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"Cut the bullshit," Margot Yale snapped in a manner that was not at all in keeping with her courtroom image. She slapped the table hard enough to make Matt's coffee cup jump and rattle. "You know and I know that you're hooked up with these monsters!" Elisa's eyes flashed dangerously, but she, with a visible effort, smiled and folded her hands and began humming. For some reason, Margot sat back sharply and gave Elisa an alarmed, fearful look. Matt shifted his gaze between the two women, not sure why "Disco Inferno" would cause such a reaction. He rustled some papers to get their attention again. Margot's gaze settled on him like a plague of fire ants. "All these eyewitness accounts agree that Brendan Vandermere's car was not damaged by a gargoyle." "Yes, by a woman in an evening gown, who jumped out of the back of an ambulance waving a gun." Margot dripped sarcasm and lifted her chin in a way that said she was questioning Matt's breeding and suspecting a fair amount of simian heritage. "Which is even more preposterous than gargoyles!" Elisa opened her mouth to retort, and at that moment the phone jangled urgently. Matt scooped it up. "Bluestone here." "Matt, it's Alvarez. Were you looking for a chick with a parachute?" "Anybody hears you talking like that, the Captain'll have your butt in a sling," Matt remarked, but his brain was clicking into high gear. "Anyway, yeah. What have you got?" "She crashed through a skylight into a meth lab. Messed herself up pretty bad, and it took the druggies all damn day to call it in because they were looking out their own rears." Matt got the hospital room number from Alvarez, then hung up, aware that Elisa and Margot had turned the heat on their antagonism down to simmer and were both watching him. "Ms. Yale, I'm sorry, but we'll have to continue this another time," Matt said, standing up. "We've got a matter to investigate that pertains to the case. We'll be in touch." Elisa was also on her feet, and moving out the door. Margot glowered. "_I'll_ be in touch, Bluestone, don't worry about that!" "I wasn't worried," he assured her warmly, and followed Elisa into the hall. "We've got the redhead, and if we go now we might be able to get something out of her before she starts whining about her rights like her partner downstairs." "Let's go, then! You drive; my keys are in my jacket and I don't want to waste any time going back for it." "I'm parked in the alley." They hurried toward the back stairs, weaving through the cross-shift crowd. "Hey," Matt said suddenly, "what about the kid, the Goth, what's-her-name --?" "Birdie, and FYI she's Yale's very own neice." Elisa stopped and looked around. "Damn, probably in hiding. Well, she's a big girl and can take care of herself for an hour or so." She went briskly onward. Over the general level of hallway chatter and slamming of lockers, they heard, "Maza! Bluestone!" "It's the Captain, come on, step on it, pretend you didn't hear!" Elisa tugged him into the stairwell and let the door clang closed behind them. * * Birdie elbowed her way through the cops as politely as possible, hid in the broom closet when she caught a glimpse of Aunt Margot's lime-green babushka bobbing her way (what _did_ possess the woman to think that thing was stylish?), and burst into the room where Matt and Elisa weren't. She turned around and saw Matt's unmistakable carrot-top headed down the hall. "Elisa! Matt!" she called, but they didn't so much as pause, probably not hearing her above the din. So she dipped into her innate talent for mimicry, which wasn't as handy as being a sorceress or anything cool like that but it did have its uses. "Maza! Bluestone!" she barked in such a good imitation of their boss that many heads swiveled toward her in surprise. But, darn it all, Matt and Elisa only poured on the speed. Muttering the first several minutes of dialogue from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" under her breath, she pushed less politely through the crowd and finally had to admit that she'd lost them. Thinking maybe they left her a note, she went to find their desks. Matt's half was scrupulously neat with a framed photo of his ladyfriend Edie and a clear pyramid with a hologramatic eyeball floating eerily in it as the only decorations. Elisa's side was by no means a pigsty, but it did show that she had a less-than-letter-perfect approach to paperwork, and a fondness for those cinammonny Hot Tamale candies. Her jacket was hanging over the back of her chair. No note. Birdie turned to the cop at the next desk. "Hey --" she began, and when he raised his ink-dark Latino eyes to hers and smiled with perfect white teeth that seemed even whiter against his dark skin, she instantly wondered if there was a "Men of the 23rd Precinct" calendar. "Hey," she said again, with altogether different inflections. His grin widened. "Looking for Elisa and Matt? They headed to the hospital." Faster on her mental feet than her weight would ever let her be on her physical ones, Birdie nodded. "Yep, I know, Elisa sent me to get her jacket." She picked it up, and just as she'd hoped, keys jangled in the pocket. "See you later," he said, tipping his pen at her. Some remark about flicking his Bic nearly popped out of her mouth, but she reined it in at the last moment and gave him her best Betty Boop smile