Mother's Day Christine Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney, used without their knowledge or consent. The others are mine, although Elektra owes a lot of her character development to my friend Stephen. This story is dedicated to my mom, from a daughter who appreciates and understands!
Fox Xanatos knew even before she opened her eyes that she was alone in bed. She opened her eyes anyway, because what else would she do upon awakening? And yes, just as she'd thought, the pillow next to hers was unoccupied, and the covers on David's side lay flat upon the mattress. A yawn and a stretch later, she was ready to sit up. She glanced at the clock and saw that it wasn't even seven yet, then looked back at David's empty half of the bed and laughed softly. "Even God took Sunday off," she'd chided him once, teasingly, in the early days of their marriage. "Yes," he'd replied with a grin, "but He was already immortal, and I've got a long way to go!" Time and fatherhood had calmed his overworking Type-A habits a bit, but evidently not entirely, as proved by his absence. So much for a leisurely morning in bed, the thick Sunday edition of the paper strewn out between them, Owen delivering trays of sinfully decadent Eggs Benedict or Belgian waffles piled high with strawberries and whipped cream. Her stomach rumbled enthusiastically at the thought, but as she crossed to the closet she caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirrors and paused, then moved in for a closer examination. Inventory time, starting at the top. Hair of fire-gold, mussed from sleep. Seablue eyes, still a little groggy, one of them surrounded by her trademark foxhead. Skin creamy and unlined. High cheekbones, a chin just on the stubborn side of firm. Graceful neck, good shoulders, supple toned arms. A pair of knockers that would make a bishop weep (when she'd still been nursing Alexander, they would've roused a stone statue!). A waist that was ... Uh-oh. How did the old Special K commercial go? Something about pinching an inch? She gave it a try. No, not an inch, but she could still seize a dismaying amount of flab between her knuckles. Fox exhaled a disgusted snort. She poked her middle, feeling the solid muscle beneath. By anyone's standards, she was still drop-dead sexy, but by her own standards, held over from her days in the Pack when she could take a gut punch without flinching, she felt like a walrus. Dreading the completion of her inventory, she let her gaze keep on going down. Hips that had widened a bit since Alex's birth, that was unavoidable and David sure as hell didn't have any complaints. But there was a puffy pooch below her navel that simply had to go, and heaven help her, a hint of what could easily become full-blown love handles. Her legs were still as flawless as ever, so she only gave them a cursory glance before turning and craning her neck to check her tush. Now, she'd never been able to crack walnuts between her rear cheeks the way Wolf had (or at least, the way Wolf had boasted; thankfully he'd never actually demonstrated that particular skill in her presence!), but she remembered them being a lot firmer, and she certainly did not remember having a little dimple on the left side. Okay, so she was no longer a teen, but did that mean she had to go gracefully into the twilight zone of pre-middle-age? Not according to thousands of magazines and Oil of Olay commercials! Banishing all thoughts of hollendaise sauce and whipped cream, she quickly pulled on a pair of Spandex jogging shorts and a sports bra. She twisted her hair into a ponytail, snugged a sweatband around her brow, put on her athletic shoes (obscenely expensive even on her clothes budget), and headed out. One glance out the window, at the beautiful spring morn, made her abruptly change course. There would be time enough to use the gym during the winter's chill or the summer's blistering heat. Today she just couldn't face a treadmill or stairmaster, not when she had a whole castle to exercise in. She set herself a rigorous course that would take her along all of the battlements and up and down plenty of flights of stairs. As soon as she set out, feeling the crisp wind on her face, she knew she'd made the right decision. Twice around the castle, passing the gargoyles in their frozen fearsome postures. That reminded her of her earlier thoughts about getting a rise out of a statue. She wondered which of them would watch her go by if they could, checking out the bounce of her tits and the long flex of her thighs. Goliath? Too serious. Too polite. Wouldn't do to ogle the landlord's wife. If she was Elisa, yeah, he'd look until his eyes popped out and dangled like big yoyos at the end of his optic cables. Hudson? Only if he thought he could sneak a peek without getting caught. He didn't like the younger ones to think he had a spark of life left in that old husk, but Fox thought she knew better. Bronx wouldn't care. Broadway would blush. Brooklyn, rogue that he was, would probably whistle just because he knew it was expected. Lex? Hard to tell with Lex. He seemed like a typical technogeek, but more than once Fox had caught him and Aiden in some fairly compromising positions. The gargoyles were behind her and she had to make a decision. Down a flight, or around again? She glimpsed the welcome green of the courtyard garden below and decided to go down there. Calisthenics in the shade, and then maybe a swift dip in the fountain pool. Maybe even a skinny dip, she thought with a grin. It would mean getting a lecture from her husband on distracting the security staff with her exhibitionist tendencies, but since she could already quote the speech right back at him, maybe he'd see it was a waste of time. She descended into the fragrant paradise of the garden and was looking for a likely spot when something unusual caught her eye. It was a medium-sized shrub, but it was completely covered in pale yellow blossoms with delicate green traceries. She had never seen flowers like that before. Especially flowers that seemed to be undulating softly, stirring in a breeze that wasn't there. Fox took a step closer, and that was when all of the blossoms swirled outward, spinning around her like the flakes of a snowglobe, a petalstorm of pale yellow and green. No, not a petalstorm. A wingstorm. Butterflies. Dozens of butterflies in a fluttering cloud around her, wings against her skin in velvety angel kisses. And then she was free of it as the swarm moved to a nearby wall and landed in uniform lines, rows of butterflies with their wings folded together. As she stared, unsure of what to make of this strangeness (she'd heard about packs of monarch butterflies flocking somewhere in California, Monterey or Santa Cruz, but nothing like this), the butterflies unfolded their wings one by one with the precision of a drill team. The green markings on the soft wings formed letters, and the letters spelled out a message: HAPPY MOTHERS DAY MOMMY I LOVE YOU LOVE ALEX Fox gasped in wonder and delight. A high peal of childish laughter sounded behind her, and she turned to see the three main men in her life. The two smallest, who were paradoxically also the oldest and the youngest, were floating side by side in midair. Alex (growing to look more like his father every day -- if not for the finespun amber of his hair, he could have been a clone) was laughing and clapping his hands, well pleased with himself. Puck patted him on the head and tipped Fox an impish wink. David was standing a bit behind and to the side, beaming proudly. She smiled at him, feeling as she so often did these days the bittersweet tang of mingled pride and jealousy she felt whenever she watched him and Alex together. Jealousy because Alex had been able to do what her love hadn't, mellowing David's almost frantic drive for power and immortality. Pride because she, after all, was Alex's mother. "Well done, kiddo!" Puck said brightly. "Do you like it, Mommy?" her son piped. "It's wonderful," she said, plucking him out of the air and nuzzling kisses on his face in the way that made him twist and squeal. "Thank you so much!" David slipped an easy arm around her waist. "And we have reservations for nine-thirty in the Carnegie Room. Mother's Day Brunch." "I hate to interrupt," Puck said suddenly, and his elfin face had grown somber. "I think we're about to have company." "Who?" David asked alertly. "Trouble?" "You could call it that," Puck said. "Titania." David caught a curse on his lips, casting a quick glance to Alex, who had picked up some astonishingly vulgar language and liked nothing better than repeating it at inopportune moments. "The wards won't work?" Puck shrugged. "Alex has power and Aiden has talent. Those wards will keep out just about any lesser power. But the two of them together can't stack up against Queen Titania. Give them a hundred years and maybe. Plus, at one point she was invited in. Welcomed. Bit like Count Dracula, truth be told, but don't tell her I said that!" A star shimmered in the morning sky, dropping rapidly toward the castle. "Is that Gramma?" Alex asked worriedly, pressing himself close against his mother. "Is she gonna take me away?" "No." Fox held him firmly. "I won't let her." David seconded that as he stepped to a decorative stone pedestal, slid aside a potted plant, and withdrew a pistol from the concealed space beneath. "Puck, take Alex inside." "You go too," Fox said, taking the pistol deftly from his hand. "I'll handle this." He opened his mouth to argue, saw the look in her eye, and wisely closed it again. The star expanded, a green and gold sphere hanging above the grass. As the males retreated, Fox moved forward to meet it. It bloomed outward into the shape of a woman and then there was Titania. "Hello, child," she said