Alexander Xanatos found Brooklyn standing on the topmost of the castle towers, white hair blowing back in a wind cold enough to snatch the breath from Alex's lungs in a frosty gasp.
Hearing the gasp, the crimson gargoyle turned and cocked a quizzical brow ridge at him. "What are you doing up here? Patricia kick you out of bed?"
Squinting, expecting the tears squeezed from his protesting eyes to freeze to icicles on his face, Alex hunched into the warmth of a cashmere topcoat and stuffed his hands deep in his pockets. "Thought I'd check on you. See how it was going. We don't get much of a chance for private talks these days."
"It's funny," Brooklyn said, "how the castle can feel so crowded and so empty at the same time."
"You think it's crowded now, give it ten more years until those new eggs of yours all hatch."
"Maybe by then, I'll be used to this."
Brooklyn had taken to wearing a leather doublet and bronze half-breastplate lately, as if under the impression that his exalted status as leader required something more in the way of wardrobe than the classic loincloth. Or maybe it was a reaction to feeling vulnerable in the face of so many new responsibilities. Either way, the look suited him, made him look older and stronger and wiser.
That, Alex figured, was probably reason enough. He'd grown a beard for much the same purpose, partly in memory of his father and partly because Janine's birth had really brought home to him the fact that he was a real adult now.
"You and me both," Alex said, looking out over the vast and dazzling carpet of lights forming New York.
"What do you mean? You've had years to get used to running the show around here."
"True, but like the rest of you, I knew I always had Goliath and Elisa there to pull me from the fire if things got out of control. In a way, they were my second parents. Hell, in some ways, they were more my parents than my parents were."
Brooklyn snorted. "That's because your parents spoiled you rotten, and Goliath was the only one who ever had the guts to discipline you."
"You're probably right, though I bet Grandpa Petros could have given him a run for his money." Alex hitched the collar of his coat up around his ears. "But how about you? How's the clan? Everyone holding up all right?"
"I'm mostly worried about Delilah. It hit us all hard, losing Hudson just two nights before Goliath and Elisa left, but I think it got to her most of all."
Hudson had been a grey-bearded old soldier when Alex hadn't yet been born. It had been poor Delilah to find him that night a year and a half ago. She'd gone rushing into the room in response to Bronx's mournful howling, in time to see Hudson's stony corpse crumble away to gravel.
The remote had been near at hand, the credits had been rolling on the final farewell episode of his favorite long-running television program, a bottle of good single-malt scotch stood empty beside him, and his faithful Bronx had been resting at his feet. Alex could think of plenty of worse ways to go.
"Of course it did," Alex said, putting a gloved hand on Brooklyn's shoulder. "He was more her mate than Samson was, no matter what she said. And, you know, I want to say that it was a damn nice thing the rest of you did for her during the breeding season."
"Sure," Brooklyn said with a ghost of wry humor. "Make it sound like it was some big awful chore."
"Convincing your mates can't have been a glide over the park," Alex said. "I always thought they were the possessive type. I mean, Patricia would have had my nuts in her handbag at the very proposition, but from what I heard, Angela didn't so much as bat an eye."
"Actually," Brooklyn admitted, scratching the undershelf of his beak, "it was the females who suggested it."
"Get out," Alex said.
"I'm serious. It was Elektra's idea originally, and she got the others to go along with it. In the interests of the clan, and to help out their dear sister and all. Angela thought it made a lot of sense."
"She's been so happy since Damien came back that she'd probably agree to just about anything," Alex said. "What about Aiden, though? That's what really boggles my mind. How in the world did you get Aiden to go along with it?"
"Don't ask me," Brooklyn said with a shrug. "They had it all worked out by the time they told any of us. At first, we were sure they couldn't mean it. That it was some sort of joke or something. But they meant it."
"Why can't my wife ever assign me chores like that?" Alex chuckled. "I imagine that none of you complained very much."
"Well, like Elektra said, it was in the best interests of the clan. Genetic diversity. More hatchlings. What with Delilah being such a proven breeder and all. As leader, I have to take that into account."
"Sure," Alex said.
The breeding season, which had taken place a year ago, six months after the departure of Goliath and Elisa, had been a wild and memorable time around the castle. The older hatchlings – Kathe, Malcolm, Kenneth, Finella, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D'Artagna, and Jake – had been full of embarrassing questions and observations that kept their custodians, Amber and Julian, hopping.
Six months after that, almost on the anniversary of Hudson's death, the clan's four adult females had produced nine mottled purple thick-shelled eggs. And three months after that, on a sweltering August day, Alex and Patricia's daughter Janine had been born.
Amber Maza, though technically an adult female, either had too much human blood to be affected by the raging hormones and pheromones of the breeding season, or she had resorted to other methods of birth control. She and Julian hadn't even been married a year yet, and weren't in any hurry to start a family of their own.
"You should go inside," Brooklyn said. "You're going to freeze."
"Yeah, but I saw you out here brooding."
"Was not. Just thinking."
"If you ever need to talk, though, I'm here. I understand. The pressure and everything. My father was a hard act to follow."
"I know it's not something you like to talk about," Brooklyn said, "but we all wish we could help. The whole clan. Maybe Goliath and Elisa will find out something more about what happened to Fox and Xanatos. Maybe they're out there."
Alex shook his head. "Thanks, but it's no use. All I know is what my mother told me, shortly before they disappeared. She said that it was because of a message her mother – you know, Titania – whispered to her the day I was born. But she wouldn't tell me what that message was, and I was never able to get my grandmother to tell me, either."
"Typical Third-Race hints and maddening innuendo?"
"You got it. But, hey, I think you're right. I am freezing out here, so I'm headed inside. Why don't you come along? Broadway's making stuffed lamb chops, or so Malcolm made a point of telling me when I met him in the hall."
Brooklyn spent one last moment gazing out over the city, as if an intent enough stare could give him a vision of Goliath and Elisa wherever they'd gotten to, and then he grinned. "Lamb chops, huh? Sounds good."
They descended the tower steps and eventually found the rest of the clan gathered in the great hall, which had become the heart of the castle. Tantalizing aromas drifted in from the kitchen, and the air was filled with the amiable sounds of voices and laughter.
Kenneth and Finella had table-setting duty, and made a game of it with their magic. Plates, glasses, and flatware danced on silvery tides of energy. Their mother, Aiden, supervised them with a smile, while their father Lexington swore under his breath at the computer in the corner.
Malcolm, wearing an apron tied around his pudgy body and a chef's hat perched atop his curly brown hair, trotted importantly back and forth with butter dishes, gravy boats, and individual bowls of mint jelly. Elektra, likewise aproned but without the hat, appeared in the doorway to remind him to fill the salt and pepper shakers.
Delilah's triplet boys sprawled on the floor, watching a medieval combat show on the History Channel. Their sister, D'Artagna, busied herself leaping from couch cushion to couch cushion chanting a jump-rope rhyme. Delilah herself was curled in Hudson's old chair – moved to the great hall in honor of his memory – writing what was no doubt another of her charmingly painstaking letters to Samson in California.
Bronx, who'd either shifted his loyalty to Delilah or was just emotionally attached to the chair, lay in his accustomed spot worrying a chew toy into hard rubber fragments.
Walking in with Brooklyn, Alex saw the clan leader's expression go all sappy as he beheld his particular branch of the family. Kathe, his daughter, still favored black clothing and silver jewelry, but she was no longer the aloof and morbid Goth-maiden she had once been. Right now, she and Jake were arguing good-naturedly over the rules of a card game.
Jake, the son of a Brooklyn from a parallel dimension, had come to them deeply disturbed by the traumas and tragedies in his young life. It had taken years for him to feel welcome among the clan, and years for Kathe and Angela especially to warm to him. He was slightly older than the others, and a year ago he and D'Artagna had killed a man. The rest of the clan had been worried how the pair would handle this – most of the adults themselves had never actually killed in battle, and weren’t sure what to say. Jake had brooded on it and spent many a night seeking Hudson’s council.
As it turned out, Tanny was the one who left Alex with the most concern. She took it too much in stride, even boasting about it to her brothers as if it had been of no more importance than a death in a video game. It wasn’t that Alex wanted to see her wracked with guilt and distress. But the fact that she seemed so unaffected left him wondering what would happen as she continued to grow and get into more scrapes.
Angela, radiant and beautiful, sat with Damien in her lap. The hatchling, who by rights should have been the same age as the others but who'd had his youth and very nearly his soul stolen from him, had only been returned to them a year ago. He seemed none the worse for his ordeal.
Alex had not mentioned his concerns, but he'd kept a careful eye on the boy lest the evil that had once plunged the city into a region of Hell should return. In his previous incarnation, Damien had come close to destroying the clan. The loss of him almost had destroyed Angela. But now, thanks in a roundabout way to Kathe and a more direct way to Julian, he was restored to them.
Julian insisted that Damien was all right now. And Alex did have to admit that if anybody would know, it'd be Amber's strange, semi-angelic husband. Too, as far as every magical examination Alex could give him showed, Damien was what he appeared to be. An innocent, perfectly normal hatchling.
His worst problem was being out of step with the other generations. By the time the eggs currently nesting in the rookery hatched, Damien would be the size of a grade-schooler. Even Janine would catch up with him and pass him.
As Alex and Brooklyn entered, most of the others looked up in welcome. Damien wriggled from his mother's lap and bounded on all fours across the room. Brooklyn stooped, caught him mid-bound, and tossed him high in the air.
"Dinner," Broadway announced from behind a large silver platter heaped with steaming lamb chops.
Elektra followed him with a serving bowl of roasted parsley-and-butter red potatoes, and Malcolm, with the air of an altar boy participating in a solemn rite, brought up the rear with another bowl brimming with baby carrots and pearl onions.
"Alex, are you joining us?" Finella asked, dimpling at him and batting her eyes. "We can set another place."
"If it's not too much trouble."
"None at all!" She gestured with a flourish. Dishes sailed from the sideboard and settled into their proper arrangement.
With much friendly jostling, everyone took their seats around the table. When all of them, even Alex, were seated, one chair remained vacant next to Julian.
"Where's Amber?" Broadway paused as he was about to dish up the chops. "Should we wait for her?"
"Aww!" chorused Aramis, D'Artagna, and Kenneth.
"I'm here, I'm here," Amber cried, rushing into the room with her wings fluttering in her wake. She dropped into the seat and brandished a sheaf of papers. "I was printing out the latest e-mail from Zaza."
A storm of questions rose from all around the table, most along the lines of 'where are they now?' and 'have they found any new clans?'
"Russia," Amber said. "In the Volga River Valley, where those guys of Godiva's, and Angus' mate, came from."
