Lead Me Not ...

by Christine Morgan

Lead Me Not ...
Christine Morgan (vecna@eskimo.com)

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney and are used here without their knowledge or permission. This story (which was going to be titled "Dark Side" until I changed my mind) contains some adult scenes and is for mature readers only.
Acknowledgements: Nikki Taylor is the creation of Leva and although she doesn't actually _appear_ herein, she is probably by now in the running for Most Borrowed Fanfic Character. And credit goes to Christi Hayden for coming up with the wonderful character of Chas Yale, also mentioned herein! Thank you, ladies, I named an observatory after you! ; )
"This really is quite a setup," Birdie Yale said, slinging her badminton racket over one shoulder as she reached for a lemonade. "Who's your gardener, Mary Poppins?" "Manners, manners," Puck chided. "Don't distract my student." Alexander Xanatos, the student in question, did not appear to be distracted. His attention was focused on the hibachi in front of him. Specifically, on the pile of unlit coals. "I thought they only barbequed turkey in California," Birdie remarked. "Fergs?" "Not my family," Aiden Ferguson replied, bracing her own racket against the table and refilling her glass. "But some of the neighbors did." "Even on Thanksgiving?" "Even then." "We're not barbequing the turkey and would you please hush up?" Puck floated over to them, legs folded tailor-fashion. "Some people have school today." "Only because some teachers never let up," Birdie said. "But you're not an American, so what would you care about Thanksgiving?" "The gargoyles aren't Americans either, but they care," Aiden said. "Broadway's been cooking all week!" Alex went on ignoring them all. His sea-blue eyes narrowed, his little brow furrowed, and a wisp of smoke curled up from the hibachi. Within seconds, flames were licking merrily at the coals. "I did it!" he piped. In glee, he bobbed off the grass and spun in a somersault. "Good lad!" Puck cheered. "Oh," Alex said, suddenly somber, looking at Birdie with a soulful expression. "Aiden and me did the garden. Don't you like it?" "Never said that, kiddo!" Birdie ruffled his firegold hair. "It's great! I especially love the Willie Wonka part." "That's the chocolate room," Alex explained proudly. "Everything's eatable." "Edible," Aiden corrected. "You can eat almost anything," Puck finished. "And that's Pooh's Thoughtful Spot," Alex pointed. "I recognized it right away," Birdie told him. "Isn't it nice?" Aiden sighed happily. "Outside, it's grey and blah, but in here, it's always springtime!" "A simple thing, really," Puck said modestly. "Mr. Xanatos does prefer to keep the pool area temperate. But now, my boy, back to your lesson. Can you shape the fire?" "Into what?" Alex asked. "Whatever you like." He concentrated, and one flame rose up, grew wings, and became the image of a tiny dragon. "Damn, I wish I could do that," Birdie said. "Well, at the very least, Fergs, I can trash you at badminton." "That's what you keep saying," Aiden said as they headed back to the grassy court. "But how come they're always just practice shots?" "Okay, okay. This game's for real. Just don't get pissed when I win, and then never invite me back." "You invited yourself anyway," Puck pointed out. "Mr. Xanatos said you were welcome," Aiden hastily assured her friend. "Your folks didn't mind?" "Nah. They're happier this way. Holidays *chez* Yale really suck. My grandfather thinks I'm hellbound, and you know about Aunt Margot. All anyone would do is talk about what happened to Scarlet Angel, and I really don't want to spend Thanksgiving dinner crying into my sweet potatoes while they dish up a plateful of I-told-you-so." "Elisa said Matt would be back from California today. Maybe he's found out something," Aiden said hopefully. "I know it wasn't Ebon. It couldn't have been." "Let's _not_ talk about it, 'kay? Otherwise I'll wind up crying again." "Okay. My serve?" "Sure, I'll give you one." Birdie's laugh turned into a sputter as she missed her return shot by a mile. Picking up the feathered projectile, she held it in front of her and scolded it firmly. "Listen, you. I'm a Birdie and you're a birdie, so could you cooperate a little?" With that, she tossed it high and walloped it. It sailed over Aiden's head, rebounded off a column by the pool, and caromed into the Hundred Acre Wood. Where it struck a beehive, which loosed a seething black torrent. The bees swarmed up, hovered for a moment, then arrowed down at the two girls. Aiden shrieked and ducked under the net, nearly colliding with Birdie, who was holding her racket like a weapon. "No, run!" Aiden pulled her. Puck turned idly to watch as they flashed past with the bees in hot pursuit. "Split up!" Birdie yelled, taking her own advice and veering right. The bees divided precisely to follow each of them. "The pool!" Aiden took _her_ own advice and made for it, with Birdie on her heels. They jumped in feet first. The bees zipped by just above the surface of the water, buzzed about in consternation, then returned to the tree. "It worked," Aiden gasped, paddling over to join Birdie, who was pawing her burgundy-streaked curls out of her eyes. "What bees these mortals fool," Puck chortled. Birdie shot him a look as she hauled herself out. "You staged that on purpose, all so you could say that, didn't you, smarty-britches?" "Respect your elders, Roberta Louise." "Start acting like one, and I might, Pucky-Wucky," she retorted. "Where ever did you get that mouth?" he wondered. Aiden wrung out her hair, smiling at their banter, wishing she could join in so easily. In her mind, Puck was still Owen, and both of them were authority figures. After almost two years, she still felt awkward around him, not to mention the Xanatoses. "Came with the package," Birdie said. "Seriously, though, growing up in the shadow of my valedictorian prep-school golden boy- big brother was what did it. I couldn't compete with Chas, so I was like, starved for attention, you know?" She playfully tweaked Puck's ear. He shot six feet straight up and turned bright pink. "Don't _do_ that!" "Hey, so it _is_ true!" Birdie laughed. "I just read this bitchin' new fantasy novel where the elves' ears were a major turn-on spot." "Lex has something like that," Aiden said, running her thumbs down her sides along the ribcage. "Right here where his wings --" she suddenly heard what she was saying and shut up in a hurry. Too late, because both Birdie and Puck were looking at her with grins and glints in their eyes. "Hey, Lex, Broadway," Brooklyn called from on high. "Did we miss the annual Castle Wyvern wet tee-shirt contest?" Winged shapes, not bees this time but gargoyles, swooped down from the gallery. "Gee, I hope not," Broadway said as he landed and surveyed Birdie. Aiden gasped and crossed her arms over her ungenerous bosom, but Birdie looked down at the cloth plastered to her abundant curves. Then she smirked, said, "Well, now that you guys had an eyeful, when's the wet loincloth contest?" and pushed Brooklyn in the pool. "Hey, you can't do that to my rookery brother," Broadway protested, charging Birdie with a mock roar. She tackled him and they both went in just as Brooklyn was coming up, and all three of them sank straight to the bottom with a chorus of gurgled yelps. Lex fell over laughing in the grass. Aiden eyed him. "You think you're getting out of this, mister?" "_You_ can't throw me in," Lex said. "True." Aiden swept a hand through the air, spoke a word in Latin, and an arc of water leaped from the pool to drench him where he sat. It also thoroughly splashed -- "Goliath!" Aiden staggered back, mortified. Goliath's arm shot out and caught her just before she tumbled backward into the pool. "No harm done, Aiden," he said, shaking water from his sable mane. Angela, landing well out of the combat zone, giggled merrily. "Whatever happened here, I'm glad I missed it!" Puck's eyebrow went up, and a raincloud formed directly over the lavender she-garg, soaking her to the skin. Brooklyn had managed to pull himself to dry land and lay there like a drowned rat. He could barely muster the energy to leer at Angela as her garment immediately molded itself to her flesh. "Truce?" Broadway begged, shaking water from his ears. "Okay." Birdie quit ducking him and they joined Brooklyn at poolside. "Someone still looks pretty dry," Lexington said, looking at Puck. "I wouldn't," Aiden cautioned. Lex heeded not her warnings, but dove for the garden hose. He aimed the nozzle at Puck and triggered it. The hose instantly turned into a huge green snake and coiled around him. "Ag!" Lex cried. He wrestled the snake around so that he had it by the neck, its open mouth inches from his head. And then, of course, it turned back into the hose and he sprayed himself full in the face. Puck transformed himself into Owen's rigid guise and gave them all one of his famous scathing looks. "Are you all quite finished?" he asked. "Bronx, nay!" they heard Hudson bellow from the gallery, and everyone looked up just as Bronx, eager to join the fun, cannonballed himself from the rail. A tremendous gout of water went up, came down, and when the tidal wave was over, even Owen was dripping. "Look out below," Hudson called belatedly, after having a hearty laugh at their expense. Alex, untouched by any of it, gave them all a look that suggested _he_, at all of his three years of age, was the only mature person in the room. David Xanatos chose that moment to come in, with Elisa and Matt Bluestone in tow. "I thought I heard a --" he stopped short. "Owen?" "Yes, sir?" as if he wasn't standing in puddles. "What's going on?" "Alexander was just about to demonstrate one of his new abilities," Owen said smoothly, and motioned to the boy. Alex nodded. "Zephyr come and zephyr go, let the West Wind blow, blow, blow." He pursed his little lips and blew, and a warm current of air flowed over them, drying up all the excess water. Of course, this left all of them except Lex, Broadway, and Bronx with crackling haloes of static-electric hair, but it was better than before. Elisa came down to join her husband. "Sorry I'm late. Had to pick Matt up at the airport." "Hi, everyone," Matt said, looking tan and healthy from his trip to Southern California, but his eyes were still troubled by the business that had taken him there. "I wanted to come by and -- what is _that?