Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are
the property of Disney and are used here without their creators'
knowledge or permission. 20,200 words. February 2007. Strong language and violence.
|"You wonder why I am doing this?" He chuckled. "Why else?
I'm tired of being a prisoner here. Alexander can set me free. Perhaps
he can do it."
"He won't cooperate."
"Won't he? We're talking about someone who dearly loved, and desperately misses, his family. He'd do anything, make any sacrifice, if he thought it would get him his father back." He did the classic villain chin-stroke along his grey-streaked brown beard. His dark eyes glinted with sardonic amusement. "And I must say, since Alex gave in and grew a beard of his own, there's an even more striking family resemblance. Good-looking young man. Successful, talented, brilliant."
"And you want to destroy him."
"I don't want to destroy him."
"But you will."
"If I have to."
"He's a good person!"
"Unlike either of his parents?" He chuckled. "There's no room for sentimentality when you're dealing with events of this magnitude. Sacrifices must be made. Distasteful things must sometimes be done. You must understand that."
"Havent you done enough? Aren't you satisfied with the power you already have?"
"In a word, no. Not that this is about power. This is about revenge."
"Revenge on who?"
He shook his head, his smile at once cruel and condescending. "The entire world, who else?"
"Oh. I see. This is one of those if-I-can't-have-it-no-one-will speeches, isn't it? You didn't get what you wanted, so now you have to spoil it for everyone else. Like a sulky, spoiled little boy."
"Are you trying to hurt my feelings?" he asked, affecting a wounded tone. "That's not very nice."
"I'm not a nice person."
"No. What you are is sadly, sadly out of your league. You have no comprehension of what you're dealing with here."
"I think that's a line from a movie."
"So what if it is? You know what I mean. And now you're just grasping at straws. Logic didn't work, hurting my feelings didn't work, insulting me won't work either. You must really be out of ideas if you're reduced to that."
"All right what would it take?"
"Ah, and now we come to the begging-and-bargaining portion of our show!" he said, delighted. "You don't actually believe I'd change my mind just because you said please, do you? And what would you bargain with? You have nothing to bring to the table. Certainly nothing that's worth my freedom and my revenge."
"Someone will stop you!"
"Threats!" he said, even more delighted. "Who? Alexander? He'll welcome me with open arms and you know it. Goliath or Elisa might have been suspicious, but they are dead."
"The rest of the clan "
"Don't make me laugh. The rest of the clan under Brooklyn?"
"The Illuminati, then "
He made a scornful noise. "Please. The Illuminati! Ooh, I'm shivering."
"Save your breath. Face it, you've got nothing. I've won. I always win. Sometimes it takes a while, that's all. But in the end, I always win." He examined his reflection, stroking his beard again and adjusting the lapels of his sharp black suit. "David Xanatos, you handsome devil, you!"
"I'd feel better if we had him in Castle Wyvern's dungeons," Alexander Xanatos said, sighing. "But I don't want him within three hundred miles Manhattan, if I can help it."
"Yeah," Brooklyn said. "I know what you mean. We're just lucky that Macbeth was still a paranoid old fart. He improved his security systems since the last time I had to bust out of one of his cells. Hopefully, it'll be enough."
"It should be," Alex said. "Jericho does seem to have lost his will to fight."
"You better not be going soft on me, Alex."
"Didn't I say, ten seconds ago, that I wished we could lock him up in my dungeon? Don't worry, Brooklyn. I'm not about to suggest that we let him go, or take it easy on him. I haven't forgotten who he is and what he's done."
Brooklyn blew out a breath and raked his talons through his long white mane. "I know. Sorry. This is all so "
"Yeah," Alex said heavily. "It's a mess, all right."
"I was going to say 'fucked,'" Brooklyn said.
"Yes, but you've always been a gutter-mouth." Alex managed a wan smile, then left off the attempt at their usual banter. It was feeble and half-hearted, and they both knew it.
The snow-covered grounds of Castle Lachlan below their rampart vantage point were still bustling with activity. Sharp's people patrolled the perimeter and watched with eagle-eye night scopes for anything moving that was larger than a falling leaf. A bird wouldn't be able to get close to the wall without their notice.
Not that it was dangers from outside the castle that they needed to be thinking about. Alex seriously doubted that there was anything out in the New England night that could be one-tenth as bad as what they had in the dungeons below.
"Okay," Brooklyn finally said. "You wanted time alone to think. We gave it to you. And you must have come up with some sort of a plan while the rest of us slept. Tell me something brilliant here, Alex. Tell me you've got the answer, you've solved the problem, you've figured out how we can kill that miserable piece of shit."
"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a plan," Alex said. "It's an idea at best."
"And it is ?"
"Complicated. Dicey. Nuts. Probably impossible."
"Oh, good," Brooklyn said dryly. "And here I was afraid that this was going to be too easy."
Alex gave him a sour look. "Hey, I'm doing the best I can. You've got to admit, this is a tricky one. Jericho comes back out of nowhere, returns from Hell itself as far as we know. He kills Elisa and Goliath without even really trying, he even manages to finish off Demona and Macbeth. And to top it all off, he turns out to be under his own spell of immortality. Which, as an extra added attraction, has as its countermeasure the loophole that only Demona can end his life."
"The same Demona who just erased herself from the equation with a blast-grenade." Brooklyn still looked like he could hardly wrap his head around it, and Alex shared the sentiment.
"Which means it's up to us," Alex said. "We can't kill him. We don't dare seal him away or exile him, because we don't want future generations to get that particular hand-me-down. We can't trust magicking him for the same reasons spells get broken."
"It's got to be death," Brooklyn said. "For-real, final, crumbled-to-gravel death. Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure. Spells get broken, you said. So break the spell already, and we waste the son of a bitch."
"That's where this idea of mine comes into it."
"Well, then, what the hell are you waiting for?"
"Brooklyn, I can't just snap my fingers and break the spell. There's something I need, and Patricia's bringing it."
"Oh, crap. Why am I suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat?"
Alex regarded him with raised eyebrow. "Because you're afraid of my wife?"
"Nah. I mean, yeah, but I'm used to that by now."
"I really would rather have done this at the castle," Alex said, tucking gloved hands deep into the pockets of his overcoat as he scanned the low layer of clouds. "Too many risks, though."
Brooklyn nodded. "Angela would kick your ass if you even suggested taking Jericho anywhere near the rookery. And whatever we end up doing, I don't want the kids to see it. Elektra or Aiden, either. I'm glad you got Amber and Julian to go back. How'd you pull that one off, anyway?"
"Would you believe reasonable argument?"
"I mentioned that Violetta really shouldn't be here, when she'd been through so much stress and trauma already. And since she'd bonded with Amber "
"Nicely done," Brooklyn said.
"I think Amber knew it was for the best, anyway," Alex said. "Her stubborn pride was in the way and wouldn't let her admit it. Secretly, I think, she was glad to have the excuse of taking care of Vee."
Overhead, an eerie patch glowed behind the clouds. Moments later, the hover-jet's spotlight beamed down, and the craft descended into view. Snow whirled out from under it as it sank down for a graceful landing, covered all the while by Macbeth's turret-guns under the control of Sharp's people and the various weapons wielded by other members of the security team.
"Here's the Missus." Brooklyn extended his wings. "Want a lift?"
"I'll walk. Patricia hates seeing one of you carry me around. Says it looks all undignified."
"She says that about your battlesuit, too."
"Don't I know it." He rolled his eyes, but not with any real rancor.
As Brooklyn leaped down, spiraling in a glide toward the hover-jet, Alex descended by way of the inner courtyard stairs. He glimpsed Barbara Mays, looking like an unprepared cadet who'd just realized a surprise inspection was about to begin, making vehement gestures at the small crowd that had been taking a smoke-and-coffee break in the shelter of a stable overhang. Alex couldn't hear her words, but he guessed readily enough what they involved. Look busy, for the love of God, look busy!
Patricia St. JohnBurnettXanatos had that effect on people.
The craft's door folded down into steps. Personnel scurried around with the precision of a top-notch drill team. Though they were in flight suits and body armor and heavy parkas, the effect was like watching a household of upper-crust Victorian servants at work. Perfect posture, perfect attentiveness.
Patricia had that effect on people, too.
She emerged like a Czarina, her slender figure swathed in a luxurious full-length mink with matching hat. Her gloves were imported kidskin, velvet-soft. Her boots were obscenely impractical for the snow, high-heeled with no appreciable tread whatsoever. But Patricia would no more slip on a patch of ice than she would burp at the dinner table. She moved with brisk confidence, taking unmincing queenly strides. Her head was held high and tilted just ever-so-slightly aloof.
A few wispy platinum strands blew from under the furry hat. The cold brought a touch of color to her otherwise flawless-pearl complexion. Her glacier-blue gaze took in the scene, disdained it, and then came to rest on Alex as he moved to greet her.
"Darling," Alex said, leaning to brush a kiss on her cool lips.
Delicate fragrances of make-up and perfume. Diamond earrings, small and tasteful, nothing ostentatious. Beneath the mink, silk and cashmere and Parisian lace. Only Patricia. Only his Patricia.
"Fine. Misses her daddy. Uncle Sebastian is looking after her."
He hid a smile. She had said it with elegant nonchalance, but the last the only! time they had left 'Bastian in charge of Janine, they'd come home to find the playroom trashed, the remnants of a dinner that appeared to have consisted mainly of raw cookie dough and the pink sugar-milk Janine called "strawbo-moo," and both sitter and sittee sound asleep in front of the television after evidently playing dress-up and giving each other makeovers with Patricia's most expensive cosmetics.
"Brr," Lexington said, following Patricia out of the craft. "So this is it, huh?"
"This is it," Brooklyn said. "Bronx in there? Bronx! Here, boy!"
Bronx paused warily at the top of the steps. He poked his blunt blue snout skyward, snuffling at the snow. Catching some scent he didn't like or maybe it was his way of expressing mourning he tilted his head back and did a full-throated baying howl at the white-shot darkness of the clouds.
"Yeah." Brooklyn patted him on the head. "I know just how you feel."
"You brought the box?" Alex asked Patricia.
She leveled an unamused look at him. "No, Alexander. I dashed out of the house in a panic the instant you called, barely taking the time to make myself presentable, and in all the hurry I completely forgot to bring it."
"What?" Brooklyn blurted. The heel of his hand smacked hard into his own brow, at the base of his backswept horns. "You forgot whatever it was he wanted you to bring?"
The unamused look slid briefly to Brooklyn, then returned to Alex. One feathery pale-blonde brow arched.
"Brooklyn," Alex said, "she was joking."
"Joking," Brooklyn echoed flatly. "Well, that's a new one."
"Breckenridge has got it," Lex said, pointing.
Patricia's personal assistant came down the steps. He was bundled into a parka, moving with far less surety than Patricia had done, despite having put on sensible galoshes. Then again, he had a titanium-alloy coffer the size of a beer keg cradled in his arms. The gleaming metal was traced with circuitry, shimmering with runes, and handcuffed to his arm for good measure. He couldn't see over it, couldn't see around it, and made his way over to Alex by gingerly feeling along the ground with his booted toes. His expression was one of a man braced for disaster, already feeling his feet shoot out from under him and his ass slam down on the cold flagstones.
"Mr. Xanatos, sir. Mr. Brooklyn."
"Hey, Breckenridge," Brooklyn said. "Here, you need help?"
"Thank you for the offer, sir. I can manage."
Breckenridge continued in his slow shuffling way. Barbara Mays had had her flunkies out shoveling, sweeping and salting, but Breckenridge seemed fatalistically sure that if there was one overlooked patch of ice in the entire courtyard, he would find it.
"Latest winner of the Preston Vogel Award," muttered Brooklyn. "Unlike some people, he's sure nothing like his dad. This stiff, proper butler thing isn't that supposed to be Sebastian's job?"
"Yes," Alex said, "but with 'Bastian, you always know it's a game, and he has a hard time keeping a straight face."
Another person appeared at the top of the craft's folding steps, wearing a voluminous black wool topcoat and shiny leather gloves. Both Brooklyn and Alex twitched in surprise at the sight.
"Um, Patricia, darling?" Alex gallantly offered his arm to escort his wife after Breckenridge. "What's he doing here?"
