First had been the heat, a searing and devouring heat that sought to boil the blood from her veins and melt her flesh like
candlewax in a blowtorch.
And now came the cold.
Ink-black and frigid as the depths beneath an icecap, a cold that sank untold needle-sharp teeth into her bones.
She became aware of a hard substance under her. Hard and jagged, slicingly sharp against her unprotected skin. The skarn
obsidian of a cracked lava field.
Opening her eyes, she saw that it was just what it felt like. A bed of satin-shining black, so like the sheets where she would
recline to welcome her son. Except that her bed had never been razor-edged shards of volcanic glass. Her bed had never run
crimson with her own blood as it seeped from dozens of deep wounds.
Demona braced her hands beneath her body and pushed, wincing as slivers of obsidian pierced her palms. She laboriously
rose to her knees, then her feet, swaying unsteadily in the midst of a depression that bore the shape of her outline in blood and
Her first conscious breath alerted her to the rancid smoky taste of the air. She coughed, lungs rebelling, and her tail scraped
agonizingly against the rough ground as she nearly lost her balance.
Raising her head, she looked at the devastation that surrounded her.
Aftermath, she thought. Nuclear war.
Manhattan had been destroyed. The world had been destroyed.
The sky was a seething pestilence of burnt-orange, shot with dusky clouds that roiled on turbulent winds from one horizon to
the other. Bile-yellow spears of lightning stabbed from the coiled masses of cyclones dragging their funnels across the terrain.
Nothing was left of the city. The skyscrapers had been blasted into the acres of spiny rubble that rose and fell in ridges. She
stood atop what seemed to be the tallest of these, a mountain with sides that plunged in knife-bladed chutes for a hundred yards
She strained her eyes for any sign of the world she remembered and found nothing. All of human civilization had been scoured
away as if it had never been.
Nothing grew. Nothing moved except for the wind-whipped clouds.
A tentative joy stirred within her and quickly died.
The humans were gone, yes ... that should have given her joy because it was a goal she’d dreamed of for hundreds of years.
They had undone themselves, pushed the button, and annihilated every trace of their wretched species.
But look at what they’d left behind.
A dead world. Utter ruin.
The gargoyles could never have survived. Even if the blast had come by day, when they slept in stone instead of vulnerable flesh,
a force that could reduce mammoth edifices to flattened debris would have done the same to them.
All dead. All gone.
In all of this desolate world, only she lived.
And MacBeth ... for the same spell that had spared her would have also protected him. His only goal would be to find her and
put an end to them both.
Better that. Better that than to live like this.
A litany of names flowed through her mind and grief momentarily crushed her in an iron fist. But her shock was too great,
How had it happened?
The humans had been getting along fairly well for the most part.
Terrorists, it must have been. And then, once the fireshow began, it would have accelerated until every nuclear power was involved.
The entire planet an inhospitable, unlivable lump of coal spinning through space.
How? By the Dragon, how?
The last thing she remembered ... what was the last thing she remembered?
Then Demona understood, and a scream tore itself from her throat like barbed wire.
Damien! The Grimorum Necronum! The city wrenched from its moorings and cast into the antechamber of Hell! The pit!
So vividly it might have been playing before her on a movie screen, she saw those final moments replayed.
First Ventura, the daughter she thought long dead ... Ventura, loved but never met, taught but never spoken to, stolen from her by
Thailog’s deceit ... Ventura, appearing out of nowhere and denouncing Demona so bitterly ... and then flung headlong by the collapse
of the shifting building. Into the pit and gone.
And then Damien ... a conduit for evil, emotionlessly lashing out at everyone around him ... Damien falling, and dragging Jericho
with him ...
She moaned in agony, feeling as if a serrated hook were being slowly inserted and twisted in her gut. She could still see him, hanging
there, Damien clinging to his legs, and Goliath grasping his arm ...
And letting go.
Letting him fall.
Saving the world ... saving the humans ... at the expense of his only son.
Demona recalled her own anguished lunge, meaning to throw herself in after him. She recalled the spine-jarring jerk of being brought
up short by Brooklyn, and his snarled words in her ear. His promise that she would suffer as he and Angela had suffered, to know the
loss of her son.
And then nothing. The null blankness of unconsciousness.
Except there was one thing more, dancing at the far fringes of her memory. She closed her eyes and pursued it.
Jason Canmore. Running with her in his arms, and leaping into the pit as it was about to close.
She drew another breath of the sour-smoke air, which despite its coldness reeked of charred meat and burnt hair and filth. She
became aware of a sourceless ambient sound that she’d previously mistaken for the doleful whistle of the wind, and now knew it to
be the distant but plaintive howling of the damned.
She was in Hell.
With faint but renewed hope, she scanned her surroundings again. If she had come through largely unscathed ...
That hope swiftly dimmed, for she had never been so utterly alone.
“Jericho,” she breathed, covering her face. “Oh, my love, my son!”
Guilt drove into her like a spear, sending her to her knees.
If she’d listened to him ... he had known there was something wrong with Damien, and she’d refused to see it, refused to admit it,
although in the depths of her own heart she knew it too ... but her stubborn insistence that everything was going to be fine, that Damien
was not what they’d expected but still their own ... had cost her the life of the only one to ever truly love her for what she was.
Her tears were hot in the bitterly cold air, steaming as they overspilled her hands and rained on the ravaged ground.
She mistook the initial shaking for the sobs that wracked her frame, but as the mountain gave a sudden heave, obsidian groaning
and squealing against itself with unbearable shrillness, Demona sprang up in alarm.
It was coming apart beneath her, splitting in deep crevices. Before she could tumble into one and be ground to pieces, Demona
dove from the side and spread her wings.
That was very nearly a mistake. Above, she would have been torn apart by the conflicting hurricane winds, but this close to the
surface the air of Hell hung flat and bland, with barely a breeze or current to glide on.
She descended in a wide spiral over a plain of thorny crystalline formations, knowing that to try a landing among them would be
like passing through a cheese grater.
The mountain shook and shuddered, and as Demona looped around and glimpsed it from this further perspective, her eyes bulged
From here ... from here it had a shape ... it almost had the shape ...
Black glass shattered and flew apart in whickering blades that pattered to the earth and fragmented. The mountain moved and
Demona’s wings faltered as she gaped helplessly.
Just before she would have gone headfirst into the scything crystals, a colossal hand caught her as gently as a maiden might cradle
a hurt dove.
“Carefully, child,” a scratchy voice advised.
Her mouth worked, but all coherent speech had apparently abandoned her.
The mountain had been a squatting, naked gargoyle.
She was immense in more ways than height. Her girth was that of a small moon, her breasts vast drooping dugs that were pulled
down and apart by their own weight. Wattled bulbous folds connected her chin to her chest, and her upper arms and thighs were
loose and doughy with flab.
Her skin was as grey-brown and textured as that of an elephant, deeply wrinkled and sagging. Downward-twisting horns sprouted
from her brow ridge to frame the face of a withered, hook-nosed crone. Dirty-grey hair, thick but brittle-looking, hung around her
shoulders and over her caped wings like a shawl.
“You ... you’re a gargoyle,” Demona stammered weakly. She crouched in the palm of the giantess’ hand, cupped by clawed fingers
that were each her own height.
“Oh, yes,” the crone agreed. She smiled, revealing fangs that had grown long and yellowed as tusks. “I am your mother.”
Demona’s body and mind recoiled. “My what?”
“The mother of all your kind, child.” She seemed more amused than annoyed by Demona’s reaction. “I am called Lylth, or on
occasion T’yamathet. My children gave rise to your race.”
“But ...” Her thoughts spun. “How ...?”
“Your tears awakened me.”
Lylth yawned cavernously, and Demona could all-too-readily imagine herself being pitched into that maw as casually as a grape. The
spell of the Weird Sisters might protect her from being eaten and digested, but it was not a trip she was eager to take.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“You already know the answer to that.”
“There were others ... I came with others ... my son ...”
“Ah, but none of them were immortal, were they?”
“No,” Demona admitted in a glum whisper.
“Surprising to see a gargoyle in Hell,” Lylth said. She cackled. “You must have been a bad little girl.”
“Gone ... they’re gone? Ventura, Damien ... Jericho? Not my Jericho, please, no ... he loves me ... he needs me ...” She crumpled in
on herself, more hot tears welling from her eyes. “Of all the losses ... all the centuries ... this one ... it’s ...”
“Poor thing.” Lylth stood up from her squatting position, uncoiling the tail she’d had curled beneath her like a large, thick spring. When
she was fully upright it seemed to Demona like the top of Lylth’s head reached almost to the underside of the clouds. “I’ll take you home.”
“Home?” Demona looked blankly at her.
“My home,” she elaborated. “You’re here now and might as well make the best of it, since it’s bound to be a long stint.”
Lylth started walking, each earthquake-making stride covering a quarter-mile, talons leaving canyons for tracks. Demona sat dully in
the cup of Lylth’s palm, past caring about anything except her guilt and pain.
What had become of their bodies? Had the litter of rocks upon which she’d wakened been composed of the death-gravel of her
children? Were the charred ashes of the Hunter’s bones mixed there as well?