_" "That," Xanatos declared with a sour look at Aiden, "is a truffula tree, because truffula trees are what everyone needs." "It was my favorite story when I was little!" Aiden cried apologetically. "I thought he'd like the video!" "Yeah," Lex rallied to her defense. "How could she know you'd side with the greedy industrialist?" "I speak for the trees!" Alex announced. "Let 'em grow, let 'em grow!" "Right." Xanatos winked at Aiden to show her he was teasing. "Matt, will you be joining us for dinner?" "Can't, sorry. Mom's expecting me and Edie at eight. But I wanted to fill you in on the Scarlet Angel stuff." He opened his briefcase. "I know what you've all been thinking, but near as I can figure, it wasn't Demona. These are photos of the roof of the car that went into the ravine with Johnny Harlowe in it. Claw marks here, and here. Look at the width. This one's an actual-size blowup." Angela laid her hand on the photo. "My mother's hands are the same size as mine. These couldn't have been made by her!" Goliath settled his massive mitt over them. The match was nearly perfect, and Matt nodded. "About what I thought. We're looking at a male garg, a big one." "It couldn't have been Ebon, it couldn't!" Aiden insisted. Lex, Broadway, and Birdie all seconded her. "If you've got another explanation, I'm listening," Matt said. Goliath, Elisa, and Angela looked at one another. Angela shook her head desperately. "No, Father, don't even think it!" "We must admit it is a possibility," Goliath argued, as if the very words pained him to say. "What?" Matt asked. "What's up? Is there a garg unaccounted for? One of the other clones?" "Not a clone," Goliath said heavily. "One of Avalon's. My son." "My brother, my biological brother," Angela added, wringing her hands. "So that's what Demona was doing on Avalon!" Brooklyn said, smacking a fist into his palm. "Wait, wait, how do ye know this?" Hudson demanded. "We met one of the Avalon clan on our honeymoon," Elisa replied. "Elektra. Avalon sent her to us to ... well --" she cleared her throat and self-consciously clasped the amber pendant around her neck "-- that's not important right now." "She had come seeking Jericho," Goliath said. "He'd left Avalon with Demona." Brooklyn turned to Angela. "That's why you've been gone so much, on all those solo patrols!" He sounded almost relieved. "Looking for your brother, right?" "Yes. We thought that if the whole clan approached them, my mother might fear an attack. But if just I went, alone, I might be able to talk to them." Her shoulders drooped dispiritedly. "No luck. Her house stands empty." "She sold the house when Nightstone Unlimited went belly- up," Xanatos said. "Trying to make up for some of the losses. She couldn't let the authorities investigate her, risk them finding out about her nocturnal activities." "Oh, but I don't want to believe that Jericho would do something like this!" Angela wailed. "Ruth always said he might give Gabriel trouble someday, not content to be second-in-command, but this! No! It is too much! He's no killer!" "Elektra feared that he might become so, to please his mother." Goliath growled. "That she would turn her own son to evil ..." "Demona can be ... persuasive," Brooklyn said, turning deeper crimson. "Whoo," Matt exhaled. "I'd just about written off the whole Demona angle. Wish I'd known about this. Not that it could have gone into my official statement anyway. Bad enough I was called in as the country's gargoyle expert! I wouldn't want to become the magic island expert too!" "There doesn't seem to be anything else we can do at this point," Xanatos said. "What about this Elektra?" Broadway asked. "Maybe she'll find them!" "And then Demona will have her claws in two of them!" Lex pointed out. "I do not like to think what Demona might to do Elektra," Goliath rumbled, looking worriedly at Elisa. "We should have stopped her, should have brought her back with us." "It wasn't up to us," Elisa said. "We, of all people, ought to know better than to try and mess with Avalon's plans. But you're right. If Demona realizes the truth ..." "What are you talking about?" Angela asked. "What truth? Why do you think my rookery sister would be in danger?" "Yeah, wouldn't Demona just try and recruit her, too?" Lex put in. "Elektra is ... unique," Goliath admitted after a lengthy pause. "In such a way that might inspire Demona's hatred." "Because she was the Magus' pupil?" Angela frowned. "No." Goliath glanced around at them, took a deep breath, then dropped the bomb. "Because she is half human." Everybody spoke at once. "What?" blurted Lex. "Whoa!" Broadway exclaimed. "No way!" Brooklyn gaped. "Elektra?" Angela gasped. "Really," Xanatos murmured thoughtfully. "Och, I'd clean forgotten about that," Hudson said when they were all finished. Goliath whirled on his mentor. "You'd what? You knew? How?" Hudson scratched his beard. "Well, 'twas confided to me by the prince on his deathbed, but there be no harm in telling it now." "The prince?!" Brooklyn reeled. "Prince Malcolm?" "Aye, the very same. He'd feared how his people, his daughter, and our clan might react, so he kept it secret until the very end, then asked o' me that I look after the egg. I had me doubts that it would even hatch. But now, ye're saying otherwise." Goliath nodded. "I have seen her with my own eyes. The prince recorded it in his journal, which the Magus found." He briefly related the tale. "I remember the white gargoyle!" Broadway said, with a rather dreamy expression. "You used to bring her flowers!" Lex accused. "You had a total crush!" "Hey!" He made as if to pound his smaller brother. "And Avalon sent her to you two?" Xanatos grinned at the newlyweds. "To prove something? That certain things were possible?" Elisa blushed and Goliath averted his eyes from Xanatos' knowing gaze. "What are you --?" Angela turned to them with a startled look. "Father! Elisa! How wonderful!" She crushed them both in a hug. "Hey, wait!" Elisa protested. "When can we expect the pitter-patter of little claws?" Xanatos teased. "Not yet, okay?" Elisa disentangled herself from Angela. "Just because it might be possible doesn't mean it's actually going to happen!" "We were discussing Elektra," Goliath reminded them, as always a bit upset to have his personal life the main topic of conversation. "Hey, yeah," Brooklyn said. "Oh, man, the way Demona hates humans, she'd go nutso if she met a crossbreed!" "Sounds like she's already way past nutso," Birdie muttered. Matt packed up his briefcase. "Fascinating as this is, I've got to get going or Mom'll read me the riot act. See you Monday, partner. Thanks for the ride." He winked. "Shall I have Edie save her maternity clothes?" "Knock it off, Matt," Elisa warned. "Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Wish I could've brought better news." "Be well, Matt," Goliath said. "But what are we going to do about Demona?" Lex asked eagerly. "At the moment, lad, there be nothing we can do. If Angela canna find her, we'll have to wait for her to come to us." "Now, there's a festive thought," Brooklyn grumbled. "So here's where everyone is!" Fox Xanatos called over the rail. "Mommy!" Alex cried joyously. "Don't jump!" half the gargoyles plus Owen chorused. "Why would I? Hey, Broadway, something's buzzing in the kitchen." "Oh! The turkey's done! Did you turn it off?" Fox laughed. "David, did you marry me for my cooking?" "Are you kidding?" He nudged Goliath. "Can your wife cook?" "According to her great-aunt, I should be handling such matters." "Owen, can Cordelia?" "I fail to see how that bears upon the situation, Mr. Xanatos," he said stiffly. "Well, _I_ can cook," Broadway declared proudly, "and it's almost time for dinner!" * * "Broadway really outdid himself," Elisa said as Goliath landed outside her parents' window. "I don't think I'll eat for a week!" "I've never enjoyed this holiday more, nor had so much to be thankful for." He held her tighter, pressed a kiss to her brow. "If only this other trouble --" "I know." She shook her head sadly. "But Hudson's right. There's nothing we can do." "I've failed them. Ebon, Jericho, perhaps even Elektra." "You can't blame yourself for everything Demona does." He sighed, unconvinced. "I made her what she is." "That's not true! She made herself, over a thousand years! If you'd gone along with her after you woke up, you wouldn't have changed her. You just would have wound up doing what she wanted." "You speak true, my Elisa, yet I cannot help but feel responsible." A light came on inside, diffuse against the curtain. "That'll be my dad." She grinned. "Just like when I was in high school. I'd better go in." "Are you sure you don't want to stay at the castle?" "With the sofa bed all ready? Mom wants to hit the stores early tomorrow. Biggest shopping day of the year. She wants me right where she can wake me up." "Tomorrow night, then." He kissed her deeply. "Don't forget, I've got a date with Xanatos!" "Yes, you and all the other ladies, he continually reminds me." "Nikki would kill me if I didn't get him there. She wants the press to have plenty of pictures of her 'friend' David Xanatos attending the premiere of her new show." "I wish I could go with you." The curtain twitched a bit. Elisa laughed. "He'll be tapping on the glass in a minute. And I thought things would change once I got married! This is why I was in such a hurry to get my own place!" "I'll see you tomorrow, then." He folded her in his arms and wings for a final embrace. "My love." "Good night." She opened the window. "Okay, Dad, okay! I'm coming in!" Goliath sprang from the ledge, into the brisk November night. The city slumbered below, glutted on turkey and football. Confetti still littered the streets from the big parade, which Broadway and Hudson would by now be watching on tape. The only places bustling with activity were the huge department stores, getting ready for Elisa and her mother and the thousands of other eager holiday shoppers. A winged shadow crossed the moon. A gargoyle, large, male. Reaction was instant, without forethought, without fear of a trick or a trap. Goliath caught an updraft, arrowing toward the shape that was a mirror of his own. He tried to prepare himself for his first confrontation with his son. Rather than fleeing, the other came toward him. When the moonlight revealed not the scarlet hair that Angela had described, but instead glimmered on hair white as snow, Goliath nearly fell from the sky in surprise. "Ebon!" The edge of his wing clipped a protruding silver falcon and he fluttered clumsily. The black gargoyle caught his arm and steadied him. They swung about and landed on the falcon, face to face. "Hello, Goliath." "We thought you dead!" Scarlet eyes met his with a tremendous weight of grief and pain. "If only." "It was Demona?" It was not so much a question as a statement of surety. He nodded. "I remember, Goliath. Everything. Thailog, Ebon ... both and neither. Call me Job, the sufferer. Call me Ahaz, cursed of God! I am undone, all that I had and all that I loved is dead and gone. Better, call me Azrael, bringer of death. I live only for one purpose, to avenge." "_You_ destroyed her corporation!" Goliath said. "With the knowledge and memories given you by Xanatos!" "Only the beginning. I mean to destroy _her_. She's immortal, I cannot slay her, but I can harm her in ways no living being has ever known!" "Ebon," Goliath deliberately stressed that name, "do not let your rage consume you." "What would you do, _father_, if she'd killed your beloved before your very eyes?" Goliath sucked in a harsh breath. "Julianna?" "In a heartbeat. As I was caged and helpless." He closed his eyes, recalling how his heart cracked when he stood on the ramparts of Castle Wyvern over the smashed remains of what he had thought was his angel of the night, how he'd prayed for his own swift death when Elisa vanished into the churning waters along with the Hunter, how his very soul had been torn apart when he found her crumpled outside Sevarius' lab with Talon's children cradled in her dying grasp. "You know how it feels!" Ebon said fiercely. "Don't try to tell me it will solve nothing! It will not bring her back, but I will avenge her! I came to you to warn you. Keep your clan out of it. Demona is mine!" "Was she alone?" Goliath asked in great dread, once again not really a question. Ebon gave him a long, appraising look. "You know?" "Yes. How does he fit your plan for vengeance?" "If he stands between me and Demona, I'll do what I must. I will not slaughter him just to see the look on her face, though the part of me that is Thailog cries out to make her suffer as I have suffered. But, for you, for Angela, for the wrongs I once did your clan, I will spare his life. And hope that you don't come to regret it." "Thank you." He held out his hand. Ebon stared at it. "You forgave me when I was only Ebon, for he was innocent of Thailog's crimes. Now --" "Even now, I would ask again that you join our clan. You'll have a home with us." "I stood over Julianna's grave and promised to avenge her. That comes first." He clasped forearms with Goliath. "If, after, I am still deserving of a place in your clan, we'll speak again." * * "Are they still watching movies?" Lex asked as Aiden came in. "Yep." "Xanatos and Fox went out?" "Goliath and Elisa, too. We've practically got the place to ourselves. Are you through mauling my computer?" "And ready to start mauling you!" He sprang out of the chair, swept her onto the bed, and started kissing her neck. "Eek! Lex, that tickles!" They wrestled playfully for a while, then his kisses started getting more serious. His hands were soon all over her, at least, everyplace that she'd let