"He invited himself along." She started toward Castle Lachlan, heels clicking smartly on the stones. "He seems to think he can reason with Jericho. It's freezing, darling. Let's go inside.
Brooklyn's voice rose incredulously. "You're kidding, right? This is another so-called joke, right? Patricia? Alex? Somebody? Anybody? Lex? She's kidding, right?"
Trapped. Hopeless. Desolate.
No way out.
The chains, the bars, and the dank walls of this cold dungeon cell were only outward symbols. Meaningless outward symbols. He would have been just as much in prison if he'd been gliding free and unfettered through the silken night wind.
Everything was emptiness, blackness, unfathomable gulfs of hollow, aching despair.
Death would have been a mercy. A gift, a kindness, a treasure beyond value. He was already dead dead in the soul
Had he really thought he was in Hell before?
Hell had been nothing compared to this. As bad as it had seemed at the time, being ripped away from her so cruelly and unfairly, this was a thousand times worse.
Jericho slumped in his bonds, slouched against the wall. His gaze was fixed and vacant on the floor, seeing without seeing the stones between his talons. His tail traced a pale blue curve on the dark granite, lying beside him like a lifeless snake. He was conscious of dull discomfort in his shoulders, which ached from the constant dragging weight of the manacle-device encasing his hands and forearms.
They had taken no chances, that was for certain. Seamless metal cuffs fused by magic around each ankle, tethered to ringbolts by cables of alloys perhaps never before seen on earth. A similar cable extending from the thick collar he could feel around his neck a collar which probably was a mingling of science and sorcery, circuits and runes.
Under other circumstances, he might have been flattered. The lengths to which they'd gone in securing him spoke well of the impression they must have had of his abilities and strength.
No doubt, there would be pressure-sensitive or motion-activated triggers to galvanize him with electric shocks. There would be spells to strike him down. There would be vigilant guards at the ready, watching him every second. They were ready for anything.
But he had not put any of their measures to the test.
What would be the use?
Suppose that he could escape suppose that he could burst his bonds, shatter his manacles, resist the spells, bend the bars, slaughter his way through the guards, and get out?
It would be no better.
He wished they would kill him. He wished they could kill him.
He'd tried to make it happen. Tried by his own hand, tried provoking Angela and Brooklyn. Each time, he'd felt a brief pang of hope quickly dashed. Even when Alexander Xanatos had shot him point-blank in the head, the wound had stubbornly refused to be fatal.
They hadn't brought him food or drink. Could he starve? Could he die of dehydration? It'd be a slow and agonizing way to go, but Jericho wasn't worried about that. He only worried that it might not be enough. That he'd shrivel to a bony husk and still be alive.
Could he drown? If they sank him to the deepest trenches of the sea, would he be crushed into paste? Or would he linger there in the cold black, forever, conscious and aware?
What if they immersed him in acid? He had heard of acids caustic enough to dissolve diamond, and a gargoyle's stone-sleep form was far softer than that.
If they beheaded him dismembered him minced him into bits scattering those bits far and wide wouldn't that do it? Or would he, by some unthinkable means, reconstitute?
Burning? There were furnaces so intense that cinderblocks could be reduced to dust in an instant. Vaporizing explosions as she had been taken from him. Nuclear blasts. Disintegration rays. It should be impossible for anything to withstand that shouldn't it?
What, for that matter, of the very plasmatic solar heart of the sun itself? Or the bitter vastness of space's eternal vacuum?
There had to be a way. Some way.
His head drooped, unkempt tangles of his crimson mane spilling over his brow ridge and hanging in his eyes.
They feared him. They feared what he would do. They honestly believed him to still be a threat to them, a danger to their clan. They thought that he, Jericho, was a force of such incalculable evil and destruction that they could never dare release him, on pain of the fate of the entire world for all he knew.
Again, under other circumstances, he might have been flattered.
But it only proved that they did not understand him. Never had, and never would.
He heard the dungeon's outer door open, but did not bother to look up. One of them, come to feed him? Why? When they had to want his death as much as he himself did? Or to rant, gloat, threaten, taunt? To look on him with unveiled hate?
Perhaps only to behold the living monster among them, when they must have thought themselves well rid of him for many, many years now. To gawk in appalled, scornful amazement.
None of it mattered.
He heard the scrape of shoe-leather on stone. Not talons. Not one of the clan, then. Alexander Xanatos himself? Jericho vaguely remembered having seen him on television a lifetime before, but had never paid much attention. He'd hardly had much to do with the father, let alone the young son.
A question flickered without much interest through his mind what had become of the father? Demona had often mentioned David Xanatos and his quest for immortality. She'd laughed about it. How easy it had been to manipulate him, leading him on with a hint and a promise. Anything she claimed to need to further that end, David Xanatos had obtained for her, no matter the expense or the effort involved. She'd dangled it before him like a carrot, danced him like a puppet, dandled him at her whim.
What a fool Xanatos must have been!
Her image arose in his memory. The way she had looked when she laughed that rich, mocking laugh of hers. Azure and scarlet and the glinting gold of her jewelry. The sly, knowing mirth in her lovely eyes. The ripe curl of her smiling mouth.
Jericho sank his sharp teeth into his lip. Puncturing. Tasting blood. Feeling it trickle down his chin. The pain made his eyes water, but he almost welcomed it because it was preferable to the ache inside of him.
The footsteps came closer, the steps punctuated by a smart rapping sound.
An icy shiver ran down Jericho's spine.
He relaxed his jaws. Right away, the torn flesh began to mend, but he barely noticed. He raised his head.
The cell was at the rear of the chamber, stone walls on three sides and massive bars on the fourth. The bars sparked and sizzled with energy, and an intricate lacework of fae-light wove all around them. The effect was dazzling, barely letting him see through into the outer dungeon beyond.
Finally, squinting, he could make out the silhouette against the light that came streaming in through the open door. A human form, tall and thin. Garbed in voluminous black. Like a full, sweeping cloak
If the rapping sound had been made by the haft of a wooden scythe-handle clacking on stone, that scythe gripped in the bony fingers of Death itself, Jericho would have welcomed his visitor with tears of gratitude.
But it was a coat, not a cloak. While the face that peered in at him was thin and pale to the point of being cadaverous, it was no leering skull. Neither was it enveloped by a dark cowl. Instead, the face was cast into shadow by the brim of a black hat. The hand was not bone, but gloved in shiny black leather.
And what those bunched, bony fingers grasped was not a scythe at all but the silver-knob handle of an ebony cane.
"Everything's okay at the castle?" Brooklyn asked as they followed Breckenridge up the curving stone throat of a spiral staircase. "The clan's holding up all right?"
"No stowaways?" Broadway added.
"They're all fine," Lex said. "Tanny was probably thinking about trying to stow away, yeah but if she was, Vee showing up knocked it right out of her stubborn little head."
"Violetta?" Brooklyn frowned. "Why? What does Vee have to do with anything?"
Broadway chuckled. "I bet I know."
Well ahead of the rest of them because Breckenridge was taking each step with both feet and then pausing, acting like he was carrying an armload of volatile chemicals instead of whatever was in the box Alex and Patricia were carrying on a conversation so peppered with magical terminology that they might as well have been talking a foreign language. Behind them, Bronx padded and panted, his breath puffing warm steam against their tails.
"Come on already," Brooklyn said. "I hate being the only one not knowing what's going on. I'm supposed to be the leader around here, remember?"
"Let's just say that when Tanny and Finella got one look at Vee, it was on," Lex said.
"What was on?"
"You know how we were when Goliath came back from Avalon with Angela?" Broadway asked.
"Yeah." Half a grin crooked his beak. "You and Lex made asses of yourselves trying to impress her, when it was obvious all along she'd go for me."
"That's not how it happened," Lex said.
"I had a shot," protested Broadway.
"Okay, okay, bygones be bygones. You just might not want to let Elektra hear that. So what's the deal with Vee? Our little guys all going ga-ga over her?"
Lex shook his head. "Not exactly. But Jake sure seems to think she's cute."
"She is cute," Brooklyn said. "What's wrong with oh."
"Oh, he says. Yeah, no duh," Broadway said. "It's gonna be catfight city."
Brooklyn pondered. He was of a couple of minds about that. His leader-self was already groaning with dismay. Adolescent hatchlings and their romantic entanglements, oy vey. Wasn't it already bad enough? Malcolm being head-over-heels in puppy-love over Kathe, who seemed indifferent Kenneth crushing on Tanny, who had her eye on Jake Aramis and Athos competing to get Finella's attention when she also had her eye on Jake and now throw Violetta into the mix, with Jake thinking she was cute?
"Oy vey." He said it out loud this time. "This, we don't need." But the non-leader part of him had a different opinion. "Way to go, Jake. Got all the girls fighting over him already, huh? That's my boy. Takes after me."
Snorts to the left, to the right and from the rear. Even Bronx getting in on the act.
"What?" Brooklyn said.
"Yeah, like you were always such a smooth operator with the females," Lex said. "One word: Maggie."
"Talk about making an ass of yourself," Broadway said.
Bronx whined agreement, flapping his stub tail.
"Hey! That was a long time ago."
Breckenridge reached the top of the stairs, and right away the three of them let it drop. All of them knew that they'd been trying too hard anyway, because otherwise they'd have to concentrate on the problems at hand. The grief was too new, too harsh. None of them could expect to be able to even begin dealing with it yet. So they masked it with light chatter though not terribly well.
"Here we are," Alex said.
He had stopped at a door that looked like something out of an epic fantasy movie. It had huge oaken-slab planks, gilded flame-pattern fixtures, a handle in the shape of a sinuous wyvern, and a faceted red jewel roughly the size of a truck headlight mounted at the top of the archway. The jewel shed a low, steady light that made Patricia's porcelain skin and platinum hair look like Carrie at the prom. It glimmered in eerie, eldritch ripples on Alex's bodysuit, and on the metal box in Breckenridge's arms.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Lex asked. "I mean, Demona's private magical workshop?"
Patricia turned and did the cool eyebrow at him, withering him without a word but going ahead and saying it anyway. "Would we second-guess you if this were Macbeth's computer center control room?"
Lex mumbled, and scuffed his feet.
"Yeah, Lex," Broadway said. "They know what they're doing."
"Broadway, don't be a kiss-ass," Alex said absently, reaching up to hold his hands in front of the gem like he was warming them at a hearth. "It doesn't suit you."
"All I meant was " In the weird light, it was impossible to tell how much Lex was blushing. "You don't think she'd mind us going in there?"
"Hardly," Patricia said. "She'd want us to do everything within our power."
A faint green glow, like iridescent smoke, issued from Alex's palms and spread in twining misty tendrils around his fingers. "Besides, once you hear the rest of it, whether or not Demona would object to a little trespassing will be the least of our moral dilemmas."
Brooklyn grimaced. "I hate moral dilemmas, Alex."
"Sometimes, it sucks to have morals." Glowing ribbons coiled and interwove from each of his fingertips. They played over the shiny facets, then suddenly sharpened into beams and shot into the center of the red gem.
There was a brilliant flash, and a momentary dazzle as red-and-green rainbows skittered around the hall like colors cast from a prism. The jewel went from ruby to emerald, bathing them all in cool light.
Patricia opened the door, which swung on silent hinges to reveal a room that looked pretty much exactly as a private magical workroom ought to look. Since both Demona and Macbeth had done much more than just pick up a parlor trick or two over their long centuries of existence, they'd amassed quite a collection between them.
While Alex and Patricia moved around, familiarizing themselves with mysterious artifacts that Brooklyn wouldn't have touched on a bet, the gargoyles hung back by the door and kept their hands to themselves.
Breckenridge, at Alex's direction, set the metal box on a cleared tabletop. He was still cuffed to it, poor sap, and nobody made a move to unlock him. He just stood there like a damn waxwork or something.
"What've they got in that thing?" Broadway asked Lex in an undertone.
Lex shrugged. "She wouldn't tell me."
"Great," Brooklyn said. He had a qualm, a jittery qualm, way down deep in his guts.
"But Aiden said it gave her a nervous feeling," Lex added.
"Great," Brooklyn said again. The qualm wasn't alone anymore. The qualm was down there having a party with all its friends.
"Lots of things give Aiden a nervous feeling," Broadway said.
