined the scars on my back.         When I ask them what their tests show, they avert their eyes.                 *               *         "Brendan, gimme that blanket. He's going into shock or something."         "Here you go. Should we elevate his head?"         "His feet," Broadway corrected, doing just that with a round horsehide bolster that had a tuft of yarn at each end. He tucked the blanket -- a really ugly plaid -- around the man.         "He doesn't look good." Brendan tried the phone again, jiggling the cutoff button. "Still nothing. We can't call for help."         "The first thing we have to do is see what's down --"         "The first thing you've got to do," Brendan interrupted softly, "is see if she's all right."         Broadway turned and looked. Elektra had backed steadily away from Mosswell as he babbled, and she was now standing at the window, facing away from them. Her arms were crossed tightly, hands cupping her elbows, wings wrapped snugly around herself. Even from here, he could see how badly she was shaking.         "Go on," Brendan urged. "I'll keep an eye on him."         "Yeah, okay. Thanks." Broadway hemmed and hawed a little, then went to her. "Elektra?" He tentatively touched her shoulder. "Hey, don't worry. We'll get out of here."         "You heard him, Broadway," she said tremulously. "Gargoyles and humans cross-bred, for generations. Deformed, insane, hated! Behold what his own mother did to him when he was barely more than a hatchling! And I all but _pleaded_ with Elisa to carry Goliath's seed! Suppose she does, Broadway? And suppose she comes then to detest her own offspring?"         "Aw, hey. Not Elisa. This place doesn't have anything to do with her." He put his arms gingerly around her. "Or with you."         "It _does_!" she sobbed, embracing him and weeping against his chest. "Avalon sent us here, and like Goliath on his quest, we've found a new clan of gargoyles, gargoyles who _have_ lived and mated with humans. Look what they've come to! 'Tis a warning!"         "We don't know there are really gargoyles here. This guy, he's an enchilada shy of a combo plate. Gargoyles living in caves under a house? I mean, when the fog parted and we saw this house sitting up here, we both thought it would be the perfect place to find more gargoyles. But on the roof, on the balconies. Not underground. That's nuts."         She leaned trustingly against him, her tears subsiding a little. "Yet his back ... you saw his back."         He nodded, remembering how Mosswell had tried to jump into the pit. Broadway had caught him, but torn his shirt clean in half, revealing the bumpy, ropy scrawls of tissue. "Well, they were about where you'd expect ... but, nah! Maybe his folks beat on him, and he ... you know, incorporated it into his ... uh, delusions."         "Yes, that could be."         "We do have to check it out, though."         She sighed. "I know, we must. When first we came to his door, I saw at once that he needed our help. He seemed so pale, so drawn. Haunted, mayhap. Haunted, by whatever lies in that darkness at the bottom of the stair."         "Come on," he chuckled. "Tone down the doom and gloom voice, okay? You're creeping me out."         "I do not mean to. It is but that I am so afraid, Broadway, so very afraid of what we may find."         "You can wait up here if you'd rather."         "I would rather, but I will not." She turned her lovely eyes up to him. "We are all in this together, are we not?"         Kiss her, he thought. One nice gentle kiss, nothing demanding, a kiss for comfort and friendship.         Instead, he grinned ruefully. "Non-refundable round-trip tickets, courtesy of the Avalon travel agency."         "And one stowaway," she added with a slight smile of her own, motioning toward Brendan.         "You're the one who said we had to bring him," Broadway reminded her. "Though I gotta admit, he's handled it a heck of a lot better than I expected."         She released him with what he fancied was reluctance, though why she'd feel that way when her dream male was the handsome and well-built Jericho was beyond him. He knew there was plenty of reluctance on his part at letting go of her, but that was beside the point.         "If we're to go below, then," she said, "we'd best do it soon. The night wanes, and I would not care to spend the day under the earth."         They went back over to Brendan and Mosswell. The former was peering into the latter's fixed, staring eyes.         "I think he's catatonic, or comatose," Brendan said. "Either way, he's not going anywhere."         "We are," Broadway said.         "You're really going down there? Do you think that's a good idea?"         "No, but we're doing it anyway."         "Wait for me, then."         Broadway's brow ridges went up. "Excuse me?"         "You wish to join us?" Elektra asked.         "Not particularly, given the way this fellow was screaming," Brendan said. "But if I wait up here, and then I hear the two of _you_ screaming, I'll have to go down there all by myself. Which is something I'm even less wild about."         Broadway and Elektra exchanged a surprised glance.         "Sure, okay," Broadway said. He checked over Mosswell one more time. "No change. You're right. He needs a doctor, but he's not going to die on us in the meantime. So we've just got to come back up and take him to the next town. Let's go."         With Broadway in the lead, Elektra at his elbow, and Brendan bringing up the rear, they proceeded through the brooding old house and into the cellar.         "Hard to believe we could hear him all the way in the front yard," Brendan said, thunking his knuckles on the thick walls. He looked at Elektra. "You were right to have us wait around. You said something would happen, and sure enough ..."         "I've ne'er heard such terror." Elektra shivered, and her hand stole down to clasp Broadway's for reassurance as they descended still further, into the book-lined library in the subcellar. "Nor been in such a close and dark place as this. Tomblike, it is. As if the walls might collapse and bury us, bury us alive."         Brendan paused to look at some of the books, and frowned. "This isn't good."         "What?" In the rush to find Mosswell, spurred on by that horrible gut-wrenching screaming, he had barely noticed that there were books down here at all.         "Well, I'm no expert, but 'Unaussprechlichen Kulten' isn't something you're going to find in the Literary Guild Book-of-the- Month club. These are occult books."         "Daemonic grimoires?" Elektra drew even closer to Broadway. Under other circumstances, he would have really enjoyed it, but his concentration was elsewhere. Specifically, on the archway leading into the round room littered with broken stones around the hole in the floor. The deep, black shaft where they'd found Mosswell.         "Come on," he said.         "Perhaps we should but seal it over again," Elektra whispered. "Seal it and let it keep its secrets. 'Tis too narrow. We'd have no room to spread our wings, should we fall. Nary a cupful of air to breathe!"         "She's claustrophobic," Brendan said. "Fear of enclosed spaces. She shouldn't go down there."         "Maybe he's right ..." Broadway began.         "Nay. Frightened I may be, but I'll not stay behind. Lead on, brave Broadway, and I shall follow."         He folded his wings tight and started down, minding his talons on the steep, slippery stones. Elektra was right, closetphobia or not -- if he fell, he would only be able to spread his wings halfway.         Down, down, down. He could feel Elektra's soft breath, rapid on the back of his neck. She was trying not to crowd him, he knew, but didn't want him to get more than a few steps ahead. Brendan picked up Mosswell's lantern, and the swinging shadows made ogre's faces on the walls.         What seemed like forever later, the lantern's light was supplemented by the weird pale glow of the spores. And the stairs were sticky with some sort of slime. Broadway groaned in disgust as it sucked and squelched at his toes. Elektra fared better, having not taken off her galoshes.         "What _is_ this?" Brendan muttered. His glossy black dress shoes weren't in the best shape anyway, but he peeled one of them off the floor and balanced on the other while he tried to examine the sludge.         Broadway looked too. It was foamy and frothy, clammy. Most of all, it looked _fresh_, like a snail's trail.         The sort of trail that might have been left by slimy monsters from the deep?         They reached the bottom, and found the cavern that Mosswell had described. It was as big as an airplane hangar, with dribbly formations hanging from the ceiling and blobby congealed islands poking up out of the water. The biggest of these was out in the middle, looking like a half-melted birthday cake, dotted with caves and openings.         Nothing moved. There were no sounds but their own.         "Amazing," Brendan said quietly. He set down the lantern, since the entire cathedral-sized space was ghostly-lit by the moss.         "There is magic here." Elektra closed her eyes and her body swiveled slightly, like a radar dish. "Not of Avalon. Not fae. It seems strongest toward that largest isle."         "Maybe we should check it out."         Brendan gestured to the expanse of inky water. "After you."         "Here. Hold on." Broadway held out one hand and Elektra held out another.         He took them dubiously. "Kind of hard to have happy thoughts in a place like this, isn't it? Don't drop me."         "It's not like it could mess up your suit any more," Broadway pointed out.         "True enough, but I don't like the looks of that lake."         "At least there's an updraft coming off of it. Don't swoop too low," he cautioned Elektra, and she nodded. "Right. On three. One ... two ... three!"         There was a scary moment when Broadway thought they weren't going to make it. But they corrected for Brendan's added weight and skimmed the surface, a few inches above. It was all too easy to imagine a gross green tentacle snapping up and snaring them. At last, they got a little altitude and soared toward the top of the large island formation, where they could see a squat black column.         With one final glance to make sure they weren't about to touch down in the gaping drooling maw of a monster cleverly disguised as a heap of limestone slag, they landed at the top. The stone felt moist and somehow sweaty.         "There!" Elektra gasped. "The magic is there!"         She pointed to the column, which had a concave hollow in the top. Resting within was something that Broadway thought looked like an entertainment award. It was a tall skinny pyramid-shape made of yellow-glazed clay, set into a white marble base. At the tip of the pyramid was a disk of beaten gold with wavy rays straggling out from it to form a sun.         The marble base had gold letters inlaid into it, and the clay pyramid was covered with weird stick figures and drawings. Broadway couldn't make heads or tails of either.         "So what is it?" he wondered. "Elektra, can you read that?"         "These words are ..."         "Latin," Brendan finished. "And those others are heiroglyphs. Egyptian. 18th Dynasty, maybe 19th. Approximately 1550-1300 B.C."         "Yeah?" Broadway packed a paragraph of questions into one.         "My grandfather was an archaeologist. He was on Carter's expedition back in the 1920's, the one in the Valley of the Kings that discovered Tutankhamen's tomb. I could listen to him for hours when I was a kid. I went on a dig outside of Cairo during college, and I've collected a few items. Mostly museum-quality reproductions, but a few geniune pieces. Margot thinks it's a waste of time, of course --"         He broke off and grinned a self-conscious little grin, realizing that they were both staring at him in astonishment. "Bet you didn't think there was more to me than BMWs and champagne, did you?"         "So you can read this?" Elektra asked. "Translate it?"         "Well, I'm a little rusty," he chuckled. "Let me get a better look." He leaned closer, reaching for the pyramid.         "'Ware!" Elektra cried.         As his hand crossed the edge of the column, it was gloved briefly in rot-green light. There was a puff of smoke that stank like spoiled meat. Brendan jerked back, slipped, and Broadway continued his unbroken record of catching people just before they plunged over the side.         "My _hand_!" Brendan held it up, gaping at it as if it belonged to a stranger. The flesh was bloated and spongy, and as they watched, oozing blisters erupted on it. He flexed his fingers and the skin over his knuckles split.         Brendan's eyes bugged, and his chest began to hitch. Before he could freak out completely, Elektra grabbed his forearm.         "Brendan, no! 'Tis only illusion!"         The effect -- leprosy, gangrene, whatever the heck it was, spread down to his wrist. When it touched his cuffs, the fabric withered and tattered. His gold and onyx cufflinks tarnished and flaked.         "Illusion!" Elektra insisted. "Deny it! Disbelieve it! Only you can counter this foul spell!"         When the effect reached the spot where her slim fingers were clamped around his sleeve, it stopped spreading.  But above her grip, the splits in his skin were widening, trickling fluid that teemed with black parasites.         Brendan closed his eyes tight. His brow furrowed in concentration.         "Good," Elektra said. "It's fading -- nay, look not, not yet. Fading. And neither does it hurt, remember? You felt no pain. You felt nothing. Illusion to trick the eyes and mind only."         Broadway saw that she was right, it was fading. His own stomach stopped the slow forward roll it had begun at the prospect of watching a man rot away before his very eyes.         But they now had worse things to worry about. The lake was rippling, a thick, slow undulation that made it look more like syrup than water. And he saw a definite wake as something moved swiftly toward them.         "That's better," Brendan was saying, turning his hand back and forth with undisguised relief. "Thank you!"         Elektra shrugged modestly. "I was the Magus' pupil, and while I never did learn to weild magic myself --"         "We've got trouble." Broadway moved protectively in front of Elektra.         The fast-moving shape reached the edge of the island and thrust itself upward, propelled by powerful muscles. It flopped onto a low outcropping.         "He wasn't crazy," Broadway said.         "Oh, he was crazy," Brendan corrected. "Point is, he wasn't _wrong!