Christine Morgan

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and used here without their creators' knowledge or consent.

PART ONE -- THOUGH HELL SHOULD BAR THE WAY         David Xanatos was bored.         For the first time since he'd opened it on Christmas morning and assured his hopeful young son that it was just what he'd always wanted, he reached out and took hold of one of the silver balls suspended on wire. He drew it out to the side, released it, and watched as the balls clacked back and forth.         Bored. Yes, indeed.         No Machiavellian plots in the works. No projects that currently needed his attention. The business was running itself with flawless precision. And he'd found that his staff expected, no, _needed_ the boss to take the occasional day off. If he showed up unexpectedly, he'd create unproductive panic.         He swiveled away from his desk and looked out over Manhattan, which gleamed under a gentle warm golden haze. A small smile lifted one corner of his mouth as he wondered how Owen was doing with the kids.         They were spending the day at the zoo, studying the animals because Alex's interest in learning shapeshifting had increased since Aiden had accidentally given the entire household a taste of it.         But Owen would really have his hands full, because his lady Cordelia had suggested in her satin-cool voice that perhaps their daughter Patricia would like to go on an outing with her father, and Owen knew as well as Xanatos himself that when she used her satin- cool voice, she would tolerate no argument.         He wandered through the castle, pausing once to look up at the ramparts where Goliath and his clan slept. They'd be no good for relieving boredom for several hours yet. And when they did, odds were that Hudson would start in on them again.         Xanatos idly wondered if he'd found the Fountain of Youth on his recent vacation. It had certainly perked the old boy up! He'd come back with a fire in his soul that Xanatos hadn't seen in years.         And he'd gotten it into his head that the clan was slacking off. Angela and Brooklyn bore the brunt of his renewed interest in training the younger generation, though not even Goliath escaped uncriticized.         The other night, Talon had brought Maggie and Delilah, and the sky over the castle had been filled with winged shapes in mock battles. Xanatos himself had even joined in, and found that his status as lord of the manor did not excuse him from Hudson's stern correction. He had the bruises to prove it.         Chuckling to himself, remembering how startled and even pissed he'd been at the time, he let the curtain fall shut and proceeded to go in search of his wife.         He found her where he knew he would, in the sewing room with a pencil behind one ear, a smudge of pastel on her cheek, and swatches of cloth streaming like party favors in all directions. The walls were covered with sketches and photographs. A dressmaker's dummy, sized to Fox's own admirable proportions, stood in the center of the room wearing a dress that gave new meaning to the word 'risque.'         "Hello, darling." He kissed her on the side of the neck.         "Mmm." Fox said, arching her back a little but not taking her eyes off her easel. "Hello."         "How's it going?"         "Really well." She squirmed away from his affectionate nuzzle. "David, please, I'm trying to work."         "Work later?" He slid his arms around her waist.         "David, sweetheart ..." Now she turned toward him, pulling down the glasses she wore for close work and never let anyone but him see her in. "I'm busy. I can't always be the devoted wife, mother, and one-woman vigilante squad you married. I need more. And since The Pack got cancelled and disbanded, this is my new thing. I really think FoxFire Fashion can be a success."         "I know," he said, releasing her. "I'm sure it will be. You're as wonderful at this as everything else you do."         She smiled. "And I'll do the everything else later, 'kay? Promise."         "Okay, okay," he sighed. "I'll get out of your way."         "Thank you, darling," she said absently, already returning her attention to her design.         He lingered by the door for a while, watching her. Funny, it was usually her complaining that he spent too much time working and not enough with the family.         Still bored, and now a little down too because even though he hadn't really been looking for an afternoon quickie, he wasn't used to getting brushed off, he found himself wandering into the gargoyles' quarters.         Even though the place was cluttered with reflections of their various interests -- Brooklyn had recently taken up model-building and Angela was teaching herself the piano, in addition to Lex's computer games, Hudson's movies, Broadway's cooking, and Goliath's books -- it always seemed big and empty during the day.         Of course, even when it was nighttime, the place still felt empty, because everyone was aware of Broadway's absence. And now Lex's, who had gone to the West Coast with Aiden for spring break (and, Xanatos suspected, to break the news of their relationship to her parents).         Xanatos idly flipped through Lex's computer games, realizing that he really _must_ be bored if he was contemplating passing a few hours that way.         He frowned a little when his gaze fell upon the prototype VR helmet Lex had cadged off of his R&D people. He'd given consent, but had expressly told Lex to be ultra-careful with the costly piece of gear. And now look. It had a hole drilled in it, for crying out loud, and a silvery cable snaking its way from the helmet into the guts of the computer.         "All right, fun's over," he grumbled. "What have you been up to?"         He switched on the computer, and while he waited for it to warm up, he glanced at an untidy stack of papers on the desk. Some were printouts of e-mail between Lex and Aiden, others were loose-leaf sheets covered with scribbles and doodles and half-intelligible notes.         His frown gave way to an expression of interest. It looked like the two of them had been designing their own program. Lex had recently gotten a CD-burner ... Xanatos opened the drive and there it was, a plain disk labeled M5. It seemed to glint with pale silvery runes instead of the usual prismatic line.         He closed it again, hesitated.         The gargoyles weren't all that concerned with privacy. As long as he didn't spy on them regularly, they didn't object to having the security cameras in the room. They weren't used to having a place of their own beyond a parapet to perch on.         But this was different. This was snooping.         "You picked a funny time to go all moral," he told himself, then laughed at his own foolishness. Before he got mad at Lex, he might as well see what was up.         Still chuckling, he sat down and faced the screen. Right there in the corner was an icon that said M5. He clicked on it, then picked up the helmet.         