Wheels & Wings IV:
Unguarded
Evil Overlady ([email protected])

Summary: Elisa has been afflicted by the Guardian's curse and Joe and the Viper Team have to race against the clock to save her...

Author's Notes: Gargoyles is owned by Disney and Buena Vista. This story and any others in the "Wheels and Wings" universe come before and in place of "Hunter's Moon" and the entire Goliath Chronicles. Viper is owned by Pet Fly (the car by Dodge) and this story in that universe occurs in the 1994 season. Michael "Archangel" Coldsmith-Briggs, III belongs to Bellisario and Universal Studios. Any other characters in the aforementioned universes belong to their creators. Dr. Haile O'Connor belongs to Marvel Comics. All other characters and this story idea, specifically the Gárgola mythology (although Weissman did mention a "Lost Race"), including Leviticus and his kind belong to me. Vipra also belongs to me (You can find a picture of her on my site.). Please, do not use them without permission.

Please, be sure to check out other stories in this series... "Wheels and Wings," "A Guardian Born," "The Egg," and a missing scene for the original Gargoyles series: "Tears."

For those who came in late...

Detective Elisa Maza's partner, Matt Bluestone, is currently on crutches thanks to a gunshot wound in the leg inflicted by a petty thug secretly working for a "Watcher Society." The Watcher Society is an organization devoted to monitoring Guardians ( more-than-human protectors of gargoyles and human kind, the reincarnated souls of Gárgola, Mother of the Gargoyles). Established long ago when people first began to suspect guardians were living among them, the Watcher Society has over the centuries become corrupt and criminal, and is now in competition with the greatest criminal organization of all, The Outfit. Vipra, a gargoyle ex-thief, has joined the Manhattan gargoyle clan; and Elisa and Matt have teamed up with the Viper Team, who have come all the way from Metro City to build the 23rd Precinct a new Viper for Elisa and Matt to drive. Unknown to Elisa, the original Viper's driver, Joe Astor, is an ex-thief as well. He used to be Michael Payton but his memory was erased; and now a mysterious man in a white fedora and with a cane has recognized Joe as the man he doesn't remember...

The day after tomorrow...
A time when criminals rule the streets...
The only weapon that can stop them needs a driver...
A thousand years ago, superstition and sword ruled,
And flesh-and-blood gargoyles ruled the skies...
Now, in Manhattan, they've been befriended by a human cop.
Together, against a corrupt system,
They are taking back the streets...

Wheels and Wings IV
Unguarded
Evil Overlady

The dark realm was just that - dark; save for the occasional blood-red fire of a torch along the passageways of a castle wall. Beyond the castles was total black, save for an illuminated talisman, if you were lucky enough to have one, luckier still to keep it.

In this awful place - even by vampire standards - the Dark Race cannibalized itself in the struggle to grab just a little light.

Leviticus's brethren envied his freedom to see the starlight and the full moon granted to him by a web of complex, delicate spells he and his love Demona had found and put together.

Returning once again to this shadowy realm quieted his normally arrogant she-demon employee, Medora Cysgodol. Her talk of betraying him to his superiors now seemed to be undergoing silent reconsideration.

Perhaps, she fears I would leave her here, he mused. The demoness's goal was to become all-powerful... but not too quickly. She was more inclined to earn her power rather than seize it blindly, unlike her brothers and sisters, a trait he sought - subservient but not a slave. But power was in the eye of the beholder. Did she wish rank, like the counts and kings of these castles, or the freedom to see the stars and feast on untainted mortal flesh?

Her silence seemed to indicate she was thinking over this decision long and hard.

Let her think, he thought. She was most valuable to him when she thought...

Leviticus stepped into the crimson-lit council chamber encircled by high status lords and ladies.

Medora stood firmly at his side. She was his Second in her mind; though Leviticus cared more for Demona, Demona was still a gargoyle, barely an echelon above a slave. Nimroy had more respect. Leviticus had left him in New York guarding the gateway, ready to summon Leviticus and Medora back when the time was right.