him. "Don't tear my blouse this time," she murmured against his mouth. "Maybe you should just take it off!" He tugged it out of the waistband of her skirt and went for the buttons. Giggling, she squirmed away from him. "Okay, okay, just a minute!" She slipped it off. "You don't need this, either." He slid her bra strap down her shoulder. "That cold shower I gave you this afternoon by the pool didn't cool you off much!" she observed, but she didn't argue as he undid the front hook. They fell back into each other's arms, his lean but muscular chest warm against her. She loved to lay snuggled against him and admire the contrast of their skin tones. She loved the feel of his hands on her breasts, her legs. Of his wings draped over her bare skin. Of his tail twining firmly around her. Her skirt had ridden high in their petting, and he was pushing it steadily higher as he tried to fondle her bottom. She let him, but when he tried to slide his fingers under the elastic of her panties, she caught his wrist and moved it away. Lex exhaled with frustration against her ear and she knew what he was thinking. He was wondering when it would finally be time. They'd been seeing each other for a year and a half, their makeout sessions getting steadily more heated. But she always chickened out. He returned his questing fingers to territory that wasn't off- limits, and she pressed herself gladly to him with a deep kiss. She could feel the solid evidence of his turn-on, and as long as it was safely ensconced within his loincloth, didn't mind at all. In fact, it was flattering. She didn't even mind when he rolled onto his back, pulling her with him so that one of her legs was trapped between his and it made a not-uncomfortable bulge beneath her thigh. Aiden rose up to look down on him, so used to his appearance now that she found human guys kind of unattractive. Her silver heart necklace swung and bapped him on the nose, and her beige-blond hair fell in his face. "Hey!" he laughed. "This works better!" With that, he flipped so that she was pinned under him, and started kissing his way from her lips down her throat to her breasts. She only intended to let him do that for a few minutes, because it always got him so excited, but it really felt good, so she didn't stop him right away. His leg was now trapped between hers, exerting a steady pressure on her most off-limits region. She accidentally brushed the place where his wing attached to his side, that place where he was particularly sensitive. It was his turn to catch her wrist, but instead of moving her hand away, he urged it lower, to his belt. He shifted, raising his body enough to give her room to reach, to touch. He wanted her to, she wanted to, but she really shouldn't ... "Lex," she began, meaning to protest, then changed her mind and let him put her hand where he so badly wanted it. It was only then that she realized his loincloth had gotten as bunched up as her skirt, so instead of rough wool she found smooth flesh. Lex gasped, whether in pleasure at what was happening or surprise that it actually was, she couldn't be sure. She rubbed a little, experimentally, and his gasp turned into a strangled moan. His tail wrapped tight around her leg. It was strange, touching it when she hadn't even seen it. Also strange to discover that he didn't have hair down there either. He shifted again, laying on his side, which was a relief because her arm had been bent at kind of an awkward angle. She soon found out, though, that it also gave him better access to her. He put his hand where it was definitely off-limits but oh! it felt good! Breathing fast, Aiden managed to say, "I think we're getting a little carried away!" "Mm-hmm." He was going for her chest again, and that combined with the delicious things happening south of the border made it really tough for Aiden to say anything else. He somehow got her panties off without stopping what he was doing, that tail of his really coming in handy, and when he touched her with no cloth in the way, she thought she'd fly apart into a million tiny pieces. "Lex, I really don't ... ooh! ... know if we should ... ah! ... be doing this!" "Yes, we should!" he said. "We've waited long enough!" She was going crazy, she couldn't stand it! He was right. They had waited long enough, they loved each other, they wanted each other ... She couldn't quite bring herself to agree out loud, but she quit arguing and undid his belt, then threaded it carefully through the slits in his wings. Her skirt followed his loincloth on a fast trip to the floor. Now, they were both totally bare, and he was kneeling between her legs. She got a good look then, and a tremor of fear went through her. But she told herself that Elisa did this all the time, and Goliath was ... well, Goliath ... and if Elisa could do it, so could she. Lex probed around a little, found the proper place, and thrust hard. "Ow!" Aiden yelped as it went in, all the way in, hurting a heck of a lot worse than she'd expected. "What? What's wrong?" His face hovered over hers, anxious, worried. "It's okay," she said through gritted teeth. "Just give me a minute to get used to it." She shifted her hips, hoping that would ease the pain. "I didn't mean to --" an exceedingly funny expression suddenly overtook his face "-- uh-oh!" Lex grabbed her shoulders, pressed his brow ridges to her forehead, and went tense all over. He rocked rapidly, in and out, once, twice, again, and then his back arched like a bow, driving him even deeper. His eyes blazed. He muffled his roar against her neck, then collapsed atop her. Aiden turned her head to the side, hot tears trickling from her eyes. Lex raised his head, and when he saw that she was crying, his expression was heart-wrenching. "Oh, no, jeez, I'm sorry! I just couldn't -- couldn't stop. I'm so sorry!" He scrambled off of her, then paled to yellow-green. "I hurt you!" She wanted to reassure him, and she would, as soon as the throbbing ache dulled to a tolerable level. In the meantime, all she could do was groan softly, and then she wished she hadn't because of the anguished look in his eyes. Someone knocked on the door. Pure guilty terror completely displaced everything else, for both of them. The knock was followed by Fox's voice. "Oh, hi, Hudson." Hudson said, "I be looking for Lexington. Have ye seen him?" Lex and Aiden stared at each other, paralyzed. Then he threw himself off the side of the bed and wiggled under it, while she frantically struggled into her bathrobe. "Maybe he's with Aiden," Fox said, and knocked again. "Aiden?" Lex's tail shot out and reeled in his belt and loincloth. Aiden clutched her robe shut at the top and hobbled to the door. She opened it a crack and peeked out. "Fox? Hudson? What?" "Did we catch ye on the way to the shower, lass?" "Yes!" "Have ye seen Lexington?" "No!" Fox was giving her a real once-over. Aiden gulped, hoping she didn't look as sore, stretched out, and sticky as she felt. "I was going to ask if you'd decided which of my creations you wanted to wear to Nikki's premiere, but it can wait," the older woman said, with a knowing glint in her seablue eyes. "The white ... dress," Aiden said, faltering as she realized how inappropriate _that_ was now. She added, "Uh, maybe." "Well, sorry for disturbin' ye," Hudson said. "Should ye see that scamp Lexington, if ye'd be so kind as to tell him to quit taping 'Beyond 2000' over my program, I'd be grateful." "I'll tell him," she promised, then shut the door with a sigh of relief as they turned to leave. Lex crawled out from under the bed, abashedly fastening his belt. "I'd better go let Hudson yell at me." He approached her nervously. "Are you sure you're okay?" "I'm fine, really. Think I'll get that shower." "Okay." He seemed about to say more, then went to the window. He paused, crouching on the ledge, and looked back at her. "I ... I love you." She smiled wearily. "Love you, too, Lex." "Yeah. Um. See you later?" "Sure." He dove into the night. She closed the window behind him, and rested her head against the cool dark glass. * * "Morning, lazy-butt," Birdie said companionably as Aiden came into the least formal of the castle's dining rooms. "Coffee?" "Juice." Aiden shuffled to the sideboard. "Is anyone else up yet?" "Yet? You're the last of them except the gargoyles! Mr. and Mrs. X. took little X. shopping, and Oatmeal's having the limo washed so we can travel in style to the show tonight." "Shouldn't call him that." "Fox does." "Yeah, but ... oh, never mind. Are you eating those?" "Go ahead, I'm stuffed." Birdie shoved a box of powdered- sugar donuts to her. "Chow down." "Hey, Birdie, can I ask you something? Something kind of personal?" "Fire away. You know I've got no secrets." "Have you and Broadway ... ever ... well ... you know?" Birdie laughed. "Ever done the wild thing? That what you're getting at, Fergs?" She turned red. "I was just wondering ..." "Nah. Not Broadway. He's too sweet, too much of a nice boy. Someday a little lady garg will come along, and I wouldn't want to have corrupted him! I've just given him a few basic courses in heavy petting. Besides, there's something that I was never quite sure about, what with them turning to stone during the day and all. What would happen if, say, a garg got a finger lopped off. At daybreak, would the finger turn to stone too?" "I don't know," Aiden said thoughtfully. "I'd guess not, because it'd be dead." "But what if we were talking about something, cells, that _could_ live for a while on their own. If they were, you know, in a hospitable environment?" "What are you ... oh!" "That'd be millions of microscopic stone wigglies, right? Talk about gritty!" Aiden clasped her hands across her stomach and groaned. Birdie sat up straight. "Wait a minute ... you and Lex? Woo- hoo, unicorn bait no longer!" "Shhh!" Aiden hissed. "So, how was it?" "Awful! Well, _that_ part at least. It hurt like crazy! And then Fox and Hudson almost caught us! He had to hide under the bed and sneak out the window!" "Sounds like you guys need to work on your timing. Trust me, Fergs. First time usually isn't that great, but hey! it gets a lot, and I mean a _lot_, better!" "I'll take your word for it," Aiden grumbled, and helped herself to another donut. * * As usual, David Xanatos was the center of attention. The moment the sleek limo pulled up to the curb and a red-jacketed valet opened the door, cameras swung in their direction and flashbulbs popped warm white fire. Xanatos emerged with studied nonchalance, drawing wistful sighs from more than a few observing women. Tall, dark, handsome, and rich as Midas. Quite a combo, and he knew it. "Mr. Xanatos!" a vulture from VIP Magazine demanded, "is it true that you have been romantically linked with Nikki Taylor?" "That's a hell of a question to ask in front of my wife," Xanatos replied as he helped Fox out of the limo. Fox gave the reporter a scathing look, then turned to preen for the cameras, showing off her blue velvet gown with a choker collar, so backless that it was dangerous. Elbow-length gloves and a fur-trimmed cape completed the outfit, and her hair was dusted with diamond sparkles. "And here is Mrs. Xanatos," a reporter murmured into a microphone, "who is launching her own line of designer clothes this spring, FoxFire Fashions ..." She twined her arm possessively through her husband's, and the two of them proceeded up the red carpet to the theater entrance. A babble of interest and questions followed in their wake. Owen, looking so stiff and formal in his tux that he might have been on a recieving line to greet visiting royalty, offered a hand first to Elisa, then to Aiden and Birdie. The spectators looked curiously toward them. A tawny- skinned beauty with upswept dark hair and a strapless burgundy gown, a buxom brunette in black lace, and a small blonde with a silvery sheath dress and a French braid. Nobody famous, nothing to fill the society pages or feed the rumor mill. Until, that is, David Xanatos turned back and held out his other arm to Elisa, and joked to Owen, "Two lovely ladies