The old man hobbled to the entrance of the
cave, leaning heavily on a staff that had long since ceased being a tool
of magic and
become a means of support. In his other hand, a hand as seamed and gnarled as a dry riverbed, he held a cup half-filled with
Even half-filled as it was, even as careful as were his steps, the jerkiness of his gait and the tremors of his body caused tea to slosh
out of the cup and spatter on the stones.
The cave mouth faced roughly east, and he squinted in welcome relief as the golden rays of the morning sun bathed his skin and
warmed the woolen fabric of his robe. A flat-topped boulder sufficed for a chair, and the old man settled himself onto it gingerly.
A lone seagull, accustomed to his routine, flapped down to land on the tongue of rock that poked out over the beach. It was as
old for its kind as he was for his, and showed that age in the peck-scars and piebald feathers covering its scrawny body.
“Good day to ye, Father Gull,” the man said, reaching into the poke tied to his belt for a piece of bread. His palsied fingers tore
the crust into chunks, which he tossed in the bird’s direction. “Och, the sun feels good today, but winter’s coming soon.”
He fell silent, a shiver wracking him that had nothing to do with the temperature. It was a chill that came from within, a sense of
great foreboding, and the old man knew with sudden certainty that it didn’t matter if winter was coming. Not to him, at least.
“That soon, then, is it?” he muttered, and was surprised at himself by the threads of fear that shot through him.
For so many years, he’d thought himself ready. Ready to go when he was called, leaving a long life of accomplishments behind him.
Yet now, now that he could feel the cold breath of Death on the back of his neck, he found himself not welcoming the prospect.
“But what have I to cling to life for?” he asked the bird. “My sweet forgiving wife is forty years gone to dust and all our boys wi’ her.
A stranger or worse to my grandchildren, aye, for they think of this gift of mine as a curse, and pray that it ne’er touches them.”
The gull cocked its head at him and regarded him avidly with one black bead of an eye, then snapped up another bit of bread.
“Would that one of them did have it, that I could pass the burden on,” he sighed. “God alone knows what’ll come of the Grimorum --”
“You’ll leave it to me, of course,” interrupted a voice.
The old man twitched in alarm and knocked his cup from the boulder. It smashed asunder on the rocky ground, sending Father Gull
flapping away in a scolding flurry of feathers.
“What are ye at, sneaking up on someone like that?” he demanded crossly, shaking droplets of tea from the hem of his robe.
“What are you at, letting me?” the younger man shot back. “It once was that you could hear a mouse yawn, and knew every strand
of a spider’s web. If the years have been so unkind to your senses and your wits, I hate to think what they’ve done to your magic.”
“I’ve still magic enough to put ye in yer place, Runt! Is this how ye greet yer teacher and master?”
He bristled at the nickname, sallow skin flushing scarlet. “It is Magus now, or have you forgotten? My apprenticeship with you is long
over, and I have completed my education in Briton, Normandy, and even Rome.”
“But ye came home to roost, pulled by instinct true as any beast or gargoyle. Why’s that, boy? Why’d ye come to Wyvern?”
“As you said, it’s home. It’s a start. Provided, that is, I can keep it safe and mine. For that, I need something from you.”
The old man snorted and brushed crumbs from his hands. “I thought ye said yer education was complete.”
“Call it a graduation present, then.”
“And what would that be?”
“The Grimorum Arcanorum. You have little more use for it, so it may as well be in the possession of someone who does.”
“I’ve told ye before, I dinna think ye’re ready --”
“I’ve been ready for years. I need that book.”
“Why? Ye have yer appointed post as court magician to Prince Corwin already, and ye dinna need more magic than ye already know
to keep it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, old man. The prince listens more to the counsels of gargoyles than his own advisor these days. If I’m to
keep my place, I must have the Grimorum. The prince needs a reminder of who his allies should be, and what I’m capable of. I’ll not be
pushed aside in favor of gargoyles, or witch-girls who travel by fire.”
“Ye’re na making much sense, Runt. The Grimorum stays where it is, safe and sound.”
“You didn’t write the thing in order to sit on it like a hen with an egg,” the Magus said. “You collected those spells from the wide world
over, wrote them down, that they might be put to good use!”
“Aye, with wisdom and discretion. Ye’ve little of either yet.”
“What else will become of the book, then? You’re too old to even read its pages anymore, and as you said, who will have the keeping
of it when you’re dead? There is no one else. Only me.”
“When I’m dead, ye can have it with my blessings.” Even as he said it, the foreboding was back, more strongly than before.
“Is that so?” queried the Magus softly, his eyes narrowed and glittering.
For the first time, the old man truly looked at his one-time pupil. Looked, and saw his own death there amid the avarice and madness.
He drew in a breath of realization and reached for his staff, but the younger man was faster, snatching it away and hurling it down the beach.
It landed with a clatter among the driftwood.
The Magus shouted words of power, and light leaped from his hands. The old man raised his arms crossed before his face, speaking a
Word of his own, and the attack was rebuffed by a shimmering shield.
“How dare ye! I was wrong ever to trust ye as much as I did!”
“No, you are weak and a fool!” he cried, lashing out again.
This time, the old man’s shields buckled under the strength of the spell, and enough got through to knock him from the boulder. He struck
on his hip. Brittle bone cracked in a burst of pain.
“There’s nothing ye can do that I canna ward,” he gasped, writhing feebly onto his back and peering up at the figure towering over him.
“Let’s see about that, shall we?”
Another barrage of magical energy exploded from the Magus’ hands. Gritting his teeth, the old man funneled all of his concentration into
warding. Though the searing heat of his enemy’s spell singed his beard, he was at last able to counter it.
“Why are ye doing this?” he pleaded shakily.
“It’s as you said. When you are dead, the Grimorum will be mine with your blessing. I’m not in the mood to wait.”
“Ye’ll have to learn patience!” He thrust out one bony arm, gloved in pure white fire, and seized the Magus’ leg.
The Magus’ robes went up like a torch. He stumbled backward, beating ineffectually at the flames that coursed hungrily toward his head.
The old man laboriously pulled himself to a semi-sitting position, staring in horror at what he’d done.
A column of water rose summoned from the sea and showered down on the burning figure, and moments later the soaked and furious Magus
was standing unhurt.
It was over. The old man knew it was over. Waves of darkness were lapping at the shores of his mind as shock claimed his broken body. He
could feel his strength running from him like a fistful of sand, and reached out imploringly.
“You’re injured and raving,” the Magus said, not without a vestige of compassion. “Allow me to put you out of your misery.”
“Whatever ye do ...” he choked as the Magus advanced, “dinna open the other ... dinna break the Seal ... dinna let her out!”
His voice faded into the whisper of the waves. The old man looked to the sky and saw, as a black shape against the golden sun, a gull
wheeling further and further away. It dwindled into the distance, and he knew no more.
Exhilaration thrilled through every fiber of
his being as the Magus, who had given up his birth name as part of the
price of his magic, stood
over the crumpled bundle of rags and sticks that had once been his teacher.
“Your time was long past,” he told the corpse. “You’d grown too slow and complacent. I will not make such a mistake.”
Victory felt so very, very good! It soothed the rankling failure of the previous night, when the witch-girl Eolande had escaped him, taking
Old-Mother with her. The both of them vanished in a burst of flame to leave him screaming his frustration in the dark of the rookery cave.
It would not be tolerated! But in the meantime, he’d shown himself that he was not colored forever by defeat. His unfinished business here
would soon be taken care of, and he had a purse filled with the precious gems that Eolande had used as a distraction. They might lack any
sort of enchantment, but there was always something to be said for good old-fashioned wealth.
As he entered the cave, he felt a momentary pang of guilt, remembering what it had been like to live here as a boy. When he’d first felt the
stirrings of his Gift, and heard about the great wizard dwelling beneath the bluff, he’d been so young, so hopeful and naive. His determination
and talent had convinced the Archmage to take him on as a student, and this had been his home for several years.
But, he told himself, it hadn’t been much of a home. Cold, drafty, uncomfortable ... and the Archmage was a sterner taskmaster than his
own father had been. Always criticizing, never satisfied, belittling his every effort, making him feel as if he’d never amount to more than a
He had proved the Archmage wrong, proved everybody wrong. And would continue to do so. With the Grimorum Arcanorum in his
possession, there would be no limit to his power.
All he needed was a demonstration. He’d secretly call up something, a natural disaster or spectral force or some other threat. Then, when
all the prince’s gargoyles and all the prince’s men weren’t able to handle it, he’d rise up and do it himself. Prove himself. They’d see then.
They would all see then, oh yes.
Prince Corwin would rely on him, only on him, a puppet prince directed by his hand. It might take years for him to solidify his position,
but he was young, he had years. First Wyvern, then all of Scotland ... and after that, who knew, or dared to dream?
The cave was formed by several chambers interlinked by tunnels, honeycombing the cliff upon which Castle Wyvern rested. As a boy, he
had explored every place he was allowed, and now, remembering as if the stinging swat of discipline had been only yesterday, he made his
way straight to the one chamber that had been forbidden a lowly apprentice.
Its entrance was a dark and narrow passage, and being taller than the Archmage, he nearly took off the top of his head on a low-hanging
rock formation before emerging into a cavern with walls covered from floor to ceiling in sculpted symbols.
The room was lit by traceries of sourceless blue fire in an intricate course of pathways atop and around a raised round dais. The dais was
fully ten feet in diameter and carved all around the edges with runic writing. The top was inlaid with gold and jewels in the pattern of a Great
Seal to contain magical forces.
Beyond the Seal, on a pedestal of alabaster and onyx coiled together like snakes, was the Grimorum Arcanorum. He went eagerly to it,
unable to contain a small smug laugh.
Here! His at last! More than the weight of parchment, ink, binding, and glue! Spells of all kinds, just waiting for him to bring them into being!
He picked it up, half-expecting it to disappear like illusion at his touch, but it remained whole and solid.
But the Archmage had said the other, and those words and their implications caught in the Magus’ mind like a barb. The other what?
Another book? Another Grimorum?
Abruptly, this one, which had up until moments before been the ultimate prize, now seemed like so much less! The thought of another and
what secrets it might hold nearly drove him wild with greed.
He searched the entire cave, leaving chaos in his wake as he tore apart the meager furnishings on his determined quest. At last, in the base
of the raised dais, he found the catch to a hidden compartment and opened it.
The Magus stared in silence for a long time at what was revealed. His throat moved as he swallowed, and he could only hoarsely whisper
the words written inside the front cover of the midnight-black and mercury-silver book.
“The Grimorum Necronum!”
A chill and smoky wind chose that moment to stir his hair, and as he slowly raised his head from the pages, he realized that in opening the
compartment, he’d broken the lines of the Great Seal.
And something had risen ... he was no longer alone.
The sky had turned to molten lead, an unseasonal
heat baking down on the peasants as they toiled in the fields. Prince Corwin
the high tower, shading his eyes as he watched them.
“A brutal day, milord,” one of the guards commented, briefly lifting his helmet to mop his brow with a rag.
“Aye, and a strange one,” Corwin said. “There be a tang to the air that I’m not much liking. My mind is troubled, Dearg.” He indicated the
gargoyle warriors perched here and there on the walls. “They’ll want answers when they wake, and I’ve none for them. Where could Old-
Mother have gone?”
“If it’s answers they want, they’d be better served to question that girl.” Dearg scowled. “There’s something na right about her, that Eolande.”
“Nonsense!” He made it sound hearty and unconcerned, though of course he knew Dearg was on the trail -- there was something not right
about Eolande. How could there not be, appearing as she had done, and coming as she claimed to from no town that Corwin had ever heard of?
“‘Tis na right for a good human lass to prefer the company of gargoyles,” Dearg opined, scratching the sparse growth he liked to think of as
a beard. “Even if she be apprentice to the old alchemist, ye’d think still she’d have more to do with her own kind.”
Corwin had no answer for that, because again, Dearg was right. He himself enjoyed the gargoyles, finding their ways to be honest and forthright,
and the respect they gave him somehow less kowtowing than that of his soldiers and servants. But most of the rest of the inhabitants of Wyvern
regarded them with unease at best, outright fear and hatred at worst.
And then along came Eolande, a comely lass if ever he’d seen one (and he had seen plenty and done more than see besides, aye to God, that
he had). Eolande, keeping late hours and sleeping more by day, playing with the hatchlings without a care in the world. Even, according to the
band of ruffians brought into custody by the gargoyle second-in-command, fighting with a skill and spirit that might put many a grown man to
Why, it was almost as if she was a gargoyle herself!
He laughed aloud at the notion, letting his mind dwell once more on the clear luster of her dark eyes and the sweet curves confined within her
bodice and skirt. No, hardly a gargoyle! They could be fair, yes, and over the years he’d known the clan, his roving eye had been wont to
linger more than occasionally on the taut, bare flesh of their females, but he could certainly tell the difference.
“Well, ye may be right about that,” he admitted with a grin. “Lord knows I would that she’d spend more time with me!”
“I would that I’d half your stamina, my lord,” chuckled Dearg.
“But to think she’d raise a hand in harm against Old-Mother, that’s the daftest thing ever I’ve heard. I’m more inclined to worry that they ran
afoul of more mischief, like they saw when those robbers set upon them. If that be the case, I dinna like to imagine what the clan leader will say
or do. We’d warned them not to be going off alone.”
“Yet that’s clearly what they’ve done, if none of us and none of the gargoyles have seen hide nor hair of them since last night,” Dearg said.
“Have ye sought the advice of the Magus?”
“Aye, I asked him this morning, but he’d little wisdom to offer. I’m hoping they’d just gone off in the woods, seeking more herbs, and the time
got away from them. If sunrise caught them far from home, Eolande wouldna leave Old-Mother alone. They may be back come nighttime, and
if not, we’ll see what more can be done.”
The guard mopped his brow again. “Still and all, my lord, I dinna like it. There be a weight in the air today.”
“Like that before a battle,” Corwin agreed, scanning the dusty horizon. “I feel it as well.” He spotted something, nearly lost in the murky haze
where land met sky, and peered more closely. “Dearg, d’ye see there? Can ye make it out?”
“Aye ... there be two people ... two men? ... nay, a man and a woman. S’Blood, it looks to be the Magus! And a girl ...”
“I canna say. But she seems hurt, and he’s helping her along.”
“Send mounted men to bring them in!” the prince commanded.
At his orders, three men on horseback rode out to meet the weary pair. The activity on such a hot and dull day drew people from the cool
interior of the castle to see what was going on, and made the peasants raise their heads from their hoes and spades.
Corwin waited in the courtyard as the horses returned. He saw at once that the girl was not Eolande, and that was the last he thought of
Eolande for some time.
All that mattered to him was that the very sight of the stranger was like a thunderbolt from the heavens. Despite being smudged with road-
dirt, despite the snarls and brambles in her hair, despite wearing patched and faded garments of rough linen, she was the single most beautiful
creature he had ever seen.
He stood speechless, drinking her in. When her blue-grey eyes met his, then timidly skittered away, his breath caught in his throat.
The Magus was speaking urgently, but Corwin barely heard his words. Something about coming upon the scene of an attack in the woods.
The girl the only survivor, struck nearly speechless by shock. Found wandering among the slaughtered bodies of her family. They’d been dead
several hours by the look, battered to pulp and torn limb-from-limb.