At the head of the chamber, Count Drakul oversaw the proceedings. Upon seeing Leviticus enter, he slammed a heavy mallet once on his podium. "I call to order," he said in a booming baritone voice.

The others quieted.

Leviticus bowed.

"Lord Leviticus, son of Nere, do you understand the nature of this summoning?"

"I do, great one. It is due to my failure in the Ceremony of Cythraul. The failure is mine alone."

Medora gasped with surprise but lowered her head again.

He was not doing this for her sake, he thought angrily, but because it made him look good. Now, she made him look like a heart-of-gold, self-sacrificing-!

"And because of that failure we must wait another thousand years!"

"I understand-"

"Do not interrupt!"

Leviticus bowed his head even lower, his chin burrowing into his chest.

"I am counting on you to find a way, Leviticus. It is for only that reason that this council does not crush you where you stand."

Murmurs of agreement echoed through the court.

"Silence!"

The room grew deathly still.

Leviticus could hear Medora's ragged breaths. Somehow, she knew what would happen next.

"And what of the great isle city of the Western World, Son of Nere? What are your plans to be rid of the gargoyle infestation there and reclaim our ancient kingdom?"

"I have no grand schemes in mind, great one. As yet I have only begun to acquire allies and followers."

"And its guardian? What has befallen her?"

"She lives, great one."

There were gasps of surprise followed by disgruntled growls and whispers.

Count Drakul slammed the mallet once.

The sounds quieted.

"This court has made its decision, Lord Leviticus. Before the sun sets in the mortal world on this very day, all guardians shall perish."

"My lord, the Night of Cythraul-"

"Many generations will pass before that night is upon us once more, Leviticus. We have no longer any need of this generation." He clapped his hands and a servant approached Leviticus. "Take these components to the mortal world. Cast the spell. If you fail..."

Leviticus bowed. "Your wish is my command, great one." He indicated for Medora to take the items.

Together, they departed into the darkness.

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Unguarded
Evil Overlady

~ Chapter 1 ~

Claire Melindez held up the glistening clear diamond with a pair of tweezers, examining it under the looking glass. The clear Mexican sun shone down on her. "Bien..." she whispered. "Muy bien." She put it down with the rest and leaned into Michael Coldsmith-Briggs's arms affectionately as the sun glinted off the tiny gold wyvern necklace dangling off her low-cut white blouse. "You can get fourteen mil for the lot, darling."

Michael's pale mustache bristled in a smile. "Señor Ramiro, you have yourself a deal."

"Muy bien, señor." The arms dealer gestured for his men to close the crate of weapons and load it onto the truck. "It is a pleasure doing business with you, Señor Briggs."

Michael tapped his white fedora with his silver-tipped cane, a signal to nearby agents that the deal was made. "Believe me. The pleasure is all mine." He smiled graciously.

A stab of pain shot through Claire's sinuses. She gasped and grabbed the hood of the truck they were working from for stability.

"Claire?" Michael looked at her, concerned. "Are you all right?"

"Just a migraine," she whispered.

"I was unaware your fiancée was ill," Ramiro noted.

"She gets them occasionally... brought on by stress," Michael defended.

"Yeah. I'll be all right..." Then, another stab of pain tore through her stomach, and she buckled. "Oh!"

"Claire," Michael started in alarm.

"Must be really stressful, eh?"

"What did you do to her?"

"Me?"

"No, Michael." Claire grabbed his wrist. She could hear the very distant whispers of someone casting a spell.

It was coming from the northeast.

"It's not him," she said quickly. "He didn't do anything."

"I have little tolerance for false accusations, señor." Ramiro looked at Michael coolly. "But I understand your concern for your fiancée. She probably just ate something in the local café that didn't agree with her. You should take her to a doctor."

"Yes," Claire said quickly before Michael could respond. "Yes, you should. Now."

Michael looked puzzled, probably wondering if she was faking it.

This is no fake, she pleaded.

"Very well," he conceded. "We'll go." He wrapped up the diamonds, put the bundle in his white jacket pocket and supported Claire on one arm as they made their way back to the taxi.