with what sounded like genuine warmth. Fox didn't buy it. "What do you want?" She held the pistol in a way that advertised she was ready to use it, willing to use it, and really really _wanted_ to use it, but wasn't going to just yet. The queen of Avalon made a cute little pout. "Why, Fox, aren't you pleased to see me?" "Not particularly." She glanced back, and was relieved to see that the guys had gone inside, where a sturdy iron-cored door was between them and Titania. "I only thought to do you a favor, it being Mother's Day and all. You always used to be so conscientious, even when you'd run away -- oh, that used to make Renard crazy! But these past couple of years, not so much as a card! I was prepared to be hurt, but then I realized that with my being on Avalon, you'd have precious little means to call or write. The postal service there isn't the best." "You're not my mother," Fox said flatly. Titania laughed kindly. "This is who I am, child. It is who I've always been. I thought you understood that." "I understood that you tried to take my son!" "I explained that." She sighed dramatically. "How else would I have won Puck's right to stay here, and shown you your own magical powers?" "And I'm supposed to thank you? I don't know which is worse. That you tried to take my baby, or that you put me through that whole thing as some game, some plot. You never cared about me and how I felt." "I wanted what was best for you." "And the fear? The sickening terror and helplessness of having my son torn from my arms? If that's what you think was best, then you've got a lot to learn. There had to have been better ways to do it. But you had to get Oberon all riled up. You didn't care about me or anyone. Do you know what happened in the city? The midsummer night's dream he spoke of hurt _thousands_ of people." "What are you talking about?" Titania frowned. "When everyone got put to sleep. Crashing their cars. Falling down flights of stairs. In operating rooms or house fires. People _died_, Titania!" She got ahold of herself with a deep shuddering breath. "But they were only humans, so I suppose that doesn't mean anything to you." "Fox --" Titania began. "Shut up!" She almost lifted the gun menacingly but forced herself to lower it. "Now you come around here expecting a hug and a present, as if nothing ever happened? I don't think so. You're not welcome here." "Fox, you don't mean that." Titania seemed genuinely shaken. "Follow me. I've got something to show you." Without waiting to see if the other woman would indeed follow, Fox turned and walked to a corner nook of the courtyard. Two willows flanked a stone arch, their trailing leafy tendrils forming a curtain across the doorway. "Where are you going?" "In there," Fox said. "After you." She used the muzzle of the pistol to lift aside the willow curtain, enough to reveal what was in the tiny shadowed alcove beyond. "A headstone?" Titania leaned closer and read the name chiseled into the marble. "Anastasia Renard? The date -- that's Alexander's birthday!" "As far as I'm concerned," Fox said, "my mother died on that day. The day, the hour, the very minute she turned out to be you. Anyone who would care so little about me and my happiness to do what you did is no mother of mine, and no grandmother to my son." "Fox, no," Titania said weakly. "Oh, child, I never meant --" "No more of your stories," Fox snapped. "Now get the hell out of my house before we need another tombstone!" Titania drew back. She had gone a paler blue, and her large liquid eyes swam with unshed tears. She reached out but couldn't quite touch Fox, as if the younger woman was emitting a force field formed of hostile emotion. As for Fox, she stood her ground and never wavered. At last, Titania backed wordlessly away and vanished in a ripple of gold light. Only then, when she felt that Titania was truly gone, did Fox turn and kneel and rest her brow on the cool marble arch bearing her mother's name. "Sorry, Mom," she murmured. She plucked a lily from a nearby stalk and laid it on the grass at the foot of the stone. "Happy Mother's Day." * * The Carnegie Room was booked solid, but after a sizeable tip and an Avalonian version of the old Jedi mind trick, Titania was escorted to a small half-circle of a table on the upper level. She attracted little notice, since she now wore the guise of Anastasia Renard in a simple but smart beige linen suit instead of her more elaborate bare-midriff ensemble. This section of the room, more dimly lit with secluded cozy tables, was perfect for lovers but a bit awkward for larger parties. It overlooked the open, flower- and fountain-filled spacious area below, where many of the wealthiest of New York's families were gathered. She had a good view of the table where her daughter, son-in- law, and grandson were seated. Alexander, her precious prince, was wearing a miniature duplicate of his father's Armani suit, while Fox was stunning in a bold blue velvet gown. The three of them seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Anastasia accepted the menu from the solicitous waiter, gave it a cursory glance, and turned her attention to the other patrons in her vicinity. A dismayingly large number were women sitting alone. She didn't have to read their auras to know that they were the childless, the widowed, the divorced, the lonely. By coming here, they thought to in some small way make themselves a part of the joyful celebratory atmosphere that permeated the rest of the room. The waiters surely knew what she did, for they were more attentive than usual, the almost overbearing amiability of cruise ship staff. Gifts of carnations were offered, although technically these were supposed to be gifts for mothers only. Overall, it was a pathetic display. But, pathetic as it was, that didn't stop her own throat from tightening when her waiter bowed and produced with a flourish a single white carnation. Perhaps coming here had been a mistake. She murmured her thanks to the waiter and picked up her glass of ice water just to have something to do with her hands. As she raised it to drink, she happened to look through her ring. She very nearly slopped water all over her skirt but recovered in time and sipped slowly, trying to make her scrutiny casual. The ring on the first finger of her right hand was a wide ornate and antiqued band of silver, topped with a spherical diamond of surpassing clarity and value. The woman who had caught her eye was, like Anastasia herself, alone at one of the small tables. A bouquet, lilies and daisies in a crystal vase, was before her on the table. She toyed with it listlessly from time to time as she sat. To outward appearances, she was in her early thirties, red-haired and beautiful (if morose). To the inner eye, seen through the magic gem on Anastasia's ring, the lady was a gargoyle. She rose and approached. The woman looked up and scowled faintly. "Can I help you?" "I was wondering if I might join you," Anastasia said smoothly. "I think we have something in common." "Oh?" She sounded less than interested. "And what might that be?" Anastasia offered her hand as if to shake, making sure that the gem moved into the redhead's line of sight. The jewel worked both ways, revealing her true self even as it gave her a closer look at the woman's inner gargoyle. "Demona, isn't it?" She showed neither shock nor alarm, only a weary sort of acceptance. "Dominique, during the day. Thanks to your servant's meddling." "You summoned him. You must have known the risks. And you were very careless with my mirror. Fortunately for you, no harm came to it. I see that you recognize me." "Of course, Titania." She demurred. "Please, call me Anastasia." Dominique raised an eyebrow. "As in Anastasia Renard, co- founder of Cyberbiotics?" Her eyes widened in realization, then narrowed. "As in, Xanatos' mother-in-law." "You do keep up on the gossip." The waiter drew near, and Anastasia looked at Dominique's glass. A faint slur in the redhead's voice hadn't gone undetected. "What are you drinking?" "Champagne and orange juice. Mostly champagne." She drained the last of it and gestured for another without bothering to look at the waiter. "It is my intention to get ... what do they call it? ... shitfaced." The waiter blanched. Such was not a term heard in the tasteful Carnegie Room, especially not at the Mother's Day Brunch of all days! "Make it two," Anastasia said, and he looked thankful for an opportunity to flee. "Should've made it a dozen." "My dear," Anastasia laughed, "if you intend to get that drunk on that drink, I hope you're prepared to spend the rest of the day in the ladies' room. Not to mention the cost." "And what would _you_ recommend?" "Ah, on Avalon we have such elixirs ..." she sighed longingly. "But, since we're here, you'd doubtless find hard liquor more efficient, timewise and money wise. Although, at least with this, you're getting plenty of Vitamin C." The waiter returned, bringing with him a basket of warm muffins and a dish of butter that had been shaped into rosebuds. He took their orders and hastily retreated once again. "I do believe you've scandalized that poor youth," Anastasia observed as she neatly sliced open a blueberry muffin and deposited butter inside to melt. "That's nothing," Dominique replied. "When he brings the check, I plan to pat him on his pert tight little buns." "Goodness, you have changed in your attitude toward humans." A snarl curled her lip. "That's not to say I still wouldn't love to see them all wiped off the skin of the earth! I've just come to accept that some of them have other, entertaining uses." Anastasia blinked politely. "Oh?" she inquired, wondering how much of a confession she could lead out of Dominique. Not much, apparently. Dominique looked at the bouquet again