Kenneth hopped up from his chair and went to a large map on a bulletin board. He plucked a red pushpin from a plastic box and stuck it in the appropriate spot, replacing a yellow pushpin that had already been there. Other pins marked the places that Goliath and Elisa had been or were still scheduled to go.
There were a lot of pins. Goliath wanted to visit every clan they knew of, either from his previous 'world tour' in the late 1990's or that they'd learned of from a group of Angela and Elektra's rookery brothers and sisters, who'd left Avalon on a brief tour of their own.
Japan, London, Guatemala, Egypt, Russia, Alaska, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, and northern California were all marked on the map. So was Montana, though the accelerated-evolution dinosaur clan didn't exactly count. A few green pins in the ocean marked possible locations for an island that Birdie Yale had described to them, an island populated by primitive gargoyles.
"These are for you, Lex," Amber said, handing him a thick manila folder. "Stat sheets on Volgasclan. Names, ages, descriptions, special abilities, genetic markers."
"Just what I need, more work," Lexington said, but he grinned as he leafed through the folder. His was the ambitious task of compiling a global database with information on every known gargoyle. "Wow, they are in trouble, aren't they? Look at these hatching rates. Hardly any viable eggs in their last three breeding seasons, and of those, less than half that hatched lived to maturity. Ouch."
"But Goliath wouldn't really insist on our little ones taking mates outside the clan, would he?" asked Angela.
"Not insist," Alex said. "He's a liaison, a diplomat. Nobody's gone and nominated him Supreme Gargoyle Overlord."
"Yet," Jake said in an aside to Kathe that was clearly audible to the rest of them. He took the serving bowl of potatoes from her, piled a generous helping on his plate, and passed it to Elektra.
Ignoring him, and the snickers the remark generated from the kids, Alex went on. "But that is part of the purpose of this mission. To befriend other clans, but also to bring them into contact with each other, so as to encourage cross-matings and increase the gene pool. Besides, in early human history, it used to be customary that you had to marry outside of your own tribe. For the same reasons, too. It was a way of preventing too much inbreeding."
"Well, it's sure a problem for these Volgasclan guys," Lex said, closing the folder. "They're almost as bad off than the Guatemalans. If anybody needs new blood, it's those two clans."
"But what of those strange gargoyles in the Black Forest?" asked Elektra. "The ones who, like the Pirate Clan that Broadway and I met, turn to wood instead of stone? The rest of us cannot interbreed with them."
"At least, if Tourmaline and Brand are any indication," Angela said. "Though not, I would wager, for lack of trying."
"I thought they had a kid," Broadway said. "Don't they? Web-winged girl, sort of purple-blue colored, a few years younger than our bunch? The one with all the black hair that sticks straight up? They sent us pictures."
"True, my love," Elektra said. "But Violetta is Tourmaline's daughter by her prior mate, our brother Jacob, who yet dwells on Avalon and is likely Lexington's brother by blood. Tourmaline cannot conceive of Brand."
"I'm glad you're the one in charge of keeping track of all this, bro," Brooklyn said to Lex. "Gives me a headache thinking who's related to who."
"Didn't we hear that the clan in Australia turned to wood?" asked Aiden, passing the gravy to Alex. "The ones whose ancestors were figureheads on the old convict ships, sent along as night guards?"
Lex nodded. "She's right. There you go, see? The Pirates and the Black Forest clans can hook up with the Australians. And there were those rumors about wooden clans, tiki-god types, in the Polynesian islands somewhere."
"All this matchmaking," said Broadway. "It was easier when we thought we were the only ones."
"Oh, yeah, right," Brooklyn said. "Easier. When it was you, me, Lex, Goliath, Hudson, and Bronx, and the only female we knew about was Demona. Who was trying to kill us."
"Well, it was easier. We didn't have to worry about matchmaking at all."
"Until Angela showed up," Lex said, winking across the table at her.
"By then, we knew there were other clans," she said archly. "And I told you all about my sisters back on Avalon."
"Good thing, too." Broadway brushed his knuckles against Elektra's delicate brow ridge in an affectionate gesture.
It had been Alex's idea to issue an open invitation to any clans that might still be in hiding but wanted to reveal themselves to the world at large. He and Goliath had been amazed at the response. More than a dozen hitherto unknown clans had been added to the itinerary.
Add Elisa's desire to go to Africa looking for her nephew, Tom, and it made for quite the extensive voyage.
"We will be needing to find more young females, though," Delilah said, buttering a crescent roll. "Someday. Even if our daughters only are wanting mates from the clan, well, we would still be having many extra males."
"Yeah, that's true," said Lex, despite D'Artanga's scoff of protest and loud gagging noises at the mention of mates. "Unless we import a bunch of Guenloie's sisters."
Aiden gave him a look. "The murderous sirens of Castle White?"
"Hey, King Arthur married one, didn't he?"
"Corwin and Griff said –"
"Corwin and Griff," Broadway cut in, "aren't, you know, the best judges of females."
"Oh, now that is unkind," said Elektra. "You hardly know our brother Corwin. He was always most considerate and diligent in pleasing his sisters with hands, mouth, and tail."
"He was, was he?" Brooklyn raised a brow ridge at Angela.
She playfully flicked one of his backswept horns. "And wouldn't you like to know?"
"Hey, guys, remember the little pitchers," Amber said, with a nod in the direction of the goggle-eyed hatchlings.
"I think Griff and Corwin are a handsome couple," Kathe said into the embarrassed silence of the adults. She liked to style herself the most mature of the group, and Alex thought she did a pretty darn good job of it.
"Too handsome; that's the problem," grumbled Jake into his waterglass.
"And they're a good example, too," she said. "We know our history, and how silly and uptight humans used to be about males loving males, and females loving females."
"A lot of them still are," Alex said. "In fact, it’s really you gargoyles' fault that we have legalized gay marriage now."
"What? Alex, that's absurd!" Aiden cried.
"No, it's true. Don't you remember? It was the big issue, and then along came the Gargoyles Rights Bill, and the rest of the world realized that not only were gargoyles real, but that there were a lot more than anyone had ever guessed, all over the place. And people started saying that humans better stick together, and that they'd rather see two men get married than a human marry a gargoyle."
Amber nodded. "Zaza and Daga's marriage was illegal for years. There's some parts of the country where it still wouldn't be recognized."
"The same for Ebon and Julianna," Julian said.
"Technically, I guess it'd apply to us, too," Aiden said, smiling at Lex. "If they knew."
"And Gabriel and Liz, and Angus and Jeannie," added Elektra. "Thank goodness for Arthur and Guenloie, or I'd think that my father was the only human male in history ever to have loved a gargoyle female."
"That's because you gargoyle females scare the hell out of us human males," Alex said. "The fangs, the claws, the tails ... the ferocious sexual appetite –"
Broadway hefted his glass. "This from the man whose human wife scares the hell out of everybody …"
"Speaking of which," Alex said, checking his watch, "I should go. Janine's getting her first tooth, and I promised I'd sit up with her the second half of the night. A superb meal as always, Broadway."
"Are you sure you don't want dessert?" Malcolm piped up. "It's –"
Alex raised a hand. "Please, don't tell me and make the temptation worse!"
"I'll bring the letter around when I'm done with it," Amber said. She mock-snarled at him. "Not that you need it, since you get regular updates and progress reports from all the flunkies you sent along, and you can contact them whenever you like."
"Hey, we agreed it'd be best this way," he said, rising and pushing in his chair. "No phone calls, no video conferences, just good old-fashioned e-mail. If you're always in touch with them, it defeats one of the purposes of their going."
He said his good-byes and let himself out, returning to the private wing he and Patricia called home. It consisted of the master suite that had once belonged to his parents, his-and-hers bathrooms and dressing rooms, a kitchenette, a breakfast room, a media room, his office, her office, Janine's nursery, a guest bedroom that sometimes housed his brother-in-law Sebastian, and a smaller guest room that remained unoccupied.
The fact that he and Patricia had not yet hired a nanny was the talk of the castle, he knew. Neither of them was renowned for their parenting skills. Alex spent his days running his father's vast and interconnected business legacy. Patricia was deeply involved in her work with the Illuminati.
And both of them, in what little spare time that they had, studied and practiced magic. Alex's gift was more instinctive, coming as it did from his Third Race heritage. Patricia was a true sorceress rather than a Fay. She possessed the Wand of Hecate, which she used less often – but also with far less mishaps – than Aiden had once done.
They hadn't exactly planned on a baby. Oh, someday, perhaps … and then there came Janine. With her father's reddish-gold hair and her mother's ice-blue eyes, and a mingling of magical talent from them both.
He found Patricia in the nursery, looking cool and elegant in a blue satin bathrobe. Only the shadows under her eyes attested to her exhaustion. Alex kissed her. "How is she?"
"Sleeping, for now."
But singe marks on the wallpaper and the faint scent of ozone in the air said that Janine hadn't been so peaceful before. That was one good reason not to hire a nanny. What kind of nanny could stand up to a three-month-old baby who could fling emerald-green lightning bolts when she cried?
Plus, Patricia had spent the last half of her pregnancy interviewing over five hundred applicants, and rejected each and every one of them. When they both had to go out, they either imposed upon Aiden or Sebastian, both of whom could defend against Janine's magical outbursts.
"I'm hoping," Patricia said, stretching, "that the current crop of Sterling Academy graduates will show more promise. We can't keep this up, Alex. It's ruining my looks and my nerves. And after only three months, too."
"We'll find someone." Alex laughed, but was careful to keep it quiet. "If all else fails, we could always ask Orph to tell her to be a good girl."
"You promised him you wouldn't abuse his gift."
"Yeah, and I promised Julian the same thing. Where's the fun in that? I've gone soft. My father would never stand for it."
"All that revolting honor and compassion," Patricia said.
"Some Xanatos I turned out to be."
Janine made a fussy, whining noise in her crib. Patricia pressed a quick kiss on Alex's cheek. "Your turn. I'm off to get some sleep."
He tucked a blanket around the baby and sat down to watch over her. His thoughts returned to Goliath and Elisa. Particularly Elisa. He wondered if she had figured it out yet, and if she was mad at him. Or, maybe, she understood.
Maybe … but he knew how stubborn she could be. That was why he hadn't approached her with the offer, why he'd just cast the spell on the sly. She wouldn't have accepted it otherwise. Just as she had always refused his offers to turn her into a gargoyle. She wanted life on its own terms, good or bad.
But it had to bother her, even if she wouldn't admit it. Being one of the only normal humans in the clan, no mystical heritage like her sister Beth, no magical abilities, no uncanny powers. One of the only humans, and with a human's lifespan. He was sure that she didn't really want to grow old twice as fast as Goliath did.
