When Graeme Met Lucy…
A TGS-based story
By C.S. Hayden
Characters from the "Gargoyles" show are the property of Disney and Buena Vista Television. Happa is borrowed with permission from the fanfics of Kimberly T. All other characters are from The Gargoyles Saga fanfiction series.
"Where is she?"
The strident words echoed off the stone aerie carved into the side of Mount Thanatos. Frozen in stone sleep, the resident gargoyles looked on with unseeing eyes. The intruders were careful not to disturb them; it was tempting but if they left any trace of their passing, reprisals would follow.
"Well?" She coiled up in an imperious pose. "You've had more than enough time to check all the chambers and the outer circle."
"Milady, all the gargoyles are accounted for," an armored male reported. "We found her quarters but there is no sign of her." He licked his lips nervously. "It seemed to me that she may have left on her own."
"Why do you say that?"
"Everything was neat and in order, but when I opened the clothes press, there were garments lying on the floor as though someone packed in a hurry and her armor was missing. She's well known for wearing it so wherever it is, she is."
"Yesssss," she said, letting the word out in a sibilant hiss. "What you say has merit." She glided out to the parapets where the sun warmed slumbering stone figures, pausing for a moment to stare out over the island. "Icarus received a transmission, did he not, from that foreign gargoyle that came here?"
"Find out if anyone took out one of the long-distance vehicles." Her eyes narrowed to tiny slits. "And contact that outlander that was our guest a few years back. He owes me a favor."
o o o o O O O O o o o o
Yawning, Alex scratched himself as he stumbled through the east wing still wearing the t-shirt and pants that he had fallen asleep in. Since he had been at the gargoyle's meeting late last night, he had woke up in one of the rooms in their part of the castle. He didn't miss sleeping in his own bed – anything that meant being far, far away from his father was a good thing these days. Unfortunately, his stomach woke him up in the middle of the afternoon, complaining loudly about missed meals. He was on his way to Broadway's kitchen for a snack when something made him stop in his tracks. Ariana's door was ajar.
It wasn't the cleaning staff; they used a strong disinfectant that left a pine-fresh vapor trail in their wake. Alex sidled up to her room and looked around the edge of the doorway as he pushed the door open a little further.
The last time he had been in Ariana's room, the walls had been covered in anime and J-pop posters but it would seem that she had recently given it a complete makeover. The walls were a soft glowing cream with a Japanese kanji pattern in a golden brown and the woodwork had been painted gloss black to simulate lacquer ware. Her platform bed had a new brocade cover, mounds of bright satin pillows, and her childhood kimono was mounted on the wall above it. Bamboo shades filtered the light into the room and rice paper shoji screens hid the corner where Ariana had her sewing studio set up. His eyes were just passing over it when a shadow flickered behind the screen.
Letting his power surge down into his fist to form a glowing fireball of energy, Alex crept cautiously into the room. As he edged around the screen, he was relieved to see at least one part of Ariana's room reflected her true personality. She had learned to sew, not so much for necessity as it was for her secret hobby – Ariana loved to cosplay and frequently went to conventions within flying distance. Fabric in a rainbow of colors filled plastic bins stacked against the wall. Her cutting table was wedged between the wall and her sewing console and a portable rack of clothes in various stages of production was shoved to one side. There was a feathered blanket lying over a serpent skin beanbag chair in the corner. Alex supposed it was another costume in progress – until the tip of a tail flicked out and the chair uncoiled slightly, scales hissing whisper soft against each other.
Alex crouched down and reached out gingerly to lift the feathers out of the way. It was the late arrival from the night before – he dimly remembered her coming in with the others before he conked out. She looked almost angelic, sleeping in the nest of her coils with her head cradled in her arms. He leaned in to examine her closer.
Her eyes flicked open.
"Yowtch!" Alex fell back hard on his butt.
The end of her tail shook like a rattlesnake and her diamond-shaped pupils began to glow. "You did not see me!"
Alex got up on his haunches and balanced on the balls of his feet. "Say what?"
She leaned towards him. "You will go away now!"
"Why would I want to do that? This is MY house!" Alex blinked. On reflex he had put up a magical shield so he was seeing everything through a pale green haze but it seemed as if her eyes were beginning to oscillate. The pupils and the irises seemed to swell and contract in a hypnotic pattern.
She rose up slightly so she was taller than him and the quills on her head rattled. "You did NOT see me and you WILL go away NOW!