instead. She slung Elisa's jacket over her shoulder and left the room, allowing herself one last appraisal of the cop whose nameplate read Alvarez. Elisa didn't need a window seat with a view like that just one desk over! Minutes later, she was closing in on the Fairlane again, aware that what she was about to do was downright crazy. Sure, she had the keys, she didn't have to resort to hotwiring, but she was still boosting a cop's car from right in _front_ of the police station. Not the brightest of plans. She donned the jacket, and with it tried to don Elisa Maza. Hard-nosed cop, gutsy, determined, independent, deeply committed to the cause. Birdie had too much hip to get Elisa's walk down pat, but she captured most of the attitude and went right up to the car as if she had every right to be there. She nearly lost it when the first two keys she jabbed at the lock didn't do the trick, but third time was the charm and the door opened obligingly. The engine started up with an eager roar, and Birdie pulled away from the curb. * * Sunset. The hour of the gargoyle. Owen Burnett, his face drawn with weariness, waited patiently as the clan went through their usual noisy evening calisthenics. He brushed chips and dust from his shoulders with the resigned distaste of an actor in a medicated shampoo commercial. Lexington sprang down in front of him. Though stone sleep was supposed to rejuvenate them, the smallest gargoyle looked as if he had tossed and turned all day. "Well?" He packed an encyclopedia's worth of anxiety into that one word. Owen succinctly outlined the day's progress. Or, rather, the lack thereof. The only good news he had was Elisa's report that Birdie had been unable to find Broadway's boot-loser. "Nothing?!" Lex agonized. "What about Alex's spell?" Owen shook his head. "She is nowhere in Manhattan. All we could get, and this was after much trying, was a vague image of the moon." "The moon?" Angela echoed. "She couldn't be there! That's impossible! Isn't it?" "Even with sorcery," Owen agreed. "It may, however, be a symbol." His throat moved as he swallowed, and the clan realized with some concern that he was nervous. "A symbol of someone, or someones, with a lunar aspect." The rest didn't get it, but Goliath's brow drew together in a deep crease. "The Weird Sisters?" "Possibly," he admitted. "Although abduction by mercenaries is not their usual style. They may have done it to throw us off the scent." "Why would the Weird Sisters want Aiden?" Angela wondered. "I thought they weren't permitted to interfere in human affairs." "Now, lass, we all know how well the Third Race obey their laws," Hudson said. One corner of Owen's mouth twitched slightly, then he was somber again. "There is the matter of Hecate's Wand to consider. It was made by the Sisters' mother, and they might not consider the wand, nor its bearer, as a part of human affairs." "But the wand is in Aiden's room!" Lex protested. "She didn't have it with her!" "I took the liberty of moving the wand. It is sealed in Coyote's containment chamber, which is made from magical iron. The Sisters will not be able to reach it, if that is their desire." "You put Humpty Dumpty together again after Goliath squashed him in Arizona?" Brooklyn asked. "Of course. Mr. Xanatos doesn't like to waste resources." "Where is Xanatos?" Goliath asked. "In the dining room. As is MacBeth. We recently had a call from Detective Maza. She and Matt are at the hospital now, so they may be able to get some information from the woman, Fleance. You're all welcome to join them so that we may plan our next move." Lex hung back. "I'll be along in a while," he said. When the rest of them had gone, Lex crept down the stairs to Alexander's room. He eased the door open. The young boy was sprawled on his bed, the blankets all kicked back to reveal the Star Wars sheets that Lex had picked out. One little arm was draped over his winged teddy-goyle, and in the other hand he clutched tight to a beanbag stegosaurus Aiden had won for him at a street fair last summer. The poor kid looked worn out, the purplish smudges under his eyes not faded even in sleep. Lex hated to wake him, but he had to. "Alex!" he whispered, giving the boy a gentle shake. "Hey, buddy!" Alex mumbled something and burrowed into his pillow. "Come on, Alex," Lex urged. "Help me out here, 'kay?" "Hmph?" "I need to know where Aiden is," Lex said. "Show me what you saw." "Moon." "Yeah. Can you show me?" Alex flopped over onto his back, his eyelids at an unsteady half-mast. He sleep-talked a spell, fanned his fingers, and a hazy glowing image appeared in the air. Lex saw a pale, full moon rising behind a thin row of trees. Nearly as soon as he saw it, the image faded and Alex rolled onto his tummy again. The moon? It looked wrong somehow. Even weirder, it looked familiar somehow. "Thanks," Lex said, ruffling the boy's hair. He tiptoed out, closed the door quietly, turned, and bumped smack into Broadway. "You want to sit around and wait for Elisa to call, or you want to go out now?" Broadway asked. * * The most helpful thing that Elisa and Matt could get out of Fleance was a suggestion that both Goliath and Edie might have objected to strenuously. No amount of good-cop/bad-cop made a difference, since the redhead was doped to the gills but still with it enough to be stubborn. Elisa was fuming by the time they got back