Ahead of them, a line of mountains rose so tall they dwarfed even titanic Lylth. Their peaks vanished into the burnt-orange masses
of clouds. A cave opening so big that the entire Nightstone Building -- before it had disintegrated and collapsed into Damien’s pit --
could have stood in it without touching the sides or the top, loomed in a sheer cliff face.
“Here we are,” Lylth said, ducking her head to pass within. “Home and safe.”
“But this is Hell,” Demona said.
“You’re expecting bubbling vats of sulfuric excrement, devils prodding your backside with pitchforks, the torture chamber to end
all torture chambers?”
Lylth clucked sympathetically. “The torments you brought in your own heart are all the punishment you’ll need, child.”
Inside, bonfires blazed in lakes of oil. Demona felt the warmth penetrate her body and realized just how cold she had been. A mortal
gargoyle might have died of hypothermia several times over. Hell wasn’t all fire and brimstone ... it was cold.
The bonfires didn’t just warm, they shed their light on the carved reliefs that covered the walls. Something about the place put Demona
in mind of the Archmage’s secret lair, deep in the bluff below Castle Wyvern.
“What ... what is this place?”
“My home. It can be yours as well if you’d like. The least I could do, for one of my own.” She crouched down, setting Demona on the
smooth floor of the cave.
Then, as Demona watched, Lylth began to shrink. She dwindled rapidly until she was big as an ocean liner, big as a house, and finally
until she was no taller than Demona herself.
Her proportions, however, remained the same ... and Demona underwent a curious mental cramp because somehow Lylth-her-height
seemed even huger and fatter than Lylth-the-giantess. It put her obesity into perspective, boggling the mind even more than the sight of a
gargoyle the size of a mountain.
“How could you be the mother of my kind?” she unthinkingly blurted. “You’re ... you’re so ...”
Lylth laughed rustily. “I wasn’t always this ugly! Oh, child, once I was as shapely a gargoyle as you! Hair black as the curtain of night,
skin like a storm cloud. But a lot can happen to a girl’s looks in three million years.”
Demona’s jaw went slack. “Th ... three million?”
“Give or take a few centuries. Makes your thousand-some seem piddling by comparison, doesn’t it? And before I was a gargoyle,
I wasn’t a bad-looking cavewoman if I do say so myself. Not that I can take credit for that one, since it was the form they created me with.”
“Created?” She was glad of the distraction, anything to keep her mind off of the terrible events that had led to her being here.
“You’re not terribly conversant with history, are you, child? Don’t you know anything about where you come from?”
“The night I opened the Grimorum Necronum, a demoness told me that we shared an ancestor ... but I didn’t know whether to believe
her or not.”
“T’chambleau, my daughter,” Lylth said, nodding. Demona stared in unwilling fascination at the way the bulges of her many chins
swelled and relaxed as she did so. “Demons do lie, but only when it suits them. Sometimes they have fun by telling the stark truth, knowing
that everyone will assume it’s a lie.”
“I don’t understand. And what did you mean by ‘cavewoman’?”
“What do the humans say about the origin of their species?” Lylth countered.
“They have conflicting stories,” Demona said. “Some believe they evolved from apes, others that they were created by a deity.”
Lylth snorted. “Not conflicting. They’re both right. The same thing happened to gargoyles, although not from apes.” She waddled over
to one of the walls, and Demona followed. “Look there, child.”
The style of the carvings was strange, but there was no mistaking the shapes of the reliefs at which Lylth was pointing.
“Gargoyles came from ... from dinosaurs?” Demona said in surprised wonder. Then she thought of her clan, and bobbed her head. “Yes,
I can believe that. And ... please ... it’s Demona. No one has called me ‘child’ for over ten centuries.”
“Demona. No wonder you ended up here, with a name like that. Did you earn it, or was it more of a self-fulfilling prophecy?”
“A little of both,” she replied, scanning the reliefs with great interest. “Dinosaurs ... but how? Everyone believed that they were wiped
out by an asteroid.”
“One breed of them survived. Their world was one of dust-blocked sunlight, so they became accustomed to the darkness and the cold.
When they slept, they slept very deeply. Their metabolisms slowed to the point of near petrification.”
“In its earliest form. Gradually, generations later, the dust clouds dissipated. Unused to the light, they lived as nocturnal creatures. Their
hardened skin kept them safe during the day, and with wings and claws they were able to avoid or overcome nighttime dangers.”
“But there were hundreds of kinds of dinosaurs,” Demona said. “In my clan alone, I remember ... yes. The leader before Hudson had
a bony crest like a triceratops ... one of my rookery siblings had the diamond-shaped plates of a stegosaur ... how could they all have
evolved into gargoyles, so many diverse species?”
Lylth smiled sagely. “There was an illness that passed among the dinosaurs, affecting physical changes in some of them so that they
could ‘catch’ some of each other’s physical characteristics.”
Demona cudgeled her brain and came up with a term she’d heard from Anton Sevarius. “That sounds a bit like a retrovirus.”
“Whatever it was, it was particularly virulent in that winged species of raptor. Those swapped-about traits would crop up every so
often. While the illness was rarely fatal or even damaging, it did have one other effect. It made their bodies decompose rapidly after death.”
“Leaving little trace in the fossil record.” By stretching on tiptoe, Demona could run her fingers over the primitive proto-gargoyle shapes.
They stood angled forward like bipedal dinosaurs, heavy muscular tails held extended stiffly behind for balance, but the forearms were
well-developed and dexterous, and the wings were as familiar to her as the ones growing from her own back.
“Were the retroviruses also responsible for us becoming mammalian?” she asked, noting the rudimentary breasts on one of the figures,
the suggestion of wavy lines of hair or fur on another.
“Possibly. So there they are, Demona-child. Your earliest ancestors. They lived in family groups, tended their eggs communally, and
were becoming intelligent. If left uncontested they might well have been the ruling race on Earth.”
“What happened?” Even as she asked it, Demona knew, and her lip curled sourly. “The humans.”
“Two races poised on the verge of sentience,” Lylth said. “Whichever reached it first would be the winner, the one more sure to survive.”
“The humans,” Demona spat, now spying the apelike forms on another of the walls. “Even then, the humans, trying to destroy us before
we even had a chance!”
“It wasn’t entirely their fault. What neither of them realized was that there was already an intelligent race on the scene. Call them what
you will -- fey, gods, whatever.”
“A misnomer if ever there was one. He’s a youthful sprat, compared to me. One of his ancestors was a particularly meddlesome
creature and decided to help the struggling ape-creatures along.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Why them?”
Lylth shrugged, which had the effect of watching continents rise and fall. “For all I know it may have been a toss of the coin. The entity
created a female with magical potential, the idea then being that she would breed a higher level of advancement into them --”
Demona was conversant enough with the tales to guess where this was going. “You? Mother to the humans? Their ... their Eve?” She
didn’t even try to disguise the degree to which she was appalled.
“Lillith,” Lylth stressed. “That was how my name -- one of my names -- got corrupted over time. Lillith, mother of demonkind.”
“I don’t understand. What happened?”
“Well, child ... Demona ... you see, there were two meddlesome entities ...”
The first words she heard were spoken in a
“But why the apes? They are soft, weak, and defenseless!”
“That is precisely why. They need a helping hand, and I mean to extend it to them.” The replying voice was placid but firm.
“Let the way of the world have them! Let nature take its course and exterminate them!”
She opened her eyes.
Hovering over her, shifting and hard to see, were two entities. One was shapeless and intangible, the one from whom the firm and placid
voice issued. The other struck her as being a creature of the elements, a smoky-steamy mix of earth-air-fire-water.
She was aware of herself as if it was the first time she’d experienced sensation, but her mind was filled with knowledge that let her
understand their conversation and know instinctively that she was less than them.
“You may not think much of them, but you’ll see,” said the formless entity. “With intelligence, they will protect themselves from the weather,
work together to hunt and drive off predators, and invent tools to compensate for their other weaknesses.”
“The others would do just as well. Or better, as they are already strong and fast and armed with teeth and claws. They are much more
ready, much more deserving.”
“That’s why the apes are more of a challenge. It’s more interesting to start with a less efficient design.”
She sat up, looking down at herself. Black hair tumbled over the wide shoulders and rounded breasts of a short, stocky, full-hipped body.
Her face felt bony and heavy, the brow slightly sloped back, the jaw pronounced.
“But look at it,” the smoky entity said in disgust. “Pale and plump and lacking any sort of distinguishing feature.”
“This was my idea, and I’ll thank you to stay out of it. Your advice is neither needed nor welcomed.” The formless one shifted its attention
to address her. “Lylth. Your name is Lylth, and you have a vitally glorious destiny awaiting you.”
The other snorted a swirl of steam but said nothing.
“I shall give you to a tribal leader, and you will be mother to a great race, rulers and heirs of the entire world.”
The next thing she knew, she was standing with
back slightly hunched, on a tree-dotted savanna near a riverbank. A garment
was wrapped around her body, and in one hand she held a sharpened length of wood.
Several naked, shaggy-haired beings were clustered on the opposite shore. The males stood in a semicircle around the outside, while
females and young dipped their cupped hands into the water to drink.
Lylth watched them for a few moments, trying to determine which of them was the leader. Some of the males carried stout branches,
others the leg bones of animals, for use as clubs. They had no other weapons, no other tools.