Corwin nodded absently at descriptions of horrors that brought pallor to the faces of his guards. He could not wrest his gaze from the girl,
wondering what she’d look like when cleaned up and properly attired. She couldn’t be more than seventeen, her hips and bosom lush and full.
She looked ... why, almost how his wife Peigi might have looked had she not been plagued with ill health most of her life.
“The distress has been too great for her,” the Magus said. “I could not get her to tell me who had done those gruesome deeds, or even tell
me her name. All she would do was say the same thing again and again -- they walk in fire.”
At hearing the words, the girl moaned and swayed as if about to faint. Corwin caught her, the touch of her skin hot against his through the
thin cloth of her garment. She tried to cringe from him at first, then huddled against him as if she sensed his strength.
“‘Tis all right, lass,” he said. “Ye’re safe here, I swear it. What’s yer name?”
She only whimpered and shivered in the circle of his arm.
“What she must have seen, the poor dear, what she must have been through,” murmured one of the castle women.
“Take her inside,” Corwin said. “Let her wash, and get her something to eat and drink, to settle her nerves.”
The woman led the girl away. She seemed reluctant to leave Corwin’s side, glancing back. He nodded and smiled encouragingly, and she
finally consented to go.
“My lord, I am concerned,” the Magus said. “You’d asked me earlier if I had any idea as to the whereabouts of the gargoyle, Old-Mother
and her apprentice, Eolande ...”
“Aye?” They walk in fire echoed in his mind, and Corwin frowned and shook his head. True, Eolande had walked to them in fire, but
that couldn’t be what ...
“My lord, if they did go out alone in the woods, whatever killed that girl’s family may well have found them,” the Magus finished in a low
His narrow face was lined with tension, and Corwin remembered how he’d followed Eolande, plying her with questions as a way of showing
his genius and possibly thereby winning her favor. It was easy to forget sometimes that the Magus was still a flesh-and-blood young man, for
all he seemed so much older than his years. Corwin’s heart went out to him.
“Could it have been another band of brigands?” Corwin asked. “Those as we questioned were vague as to whether their nameless employer
had hired others.”
Dark emotion flickered briefly in the Magus’ eyes, perhaps a nerve struck by the realization how serious of danger Eolande had been in,
and what may have befallen her. “That may be, I suppose,” he said with carefully-controlled neutrality.
The prince rested a comforting hand on the wizard’s shoulder. “When dusk comes, ye know the gargoyles mean to go and search. If there’s
aught to be found, ye know they will.”
“I’m keenly aware of it.” The Magus scrubbed a tired hand over his face. “With your leave, my lord, I’ll go and rest. It has been a wearisome
“Aye, go on. I’ll make sure our new guest is comfortable.”
“Of course.” With a token nod, the Magus swept his robes around himself and took his leave.
The sun continued its relentless glare, the day shimmering like the air over a smith’s forge. Not even a breath of breeze came in from the sea,
and the air tasted dry and coppery. Out in the fields, the peasants plodded listlessly, their beasts of burden trudging with heads hanging low.
In the castle, the guards lazed in the shade, slapping away droning flies with brushes made of horsetails. Now that the excitement was done,
everyone who could had returned inside, where the thick stones that made for damp and drafty living in the winter now offered a welcome
Prince Corwin busied himself with made-up errands as long as he could, but finally yielded to his curiosity and sought out the girl.
Nola of the Chambers, the woman who had taken charge of her, was just leaving. She ducked her head to hide a knowing smile, and scuttled
past him with a bundle of the girl’s ragged and dirty clothes.
He snorted a chuckle -- they knew him so well! -- and rapped on the door. It stood ajar, swinging open as he knocked.
The girl stood in the center of the room, at the foot of the curtained bed, as if she’d been waiting for him. A sky-blue gown belted in silver
showed her form to fine advantage, though it was too long and puddled in folds of cloth around her feet. Her hair, brushed free of the brambles,
was the color of ripe grain beneath the summer sun.
A tentative smile lit her lips. Corwin returned it.
“Have ye a name, lass?”
She coyly averted her eyes, then flicked him a glance from beneath lowered lashes, but did not reply.
“I am Corwin,” he continued. “And this be my castle. Ye’re welcome to stay for as long as ye like, and I hope ye choose to do so. But ‘twould
be nice if I knew what to call ye.”
“Lamia.” It was a soft whisper, rolling exotically from her tongue.
“Lamia,” he repeated curiously. “An odd name ... where be ye from?”
Her blue-grey gaze met his, held it, and consumed it. Was there a glint of gold in there as well, as of torchlit treasure glimpsed through a chink
in a wall? Deep and fascinating, those eyes ... the sort that could entrance a man ...
“Does it matter?” she purred.
“Nay,” he said hoarsely, closing and locking the door behind him while not once looking away from her. “Matters not at all.”
Her smile now was predatory and wide, showing pearl-white teeth that came to a row of points. Yet Prince Corwin felt no alarm.
She stepped out of her gown, cloven hooves clacking on the stone, her backward-bent legs flexing smoothly beneath their shaggy coating of
wheat-colored fur. He did not move, could not move. When the dusky brown wings unfurled from her back, a trapped groan escaped him,
but it was the only sound he made as she reached out and drew him into her embrace.
There was no room for fear in the dark desire that descended on him.
Alone in his room, the Magus began to laugh.
By now, he knew, the demoness Lamia would have fully captured the prince’s
would be unfit to react to the battle that was about to begin.
He withdrew a bag from beneath his robes and took out the two books. The Grimorum Arcanorum, he pushed aside, and picked up the
black-bound book that carried with it its own pervasive chill.
Forgetting all else, he sat down to read.
In addition to spells of the blackest of Black Arts collected from across half the world, spells of necromancy and demon-summoning, he’d
found several loose sheets of parchment A journal, penned in the hand of his late and so-dearly-lamented master, repenting of the yearning
for power that had led him to seek out such unspeakable magic.
The wise old Archmage had had a darker side after all! Small wonder, then, that he’d been so strict when he saw the burgeoning hungers
in his apprentice.
“But who is stronger, old man?” he asked smugly.
He skimmed over the parts of the journal again that mentioned the demoness, the succubus. An accident of summoning had brought her to
the Archmage, an act of seduction had bound him to her, and when she threatened to devour his very soul, the only way he’d been able to
be rid of her was by imprisoning her within the Great Seal.
The Magus shuddered with pride and delight as he remembered what it had felt like to pit his will against her, and win. She had risen like
smoke from the top of the stone dais, and taken on physical form, but the cravings that her unholy aura stirred in his loins were nothing
compared to the fire that burned in his soul. He resisted her, bargained with her, and proved then and forevermore than he had outmatched
Once she’d understood who was in control, Lamia had been most cooperative. She’d told him all, including that which had only been
vaguely alluded to in the Archmage’s writings -- how their union of the damned and the damning had borne fruit.
The Archmage had been able to banish the child and imprison the mother, vowing to not let them free upon the earth for so long as he should
“You kept that vow for nearly fifty years,” the Magus said, as if the dead man could hear him -- though with the proper application of one
of the Grimorum’s spells, that wasn’t beyond the range of the possible. “But all good things come to an end, don’t they?”
Fire blossomed all around them, dissipating
in ripples of heat as Amber lowered the Phoenix Gate and opened her eyes,
expecting to see
the dark and quiet field beyond the castle walls.
“Blood, blood, blood!” shrieked a terrible voice like the whipcrack of thunder and the screech of a carrion bird.
Amber threw herself against Old-Mother and both of them tumbled to the ground as an axe whistled through the spot where they had been.
She had no time to stop and think because the axe-wielder was coming at her with the weapon raised high. Its blade gleamed with the
reflections of sunset and bonfires, and ran scarlet with blood. Amber struck out with both legs, kicking the armored figure in the shins. Spikes
on the greaves tore through her shoes and skin, making Amber cry out in pain.
The blow staggered the axe-wielder and Amber rolled into a crouch on something soft and yielding. A scream welled in her throat as she saw
that she was atop the body of a man whose head had been horribly cleaved from crown to chin. The severed ends of a hoe lay nearby, probably
sheared through as the tool was raised in a last desperate effort of defense.
Old-Mother was struggling to rise. Amber bit back her scream and turned it into an alarm, seeing another armored warrior coming up behind
her grandmother. She seized up a length of hoe-handle and hurled it like a javelin, striking that one a glancing blow on the breastplate.
She had the full attention of both of them now, and Amber’s breath locked as she got her first good look at them. Black armor bristling with
spikes and serrations ... stunted leathery wings fluttering like capes from their shoulders, burnt-orange skin, nearly identical features with short
dark horns and heavily ridged foreheads, black eyes veined with flickers of orange fire, rawboned muscular limbs ...
“The Sisterhood!” she blurted, recalling in a sudden flash all that she’d heard about Devil’s Night and the terrible events thereafter. One of
these monster-women had cost Uncle Gabriel most of the use of his hand, even stone sleep being unable to bring it back to full.
They heard her, and their thin lips drew back from yellow-black fangs in a ghastly grin of acknowledgment.
“By the Dragon,” whispered Old-Mother, clinging to the basket she’d brought back from Manhattan as if she meant to use it as a weapon.
“What are they?”
“Demons,” Amber replied, tightening her grip on the other half of the hoe. She spared a glance toward the castle, but it was far, so very far ...
and in places, fire had swept the fields, still winking with the baleful glow of coals and smolder. The reek of smoke was grainy and thick in
the air, the cloud-laden dark sky tinged sooty orange.
How long had they been gone? While they’d spent a week in the Manhattan of 2017, she’d intended to bring them back only a single night
after they’d left! What was going on?
The Sisters faced each other, gnashing and hissing furiously. Amber’s best guess was that they were arguing over who got dibs on the new
kills, and she didn’t want to wait around for them to settle up.
“Come on!” She grabbed Old-Mother’s hand and began to run for the distant walls on gashed, agonized feet, casting about frantically for
something high enough to launch from and dismayingly sure that she’d never get her wings out from under her costume in time.
But there was nothing to give them altitude; this was a crop field. It was strewn with the bodies of peasants and animals, cut down where
they worked as testimony to the suddenness of the attack. Their carts had been hacked to kindling by the ever-hungry axes of the Sisterhood.
Amber fought to keep her gorge down. She had been in fights and scuffles aplenty, done her share of hitting and being hit, but this was the
first time she’d seen the results of the carnage of war. Flies rose in buzzing clouds from the corpses as their fleeing passage disturbed them
from feasting on the spilled and stinking entrails.
As they neared the castle, the bodies of guards began to mix with the fallen, and arrows bristled from the earth like porcupine quills. But the
humans must have retreated nearly as fast as they’d ventured forth, closing the gates against an army that outmatched them in viciousness if
not in numbers.
A fiendish outcry arose behind them, and the earth thudded with the sound of armored pursuit. Amber saw others of the demons, attracted
by the commotion, headed their way. Their dire chant, “Blood-blood-blood,” pounded like the beating of a massive heart.
Old-Mother faltered and went to her knees. “I canna run another step, child ... go on!”
“No! I won’t leave you!”
“If ‘tis meant --”
“Screw that!” Amber cried. “I’ll get us out of here -- oh, NO!” The last word came out in an anguished roar, because she realized she no
longer held the Phoenix Gate.
The Sisterhood converged on them, a wall of spikes and edges and doom.
“Old-Mother!” came many shouts from above, in voices both male and female.
A rushing filled the air, the rushing of wind and wing. Shadows, familiar and welcome ones, blotted out the stars as the gargoyles descended
Arrows stabbed from the sky like lightning, shattering on black armor but occasionally seating in demonic flesh. The Sisterhood whirled with
savage snarls to meet this new threat.
The clan leader struck with his triceratopian crown of horns, impaling a Sister in the back and flinging her a dozen feet with a single jerk of his
thick bull neck. The beaked red female went after them feet-first, her high-arched toeclaws squealing against metal. Her mate knee-dropped
a Sister, the blades extending from his kneecaps sticking straight down to pierce her chest and emerge from her back.
One of the Sisterhood was nearly upon Amber. Lessons drilled into her by her father and rookery uncles took over, so ingrained that they
might as well have been raw instinct.
She crowded in, grappling for the Sister’s right arm, though the spikes of the black armor snagged at her clothes. For a moment, she saw
herself mirrored in the firescrawled orb of the Sister’s eye, then raked her talonlike fingernails across it and the image vanished in a spurt of
The Sister recoiled, squinting and pawing at her face, and Amber wrested the axe away from her. It was impossibly heavy and she couldn’t
hold it, springing back as it fell.
By a miracle of luck, it fell squarely on the Sister’s plated boot, with a crunch audible even over the din of battle. The Sister squealed in outrage
and pain. Amber delivered a roundhouse punch to her face, and though it lacked the bone-cracking force of one of her father’s punches, it
sufficed to flip the Sister onto her back, where she lay dazed.
Panting, Amber massaged her sore knuckles and tried not to think about the gore streaking her fingers.
She whipped around at the warning to see a Sister chopping at her as if Amber was a tree and the Sister was Paul Bunyan.
Lessons and instinct suddenly failed her, and she froze with the knowledge that her own death was right here, right now. There wasn’t time
for her eighteen years to pass before her eyes, only time for a brief but wrenching wish to see her parents one last time.
In the instant before the axe struck, a strong arm swept around her waist and pulled her out of its path. Amber was crushed up against a wall
of bronze-hued muscle, the skin like warm suede against her cheek.
Sparks jumped as the axe was parried by a curved blade. The Sister growled fierce as any rabid dog and lunged at Hudson.
Without letting go of Amber, he parried again. His sword met the axe right where the head connected to the haft. The blade went through the
wood in a shower of splinters, and the head of the axe spun off into the melee.
He followed up by slashing crossways to the chest, scoring deeply through the armor. As the Sister stumbled back, he pressed his advantage
with a thrust to the abdomen. The blade sank to the hilt, the Sister stiffening onto her tiptoes. The vestigial wings flapped madly, then went limp.
She slid backward off the sword with a hideous sound.
The demonic army was on the run, giving way before the determined gargoyles. A mighty cry arose from the castle, the gates opening to allow
Prince Corwin’s soldiers to charge forth.
Hudson released Amber and shook his mass of blond hair off of his brow. “Are ye all right, lass?”
She bobbled her head. “Uh-huh,” was the best she could manage. And then, though it was the most incredibly wrong thing she’d ever done in
her entire life, and she knew it, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips.
He didn’t respond but to twitch, dumbstruck with surprise and confusion.
What are you DOING?? part of her mind yelled, and Amber broke away from him with her face flaming in embarrassment. She brought
the back of her trembling hand to her mouth but could still feel the press of the kiss there.
Hudson cleared his throat and blinked at her, and there was a touch of copper underlying the bronze of his skin. “Ah ... um ... Eolande?”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she quavered, and fled from him before he could say anything else. The best she could do was a quick hobble, pain shooting
up her legs each time her bloodied feet came down.
“Amber! There ye are!” Old-Mother, nearly frantic with relief, swept her into a hug. “I feared I’d lost ye! Are ye hurt?”
“My feet ... I’m all right ...” she stammered, badly shaken. “But the Gate! I lost the Phoenix Gate!”