apiece; we'll be the envy of every man here!" "Assuredly, sir," Owen replied, and glanced at Aiden and Birdie. "Shall we?" They took their places on either side of him, Aiden shyly, Birdie with a nonchalance that rivaled Xanatos. Now, curious and speculative eyes turned upon them. And into the theater they went, through the great golden doors, under the massive crystal chandelier, into the open lobby whose ceiling soared to a muraled fresco overhead. Other theater-goers lingered and mingled on the stairs, on the upper gallery. Elisa spotted her parents and waved. Diane and Peter Maza, he clearly unhappy in a suit and tie, she resplendant in a yellow gown with a pouf of feathers on one shoulder, came to join them. "It was so nice of Nikki to give us tickets," Diane said. "A pity the ... others couldn't make it." "I don't know if a musical, modernized version of 'Much Ado About Nothing' would be to their liking in any case," Owen remarked, the tight set of his lips indicating that it wasn't exactly his cup of tea either. "Nikki specifically wanted you to be here," Elisa reminded him, smiling. "You're the one who snickered when she said she'd always thought Shakespeare was boring." "I had my reasons." "Lighten up, Owen," Xanatos chided. "Aren't you the least bit curious to see Nikki's rendition of ... how did she put it? ... that 'wicked sassy' Beatrice?" "Not particularly, sir," he sighed resignedly. * * Owen's opinion aside, the audience responded very favorably. Elisa wandered around the lobby during intermission, eavesdropping on conversations because Nikki would demand to know, right away as soon as Elisa set foot in the invitation-only cast reception and party afterward what people were saying. She got herself a glass of champagne and stood by a column, sipping it and wishing Goliath was here. Though, even if he had been able to attend without causing a panicked riot, she would have felt sorry for whoever had to sit behind him and try to see the stage around his height and his wings. Satisfied that she had garnered enough tidbits to placate Nikki, she idly people-watched until the whirling red and blue of emergency flashers pulled up outside and seized her attention. Cops? No, an ambulance. There was a brief flurry of activity as paramedics came in with a gurney, vanished into the crowd by the ladies' room, and bustled out again. Elisa had a glimpse of a sheet-draped figure, probably a heart attack victim. She finished her champagne and let her gaze wander up to the gallery. There was a woman on the stairs, a tall blonde in a black dress, who seemed weirdly familiar. Elisa surreptitiously studied the blonde, playing place the face and getting nowhere fast. She ran through a mental roster of acquaintances, suspects, neighbors, witnesses, and still came up blank. Yet she was more sure now than ever that she had seen the woman before. A second woman joined her, a butch-looking redhead wearing a shade of pink all wrong for her coloring. She, too, looked passingly familiar, though not so much as the blonde. They spoke briefly, then Blondie glanced Elisa's way with a casualness too practiced to be genuine. Even from this distance, Elisa could see that her eyes were a hard, direct blue. Then both women continued up the stairs and out of her line of sight. "Hey, where is everyone?" Birdie asked, coming up to her. "Fox and Xanatos went up to the Platinum Suite to hobnob with the other rich people," Elisa said. "I don't know where Owen went." "What about Fergs?" "I thought she was with you." Birdie laughed. "The line to the little girls' room was two miles long, so I slipped off to use the gents' instead. Tried to get her to come along, but you know Aiden!" "You went in the men's bathroom?" "Sure. Nobody waiting. You'd think the people who build these places would know better and make the ladies' about four times as big." Elisa was about to scold her, then remembered the times she'd gone barging into the guys' locker room at work, and grinned. "Did you get in trouble?" "Nope. One guy started to make a fuss, but I took care of him." "What did you do?" she asked, dreading the answer. "Mooned him and ran for it." "You didn't!" A siren warbled and more emergency lights flashed through the front doors. Elisa looked that way as yet another set of paramedics came in and theater staff rushed to greet them. "Bad night," Birdie murmured. "Old folks must be dropping right and left. I heard some lady keeled over in the bathroom." "Yeah," Elisa said, but her unease was growing. "Jeez, where _is_ Aiden?" she said restlessly. "It's going to be showtime soon. Maybe she fell in." "Maybe she went up to the Platinum Suite," Elisa suggested. "Let's go see." They went up the stairs, and all the while Elisa kept her eyes peeled for Blondie, still trying to think of where she'd seen the woman before. She was becoming more and more sure that it hadn't been under the most pleasant circumstances. No sign of her, but the minute she set eyes on Xanatos, everything clicked so hard that she stumbled and all but fell into his arms. "Shit!" she declared, rather too loudly for the polite surroundings. "I didn't recognize her without her visor and ponytail!" Xanatos set her securely back on her feet. "I beg your pardon?" "The woman! That blonde bitch from your goon squad!" "Inge Runolf?" Owen asked, appearing as if by magic, as usual, at Xanatos' elbow. "Wait, wait ..." Elisa ran through the other faces in her mind. The redhead still came up a blank, but when she mentally slapped a visor on the older of the two paramedics -- "Bingo!" "David, what's going on?" Fox asked with just a touch of petulance. "The guy," Elisa said to him, ignoring Fox. "What's his name, the one who crashed Maggie's shower!" "Judge Halverson," Owen supplied. "Hold on!" Xanatos commanded. "You mean, you saw them? Here, tonight?" "Once again, it seems we've erroneously assumed them dead," Owen said mildly. "We know they're not working for Sevarius ..." "They were with a couple of other people, who, damn it, I can't quite place, and ..." she trailed off, looked from Birdie back to Xanatos. "You haven't seen Aiden, have you?" "No, why?" His dark eyes widened. "You don't think --?" She thought back. The gurney, the sheet-draped form that at first glance appeared to be a small elderly lady but could just as easily be a petite teenager. The second ambulance that had pulled up. After blurting out all of it, she pointed at Birdie. "Check the ladies' room. I'll go talk to the theater staff, but I'll bet you anything that they only put in one call to the EMTs." "Let me handle that," Xanatos said. "You go with Owen." "Owen? Why?" "I think we can safely agree that we're not going to find Aiden in the theater. We need to know who's taken her and why. Use the computer uplink in the car to call --" "Right!" Elisa said, snapping her fingers. "I'll go tell your parents what's happening," Fox volunteered, "so that they don't worry when we miss the rest of the show." "Great! Let's move!" Elisa and Owen hurried to the car. He was grim-faced and going so fast she had a little trouble keeping up until she ditched her shoes and hustled along in her nylons. Back in the limo, Owen used the computer and cellular modem to contact Castle Wyvern. Lexington appeared on the screen. "Owen? Elisa? Hi, what's up?" Elisa's heart sank. It would have to be Lex who answered. Who else would it be, of course, but why did it have to be Lex? "Uh, Lex, we've got a little problem here," she said, trying to keep her voice calm and soothing. "Aiden is missing," Owen cut in, not wanting to wast time cushioning things. "What?" Lex's nose flattened against the screen. "No, I meant to talk to her but you left before I had the chance! I didn't mean to hurt her! I didn't think she'd run away --" "Lex!" Elisa said sharply, cutting through his babbling. "She's been kidnapped!" "Oh, good!" he gasped, then went crazy. "Kidnapped! Aiden! Who -- how --!" He was abruptly rolled out of their view, and Broadway's concerned visage replaced him. "Lex can't come to the phone right now," he said. "What's going on?" "Broadway, great! Just the person I wanted to talk to. Listen up. I need you to use your CopDraw Ident-I-Kit program to come up with a couple composite sketches for me. Can you?" "Sure thing, Elisa. Ready whenever you are." "Okay, here goes." She closed her eyes and started describing the redhead, then the blond beefcake who had been at the other end of the gurney from Halverson. Broadway interrupted a couple of times with questions, and sent the resulting images to show up on their end. While they waited for the connections to be made, she gave him a quick rundown on what had happened. Finally the images appeared. "How's that?" Broadway asked. She made some minor corrections, then nodded. "Perfect." "We'll need printouts," Owen said. Broadway frowned thoughtfully. "Hey, Hudson, c'mere. Do you know these people?" Hudson appeared behind him, looked over his shoulder. "Aye, lad. They be that pair what used to work for MacBeth." "I thought so!" Broadway cried. "MacBeth!" Elisa shook her head so hard her hair came loose and fell over her shoulders. "That doesn't make any sense! Why would he kidnap Aiden?" "He's tried before to take that which is magical," Hudson pointed out. "The Scrolls of Merlin, Excalibur ..." "It can't be MacBeth," Broadway said. "He's one of Aiden's favorite people in the whole world. If he wanted her to cast a spell for him, he'd just have to ask." "I agree." Owen pulled out his phone. "MacBeth is now an ally, and a friend. But he might know how to contact those two." "Hey! Lex! Where are you -- oh, darn it!" Broadway jumped up. "He's headed for the roof!" "Go after him, lad!" Hudson said. "He'll only get himself in trouble!" * * " ... she'll be out for hours yet." Who, me? Aiden wondered groggily, not opening her eyes. She was aware of the steady movement of a vehicle, a hard surface beneath her, and little else. "Why the hell did we nab her? She's just a kid. We could've made off with the rich man himself just as easy." "You weren't hired for your brains, Banks. Shut up and drive," a woman said. Aiden snuck a peek through lowered lashes. She was lying on a gurney, in what looked like an ambulance, but to her knowledge, ambulance drivers weren't in the habit of "nabbing" people. Something clicked, whirred, metallic, creepy. A man in a paramedic's uniform was sitting on a bench against the wall. Where his right hand should have been was a mechanical gleaming silver hand, pistons and joints, the hand of the Terminator. As the robot fingers moved, drumming against the man's knee, they made the creepy noise. Aiden wanted to jump up in a panic, but made herself hold still and tried to breathe evenly. They thought she was out, so it was best to pretend until she could figure out where she was and what was going on, and who the heck these people were. The last thing she remembered was the ladies' room ... * * When she joined the long line to the ladies' room, she didn't really have to go that bad but figured she should take care of it while she had the chance. But, predictably, the slower the line moved, the worse she had to go, so a faint need soon became an urgency and she couldn't just up and leave. She glanced around for Birdie, wishing that she'd gone with her friend, propriety be damned. But it didn't make sense to leave her place once she was actually almost to the door. So she waited and fidgeted and finally got inside the palatial lounge. It was crowded with elegantly-dressed women, and the air was thick with perfume and hair-spray touch-ups. Aiden took care of business, paranoidly checking to make sure her dress wasn't caught up in her pantyhose before opening the stall door. As she was about to wash her hands, someone tapped her on the shoulder. "Miss? Did you drop this?" Over the general noise of water and conversation, Aiden could barely hear, so she turned around. A red-haired woman in pink was behind her, holding out a little canister of breath spray. Aiden started to deny dropping it, and then