_"         The thing below them, now rising from the wet splotch where it had beached itself walrus-like on the rock, was a gargoyle. But not like any gargoyle Broadway had ever seen. Nothing like his clan, nothing like Griff's. Even Goliath's description of Zafiro from Guatamala was not within shouting distance of this creature.         Tentacles. Webbed hands. Wings that had been tucked against its back and sides as it swam, probably squirting itself along in a jellyfish motion. And its face ... its face ... that was the worst of all.         No, the worst of all was that there were more of them. Emerging from the water and from the caves on the island. Not identical; that might have made it easier to accept. Most were of the same basic shape, but a few were hugely different. Rugose creatures with spiraled prehistoric-mollusk shells and a bristle of spindly legs, their wings buzzing with a dragonfly drone.         How would Goliath handle this one? Broadway wondered. But Goliath wasn't here; it was up to him. He stepped forward.         "Hello!" he called.         An eerie gelatinous cry emerged from their throats. Whether this was meant as threat or greeting was anybody's guess.         Then another one came into view, and Broadway heard Elektra's startled intake of breath behind him. He could guess why.         Richard Mosswell. Had to be. He walked on normal-looking legs that each ended in four wide, flat stubby tentacles. A loincloth of what looked like black kelp was slung around his waist. His shoulders were hunched, his wings full-sized but misshapen. One hand was human, the other webbed and three-fingered.         Elektra moaned, a pathetic trapped-animal sound.         "Get away from the column!" Richard Mosswell ordered.         "Don't worry." Broadway raised his own wings a little. "We're gargoyles, like you. See?"         "Gargoyles ... but not like us! Surface dwellers! Protectors!" He spat out the last word like it tasted bad.         Broadway frowned, puzzled, until he realized that the whole clan, except Mosswell, submurged periodically before resurfacing. Gills yawned and puckered.         "They don't breathe the air," he murmured. "Gargoyles protect like they breathe, but they don't breathe!"         "I said get away from there!" Richard Mosswell repeated.         "They're afraid." Elektra came forward and touched Broadway's arm. "Afraid ... of us?"         He noticed they were all keeping a prudent distance, even though the clan seemed to be dozens strong. Their multitudes of eyes flickered with hatred, but they did not attack.         "We're not going to break your magic whatsis," Broadway said.         Mosswell's laugh sounded like a straw at the bottom of a milkshake. "If only!"         "They're not afraid we're going to break it," Brendan said in an undertone. After his initial shock, he had actually managed to turn away from the approaching monstrous clan to keep studying the pyramid. "They're afraid we're going to use it."         "Take them!" Mosswell roared.         "Here we go." Broadway doubled his fists as the gargoyles obeyed Mosswell and came at them.         It was a deadly-serious game of King of the Hill, with him and Elektra leaping back and forth trying to repel what Broadway had mentally dubbed the Squid Clan.         One of them tackled him, and it was like wrestling with an armful of giant worms. The tentacles snaked around his neck, the suckers leaving stinging round welts on his skin. He couldn't get puchase on that warty, slippery hide to tear it away from him, so he pounded on it until it let go and fell away from him, squirting him with smelly, gluey ink.         He saw Elektra go down under a seething mass of tentacles, and Brendan seized. Within moments, the two of them were restrained and the rest of the clan were converging on him.         He put up the best fight he could, and thought Goliath and Hudson would have been proud of him, but the sheer numbers overwhelmed him. Before long, he was lined up right alongside his friends, aching in a hundred places and bleeding in a dozen or two.         "Oh, Broadway!" Elektra tried to reach for him, but her guards had her wrapped in so many tentacles (and some of those were sliding over her in what could only be construed as a lascivious caress) that she could barely move.         "Once every five hundred years, the conditions are right," Mosswell said, looking them over with approval.         Cryptic remarks, great. "What are you talking about?" Broadway asked with as much bravado as he could muster.         "Stars that have no meaning to the astronomers of this age form a pattern of power. Twice a millenium, this world spins into place. The ancients knew of this. Our ancestors knew of this."         