An expression, as if she’d feared just this, crossed Old-Mother’s face. But she turned away before Amber could question it, to help the leader’s
mate support a male whose leg had been sliced to the thigh bone. His life was flooding away rapidly, and by the looks the females exchanged,
it was plain they doubted he’d live to see the dawn. But through it all, he was stoic, his jaw grimly set.
The groans of the wounded mingled with the clan’s victory whoops, and over all of the din, the leader’s voice boomed like a cannonshot. “Back
to the castle!” he ordered, slinging the arm of a semiconscious warrior over his brawny shoulders.
“We have them on the rout!” cried the beaked red female, her eyes aflame with warlust. “We should pursue!”
“First we save our own!” he barked.
Four gargoyles had already gone to death-gravel, and there were half a dozen others with injuries serious enough to put their survival at great
risk. But they’d left sixteen of the Sisterhood on the field, and cheers greeted them from the walls as they returned carrying their injured between
Not all that waited in Wyvern were cheering.
The captain of the guard’s face was dark and stormy as he stomped up to
the gargoyle leader
and his second-in-command.
They were attending closely to the words of the clan’s healer, a steel-grey male with short-cropped maroon hair and oddly-split wings. But
Captain Grady, incensed, didn’t even wait for the healer to pause. He seized the leader by the arm and brought him around.
“I told ye and yer clan to stay put!”
White-hot eyes regarded him furiously from beneath the horned ridge of bone, and an angry flush darkened the leader’s powder-blue skin
to navy. “Aye, ye did at that,” he growled. “And I didna agree.”
The second grumbled his assent. “What would ye have us do, sit idle while the castle’s under attack?”
“I’d have ye do as ye’re told!” Grady snapped. “Those things already slew nigh a score of the prince’s best guards, and without his say-so,
I didna want to lose more! But look what ye’ve done, gone and thrown away the lives of yer gargoyles!”
“They died protecting the castle and the clan,” said the leader, with a stubborn pride that reared above his grief like a plateau of stone.
“They didna need to fight! What possessed ye to disobey?”
“Are ye blind, man?” the second cried. “Old-Mother was out there, one of our own! And the girl, Eolande! Would ye have stood there and
watched them be cut down?”
“Were ye not listening when I told ye how the attack came? One moment, the land were clear, the next fire leaped up like dragon’s breath
and there they were, hewing through any living thing in their path like scythes in a grainfield! D’ye mean to tell me that yer precious alchemist
and the girl have naught to do with it? They appeared just the same! And I mean to have some answers from them for it!”
“Old-Mother answers to me if to anyone,” said the leader ominously. “As for the girl, she’s here by the leave of Prince Corwin, and thus’ll
answer to him.”
“Where is the prince?” the second asked, glancing around in sudden consternation.
The captain clenched his fists. “Abed with a dalliance and sleeping so soundly we couldna wake him for the world! He sleeps yet! Which,
until he bothers to wake, leaves me in command!”
“That be hardly like Prince Corwin,” the leader said.
“It seems to me verra much like him, but that doesna matter!” Grady said. “Ye disobeyed me, and cost this castle the lives of how many
gargoyles? How many lost from our defenses?”
“Be that all that matters to ye?” the second cut in. “We’ve lost clan, and all ye think of is numbers for yer defenses?”
“Settle, lad,” advised the leader gently. “The humans have suffered losses too.”
“The point remains,” snarled Grady, “that for all we know, those two be in league with the demons, and ye lot had to rush out and whisk
them straight into our home, when they clearly canna be trusted!”
“Canna be trusted? Old-Mother?” said the second, incredulous. “There’s none more trustworthy!”
“If I might remark,” the Magus interrupted, from where he’d been standing largely unnoticed in the shadows of the courtyard, “perhaps we
should speak to them before coming to any conclusions.”
“Well, there ye are, Magus,” Grady sneered. “Finally deigned to join us, did ye? And have ye any of the answers ye promised to go and
fetch? What are those demons, and how can we be rid of them?”
“Demons indeed,” the Magus said soberly. “I have not been wasting these hours, but searching through all my books of arcane lore. I know
what they are.”
“Then dinna keep us in suspense,” said the leader.
“They are called the Sisterhood. Sprung into being full-grown, armed, and armored like Athena from the brow of Zeus. Spawn of succubus
and mortal man, servant of devils and witches. An army of blood and fire and steel.”
“Ewe-raping hell!” swore Grady. “What’s brought them here?”
The Magus rubbed wearily at his eyes, and the captain grudgingly admitted to himself that he might be being too hard on the skinny youth.
Reading was a chore, right enough, and to be poring over those indecipherable letters for hours in search of a clue ... he himself would rather
be in the thick of a war!
“They must have been summoned, or loosed somehow. The murders of that girl’s family earlier must have been their work, and then they
moved on to the next nearest settlement. Our castle.”
“What do they want?”
“To kill us all and raze our works to the ground,” he said bluntly. “They hate all that is human, and I’d warrant they’ve no love for gargoyles
“Then ye canna think that Old-Mother and Eolande had anything to do with it,” the second said.
“Unless there is sorcery at work,” the Magus countered, but with reluctance. “We cannot know for certain what force summoned the
Sisterhood in the first place.”
“Old-Mother doesna deal with demons,” stated the leader flatly. “Nor with sorcerers.”
“How d’ye explain, then, what happened out there?” Grady said. “She and that girl came out of nowhere, wreathed in fire just like the
demons! And ye yerself said they’d been missing since sometime last night. How d’ye explain that, horn-head?”
The second tensed belligerently, but the leader’s gaze stayed firm and sure. “I know my clan. If our word isna good enough for ye, perhaps
this alliance canna last.”
Grady felt himself begin to sweat slightly, imagining what would happen if the gargoyles deserted the castle. They’d already proven themselves
vital in so many ways, and if they left now, with that unholy army still out there ... worse, if they left and the prince blamed him ...
“Will ye speak to her at least?” he asked with as much diplomacy as he could muster. “See how she came to be out there, and so in need
of rescue that ye led yer clan against my orders.”
“I will.” The leader crossed his arms over his chest, making thick muscles bulge and pulling the webbed wings that reached from wrist to ankle
around himself like a wrap. He left with a regal stride, his second following after.
“And ye, Magus,” Grady said, “now that ye know what these things be, what can we do about them? Can we bargain them off?”
“I’m afraid fighting is the only language they respect,” said the Magus gravely.
“Have ye no magic words to get rid of them?”
“There is a spell of banishment in the Grimorum Arcanorum. But I am unfamiliar with it, and would need time to prepare.”
“Then get on with ye, and get preparing! I dinna care to have an axe whetted on my backbone!”
“I will do what I can, captain,” the Magus said.
Old-Mother moved among them, offering a word
of encouragement here, a gesture of support there. She kept her back straight
and her head
high as she did so, aware but not knowing why that she was the object of much behind-the-hands whispering among the soldiers. Their captain,
most of all, watched her with a flat wariness better suited to a reptile than a man, but there was something else in his eyes as well, a flicker of
blame as if he held her somehow responsible for this.
Even more than her, he watched Amber. Despite her own pains, the child went from gargoyle to gargoyle, bringing them dippers of water and
helping where she could, showing no reticence at touching them when humans all around her weren’t bold enough to do likewise. Her face was
tense and drawn with worry, and Old-Mother knew it was more than the horrors of war that left her so distraught.
No, what most had to trouble young Amber was the loss of the Phoenix Gate. It preyed on Old-Mother’s mind as well.
Lost, but not into the sea as Hudson swore he’d seen. What did that mean? Was time being changed? Would the far-distant future she’d seen
for her son’s clan be forever altered? Or was Hudson misremembering events that had, for him, taken place many long years ago?
But if it was true, what did it mean for Amber? Hudson had told her that in his recollection, she and Amber had left the castle, and Old-Mother
had returned alone. That might yet be, unless time was being changed ... and if it was, that meant anything could happen.
“Old-Mother ... please ... she’ll be all right?” A tug at her skirt and a soft, dulled voice drew her attention downward. With a soft indrawn gasp,
she crouched beside the male who had spoken.
He sat with his own injuries ignored, the blood making streambeds on the deep azure of his skin. More of it trickled like tears down his face,
seeping from his sodden mat of reddish-blond hair. All of this was of no import to him, his focus solely on the female huddled on the ground in
front of him.
Her arms were crossed over her belly, pressing in tight. Her chest hitched in faint breaths, and spasmodic shudders jerked her legs and tail. Her
charcoal complexion had turned to chalk, making the shock of scarlet hair bursting above her brow ridges look all the brighter by comparison.
“The healer ...” her mate said tremulously. “The healer says ... there’s nothing ... nothing ... Old-Mother, there must be something, please, isn’t
Old-Mother drew his head against her chest and held him, her vision blurred with tears.
The young female’s shuddering stopped, and the male leaned forward with a low cry. Her eyes opened and found her mate. She smiled faintly,
her tail curving toward him just enough to brush his leg. Then, with a sigh, she went limp. Her arms fell away from the hideous hole that told of
an axe blow to the side of the waist, a miracle she’d lasted as long as she had.
Her flesh stiffened and darkened to its normal grey, then darker still into stone. Her mate made a low moan like that of a trapped animal. He
extended a hand but Old-Mother caught it and pressed it between her own.
The female crumbled apart, leaving a sunken and empty tunic collapsed in the rubble. A gold armlet clinked and rolled away from her remains,
bumping into Old-Mother’s talon. She picked it up, the thick swooping curl that the red-haired female had worn on her upper arm, and held it
out to the male.
“Nay,” he choked, looking away. “I dinna want it. Take it away, give it away, I beg ye.”
Old-Mother nodded and dropped it into the basket she’d kept at her side. From her own experience, she knew how inadequate any words
would be, and thus could do no more than hold the male and croon as if he were a hatchling.
But she could feel him slipping away from her, detaching from his senses one by one, turning his thoughts inward to a world in which his mate
still lived, gliding beneath the stars with the wind in her hair ...
She would sooner he roared, and went briefly mad with the lust for revenge, but instead, he slumped down, into a dead-eyed trance that was
the mind’s equivalent of stone sleep. There was nothing to do then but leave him to his silent inner grief, and hope that he would wake from it
Someone hailed her, and she turned from the distraught male to see the clan’s leader and second -- hard to remember not to call him Hudson
-- coming toward her.
“Leader, second,” she acknowledged, moving to meet them. “We’re in yer debt.”
By now, she’d heard what had happened, and how the gargoyles had been forbidden to attack. How they had, upon realizing that it was her
out there, disregarded the captain’s orders and come to her aid.
“There’s no need for that,” the leader said. “Ye’re clan, and this is our home. We protect our own. Ye know that. Like we breathe.”
“Aye,” said Hudson. “Like we breathe. We couldna leave ye and Eolande out there to face an army!”
He spoke easily enough, but there was something to it that made Old-Mother think he was discomfited, even flustered. And Amber, she saw,
had drifted near enough to listen but was avoiding Hudson’s gaze and seemed uneasy in her own skin.
Foreknowledge ... what his elder self had told her echoed in Old-Mother’s mind. Had something already happened between them?
“But we’ve a problem,” growled the leader, swiveling his bony ridge-plate of horns toward the captain. “That walking sack of bad turnips thinks
ye and the girl have something to do with the Sisterhood. We saw how ye arrived out there ...”
He trailed off expectantly. Amber was taut with fear, her lips quivering as if the words of truth were piled up behind them and about to come
spilling out in a torrent.
Old-Mother beckoned Amber to her side and put her arm gently around the girl. “Aye, leader ... ye saw true. But I swear to ye on the shell of
my egg and the death-gravel of my mate, she is no enemy to our clan, and no friend of these demons.”
“I would never do anything to hurt this clan,” Amber said with heartwrenching earnestness.
Hudson shrugged as if that was good enough for him, and after a moment’s heavy pondering, the leader did the same.
“How, then, are we to convince them? I dinna like the way they’re casting their eyes on the lass, as if they’re thinking stakes and burnings.”
“We’ll make it plain she’s one of ours,” Hudson said. “A part of the clan.”
Amber raised her eyes to him, and when they met, even Old-Mother felt the unbidden spark jump between them. The poor girl ... responding
as any mature gargoyle female would to a male as strong and virile as the second ... what was happening to her was only natural, but it set her
body at war with the dictates of her mind. Old-Mother squeezed her shoulders sympathetically.
“A what?” the leader said. “Have ye gone daft, a human in our clan? Aye, she’s unlike most of them ... but e’en so!” He scratched around the
bases of his horns and exhaled a heaving sigh. “I’m sending down to the cave those as are well enough to move but too hurt to fight. It may be
best if she went along, for now.”
The young male the humans called Dirk dropped into their midst with a thump. “Nary a sign of them, leader,” he reported with a rakish salute
that was made partly ragged by the strain of the night.
He had been, and prudently in Old-Mother’s opinion, staying well clear of his mate by keeping watch from the highest tower. She, all fire and
fury, was exhausting her irritation at not being allowed to chase down the Sisterhood by ripping apart a stack of logs into kindling with her
“Damien,” Amber whispered under her breath, stiffening in surprise.
“Shh, now,” cautioned Old-Mother.
“When I was little ... I saw ... gave me nightmares for years ...”
“They’re na one and the same, ye know that.”
Amber drew an unsteady breath and nodded. “I know ... but seeing him like that, all red --” Dirk had, thanks to the effectiveness of his
slashing knee and elbow blades, come out of the battle with his wheat-toast hide stained nearly as crimson as that of his mate. “It brought back
An argument had broken out on the far side of the courtyard, and amid the raised voices, Old-Mother heard her own name. To her utter
astonishment, she saw Princess Peigi. Not only out of bed, rare as that was, but outside! To her best knowledge, the prince’s wife hadn’t
set foot out of doors since the living areas were complete enough for moving-in.
Further, the usually meek and pallid Peigi was facing down the captain of the guard, her cheeks splotched with hectic color. “Didna ye hear
me? I said I wish to see Old-Mother!”
“Highness, there’s been a battle, a terrible battle,” Grady said, trying to direct her back inside. “Sights not fit for a lady’s eyes.”
The healer’s assistant, a plump blue-green female with finespun curls of gold, snorted disdainfully. “He’d say a whole and hearty gargoyle’s
no sight for a lady’s eyes either, let alone a wounded one.”
“I’d best see what this is about. Am -- Eolande, go to the cave.”
“And send up my mate,” the healer said, rubbing tiredly at his temples without caring that he streaked blood like warpaint on his steel-grey
hide. “There’s those as could use her counsel.”
By way of farewell, Old-Mother brushed her knuckles against Amber’s forehead, and left her with the assembling group of injured gargoyles
as she crossed the courtyard to greet the princess.
Although her lacerated feet throbbed more with
each step, Amber kept her pain to herself. For one, she didn’t dare let
any of the clan see
what was hidden beneath her carefully-made shoes -- while her high-arched feet were smaller than that of any gargoyle, their shape was
nowhere near human. For another, what cause had she to complain when she was surrounded by those hurt far worse?
She was doing her best to steady a red-black female whose head was swathed in bandages. The female insisted on cradling the remains
of a helmet in one arm, the helm that had prevented her very skull from having been split down the middle. As it was, she’d escaped with
only a ringing concussion, but it left her reeling.
One of the males, dark green with a crown of backsweeping ivory quills, rushed up to them as they entered the cave. “My love!”