and sighed. "How long has it been, anyway?" A quick calculation later, she replied, "Longer than I'd thought. Since Will died, isn't it? Tell me, did you ever dance on his grave as you threatened to do?" "There was no love lost between us." Dominique attacked a lemon muffin with a savagery that would have made their waiter, had he been present, take a step back. "I was always rather partial to him," Anastasia said, smiling in fond remembrance. "Oh, but Oberon was furious! I told Puck he shouldn't have gone around mouthing off about my lord's and my little squabbles. And you, well, you've no one to blame but yourself, for trying to make dear MacBeth look bad." "Where is Puck these days?" Dominique asked with sudden cunning, as if she hadn't heard or (more likely) was ignoring the dig about MacBeth. "I've been meaning to thank him for his parting gift, and I've always had the feeling he was nearby." "He's around," Anastasia said lightly. "But as a word of friendly advice, I'd think twice before trying to get revenge on Puck. He might seem like a harmless prankster, but he can be devilsome if crossed. So, let us talk about something else. What brings you here today? It hardly seems your scene, you know. Here in the midst of happy and loving human families." She sighed again. "My daughter." "Hmm? Oh, yes! Why, of course, I should have realized! The sweet child Goliath brought back from Avalon." Her mirth faded a bit. "Oh. I see. These broken marriages, or matings as the case may be, are so often difficult on the children." "She doesn't understand me," Dominique said, sitting back briefly as the waiter returned. "French Toast Monte Cristo," he announced. "Thinly sliced ham and Swiss cheese between two pieces of our own fresh cinnamon- raisin bread, dipped in egg batter and Grand Marinier and cooked to a nice golden brown." "I read the menu!" she snapped. "You don't need to quote it at me!" He backed off hastily and turned to Anastasia, who gave him an encouraging smile. "And for you, madam, the spinach omelette." As soon as he was gone, evidently having realized that in this case over-attentiveness was more apt to earn him a glass of ice water down the front of his pants than a nice tip, Dominique went on. "All I want is what's best for her, but she doesn't understand. She doesn't know the humans as I do. She was sheltered on Avalon, and now she's been blinded by Goliath's stubborn optimism. She won't even listen to me." "I know just how you feel. It's the same way with Fox. When I try and do what's best for her, she accuses me of not respecting her decisions, or caring about her feelings." "Angela wants me to rejoin the clan. Forgive Goliath, when if not for him none of this would have happened. She thinks gargoyles and humans _can_ live together, no matter how often it's proved to the contrary! And Goliath is no help at all. He just encourages her to think that way, and it's going to get her killed." "Fox won't even speak to me," Anastasia confessed. "She had a headstone made with my name on it. Rather gruesomely symbolic, don't you agree?" "At least Angela sent me these. But look at the card. 'Dear Mother, how I wish you could be with us to share this special time, that we could be a real family and a real clan again.' Even with her gift, she drives the knife deeper!" "I only wanted to show her how much more there was to life than being human! She had such potential, but even as a girl she resisted my every attempt to turn her mind toward more ... intuitive thoughts. Always fixated on her looks, her figure, athletics. So distressingly mortal." "I can't give Angela what she wants. Even if I wanted it too, there's no way it would work. I could never bow to following Goliath as the leader, not when I've spent centuries as a leader myself. The others would never accept me back. They'd always be waiting for a trick, a trap, a betrayal." "Fox doesn't understand how precious she is to me." "Angela too. She's my daughter, my only --" Dominique broke off. Her mouth widened into a perfect O. A piece of bread fell from her fork with a syrupy plop. "Dominique?" "By the Dragon," she breathed. "How could I forget?" "What is the matter?" Her emerald eyes came into focus again, fixing on Anastasia. "I laid _two_ eggs that mating season!" Anastasia picked up on it at once. "Avalon!" "I must go there!" She grasped the other woman's wrist urgently. "Take me to Avalon!" * * The breeding season was nearing its peak, and the cries of mating gargoyles reached even to the lonely tower that had once been lair of the Magus. Dark silhouettes wheeled and frolicked against a backdrop of ever-shifting stars. In the east, light glimmered, but it was not the dawn, only the golden-rose-silver glow of Oberon's palace. "What a terrible thing to ask!" Elektra gasped. "Never!" "Oh, come on, sister," Jericho wheedled. "What's the point of knowing magic if you never use it? Why, if I had half your skill, I wouldn't spend all my time sitting on my tail in a musty old library! I'd be putting it to good use! Benefitting my clan!" She frowned sternly at him, and for an instant looked eerily enough like a scolding Katherine to make him shiver. In the candlelight, with her wings folded and her pale brown hair brushed smoothly over her shoulders, she almost didn't seem a gargoyle at all. "How would enspelling Gabriel's mates benefit the clan?" she inquired. He ran his talons through his shock of scarlet hair and sighed in frustration. "Angela is supposed to be Gabriel's mate." "Your concern on her behalf is touching," Elektra remarked, "but I think it is rather your own benefit that you put first." "Well, does he really need three mates?" Jericho asked bitterly. "He knows that there are already some of us, his brothers, destined to go mateless. With Angela gone, Elswyth in love with one of Oberon's get, Hippolyta too caught up in being a warrior to even think about mating, and you locked away here, that only leaves twelve females to eighteen males! And if three of those twelve decide to play harem girls to Gabriel, what are the rest of us supposed to do?" "I'm not locked away," she said quietly. "It's just not fair," he continued, ignoring her. "Gabriel should know that. But he's always had to be first and best at everything." "They care for him, and he for them. He could not command them to cast their sights elsewhere. Choosing a mate is not as simple as the way the Magus used to seat us male and female at the feasting table, as they did in Castle Wyvern in days of old." Jericho went to the window and looked down over the moon- dusted forests. "How he's going to keep up with all three of them is beyond me," he muttered darkly. "Then perhaps the strain will prove o'ermuch for him, and you'll have your other wish." Though she'd said it in the same soft tone she always used, he reacted as if slapped. He whirled to face her. "Is that what you think of me? That I'd cheer Gabriel's death and seize power for myself?" She regarded him evenly with her pale blue eyes. "The though occurred." He spun back to the window. "Right or wrong, he's the leader," he said, mouthing the hollow words. "And my rookery brother." "Then why do you begrudge him the happiness of his mates?" "I don't." He was confused now, a usual state when talking to Elektra. Sometimes it was as if the Magus hadn't really gone away, just donned false wings and a girlish disguise so that he could continue to spout his nonsense. "I just don't think it will last. They'll start bickering, fighting over him. He won't be able to keep all three happy. You'll see." "Opal, Citrine, and Onyx have always been able to share," she pointed out. "The Magus did say it was as if they'd hatched from the same egg. They're inseperable and have ever been. It seems only reasonable to me that they would not want different mates." "It's supposed to be one male, one female." Elektra trailed her slim hand across the desk. "Such cannot always be," she said sadly. "Some hearts years for that which they cannot have, and seek solace in other things." "You mean Carnelian and his infatuation with the Lady of the Lake?" Jericho laughed, sharp and short. "He and Elswyth, a fine pair of dreamers! They'll go on chasing stardust and their own tails, and when all's said and done the immortals will laugh at them. They laugh at us already. The humans drove our kind from their rightful homes, the humans chased us from our very world, and now we must grovel and tug our forelocks before Oberon to even remain here!" "If Avalon so dissatisfies you, brother, why do you stay?" "Leave Avalon?" Sudden fear clutched his soul. "Where would I go?" Elektra moved to his side and gestured out the window. "The wide world beckons. Angela told us of her travels and the gargoyles she did find in many lands. We did ourselves meet those two who brought their sacred plants to grow and thrive free of danger, proof of Angela's words. The magic of this place is strong, my brother. Mayhap it calls to you. Mayhap it has a mission for you. Where do you need to be, Jericho? Where will Avalon send you?" "I don't know," he said uncertainly. "Leave Avalon? Leave my home? I ... I must think on it." She inclined her head. "Of course." * * David Xanatos signed his name to the credit slip with a flourish, glanced up to give the waiter a grin, and faltered only momentarily as he saw his mother-in-law leaving the restaurant with none other than Dominique Destine. He opened his mouth to call Fox's attention to it, but she was engaged in listening to one of Alex's stories (something about a little boy, a time machine and a magic dinosaur) and wore one of the first real smiles he'd seen on her since this morning. He hated to rob her of her good mood. So he calmly returned pen and pad to the waiter, assured him once again