Patricia, with the gnarled old stick of Hecate's Wand really out of place in her perfectly-manicured hand, had set up ward-stones at key points all around the room and lit candles. Brooklyn felt moderately reassured. He'd seen them do this before, and was fairly sure it was standard defensive stuff. Precautions, but nothing extreme. It wasn't the magical equivalent of gearing up to go into a biological hot zone or anything.
Alex produced a silver key from midair, it looked like and unlocked Breckenridge's cuff. "Thank you, Breckenridge. That'll be all for now."
"Very good, sir," Breckenridge said. He sounded placid as ever, and it was probably just more of the weird lighting effects that made him look both ashen and green. "Will sir or madam require anything else?"
"We'll want some wine later," Patricia said, and dismissed him with a wave.
"You uh want us to go, too?" Broadway asked as Breckenridge not without an aura of relief passed them and headed down the hall. "It isn't like we know any magic."
"Once you see what we have in here, you'll understand everything," Alex said. He fiddled and murmured and things hummed and twinkled and clicked. Panels slid back and forth, rose and fell, like the tumblers of a lock.
Patricia pursed her lips. "Your brother is such a show-off, darling."
"You know T.J. He loves his toys."
The lid probably could have been made to open without any noise at all, but it made a sort of sighing electronic warbling hiss reminiscent of the doors on Star Trek. And it didn't just fold up on a hinge. Oh, no. The entire top third of the box traced a smooth arc up and back, rotating, rolling in on itself.
Though it was against his better judgment, Brooklyn craned his neck to try and see inside. He wasn't alone. Broadway and Lex, and even Bronx, were letting eagerness and curiosity get in the way of prudence.
"What is it?" Lex was up on tippy-toe. "A sword? Some kind of magical super-weapon? A spellbook? What?"
"This," Alex said, tilting the box so they could see.
Dumbstruck, the three of them could only stare. First into the box, and then, incredulously, at Alex.
"But but that's " Broadway said.
"I thought " Lex trailed off, too.
Once you see what we have in here, you'll understand everything, Alex had said.
And he was right. Oh, boy, was he right.
Brooklyn massaged the end of his beak, then let his arm fall limp at his side. "I gotta say," he said, feeling numb, "that when the chips are down, you can always trust a Xanatos to pull a deus ex machina out of his ass."
"Sevarius," Jericho said.
"Good evening, Jericho. You're looking well." Gustav Sevarius stopped in front of the bars and removed his hat.
"You're not." And then, the pleasantries concluded, Jericho felt white-hot rage roil up inside him. It spilled from his eyes in a phosphorescent glare. "You tricked me! You lied to me! It didn't go as you promised at all not at all, old man!"
"My dear boy," Sevarius said, looking quite honestly taken aback. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Don't give me that!" Inside the metal lock-sphere, Jericho's fists clenched so hard he thought he'd crush the bones in his hands. "She's dead!"
"Yes. So they told me. It is a shame."
"A shame? A shame?" He quivered. Chains clinked at the vibrations. "Is that all you can say?"
"What would you have me say, Jericho?"
"This is all your fault! It wasn't meant to be like this! We had a deal!"
"Deal? What deal?"
Sevarius set aside his hat, folded his bunched leather-gloved hands over the knob of the cane, and leaned heavily on it as he peered through the bars at Jericho.
It occurred to Jericho that he'd been right in saying Sevarius wasn't looking well. He wasn't, in fact, looking the same at all. When Sevarius had appeared to him before, in Hell, he'd been the same as always. This time, he was different. He looked even older. Ancient. His skin was the color and texture of brittle, crumpled old parchment. It clung to the planes of his face as if drawn tight, and drooped in loose and wrinkled folds like turkey-wattles against his scrawny neck. His Adam's apple was a bulge the size of a doorknob. His hair, still white, was no longer thick but a wispy cobweb stretched over the top of his veined, liver-spotted skull.
Even his eyes, which had been a brilliant green and sharp as lasers, had changed. The irises had faded to a murky hue. The whites were yellowed and bloodshot with burst capillaries. A filmy cataract covered part of the left eye, and the lid on that side sagged, giving him a bleary, hungover look. The left corner of his mouth was down-turned.
"And what is it you think that I promised you, Jericho?" he asked.
His voice his voice wasn't the same, either. Not exactly. He still had the accent, the one that didn't completely turn w's into v's, but wanted to the one that almost-but-not-really pronounced his name Cher-ih-koh. But his words were slightly mushy, slightly slurred. His lips didn't move exactly as they should the left side of his face less responsive partly paralyzed as though Sevarius had been laid low by a stroke.
"I told you, don't give me that! Don't play with me! You know perfectly well what I mean!"
"I assure you, I do not. How could I? It has been, what, thirty years?"
"Ah." Jericho settled back against the wall, chains clinking again as he moved. The fury was quaking within him, building like a volcano. He wanted to put those restraints to the test after all. In that moment, he felt sure they'd snap like twine. "So that's your game. This is the way you would have looked, had you been alive all this time."
"I am very much alive."
"You're dead and in Hell, where you belong."
"My dear boy, I do hope you are not threatening me."
"I saw you there!"
A pained expression wrenched the right half of Sevarius' face. "In Hell, you say? Jericho, I admit I am very much at a loss to explain your unexpected return but just because there has never been a satisfactory scientific explanation for the events of that final night hardly makes for any convincing proof of a particular religious dogma. You know that I've never put much stock in such twaddle."
"Stop it!" He was on his feet, straining at his bonds, before he even knew he was going to move. "We had a deal! We had a deal, and you broke it, you lying, filthy wretch! She was to be mine again! Mine! We'd have our lives back our lives together the two of us, and Antigone! I came back for her, for them, for us! You told me that I could set her free, break the spell that Bluestone had woven around her. But it didn't work! I did everything, and it didn't work! I will have what I was promised, Sevarius! I will have Demona, and Antigone, and the life you said would be mine!"
"Interesting," Sevarius said. "You are quite delusional."
"You know that I am not crazy," Jericho said. "Insane, yes. We never disagreed on that. But not crazy. Sociopath, not psychopath, isn't that what you called me?"
"I did indeed. Obsessive, and prone to outbursts of violent, murderous rage but never before delusional. That is why I find it interesting. Something must have happened to you since I saw you last to have triggered this psychotic break."
"Why are you doing this? You know the truth. You were there!"
"And what, precisely, are the terms of this deal you think we made?"
Jericho's teeth ground together painfully. "You sent me back to this world so that I could release Demona from Bluestone's enchantment. We were to be together again, she and I. We'd have our daughter, fair Antigone. We'd be happy. Forever, because you made me immortal."
"Her demise must have shattered your hold on reality," Sevarius said, more as if musing to himself than actually speaking to Jericho. "This instability might have been there all along, perhaps deeply buried but brought out by the severity of the shock."
"We made the deal before," Jericho said, biting off each word. "In Hell. Before I came back. You showed me Antigone."
"Hmm. And I made you immortal, you say?"
"You bound my life to her. To Demona."
"Then how is it you are alive now, when she is dead?"
Metal screeched as he pulled. A little harder, and it felt as though it might stretch like taffy. "Enough of this, old man! Either you honor the conditions we'd agreed on, or the whole thing is off!"
"A remarkably persistent delusion," Sevarius said. "Fascinating."
A thundering roar exploded from Jericho's chest and throat. The echoes rebounded around in the dungeon confines like a fusillade of cannon blasts. He lunged toward the bars, toward Sevarius. Never mind the rest of it never mind Hell, or promises, or bargains, or anything. He was going to
-- be slammed back by a sheeting force of magical energy that hurled him like a leaf on a tidal wave. Ribs and wingstruts snapped in countless places as he was driven against the wall. The back of his head met stone so hard that he both heard and felt his skullbone crunch with a noise like a stepped-on walnut.
Darkness billowed up around him. Death-darkness, and Jericho embraced it eagerly knowing in his heart even as consciousness faded that his eagerness would be futile. All too soon, the darkness would pass, and the soul's pain beyond anything his body could ever feel would engulf him yet again.
"Well," Alex said into the stunned silence, "at least now we know that it'll hold him."
"I don't think that's very funny, Alex," Angela said.
"Wasn't trying to be funny."
Her brow ridges went up. "You aren't telling us that you honestly weren't sure?"
"I was fairly sure."
Broadway groaned and shook his head. They were all gathered in the same room they'd been in before, watching the recording of Sevarius' conversation with Jericho just as they'd watched Alex's conversation with him the previous night. Lex, who hadn't been here for that one, and hadn't seen Jericho, stared at the screen.
"He's exactly the same," Lex said. "Exactly. Like he hasn't aged like he hasn't changed at all."
"I beg to differ," Gustav Sevarius said. "He is very changed from the Jericho I knew."
"What kind of a psychiatrist are you, anyway, that you only just tonight figured out he's bugfuck out of his mind?" Brooklyn asked. "And why'd you go and set him off in the first place? I preferred him the way he was yesterday, all hopeless and despairing. Now you've got him riled up again."
Sevarius cleared his throat. "My credentials are not in question here, Brooklyn. Jericho was never delusional before."
"He was in love with our mother!" Angela said. "He stole Damien's egg he killed "
"Yes, yes," Sevarius said. "But none of those things came from a psychosis or a schizophrenia. He seems to most earnestly believe what he was telling me. That somehow, I had something to do with his return, and this strange regeneration."
They all looked at him, and no one asked the obvious. No one had to. He replied anyway.
"Which I did not, as you well know." His faded, cataract-filmed gaze fixed on Alex. "When I came to work for your father after the fall of the Nightstone Building, he was quite sensibly exceedingly careful to monitor my activities and my research. As well as that of my brother. Anton and I had, unfortunately, given him very good reasons to suspect our motives from time to time."
Brooklyn scoffed gustily through his nose and leaned against the wall, arms crossed on his chest. "Ain't that the truth."
"And you, Alexander," Sevarius continued, "have continued monitoring us in the same manner. You certainly would have known if I'd had any word from, or encounters with, Jericho prior to this evening."
Alex nodded. "I don't think you had anything to do with this, Sevarius. But he obviously does."
"I know, and I find that most curious. It was never like him to have such wild fancies."
"Who's Antigone?" Broadway asked, scratching his bald pate.
"In classical myth and literature," Alex said, "Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta."
Sevarius sighed, the sound rattling in his lungs like the rustle of dry leaves. "That part, I think, may very well be my fault. I would often tease is not the way I'd like to phrase it taunt? mock? suffice to say that it was from me that Jericho got the name, as one that would be highly fitting should he and Demona ever have a daughter."
They all looked at him again, this time like he was lower than dirt.
"You are one cruel old bastard, aren't you?" Lex asked.
"But I have no explanations for any of the rest of this," Sevarius said, like he was in a hurry to move away from the unfortunate subject of Antigone. "I do not know why he should think me, of all people, to be involved."
"Why not?" asked Broadway. "No offense, Sevarius, but if anybody's going to go to Hell, it's you and that brother of yours."
"For one," Sevarius said, "there is no Hell. For another, even if there was, I'd have to be dead first, wouldn't I? While my health isn't what it once was, my boy, I haven't yet shuffled off this mortal coil, as they say. So, it isn't possible however you look at it."
"The Weird Sisters said something about making deals with the Devil," Brooklyn said. "Didn't they, Alex? What if this might sound wacko but what if he just you know, thought he was talking to Sevarius?"
"Yeah," Lex said. "It'd make sense. Gustav was old even before, and like Broadway said, he's hellbound for sure. No offense, Gustav."
Again, Sevarius sighed his dry-leaf rattle. "So nice to know you all have such high opinions of me. What are you suggesting, Brooklyn? That the Devil, the actual Devil Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, Baal appeared to Jericho in my guise and made some sort of bargain with him? If I was to take offense at anything, it'd be that."
"We know he's unkillable." Brooklyn pointed at the other monitor, which showed the cell as it currently was in real-time. "There's no denying that. Not when we can see it with our own eyes."
On the rear wall, just about head-height, there was a grisly splotch of drying blood caked with strands of red hair, and a smear where Jericho had slid to the floor. When Alex and the gargoyles had come rushing down from the magical workroom, alerted by Angela's urgent call not that Alex had needed it, since he'd felt the flaring of energy in his wards they'd arrived in time to see Jericho still crumpled there. His wings had been jutting awkwardly from his back, like mangled umbrellas or broken paper fans. The back of his head was a matted, spongy mess.