One of them, standing on a rise that gave him a good view of the surrounding plains, was bigger and broader than the rest. His chest,
back, and limbs bristled with wiry hair, and the beard springing from his chin made the jut of his jaw all the more evident.
He saw her even as she noticed him, and grunted a warning cry.
Lylth held her ground as several of the largest males splashed through the ford and ringed her warily. The leader pushed to the front and
studied her from beneath the shelf of his brow. He waved an arm, and two of his tribesmen rushed in.
She reacted on impulse, jabbing with the spear. Its fire-blackened point pierced one of them in the thigh.
The wounded man screeched and fell down, holding his bleeding leg. The rest fell back, gesturing and vocalizing worriedly to one another
and smacking their clubs threateningly into the palms of their hands.
The leader advanced, and though she could not understand his crude signals and glottal attempts at speech, she grasped that he was
ordering her to put down the spear.
Lylth bared her teeth and shook her head, angling it toward him. This caused consternation among the males, and the remainder of the
tribe that watched avidly from the other side of the river.
But the leader was undaunted. He raised himself to his full height. Bellowing, he repeatedly slammed one curled fist against his chest while
brandishing his bone club.
Remembering the words of the formless entity, Lylth reluctantly dropped the spear. If this was to be her glorious destiny, she’d be better
off not starting it by poking holes in her mate-to-be.
The moment the spear hit the ground, one of the other males darted in and snatched it, retreating to examine it in evident fascination at the
center of a crowd of his fellow males.
The leader, chest puffed with pride, advanced on her. He paced around her, muttering unintelligibly to himself, while Lylth kept her head
Emboldened, the rest of the tribe crept over to see what was going on. The older females, knowing what Lylth was even before the males
did, scowled and grumbled ferociously. They gave curious tugs to her hair and garment, but when the garment suddenly fell off, they retreated
with gibbering screams of panic, probably thinking they’d skinned her alive.
Now the males knew what she was, and their interest peaked decidedly ... and visibly. But the leader drove them back with cuffs and
snarls, reminding the tribe just who had captured the strange female.
He wasted no time proving it. She hadn’t been in the tribe’s camp more than an hour before the leader decided to fully claim his prize.
Before Lylth was fully sure what was happening, he had pushed her down on elbows and knees. She felt the hot hairy press of his stomach
against her haunches, and then the rough groping of his fingers, the violent invasion.
It was over in a matter of seconds. The leader withdrew, leaving Lylth to collapse in the torn and matted grass. She looked up at him in
hurt shock, seeing her own blood staining his now-drooping spear of flesh.
Demona shrieked, clawing the air in horror.
As her sight cleared, she realized she was no longer looking at the savanna of millennia agone, but at the walls of Lylth’s cave. Her body
was her own again, but the vile memories remained. She could smell the grubby sweaty stink of the human, feel the dull and ravaged ache in
her innermost tissues.
“Child? Demona? Are you all right?”
“What was that?” she demanded harshly.
“What was,” Lylth replied simply.
“I was you!”
“You saw through my eyes, yes.”
“Why?” Demona nearly gagged. “Why would you show me such a revolting thing?”
“It’s what happened,” Lylth said. “You wanted to know about the past.”
“How could you let him do that to you? A human!”
Lylth chuckled sardonically, knowingly. “And there’ve been no humans for you, have there?”
Demona flushed angrily. “Of my choosing! Never like that!”
“That was the way things were done then. It was a brutal time, a primitive time. I was doing what I’d been sent to do.”
“But to let him --”
“How else was I to get children by him?”
Demona shuddered, trying vainly to blot those images from her mind. “I thought you said ...”
“My mate --”
“Don’t call him that!”
“That’s what he was, like it or not. My mate used me frequently, because I was unlike the rest of the females in the tribe and those differences
fascinated him. As the entity probably intended. But time went by, and my belly never swelled. That was when the other entity decided to interfere.”
“Those two ...” A very peculiar notion came to Demona then, and had she not still been sickened by her vision of the incredibly distant past,
she might have laughed aloud. “They sounded like the Sevarius brothers!”
“This was another part that got changed when the humans re-told the old stories to one another,” Lylth said, paying no attention to Demona’s
comment. “The tree.”
“The other entity, the one who in the course of time your ancestors would come to reverence and call simply the Dragon, told me how I could
give my mate children.”
“Then there was a Dragon?”
“Of course. The spiritual father, if not the actual one, of the gargoyle race. There was a time when he was worshipped, when gargoyles had
rites as complex as anything the humans practiced. The faith eventually died out, leaving you with only that oath as an echo of how things once
“By the Dragon,” Demona murmured, thinking of all the times over her long life she’d heard those words spoken. By Hudson and the other
elders of the clan, by the rookery brother that had so bedeviled the one who would eventually become Coldstone, even spoken from her own
lips. In fact, she’d heard it from Jericho a time or two -- but that was something she couldn’t bear to let herself think about.
“Unknown to me, the Dragon was the rival of the other entity. It wasn’t so much that he loathed the humans as it was that he wanted to see
the other’s plan fail. So he instructed me to eat from a certain tree. Golden apples ...”
Demona frowned. “The apple of Eris? Or the Garden of Eden?”
“I told you ... the stories got handed down, generation after generation, and corrupted with each re-telling. But the similarities are there, if you
know how to interpret them.” She indicated another section of the wall, which showed the figure of a hide-clad woman sitting beneath a tree,
around which was curled a long, scaled, winged serpent.
Demona climbed to the ledge beneath that carving. As she straightened up, she seemed to fall helplessly into it, and knew she was about to
see through the eyes of Lylth’s ancient mind yet again.
When Odom had finished with her and gone hunting,
Lylth went to the river to wash his stickiness from her legs.
It wasn’t so bad anymore ... over the fulls of the moon since she’d been taken into the tribe she had gotten used to his quick and coarse usings.
She was left sore sometimes, but the stabbing pain of their first encounter was a thing of the past.
Lylth reclined on the grassy bank to watch the clouds. The wind cooled her as it dried the water from her skin, the sun settled onto her with its
own warm weight. She stretched her limbs, feeling restless and unfulfilled and needful.
She hadn’t done what she’d been sent here to do, and the knowledge rankled. Where were the children she was supposed to bear? Where
were those advanced, intelligent, gifted heirs to the world? In the time she’d been with the tribe, six infants had been born and none of them hers.
“It isn’t your fault.”
She sat up, gasping.
A long, sinuous creature was coiled near her feet. More than three times as long as she was tall, it had glittering scales of black-green-blue
shading to paler hues on its underside. Small wings grew from its back, leathery yet downy. Its head was unlike any snake she’d ever seen, being wolfish/crocodilian/leonine. The eyes that regarded her shrewdly were shining gold slit by vertical pupils, and its tongue flicked from jaws lined
with gleaming white teeth.
Lylth wasn’t sure which surprise was greater -- seeing such a thing, hearing it speak, realizing she understood it although it used words
instead of the grunts and signals that passed for communication among the tribe, or that she recognized its voice.
“You’re not like the other females,” it said. “Too different. Poor Odom doesn’t know how to get you with child.”
Her earlier surprises were surpassed by what she did next -- she spoke. “What does he need to do?”
The serpent took her question as a matter of course. “I can’t tell you that ... but I can show you how to find out.”
She was unafraid as it slithered closer, unafraid as its scales brushed against her leg. The touch sent a pleasant tingle through her.
“There’s a tree,” whispered the serpent, slowly twining itself around her calf. Its tongue darted ticklingly behind her knee. “A tree with fruit
of great magic. By eating it, you’ll gain understanding of the innate powers you already possess.”
Her heart was beating more rapidly, a warm flush coloring her cheeks, as the serpent inched higher.
“Eat of the fruit, and you’ll know what to do.” It had reached her hip now, her entire leg encircled in the soft grasp of its coils. “You’ll know
the joys your body can bring you, and how to be with Odom to get his seed to take root.”
Lylth sighed and relaxed from head to toe. The serpent’s head rested briefly on the dark bush at the joining of her legs, then moved up her
torso in gentle, undulating movements. It stopped when its face was inches from hers and its wings fanned out over her breasts. The thickness
of its tail nestled between her thighs and trailed off into the grass below her feet.
“Yes, Lylth,” the serpent crooned, rippling against her in waves of pressure and release. “You’ll know all that and more ... and your
descendants will be strong and powerful.”
“Where is the tree?” she breathed, raising her hands to caress the long slender length of its spine.
“Right there,” it replied, turning its head.
She looked, and there was a tree where no tree had been only moments ago. Its leafy branches were heavy with fruit as golden as the
serpent’s eyes. The sight of them was enough to make Lylth’s mouth water, that need overpowering even the delight she was taking from
the touch of the serpent.
“Eat and understand, Lylth.” It slid off of her, leaving her bereft and more ravenous than ever, in ways that she couldn’t describe or
She rose and approached the tree. With each step the fruit looked plumper, riper, sweeter, more succulent. The scent lured her so that
she thought she might devour the entire tree -- cores, seeds, leaves, twigs, and all.
Lylth reached up, and one of the boughs seemed to dip obligingly and bring the firm fruit right to her hand. It came loose easily.
For a moment, despite her maddening hunger, she held it and looked at its perfection. It would almost be a shame to bite into that smooth
She bit. Her teeth crunched crisply into the fruit, releasing a gush of juice that spilled down her chin and flooded her mouth.