Or die, the way so many of the others had. Mr. and Mrs. Maza. Alex's grandfathers Petros Xanatos and Halcyon Renard. Matt and Edie Bluestone. Aiden's mother and father.
It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair. To lose Elisa, after he'd already lost both of his own parents, after he'd lost Owen, and Hudson … it would have been unbearable. She was the heart and soul and guts of the clan. Without her, Goliath and Amber would fall apart, and take the rest of them down too.
So it had been for a good cause, really. He just hadn't told her. A few simple spells, that was all. Rejuvenation and a heightened immune system. Nothing drastic. Just to make sure that she had a good, long, healthy life. Like she deserved.
As long as nobody tried to kill her. He couldn't make her immortal, like Demona or Macbeth or Merlin or Galahad. But there wasn't much danger of that. Elisa was tough. What she couldn’t handle, Goliath surely could. And if for some reason he couldn't, well, that was why Alex had made sure to send bodyguards on the trip with them, along with the diplomats, translators, pilots, and other staff.
Thanks mostly to former President Harmond and his work with the United Nations, most of the places they'd be going now had laws to protect the lives and rights of gargoyles and mutates as well as humans. The long years of hassles, both in the legal and religious arenas, had finally more or less settled down. Oh, Alex knew there were still plenty of people whose knee-jerk xenophobia would never let them tolerate any gargoyle or mutate, but many others were much more accepting.
There were some restrictions, of course, mostly in the matters of competitive athletics or professional sports. Some jobs, it had to be admitted, really weren't suited to someone who spent the daylight hours in solid stone sleep. The good thing about that was that few gargoyles were interested in entering the mainstream work force.
They had joked about Goliath becoming Supreme Gargoyle Overlord, but Alex personally thought that it was possible, even if it was only on an informal basis, for him to become leader of this loose worldwide confederation of clans.
Why not? Brooklyn wasn't the only one who habitually deferred to him. Coldstone and Coldfire in Vegas did, and so did Ebon, and every one of the Avalonian refugees now relocated and split up into half a dozen different clans held 'great Goliath' in awe. The leaders in London, Ishimura, and Guatemala knew and respected him of old.
The problem was with these new clans, the ones only recently come out. Goliath was more than a little resentful, feeling – and not, Alex thought, without merit – that his clan had been the ones to strive and suffer and bleed in order to win gargoyles acceptance from humanity. And then for these others to pop up out of nowhere and reap the benefits, when they'd been hiding safely from the world instead of living in it and fighting for their place in it …
He imagined that he might feel the same way, if he went and outed himself as a son of the Third Race, faced the racism and hatred, and then when it was safe, everybody on Avalon decided to take advantage of what he'd done.
But, no, that wasn't fair. The folk of Avalon had done their time in the human world. They hadn't whiled away the centuries on their secure and unreachable island. They'd been out here. They knew the risks and dangers. The stronger science had become, the more perilous their place.
Alex decided, sitting there watching his baby daughter scowl in her sleep, that it basically didn't matter. Human, gargoyle, or Fay … sooner or later, they all had to go through the same hassle.
New York to Boston. A media circus, the historic first meeting and first public appearance of the gargoyles who claimed that their clan's roots went back to colonial times. They were old-fashioned and shy, and their numbers were still divided as to whether or not it had been a good idea to expose themselves to attention and criticism.
And there had been plenty of both. Elisa still cringed when she remembered Goliath asking clan leader Fenway flat out whether they protected their city or not … were they or were they not true gargoyles?
Not really an auspicious start to the trip.
But they'd still had a long way to go. They purposefully took it slowly, spending weeks or months at each stop. This had been partly designed to build the necessary connections and relationships, which for gargoyles had to be founded on a strong sense of worth and trust. And partly because Goliath was firm in his conviction that he wanted to give Brooklyn ample time to come into his own as leader.
Boston to Montreal. The most widely-known secret in town was the clan of dashing, charming, courteous gargoyles. They were beloved local heroes, too, their privacy hitherto jealously guarded by the citizens.
Montreal to Newfoundland. A rugged landscape had bred a rugged clan, stocky and tough, distrustful of humans and outsiders. Goliath had to wrestle their leader in a test of strength to prove his worth, and none of them ever quite warmed to Elisa, or to the knowledge of their crossbreed daughter.
Then across the pond to London. A happy reunion with old friends. Leo and Una, Griff and Corwin, Bors, Draga, Equua and Drake, Fawn and Zachariah, Arthur and Guenloie, the pure but somehow eerie resurrected Galahad, Merlin, and a fine quintet of hatchlings. Goliath and Elisa had stayed there for several weeks.
After that, they had returned to Paris, and met the strangest clan yet. Rather than perching high on Notre Dame or other buildings, they were universally wingless and lived in the sewers. Their clan had a much higher proportion of gargoyle-beasts to any that Elisa had ever seen. But they were undeniably gargoyles.
The village in the depths of the Black Forest might have been transported forward in time from the 14th century. Its human inhabitants got by without electricity or other modern conveniences. They carved clocks and whimsical wooden figurines. The sole source for outside news was a tavern a mile outside of town, which had a generator, a radio, a television, and a satellite dish. The gargoyles who lived in the woods around the village turned to wooden statues by day and roamed the wilderness by night, protecting the townspeople from terrible evils believed to lurk in the darkest parts of the forest.
The stop in Spain was a welcome contrast, the clan there being wild and free-spirited, gliding over the open fields around the majestic stone keep that had been their home for generations. They were passionate, uninhibited, and so physically demonstrative even on short acquaintance that their visitors were made more than a little uncomfortable.
A side trip to Nigeria took them once more to the lost spider city. Elisa missed her mother all the more sharply, remembering their unexpected adventure with Anansi and the were-panthers. Tom and his mate and their children – the offspring of a panther-mutate and a were-panther, they basically went from furry to furrier at will – lived happily in the jungle. They preyed on poachers, tinpot militia, and drug smugglers, and were steadfast in their refusal to leave.
In Egypt, they were welcomed by Cassius – formerly of Avalon – and his mate Khepri, who had two fine children, Nuru and Badru. The females were active by day and the males by night, all four of them on good terms with the various archeological teams brought in by Brendan and Dakota Vandermere.
And then, Greece. A spectacular clan whose daylight stone forms were white as alabaster, their features and bodies as classically beautiful as any ancient Greek statuary. They spent the balmy moonlit nights fishing in the warm, shallow waters around their island, and rescuing shipwrecked sailors whenever they could.
Greece to Russia … and then to India. The gargoyles there had been the most exotic, putting even the heraldic forms of the London Clan to shame. Elephant-headed, or with multiple arms or eyes, they lived like gods or kings in a majestic temple, surrounded by a devoted cult of humans who lavished them with gold, spices, oils, and other luxuries.
In Mongolia, a nomadic clan had been raiding human settlements with every bit the savagery that the legendary Genghis Kahn had once shown. That stop had been unusual in that it hadn't been the clan to request a visit, but the humans, hoping that Goliath might be able to convince the gargoyles to quit their attacks on their human neighbors.
He had certainly tried, and damn near got himself killed for his efforts. Only sunrise had saved him, by turning him to stone so that he could heal, and by turning the others to stone and enabling Elisa and the team of bodyguards to bring in a helicopter, harness Goliath up, and chopper him out of there.
She had been ready to call the trip off there and then, but Goliath wouldn't hear of it.
Ishimura had hardly changed in thirty years, except to have more than tripled its numbers thanks to several successful breeding seasons. Elisa had never seen so many gargoyle youngsters in one place. The clan was happy, healthy, productive, and more than interested in making future mating arrangements for their offspring.
The Australian clan had been as cheerful and outgoing as their human counterparts were reputed to be. An odd metamorphosis had come over them in the few hundred years since their ancestors had gone ashore with the first boatload of convicts; they now slept in a state that was neither wood nor stone, but somewhere in between, like petrified wood.
The handful of scattered family groups making up a loose clan alliance on a cluster of tiny Polynesian islands, on the other hand, did turn to wood. They were ruled over by a matriarch called Pele, whose flesh form was a dusky red-black shot with vivid orange lines, like a cooling but still active lava flow.
Going from tropical islands to the stark and cold landscape of the Yukon proved to be a real shock to the system, especially to those with fragile human skins and constitutions. Goliath used this as one argument why he should go alone into the wilderness to find the Yukon clan.
Especially after the Mongolia business, Elisa hadn’t been ecstatic about letting him take the solo risk while she and the others stayed behind in the tiny town of Faro. But they had been well warned of the reception that humans would likely get.
Several years before, the clan-group at the time consisting of Coldstone, Coldfire, and their sons Gabriel and Angus had ventured north and discovered the clan of gargoyles so primitive, xenophobic, and murderous that they had possibly been the truth behind legends of the Wendigo. They were said to butcher humans, eat their flesh, decorate their lair with human scalps, and adorn themselves with jewelry made from fingerbones and other body parts.
Needless to say, Elisa had no intention of this diplomatic voyage ending up with her scalp swinging outside a cave entrance in the Canadian forest. But Goliath found that changes had been wrought, and was even able to obtain permission to bring her for a visit. She was treated warily, guardedly, but without overt hostility. She even made a friend in the leader’s winsome pine-green mate, whom Gabriel had named Bea in honor of the most horrific of Ebon’s puns.
Thanks to Bea, even the death sentence hanging over Gabriel’s head had been rescinded, and an open invitation to Gabriel and his clan was extended. Goliath and Elisa had thanked them, relieved – the chances of the death sentence being carried out was remote so long as Gabriel remained in Las Vegas, but it never would do to have that kind of matter looming unresolved between clans.
Heading south then, they had come to a spot on the coast near Ketchikan, Alaska. The remnants of a displaced Russian clan lived there, with the addition of two rookery brothers from Avalon – Icarus and Ezekiel – a feathery female known as Piltdown, and her two adolescent hatchlings, Fuzz and Fluff. Goliath and Elisa arrived just in time to witness the hatching of three more eggs. Kyril and Katerina were the offspring of Icarus and Nadia, and Isaac was the son of Ezekiel and Piltdown.
In northern California, they finally met and were most favorably impressed with Hippolyta. They'd heard about her not only from the other Avalonians, but also from Talon's mate Maggie, who remembered her from the time they'd both spent working, under some duress, for the Coalition. President Harmond, too, had told them about the coppery-skinned archer, and the tone of his voice made Goliath and Elisa later wonder whether the country might have had a gargoyle First Lady if events had gone differently. Of course, if Daniel Harmond had persisted in his interest in Hippolyta, it would have doomed his shot at the presidency. People weren't that accepting yet.