As they'd watched, though slowly but surely Jericho had healed. His wings had straightened out, the struts realigning. Eventually, he'd revived and sat up again, looking like he was suffering nothing more serious than a tension headache.
Now Jericho was slouching in his bonds again, his gaze dull, his expression lifeless, his posture slumped and slack. But the cables that secured him looked longer than they should have, and there were cracks around the ringbolts where they hooked into the stones.
They'd held, though. They'd held, and the wards had done their job.
Angela hugged herself, rubbing her upper arms with her hands. She looked at her mate. "Do you really think that's what it could be?" she asked. "Not just a spell but some kind of pact? Maybe we shouldn't have had Julian go home with Amber."
"He said there wasn't anything he could do," Alex reminded her.
"Nor, does it seem, that there's anything I can do," Sevarius said. "I'd hoped that I might be able to reason with him "
"Yeah, that's what Patricia told us," Brooklyn said. "I don't know what ever gave you that bright idea."
"Believe it or not, Jericho and I always did get along quite well before," Sevarius said. "He never perceived me as a threat or a rival, perhaps because he knew that Demona's affection for me was of the most platonic nature."
Lex, Broadway and Angela all looked briefly ill at that. Brooklyn only looked disgusted.
"Well, even if he used to trust you," Alex said, "it's pretty clear that he doesn't anymore. And, really, everyone it doesn't matter. Remember? We've already established that we can't help Jericho. We can't cure him, can't win him over."
"He has to be dealt with, finished, killed," Angela said. "Once and for all. Forever. But how? You still haven't told us how!"
"There's only one way." Alex reached into his pocket, where he'd hastily stuffed the item that had been in the box. He placed it on the counter.
The winking lights from the security console flickered over it like fireflies dancing on the surface of a pool. Milky blue and swirling gold.
"The the Phoenix Gate," breathed Angela. "Alex, it can't be. Amber lost it in the past, when she took Old-Mother home. You said "
"You made another one?" she asked.
Alex shook his head. "This is the one and only."
"I don't get it," Broadway said. "This time travel stuff makes my brain hurt."
"Yeah, hey," Lex said. "I thought I did get it, until now. Correct me if I'm wrong, Alex, but you and Patricia made the Phoenix Gate. Right?"
"Right," Alex said.
"You didn't know it, though. You were trying to re-make it, a copy, another one, because the original disappeared."
"Right," Alex said again. "Goliath activated the Phoenix Gate and threw it, and it went unguided. Skipping off through time, out of anyone's control. I wanted to see if it was possible to re-create it. When I did, Amber used it to go back in time where she lost it because the one I made had been the original all along. It had taken its rightful place in history."
"Ow, my brain!" Broadway clawed at his head.
But Lex was bobbing his, eyes bright. He traced a circle in the air with his forefinger. "So it made a loop. You created it, thanks to Amber it got taken into the past, where it ended up being the same one that Demona stole. She broke it in half and gave one of the pieces to Goliath. Then, when your folks got married, the two pieces were put back together and all that happened Goliath wound up with the whole Phoenix Gate, and he chucked it off into the timestream without a driver. Then you created it."
"Ow." Brooklyn was holding his head, too. "You know what, Alex? I hate that thing. It always gave me the creeps. I don't know why. It's not like I ever had anything to do with it. But it did. A major case of the creeps."
"Then you really won't like what I'm about to tell you," Alex said.
"Wait," Lex interrupted. "If the one you made was the original, where did this one come from?"
"This is the same one. This is the only one."
"But it's supposed to be gone."
"That's the thing about the Phoenix Gate." Alex stroked the golden rim with a fingertip. "There's only one, but it can exist simultaneously in duplicate incarnations at the same time."
"What?" three or four voices said together.
"Think about the thousand years during which it was broken," he said. "Half was in Goliath's possession, while he was frozen in stone sleep. The other half was running around the world with Demona. But after it was rejoined, and the Archmage got hold of it, he made some trips to times that took place during that thousand years. Times when the Gate existed, half with Goliath and half with Demona but also, as a complete and working Gate, in the hands of the Archmage."
"Huh?" That was Broadway, more totally lost than ever.
Lex, though, seemed to be beginning to catch on. "So, at the wedding, when Demona put it back together and took everyone to the time of Prince Malcolm, she had one and the younger her had the other one except they weren't different ones. They were the same one, just two temporal variations of it."
"Exactly," Alex said. "So, when Goliath flung it away into the timestream, it could have gone anywhere and anywhen and a while ago, it turned up in our time."
"That's how you got it?" Angela asked.
"I sensed its appearance. I made it, so of course I recognized the feeling right away. And it was close. I was able to get to it and capture it, corral it before it blinked out again. I brought it back under control. That's where we're at now."
"You didn't think it was worth mentioning?" Lex asked.
Alex rubbed his beard. "Given how much trouble the Phoenix Gate has caused for the clan, I doubted it'd be a good idea. I decided it would be best to put it away. The only ones who knew were T.J., Sebastian, Patricia and myself. I needed T.J.'s help to make something safe to keep it in, until I figured out what to do with it."
Brooklyn eyed him. "How long ago was that, Alex? You said 'close' how close?"
Alex debated ducking the issue, but he'd said too much already and knew that they'd never let him get away with a lie, half-truth, subject-change or evasion. "A few years," he said. "And I found it right next to you. One day while you were sleeping. It was practically at your feet."
"You would have woken up right on top of it."
His brick-red complexion went a dusty reddish-grey. "That that thing was on my perch? While I was asleep?"
"That's bad, isn't it?" asked Broadway. "Like sleeping on a grenade."
"Not as bad as that. Still, if he'd touched it, and it had activated, he could have been whisked away to some other time and " Alex trailed off, mostly because of the horrified expression that had come over Angela's face. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, because I got there first."
"Great. Thanks. You're a pal, Alex." On legs that looked weak and tottery, Brooklyn went to a chair and collapsed, and did some deep breathing with his eyes closed.
Angela kneaded his shoulders and shot Alex a dirty look. "You should have said something. You should have told us."
"Everybody would have freaked out."
"Ya think?" Brooklyn wheezed, eyes still shut.
Broadway was frowning ponderously, like he was still trying to put all the pieces together. "Maybe you should destroy it."
"I can't," Alex said. "Not yet. We need it."
When he'd regained consciousness, he had been alone again. Sevarius was gone. If Sevarius had even been there
Had he been? Had it really been Gustav Sevarius? Or had Jericho imagined the whole thing?
What if he was losing his mind? What if all of this had driven him mad?
Madness might be better. Madness might be the refuge that death could no longer be. If he surrendered to it, if he let himself sink into this whirling lunacy of delusions, he might find it tolerable to the bleak and hollow ache that was now the sum of his existence.
He had not felt mad. Not until Sevarius had come. Sevarius, claiming to be alive after all to never have died, never have ended up in Hell, never struck the bargain that Jericho so keenly remembered.
If it was true if Sevarius did live then to whom had he spoken before? Who had shown him Antigone?
The bargain had been made. Of that, there could be no doubt. The bargain had been made. He'd been sent back. Thirty years had passed. He was immortal.
But if not Sevarius
Jericho sat in his cell, once more staring blankly at the bare stones between his talons. His head hurt, though far less now than it had. He could smell his own blood drying to a crust on the wall behind him. Could smell it and feel it caked in his hair. His mended wingstruts felt tender. His ribs much abused these past few nights by the beatings he'd taken gave weary twinges whenever he breathed. But they, too, were mended.
Almost as good as new.
He muttered an obscenity.
After a while, the outer door opened again. Jericho looked up, trying to brace himself although he didn't know against what. He'd almost begun to wonder if he was still in Hell after all, if this entire scenario was some elaborate, tormenting game. Trying to shatter his mind, make him disbelieve his own senses.
The man who walked in was someone Jericho did not recognize. He was unimpressive, nondescript. As ordinary-seeming a human as ever there'd been. He wore some kind of ugly, unflattering uniform in an archaic, old-fashioned style. It was mustard-yellow trimmed in blue and white. He also wore brown boots, and a white belt. A pot helm held in place by a chin-strap covered the top of his head.
"It's time, Jericho."
He raised a brow ridge, but didn't reply.
"Monstrous evil so despised," intoned the man, "let thy nature be disguised!"
Twin crackling bolts of emerald light burst from his eyes, arced through the air, and seized Jericho. He was yanked to the limits of his bonds. His spine bent backward into a bow, his head was wrenched back. His jaws gaped in a silent shriek as vicious pain jolted through him. He was being torn apart!
Then the manacling device came loose. It slipped from his forearms, freeing wrists and hands. It struck the stones with a resounding, solid metallic clang that Jericho could barely hear above the splintering of his own bones and the agonized screams of every cell in his body.
The leg-irons dropped away. He was unbound, but suspended in midair, suspended in a shuddering lightstorm of sparks. His flesh softened. Hard muscle melted, became weak and feeble. He was cold, so cold, and moaning in a voice that had been robbed of its strength.
At last, the torture ended. Jericho huddled on the floor, curled into a ball with his arms around his knees. Ragged gasps shook him. Tears scalded his cheeks, and the shame of letting them fall further scalded his pride.
He pried his eyes open. His vision was blurred, everything smudged and insubstantial, the colors no longer sharp and vital but washed-out hues largely swallowed in grey shadows. He felt as though he'd been pulled inside-out and then run through a wringer, like a garment in a laundry.
"What what did you do to me?" he managed to get out. He sounded strange, so strange!
"Whoa," someone else said. Brooklyn.
Jericho could see that homely, beaked face gawking at him through the doorway. Beside it was Broadway's round fat moon-face, and Lexington, looking agog.
"Hrnf!" huffed Bronx.
His arms and legs were putty, noodles, spastically jointed sticks that did not want to cooperate with his will. Somehow, Jericho mastered them long enough to hitch himself up on hands and knees. He couldn't get his wings to work yet at all, or his tail, but
He stared down at his hands. Or at the two pallid starfish-shapes spread where he thought his hands should have been.
In a sudden surge of adrenaline, he was on his feet. Then on his rear, because he couldn't balance his toes couldn't grip his legs felt put together all wrong. His belt, too loose now, slid halfway down his hips.
"No," he said, raising his gaze to the man he now knew to be Alexander Xanatos. "No!"
Although he knew what he'd find, Jericho let his five-fingered hands fly to his own face. Blunt teeth. A flat, ridgeless brow with ridiculous curving lines of hair above his eyes. Rounded flaps for ears. Even his hair had changed. Gone was the wild red mane replaced by something short-cropped and thin-feeling.
"No!" he roared.
Except it wasn't a roar. It was a human's plaintive, whining shout. From a human's narrow chest.
Xanatos spoke again, in the chanting verses of a spell. Jericho tried to spring at him, stop him before anything worse could happen though what might be worse, he didn't want to guess but his reshaped body was still as unsteady as that of a newborn colt. As if that wasn't enough, his still-buckled belt and loincloth slid unhindered all the way to his ankles and tripped him up.
He sprawled on his belly at Xanatos' feet, grunting as the wind was punched out of him, wincing as the rough stone abraded this fragile human skin.
"puppet on my hand," Xanatos was saying, "thy actions now at my command."
Jericho had missed the first few words, but even as he guessed what they might have been, another torrent of magelight erupted, and consumed him.
"Whoa," Brooklyn said again. His skin was trying not to crawl. He glanced at Alex, or at least at Alex's current guise. "Remind me never to piss you off."
"When Puck did it to us," Broadway said, "he needed Titania's Mirror."
"Not really," Alex said. "I'm sure having it as a magical focus helped, but he wouldn't have needed it to get the job done. Puck just always liked a shortcut. Unless the longcut offered more opportunities for fun and trouble."
"He doesn't look like himself at all," Lex said.
"That's kind of the idea." Alex let out a long breath and tilted his head back and forth, stretching. Brooklyn could hear his vertebrae making a succession of popping noises, like bubble wrap. "He's human."
"Yeah, but " Lex took a few steps closer to Jericho, gingerly, as if expecting Jericho to leap up and grab him like the bad guy in the final scenes of a slasher movie. "We all ended up looking well pretty much the same. Only in human form instead of gargoyles. I guess I thought Jericho as a human would look "
"More like Dominique Destine," Broadway said.