that everything had been fabulous, and stirred the dregs of his coffee as he watched the two women vanish through the brass and glass doors. He had a feeling that life was about to get a lot more interesting. * * "Why should I do this for you?" Anastasia asked as they settled into the plush backseat of Dominique's favorite limo. "I owe you no favors." After giving instructions to the driver and raising the window to seal them into silence, Dominique smiled and played her trump card. "Because I know where the lady's veil grows." She had the distinct pleasure of seeing Anastasia's eyes fly wide open before slitting into avaricious glinting jewels. "Lady's veil! But how? It was all destroyed, centuries ago!" "Not so." Oh, she was enjoying this, having the almight and all-powerful Titania hanging on her every word. "There is a place, a secret place where it still blooms. I have been there. I have seen it with my own eyes, smelled its sweet perfume. The Inquisitors came to root it out and burn it and instead they were the ones left hacked and smoldering." Suspicion touched Anastasia's gaze now. "Why would you risk yourself to protect it? You cannot use it. Only my kind can draw upon its magic." Dominique shrugged. She was no longer feeling the chamagne, thanks to a combination of her swift metabolism and this new excitement. "The Inquisitors were my enemies too. They thought me a demon." She showed her teeth. "They weren't the first, or the last, but they were among the most resourceful. Besides, I knew of your people and I knew that someday the information might be of use to me." "That was so long ago. How can you be sure it still exists?" "You're right. This is the modern world, the age of growth, when humans spread like a pestilence upon the earth. They could have plowed the lady's veil under, blacktopped over it, put up a shopping mall." Anastasia winced. "But I know that is not the case," she continued. "Have you been there, have you seen it?" Anastasia pressed. "I have. It is not far." "Lady's veil," she sighed, gazing through the windows but surely seeing something other than the dingy crowded streets of Manhattan. "What I would do for that!" "So, do we have a deal?" Dominique extended her hand. "A deal." Anastasia shook it firmly. * * "The world feels strange tonight," Angela observed. "Aye. It puts me in mind of a night not so long distant, when we first met yer friend Griff." Hudson looked up at the sky, which was tinged a peculiar shade of emerald green over deep blue. "There be sorcery afoot." "Do you think it's the same thing?" Lexington wondered. "I would like to see Griff again," Goliath said, "but I sense only foreboding tonight." "Hey, come on, it's just an atmospheric inversion or something," Brooklyn said. "No need for everyone to get all gloom and doom." Hudson slowly and somberly shook his head. "Nay, lad. This be not the work o' nature." Elisa emerged onto the roof. "Hi, guys! What's up?" "Oh, they all think something bad's going to happen," Brooklyn said. "Hudson's seeing omens again." "Dinna mock yer elders, laddie." Elisa went to Goliath. "What's wrong?" "I do not know," he rumbled. "A feeling, nothing more. But I think we should all patrol tonight, and be vigilant." "How's your mother, Elisa?" Angela asked. "Great! Dad and I took her out for brunch, Beth sent a singing telegram of all things, and then we went to dinner in the Labyrinth." She patted Goliath's arm. "I gave her that bracelet, like you said. She loves it! And for once she couldn't tell me I'd spent too much on it!" "Can't put a price tag on Viking plunder," Brooklyn said. He nudged Goliath with his tail. "Kissing up to the future in-laws?" Goliath mock-growled, then cast a teasing eye at his daughter before fixing Brooklyn with a stern glare. "You'd do well to think of such things yourself." Brooklyn flushed maroon. Angela smiled and twined her arm through his. She pressed a quick kiss on his ear. "Don't let him bully you. If he had his way, I'd view the whole clan as my parents, so he doesn't have a wing to glide on with this protective father act!" Everyone laughed, but it was oddly muffled, as if the strangeness of the night robbed their mirth of some of its strength. "How are the kids?" Broadway asked. "Cute," Elisa said. "Real cute. Almost too cute. Makes me have very un-Elisa-like thoughts. I was never much of a one for those old maternal urges, you know? But when Dee fell asleep on my lap, just a warm little fuzzy bundle that smelled like milk and baby powder ..." Hudson glanced knowingly at Goliath, and Elisa promptly shut up with a maroon flush of her own. "Come on, then," Goliath said, looking a bit embarrassed himself. "The night is short this time of year, so we'd best get started before we find it is dawn again already." "Why, Father!" Angela fluttered a hand in front of her mouth as if shocked. "Get started? In front of all of us?" "I thought we were going on patrol," Brooklyn added, leering. "Though this sounds like more fun!" "It sure would be great to have a rookery around again," Lexington chimed in. Goliath roared and made a halfhearted lunge, which sent the others diving off the wall in twirling fits of laughter. Even Hudson, normally disapproving of such behavior, hid a smile as he trudged off after Bronx, who was prancing anxiously in front of the closed door between him and his food bowl. "Can't blame 'em for trying, I suppose," Elisa said. "My folks are just as bad, but they're still focused on the wedding thing. We really should set a date before Dad comes after you with a shotgun." "I thought your parents were not fully supportive of our marriage plans." "Well, it did take some getting used to." She chuckled. "Can you imagine the guest list? Mom would want to invite Fara Maku, and he'd want to bring Te'a ..." "Our friends from Japan ..." "MacBeth and King Arthur ..." "And of course your Aunt Agnes," he finished. * * "David?" Are you coming? Alex is waiting to be tucked in." "Hmm? Yes, in a minute." She approached and peered over his shoulder, out the window at the weird-tinted sky. Her hair crackled faintly, full of static electricity despite her expensive conditioner. She felt unsettled, ill at ease, as if she was having a mild case of PMS. "What's going on?" "The gargoyles think there's magic afoot, and I believe them." He sighed and absently slipped an arm around her waist. "I wish Owen were here." "You'd promised him the rest of the day off. He's where he should be, with Cordelia and the baby. The wards are in place, and if Titania does come back here, she'll regret it." "That's just it," he replied. "I don't think she is coming here, but I know she's up to something, and I don't like not knowing what it is." * * "All this, for a simple transport spell?" Titania said. She had abandoned her guise of Anastasia, confident that no prying eyes could penetrate the high-walled garden of Dominique's stately home. All about her, gargoyles loomed. In the variable light and flickering shadows of the blazing braziers, they seemed to move. Why, she wondered, would Demona surround herself with stone gargoyles? Mementos of her lost clan? Penance for her guilt at their destruction? Ah, but she sensed that now was not the time for in-depth psychoanalysis of her hostess. Even sweet, muddled old Sigmund would have had his hands full with Demona. A cigar is just a cigar, but what would be make of the bulbous, spiked mace that swayed from Demona's belt? "Some of us had to _learn_ our magic," Demona retorted, casting a handful of black sand into the leaping flames. The light flared bright yellow. She intoned some words in Latin, and the chalk lines she'd etched on the patio between the three braziers began to shimmer with faint purple light. The air felt heavy and leaden, pressing down on them. Even the trees seemed to droop dispiritedly under that unseen weight. No clouds gathered, but a haze of greenish mist seemed to lay over the city. Titania eyes the glowing triangle apprehensively. It neither looked nor felt like something meant to trap one of her race, but Demona had lived a long and crafty life and only a fool would trust her completely. Oh, but the lure of the lady's veil was too strong to deny! It had been centuries since she'd known its fragrance, felt the softness of its leaves upon her cheek. "It is ready," Demona said. She stepped into the triangle and glanced impatiently at Titania. With a shrug, Avalon's queen joined her. Demona raised her hands overhead, holding between them a slim twig of white willow. She spoke one final command, snapped the twig, and the purple lines grew blindingly bright before rapidly shrinking into an amethyst starburst. When the starburst was gone, no eyes except the stone eyes of the gargoyles looked upon the empty patio and the darkened braziers. * * It was a side of Owen Burnett that few people ever saw, and Aiden Ferguson still wasn't used to it even though it was all her fault. A year ago, toying with a magic wand, she'd put a spell of love on Owen and her schoolmistress. She had been much more careful with her studies and her magic since then, to atone for her carelessness, but she still felt responsible. Her actions hadn't gone without repurcussions. Far from it, she thought as she peeped into the parlor and saw Owen, lying on his back on the rug, holding his infant daughter Patricia in the air. Patricia, a platinum-haired cherub with bright and dancing eyes, cooed and gurgled and smiled down at her father. Looking at the baby made Aiden feel even weirder, because yet another magical mishap had given her a look at a possible future in which Patricia would grow up to marry Alexander Xanatos, and their daughter would prove to be even more darkly ambitious than Alexander's own father. "Is there something we can help