Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are
the property of Disney and are used here without their creators'
knowledge or permission. 21,800 words. July 2006. Strong language and violence.
He knew something was wrong the second he stepped around the corner and saw them there, the two of them, heads close together, voices low in conspiratorial whispers.
How many times had he seen their fathers in almost identical postures? It had never failed, back then, to send a churning qualm through him and it didn't fail now.
Although he had the white-blond hair and pale blue eyes of his father, the cool, bemused reserve of Owen Burnett was not entirely reflected in Sebastian. The son's features had a far more well, puckish cast and his mouth always seemed to be on the verge of a wicked grin. Even now, when their attitude suggested that this discussion was of the most serious of all possible natures, the corners of Sebastian's mouth looked like they wanted to twitch up in impish mischief.
Alexander Xanatos, thanks to the short, neat beard he'd recently grown, looked more like his sire than ever. In the right lighting conditions, with shadows to darken the red-gold hair he'd inherited from his mother, the resemblance was often uncanny. But there was an openness about Alex, a conscience, that both of his parents had been lacking.
Openness. Conscience. Honesty. The unwillingness to lie to a friend and clan-brother.
Those very qualities now struck dread deep into Brooklyn's heart as he read the expression in Alex's eyes. They had both looked up at his approach. The way their conversation had immediately cut off only reinforced his sense of foreboding.
He wished he'd taken another route. But the snowy night's patrol had been cold even by gargoyle standards, and he'd been eager to get back to the warm hearth and a bowl of Broadway's thick stew or hearty chowder. He'd taken the shortest path from the battlements.
And here stood Alex and Sebastian. Off the usual beaten track for the master of the castle and his chief advisor. Almost as if almost as if they'd chosen this spot on purpose. Waiting for him. Knowing he'd come this way, and wanting to intercept him when he was alone, away from the rest of the clan.
"Alex, maybe you shouldn't," Sebastian said, a cautioning hand on Alex's arm. His voice was low, pitched as a request and a warning. "Not until we know for sure what we're dealing with. You'd be nuts to "
There was another difference. Whatever he might have privately thought, Owen Burnett never would have called David Xanatos 'nuts' right to his face.
"Who do you think I am? My father?" Alex's bitter question hit uncannily near the mark of Brooklyn's own line of thought. He shook his head. "Keep secrets until I can best use the information to my advantage? I don't play those kind of games, 'Bastian."
"I wasn't suggesting it. Only that you should wait until we've got all the facts. Do you want to be wrong? About something this big?"
"I'd give a lot to be wrong," Alex said. "Believe me, I would give everything I own to be wrong about this."
He didn't want to hear. More than Alex didn't want to say it, whatever it was, he did not want to hear.
"Tell me," Brooklyn said.
"You've got to understand, Brooklyn, that Sebastian's right we don't have all the facts yet. It's a mess. Until we really know what happened my father would have waited until he was sure before he said anything "
"My father," Sebastian said, "would have made some cryptic remark right before dawn and left the rest until sunset. But then, he had his quietly sadistic moments."
"Damn it, 'Bastian!"
Raising both hands, palms out, Sebastian subsided. Alex turned again to Brooklyn, hesitated, and sighed.
"Just tell me already," Brooklyn said. Dark guesses wheeled and spun through his mind and he refused to consider any of them. He hadn't seen Alex look this grim in
A hollow opened up inside him as he realized he had never seen Alex look this grim.
"There's been a problem on the tour," Alex said. "Up in Maine. I've gotten initial reports from Mays and Sharp, but like I said, right now the details are sketchy and nobody really seems to know "
"It's Demona, isn't it?" Brooklyn felt his fists clench. "As soon as we heard I knew I don't care how good Orpheus is, not even he could undo a thousand years of hate with one song! Her and Macbeth, Mr. and Mrs. Happily-Ever-After 2034 bullshit! It was a trick, wasn't it? A trap! What's she done?"
"I told you, we don't know enough yet "
"There was some sort of a fight. Gunfire, explosions."
"Goliath and Elisa are okay, though, right?"
As soon as the words left his lips, Brooklyn wished he could call them back. They hung there in the castle corridor like cold smoke.
Alex closed his eyes for a long, long moment. The wanting to lie, wanting to soften the terrible truth, was evident on his face. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Not even to hold off the pain a little while more. When he opened his eyes and looked up, they were shining with tears.
"Brooklyn we have reason to believe that that they're dead."
"I can so," D'Artagna said, jutting her chin at him.
"You are not the boss of me!"
Jake shook the paper in her face. "I've got the rules right here, Tanny. You can't go and change them halfway through."
"Maybe we should play something else," Porthos said. "I don't like this game. Too much math."
"You don't like it because you never win." Kenneth rattled the dice. "Come on, you guys. It's my turn."
"I never win because Tanny cheats."
"I don't cheat!"
"It says right here in the rules "
"Shut up, Jake!"
"God!" Kathe clapped her book shut with a noise that made them all jump. "This happens every single time. It always turns into a fight, so why don't you all just go down to the gym with Athos and Aramis, and spar, and give some of us a little bit of peace and quiet?"
Damien, sitting at her feet, left off apparently trying to chew the end of his own fuzz-covered elbow blade and made a blatting sound. He was either agreeing with her, Jake thought, or doing something in his diaper.
"They don't want anyone else there," Kenneth said, still rattling the dice. "They're too busy showing off and trying to impress my sister."
"Good luck with that," Porthos said. "Finella's only got eyes for Jake."
"Knock it off," Jake said, squirming. "She isn't my girlfriend."
Tanny dug her elbow into Porthos' stocky side. "Yeah! She's a floozy."
"Hey!" Kenneth dropped the dice. "Don't talk about her like that!"
"But she is! She said so her own self!"
"No, she didn't," Kathe said, doing her patented I-am-so-much-more-mature-than-the-rest-of-you eyeroll.
"She did, she did, she did! She said she was going to be just like Aunt Birdie when she grows up, and Aunt Birdie always calls herself a floozy."
Brief silence fell as they looked around at each other, no one quite knowing how to counter that argument.
"I mean jeez," Tanny went on, "you don't think she's really practicing her aerobatics, do you? She's down there so Athos and Aramis can see her in that new shimmery leotard, after she got done prancing around in here."
Porthos snorted. "The only reason she went to the gym was because she got all jealous when he didn't notice."
Jake winced. "She is not my girlfriend!"
"She is not his girlfriend!" Tanny shouted, and pegged her game piece at Porthos.
"Hey!" He retaliated by snatching the dice from Kenneth and flinging them at her. They twinkled silver-grey in midair, and came up double sixes when they rebounded off Tanny's forehead and skittered to a stop on the board.
Tanny shrieked in outrage. "And you guys say that I cheat? Kenneth magicked the dice!"
"Come on, Damien," Kathe said, scooping him up. "Let's leave these hatchlings to their rookery-play."
"Are we going to finish the " Jake began, then stopped as D'Artagna lunged across the board to tackle Kenneth. Pieces and play money went everyplace.
Kenneth yelped and cast a ward, but Porthos knuckle-knocked him on the back of his bald grey skull, just below the edge of his crest. The misty moonfire energy popped like a soap bubble.
"Don't you magic my sister," Porthos said in a forbidding voice.
"You stay out of it, Porthos!" Tanny smacked at him. "I can fight my own battles!"
"Forget it," Jake said, standing up as the three of them rolled onto the floor in a tussling tangle.
Malcolm, approaching them dusted with flour and carrying a tray, paused. "Did you finish the game already?"
"Have they ever finished a game?" Kathe asked archly.
"Well, no, I guess not." He bit shyly on his lower lip, then held up the tray. "I um I made those cookies you like, Kathe. The oatmeal ones with cinnamon chips? They're still warm."
"What's going on?" Kathe wasn't even looking at Malcolm or the cookies, but was staring instead all the way down the long room.
Jake followed her gaze. He frowned.
The cavernous great hall was divided into areas according to the diverse interests of the clan, and furnished in correspondingly eclectic style. Around the enormous fireplace, it was all medieval, with stone walls and tapestries and heavy wooden tables. Right next to that was a sleek bank of computer terminals and ultramodern equipment. One corner held Angela's pottery wheel and kiln, another the massive television and the recliner that had belonged to Hudson. Aiden's arcane books and weird magical supplies were shelved adjacent to the case where Brooklyn kept the models of fighter jets and helicopters he'd assembled.
It was the main living and gathering area for the clan, especially on winter nights when the weather was inclement enough to keep even the muggers indoors.
When the ill-fated board game had begun, the adults not on patrol had been engaged in their own various hobbies and pursuits. Lex hunched over his keyboard, Aiden fiddling with a box she'd just ordered from Leo and Una's shop, Elektra beading jewelry, Broadway scoffing and critiquing some chocolate-sculpture competition on the Food Network, Angela shaping a vase.
Now, on the computer monitor, Lex's prized 100th level undefeated whatever-it-was lay facedown with a solid black health bar. An antique-looking leather-bound grimoire had been left to teeter on the edge of a table. Tiny crystal beads and snips of gold wire were scattered all over the floor. The television was taken up by the smug face of Broadway's most hated rival and no one was changing the channel. Angela's wheel had been abandoned with a collapsed lump of clay in the middle of it.
"I wonder what's the matter?" Malcolm moved up beside Kathe and Jake.
They were in a group at the far end of the room. . In their midst was Brooklyn, who'd been doing a solitary patrol. And with him, Alexander. Of the adult gargoyles, only Delilah was missing, paying one of her visits to the Labyrinth. Even Amber and Julian, who'd retired to their room some time ago and looked like they'd been interrupted, being all rumpled and sweaty and in their bathrobes
"Whatever it is, it can't be good," Jake said.
An icy, uneasy feeling was creeping into his gut. He'd grown up heeding that feeling, grown up in a world where he'd been hunted and scrambling for survival almost as long as he could remember. The others didn't know what it was like. They thought that they did. There'd been loss and trouble and hardship here, too. But they had it good compared to the life Jake had known. Whatever else, they'd had a home and a clan and safety.
He had been kind of getting used to that, to the love and security. To being able to greet the dawn fairly sure he'd still be alive come nightfall. But here came that feeling again, dread and danger and uncertainty. It brought a taste like bitter metal to his mouth.
"Do you think " Kathe said.
She was interrupted by her mother's scream. "No! Nooo!"
The squabble between Kenneth, Porthos and Tanny stopped at once. All three of them whipped around, eyes wide.
Angela had Alexander by the shirtfront and was shaking him back and forth so violently that it seemed his bones would splinter. "You're lying! You're wrong!"
It took Brooklyn, Broadway and Elektra to grapple her away from him and even then she was thrashing against them like a wildcat. Aiden and Lex caught Alexander when he reeled back, dazed. Julian supported Amber, whose hands were pressed to the slight bulge of her pregnancy as if to shield her unborn baby from some blow.
Tumult exploded. Everyone was talking at once, shouting questions, demanding answers. Elektra pleaded with Angela to calm herself. Alex recovered enough to call futilely for order. Bronx bayed and howled. Tanny was on her feet, yelling. And through it all, Jake swore he heard an urgent jangling that drilled into his ears.
Brooklyn gave a sudden shattering roar, fists thrust skyward, wings snapping to full extension. Echoes caromed around the room. In the subsequent shocked silence silence except for that annoying jangle-drill-clamor he looked around at them all with eyes of pure white fire.
"Enough," he said. "One thing at a time. We'll make sense of this. We'll get it straightened out, I swear. But enough!"
Angela had collapsed, shaking, into the shared embrace of Broadway and Elektra. Kathe clung to Damien, who seemed determined to fight his way free and go to his stricken mother. Kathe looked stricken, herself, her complexion gone a faded ash-rose instead of its usual dark burgundy.
Athos and Aramis skidded in. "What --?" Aramis choked off his query when Brooklyn's head swung around. Behind them, still in her shimmery leotard, blonde ringlets bouncing, came Finella.
"He didn't really say 'dead,' did he?" Malcolm whispered.
"Who?" Jake asked. "Who said that?"
The noise was still going on, drilling and drilling.
"Hatchlings, over there," Brooklyn said. "Stay put. Just for a minute, but stay put, okay? And someone Jake get the damn phone, would you?"
The phone, that was what it was. The great hall's private, direct line. It didn't go through the castle switchboard, and was supposed to be only for emergencies. Hardly anyone even had the number.
"Why do we have to stay "
Kenneth and Porthos cooperated in clapping their hands over Tanny's mouth. Athos, Aramis and Finella scurried over to them.
"What's going on?" Finella squeaked. "Jake? Do you know?"
"I gotta get the phone." He twitched away before she could clutch his hand.
"You heard the leader," Kathe said. "Everyone sit down and hush up."
"Ow!" Kenneth jerked his hand away.
"I said we're part of this clan, too," Tanny repeated, her words muffled by Porthos' thick fingers. "How come we "
"Do it, Tanny," Aramis said. "We wait. They'll tell us when they're ready."
"It isn't fair!"
Jake went for the phone alcove. In his peripheral vision, he could see Alexander Xanatos talking fast and urgent, gesturing in a way that said he was explaining as best he could but that he didn't have all the facts yet. By the way the adults reacted, they were getting about as much information as the hatchlings, and liking it about as well.