Others were doing likewise, those rookery parents left behind to tend the hatchlings, elders whose fighting days were behind them, craft-
makers with little taste for battle. They came hurrying to assist their mates, their brothers and sisters, their clan.
A pack of gargoyle beasts, most of them in shades of green, blue, and grey, pushed their way through the groups, drawn by the scents of
blood and battle, uttering low whines and barks of impatience at being left behind.
“My love, my angel, ye’ve been struck!” cried the dark green male as he reached Amber and the red-black female.
The female’s head wavered up until she was smiling a couple of inches to his left. “Did ye remember to take the stewpot off the coals before
He shepherded her away, and Amber found herself in the midst of a flock of wide-eyed youngsters.
Her own father was foremost among them, flanked by Uncle Coldstone and the moon-white female that would grow to be Aunt Elektra’s
mother. The rest were clustered behind them, little faces expectantly insistent.
“Eolande, you’ve come back!” Goliath said. “And Old-Mother?”
“She’s back too, up with the warriors.”
“That’s where we should be,” young Demona announced firmly, and nods of agreement went around their ranks in a wave.
“We’re old enough to help,” a beaked brown male said.
For the first time, it occurred to Amber that while Hudson, Old-Mother, and most of the rest of the adults spoke with distinct accents, hardly
any of the hatchlings did.
“Your time will come for that,” she told them, trying to sound positive when the thought of anyone going through the literal hell she’d seen
tonight made her stomach sink. “For now, your clan-parents need help of another sort. Who is the healer’s mate?”
A coppery female with a single ankle-length plait of white-gold hair approached, feeling her way with the end of a stick. Amber saw that where
the female’s eyes should have been, a twist of scar tissue scrawled its way beneath the uneven bumps of a broken brow ridge.
“Ye seek the healer’s mate? I’m she.”
“He’s asking for you,” Amber replied, unable not to stare in horror and pity at the ruin of her eyes and ridge.
An older male came with her, his stance suggesting that he wanted to guide her way but knew she’d have none of it. He, like Old-Mother, had
adopted a more human style of dress -- trousers with a hole cut in the back for his tail, and an embroidered tunic that laced up both sides. His
coloring was the dark blue-grey of clouds seen by night, his hair black and coarse, almost wiry, salted through with grey.
But the most striking thing about him was his wings, which were unlike any that Amber had ever seen before. They did not sprout from his back,
nor grow under his arms like the clan leader and Uncle Lex, but grew from his shoulders, a single long and thick jointed strut that branched from
the ball of bone at the top of the humerus. The velvety membranes of his wings draped down the sides and backs of his arms like full sleeves.
“How many more wounded are there?” asked the dark male asked. His voice was resonant and rich, unaccented. A dangling earring of silver
glinted from one ear, and a heavy bracer inlaid with knotwork circled his right wrist.
“Half a dozen,” Amber replied. “Do you need to bring anything? More bandages, medicine?”
“He has all that, thank ye, lass.” The healer’s mate began making her way to the mouth of the cave.
Amber hesitated, not sure what was expected of her now. She glanced at the dark male, a little warily because his eyes were penetrating, looking
at her as if he could see through and read all of her secrets plain as could be.
“We want to go see,” one of the hatchlings proclaimed, setting himself squarely in Amber’s path with his fists on his hips. In her day and age, any
boy with that bright carnation-pink coloring and curly blond hair would be teased half to death by the time he was eight years old. He looked like
a cherub straight off of a Valentine card, except that his wings were batlike rather than feathered.
“Very well,” said the dark male with a mild chuckle. “Let us go, but hear me and mind me well, little ones. You will do as you are told and stay
out of the way.”
“What? You’re taking them out there?” Amber was aghast, thinking of what they’d find scattered all over the landscape. “They’re only --”
She couldn’t finish it, remembering all too well how she’d felt when someone told her what she could and couldn’t do based on her age. This
was their time, not hers, and in this world, the adults didn’t try as hard to shelter the children from the stark realities of the world.
“Perhaps once you’ve seen with your own eyes the aftermath of battle,” the dark male continued as if she hadn’t interrupted at all, “you’ll be
less eager to be old enough to join in.”
Many of them, Goliath included, looked dubious about that. But they fell in obediently behind the male as he followed the coppery female to
Amber trailed after. She’d had the distinct impression that the leader and Old-Mother had wanted her to stay safely put, partly because of the
way the humans were watching her as if she was somehow to blame for the attack. But there was no way she was going to sit back and let her
young father go out there without her.
Sure, she knew he’d be okay ... but the loop of time made itself, and what if he turned out okay because she’d been there to look after him?
And if she was going to be stuck here, she had better make herself of use to the clan!
Stuck here ... stuck in the past ... and Old-Mother hadn’t seemed very surprised. What did she know? Or was it better not to ask?
Outside of the cave was a sloped jut of stone that reminded Amber of something out of that old cartoon about the lions. Below it, the land
dipped sharply down, then evened out as it approached the walls. The coppery female had already launched herself and was headed for the
castle. She might be unable to see the carnage over which she glided but surely had to be able to smell it, to feel the heat of the bonfires, and
hear the moans of the injured.
“How does she navigate?” Amber murmured, not wanting to be rude but honestly curious.
“Her memory is sharper than eagle’s sight,” the dark male said, “and her pride greater than that of a dragon. It is not for her healing skills that
her mate has sent for her, but for her example, and her counsel to the injured, especially those who will carry their hurts through into stone and
beyond. She is living proof that one can survive a maiming and still not be a burden to the clan, and that helps to ease their fears.”
“She must be very brave, very strong.”
“Yes, the bravest and the strongest.” He said it in a way that made his feelings clear, as he gazed after her departing form.
“You don’t have an accent, like the others.”
“Nor do you. Not even the Magus speaks as you do.”
“I ... I’m from far away.”
A half-smile tugged his mouth. “As am I.”
“Far and far, from across the sea, from a place so different that even gargoyles had names.” His smile widened. “Mine was Cobalt, but my
coloring has faded much since then.”
Amber was about to question him further, always keen to hear about other clans, but she stubbed her toe on a rock and sent a flare of pain
through her foot. She gasped and went to one knee, hissing at the reawakened stinging all up and down her soles.
“Eolande! What’s the matter?” Goliath was at her side as swiftly and attentively as his older self would be to a daughter learning to glide, his
brow furrowed with concern. Cobalt caught her arm.
“My feet,” she winced. “I kicked one of the Sisterhood in the spiky bits.”
“Someone should have a look.” Cobalt knelt and reached for the shredded mess that remained of her carefully-made shoe, but he was watching
Amber closely as he did it, as if expecting a specific reaction.
That didn’t stop her from giving it to him, yanking her legs away. “Really, I’m fine.”
“You shouldn’t be walking,” Goliath said. “I’ll carry you.”
“Perhaps I should carry her,” Cobalt interjected smoothly. “You’re a bit young for sweeping the females off their feet yet, I think.”
Goliath scuffed his talons, but grinned up at the older male. “Yes, Teacher.”
“Are we ever going to get there?” little Demona sighed, as if all the weight of the world was on her. “I’m bored of just standing here doing
nothing but looking at a human’s feet.”
“We are going, we are going.” Cobalt, brushing aside Amber’s feeble protests as if they were made of chaff, scooped her into his arms.
Cobalt’s wings rose from his shoulders, their span kingly and impressive. The membranes, when extended, were a deep sapphire-blue flecked
with light grey, perhaps an effect of his age but giving the starlike impression of wings crafted from the very fabric of the night. He sprang into
the air and circled to call correction to the hatchlings as they one by one followed suit.
It had been a long time since Amber had been airborne on wings besides her own. In her previous visit to the past, she’d kept them bundled
beneath her clothes except for the moment of showing what she was to Old-Mother, and they itched to feel the cool sea breeze of the Scottish
coast. But she had to hold them very still, lest they flex against her back and tell Cobalt he had an armful of something not altogether human.
“He called you Teacher,” she said.
“That is what I am, to them.” A hint of sadness entered his voice. “I was with the clan a long while before I finally won a mate, but she was
killed and our unlaid egg with her. So I’ve taken on all of these imps as my own, and have been trying to teach them more about the world and
its ways. And the ways of the humans, as they, unlike any generation of this clan before, will grow up among and alongside them.”
They soared over the battlefield, and Amber could hear the hatchlings chattering excitedly to one another.
“When do we get to scavenge the field?” asked a dun-grey male with pointed features and a shifty gleam to his eye.
“When the leader says you may,” Cobalt replied.
“The Sisterhood might come back,” Amber said. “From what I’ve heard of them, they don’t give up easily.”
“Nor do we,” he assured her.
By the time they descended into the courtyard, the coppery female had joined her mate by the male with the badly injured leg. By the looks of
it, the healer was arguing with the castle chiurgeon over whether or not cautery would do any good.
Amber saw Hudson, her gaze drawn to him helpless as iron filings to a magnet. He was impossible to miss, his skin aglow in the firelight, towering
over the clan leader. It was so hard to reconcile the him-of-now with the him-she-knew, the achingly handsome male here with the grandfatherly
figure of the future ... worlds apart, a millennium apart ... not really the same person at all!
Not really, even, blood-kin to her except in the very distant way that all the clan were related ... the same nebulous ties of kinship that connected,
but didn’t matter to, Angela and Brooklyn, or Broadway and Elektra, or any of the clan that dwelt on Avalon.
Still ... it was weird and wrong to be thinking what she was thinking, feeling what she was feeling, for Hudson!
But he wasn’t Hudson ... not yet! And wouldn’t be for over a thousand years!
Oh, what difference does it make anyway? she thought ruefully. Even if you got past all that, he’s still going to think you’re only human!
Once again, as he touched down, Cobalt looked sharply at her. Amber tried not to blush under his inquisitive glance. That was all she needed,
to start thinking that he could read her mind!
He set her on a bale of hay, in a sitting position to keep the weight off her feet, and rounded up the hatchlings.
Two more of the warriors had gone, leaving only dusty heaps of gravel and blood-muddied earth where they’d been. She saw a male slumped
over one of those heaps, looking as if the soul had been wrenched from him and torn in two.
Hot thick tears clogged Amber’s throat, but few around her were openly grieving. The living had to come first, and death was less a stranger to
this time than it was in her own. Life was often short, often done suddenly, for human and gargoyle alike.
“Ye must help him. Ye must!” Princess
Peigi, who had never before touched a gargoyle, pulled Old-Mother by the
arm to a door where many
of the castle women were gathered in consternation.
“Ye have my oath to do all that I can,” said Old-Mother. “But what’s come of him? What ails him?”
“He’ll na wake,” Nola of the Chambers said, wringing her apron nervously between her hands. “We’ve tried all save setting the bedclothes afire.”
“Hmph,” snorted Peigi. “That be my husband for ye, always one to try to set the bedclothes afire, one way or another.”
An astounded glance was passed swiftly from one woman to the next, and the princess rolled her eyes at them.
“Och, ye do think I’m the fool, don’t ye? There be many beds in this castle, but Corwin’s only in the habit of sleeping in his own.”
“Highness ... highness ...” stammered Nola.
Old-Mother moved past them, into the room. It was one of the castle’s many bedrooms, not so grand as the tower room the prince had offered
her as her own. She approached the bed, stepping around a path of the prince’s clothes that told of the urgency with which he’d shed them.
Prince Corwin was sprawled flat on his back, his well-formed arms flung out to the sides with the palms up. A thin blanket was drawn to just
above his waist, but it was obvious by the contours beneath that he was as naked as the accounted-for garments suggested. He and the pillow
were damp as well, and an empty basin suggested that they’d even doused him with water in an effort to wake him.
His fire-blond hair and beard were uncannily vivid against the rather ashen tone to his face. Were it not for the steady rising and falling of his chest,
Old-Mother’s first impulse would have been to think him dead.
A strange smell hung in the room, not only the smell of rutting but something else, the bitter reek of burned meat ...
“Where have ye hidden away his wench of the day?” Princess Peigi demanded.
“Highness!” Nola squeaked the word this time, and her apron was a twisted rope.
“I wish to speak with her! She may know what happened here!”
Another of the chambermaids, this one barely more than a girl, spoke up. “She said that he fell asleep after, and so did she, but when she heard
the sounds of battle, she woke in a fright and couldna wake the prince. So she fled to find help, fearing that ‘twas those who slew her family come
seeking her here.”
Old-Mother pressed her fingers to the side of the prince’s neck, and found the pulse there slow and dragging. His flesh felt cooler than a human’s
should, too, she noted. And there were faint smudges on his shoulders that looked as if they’d bloom into bruises.
“If they have,” said Brigid, Grady’s wife and match in temperament, “if she led them here, she’ll have much to answer for!”
“We took her in to give shelter and mercy!” protested the young girl.
“And an afternoon romp,” someone else muttered snidely.
Old-Mother threw back the blanket, eliciting gasps from the women -- as if most of them hadn’t seen it before, she thought wryly. But little though
she knew of human mating habits, she was willing to bet none of them had seen it like this. The skin of his groin was an angry, punished red, and
more bruises were darkening his hips.
Caught in perfect detail on the top of one thigh was a fresh brand, charred into him in the shape of a cloven hoof.
Her position blocked that last from the view of the others, and Old-Mother quickly pulled the blanket high again. Though it didn’t please her, as
she still keenly remembered what had happened the last time they’d seen each other, she knew there was only one person who could tell her if
her terrible suspicions were correct.
“Princess,” she said, “we need the help of the Magus.”
“The Magus!” Peigi looked as if that pleased her about as much as it did Old-Mother. “Whatever for? Is my husband enspelled? Did that bit
of venison put him under a spell?”
“A witch!” Nola crossed herself with one hand and made the sign against the Evil Eye with the other. “S’blood, is she a witch?”
“She canna be!” protested the young girl. “The Magus himself found her, and if any would have known, ‘twould have been he!”
Old-Mother caught herself before she said anything, and on second thought realized that no matter how she disliked the Magus, no matter how
devious he seemed, he’d never do harm to the prince. Without Corwin’s patronage, the Magus would not find himself welcome at Wyvern, or
indeed most anywhere in Scotland. Only here, in this remote corner of the land, where men and gargoyles lived side by side, was magic the likes
of his not only tolerated but respected. Even he would never risk losing that.
And if what she suspected was true, it was no difficulty to believe that even the Magus could be fooled. Whatever else he might be able to do,
in the end, he was a mortal human male, the chiefest and choicest prey for what Old-Mother feared now walked the halls of Wyvern.
The night was theirs, the battle was won! Was
there any glory for a gargoyle greater than that?
Except it wasn’t her night, her win, her glory. Only inasmuch as the victory of the clan benefited them all. But it was the warriors who’d fought,
The adults got to have all the fun ...
Well, her time would come. She’d be a great warrior, among the greatest! No foe would stand long against the fury of her slashing claws! Those
foolish enough to try and attack the castle, attack her clan, would know the error of their ways, the terror of their ways, when her winged shadow
fell on them like that of a bird of prey!
For now, though, all she could do was gaze in wistful envy at the devastation that spread beyond the castle walls. The dead humans were incidental,
and the bodies of the fallen gargoyles had already gone back to the earth, so it was the remains of the Sisterhood that captured her interest.