It fit snugly, treating him to a view of nothing but sheer dense black. It also muffled sound so effectively that he could only hear the oceanic rushing of his own pulse in his ears. Then he heard a faint hum, and a menu appeared floating before his eyes.         SELECT ONE --         1. Space Adventure.         2. Knight's Quest.         3. Highwayman.         Hmm. The first two sounded fairly standard, but the last, Highwayman, that had possibilities. He was just wondering how to select it when a bar of light appeared around it, then the menu vanished.         AVATAR GENERATION OR SAVED GAME? it asked.         He chose the first one. Then, because he'd never been one for the escapism of pretending to be someone else, he set about making a reasonable version of himself. Then he signaled the computer that he was ready, and waited to see what would happen.                 *               *         His sense of smell came back first. The evocative scent of the air after a hard rain. Damp earth and greenness. A hint of gunpowder and cologne.         Next was hearing. The steady but uneven drip of water off of leaves. The soft nicker of a horse.         And then sight.         "Incredible," he breathed.         He was standing in the forest, the wind spinning webs of dark clouds overhead. A sleek black horse was tethered to a tree nearby, regarding him with intelligent brown eyes. The ground felt moist and springy beneath his boots --         Boots?         Xanatos looked down at himself.         Boots. Of the wide, folded-top variety. And midnight blue velvet breeches tucked into them.         He extended his arms. Black kidskin gloves. Frothy white lace cuffs poking from beneath the sleeves of a black frock coat embroidered in silver. A pistol on one side, a rapier on the other.         Atop his head, he found when he reached up and lifted it off, a tri-corner black hat with a sweeping white plume.         This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be right. He'd been expecting a fairly standard VR setup, everything looking a little bit phony. But here he was, without benefit of the clunky bodysuit, feeling everything exactly as if it were real.         The detail was mind-blowing. Every leaf, every seam, the jewels in the hilt of his rapier, everything was exactly as it should be. He could even feel the breeze in his hair when he removed his hat.         For one thing, he sure wasn't bored anymore!         He walked over to the horse and patted it on the shoulder. It nickered again, blowing its warm breath in his face.         Just beyond the horse, he saw something pale against the dark background of the trees. He approached, noting that the perspectives changed exactly as if he was walking through a real forest.         The object that had caught his eye turned out to be a ragged- edged, yellowed sheet of parchment, nailed to the trunk of an oak.             REWARD 10,000 FLORINS             THE BLACK FOX             SOUGHT FOR ROBBERY, DUELLING, AND              HIGH TREASON TO THE CROWN.         Below that message was a woodcut image, stark black. He didn't need to see what was beneath the scarf over the lower half of the face to recognize the visage he saw in his own mirror every morning. The devil-may-care glint in the eyes was more than enough.         "Aiden, Lex, you're geniuses," he murmured.         "Sir? Were you talking to me?"         He about leaped out of his boots, and spun around with a hand on the hilt of his rapier.         "Didn't mean to startle you," the man said. He was short and stocky, with a wide dirt-smeared face and gaps between his teeth. "There's news."         "Is there, Dobbins?" To his surprise, the name came smoothly up in his head.         "I've heard from Sal, you remember, sir, Lady Attewater's maid --" he winked lewdly "-- that Lord Wintersbourne is bound for Loallix, along this very road! Lord Wintersbourne, richest and miserliest man in the county!"         "And why's he bound for Loallix?" Xanatos asked.         "Sal says he's taking his niece to the convent, so as to keep her inheritance for himself."         "That's hardly gentlemanly of him, now is it? Perhaps Lord Wintersbourne could use a lesson in manners."         "He won't be learning them from his guards, that's what I hear," Dobbins said. "He's too much a skinflint to hire more than a pair, and is taking the back road in hopes of avoiding robbers."         "I'm afraid," Xanatos said, vaulting lithely into the saddle, "that he's in for a disappointment."         Dobbins put a hand to his ear. "Hark! They come!"         Xanatos found a silken scarf around his neck and pulled it up. He could now hear it too, the muffled thudding of hoofbeats and the creak of wheels. "Wish me luck!"         "You've the luck of the devil himself, sir! You don't need any help from me!"         Moments later, he was sitting astride Shadow (for that, he knew, was the stallion's name) on a hillock overlooking a bend in the road. The puddles reflected the clouds above, then dissolved into ripples as the riders and carriage came nearer.         They swept around the bend. Xanatos was ready. He urged Shadow to leap into the roadway, kicking up huge splashes, and brandished his blunderbuss.         "Halt the coach!" he commanded ringingly. "Stand and deliver!"         The two outriders came at him at once, drawing weapons of their own. The driver pulled up sharp in the reins, and gasped, "The Black Fox!"         "The reward is ours!" one of the riders, a mustachioed fellow with a foppish yellow doublet, exclaimed excitedly.         "I think not!" Xanatos fired.         He was used to non-projectile weapons, and the recoil very nearly knocked him off his horse. The pistol roared like thunder. Flame and smoke belched from the barrel.         He'd meant to sharpshoot the gun from Yellow-Doublet's hand; instead, he missed by two yards and the ball slammed into the wall of the coach, eliciting cries of alarm from within.         The other rider, more soberly clad in rust-brown, aimed at Xanatos' heart.         He twisted in the saddle, and a searing line of pain flashed across his right arm. Shadow reared, and for the second time in five seconds Xanatos almost went right off. He held on and urged Shadow straight ahead.         He charged between the two riders. One thing about black powder weapons -- you got one shot, and if that didn't do the trick, you had to come up with another plan. Hence, the sword.         Yellow-Doublet hadn't fired yet, so Xanatos slashed at him with the rapier. Fencing wasn't his forte either, but he scored a lucky shot on the man's arm. Yellow-Doublet dropped his gun into a puddle, swore, and grabbed for his own sword.         Xanatos didn't wait to see if he got it, because he had the man in brown coming at him from the other side. Their blades clashed, clashed again, then locked in an X with the two of them staring at each other over the shining steel.         As it turned out, Yellow-Doublet did get his drawn, and now Xanatos had an armed foe on either side. He dropped the pistol and drew his knife with his left hand, using that to parry as well.         To make matters worse, as if he didn't have enough to deal with right now, the driver had produced a musket.         