Even as her senses were overwhelmed by the taste, her mind was filled with a brilliant beaming illumination. The fruit fell unheeded as Lylth
staggered back, hands clapped to the sides of her head.
When her whirling thoughts returned to normal, it was dark. The curve of a crescent moon peeped over the horizon, and there was sign of
neither serpent nor tree. All that remained was the flavor in her mouth and the new knowledge she held.
She made her way back to the camp by moonlight.
It wasn’t a proper cave, being more of a convergence of massively uprearing boulders that leaned together to shelter a sandy hollow. But it
was near enough the river to provide water and fish, near enough the woods for the females to gather, and near enough the plains for the men
to hunt with the spears that had quickly become the weapon of choice in the tribe.
Inside the almost-cave, the tribe members were huddled together in noisily-snoring family groups. They had, following her lead, taken to
skinning and wearing hides, and the spear she’d brought them was now the males’ weapon of choice.
Lylth’s tread was mouse-quiet. She passed among the sleeping tribe without disturbing a single one, until she came to Odom’s bed.
It was a flattish boulder with a shallow depression worn in it, and when filled with grass made for a warmer and more comfortable resting
place than bare earth. Odom was sprawled on his back with antelope pelts bunched over and around him.
Lylth knelt beside Odom. He breathed in guttural wet hitches that were almost snores, but did not wake even when she removed the pelts
and unwrapped the hide he wore tied around his waist.
With a sly and knowing smile, she did what she knew had to be done.
“That is how my two firstborn were conceived,”
Lylth said. “The tribe thought that the way I took Odom was unnatural,
that only bad luck
would come from such a joining. The twins proved them right, from the very moment they were born ...”
Lylth, wracked with the exhaustion of her labor,
sat by the stone-ringed fire with an infant cradled in each arm.
Fire was the newest development, tamed from lightning-strikes and brought into the camp. It hardened spears to make them even more
effective, letting the males hunt the largest animals. It kept the predators at bay, it cooked food.
Most important to Lylth’s mind, it aided their burgeoning language skills, for in the evenings now instead of each retiring to their sleeping-
hides, they could sit around the crackling orange glow and talk among themselves.
This gift had not come without mishaps; in those first weeks the burns had been frequent, and one of the children nearly blinded by a leaping
spark. But now, as winter’s clammy damp grip was hard upon the land, the tribe had grown accustomed to it, even grateful for it.
At the moment, however, no one but Lylth came within the firelit circle, despite the steady cold rain that hissed in sheets outside of the shelter.
They kept their distance, regarding her with unease, even fear.
Unnatural ... and here was the proof.
Two babies at once ... no woman in the tribe had ever borne two babies at once. In litters, like animals ... that was a clear sign that
something wasn’t right.
And if that weren’t enough, none of them had ever seen babies like Lylth’s.
She looked down at them, one resting in the crook of each arm. Their bellies were full of her warm milk, their posture sleepy and content.
But their eyes ... their eyes were open, alert, and fixed intently on their mother’s face. Strange eyes. Deep and dark, sharply focused.
Intelligent eyes that seemed to burrow into the very thoughts of anyone meeting their uncannily direct gaze.
As the weeks went by, the twins grew far more rapidly than other infants. They rarely slept, being most active by night when the rest of
the tribe slumbered.
They walked by the time of spring greening. They were weaned by the time of summer heat. The rest of the children avoided them, but
the twins showed no indication of caring. They communicated with each other in a fluid, haunting speech that was indecipherable to anyone
else -- although on occasion Lylth could grasp a concept here and there.
Lylth gradually noticed a decline in the overall health of the tribe. They became listless, irritable, lethargic ... while Cham and Ern thrived.
By the end of their first year, the twins were approaching the end of childhood. Cham’s pale young body was beginning to take on curves.
Her hair, which had formerly been the same smoke-black hue as her mother’s, gained a greenish-black hue. Ern’s height promised to outdo
even the tallest man in the tribe, his glances sly and knowing and unsettling.
That winter was a costly one. Torrential rains threatened to flood them out of their home, drowning many of the plants that the tribe and
their game needed to survive. Sickness came next, a feverish consumptive coughing sickness that went through the tribe like wildfire.
Only Lylth and her four children -- for despite the tribe’s misgivings, Odom had been darkly captivated by her newly-discovered sensual
pleasures and rutted with her until it was having an adverse effect upon his leadership capabilities -- were untouched. On the contrary, as the
others weakened, Cham and Ern and their newborn brother and sister became more and more robust.
When spring arrived, half of the tribe had died and the rest were living in a state of constant dread. It was an easy matter for them to point
the finger of misfortune’s blame at Lylth and her brood.
Especially after Cham was found crouched over a male, one of the strongest and best hunters remaining before her seductive ministrations.
The next day, he was left a blank-eyed shell, and quickly wasted away to death.
Especially after Ern had his way with a female who had only just reached adulthood, turning her into a greying, aged woman overnight.
Especially after both Cham and that young female swelled with sudden pregnancies, bringing their sets of twins to term in no more than a
single cycle of the moon ...
The tribe was dying out as Lylth’s children and grandchildren multiplied. Finally, overcome by fear, Odom and the other survivors rose up
and attacked them out with spears, clubs, and hurled stones.
Their horror at finding that they could not kill Lylth’s offspring was beyond description.
“And so we were driven out,” Lylth said. “Exiled.
Denounced as worse than beasts, as monsters. It troubled me greatly, but
I was also
angered. My children didn’t care. They laughed, they scorned. To them, Odom and his tribe were only prey and playthings.”
“So T’chambleau was your first daughter,” Demona said. “The queen of the succubi.”
“She and her brother, and my other children, spawned that race of demons. They got more of their kind upon each other, and upon what
mortals they could find. Their powers increased as their numbers gained in strength, and soon they were able to work a host of sinister
“Yes!” Demona cried in vindictive triumph. “Let the wretched humans suffer!”
“But that angered the entity who had created me. Time, as you know, flows differently in the realms of magic, and by the time the entity
checked in on me again, I was great-grandmother to teeming hordes of demons. Which was obviously not what had been intended!”
“Did you explain to the entity about the golden apple, the Dragon?”
“I did, and nonetheless, guess who was blamed?”
Demona’s blood seethed in outrage. “The entity should have listened to the Dragon in the first place! Obviously the humans weren’t suited!
They were, just as they still are, weak and superstitious and worthless! To blame you for it ... that was unfair!”
“What does ‘fair’ matter to a being of pure magic? To the entity, I was a wayward creation that had failed to perform as expected. Furthermore,
I had helped a rival undermine the entity’s plans, knowingly or not didn’t matter. That sort of scheming, backstabbing, and general underhandedness
has been around since the world began, child. I was caught in the middle of it, that’s all.”
“So the entity punished you for what had happened to the humans?”
“Exactly. I was banished to a floating island. It was a rocky place always lost in the darkness, never allowed to reach a sunlit spot. I would
have been imprisoned there alone forever, if Cham and Ern hadn’t come to my aid. That story got twisted by the eons, too ... the Greeks still
have a version of it. But the Dragon wasn’t chasing me and my twins; my twins led the Dragon to me.”
The ceaseless splash of waves on stone had
been overwhelming at first, the motion of the island surging through the
cold night seas nauseating.
But Lylth had become used to those things, and then reached the point where she no longer noticed them, and then reached the point of
being soothed by them.
The island was not without its beauty. Volcano-formed sculptures of obsidian glass formed abstract shapes that pleased the eye and invited
the mind to contemplate. A spring welled from the heart of a smooth-sided stone basin, forming a pond of clear fresh water that reflected the
winking stars or gliding moon.
At first look, Lylth had thought it to be a barren, lifeless place. She was proved wrong by the discovery of mosses and lichens clinging to
the sides of deep clefts, and by collecting enough of these she was able to make a comfortable bed for herself.
Food was provided in the form of fish -- some dazed or killed outright as the leading edge of the moving island plowed into them, others
washed into tidepools and trapped there by the surf -- the occasional flock of roving seabirds, and the eggs of same.
With those basic needs taken care of, Lylth was given plenty of time to steep in her loneliness. The awareness given her by the apple had
not faded, nor had it been taken from her -- she suspected that the entity would have, but had been unable, and that was a minorly cheery
and comforting thing to know -- and she was conscious of the ongoing struggle of Odom’s tribe to survive.
Her offspring continued to plague and torment them, idly, as a well-fed cat might swat at and terrorize a rodent for amusement. They changed
shapes as it pleased them, interbreeding with animals and each other to spawn a race of demons.
With no sun to mark the passage of days, and the moon often hidden by clouds, Lylth lost track of the time she spent on the island. She existed
in a state of trancelike null-thought and waking dreams while awake, and slept more and more frequently.
She eventually realized that she was changing physically. Her skin darkened to a smooth grey, the better to match her surroundings, and her
fingernails and toenails grew thick and hard, so that she was able to climb and keep her footing on the hard terrain with ease. Her eyes adjusted
until she could see perfectly even when blackest clouds blanketed the skies.
One night, while dining on fish in the hollow she’d chosen for her lair, Lylth heard a piercing call with her ears and her mind. She sprang up,
leaving her meal half-eaten.