you with, Miss Ferguson?" Cordelia St. John asked coolly, glancing up from where she sat on the sofa. Even after a year as a student of the Sterling Academy, it only took one word or a single look from her to reduce Aiden to a nervous fourth-grader. She _knew_ that Owen had long since explained her unusual course of study at Castle Wyvern, _knew_ she hadn't done anything wrong, but still her stomach rolled itself into a tight ball of anxiety. "Thank you, ma'am ... um, but ... I hate to intrude, but I was wondering if I could talk to Owen ... just for a minute?" Owen rolled onto his elbow, setting Patricia on the rug next to him, where she promptly grabbed his tie and crammed it into her pink rosebud mouth. "Is something the matter, Aiden?" She twisted fitfully at a lock of her own beige hair. "Do you remember asking me to raise warning wards over the school and the grounds?" "Yes. To test your ability at maintaining them over a large area and for a considerable time." "Well ... um ... they just went down." Owen gently extracted the considerably dampened end of his tie from Patricia's mouth. He glanced at Cordelia. "You might want to give your uncle a call," he suggested. "It may be nothing, but caution is ever called for." Aiden groaned inwardly. Now she wasn't just barging in on Owen's rare family time, but she was also going to get the Illuminati all worked up. All because she hadn't taken her roommate Birdie's advice and gone quietly to check it out herself. It would turn out to be nothing, of course, Owen would be right about that, and then she'd look like a skittish little girl. Cordelia nodded, gathered the baby into her arms, swept Aiden with a wordless gaze that managed to convey a whole spectrum of disdain and irritation while still remaining chillingly polite, and left the room. Owen donned his suit jacket, straightened his hair, and saw the miserable look on Aiden's face. "What is it?" "She doesn't like me." Owen smiled slightly. "Pay it no mind." Which, Aiden thought glumly as she followed him outside, wasn't anywhere close to a denial. * * The purple light winked out and Titania inhaled deeply. "What place is this, where the air is so clean and the night so fair? It almost puts me in mind of Avalon!" "Upstate New York," Demona murmured distractedly. "The Sterling Academy." "Really?" Titania perked up even more. "I taught a course in advanced chemistry here once, oh, forty years ago. This was where I met Halcyon Renard." She looked around approvingly. "They've kept it up nicely." "We're not here to admire the landscaping. Something's not right. I felt something as we came in. Wards, maybe. We'd better be quick." Demona dropped into a tense, alert crouch. "This way." The campus lay slumbering although it was still fairly early. A few lights gleamed behind the shutters of the dorms, and here and there was the irregular bluish flicker of a television. Moths ticked against the soft moon globes that shed their light on the walkways, but nary a student was to be seen. To the east was a bulking, hulking mass of dark stone, an unkempt manor falling slowly into decay, or so it appeared. Demona knew better. Inside would be found levels of luxury, comfort, and technology decades ahead of the rest of the country. The Illuminati liked to conduct themselves in style. Had they erected the wards? She doubted it. They were men of knowledge and secrecy, but their power came from old rituals and musty artifacts that they hardly dared use. What she had sensed felt young, fresh. No time to worry about it. If there existed a threat that Demona herself couldn't handle, surely her companion could. Until Titania had her dainty mitts on the lady's veil, she would surely do all in her power to preserve their freedom. On the north side of the campus, the well-tended grounds gave way to a more natural sprawling of woods, still within the fenced boundaries of the Academy. Demona slipped wraithlike between the trees, moving fast, enjoying the race, the hunt. Titania came after, seeming to drift, never getting her hair entangled in a bough or muddying her feet on the creekbanks. "It is near!" Titania breathed excitedly. "Here." Demona stopped. There before them was a gentle hollow, where a shimmering rill trickled over moss-clothed rocks and pooled mirrorlike in a frame made of the ancient and gnarled exposed roots of an oak. From the middle of the pool rose a small hillock, tufted with velvety grass. And from the middle of the hillock rose a thin, graceful plant, with stalks of milky green and flowers of pure translucent white. The petals were long and flowing, like a veil; hence its name. At the center of each bloom was a cluster of tiny golden nubs. "Ohhh," Titania sighed, pressing her hands to her lips. "So beautiful!" "Now your part of the bargain," Demona said. "I've fulfilled mine." Like someone in a dream, Titania produced a slender silver bracelet from somewhere in the folds of her garments. Runes were inlaid around it, shining in the moonlight with eldritch fire. "Wear this, and recite the inscription, and any body of water will be your portal to Avalon." Demona studied it, memorized it, and slipped the bracelet over her claws and onto her left wrist. "Titania! Demona!" Of all the people who could have come crashing through the bushes at that point, Owen Burnett was one of the last ones she would have expected. There was a human with him, a pale and frightened girl that Demona would have dismissed if not for the wand clutched in one small hand. To her sharpened senses, it was the magical equivalent of a trumpet fanfare. Owen moved forward, his fists clenched, and then his gaze fell past Titania and his mouth fell open. "The lady's veil?" "No you don't," Titania chided. She struck swiftly, pulling the plant up by the roots. A faint trill of pain rang briefly through the night. "This posey is mine!" A green glow wavered into being around her. "No!" Owen jumped at her, pased through her as she vanished, and brought himself neatly into Demona's reach. Her claws clamped around his throat. She could feel his fragile human lifebeat pumping beneath her palms, and traced the ridge of bone that was his spine. She debated briefly between snapping and squeezing. "Let go of him!" the human girl cried, brandishing the wand. That fanfare sounded in Demona's mind again. She recognized the item, Hecate's Wand, long thought lost. Here was the caster of the wards, young, but formidably armed. She froze, neither killing nor releasing Xanatos' dogsbody servant. Eyeing the wand, she felt much as Titania must have when the lady's veil was mentioned. Hecate's Wand could only be great in the hands of a human sorceress, but thanks to Puck, half the time she was one. "Give me the wand, and I'll free him." "No, Demona," the girl said, and then Demona recognized her as well. She was the tiny human that had come a'caroling last Christmas. A friend of the gargoyles. A friend of Angela. Killing Owen was one thing. He'd been a thorn in her side time and again, he and Xanatos. There had always been something exasperatingly sneaky about him, something she could never quite put a talon on. But she dared not kill this frail girl, not if there was still a chance to win Angela over. She made her decision half an instant before Owen made his move. Even as he flexed to attack, she hurled him away from her. He reeled back the way he had come and the girl was not quick enough to sidestep. Before either of them could get up, Demona recited the incantation and dove headlong into the shallow pool. If Titania had tricked her, she would finish this night with a hell of a headache and a faceful of mud. A silver ripple expanded from the point where her left arm met the water, and she passed through into another world. * * Owen brushed himself off, his lips tight in a pucker of disgust. "She's gone to Avalon." "I'm sorry!" Aiden gasped. "I didn't know what to do!" "The fault is partly mine. I've taught you no spells of attack. There was no way you could have stopped her." She fingered the wand absently, before remembering that it made him almighty nervous when she did that. Hastily, she put it back in its case. "Do ... do we go after her?" Owen sighed. "Avalon is forbidden me. The incantation Demona used was a shortcut, linked to an item. A gift, no doubt, from Titania. Therefore it is of no use to us." "How did Goliath and Elisa get there? Doesn't he know a spell?" "He does, but even so, we dare not follow. Whatever is going on, it involves an alliance between Demona and Titania. You are not ready to face either of them, let alone both. And Oberon would not allow Hecate's Wand to return to Avalon. He thinks it long-destroyed." It was Aiden's turn to sigh. "But we should do something, shouldn't we?" "All we can do is inform and warn Mr. Xanatos and Goliath. And Fox. Fox especially, now that Titania has the lady's veil." He shook his head and laughed ruefully. "Here all this time, and I never knew." "The flower? What is it? My mom kept a garden, but I've never seen anything like that before." "Nor, in likelihood, will you again. That was the lady's veil, most precious of all growing things. To Avalon's Children, it is both energy source and drug, ambrosia, giver of power." He took a deep, wistful breath, then blinked and recovered himself. "Kind of like catnip?" Aiden asked doubtfully. "That will do. I had thought that there was no more. It was once plentiful. Humans --" he glanced over his shoulder toward the distant gabeled roof of the abandoned manor "-- an offshoot of an old, old society, sought it out and burned it. All of it, or so we'd thought." "But why?" "They knew of us, they feared us. They knew also of Oberon's decree that we be exiled upon the world. They worried that, had we the lady's veil, we