Loud voices flared at the other end of the room again.
"It's a mistake!" Angela howled. "Your people made a mistake! They're not dead they can't be dead!"
"Who killed them?" Broadway had his arms and wings around Angela, keeping her from making another lunge at Alexander. "Was it Demona?"
"Zaza and Daga both?" Amber shook her head. "No Alex, no I would feel it!"
The hatchlings, even Tanny, had gone utterly still. Their eyes and mouths were round, their faces blanched. Even Jake felt it the shock, the disbelief! though he supposed it was nowhere near as strong in him as it was in the rest of them.
He had grown up in a world in which Goliath was a name out of the clan's dim and distant past. In his clan's history, Goliath had not chosen to be put under the Magus' spell of everlasting stone sleep. Goliath had stayed to look after the orphaned eggs, and therefore had lived out his span and died centuries before the other survivors of the massacre had awakened. Jake hadn't grown up under Goliath's leadership, hadn't been raised on tales of him like Angela and her rookery siblings.
"We don't know yet," Alex was saying. "Believe me, I've got everyone I can doing everything possible to find out exactly what happened up there but right now it's all a mess. Pure chaos. As soon as I hear something more "
Jake had been with this clan for ten years before Goliath and Elisa had left on their world tour, but they had been ten such busy years not to mention years in which Jake himself had been having all kinds of adjustment problems that he'd never really grown all that close to either of them. He certainly hadn't built up any pedestals in his mind about the great-impressive-invulnerable-eternal Goliath.
So, this shock didn't hit him as hard as it apparently was hitting everybody else. Besides, he was used to loss. He'd lost his entire clan. His mother his mother, Feather, who in this world had never existed! And his father, Brooklyn, killed by Tony Dracon.
This reality's Brooklyn shot him a look as the phone jangled again. "Get that or unplug it, Jake!"
He snatched it up. "This better be important!"
"drop a bomb like this when you're not sure?!?" Amber wanted to grab Alex, shake him.
A warm, smooth hand stroked the nape of her neck. "Darling, calm "
"Don't tell me to calm down, Julian! It's my parents he's talking about!"
"If I had waited until I got a full report," Alex said, his voice wrenched with despair, "if I'd waited until I was sure and not told you anything, you would have been furious at me for trying to keep it from you. That isn't how I do things, Amber. You know that."
"Dad!" Jake shouted from the far end of the room.
"Not now, Jake," Brooklyn said over his shoulder. "Whoever it is, tell them to call back."
He was right, of course. He was being reasonable. He was making sense. Amber hated it whenever someone withheld information on the grounds of not wanting to worry her, or hurt her feelings. That didn't make this any easier. Nothing would. Nothing could.
"Was it Demona?" Broadway asked. "I thought she and Macbeth were the good guys now."
"It can't have been," Angela said. "She's not like that anymore. Orpheus "
"Goliath himself believed that her change of heart was genuine," Elektra said. "They'd made their peace. His trust could not have been so badly misplaced."
"What about those rotten stinking Quarrymen?" Lex socked a fist into his palm. "The protests, the publicity over the tour and all these new clans going public, it stirred them up like a bee's nest."
"Dad, I really think "
"Handle it, Jake!"
Amber glanced that way and saw Jake put his back to the rest of the room, facing into a corner with the phone pressed tight against one ear and his finger plugged into the other to block out as much of the commotion as he could. She saw the rest of the hatchlings huddled together for mutual comfort around Kathe. They all looked terrified, and even the toughest ones like Aramis and Tanny were near tears.
Julian touched her shoulder, and this time she did not pull away but leaned into him and felt his downy white wings enfold her. She let him draw her a few paces away from the others, who were peppering Alex with questions for which he had no answers beyond more of the "I told you, I don't know enough yet!" variety.
"It's a mistake," she said, hearing the plea in her tone. "It has to be, doesn't it?"
"I don't know, darling."
"They can't be gone. I haven't told them about the baby yet. And and they haven't seen the eggs in the rookery "
Overhearing her, Elektra gasped. "We must send word to the Labyrinth, to Talon and Delilah and the others."
"More than that," Lex said. "We've got to alert all the clans."
"Without knowing what we're up against?" Alex shook his head. "Give me a few hours to get a clear picture before we start alerting anyone. It might cause a panic."
"And this isn't worth panicking over?" Angela cried.
Brooklyn whirled. "Jake, for the last time "
"No, Dad, I mean it! You really need to take this call!" Jake held out the phone. "It's Violetta. She's there. She saw everything. She knows what happened."
There was a moment of startled silence. Then Brooklyn muttered an oath and bounded for the phone, Alex hot on his heels. Jake handed it over and stepped back.
"Violetta," Elektra whispered. "Tourmaline's daughter. We had forgotten her, but of course, she was with them."
"Jake, what did she tell you?" Lex asked. "What did she say?"
He swallowed and drew a deep breath. "She said they're all dead." His gaze flicked from Amber to Angela. "All of them. Goliath and Elisa Demona and Macbeth, too."
"But that's impossible," Broadway said. "Demona and Macbeth are immortal. The Quarrymen couldn't do anything to them. They'd have to die together kill each other."
"They did," Jake said. "Violetta says they they blew themselves up. With a grenade or something."
Angela went chalky, and her voice was faint but shrill. "You mean it was an accident? Some stupid, senseless accident claimed all four of them? I can't believe it. I won't! Not like that! Not after everything else!"
Elektra put her arms around Angela. "Hold fast, sister. Jake, tell us. Was it an accident?"
Jake swallowed again. "No. It was Jericho."
Brooklyn indifferently let the phone fall back in the general direction of its cradle. He sank into a squat, elbows resting on knees, head in his hands, hair hanging down around his face. His eyes were shut, but he heard Alex drop into a chair and utter a low, pained groan.
"You think she's right?" Brooklyn asked.
"I don't want to believe it, but "
"Yeah. Yeah, me either. I saw him fall into that abyss." Brooklyn's teeth were gritted. "I saw Goliath let him go."
"Demona managed to come back." Alex's laugh sounded bitter and unamused. "So did your Damien. Earth, Avalon, alternate universes, Heaven, Hell, other times the borders of reality and possibility aren't as immutable as you might "
"Spare me the speech, Alex. You're telling me that after thirty fucking years, we've got Jericho to contend with again? An even-crazier-than-before Jericho?"
His mate's voice made him open his eyes and look up. He'd been aware of the hesitant footfalls drawing near, and was unsurprised to see the clan gathered in a loose semicircle around him and Alex. Their expressions were sick with horror, grief, dismay and denial.
Though the events of Devil's Night had taken place long before the current brood had even been hatched, they had grown up well aware of that grim, sad history. They knew of Demona's long vendetta against their clan, of Jericho's madness, of Angela's long struggle with blackest despair. They knew of the dark circumstances surrounding Damien's return as their rookery brother but not their age-mate.
Jake stood a little apart from the rest. It occurred to Brooklyn with rueful irony that Jake was the only one for whom Jericho wasn't the equivalent of the boogeyman. On the contrary, in Jake's timeline, Jericho had been a strong leader, Goliath's successor, and to the Wyvern descendants who'd become Jake's clan, a hero of near-legendary status.
"I'll start making arrangements," Alex murmured. "Let me know when you're ready." He slipped away.
"Is it true?" Angela asked. "Was it was it Jericho?"
"We have to know," Amber said. "Please, Brooklyn."
"Here's what Violetta told me," he said, staring down at his fists because he was unable to look at any of them while he spoke. "Earlier tonight, she and Moray were in the playroom at Castle Lachlan when a gargoyle smashed through the window. A big blue male with red hair. She said he looked insane."
"That's Jericho, all right," Lex said.
"He was after Moray. Violetta tried to defend the boy but " Brooklyn shrugged to show the futility of that brave gesture, one that he and everyone else who'd gone up against Jericho knew all too well. "She said that he recognized her as Tourmaline's daughter, and she thinks now that's why he didn't hurt her when he had every chance."
Elektra hid her face against Broadway's chest. "How can this be? He was gone, gone!"
"Violetta said he grabbed Moray, and that was when Goliath burst the door in. There was a battle. Elisa came in with her gun. Demona and Macbeth glided down outside the window with laser rifles. They had Jericho surrounded, and when he made a break for it, Elisa shot him." Brooklyn wished he couldn't see it all so clearly in his mind. He looked up at Amber, who stood wrapped in Julian's wings. "He Violetta says he spun and struck. He hit Elisa. Broke her neck. It was over just like that, Amber. It was quick."
Amber choked back a single watery sob. "And Daga?"
"Jericho never touched him. When he saw Elisa fall " Brooklyn squeezed his eyes shut, biting hard on his lower lip.
He had been there when Elisa had nearly died rescuing the newborn Tom and Dee from Sevarius, when Goliath had somehow taken her with him into healing stone sleep at dawn. Now, so many years later, Elisa had died trying to save another child from another enemy, and this time, not even Goliath's love had been able to save her.
"It must have been his heart," Aiden said gently.
"Yes," Angela said, sounding preternaturally calm. "She was his heart."
"Elisa had wounded Jericho, but he escaped and still had Moray as a hostage," Brooklyn said. "Demona and Macbeth gave chase. Violetta followed, and caught up with them outside. She didn't hear a lot of what was said and didn't understand the rest, but it sounds like Jericho was trying to convince Demona to come back to him."
Lex hissed, Broadway swore, Aiden made a small nauseated sound, Elektra moaned. Amber and Angela said nothing. They both looked steadily at him, and for the first time he realized really, down-in-his-gut realized that they were sisters. It was in the eyes. Something in the eyes. The daughters of Goliath, looking at him, waiting for him to finish.
"Macbeth shot Jericho, but it still didn't stop him. He he tore out Moray's throat."
Belatedly, Brooklyn remembered the hatchlings, all clustered there and listening, wide-eyed. He winced. Too late to take it back, and they had to hear. They had to know. It wasn't as if they'd never seen death before, either. It wasn't as if none of them had ever killed. Jake and Tanny, for all their tender years, both had blood on their claws.
"He murdered the child?" Elektra had gone paler than pale, nearly as white now as the moonlight-hued female Brooklyn remembered from his own youth, the white gargoyle who would have been her mother. "An innocent child? Oh, nay Brooklyn I beg thee say it is not so. Even Jericho "
"Even Jericho wouldn't stoop to that?" Angela asked. "Is that what you're about to say, Elektra? You know what he is. You know what he's capable of."
Elektra bowed her head. "Verily, sister, I suppose that I must."
"Violetta wasn't sure exactly what happened next," Brooklyn said. "With what she'd just seen, I don't blame her. But she says she's sure that the grenade was deliberate. As if Macbeth and Demona decided to commit suicide together, after losing their son."
"At least they took Jericho with them!" Lex said, with such savagery that Aiden gasped.
"Except they didn't," Alex said heavily. "Jericho survived."
"What?" The outburst came from several mouths at once.
Brooklyn nodded. "He survived. Hurt as he was, he's still just got to make it until dawn. And then "
For a moment, no one said anything. Then Angela stepped forward. Brooklyn straightened up, and she rested her hands on the sides of his beak as she gazed evenly into his eyes.
"When do we go?" she asked.
"Right away," he said. "If we're going to do this, we've got to move fast."
Tanny leaped excitedly up and down, pumping her fists in the air. "Yes! Yes! To battle!"
"D'Artagna, no," Elektra said, hand fluttering at the base of her throat. "This is no mission for hatchlings."
"We can fight," Aramis said. "We are warriors, like Hudson-our-sire."
"All of you, quiet," Brooklyn said. He did not raise his voice. To his surprise, maybe even more than theirs, he didn't have to. The note of authority and command in it was enough to make even Tanny stop her bloodthirsty capering.
Brooklyn looked around at them. The clan. His clan. Several pairs of eyes met his. Eyes brimming with emotions spanning the spectrum.
"We have to do this," he said. "Not just for revenge. Not just because if we don't, sooner or later he will come after us. We have to do this because it's the right thing, the only thing to do."
Silent nods were their response.
"We just have to decide who goes, and who stays."
"I have to, Patricia."
"Why? It has nothing to do with us."
"Doesn't it?" He set down the bodysuit he'd been holding, its golden sheen glinting with the intricate tracework of circuitry. Lightweight and flexible as cloth, stronger than titanium, impervious to most forms of non-projectile weapons the sales pitch ran through his mind and he shunted it aside. "He has to be stopped."
"The gargoyles will take care of it."
Alex turned to her. For Patricia, she was in casual attire, an ice-blue satiny wrap that clung to her slender figure and complemented her porcelain skin and smooth platinum hair.
"The gargoyles will take care of it? Yes. They will. They always do."
"So there's no reason for you to "
"Yes! There is!"
She stepped back. "Alexander?"
"Goliath and Elisa are dead. They're dead, Patricia. I wasn't able to prevent it."
"No one could have expected you to!"
"I expected it!" His voice broke and he buried his face in his hands. "But I failed them."
"Oh, Alex you didn't fail them. How could you say that?"
"When my parents disappeared, I promised myself that I wouldn't lose Goliath and Elisa, too. Not if I could help it."
"It wasn't your fault."