"'And these are not the droids you are looking for,'" Alex said sarcastically, not about to be intimidated in his own home. "Whatever you're trying to do, it's not working. You ought to quit while you can."
Her brow crinkled. "But it always works!"
"On other people, maybe, but not on me." He shrugged. "I'm Alex Xanatos, and you're…" His eyes widened and he pointed without really thinking. "…you're naked."
"Pervert!" Her tail shot out and slapped him head over heels halfway across the room, knocking over the screen and the rack of clothes in the process. She reached out and snatched up a garment, slithering into it as Alex counted his teeth and waited for the room to stop spinning.
"Hey! What's your problem?" he protested once he was able to sit up. "You're the one sleeping in the buff, not me!"
"Have you ever slept in armor?" she snapped back, trying to tug a blue dress in place. "It's very uncomfortable." Ariana was a little smaller, especially around the chest and hips, and the New Olympian was finding the fit a bit snug. She was just lucky that the dress flared out or she'd look like a baby blue sausage.
Alex began to snicker. He couldn't help himself.
"What do you think doing, human?" She sniffed indignantly. "This is NOT funny!"
"Oh, yeah… it is."
Lashing her tail around her into a tight coil, she made a valiant attempt to sulk. It was a good effort considering that her lips were almost non-existent and barely made a bump of a pout. Alex felt a little sorry for her.
"Look, let's try again." He put on his most winning smile as he stood up. "I'm Alex and you are -?"
"Scylla." Her lip twisted. "From New Olympus."
"Really?" He raised both eyebrows. "That explains everything."
"It… does?" She narrowed her eyes at him. "Explain."
Alex stepped closer. "New Olympus was colonized by the Third Race. My grandmother is Titania, the queen of Avalon. I've got just enough fae in me that your hypno-eye thingie didn't work and you're – you're what exactly?" He walked around her. "You're not a gargoyle but you've passed yourself off as one. Why?"
"Do you always ask so many questions?"
"Only until I get what I want." Alex faced her and crossed his arms. "I remember just enough about last night that you were telling everyone that you were here to represent the New Olympus clan. Instead of being out with the others on the castle wall, you were hiding in here where no one would be likely to find you. You're afraid of them finding out."
"It's my secret."
"And I can keep secrets." He held his hands out and filled them with green light that wound around his arms like vines. "I'm the only kid in my school that can do anything like this and I have to keep it a secret all the time. You have no idea how tempting it can be to want to get back at some jerk who's just pulled a prank or made fun of me. I have to control my power because if I don't keep it secret and I don't keep it under control, terrible things can happen."
Scylla stared at him unblinkingly for a few moments before looking away. "You say you know about New Olympus?"
"Yeah, Grandmother said that when humans chased the ancient Olympians off the mainland, they settled on New Olympus and isolated it from the world. I know what Goliath, Elisa, and Angela had to say about it after they visited it too."
"Then you know that our people resemble mythological creatures." When Alex nodded, she continued. "My mother was a harpy and my father was a naga." She paused, taking a breath to steady herself. "Half-breeds are not uncommon on New Olympus but the nagas have never allowed them. When they found out about me—" she took a deep breath and looked away, "they tried to kill me."
"That's harsh," Alex said. "What happened?"
"Father refused to abandon me and my mother so he chose to leave the caverns but the nagas wouldn't accept my father's decision. Boreas – that's the leader of our government - intervened, saying that under the laws of New Olympus, my father and I could live under another clan's protection. That's when Icarus stepped in – the gargoyles had lost their daytime protector and they offered the position to my father."
"So, part of what you told everyone was true – technically, you are a member of the clan."
"So why not tell them? Why the disguise?"
"It's better if everyone thinks I'm a gargoyle. It'll be safer for all concerned." She glared at him. "That's all I can say – don't ask me any more!"
"Oh-kay." Her tail tip was whipping back and forth like a metronome so Alex chose to back off for the moment. "You know, it was probably okay for today but you can't keep camping out in Ariana's room. If your scent gets too strong in here, she'll know something's up." He cocked his head towards the door. "There are plenty of empty guest rooms down the hall. No one will ever know you're there."
Scylla narrowed her eyes. "Why are you helping me?"
"One good turn deserves another." He knew how to smile at girls, even if they were half-snake with wings. "I don't know if you've noticed, but you and I are the odd ones out at this thing. I'm going to need a partner to do patrols with and so will you. The others are already pairing off and I doubt anyone will be happy teaming up with either of us."