to Matt's car and rang up the castle. "We're back to Square One," she announced via speakerphone. It was right about then that Brooklyn revealed that both Lex and Broadway were missing. And it wasn't long after that they got back to the station and found that Elisa's car was gone, and so was Birdie. * * "There's Elisa's car!" Broadway pointed, thankful that their friend had such a distinctive set of wheels. The Fairlane was at the edge of a postage-stamp-sized patch of parking lot between a gas station and a dry cleaner's, parked next to a pair of phone booths. A brunette in a red jacket was poring over a map spread on the hood of the car. Lex spiralled down, and Broadway followed, after making sure the lot was more or less unpopulated. It was only as Lex made his touchdown on the roof of the car that Broadway realized the brunette wasn't Elisa. "Find anything?" Lex demanded. She jumped a foot. "Jeez, Lex, you scared the hell out of me!" "Birdie?!" "Birdie?" Broadway landed too. "Where's Elisa? What ... hey, what's with the jacket? Does Elisa know you've got her car?" "Long story. Listen, guys, I'm glad to see you." She quickly filled them in on the blonde and the note. "But I can't find the damn observatory! It's not in the phone book, not on the map --" "The observatory!" Lex smacked himself upside the head. "Not the moon! I knew it looked familiar! It was on 'Beyond 2000,' the one Hudson got mad about --" he coughed guiltily at that point, then went on. "They were doing a show about the future of astronomy, and part of it was about the older observatories. Hayden-Mavis, I'd bet you a million bucks! That's where she is!" He clawed his way to the top of the phone booth. "Let's go!" "What about Demona?" Broadway asked. "Shouldn't we get the rest of the clan in on it?" "You can wait, but not me!" "Lex, wait --" Birdie slung her arms around his neck. "Come on, stud, he'll need backup." "But the phone's right there -- oh, darn it!" Broadway shrugged and went after his rookery brother. * * The moon was waning, so it rose more than an hour after Dominique's dramatic transformation into Demona. Aiden couldn't help but admire Puck's handiwork, though she didn't dare comment on it because she'd gotten the idea that Demona hadn't quite tipped to the fact that Owen and Puck were the same being. The caliber of magic at work here made her feel woefully inadequate, silly as it was to be comparing her paltry skills to those of a milennia- old immortal. It only made her all the more tempted by Demona's offer. A little correspondance course in addition to her other studies. What was the harm? Sorcery was itself neither good nor evil. It was all in how it was used. Just because Demona used her power to try and destroy humanity ... but not _all_ humanity that she ever met, present case in point. They'd put together a dinner of canned stew and peaches. It still felt like a campout, and after her initial nervousness, Aiden was surprised to find herself getting along better with Demona than she did with any of the others except Lexington. They did seem to have some things in common, or maybe it was the bond of their magical talent. The previous night's drizzle had departed, leaving a crisp and clear sky sparkling with stars. The bite of December, only a few days away, was already in the air. Aiden shivered a little, but was too excited by the prospect of witnessing the marvel of the Moonstone Unicorn to be bothered by the cold. They were out on the sloping lawn, so overgrown that it was really more like a wild meadow, the bulk of the dome behind them. Demona laid out the statuette, a scroll, and a tiny vial with a quarter-inch of red liquid inside. In the east, the moon was peeking over the horizon, crisscrossed by the beams of the trestle bridge. "Here, hold this," she said, giving the statuette to Aiden. Although it seemed to be made of solid stone and gold, it wasn't as heavy as it should have been. It felt light and somehow alive in her hands. "This," Demona said, holding aloft the vial, "is unicorn blood mixed with powder of unicorn horn." "You mean, they're real? Really real?" Aiden was aware of how childish and naive she sounded, but it was too late to take the question back. Demona only nodded. "Watch." She tipped the vial so that a single drop of blood poured out. Aiden watched, not sure what she was supposed to see. The blood struck the ground, spread, and vanished. "Are you familiar with the lore of sowing dragon's teeth?" Demona asked. "Like in those old Sinbad movies, right? The skeletons?" "The effect is much the same, though the special effects, I think, you'll find considerably better!" The ground before them began to shift and heave. Soil and grass rose up in a mound, taking on a horselike shape. And then, much like a gargoyle shedding its stone skin, earth fell away in clumps and flew away in a gritty spray, and a gleaming white unicorn stood before them. Not a statue. Breath plumed frostily from its nostrils. Huge liquid soulful eyes with long soft lashes. A shining twist of golden horn rose from its brow. "Wow," Aiden breathed. Demona had moved back a little, slightly behind Aiden. "Here, read the scroll. You don't have long before it changes." "Changes?" "No time to debate. Read!" Holding the Moonstone Unicorn in one hand, Aiden skimmed the scroll, doing a quick translation and run-through just to make