"Or more like Goliath did, when he got changed," Brooklyn said. "I see what Lex is saying. We lost our wings and tails among other things." He ran his thumb along his beak.
"Gained some things, too." Broadway patted himself on the head, grinning. "Me and Lex, we had hair."
"But we still had the same basic build. Jericho was almost as big and strong as Goliath. Now he's just a regular-looking guy." Brooklyn nudged Jericho with the tip of his tail. "Skinny, even."
"Careful!" Lex said.
"It's okay," Alex told him. "He's not going to do anything. He's under my control now, and he can't move or talk unless I make him."
Jericho lay there like a mannequin or some kind of CPR dummy. He was expressionless, except maybe for a surprised look in his eyes.
"I don't know about this, Alex," Brooklyn said. "I mean, it's a slick plan and all but I don't know. I've got a sick feeling in my gut."
"We don't have a whole lot of choice." Alex made a few magical finger-twiddles, and tiny sparkles twirled around Jericho's body from the feet up, weaving clothes around him as they went. In a few seconds, Jericho was wearing an outfit almost exactly identical to the one Alex had on.
"This is creepy," Lex said. "It's going to give me flashbacks."
"Do we really have to go with you?" Broadway asked, brow furrowed with anxiety. "I'm not sure if I can handle it. Going back. Seeing it all again. Not being able to do anything about it."
"There won't be anything you can do about it," Alex said. "History can't be altered."
"It's like letting it happen, though," Brooklyn said, understanding Broadway's reluctance all too well. "Couldn't we try? Warn them, or something?"
"No." Alex sounded like he was doing his best to hold onto his patience. "Guys, we went through all of this upstairs. You know how it works."
"But Goliath will " Lex said.
"If this goes according to plan," Alex said, overriding Lex, "you won't even have to see Goliath, or anyone else. I'll deal with that."
"Can you?" Brooklyn asked. "He meant a lot to you, too."
"I have to. Believe me, I know how it's going to feel. I know the temptation. It's only normal and natural to want to try and help. We know what their future is going to be. We know how difficult, how much it'll hurt, how much it'll cost. But we cannot change the past. It isn't possible, and it's dangerous as well as futile even to try."
"Then why do you need us to go?" Broadway asked.
"Just in case we need to improvise. You know the era a lot better than I do. I've done my research, but research isn't the same as having been there." Alex buckled a belt onto Jericho that matched the one he wore.
Lex looked uneasy. "You're giving him a weapon?"
"It'll be all right. He won't be able to use it, but I want everything to look good. Authentic. In case we get questioned."
"What if " Broadway gulped. "What if we run into ourselves?"
"Do you remember running into yourself when you were younger?" Alex asked.
"Well, then." Alex offered a grin that was unsettlingly Xanatosian. "Either you didn't, so you don't need to worry about it, or you did, and I scrubbed your memory."
"Is that supposed to make us feel better?" asked Brooklyn.
He was glad Angela had agreed to stay upstairs with Patricia, so she wasn't hearing the rest of this. She'd wanted to go with them, but of course she couldn't. For one thing, she hadn't been there, so if she was seen, that would cause all sorts of extra complications. For another, if something went wrong and they all got trapped in the past, or died back there, Angela would still be here to look after the hatchlings.
Alex's eyes narrowed in concentration. Though he didn't speak or make any additional signals, Jericho sat up. Lex yelped and skittered backward, bumping tail-first into Broadway's leg.
Jericho didn't move with the stiff jerkiness of an automaton. He didn't even move as shakily as he had immediately following the transformation. As he got to his feet, he did so with the ordinary limberness of a mid-twenties human male in okay shape. His stance and posture were natural enough. His expression was mild and neutral.
"Are you sure he's in there?" Brooklyn peered into the human's eyes, searching for some ember of smoldering hatred and evil and not seeing it. "Can he hear us?"
"I can hear you," the man said. Not Jericho's voice coming from a human throat.
"Seriously creepy," Lex said under his breath.
"He's in there, yes," Alex said. "But I have to keep him on a tight leash if we want to have a hope of pulling this off."
"It is Jericho, though, right?" persisted Brooklyn. "He's aware? He knows what's happening?"
"Boy, he must hate it," Broadway said.
A slow smile curled Brooklyn's beak. "Good."
Inside, silently, Jericho raved.
Outwardly, this traitor body this feeble human body that was no longer even his obligingly did the bidding of Alexander Xanatos.
He was a helpless passenger within this vehicle. He could form no words of his own volition, could not strike out at his gloating captors, could not so much as blink when he tried. His lungs drew air, his heart pumped, his eyes did blink but all of it involuntary. His joints, tendons and muscles functioned smoothly, but he could not control even their slightest single motion. He could do nothing deliberately.
His imprisoned will fought with savage ferocity against Xanatos. To no avail.
Xanatos and the gargoyles were still prattling on, but Jericho paid no attention to their inane talk. He did not know what they intended to do with him now, now that he was a puny human puppet. It didn't matter. He would get free of this. Somehow. The spell would wear off. Or Xanatos would be distracted, relax his grip. All Jericho would need, he was sure, was a split-second. He'd be ready. He'd be waiting for that moment.
In the meanwhile, they had put him into an equally ugly outfit of mustard-yellow, the cloth itchy and uncomfortable against his absurdly soft and sensitive human skin. His feet were crammed into clunky, confining boots. The helm dug into his scalp, the chin strap feeling like it was going to strangle him.
They'd armed him, he saw. Armed him! But he could not force his hand to take up the weapon!
The four of them gathered around him, after sending Bronx out into the hall. The great blue beast stood there with a soulful, reproachful look, as if to ask how they could possibly be so mean as to leave him behind and deny him a chance to join in the fun.
Alexander Xanatos held up his hand. In it was a flattish, shield-shaped emblem of smooth, opaque blue stone framed with fiery gold. Though Jericho had never seen it, he knew it at once from descriptions in stories he'd heard over the years. Stories that went all the way back to his youth on Avalon, when Princess Catherine and the Magus would tell them of their clan's castle home. Stories his rookery brothers and sisters had told of their encounters with the Archmage, during the ill-fated battle that had brought Goliath to Avalon's shores.
The Phoenix Gate. It was the Phoenix Gate, and as Xanatos uttered the Latin incantation, Jericho felt a lance of cold dread sink deep into his heart.
"Deslagrate muri tempi et intervalia!" Xanatos said.
"Oh, shit, I wish we weren't doing this," Brooklyn said.
A nova of lightning-edged flame sprang from the item, swelling into a sphere. Jericho heard Bronx baying. Then the dungeon chamber around them was gone.
The orange glow dwindled. A brisk, cool breeze washed over them. The night sky spanned the heavens, darkly tattered with clouds.
Jericho tried to run, hoping that the exertion of activating the Phoenix Gate might have caused Xanatos to loosen his spell of control. Nothing happened. His legs refused to budge.
Beside him, Broadway groaned as if in unbearable pain. Lexington had his hands over his eyes and was shaking his head. Brooklyn only gazed out, looking like he'd been punched in the guts.
"We're really here," Brooklyn whispered. "It worked."
"Come on," Xanatos said. "Let's do this and get it over with."
Lexington pointed with trembling arm. "I see the the "
"We gotta do something," Broadway said. "We can't just "
"I know how you feel," Xanatos said. "I do, but Broadway, we can't."
His round face set in a stubborn scowl. "How can we just let them all die?"
"The past cannot be changed!"
In his mind, Jericho urged them to argue yes argue and fight come to blows kill each other! He only needed an instant to break free!
"Broadway, stop," Brooklyn said. His voice was thick with emotion, rasping, miserable. "Alex is right. We can't. We just have to do what we came here to do, and then go home."
Jericho seethed and bellowed with curses and vile oaths he was unable to speak. He hoped with spiteful bitterness that they were liking their taste of helplessness. Let them know what it was like! Let them wallow in the impotence!
Xanatos surrounded them with some kind of cloaking spell, to prevent them from being seen. Jericho was then made to suffer the further indignity of having Brooklyn and Broadway take hold of him by the arms, bearing him between them as they glided toward their destination. By the set of their jaws, they both would have been just as happy to rip his shoulders from the sockets, and let the rest of him plunge to his death far below.
Except it wouldn't have been a plunge to his death, and they knew it. So they had to endure touching him, just as he had to endure their claws digging into him. He squinted against the buffeting wind. Then they were alighting on a promontory, overlooking the scene below. And, though they released him, he still could not move.
"Wait here," Xanatos told the trio. "Stay out of sight, and be careful."
Brooklyn nodded. Now that they were committed, all three of them wore steadfast expressions of grim resolve. They'd get through this.
What, exactly, Jericho still didn't know. All he did know was that Xanatos gestured, and a swirling cyclone of what appeared to be stardust spun from his hand. Then the two of them were alone together in a close, confined passageway. Xanatos began marching him like a marionette. Oh, but should his control falter even for a single heartbeat
Would he be able to take Xanatos in this weakened human form?
Of course he would. He may have lost his overpowering strength, but he was still a gargoyle! And not one hindered by notions of honor. He could be on Alexander Xanatos and throttle the life from him before the man could spit out the first syllables of any magic spells.
Their footfalls echoed strangely. More noises came from up ahead, out of sight around a curve in the passage. Movement. Something large.
One very low and deep, rumbling, hitting Jericho like a battering ram.
Then another. Warm and smoky. A voice that pierced him all the way to the very core of his being, and filled him with the purest distillation of joy.
Goliath and Demona rounded the corner. Side by side, their wingspans filling the hall nearly from wall to wall.
It was her his beloved his Demona! Alive and vibrant and beautiful as ever he'd seen her! She strode with the arrogant hipshot sway of a predator. Tail swinging. Full thighs flexing against the rough hem of her loincloth.
With Goliath but never mind that! Jericho had killed him once. Sort of. He could do it again. All that mattered was Demona, here, right in front of him!
Then his body moved, fast and sure. He drew his weapon and leveled it at her, and cocked it. A round slid into the chamber with a decisive click.
He heard himself speak in the voice that wasn't his own. "Hold it right there!"
Xanatos stepped up beside Jericho, his own weapon at the ready. Jericho could only stare, aghast, a prisoner within himself, at Demona.
She smirked, her eyes glinting rubies as she advanced on him. "You won't fire those guns in here," she said. Her tone was rich, and delightfully mocking. "You could damage the airship."
"Don't bet your life on it, monster," Jericho heard himself say.
Goliath half-reached as if to stay her. "It's too risky," he said.
"Stand back," Jericho said, while inside his head he raged and screamed in turmoil. "I'm warning you."
She snarled. Snarled at him. At him! Didn't she see who he was? Didn't she know it was him? How could she be fooled by a mere spell? He was Jericho, her own devoted Jericho!
But, no she snarled, and lithe as a panther she sprang first up onto the wall, and then pounced on him.
He was hurled flat to the corridor floor. His gun went off. Missing the edge of her wing by inches! The bullet ricocheted crazily around the corridor. Jericho did not feel it hit him, wouldn't have cared if it had. Because Demona was atop him, almost straddling him. Her bosom heaved as she inhaled, straining against her halter. So fierce and beautiful, eyes ablaze, fangs gleaming, jewelry shining in the gloom.
Oh, and he could feel her the weight and heat of her body on his as it had been so many times before
Except that her claws were digging into his jumpsuit, puncturing the interlaced CB of the logo where a left breast pocket would have been. And she was reaching for his exposed throat.
All at once, in an epiphany as shattering as a sledgehammer, Jericho finally understood.
The thrumming massive engines, and the downdraft of its vertical propeller-jets, gradually dwindled as the Cyberbiotics airship droned away on its course.
"That was them," Lex said, his voice thick. "Did you see? Goliath and Demona."
"I saw." Brooklyn nodded toward the bay, where the slender outline of another Cyberbiotics installation rose in the shadow of Lady Liberty. "And look over there."
Broadway gulped. "It's us, isn't it?"
All around them, the city spread out in a twinkling kaleidoscope. It was Manhattan, their home. But not as it had been a couple of nights ago, when Brooklyn had flown his solitary patrol and come home to the dreadful news of what had happened up in Maine. This was the strange new world they'd seen for the first time almost forty years ago. When the spell had been broken, the castle raised above the clouds. When they had broken out of their sleep to find that everything had changed forever.