Both his opponents lunged at once, and Xanatos rolled backwards off the horse, managing by a display of acrobatics to land on his feet. Their blades passed through the spot where he'd been and skewered each other.         In one smooth, fluid movement, Xanatos flipped his knife so he was holding it by the blade, threw it, and pinned the driver's sleeve to the back of his seat. The musket fell, and by the time the driver retrieved it with his other hand, Xanatos was standing next to him with the tip of a rapier resting under his chin.         "I yield," the driver stammered.         "I thought you might." Xanatos threw the musket into the woods, then picked up a coil of rope he found beneath the seat and tied the man up. The other two weren't moving, and wouldn't be doing so ever again, since their blades had pierced deep.         With the three of them taken care of, he approached the coach. Cautiously, because they might have another gun in there, but with a bold swagger because that was simply the way it was done.         He whipped open the curtains with his sword. "My most gracious Lord Wintersbourne," he said with a smile. "Your money or your life."         It wasn't until he actually prodded the pudgy, fretful lord with the pointy end that Wintersbourne coughed up the cash. He handed over a small purse, and Xanatos could tell by fingering it that it contained only silver, chump change.         "I never carry much money," Wintersbourne explained, managing to sound scared and indignant and annoyed all at the same time.         "We'll see about that in a moment. First, lady, if you please?" Xanatos turned his attention to the other occupant, a woman who was holding an open fan before her face. "Have you anything worth my while?"         She lowered the fan. Mahogany-brown hair tucked into a snood of gold mesh. Fair, creamy skin with full, pouty lips. Hazel eyes with long, lush lashes. "Do I, sir?"         He arched an eyebrow. "I think you might."         His gaze dropped to her decolletage. She had folded her fan, but now she opened it again and held it to her bodice.         "That necklace, for instance," Xanatos continued. "It's nearly as beautiful as you are."         She blushed delicately. "Oh, sir, please, my grandmother gave it to me."         "Leave her be, you villain!" Wintersbourne said in the tone of a man who feels he ought to say something even if he doesn't want to.         Xanatos ignored him. "I'll take a kiss in place of the necklace, fair one."         "A kiss! But sir!" Her hazel eyes tilted up to him appealingly. "I am on my way to a convent!"         "A waste and a shame. For the sake of all mankind, you shall not go unkissed!" He seized her wrist and gently drew her toward the window.         "Oh, uncle, defend me," she besseched, but did not resist.         Xanatos removed his hat and held it between them and Lord Wintersbourne, then tugged down his scarf. "He can't help you. Just one taste from those wine-red lips, and I'll be on my way."         She acquiesced, returning his kiss with interest. "His gold," she breathed as they parted. "It's concealed beneath the floorboards."         He acknowledged it with a brief nod as he replaced his scarf.         "There, you've had your money and your fun," Wintersbourne huffed. "Now leave us! Or I'll have the guard on you!"         "Not so fast. I find it unlikely that as wealthy a man as you would travel with so little coin." He bounced the purse on his palm, then stuffed it into his coat. "So, if you'll step down from the coach, please?"         "I'll do no such thing, you ruffian!"         "I think you will," Xanatos said along the blade of his rapier.         Wintersbourne grudgingly emerged, followed by his niece. She glanced coyly at Xanatos over the rim of her fan as he gallantly helped her down.         "My, my, what's this?" Xanatos asked amusedly. "It looks like you've got a loose floorboard here! And what's this underneath? It looks like a coffer of gold!"         "Do not touch that!" Wintersbourne, more upset by the threat to his precious money than the one to the virtue of his niece. It even inspired him to rush at Xanatos, a short and futile effort that ended with the good lord sitting in a mudpuddle with his breeches around his ankles, his ample backside paddled red by the flat of a rapier, and his fur-lined cape wrapped around his head and arms.         Xanatos helped himself to the coffer of gold. He leaned close to the woman and whispered, "Why did you tell me about the money?"         "He plots with the Archbishop against the king," she said in a low voice. "He thinks to put me away in a convent because I know of their dealings."         "Sir!" Dobbins called from across the road. "Armed men approaching!"         "It seems I must be going." Xanatos tucked the coffer under one arm. He pulled a silk handkerchief from within his coat, its corner embroidered with a black foxhead. "A token for you, my lady. Will you honor me with your name?"         "Jacqueline," she said with a slight curtsey, and tucked the handkerchief into her bodice.         "Lovely!" He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it.         "Sir, they're nearly upon us!"         "Farewell, lady." He swept off his hat in a grand gesture, then sprang to his horse and galloped away just before the half-dozen armed guardsmen rounded the bend.                 *               *         Much later, he was still utterly engrossed -- it turned out that he led a clever double life as both highwayman and noble confidante to the young king, and had uncovered a convoluted plot of deception and court intrigue revolving around the king's sinister uncle, the Archbishop, and several of the older lords.         He'd just resisted (though it pained him to do so) a seduction attempt by the king's gorgeous and venomous cousin Madelaine, and was preparing to meet a hotheaded count in a duel before rushing off to spirit Jacqueline out of the convent because he'd learned her life was in danger, when the computer tactfully informed him that someone on the outside was trying to get his attention.         Xanatos saved the game, and removed the helmet. It took him a few minutes of blinking to readjust. Everything looked purple.         That was because, he realized, he was looking at the center of Goliath's chest, a purple expanse that seemed wide as a movie screen.         "Xanatos? What are you doing here?"         "And playing with Lex's toys, too," Brooklyn added.         "Good God, it's after sunset?" Xanatos checked his watch.         His body ached, and at first he thought it was because he'd been sitting in the same position for nearly five hours. Then, as he got up and stretched, he realized it wasn't the same sort of feeling at all. He felt exactly as he would have expected to if he'd really been doing all the riding, duelling, and other assorted cavorting that he'd done in the game.         His shoulder was still sore where he'd been shot, and when he raised his fingers to his cheek, he wouldn't have been surprised to find a couple of bleeding furrows, a souvenir from Madelaine's wrath when he'd spurned the blond siren's advances.         