* * *

The trip back was bumpy and Claire was sinking in Michael's arms, her body already drenched in sweat, her skin hot enough to fry an egg on.

We weren't out in the sun that long... Damn it, Claire. What's wrong with you...?

Then, Michael noticed the necklace she was wearing - had always worn. The eyes on the dragon head were glowing - bright red. "Good lord!"

Claire lifted her head to speak. Her voice was dry as sandpaper. "It's worse than I thought."

"What's wrong with you?"

She swallowed. "It's a spell..." She pointed. "From the northeast."

Michael pictured a map in his mind, staring at the necklace. "Oh, no..."

"Sir, what is it?"

He exhaled slowly. "You're not the only guardian, Claire."

"What do you mean?"

"We have to get to New York."

* * *

Diane Maza wrung out the excess water from the cool wet cloth and ran it along her daughter's face as she lay in bed, breathing heavily.

Peter Maza stood in the bedroom doorway next to Joe Astor. "I came up to wake her for her shift and found her like this. I've never seen a fever set in so quickly."

Joe spotted Elisa's necklace on the dresser, glowing. He lifted it for Mr. Maza to see. "This may be no ordinary fever."

"More magic," Mr. Maza growled.

"Peter, she's getting worse," Diane called worriedly.

"Get her to the hospital," Joe commanded.

"Where are you going?" Mr. Maza wondered.

"I'm going to get help, someone who knows a little something about magic spells."

"Hurry." Tears threatened to emerge. "I don't think she'll make it through the day."

Joe felt his pain. He put a firm hand on the older man's shoulder and left.

* * *

Joe parked the Viper in front of the 23rd Precinct police station and made his way up the front steps two at a time.

There was only one individual capable of this evil, Leviticus. Of the enemies of Elisa's that Joe knew about, Leviticus was the only one wrapped up in magic spells. He'd wanted Elisa for some sort of world-ending ceremony, and if it weren't for Frankie and his new friend Dr. O'Connor, they might not have been able to stop him. Joe was still skeptical about the whole spell-casting thing, but something had afflicted Elisa, and he had to put his skepticism aside to help her. Frankie and Dr. O'Connor were likely her only hope of survival.

"Mr. Astor! Just the man I wanted to see."

"Can't talk right now-" Joe began and found the metal tip of a cane in his face.

"I'm afraid I must insist."

Joe took in the white-clad man, the fedora tucked under one arm. "Look," Joe snapped. "Elisa and I got your chip back. What more do you want?"

"Actually, this concerns Detective Maza. I hear she's unwell."

"Word travels fast."

The man sighed, reluctant. "As is one of my agents."

"Sorry to hear that."

The agent cocked his good eye up at Astor. "I thought, perhaps, you might be able to help."

"I'm not a doctor."

"She's seeing a doctor. There's nothing he can do. I think this is beyond technology. I believe she needs a more... mystical cure."

"I'm no Zen master either. Now, if you don't mind-"

"What's the rush?" The man searched Joe's eyes. "You know. Don't you?"

"About what?" Joe grew apprehensive.

"About what she is." The man lifted something gold in a gloved hand.

Joe looked down. It was a necklace, almost an exact replica of Elisa's. Joe met his eyes. "You're with the Society."

"A society? No. I'm part of an agency, and one of my agents is ill. I'm on your side, Astor."

"I doubt it."

"You didn't use to."

Joe's eyes narrowed, even more suspicious. "I think you'd better get out of my way."

"It's about Claire."

Joe's heart jumped, but he feigned confusion. "Claire?"

"Claire Malloy. I know you know who I'm talking about. One of my agents tracked your friend Mr. Waters's hack several months ago. Don't worry. Your information's safe. I just thought you should know she's the agent who's been stricken. She's a guardian, like your detective friend."

Joe tried to keep his emotions in check. She was alive. Claire was alive... "You're lying."

"Would you like to see her?"

"No," he said. "I wouldn't."