sure she had the pronunciation right and that it wasn't some sort of evil humanity-destroying apocalypse. "Uh ..." she said, as the unicorn was beginning to curl its lip in a fairly menacing manner and paw at the ground with one dainty gold cloven hoof. "What's this part about a chaste vessel?" "It's not calling for a human sacrifice. It's just that a virgin must cast the spell." Aiden lowered the scroll and stared at Demona. "Oh, boy, talk about rotten timing!" "What are you --" Demona's eyes became deadly little slits. "You didn't! Your school file, your personality profile, my contact at the Academy --" As her eyes narrowed, Aiden's grew wide. "_You_ were behind the kidnapping!" she gasped. "It was all a set-up! I'm such an idiot! Stupid, stupid, stupid!" "When? When, damn, you, when?" "T-two nights ago," she stammered, blushing and at the same time feeling like the world's biggest dope for not having seen through the ruse before. And then her gaze was drawn from Demona to the unicorn, and embarrassment and self-recriminations paled as raw horror took over. A few minutes before it changes, Demona had said. Changes. The golden horn was now a diseased-looking growth that shaded from bone-white to blood-red to death-black at the tip. The lush satiny mane grew spiked and wiry. The flowing tail shriveled into a ratlike whip with a leonine tuft. The dainty hooves became deeply split. The soulful eyes were now urine-yellow. Even as she watched, the head altered so that the jaw was a crocodilian collage of teeth. The body hunched into an almost camel-ish shape, covered with coarse bristly fur. At first, it had appeared as the typical fantasy unicorn. Now it was closer to the type seen on medieval tapestries, the type that could be lured by a maid but more often than not would skewer her with its sharp horn. The spell, which Aiden now realized would have let her hold it to its beautiful form and bind it to her will, was useless. A gargoyle snarled, right in her ear and scary enough to divert her fear from the unicorn. Friendly Dominique, repentant Demona, those personas were gone now. She was with the real Demona now, and God help her! "I just want to know one thing, before I let it gut you," Demona said. "Who? Who ruined your virtue, and ruined my plans?" * * "There it is!" Lexington called. The dome, which Owen had mistaken for the moon, bulked against the sky. The true moon was a frosty semi-globe in the east, shedding white winter light over the overgrown grounds. Easy to spot the figures below. "It's Demona, all right," Broadway said grimly. Birdie, clinging to him like a kid riding piggyback, said nothing but looked a little ill at the prospect of going hammer-and-tongs against the queen bee of evil gargoyles. Sure, she'd done well enough helping defend Ebon against the Quarrymen, but she'd been in the body of a gargoyle herself at the time. Tonight she was only human, without even magic to back her up. Still, she wasn't about to turn back, and Lex's estimation of her edged higher. He forgot all about Birdie, though, as he got a good look at the third figure. "She's summoned a monster to devour Aiden!" he cried, and went into a steep dive. * * Aiden stared into Demona's hellfire eyes and knew she was going to die. At least I won't die a virgin, she thought, and the absurdity of it made her laugh. Demona's eyes flared even brighter, painting the landscape crimson. She raised one hand with claws outstretched, ready to flay the skin from Aiden's face. "Who, I asked you?!" And then, right on cue, Lex swooped out of the night. "Demona!" "You?!" she shrieked. "You perverted little human-loving imp!" Lex didn't dignify that with a response but tackled Demona around the waist. The impact sent them both tumbling across the grass. Sent the vial of unicorn blood flying from Demona's other hand. "Oh, no!" Aiden reached out with her magic as the uncorked vial spun and sprayed its contents in an arc of ruby droplets. The force of her spell seized the glass before it broke, but too little, too late. Distracted by that, she didn't even notice that the unicorn was lunging at her until she felt the steam of its breath. She threw herself gracelessly backwards. Its loathsome furry side left a rug burn on her arm and knocked her down. The unicorn turned and came around for another pass. Aiden struggled to sit up and saw it charging. She yelped and tried to roll to the side. Broadway and Birdie landed hard, right between Aiden and the oncoming creature. It veered away, making a startled and almost funny bleat. Demona and Lex were rolling in a biting and kicking tangle. She was bigger, but he was agile and swarmed over her. He scrambled into her back, dug his knees into her wing joints, seized a double handful of her scarlet hair, and yanked. She howled in fury and pain as her head came up. She and Lex saw it at the same time, and both gargoyles froze in place like mannequins. "Holy guacamole, Batman," Birdie said in a soft, awed voice. Heard of unicorns? Aiden thought crazily. Sure, I've heard of unicorns. But it wasn't heard, it was herd, a half-dozen of the graceful white animals birthing themselves from the earth. There had only been a few drops left in Demona's vial, but even one might prove to be too many for them to handle, so seven was surely out of the question. They tossed their heads, they reared and pawed the