"Remember how weird we thought it was?" Lex murmured. "Exciting and scary."
"We were so young," Broadway said.
"And stupid." Brooklyn hooked his thumbs in his belt and caped his wings. "Think about it. We're robbing Cyberbiotics right now. Duped by Xanatos."
"Not the last time," Lex said. "We couldn't help it. We didn't know better."
"We do now." Broadway's gaze shifted, and turned sad. "We know a lot better now. Are you sure there isn't anything we can do?"
All three of them looked at the two towers, which stood as an unmistakable landmark in the city skyline. Thirty years had gone by, and another monument had long since been constructed on that spot. But the towers the World Trade Center as it had been
"So many people," Lex said. "Can't we warn them somehow?"
"How?" Brooklyn heaved a sigh. "You know we can't, Lex. Right now, nobody but Xanatos even knows we exist. We're going to walk into the mayor's office, a bunch of 'monsters,' and tell him about something that's still seven years in the future? Something so outrageous and crazy that no one in his right mind would believe a word of it?"
"Yeah, but " Lex trailed off.
"Alex knows what he's talking about," Brooklyn said. "Trust me, I wish there was something we could do. Warn ourselves about Demona, or Dracon, or the Pack "
"Or playing with guns," Broadway said.
"But we can't," Brooklyn finished. "It wouldn't work. And things might be worse for us if it did. What if we accidentally changed things so that events didn't go the way they did in our timeline? What if we went home and found out that we'd screwed it up and hurt our clan? Made it so that none of us ever met our mates, maybe I don't want to risk that."
"I guess," Lex said. "All those innocent people, though. All that destruction."
They stood quietly, each lost in his own memories of what it had been like to awaken that September evening, expecting it to be a night like any other. Only to find that it wasn't like any other night, and nothing would ever be the same again. Elisa had been there to meet them, grainy-eyed and dusty and exhausted, to give them the news.
They couldn't warn anyone about Devil's Night, either. Or the other tragedies, disasters and catastrophies that they knew awaited the city. They couldn't save themselves from pain that hadn't happened yet, spare themselves the blunders and mistakes they knew that their younger selves were destined to make.
"Time travel sucks," Broadway said at last.
Alex Xanatos knew what he had to do. He didn't like it, but he'd seen the Fortress One security tapes. T.J. had been able to dig them out of the archives, digitize them, and send them to him earlier in the day, while Alex had been doing his best to turn his idea into a coherent plan.
He was scared half to death of messing it all up somehow.
Which was dumb, because he knew that he couldn't. Whatever he did would be what he'd done. That was the way this worked. He knew that.
The fear, though
At least it meant he didn't have to act terrified out of his wits. He was sweating and shivering at the same time. Not because as Goliath probably thought he was a lone puny human facing down huge looming gargoyles.
His hand shook as he drew. T.J.'s initial remark about the tape had been, "I don't know how anyone could miss a target that size at that range." But even if he'd been trying to hit them on purpose, Alex wasn't sure if he'd have been able to do it.
He pulled the trigger just as Goliath leaped. The flying tackle bore Demona off of Jericho. Alex's round passed over the gargoyles and blew a hole in a pipe that ran along the wall above her. Steam jetted out in a scalding spray.
Alex fired again, then spun and fled as they came after him. Dying was not part of his plan, thanks. He knew what came next, though, and was doing his best to ready himself for it. As if anyone could ready themselves for a beating.
Roiling misty clouds filled the passageways, rolling in curls and eddies that responded to the airship's constant vibration and the hiss of the ventilation systems. The anticipation made it worse. He knew what was coming, knew it, damn it, and that keyed him up to a fever pitch.
Goliath wouldn't recognize him. Would have no way of knowing that Alex was a friend. And Demona? She wouldn't have cared.
Confusing steam clouded his vision, got in his way. His nerves were wound so tight he thought they might snap like guitar strings. He moved with each step cautious, swinging the gun this way and that not that he would shoot either of them.
Jericho's shapeshifted form flew past, slammed into the curved corridor wall with what looked like sufficient force to pulverize bones into jelly, and slid down like a rag doll. Although he'd been expecting it, Alex jumped and gasped.
He whirled, and there came Demona. He'd been raised on stories of her. She was the avatar of pure malevolence as she emerged from the seething steam. Her eyes were pools of fire, her fangs were bared.
Then a larger shape loomed to his left. He heard a deep, rumbling snarl. Turned. Was face to face with Goliath, whose glowing-eyed expression was terrifying as he wrenched the gun out of Alex's unresisting grip.
It was almost enough to break his heart into pieces. Goliath here, whole, and alive. Goliath, not as Alex had grown up knowing him, but as he'd been years before Alex had even been born. In his prime, a mature warrior but still young, not yet as seasoned by wisdom as he would become.
Goliath, who had been almost as much a mentor to Alexander as he'd been to the hatchlings of the clan who had been there for him, a surrogate father-figure, after Alex's own parents had disappeared.
He wanted to say something. To say, here and now, what he'd never gotten around to saying when it counted. But it would be senseless now.
Powerful purple claws shot out of the fog and seized Alex, bunching up the front of his Cyberbiotics uniform, yanking him off his feet. Piledriving him upward into the corridor ceiling.
There was a sharp crack his pot helm, thankfully not his skull! and Goliath dropped him to the floor beside Jericho. Alex lay there, dazed. He very nearly didn't have to feign unconsciousness after all.
"The gunfire may alert the others," Goliath said, standing over their sprawled bodies. "We'd better hurry."
The flurries of steam had largely been sucked down through the open floor panel, though jets of it still spewed from the ruptured pipes. Alex watched with aching head and slitted eyelids as Demona bent down.
Demona bent, picked Jericho up had he merely been disguised by illusion, she never would have managed that, not with someone of Jericho's bulk and stepped with his limp body toward the opening.
"Wait," Goliath said, catching her by the wrist. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" she replied, dangling Jericho over the drop. "I'm making sure they don't cause us more trouble later."
"No!" His tail lashed with shock. "To kill in the heat of battle is one thing but not like this!"
Her eyes narrowed. "The centuries have made you weak, Goliath." She curled her lip in a sneer of disgust, and flung Jericho's body indifferently aside. As if tossing away some piece of rubbish. Not even with hatred or revulsion. Her disgust was for Goliath. In that moment, as far as she was concerned, the foe in her grasp was not even worth notice.
Jericho crashed into the wall again. There was a vicious bone-cracking sound as he hit, and slithered back to the floor.
Without dignifying the moment with further response, or even a glance back, Demona stalked off down the corridor.
Goliath paused a moment, watching her go. His brow ridges were drawn down, troubled. Then he followed her.
Alex made himself wait until the gargoyles had gone before he sat up. He bent over Jericho, and willed him to open his eyes.
The lids fluttered, and then opened. Though they looked like ordinary human eyes, this time they were truly windows to the soul. Alex could see straight in to the real Jericho.
"You heard everything," Alex said.
"She would have killed me."
Unable to resist twisting the knife, Alex grinned. It was a hard, cruel blade of a grin. A Xanatos grin, if ever there was one. "But Goliath wouldn't let her. He saved your life."
Pain and hate and suffering contorted Jericho's human features so much that, for a moment, he almost looked like a gargoyle again. If he'd been allowed to move, he might have gone for Alex's neck.
"That means you failed, Xanatos," Jericho whispered. "You wanted her to slay me, and she could not. For whatever reason, she could not. Proof that she and I are "
"You're wrong, Jericho. She killed you."
"No, I "
"That was an act with murderous intent. She raised her hand to end your life. The fact that Goliath intervened before she actually did doesn't change the fact that she was going to. The spell's broken."
"I felt it unravel, the intricate magical knot that had been woven through your aura. The condition met the spell undone. You aren't immortal anymore."
"You lie!" Jericho repeated.
"Your back broke when you hit the wall," Alex said. "I heard it go. Didn't you? How come it isn't mending yet? I shot you in the head last night and you were sitting up seconds later."
"It's you and your spell "
"You're paralyzed, Jericho. Even if I gave control of your body back, you wouldn't be able to move."
"This isn't my body!"
From somewhere far down in the bowels of the airship's command center, there came the ringing echoes of gunfire and explosions. The craft lurched and shuddered. Klaxons and alarms blared deafeningly. Another steam pipe burst, filling the corridor with billowing clouds that whipped past them and out the open panel.
"Fortress One is going down," Alex said. "Demona shorted out the guidance system and disabled the stabilizing rudders. It'll plunge into the river. It'll burn, and it'll sink. The rescue divers will never be able to find all the bodies. According to the official reports, fourteen people died in this disaster. All of them dead thanks to Demona. Including you. It's like I said. She killed you."
"No! She she wouldn't she loves me!"
"Just another human disposed of. She'll never even know."
They'd seen the familiar silhouettes winging away. Goliath and Demona, gliding off, vanishing against the night. Last glimpsed heading in the direction of the castle perched atop the Aerie Building. There to hand the Cyberbiotics data over to Xanatos.
"Corporate espionage, my tail," Lex said. "Our, what, third night in the city and he turned us into criminals!"
"You'd already stolen and busted up Vinnie's bike," Broadway pointed out.
"Well, you didn't exactly buy all that food," Lex shot back.
"Will you both knock it the hell off?" Brooklyn watched, fists clenched, body tight. "Come on, Alex. Enough with the suspense already."
The enormous airship veered in a slow, implacable, somehow grand course toward its meeting with the river. Flames and smoke trailed from it. Even from here, they could clearly hear the labored chugging of its engines fighting the inevitable losing battle with gravity, and the alarms shrieking within the metal hull.
"Uh, guys?" Broadway shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I dunno about you, but I'm starting to get a little nervous. What if he doesn't make it?"
"He will," Brooklyn said. "He has to, because he did."
"Not necessarily," Lex said.
Brooklyn knuckle-rapped him on the top of his head. "The past can't be changed, remember?"
"Yeah, I know, so what?"
"So if um well obviously, nothing happens to Alex now or um "
"Xanatos said so," Broadway said. "When they went back for the wedding. That's what Goliath told us. He was tempted to leave him back there, remember? But he couldn't. Because he didn't. It's the same thing."
"But it isn't," Lex said. "Xanatos didn't know exactly what he was talking about. I mean, think it through. He only believed Goliath didn't leave him in the past because there was no record of him having been around back then. He was sure that if he'd lived in the tenth century, he would have meddled around and left a mark on history, right?"
"Which is precisely why Goliath couldn't leave him," Brooklyn said.
"Uh-huh but what if Goliath had left him there, and the very next day, Xanatos got the plague killed by a Viking or something? He wouldn't have had his chance to make a mark. See, the thing is, Xanatos knew he went back in time because he got the letter from himself, the one he gave to the Illuminati before they left. He didn't know for sure he was going to get home."
Brooklyn grabbed his head. "Lex, don't. Just don't. My brain's going to pop."
"We don't know for sure that any of us are going to make it back to our own time," Lex said. He pointed at the foundering airship. "Alex could be dead already, and if he is, we're stuck here. We could get killed ourselves."
"But we didn't." Broadway jerked his head toward the castle. "We're there."
"That us is, yeah. This us, though --"
"Lex, I said don't!"
Just then, the biggest explosion yet ripped through Fortress One. Sparks and red-hot shards rained into the river. The entire airship plummeted. It hit with a tremendous splash and a shearing screech of rending metal, like claws on a blackboard. They could see panicked people jumping from open hatches, paddling frantically through churning water and debris. The sucking draw of the sinking craft was pulling them backward no matter how hard they swam. Screams of agony and despair rose shrill and thin above the rest of the noise.
"Where is he?" Lex jumped around, scanning the wreckage. "I don't see him!"
"We gotta do something." Broadway clutched at Brooklyn's arm. "Those people are gonna drown!"
"We fuck it, come on!" He launched himself, wings catching the air, and heard the other two right behind him.
Alex had told them that, what, fourteen people died in the crash? Yeah, maybe so. But he didn't see how the number could be so low. Not if they didn't get help. And so maybe maybe
A burning torrent of fuel and chemicals surrounded the shattered shell of the airship. The smoke was gritty and black and choking, or white and stinging and acidic. Bodies in lab coats and mustard-yellow Cyberbiotics security uniforms bobbed and thrashed. Some wailed for help, waving their arms. Others floated face-down, revolving in the grip of the current. Brooklyn saw body parts that had been torn off mangled charred.