The man was slightly surprised, then registered understanding. "In that case, I'll let you go. However, my offer still stands." He handed Joe a disk. "It's a secured line. You can reach me at any time."

Joe took it.

There was a brewing anger in the white-clad man's blue eye. "If you fail, I'll hunt you down."

"If I fail, we'll both lose."

"I'm glad we understand each other."

Joe pushed past him.

* * *

Michael watched him go.

A blonde policewoman walked up to Michael, abandoning her temporary partner Matt Bluestone, standing in crutches at the other end of the hall speaking to another officer. "Sir?"

Michael pushed back a tear threatening to form. "Follow him."

"But Matt-"

"Make up an excuse, Sarah. This is top priority." He faced her, letting her see the determination in his face.

"Yes, sir."

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Unguarded
Evil Overlady

~ Chapter 2 ~

"What have we got?" Joe joined Frankie and Haile as they looked through Cassandra Fleming's journal.

"According to the journal, there was a rumor of a powerful spell capable of clearing the planet of an entire generation of guardians," Frankie read.

Haile added, "She didn't believe it was true."

Joe swallowed. "I'm certainly convinced."

Frankie looked at him worriedly. "So Elisa might..."

Joe's pained look silenced him.

Haile continued to skim. "There's more information on the Gárgola legend in The Book of Antiquities."

Frankie was on the laptop logging onto the nearby library's card catalog. "I had already tried that. It's about lampshades."

"Tiffany's?" Haile wondered curiously.

"Yeah."

"Hm... I should check it out sometime."

Joe interrupted them. "Wasn't this journal translated?"

"Yes, from Welsh..." Haile looked at it. "Oh! Try Y Llyfr o Cynfyd or just Llyfr o Cynfyd. L-l-y-f-r."

Frankie typed it in. "Got it! Fourth floor, second shelf..." Frankie scribbled down the call number. "Let's go."

Joe backed out of Frankie's way and watched Haile return to a body he was autopsying.

Haile smiled, scalpel in hand. "Don't worry. He won't feel a thing."

Joe's face turned sour and he quickly joined Frankie. "You're friends with that guy? You hate bodies!"

"I learned to get over it..." Frankie held open the door. "Don't hate the guy; hate the occupation."

Joe lifted a finger. "That's scary, Frankie."

* * *

Peach, pink, and salmon clouds floated around Elisa Maza, like sunset or sunrise, but she couldn't determine which it was for the life of her.

There were silhouettes in the clouds, silhouettes of women, of her.

She didn't understand. "Who are you?"

A cloud engulfed her.

A man's voice spoke. "Gárgola..."

Elisa stepped onto a pebble-lined shore off a moonlit lake. A cool breeze blew her white dress. "I am here, my love..."

The armored man emerged from the trees, leaving a tethered horse behind. He removed his helmet.

Elisa blinked. Joe?

He bowed.

Elisa reached out her hand.

"Beast!" a woman shouted. "Do not take her hand! 'Tis a trick!"

"What on earth are you babbling about?" the man replied impatiently.

"She is the dragon you seek."

The man looked at Elisa.

"No..." she whispered.

"Trickery!" He drew his sword.

"Joe, don't! Please!"

* * *

"We're losing her!" Doctor Bellerophon shouted, a hand on Claire's arm.

"Lear!" Michael shouted at the mage.

The man in glasses at the end of the bed conducted his spell book. "Gárgola, concedo tempus."

A green glow emerged from the book to engulf Claire.

The doctor looked at the monitors. "She's stabilized, but I don't know for how long..."

Michael faced the mage. "You have to keep looking. There must be a cure."

Lear shook his head. "The spell's too old, too powerful. I don't have the right material..."

"I don't want to hear what you can't do, Lear! Work with what you have. If it means simply delaying it, do it. It might just buy Astor the time to find the cure. God knows he's our only chance."

* * *

Dr. Sato exhaled a sigh of relief when the heart monitor came back. "Bring the family back in."

The blonde nurse behind him nodded and left.