air, they nickered sociably at one another, and then as they caught sight of their changed sibling running wild and free over the grass, they began to transform. The first two to complete the change raced at the nearest targets, which happened to be Demona and Lex. Their own spat temporarily back-burnered, they leapt up. "They can't fight us in the air," Demona said. She bent and laced her fingers, and Lex didn't even hesitate at stepping into her cupped hands and letting her leg-up him skyward. She then ran for a skinny little twig of a tree and got herself some altitude. "Yes, they can!" Lex pointed, and they all saw very clearly that the unicorns were running upward on nothing but thin air, their split hooves striking sparks and trailing smoke. Aiden suffered a brief flashback to the time she'd inadvertantly enspelled Owen, and thought that if Birdie produced a boom box and started playing "Ride of the Valkyries," a herd of monster unicorns would be the least of her best friend's problems. Birdie did not appear about to do anything of the sort. She was currently staring at an approaching unicorn. "Nice beastie," she murmured. "Want a lump of sugar?" It snorted and gouged the earth with its forehooves. "Get inside!" Broadway commanded, spinning her toward the distant door of the observatory and planting himself in front of the unicorn. Aiden gathered her wits and cast a spell. For months, she'd been working on levitation, and had finally gotten to the point where she could lift herself off the ground. Her control wasn't the best, making her think of a video game with arrows for up, down, back, forth, left and right. She couldn't do diagonals, couldn't turn terribly fast, couldn't do anything fancy. But it was sufficient to get her airborne just as a unicorn thundered by beneath her now-dangling feet. The one facing Broadway was weaving side to side, swishing its leonine tail edgily and wrinkling its nose. When he lunged at it and roared, the poor thing skittered backward, hooves shooting in all directions like Bambi on ice. The ones that had followed Lex and Demona into the air were giving them a good chase. The gargoyles banked and soared on updrafts, the unicorns galloped as if the sky was a series of steep switchbacks. Higher and higher went the chase. Aiden cast a witchbolt at one that had come up after her, hoping for the fireworks that she'd gotten when zapping the Hunter. No such luck. Just the same meek little blob as ever, and she missed besides. "Hey, horny!" Birdie yelled. She hadn't made a break for the safety of the observatory, but instead, Aiden saw with dread as she looked down, had removed Elisa's red jacket and was flapping it like a matador's cape. "Toro! Toro!" The unicorn lowered its head and went after her. Birdie jumped aside, making the leather jacket snap like a whip. Three were in hot pursuit of Lex and Demona. Broadway was menacing one. Aiden let herself drop ten feet to avoid another. Birdie was backing steadily toward the edge of the meadow. That left one unaccounted for ... Nope, there it was, coming right at her. She realized she still held the statuette and the scroll, and sort of thrust them out in front of her like a shield, hoping it might give the creature pause. She got its attention, but only seemed to make it mad. She twisted her body and its horn snagged the overlarge sweater and just nicked Aiden's side. The other one that had been after her made another pass and she ducked, getting clipped on the top of the head with a hoof. "Arriba, arriba, andele!" Birdie yipped in a really good Speedy Gonzalez imitation. She waggled the jacket enticingly. The unicorn went for it. At the last instant, Birdie jerked it out of the way and the unicorn went horn-first into a treetrunk. It bucked and kicked and went basically crazy, but was stuck fast. Demona, doubtless pissed that the no-magic human had managed to deal with her opponent before any of the gargoyles, signaled to Lex. He nodded. They swooped toward each other, each with a unicorn all but nipping at their tails. Just when it seemed this game of chicken might end with a horrific crash, they both went straight up, their bodies only intimate inches apart. The unicorns, not so quick on the uptake, rammed headlong into each other. There was a sound that reminded Aiden of the time some of her high-school classmates had dropped a pumpkin off a freeway overpass. The visual, though, was more like tomatoes hurled against a wall. Demona and Lex glanced down to survey their handiwork and slapped each other's hands, grinning maniacally. It was as if they hadn't been trying to throttle each other only minutes before. Aiden's next witchbolt smacked a unicorn on the snoot. It faltered and shook its head briefly. The other one that had been chasing her was distracted by Birdie's loud and insulting antics below and went for her. But, like the ill-fated Khan, Birdie was used to dealing with things two-dimensionally and wasn't expecting an attack from above. The unicorn came down at her. She realized her error and tried to get out of the way. It missed her with its horn but got her with its meaty shoulder. This time, the sound was that of a medicine ball hitting an exercise mat. Birdie uttered a breathy "Oof!" as it flattened her. Broadway, having cowed his foe into a complete quivering surrender, sprang to Birdie's defense. He roared