might become a power to rival theirs. And so they got rid of it." Aiden frowned. "That doesn't make sense. From everything you've told me, Oberon's Children don't work together. It doesn't seem like they _would_ organize to seize power, even if they could." "You're right, of course. But these humans, these Inquisitors, did not see it that way." "Why do we need to warn Fox, though?" "She has the blood of Avalon in her veins. Titania may try to use the lady's veil to make her daughter beholden to her. Fox rejected her harshly this morning, and Titania does not take rejection well." * * Jericho sat on a rock outcropping, sharpening his knife in long slow strokes as he looked down at the gathered clan below. The remains of a respectable feast were spread out around them. Malachi and Uriel had taken time out from breeding to hunt down two fat hinds, and their mates Ruth and Miriam had spent the night coaxing breads and pastries from Avalon's generous magical larders. The clan was mostly arranged in mated pairs, with some exceptions. Hippolyta sat apart, fussing with her bow. Three were absent: Elektra still brooding in her solitary tower and Carnelian and Elswyth off making sheep's eyes at their fay fancies. A few other mateless males lingered at the fringes of the circle, some still foolishly and hopelessly trying to change Hippolyta's mind. And of course, leader Gabriel, a sultan, surrounded by his harem. His three mates were nearly identical in their beauty. They differed only in the colors of their hair, and it was that which had earned them their names. Opal's tresses were silver blond, Citrine's as yellow as the sun they never saw, and Onyx's as dark as the gem by that name. Jericho fumed silently. Only Tourmaline noticed him, and offered a faint smile. He ignored it, and saw it turn into a glower before she returned her attention to Jacob. Jacob, smallest and quickest of the clan, pale tan with wings that stretched from wrist to ankle, was only too glad to accept her attention. The feasting was done. Deborah began to sing softly, and soon Garnet and Ezekial joined in. Ruth and Malachi left hand in hand with tails entwined. Jericho jabbed his knife idly into a loaf of bread, again and again. "What's the matter, brother?" Corwin asked. "You've been some quiet of late. Are you troubled?" "Indeed, brother. Look at this clan. We've grown fat and soft." "Nay, that will be the fate of the females, as they grow big with egg," he grinned. "No egg of yours, nor mine," Jericho meanly but truthfully pointed out. Handsome Corwin, despite a strong resemblance to Gabriel, was also among the mateless. "'Tis for us to be the best warriors," Corwin said. "Do you not remember what the Magus told us of our clan, in the days of Castle Wyvern? How the leader before Goliath took no mate, but was a warrior without compare and leader for many decades? That is the fate that awaits us, my brother, a good destiny if ever there was one." "Warriors," Jericho snorted. "Once in all our lives have we been called upon to be warriors, when the Archmage attacked us. A poor showing we made! It was only blind luck that none died!" "I charge any warrior to do better against a wizard!" Corwin argued. "Had we but fought Vikings, as our parents before us --" "Bah! You're grasping at excuses, Corwin. We failed. Guardian Tom had to go find Goliath to pull our bacon from the flames. We would have otherwise been killed, one and all." "Goliath is the greatest warrior of our kind! There is no shame in seeking his help!" "Shame? Aye, shame indeed! What must he have thought of us, his clan's children, unable to hold off even one attack without sending our human Guardian to beg for his aid! Small wonder he did not wish to remain, to bring his clan back to rejoin us. He was right glad to leave us behind!" "Not so! He welcomed Angela to join him." Jericho snorted again. "Think it through, brother dear. The Magus enspelled Goliath, the leader before him, three young warriors, and their watchdog. Males all! Of course he was pleased to take Angela along!" "I disagree with you," Corwin said, but he said it thoughtfully and Jericho knew his words had hit the mark a time or two. "What good is it to be a warrior, with no battles to fight?" Jericho wiped crumbs from his knife and replaced it in its sheath. "We have no purpose." "We protect our home and clan." Corwin gestured to the others. "From what? Any threat to this island will be swiftly sundered by Oberon and his defenses. We are not needed here. Nor wanted here. He suffers our presence, and do you know why, brother? Because Goliath forced his hand. If not for Goliath, we would have been cast out. So, he saves us from the Archmage, he saves us from Oberon's wrath, all because we can do nothing for ourselves!" "My heart says you are wrong, brother," Corwin said slowly, "but my mind cannot fashion a goodly debate." "That's because the heart is more easily misled." Jericho rose and stood braced with the wind in his hair. "Isn't that something else the Magus always said? I, brother, will follow my mind!" With that, he leaped from the outcropping and let the wind catch in his wings. * * Demona had emerged from a rippling stream-fed lake, untouched by the water thanks to the spell that had brought her to Avalon. At once, some dim memory had stirred in her. She knew that somehow she had been here before, during that curious blank period before Paris. She strove to recall more, but the best she could come up with was a ghost of a voice, Goliath's voice. "These are our clan's children," he'd said. And strangely, MacBeth had been nearby. She shook her head. It made no sense. Whenever she tried to remember those unsettlingly vague days, a sweeping tingle of fear overtook her and she was left with just the image of the moon, the silver moon with its darker mottlings that almost seemed to form the shape of a gargoyle. But, whatever had happened before, this was Avalon. She had followed distant firelight and the smell of roasting venison, and soon found the gathering place of the clan. She looked upon them from concealment. So many, so vibrant and healthy and happy! Owing their very lives to that snippet of a princess, the cause of all of the clan's misfortune! Had Katherine not dismissed them with scorn, as if they were even lower than the hogs in the castle's pen, Demona would never have been compelled to strike her bargain with the captain of the guard. She set aside her old anger and studied the young gargoyles. At the time their eggs had been laid, she would have never given another thought to their parentage. She and all of the other gargoyles would have taken equal care of and given equal attention to the hatchlings. But now, after centuries of seeing how humans were devoted to their offspring, and after seeing some of herself in Angela, she looked differently upon the children of her clan. Her rookery brothers and sisters had produced these young ones. She saw familiar features everywhere. That amber-haired male ringed with admiring females -- what would Coldstone think if presented with this son of his? She strove to recall how many eggs he and his mate had laid, and thought it was three. Other old friends, centuries dead and dust, seemed to come vividly alive to her as she looked upon their children. She looked, seeking, scanning, and then her breath caught in her throat. There on an outcropping was a familiar silhouette against the moon. A male very like in build to Goliath. He lacked some of the breadth of shoulder and depth of chest, but was tall and strong and had the same majestic wings. She crept closer, circling around until she could see him in the firelight. His skin was the same twilight blue as her own, his hair was thick and coarse and fell over his eye in a blood-red tumble, and his features were a masculine version of hers. "My son," she whispered into the night, and moved even closer. Another male joined him, golden-skinned, with unusual split wings the banded deep brown of a tiger's eye agate and ivory-white hair. Surely another hatchling of Coldstone and his mate. Demona keened her ears to hear. Soon she was close enough to make out their words. "What good is it to be a warrior, with no battles to fight? We have no purpose." Listening to the remainder of their discussion, Demona could have wept with the fierce savage joy that welled up in her soul. She heard the dissatisfaction in her son's voice, the bitter tone with which he spoke Goliath's name. When her son spread his wings and took to the air, it was all Demona could do from shrieking in triumph and pride. * * Oberon's Children were busy with their own plans, plans for a peculiar and amusing little party they planned to hold. They were busy also presenting the gifts with which they honored their Lord. He hadn't demanded gifts, no. But all knew that gifts were expected, and a way to earn the goodwill and favor of Oberon. Busy renewing age-old acquaintances, reminiscing, scheming against each other. Some were busy having fun, others were busy griping (as Puck would have, had he been in attendance) how dreadfully dull Avalon was compared to the unpredictable humor to be found among mortals. So, in all the general business, few noticed the absence of Queen Titania. As Oberon himself had declared in the presence of all, she came and went as she pleased. It did not concern him. He'd been occupied with other things. Casting out an incubus, for instance, or enduring ceaseless pleas from the sea witch Sycorax to free her half- mortal son from his imprisonment. "Our Queen does come and go these days," Phoebe observed to her sisters as they lounged in the marble-columned enclosure that had once been the domain of the Archmage. "With one of our chosen she deals and plays," Selene added, frowning