the redhead triggered it. Aiden gasped in surprise, inhaling the misty droplets. She had time to think that it was the foulest breath spray she'd ever smelled, that only a hyena would show an improvement, and then everything went dark. * * So, logical conclusion time, she'd been gassed and bundled off by these people pretending to be paramedics. Abducted? Her? Aiden Ferguson? That didn't make any sense. She agreed with Banks, whoever the heck Banks was. The rich man, Mr. Xanatos, would be worth a lot more. What did they plan to do, hold her for ransom? Were they Quarrymen, planning to use her to bait a gargoyle-trap? Either way, bad news. Escape? She stole another surreptitious peek at the guy with the mechanical hand. He was an older man, brown hair going grey, but looked like a soldier. She could also just see the redhead that had "nabbed" her in the first place, who was built like a lady wrestler, and a blonde who had a jaw that said she took zero shit from anybody. Although she'd been letting Fox give her some lessons in self- defense and assorted weaponry, she wouldn't stand a chance against this bunch even if she was toting an Uzi. Physical confrontation was outsville, which left her with her wits and her magic. Spiffy. She didn't even have Hecate's Wand, which was the main source of her power. Her innate ability, honed by almost two years of Puck's tutelage, still wasn't all that hot. Alex left her in the dust every time their powers were put to the test. And even though Owen had mentioned teaching her some combat spells clear back in May when they'd run into Demona and Titania where the lady's veil grew, the best she could do was a dinkety little witchbolt that could maybe stun a chihuaua. She was far better at defensive spells, which she guessed was just proof that she was at heart a coward. Some sorceress! Still, defense was good. Better than nothing. And maybe she could handle this without any offensive stuff. A teensy sleep spell ... "So what does Sevarius want with this kid anyway?" the redhead asked. Sevarius! Aiden's heart leapt into her throat. She knew that name, she'd heard all the stories, and was horrified to learn that he was still alive! Both Xanatos and Goliath, who rarely agreed, swore that the mad scientist was long-dead! She must have gasped or made some other startled movement or noise to give herself away, because the man with the metal hand suddenly leaned closer. "I think she's --" "*Somnus!*" Aiden cried, gesturing. She realized her error at once. All four of her captors slumped over, including Banks, who was behind the wheel of the fast-moving vehicle. The ambulance veered right, and the night was suddenly insane with blaring horns, screeching tires on wet pavement, and the squeal- crunch of impact. Aiden was strapped to the gurney and it was locked in its place, so she wasn't hurled about as the ambulance went wild. She scrabbled at the straps, then changed her mind and held on tight. The ambulance whomped over the curb, smashed through something, banged off of something else, teetered onto two wheels, and slammed heavily onto its side, where it slid along on a bed of sparks. It whammed into a wall and shuddered to a stop, then slowly yet with odd grandeur rolled over onto its roof. "Wow," Aiden muttered breathlessly. She was now hanging face-down, but the gurney was making little tortured noises as if it would come loose any minute, squashing her under it like the proverbial bug. If she had succeeded in undoing the straps sooner, she would have been thrown around like a rag doll. The crash had, needless to say, interrupted the blissful slumber of her captors. Luckily, it had also swapped sleep for unconsciousness by bashing them into walls, the windshield, and the like. Only one of them was moving. Now Aiden tugged on the straps. They came undone with absurd ease and she promptly fell to the ceiling, which was now the floor. All around her was broken glass, strewn medical equipment, and an array of weapons. She smelled gas and worried that the whole thing might go up in a fireball. From outside, she could hear voices raised in concern and pain. She limped to the rear doors and threw her scant weight against them to force them open. She stepped down into the street and got a prudent distance from the ambulance as she surveyed the wreckage. More than a dozen cars had come together in variously theatrical ways, and people were crawling out, or standing nose-to-nose yelling, or calling for help. The trail of the ambulance led through the middle of a sidewalk newsstand, with papers and magazines and candy bars strewn from hell to breakfast. The proprietor was standing disbelieving by the remains of his stall. Aiden felt crushed by guilt. All of this was her fault, thanks to her knee-jerk panicked reaction at the mention of Sevarius. Sirens wailed in the distance, but another sound was closer, behind her. "Kleine Hundin," a voice snarled. Aiden tried to whirl and leap back at the same time, and promptly tripped over her own feet. It was probably her very clumsiness that saved her life, because framed in the rear doorway of the broken ambulance was the blond woman in the black dress, and the shot she fired would have taken off the top of Aiden's head if Aiden hadn't fallen into the gutter. Her dress was immediately soaked through by the filthy, oily water. The bullet instead hit one of the few cars that had escaped unscathed, hit it right in the gas tank or something because that one _did_ go up in a fireball. "My car!" a man shrieked, and a woman wearily replied, "Oh, shut up, Brendan!" The blonde stalked toward Aiden, who was busy scrambling backwards through a heap of rain-soggy newspapers. A well-meaning bystander started to ask if they were all right, but no sooner had the words begun to leave his lips than he got a gander at the gun in the blonde's hand and the don't-screw-with-me look in her eyes, and he wisely reversed his course. Aiden lurched to her feet and started running, sure that the cops wouldn't get here in time to prevent her from being killed. She managed _not_ to tumble down a flight of stairs leading to the subway, cornered too fast, skidded in a puddle, plowed into a shopping cart full of aluminum cans, darted into the street with the devil-may-care aplomb of a native New Yorker, and almost got her stupid self wiped out by a UPS truck. The blonde came around the corner like a cougar and ran headlong into the grimy old man who was noisily and angrily protesting the abuse of his shopping cart. She drove her elbow into his face and his cart shot into the street, where it wasn't as lucky as Aiden had been. Cans flew everywhere, and the cabbie who'd hit the cart sprang out of his cab and started cursing a blue streak. Aiden kept going, onto a quieter and more deserted street. Just when she was thinking that maybe she was going to get out of this after all, the man with the metal hand jumped out of nowhere and grabbed her. A scream burned its way up from her lungs but was cut off when his cold steel fingers clamped over her throat. She pried at them but they were immoveable. The blonde woman raced up, looking highly pissed and out of sorts. "I say we kill her now!" FWHOOOOP! The familiar and oh-so-welcome rush of wings drowned out the man's response. A shadow ripped him away from Aiden. His fingers tore free of her throat, leaving painful scrapes. Aiden fell, choking and gagging. Several violent events occurred half-seen as Aiden huddled on the wet concrete and fought to keep her wits. When it was all over, the man and the woman were nowhere to be seen. Aiden carefully got up. In a recessed doorway, she glimpsed a dark shape. A gargoyle. "Lexington?" she called tremulously. "Broadway?" "None of the above," the shape said, moving into the light. "Demona!" Aiden drew back, alarmed. "Wait, I only want to talk to you!" "Last time we met, you tried to kill Owen!" Aiden countered, making ready to flee for yet another time this chaotic evening. Demona sighed. She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, folded her wings, and tilted her head to the side. "I saved your life just now," she said reasonably. "Doesn't that entitle me to a moment of your time?" Aiden hesitated. "I'm listening ..." * * "Jalapena," Broadway grumbled. "Lost him." He'd reached the roof just as Lex launched himself, and done what he thought was a pretty fair job tailing his rookery brother, especially in the damp, drizzly conditions. Or at least he would have done a good job, if Lex hadn't been in such a hurry. Under normal circumstances, Lex was the swiftest of them all. Motivated, he was dang near supersonic. Now, he was gone. Broadway landed on a skyscraper and scratched his head. "Sure, you're fast," he said to his absent brother, "but what does it matter if you don't know where you're going?" He himself intended to use more deductive methods. Using the Ident-I-Kit always put him in a detective-y frame of mind, so the thought of tracking down the kidnappers was a perfect chance to do some good and have some fun at the same time. He knew they were pretending to be paramedics, which meant they were probably going around in an emergency vehicle of some sort. But not headed for a hospital. Which meant he should be on the lookout for one with silent sirens and dark lights. Time to suit up. He kept a few secret stashes of things around the city, never knowing when he might need a snack or to go incognito. Luckily, one such stash was in an exhaust duct atop this very building. He pulled off the vent, rummaged past a jumbo-bag of Cheetos, a two- liter Dr. Pepper, and a box of cookies. There at the bottom of his pile was his gigantic overcoat and battered hat. "Lookin' good," he said, checking out the threads in a darkened window. He worked his wings through the concealed slits in the back of the coat, and took to the air. He soon saw plenty of emergency vehicles, screaming through a colossal traffic jam toward a pretty impressive multi-car pileup. Figuring they were all on legit business, he was about to pass the whole mess by when he saw an ambulance lying upside-down like a dead turtle, at the end of a trail of destruction. Broadway swooped lower and landed on the roof of a theater whose marquee was advertising, appropriately enough, the comedy spoof "Tracer Bullet, P.I." He watched the cops gathered around the overturned ambulance, and while he couldn't hear them, he had gotten to be not too shabby at lip-reading. The cops were wondering where the paramedics and/or patients had gone. He couldn't hear the cops, but he could hear the complaints of a guy whose luxury car had been blown up in the accident. He was insisting that a woman in an evening gown had shot the car. Officer Morgan, unconvinced, was unloading the breathalyzer gear. "Ah-hah!" Broadway, who _was_ convinced, snapped his fingers. "Gotcha!" He'd bet a million bucks that this was the same ambulance that had whisked Aiden away. She must have escaped somehow, though this sort of wide-scale property damage didn't seem her style. It looked more like the time Goliath and Coldstone had their first knock-down drag-out in front of this very same theater. All that was missing was the busted fire hydrant, which it looked like the ambulance had missed by only a yard or so. "Okay," he said to himself. "So Aiden escapes, but the goons are hot on her tail. This can't have happened too long ago. She's gotta be nearby." He turned to climb the building, but just then a helicopter hove into view to airlift the worst of the wounded to Manhattan General. Its sweeping lights cast a harsh illumination on the surrounding buildings. Broadway ducked. Last thing he needed was to be seen, and get the gargoyles blamed for this one too. He hurried to the service entrance, used by the theater staff to replace the letters and bulbs on the marquee. They'd put yet another padlock on it, but this one, like all the others, had been broken. Broadway grinned and wished they'd just give it up. He opened the door and slid inside just as the helicopter's