and brought his hand down on the unicorn's rump hard enough to buckle its rear legs. It crashed and rolled, nickered plaintively, and stretched its neck to lick at his foot. A thought like a fishhook tugged in Aiden's brain, but whatever it was, she lost it as she saw what none of the others had yet seen. Demona and Lex, now engaged with the biggest of the herd, hadn't paid much attention after watching the mid-air collision of the other two. They hadn't caught the significance of the grisly rain that had pattered down from the heavens. Flashback time, part deux. This time it was a movie she'd loved as a kid, so much that she'd even named her teddy bear after the cute little fuzzy thing. Gizmo. Gremlins. What she saw below her now was a soil-and-grass version of what had happened when the evil gremlin Stripe had gone swimming. The entire meadow was churning. The vial had held seven drops. The goosh from above was buckets' worth. Horned shapes began rising up. A dozen, a hundred, more. _Now_ the others were aware, for all the good it did. Demona, stunned by what she saw, didn't have a chance to get out of the way as the biggest of the herd, the first one that she herself had summoned, plowed into her from behind. Its horn went clear though her -- even in the weird lighting, Aiden could see the tip burst from her chest like an erupting alien. Her scream split the sky. The unicorn squealed in triumph and galloped across the sky with Demona nailed to its head like a butterfly on a pin. Aiden very nearly got dished up a helping of the same fate, but she heard Lex's warning cry and looked away from the horror below and the gory impalement above. The unicorn she'd zapped with her feeble witchbolt was coming at her for another try. She hurled another bolt, and this time her wish was granted. The silvery lozenge struck square between the eyes, just under the base of its horn. Light bright enough to read the fine print by exploded in front of Aiden, and a heatless force sent her sailing weightlessly back. Her levitation spell almost deserted her as the earth and stars swapped places, but she recovered before she took the fast way down and righted herself. Her hand slipped on the statuette and she juggled it for a secure hold. The unicorn was gone. No blood, no fuss, no muss, no bother, just gone. And below, hundreds more were rising from the earth like a weird remake of Night of the Living Dead. Lex glided to her side, and in his eyes she saw what she knew all too well. They didn't have a chance. Or did they? The fishhook was back, digging into the fabric of her thoughts. She stared at the Moonstone Unicorn, and the scroll, the dratted useless scroll -- Aiden smacked herself in the temple. "Stupid!" she scolded herself. She tore Demona's gold scrunchie from her hair, used it to rubberband the scroll to the statuette, and drew her arm back as if she was going out for a long pass. "Broadway!" He looked up. Two unicorns were cowering at his feet like beaten puppies. Aiden threw, using her magic to guide the special delivery because she sure as heck wasn't about to trust to her athletic skill. Broadway caught it, but his wide genial face was one big question mark. "The scroll!" Aiden cried above the din of the new unicorns shaking their hides free of dirt. "Read the scroll!" "Gotcha!" He flashed her a thumbs-up and began unrolling it. "What's that?" Lex panted. "Our only chance, unless Birdie lied to me!" She reached out and clutched Lex's hand. "I just hope he's not being graded on pronunciation!" Slowly, ponderously, Broadway read the Latin words. As he did, the herd fell silent and turned their deep soulful gazes upon him. When he got to the part about the statue, he paused to say, "oh, yeah, this!" and held it out. And when he finished, the entire herd dipped their golden horns in equine bows, then began to rear and prance and whinney excitedly. Aiden had the crazy urge to start singing "The Circle of Life." Broadway stood there, amazed, as he was surrounded by unicorns, all of them butting eagerly at him, trying to lick his hands and face, brushing their sleek white hides against him. "He did it!" Aiden sighed in relief. "It's safe!" Cautiously nonetheless, she and Lex descended. The unicorns sniffed at them and snorted expressively, but didn't make any hostile moves. They were far too intent on Broadway. The bestial ones, two unencumbered and one still firmly wedged in the treetrunk, changed back to their prior beauty. Of the one that had carried Demona off, there was no sign. Aiden guessed it had been beyond reach of the spell, beyond hearing. She pushed her way through the jostling herd and found Birdie. Elisa's jacket was crumpled next to her. "Birdie?" Aiden gently shook her. She groaned, and said without opening her eyes, "Next time you invite me to spend the weekend, Fergs, I think I'd be better off just shooting myself in the head." * * "I kinda wish they didn't all have to go," Broadway said sadly. "Xanatos complains enough about Bronx," Lex pointed out. "How do you think he'd react to having a unicorn around the castle?" "Besides," Birdie said, "you're going to have to put up with enough smartmouth from Brooklyn as it is, without having a unicorn around to remind everyone how you saved our necks." Broadway mumbled and blushed a little. "Yeah, I guess you're right." "How'd you figure it out?" Lex asked