Dr. Sato put a hand to Elisa's forehead. "Why must you keep doing this to me, Detective? Don't you know how strong you are?" He brought his hand down to grasp hers. "There are people here who care about you. Don't disappoint them."

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Unguarded
Evil Overlady

~ Chapter 3 ~

Frankie looked out the tall windows of the library. "Hurry, Joe. The sun's about to set."

Joe perused the endless bookshelves. "This is a needle in a haystack. Are we on the right floor?"

Frankie held up the piece of scrap paper with the call number and the title scribbled on it. "This is the shelf. If it's not here, we're in deep-"

"I know."

A striking redheaded woman reached below Joe and put her hand on the book he realized was the book they wanted. Joe put a hand on her slender wrist. "Excuse me. I need that book." Green eyes looked up at him, predatory.

Frankie heard Joe's words and turned. "You found it?" he began and stopped. For a moment in a hazy gaze the woman was a sky blue gargoyle in tattered clothes, then the vision passed. "Joe, she's a gargoyle."

"She is?" Joe's eyes widened.

The woman kicked him away and ripped the book free of the shelf, facing Frankie. "So... We have a mage. Fulmeninis benite!"

"Ah!" Frankie dodged, rolling away as a ball of lightning tore through several bookshelves.

A couple of civilians still lingering in the closing library screamed and beat feet to the stairs.

Joe tackled the woman, knocking the book from her hands. They rolled several times and she kicked him off.

The woman returned her attention to Frankie as he was still contemplating the huge smoldering hole above him.

"Frankie, find the counterspell!" Joe yelled, attacking the woman again.

Frankie regained his composure and dragged the book towards him, leafing through the pages as he still sat on the floor.

* * *

"Joe, please..."

"Dragon!" The knight charged.

Elisa stepped aside, guiding the sword point to the ground.

He looked up.

She punched him, the force knocking his visor down.

He stumbled to his knees.

Elisa retrieved the sword.

The knight opened his visor again. He surrendered. "Go ahead, witch. Slay me."

With a strength that even surprised Elisa, she snapped the broadsword in two.

The knight's eyes widened.

"I took this form because it pleases you, Sir Ivan... because I love you."

"You attacked the villages."

"No. 'Twas the work of Lord Leviticus and his followers. Your people and mine are the only forces that stand against him. You must believe me, I would never harm your kind."

"Then, you are a dragon."

"Yes, but I have given up my power. I have given up my immortality, to love you, Ivan, till our dying days and beyond. I will always love you; but if you wish to kill me..." She handed him the hilt and what remained of the blade. "Do so mercifully."

* * *

Joe was down on the ground and he saw the punch coming.

He rolled.

The redheaded woman's fist hit carpet.

Joe got up on one knee and beckoned at her teasingly.

She growled and went after him.

He started grabbing books to use as weapons. Hm... Roman history... He threw, knocking her down. The rise and fall of... he recalled with a snicker.

Hurry up, Frankie...

* * *

Frankie flipped the tattered pages, trying to be quick but not so quick as to miss what he was looking for.

Finally, he came upon it. "Got it," he whispered triumphantly. "I call upon the spirit of Gárgola. I call upon her kin..."

* * *

Leviticus stood before a bubbling cauldron, with a carving of the symbol of Gárgola glowing red in the green steam.

Medora stood beside a table behind him where a candle lit the parchment that held the curse.

"Someone's conjuring up a counterspell," Leviticus whispered.

Medora looked at the symbol and then at the parchment.

This is wrong...

"Nimroy, bring me that bottle to right of your hand. We'll teach this mage to interfere..."

With a casual flick of her wrist, Medora knocked the candle onto the parchment.

Leviticus took the bottle, sniffed the air. He turned. "Medora, the spell!"

Medora looked at the burning paper. "Oh!"

* * *

"I call upon Diana and Seshet and the powers of the djinn. By the symbols each guardian holds dear, whether real or imagined, let the power of the symbol of Gárgola disappear until called upon again." Frankie muttered a few Latin words to touch it off then held up Elisa's pendent.