He went on as if she hadn't spoken. "Elisa would have been furious if she knew about the spell I cast to extend her lifespan. But I risked it, did it anyway, because even her hatred would have been preferable to watching her grow old and infirm. I used every connection, pulled every string I could to influence the laws and legislation so that the gargoyles would be protected, so that they'd have rights. I sent them on this tour with the best bodyguards and equipment that money could provide."
"You did everything you could."
"Did I? Then how come they're dead? I'm supposed to have all this great magic! Heir to Avalon, grandson of Titania herself. My wife's the most powerful sorceress on the planet. We created the Phoenix Gate! All that, and still still I couldn't save them."
"That doesn't mean you should punish yourself by throwing your life away on some stupid quest for vengeance. What about me? What about Janine? You can't change the past, Alex. You of all people should know that."
"Broadway, you're with me," Brooklyn said.
Broadway blew out a long breath, but gave another nod.
"They're my parents, Brooklyn!"
"Let me finish. My instincts tell me you should stay. You've got the baby to think about. But I know you. I know how important this is. So it's got to be your decision. I won't order you one way or another."
"I'm going," she said.
"As am I," Julian said. "You may have need of my talents."
"Yeah." Brooklyn sighed. "I figured on that. Besides, the last time any of us saw Jericho, he was falling into Hell. If it's not really him, if it's someone or something else, you'd be the best one to be able to tell."
"And me, my love?" Angela asked.
He sighed again. "My instincts tell me you should stay, too, though for other reasons. I don't want you to have to be anywhere near that monster, not now and not ever. You're my mate, and I love you, and I would do anything to keep you safe. Except that if I left you behind, you'd never forgive me."
"That's true." She managed to find a smile for him, a strained and shaky version of the smile he so adored.
"The rest of you stay."
"What?" Lex's outburst overrode the protests from the hatchlings.
"Lex," Brooklyn said, grasping him by the shoulders, "I need you here most of all. No one else knows the castle's security systems like you do. If we fail and we might Jericho won't stop with killing us. I need you here, brother. I can't do this unless I know you're here protecting our home."
Lex's face twisted, but they both knew that Brooklyn was right. "I will," he said.
"Same goes for you, Aiden. Every ward and defensive spell you've got "
"Absolutely," she said, drawing Kenneth and Finella to her sides. "We'll take care of it, won't we, kids?"
"I know, my leader," she said. "You fear that my gentle nature might "
"No," he said. "I want you here because with Amber and Julian going along, you're the only one who can be awake during the day. If it isn't Jericho, but something else instead, we have to assume it'll be just as dangerous by daylight."
"What about us?" Tanny blurted. "You aren't really going to make us miss out, are you? We want to help! We're old enough! We're ready!"
"None of us are old enough or ready for this." Brooklyn rubbed his brow ridge. "But you're staying. No arguments, no debate. No room for disobedience. You'll do as I say."
"You you will come back, won't you?" Kathe asked. She had Damien in her arms, and fear had stripped her of the cool, aloof mask she liked to wear.
Angela embraced them. "We will. And until we do, I know you'll watch over Damien and the eggs and all your rookery siblings. I'm counting on you, Kathe."
Kathe visibly struggled to regain her composure. "I won't disappoint you, Mother."
"But what if you don't come back?" Tanny asked. "What then? What if he does slaughter you all and then comes here? Can we fight then?"
"Tanny!" a bunch of them yelled at once, appalled.
"I'm sure you will, if it comes to that," Brooklyn said. "If it does, though, you'll fight the way you were taught and trained. You'll follow orders."
"Whose?" she shot back. "You're the leader and you're going. Amber's the second-in-command, and she's going, too."
"Uncle Lex," Porthos said with a shrug, as if that settled everything.
"Hey, wait " Lex began.
"No," Brooklyn said. "Lex will have enough to do. Until we get back, Jake will be in charge."
"What?" Jake blinked at him. "Me? Dad, I Dad, I can't."
"Come over here with me for a second." He guided Jake away from the others and bent close to speak privately. "This is a big thing to drop on you all of a sudden, Jake, but I know you can do it. You're the oldest, you're a warrior, and you've had the most experience."
"I'm not the oldest, though!"
"Hear me out. Lexington is my rookery brother. We've been together all our lives. He's brilliant, he's skilled, he's clever but he's not cut out to be a leader. Neither are Aiden and Elektra. They're great at what they do, but this isn't it. They'll be your elders, your advisors. Listen to them. Rely on their expertise and wisdom. Don't make the mistake of being too proud and too stubborn to ask for their suggestions and advice."
Jake's brow furrowed. "You're talking like you really don't expect to come back."
"Shh. I'm not finished. What I was saying doesn't just go for Lex, Aiden and Elektra. Our clan isn't alone anymore. We have friends and allies all over the country. All over the world! Get in touch with them. They'll help."
"You do think you're going to die."
"Maybe," Brooklyn admitted. "I've gone up against Jericho before. I don't know what to expect this time. He might kill me, Jake. He might kill all of us. If that does happen, all I ask is that you protect the clan and the castle as best you can for as long as you can."
"Okay, Dad. I will. I'll try."
Jake had always called him Dad, ever since they'd found him and brought him across realities to join their clan. Even though, technically, Brooklyn wasn't his father.
Or was he?
Jake had his build, his beak, his horns, his wings. Jake had the same wickedly curved raptor claws on his hind feet as had the crimson female of Castle Wyvern's older generation. A female who undoubtedly must have been Brooklyn's mother.
Despite the unease that any of them felt after enduring so much of Sevarius' meddling, Brooklyn had agreed to allow Dr. Masters to conduct a run of tests. Those tests had proved the genetic link. Biologically, he was as much Jake's father as he was Kathe's. The DNA said so.
But Jake's mother showed in him, too. In his walnut-brown skin, and glossy black hair. Jake's mother not Angela but a female that Brooklyn had never known. Who had never existed in this reality. Her mate had been that other Brooklyn.
Their lives must have run parallel until one pivotal moment, the moment in which Goliath elected to remain with the eggs rather than follow them into enchanted sleep. After that, everything had changed. Everything had been different from then on out.
Before that, though, they had been the same. More that brothers, even more than twins. Identical. Up until that moment, they had been the same being in every way.
That other Brooklyn had died. Was it an insult to his memory for Jake to call this version Dad? To accept him and treat him as a father to let it be almost as if that Brooklyn had never died at all?
Or would that other Brooklyn have understood? Maybe even approved? Been glad that his son wasn't entirely orphaned after all, but was being raised and taught and loved?
He'd been pondering these questions for over fifteen years now, and was still no closer to a satisfactory answer. Everyone else had come to their own terms with it, most of them simply accepting it as yet one more weirdness in their already abundantly weird lives. Goliath had once taken Brooklyn aside and told him, well out of Angela's earshot, that sometimes the best ways were the old ways. Jake was a son of the clan. That was all that mattered.
"I trust you, Jake," he said. "You can do this."
"I'll make you proud of me, Dad."
"I already am." Brooklyn swept him into a fierce hug and felt Jake return it. "I already am. You're my son."
"Can't this thing go any faster?" Amber pushed at the floor with both feet, the effort straining her body backward into the contours of the padded chair.
"Not in this weather," Alex said.
"So go above the weather."
"By the time I got that kind of altitude, I'd have to start the descent anyway. And this is tricky enough already. We can't afford to overshoot our landing and end up nose-first in Canada. It's a short enough trip. Sit tight."
Ahead of them, the viewscreen was a whirling white opacity of wind and snow. Howling gusts buffeted the craft up and down, side to side. Even with onboard computerized everything, Alex still had to keep both hands on the controls. Amber didn't envy him the task. His face was pale and drawn, his gaze moving constantly from one monitor to another. In the pulsing stream of readout lights, his golden body armor sparkled.
"I thought T.J. and his people designed these things to practically fly by themselves," she said.
"They did, and it would," Alex said. "Under the right conditions. A February blizzard in New England? Not the right conditions. The stabilizers are on full, and we're still getting tossed around like a tennis ball in a clothes dryer."
"Well, it still beats gliding on my own two wings." She twisted in her seat. "Are they okay back there?"
"Secure and in place," Julian said.
The craft was sporty, designed more for speed and with a mind toward instilling envy in the observer than it was for comfort and cargo capacity. The rear compartment only had room for all three gargoyles because they'd been careful how they posed themselves at dawn. No widespread wings and raised claws this time. They had tucked their limbs and tails close to their bodies, and folded their wings about themselves like roosting bats.
It had still been a tight fit, especially once everything else was loaded in. The seat beside Julian was piled with gear the rest of Alex's suit including his jet-powered wingpack, weapons, tracking equipment, medical supplies. Since they weren't a hundred percent sure what they were walking into, they didn't know what all might be needed. But it never hurt to be prepared.
"You didn't have to stay awake," Alex said. "You should be getting as much rest as you can while you can. Julian and I can handle this part."
"I'm not tired."
This wasn't entirely true, but how could she sleep? Only the imperative of sunrise had made it possible for the rest of the clan. If more of them besides Elektra could have denied the day, they would have. None of them had wanted to succumb to the helpless stone oblivion with this going on. For all they knew, they might never wake up. Not even the arrival of Talon and Claw and Feral had made it any easier.
Amber had felt the lassitude creeping into her body as the eastern sky had lightened, but the anger, anxiety and adrenaline whipping through her bloodstream had held sleep at bay. Also, she didn't fully trust Alex and Julian not to conspire against her, and leave her at the castle. For her own good, yes. In view of her delicate condition, yes. And they probably would have been right to do it.
She just couldn't let them.
"I want you to promise me something, Amber," Alex said. "That if you do get tired, if it is too much for you, you'll ease off. Or run, if it comes to that."
"What? Run? Alex "
"I know, I know, the daughter of Goliath, the daughter of Elisa Maza, doesn't cut and run. But think about it. Would they want you to get hurt? Would they want anything to happen to their grandchild because of them?"
"I don't care how harsh it sounds. You meant everything to them. When I gave you the Phoenix Gate and let you "
"I had to! Old-Mother was the only one who could save Daga's life! And it worked, didn't it? I got back safely."
"The first time," he said. "But then you took her home. And you got trapped back there, remember? You weren't here to see how it was for them. When they understood you were lost in the past, they were devastated. We all were, but Goliath and Elisa most of all."
She sighed and smoothed a sable lock behind her ear. "It turned out all right in the long run, though."
"Yes. And all it took was time travel, cross-dimensional rifts, and Avalon. All it took was doing the damned impossible."
"Thank you for that. In case I never said it before."
"The thing is, Amber, you were the most precious thing in their world, and I sent you ditty-bopping off through history to spend a thousand years stuck in petrified tree sap."
"Zaza and Daga blamed you for it? Alex, I bullied you into giving me the Phoenix Gate!"
"They never blamed me. They never had to. I took care of that part myself."
"Oh," she said. "But it still turned out all right. Better than all right. Because of all that, we got Jake, and Fawn met Zachariah, and "
"What I'm saying is that I'll never forgive myself if something happens to you. If it had been up to me instead of Brooklyn, I would have left you at the castle. No discussion. No letting it be your decision. You would have stayed, and that's that."
He was gripping the controls so hard that they looked in danger of breaking. Amber gaped at him. Behind her, Julian remained silent. Because he privately agreed with Alex? Or because he was quiet by nature? Still waters run deep, as her Grandma Diane used to say. Amber was all whitecaps and rapids, but Julian was the ultimate in still waters.
"Alex, what's the matter with you? You've never been like this."
His jaw was clenched. "It's Jericho. I don't know what we're up against here, and I hate it. I hate not knowing. I hate the feeling that there's a pattern here, one I can't quite see but I sense what it is all the same."
"What are you talking about? What pattern?"
"Full circle," he said. "I can't get it out of my head. Jericho kidnapped Elisa when she was pregnant with you. He could have killed her then. In at least one reality, he did. Now here we go again, except this time you're the one who's pregnant, and "
"Shit," Alex muttered. "I shouldn't have damn it."
"You think he's going to kill me," she said slowly, trepidation skittering over her skin and raising goosebumps. "You think this is some weird destiny thing. Because in some other reality, Jericho killed my mother, and so I'm not supposed to exist? What other reality? How many are there?"
"As many as we can imagine, and more," he said. "It doesn't matter."
"It does if you're going to make a big deal out of it," Amber said. "Tell me, Alex. What do you know?"
"I don't know anything," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out what it all means. The future Aiden saw wasn't our future. That's obvious. Too much is different. But some of it is the same. I don't understand it."
"Understand what? Aiden? What does Aiden have to do with this?"
"Remember how, when I was a kid, I sometimes had trouble controlling my magic?"
"Sure. Wasn't there something about fictional characters brought to life?"
"Well, I wasn't the only one. Aiden made a few blunders of her own along the way."
"Like making Owen and Cordelia fall in love."
"That one was, all things considered, fairly mild. She managed to turn everyone in the clan and castle into animals once. Another time, she invoked a time-travel spell and took herself and Lexington into the future."
She thought back to what he'd said. "But not not our future?"
"Thankfully. But for a while there, they were worried it would be."
"Alex, you're giving me a headache. History can't be changed! Our fathers both found that out for themselves, and so did I. How could Aiden and Lex have seen the future, when it didn't come true?"
"It was one possible future. Some parts of it did come true. Some parts were close, but slightly altered. And some never happened at all."