In death, they were as violent and unclean as they’d lived. The departure of life triggered a rapid decay, flesh melting away into yellowish muck
that stunk of rancid bacon. The bones that were left exposed were yellowed ivory veined with black.
But the desire to kill, the ability to kill, didn’t end when one of the Sisterhood was slain! Oh, no-no-no, even after, they were deadly! Because
once those bones were revealed, smoke began to issue from them, and then they burst like a chestnut hull on the hearth! The explosion tore through
the spiked shells of armor, sending malevolent hooks and shards of black metal.
The young female gargoyle watched all of this avidly from the parapet. Over the complaints of the hatchlings, the human captain had sent some
of his men out first to pick through the leftovers. But one of them had been leaning over a body as the bones exploded, and what was left of him
rained down over a wide radius.
That grisly sight had ended the complaints of her brothers and sisters, leaving them wide-eyed and awed but content to wait as one by one the
Sisterhood’s corpses exploded. The humans were routed in panic and horror, not knowing what to make of foes that kept killing even in death.
Most escaped injury, but others had sharp metal lodge in them ... and then an even worse horror was revealed! For the yellow muck into which
the Sisterhood dissolved also coated their armor, and when it contacted flesh, ate it away in melting holes!
Finally, the field was quiet again. The hatchlings surrounded the leader and the teacher, clamoring impatient pleas.
The young female knew they’d give in ... but she also knew they’d take so long talking about it that she might just turn to stone out of sheer
boredom. At least no more of the humans were in a hurry to get out there. The remaining peasants showed no desire to leave the safety of the
After what felt like forever, as far as she was concerned, the leader agreed to let the teacher take them out scavenging. But they were to be
careful, to come back at any sign of trouble, any hint of fire, yes-yes, so many rules, so many dull old rules ...
She was first off the wall, gliding low and scanning eagerly for the shine of metal. Her rookery siblings were close behind, and they spread out
over the field calling back and forth to one another with the excitement of the hunt.
The young female snubbed any old farm tools. She was looking for weapons, steely-hard-bright weapons that could be kept and used, like the second-in-command with his sword, or traded for something even better. The axes that the warriors had described, surely those would be good
for trading ...
But the few of those she spotted were broken and next to useless, not even worth taking as a curiosity. Besides, there was something bad
about them, a badness she could feel even without getting up close.
She ranged further out, pretending not to hear the teacher when he told her that was far enough.
There had to be something out here ... something really good, too, something that would impress her brothers and sisters ... something that
would prove to the adults how clever she was ...
She dove, then backwinged and landed with talons planted on either side of the object that had caught her eye. It was half-buried in a loose
spill of earth, but there was no mistaking the glitter of gold. She picked it up and held it in both hands, staring enrapt at what she’d found.
Not a weapon ... but certainly something really good!
Cobalt had gone off to talk to the clan leader,
and Amber was on her own. The pain in her feet was increasing, and she
hoped it was because
she kept walking around on them and not something more sinister like the setting-in of infection or poison.
She needed a tetanus shot, and those wouldn’t even be invented for probably nine hundred years or more.
She could tell it was getting more serious, because she was getting drowsy. Not run-of-the-mill sleepy, but a deeper pull toward a deeper sleep.
A stone sleep.
Most of the time, she merely slept as flesh, like a regular human. She wasn’t sure when she’d picked up that knack, though according to Dr.
Kurt, she’d been able to resist the dawn transformation from an early age. But at some point in her childhood, she’d found out that she could do
more than stay flesh by day -- she could turn stone at night. Aunt Elektra couldn’t believe her versatility.
But when she was sick, when she was hurt, when she was overexerted and exhausted, there was no denying the insistent demand of her gargoyle
heritage. She wouldn’t be able to resist it much longer.
And wouldn’t that stir things up? Humans and gargoyles alike would be shocked to the core by a statue of Eolande suddenly appearing in the
So she lowered her feet from where she’d had them propped up, with an indrawn hiss as they touched the ground and woke from a sluggish
throb to a needling, jabbing misery as if a nest full of hornets had been annoyed and then turned loose inside each of her shoes.
She managed to get inside the castle without drawing much attention, and after what felt like a forced march across hot coals, finally reached
the room Prince Corwin had given her. She heard voices in urgent discussion from around the corner and thought she even recognized Old-
Mother’s among them, but couldn’t bear to take that many more steps.
As if the matter hadn’t been settled enough, a huge yawn threatened to crack her skull wide open. Amber latched and barred the door behind
her, and used furniture to lean on to make her way to the bed.
She peeled off the wreckage of her shoes and nearly threw up at the sight of her feet. The prospect of touching them made her woozy, but they
had to be cleaned. She doubled a leather belt and clamped it in her teeth, then went to work as gingerly as possible.
By the time she was done, she was clinging to consciousness by a thread and the belt looked as if Bronx had been gnawing on it with great vigor.
She ripped a sheet in half and wrapped each foot in the clean soft cloth, bundling them up so thickly that the wrappings made roundish blobs at
the end of her legs through which the shape of her feet couldn’t be divulged.
Then, with a low mewl of relief, Amber succumbed to stone sleep and let the silent dark grey overwhelm her.
The old fool really had no idea ...
The Magus kept his features arranged into a tired mask of overwrought worry and concern as Old-Mother finished. Princess Peigi had
listened to her without a sound, though she had grown progressively more stricken upon hearing what the alchemist suspected had befallen
“A succubus?” the Magus said as if he could hardly believe his ears. “The girl ... but she seemed so innocent!”
“Does this seem innocent t’ye?” Old-Mother swept her arm to indicate the prince, who despite all else, still had the ghost of a smile on his
“He’s been drained to the dregs of his very life force, and the marks of her hellish presence are all over him!”
“You’re right ... why didn’t I see? Why didn’t I know?”
Old-Mother had clearly not been overjoyed to see him when he’d responded to the princess’ summons. She bore foremost in mind their
encounter of the previous night, when he’d kidnapped the witch-girl Eolande and threatened them both before they escaped him by sorcery,
and surely she knew he was none too delighted with that. But she was bright enough to realize that in a matter such as this, they had to put
aside their differences for the sake of the prince.
And now, as he filled his voice with self-embittered chagrin, she even found it in her heart to soften her mood more kindly toward him.
“Ye couldna have known, Magus,” she said. “Ye’re a male, after all, and if what I know of these demons be true, they’re at their best
when tricking males. Her magic bewitched ye as sure as it did the prince. Ye could even count yerself lucky that ye’re na in such a state
“This is fine and well,” cut in Princess Peigi with some ire, “but what are ye going to do about it?”
The Magus folded his hands fretfully. “In truth, Highness, I do not know.”
“Then what good are ye?”
“I’ve been poring over the Grimorum Arcanorum all night looking for a way to rid us of the other demons, the Sisterhood!” he bristled. “I
cannot do everything at once!”
Old-Mother’s brow ridge lowered, narrowing her eyes as she looked at the princess. As if she was just now noticing that Peigi was not
acting herself at all ...
Peigi noticed her noticing, and turned her flashing, imperious gaze on the gargoyle. “What about ye, then? What are ye going to do, or
be ye as useless as ye are old?”
Old, she may have been, but the speed with which she moved took them all by surprise. Her faded-lavendar hand shot out and snatched
a clump of Peigi’s hair.
“Ye’re na the princess,” Old-Mother said evenly. “Ye’re the succubus!”
“What?” blurted the Magus.
Peigi seized Old-Mother’s wrist and yanked free. But already her hair was ripening from Peigi’s thin blond strands into thicker ripe-wheat
tresses. Her body hunched, changed beneath her clothes, becoming taller and more voluptuous. The princess’ shoes split apart to reveal the
“You should have kept your silence, fossil! I would have let you live.” Wings burst from her back, rending Peigi’s gown into scraps, and Old-
Mother was facing a bare-breasted, goat-legged, bat-winged demon in full form.
“Release the prince from yer bondage,” demanded Old-Mother.
“Ye canna think to escape this castle otherwise! Magus, yer magic!”
The Magus stared at Lamia. So, too, did both of the guards that had come in, stopping in their tracks just inside the door.
Lamia laughed with such malice that it rang from every stone. “He’s helpless, only a man, couldn’t raise a hand against me! Not a hand,
“I can!” Old-Mother struck out, but hooves tappity-clacked on the floor as Lamia danced nimbly backward out of harm’s way. For all
that her legs looked like those of a goat or satyr, they seemed able to bend at the joints in either way, making her uncannily agile.
“For all the good it does you!” Lamia kicked out, kicked hard.
Her hoof slammed into Old-Mother’s stomach. The blow had every bit of a demon’s strength behind it, and sent Old-Mother spinning into
She groaned and slid down into a sitting position, a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth. The Magus was rooted to the spot, his mouth
hanging agape in a way that must have made him look the part of the village idiot, as Lamia strutted casually toward Old-Mother with the intent
of caving in her skull.
One down, one to go, thought the Magus from behind his veil of false enthrallment.
A crimson blur blew into the room with the force of a hurricane. It was another gargoyle, a deep red female trailing a mane of white hair. She
tackled Lamia, both of them tumbling across the bed and the supine prince, off the other side, and onto the floor in a struggling, spitting tangle
The Magus gaped, catching sight in the periphery of his vision more gargoyles at the door. These were males, and as much caught by the
gruesomely compelling aura of the succubus as he was supposed to be. But he didn’t dare act, didn’t dare give away that he was unaffected
by Lamia’s spell.
The females broke apart and circled each other with evaluating looks. Lamia smirked, the crimson gargoyle growled.
Lamia moved first, all her weight on one leg as she snapped the other out in a fast kick. But the gargoyle reacted just as swiftly, rocking back
to put her weight on her tail as she brought up both feet to deflect. One of her scything hind-talons cut a deep slash into Lamia’s hoof.
The demoness screeched and sprang into the air, propelled by those powerful legs. One kick and then another, whack-whack, but the
gargoyle countered both, and then pounded her balled-up fist against Lamia’s temple. The demoness’ head was snapped to the side.
“Magus!” whispered Old-Mother. “Do something!”
He pretended not to hear her, focusing all of his will on Lamia as if he could somehow strengthen her by thought alone. Let her get rid of these
pesky beasts first, yes, that was what he wanted! The raging red female since she was in the way, and then finish the old one!
Another swipe of a hind-talon, and Lamia’s nimble dodging wasn’t quite enough to prevent a long but shallow scratch from hip to knee. The
goat-fur blackened and curled away in a singed line, and inky ichor dribbled from the smoking wound.
“No! You animal, you savage, you cannot do this!” shrieked Lamia, and stomped down a hoofprint on the crimson one’s sweeping tail. She
This time, the kick hit home. Had the gargoyle been a male, that would have been the end of the battle, likely the end of all future breeding
As it was, it was enough to drop the female to the floor, where she curled in on herself like a withering leaf and went limp.
“Insolent lesser thing,” Lamia remarked. She spat a sizzling gob of blackish slime onto the unconscious gargoyle. It ate a hole in her halter.
Old-Mother had given up urging him to action, seemingly unable to catch her breath. Perhaps her ancient heart was giving out ... that would
be less satisfying than watching Lamia trample her underfoot, but still, he couldn’t complain.
Lamia, favoring one leg but supremely confident, strode past the crimson one, past the motionless Magus, and stood over Old-Mother with
her lips drawn smugly back from her fangs.
Once again, the old gargoyle moved fast. She threw herself sideways, Lamia’s hoof leaving a crater in the stone where her head had been,
and grabbed for something at the hearth.
The fireplace tools went over with a resounding clanging of iron on brick. Lamia yowled as if stung, clapping her hands over her ears and
Old-Mother sat up, her expression stricken but determined, and swung. The iron poker hit Lamia in the ribs and passed through with little
resistance. Sulfurous smoke belched forth as Lamia contorted, appearing to be sliced in half before vanishing in a roiling cloud.
Iron clanged again as Old-Mother dropped the poker. It served as the signal to end the succubus’ lingering spell, shaking sense back into
the male gargoyles. They rushed into the room, one going to his groaning, reviving mate as the other helped Old-Mother to rise.
The Magus held his look of being stunned a moment longer, except that this time he honestly was. Lamia hadn’t been destroyed, no, that
was nearly impossible, but she had been dissipated, sent back, to a long and painful period of reconstitution in the bowels of Hell.
Damn the meddlesome old gargoyle with her!
That wasn’t how it was supposed to have gone! He had been meant to be the one to rid the castle of the succubus, save the prince! After,
conveniently, the demon had also happened to rid him of Old-Mother. But who could have thought the useless old thing would prove capable,
know what to do? They were only gargoyles! Uneducated beasts, little better than hogs or dogs! How could she have known?
Seething to the point that he felt his innards might be eaten away from bile, the Magus nonetheless was able to act as if he was shaking himself
out of a trance. He blinked unsurely at Old-Mother and the second-in-command.
“The succubus ...” he said foggily. “It was the princess?”
“Disguised as her, no doubt,” said Old-Mother. “I’ll warrant we find the true princess in her rooms as usual, having not left them at all.”
On the bed, a low groan sounded as Prince Corwin slowly and laboriously sat up. He glanced around at all of them without recognition, then
slumped down into a natural sleep and began to snore.
The long night was at last drawing to an end,
and Cobalt sensed a mixture of emotion from the humans around him. As always,
they were glad
to see the sky begin to lighten, glad for a coming-out-of-the-dark that touched them on the primal part of their souls.
But this time, they also dreaded the sun’s appearance, for it would send the gargoyles into their immobile sleep. And having witnessed for the
first decisive time just what it meant to have the clan as allies to defend the castle, the humans were reluctant to lose them and fearful that the
demons might choose to return again by broad daylight.
If that happened, Cobalt doubted that there would be much to wake up to. Even assuming they survived to wake. Thus, a similar sense of relief
and reluctance came from the gargoyles.
Their injuries would fade the moment their skins stiffened into solid grey, bringing an ease from pain. Of the six brought back whose survival had
been in doubt, four had lost that singularly personal battle with Death but two had held on, against the odds, through the long hours. Only a little
while more, until their healing sleep came.
But the awareness of their own vulnerability during the day had never seemed more apparent to the clan than now. Moving nearly invisible in his
stealth among them, Cobalt listened to the younger warriors. How they speculated amongst themselves, in quiet conversation they did not wish
their elders to overhear, what it would be like. Would they feel the shattering? That brief but encompassing agony? Or would it be a painless
Or would it be oblivion? some of them even ventured to wonder. The humans believed that their souls went on ... but did the god of the humans
acknowledge gargoyles? What life beyond this was there for them?
Cobalt could have answered many of their questions, but there wouldn’t be time before the sun rose, and if sunset brought awakening, those
questions would cease to matter for a while.
Some of the gargoyles suggested leaving the castle, retiring to the caves for the day, where the clan had always been so safe. But in the end it
was decided that they would keep to their posts, protecting the castle as surely as they breathed the air.
He heard other talk as well, among both races. Of the succubus-demon that had seduced the prince, rendering him unable to command his
troops, and how even the Magus had been taken in by her ruse, her glamour. How only valiant Old-Mother and a brave warrior female had
been able to stop her, thereby saving prince, castle, and clan.
The prince was resting naturally now, and during a short period of wakefulness had claimed no recollection of anything since asking the
mysterious blond girl her name. That was, many said, for the best. Old-Mother and the young warrior had been hurt, but not severely, and
were being fussed over by humans and gargoyles alike.