The people of Trinity Bay had elected Hippolyta as chief of police, with the caveat that she would split the office with her best friend Nyx Dansbourne. Between the two of them, they capably managed the small police force and kept the peace in the little redwood-country town. They also held informal jurisdiction over a tribe of Bigfoots, or australopithicus, who lived in the mountains.
The Sasquatch-mutate Samson was there, too. Originally taken to the Pacific Northwest by his father – it was still easiest for Elisa to think of Anton Sevarius as male, though his brilliant-if-amoral consciousness had resided in the wheelchair-bound body of a woman for thirty years – to obtain a fresh supply of australopithicus DNA to heal his failing body, Samson had been kidnapped by the all-female tribe and kept around for reproductive purposes. He was now the shaggy patriarch of a thriving tribe of descendants.
Sevarius, who'd chosen to remain and oversee the development of this next generation, was not overwhelmed with delight at seeing Goliath and Elisa again. He had aged badly, and hadn't started off all that well. Physically, his current body was older than Elisa, and so impaired that he could now only communicate by means of an implanted device that turned brain waves into a mechanical voice.
From Trinity Bay, they went to Montana, where they had arranged ahead of time to meet up with Gabriel and his human mate, Liz, who would introduce them to the clan of dinosaur-gargoyles escaped from a fiendish research facility. Gabriel and Liz brought their son Lysander along, and he reminded Goliath and Elisa of Amber at that age.
Their next stop was Las Vegas, still accompanied by Gabriel, Liz, and Lysander. At the opulent Coventry Hotel, the gorgeous Godiva reigned supreme. She had assembled a clan of gargoyles from various other parts of the world, including a pair exiled from Ishimura – when there, Elisa had unwisely asked about the circumstances of Hoshi and Ohta's departure, and gotten stony silence by way of reply – Goliath's former rookery siblings Coldstone and Coldfire, their sons, and a troop of acrobats from Volgasclan.
The athletic Russian-hatched males, with no eligible females back home and no real desire for mates, offspring, and other commitments that would interfere with their careers as circus stars, had wholeheartedly embraced life as Godiva's playmates. With so many of them in so many endless combinations, it kept the indigo seductress from bothering any other males. Elisa wasn't sure whether she could trust this news or not, until she saw with her own eyes the polite and perfectly civil way in which Godiva behaved around Goliath.
The one Volgasclan female, Sonia, shared her mate Angus with Jeannie, a human geneticist related to Anton Sevarius in ways too intricate and disturbing to contemplate. The three of them were proud parents of a plump blue-grey hatchling, Stefanya, and a crossbreed girl named Eibhlin for the Scottish woman who'd raised Angus as her own.
The girls had plenty of company in the form of Lysander – whom they teased mercilessly – and Akemi and Minako, the daughters of Hoshi and Ohta. The mismatched clan had turned the Coventry into a lively, pleasant place … though it did leave Elisa feeling more homesick than she had since the start of the tour. And they still had a few stops to go.
The crumbling pyramid in Guatemala was next on the itinerary, deep in the humid green where more old friends still fought the good fight against avaricious logging companies. Jade, Turquesa, Zafiro, and Obsidiana were far older than their years, having spent too many days awake with the help of their sun-amulets and therefore aging instead of staying ageless in stone hibernation.
Elisa had known something about the situation of the Guatemala clan before their arrival, thanks to infrequent letters. Still, it was a shock to see them, and to meet their hatchlings. Out of their last three attempts at a breeding season, Turquesa and Obsidiana had only lain a total of five eggs between them. Two of those eggs had never hatched. Of the three survivors, little Zurina was a frail and sickly albino, serpent-tailed Ora was sweet but simple-minded, and only Porfirio was stout and healthy.
Goliath was ready then and there to whisk the entire clan of them away to someplace else – Avalon would have been his choice, if it had not been blocked to them – but Zafiro would not hear of it. He refused to leave the crumbling ruin, and the jungle, to the greedy chainsaws and bulldozers. And when it came to arguing about abandoning one's ancestral home, Goliath was not the best gargoyle for the task.
Saddened and depressed, they had gone on to Brazil and glumly expected to find the clan there in similar straits. But the gargoyles in Rio de Janeiro were nothing at all like their Guatemalan kin. They had evolved along flamboyant lines, with enormous colorful wings and feathered crests, and were the living stars of Carnivale. Ambrosio, Flaminio, Cristobal, Orquidea, Dulcinea, Xalvadora and the rest considered themselves extremely cosmopolitan and civilized. Many of their clan earned good money as artists, craftsmen, and entertainers. They were all so constantly full of energy and motion that it wearied Elisa just to be around them.
Or maybe it was the trip that was wearying her. She'd held up with what she thought was remarkable stamina for an old lady in her sixties. Somehow, too, she'd avoided coming down with anything. In fact, she felt better than she had in years. But it was hard to be away from home for so long.
Like it or not, she was a New Yorker at heart. She couldn't ever live anywhere else, no matter how fancy. There had been times when the clan had debated maybe relocating to someplace less intense. But the reasons for staying in the city were always stronger. That gargoyle protective urge, for one. The castle, for another. And various friends and relations living nearby.
It was all well and good for Aiden and Lex to spend big chunks of their winters up at the Sterling Academy, teaching sorcery and computer science to the Illuminati-approved students. It was fine for Elektra to commute regularly to Washington DC, where she served on the Gargoyles Rights Commission. It was great that Broadway had gotten to Tokyo, Paris, and Los Angeles in the Iron Chef 2025 International Championships. But the rest of them felt most at home in good old Manhattan.
She wondered how they were doing, really doing. The news they got by way of Alex, and the e-mails from Amber, said that everything was fine. That Brooklyn had, after some initial hesitation, gotten the hang of being clan leader. More importantly, the others had gotten the hang of looking to him for leadership.
There were new eggs in the rookery – she had been amazed when Amber told her how Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington had all consented to spend some time with Delilah during the breeding season, and downright astounded to hear that it had been done with their mates' full approval.
The hatchlings were as much of a handful as ever, but shaping up into promising young warriors according to Brooklyn. Damien was learning to glide. Janine, Alex and Patricia's daughter, was walking and talking and making the Terrible Twos her own. They'd found a nanny for her, a spunky gal from Texas, and the rumor was that Finella was horribly jealous because Jake had developed a serious crush.
Elisa's niece, Dee, had given birth to a veritable litter of mutates, four of them, two with wings and two without and all of them sure to be speedsters in the making, like Dee and her mate Feral. Talon and Maggie – who had recovered from her hellish ordeal but was shy and withdrawn, much as she'd been back when she had first fallen victim to Sevarius' mutagenic experiments – couldn't be more thrilled with their grandkids.
With the addition of Claw’s human mate and their two kids, Buddy and Ruby-Jean, the Labyrinth sounded like it had become a happy, lively place indeed. Elisa was glad. There had been a few bad years in there, with Talon so sunk in depression over losing Maggie.
It was hard to believe she and Goliath had been five years away from home. Harder to believe that they were almost done with their trip.
Their second-to-last stop had been on a Caribbean island, where there'd been some serious difficulties and international incidents to deal with. The terror of the seas in that region had for a long time been the Lady Macbeth, a souped-up replica of an authentic pirate vessel commanded by Brand, a gargoyle with a sort of archangel-with-fiery-sword motif, and his mate Tourmaline.
From the first few seconds of their meeting, Elisa had not liked Tourmaline. She was too haughty, too superior, disdainful of humans … reminiscent, in a way, of Demona. Except, where Demona had been easily provoked into rage, Tourmaline was more calculating, and her temper was sharp and cold as a razor made from ice.
Her daughter Violetta, whose appearance hinted at some kinship with Lexington, was a sweet, bubbly, energetic girl who seemed oblivious to her mother's cool rancor. Violetta had spent her in-egg years in the Ketchikan rookery, with Tourmaline having returned to fetch the egg shortly before it was due to hatch.
Exactly how she’d gotten from the Caribbean to the rugged Pacific coast was unclear … Elisa couldn’t imagine them blithely sailing the Lady Macbeth through the Panama Canal, but going all the way around by any other route would have been daunting to the largest and best-equipped of vessels.
The previous leader of the pirate clan, Reaper, had retired after a battle wound left him blinded and generally despondent. He and his mate Melusine kept primarily to their lair in an island sea cave, where their gargoyle beast Chimera watched over three barely out of the shell hatchlings, Syrene, Jack, and Bosun.
Their adult son, Imp, was brawny and vicious-looking, his leathery hide studded with long spines. But despite his fearsome appearance, he was mild and friendly, and cared more for wagers and games of chance than he did for fighting and plunder.
The Lady Macbeth was well-known throughout the Caribbean, along the coast of Central Mexico, and even in parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. These days, the ship preyed primarily on smugglers, drug-runners, slavers, and other such unsavory types. While this was admirable, and appreciated, it was also condemned as vigilantism, and the Pirate Clan had made more than a few enemies. Too, early on, they had taken their share of yachts and other innocent vessels.
Meeting with them, therefore, was a touchy diplomatic matter as well as a touchy personal one. It was further complicated when Violetta announced, brightly and with no preamble or word of warning to anyone, that she intended to travel to Manhattan with Goliath and Elisa, and join their clan.
Tourmaline was icily furious, demanding to know what they thought they were about, luring away her daughter. Goliath and Elisa protested that this was the first they'd heard of it, and they were as shocked as she was.
The arguments went on night after night. Violetta said that she wanted to be around hatchlings closer to her own age – after all, those in Manhattan were only five years her senior. Brand voiced his support of the girl's wishes, and it gradually became clear to Elisa that he had been none too happy about ever retrieving the egg in the first place, and harbored a strong but unarticulated resentment toward Violetta.
She had seen that sort of thing too many times to count while she'd been working as a police officer. Stepfathers indifferent, hostile, or openly abusive to their stepkids. She suspected that, deep down where he might not even be aware of it, Brand blamed Violetta for his and Tourmaline's failure to have children of their own. Which was all wrong, of course … the wood-vs.-stone physiological quirk was responsible for that.
In the end, seeing that both her mate and her child were against her, Tourmaline gave in.
And so, Goliath and Elisa found themselves joined aboard Alex's extravagant gift by an inquisitive young female who poked her nose into everything, pushed buttons, threw switches, and peppered anyone handy with endless questions.
The Titania, named for Avalon's queen, was a luxury craft suited for travel by land, sea, or air. Alex called it his version of Air Force One. It boasted its own kitchen and laundry facilities, a master bedroom suite that Goliath and Elisa shared, a conference room, a lounge, a dining area, and quarters for the crew. The crew consisted of pilots, stewards, cooks, bodyguards, translators, and personal assistants. A team of documentary reporters was also along for the ride.