Amber groaned and massaged the fine bony bumps at the outer ends of her eyebrows, then clutched at the armrests as a vicious updraft shook them. "Don't we have enough on our plate with just one reality to deal with?"
"But that's the thing, Amber. That's just it. What are we dealing with? Our reality isn't isolated and contained. The overlaps the convergences our reality is littered with people from other times, other realities, other planes of existence, pocket dimensions, the afterlife you name it, we've got it. Now we've got to face Jericho. Jericho again, thirty years after we thought he was gone forever. Is he back from the dead? Is he freed from Hell? Is he even our reality's Jericho at all, or did he come from someplace else? We don't know. We just don't know, Amber."
The console beeped, and a proximity light began to blink on one of the screens.
"We don't," Amber said as Alex brought the craft into its initial descent. "But I think we're about to find out."
The spotlights of the hover-jet made a concentrated patch of brightness on the ground as it came in for a landing. Barbara Mays watched it touch down. She had been mentally composing her letter of resignation in her head all morning, ever since they'd finally gotten a clearer picture of how everything had gone so drastically wrong.
The moment its skids were on the pavement, the doors slid open. Amber Maza, bundled into a fur-lined cloak, leaped out. Alexander Xanatos was only a step behind her. Amber's husband Julian brought up the rear.
The courtyard of Castle Lachlan looked more like a military encampment than a reclusive and eccentric millionaire's retreat. The vehicles and personnel from the Titania's goodwill tour were stationed within the walls. Guards patrolled the perimeters, sweeping the snow-choked surroundings with infrared goggles and other high-tech spy-gear.
"Mr. Xanatos, sir " Barbara began.
"I want to see my parents," Amber said. "I have to see them."
"Follow me," Barbara said, deciding that nothing could soften the blow and there was no use trying to sugarcoat anything. She led the way, glad to get out of the biting cold wind and wet, stinging sleet. "We've got one of the rooms serving as a makeshift medical examiner's office."
Not that there was much left to examine. A sheet-covered shape lay on one table, a durable plastic bin of stony debris on another. The crumbled chunks of porous rock and gritty-grey gravel had no discernible features left.
Amber made a soft, choked noise. Julian put an arm around her. Alex briefly closed his eyes.
"This is Dr. Florencio," Barbara said. "Supervising physician on the Titania."
Florencio, a tall, broadly-built man with a dusky complexion and dark hair salted with white, nodded brusquely.
"Of course," Alexander said. "Doctor. What can you tell us? How did they die?"
"I'm afraid there is little I can tell you of the gargoyle," Florencio said. "The remains they don't leave us a lot to work with. It may have been a heart attack, or stroke. Whatever it was, it was almost instantly fatal. There was no chance for him to hold out until daybreak, when hibernation may have helped. It was too sudden."
"This this is all that's left?" Amber gazed down into the bin. Tears dripped from her cheekbones, darkening the powdery dust. "It doesn't seem right. He was he was so how can this be all that's left of him?"
"It isn't," Julian said. "This is only what he doesn't need anymore. The rest of him has moved on, and the part of him that yet lives, lives on in his clan."
"What about Elisa?" Alexander asked, nodding toward the shrouded form. "Can we see her?"
Wordlessly, Florencio turned back the sheet, revealing Elisa Maza.
Barbara was glad for their sakes that the body was relatively unmarked. Once they'd ascertained that they were dealing with the gargoyle known as Jericho, she had gone back and viewed some of the archival footage. Messy. What he had done to that Canmore person
It had triggered a memory of her own. Not seen on film because no cameras had been working, but seen with her own eyes from where she'd watched from their apartment window. A terrified kid, the whole world gone mad with ghosts and monsters beneath a hellish sky. Winged figures had battled it out in a final confrontation above a festering pit that glowed and seethed like a volcano.
That night, seeing the gargoyles fighting to save the city from evil, she had decided that she wanted to grow up and be on their side. But it hadn't turned out to be as cut-and-dried as all that. The gargoyles weren't all noble protectors. Some of their own kind were every bit as violent and horrible as the worst of humanity.
"Oh, Zaza," Amber said.
Unmarked, and thank God for that. Thank God for small favors.
With her grey-streaked hair fanning out around her head, Elisa Maza could almost have been sleeping if not for the blue-tinged pallor of her skin and the slack lifelessness of her features. Her eyes were shut. The only visible wound on her was a dusky purple bruise that had spread on her face, high, near the temple.
"Her neck was broken?" Alexander asked.
"A single powerful blow to the side of the head," Florencio said. "It would have been very quick. She did not suffer."
Amber listened without hearing as Barbara Mays related to Alex the story pieced together from the castle's household staff.
"I feel so cold," she said. "I've never felt cold like this before."
Julian drew her against him. "I know."
"It's so hard to believe they're gone. I thought I thought they would always be there. How can they just be gone?"
"They aren't, Amber. They just aren't here. They're together."
"You can't know that " She broke off, looking up at him. Into those eyes, so blue, but sometimes also seemingly filled with a shifting aura that no words could describe. "Or ?"
"Know it or not, I believe it."
Her chin quivered. "But they're still gone. When Julianna you "
He placed his fingers over her lips, sorrow darkening his luminous eyes. "That time, it was right. This time, it wouldn't be. You know that, darling."
The worst of it was, she did. Sniffling, drawing a deep and shaky breath, she nodded.
"Go on and say your good-byes," Julian said. "There's still much we have to do."
Amber bent to kiss her mother's cool, waxy forehead. "I
love you, Zaza," she said. "So much
I always did
and I always will."
She curled her fingers through the gritty rubble in the bin. "I love you,
too, Daga," she whispered. "I didn't get a chance to tell you
saving it for a surprise
but Julian and I are going to have a baby. Your
grandkid. How about that? You're going to be grandparents."
"And after Demona and Macbeth followed Jericho outside?" Alex asked.
Barbara pursed her lips. "You know as much as we do, sir, which is only what we were told by the girl. She broke down when she was done with her phone call to Manhattan. Hysterical. Insisting that he couldn't be stopped, that he was a monster and was going to destroy everyone."
Alex suppressed a shudder. "Let's make sure it doesn't come to that. Where is she now?"
"Sharp's got his best guards keeping an eye on her. Maybe a day's stone rest will calm her down some, and we can question her further then."
At that moment, Sharp, the tour's chief of security, came in. He was a lean, sharp-featured man whose expression suggested that he was ready and willing to take full responsibility for everything, even though none of them ever could have anticipated a disaster like this.
"Mr. Sharp. Do you have anything new to report?"
"My team's come back from searching the woods. Nothing yet. Even without the weather, it'd be damn near impossible to track him if he took to the air."
"You think he's gotten away?"
Sharp looked to Dr. Florencio for confirmation of his next words. "As badly injured as he was, he wouldn't have been able to get far. He's likely holed up someplace in the woods. But we won't be able to get anything with the infrared until after sunset. If he found a good enough hiding place, we could pass within two feet of him and not hear a thing."
"All very true," Florencio said. "With the proper pose in stone hibernation, under heavy snowfall, a gargoyle could well be indistinguishable from a large boulder. That is assuming he survived until dawn. It is highly possible he did not."
"We can't be sure of that," Alex said. "I wish we could, but I don't want to gamble and be wrong."
"There was a lot of blood at both scenes," Sharp said.
"Blood isn't the same as a body." Alex rubbed his chin, scratching at his beard. "Show me. I want to see where it happened. Walk me through it, Mr. Sharp. Doctor, you come, too. Tell me about the blood."
"Sir, there really isn't much to see," Barbara Mays said. "Especially out in the woods. The explosion was an intense, concentrated blast. Anything that was well, that was left has already been covered by snowfall."
"I want to see where it happened," Alex repeated.
"So do I," Amber said, as she and Julian approached.
"Amber, maybe you should "
"I need to see, Alex. I'm all right."
Sharp led the way upstairs to the playroom. Alex pulled his gloves back on as they climbed. The castle was freezing. Not all of it could be blamed on the storm, though. Alex knew he carried his own chill with him, a chill that couldn't be fended off by any amount of layered clothing, hot cocoa or blazing fireplaces.
Although Goliath's remains had been collected down to the smallest particles that could be picked up with tweezers, there was still a whitish-grey chalky residue marking the spot in the hall where his body had disintegrated. Amber faltered there, having to steel herself to go on.
Alex admired her tenacity. He could hardly stand to look at Elisa's cold, ashen face or what was left of Goliath. Only through focusing intently on what had to be done could he get through this. Once he was home again, with Patricia and little Janine, he would have to find some way to deal with the crippling, paralyzing loss.
Death. He had never really understood, not deep in his guts, why his father had been so obsessed with immortality. Now, the feelings of having been robbed and cheated of something so vitally important, of losing two whose presences in his life had been in a way every bit as large as those of his own parents, he had a better inkling.
If he stopped to think about it for too long, he feared he would break down. He couldn't. That was a luxury even a Xanatos couldn't afford. The only solace for any of them would not come from grief. It'd come, as it always did, from some sort of positive action. It'd come from making sure that Goliath and Elisa's dreams carried on.
"This is the playroom," Sharp said, an unnecessary statement because they could all see that much for themselves.
An effort had been made to cover the shattered window, but it was only a stopgap in the most literal sense. Sheets of heavy-duty plastic, snapping in the wind, let in the cold. Before they'd been nailed up, swirls of snow had come in as well, dusting the jungle gym and climbing structures. Besides the broken window, the clearest signs of struggle were a few scratches and laser-scorches.
"As you can see, we found a substantial blood pool here," Florencio said, indicating a wide maroon blotch on the carpet. More had splashed liberally onto the wall. "My tests showed it to be that of a male gargoyle. I ran the sample through the database and did not get an exact match. However, it did have genetic markers suggesting close relation with several members of the Manhattan clan."
"Particularly Goliath, Angela and me," Amber said.
"Violetta said that Elisa shot him," Alex said.
"The bullet passed through and lodged in the wall, there," Sharp said. "By rights, it should have been a fatal injury. Would have, on a human. Or even a gargoyle not in one of those keyed-up adrenaline frenzies. There's a trail of drops and splashes that continue down the back stairs and outside, but we lose it in the courtyard."
Alex found that he could envision it quite easily. Not that he wanted to. Elisa, shooting Jericho. Jericho whirling, lashing out. Elisa dropping. Dead instantly, her neck broken. And Goliath? Goliath would have known it at once.
"What about the site in the woods?" he asked. "You said you found more blood there? And evidence of the explosion? Let's go."
"Sir, I must advise against "
"Advice noted. Let's go."
Sharp acquiesced, but insisted that their group be accompanied by an entire armed team. Alex didn't object. If it was Jericho, the genuine article, and he had survived, then they were in no danger as long as it was still daylight. If it wasn't, well, then day or night didn't matter. Probably, all the armed guards in the world wouldn't matter. Either way, it couldn't hurt.
The steady snow had done a good job of cloaking the worst of the damage, but the splintered tree limbs and singed bushes told their own story. Alex stepped forward, and paused, the fine hairs on the back of his neck standing up.
"What?" Amber caught his pause. "Did you see something? Hear something?"
"No," he said. Which was true. He had seen nothing, heard nothing. Felt? Oh, he'd felt something, all right. Something that tingle-fluttered in the middle of his chest, behind his eyes, and all through his hands.
"More blood was here," Florencio said. For the first time, his impassive, professional demeanor weakened. "Quite a lot of it. Most unusual. Human and gargoyle DNA was present, as well as protein strings I have never seen before."
"A young male," Alex said. "A child. Demona and Macbeth's son. Violetta said that Jericho that Jericho cut his throat." Which was not the phrase she had used. Tore out his throat, that was the phrase she had used.
"Death by exsanguination would have come within seconds," Florencio said.
"That poor little boy," Amber said. "He must have been so scared."
And what, Alex wondered, had it been like for Demona and Macbeth? Watching their child die? He tried to put himself in their place, and a horror colder than any snow swooned over him. If that had been his Janine
"They killed themselves," he said. "Violetta was right. When they saw that when they were too late when they couldn't save their son they wanted to die. So they did. Together. The only way they could die."
"The bodies most likely would have been consumed, even vaporized," Florencio said.
"What about Moray?" Amber asked. "This blood it's way over here. He would have been too far away to be vaporized."
"We don't know," Sharp said. "You're right. His body would have been too far away to be destroyed in the blast. Look over here. This is the tree the girl was hiding in. The shockwave hurled her from her perch. She was knocked out, but otherwise unharmed. It's closer to the center of the explosion than the blood."
"Then where's his body? What happened to him?"
"Like I said, we don't know," Sharp said. "If we assume Jericho survived, he may have taken it with him, to hide it or dispose of it."
Alex shivered at the image that came all unbidden into his mind. Some painting he'd seen in a museum when he was no more than three or four years old, something all in dark reds and ochres. A painting depicting a hideous ogre or troll, hunched in a cave, chewing on a headless human corpse. It had given him nightmares for weeks.
No. Surely not. Not even Jericho was that much of a monster, was he?
Shaking the last stone chips out of his long white mane, Brooklyn looked first at the chronometer in the front compartment. Dawn came late and dusk came early at this time of year, especially so far north.