The sky was clear that night and the moon full, spilling its laddered silvery reflection across the endless sea. Silhouetted against it were two
forms, flying low over the water with effortless grace, supported by spreading wings like those of no bird Lylth knew.
And there, a rippled wake in the moonlight ... something swimming, something long and coiling, stirring the sea in its wake.
Lylth rinsed scales and fish oil from her face and straightened the garment of kelp strands she wore, raking her fingers through her tangled
hair. She had just finished making herself presentable when the two flying forms dropped to land before her.
Although the looked nothing like she remembered them, Lylth recognized them at once.
“Cham! Ern!” she cried in delight. It was the first time she’d spoken in who-knew-how-long, and her voice sounded dusty and unused.
Ern wore the form of a tall, muscular male with an ivory-smooth complexion and majestic velvety wings like black petals. He stepped toward
her on clawlike high-arched feet and smiled with pearly fangs. “Greet the night, Mother!”
“Embrace the night, Mother,” Cham added. In her, the changes were even more pronounced, most notably in the hair that had once been
black, then greenish. Now it was no longer even hair, but a squirming mass of moist-looking rounded tentacles, swaying like undersea reeds
and creeping over her back and shoulders as if alive in its own right.
“How do you fare?” Lylth asked. “Your brothers, sisters, children?”
Cham frowned, and her vertically-pupilled eyes narrowed. “Not well, Mother. The entity has made himself our enemy and would banish
us as you’ve been banished.”
“But to no place so congenial as this.” Ern claimed Lylth’s hand and pressed his lips to it, then set her palm in the center of his bare chest and
held it there. She felt the inhuman drumming of his heartbeat as he went on. “To a realm like yet unlike the entity’s own, one desolate and bleak
and far less reachable to this lively and vibrant world. Left there, we would starve and grow bitter.”
“The entity still favors Odom’s tribe?”
“And means to try once more to breed some intelligence into them,” Cham replied. “Your Odom ages, but is not yet so far gone as to be
unable to seed more sons and daughters.”
“I take it,” said Lylth, “that the entity means to be more cautious and thorough than with me? So as not to have the same thing happen again?”
“One could say that,” Ern said. “The intent, as I have gleaned it, is to create this new superior female from Odom’s own flesh. How, then,
could she be so foreign to him? Which I personally find particularly amusing ... was it not the taboo of sister laying with brother that was one of
the grievances Odom charged against Cham and I? But the entity will give him a mate made from his own flesh, and that will be permissible?”
Cham’s hair slithered as she nodded. “And so, Mother, the entity concentrates on this new task. You are forgotten, you are to be ignored
and abandoned forever.”
“I feared as much,” Lylth admitted.
“Unless ...” Cham paused enticingly.
“We’ve brought someone with an offer to help you,” Ern said smugly. “An old acquaintance, as it were. Perhaps you remember him?”
Her firstborn stepped back and turned to the side, flaring their wings dramatically as they did so. In the corridor formed between them, a
familiar serpentine shape was coiled on a broad flat stone.
The draconian entity raised his head and upper body, unfolding the small wings that sprouted from his back. “Do you, Lylth? Do you
“Yes.” She trembled slightly at the memory, though not with fear nor anger. “You told me of the fruit, of the magic that let me bear my
“And now here you are, alone. It saddens me, Lylth, saddens me greatly! I feel responsible for your misery, and would make it up to you,
if you’ll allow me.”
“In what way?”
“In the way for which you were meant,” he said. “As mother to a strong and powerful race. You already are --” a sweep of his tail
indicated her two eldest, “-- but their race is not mortal, not a true part of the world. I can offer you what my rival intended for you to be.”
“Haven’t you heard? The other entity has given up on me, and will start anew.”
A curl of smoke jetted from the draconian entity’s nostrils. “Yes, I know ... a foolish plan if ever there was one, but apparently my opinion
is meaningless. But I don’t mean Odom, or any of his flea-scratching ilk. There is another species, a better species, so very close to becoming
the advanced and intelligent heirs to the world ... all they need is a little help. Help that you, Lylth, could give them.”
“I agreed,” Lylth said. “What else could I
do? I didn’t much like the idea of spending eternity on that island, beautiful
though it was in its
own way -- child? Demona? Why do you cry?”
Demona touched her face and examined the wetness that came away on her fingers. “The way you described it ... my Jericho had a
sanctuary we called his Dark Avalon, and ...”
“No wonder.” Lylth bumped her walnut-like knuckles against the gold headpiece over Demona’s brow ridge. “The memory of that island,
sometimes called Carroch, lingers deep in the souls of all of your kind. It was the birthplace of the first true gargoyles.”
“You and the Dragon ...?”
Lylth laughed. “Hardly! No, he brought the last surviving clan of --”
“I’m afraid so. In addition to trying to foster development among the humans, the other entity had eliminated most of the raptor-kind with
various ‘natural’ disasters and the like.”
“Why was this entity so against us?” she demanded through bared teeth.
“Now, it wasn’t a matter of being against gargoyles ... it was a matter of being in favor of the humans, and understanding that it would be
easier for one to succeed without competition.”
“So the Dragon saved them.” Demona pointed to a section of the carved wall that showed a long snaky form hovering over a small group
of the proto-gargoyles.
“Saved them, and brought him to my island.” Lylth fondly traced her split foreclaw over the image of a male.
“But he’s so ... short!”
“That’s how it was then. The females were larger, stronger, able to rebuff any unsuitable suitor. The males had to rely on their rites of courtship
to impress potential mates. They were also more brightly-hued. Your skin tone, that lovely azure, would never have been found in a female back
“Very much so. Cham and Ern gifted me with enough magic to be able to change my shape further. I gave myself wings, a tail, remade myself.”
She spread her flabby arms and looked down at her body. “I became very like how you see me now, except much, much younger, and quite a
bit thinner and prettier.”
The draconian entity blew his breath across
a flat expanse of bare stone, producing a roil of smoke. Cham and Ern,
more experienced with
magic, drew back in ready watchfulness, but Lylth stayed where she was.
The smoke rose higher into a column, then widened and flattened. It abruptly condensed in on itself, becoming solid and lumpy.
A second exhalation from the draconian entity wisped the smoke away, revealing the dull grey forms of several creatures, rigid and unmoving.
“They’re made of stone,” Ern said curiously.
“I don’t envy you the task of breeding with solid rock, Mother dear,” Cham laughed throatily. “But we’ll leave you to it. Good luck!”
When the downdrafts of their departure had passed, Lylth turned to the draconian entity. The heavy ridge of bone that had replaced her
eyebrows contracted in confusion. “What are they?”
“Watch,” he replied.
With that, minute cracks appeared on the surface of the creatures. It reminded Lylth of the way mud dried into a second skin on the back
of a hand might crumble away as a fist was made.
The creatures stirred. They shook off the thin gritty residue, yawning and stretching.
There were eight in all, a family grouping of an aged mated pair, an adult mated pair, their youngster, an injured young male, an adolescent
female, and a mature bachelor. It was to this last that Lylth’s eyes were instantly drawn, for he held himself with an air of confidence and
The newcomers hissed upon finding themselves in an unfamiliar place, and snarled when they spotted Lylth standing before them. They paid
no attention to the draconian entity, did not seem to notice he was even there, and Lylth understood it was his magic at work shielding him from
all sight save hers.
The adult female bounded forward, wings flared wide and foreclaws raking the air in a heartfelt threat display to scare the newcomer away
from her vulnerable little one. The adolescent female mimicked her fierce stance. Their near-identical charcoal-grey hides proclaimed them close
relations, perhaps sisters.
Lylth backed off, keeping her own wings tucked close against her back and her claws curled in, making no sudden moves as she studied them.
The males were much more vivid. The elder one and the injured one were of mottled shades of blue, the protective mother’s mate and their
offspring were vibrantly forest green (the little one spotted with deep grey for camouflage), and the bachelor a striking scarlet with black stripes.
That one made a rattling croon low in his throat, and dipped his head at Lylth. She returned the gesture, but diffidently because the other female
was stalking closer in stiff-legged strides.
The elder female, almost half again as tall as her mate and of a pearly grey sheen, pushed past her daughter with an imperious bark. Approaching
Lylth directly, she extended her arm as if she expected Lylth to take it.
Lylth did. They clasped each other just above the wrists.
The elder’s grip was tight and strong. Lylth realized that if they decided she was a danger to their tiny clan, she’d be unable to pull away
before those scything hind claws opened her from the sternum on down. Or, if she dared to strike first, the elder could maintain that grasp while
the rest jumped in, holding her in place.
They closed around her, circling-sniffing-examining. Their language was more sound-based than that of Odom’s tribe had been, ranging from
the adult female’s nasal honk of contempt to the child’s trill of curiosity to the elder male’s resonant bellow of knowing mirth.
When they’d finished their discussion, the elder female released Lylth’s arm and plucked at her hair in what Lylth recognized as a grooming
overture, a welcome.
And that was that ... she was accepted into the clan.
“I was nervous at first, especially after what had happened with Odom,” Lylth said. “But history wasn’t repeated. Males and females
equally shared the tasks of hunting, food-collecting, fighting off predators and rivals, protecting the lair, and raising the young. That is something
that has not changed in all these eons.”