Goliath and Demona had done this. Had caused this.
Demona's fault, of course. But how could Goliath have gone along with it?
Had they all been that big a bunch of idiots?
They'd seen it later on the news, and it hadn't seemed so bad. The footage was shot from a distance, Halcyon Renard's spokespeople vague and nonspecific. Xanatos had gone to his usual charismatic lengths to assure them that it wasn't as serious as it looked.
And they'd bought it. They had bought the whole sugar-coated cover-up. How naïve could you get?
He dove and caught and pulled and lifted. The Cyberbiotics people were so hurt, terrified and disoriented that half of them didn't even seem aware of what was happening to them. Shock glazed their eyes. A woman in a lab coat, her blonde bun all in straggles and her tortoiseshell glasses hanging broken and askew, clung to him sobbing with her arms around his neck. A man whose leg hung in a chewed-looking lump of scorched meat kept patting Brooklyn's beak and babbling something about Danny, where was Danny, had anyone seen Danny, did Danny get out okay?
Near him, he could see Broadway and Lex fishing more survivors out of the water. Broadway had piled a bunch of them onto a makeshift raft of debris and was towing it to safety. Lex had found a fire extinguisher that still worked. He soared low, spraying curds of foam onto the blazes that threatened to engulf groups of refugees.
And everywhere, everywhere he looked, were men in those mustard-yellow outfits with the blue and white trim.
"Alex!" he shouted.
Lex and Broadway were shouting it, too.
When they'd rescued everybody they could find that was still twitching or moaning, they kept at it searching amid the flotsam and jetsam turning bodies over and staring into blank, sightless eyes. Alex had been careful to fashion himself a disguise of anonymity, to blend in, and he'd done it too damned well!
As if that wasn't enough, what about this one, who was burnt to a crisp from the collarbones up? Or this other guy, whose entire head was a bristling mass of barbs and hooks and bits of circuitry panels, like a computer console had blown up in his face?
Two equally awful thoughts struck him like machine-gun bullets, pow-pow, one right after the other.
If Alex had been killed, that would be devastating enough on its own. But
how would they know for sure that the plan had worked and Jericho was really dead?
and how would they get home without the Phoenix Gate?
"You miscalculated, Xanatos," gasped Jericho as the airship went into a slanting, sickening dive. All around them, alarms howled and steam hissed. The airship felt like it was crumbling to pieces. Sections of pipe fell, clanging and rolling. "Looks like we die together."
"If you think I won't leave you to your fate "
Jericho shook his head. He could do that now, since Xanatos had released him from the spell of control. Not much point in it, after all. Seen as how the accursed human had been right. Jericho's back was broken. This false body in which he was imprisoned was already half-dead, lifeless.
"Leave me? You won't. You don't dare." A harsh sound, perhaps a laugh, escaped his lips. "I might still survive. You can't take that chance. Leave before you know for sure? No."
Xanatos paused, his expression unreadable in the licks of flame from nearby fires and explosions.
"A classic mistake," Jericho went on as best he could. "Very noble of you though. To sacrifice yourself in order to be rid of me."
There was a violent, monstrous impact that blotted out everything else. Jericho knew that his half-paralyzed body was being thrown and bounced and tumbled around, but he could not feel the blows that snapped his leg-bones and ribs. This time, there would be no healing. A hot, sharp line of pain sizzled across his brow, the skin gashed by a ragged edge of metal. And then he was sprawled against a different wall, able to see but not sense or move the tangled jumble of his limbs. One arm was pinned beneath him. The other, which still had some fitful function, lay draped across his torso.
Blood dribbled into his eyes. He could hear water gurgling, rushing up from somewhere below them.
Xanatos had been able to fling some kind of protective ward around himself in the penultimate instant before the crash, but even so he had been buffeted about like a tennis ball in a clothes dryer. He limped as he picked his careful way over to Jericho, where he seemed disappointed to find him still alive.
"Planning to follow me all the way down to the riverbed?"
"I could finish this now," Xanatos said, drawing his gun. "All I'd be doing is hurrying things along to put you out of your misery. You said so yourself. It'd be doing you a kindness."
"Go on, then." Jericho eyed him steadily, despite the awkwardness of his angle and position. "You already shot me once."
The gun centered on him. Xanatos had reverted to his own likeness, and beneath the reddish-gold hair and beard, he looked ashen. His gaze moved from Jericho's to the gun, then back.
"No stomach for murder?" Jericho asked. "Not when you know it's for real?"
"I shot you before!"
"When you knew it wouldn't matter."
"Demona killed you!"
"Yes," Jericho said. His voice broke. He hitched in a breath. "Better to die by her hand than live without her."
The gun wavered. Xanatos gritted his teeth and firmed it, aiming with both hands. Then it wavered again. An infuriated grimace twisted his face.
"You lack the ruthlessness you need," Jericho said.
Xanatos looked one way, toward the onrushing flood as the river surged into the ruined shell of the craft. He looked the other way, where the floor-hatch had become a steeply-slanted window, with curtains of fire and a screen of smoke, but a view of the sparkling city lights against the dark sky.
Jericho's hand moved like a crippled insect, crawling and clutching. Feeble. With strength enough strength enough for this he hoped. "Not much of your father's son are you?" he said, forcing the words out.
Xanatos whipped his head around, blue-green eyes wide with incredulity.
"And thank the Dragon neither am I." Jericho pressed the gun the weapon Xanatos had given him for authenticity's sake, confident in the power of his control spell into Xanatos' belly and pulled the trigger.
It would have been a fine joke on him indeed if the thing hadn't been loaded.
But it bucked and roared, the recoil jarring it from Jericho's grasp. The gun slid down the slope that the corridor had become, spinning out of sight into the turbulent upwelling water. He didn't care. Let it go. His arm fell across his chest again.
Xanatos, meanwhile, had been punched backward as if horse-kicked. His own gun went flying. He managed to grab a scalding steam-pipe even from here, Jericho could see the blisters erupt on his skin and stop himself following the dropped guns down into the deluge. His other hand was held to his stomach, where a dark scarlet stain was growing on the mustard-yellow uniform.
Smiling, Jericho let his head fall back and his eyes drift closed.
"He isn't here!" Lex cried. "He isn't anywhere!"
Broadway flapped his wings, trying to fan away the smoke. "Maybe he used the Phoenix Gate?"
"And left us here?" Brooklyn lifted a smoldering chunk of Fortress One and heaved it aside. "He wouldn't do that!"
"He could come back for us," Broadway said. "We'll see the fireball any minute."
"The only fireballs I'm seeing are the ones from the burning fuel," Brooklyn said.
"We can't stick around much longer!" Lex waved toward flashing lights as rescue boats sped over the river, then waved skyward where helicopter spotlights cut long white lines through the gloom. "We'll be spotted!"
They had saved everyone they could from the wreckage and the water, but hadn't been able to identify any as Alex. Or as Jericho, for that matter.
"You two stay here. I'm going in there to look." Without waiting for a reply, Brooklyn swam for the sinking hulk.
He had his pick of ways in. Not only had all the hatches been sprung in the emergency abandon-ship evacuation, the hull had been so badly trashed by impact and explosions that it looked like a pinata that had been stuffed with firecrackers instead of candy.
Folding his wings close to keep from shredding them, he slipped through a jagged hole and into the airship's interior. It was a distorted nightmare funhouse, the corridors all going at bizarre angles, and frequently blocked by pipes and support beams that had fallen crossways. Wires and cables, some still spitting electricity, swung in the darkness.
"Alex!" he bellowed. "Alex, it's Brooklyn answer me!"
A control panel shorted out with a vicious bug-zapper sound. A grate came loose under his foot and clattered down a vent shaft into oblivion.
Something gleamed. A helmet. One of the Cyberbiotics pot-helms, the chin strap unbuckled.
Brooklyn rubbed his eyes, which stung from fumes. He squinted. Too many passages, too many choices, too many directions.
"Alex, where are you?"
He thought he heard what might have been a faint reply. Maybe his imagination. Didn't matter. He scrambled that way, shouldering aside debris.
Bodies ahead of him. Two bodies. In Cyberbiotics uniforms.
Blood? He smelled blood. Fresh and close.
The nearest body had one hand hooked around a steam-pipe. The hand was swollen and red and gloved in blisters. Brooklyn crouched and raised the man's head. Saw the hair, the beard, the drained greyish pallor, the dark shock-circles under the eyes. Saw the way Alex's other hand was clamped to his stomach, where his clothes were drenched sodden with dark blood.
"Shot me " Alex said. "Stupid mistake stupid "
"It's okay, buddy," Brooklyn said, unhooking him from the pipe and helping him into a more-or-less sitting position. "Gonna get you out of here."
Alex tried to say more, but Brooklyn cut him off with a look.
"I don't want to hear any speeches about how I should leave you and save myself," he said. "In case you forgot, for one thing, you're our ticket home. What about Jericho?"
"There." Alex nodded toward the other body.
Brooklyn went to it, and sucked in breath through his teeth when he got a good look. He wasn't a doctor, but it looked to him like about every bone was broken. He felt for a pulse and found nothing.
"He's really dead?" he asked. "Really? Alex, I have to know. I have to be sure!"
They were sinking, all right. Brooklyn could see the water flooding faster up the corridor toward them, frothing and bubbling, littered with flotsam and jetsam. Fortress One gave a sudden lurching list to the side. The hull squealed. He heard another booming explosion, and a cacophony of rending metal. In the middle of all that, Alex was saying something, but his voice was so low and faltering that Brooklyn couldn't make out a single word.
"What? Alex, what did you "
A near-blinding green brilliance seemed to light the body from within. Brooklyn had an impression of things shifting, expanding, rearranging. Then the green glow faded, and instead of the ordinary-looking human guise, he saw Jericho again. Jericho, in the tatters of a Cyberbiotics uniform. His arms, legs, wings and tail were bent around in impossible contortions.
Before his eyes, Jericho's azure skin stiffened and darkened, becoming grey, becoming stone. Fine hairline fractures appeared. They lengthened, interlaced, widened. There was a brittle crackling sound, and then a deep grinding sound. Chunks began to erode and fall off fingers, an ear, the tail-tip, a toe, a brow ridge. They ricocheted from the slanted walls and floor and plunked into the water like rocks thrown down a well.
The body held a recognizable gargoyle shape for a few seconds longer, then collapsed in on itself with a crumbling crash. There was a gritty cloud of dust, a spill of gravel and all that remained of Jericho went sliding away down the slope and into the churning foam.
"Really dead," Alex said. The corners of his mouth twitched at Brooklyn. His eyes rolled back in his head and he keeled over.
Brooklyn caught him. "No! Alex! No!"
But Alex only hung slack in his arms, deadweight and motionless. And the water level was almost up to them as Fortress One continued settling into the depths of the river.
"What do we do? What are we gonna do?" Broadway was gnawing on his own talons in anxiety. "Think of something!"
"I think " Lex began, then looked fast over his shoulder. "that we better hide!"
"Huh?" Turning as well, Broadway saw the oncoming, speeding headlights.
They'd taken refuge on a concrete-walled barrier at the riverbank but now jumped down from that perch, scrabbling for claw-holds and gouging long gashes until they skidded to a halt, suspended maybe ten feet below the edge.
Above them, tires screeched. A door chunked open.
Craning their necks, they looked up. The side of a car was just visible. An older model. Red. With a white top.
"Oh, jalapena," Broadway muttered.
"Shh!" Lex said.
Hurried footsteps came toward them. And there she was. Jeans, red jacket, long dark hair flying around her as she stared open-mouthed at the scene mid-river. Fortress One was still in flames, sending up gouts of oily black smoke.
Then, through the smoke, two gliding shapes appeared. They soared past.
Softly, with mingled suspicion and disbelief, she said, "Goliath?"
Broadway and Lex exchanged an agonized glance. Elisa!
They could see it in each others' eyes the urge to go to her, talk to her, explain everything. But they couldn't. All they could do was stay where they were, pressing close to the rough concrete, with lumps in their throats and tears burning in their eyes.
After one more moment of staring into the sky, she ran back to the Fairlane and dove behind the wheel.
"I said it before, and I'll say it again." Broadway sniffled, voice wavering. "Time travel really sucks."