She had been seen heading within, sorely hurt but refusing all care. And so, to ease Old-Mother’s mind, Cobalt had offered to go and look for her.
He paused outside of the door, making a mental wager with himself as to what he’d find when he opened it. The door was locked against entry,
and while it wouldn’t stop a determined gargoyle, he elected to rephrase his wager as to what he’d find when he glided around to the window ledge.
His brow ridge twitched upward in surprise. He climbed lithely through the window, closing it behind him and trusting to the color-tinted glass to
hamper any other peeking.
“Stone by night,” he murmured, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Wings, I expected. Stone at dawn, not unlikely despite knowing you’ve been
seen among the humans by day. But this? I’ve never known the like.”
He crouched to examine her feet, which were swaddled in bandages that had solidified into granite along with the rest of her. He had felt their
shape through the thick shoes she’d worn, felt the high arch, the sloped curve of toe. But that had only been confirmation of what he’d already
suspected, no more.
Satisfied that he could report truthfully to Old-Mother that her apprentice was resting peacefully and her injuries were nothing to cause distress,
Cobalt left by way of the window, and joined the clan just as the sun’s eye squinted on the horizon.
Prince Corwin paced the battlements, steadfastly
resisting the urge to limp. He did his best by hearty bluff jesting and
claps on the backs of
his men to assure them that all was well. To make up for his absence during the previous day’s events, and be visibly present should the earth
once more split with flames and reveal the demons that had slaughtered so many of his people.
But all was not well. His soul felt like a black and shriveled thing, and his body felt unclean no matter how diligently he’d bathed and scrubbed.
And no amount of bathing could erase the brand seared into his flesh, the mark of the succubus, there forever and to be carried to his grave.
No more. Never again.
He’d told them he could recall nothing beyond asking the girl her name, and that was partly true. But images, half-memories fluttering like
moths at the corners of his mind, hinted that he did indeed remember.
Her touch was still upon him. Burned indelibly into the fiber of his being. Poisoning him. And though since long before they wed it had been
Peigi that was the sickly one, Corwin somehow knew that his wife would outlive him.
His wife ... now that in name only, even more than before. Because how could he be with Peigi, or indeed any woman? When any of them
could be Lamia in another guise? When every time he undressed, there would be her mark vivid on his body, so that any right-thinking woman
would turn away in revulsion.
He knew that he would never again be able to join with a woman in passion. That part of his life, that part that had ruled him since his first
educatory tumble with a jaded noblewoman of his father’s court, had died.
No more lusty wenches. No more demure but coyly-smiling maidens. No more. Never again. Even now, as he caught sight of a buxom lass
bending low to pick up a yoke of buckets and giving all within eyeshot a spectacular view, he felt nothing. Not a single stirring, not a thread
of desire. Henceforth, his life would be lived as that of a monk.
Which meant his chances of still managing to sire a son were less than ever ...
Copious as his seed was, it was apparently weak. Peigi had miscarried the one time he’d managed to plant a babe in her belly. And while
a man of his habits should have had a flock of bastards scattered around the countryside, he had none. Not so much as a daughter.
His brother had fared better with two sons, Kenneth and Malcolm. And so it was, Corwin knew, that he should begin making the arrangements
to leave Wyvern and all it held to his younger nephew. God willing, the boy would understand and accept the benefits of being allies with the
“My lord prince?”
He turned to see the Magus, looking nearly as weary and dispirited as Corwin felt. The sallow youth clutched a thick book to his chest, his
long bony finger marking a page.
“Magus,” he acknowledged with a nod.
“I’ve been through the entire Grimorum, highness, and I believe I’ve found the spell to rid us of the Sisterhood.”
“Have ye now? But we’ve seen no sign they plan to return. Unless ye suspect otherwise?”
“I do not know,” the Magus admitted. “It now seems likely that they were brought here by Lamia herself. With her gone, they may have no
reason to come back. But I doubt we should drop our guard.”
“I wasna about to do that. But if they come, ye’d think they’d come by day when the gargoyles sleep.”
“Yes, highness ... a reasonable foe would do just that. In my reading, however, I have learned more about them. They exist solely to do battle,
and advance in the hierarchy of Hell through the foes they kill. The more foes, the stronger the foes --”
“The greater their honor and status,” Corwin finished. “Aye, I’ve seen the like ... more glory to be had in killing one knight than a dozen ruffians
“I would hazard a guess that, therefore, they would want to face the gargoyles.”
Dearg, whose customary post was up here where the prince often bided his time, shot a sour look at the Magus at the implication of his remark.
But Corwin knew it was true -- the gargoyles overall were the better warriors. He only hoped that his people would come to respect that rather
than resent it.
“There’d be little glory in smashing them in their sleep,” he agreed. “So ye think they’ll come back by night?”
“We cannot know, that is the worst of it. With another army, we could send out scouts, and know their position, know if they were even in the
vicinity. This is like nothing we’ve ever encountered before, my lord, and our only hope for being prepared is the Grimorum.”
“Then we’ll have to trust yer guidance, Magus.”
“If they do return, I have here a spell to banish them. I may have been unable to see through the succubus’ tricks, but I will not fail you a second
Amber yawned and stretched, shaking off the
last flecks of stone that clung to her clothes and hair. She opened her
eyes to sunlight slanting
through tinted glass, fanning jewels of color over her.
Afternoon ... she’d stone-slept for over ten hours. But she felt rejuvenated and well, the ache in her feet entirely gone. When she unwound the
strips of sheet that had bandaged them, she found only unmarked skin left a bit sensitive by the healing process.
Her heart soared as if it had taken wing, then plunged as she remembered the Phoenix Gate. She had to find it, or be trapped here forever.
Or was that her destiny? Old-Mother hadn’t looked surprised when Amber told her she’d lost the Gate, had only looked grimly resigned.
Which meant she knew something, that Hudson must have told her something!
Trapped here in the past? As much as she loved being around her father’s younger self, Old-Mother, and the others (especially Hudson, a small
voice in her mind piped up, to be drowned out by sterner ones telling it to shut up), she couldn’t stand the thought of staying forever. Of knowing
that the Viking massacre was marching ever closer. Of never being able to glide again, always having to keep her wings hidden, always living in
fear that someone would discover her secret. Of never seeing her mother again, her aunts and uncles, Alex, Orpheus, the hatchlings.
Panic bubbled through her veins and Amber struggled to not give in to it. She changed clothes and washed up, then picked up the biggest pieces
of her shed skin and kicked the dust around on the carpet.
When she and the room looked as presentable as could be done, she hurried outside to the walls. Most of the gargoyles were still there, poised
in even fiercer poses than usual. Some of the hatchlings had remained as well, and their faces wore beams of pride at being permitted to roost
alongside the warriors.
The September sun showed the ravaged field in merciless detail. Amber dreaded going out into the fly-buzz stink, but knew she didn’t have
much choice. She spotted several humans out there with carts, retrieving the bodies.
And, gross to her view but sensible, butchering the dead livestock and saving anything edible. The people of Wyvern were already in for a lean
harvest after the fire that had swept the field. They couldn’t waste the meat, couldn’t turn up their noses at how it had gotten there.
She paused by the kitchens for a mug of mead, not trusting herself to eat anything just yet. The better to not barf her guts out, my dear, when
she picked her way through the carnage. As she sipped it, she was able to listen in and catch up on what she’d missed while she was sleeping.
She was relieved to hear no more talk of her and Old-Mother of being involved; in fact, some were saying that Old-Mother was a sorceress as
well and had been using her magic to help defend prince and castle.
Amber glimpsed Prince Corwin and was stunned at how haggard he looked, as if he’d aged twenty years in a single night. Then again, it was
possible he had. She was vaguely, tormentingly aware that her own mother had had a few run-ins with those sorts of demons -- most of her
clan were happy to tell Amber about the old days, but there were some things, like that and like her own half-brother Jericho, that no one was
willing to discuss -- and knew a little about the powers they possessed.
When she had finished her mead and couldn’t put it off any longer, she made her way out of the castle and joined those trying to salvage what
they could. Everyone was watchful to the point of paranoia, as if they all expected the Sisterhood to pop up and start hacking on them ... which
wasn’t an unreasonable fear to have. So guards stood ready with bows, and no one dawdled or went far from the main group.
Except Amber. She moved further from the walls, scanning the churned soil with increasing desperation as she neared the circle of soot and
heat-dried grass that marked the spot she and Old-Mother had appeared.
The remnants of Sisterhood axes, untouched because they were at best unclean, at worst unholy ... armor shrapnel left over from their explosive
But nowhere, nowhere, did she see the shield-shape of blue and gold. It could have been trodden deep in the earth, buried over. A dead Sister
could have fallen on it and melted it away with acidic rot. A bird could have flown over in the early light and been attracted by the glint of metal,
carrying it away.
She didn’t know. Didn’t much care. All that really mattered was she couldn’t find it, and dread wrapped around her like a pair of heavy, caped
wings. Her only consolation was small and ironic -- at least Alex couldn’t kill her for losing it! But that thought nearly made her cry, and in that
moment she would have gladly taken any punishment Alex could dole out just to be back home and hear him call her Amburger again.
No! She wasn’t going to give up! It was out here somewhere, and she would find it! She would find it if she had to dig up the entire field!
Amber snatched up a likely stick and began prodding at the earth, turning over clumps of sod and half-entombed rocks. She ignored the hails
of the humans, didn’t care when the sky began reddening toward dusk. Her night-sight was almost the match of a gargoyle’s, and she’d feel her
way in pitch blackness if that was the only way to continue her search.
A growing anger and frustration made her jaw clench. She knew it was the legacy of having not one but two very willful, hot-tempered parents,
and she had to grit her teeth against snarling some choice obscenities.
She calmed it by thinking of Old-Mother. Serene and wise Old-Mother would know that yelling would solve nothing. That the earth wouldn’t
yield up the Phoenix Gate just because Amber wanted it so badly.
A quiet purpose settled over her just as she’d been about to throw herself full length and start clawing random holes. She backtracked to the
spot where they’d first arrived. Retrace their steps ... they’d run this way, veered here ...
All of a sudden she got her second wind. Her head came up and she drew a deep breath, gazing through the twilight to the castle. Sunset. The
hour of the gargoyle. She knew in her blood that the clan was waking now, bursting from their stone skins.
Amber methodically continued her search. Fatalistic whispers at the back of her mind told her that it was useless to even try, that she’d been
meant to lose the Gate because she had, that Hudson knew she never returned to her own time and had told Old-Mother. Can’t fight history,
can’t undo what is done. Nothing to do but make the best of it, make a new life for herself and hope that her family would understand, would
At last, when those whispers started making too much sense, Amber sat back on her heels and let her dirty hands rest listlessly in her lap. A
litany of beloved names came one by one from her lips, spoken softly and drifting into the night like delicate soap bubbles. They were so far
from her, an ocean of years apart.
Orpheus Bluestone was a student of Greek mythology (with his name and parentage, no wonder), and one of the myths he’d told her about
now made much more sense to Amber. She’d never understood until now just why the world had been so lucky that Pandora closed the Box
on the tail of the last evil -- foreknowledge -- and prevented it from getting out.
Nothing she did would make a difference, because it had already been set. She would have to go on unable to change fate, watching her father
grow up and fall in love with Demona because that was what had to happen if the future she knew was going to come to pass ... even if it would
hurt him, she couldn’t prevent it.
She finally let the tears come, because it was the tears or insanity, the tears or shaking her fists screaming unfairness to the moon.
It wasn’t until a hand touched her shoulder that she realized she was no longer alone.
Amber responded just the way Fox had taught her. She sprang fluidly to her feet, seized a wrist, socked her hip into a thigh, and threw.
Hudson sailed past her with an astounded gape, and thudded to the ground.
“I’m sorry!” she gasped, mortified. “Are you all right?”
He coughed, having had the breath knocked out of him. “I surrender, lass!”
“Let me help you up!”
“They said ye were still out here, so I thought I’d best come and see if ye needed any help.” He accepted her arm and stood, brushing dirt from
the seat of his loincloth. His eyes twinkled as he grinned at her. “Though ye seem well able to defend yerself!”
“I was looking for something. Something I lost out here. It’s very important to me. I ... I can’t go home without it.”
“Well, lass, what is it? I’ll help ye look.”
She described the Phoenix Gate without telling him what it did, what it was for. They searched for a while, and then Amber hesitantly started to
speak. But the first word almost out of her mouth was his name, making her scramble to correct it.
“I owe you a thank-you,” she said, studiously not looking at him. “And an apology.”
Hudson straightened up, his stance a bit ill-at-ease. “Ye already did thank me, if that’s what yer kiss was about.”
“That’s what the apology’s for! I shouldn’t have done that, I had no right, no place to do that. You and I ... we’re ... it was wrong.”
“Aye, well, me being a gargoyle and all --”
“It’s not that.” She sighed and let herself look. “You’re so handsome, and brave, and you’d just saved me like a dashing hero out of a story ...
and all I could think to do was kiss you even though I knew I shouldn’t, but wanted to, but that’s no excuse.”
He rubbed at his rows of stubby horns in bemusement. “Ye think me handsome?”
She nodded morosely. “I can’t help it. I know how wrong it is, but all the males back home are older and mated, or too young, or think I’m
too young because --” she caught herself babbling and shut up in a hurry.
“But ye’re human, lass, and I’m a gargoyle.” He grasped her chin and picked up her face, turning it back and forth.
Amber was horribly conscious of the slight bumps at the corners of her eyebrows, the sharpness of her teeth. He’d see, he’d know, and her
ruining secret could destroy everything the clan and Prince Corwin had been trying to build. It would be all her fault that the two races would
never fully trust each other, her fault that Princess Katherine would scorn the gargoyles and lead to Demona’s betrayal of the clan!
But Hudson didn’t see it. He let go of her with a small shrug. “Though, I suppose ye’re not uncomely. If ye had wings and a tail, ye might almost
be able to pass for one of us.” He chuckled as if that was the funniest notion he’d ever had, and against her back Amber’s wings shifted in their
“Well, like I said, I’m sorry. Thank you for saving my life.” She moved to resume her search, but stopped when he touched her shoulder again.
Amber turned back around, and he kissed her. It was clumsily done, her having little experience at this and him less, but his mouth was warm
and soft over hers and the kiss sparkled through her like a cascade of gold.
“Thank ye for all ye’ve done for my clan, and for Old-Mother,” he said when they parted. “And for teaching me something about humans I’d
ne’er known before -- that ye can be so beautiful.”
A helpless little moan of surprise and pleasure was the only reply Amber could make. Her first real kiss, not counting a Truth or Dare one from
Sebastian at a birthday party when she was fourteen. And all at once it didn’t matter anymore that he was Hudson, because he wasn’t. If she
was stranded here in this time, she would never see ‘Hudson’ again, only the second-in-command.
“But now I may owe ye the apology.” He looked worried now, that he’d overstepped some bounds and she would be enraged.
“No, not at all!”
“And ‘tis na a common custom among us, so --”
“Oh, you did it just fine!” she assured him, starry-eyed. She leaned toward him, her voice lowering. “But practice makes perfect ...”