Elektra, who knew a little about the conjunction of stars from her use of the Magus' Seeing Stone, was nodding. She focused on Mosswell, ignoring the tentacles that slithered over her hips and breasts, as if understanding that showing her revulsion would only invite worse treatment.         Broadway wasn't handling it nearly so well. He wanted to rip those defiling things out by the roots and strangle their owners with them.         Mosswell continued, and now Broadway realized that this was the classic scene in which the villain explains his plan before putting the good guys' deathtrap into motion. "When the time grew near, our clan made itself known to the humans. Made _pacts_ with them. Provided them with treasures and fortunes, and they in turn provided access to the upper world. Not so different from the fish-folk of Innsmouth. And, like the fish-folk, some of this clan desired a more intimate contact with the humans. Which is how my own illustrious line came about."         "Illustrious, certainly." Brendan had just the right amount of bored-at-the-cocktail-party disdain, and it sure set Mosswell back a step. "Your nephew's nutty as a squirrel, you know."         "Blame his mother for that!" Mosswell snarled. "If she'd left him, he wouldn't be having such a hard time adjusting! He'll soon see that he belongs, that he's needed!"         "Needed for what?" Broadway tried to emulate Brendan's tone but couldn't quite manage.         "To gather the sacrifices," Elektra said softly. "Do you not see it? He alone is in appearance human enough. Recall the empty village. We thought they fled, and mayhap some did, but most were brought here. Brought, and slain, on behalf of those distant stars."         Mosswell's smile was ghastly. "Phillip did his duty for a while, but his wings could not hold him. I expect better things of Howard. Who has already, unintentionally, brought us his first victims."         "You sacrifice humans? You're supposed to _protect_ them!" Broadway was more appalled by this notion than any of the other things he'd so far learned on this long, hellish night.         A sludgey ripple of laughter -- the Squid Clan might not have been able to speak the language, but they understood it well enough.         "I really don't think I care for the direction this is going," Brendan murmured.         "As well you shouldn't ... _human_!" Mosswell sneered in his face. "Yours will be the first, and worst, death. And you, fat _protector_, if our god is kind, will follow thereafter."         None of them asked about Elektra's fate. Did they really have to?         Mosswell turned to his clan and raised his arms, slightly spreading his misshapen wings as if it hurt him to do so. "Raise Nargoth!"         "I don't like the sound of that!" Brendan no longer looked like he was dealing with a tedious bore at a society party.         The conical ones clustered together and began a deep guttural chant that resonated through their shells. There were words in the chant, but they were in a language that only made sense on a buried, racial-memory level. No understanding, only a hollow aching dread.         "If you are kind, my friend," Elektra whispered to Broadway, "slay me now."         "Avalon sent us here to stop this," he replied grimly. "That's what we're gonna do."         The chant had intensified until the stone cathedral rang with it. Even their captors had joined in, swaying back and forth absurdly, their facial tendrils stroking the air in rapturous gestures.         A series of enormous bubbles rose from the depths, making blisters on the black surface.         Broadway felt the cold fear sweep over him. With the fear came understanding, more of those racial memories clawing their way into awareness.         Something was rising, rising from a trench that made the Marianis look like a little dip in the seabed. Something that should explode from the difference in pressure, but did not. Something that no one, human or gargoyle, should ever have to see.         The lake bulged upward, then sluiced apart as the god of the Squid Clan came up.         Broadway felt a tiny fuse in his mind sizzle and snap, and then he was able to look at the thing more or less objectively.         It was shaped like Bronx, a Bronx the size of a DC-10. Rivers of displaced water coursed over its scaly hide, between the folded manta/bat/draconian wings. Barnacles and growths speckled its sides. The trunklike legs ended in wide flippers that curved into cups and each ended in a single scything claw more than a dozen feet long. One swipe by one of those babies, and you'd never order takeout again.         Its head was a backswept torpedo with a big Creature of the Black Lagoon fin. Gills, a livid fever-pink against its dark scales, pulsed rhythmically. Broadway figured he could squeeze even his bulk through one of those slitlike openings, if he cared to. Not that he cared to.         