“The forearm-clasp,” Demona said. “We still do that. I remember my rookery brothers using it to challenge each other, to see who had the
“Since there was no hunting on the island, I showed them how to live as I did off of fish, sea birds, and eggs. I packed lichens and moss
around the wounds of the injured male and bound them in place with dressings of kelp, and as I became more used to their means of
communication, found out what had happened to him.”
“An earthquake. Striking as they slept, it brought down a cliffside atop their lair. These few survivors had awakened to find half their clan
dead, crushed and buried beneath tons of rubble. The younger blue male had been struck and pinned by a slab, but lived until dusk when others
were able to dig him out. His mate and two hatchlings hadn’t been so lucky, and his bleakness of spirit had kept him from mending as quickly as
he otherwise might have.”
“One of those ‘natural’ disasters you mentioned, forged by the other entity?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all. These were the last of their kind, a race that had its roots more than eighty million years before. Think of it,
Demona-child! When the earliest precursors of humanity were insectivorous furballs only a handspan in length, raptors were living as mated pairs,
hunting with keen intelligence!”
“Eighty million years ... it sounds impossible!”
“Look at the crocodile, the shark, the turtle. Those have all come through millions of years largely unchanged, prehistoric animals living in the
present. Look at that fish, thought to be extinct. But over that time, slow evolution shaped your ancestors.”
“Slow evolution and the meddling of entities.”
“Well, yes, there’s that,” Lylth agreed. “Through it all, I was conscious of the Dragon’s presence. He steered the island on a new course,
bringing it from the night that had ruled my existence for such a long time. But that first sunrise stung my eyes mercilessly and filled me with a
somnolent lethargy. I soon joined the clan in their day-long sleeps.”
“Didn’t the other entity interfere?”
“I was of little consequence anymore, or so that entity must have thought. Or perhaps the diversion of the humans was too consuming. Or
the Dragon somehow steered notice away from us. Whatever the cause, we were left unbothered.”
“So you had become a full gargoyle?”
“Yes, child, and it was a joy. Such tactile creatures! Touch brought them comfort, drew them together. When they sat to rest, they leaned
companionably against one another. They groomed, nudged, and nuzzled as a means of showing affection. And there was, of course, the
Lylth’s ancient, haglike visage lit up with a beatific smile that erased hundreds of thousands of years and gave Demona a glimpse of what
she had once been.
Beside the spring-fed pool, the adolescent
female was being tutored in fighting by both elders. The hatchling kept
trying to take part too,
while the parents looked on indulgently. Lylth perched on an outcrop, paying careful attention.
A long shadow, thrown by moonlight, stretched over the rocks at her feet. She glanced around and called a soft greeting to the scarlet-and-
He replied, but did not come closer. Instead, rose up on his toes and fanned his wings to their widest span. His arms were burdened with a
dripping mass, which he tossed onto a flattish boulder near Lylth.
She looked at it. A freshly-caught fish, one of the largest she’d ever seen. And she knew exactly what it represented.
Courtship offering. A gift. A promise. Proof that he was an able hunter, willing to provide for her when she was too gravid to hunt for herself.
She raised her gaze to the male again. He was waiting patiently for her reaction, and she nodded to indicate he should continue.
The rite was meant to demonstrate the vital qualities in a mate -- strength, agility, health. The intricate movements demanded grace and balance,
the aerobatic display proclaimed his adeptness in the air, the mock lunges and attacks told of his hunting and fighting skills.
Even having never seen the rite before and therefore unable to know if he was performing it correctly or not, Lylth was impressed. He was truly
a fine specimen, with muscles moving smoothly beneath his sleekly-patterned hide, a broad chest, firm thighs, and a limber tail ending in a solid club
of bone. His brow ridge rose into a row of short, spiraling horns, and more poked up through his mane of tawny-brown hair.
Best of all, instead of seizing her and taking her by force as Odom had done, he was presenting himself and letting her decide. Trying to prove
to her that he was worth the risks of mating, that by choosing him, she would be giving her hatchlings a good chance at survival.
Lylth liked this way much better ...
She’d been aware of this male since they arrived, of course, and knew that he was the one for her. Eligible, attractive, and in all of their
interactions he had been openly interested in her but unfailingly polite.
Rising from her perch, she began demurely echoing his motions. An expression of delight lit his eyes, and they circled each other, gradually
drawing closer together. The pace of their movements slowed until they were just barely swaying in place, their bodies only inches apart. The
male tipped his head toward Lylth, and their brow ridges brushed.
He hummed a low tone and she responded with a higher-pitched hum of her own. With arms and wings, they folded each other into an embrace
Lylth was shivering with excitement and anticipation, the male’s touch stirring welcome sensations. But he made no move to mount her, and after
a few confused moments, she realized why.
It wasn’t time.
She wasn’t fertile.
They had bonded as a mated pair, but there was no point in joining when no offspring would result. That would wait until the proper season,
when the clan’s food and security were adequate.
Lylth invited the male to share the feast of fish he’d brought. They sat side by side, hip to hip with wings overlapping, to devour the tender meat.
When it was down to bones, scales, and the grainy flaps of fins and tails, they descended to the pool and helped each other to wash, the intimacies
of their grooming announcing to the rest of the clan that the rite was complete.
“The breeding season came later that year,”
Lylth said, still smiling in remembrance. “Back then, the females could
breed every two or three
years if the clan was safe and well-fed, and the eggs hatched in six months.”
“How did it go from six months to ten years?”
“There’s much you still don’t know about all that history. Gargoyles didn’t live nearly so long then either, nor age so slowly. In fact, they
matured faster, going from hatchling to adult in under fifteen years. It was partly the magic inherent in me, partly the interventions of the Dragon,
and partly the after-effects of the Great War that led to gargoyles being as you know them today.”
“Against the humans. You see, the Dragon’s plan was successful. My first season, I laid ten eggs and the other female laid six.”
Demona gaped. “In my clan, no one ever laid more than three!”
“By the time we left the island, my mate and I led a clan of over a hundred gargoyles. The Dragon felt that we were ready to face the dangers
of the outer world, and Carroch was too small for our numbers. So he floated it to the mainland of a lush continent where no humans yet lived,
and the gargoyles spread out and multiplied, until we numbered in the hundreds of thousands.”
The idea of that many gargoyles made Demona feel weak in the knees. Her mouth moved soundlessly.
“The years went by, of course,” Lylth continued. “My mate died shortly after we reached that land. I eventually had to remove myself to
dwell with the Dragon, but kept observing. I saw how each successive generation aged slower and lived longer than their parents. The Ice Age
came and went, but with their greater resistance to the cold, it didn’t have much of an effect. If only you could have seen them, child! A clan of
gargoyles on the wing bringing down a mastodon! Afterwards, after the melts and the floods, I began seeing other physical changes, differences
in appearance, starting to occur. I think the cause of that was a resurgence of the illness that I mentioned -- what did you call it?”
“Retroviruses,” Demona said.
“At any rate, I saw more diversity among my descendants. Some of the gargoyles, arboreal clans, adapted until they became wood instead
of stone with the dawning of the day. Others took on characteristics of animals, such as horses, birds, wolves, cats. But all were still gargoyles,
and they built a civilization that wouldn’t be equaled until the time of the Romans. Some clans struck out across the seas to settle elsewhere, and
examples of their work can still be found today.”
Lylth sighed heavily. “But that was a mistake. Leaving that land brought the gargoyles into contact with the humans, and finally caught the
attention of the original entity that had created me.”
“That can’t have gone over well.”
“It didn’t. The entity was furious to realize what had been going on, what the Dragon had been up to. It eventually came down to the equivalent
of a bet between those two. Whichever side, gargoyle or human, could win an all-out war would have the right to inherit the mortal world undisputed.
And whichever entity’s side lost would agree to yield to the other. So war was waged.”
“You can’t mean to tell me that gargoyles lost!” Demona protested, but without much conviction. “Humans reproduce like rats, so sheer
numbers would have been with them, but they are puny and weak compared to gargoyles!”
“You’re right, Demona-child, though you are forgetting how vulnerable gargoyles are by day, and how lightly compared to them the humans
“So that’s how?” she sneered bitterly. “They always resort to smashing us in our sleep, because they are too cowardly to face us in a fair fight!”
“It wouldn’t be a fair fight, human against gargoyle,” Lylth said sensibly. “You said it yourself, how soft and weak they are by comparison.
Only once they invented their deadly weapons did humans become a serious threat.”
“Then how did we lose?” she demanded, shaking her clenched fists. “Why?”
“The entity ... the powerful, supposedly wise and noble entity that favored the humans ... cheated. Many of those Avalonians whose names you’d
know were in existence by that time, and all endeavoring to curry favor with their ruler. All the entity needed to do was let it be known that a victory
for humanity would be most pleasing, and before the Dragon or I knew what had happened, hosts of magical forces had leaped into the fray.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Demona growled. “Every one of the Third Race I’ve met have been sneaky, double-dealing, manipulative tyrants!”
“To put an end to it, the Dragon demanded the other entity become personally involved. A duel was arranged between the two of them, and while
that duel did decisively end the war, it also tore the gargoyles’ land apart and sank it beneath the sea.”
Demona raised both hands. “Wait ... you’re not talking about ... Atlantis?”