darkly. "Unless our edicts Demona disobeys," Luna said, "no harm in her visit here, and no reason have we Titania to fear. Other news troubles me now, the Archmage's curse --" "What? No! How?!" the other two broke in, alarmed and even more pale. Luna dipped a finger in the still pool. It rippled and an image appeared, of gargoyles lazing in a woodland glen. "Look and behold, as was foretold." Her sisters studied the scene in silence, and then Phoebe passed her hand across the water and disrupted it.When the water cleared there was naught to be seen save their nearly identical reflections. "The curse did not die with his life's end," Luna said. "Beyond our powers all, to mend." "Gargoyles three, alike as we," Selene mused. "Humans as well, I have seen when in the mortal world I've been," Phoebe said reluctantly. They looked solemnly at each other for a long, long time. * * Dawn came to Avalon with a diffuse, milky light. Dominique, tired after the long night, ate well of sweet fruit and drank deeply of clear water. She never strayed too far from the spot where a single male gargoyle stood in stone sleep, because she had the feeling that Avalon would shift about just on a whim and she might wind up getting lost. She used the daylight to study her son. Cast in stone, he looked more like Goliath, but she could still see her genetic heritage. Goliath's jaw was a stubborn square block; her son's was sharper. He had her nose instead of the sizeable chiseled ship's prow in the middle of Goliath's face. He even had her brow ridges. Very pleased, she gathered herself a pile of soft leaves and grasses and settled down to snooze the day away. Just as she was about to drift off, she realized that Princess Katherine was somewhere hereabouts, as well as that annoying whelp of a human lad, Tom. But, frustratingly, the same logic that had spared Owen's little sorceress sidekick also applied to Katherine. Angela spoke fondly of the human woman, who had been more of a mother to her than Demona ever could be. Most likely, her son would have at least some of the same feelings. So, much as she might have otherwise liked to gouge holes in Katherine's soft white skin and pull out her innards, she accepted that it might be a bad way to start off her relationship with her newfound son. She slept, and dreamed old dreams of her long-dead clan, bittersweet now that she had seen their children. * * "I don't like this," Xanatos said. "There's nothing we can do?" Owen shook his head. "Short of going to Avalon. Some consolation, though -- Titania is unlikely to make her move quickly. She may take time to form a plan, and a few days on Avalon can amount to many months here." "Which means we'll have to be on our guard forever," Xanatos said sourly. "She also knows that I know what she has done," Owen pointed out. "She must realize that I would warn you. She may not try anything at all." "Somehow, nice as that thought is, I just can't believe she'd let it go." Xanatos sighed. "Don't I have enough to worry about with just one dimension?" "Normally, yes. However, sir, your unusual lifestyle has its price." "Yeah. Tell me about it." * * Jericho awoke to an agonized cry. He shook off the lingering shards of his stone skin and leaped forward, to the side of the hunched figure. He reached, he faltered. "What --?" The figure stood and looked at him. A gargoyle, a female. A stranger, yet somehow familiar. And then he had it. "You look like ... me?" he said. She smiled and tears glimmered unshed. "I am your mother." Jericho staggered back and put a hand to his brow. "Mother?" His gaze fell upon the grass where she stood and he saw that something was wrong, but he couldn't quite bring his thoughts together. "My son!" She held out her arms. He looked at her, at the love shining from her face with the imagined brightness of the sun. The rightness of it rang in him like a deep bell. A need he'd never even suspected washed over him in a flood. He ignored the darkness in her eyes and gladly accepted her embrace. "Mother!" She cradled him as if he was a tiny hatchling, and finally they stepped apart. She touched his face, traced his brow ridges. "Such a handsome lad," she said approvingly. "How can this be?" he asked. "How did you come to be here? I thought our clan was destroyed, all save a few males!" Something else occurred to him and he frowned. "Wait ... when the Archmage attacked, he brought two great warriors. I saw only one of them, a silver-haired human." He rubbed his jaw in remembered pain, and saw his mother's eyes flare dangerously. "Did he hurt you? That insolent fool MacBeth! When I see him again, I'll --" He hastened to calm her, even as he was trying to get over his surprise at seeing his own lightning-quick temper mirrored in her. "A glancing blow, and I am unharmed. But my brothers and sisters saw the other, and they said it was one of our kind, with hair of red like yours!" "I am not your enemy," she said firmly. "If I have been here before, believe me, I was under a spell and not acting of my own choosing. I would never want to hurt you, or your brothers and sisters." "I do believe you. I just don't understand." He looked at the grass again and realized what had puzzled him before. There were no stone fragments where she'd been standing. The ground around his feet had been littered with them, as usual, but he could not spot a single one in all the grassy glade. "I will explain everything ... " she paused and laughed. "What are you called, my son? I know the princess gave names to you all." "Jericho," he said. "Jericho." She sampled it, then nodded. "I like the sound of that. I am called Demona." She extended her hand. "Come, my son. I will tell you my story. I will tell you everything. Even ..." she drew in a deep breath and let it go. "Even about your father." Here was another all new subject. Jericho blinked. "My father?" "Your father." She had trouble meeting his eyes, then found the strength. "Goliath." "Is this a jest?" he cried. "No." She squeezed his hand. "I was once his second-in- command and his mate. Mine is a long story, but I escaped the destruction of our clan and spent long centuries alone, seeking, desperate. When at last we were reunited ..." she looked away, unable to go on. "What?" he urged. "He turned me away," she admitted heavily. "He refused to welcome me back to the clan. He said I had grown too hard and cruel. Maybe he was right." Jericho was shaking his head slowly. "No. I cannot believe that." She gripped his hand bruisingly tight. "He _was_ right. But I had to become hard and cruel if I was going to survive! Goliath never understood that, never believed that being _too_ trusting was even more dangerous!" "I have met him," Jericho said. "But ... why did he not tell me he was my father?" Demona shrugged and looked away, distressed. "I ... I don't know." "Please, tell me! Mother, please!" "Well ..." "He's ashamed of us, isn't he?" Jericho said bitterly. "Because we're such poor warriors." She didn't answer but he saw the truth of it in her eyes. His lip curled in a snarl. "Now, wait," Demona said hastily. "You must understand, that is his way, to judge others without knowing or caring what their lives have been like. He cared not that I had spent a milennium being hunted and hated by the humans, but just blamed me for not trusting them as he does. He certainly should not blame you for something that is not your fault. It's his fault, if anyone's, for he gave our eggs into the keeping of the princess and abandoned you." "Why did you let him?" "I did not learn of it until it was too late. I am sorry." She hung her head. Jericho sank to his knees and put his arms around her waist. "I know you would have taken care of us if you could," he said fervently. "You would have given us a home that was our own, a purpose! You would have raised us as warriors!" She stroked his hair. "I would have raised you as warriors, yes. And I would have led you against the Vikings for revenge, and put you in danger. Even led you to your deaths. You've been safe here." "Safe, soft, and useless!" He clung to her velvety wings and looked up at her. "I'm not afraid of death, Mother, but I want to live first! Live as a gargoyle, to protect and avenge and to _be_ a warrior! Oberon calls us nothing more than decorative stonework, and I want more than that!" "What of your brothers and sisters?" "They are content to sit about. I am not. I've never been. Of them all, only one came close to understanding, and she's already gone to the real world to find her place in it." "Angela." "Yes! She left with Goliath. How did you know?" "I know, because she is my daughter. Your sister, not just your rookery sister but your sister in birth and blood." She turned her head away. "But she sees things as Goliath does. She cares more for the humans than for her own kind. Goliath tried to keep her from even knowing about me, and then to poison her against me! When I learned of Avalon, I knew I had to find a way here, to see my other child, and hope that you might not come to hate me too." "Never!" "You're all I have left, Jericho. I've lost my clan, my daughter, everything. Yes, I've done terrible things against the humans. No terrible than what they've done to our kind, but terrible nonetheless. I tell you this because I want you to know the truth." "You've done only what you had to do. I can see that! And been ill-used by humans and your own clan alike! I won't do that, Mother! All my life, I've wanted something more, some purpose, and you've brought me new hope! Take me with you!" She gasped. "You cannot mean that!" "I can and I do!" He clutched her hands and pleaded. "Teach me to be a warrior! Give me a cause to fight for! We will be our own clan, a clan of two, mother and son against the world if need