lights turned the place he'd been standing into a spotlight. Inside, all was dark and cool. He crept down the dusty hallway toward the old projection room, unused in all the time he'd been frequenting this theater. He chuckled a couple of times as he picked up witty lines from the movie, which he'd already seen eight times. The smell of popcorn lured his stomach into a few mournful growls. Instead of going into the projection room, he headed for the formerly-boarded-up window at the end of the dingy hall. It was only an easy hop from there to the fire escape of the building next door. Up he went, all the way to the roof. The drizzle had stopped, but the clouds were still thick. Broadway hurried to the edge to get another look at the scene below. The glow coming up from the street made a ghostly silhouette of the woman peering down, the woman he was about to run right into. "Hunh!" Broadway blurted, startled. He'd never before seen anybody up here. "Oh!" She, equally startled, turned and backed up and nearly fell off the roof. Maybe meeting girls by scaring them into a fall and then catching them on the way down worked for Goliath, but Broadway wasn't about to trust his ability to make himself more aerodynamic than her. He lunged forward and caught her outflung hand just as her balance shifted for the worse. His claw closed over her fingers and steadied her. It was only then that he got a good look at the way she was dressed, and he couldn't help laughing out loud. She wore a belted trenchcoat and a fedora, the brim shadowing all but her chin. His first crazy thought was Carmen Sandiego, but the rest of her attire didn't match. Instead of sexy red high heels, her feet were lost in huge galoshes. The woman laughed a bit herself, although shakily. "Thank you, good sir," she said softly. "Um, ur," he said intelligently. From her vantage point, the light had to fall revealingly on his face. He was expecting the usual scream, maybe a faint, but she didn't bat an eye. On the contrary, she smiled. She had a nice smile. Other than that, he couldn't tell much more than she was slender, tallish, on the pale side, and had a braid hanging to her hips. "Why are you dressed like that?" he asked. Oh, yeah, Mister Cool, he could almost hear Brooklyn chiding him. Smooth talker. No wonder Angela had gone for Brooklyn instead, when Broadway kept tripping over his tongue. "I am in disguise," she said with a tone of faint amusement, looking down at herself. "As, I see, are you." "Disguise?" Great, he was making real points here. "The ..." she faltered, then picked her way through the next few words like someone using stepping stones to cross a turbulent stream, "... movie-cinema-theater shows me that this is how to not be recognized in such a great city." "You're not from around here, are you?" She shook her head. "From very far away, friend. Why? Is this disguise not true? Yet you, behold, are similarly clad!" "Well, yeah ..." He shook his own head. "Lemme start over. I'm called Broadway." "My name is --" Before she could finish, the roof beneath them made a rusty grinding hydraulic noise and split right down the middle, the two halves beginning to tilt up like a drawbridge. The sudden shift under their feet sent them both stumbling off the edge. Broadway grabbed the woman's hand again as they started to fall. He punched his other hand at the wall, digging his claws into the bricks. People who couldn't take the sound of nails on a blackboard would _really_ hate the squeal it made, but he managed to bring them to a halt after only a few yards. The woman, dangling from his arm, did not struggle or panic, but on the contrary looked calmly up at him and commented, "You're most strong!" "Thanks," he grunted, then craned his neck to see what was going on topside. The roof had come fully open, and something was rising out of it. A hovercraft, gunmetal grey with blue and green running lights. Coincidence? Broadway thought not. "Are you afraid of heights?" he asked the woman. She shook her head. "Good." He swung his arm, bringing her close to a ledge. On the second try, she scrambled to the dubious safety of that perch. "I've gotta go to work, but I'll be right back!" he promised. Above, the hovercraft was already starting to move, its propulsion causing a serious downdraft. Broadway leaped out and dove until he was out of its area of effect, then spread his wings, skimmed over the theater and climbed. Through the cockpit bubble, he could clearly make out MacBeth's former flunkies. Binkie and Florence, or something like that. He still hadn't quite gotten around to reading that particular play. He looped around and came at them head-on, observing with great pleasure their expressions of shock. They belatedly opened fire and even though he was an admittedly good-sized target, never even came close. He was on them, crouched clinging to the top of the craft, and made ready to slam his fist through the plexiglass bubble. ZZZZAAAAPPPP!!!! Darn it, _why_ did everyone have to electrify their outer hulls? Broadway hollered and reflexively let go. As he skidded backward along the craft he fetched up really really hard against the tail rudder. His own tail cushioned the worst of the impact, but it still drew another holler from him. He grimly held on and started pummelling a hole in the aft compartment. They zapped him again and at the same time went into a tight barrel roll. He was flung free, losing his hat, and spun crazily right into the path of the rising hospital helicopter. The whirling rotors thundered. Only an extreme effort of aerobatics let Broadway avoid splattering puree-of-gargoyle all over the city. He recovered and went after the hovercraft again. It had gotten a pretty decent head start while he was otherwise occupied, but his various bashings and crashings at its rear end had left it with some steering problems. All the ruckus had one beneficial result -- it attracted the attention of a small, olive-green gargoyle who came arrowing in and severed a nest of important-looking cables at the juncture of one of the hovercraft's wings. Broadway gave Lex a thumbs-up and went into a power dive with both fists driven straight out in front of him. He met the cockpit bubble with such force that he thought his spine was compressing, but the plexiglass gave way before he did and his momentum carried him all the way into the craft. Binkie, or whatever his name was, grabbed Broadway as he was shaking his head dazedly. They tusselled and rolled into the rear of the craft, which was empty except for a decent collection of weapons. Florence, or whatever _her_ name was, wrestled with the controls and swore like a sailor. The craft lurched, and Broadway and Binkie fell heavily against the side door. It popped open and out they tumbled. Binkie at once lost interest in busting ass and clutched Broadway around the neck. "Fly, dammit!" Binkie ordered above the whistling wind. Broadway seized him by the head. It was a hold that always worked well with Dracon's thugs, and it didn't disappoint him now. He could feel the skullbone give ever-so-slightly under his fingers. He tore the clinging man loose and hurled him onto a nearby rooftop. Binkie rolled a record-setting distance before rebounding off a wall and coming to a bone-jarring halt. "Steee-rike!" Broadway crowed, making a tally mark in the air. The hovercraft veered, now spitting a flurry of sparks and trailing smoke. It went into a tightening downward spiral. A parachute blossomed near it as the redhead jettisoned. "No!" Broadway yelled as he realized what was going to happen. "Aiden!" Lex shrieked. The hovercraft slammed into a building and exploded in a purple and orange nova. It was the same building, next to the theater, from which it had originally come. The same building where Broadway had left a woman on a ledge. Metal and stone and fire rained down on the street, sending cops and EMTs and bystanders scurrying for cover. The cometlike shell of the craft took out the theater marquee and crunched the upended ambulance into scrap. "Lex!" Broadway barely caught his brother as Lex started down. He had another fight on his hands as Lex, wiry and spidery and nearly hysterical, tried to get out of his grasp. Broadway wrapped both arms around Lex, pinning him. "She wasn't in there!" he shouted into Lex's ear. "Aiden wasn't in there!" It sank in, and Lex went limp. "She -- she wasn't?" "I saw. Nobody but those two. You gotta believe me, Lex!" "Then ... where is she?!" "Don't know." Broadway released him, and headed for the building, with dread and hope churning in his gut. A clock struck midnight, sounding mournful and ominous, a death toll rather than the marking of the hour. The hovercraft had missed the ledge, but there was a smoldering crumbling hole in the wall just a dozen feet below and to one side. As he came through the pall of hot smoke, he wiped his eyes and peered anxiously at the ledge. Nobody. She was gone. "Oh, no," he breathed. He glided straight down, never minding the throng of people who had by now noticed the gargoyles above them. He found was one of her galoshes, stuck on a spur of metal sticking out from the fire escape. So easy to imagine that it had snagged there as she fell. But, try as he might, he couldn't see her body. He tried to tell himself that maybe she'd been able to catch hold, climb to safety. That, even if she _had_ fallen all the way, someone below had been able to reach her, to help her in time. She had to be all right. He'd know if she wasn't. Somehow, she had to be all right. "What are you doing?" Lex asked urgently. "They're going to be shooting at us in a minute!" He freed the boot, taking it with him. "She never told me her name!" * * "Sevarius has discovered the gene linked to magical talent," Demona explained. "I thought he was dead!" "Men like that never die. His evil lives on in one incarnation after another." She glowered fiercely at the moon. "And now he's stolen my son!" "Jericho?" Aiden gasped. "How do you -- Angela must have told you. Yes, Jericho. Sevarius used mind control drugs on him, turned him against me! This past month, I've been searching for him in hopes of freeing him from that black enthrallment. I couldn't tell Angela, couldn't go to the clan for help. _I_ brought Jericho from Avalon. How could I face them after losing him to Sevarius?" "They'd help, of course they would! But why would Sevarius want Jericho?" "He is my son, and therefore has latent sorcery potential. The genetic structures he could isolate from Jericho's cells, or yours, would give him the power to breed magical monsters! And ... Sevarius wanted revenge on Thailog." She dragged the words reluctantly from her throat. Aiden felt the blood drain from her face. "So it _was_ him! He did kill Scarlet Angel! But ... you weren't involved?" Demona bowed her head. "I know what Goliath thinks of me. I won't deny that I have done horrible things, that I have waged war against humanity. Alone, hunted, centuries of misery and sorrow, yes, I admit I might have gotten carried away. I thought I had nothing to live for. Then I learned of Angela, and of Jericho. My children. And all I wanted was to make the world a better place for them to live and grow and thrive! Is that so terrible?" "I heard you tried to wipe out all humans with a killer virus," Aiden said. "Which Sevarius created." "Yeah, but ..." Demona sighed. "I haven't come to justify myself to you. I thought to help an innocent from falling into Sevarius' clutches. I should have known better than to expect even gratitude, let alone help! I'll leave you now, and go find my son!" She jumped to the roof of a parked car, and from there to the top of an awning. She clawed her way up the side of a building. "Wait!" Aiden called. "I am grateful, really! I just ... well, you know, the things I've heard ... but if anybody's all of our enemy, it's Sevarius! How can anyone blame you, or Jericho, for what happened?" Demona hesitated and looked down at her, and for a moment her tough facade melted. "I envy you, child," she said