Violetta adopted the lounge as her lair and became a fast favorite among the crew. By day, she roosted in a corner, and by night she explored the craft from one end to the other. She had already picked up an impressive vocabulary of slang and curse words – giving back as good as she got, having grown up among pirates. When she wasn't playing poker with the bodyguards and reporters, she was pestering Elisa for stories about the clan.
With their last scheduled stop out of the way, it was time to investigate various sightings that Alex's people deemed legitimate enough to bear a look. The Gargoyles Rights Commission had long ago established a hotline for gargoyles or sightings thereof. 99% of the calls were cranks, hoaxes, or delusions, all stemming from the same sort of folks who routinely saw UFOs and believed everything they read in the supermarket tabloids. But some reports seemed genuine, and the Titania traced a zigzag course on the way back toward New York.
They made several stops that turned out to be either wild goose chases or dead ends. A few times, they found evidence that suggested some areas might have once been home to gargoyles, but no traces of current inhabitants. At least, none that cared to let themselves be known. Goliath remained stubbornly sure that they'd been being watched during their pirogue journey through the bayou, watched by gargoyle eyes. Elisa had a similar feeling during their tour of the ruins of a Civil War fort.
And twice, once in the heart of the Nebraska corn country and once smack in the middle of downtown Chicago, they discovered that they were too late to be of any help.
Goliath had taken it like a punch to the gut when they had literally stumbled over the remains of what the documentary crew had wanted to call the Crop Circle Clan, there in the cornfield. Bent-over stalks, withered and brown with the life crushed out of them and dried by the sun … and scattered everywhere amid the dead and dying corn, the smashed fragments of a clan that had been set upon while sleeping. By the looks of things, too, it hadn't happened all that long ago.
The ones in Chicago had died too long ago to be anything but a part of the Windy City's hidden history. A museum curator had, upon learning of the diplomatic mission, called the hotline because he'd come across a room of old photos, newspaper clippings, and other items detailing the exploits of a clan that had perished toward the end of Prohibition, trying to break up a violent shoot-out between gangsters and the feds.
Elisa marveled over the pictures of a slim, fedora-wearing midnight-black gargoyle in a modified pinstripe suit, and his mate or moll, a busty female whose complexion was some light color that showed up pearly grey in the grainy newsprint, wearing a polka-dot dress and strappy high heels. The curator was glad to make copies, so that she could send some to Broadway.
Their last stop was in Maine, where a dozen tourists over the past few years had called the hotline. At first, Goliath and Elisa had assumed that these were connected to Ebon, who'd made his home up there, but Ebon and Julianna had lived in the western part of the state, and had moved with Julian down to Angel Lake long before the reported sightings.
Goliath woke in a shattering of stone, bursting from it with a powerful flexion of his wings and tail. He shook back a fall of grey-touched sable hair from his brow ridge and smiled at the petite, ladylike roar from Violetta as the girl shed her own stone skin.
"Evening," Elisa greeted them.
"Does that mean dinner?" Violetta raked her bristle of short black hair with her talons, making dust sift to the floor. She was of a gorgeous twilight-amethyst hue, and had shown herself to be a speedy and aerobatic glider. "I'm starved."
"We have arrived?" asked Goliath.
"Yeah." Elisa's welcoming grin grew briefly tense. "But there's something I think you should see."
"What is it?" He went to her, his love, his mate of so many years, and bent low to look out of the window where she pointed.
The Titania had landed at a remote county airport in Maine, and was probably the most ostentatious sight the locals had seen in ages. The craft was the size and roughly the shape of a Space Shuttle crossed with a racing yacht, but mounted as well on tires and topped with twin rotor blades that enabled it to operate like a helicopter. The hull was a glimmering iridescent black with the Xanatos logo in ruby red, and silvery-tinted portholes running the length of the sides.
The crew, to match, wore black jumpsuits with red trim and mirrored visors. Goliath could see several of them moving around on the tasks of routine maintenance that came whenever the Titania made another stop.
Around them, a wintry forest rose brittle and frosty against the darkening sky. The tree limbs were thick with ice. Snow layered the ground, and fluffy white flakes came fluttering down.
The airport consisted of only two buildings and a hangar filled with private planes and a single small commuter jet. The grounds were fenced off with chicken wire, and it was to this fence that Elisa was directing his attention.
The crowd had no doubt been larger before sunset, before the cold drove all but the most die-hard indoors in search of warmth and shelter. But a few remained, bundled up so that their shapes were almost more like those of bears than of humans. They stood around a bonfire that blazed in a trash can, and the leaping orange light was more than enough to allow Goliath to make out the lettering on their signs.
"Gargoyles Go Home," he read, anger lending his voice a deep rumble. "And where is it that they would like us to go? This world is our home, as much as it is theirs."
A hand settled onto his forearm. It was Elisa's own dear hand, the fingers a bit gnarled now and probably aching from the weather, but firm and comforting. "You don't have to convince me," she said.
Violetta put her pert little nose right up to the glass. "Are they … protestors? Real protestors?"
"How fortunate you are to never have seen their like before," Goliath said. He patted the girl on the shoulder.
"What's that symbol? The one that looks like a … a hammer?"
"Where?" Elisa and Goliath looked again.
With the arrival of dusk, some of the protestors had unfurled a twenty-foot-long banner held aloft on poles. They thrust it up and down into the air. The Titania was so well soundproofed that no voices reached them, but Goliath knew that they were chanting. He even had a good idea what their words were.
At either end of the banner, flanking the words "Humans for Human Rights!" were designs that Goliath had not seen in a decade. One was the hammer logo, and the other was a silhouette of a gargoyle, in a red circle with a slash through it.
"Quarrymen? That can't be." Elisa bit at the pad of her thumb. "Their organization fell apart years ago."
"Apparently, some remain." Goliath scowled ferociously at the crowd, who could not see him through the tinted window but waved their banner all the more vigorously, as if they sensed him.
Barbara Mays, one of Alex's diplomats, came in looking harried and blew out a sigh when she saw them peering at the protestors. "We've got a little bit of a problem on our hands, here, folks."
"We gathered," Elisa said. "Do we know who they are?"
"Disgruntled locals, as far as we've been able to determine."
"Is it some trick?" asked Goliath. "The reported sightings that brought us here only a ruse to lure us into danger?"
"I doubt it," Barbara said. "Frankly, there aren't enough people in this entire county, let alone this town, to pose any sort of serious threat."
"All it takes is one nut with a weapon," Elisa said. "Maybe we should call it quits. We're close to home already."
"No," Goliath said, his scowl more thunderous than ever. "We will not run from these blind, ignorant fools. To do so would be to throw away everything we've been working toward."
"There are always going to be some you can't convince," Barbara said. "Some minds can't be changed."
"You can't just go out there," Elisa added. "Like I said, one nut with a weapon –"
"I would not expose you or Violetta to danger," he said. "But I, at least, will confront them."
"I was a pirate," the girl piped up. "It's not like I've never been shot at before."
Barbara made a time-out gesture. "Not so fast, okay? The sheriff is already on his way."
"And if the sheriff feels as they do?"
"Even if he does," Elisa said, "if he's any sort of decent cop at all, he won't let that get in the way of doing his job. Plus, our mission is pretty damn public. He's not going to want his town all over the news."
"Too late for that," Barbara said. "We've already got a clip out from earlier this afternoon. Sort of an after being welcomed all over the world, here's the reception we got at home kind of thing."
A brown car with a blue flasher bubble stuck to the top pulled up on the other side of the fence. A couple of protestors shuffled guiltily and lowered their signs. Others puffed up in indignation and converged on the uniformed man who got out.
Some things never did change. Goliath was sure that the people out there, who would gladly see him and his clan and his kind eradicated, were vociferously demanding their rights as Americans.
It rankled him to stand here and do nothing as the confrontation took place outside without him, but Elisa still had her hand on his arm.
"Looks like they're cooperating with the sheriff," she said. "If you went out there now, it would only stir them up again."
"How can they hate and fear us so?" asked Violetta. "I understand it from the humans who've been preyed on and robbed by my clan, because they have reason. But what have gargoyles ever done to these people?"
"For some, it is the mere fact of our existence," Goliath said. "They need no other reason. We are unlike them. That is enough."
"That's stupid," she declared.
"You got that right, kiddo," Elisa said.
"Did you ever fear gargoyles, Aunt Elisa?"
Elisa laughed. "There were a few times. When I first saw Bronx, and Goliath, I had no idea there were such things as gargoyles. Not real live ones. I knew about the kind on cathedrals, always stone, but to come around a corner and see a flesh-and-blood gargoyle in front of me, you bet I was scared."
"But you love Uncle Goliath."
"I certainly do," she said, and favored him with a look that melted his heart. "I love him, and the rest of the clan. And I like almost every other gargoyle I've ever met. The thing is, Violetta, you can't judge an entire species. You have to judge one individual at a time."
Either the sheriff had made a very good argument, or the sight of Alex's bodyguard team standing in a resolute line outside of the Titania with pulse-cannons at the ready served to make the protestors give up their crusade for the time being. The banner was rolled up, the signs thrown into the back of a truck, and the crowd began to disperse.
"Quarrymen," said Goliath. "Why here? Why now?"
"Maybe they aren't really Quarrymen," Elisa said. "Maybe they remember the symbols from the protests back in the 90's. They didn't have hoods. And they gave up awfully easily for real fanatics."
"Or so they wish it to appear."
"The paranoia just never goes away, does it?" She went on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, then sank into her accustomed position of leaning her head on his upper arm.
"I would not want to circumnavigate the globe in safety, only to be attacked here, when our journey is nearly done."
"What about these sightings, then?" Elisa turned to Barbara. "Are they for real, or could it be a trap?"
"As far as we know, they're real enough." She called up a map of the region on one of the computer consoles. "The focal point seems to be here."
"What do those red diamonds mean?" Violetta asked.
Elisa squinted. "Jerusalem's Lot. Weird name for a town."
"What? Oh, damn, sorry. That's the wrong map. That's the vampire sightings." Barbara bent to the keyboard.
"Vampires?" Goliath's wings instinctively rose from his back. "There are vampires here?"
"Don't worry. The Illuminati know all about them. I won't go so far as to say it's under control, but it's contained. Aha. Here's the right map."
The image of doomed Jerusalem's Lot, with glowing red diamonds presumably marking sites where bodies had been found drained of blood – Goliath thought that he might well have to have a stern word or two with Alex about this – disappeared and was replaced with another.
"As you can see," Barbara went on, "we're quite a ways off the usual tourist track here. The east coast is all seaside resorts, and in the west is the lakes region, but this wedge here is largely unincorporated forest. A lot of it is privately owned now. These dots are towns, most of which don't even have names. There are lots of rivers, so there's lots of fishing, and lots of hunting."