“Atlantis and the Flood that features in so many of the world’s myths. Millions perished, human and gargoyle alike. But most notably of all, the
Dragon overpowered and destroyed his rival entity.”
“So he won! We won! But then ... how come ...?”
“The rest of the Avalonians were outraged, and convened a tribunal to pass judgement on the Dragon. The ruling was that he and his minions --
including, incidentally, myself and the demons that had sprung from my union with Odom -- be banished here, to Hell. The surviving gargoyles,
mostly those clans that had left Atlantis before the war, were to be allowed to go on living, but on the condition that they be put under a geas.”
“What did the spell compel them to do?”
“It drove them into hiding in remote corners of the world and stripped them of their language and civilization, reducing them to intelligent but
bestial savages. It bade them protect, and do no harm to, any human or Avalonian they should happen to meet. And so it was to be for the next
ten generations as yet unborn.”
“We had a language of our own?”
“Oh, yes ... and writings, works of art, cities. But all of those things were taken away. The gargoyles went back to wearing crude garments of
skins or rough cloth --” She swept Demona’s halter-and-loincloth ensemble an awfully snide look for someone who was totally naked. “And went
back to living in caves and on cliffs.”
“What happened at the end of the ten generations?”
“By then, the Avalonians reasoned, the gargoyles would have forgotten why they lived by those rules, and continue to live by them forever. For
a long time, it worked, but with the power of the geas no longer active, eventually some gargoyles began to question. That was the first step on the
long road that led to you, Demona-child, hating humans as you do.”
“And why shouldn’t I? I had my reasons before and thought they were good enough, but what you’ve told me proves that I was right all along!
We were been first!” Demona slammed a fist into her hand. “It should be ours, all ours! Instead, the humans have driven us nearly to extinction, or
cowed and tricked us into being their protectors! The humans. Since the dawn of time. They won’t rest until we’re eradicated, one way or the other!”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been here a long while, with much to think on, and have finally seen what the best hope and future for
the gargoyle race might be.” Lylth hunkered down beside a section of wall where the carvings looked most recent, and tapped one gnarled foreclaw
against some of the images.
Demona screeched in fury as she recognized one of the figures. “Goliath!”
“His clan is the answer.”
“His clan is the bane of my soul!”
“Oh, come now ...”
“You know so much about me, don’t you know what Goliath has done to me? What he’s cost me?”
“I have suffered losses at the talons of that clan as well, but you don’t hear me whining about it.”
“I beg your pardon?” Demona asked icily. “Goliath spurned my love, turned my daughter against me, and let my son plunge into Hell! What
could he have done to you?”
“Not to me myself. To my children? Oh, yes. My two eldest, my firstborn, were annihilated beyond the hope of immortal reckoning because
of interactions with Goliath’s clan. More specifically, due to Goliath’s human mate and the trickster Puck. But it doesn’t matter.”
“How can you say that? And what do you mean, his clan is the answer? To what?”
“The gargoyles do not have to die out. The two races can become one!”
“If Goliath was here now I’d --” Demona broke off as she experienced the mental equivalent of a ten-car pileup. “What?!?”
“It has been proven. With a touch of magic, gargoyles and humans can interbreed. Once that happens, once they are kin to one another instead
of enemies --”
“That’s your idea of not dying out?!?” She whirled on Lylth, trembling with barely-contained rage. “That we breed with them?”
“There are not enough gargoyles anymore, child. A handful of clans left scattered across the earth, facing extinction within a few generations --”
“Because the humans have hunted and slaughtered us!”
“I can’t leave here myself, but I can send you. I’ll return you to the outside world, and you can bring them the message. That way, at least part
of our heritage can live on --”
“Hah! In a few generations, we wouldn’t be gargoyles at all! Most of them are already losing everything about their spirits that makes them
gargoyles! All that we were is being lost, more and more every day! Acting like humans, living like humans ... how long until the stone sleep and
healing would be bred out of us? What about our tails? Amber looks like a human with wings ... how long will the wings last? We’d be gone,
swallowed up into humanity, in no time!”
“Elektra’s boyhatchling has wings,” Lylth pointed out.
“She’s mated to a full-blooded gar ...” The pileup came again, leaving Demona blinking. “What did you say? Elektra’s ... those eggs haven’t
“Time speeds by faster there, child. I thought you understood that. This is Hell ... this is Eternity. It’s been ten more years since you came here.”
Daybreak, or what passed for it, had come to
Hell. Outside of Lylth’s cave, the sky lightened from rusty orange to the
pinkish-red color of
Puck’s spell of transformation worked even here, seizing Demona in its agonizing grip. She gasped harshly of the ash-smelling air until the pains
ceased, and straightened up again.
Lylth had turned to stone, though not cleanly as if encased in a thin shell. She was a gritty granite and obsidian lump, seven feet high and almost
that wide, a diseased wart bulging from the floor of the cave.
The leaping light of the oil-fueled bonfires made the reliefs on the wall seem to dance mockingly at the edges of Demona’s vision.
The humans. Lylth wanted gargoyles to give everything up, and become one with the humans. When Lylth of all beings should know better!
Hadn’t she, even more than Demona, seen everything she’d worked toward, everything she’d cared about, be overrun and ruined by the humans?
The argument had ended only when dawn came, leaving nothing resolved, only silencing Lylth’s side of the debate. Now, pacing and fuming,
Demona glared at the wartish bump that was her sleeping ancestress.
It had finally come down to the basics. Unless Demona agreed to Lylth’s plan, she’d be trapped here forever.
She couldn’t. Just simply physically could not do it. The words would choke her even if she managed to utter them. And assuming by some
miracle she was able to spit them out with a straight face and some measure of sincerity, it wouldn’t matter. Who’d believe her?
Forever. Ten-plus years had already gone by on Earth, probably closer to twenty counting the hours of bickering ... how long was ‘forever’ in
Not that it mattered ... what would she be going back to, anyway? Jericho was gone. The Nightstone Building, and everything and everyone in
it, had been demolished. The only ones who hadn’t been on site when the skyscraper collapsed into the abyss had been Godiva and Gustav Sevarius,
and the latter had been an old man even then, so he wouldn’t still be alive. By now, Dominique Destine would have been absent more than the seven
years required to have her declared legally dead.
All that she had in the outside world was Angela, and Demona could no longer fool herself into believing there was any hope of reconciliation. Not
after Damien. No. As far as Angela was concerned, her mother was dead, and everyone was the better for it.
Her pacing brought her to the rear of the cave, where she found two rough-hewn standing stones supporting a third. They formed a doorway of
sorts, but framed only an expanse of blank, featureless wall.
She had seen stones like this before ... not only at their best-known site in England but in Scotland as well. Not far from Castle Wyvern. The ring
of stones had been a favorite spot for young lovers sneaking away from the castle for midnight trysts. Something about the place had always seemed
to call to them somehow, make them feel welcome and at home in a way the castle walls did not.
Markings surrounded the doorway, strange angular letters almost like runes. The sight of them stirred something familiar-yet-forgotten in Demona.
Lylth’s words echoed in her mind: “... examples of their work can still be found today ... stripped them of their language ...”
Writing in the lost language of the gargoyles!
Yes! And faded, weathered examples of the same had been on the bottom of the Praying Gargoyle statuette!
“This was how you were going to send me home!” she said, though the sleeping Lylth could neither hear nor reply. “It’s a magic gate! If I could
read this ... I should be able to read this! If I could, I could leave now!”
Comprehension pranced teasingly at the edges of her consciousness, but the more she pursued that tip-of-the-tongue sensation, the more elusive
Gnashing her fangs in frustration, she pushed on the wall. Exactly what she expected to happen happened -- nothing. The same results greeted her
efforts at invoking spells. The doorway did not respond, remaining closed and implacable.
She had to face it ... the only way she was getting through there was by agreeing to Lylth’s insane and ludicrous plan. She toyed with the thought
of pretending to go along with it, but discarded that idea almost at once. Lylth knew too much, would surely know the moment Demona abandoned
Ergo, she was stuck here. Unless she was able to decipher the writing, which didn’t seem likely.
“And you call yourself the mother of our kind!” she said scathingly, kicking a pebble at Lylth. It clicked off and rolled away.
She had only stalked two steps away when she heard the distinctive crack and crackle of stone.
Dusk already? She braced for the stress of her shapechange, but felt nothing. Not even the marrow-bone heat that signaled the impending
The crackling got louder.
Demona slowly turned, a thrill of icy dread unraveling through her innards.
The kicked pebble had chipped Lylth. Fractures were creeping outward, and when they connected, shards and slivers of stone flaked off.
“Oh, no ...”
A fist-sized section dropped away, like a chunk of ice calving from a glacier. It hit the floor of the cave and exploded into dust. The part revealed
beneath wasn’t Lylth’s elephant-hide flesh but fresh-cleaved stone. Rock grated against rock as the fractures continued to spread. When they reached
the top, the heap of stone that had been Lylth split apart into a heaped cairn.
Demona shrieked and flung herself to her knees, scrabbling for the pieces in vain hopes of undoing the unthinkable. She swept them back together,
tried to press them, will them to adhere to one another ... but when she released them they tumbled to the ground again.
What three million years hadn’t been able to do, she had ... and by accident.
The pile made a sound like a weary sigh, and collapsed into death-gravel.