softly. "So easy for you to forgive, to trust, to see the good in everyone. I used to be like you. Cherish it while you can, because you won't last long in this world. They'll destroy you, drag you down. You'll see." PHFOOOOT! Something sailed over Aiden's head, a metallic canister that burst into an expanding net of red and black cables. It struck Demona, constricted around her, and lit up the night in a shower of sparks. "Aaaaiiieeee!" Demona fell backward off the building, convulsing, writhing in the grip of the net. A man raced up, his face concealed by a black mask with three red slashes across it. "Well done, miss," he said to the startled Aiden. "You kept her still just long enough!" "Hunter!" Demona exclaimed, staring up in horror through the crisscrossing cables. A half-dozen other men came into view, carrying weapons. A bona-fide mob, Aiden thought, albeit on the small side. She looked at the trapped gargoyle. This was all her fault. Demona had put herself in danger to save Aiden from her pursuers, and would have escaped if she hadn't paused to say those last few things. Things that Aiden knew to be true. Demona must have once been good at heart, to win the love of Goliath and the against-all-reason continuing devotion of Angela. Life had treated her unkindly. She didn't deserve this fate. The Hunter stepped closer, savoring the moment. He held a machine gun. "No!" Aiden got between the Hunter and his prey. "Leave her alone!" "Get out of the way, girl, and let me handle this monster!" He shoved her. She stumbled and fell to her knees beside Demona. "Run! Get out of here!" Demona urged her. "Don't worry about me!" The Hunter grabbed Aiden's shoulder and hauled her away from Demona. "What are you, one of those gargoyle sympathizers?" he snarled. Elisa, who was Aiden's secret role-model, would have disarmed the guy in half a second. Fox would have kicked him so hard she left a footprint on the inside of his skull. Even Birdie would have hiked a knee into his crotch. But she was only Aiden, the small and meek, so all she could do was protest again. "I said leave her alone!" The Hunter ran out of patience. "Hold her," he ordered two of the other men. "We'll deal with her next." He leveled his machine gun at Demona. "No!" Aiden pointed her forefinger and cocked her thumb like an imaginary gun of her own, and fired off her witchbolt. Instead of the pallid and feeble silvery blob of light she was used to, a lozenge-shaped burst of energy shot from her finger and struck the Hunter. Silver sparkles exploded all around him, dazzling, magnesium- bright. He cartwheeled three times and collided with a mailbox hard enough to leave a big dent. Nobody was more startled by this than Aiden. "She's got a laser," one of the men yelled, and whirled on her with a pistol. This was something she'd been trained for. Defense. She quickly spoke the words that surrounded her with a pale bubble, a personal ward. Just in time, because the gun went off. The bullet was deflected, just like it was bouncing off of Superman's costumed chest. But then, doing something that never happened in the comics, it ricocheted right into another of the men and dug a bleeding furrow in his thigh. That man screamed, and as if that was the cue they'd all been waiting for, the rest of them opened fire. Aiden threw herself to the ground, willing her ward to stay strong, and covered her head with her hands. Bullets spanged off the ward in all directions, inflicting greivous damage on the men. When the street was littered with groaning injured thugs, Aiden let the ward drop. One lucky fellow, unhurt, came at her with a length of pipe. She triggered her imaginary gun again. Once again, the witchbolt streaked from her hand like a Randy Johnson fastball. It hit the man in the stomach and he hurriedly joined the Hunter in a bruised motionless heap. Aiden slowly rose, surveyed the scene, realized that at least two of the men were dead with hamburger where their heads should have been, and fainted. * * Demona was halfway out of the net when the Hunter stood up. She didn't so much as glance his way. She was grumbling and nursing a hole in her shoulder that a stray bullet had made. Immortal she might be, but not immune to pain, and getting shot would never be on her top ten list of favorite things. A large brown van pulled up and stopped alongside. Demona ignored it as she got up, shedding the net like a cocoon. "Who the hell put real bullets in the guns?" she demanded, grasping the Hunter by the shirtfront and stripping off his mask, the better to yell in your face, my dear. "Those idiots could have killed the girl! She's no good to me dead!" The Hunter, now revealed to be a haggard and unshaven Nicholas Diamant, only gazed questioningly at her. "Good thing she's even better at spell-slinging than you thought," Judge Halverson replied, getting out of the van. Inge Runolf was right behind him, having swapped her black evening gown for a functional close-fitting bodysuit, her blonde hair once more in the familiar ponytail. Elisa, seeing her now, wouldn't have hesitated a heartbeat on making a positive I.D. "She is more trouble than she's worth." "You know nothing about sorcery. Such power is worth any amount of trouble. My contact at the Academy was right about this one." "You'd better get her out of here before she comes 'round," Halverson advised. "I don't need you telling me my business," Demona retorted. "And you'd better get this zombie --" she flicked the blank-eyed Nick with her tail "-- and the rest of these fools out of here before the police come. Take them back to Sevarius." "We don't need you telling us our business either," Runolf said, her jaw tightening dangerously. "Don't start with me, human," Demona warned. She gathered up the girl, then fixed Halverson with a piercing look. "Who was responsible for their equipment?" "Banquo," he replied evenly. "And where is he?" "He and Fleance were supposed to rendezvous with us," Runolf said. "They never showed up." Demona's lip curled over her teeth. "I should have known better than to trust in humans!" With that, she launched herself into the air, catching an updraft and vanishing into the night with the unconscious girl limp in her arms. Halverson and Runolf watched her go. Then she turned to him with one raised eyebrow. "Banquo's going to be very surprised to hear that he was responsible for their equipment," she observed. "After all, wasn't that your job?" "Let's be sure he doesn't find out," Halverson said. The metal fingers of his robot hand, the replacement for flesh which had been blown to bits by a beak-nosed red gargoyle, clicked and whirred, clicked and whirred. * * Dawn was just beginning to pink the sky when an exhausted Elisa arrived at Castle Wyvern. "Okay, here's the scoop," she began without preamble or small talk. "We've got bystanders who saw the Runolf woman shoot at Aiden and chase her from the scene. We've got the guy from the hovercraft, calls himself Banquo, some spectacular bruises but no permanent injuries. He's cooling his heels in jail on all sorts of charges, and he refuses to say who he was working for. Wants a lawyer. Thanks to the holiday weekend, we'll be delayed as far as _that_ goes." "So we'll _make_ him talk!" Lexington broke in, smacking his fist emphatically into his palm. "Yeah!" Birdie chimed in. Eager to be a part of the action, she had scrounged some army fatigues and a black tank-top from somewhere, and looked like Rambo's kid sister. Elisa sighed. "No can do, Lex! Sorry!" "The guy's scared of falling," Broadway pointed out. "Dangle him a little ..." "I said no," Elisa repeated. "Travis Marshall showed up just as the cops were taking him into custody, and a camera crew also got a pretty good shot of Lex and Broadway leaving, so there's a complete media circus going on." "What about the others?" Xanatos asked. Elisa ran her fingers through her hair. "No sign of the redhead after she 'chuted from the scene. As for your former goon squad, nothing doing. Right about the same time everything else was wrapping up, a new bunch of calls came in. Shots fired, weird lightshow, reports of gargoyles. It's been a bad night for your PR department, gang!" Goliath put an arm around her and she leaned willingly against him. "You need rest, my Elisa. As do we all." "But what about Aiden?!" Lex cast a hateful look at the eastern sky. "We can't wait until dark!" "We won't," Xanatos promised. "Those of us who can will keep up the search. MacBeth plans to join us --" he frowned at Lex sternly "-- now that he's recovered from your 'visit,' that is." Lex flushed, and Broadway gaped at him. "_That's_ where you went in such a hurry? You attacked MacBeth?!" "I thought he might have something to do with it," he mumbled shamefacedly. "I was a little crazy, okay?" "You're lucky he didn't tie you into a pretzel," Birdie said. "Listen, guys, don't worry about Fergs. She's smart. I betcha she's back here safe and sound by the time you wake up." "Thanks, Birdie." Lex managed a smile, but didn't seem convinced. "There is another course open to us as well," Owen said. "Alexander may be ready to learn a seeking spell." "Why didn't you do that first?" Lex cried. "It is an extremely difficult spell to master, and a chancy one at best to cast. Especially in a city of this size." "Well, give it a try," Hudson urged. "We'll none of us bide easy until we know the wee lass is home and well!" Owen inclined his head. "I shall begin the instruction when Alexander has awakened." "I've got to ask," Brooklyn said. "Broadway, what's with the boot?" He turned a darker shade of turquoise as he explained about the woman on the ledge. "There was something special about her," he said. "I dunno ... I've just got this feeling ... and I know she's okay. She's got to be." Brooklyn chuckled. "So, Prince Charming, you're going to find whoever this shoe fits --" he took it playfully and held it up. "Well, I'm sure you and Shaquille O'Neill will be very happy together!" "Gimme that!" Broadway grabbed it back, just as the sun rose and turned it to stone in his grasp. * * For her captors, sleep had become unconsciousness. For Aiden, unconsciousness gradually turned to sleep. She'd surfaced from the dark lake of slumber at one point, dimly aware that she was airborne, in the arms of a gargoyle. That fact had made her feel safe, despite some deep surety that something was wrong with this picture. But, exhausted, distraught, confused, she succumbed easily to the welcome lull of sleep. An unknown amount of time later, she woke with all-over stiff muscles and eyes that felt gummed shut. She peeled them open and saw a dull whitish ceiling soaring overhead. "Where am I?" Aiden wondered aloud. "Hayden-Mavis Observatory." She turned her head that way, and saw Demona in her human form of Dominique Destine. Since she was still wearing her halter and loincloth, she looked quite a bit different from the stylish CEO of Nightstone Unlimited. She was sitting on a folding lawn chair, leaning close to survey Aiden. A rounded dome, weathered and pitted as the surface of the moon, enclosed them. A huge metal rack which might have once held a telescope was positioned beneath a wedge-shaped slice in the dome. "It closed down many years ago," Dominique explained. "Now it is deserted." "But ... what are we doing here?" A shadow of sadness flitted across her face. "Not very homey, I know, but it is my sanctuary, where I stay when I can't risk going to my office. I brought you here last night." "Last night ..." Aiden sat up, regretted it, and passed a shaky hand over her brow. "What happened?" Dominique crouched beside her. "I didn't dare leave you to the Hunter. He would have slain you without a thought." "You saved my life! Again!" "I owed you. If you hadn't distracted the Hunter, he would have shot me where I lay entangled." "It's my fault he got you in that net in the first place," Aiden pointed out miserably. "Let's not worry about whose fault it was. You saved us both, with your magic." "Oh, God, no!" Aiden remembered. "I killed those