"Matt Bluestone told me that there've been a lot of UFO sightings in this area, too," Elisa said. "One that touched off a massive wildfire, another that had something to do with that big fungus scare …"
Barbara smiled tightly. "Regardless, we're looking at this area here. The sightings came mostly from hikers and hunters. There's a real close-mouthedness among New Englanders, especially in these backwoods communities where the inhabitants are all related and hardly see outsiders."
"So we've heard," Goliath said, thinking of how Ebon and Julianna had lived in peace and privacy for many years in another part of the state.
"We've got a photo, too," Barbara said. "The quality's no good, but … well, see for yourself."
She handed Elisa an enlarged, computer-enhanced printout of a photograph. Goliath leaned over to look, and when Violetta hopped around trying to see, he boosted her onto his hip with the same ease and familiarity he'd shown Amber and the rest of the hatchlings.
The image was blurred and distorted, but quite plainly showed a streaky gargoyle silhouette crossing the moon.
"You still want to check it out?" Elisa asked him.
"It is why we are here," he said, lowering Violetta.
"I'll have them get the SUV ready," Barbara said.
It had often happened on this journey – their final destination was someplace that the Titania could not reasonably expect to reach. In these cases, the habit had been as it was now, to land or dock as close as possible, and then drive or boat in the rest of the way. The craft's hold contained a smaller but still luxurious motorboat, and a pair of glossy black electric-powered SUVs.
If all else failed, Goliath still felt himself to be fully capable of going by air with Elisa in his arms, but that made it hard for the reporters and bodyguards to keep up.
Three hours after the last of the protestors had departed, he and Elisa and Violetta climbed into the first SUV, along with Barbara and a bodyguard nicknamed Sharp for his marksmanship skills. The documentary crew piled into the second, and their miniature caravan set off.
The roads were, as Elisa observed, nothing to write home about. Some were so riddled with potholes that they might not have been maintained since the asphalt was first poured. Others were gravel, or just plain dirt. Twice, the SUVs had to stop long enough for Goliath and Sharp to shift blown-down trees that had fallen to bar their way.
"Look, oh, look!" Violetta cried once, when she spotted a winter-thin deer foraging at the edge of the road.
It made the rest of them exchange amused glances to hear her; this was a hatchling who thought nothing of swimming with dolphins or sea turtles in the salty Caribbean, but show her an ordinary deer and she was enraptured.
A few miles later, they came to the literal end of the road. The rutted track they had been following just dead-ended into a twelve-foot-high wall of stone blocks topped with iron spikes.
While Sharp scanned the darkness with his infrared scope, the rest of them examined the wall. The blocks were weathered and old, but their construction oddly new, and the moss and ivy had not yet gained a good foothold.
There was no gate. No cameras. No signs of any sort of security systems.
Goliath leaped at the wall and plunged his talons into the cement-like mortar between the blocks. He climbed up – Violetta, the moment she realized what he was doing, scampered up agile as a spider while he hauled with brute strength – and looked over.
The forest continued on the other side. It seemed to thin out, but through the whirling snowflakes, Goliath couldn't be entirely sure. He also saw, or thought he saw, a glint of light ahead.
Down at the SUV, Barbara and the documentary crew had their heads together over the map and were bickering over whether or not they'd taken a wrong turn.
"Something is there," Goliath said to Elisa, dropping to land beside her.
"It looks like a castle!" Violetta, still perched atop the wall, announced gaily.
"A what? I saw no castle."
"She's got younger eyes," Elisa said.
"But I did see what might have been a light," he added.
"We'll have to backtrack," Barbara called over to them. "I think we should have taken a left turn about three miles back. The map shows another road that skirts the shores of a small lake, and –"
"Fine," Goliath said, sweeping Elisa into his arm. "We shall meet you."
"Hey! Hold on, there!" Sharp trotted toward them.
But he was too late. Goliath scaled the wall using one arm and both feet, while Elisa put her arms around his neck and snuggled her bottom into the crook of his elbow. When he reached the top, mindful of the iron spikes, he stood tall with her in his arms and the snowy wind blowing their hair around.
"Violetta –" he began.
She immediately turned large, pleading, soulful eyes up to him. "Please don't tell me to go with the others. Please let me come, too. I saw the castle. Please, Uncle Goliath."
"I … it would be for the … oh, very well."
Elisa chuckled. "You always were a sucker for a little girl. It's just as well you never knew Angela when she was small. She would have wrapped you around one wing talon just as badly as Amber always did."
"I really have to object to this," Sharp said.
"Noted." Goliath opened his wings, bent his knees, and sprang.
With a squeal of delight, Violetta launched herself after him and was soon zipping around in wild acrobatic loops and flips. "I've always wanted to glide in the snow!" she cheered, dodging tree limbs.
"Did we ever have that kind of energy?" Elisa wondered.
"Can you see the castle?" Goliath asked Violetta.
"Yes, I think so."
"Lead us there."
She executed a perky mid-air salute and soared above the treetops. Goliath followed with Elisa held close to his chest. The snowfall thickened until they could barely see the dark-purple of Violetta's tail switching this way and that as she glided ahead.
"It's been a while since we did this," she remarked. "Remember that time with my black dress?"
He growled low in his throat. "This is hardly the time or place to remind me of that!"
"Or the weather," she agreed. "It'd take Houdini to get me out of all these clothes. I must be wearing six layers."
"I could manage." He sank his claws into the collar of her parka.
"Later," she said, sealing the promise with a kiss.
And then, looming suddenly out of the whirling white, was the bulk of a castle keep. Goliath backwinged in surprise. He hadn't disbelieved Violetta, but it was nonetheless a surprise. A castle, out here in the middle of the Maine woods.
More of a keep, really, he decided as he got a closer look. It had a single rectangular stone building with a steeply-pitched roof tiled in reddish slate, the snow dusting it but sliding off under its own weight before any real accumulation could be formed. A chimney rose from one end of the roof. At the end of the long structure was an entryway arching over a section of cobblestone drive.
A round tower rose beside the building, wider and the bottom and tapering up before flaring out into a circular battlement. A tall flagpole, bare of any flag but crowned with a weathervane in the shape of a hippogriff, stuck up from the top of the tower. Goliath guessed that there would be a heavy trapdoor set into the floor of the battlement, hidden now beneath a layer of snow.
The windows were all high and arched and narrow, closed by wooden shutters against the weather. If this place was inhabited, and a window had been opened for a moment, it could account for the glint of light he had seen. When he passed over the chimney, although he could see no smoke, he and Elisa were bathed in a fragrant warm draft of it.
The area immediately around the keep was cleared to a bowshot's distance, blankets of white concealing what might have been lawns or gardens. On the far side was an oval expanse too smooth to be anything but a frozen-over lake. On the near side, as they approached, Goliath saw a third structure, made of wood, which looked very much like a stable.
He landed on the battlement, kicking up puffs of snow. He set Elisa down and she blew on her gloved hands, then stuffed them deep in the pockets of her parka.
Violetta glided over to them and touched down in a pretty pirouette. Not for the first time, Goliath wondered what would happen when they took her back to the clan. Either she and Finella would instantly become fast and lifelong friends, or they would become bitter enemies in the way that only young females could.
Her eyes sparkling and her face alight with excitement, she said, "A real castle! I've seen plenty of forts, and even Mayan ruins, but a real, proper castle! Is it like your home?"
"Our home is larger," Goliath said. "But, yes, in some ways this is very similar. If there are gargoyles here, this must be where they live."
"Can we go inside?"
"Just barge in?" Elisa shivered. "It'd be nice to get out of the snow, and I bet they have a good big fire blazing in there. But do we really want to drop in unannounced on a strange clan? They haven't all been overjoyed to see us. We could at least wait for Sharp and the others."
"The presence of so many humans has sometimes worked against our favor, when a clan is reclusive," Goliath pointed out.
"All right … so, what do we do, knock?"
All three of them paused for a moment, looking around at one another. Even after so many stops on this trip, Elisa and Goliath could never be sure of the reception they'd get when approaching strangers. Violetta scuffed snow away from the trap door and exposed an iron ring.
"We could go in this way," she said.
"Breaking in?" Elisa frowned dubiously. "No … if we're going in, we'll use the front door like civilized people. But whatever we're doing, we'd better hurry, because Barbara and the rest might show up any second."
Taking her in his arms again, Goliath leaped down and spread his wings to slow his descent. They approached by way of the covered entryway, his and Violetta's talons clicking on the bare cobblestones. The front door was iron-bound oak, and set into the wall above it was a semicircle of stained glass picking out a coat of arms that seemed distantly familiar to him.
They climbed a short flight of wide stone steps and stood before the door. Goliath raised the knocker – again, iron, and in the shape of a clapper held in a gargoyle-head's jaw. It fell onto its plate with a resounding crash that made Violetta jump.
Almost half a minute passed, and Goliath was preparing to let the knocker fall again when the door opened a few inches and a human woman squinted out at them. She was slat-thin, with a pinched, unhealthy-looking face and narrow, distrusting eyes that narrowed further behind wire-rimmed spectacles as she beheld them.
There was no fear in that gaze. Suspicion, yes, and surprise. But not as much surprise as someone not associated with gargoyles might have shown upon opening a door to find two of them on the front stoop.
The woman, who appeared to be in her late sixties, wore a long corduroy skirt and a cardigan, and house-slippers with knitted pompoms on the toes. Her hair was pulled back in an indifferent ponytail, and was a shade that made Goliath think of black ice on a pond, black ice ready to crack and let the unwary plunge through into the freezing waters below.
"Yes?" she asked, her voice a peevish whine.
Elisa stepped forward, smiling pleasantly. "Hi. I'm Elisa Maza. I'm with the Gargoyles Rights Commission. We've been touring the country lately, making contact with other clans. Maybe you've heard about it on the news?"
"I don't watch the news," the woman said. "I mind my own business."
"Well … anyway, we'd gotten a few reports of gargoyle sightings in this neighborhood. Can you confirm or deny them?"
The narrow gaze moved from her to Goliath, scrutinizing with such piercing sharpness that he could almost feel it penetrate his skin like needles. From him, it shifted to Violetta, who offered up her brightest and most becoming smile.
"There's gargoyles here, ayuh," she finally, grudgingly admitted. "Never had visitors before, but I guess you should come in."
"Thank you, Ms …?" Elisa left it hanging.
"Nolan. Mrs. Nolan," she said. "My husband and I are caretakers of the place."
She shuffled backward, allowing them into the foyer. Elisa took off her parka, shaking it so that the melting snow pattered onto a rubber mat on the floor, likely for that very purpose. She fluffed out her hair and rubbed her hands together.
"That's much better," she said. "Thank you, Mrs. Nolan."