"Remind me never to do that again," Broadway grumbled. He spat and coughed and spat some more. "Packed in here like sardines, as soon as we stretched it all flew everywhere."
"You're the one who yawned, you big silly," Angela said. "If you didn't sleep with your mouth open " Her tone of normal evening banter suddenly vanished, and a cloud crossed her face.
For a moment, she hadn't yet remembered where they were or why they were here, and Brooklyn was sorry to see the awareness return.
The three of them were crowded into the rear of Alex's hover-jet, which stood bathed in white floodlights in the middle of an unfamiliar castle courtyard. As he emerged, Brooklyn saw the tents and trailers and vehicles, recognizing the stylized red-X logo and a few people from the Xanatos Enterprises payroll.
The cold night was shot with spinning motes of snow. Deep drifts lay heaped along the walls and in the corners. The battlements were lit and patrolled by guards in armored ski-suits. Spotlights swung their beams back and forth in crisscrossing patterns, and gun turrets had either sprung up or been erected atop the corner towers. Either Macbeth had spent a small fortune on home defense, or Alex's people had been working their butts off to have all this up and running in a single short day.
"So far, so good," Brooklyn said. "Doesn't look like there's any trouble at the moment."
He hadn't been wild about the idea of being shipped up here like so much cargo. Stone sleep was a vulnerable enough state when safe and sound on a castle wall. On a plane? In a snowstorm? They could have crashed, ended up scattered in bits all over the landscape, and never known it.
Or if it had been Quarrymen behind this scheme, express delivery of three nice helpless gargoyles would have been like a belated Christmas present, minus the gift-wrapping.
But they hadn't had a whole lot of choice. Even if they'd left the minute the news came in, they couldn't have gotten here before sunrise. Waiting until the next night would have meant they'd be able to travel awake, as flesh and blood, but a delay of several hours was something none of them wanted.
"Come on," Angela said.
As they crossed the courtyard, aware of the guards covering them, Brooklyn kept half his attention skyward. Yes, okay, there were spotlights and gun turrets and who-knew-whatall, but he still expected to see a powerful shape come hurtling out of the clouds, eyes incandescent, maybe bellowing a challenge and maybe just plowing into them with a lethal kamikaze speed.
Barbara Mays, the tour coordinator or whatever she was, met them at the door and ushered them into a roomy hall that managed to be at once grand and cozy. More of Alex's people, moving with their customary efficiency, were in the process of laying out a buffet of hearty no-frills fare on the big table. A few others, looking dazed or lost or resentful, milled around. Brooklyn guessed that these were Macbeth's household staff, displaced and not sure what to do.
Alex and Julian were at the far end of the chamber, where a fireplace took up most of one wall. The logs roared and crackled, sending out welcome heat. Julian was in full-human form, gazing thoughtfully into the flames. Alex, wearing his full battle-dress with helmet under his arm, paced. Like Brooklyn, he kept sneaking peeks at the windows, as if expecting a crashing-inward storm of glass.
"Catch us up," Brooklyn said. "Anything? Any sign of him?"
"Not yet," Alex said. Hastily, he filled them in on what he'd learned during the day. "We're hoping to get more answers out of Violetta. Amber waited in with her, so that someone would be there when she woke up. She should be ah, there they are now."
Amber came in, leading Violetta by the hand. Tourmaline's hatchling was a few years younger than their brood at home, with webbed wings like Lex and Aiden and the twins. They'd seen pictures, but pictures couldn't do full credit to the iridescent shimmer of her deep-violet skin. She had what Brooklyn mentally termed a "Goth pixie" look, with inky-black hair that stood up in punk spikes, a round face with an upturned button nose.
When she saw the three of them standing with Alex and Julian, a tremulous relief smoothed some of the despair from her face. But she still looked far older than she should, far older than any hatchling ever should. Her large eyes were dark, and haunted.
Brooklyn dropped to one knee, bending to be on her level. "Hi, Violetta. I'm Brooklyn. We talked on the phone. This is Angela, my mate. And Broadway, my rookery brother. Our whole clan's been eager to meet you, and I'm so, so sorry it had to be like this."
She burst into tears, let go of Amber, and flung herself at him. He picked her up and patted her back as she sobbed against his neck.
"It's all right, little one," Angela said, stroking her bristly hair. She sounded close to crying again herself. "It's all right."
"It isn't!" Violetta wailed. "They're all dead!"
"I know," Brooklyn said. He tried to be soothing, but his voice was hoarse. "And I know it was awful for you to have to see it. But if you can, Vee, we really need you to tell us what happened. Anything else you remember, that you didn't tell me on the phone."
"But I told you!" She spiraled toward hysteria. "I told you the whole thing! They shot him they kept shooting him and he wouldn't die, he kept getting up, he wouldn't die! Aunt Elisa shot him, and Moray's daddy shot him, but no matter what they did he kept getting up! Who is he? How come he knew my mother? If he loved Demona, how come he killed Moray?"
Brooklyn's gaze met Angela's. He gave her a slight nod.
"Violetta " Angela's shoulders sagged. "It's a long story, a terrible story. But Jericho he was raised on Avalon. Like me. Like your mother, Tourmaline. We were all rookery siblings. Jericho, though, he he's my actual brother. Goliath and Demona were our parents, when they were mates a long, long time ago. And Jericho is "
"Crazy," Broadway said. "Crazy and jealous."
"We need to know what he said, Vee," Brooklyn said gently. "Anything that might give us a clue. Did he mention any names? Did he say where he's been?"
"He he " Her face crumpled and she began to cry again. "I can't remember!"
"I've got an idea," Broadway said. "Here. Let's get some food. That always helps me think. How about some nice hot chocolate? They've got a whole urn of it right over there."
She didn't want to be put down, so Brooklyn carried her over to the table. She responded with little nods or shakes of her head as Broadway pointed out soups, stews, casseroles and other comfort foods good for a cold and snowy night. They all filled plates and sat down by the fire. Though none of them would have expected to have any appetite at all, the food did help. The normality of it helped, too. And taking care of the girl seemed to help most of all. Tending to her.
Broadway loaded up a tray with mugs of hot chocolate topped by generous spoonfuls of marshmallow fluff, and passed them around.
"Bluestone," Violetta said suddenly. "He said someone named Bluestone put a spell on her. Or something like that. And he wanted to break the spell. Who's Bluestone? A gargoyle? A sorcerer?"
"Orpheus?" Amber frowned. "But how how could he know about that?"
"He talked about Aunt Iggy, too." Her face screwed up, and then she shook her head. "No, that's not right. Close, but Aunt Iggy-nee?"
Baffled looks and shrugs passed among them.
Violetta drank a long warm swig of chocolate, then licked marshmallow from her lip and set the mug aside. She worked on a thick oatmeal cookie, chewing pensively. "I'm only telling you what he said."
"What happened after that?" Amber asked.
"He he hurt Moray. He " She clawed the air in front of her slender neck. Another sob shook through her, rattling a shower of crumbs from the cookie in her hand. "I don't know. I was crying. Then Moray's parents hugged each other, and everything blew up."
Brooklyn put his arm around her slim shoulders again. Angela gave her knee a reassuring squeeze.
"I fell out of the tree," she said, leaning into Brooklyn's side with a child's innocent trust and almost desperate need for solace. "I think I bashed my head. When I woke up, there was snow falling on me and I was all alone."
"You didn't see Jericho?" Angela asked.
"I didn't see anybody."
"Do you think he got blown up, too?" Brooklyn wished he could have come up with another, less blunt, way to put it.
Vee shook her head. "He was too far away. And I saw his tracks, going farther into the woods. I didn't try to follow him, though. He didn't hurt me before, not even when I bit him and kicked him "
"Good girl!" Broadway said around a mouthful of bread.
"but after everything else he did, I was afraid. Besides, even if I found him, what could I do? It's not like I could fight him. So I came back to the castle. Aunt Elisa told me over and over that if anything bad ever happened, the first thing I had to do was call the clan and warn you. That's what I did."
"And you did right," Brooklyn said. "We're here now. We'll take care of you." Boy, he hoped he wasn't lying to her and deluding himself.
No one spoke for a while.
"So what now?" Broadway finally asked. "We gotta find him. We gotta stop him."
"Sharp's got a team out in the woods with infrared scopes," Alex said. He tapped a communicator earpiece. "Nothing yet. Violetta, did you notice anything else when you were out there? Anything weird?"
Everyone looked at Alex, eyebrows and brow ridges raised.
"Noooo," Vee said, drawing out the word as if wondering whether the golden-clad man was a nutcase.
Alex tugged at the collar of his battlesuit and offered them a weak grin. "I'm just asking."
Brooklyn exhaled. "I hate it when you of all people ask questions like that. What kind of weird, Alex? Did you notice something?"
"A feeling," he said. "An impression. Nothing coherent. Julian? Anything to add in your educated opinion?"
"Nothing," Julian said.
"You mean magic, then," Amber said.
"I don't know what I mean." Alex swirled his mug, gazing into it as if trying to tell the future with marshmallow fluff instead of tea leaves. "A powerful spell bound Demona and Macbeth to each other. I suppose that when they died, that spell ended, and maybe I'm only sensing the residue of that. I can't say for sure."
"There almost has to be magic involved in Jericho's return," Angela said. "To bring him back here, now? It can't be coincidence."
"No," Brooklyn said. "It can't."
"So how do we find him?" Broadway asked. "I mean, yeah, finding him probably won't be the problem. Like you said, Brook, he'll come to us sooner or later if we wait around and let him. Just between you and me, though, I don't think we should wait around and let him. I think we should get to him first."
"Broadway's absolutely right," Angela said. "If he goes to Manhattan "
Brooklyn held up a hand, palm out. "We won't let him. Look, he must have spent the day holed up in the woods. That means he's out there somewhere. I doubt he would have split for New York right away. He'd want to see what happened here next, what we'd do. He's probably keeping an eye on the place."
Several gazes slid nervously toward the windows.
"He wouldn't attack now, though," Brooklyn went on. "Not with the whole place lit up like a movie premiere and armed guards on every wall. He took them by surprise last night. He won't charge in here when we're ready for him."
"But he's crazy," Broadway said.
"No shit. But he's not stupid, and he's crazy in a crafty-sneaky kind of way. He'll watch for an opportunity, and he'll take it."
"So what do we do?" Amber asked.
He disengaged his arm from Vee and stood up. "We give him that opportunity."
Barbara Mays could only blink, incredulous. At last, she found her voice. "Is he out of his mind? Sharp, you can't let him do this."
"I can't stop him. He's the boss."
"Holy mother of God. Aren't we in enough trouble already? The tour was going so well only a few minor diplomatic wrinkles to smooth over "
"I remember them as being pretty major wrinkles," Sharp said.
"Not of this magnitude! Are we supposed to make things even worse by letting Alexander Xanatos, one of the richest and most well-known men on the planet, get himself killed by that maniac too? What about Brooklyn? The Manhattan clan is the most visible of all, and he's the leader! They're too important to lose! What about Amber? Goliath and Elisa's daughter, the only publicly-known human/gargoyle hybrid. And she's pregnant!"
"Well, at least on that last front, we're good," Sharp said. "Amber's staying behind. Nominally, it's to keep the little girl company, and because of the weather and her condition. Not that she's buying those arguments. But the rest of them insisted, so she's going along with it."
"Good," Barbara said, somewhat mollified. "That's something, anyway."
"Something that won't matter much if they can't do what they're hoping to do."
"It sounds like a plain and simple suicide mission to me," she said tartly. "How hard is it to screw up one of those?"
His grim was without humor. "I'm pretty sure that's not their main objective."
"You can't like this any more than I do, Sharp. How's it going to reflect on you, chief of security-ops, if not only do the two envoys and their hosts and a toddler get butchered, but so does the tour's sponsor? And on your watch?"
"I don't like it. If it was up to me, I'd be out there with them. Me and a full team, armed to the teeth. Or I'd dispense with all the look-and-find crap and launch a spread of foxfire missiles, turn those woods into so much scorched earth. But it isn't up to me."
"They're using themselves as bait!"
"Yeah, that's about what it boils down to."
"Then why not just one --?" She broke off, because Sharp was already shaking his head.
"Wouldn't work," he said. "If just one of them went, he'd know it was a trick because none of them would be dumb enough to go looking for him on their own."
"And we're supposed to sit here and do nothing," she said. "Sit here and wait to see who comes back, and hope to God it's the good guys."
"I have my orders. I hold this castle, and if Jericho comes, I defend this position with everything I've got. If that's not enough, I'm to get Amber and Vee the hell out of here. So I suggest you stick close, Mays."
Half Angela's life had been spent growing up in Avalon's eternal springtime, so while she could appreciate the beauty of winter in the outside world the crystalline sparkle of frost on windowpanes, the way a soft and fluffy white layer softened the city's severe angles she had never fully gotten used to it.
And here, in the woods, it was stranger still. The cold wasn't so bad. The muffling effects it had on sound, and the way it covered and erased scents, those left her feeling unsettled and disoriented. Most of all now, when she needed those senses. Her eyes alone weren't going to be enough.
Alex led the way to the place where Demona and Macbeth's long lives had come to an end. It looked bleak even in the quiet white wonderland.