The red glow faded and with it Frankie could feel the power go into dormancy.

* * *

"No!" Leviticus watched the carving crumble to dust, the magic dispersed. "The connection! It's been severed; and now without the spell-!"

"There's no chance of recasting it," Medora finished.

Leviticus looked at her.

Medora lowered her eyes solemnly.

* * *

The knight looked Elisa in the eyes and tossed the broken sword away. "I would never harm you, Gárgola." He stood.

"Ivan..." she breathed and wrapped her arms around him.

Elisa opened her eyes. "Mom?"

Diane smiled. "Oh, Elisa!"

Peter came up behind her and put a hand on her back. "Welcome back, sweetheart."

"Back?" Elisa blinked the blur from her eyes and looked around. They were in a hospital. "Where's Joe?"

* * *

"Joe, I did it!" Frankie cried excitedly.

The woman punched Joe out. "Too bad for you two."

She rose to her full height as the sunlight disappeared.

Her transformation began.

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Unguarded
Evil Overlady

~ Chapter 4 ~

The scream was incredible, that of a woman in tremendous pain. Blue and lavender wings unfurled from her back, ripping through her brown trench coat. Four slender fingers that tried to cover her mouth and muffle her scream became three deadly sky blue talons. Her scream became a jaguar's cry. Glowing red eyes beneath a gold head ornament found Joe, unconscious on the floor after that last blow.

Frankie ran towards him. "No!"

"Now, you die..." she growled.

"Police, freeze!" A blonde policewoman in uniform took up a stance a bookcase away.

The gargoyle spun.

Three shots exploded.

Frankie ducked behind the bookcase as the gargoyle's body hit the floor.

"Joe..." Frankie stood again and rushed to his side. "Don't shoot! I'm unarmed!" Frankie held up the thick book for defense.

"Sure you are, Waters." The woman lowered her gun.

Frankie blinked as he recognized her, the woman who'd nearly blindsided him with a wrench the other day when he'd asked if she was doing anything special Friday night. "Sarah?"

"Officer Shepherd, Waters."

Frankie rolled his eyes.

Joe moaned.

Sarah jerked her chin towards Joe. "He all right?"

"Yeah, till you came along," Frankie jabbed.

"I don't mean you!" She joined him, holstering her weapon to help him help Joe to sit up. "You have worse luck with women than Waters here."

"Hey! I take personal offense to that remark!"

"Frankie..." Joe groaned. "Not here, okay?"

"Oh, all right..."

Joe's vision cleared. "Where'd she go?"

Sarah spun, gun drawn.

"She bolted," Frankie dismissed.

"With three slugs in her chest?"

"Maybe she was bulletproofed... or immortal." Frankie winked at Sarah teasingly.

"I. Don't. Believe. In magic."

"You know, every time you say that some poor little fairy's out there keeling over?"

"Children..." Joe warned. "Could we please discuss this later? I've got a headache... and I'm getting a little tired of getting hit on the head."

"How am I going to explain this in my report?" Sarah moaned.

"You're writing a report?" Frankie asked.

Sarah lifted her gun casually, gesturing at it and the bloodstained carpet. "Have to."

"Frankie can help you out. Frankie's great at coming up with explanations for all kinds of things."

"Oh, no! You are not pinning this on me, Joe! I'm always the one left holding the bag!"

"But you won't be holding the book." Joe took the thick book from him. "I'm putting this somewhere safe."

Sarah lifted a blonde eyebrow.

* * *

"Once again, I am in your debt, Mr. Astor." Michael stuck out his hand.

Reluctantly, Joe shook it. "I never got your name."

"Briggs," he answered. "Michael Briggs."

Elisa came down the hospital hall as luminescent as ever.

Michael turned to her. "Detective Maza. A pleasure to see you again." He put out his hand.

Elisa gripped it loosely but her eyes were on Joe.

Joe switched his gaze to Michael. "Please, give Claire my regards."

"You could give them to her yourself if you wanted."

"How much does she know?"