His cheek was unmarked, and his fingers came away clean. He looked up, aware that the entire clan were watching him with markedly peculiar expressions.         "Are you all right?" Goliath finally asked.         "Yes, fine, do you give Lex the third degree when he plays a computer game?"         "It's just that we're used to Lexington doing it," Hudson said. "We've ne'er seen ye do anything of the sort."         "What they've done here ... it's unbelievable!" Xanatos said, shaking his head as reality settled back in. "Have any of you tried it?"         "Lex wouldn't let anyone near it," Brooklyn said. "He and Aiden were designing their own VR program, or something."         "They succeeded." Xanatos riffled through the stack of papers. "And how! I've got to investigate this."         "Why?" Goliath's brow ridges drew ominously low. "Why does this program of theirs interest you?"         He held up the disk, noting again the silvery runic patterns instead of the rainbow line. "If it can be duplicated, if this isn't a one- shot wonder, those two little geniuses of ours may well have come up with the next big sensation. I can see the slogan now -- 'Magic in the Making.' And no one will ever guess that's exactly what we've done!"                 *               * PART TWO -- ANOTHER DOUBLE DATE.         The mists lifted, and the warm, balmy air closed around them, bringing with it the cries of birds and the chatter of monkeys, and even the muted growl of a large jungle cat.         Trees crowded close to the edge of the slightly dank river, vines looped around their thick branches.         Elektra was crouched beside Broadway, relieved beyond measure that the sight before them was so different from the New England landscape where they'd so recently fought a monstrous clan.         "Where could this be?" she wondered aloud.         "Looks like Africa or someplace," Broadway replied.         Brendan was no help; he lay curled in the bottom of the skiff, snoring gently. He was wearing a natty tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, borrowed from the unfortunate Howard Mosswell's closet. He hadn't been able to sleep much since that incident, claiming nightmares kept him awake. This was the first time he seemed to be sleeping soundly and untroubled.         Broadway poled the skiff onward. "Avalon sent Goliath, Elisa and Angela to Africa. We lucked out, though; they went over a waterfall. And had to deal with poachers, were-panthers, one of Oberon's kids dressed like a big spider, and Elisa's mom."         "Behold, there is a waterfall." Elektra pointed. Up ahead, a massive rock thrust up from the river, undercut so that the fine sheet of water made a curtain. "No threat to us, methinks."         A spotlight danced along the rippling spray, and now they heard the sound of an engine. An engine, and an amplified voice.         "...and as we come around the bend, you'll see something you've never seen before ..."         "Damn right!" Broadway muttered, poling strongly. The skiff slid into a shadow of tangled, draped vines just as a boat came into view.         "... the back side of water!" the voice announced as the boat slipped under the overhang, behind the waterfall.         It was open-sided with a green-and-white-striped plastic/canvas top, and the words "Yangtze Gal" written on it. At the front stood a man in shorts and a safari-style shirt. The sides were crowded with people -- men, women, lots of children -- in colorful clothes. Many held cameras. They groaned and laughed, leaning back so as not to get splashed by the falling water.         Elektra looked up at Broadway, and he looked down at her, equally confused. The boat continued on, the pilot now saying something about hippos.         "Shall we follow?" Elektra asked.         Broadway shrugged. "Might as well find out where we are and what's going on. There's something weird about all this."         "Aye, I feel it. Something in the air. Magical, almost. It puts me in mind of Avalon."         They followed the Yangtze Gal at a discreet distance, pausing when it slowed.         "... only dangerous when their ears are wiggling," the pilot said in a hushed yet amplified tone.         Now they could see what the passengers were looking at. A herd of hippopotamus, submerged to the nostrils, blowing bubbles as they periodically rose. And their ears were wiggling, one and all.         One huge specimen reared from the depths, tusked mouth gaping, right at the side of the boat. Elektra's cry of fear mingled with those of the people aboard, and Broadway spread his wings as the pilot produced a gun.         A sharp report rang out, and the hippo descended.         Elektra found herself clinging to Broadway. She'd had enough of creatures rearing from the depths, thank thee kindly! His arm was snug around her, holding her close to his comforting bulk.         "That's a fake gun," he said.         She realized that the cries of the passengers had been mostly surprise and laughter, lacking in genuine fear.         "A fake gun!" he repeated. "Like a cap pistol! And those hippos --"         "Please, let us not go near them."         "Elektra, it's okay. Look. They're not real."         "What mean you, not real?" But she observed the repetitive motions of the creatures, and as the noise of the boat and the pilot passed further away, she could hear the hydraulic wheeze and grunt of machinery.         "Constructs?"         "Robots," Broadway said.         Not reassured in the least, she pressed closer to him. "What manner of place is this, then?"         "I think ... no, that's nuts. Come on. Let's check it out."         They kept following, past a scene where several men had been chased up a large pole by a raging rhinoceros, listening to the pilot's jokes about how they'd been tresspassing, but he was sure they'd get the point, in the end.         Now lights glinted through the trees, and Broadway brought the skiff to a halt just as they came to a final bend in the river. The Yangtze Gal proceeded to a dock where half a dozen of her sisters -- the Amazon Annie, the Queen of the Nile, and others -- loaded and offloaded merry chattering passengers.         Beyond the docks was a teeming marketplace. Thatched huts offered displays of goods -- bright-patterned garments, shrunken heads hanging by their long hair, seashell necklaces, dead snakes dangling from the eaves, carved totems and wooden animals.         "What _is_ this place?" she pleaded.         Broadway grinned. "I was right!" He gestured to the people moving through the marketplace. Like the passengers on the boat, they were of all ages with an abundance of children, in summery garb. Many carried plastic shopping bags adorned with a picture of a castle. "We're at ... Disneyland!"         "An amusement park? This is an amusement park?"         Broadway's chuckle became a laugh became a guffaw. "You wished for Avalon to send us to a happier place! What place could be happier than the Happiest Place on Earth?"         "But why?"         "Why not? Maybe, after Innsbrook, we deserved a vacation! Come on, let's backtrack and hide the skiff."         "What of Brendan?"         "Poor guy. He's barely slept this whole time. He'll probably be out for hours. We can take a quick look around and be back before he wakes up."         "It's not as if we can walk unnoticed among so many humans," she said.         "Avalon must have sent us here for a reason," he reminded her. "We'll stick to the shadows and see what we can spot."         She picked up her coat -- like Brendan's jacket, it was borrowed from Howard Mosswell's closet, since her old one had been rent asunder during the battle with the Squid Clan. She considered it for a moment. "It is far too warm for this garment, yet without it, I cannot well pass for human."         "Leave it. Just keep your wings folded. We'll try not to get seen in the first place."         They hid the skiff in a dark cove behind a mockup of a canoe which held a witchdoctor and his display of shrunken heads. It was eerie, the way the figure moved its arms, raising and lowering a fistful of the wizened monkey-like trophies. But there was space enough behind it to conceal the skiff, and from there they made their way through the edge of the makeshift jungle.         At last, they were looking once more at the marketplace. The people came and went in throngs, some with trefoil balloons (the shape more often than not mirrored in the black feltlike hats worn by many of the children), and even she knew the symbol of Micky Mouse when she saw it. Broadway was right.         "Why would we be sent here?" A cold thought struck her. "You don't suppose some evil might threaten this joyful place!"         "Samson said he was kidnapped by Sevarius, right out of the park," Broadway said darkly. "Bad things can happen here, too."         A group of teens went past their hiding place, all of them eating delicious confections. Some munched what looked like chocolate-covered bananas that had been rolled in nuts, while others enjoyed Elektra's weakness, ice cream.         Broadway's longing gaze followed them too, then he started violently. "Hey --!"         "What?"         "That's ... that's Aiden!"         "Where?" She looked where he was looking, and saw a petite beige-blonde in a pink sleeveless top, standing at a refreshment kiosk proudly displaying the Dole pineapple logo.         "And she's with some _guy_!" Broadway continued, appalled.         Elektra had only met Aiden a time or two, but it did look like her, and she was with some guy. A young, attractive fellow at that. They were drinking pineapple juice and laughing together.         "She can't do this to Lex!" Broadway declared indignantly.         "Perhaps it is not what it seems." Elektra held him back as he made ready to go storming over there. "Perhaps --"         Whatever she was going to say went unfinished as Aiden and the young man exchanged a lingering kiss, then started off with their arms around each other.         "Nobody treats my rookery brother like that!" Broadway, deeply hurt and indignant, shrugged off Elektra's hand and stomped right out into the open. "That two-timing little -- ooh, she comes across all innocent, but ..."         Elektra shrank into the shadows with her hands over her mouth. "Broadway, come back!"         He didn't. He stalked past a restaurant which advertised a tropical floor show and kept on going. People turned to watch him.         She gathered her courage and dashed after him. Then, when she heard what the staring people were saying, she started to giggle.         "... new animated movie based on those gargoyle things?"         "Get real! Disney would never do that. Might scare the kiddies!"         "Good goddam costume, though."         Aiden and her escort were standing in a line of people in front of something billed as "The Enchanted Tiki Room," their heads close together, their bodies in an attitude of comfortable intimacy. Broadway was almost upon them, and Elektra gaining on him, when she suddenly understood, and her giggles turned into a relieved spate of laughter.         "Aiden!" Broadway bellowed.         Elektra choked on her laughter and raced to his side. "Broadway, don't!"         Aiden jumped about two feet and whirled. "Broadway? You scared the -- you scared me!"         "Who's your _friend_?" he growled, looming threateningly over the young man. Who, rather than being intimidated, started grinning fit to split.         "What are you doing? Are you crazy?" They were drawing quite a crowd by now, and Aiden looked horrified to be the center of attention.         "Broadway!" Elektra seized his arm. "Cease! It's not what you think!"         "That's her line," he rumbled. "Go on, Aiden, what do you have to say for yourself? Is this how you treat Lex? Going behind his back?"         "Aiden, how could you?" the grinning young man asked.         "He _is_ Lexington!" Elektra and Aiden said together.         "Hey, what's going on?" someone asked. "Is it a show or something?"         Aiden, frantic but doing her best to be composed, threw a weak smile his way. "Something like that!" Then she uttered a few words in Latin, which Elektra recognized as words of concealment and misdirection, and the next thing they knew, nobody was paying them any mind.         "That was too good!" Lexington chortled.         "What the heck is going on?" Broadway demanded.         "Illusion," Elektra said. "She has clothed him in illusion, to make him appear human." She pinched Broadway's fan-shaped ears between her fingers and shook his head fondly. "You great, good- hearted ninny! How noble of you to speak out on behalf of your injured brother!"         "Let's get out of here," Aiden said. "I can't keep up this spell forever. Too many people. Sooner or later, someone's going to notice us again."         Indeed, the people now moved around them without so much as a glance, excepting for the younger children.         "Lex?" Broadway asked as Aiden hustled them all toward a corner off the main path. "Is that really you?"         "Really me," he confirmed. "What are you doing here?"         "Avalon washed us up in the jungle boat ride. What are _you_ doing here?"         "Spring break. We flew out to see Aiden's folks. It's great to see you, even if you did embarrass my girlfriend!"         "Well ... um ... you know ..." Broadway mumbled, shuffling his feet.         "You can't go around Disneyland looking like that," Aiden decided. "Mind if I disguise you? It's a lot easier than trying to maintain that S.E.P. field."         "S.E.P. Somebody Else's Problem," Lex explained before they could ask. "Hitchiker's Guide. Makes people not notice anything they don't want to see. Aiden, are you sure? I thought one illusion was pushing it."         "I thought so too, but this place really is the Magic Kingdom. I feel like I could cast a hundred spells and not tire myself out. But illusions don't take concentration, and the other one does."         "You mean, we could just go around like normal people?" Broadway asked.         "Sure! It's great!" Lex said brightly. "Better than Halloween! We've been on rides, and into shops, anywhere we want!"         "I should very much like to try," Elektra said, and looked imploringly at Broadway. "For a short while, at least? Brendan should sleep some hours yet."         "Brendan?" Lex goggled. "Birdie's uncle?"         "So he's not dead! I'll have to call Birdie later!" Aiden laughed. "We want to hear _everything_, but first, the spells. This won't hurt a bit." She focused on Elektra first, murmuring soft words.         "Are you using the wand for that?" Broadway asked.         "Nope," Lex answered for her. "After what happened, Owen wouldn't let her bring it."         "What happened?" Elektra looked down at herself, amazed to see her tail melt away, and galoshes-clad talons become regular human feet in pretty blue shoes that matched her dress.         Aiden winced. "I blew it again. Turned everyone in the castle into animals. Right before Mr. Xanatos' dad showed up to introduce the lady he wanted to marry. It was a huge mess. We had to go clear to London to straighten it out. So, since then, I've stuck to regular old Aiden-magic. Less chance of a foul-up. There, all done, Elektra."         "Wow," Broadway said. "You really do look just like the princess!"         "Now you." Aiden turned to him and concentrated.         Moments later, he took on the aspect of a large thickset man with sunbleached blond hair, a man perhaps suited to the game of football. Through it all, he still had Broadway's genial, sweet features, only made human.         "This is like that time with the mirror, remember?" Lex said to him.         "There." Aiden sighed, then smiled. "Two nice young couples at Disneyland. What do you want to do first?"                 *               *         "Whoo." Aiden collapsed on a bench under a metal leafy path where cars made to look like colorful caterpillars ran in and out of the Alice in Wonderland ride. "Remind me never to go on the teacups with Broadway again!" She closed her eyes, but that only made the spinning worse.         Elektra sat beside her. "'Twas your Lex who challenged him to see how fast they could make the cup go 'round."         "Yeah, I guess so! I hope they hurry with the sodas; I'm parched!"         "Will your spell hold although they're not in your sight?"         "Sure. Unless they go a mile or so. Or I fall asleep or get knocked out or something."         "I do envy you. All the while I studied with the Magus, I ne'er could learn a single spell. I can sense when magic is used around me, hence how I knew your illusion, but I've no talent for it myself."         Aiden laughed a little. "Sometimes I wonder if I do, too. I get by okay on my own, with the spells Puck teaches me, but whenever I pick up that darn wand, everybody runs for cover. And I don't blame them!" She paused, then said more softly, "Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just give the wand to Patricia now. Then I could ... well, no, it's silly."         "What? Few wishes are silly, sister."         "Sister?"         "Are you not? For I've been welcomed into the clan, as have you. Does that not make us sisters?"         "Okay ... sister!"         "And behold, here are our gallant companions, to assuage our thirst!"         "We also brought presents," Lex said. He handed Aiden a nice cold 7-Up, then produced a bag from The Mod Hatter. He pulled out a royal blue wizard's hat embroidered with stars and moons, a copy of the one Mickey wore as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Her name was scrolled across the front in silver letters.         "I got you one, too," Broadway said to Elektra, holding out a periwinkle-blue conical cap with a trailing veil and her name in gold to match the trim. "A princess hat. 'Cause, well, you are one."         He put it on her head, and she gently touched his cheek. "My thanks, dear friend! It is lovely."         Aiden and Lex exchanged a knowing look. "Isn't it funny," she whispered in his ear, "to feel like _we're_ the worldly ones?"         After Broadway and Lex tried valiantly but unsuccessfuly to draw the sword from the stone in front of King Arthur's Carousel, joking all the while about how much easier it had been to get the real Excalibur from the breast of a stone dragon, they boarded the Skyway to Tomorrowland.         The colorful gondola carried them through the Matterhorn and over the submarine ride. Space Mountain poked its white spires at the sky, the rocketships went around and around, and the line to Star Tours was well past the two-hour-wait-from-this-point signpost.         They rode the Monorail once all the way around, then took the train to Main Street and wandered in and out of the shops and the arcade. They posed with Goofy and Snow White and Chip & Dale, Aiden snapping photos with her camera -- "Now we'll find out if my illusions show up on film!"         At last, they ended up in New Orleans Square and took a ride on the sailing ship Columbia along the Rivers of America, around Tom Sawyer Island (closed after dark). They had the ship mostly to themselves, since they'd elected to skip watching the fanciful Mulan parade that attracted most of the park's guests. Here on the river, it was quiet and serene in the midst of the hectic bustling.         "My feet hurt," Aiden said. "But this has been the best night ever!"         "_Your_ feet hurt?" Broadway chuckled.         "Well, yeah, I guess none of you are all that used to walking!" She leaned close to Lex, and he put his arm around her. Though she couldn't see it, she could feel the warm drape of his wing over her back. That always made her feel safe and loved and protected. She tipped her head to his shoulder and sighed contentedly.         "Um, Aiden?"         "What? Oh, am I standing on your tail?"         "No, nothing like that." He threw a nervous glance toward Broadway and Elektra, then cleared his throat. "I had something I wanted to give you."         "Another souvenir? Lex, you're spoiling me! I've already got the hat, the toy Tinkerbelle --"         "But you don't have one of these." He reached into what the illusion made look like his pocket, which she knew was the pouch he sometimes wore tied to his belt.         "What?"         "I wasn't expecting to have an audience," he said with a slightly abashed chuckle, "but here goes." He held out a tiny black velvet box. A ring box.         Aiden gasped. "Lex ..."         He snapped it open and showed her a silver ring set with a small but sparkly diamond. "Will you marry me and be my mate? Now and forever?"         "Oh, Lex, oh my God!"         "Will you?"         "Yes, of course! Yes!" She threw her arms around his neck, laughing and crying. He captured one hand long enough to slide the ring onto her finger, where it fit perfectly. He scooped her up and whirled her around.         "Lex, you dog!" Broadway cheered, socking him on the shoulder when they finally separated.         Elektra clasped Aiden's hands in hers, tears shining brilliantly in her eyes. "How splendid! How wonderful! Oh, but I am so very happy for thee!"         