No. It looked like what it was. A forest clearing, boughs bent under their coatings of snow. Picturesque enough to be on a Christmas card or calendar page. The bleakness came from her own heart.
"They really are dead, aren't they?" She cast about for some hint of Demona's presence, to no avail.
Demona. Her mother. Not that they could claim much of a kin-bond. When she'd first learned of her parentage, Angela had yearned for a connection with them both. She had even been naïve enough to hope that she could mend the rift between them. Bring them back together. If not as mates, then at least as friends.
The more fool, she. All Demona wanted of her offspring was a tool, a possession, a weapon with which to hurt Goliath. Someone to mold in her bent image. Someone to join her in her hateful crusade against the humans.
Well, she'd gotten it. What she wanted and more. More even, maybe, than Demona herself had bargained for.
She'd gotten Jericho.
"Alex?" Brooklyn asked.
Angela turned to look at Alex, who was in the middle of the clearing with his head tipped back, arms held out in front of him with fingers fanned. Eerie green light gloved his hands, almost too faint to see. More spilled from beneath his fluttering eyelids.
"They were here," Alex said in a low, dream-talking voice. "It called them the spell yes called them here."
Broadway looked around uneasily. "Who? Demona? Macbeth?"
"The the sisters. Moonlight becomes them."
"The Weird Sisters?" Brooklyn's lip curled. "Great. Just what we need."
Alex gasped and twitched like someone jolted from a light doze. "No. They're gone now. But they were here. They I think they took custody of the bodies. As if in payment of some final debt. Even Moray. So that he'd be with his parents. That's why there wasn't anything to be found. The Weird Sisters bore them away."
"To Avalon?" Angela suppressed a quick flurry of hope.
"I don't know." Alex glanced inquiringly at Julian, who shrugged and spread his hands to show that he didn't, either.
"Okay, fine," Brooklyn said. "What about Jericho? He's the one we need to worry about right now. He could be spying on us this very second."
"I don't feel watched," Angela said. She turned in a slow circle, scanning the surrounding trees and snow-laden bushes. Briefly, she entertained the idea of shouting to him, to draw him out.
"I still don't get it," Broadway said. "If he's been alive all this time, where's he been? How come we haven't run into him before? He's not exactly the most subtle guy around."
"It doesn't matter." Brooklyn cracked his knuckles, making popping noises like rapid-fire small caliber gunshots. "What matters is finding him, and when we do, I don't think he'll be in the mood to sit down and have a beer and tell us what he's been up to for the past thirty years."
"He would have been over here when the grenade went off," Alex said, moving to one side of the clearing.
"How do you know?" asked Broadway.
"This is where the doctor found the blood pool."
"You mean this is where Moray died," Angela said. "Where Jericho murdered him."
Alex looked pained, but nodded.
"And Vee said she saw some tracks headed off that way." Brooklyn peered into the snow-choked darkness. "Even I can't see much in there."
Bright golden light blossomed around Alex's fist. Magelight, or something built into the suit; Angela supposed it didn't matter. It shed a heatless glow that turned the night into a fantastical kaleidoscope, each snowflake casting its own flicker-spinning shadow.
"Here goes." Brooklyn cinched the straps of his breastplate, and advanced.
They tried to go quietly, but even for practiced hunters, it wasn't entirely possible. Gargoyle talons crunched through icy crusts and snapped fallen branches beneath the snow. Narrow openings between trees meant that their arms or shoulders or wings brushed and caused miniature avalanches as they pushed through. Of the five of them, Julian made the least noise and Angela suspected that it was because sometimes his feet never actually touched the ground. This was, after all, the man that the hatchlings had first seen walking on the surface of a lake.
"Oh, terrific," came her mate's grumble from up ahead. "Alex, do you see that?"
"Yes. Is it fresh?"
"What?" Angela crowded up against Alex's back.
She saw Brooklyn creep tentatively forward, to a patch where the snow had been churned up and splashed with dark crimson. Blood. Blood everywhere, as if a deer had been slain and messily dressed out on this spot. A broken icicle, fully a foot and a half long and its pointed end smeared with gore, was half-buried in a drift.
"It's cold," Brooklyn said, poking a talon into the bloody snow. "Not frozen. Not covered yet. Maybe an hour or two old."
"What's with the icicle?" Broadway picked up the pieces, grimacing as he did so. "Looks like it was used to stab something."
"Or it fell," Angela said, craning her neck to look up.
She saw rows of similar long, thick icicles hanging from stout tree branches, and several stubs where some had broken off. A litter of ice shards lay on the ground, which had a thinner coating of snow beneath the dense canopy. Further in, the old trunks grew close together in a gnarled copse, and the cold earth was bare except for twigs, dead leaves and rocks poking up through the scant topsoil.
Her breath snagged in her throat. She crouched, and pinched up a bit of coarse grey stone. "He was here," she said. "Look at this."
"Tell me it's death-gravel," Brooklyn said.
"It's a fragment of stone skin." She dropped it and rubbed her fingertips on her tunic. Jericho's shed skin. Just touching it made her feel soiled.
Alex came closer, raising his arm to cast his light in a wider radius. "The way these trees are packed together, he could have hidden in here easily enough while he slept and been undetectable."
"Angela's right," Broadway said. "There are flakes and chips of stone skin all over the place. This is where he woke up."
"So where is he now?" Brooklyn asked.
Wrapping her arms and wings about herself in an effort to ward off a chill that had nothing to do with the icy wind whistling through the trees, Angela turned. That feeling she hadn't had before that feeling of being watched did she have it now? Or was she imagining things?
The golden glow from Alex's hand made dozens of tiny, glittering suns in the hanging array of icicles. It illuminated the places where bark had been stripped away to the raw white wood in ragged, furious claw marks.
It reflected twin flat and deadly shines from the eyes that looked back at her through a gap in the trees.
Angela couldn't move. She might have been locking stares with a basilisk. His name clanged in her mind like a bell and she wanted to shriek it, wanted to cry a warning, wanted to curse at him with the vilest language she knew. But she stood paralyzed, unable to speak, unable to breathe.
She could see his face. The azure skin and angular features, a harder masculine version of their mother's. His hair spilled over his brow ridges in wild, unkempt scarlet tangles.
"Hello, Angela," he said. "Are you here to finish me, sweet sister?"
The scream exploded from her lungs, and she staggered back already raising her arms in what she knew was a futile attempt at defending her life.
Brooklyn whirled and lunged before the first peals of hit mate's cries even reached the treetops. Thoughts flashed through his mind, lightning-quick, berating himself for being a hundred different kinds of fool.
Somehow, even with everything else that had happened, he hadn't really believed or let himself believe or wanted to believe that Jericho would still be in the vicinity. The monster, having struck, would have moved on. Like any other tornado or wildfire or natural disaster.
But sure enough, there he was, there the vile bastard was!
And they, like a trusting bunch of idiots, had walked right into him! Right into his trap! He'd been laying for them, waiting, just knowing they would make his deadly work easier by handing themselves over on a silver platter!
Not if he could help it.
Angela reeled backward, fell. Her screaming cut off in a grunt as she hit the ground. Dead? Alive? Injured? Stunned? Brooklyn didn't know. Couldn't stop to check. He sprang over her and wrenched branches apart, shredding them. Splinters and chunks flew like shrapnel. Behind them, in the shelter of the clustered copse, was Jericho.
Fleeting disorientation walloped Brooklyn. He looked the same. He looked exactly the same.
Thirty years had gone by since Devil's Night, leaving all of them older if not necessarily wiser. But Jericho was still identical to the image that dwelled in the deepest corners of Brooklyn's worst nightmares.
And it was Jericho. Of that, he had no doubt. This was no illusion, no magic trick, no shapechanger or demon glamour. This was the murdering, mother-fucking egg thief himself!
Raging incoherently, roaring, eyes supernova-bright, Brooklyn shot out both arms and seized Jericho. By the belt, by one wing strut, half-turn and heave with a strength that felt ten times greater than usual. Great enough, anyway, to launch the much-heavier male through the air like a flipped coin.
Jericho slammed facedown next to Angela who, Brooklyn saw with intense relief, was winded but alive, and scrambling out of the way. The earth shook. The vibration harvested a dumping of snow from the upper boughs, pasting them all.
Before Jericho could even begin to push himself upright, Brooklyn was on him again. He felt engulfed in a berserker fury, and welcomed it. His talons sank deep into coarse red hair, gouging at Jericho's scalp. He yanked. Jericho's head bent back. Bones creaked.
One good hard snapping twist, and
A tail coiled around his ankle. A large, strong wing buffeting at him, even as the tail jerked his leg out from under him.
Brooklyn lost balance, lost his hold. He tottered sideways and his shoulder collided with a tree. Pain burst in the socket. More snow thumped down. His claws were wet with blood and caked with hair.
He was half-aware of other activity going on around him. Angela, Alex, Julian, Broadway. Of them all, his best view was of Alex, who stood in the pose of someone listening to distant music only he could hear. It didn't matter. What mattered was Jericho, now on his feet again, chest heaving in slow, snarling breaths like a bull about to charge.
"You think you can hurt me?" He laughed, a lunatic laugh if ever there was one. "You honestly think there's anything you can do to me that is worse than what I'm already suffering?"
"I'm willing to give it a try," Brooklyn said.
Jericho laughed again. "Go ahead, then! Kill me, if you can. I acknowledge, I deserve it!"
"Damn right you do," Broadway yelled. "You killed Elisa! And Goliath!"
"Yes." A strange, uncertain expression crossed his face. "It wasn't even intentional."
"Liar!" Angela flung herself at him, all bloodfire eyes and whipping tail.
"Angela, no!" Brooklyn dove, tackled. His shoulder felt like a mortar and pestle grinding broken glass. More pain stabbed down his arm.
"But it wasn't," Jericho said. His gaze had taken on a faraway look, and his voice had gone softer, almost husky with what sounded eerily like genuine remorse. "In my way, I respected that woman. Even admired her. She was never my enemy."
"You killed her!" Broadway threw a haymaker. His fist met Jericho's chin.
There was a noise like a stout plank being cracked in half. A gout of blood and a couple of teeth sprayed out. Jericho was driven back against a boulder. His jaw hung askew at a weird angle.
Angela tore free of Brooklyn. He tried to hold her and there was a bone-deep pop in his shoulder. His arm went limp, dislocated and useless. He ground his teeth.
"Our father! Our mother!" she screeched, shoving Broadway aside as she descended on Jericho. "Even an innocent little boy who never did anything to you!"
Warm hands touched Brooklyn's crippled arm, warm hands that felt wreathed in clean white fire consuming the pain. "Here," Julian said. "Let me help."
"I never wanted it to be like this," Jericho said, the words mushy, bubbling. "You know, Angela, you have to know I only did it for her sake."
"For her sake?!" So high-pitched that bats would have dropped dead out of the sky. She grabbed him by the upper arms, claws puncturing holes in his skin, and bashed him against the boulder.
Jericho's skewed face grimaced as one wing strut broke. "I love her," he said, tears welling. "I only meant to set her free."
A piercing, inarticulate shriek was Angela's reply. She tore at Jericho in a frenzy that made Broadway pause and gape at her in wide-eyed astonishment. Blood spattered over the snow, over the rocks, over the tree trunks.
At last, panting, she stepped back to survey her handiwork. Jericho lay sprawled at the base of the boulder. He was more red than blue now, his torso a mess of lacerations that crossed every which way. His wing membranes were in tatters. One eye was an oozing bulge.
"Angela?" Brooklyn, his shoulder back in place and his arm restored to perfect working order, went to her. "Are you hurt?"
Much of her hair had come loose from its customary double-ponytail, hanging around her face in disheveled strings. She was stippled with blood from head to toe. Drenched in it to past the elbows. But there wasn't a mark on her, not anywhere. Not so much as a scratch.
"He didn't fight back," Broadway said. He squinted at Jericho's motionless body. "If he's dead, how come --?"
"Dead?" Jericho's good eye peeled open and looked at them. His voice was mushier and more garbled than ever. Like a clogged drain that was trying to talk. "No such luck."
One arm flailed up, clawed for a handhold on the boulder. He pulled himself into a half-sitting position, one wing dragging. His movements were accompanied by gruesome noises, squelchings and poppings. They were sounds reminiscent of a slobbering dog working on a particularly tough and gristly chunk of meat.
Angela's battle-frenzy had burnt itself out, and now she was weeping. "Won't you ever stop? Won't you ever just die and leave us alone?"
"She was my life." Jericho got as far as his knees, then slumped over in a posture of abject defeat that Brooklyn didn't buy for one second. "She was everything to me, Angela, you know that. All I ever did, I did for her. All I ever wanted was her love."
"Don't fall for it," Broadway said.
"Don't worry." Brooklyn spoke grimly. "I'm not."
"What, so now we're supposed to feel sorry for you?" Angela was crying harder than ever. "You're the big victim here? Oh, boo-hoo, poor Jericho, he killed his own mommy and now he has no reason to live!"
He raised his head. One of his ears had nearly been severed, flaps of skin and cartilage dangling beside his jaw. "That's it exactly. I failed. I failed her, I failed Antigone, I failed them both. I thought I could release her from Bluestone's spell. It might hurt, the way salt in a wound hurt, but the salt is the cleansing. The hurt is the healing."