At the front of the torpedo-head, a brow ridge with nubs fully six feet high shadowed the place where eyes would have been if this thing had eyes. Instead, there was just a broad, hollow depression lined with something that looked like the bottom of a starfish.         If there was anything about this that was even remotely comical, it was the way the long feelers around the things unseen-but- presumably-there mouth drooped like a moustache. Those feelers, though, weren't anything so benign as hair but wavered and coiled and curled and uncurled, a blind clot of worms dripping slime.         "I can cope with magic boat rides," Brendan was saying. "I can cope with gargoyles in New York and even with this bunch -- to me, it's just a differing degree of weirdness. But I _cannot_ cope with being eaten alive by some cthulhoid monster from the deeps!!" He screamed this last bit, after starting off in a nice polite tone.         His scream went pretty much unnoticed, since the Squid Clan were in raptures over the appearance of their god.         Okay, Broadway thought, operating with a cool detachment that was probably the early stages of totally going crackers. Brendan's lost it. Elektra?         A quick glance showed that she hadn't fainted yet but was on the verge. Her lovely ivory-hued skin had gone chalky grey.         The tentacles holding them had loosened, because their captors were keening worshipfully and swaying. And maybe, probably, they figured their victims would be too out-to-lunch to even try anything.         Wrong.         Broadway freed one arm, brought it up and around, and put his elbow into one's beak hard enough to crack the chitinous stuff into shards. As that one reeled back, its keen changing to a shrill bleat of pain, Broadway was already whirling on the other, seizing its gross facial tendrils in both hands and yanking what passed for its head briskly forward. The nubby ridge along the top of Broadway's own head connected with a sound like a clean break on a pool table.         He shoved the limp body away, seeing that three of its phosphorescent eyes had gone dark and realizing that the goo was splattered all over his scalp. Yuck. No time to stress about it now.         The rest hadn't noticed yet, but he wasn't going to bank on their continued ignorace. He went after one of the ones that had ahold of Elektra, made a pretty good guess about Squid Clan physiology and went for a field goal.         His foot caught the squidgoyle right between a spot where two tentacles joined the body and the thing didn't even have time to make a noise. It scrunched all its tentacles into a ball and collapsed.         Elektra came out of it enough to realize what was going on. She lay hold of one of the tentacles that had been oozing over her breasts and smacked it against the wall like a woman weilding a rug- beater on a particularly dusty carpet.         Her captor uttered a piercing cry that got the attention of everyone in the room, just as Broadway body-slammed it, sent it flying backward, and it impaled itself on one of the rock formations.         The only sound or motion in the entire cavern, not counting the steady rain of water still pattering from the hide of the god- monster, was the thrashing/squealing of its death throes.         Broadway paused for one horrified moment with the realization that he'd killed a gargoyle. But he couldn't dwell on it, because Elektra chose that instant to leap at the ones holding Brendan.         The god of the Squid Clan uttered a displeased grunt that shook the cavern. His followers roared and slavered with hatred, and surged toward them. Luckily, they were quite a ways away; unluckily, they were between Broadway's group and the door.         Elektra raked her dainty claws furiously at a ring of eyes, popping several of them in quick succession like pomegranate pips. The half-blinded squidling lashed out at her but missed. Its partner, unconcerned about Brendan, released him to grab Elektra from behind.         Tentacles coiled over her. Broadway saw them bunch and flex, and understood that the squidling was going to tear her apart.         Brendan biffed it in the back of the head, and though to Broadway the blow looked sissy, there must have been some gumption to it, because the squidling's head rocked forward. It might not have hurt a heck of a lot, but it did get its attention.         That distraction proved just long enough for Broadway to barrell past the other one (knocking it into the water; he barely noticed the splash) and start ripping tentacles off Elektra with the enthusiasm of an explorer hacking his way through the jungle vines in search of fabulous treasure.         "The pyramid!" Brendan said. Broadway didn't even know what he was talking about, until Brendan jabbed his finger urgently in the direction of the column atop the island. "It's a weapon!"         