He set his hands at her waist and drew her close, bending to bring their lips together again. Amber let her fingers sink into his sun-blond curls,
and wished she could fold her wings forward around him, letting his overlap hers, the way Aunt Elektra and Uncle Broadway so often embraced,
one enfolded cocoon with the both of them within.
She couldn’t tell when, for him, the curiosity and novelty of the kiss turned into something more. It might have been when his tail slid around her
ankle in a loose coil, or when he made a low, almost leonine rumble in his throat.
But her fear of discovery reared up far greater than any lingering taboo-shame feelings when he moved as if to bring his hands to her back, and
she made herself pull away. Her heart was thundering, her limbs at once tense and oddly loose.
“We’d best be getting back,” he said. “‘Tis na safe out here, when the demons might come back.”
“I’ll look more tomorrow,” she said, trying not to sound as shaken and affected as she felt, and almost managing it.
They walked back to the castle together, neither of them suggesting he glide and carry her, both knowing that would not be the best of ideas.
She had just finished showing off her play-pretty
to some of her siblings and was on her way to see if the Teacher knew what
it was when one
of the humans stepped out from a doorway and peered down at her with scary-intent eyes.
The young female stopped and drew back a bit, not cringing but with her body bent protectively around her treasure. She blew back a tuft of
hair that had fallen over her brow ridges and looked warily at him.
She knew this one ... the humans called him the Magus, and all the elders said he had magical powers. He could do sorcery, and that made
them apprehensive around him even though any of them could have snapped him in two with one blow.
What must it be like to do magic? she wondered as she sidled out of his path. Would it be as good as being a great warrior?
He didn’t pass by, but jabbed one long skinny finger at her. “What do you have there, gargoyle?”
She brought her wings around herself. “Nothing.”
“I hardly think that. Let me see it.”
A sullen little pout pushed out her lip and jutted her chin, but the young female reluctantly brought out the object. “It’s just a play-pretty that
Blue, milky gemstone ... rich gold swept into the image of a bird ... she had never seen, nor imagined, anything like it!
Greed suffused his expression. “The item! Give it to me, it must be mine!”
“It’s not yours. You only found it.”
“That makes it mine!”
He exhaled in exasperation and tucked his arms up his sleeves so that he loomed over her like a tall, forbidding owl. “That does not belong to
you. It is beyond your comprehension, and you will give it to me.”
“Won’t! It’s my play-pretty and I found it!” She was inwardly quaking, sure that he was going to turn his magic upon her and call down a bolt
of lightning to cook her where she stood, but she held her ground.
“That is the source of her power, you little beast, and I mean to have it!” The Magus made a grab for it, but the young female skittered out of
reach, her eyes beginning to glow red.
“Go away, human!” Her growl was still high-pitched, but heartfelt.
“Don’t you know who you’re dealing with? Give that to me and give it to me now!”
“Curse you, you spiteful wretch!” He grabbed again, for her this time as if he meant to take her by the upper arms and shake her, possibly
bounce her against the wall a few times.
The young female didn’t wait to find out. Her head darted forward like a striking snake and her fangs pierced his hand. He cried out and clamped
his other hand around it, staring in utter shock at the blood trickling between his fingers.
She ran at him, catching him off-balance and knocking him to his rump as she fled past. He rolled and tried to snare her legs, but she bounded to
the top of a barrel and evaded him.
“Get back here!” he yelled.
“Hhhhssssss!” she hissed, climbing more barrels. They were stacked in a pyramid to just below a window, and if she could reach it ...
He started coming after her, the stack wobbling beneath their weight. The female felt the balance shift too far. She pushed free, unfurling her wings,
as the barrels tumbled down. The Magus was spilled back on his rump.
“You’ll pay for this, you miserable monster!” he called after her as she glided away.
She flipped her tail rudely at him and took herself to the high tower where he couldn’t come after her without her seeing. Once there, she sat cross-
legged to admire her play-pretty again.
“Och, where’d ye get that?” exclaimed the old-mother, coming up behind her.
“I found it,” the young female reported proudly, holding it up. “Isn’t it nice? My play-pretty, and he’s not going to take it away from me.”
The old-mother sat down beside her, resting a basket near her knee. “Who’s na going to take it away from ye, little one?”
“The human, the Magus. He tried to steal it!” Her eyes were wide and indignant. “But I wouldn’t let him!”
“Well, it is verra lovely ... but ye shouldna take things that dinna belong to ye.”
“It does! I found it, and it’s mine!” Why were they so slow to understand?
The old-mother nodded slowly. “I see ... ye dinna wish to give it away.”
“That’s right!” She was pleased that someone understood, and not at all surprised it was the wise old-mother.
“Might ye be willing to trade it for something even nicer?”
The young female regarded her thoughtfully. “Nicer?”
“Aye ... ye admire the warriors, d’ye not?”
“I do, I do, I’m going to be a great warrior someday!”
“How would ye like to have something that was one of theirs?” The old-mother reached into her basket and pulled out a curve of smooth gold.
Her face grew sad as she looked from it to the young female, as if she knew something the young female didn’t and never would. “I’ll trade ye
this armband for yer play-pretty.”
“Ooh,” she said. “It was a warrior’s?”
“That it was, a brave and fierce female like ye’ll grow to be. She’d be pleased, I know, to have it pass down to you.”
“But it’s too big!”
“For now ... here, see, ye can wear it on yer leg until ye’re old enough to wear it properly.”
The young female extended her leg and let the old one slip the armband around her ankle. It hugged her calf, and something in the way the gold
looked against the blue of her skin reminded her of the play-pretty. As if she herself was the play-pretty, the treasure, and no one could ever
take that away from her.
“Yes!” she chirped. “I’ll trade, I’ll trade, thank you, Old-Mother!”
She held out the other item, and the old-mother tucked it away in her basket. Excited all over again, the young one couldn’t wait to rush off and
show her sisters her new piece of jewelry.
“Infuriating little she-dog,” grumbled the
Magus as he reached his room, his bandaged hand cradled in his other arm.
It would likely take an
infection; who knew how clean a gargoyle’s mouth was?
All that, and he hadn’t been able to get the item from her! She guarded it with the jealousy and venom of a dragon! As if ... as if she could sense
that it was special, sense that it was magic!
If that was the case, she might one day make a promising pupil. Not that he was inclined to mentor her, the rotten biting brat!
He’d get the item one way or another! Even if he had to push her off a parapet tomorrow and sift through the pieces -- but that was too risky,
for suppose it turned to stone along with her? Suppose it broke? Then it would never be his, and the powers it held would forever be denied him ...
He stepped into his room, noting sourly that the lamp had gone out, and felt the movement of air just an instant too late to avoid the sweep of
It struck him at the juncture of shoulder and neck, riveting his muscles with shock and paralysis. He saw the room tilt, knew that he was falling,
but didn’t feel the impact as he hit the floor.
A spiked black boot tromped into his field of vision. He followed it up and up, with growing horror as he took in the sight of one of the Sisterhood.
Right here in his room! Unsummoned! Uncalled!
She looked down on him with annoyance and contempt, shifting her grip on the axe so that its deadly gleaming blade was at the ready.
“You killed my father,” she said.
The Magus stared up at her in complete confusion. “What?”
“My father. The Archmage. You killed him.”
Comprehension dawned. The Sisterhood were nearly identical, but there were slight differences for those who knew where to look. Yes, he
could see a hint of a resemblance in the planes of her face.
He got up slowly, braced in anticipation of the whistle and steely slice of the axe if she elected to bury it in his spine. “I wasn’t aware you had
any such familial leanings. I’d been under the impression it was something of the opposite.”
“Correct, mortal. You killed him ... before I could. One of our choicest triumphs is to cleave the flesh of him who spawned our life. But I am
robbed of that thanks to you.”
“I had no idea until after the deed was done.” His shoulder was a mass of pulsing pain, but he made no show of his suffering. “Only then did I
learn of your existence. So you are Lamia’s daughter.”
She nodded curtly.
“And that of the Archmage as well, a man of somewhat more than mortal abilities. That would, unless I’m mistaken, give you a bit more power
than your Sisters.”
“I lead them,” she said. “I am the strongest, and when I command, they follow.”
“But you are all at the beck and call of magic,” he reminded her, drawing himself to his full height and wishing he looked more daunting than he did.
Her eyes flickered more red than black, but she did not contradict.
“I do apologize for denying you the chance to kill your sire. Perhaps I can make it up to you somehow.”
“Killing a wizard brings good status,” the Sister said, running her thumb along the curve of her axe-blade.
“As much as killing a prince?” He was pleased his voice stayed even, and brought spells of defense to the forefront of his mind.
“A prince who has just bedded your mother, and might have even seeded her had your mother not been sent packing back to Hell. Wouldn’t you
owe it to her, and to that unborn Sister, to avenge them?”
“I like this prospect. But what of my other Sisters? All stand ready, whetted for battle, eager to repay the gargoyles for driving us off last night.”
“Are they?” He chuckled, almost chortled. “By the way you were routed, I was under the impression you were afraid of them!”
She swung the axe. The Magus blurted a word of Latin, and raised his arm to intercept the blow. It rang off as if his flesh had been turned to iron,
the sound making the Sister grimace, as certain squeals set human teeth on edge.
“We fear no gargoyle, no human, no mortal thing,” she said coldly. “We only prefer to attack when we have the advantage.”
“Do you think to mock me?”
“The furthest thing from my mind, I assure you. But speaking of advantages, I know a way you’d gain a distinct one.”
“We will not come by day. We are warriors, not quarrymen to break apart stones.”
“No, no ... of course not.”
“Then what is this advantage?”
“They underestimate you,” he said. “They see an army and think only in terms of the armies they’ve met before. Although they saw with their own
eyes how your forces appeared, it simply has not occurred to them that there was no reason why you couldn’t have manifested within the walls.”
Her lips lifted from her snaggled fangs in what he assumed was a smile. “As they look out over the fields for us to advance, we arise in their midst.
Nowhere for them to hide.”
“I saw ye out there.”
Amber froze, instantly recognizing the voice.
She’d been on her way to Old-Mother’s tower room, and the crimson gargoyle had picked her ambush spot well. They were on a walkway out
of sight of most of the courtyard, and the tower door was too far away to offer more than a teasing promise of sanctuary. No one was near enough
to see or intervene if things got ugly.
Things got ugly with the female’s next words.
“Did ye hear me, ye pig-faced human slut?”
Amber turned. “I heard you.”
“Didna I warn ye about staying away from him? He’s na for the likes of ye!”
Though she privately agreed but for different reasons, Amber firmed her chin. “Shouldn’t that be for him to decide?”
“Are ye daft? Ye’re na our kind, and ne’er will be! What are ye at, thinking ye can go about plying yer human wiles on a gargoyle? Or d’ye think
ye’re enough like us to act like a gargoyle?”
“Maybe I am.”
“Then let’s see if ye can fight like one!” The crimson female flexed her toe-talons, scraping them threateningly along the stone.
“I don’t want to fight you.”
“Then ye’re finally showing common sense, but it be a bit too late for that. I’ll even let ye have first strike, or are ye a coward?”
“I’m not a coward!”
The female laughed sneeringly. “Nay, ye’re a weak and spineless human, that’s what ye are! That’s all ye’ll ever be!”
“Don’t take it out on me because he likes me better!” Amber saw the verbal dart hit its mark, the female’s eyes burning incandescent red.
“Ye’re mad to even think such a thing!”
“Am I? You’ve been after him ever since his mate died, haven’t you? Probably even before. It must have stuck in your craw something fierce that
he picked her over you. I bet you thought she was weak and spineless too, didn’t you? And you just couldn’t stand to see him with her.”
“I’ll gut ye like a rabbit!”
“You’ve already got one mate but that’s not enough, is it? You’ve got to have everything you want, and you think that just because you’re tough,
you can take it! What were you going to do, make him love you at clawpoint?”
With an inarticulate bellow, the crimson gargoyle lunged. Amber let her have it, a solid punch to the underside of the beak. It rocked the female’s
head back. Her feet slid out from under her, and she landed on her tail.
“You said I could have first strike,” Amber said. Her own eyes felt like they were flashing now, the jack-o-lantern orange that characterized her
and Aunt Elektra. “Think I’ll just take the second strike too, since it’s all you understand!” With that, she drove out with a fast jab as the female
was rising, tagging her in the ribs.
The female hunkered into a crouch, glaring intently at her. “Ye’re strong, and ye’re quick, I grant ye that. But it’s na going to be enough!”
She sprang, but Amber had seen the identical move before from Uncle Brooklyn -- apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree, had it? -- and ducked
under as the female, leading with her toe-talons, sailed over her.
But the female was even quicker, pivoting on one foot even as she landed and swiping the other in a brutal downward arc. Amber felt something
sharp snag at her collar, then heard the purring rip of her cloak and gown. The raptor-claw grazed the line of her spine not quite hard enough to
She whirled, and her wings extended dusky-lavendar from their concealment. The female was dumbstruck only for a moment, perhaps
considering one conclusion (the correct one), and rejecting it in favor of another.
“Succubus!” She tackled Amber and they rolled to the tower door punching and pummeling.
“I’m ... not ... a ... succubus!” grunted Amber. “My ... father’s ... a ... gargoyle!”
“Ye lie!” She tucked her legs up high and tight, like a cat meaning to disembowel with one hard kick.
A blue-grey tail slapped her across the beak, hard enough to tear her off of Amber. Cobalt stood over them, glowering sternly.
“No, she does not lie.”
“Stay out of this, Teacher, or I’ll come at ye myself!”
“You are out of place, warrior!”
Amber scrambled upright, her gown and cloak drooping from her shoulders in ragged flaps. “Stop it! Both of you!”
“Why are ye defending this ... this ...” epithets failed the crimson one, so she settled for flicking her hand in disgust at Amber. “Be she yer whelp,
is that what ye’re saying? Ye already dress like a human and act like one, so ‘twould hardly be surprising if ye --”
He clouted her backhand, cutting through her tirade. She rubbed her beak, eyes blazing so hotly it was a wonder fire didn’t shoot from them.
“When you know not of what you speak, it is best to remain silent,” Cobalt said. “But as I doubt I can trust you to do that, I’m afraid I must take
His hand closed on her brow, fingers interlacing with her backswept horns, thumb pressed firmly to her temple. A blue mist coalesced around the
bracer on his wrist, and crept down to engulf her head.
“This geas I say and you obey,” he intoned. “You will forget what you’ve just learned here, forsake your enmity toward this girl, and forego your
anger against me. Forget, forsake, forego ... and thus I speak, let it be so.”
He released her, and she shook her head groggily. Her eyes were clouded, and she merely mumbled something courteous to the teacher as she
weaved her way toward the stairs.
Amber gaped at Cobalt. “You’re a sorceror?”
“Among other things. Come, girl. We cannot let anyone else see you like that.”
She trailed after him, too stunned to put the questions flying around in her brain into any sort of coherent order. He led her up the stairs to Old-
Mother’s room, where they found her mixing up a poultice for the festering acid-burns on those unlucky souls who’d been too near one of the
Sisterhood when their bones exploded.
She took one look at Amber and nearly staggered. “What’s happened to ye?!”
“I had a run-in with one of the warriors,” Amber said, feeling rather hangdog about losing her temper, about actually mixing it up with one of the
“She conducted herself well in a messy situation,” Cobalt added.