men!" If she'd eaten anything lately, it would have come up the express elevator, but all she could do was retch a little. "You did what you had to do," Dominique said. When the urge to throw up had passed, Aiden sought refuge in tears instead. She didn't resist when Dominique embraced her and rocked her like a child, crooning soothingly in her ear. How long did she sit like that? She had no idea, but when the cleansing spate of weeping had passed, she felt marginally better. "Why ... why didn't you take me home?" she sniffled. "What do you think the clan would have done if I had?" Dominique countered. "It was too dangerous. I knew we'd be safe here. Come, poor child, let's get you cleaned up." Aiden looked down at herself and grimaced. She was still in her silvery gown, though it was now a bleary grey from her unwelcome adventures. One side was ripped clear to the hip, and her nylons were more shredded than the ones Birdie sometimes wore. She was filthy, and by the feel of it her hair was one big beige tumbleweed. She had too many aches and pains to count, but most notable among them was the sore scrape on her throat where the creepy man with the metal hand had tried to throttle her. Dominique led her to a partitioned-off section that looked like it had once been a small auditorium, perfect for presenting slide shows for field trips. It was right next to a dome within the dome, a dark cave, which Aiden guessed used to be the planetarium. "The facilities aren't the best," Dominique said apologetically, "but it will do." Aiden nodded her thanks and used the makeshift bathroom to clean up as well as she could. "Do you have any spare clothes?" she asked without much hope. Dominique rustled up some stirrup pants that would have been clingy on her but bagged on Aiden, and a roomy cream-colored cableknit sweater. By the time she had taken a sponge bath and changed, Dominique had also produced orange juice, some cold Pop Tarts, and best of all a bottle of Advil. Fed, clothed, and medicated, Aiden was feeling much better. She'd even managed to restore some order to her hair with the loan of a spangly gold scrunchie that seemed like the last accessory in the world she would have expected of Demona. "This isn't so bad, kind of like camping out," she said. "I don't suppose there's a phone? I've got to call home, they'll be worried to death!" "Only the cellular." Dominique handed it to her. "All I'm getting is hissing," Aiden said after a few minutes of trying. She blew out a sigh of dismay. "These things never work! What time is it?" "Two thirty in the afternoon. You slept a long time. I was beginning to worry." "Two thirty! They must be going crazy!" "Tonight, I can take you home," Dominique said. "It's too far to walk, even to the main road." She led Aiden to the front door, which overlooked the long, sloping overgrown lawn. A wide flight of cracked cement stairs cut through the lawn to an empty parking lot. Beyond that was a lightly scrub-wooded hillside, cradled in the bend of a river. An old-fashioned trestle-bridge spanned the river, leading to narrow two-lane backtop. The phone worked no better out of doors, even on the hilltop. She could see the familiar hazy skyline in the distance. Dominique was right, too far to walk, and the little road which dead-ended at the observatory didn't look like it got much traffic. She looked around, feeling the empty weight of the countryside pressing down on her. "You shouldn't have to live like this, in hiding!" "Story of my life," Dominique said bitterly. "It was only recently that I was able to live in reclusive luxury, and even more recently that the trickster Puck made me human by day so that I could move about visibly. Prior to that, I stayed in much worse places than this! Much, much worse! I'm just glad I was able to save my collection of magics! You, a sorceress, should be able to appreciate that!" "Sorceress? No, not me, not really," Aiden demurred. "I hardly know what I'm doing at all! I sometimes feel like I'm really disappointing -- my teacher. Seems like the only time I do something right is by accident!" Dominique chuckled. "What a pair we are! I have a millenium's worth of knowledge, and you have the power!" Aiden joined in her laughter. "I wish I knew half the magic you do!" "Perhaps we should become partners," she joked. Aiden laughed harder. "Wouldn't _that_ be something?" "Wouldn't it, though?" Dominique said, suddenly thoughtful. "Without the Grimorum Arcanorum in my hands, the spells I know are useless. You, though, aren't dependent on books or scrolls. I wonder, if I taught you the spells I remember but cannot cast, could you cast them? I wonder if you could use the items I have?" "What sorts of items?" Aiden asked eagerly. How could she not jump at the chance to learn more magic? To please and impress Owen and Mr. Xanatos and make them feel like their treatment of her was justified? They'd taken her in, gotten her admitted into the Sterling Academy, made her welcome in their home, and aside from a few mishaps and one rather bizarre time travel incident, she hadn't really done all that much to prove herself. Befriending Demona, though? She could just see the look on Goliath's face if he heard of such a thing. Ooh, he'd be furious! There _was_ good in her, though! Angela was right about that! The clan had misjudged what happened to Ebon and Scarlet Angel. Now that Aiden had gotten to know her a little, she really didn't seem all that bad! "There isn't much," Dominique said in answer to her question. "This bracelet was a gift from Queen Titania; I'm sure you remember our first meeting." "Yes." Aiden frowned fleetingly, then reminded herself that Demona had released Owen unharmed, after all. "I thought of taking refuge on Avalon, but I doubt I'd find a warm welcome there either. Especially now that Jericho has turned on me!" She visibly shook off those unpleasant thoughts and gestured back inside. "Let me show you my other treasures!" "Okay!" Aiden followed, since there wasn't really much else she could do until sunset. Dominique rummaged through a small oaken chest. "Crushed petals from the Fealty Rose; I might find a use for those someday. A pair of Shadow Gloves. A book, the Grimorum Necro -- well, you wouldn't be interested in that. The Wyvern Dagger -- don't mention it to Xanatos," she added with a wink. "Hmm, what else? Oh, yes! Here! Look at this!" She carefully lifted something wrapped in many folds of cloth. "The Moonstone Unicorn," she announced proudly as she let the cloth fall away. "Oh!" Aiden gasped. It was about six inches high, in the shape of a rearing unicorn. The carving was so smooth and so skillfully done that it looked like the unicorn might move at any moment. Its mane and tail seemed to flow as if kissed by a gentle breeze. The horn spiralling from its brow was solid gold, as were its dainty cloven hooves. The rest of it was a pure, opaque white stone that shimmered like moonlight. "How pretty!" Aiden brushed away the tears that filled her eyes. It wasn't just the beauty of the figurine, it was the clean and pure magical radiance it gave off, a radiance she couldn't see or feel but sensed on some other, inner level. "What does it do?" "Would you really like to know?" "Yes, oh yes!" "Tonight," she promised. "Tonight when the moon rises, I will show you." * * Birdie, determined to feel like she was doing something other than waiting around Castle Wyvern all day, tagged along with Elisa to the 23rd Precinct to wait around there all day. At first, she had been able to help out, by calling around to all the hospitals and morgues trying to get a lead on this mystery woman whose overshoe Broadway was carting around like a teddy bear. Some might have thought that a weird thing for her, his incidental gal pal, to be doing, but she could tell he was upset about it and wanted to do the big lummox a favor. That avenue of research had come up empty, which she supposed was good news. No apparent jumpers, no bodies in trenchcoats. But it had only taken her a couple of hours, which left her with plenty of time on her hands. And so it was that, on a trip to the vending machine to get some Cheetos for Matt in an effort to make herself useful, she ditty- bopped around a corner and came face to face with ... "Aunt Margot!" "Roberta," the D.A. said with all the warmth of an ice floe. "Why am I not surprised? Juvenile court appointment?" Birdie came back gamely. "Nah, got hauled in by the vice squad. What are you in for?" "Not that it's any of your business," Margot said, not deigning to respond to the vice squad gambit, "but Brendan's car was damaged in last night's gargoyle attack, and I'm here to get some answers from that cretin Bluestone." "Hang on a minute!" Birdie plunked quarters into the machine and a red shiny bag adorned with Chester Cheetah's grin tumbled out. She tossed it at her astounded aunt. "Do me a favor and give those to him, wouldja? I'm going to make myself scarce." Margot crunched the bag in her hand, grinding the contents to flourescent orange powder. Birdie then proceeded to indeed make herself scarce, and crept up to the restored clocktower. She leaned on the wall, idly watching for Margot to leave the building. From her gargoyle-like vantage point, she could see Elisa's way-cool car cozied up to the curb. "Hold the phone," Birdie muttered, watching as a blonde with a ponytail approached the Fairlane. Now, she was a drama student and not a rocket scientist, but that didn't make her dumb as a post, so she had a pretty good idea who the blonde was, even without a visor. The blonde paused, glanced casually around, then stuck something under the windshield wiper. From here it looked like a traffic ticket. "What the hell?" Birdie watched as the blonde walked away down the street, then hustled her buns to the stairs. She almost burst into the office, but even through the closed door she could hear Aunt Margot's hectoring voice, raised to courtroom level. "About face." She trotted through the squad room, jiggling a lot and drawing some interested leers from a trio of thugs standing in handcuffs. One, a bald dude, even mustered a wolf whistle. A line from a Dean Koontz book occurred to her. Sleazy propositions from the dregs of society. Yowza! She ignored the guy and headed outside and down the wide steps, then crossed the street and approached Elisa's car, trying to see if she was being observed. Not that she'd see them if they were; they'd be expecting Elisa, whose powers of detection were much greater than Birdie's. Noticing nothing out of the ordinary, and seeing that the day was already growing dim as the sun settled toward the west and turned hand flicked out and snatched the paper from under the windshield wiper. She went to the corner, crossed the street again, and ducked into a deli. The proprietor gave her an annoyed look when she made as if to sit at one of the little tables, so she dug into her pockets and came up with the cash for a sandwich and a little tub of macaroni salad. Then, he was all smiles as she sat down. By now, she figured, if anyone was going to come after her for snitching the paper, they would have. So she unfolded it. When she saw that it was handwritten instead of pasted together letters cut from a magazine, she grinned, knowing how disappointed Broadway was going to be. Her high good humor in the face of her best bud's disappearance was just Birdie's way of coping with stress. Humor as a defense mechanism. If she looked at this as if it were a badly written script, she could downplay the seriousness of it and keep her fear under control. "The observatory," the note read. "Demona's got her." Weird ransom note, she thought. No mention of money, no melodramatic if-you-want-to-see-her-again. Demona, though. That was some bad news, some heavy trouble. She got up, bundling a napkin around her untouched sandwich, and hurried out. Aunt Margot or no Aunt Margot, she guessed now was the time to let Elisa and Matt in on this latest development. * *

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