Aiden. "I saw that they weren't attacking him. They went after the rest of us readily enough, but it was like they _couldn't_ hurt Broadway. That, combined with what I knew of the spell and what Birdie said the other day ... well, I put one and one and one together and got three!" "Good thing, too," Birdie said. She punched Broadway playfully on the shoulder. "See, there was a method to my madness after all! And you thought I was just playing hard to get!" "It's better they go back where they came from," Broadway said, looking remarkably like Goliath did whenever he wished people would shut up about his personal life. "New York hasn't gotten used to gargoyles. Can't imagine what they'd do when people realized there were herds of unicorns on the loose." "There's still the other one," Aiden said. "It can't kill Demona," Lex reminded her. "Eventually, she's going to get unstuck and there'll be one less unicorn in the world." "Yeah, and then she'll be back!" Birdie hugged Elisa's jacket around her shoulders. "So maybe we should get our bad selves gone?" "What about this?" Broadway held out the Moonstone Unicorn. Aiden sighed. "This is where someone's supposed to make a speech about destroying it so it can't do any more harm or fall into the wrong hands, and then we bash it on a rock. Same goes for the box of tricks she's got in the observatory. But someone else is going to have to do it, because I just can't." "Goliath didn't destroy the Eye of Odin, the Phoenix Gate, or the Grimorum right away," Lex said. "And they _did_ fall into the wrong hands. He said the Eye and the Grimorum got wrecked, and that he got rid of the Gate forever." "But some stuff is _good_," Broadway argued. "What about that Aztec sun-amulet, or whatever it is, that keeps the clan in Guatamala safe?" "It's all in how you use it," Birdie said. "Me, I'd say we'd be nuts to break perfectly good magic widgies. We shouldn't leave it here for the demon bitch from hell, yeah, agreed, but doesn't Fergs here deserve a little something for her time?" "Haven't I caused enough trouble already?" Aiden shook her head ruefully. "Hecate's Wand, remember? And I don't think Owen or Mr. Xanatos are going to be pleased with me after all of this. I certainly don't deserve a reward!" "No, Birdie's right," Broadway declared. "We should take them back with us. We can't let Demona get them, yeah, but we shouldn't go around destroying things that are so old, or powerful." "Okay," Aiden said heavily. "But I'm giving everything over to Owen, okay?" "Fine by me." Birdie chuckled. "Not that it's going to matter after Elisa catches up with me! I'd almost rather face Demona!" * * At first, there hadn't even been any pain, just a deep iciness. And then she sucked in breath to scream, and the ice turned to volcanic flame. On they went, her wings fluttering uselessly as the galloping hooves carried them across the sky. She squirmed, sending agonizing explosions through her tortured body, but could not wiggle free of the horn that jutted from her chest. She coiled her muscular tail around the unicorn's neck and began to squeeze. When it realized what was happening, it began to thrash and try and fling her clear. She held onto the tip of the horn and held on tight, grinding her fangs against the pain as she was flung side to side on the spiraled column. Tighter and tighter she squeezed. The galloping faltered. The unicorn dipped its head and now Demona was fighting gravity as well. She let herself slip free and felt a warm torrent of blood gush down her back and belly. She swung under the unicorn, hanging by the tail still wrapped around its neck. This brought her claws into gutting range, but she stopped herself just before she slashed. She needed another blood- shower like she needed, well, a hole in the chest! Spreading her wings, she pulled a trick riding maneuver that no circus acrobat could hope to equal and wound up sitting on the beast's back with her tail still in its death-grip. Now she could add her strong hands to the constricting tail. When she'd snapped the neck of Thailog's human lover, it had been a thin and brittle sound. The unicorn's broke with a krak! that Demona felt all the way up to her shoulders. It convulsed and went limp, and together they plunged toward the glinting snake of the river. * * The night was still young when two gargoyles and two humans arrived on the topmost tower of Castle Wyvern with their chest of loot. A good thing, too, because they'd need all of those hours before dawn to explain, apologize, and take their verbal lumps. Penance and punishment would doubtless not be over with by the time the sun rose, or indeed by the New Year. Broadway and Birdie volunteered to go down first and face the music, leaving Aiden and Lex alone on the roof. They nervously did a little bit of avoiding each other's eyes. Then they both spoke at once. "Aiden, I --" "Lex, I --" " -- am so sorry," they said together. A brief laugh eased the tension. Lex got the next words in first. "When I heard you were gone, I was afraid you ran away because of what happened the other night," he confessed. "Oh, gosh, no!" Aiden gasped. "Because I'd hurt you, because I was selfish and a pig and a rotten ... lover." "No, Lex ..." "So, if you don't want to ... be my girlfriend any more, I'll understand." "Lexington! That is so not what I want!" She started to cry. "Don't