"Nothing yet."

Joe blinked with surprise. "Why not?"

"I don't think it's my place to deliberately bring up what went on between you two. You've gone on to different lives, chosen new identities, new responsibilities..."

"Maybe some day..." Joe began.

"Perhaps."

Joe nodded.

"You two could come to Mexico. I believe Detective Maza has already met Zafiro."

Elisa jerked her head Michael's way. "You know Zafiro?"

Michael just smiled and tipped his fedora to her. "I know more than you may think, Detective." He nodded to Joe. "Mr. Astor."

"Mr. Briggs."

Michael left.

Elisa watched him go.

Joe put a hand on her shoulder. "I almost lost you back there."

"Well, you found me."

"That's not what I meant." Joe slid an ebony strand behind her shoulder.

Elisa looked into his eyes.

He tipped her chin up.

"Joe!"

Joe groaned and dropped his head. "What is it Frankie?"

Frankie was fast-walking up to him, hair ruffled, purple jacket sliding off one shoulder. "You cannot leave me with this badge-sucking-"

Officer Sarah Shepherd was on his heels. "You get back here, Waters! I'm not through with you yet!"

"So this is that friend you've been meaning to introduce me to?" Elisa wondered.

"Unfortunately," Joe replied.

"Cat! She says a cat did all that! What kind of lame excuse for a report is that?"

"I said a big cat!"

"How big are we talking about here? There aren't exactly mountain lions in Central Park!"

"How do you know?"

"Frankie Waters?" Elisa wondered.

"Yeah."

"Detective Maza." Elisa stuck out her hand.

"Uh. Yeah. Hi." Frankie shook her hand, and in mid-shake he registered her words. "Elisa Maza?"

"She's a little young to be the retired Sergeant Peter Maza," Joe remarked.

"Oh! Finally get to meet you! Joe's said so much about you!"

Elisa lifted a long, thin ebony brow. "Really."

"Don't believe him. Frankie gives a whole new meaning to the term exaggerate."

"I do not!"

Sarah ticked off fair fingers. "A cat can explain the gunshots, the blood, the bolting out the window..."

"The burnt hole the size of my head through seven bookcases?"

"Electric shortage. ...caused by the cat chewing through a live wire."

"Six and a half bookcases," Joe corrected.

"Whatever!" Frankie dismissed.

"I see what you mean," Elisa mused.

"What is it with you and cats?" Frankie snapped.

"Let's get out of here," Joe whispered into Elisa's ear. They sneaked away.

"Hey, cats are the most unpredictable things out there!"

Elisa snuggled into Joe's arm. "Isn't that the truth," she purred.

"I should introduce Cagney to Shadow sometime."

"Did you bring him with you?"

"Left him with Ronnie, Julian's daughter. They're getting along famously."

"Who? Julian and his daughter or his daughter and the cat?"

"The daughter and the cat. Julian and her, I'm not so sure..."

"What do you mean?"

"She keeps out-inventing him."

"Ha, ha, ha!" Elisa laughed.

Joe smiled, hugging her close.

* * *

"The humans are more resourceful than I had anticipated," Leviticus thought aloud, slumped in his chair with one too many goblets of wine.

Medora crouched in a corner, her beautiful wings torn, fresh wounds on her flesh from the beating she'd received.

"They have mages," Leviticus continued. "They've rekindled their human magic."

"Count Drakul awaits our report."

"Let him wait. I don't answer to him. He should answer to me. I'm the one who found a grip on the mortal plane. I'm the one who has done the manipulations necessary to whittle the gargoyles down to their present numbers. I shall lead our kind to victory." He tossed his goblet away. "These are but temporary setbacks. In the end I shall win. I will not be defeated by petty mortals."

"Human technology is much more powerful than we can fight against."
"No. It's the mage. The mortal mage. The one who defeated you in the morgue."

"The brown-haired one or the redhead?"

"Both." He touched a long nail to his lip. "It is they who stand in our way. Kill them, and the great isle city shall fall." Leviticus smiled.