"Hold on, Alex," Brooklyn panted. "Just a little farther "
He was bent nearly double, Alex slung like a leaden weight against his spine as he slogged through thigh-deep, filthy water. He had Alex by the wrists, Alex's head lolling against his shoulder. If he hadn't been able to hear and feel the slow, dragging rasps of breath in his ear, he would have been sure that Alex was already dead.
Though he'd done the best he could to bandage the gunshot wound, he could feel Alex's blood soaking through the thick pad of folded cloth. It squelched against the small of Brooklyn's back and trickled down the base of his tail. It felt as if someone had tucked a hot, wet sponge between their bodies.
Fortress One had settled so that it was no longer at a precipitous slant, but it was more than halfway submerged. The sections that had not flooded were still dense with smoke and fumes, festooned with live wires. Metal scraps and broken glass made his progress like trying to walk through a minefield of serrated knives.
But he kept going. He was probably lost, going in circles or working his way deeper into the bowels of the airship rather than toward an exit, but he kept going.
Until all of a sudden, there wasn't anything solid underfoot.
Too late. He'd been hunched forward, off-balance anyway, and barely had time to snatch a gulp of air before plunging underwater.
His wings flared falling instinct and one of them snagged on something sharp, slicing through the membrane. He couldn't see at all, the water dark and polluted. Unidentifiable objects, some of them revoltingly fleshy, bumped into him as he thrashed around trying to get his bearings.
He couldn't surface. There was a current, a vortex, sucking him down. Lungs beginning to pound already, Brooklyn swung Alex around and wrapped him close in arms and folded wings. He tucked his beak down and kicked for all he was worth. Into the current. With the direction of the vortex.
More sharp edges raked at him, and he banged into obstacle after obstacle. It was as if the dying airship was determined to take as many with it as it could. Brooklyn tried to use his tail like a rudder, to steer himself the way a crocodile might but he still couldn't see, and could barely tell which way was up or down.
Abruptly, he was out. He popped out of the cleft hull like a cork from a bottle and somersaulted through open space. Not open water by any means the impact had churned up a murky layer of mud and slime from the riverbed. But he saw a dull red-orange glow and realized it was the fire still blazing on the oilslick.
Brooklyn kicked, kicked hard. Spots danced behind his eyes. His lungs throbbed and begged for air. He could feel a deep, burning ache in his chest and knew that in a few more seconds, he'd inhale the foul water whether he wanted to or not. Desperate bubbles of used breath burst helplessly from his lips.
His head broke the surface. He thrust his beak at the sky and wheezed in a huge, grateful gasp of air. He coughed, and spat, and treaded water while heaving Alex's head up.
The river was crowded with rescue boats, but the fiery wreckage was between them and him. The circling helicopters weren't playing their searchlights where he was. Not at the moment, anyway.
He had never been so glad in all his life to hear Broadway and Lex calling to him. They glided to him, jabbering a mile a minute even as they helped him tow Alex to shore. Asking him what had happened, was he all right, was Alex all right, what about Jericho?
"Jericho's dead," Brooklyn said. "I saw him go to death-gravel myself. But he shot Alex. It's it's pretty bad."
Lex fussed over the bandage. "Looks like he's lost an awful lot of blood. He needs a doctor. Like, now."
There were ambulances on the shore. Emergency rooms nearby. But they couldn't very well walk up to the paramedics and hand Alex over, could they? Three gargoyles? They might be able to slip him in unnoticed among the rest of the Cyberbiotics casualties he was even still wearing one of their uniforms, more or less but then what?
"They might not be able to help him," Broadway said. "When I shot Elisa she she flatlined, remember? They almost lost her. And I don't think it was this bad that time."
"Even if they could start surgery right away, with all this gross water in the wound, he's almost sure to pick up some infection or disease," Lex said.
"We've got to do something!" Brooklyn said, smacking a fist against his thigh.
"Yeah." Broadway held out his hand. In it, the Phoenix Gate caught the firelight in an eerie, shimmering luminescence. "We've gotta take him home."
"Where'd you get that?" demanded Brooklyn.
"He had it in his pocket. Only I don't know the words."
"If we can get him to Julian " Lex said, looking up at Brooklyn with hopeful eyes. "Julian could take care of this in a snap."
In the distance, a fusillade of crimson beams lanced through the sky above the castle towers atop the Aerie Building. Brooklyn saw sparkles and glints, and red clouds of smoke.
"What the --?" he said, and then he knew. The memory was like being stabbed. "The Steel Clan!"
"Brooklyn!" Lex yanked hard on his tail. "We can't!"
"But this is when Demona "
"We can't!" Lex repeated. "We have to save Alex. That's all that matters. Everything else just has to happen the way it does or did or will."
"Right." Brooklyn ran both hands through his mane. "Right. Okay. Give me the damn Phoenix Gate."
The cane's tip clacked against stone, echoing in the castle corridor.
The cane. Their compromise. He had wanted to do without, and everyone else would have seen him leaning on a walker. Or, better yet, in a wheelchair. Or, best of all, confined to bed rest.
But the cane was enough. The cane would do. If it hurt, and wore him out, so what? He deserved it. He had no one but himself to blame.
"How long are you going to keep doing this?" Patricia asked.
Alex raised an eyebrow.
"And don't give me that Xanatos eyebrow, either, Alexander darling. You aren't fooling anyone. Neither are you impressing anyone."
"Wasn't trying to."
"Mmm-hmm," she said. "You're punishing yourself, and I do wish you'd stop because it's trite, boring and foolish."
"I knew there was a reason I loved you."
"I'm serious, darling. You needn't make yourself suffer more than you already have. You won, after all."
"Trish, I blew it."
"Don't call me Trish. And you did not. The mission was a success. You did what you set out to do. Jericho is dead. A threat to our home and family has been eliminated."
"It shouldn't have been that close. It wouldn't have been, if I'd just gone ahead and finished him off. But I couldn't do it. He was right about me, Trish. When the moment came to be ruthless and do what had to be done, I couldn't. What would my father think of that?"
"Your father was a bastard, darling. We all know that."
Alex reached the end of the hall. Patricia slipped smoothly around him and opened the door.
"Exactly. He wouldn't have hesitated. I did, and look what it earned me. Jericho just about killed me. With a gun that I gave him, how's that for insult to injury? It would've served me right." He limped past her and into his study, which was dark and quiet and smelled of wood polish, old books and well-cared-for leather.
Elsewhere in the castle, the reunited clan was engaged in a bittersweet sort of celebration, fondly remembering Goliath and Elisa even as they mourned for them. Macbeth, too he had been a friend of the clan for far longer than he'd been an adversary. And some of them, Alex knew, even found it in their hearts to finally forgive Demona. They were also, though without coming right out and saying so, celebrating their victory over Jericho, and their relief that he was once and for all no longer a threat to them.
Alex had stayed until he was so sore and tired that Julian was giving him the for-your-own-good look. When he had tried to ignore it, Patricia had stepped in. And told him right out that if he wouldn't listen to her, she'd have Orpheus intervene.
He hadn't really needed that much convincing. Had, in fact, been glad for the excuse to leave early. He still had brooding to do.
Except now it looked as though his devoted wife was trying to take all the fun out of it.
"You're not planning to make a long-term habit of this, I hope," Patricia said. "Being a self-pitying martyr? Wallowing in your pain and misery? For goodness' sake, darling, if I'd wanted to marry a masochist, I would have. Despite what the others may think of our relationship, I derive no pleasure from seeing you like this."
"They don't really believe that you dress up in spike-heeled boots and beat me with coathangers and rubber hoses," Alex said.
"I've explained you're more the riding-crop type."
"Very funny, darling."
He smiled wanly. "What are my chances of being allowed some brandy?"
"To drink, or to have dumped over your head for smartassery?"
"Preferably to drink. Julian says I'm on the mend. Even lets me have solid food now, as long as I don't try my luck with anything too spicy."
She regarded him, ice-blue eyes cool but slightly softer than usual. "Will you promise not to mope alone in the dark?"
"I'll turn on the lamp."
"I could stay with you."
"That's all right. I was going to try not to mope. Just think a while."
"Fine, then. One brandy. But don't make me regret being nice to you." She poured him a drink in a cut-crystal glass.
"Do I ever?"
"Constantly, darling." Patricia brushed a kiss on his cheek, switched on the desk lamp, dialed it to a muted golden glow, and left the room.
Alex sank into his familiar, comfortable chair and sighed. Physically, he wasn't that badly off. Julian's healing touch was well miraculous. But he had come closer to death than they liked to admit. And while he didn't have the full vulnerability to iron, getting plugged in the gut by an old-fashioned bullet wasn't exactly good for him.
He chuckled a little. Being plugged in the gut wasn't exactly good for anybody, part-fae or otherwise. Still, all things being equal, he would have been better off if Jericho had been armed with a nice, modern energy weapon.
And if he hadn't then been piggybacked through a sinking airship and floods of toxic-level pollutants, then nearly drowned on top of everything else.
They'd made quite a spectacular entrance upon their return to their own time. Alex hadn't been conscious to see it himself, but he'd heard all about it. Only Angela and Patricia had known what they were up to and they'd still been at Castle Lachlan. No one here had been even remotely prepared to have the Phoenix Gate's magical fireball go off in their midst, dumping out the four of them all waterlogged, stinking and covered with blood.
In retrospect, Alex supposed, he and the trio were lucky that the rest of the clan hadn't attacked. They'd been on tenterhooks, waiting to hear news of Jericho. Then, poof! Unexpected fireball. Thoroughly understandable if their reaction had been immediate and violent.
But they'd caught on in time. Julian had pulled Alex back from the brink. Aiden had secured the Phoenix Gate Alex was sure Brooklyn had been exceedingly glad to get rid of it.
He'd been out for a few days, and when he'd finally revived, it was to find that the rest of their group had returned from Castle Lachlan. Even Gustav Sevarius, who'd generously offered the use of one of his spare canes.
There hadn't been much time before to try and come to terms with what had happened. Not when they still had Jericho to contend with. But that was done, and now they all had to begin finding their own tentative ways through the labyrinth of grief and loss. There were a million matters to take care of. Announcements to be made. Legal arrangements. The not-insignificant task of dealing with Tourmaline, who was none too happy with any of them. Condolences from other clans near and far. The ramifications this would have on politics and diplomacy. Big picture and little details and everything in between.
It would all get sorted out, though.
His concerns were more personal.
For example, Janine. His young daughter was highly indignant and making no attempts to hide it. Apparently, in her young but stubborn mindset, Daddy was not allowed to get sick or hurt. She wasn't going to let him bribe his way out of this one. Not even with a pony.
And Patricia. She was being too nice, too sweet, too compassionate and understanding. Sooner or later, that was going to come back on him. He just had a feeling it would.
Most of all, though, was the nagging and lingering sense that something was not wrong, exactly but not right.
Something he'd done? Something he hadn't? Something he'd forgotten?
He didn't know. That was worst of all. Not knowing, but feeling like he should. That irritating, persistent, tip-of-the-tongue sensation.
Alex sipped brandy, letting its tingling warmth spread through him. He gazed distractedly in the general direction of the window, which offered a spectacular view of the glittering city skyline beyond.
Was it a glaringly big thing that should be too blatant and obvious to miss?
Or was it minor and so seemingly insignificant that nobody could be expected to catch it?
He didn't know, and it was driving him crazy. More than the deep but fading itch of his wound more than the dissatisfaction over his handling of Jericho.
What had he done? Or missed?
Was it important? Was it trifling?
His study was velvety dark shadows and soft gold-amber-russet glows. He saw it without seeing it, without noticing it, accustomed and at ease in his surroundings.
Except that he wasn't alone.
Someone was sitting across from him, on the other side of the antique desk. His gaze had traveled over the silhouette several times before it dawned on his awareness that there hadn't been anyone in that chair before and no one had come in since Patricia had left, closing the door behind her.
Alex startled and caught his breath, but did not let it show. The ice in his glass did not even clink against crystal.
Sitting there regarding him
Without touching the lamp, Alex turned it up. The ambient glow brightened.
Above the steepled fingers that stroked a greying dark-brown beard, a face very like an older version of his own crinkled into a warm smile.
"Hello, Alex," David Xanatos said. "Miss me?"