Sniffing, the housekeeper led them to another door. This one opened onto the great hall, which ran most of the length of the rectangular building.
His misgivings about this sour woman aside, Goliath looked around with a definite sense of approval and homecoming. It was very like Castle Wyvern, on a smaller scale. The same type of stonework, the same stout wooden beams, the same woven tapestries.
A roaring fire filled a fireplace at the far end, a fireplace large enough to roast a whole ox. The hearth was flanked by polished suits of armor on stands, and weapons hung above the mantle. The furniture was in a medieval style, all heavy wood and rough fabrics. More light came from braziers strategically situated around the room.
Violetta was all round eyes and mouth, uttering wordless exclamations over everything. Elisa started to ask Mrs. Nolan a question, and was interrupted by the high, piping cry of a child.
They all turned toward the source, which had come from a doorway leading in the direction of the tower. A russet-haired toddler in denim overalls rushed in on chubby bow legs and bare feet, arms held out for balance, shrieking.
From behind the boy came a snarl, and then a gargoyle sprang into the great hall on all fours, tail lashing, wings partly extended.
Azure skin. A blaze of scarlet hair. A gold headpiece shining on her brow.
The toddler ran toward a table, but Demona jumped over him and landed in a crouch, claws poised and fangs bared. He screamed and tried to reverse his course, tripped over his own unsteady feet, and fell hard on his diaper-padded bottom. Demona's tail whipped back and forth as she stalked closer, closer …
"Demona!" Goliath bellowed at the top of his lungs. The room shook from the force of his shout.
She whirled, shock written in large letters on her face.
He shoved past the housekeeper, who was looking confused, and threw a throne-like chair out of his way.
"Goliath!" Demona hissed. Her eyes flickered red.
"How dare you?" he thundered, the rage-light whiteness of his own eyes blinding him to everything but her, and the terrified child. "Is there no end to your evil? Is this your sport now?"
"Get out of here!" Demona rose to her full height. "Get out of here, this is none of your concern!"
He had not seen her, none of the clan had, for more than ten years. Orpheus Bluestone had hoped that the power of his voice had put her on the path to changing her ways. But clearly, sadly, Orpheus had been wrong. She was as cruel as ever … or worse! Her hatred of humans had always been great, and she would have happily exterminated every last one of them, but to think that she would stoop to this!
"Move away from the kid!" Elisa cried, and her voice was the whipcrack command it had been back when she'd still been on active duty. "Move away from him, Demona!"
"Don't you go near him!"
Demona moved fast, moved for the boy, and Goliath was there. He intercepted her in a full tackle that sent them careening across a tabletop and slamming to the stone floor in a thrashing tangle.
At once, he realized that he might be outmatched. The spell that made her immortal also kept her young and vital and healthy. And while he was not decrepit, he was suddenly very aware of every year that had passed since the last time he'd been in a physical fight with her. Once his love, once his second-in-command, she'd had centuries to hone her strength and learn all manner of tricks.
She employed one now, driving her feet into his midsection and pistoning her legs. Goliath flew up and over, losing his grip on her, and landed on his back hard enough to cough out his breath.
"Vee, get him!" Elisa rushed forward. She reached on instinct for the shoulder-holstered gun that she no longer carried, cursed, and swept up a weighty brass fruit bowl.
"Noooo!" Demona screeched. She leaped over Goliath, going for Violetta, and he caught her by the tail. Its supple length slipped through his hand before he was able to clamp down. Her talons skidded and ripped through the tapestry rug as she was jerked to a halt.
Elisa threw the fruit bowl at her. Demona struck it aside. Apples, bananas, and pears filled the air. The dented bowl bounced off the floor next to Goliath's head.
The boy was red-faced and howling. Violetta scooped him up and, in the extremity of his fear, he started battering at her with his little fists.
Goliath yanked on Demona's tail. The rug tore, she flew backwards through the air, and fell squarely into his lap. He stifled an agonized groan and tried to subdue her, but it was like trying to wrestle a cougar. She turned on him in a fury of claws, caught his ear in her teeth and shredded it, and came within half an inch of gouging out one of his eyes.
Elisa tried again with a platter that rained bread, cheese, and sliced meat as she swung it. The platter met Demona's head with a sound like a gong. Her tail snaked out, snared Elisa's legs, and pulled. Elisa crashed to the floor, and her cry of pain made Goliath forget his bruised nethers.
He hurled Demona off him and lunged upright, gaining his footing even as Demona hefted a chair with adrenaline-powered strength, and threw it at him. Goliath smashed it midair, splinters and stuffing spewing out.
Demona raced for Violetta. The girl, hampered by the struggling child, broke and ran for the door with an enviable fleetness. Goliath seized Demona around the waist and tore her off of her feet. He manhandled her, spun her, and slammed her against the wall with his forearm braced on her throat.
Their faces were inches apart, the red and white fires from their eyes mingling. Her lips were skinned back in absolute fury.
"You fool!" she choked. "Goliath, you meddling fool!"
"Haven't you destroyed enough children?" he demanded in a bestial growl. "We thought you'd learned your lesson after what you did to Damien. Your own grandson, Demona! But, no! There is no end to what you'll do, nothing too low or vile!"
Elisa, wincing, got up slowly with her hand pressed to the small of her back. "Don’t forget what she tried on Mount Ranier."
"But this!" Goliath wanted to lean all his weight on the arm that pinned her neck. "An innocent human child –"
"Goliath!" Violetta squealed. "Look at him!"
"I had hoped we were rid of you forever," Goliath said, so angry he was shaking. "I should have known that not even the power of Orpheus could change you."
"Oh, my God," Elisa said in a low, awed voice.
At this, despite everything else, he had to look.
The little boy … his skin had gone from rosy-pink to a dusky blue. Gargoyle talons replaced his toes. Wings bulged from his back and a tail sprang forth, bursting the snaps on the seat of his overalls.
As they stared, astounded, the harsh crackle of an energy weapon seared the air. A man stepped into the room, dark coat flaring around his legs. Steel-grey eyes gleamed deadly from a face framed by silvery hair and a beard.
"Good evening, Goliath," said Macbeth. "I'll thank you kindly to take your hands off my wife."
Amber Maza caught herself on the verge of dozing off, and nudged Julian.
"Mmm?" he mumbled from the edge of sleep.
"Need to move," she said. "Or else."
He stirred and they began the difficult process of untangling their limbs. They were warm, and sweetly sticky from lovemaking. Down from his feathery white angel wings clung to the sweat-damp hollows of her neck and elbows. She caressed the slick skin of his back and nipped at his shoulder.
"I thought you wanted me to move," he said. "That's not really encouraging me to get on my own side of the bed."
"There's more than one way of moving." She blew in his ear.
"Even I have my limits, you wild woman." He kissed her, then rose and fanned her with his wings as she sprawled across the rumpled covers. "Are you going to rest?"
"I think so. I'm pretty tired." She forced her eyelids open, knowing that if she didn't get up now, she would turn to stone right in the middle of the bed.
Previous hard-learned experience had taught her and Julian the hazards of getting too relaxed in the afterglow. Part of her dual nature was the ability to resist the pull of sunrise, but she often paid for that by letting herself go too long without sleep, and then succumb at inconvenient times, whenever exhaustion happened to catch up and overwhelm her.
"You should start keeping to a more regular schedule," Julian said. He slid his hand beneath her back and urged her into an upright position. "There's no sense overdoing it. The clan can keep by day without you watching over them every minute."
"I know they can."
"And everyone will certainly understand." He helped her up, and rested the palm of his hand on her stomach, which was just beginning to curve.
Amber cuddled into his embrace, twining her arms through his. "Brooklyn won't think I'm abandoning my duties?"
"Hardly. I think he's got the hang of it."
"After this long, he'd better. I can't help wondering what will happen, though, now that the tour's almost over. I've missed them, and I will be glad to have them back, but it's going to be strange."
"Probably strangest of all for them," he said. "But our news should make them happy. Are you sure you want to wait?"
"I'd rather tell them in person than by e-mail. It'll be a nice welcome-home surprise."
He smoothed her tangles of long dark hair back from the little nubs at the outer edges of her brows. "And you're happy? You're sure?"
"Quit being a ninny. I told you I was ready. What, are you having second thoughts?"
"Never. I only worry that you will shoot down all of my suggestions for his name."
"Raphael is a turtle's name."
"It's an archangel's name."
"So is Lucifer," she said, wrinkling her nose.
"Amber!" He laughed despite himself.
"What makes you so sure it's a boy, anyway?"
"I have a feeling," he said.
"I guess I can't really argue with that. But what if it is a girl?"
She flung her hands in the air. "No fair doing this when I'm practically petrifying on my feet. We've got months yet to work it out."
"All right, all right."
They kissed, and tired as she was, she thought for a moment of pushing him back into bed. But the need for sleep was too strong to indulge any other desires. When they parted, Amber went into their suite's bathroom long enough to run a cool washcloth over herself, then slipped into a backless terrycloth robe and belted it.
It was her custom to spend her stone sleep on a cot in the corner, rather than make Julian share the mattress with a bulky and unyielding statue. She got into a comfortable pose, wings caped, hands folded over her middle. Her one main concern was whether or not her transformations could be harmful to the baby. Both Dr. Kurt and Julian assured her that it wasn't going to be a problem, and even if it was, there wasn't much she'd be able to do about it.
She admired Julian through lowering, drowsy lids as he crossed to the bathroom, white wings dissolving into the smooth, muscular flesh of his back. Watching him made her wonder what their child would look like. Dark haired, yes, because they both had that. But would Raphael-or-Seraphina inherit her dark eyes or Julian's vivid blue ones? Her batlike lavender wings, or his angelic ones?
Amber scoffed. Now he had her thinking of those names, the sneak.
It wouldn't be long now until her parents returned. Bringing Violetta of the Pirate Clan with them, they had reported in their last message. Castle was getting more crowded all the time.
She could hardly wait to tell them, to see their faces light up with joy. They'd despaired so long of her ever finding a mate, but Julian was all she'd ever dreamed of.
Her eyes drifted shut. She tried to lift them, but found it to be too much trouble. A deep breath filled her lungs. Her limbs felt heavier, and not through any illusion. The wonderful lassitude of impending slumber wrapped around her in soft, cottony folds.
"Your … your wife?!"
Stunned, Goliath looked at Elisa and saw his thunderstruck incredulity mirrored there. His arm slackened its hold, and Demona slid out from under it. She ran to Violetta, who was puzzled but, in her ignorance of the situation, not a fraction so astounded as Goliath.
Violetta offered no resistance as Demona plucked the child – a full gargoyle hatchling now – from her arms. The boy embraced Demona, cooing through his tears. Almost sobbing with relief, Demona went to Macbeth.