No sense debating it. Broadway scooped up Elektra and tossed her into the air. "Get him to it!"         She swooped around and grabbed Brendan's hands. "What shall you do?"         "Guess," he replied grimly, and launched himself.         Not at the Squid Clan, no, that would be a short but futile exercise. Instead, he went for what was likely to be just as short and just as futile but might impress them with the sheer ballsiness of it, and attacked the big one.         Worked like a charm. The Squid Clan forgot all about Elektra and Brendan when they saw Broadway zeroing in on their god. And best of all, the Squid God himself was evidently only used to doing actual combat with things a lot bigger than Broadway. Targets that small were usually presented nicely trussed up and waiting to be eaten.         Broadway landed on the thing's back. His first punch was like hitting concrete. No good. Maybe there was a soft underbelly, but it was still submurged if so. The tender-looking expanse beneath the brow ridge was too close to the grasping feelers for comfort, but Broadway headed that way anyhow.         As he was scrambling up the back of its neck, he noticed that the scales here were smaller. He dug his fingers under the edge of one, just like prying up a manhole cover. It came loose, and he chucked it at the nearest squidling.         The revealed tissue beneath was more gristle than anything else, but Broadway plunged both hands into it, digging as fervently as a dog hot on the trail of a juicy bone.         The Squid God bellowed, and the clan roared in response. One of the cone-shaped ones with the buzzing wings touched down a few feet away and began to quiver, emitting some sort of ultrasonic vibration that made Broadway's teeth ache and vision blur. He felt like his head was going to explode.         He tackled it, wrestled it off its scuttling crab legs so that the pointy end was down, and rammed it directly into the Squid God's wounded neck. It was by no means a death blow, not even a serious wound. but Broadway'd gotten the notion that this thing wasn't used to being on the receiving end of any sort of pain, especially not delivered by a lowly lone gargoyle.         It bucked and thrashed, and Broadway was thrown clear. He crashed straight through an approaching fan of squidlings, rebounded off the cavern's wall, and very nearly ended up in the water.         He risked a quick glance to see what Brendan and Elektra were up to. They had reached the top of the island, and evidently the illusion hadn't gotten to Brendan this time, because he held the object in his hands, the clay pyramid on a marble base, topped with a golden sun. Egyptian markings and Latin words. A weapon, he said.         Broadway sure hoped he was right.         He wasn't the only one who had figured out what was going on over there. Richard Mosswell was almost on them, looking barely human at all in his rage and fear.         Brendan raised the artifact, and all of a sudden it occurred to Broadway that it was up to Brendan of all people to get them out of this. If anybody'd told him that Avalon had that kind of sense of humor, he might've stayed home.         His lips moved. Broadway supposed he might be shouting words in Latin, but over the din of the Squid God and his followers, he couldn't hear a thing.         He didn't need to hear, as it turned out, because he saw plenty. The golden sun atop the pyramid blazed forth in a disk of fire.         The sun, Broadway thought as it grew brighter and warmer, brighter and hotter. The sun, the sun, the sun!         He couldn't see Brendan at all. The man was lost in the fierce glow. He could just barely see Elektra, who was squinting and had her arms raised against the light, yet her expression was one of awe and wonder. Broadway supposed the same look was on his face. It was a thousand times more radiant and beautiful than it was on tv! No descriptions did it justice!         And then, though his internal clock was telling him it was still the middle of the night, he felt it begin to happen. The heaviness in his muscles, the tightness of his skin.         Not just the light and heat of day, but actual day itself! Here in this watery cavern beneath the earth, where sunlight had never touched.         He was turning to stone.                 *               *         Brendan's hands hummed with power. Though he stood at the center of the light, it didn't blind him. He could see everything clear as day.         Clear as day, all right, because that's what it was.         He watched as Elektra, closest to him, solidified into a solid grey statue. Presumably, Broadway was doing the same thing.         But was this good or bad? Was he going to be on his own in a cave full of rabid foaming monsters bent on gruesomely sacrificing him to their hideous god? Or would they turn to stone too?         Neither, as it turned out.         