you dare break up with me, not after the day I've had, or I'll just fall down and die right here! I want to be a lot of things. A good student, a decent sorceress, yeah, that's great, but most of all I want to be your girlfriend." "I thought I lost you," he said, dangerously near tears himself. "That I'd never see you again, and our last memories would be bad ones." He opened his arms to her and she went, resting her head on his shoulder. He tipped his cheek against her hair. His wings lay over her arms like a soft cloak. "Demona told me a lot of lies and half-truths, but she was right about one thing," Aiden said against his neck. "She told me I see only the good in people. She said it like that was a bad thing, like trust and naivete are crimes. But she was right. I was ready to see good in her, even. So how could I ever see bad in someone like you, Lex?" "There's a little bad in everyone, I guess." "Even me," Aiden admitted. "I really wanted to believe her, Lex. I really wanted what she offered. The power ... it seemed so much more important than the lives of those men that died trying to attack us. I forgot all about them for a while. I was really tempted." "But when it came right down to it, you didn't give in," he said, kissing her ear. "This time. What happens next time?" "We'll look out for each other," he said. "That's the best we can do." She held him in silence for a while. "Lex?" "Yeah?" "I ... when we're done being grounded, that is, I want to ... try again," she whispered. He knew right away what she meant. "Aiden, we don't have to." "I know we don't have to. But I want to try. Okay?" "Okay? You're asking me okay?" He laughed a little. "Sure, yeah, okay! No problem! And I promise, we'll go as slow as you want." Then his face fell. "When we're done being grounded? Oh, no, there goes another thousand years of my life!" * * Two nights later, Broadway returned to the movie theater. The half-destroyed building next door, where the cops had discovered a modest arsenal in addition to another hovercraft, was slated for demolition next week. Everything else on the street was back to normal. The wreckage was cleared away, the newsstand was repaired, and most of the shops were now sparkling with holiday decorations. The first snow of the year was just beginning to powder Manhattan. His mood should have been light, festive. He wasn't even in trouble with Goliath. None of them were, except for a stern scolding about not calling for backup. Well, Birdie had gotten it up one side and down the other from Matt and Elisa, but they still had to applaud her gutsiness. Aiden, except for a few scrapes and bruises and a new depth to her eyes that signaled the end of a variety of innocences, seemed to be coping well with her ordeal. And Lex had calmed down and issued heartfelt apologies to all concerned, most especially MacBeth. Broadway himself wasn't doing so well. It wasn't that Brooklyn teased him about being the world's oldest virgin (though he did). It wasn't the absence of the unicorns, though in a weird way he did miss them. He'd even been praised for saving the others, even though Aiden was the one who should be praised because she'd been the one to think of it. It was the boot. He landed on the narrow ledge where he'd left the woman, meaning to leave it and the bouquet of lilies there, but the rising brisk wind and flurries of snow made him change his mind. He jumped down to the theater marquee and snuck through the door into the dark hallway. He could once again hear the flirty pseudo- 1940's dialogue of Tracer Bullet and his dishy secretary, Kandy Kane. It brought a ghost of a smile to his lips. She had enjoyed the movie. He decided to leave the boot in the old projection room. That way, he could bring fresh flowers every so often. Kind of a ... what do they call it? ... a shrine. He was halfway across the room before he realized he wasn't alone. "It's you!" he gasped, seeing the woman sitting all bundled up in a quilt, a bag of caramel popcorn open on her lap. "You're all right!" She smiled that oh-so-nice smile at him again. "You said you'd be back. I knew you'd not disappoint me. Forgive me, that I waited not upon the ledge, for it did seem a perch most unsafe." "But -- how -- " he blundered around, then shoved the bouquet of lilies in her direction. "These are for you." She set aside her popcorn and gathered the flowers to her, inhaling deeply. "Thank you! They are lovely!" In the flickering half-light coming through the square by the projector, she looked odd. Not bad-odd, but different-odd. She was minus the fedora and trenchcoat, both of which were hanging on a nearby peg. There was something about the way the shadows lay upon her face that made Broadway pause. It wasn't just that she was pretty, but there was something eerily familiar ... He held up the boot. "I found your shoe." Then, grinning at Brooklyn's jest about Cinderella, he went to one knee in front of her and held out his hand expectantly. She gave him a long, thoughtful look and let the quilt fall away, extending one of a pair of slender but shapely gams (as Tracer Bullet would have said). At the end of that eye-pleasing length was a taloned gargoyle foot. He dropped the boot. "What -- who are you?!" he stammered. "I thought you knew," she said. "I am Elektra." * * The End.
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