"Careful," Broadway whispered to Brooklyn. "He looks like crap, but I bet he's not half as injured as he wants us to think."
"Yeah." He itched to pull Angela away from there, but understood that she felt this was something she had to do. Like it or not, Jericho was her brother, and there were still scores left unsettled between them. Matters left unresolved. Things that needed to be said, even if none of it was going to make any difference. "I'm ready for him."
"How could you ever expect her to love you?" Angela regarded the blood all over her with a shudder of revulsion. "You murdered her son!"
"I am her son! The boy was a lie! All of it was a lie! Bluestone's spell raped her of her soul, and Macbeth took advantage of it. In her right mind, she never would have wanted a half-human whelp! She would have killed him herself if she had any idea what had been done to her! She loved me, me!"
"She killed herself to get away from you!" Angela flung in his face. "She died hating you!"
His anger brought him to his feet again, eyes afire, wings at full extension. "Don't you ever say that! Not ever!"
Brooklyn didn't pause to think. He swept Angela aside, tossing her at Broadway, and caught with one forearm the swipe that had been aimed at his mate. Jericho's claws carved through flesh, scraping against bone. Then they were toe-to-toe, grappling, growling from the depths of their chests. He could almost smell the stink of madness on Jericho, mingled with the reeking charnel stench of blood.
Thirty years ago, it would have been no contest. Jericho had size and strength on him, not to mention insanity. Jericho had posed a real challenge to even Goliath when they'd met in combat. Brooklyn, slighter of build, more wiry than bulky, never would have stood a chance. He lacked Broadway's mass, Lex's speed, Jake's raptor claws, Damien's lethal blades.
But Brooklyn was older now, cannier, and not as noble as Goliath. He had spent a lot of time serving as sparring partner to Fox and to Birdie when they'd been in their kickboxing phase. The most important lesson he'd learned from those two was the one he employed now.
Fair fighting was for saps.
His knee came up with all the force he could muster. Textbook groin shot. With the extra added bonus of his knee-spur.
It was a disgustingly disturbing sensation, that of softer tissues mushing and rupturing before the solid jarring impact of his kneecap into the underside of Jericho's pelvis.
Disgusting, disturbing, and one of the most satisfying things he had ever done in his entire life.
A choked gurgle came from Jericho's gaping mouth. He immediately lost all interest in twisting Brooklyn's head off his neckstem. Simultaneously tottering backward and bending double, he clutched with one hand at his loincloth while the other made helpless agonized fist-clenching spasms in mid-air.
"I've been wanting to do that for thirty-five years," Brooklyn said. He followed it up with a spinning tail strike, knocking Jericho's legs out from under him.
As he crashed down, stunned, Brooklyn jumped on him. He didn't flail away wildly. Each punch was as deliberate and well-placed as that of any trained boxer. Each punch had all of his strength and his body weight behind it. His fists hammered into Jericho. Hard enough to cave in ribs, and bruise organs.
A time or two, Jericho raised his arms in defense, but Brooklyn effortlessly batted them away. He was conscious of his own savage, bestial growls conscious of the others standing back in shock from the viciousness of the beating. None of them intervened. Not Angela, not even Julian. When Jericho's nose crunched like a nutshell, gushing blood, Broadway gave a bark of approval.
Jericho had managed to twist onto his back. Brooklyn knelt on him, weight braced on the inside of his elbows to hold him down. Then, almost as if of their own accord, his hands locked tight around Jericho's neck. He squeezed. Squeezed harder, as Jericho struggled and thrashed.
Squeezed harder still. Felt a crumpling give as Jericho's windpipe collapsed under his thumbs.
The hateful blue face below him turned even bluer, then purple. Jericho's eyes protruded. His jaw ground and clacked as he bit uselessly at the air, like he was trying to take bites of it since he could no longer breathe it in. His wings and tail beat at the ground, churning up the muddy, bloody snow. He kicked, bucked.
How much fight was there left in this crazy fucker? Jericho's wrists flexed, bringing his claws to rip at Brooklyn's calves and ankles, but he could barely inflict more than a few shallow scratches with his arms trapped.
Then, suddenly, Alex was there, bending into Brooklyn's line of sight.
"Brooklyn, stop," he said. "Not this way. You can't kill him."
"You can't kill him!"
With that, Alex grabbed Brooklyn and dragged him off of Jericho. Brooklyn was amazed and incensed, and in the back of his mind impressed by the latest upgrades to Alex's battlesuit. But mostly, he was incensed.
"Goddammit, Alex!" he roared. "I'd expect that kind of soft-heartedness from Aiden, or Elektra but not from you! What do you mean, I can't kill him? After everything he's done, and because of everything he will do if we don't take care of this right here and right now, you can't possibly expect us to forgive him or redeem him or any of that kind of garbage!"
Alex drew, aimed and fired with a gunslinger speed that Elisa would have been proud of.
Jericho, who had begun to sit up, gagging and sucking thin whistles of air, pitched over onto his back with a huge smoking hole between his brow ridges and his hairline.
Silence fell. No one moved, no one spoke. They stood and watched and waited.
The body did not stiffen into stone, or fall apart into death-gravel. After several seconds, Jericho's chest hitched. His claws twitched. His eyes opened.
"Jalapena," Broadway murmured.
Brooklyn looked with thunderstruck comprehension at Alex, who gave a grim nod as he put his weapon away.
"I meant it literally," Alex said.
"Well then what do we do with him?" Amber asked, when she had digested everything they'd told her.
Initially, she had been bitterly indignant and resentful at being made to stay with Vee. Alex was jumping at shadows with all that stuff about destiny and patterns, she was sure of that. Okay, so maybe the other reasons were pretty inarguably valid she did have Daga and Zaza's grandkid to think about, and couldn't deny that the combination of weight gain, distended center of balance and helter-skelter hormones weren't exactly great for her combat skills. Still, they didn't have to leave her here. Under the hawkeyed watch of Sharp and his personnel, especially.
She changed her tune when she'd seen them returning. Covered with blood, looking shell-shocked. None of them were hurt thanks to her Julian, she supposed but they hadn't been anywhere near all right, either.
The answer for that was readily apparent. Jericho. Brought back with them, secured in so many wards and immobilization spells that he was damn near unrecognizable through the eerie greenish glow of Alex's magic.
But it was Jericho, all right. She had been too young to remember him from before hadn't even met him in person, not that she could recall. She'd seen pictures, though.
"Even if we could kill him," Broadway said, scuffing his toes on the carpet and taking a sidelong glance at Violetta, as if worried she might hear something not meant for hatchling ears, "it wouldn't feel right, you know, just in cold blood and everything."
"Yes, it would." Brooklyn cracked his knuckles again. "The humans do it all the time. They call it execution. They call it the death penalty."
"They also have these things called judges, and juries, and trials," Alex said.
"This from the guy who shot him point-blank in the head," said Brooklyn. "Hate to burst your bubble, Alex-old-buddy, but we kind of have a long history of bending the law."
Amber made the time-out gesture at them. "It's a moot point anyway, if you're right about him. Are you sure, Alex? He's immortal?"
"I read it in the energies woven through his aura," Alex said. "It wasn't easy. But he's under the effect of some kind of spell. Something big, and complicated. Not sorcery, not Avalonian magic. I'm not sure exactly what it is."
"But you can break it," Angela said.
Alex chewed at his lip, and raised his eyebrows at her.
"You can't break it?"
"Maybe," he said, without a lot of conviction.
"If it's a spell," Broadway said, "there's got to be a counterspell, right? Isn't that the way it works?"
"Most spells are designed with some sort of condition in mind," Alex acknowledged. "Like the one that woke you when my father raised the castle above the clouds."
"Sure, or the time Demona turned all the humans to stone, and we had to set the sky on fire," Broadway said, nodding happily. "So we just have to find out what it is, and make it happen. Spell ends, and abracadabra, he's normal."
"He'll never be normal," Angela said, her voice hard and cold.
"Mortal, then. Like in that old mummy movie Birdie liked so much, remember?"
"Yeah," Brooklyn said. "And then we can kill him."
"How do we find out?" Alex asked. "We don't know who cast it, or what grimorum it came from, or anything. Somehow, I have the feeling that Jericho isn't going to be very eager to tell us."
"Do we have to kill him?" Amber saw Brooklyn bristle, and hastened to continue. "I'm not saying I'm against it. I'm just wondering what other options we have. Couldn't we lock him up, or I don't know."
Alex leaned back, stretching out his legs and regarding the rough-timbered ceiling of the hall. "If there is one thing to be learned from all those old movies Birdie liked so much, it's that you can't solve a problem that way. What happens in all those movies when an unkillable menace gets locked away presumably forever?"
"Eventually, they get out," Brooklyn said. "And they're even more pissed."
"Then it's kneel-before-Zod time," said Broadway.
"Same thing with certain items," Alex went on. "Throw it in the sea, give it to a dragon to protect, secure it in a dungeon guarded by traps and monsters of all description doesn't matter. Sooner or later, someone will come along and find it. If we tried that with Jericho I admit, it'd be possible, even easy enough all we'd be doing is delaying."
"I don't see what's so bad about that," Angela said.
"Okay " Alex looked at her. "Say that we do. Say that I seal him in a blob of amber, like what happened to Amber. A thousand or so years later, say he gets out one way or another. Which he will, because they always do. What then? Then, he's unleashed on a world full of people who have no idea what they're dealing with, or how to handle it. Would you want your grandchildren's grandchildren to suddenly find themselves up against Jericho?"
"No!" She hugged herself. "We couldn't do that to them!"
"Right," he said. "I'm not the sort of person to do something for my convenience that will have dire consequences for some future generation. There's enough of that in the world today as is."
"That's Jericho, the nuclear waste of gargoyle kind," Brooklyn grumbled.
Amber counted off on her fingers as she spoke. "So we can't kill him, we can't lock him up, we can't put him under a spell, and we're fairly sure that making peace with him is totally out of the question even if we wanted to. What can we do?"
Alex eyed Julian speculatively. "Could he be healed?"
"He's not sick."
"He is so!" Broadway said. "Sick in the head!"
"It isn't quite the same," Julian said. "Some mental illnesses do have neurological or other physical causes. What besets Jericho is entirely an affliction of the emotions and the soul. I cannot heal him of that."
"But that is all that's wrong with him?" asked Brooklyn.
"Isn't that enough?" Angela cried.
"I mean, there's nothing else going on there. He did fall into Hell, remember?"
"There is a vestige of that darkest power clinging to him, but it is not what you're thinking. Damien was, for want of a better word, possessed. Jericho is not. His demons are all of a much more earthly variety."
"So he can't be healed, either." Amber ticked off the last finger on that hand, then drummed them on her knee.
"What if we sent him someplace else?" Broadway suggested. "Like to Avalon, or that world Jake came from?"
"Same problem," Alex said. "He might come back, and I don't want to foist our troubles off onto anyone else. None of those options are sure enough."
"We could ask Orpheus," Amber said. "His talent worked on Demona, didn't it? Maybe he could "
"Bad idea," Brooklyn interrupted. "Orph is the one Jericho blames for what happened to Demona. I don't know how he knows that, but he does. He'd probably stab out his own eardrums before he'd give Orph a chance to sing at him."
"We shouldn't let Orph near him anyway," Broadway said. "None of us are safe with Jericho on the loose, but if anybody's really got a target on them, it's got to be Orph."
"Okay, so we can't send him somewhere else, and we can't ask Orpheus." Amber switched hands and counted off a sixth finger, then a seventh. "This isn't looking so good, guys."
"No," Alex said. "Not so good, at all."
"Good old Macbeth," Brooklyn said as the outer door swung open. "You can always trust him to have a state-of-the-art dungeon. I see he's made a few improvements to the basic design, after the time Lex and I enjoyed his hospitality. Alex, are you sure you should be doing this?"
"Of course I'm not. But I have to try. Until we know more, we can't hope to think of a solution."
"I'm coming with you, then."
Alex laid a hand on Brooklyn's arm. "That would be a very bad idea, my friend."
"As bad as letting you go down there by yourself?"
"Worse. I doubt you were one of his favorite people even before tonight. Having you there would only antagonize him further. Face it, Brooklyn. I have to be the one to talk to him. He doesn't have a history with me, and the rest of you don't know enough about magic to ask the necessary questions."
He could tell that Brooklyn wasn't happy with that, but could also tell that Brooklyn knew he was right. It really was the only way.
"Okay," Brooklyn said, scowling. "But I'm staying just on the other side of this door, and if it all goes wrong, I'm charging in."
"I wouldn't expect anything less."
A short, wide flight of stone steps made a shallow curve descending to the floor of Castle Lachlan's dungeon. Having grown up in a transplanted Scottish castle, Alex had gone through a phase as a kid when he'd been fascinated to the point of obsession with medieval architecture. He supposed that when this one had been brought over, these underground chambers had been included to serve as a wine cellar or cold pantry not an actual dungeon. But once Macbeth had taken up residence, he'd gone ahead and done a bit of renovation.
It wasn't a torture chamber or anything like that. Macbeth, by all Alex knew of him, hadn't been that sort of a man. Imprison a foe, yes. Sometimes one had to be prepared for such a contingency. Cells and cages, locks and manacles, electrified bars, closed-circuit cameras, the works.