Together, in an eerily identical gesture, they rubbed their throats and shot Goliath blameful looks. Macbeth drew Demona to him with the arm not holding the energy weapon and she cradled against his side as if she belonged there.
"Whoa," Elisa whispered, staring at the trio.
Even as a gargoyle, the boy's resemblance to Macbeth was undeniable. It was there in every line and structure of his features. His coloring was almost Demona's, except that the hair was of a darker, rust-brown hue.
Their child. The child of Demona and Macbeth.
"I'm so very sorry, Mr. MacLachlan!" Mrs. Nolan blustered. "They knocked at the door, and no sooner did I let them in than that giant purple one went berserk."
Goliath felt his cheeks grow warm. Of course … he understood it now. How many times had he himself played games of stalk-and-chase with Amber when she was small? It was what gargoyles did. The games of youth fostered the hunting and warrior skills of adulthood.
"You two?" Elisa shook her head. "You two. I … I can't believe it."
"We were none too ready for it ourselves," Macbeth said.
"But you were sworn foes," Goliath said. "For a thousand years!"
Demona flashed her teeth at him in a cold and savage grin. "Things change."
He bit back a retort. Oh, he knew full well that things changed … she had changed from the young angel of the night that he had once loved. It had taken her centuries to nurture her dislike of humans into a venomous, genocidal wrath. Centuries for her … veritably overnight for him.
And now, this? Married to Macbeth, and with a child?
"I … seem to have leaped to the wrong conclusion," he said with an effort. "I am sorry for upsetting you and your son."
"This is too much," Elisa said, dropping into one of the surviving chairs. "You two. I mean … jalapena! When? How?"
"I don't see why we should tell you," spat Demona.
"Evidently, some things still have not changed," Goliath said.
"Don't you start with me, Goliath! You come into my home, attack me, frighten my son … don't you dare get pompous with me!"
"Now, now," Macbeth said. "This may have begun badly, but there's no reason we cannot sit down and discuss it rationally. Mrs. Nolan, if you'd be so kind, I think we could all use something to drink."
His wife's lip curled, but she acquiesced without further argument as he ushered them all to a long table.
Elisa called Barbara, to tell the rest of their party to hold off and not come bursting onto the grounds. Until they knew better where they all stood, the last thing that this reunion needed was a camera crew.
Macbeth sat with Demona at his side and the boy on his knee, gazing evenly across at Goliath and Elisa. Violetta hung back, looking anxious and ill-at-ease, until Elisa beckoned her over.
"This is Violetta," she said. "Daughter of Tourmaline of Avalon."
The girl dipped a curtsey and sank onto a chair.
"You've met Mrs. Nolan," Macbeth said as that lady came back with a tray of glasses and bottles. "This strapping young lad is Moray. Our son."
"He favors you both," Goliath said.
Nowhere in his plans had he anticipated this. Sitting down for companionable drinks with Demona and Macbeth … of everything that had happened since they left Manhattan, this was by far the most bizarre turn of events yet.
"It's been … a long time," Elisa said. She had the tone of someone dying of curiosity but determined to be polite and not pry.
A good thing, too, because clearly whatever changes had been wrought in Demona, any real liking for Elisa was never truly going to be among them. From the very beginning, Demona had known of the intense attraction between her former mate and the human detective. She had probably known long before either Elisa or Goliath had realized it themselves.
And though her feelings for him must have faded over the long span of her life, though he had spurned her when he'd seen how bloodthirsty she had become, she still had fiercely resented Elisa's intrusion. Another female. A human female, no less! Replacing her!
"Yes, it has," said Macbeth in answer to Elisa. "How fares your clan?"
They talked for a while about that, relating what they knew from Amber's long, chatty e-mails. Macbeth had been a good friend of the clan, and very nearly one of them by virtue of his relationship with Aiden's best friend Birdie. The two of them had been lovers for several years, before parting more-or-less amiably. Elisa, Goliath noticed, was careful to sidestep around any mention of Birdie.
She was also quite careful when she told them about Damien. Goliath watched Demona's expression closely, and was impressed by the depth of shame and guilt he saw there. These emotions he perceived as genuine, for Demona had never been very skilled at concealing her true feelings for long.
"I owe Angela and Brooklyn an apology," she said softly. "All of you, for the wrongs I've done you these past forty years, but them most of all. I am glad for them that they have their son back, and that he's all right."
She hugged Moray as she said this. The hatchling, concerned, peered up into her face and patted her cheek, crooning to her. He had gotten over his fright at the sudden, violent introduction to the visitors, and now cast keen, inquisitive glances at them.
Elisa squeezed Goliath's hand. He read her gaze as surely as if she'd spoken aloud. She trusted this change. She believed that this was real. Orpheus had succeeded after all in mellowing Demona's fury.
"So, this is your home," Goliath said.
Macbeth beamed with pride. "Castle Lachlan. Like yours, it was brought over from Scotland stone by stone, though this was done in the 1930's. I purchased it a few years ago and undertook the restoration personally. That was where my old enemy caught up with me, and gave me the surprise of my long life."
Demona raised her eyes to her husband, and Goliath was amazed by the utter besottedness he saw in them. The stony shell that had hardened his heart against her gave a crack. She honestly did love Macbeth, and to see them so happy together … the way he and Elisa were happy … gladdened him more than he would have ever expected.
"Well, it was better than always trying to kill each other," Demona said. "What surprised me was the Weird Sisters."
"Them?" Elisa's eyebrows went up. "What ever happened to them, anyway? Gabriel told us that Oberon had banished them."
"I don't rightly know," Macbeth said. "Only that once Demona and I were … ah … reconciled … the three of them appeared and altered their spell to allow us the gift of this fine young fellow here. They came to us again when he was born. We've not seen them since."
"But Avalon was blocked …?" Elisa murmured. "Oh, well, I've never understood all that magic stuff."
"We've lived here ever since," Demona said, smoothing her son's unruly hair. "Keeping to ourselves."
"Someone has seen you," Goliath said. He told them about the hotline and the reported gargoyle sightings.
"And that's not all," Elisa said. "We ran into some protestors with the Quarryman logo at the airport."
"Them," Demona said. Her voice seethed hate. "No matter what else I might think of humans now, I still detest them. Just when it seems they're all gone, another group will crop up like a cancer."
"They paid us a visit the day our son made his entrance," Macbeth said, and related the events of a day that Goliath remembered having heard about. The uncharted eclipse had sent astronomers worldwide into a panic. There had never been an explanation for it, until now.
"We can help you," Goliath said. "If they cause you further trouble. Join us."
"You cannot be serious," said Demona.
"Not the clan," he amended, with an ironic nod in her direction. They both knew better than that, after all that had passed between them. "Our efforts. We have sought out and established relations with clans the world over, and brought gargoyles into the public eye. The more the humans know of us, the more they will see that in the important ways, we are not so different."
"They will still fear us, and seek to destroy us." Demona curled her arm and wing around her son in a protective manner.
Moray giggled as he was enveloped, and Goliath was struck by a sudden nostalgic pang that reached back to his own hatchling-hood. He could remember Old-Mother, his own true mother by birth, holding him in just that fashion. The feel of being enfolded in the leathery-softness of her wing, the scent of her, the gentle thump of her heartbeat when his head rested against her breast. How safe, how secure he had felt. Knowing without needing to be told that she would do anything for him. Die for him, if need be.
"Some will," Elisa said. "Thousands of years of civilization, and we're still none too good at living in harmony with each other, let alone another species. But Goliath's right. One person at a time, we're making a difference."
Demona cast a glance at Macbeth. He nodded soberly. "We shall discuss it," he said. "I, for one, would at least like to keep a friendship with your clan, albeit at a distance. I knew them very well, for a time."
"Angela will never forgive me," Demona said, head bowed. "Even if the rest of your clan – even if you, Goliath – do, she will not."
The corners of Elisa's mouth tucked, and Goliath knew what was in her mind. No mention of whether Elisa might forgive her. Elisa, who had more often than Goliath himself been the target of Demona's murderous plans.
He said nothing, in part because he did not wish to speak for his daughter. They had all suffered thanks to Demona. But Angela, who had reached out again and again to her mother and been rebuffed, who had persisted in believing that there was good in Demona's heart against all indications, had learned the hardest and most bitter of lessons. Even the restoration of Damien to her might not fully alleviate her pain.
The four adults sat for a time in a pensive silence, which was periodically broken by Moray's delighted squeals as he played peek-a-boo with Violetta from behind the curtain of Demona's wing. Before long, he insisted on clambering down from his mother's lap and toddling over to the girl, and Violetta happily abandoned the table to follow him to a corner. There, where an antique trunk had been put to new use as a toy chest, Violetta built towers with blocks and Moray knocked them over with his tail.
"He does not have many chances to be around other youngsters," Macbeth said.
"His … ability." Elisa spoke in a cautious tone. "A gift from the Weird Sisters?"
"More like a legacy from Puck," Demona said. "Moray changes at will, not bound by the path of the sun."
"And he never turns to stone?" Goliath asked.
"There are times that we devoutly wish that he did," Macbeth said dryly. "It'd hold him still for more than a few minutes at a stretch."
Elisa chuckled. "We knew we were in for it when Amber discovered that she, like Elektra, could resist the day."
"She … is well? Your Amber?" Demona busied herself with her cup, avoiding their eyes.
Some memory stirred in Goliath. Amber, as a child, pointing to the television during an interview with Dominique Destine and saying that she was the nice lady who’d rescued her during her first daytime escapade outside of the castle. No one had believed her, and eventually Amber had stopped persisting. But now he wondered if they might all have been mistaken.
"She has a mate," Goliath said. "A fine young man named Julian."
For a moment, no one knew what to say. Macbeth burst out with a jovial roar of laughter. "Old habits, my love?"
"I … well …" Demona flushed, her complexion darkening until it was nearly Goliath's shade. Then she, too, began to laugh, shaking her head in rueful chagrin.
With an incredible sense of relief, that of a long-carried burden at last being lifted, Goliath joined them. He was at peace with his past, his present, and his future. He felt that the last of his personal demons was finally put to rest.
Author’s Note, additional:
Because this story introduces so many new clans, which I was unable to fully explore, I’m hereby making an offer to my faithful readers and the fans who’ve always wanted to be a part of my fanfic universe.
Here’s the deal … the following is a list of the fourteen clans that are up for grabs; write up descriptions of the individual members, or stories involving them, or the scenes in which they met with Goliath and Elisa, and e-mail them to me at email@example.com.
The stories that I feel best reflect the spirit of the Clans of the
World project will be posted on my site. The available clans are:
Artists, too, are as always certainly welcome to depict these or any
characters in illustration for inclusion in my fanart Gallery.