“And ye? How d’ye fit into this?” Old-Mother glanced significantly at Amber’s exposed wings. “Ye’ve seen ...”
“I have. But I knew even before. The child of human and gargoyle, yes?”
“Yes.” Amber waited for the inevitable.
Cobalt chuffed softly and rumpled her hair. “The blood of four races flows in my veins, child. You’ve nothing to fear from me.”
“Four?” Old-Mother echoed.
“My mother was born of human and fae. My father, of gargoyle and dragon.” He let his wings rise briefly from his shoulders, those peculiar wings
with their star-flecked membranes. “But I always felt most welcome among the gargoyles.”
“Ye hid yer secret well, teacher,” Old-Mother said.
“And you know magic,” Amber said.
“My maternal heritage. But I’m far more interested in hearing your story, Eolande.”
Feeling that she could trust him, and sensing that Old-Mother thought the same, Amber carefully told her tale. She tried to burden him with as little
foreknowledge as possible, but did confess to her origin-time of the future.
“But I lost the thing that brought me here,” she finished. “Now I’m trapped.”
“Nay, lass,” said Old-Mother. “I was going to tell ye ... I have the Phoenix Gate.” She brought it from her basket, and gave it to Amber. “One of
the hatchlings found it, but I was able to convince her to trade.”
Amber held it as if it were made of spun glass, but the relief that washed through her was colored by doubt. “Old-Mother ... when I first told you
I’d lost it, you weren’t surprised!”
Old-Mother looked troubled. “Aye, ‘tis true ... I dinna know what to make of what I was told.”
“What? Tell me!” Amber begged. “I thought I was going to be stuck here forever, that maybe Hudson had known and told you about it, but here’s
the Gate, so I’m not, so I can go home! What did he tell you?” She went red. “He ... he ... didn’t ... um ... say anything ...”
“If ye’d be so kind as to leave us?” hinted Old-Mother to Cobalt. “Thank ye for yer help, and I’ll be wanting to speak more with ye on these magics
ye know, but for now, we’d best be alone.”
He sketched a graceful bow. “Of course, Old-Mother. Until later.”
“Thank you,” Amber said. “I didn’t mean to fight with her, but she just made me so mad!”
“Pleased to be of service.” He swept his wings in a manner that made Amber think of an aging but still genteel courtier, excusing himself from the
queen with a gallant flourish.
When he was gone, Old-Mother pressed her knuckles to Amber’s brow and smiled kindly. “What happened between ye and Hudson?”
“I kissed him.” A dull hot flush deepened in her cheeks. “And then he kissed me. It just ... sort of happened. I feel awful about it but I liked it
anyway, and that makes it worse!”
“Ye’re not close kin --”
“I know, but still! He was always like a grandpa to me! But here, now, he’s so ... so ...” as she spoke, shrugged out of her ruined clothes and
fashioned a crude tunic out of one of Old-Mother’s woolen skirts, something to cover her until she could get back to her own room and change.
“I haven’t had any real boyfriends yet, Old-Mother, kind of a crush on Orpheus but he thinks I’m just a kid. And even if he didn’t, I might rather
have a boyfriend with wings. But the hatchlings are too young and Tom’s my cousin and everyone else is spoken for ... and then I come here, I
meet him, and it’s like they’re two entirely different people. But I know they aren’t, and I just can’t ... I can’t ...”
“Reconcile it?” Old-Mother suggested.
“Yeah. And even if I could, he couldn’t ... I’m only human to him!”
Old-Mother put her arms around Amber. “‘Tis not easy when a female gets grown enough to discover the males ... and ye’ve an even rougher
time of it.”
“And then, thinking I was trapped here, thinking I’d have to make a life for myself ... never able to glide, always having to keep what I am a
secret ... I didn’t know what to do! I’m so glad you found the Gate!” She clung to her grandmother fiercely. “Much as I love you, much as I’m
going to hate leaving, I can’t stay here! I have to go home!”
“Ye will, one way or another. We’ll find ye a way.”
“I should go right now, before anything else happens!”
Famous last words, as Aunt Birdie would have said ... at that moment, fire sheeted through the room and for one confused instant, Amber
was sure she’d triggered the Gate by accident.
But then the flames cleared, and two of the black-armored Sisterhood stood before them with identical, ominous grins.
“Blood-blood-blood!” they shouted, and attacked.
He’d named her Caillic without telling her
what it meant, and she had watched with slitted eyes as he tore a page
from the Grimorum Necronum
and fed it to the fireplace right there in front of her. It was the page with the spell her own father had used to condemn her to Hell, and as the
parchment curled into ash, their bargain was sealed.
It pained him to have to do it, to tear and burn any page from the books he’d only so recently acquired, but a deal was a deal. She would only
bring her Sisters to wage war on the castle with this assurance that he could not banish them.
Then it had been her turn. Tilting her head skyward and extending her arms and stunted wings, she had invoked a Word, a Call, that tolled a
somber-deep knell in the Magus’ soul.
From beyond the window came a flare of orange, followed by screams and then the din and clamor of combat. The Magus rushed to peer out,
grinning with feverish delight as humans and gargoyles alike were taken by complete surprise.
“And you sent one there?” he demanded, pointing to the high tower -- higher even than his!
“Two,” said Caillic, grasping her axe. “Now I go to join my Sisters, slay the prince, and raise my standing with many glorious kills!”
“Enjoy.” He paid her no mind as she winked out in a ripple of flame, drawn to the entertainment outside.
This was no neat and tidy battle of conflicting lines. This was a madhouse melee, the fewer-but-ready Sisterhood carving bloody swaths through
the numerous-but-disorganized defenders. The human children scattered, he noticed, but the puling gargoyle pups wasted no time leaping into the
fray. He saw the insolent red-haired biter among them and hoped she met a painful demise.
Caillic appeared between Dearg and Corwin, and cut down the guard almost as an incidental as she screeched a challenge to the prince. They
were on the battlement just below, so close that the Magus could have spit on them were he so inclined, and he couldn’t have asked for a better
view of the proceedings.
Movement above caught his eye. He barked a curse as he saw Old-Mother on her wide balcony, retreating from two of the Sisterhood. The
witch-girl Eolande was with her. Blue and gold sparkled in her hand.
“Finish them, finish them, and it will be mine!” he muttered urgently.
But Old-Mother had other plans, it seemed; she seized the girl around the waist and dove from the balcony. One of the demons leapt after, a
huge ungainly leap with her malformed wings beating vigorously but ineffectually. Old-Mother avoided the clumsy effort and the Sister plunged
into the courtyard where she landed on and instantly put a gruesome end to the blacksmith.
The other demon showed more wit, transporting herself by fire to the walkway that was Old-Mother’s destination. But several gargoyles had
seen and converged, determined to protect their elder.
Caillic had forced Prince Corwin back until he was cornered, his sword a severed stub, one of his arms dangling and soaked with blood.
Back and forth, back and forth, the Magus could not decide where to look! And to think, he had orchestrated this! The giddy rush of power
dizzied him so that he had to grab the window frame to keep himself from toppling out.
The Sister raised her axe over Old-Mother, but Eolande grappled her wrist, struggling valiantly against the demon’s superior strength. The Magus
spotted the item, the blue and gold play-pretty, on the stones beside her.
The mortally-wounded Dearg hadn’t yet died after all, but was lurching to his feet holding a mass of bulging innards in one hand and his sword
in the other. He chopped at one of Caillic’s wings, severing it. Then, gurgling his last, he crumpled.
The older blue-grey male they called Teacher and the second-in-command reached the walkway skirmish at the same time, just as the Sister
wrenched her weapon away from Eolande and made to decapitate. The second turned the blow, bringing a scintillating rain of sparks as his sword
met the axe blade. The Teacher rammed the Sister with his shoulder, piercing himself with her spiked armor but flattening her against the wall.
Prince Corwin bellowed a battle-cry that would have done credit to a bull gargoyle, and fell upon Caillic in a fury of slashes and thrusts. She
backed off, but stumbled over Dearg’s body -- even in death, he served his prince! -- and lost her balance. Corwin’s next swing hit her just above
the ear and would have taken off the top of her head but for her heavy, plated skull. As it was, a section of scalp ripped loose and flopped like a
wig knocked askew.
The Magus clenched the window frame in annoyance. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go! He’d decided! The Sisterhood would kill the prince
and most of the gargoyles, and in the wake of the tragedy, the others would turn to him to lead them! Him, the Magus, the hero, the only one who
could get rid of the terrible demons!
But this was wrong, all wrong! The Sisterhood weren’t winning! They were being dealt a decisive defeat, by all accounts! Everywhere he looked,
he saw gargoyles and humans standing steadfast and shoulder-to-shoulder! He hadn’t counted the gargoyle whelps into his consideration, but even
they were comporting themselves with murderous skill!
He had to act soon, act now, before the defenders realized that they were overcoming their foes. Or they’d have no need of him at all!
The Sisterhood and the witch-girl weren’t the only ones with an impressive mode of travel! He opened the Grimorum Arcanorum and read from
it. The air around his feet began to swirl and twinkle, becoming a whirlwind of light that lifted him and bore him through the window. Hovering
above the courtyard, a mystical aura beaming from him in all directions, the Magus paused to savor his grand entrance.
And yes, it was working, all over the castle they were looking up in awe and hope! Wanting him to help them, save them! He would deliver them
from this evil, and they would be beholden to him forevermore!
Caillic shrieked defiance, all part of the plan. At the arranged signal, she and all of the Sisterhood would disappear.
That was their bargain. A pity for her that he had no intention of sticking to it.
The spell of banishment wasn’t the only way to deal with them ...
She knew it as soon as he began to read, and her shriek escalated to a head-splitting volume. But rather than try to stop him, she redoubled her
attack on the prince. Her Sisters did likewise.
The one tussling with the Teacher wrapped the fingers of one hand around his neck and threw her axe with the other. It whipped end over end
toward Old-Mother. But Eolande had bent to retrieve the item, and stood up unseeing straight into its path.
The spinning handle smashed into her arm. The item flew from her hand, up and out in a high arc, over the wall, the outermost wall whose face
plunged hundreds of feet to the churning sea.
Eolande screamed, “No!” and tried to go after it, heedless of an arm that was hanging bent and broken from the elbow. The second-in-command
caught her as she was about to go over, restraining her as best he could.
The Magus finished his spell, his voice raised in purpose and power. As he uttered the last syllable and closed his fist tightly, each of the Sisters
was gripped by an unseen force. They contorted in what looked like unimaginable pain, drawing in on themselves, shrinking, diminishing, growing
paler ... and then they were no more.
Silence ruled the courtyard. The Magus let his spell float him down leisurely, and by the time he was able to step from his cushion of magic to the
ground, was ringed by a throng of grateful, cheering people.
He kept his fist curled, feeling the surging malevolent energy coming from within. He would have to find something to do with the handful of ivory
beads, have to hide them away where they couldn’t be found, couldn’t cause mischief.
But for now, he basked smugly in the attention that was his due, and took comfort in the fact that, while he had never been able to get ahold of the
source of Eolande’s power, at least it was lost to her now as well.
“It doesn’t matter if it was foreordained or
not,” Amber said. “I still lost it! What am I going to do now? It’s gone
for good, you saw that, there’s
no way I could find it now!”
Another day had passed, another night had come. In honor of the victory, and to celebrate the Magus’ elevation to Archmage, the prince had
arranged a feast. But Amber was in no mood for rejoicing.
She took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. They were on the beach below the castle, the three of them. She and Old-Mother, and Cobalt
since he already knew nearly everything else about her. Besides, there was something about his sage presence that made her feel better. Or maybe
it was just that he, like her, was different from the rest of the clan.
Every roll of the waves made her look yearningly toward the shore in hopes of seeing the Phoenix Gate wash up like a pebble.
Her arm was still in a splint and sling. Though a day’s stone sleep had mended the broken bones, she knew it would raise all sorts of questions if
she let on that she was fully healed.
Old-Mother had just finished telling her what Hudson had relayed to her in the future, and it had only made her feel worse. There was just
something about being doomed to make a mistake, unable to avoid it. Even if she’d known it was coming, that wouldn’t have changed the feeling
that she should have been able to do something.
“And now it’s gone! Alex would kill me! All that hard work ...”
“Alex knew,” Old-Mother said.
“He didna tell me. Only that he knew something like this would happen, and told me what to tell ye when it did.”
“Great. ‘Told you so, Amburger.’ What made him so forgiving? He went to all the trouble to recreate the Phoenix Gate, and butterfingers me
went and pitched it into the briny blue!”
“Nay, lass ... that’s where ye’re wrong. He didna recreate the Phoenix Gate. He created it. And knew that it had to be lost in the past, that it
could take its rightful place in history.”
Amber stared at her. “What are you saying? That that one, the one I lost, is the ... no, that can’t be, that doesn’t make sense. That it’ll be found,
wind up in Normandy or wherever Princess Katherine’s mother came from, and be the same Phoenix Gate that my father used to take Uncle Xan
back in time on his wedding day?”
Cobalt, who had up until now been following fairly well, looked as if he’d just exceeded his strangeness threshold. “But what of her? What’s she
to do now? Remain here with the clan?”
“I can’t!” Amber sank her head into her one good hand. “He said we’d left, and then you came back alone. But where’d we go? What happened
to me? Do we get a mile away from the castle and then I croak? What?”
“I dinna know,” Old-Mother said heavily. “All I’ve left to tell ye is the message Alex gave me for ye.”
“Let’s hear it. I doubt it could make me feel any worse.”
Old-Mother recited something long and familiar-sounding, and Amber frowned thoughtfully.
“What’s that ... why do I feel like I should know what that means? Aunt Aiden would know --”
“I know,” said Cobalt. “It is the spell to open the Sea of Mist, the spell to go to Avalon.”
“Avalon! I’m to go to Avalon? But ... even with the time difference, it’ll still be fifty years or more until I catch up with my own time!”
“Better fifty than a thousand,” Old-Mother said.
“And if I’d been on Avalon ... wouldn’t the clan have known about me? Aunt Angela, Aunt Elektra, Uncle Gabriel?” It was all too much to think
about. “Unless ... unless the skiff can take me to the future. Aunt Aiden’s mother did that, though I don’t know how. But it’s where I need to be,
the future, where I belong. Right?”
“I dinna know, lass.” Old-Mother stroked her hair soothingly. “Alex seemed to think it would help ye.”
“I guess it’s my only shot. Avalon, wow ... I never thought I’d go there. But where am I going to get a skiff?”
Cobalt cleared his throat. “As it happens, I might be able to be of assistance.”
They both looked at him with new awareness.
“Ye came from there,” Old-Mother said.
“I did. And though the years have been longer here, I wonder how my clan has fared. I wouldn’t mind paying a visit home.”
“You’d come with me?”
“If you had no objections.”
“I canna speak for Amber, but ‘twould be a great weight off my mind,” Old-Mother said. “I dinna mean to imply that she canna take care of herself,
but to know she wasna alone would put me much at ease.”
“I’d appreciate the company!” Amber said.
“Then so be it,” he said, and offered her his hand.
Amber clasped it firmly with her good one. “When do we leave?”
The prow of a skiff rose from the waves, water dripping from its stern-faced figurehead. Cobalt smiled.
“Odd though it may be to say given the current circumstances, there is no time like the present.”