She’d killed a gargoyle ... killed the mother of all gargoyles!
Demona moaned incoherently.
The death-gravel quivered into dust, puffing around her legs in uneven dunes and drifts.
Strengthless and unable to move, Demona knelt in the midst of the grey-black dust and uttered small noises of disbelief. Her fingers raked restlessly,
but all she turned up were a few larger pieces of obsidian-speckled granite.
Acting on strange morbid impulse, she collected the pieces and bundled them in a strip of cloth torn from her halter.
The skin on the nape of her neck began to crawl. She felt watched, cliche but true, and it was a horribly exposed feeling.
They’d be coming for her. And she had no desire to see what sort of punishments they could dish out in Hell.
But there was nowhere to run. No way to escape. Only a useless magical gate ...
Demona sucked in a breath, eyes widening in frantic thought.
Worth a try.
She scooped up a handful of the dust that had been Lylth and used it to outline a pentagram and mystic symbols on the floor. With no candles
and the other acoutrements of sorcery, she wasn’t sure how effective the spell would be, but it stood to reason that summoning a spirit would
automatically be easier from here.
Provided, of course, that the spirit was one of someone who’d end up in Hell anyway ... but that was one thing she didn’t doubt.
She ripped her claws across her palm and sprinkled her blood into the pentagram, intoning the words to call forth the dead.
The firelight burned blue, and a new chill touched the air. A pallid ectoplasmic mist appeared before her, gradually solidifying into a ghostly human
“Gustav Sevarius,” Demona breathed triumphantly. “I knew you’d end up here.”
“I must say it was quite a surprise,” he said dryly. He looked just as she remembered him, down to the severe white lab coat and the silver-headed
“That you’d go to Hell?”
“That there was any sort of afterlife at all,” he snorted. “Not that it would have been a deterrent to my science, but it rankles to have my theory
“You haven’t changed a bit. Damnation must agree with you.”
“Why wouldn’t it?” He sounded the same as well, the slight German accent that didn’t quite turn his w’s into v’s but hinted that it wanted to. “A
wise man once said that Hell is for people who like the sorts of things that go on in Hell. Admittedly, the laborotory conditions are appalling -- you
know how I always kept my surroundings in pristine cleanliness.”
Demona frowned. “What do you mean ... have they put you to work?”
“Of course, my lamb. There’s only so much torment that can be caused by jabbing the backside with tiny pitchforks. Physical torture is
unimaginative. But I doubt you brought me here to discuss my work.”
“Enough small talk,” she agreed. “I need your help. I’ve killed someone.”
“Hardly a ‘this-just-in’ news flash,” he remarked.
“I’ve killed someone here. Lylth --”
“That’s not going to make you very popular, my lamb.”
“I’m aware of that. I can get out of here, with your help.”
“My help? What could I possibly do?”
“It’s in my memory, Sevarius. It’s in all gargoyle memories. I know it is. Why not? Other things are ... the Dragon, the island ... so the language
must be too. Part of our collective unconscious, race memory, something like that. It’s there, but it’s blocked. Buried. I want you to help me dig it up!”
Although his body was wavery and insubstantial, his bottle-green eyes were vivid as ever. “An intriguing hypothesis, but even if you are correct,
why should I help you?”
“--” Demona began.
“I’m no longer on your payroll,” he reminded her.
“But if you help me, I can get out of here. I’m not dead, Sevarius, I don’t belong here.”
“Yes, all right, yet! Damn you, Gustav --”
“We were friends once.”
“Friends? With a human? Tut, tut, my lamb!”
“Don’t give me that! You and your brother were the only ones I ever met who had less regard for your species than I did! They were lab animals
to you, nothing more! I liked you for that,” she admitted. “You crusty condescending old lizard, I liked you!”
He chuckled. “And you did leave your fortune to me, not that there was much left after the lawsuits. I suppose for that, I can help you this once.”
Demona exhaled gratefully. “Thank you, Sevarius. What do we do first?”
“You’ll probably be angry with me for this, but ...” Sevarius smirked and cleared his throat. “All happiness attend her and the house ...”
“Blessed is her husband and her marriage bed,” Demona heard herself say, and her mind went instantly dark, placid, and receptive. With the last
struggling vestiges of her will, she whispered, “Bastard!”
“Well, I didn’t get to where I was by taking chances, my lamb, something I’m sure you can appreciate. Now, Demona, listen to me ...”
She was in front of the doorway of standing stones again, unsure how she got there. The last thing she remembered was Gustav Sevarius ...
He’d brainwashed her, the whoreson, after she expressly forbade him from using his drugs and subliminals on either her or Jericho. Triggered her
with lines from a play (by Sophocles, of course, didn't it just figure!). Unlocked her mind as easily as if it were a footlocker, rummaging through what
she stored there, adding a few other things.
But now was no time for recriminations. And what could she do to him that was worse than being dead?
They were coming.
The demonic descendants of Lylth, coming to avenge their ancestress’ demise. Not out of any sense of love or loyalty, but just because that was
the way things were done.
The words rose automatically in her mind and flowed easily from her lips, in a language forcibly forgotten by gargoyles for untold millennia.
The stones began to hum, to sing, to sustain a tone in a rising pitch:
One moment blank wall, the next a window to a living night. Demona didn’t pause to look or question.
Halfway through, she was wrenched by her transformation back into gargoyle, and cried out as she somersaulted across wet grass. The bundle
of cloth flew from her hand. She had the briefest of impressions of the rocks spinning through the air.
She landed jarringly flat on her back, wings to either side, staring up at the wheel of stars and a cloud-frosted full moon.
Standing stones loomed all around her. For a moment she thought she was back at Wyvern, but then remembered that those stones had been
razed for a housing development shortly before Xanatos had begun his negotiations to buy the castle.
Stonehenge? No, the shapes were wrong ...
The ground suddenly heaved. Moist earth and clumps of sod tore themselves free as if something was pushing up from underneath.
Demona, despite having the wind knocked from her and every bone rattled like dice in a crapshooter’s cup, vaulted to her feet.
Shapes were rising from the earth. One, three, seven, a dozen. Pulling themselves up as if they’d been buried alive, leaving sunken hollows. In
moments, Demona was surrounded by them.
Her first thought was of animated corpses, that the magic of her passage had roused the dead. Then she got a good look, and went from alarmed
They were short, no more than five feet in height, but looked solid as slabs of rock. Squat, dwarfish, trollish ... wingless and stunted with shovel-
jawed heads hunched so low between their shoulders that they seemed to have no necks at all. They were granite-grey in color, but speckled with
twinkles of obsidian. Their eyes were shiny black orbs reflecting Demona’s own astonished expression twenty-four times over.
“And with the sowing of dragon’s teeth did the warrior horde arise,” a female voice said serenely from behind her. “First unicorns, and now earth
elementals ... you must do this sort of thing frequently.”
The seated woman’s age was hard to determine, her brown hair shot with skeins of white but her face as innocent as that of a child. Her eyes
riveted Demona, because they were wide and guileless, milky-pale and blind. An aura clung to her like perfume, alerting Demona that she was in
the presence of no normal human.
The earth-born creatures -- elementals? -- gathered silently behind her. She sensed their minds, blank and awaiting instructions. Hive-minded,
slavish drones ... hers to control! A thought from her and they would attack, perhaps not swiftly but relentlessly, unstoppably.
She did not command them with that thought, holding back until she knew just what she was facing. “Who are you? Where am I?”
“I knew you’d come tonight, Demona.” The woman tipped her sightless eyes toward the moon. “And just in time. The quest for the Seven
Vials has begun.”
The shade of Gustav Sevarius glanced down at
the pentagram around his feet. He laughed scoffingly and stepped over the
“It’s done,” he said.
The heap of dust and gravel moved, drawing itself together and re-forming into an obese gargoyle crone.
“She took the Thralls,” Lylth said.
“She took the bait, she took everything,” Sevarius replied. He shook his head. “Funny, isn’t it? Three million years of sentience, and they still
fall for reverse psychology.”
“We could have just told her. She trusted me.”
“Of course she trusted you. You told her the truth, right up until the end, so she had no reason to doubt you. And now she’s wracked with guilt,
fear, and grief. She’ll have to continue her crusade against the humans, to prove to herself that she was right all along, that you were wrong, that the
humans can be eliminated and the gargoyles saved.”
“It seems harsh.”
“I know. But that one works best when she’s anguished. You’ll see. But come, Lylth, put on your pretty face for me. This one doesn’t suit you.”
“It was your idea.” She grimaced in concentration, and much of her body stiffened into stone that fell off like a broken cocoon. When it was done,
she stood sleek and tall, a hematite-hued female gargoyle in the prime of health and beauty. She shook out a river of obsidian hair. “Which you never
did satisfactorily explain.”
“Well, had you appeared to her looking like this, she would have had all those instinctive catty-jealous-competitive feminine reactions,” Sevarius
said, laughing warmly. “You would have gotten nowhere.”
“What about you?” she said, flicking her tail at him. “Do I have to wake up to that for the rest of eternity?”
“Not at all, my lamb.” He stretched, and his spectral human guise faded into the smoky sheen of sinuous coils. The Dragon rose up, fanning his
wings lazily. “And it wouldn’t be for eternity, Lylth. Only until Avalon falls, and we are set free.”