When the blazing sunlight struck them, the gargoyles shrieked in unimaginable agony as their flesh stiffened, becoming something that wasn't stone or flesh but some pumicelike substance inbetween.         Those that were mid-air plunged down. Some of them struck ledges and stone outcrops. Those ones cracked apart like geodes, except instead of revealing sparkling crystals, a spongy dark gravel spilled out. Others went into the lake with plops and splashes like a handful of pebbles tossed into a puddle.         Looming above it all was the mammoth calcifying form they'd summoned. It began to sink beneath the surface, but fissures were forming, chunks were falling off. It was still trying to move, but that only quickened the process. One whole wing fragmented, and feelers dropped like crushed stone snakes.         When the water closed over it with a greedy sucking sound, Brendan slowly lowered the artifact. He was about to set it down when he heard something behind him.         Richard Mosswell, skin peeling off in parchmenty flakes, staggered toward him. His face was screwed into a grotesque grimace, his eyes watering copiously against the searing light. He said something unintelligible, but Brendan didn't have to be a mindreader to know that Mosswell sincerely intended that his last act upon earth would be to crush the skull of one misplaced Bostonian social climber.         The artifact was beginning to dim. Instead of a summer midday, it now had the quality of a golden late autumn afternoon.         Brendan set it aside, noting that the glow continued even when he was no longer touching it. He adopted the classic boxer's stance, not this ear-biting roundhouse stuff that passed for boxing these days, but boxing the way it was meant to be, a gentlemen's sport, the way they taught it at Harvard.         Mosswell, evidently lacking the benefits of a formal education, came at him in a savage charge born of pain and rage and desperation. Brendan, more cool and collected than he ever would have believed, easily sidestepped and delivered a quick one-two of his own.         The first struck Mosswell on his shoulder, his flaking skin making a crunchy noise like stepped-on popcorn, a noise Brendan would be happy if he never heard again. It turned Mosswell just enough for the second punch to land right on his chin.         He wasn't quite knocked out, but he staggered back, slipped in the gritty rubble of one of his clan, and fell six feet onto an outcrop. He rolled onto his stomach, crawled toward the edge, and half-dove, half- tumbled into the water.         "Owww," Brendan said, shaking his fist and examining his knuckles.         The light went from golden to burnt orange to dusky red to a translucent rose-purple, and then it was gone.         Gone, leaving Brendan in total darkness because the lantern had gotten broken during the fight and the moss had been withered to dry brown fuzz, no longer shedding its weird glow.         Alone on an island, no way out except by swimming, and damned if he was going to set one foot in that water! He felt around in the dark and found the sculpted clay of the artifact, but he was too exhausted to remember the words. He slouched down, his back pressed against a bulge of stone.         Alone in the dark. He could feel fear seeping in now that adrenaline had worn off, and new that fear would soon turn to panic, and panic would send him on a sightless stampede that would most likely end up with him going in the drink. He'd had enough of that for one lifetime, thank you, after having to get fished out of the ocean by gargoyles.         He heard a new sound, alarmingly close, like ice cracking. This was followed by a brittle series of snaps, then a ticking patter that reminded him absurdly of the time Margot had broken a pearl necklace.         The pearls-on-hardwood sound was followed by a gusty sigh from nearby, and a growling roar from far across the cavern.         "Broadway? Brendan?"         "Elektra, thank God!" Brendan said, and then did the most sensible thing he could think of -- he blacked out.                 *               *          EPILOGUE POSTMARKED DUNHILL, MA:         Dear Everybody,         We are doing fine, and sorry we haven't written before but there wasn't a post office. If you know about our last stop, you should know that Brendan V. is with us. He says not to let his wife declare him dead yet.         Still no Jericho. Elektra says Avalon has some other things for us to do first, though she hopes we find him soon and she wishes Avalon would send us to a happier place next time. There are things maybe men and gargoyles aren't meant to know.         These postcards were a great idea, Goliath. There's a mailbox right across from the hospital (don't worry, it's another guy we had to bring to get help). Miss you all. B.                 *               * The End.