The few other passengers looked their way, drawn by the commotion, and smiled indulgently when they realized what was going on.         The Columbia docked behind the impressively white Mark Twain and they disembarked, all four of them linking arms as they headed toward the Haunted Mansion.         "Methinks I've had enough of haunted houses," Elektra said dubiously.         "It'll be fine," Broadway assured her. "I'm right here."         Aiden barely noticed the flitting spectres. Every time her gaze fell upon that twinkling ring, she felt giddier and happier. And as soon as she and Lex were comfortably ensconced in their black car, trundling through the darkness, they cuddled up and started kissing. Except, that is, when the cars swung close enough together that Broadway could lean out and rap playfully on the back of theirs.         Toward the end of the ride, a spooky voice warned them to beware of hitchiking ghosts, just as the cars swiveled around to face a row of mirrors. To the extreme consternation of the passengers on either side, Aiden's illusions did not appear in the mirrors. So, not only were they treated to the sight of green ghostly figures in each car, but also gargoyles.         "Guess that answers that question!" Aiden said as they hustled out of the Mansion before anyone could come asking. "My pictures are going to turn out great! But it sure puts an end to the notion of making megabucks handling special effects for the movies!"         They looped back through New Orleans Square, past Pirates of the Carribean, and ended up in Carnation Plaza, listening to a big band combo and eating sundaes. They were easily the youngest people in attendance by a good thirty years (twenty, if one took into account the peculiarities of gargoyle aging).         "I know not why Avalon sent us here," Elektra said, spooning up the last of her strawberry sauce and whipped cream, "but I'm ever so grateful it did."         She merrily coaxed Broadway into joining the swing dancers, and though Broadway dancing was about one of the last things Aiden would have ever expected to see, he went without a qualm.         "I think _I_ know why Avalon sent them here," Aiden said to Lex with a knowing, conspiratorial smile. "I think Avalon's trying to tell her something."                          *               *         "Oh, Broadway," Elektra said sadly. "I am most sorry."         "Huh? For what?" He quit trying to figure out where his feet were supposed to go, and found that it was a lot easier that way.         "It should be your Birdie here, sharing in this happiness."         "Elektra ... hey, listen ... uh ... Birdie and I are just friends. We went out a few times, but it was never anything serious."         "I thought ...?"         "Nope. Honest! She's fun and all, but she's not really my type."         "I feared I was intruding here, that Lex and Aiden might have believed I was trying to steal you away from their friend, when that most assuredly is not my intent."         "Yeah," he mumbled, trying not to show how crestfallen he was. "Don't worry about it. Lex and Aiden know how it really is."         Them and just about everyone else, he reflected glumly. His whole clan, all her siblings on Avalon, everybody but Elektra herself. Even Brendan, of all people, had remarked to Broadway, "You've got the worst case of Nice Guy Syndrome I've ever seen!" Meaning that he was the perfect friend, the perfect non-threatening teddy bear, that females felt at home with sharing their thoughts and dreams, but never considered a possible mate.         He wondered if he should tell her how he felt. Tell her that she was the most beautiful, wonderful, exciting female he'd ever met. But if he went and opened his big old mouth, she wouldn't feel comfortable around him. He didn't want to lose her friendship and affection, and wasn't about to fool himself that there might be more. Her heart was set on Jericho.         The set ended, and they automatically joined the other dancers in applauding before returning to their table. Lex and Aiden were deep in a serious conversation and barely looked up as they approached.         "I thought you wanted to avoid that future!" Lex's expression managed to combine apprehension and overwhelmed adoration. "Do you really mean it?"         "Only parts of that future were bad." She clutched his hand. "Some of it seemed right, _felt_ right. Don't you want that, Lex?"         "You know I love you just how you are," he said. "But if that's what you really want -- I'm not going to complain!"         "Is something amiss?" Elektra asked.         Aiden blushed a little. "I'm thinking of becoming a gargoyle."         "Like that time we went to the concert?" Broadway almost blurted something about Birdie, but caught himself at the last minute.         She nodded. "Only permanently." Her blush deepened. "See, Angela's planning to ... well, have a breeding season next year."         "Angela means to breed?" Elektra said wistfully.         "If she can talk Brooklyn into it," Lex said.         "She and Delilah have been talking about it," Aiden continued. "And, well, I'd like to join them."         "As a gargoyle?" Broadway asked. "Why?"         "We haven't really told anyone about this, anyone in the clan, at least. But Lex and I saw the future once. Saw _a_ future once; I think it's like that scientist's principle, Heisenberg or whoever, that just by looking at a particle, you change it. I think that's how precognition is. Anyway, though, in that future, I was a gargoyle. And we, Lex and I, had two kids."         "Aiden," Lex said, squeezing her hand. "Just so you know you don't have to change because of me! I still want you, no matter what!"         "I know. And there's more to it than that. I've never been as _invested_ in being human as someone like Elisa is."         "Angela means to breed," Elektra said again, softly. "Lucky sister! Oh, lucky all my sisters!"         "Are you sure you're ready, though?" Lex asked. "For hatchlings, I mean?"         "As I understand it, the eggs come in a year, and it takes ten more before there's hatchlings," Aiden said. "I think by the time ten years went by, I'd be ready! We'd still have plenty of time to be together before they came along. What about you, Lex?"         "If I'm ready to get married, I'm ready for that, too." He embraced her firmly. "Besides, there's nothing sexier than a breeding female!"         Broadway caught himself nodding in agreement, thinking of the season that had produced the last batch of eggs. Elektra's generation. Then his shoulders slumped as it sank in -- both of his brothers were going to breed, and he was going to be left out again.         "How I wish ..." Elektra began, then shook herself as if to rid herself of the thought.         "What?" Broadway asked, without much hope.         "I did not take part when my sisters bred on Avalon. Too wary of my secret, that they might revile me for my mixed blood." She twisted a napkin into a tight coil, the only outward sign of her anguish. Her voice remained smooth and even. "As they did revile me. Mule, they called me. You remember."         "Yeah," he said grimly, thinking of that bitch Tourmaline.         Aiden sucked in a hurt breath. "They _didn't_!"         Elektra nodded. "Even so. Oh, how I should like to prove them wrong! How I should like to send word to Avalon, as the princess bade me do, that I had borne a son to give the name of Malcolm, our father! They would then eat their words! But ..." she looked to the dimly visible stars and sighed, the spirit seeming to drain from her. "But such petty revenge is not my way."         Lex nudged Broadway sharply under the table and mouthed, "Say something!"         "You don't have to prove anything to them!" Aiden said hotly while Broadway was still fumbling for words. "To heck with what they think. You should do what you want."         "It may be too late for that," Elektra said, and now her voice trembled. "From what you told us of Hudson's meeting with Jericho ... he seems more warlike and sworn to his mother Demona than ever!"         Lex nudged Broadway again, even harder.         Aiden threw a help-me-out-here-guys look at them. "Well, you know, he's not the only fish in the sea, or ... gargoyle on the battlements."         "Yeah," Lex said. "Face it, Elektra, you're a babe! You've got a lot to offer the right male." His talons dug into Broadway.         He coiled his tail around Lex's ankle and pulled his leg into a painful contorted position. While Lex squirmed but tried not to let on, Broadway hestiantly patted Elektra's arm. "They're right. You deserve someone who cares about you. Someone who'd put you before anything else in the whole world. Someone who'd worship the wind you glide on."         She smiled gently. "Thank you, all of you. Forgive me for letting my gloom darken what should be such a joyous night."         "We just want to help," Aiden said.         "And you have." Elektra looked fondly at Broadway. "You most of all, my friend. Whenever I doubt myself, you lift my hopes anew." She stood and gathered their empty ice-cream dishes, carrying them toward a trash can.         "Tell her! Duh!" Lex exploded.         "What am I going to say?" Broadway retorted. "Hey, Elektra, choose me over Jerk-o? I've got lots more to offer -- at least a hundred pounds!"         "Broadway!" Aiden's tone was shocked and reproachful.         "You've got to say something!" Lex said.         "Look, you two are happy. Sickeningly, cutsily happy. It's only natural that you'd want everyone else to be that way too. It's just not going to work out."         "It ... could," Lex said, giving Aiden a sidelong look. "Worked for Owen --"         "Don't even go there! I am not putting a spell on her! She'd know, anyway. Maybe she can't cast anything, but she'd know the minute I started with the bibbidy-bobbidy-boo."         "Hey," Broadway said. "Let it go, okay? I can ruin my own life without any help."         "Is everything all right?" Elektra asked, coming back to the table.         He moved to meet her. "Yeah. Everything's fine. We've just got time to get to the fireworks show, if you want."         "Is it so late already?"         Aiden checked her watch. "Ooh, it is. Park'll be closing soon!"                 *               *         "He's not wakened, nor been discovered, thankfully! We were gone far longer than I expected!" Elektra stepped into the skiff, careful not to disturb Brendan.         "Yeah, but it was fun!" Broadway cast off and poled them away from the headhunter with his grisly cargo.         "It was the grandest time I've ever enjoyed." She settled their bags of souvenirs beneath one of the benches, then came to stand at his side. Swift and light as a hummingbird's wing, her lips brushed against his cheek. "Thank you, Broadway. I'll ever treasure the memory of this night."         He was sure he must be blushing bright enough to light up the river, but he pressed a quick kiss of his own in return, just above the delicate nubs of her brow ridges. "Me, too, Elektra."                 *               * EPILOGUE -- MAGIC IN THE MAKING.         Birdie Yale laughed and shook her head as she picked up another slice of pizza. "So, you not only get engaged, but drop that bomb on your folks as well as the one about wanting to go garg this winter and make babies. And they took it okay! That's the part that boggles me. When I got my tattoo, you'd have thought it was World War III!"         "Your family's a lot more normal than mine," Aiden pointed out.         "_Then_ you come back and Mr. X. wants to market that game you and Lex designed, and he even lets you off the hook about the wand and all the money you think you owe him for footing the bill for your education, so you _can_ go garg with a clear conscience. Damn, Fergs, and to think I spent my spring break just hanging out at the Rockaway!"         "He wants to call it Xantasia."         "He would. Man's nothing more than an ego in a suit."         "The best part is that I don't have to use the wand! The spell's so simple that I'll be able to do it after I change. Owen's sure that I'll still have my talent, and he's going to start teaching Patricia early so she isn't as likely to screw up as I am."         "Or she'll do it sooner."         "Maybe. But this is what I've always wanted! I'll be part of the clan, with a family of my own and a good job. The only thing I'll miss is school, and you. But we'd be graduating soon anyway."         "Don't think you can get rid of me that easy! I'll still be around, you know that."         "I know. Oh, Birdie! You're my best friend, except for Lex!"         "Ditto. And if you ever need me, you just give a yell and I'm there. I'm going to be wild Aunt Birdie, the bad influence on your kids!"         Aiden laughed and sipped her soda, then grew serious. "Are you okay about Broadway?"         "Fergs, I've told you before. I'm not his type. Didn't I predict that some sweet little lady garg would come along? Elektra sounds like just the one. I'm cool. I just wish Broadway would get off'n his tuckus and do something about it before she gets away!"                 *               *         "David," Fox said patiently, "you've resisted going into the entertainment marketplace for as long as I've known you, unless there's some hidden benefit for you. The Pack, for example. Or that horrible learn-Latin-at home show you aired starring Demona. So what's the real story with this game?"         "This time, it's purely for the money. Fox, you've got to try it. It's like being there. The people are practically real. Jacqueline --"         She slapped the table, making her silverware jump. "Would you shut up about Jacqueline? You've talked about nothing else all week, and I'm getting sick of it!"         "There's no reason to get jealous --"         "Jealous? Me? Of some pixel nymph?"         "She's not a --" he bit off the rest of his retort. "This is ridiculous. What are we doing arguing about a computer game?"         "I don't know, but we're done arguing."         "We are?"         "Yes. We are." With that, she stood, dropped her folded napkin across her plate, and stalked out of the dining room.                 *               * The End.