be!" "Goliath would never allow it. He seeks to deny me --" "To the Dragon with Goliath and what he will and won't allow! Maybe he clouded Angela's mind, but not mine!" Demona embraced him again, and her tears wet his shoulder. "My son! I will take you with me, because you are all that I hoped you would be!" * * "This be dire news indeed," Hudson said, at the end of the lengthy silence which followed Owen's story. Angela wrung her hands. "She _wouldn't_ do anything bad! Would she?" Brooklyn, whose forgiveness of Demona was still fairly new and shaky, glowered but said nothing. "Why would she go to Avalon anyway?" Broadway asked. "Didn't she make enemies last time she was there?" "She was enspelled," Goliath said. "As was MacBeth, and he has no memories of Avalon except images that might have been nothing more than a dream." He doubled his fists and then saw his daughter looking at him with worry and heartbreak all over her face. He forced his fingers to unclench. "Whatever she's up to, it's got to be no good," Lexington said. "You don't know that!" Angela flared. "Maybe she's sorry! No one in this clan will give her a second chance --" "_Second_ chance?" Brooklyn blurted, then bit his lip. But Hudson nodded at his outburst. "Aye, the lad is right. She's had chances aplenty to mend her ways, and little to show for it." "Maybe we should just go and take a look," Broadway suggested. "To make sure everything's all right." "No," Goliath said heavily. "We will not go to Avalon." "What? Why?" Brooklyn's beak got away from him again, the words coming out sounding like a direct assault on Goliath's authority. He ignored the tone and replied. "If we go, if any of us go, Demona will see it as an attack. We cannot know that her purpose there is malign; Angela is right. But if a battle breaks out, the Avalon clan will be drawn into it, putting innocent gargoyles at risk. They are my first concern." "If they're your first concern, though," Broadway said slowly, "then shouldn't we be trying to protect them from Demona?" "Demona has no quarrel with them." Goliath strode to the window and looked out, as if he could see Avalon from the windows of Castle Wyvern. "But they might with her," Angela reluctantly said. "They'll remember her other visit, even if she does not. They might attack her first." "What about Oberon?" Lexington piped up. "That is my other concern," Goliath said. "Oberon would not tolerate further disruption of his island. He may drive the clan from their home, or his punishment might be more dire. I do not want to chance angering him." "Demona and Titania were together," Owen reminded them. "Whatever Demona's purpose, it might be part of some plan of Titania's and not even involve the gargoyles." "I wish I could believe that," Goliath said. He growled/sighed. "No. We will not go after her, but we will be ready in case we are summoned." Angela walked away with her arms wrapped around herself, clearly torn between worry for her siblings and her mother. Brooklyn muttered darkly but followed her. "If Oberon throws them out," Broadway wondered, "will they come here?" "They'll be welcome, I'm sure," Hudson replied. "Ah, would that not be fine, to have the castle filled again? And a breeding season, too, so Goliath told us. I'd thought I would not live to see a thriving rookery again." Owen glanced at him under arched brows. "I cannot predict what Mr. Xanatos' response to that idea might be." Hudson grinned and patted the hilt of his sword. "He can take it up with me, then, should it come to pass!" "I'm going to call Aiden," Lex announced. "She must've been scared stiff, going up against Demona like that!" He bounded off toward the phone. Goliath turned to Owen. "You will keep us informed," he said. Owen inclined his head. "Of course." * * Days passed, and then weeks. "Look, Owen!" Fox snapped one afternoon, "I appreciate your concern, but if you don't quit hovering around me, I'm going to have to either hit you or sleep with you!" One month slowly turned into two months. "Nightstone is still operating without Dominique Destine," Matt Bluestone reported. "The vice-presidents are finally getting a chance to do things their way without the dragon lady breathing down their necks, and they're getting to like it." At the end of the second month, after much discussion, Goliath and Elisa formally set the wedding date for October 31, Halloween, in honor of their first dance. Two weeks after that, Elisa got a call from her sister Beth in Arizona. "I need some advice," Beth said over hundreds of miles of long-distance. "I'm kind of seeing somebody." "That's great!" Elisa responded enthusiastically. "Well," Beth wavered, "I'm worried Dad won't approve." Elisa laughed. "Sis, I'm marrying a gargoyle and Derrek's kids have fur! Who could you possibly be going out with that Dad wouldn't like?" Beth told her. "Oh," Elisa said through numb and shocked lips. "Oh, I see what you mean!" Summer came to New York. Hudson, at least, was glad of the extra hours of sunbaked warmth on his old bones, even if the others bemoaned the shortness of the night. "Will it never end?" Angela wailed. "Will we never know?" Goliath consolingly rubbed his knuckles against her brow ridges. "Sometimes there is no clear ending. We must wait, and watch, and see what will come to pass." And the time went on ... * * "My lord, if I may take a moment of the Gathering's time?" Oberon at once raised a hand for silence. "Attend our Queen, by Oberon's command!" Titania made a gracious gesture of thanks. "My lord and husband, I have seen many grand gifts given by Avalon's returning children. I would not seem remiss in my own devotion." He smiled. "Why, Titania, you need not bring us any further gift, when already you've once more afforded us your love." "Even so, my lord, I have a small trifle, if you will aceept it. Nothing so fine and bejeweled as many of these splendors, yet it may please your fancy." Oberon leaned forward, intrigued and anticipatory. The gathered children shuffled for positions and vantage points. Titania swept a graceful curtsey. "Here, Lord Oberon, is the gift with which I honor thee." She held out her hand, palm up, and uncurled her long slender fingers. Bright and airy though the Grand Hall of Oberon was, the shine from the white petals was the clearest light in the room. "A trifle indeed," Oberon gasped breathlessly. "To please our fancy? Titania ..." She demurred sweetly. "Say no more, my lord. Accept this gift of me, and bear me only goodwill in return." Stepping forward, she placed the flower in his eager outstretched hand. An envious, hungry sigh went up from the assemblage. Although Titania kept her gaze fixed on Oberon, she sensed still the furtive gleam that came into many an eye. Plots were being formed, schemings were underway. Oberon had been getting bored, starting to think of other things, starting to look beyond his own self-absorbed ego. The lady's veil would change much of that, and the plots and schemings would occupy the rest of his attention. And Titania would continue to rule Avalon her way. * * "He's gone," Elektra said softly. "What do you mean, gone?" Gabriel nearly took his slim sister by the shoulders and shook her, but restrained himself. "When? Where? Most importantly, why?" "I could answer your questions, brother, but it would change nothing. You never saw him as he truly is." "What?" He blinked at her. She sighed restlessly. "Envious of you, close to no one, always a shadow on his spirit that urged him toward a destiny he did not understand. Nor do I, but I've at least an inlking of it. He has chosen to follow another path, although I fear it will be his undoing." "If all this is because he didn't get a mate, or if he was still sore because Tourmaline tried to win him when she couldn't get me --" "No, no. Not that. If he truly wanted a mate, he would have had one." She dropped her eyes, long lashes brushing against her ivory- pale cheeks, and Gabriel looked at her with sudden comprehension. He put a hand on her wing-caped shoulder. "And you just let him go? You said nothing?" She nodded mutely. "If he regrets nothing else, my sister, I know he will live to regret that." * * He turned slowly in a circle, his face alight with awe. "This is your home?" Demona smiled. "It serves my needs." "It is the most splendid place I've ever seen! We've nothing like this on Avalon! Not even Oberon's palace holds such wonders! How is it that you have such magic?" "Not magic, my son. These things are the work of science, and human inventors. They are not all entirely without merit, I give them credit for that at least." Jericho leaned close to the blank television screen. "What is this, a window of darkness?" "Hardly." She triggered the remote control and smothered a laugh as her son sprang back in alarm at the sudden light and color and sound. "A window to many places, some real, and some imaginary." Her thoughts flashed back several years to something she'd overheard while lurking in a secret passage outside of Xanatos' office. "Think of it as a ... living tapestry." He roamed around the room. "I feel so primitive," he finally said. "A barbarian amid all of these marvels." Demona shook her head. "Not for long. Those days on Avalon, I told you all about the past. Now, your education on the present and future begins. I will teach you to understand and use everything you'll find in this world. A warrior in this era must be able to do more than swing a sword. And you, Jericho, will be a great warrior." He drew himself straight and tall. The new garments she'd given him, made of metal like the armor that Guardian Tom wore but lighter and stronger, gleamed glossy black and shining silver. "I will not fail you, Mother." * * The End
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