Only one of the cages was occupied. The largest and strongest cage in the room. And just in case, Jericho's ankles were secured in massive leg-irons, and his hands were sealed in front of him in a metal restraint ball specifically designed to withstand the efforts of even the most powerful gargoyle.
This particular powerful gargoyle sat slouched with his knees drawn up, and the heavy metal ball resting on the floor in front of the bar of the leg-irons. His head hung down, chin to chest, hair obscuring his face.
Jericho stirred as Alex's footfalls echoed across the flagstone floor. The wards and binding spells no longer held him, though of course they could be woven back into being if the need arose.
A day had not passed, but even without the incredible healing factor of stone sleep, Jericho's wounds had all knitted up. His skin, a dusky twilight-blue in the dim lighting, showed only a few faint, older scars. The tattered scraps of wing and ear were restored. His jaw was back in place, his nose was straight, and both eyes glinted up at Alex as he raised his head.
"Hello, Jericho. I'm Alexander Xanatos."
"I know who you are."
"Do you know why I'm here?"
A bitter, ironic smile twisted Jericho's lips. "You're wondering what to do with me now that you've caught me."
"It's kind of a problem," Alex said, scratching his beard. "I'm sure you know why."
"You cannot kill me," Jericho said. "Neither can you let me go, for fear of the havoc I might wreak upon your clan and your world. Is that correct?"
"That's what it comes down to."
"Your fear is unfounded."
Alex raised an eyebrow, silently inviting him to go on.
Jericho sighed. His gaze was bleak, his shoulders drooping. "None of you understand, do you? None of you ever did. I lived for her. Without her, I am nothing. I have nothing to live for."
"They say the most dangerous foes are the ones with nothing left to lose."
"What of the ones with nothing left to gain? What is there for me, now?"
"How about revenge?"
"Revenge?" He scoffed, without much interest. "To what end? It would not change, it would not undo. No amount of revenge would bring her back. If I thought it might, then yes, Alexander Xanatos, I would wade through a lake of blood both human and gargoyle alike if I had to. But it will not. She is gone. She is she is dead."
"You want to die, too, don't you?" Alex asked in sudden comprehension. "You weren't daring Angela and Brooklyn to try and kill you you were hoping that they'd be able to do it."
"Since I was unable to do it myself," Jericho agreed. "I've tried. Oh, I've tried. I opened my wrists with my claws and watched as the veins closed before my very eyes. I arranged myself so that dawn would catch me in a precarious pose, hurtling my stone body to the ground and shattering it, only to awaken as fit as ever. I pierced my chest with a blade of pure ice I felt my impaled heart's faltering throb around it and still, I would not die."
Alex remembered what Violetta had told them. Elisa had shot Jericho. Macbeth had shot Jericho. They'd listened to her and made the erroneous assumption that he'd been only nicked, grazed. No. Alex was willing to bet a year's Xanatos Enterprises profits that both shots had been fatal. Or should have been.
"So, I ask you," Jericho said, "what use would it be for me to seek revenge? Would it ease my pain to rend the living flesh from Orpheus Bluestone's bones? No, because the pain would still be there. With her gone, the pain will always be there."
"And that's what you meant when you told Brooklyn that nothing he could do to you would be worse than what you were already suffering," Alex said.
Jericho slowly nodded. "I doubt he'd see it so, but killing me would be the greatest of all kindnesses."
"While letting you live, with the knowledge that you destroyed the very thing you held most dear, would be the cruelest thing imaginable."
"I only wanted to save her." His voice was hoarse and thick, his eyes glimmering. "I love her with all that I am. She was my life, and my life was hers. How am I to go on without her?"
Alex took a long, deep, careful breath. Somehow, he couldn't quite think of a good way to formulate his offer hey, Jer, we could do each other a favor here, solve both our problems all ya gotta do is tell me how to kill you, and I'll take care of it! Yeah. That'd go over well.
"I believe you," he said at last. "I wish there was something I could do, but frankly, Jericho, the situation's still the same. Even if you're not a danger to my clan, my castle, my city and my world right now, who's to say it will stay that way?"
"Is it some promise, some pledge, some oath of honor you seek from me, Xanatos? Am I to plead with you for my freedom? I care not. Do what you will. Whether I am locked away for all eternity, or released to go my own way, it makes no difference. I carry my own prison with me, a prison of my own making." He let his head fall again.
Alex stood watching him in silence for several minutes. When Jericho still did not move, he finally turned and headed for the door.
"This is fucking surreal," Brooklyn said, pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off a serious headache.
They had just finished replaying Alex's interview with Jericho, as captured on the dungeon security cameras.
"Yeah," Broadway said. "I could almost feel sorry for him. I never thought I could ever, ever feel sorry for Jericho."
"But what do we do?" Amber asked.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Alex paced. "You know, my father would be trying to find a way to turn this to his advantage. He always hated wasting resources, hated throwing anything away that might still turn out to be useful."
"Yeah?" Brooklyn eyeballed him. "But your father had a longstanding tradition of being an opportunistic mercenary scumball."
"Very true. Besides, I don't think it matters in this case. I was in there with him. I don't think he was faking. His apathy, his despair you saw him, you heard his voice. But it was in his aura, too. It was genuine."
"He's broken," Broadway said. "He's done."
"That doesn't mean he's no longer a threat," Angela said. "Alex was right. He may feel that way now, but who's to say he won't get over it in the future? Who's to say he won't come back worse than ever? What are we supposed to do? Welcome him into the clan with open arms? Give him another chance?"
"No way," Brooklyn said at once.
"I refuse to accept that there's no answer." Alex resumed pacing. "Nothing is seamless. Everything's got a loophole. It's the way the world works. All we have to do is find that loophole."
"Spoken like a true Xanatos," Amber said, with a half-smile.
"Every spell has a counterspell. Every contract has fine print. It just requires a little creativity. A little what did they use to call it? A little thinking outside the box."
"He didn't exactly volunteer the details of the spell," Broadway said. "What's he gonna say? Hey, guys, want to know how to kill me? I don't think so."
"If I just knew who cast it " mused Alex. "If I could get to Avalon "
"Hey," Brooklyn said. "Speaking of Avalon, that reminds me. You said the way there was closed off. Has been for years. Right? That's why, when we went to find Amber, we had to take the scenic route through Jake's reality."
"Right." Alex spoke absently, as if his mind was miles or dimensions away.
"But you picked up residue from the Weird Sisters' magic, didn't you?"
"Riiiiight," Alex said, drawing the word out, a speculative crease forming in his brow.
"So, Mr. Wizard, explain that. Could it have been them?"
"Let me think about this." Alex dropped into a chair, steepling his fingers in front of his chin. His eyes closed. "The Sisters were here. I don't know how, since the way to Avalon is still blocked. But they were. I sensed their magic. The spell I detected on Jericho did not feel like theirs, though. And why they'd cast it in the first place "
"There must be some way to find out," Angela said.
"There is." Alex stood up fast. "I'll ask them."
A few minutes later, they were scrambling to keep up with him as he tromped out into the snowy woods. It was well past midnight, the clouds high and spitting granular ice pellets, the air bitingly cold.
Amber and Vee insisted on coming along this time. So did Sharp, who struggled into a hastily-grabbed parka as he saw the boss heading purposefully out the door.
Thanks to their earlier exertions, the area looked more like a battlefield than ever. Blood splashes frozen into ruby-crystal, broken branches everywhere.
Alex stopped squarely on the spot where Demona and Macbeth had died, the spot he'd gotten all weird over the magic. He motioned for the rest of them to hang back in a loose circle. Tracing arcane patterns with both hands, leaving streaky after-images of greenish energy, he whispered some sort of incantation that Brooklyn couldn't quite make out.
Ribbons of sparkling green-gold spun out around him, then twirled into a foggy cyclone rising in a funnel above the clearing. The falling sleet was sent veering off-course, as if caught up in a sudden strong wind.
Sharp's mouth hung open, his breath billowing out in a white plume. He held a plasma rifle in gloveless hands that probably already felt like blocks of ice, but just let it hang there at the ends of his arms as he goggled at the spectacle forming before them.
A misty-bright ball of radiance, like a will-o-the-wisp, formed in the cone of the magical tornado. It swelled, expanded, and divided into three sylphlike forms. These floated up and out as the ribbons of energy dissolved. As they neared the ground, they took on clearer shape and solidified, and then the Weird Sisters stood atop the snow without sinking in.
They were just as Brooklyn remembered them. Coolly beautiful, unearthly. Identical except for the colors of their hair. Silver-white, ebony-black and pale-gold tresses flowed down over the shoulders of their matching blue gowns.
"Greetings, Alexander," the black-haired one said. "Heir of Avalon, and father of the heir thereafter."
"Greetings, Julian," the white-haired one said. "Heir of "
"Stop right there," Alex said. "We are not going to do this. Got it?"
The blonde inclined her head. "Why have you summoned us, favored of Titania?"
"I want to know what you're doing here. How did you get here from Avalon? The way is closed."
"We were not on fair Avalon," the brunette said. Anger narrowed her eyes. "We have been kept from our home these many years, driven hence by Lord Oberon's judgment."
"The bodies of three mortals housed us," the white-haired one said. "Only the union of our two charges restored us to our power."
The blonde one nodded. "Once, we were left as guardians of Avalon's gates while the rest of our kind were exiled here. Now our folk enjoy the isle's wonders, and we are unable to return."
"What were you doing here, last night?" Alex asked.
"We came to pay our final tribute to those who were, almost, as children to us," the white-haired one said. "And to their own child, whose light was so untimely snuffed."
"They're really dead, then?" Angela asked, ignoring Alex's stern look.
"Their story is done," the white-haired one said. All three of them looked briefly saddened, then returned their attention to Alex.
"Tell me about Jericho. Why did you cast a spell of immortality on him?"
"We did no such thing!" snapped the brunette. "He was the author of that tragedy! Now he, the fool, has sealed his own fate. Forever!"
Her laughter was like the ringing of crystal chimes. "Nothing good ever comes of making deals with the devil, Alexander Xanatos. As your own father learned, to his sorrow."
"Leave my parents out of this and stick to the subject," he said.
"The one called Jericho," said the blonde, "will live an eternity with nothing to live for, and yet, if he did have something to live for, he would be able to die."
"Leave the cryptic riddles out of this, too."
They rolled their eyes, as if Alex had no sense of humor.
"A bargain was struck," the white-haired one said. "So strong was his love "
"And what love stronger than that of a dutiful son for his dear, dear mother?" the brunette added with a malicious smile.
"that he swore by his very soul he should live forever, unless and until she herself raised hand to end his life."
"Oh, you're shitting me!" Brooklyn burst in, earning a look of his own from Alex. "You're not saying that he can't die unless Demona kills him! Are you?"
"We are," the three said in ghostly chorus.
"But but Demona's dead," Broadway said.
Alex cursed. "That," he said, "is really, really going to complicate things."
He couldn't suppress a satisfied grin as the Weird Sisters disappeared, leaving the rest of them standing in the snow. "That went well, don't you think?"
His captive said nothing. Of course, his captive wasn't allowed to speak. That would spoil some of the fun.
There was a time and a place for those conversations, naturally. Sometimes it was amusing to hear them plead, or threaten, or tell him he was a bastard. Mostly, though, it was boring. Repetitive. Nothing he hadn't heard a thousand times before. It got old fast.
So, when he wasn't in the mood for listening to it, he shut them up. That way, he didn't have to worry about interruptions.
The captive had to settle for glaring hot sparks at him.
"My, my," he said. "If looks could kill! Well, in fairness, even if looks could kill, it wouldn't do much good against me, now, would it? One of the many perks of immortality. It takes a little more than a mere look. As poor Jericho has discovered. What do you think they'll do with him now?"
Hot sparks. Hot glaring death sparks.
"If it was me," he said thoughtfully, "I'd turn him over to the clan for a while. Let them rip him to shreds, again and again. Let them maim and mutilate him in endless inventive ways. Let them kill him over and over as he has no choice but to take it, unable to die. But that'd be a touch mean for their tastes, don't you agree?"
The hot-spark-glaring eyes shifted away, as if his captive was too furious to even look at him anymore.
He chuckled. "Young Alexander will have his work cut out for him, I think. He has no idea what he's getting himself into. Best of all, he earnestly believes he's doing the right thing. He won't realize it's all a smokescreen until far, far too late."
The glare shifted back to him, and he could almost feel the smolder. As if a magnifying glass concentrated the sun's rays, searing into his skin.
"Such a decent, noble, upstanding young man, that Alexander. It's astonishing, really, considering his bloodline. Astonishing, and more than a little disappointing. When I think what he could have become ah, well. He'll get there. He's already on that path. He just doesn't know it yet."
His captive's entire body strained forward, for all the good that did.
"I wonder how many of the gargoyles will die before he figures it out? What do you think? Care to place a wager? Oh, that's right. You only like to gamble when you know the odds are outrageously in your favor. And with me, well, the house always wins."
If that glare got much hotter, his captive's eyeballs might just spontaneously combust. Which would be amusing, but inconvenient. The show wasn't over yet. It would lose a lot if the audience could only hear each new development.
He let the scene fade, and settled back into a comfortable position. He put his feet up, steepled his fingers, and grinned again. "Everything's going according to plan."
To be continued