"You have a point." She sighed in a soft hiss. "I didn't make a good start, arriving late as I did. I was very uncomfortable around the others and I could tell they felt the same about me."
"So I'll keep your secret," Alex said, "and you'll be my partner. We're both likely to be up and about long before the gargoyles wake up anyway so it'll work."
Scylla regarded him solemnly before nodding. "Very well, I agree."
"Great!" Alex grinned and rubbed his hands. "Let's do lunch!"
o o o O O O O o o o
As the assembled gargoyles were finishing their early evening meal, Goliath stood up to address them. "Tonight your training begins in earnest," he said. "We will be breaking you up into teams to go out on patrol with an adult warrior." When everyone began edging towards their rookery mate, he held up his hand. "When I said we'd be breaking you up, I meant it in more ways than one. You are here to experience new things and the first one is you will learn to work with a new partner."
"You mean I got all dressed up for nothing?'" Dodger complained. He and Lucy were wearing the urban patrol uniforms of the London clan – matching Kevlar chestplates embossed with the Union Jack and dark blue clothing.
"Not at all," Goliath continued, "but it's important that our clans start interacting and it will begin with you." He beckoned to Lexington, who was sitting to his right with his laptop computer. "Lexington will now give out your assignments."
The short web-winged gargoyle stood up. "When I call your name, please report to your wingleader." He glanced at the screen. "Happa and Kirima," Lex announced, "will be going with Goliath."
"We'll be meeting Detective Elisa Maza at the 23rd precinct so you can observe human law enforcement at work." Goliath smiled. "She is looking forward to working with you."
"Dodger and Jin-ho will be patrolling Chinatown and Little Tokyo with Sata."
"Yummo," Dodger said as he got up from the table. "Chop suey an' egg rolls, here I come!"
"Li Kao and Midori," Lex nodded towards them, "you'll be coming with me." He glanced back at the screen and frowned. "Uh-oh, I forgot to add Scylla to the roster, Goliath. She turned up after I sorted out the pairings."
"If Scylla doesn't mind," Alex piped up, "I'll volunteer to be her partner." The red-headed teenager was standing to one side while Owen adjusted the flight suit that Alex wore under his Steel Clan armor. "That makes another team, right?"
"Scylla?" Goliath asked. "I know some New Olympians have prejudices against humans. Are you willing to overcome them to work with Alex?"
Pausing in the act of donning her helmet, Scylla regarded him coolly. "One of my tasks while I am here is to observe human behavior." She sniffed. "He is only a half-grown specimen but I shall have to start somewhere. I have no objections."
"See?" Alex smiled brightly. "Problem solved."
Graeme leaned towards Ariana. "I hate it when he smiles like that. It always means he's up to something."
"Yeah, and the scary thing is that you don't know if he's taking after his mom or his dad when he's doing it."
"All right then," Lex said, "Alex and Scylla will go with Angela." He typed that data in on his keyboard. "Ariana and Mawson, you'll be going with Brooklyn."
"Oh, great," Ariana said, rolling her eyes. "My first date and Dad's going along for the ride." She couldn't help smiling when Mawson winked at her as he got up from the table.
"Cheeky devil." Lucy giggled. "Cheer up, Brooklyn can't be with you every minute, can he?"
"Trust me, he's going to try." Graeme shrugged and turned his attention to the white lioness sitting across from him. Lucy was wearing a similar Kevlar vest over the one piece patrol outfit commonly worn by females of the London Clan. He was admiring the delicate beige spots dappling her shoulders and almost missed Lexington's next announcement.
"Lucy and Yong will go with Broadway."
"Hey!" Graeme called out. "What's the big idea?" He had expected to be teamed with Lucy and so had she by the look on her face. "Lucy and I are supposed to be together!"
"Maybe," said Brooklyn, "but not after that stunt you pulled last night. Sata and I agreed with Goliath that you shouldn't have just taken off without telling anyone. You know better than that."
"But Da-a-ad," Graeme lowered his voice, "I had plans with Lucy." He met Brooklyn's eyes in hopes of male solidarity but his father wasn't having any of it.
"Uh-huh, I know what you had in mind but rules are rules."
"We have decided that you will share castle duty with Red Wind," Goliath said as he came up behind Brooklyn, "and in addition, you will help set up a lab for Kwan Lin to use." He gestured to the young Chinese female hovering nearby. "She has asked to make a study of Bronx for their beast-breeding program. Since you have a beast yourself, you can assist her."
Graeme opened his beak to protest and then thought better of it. He had screwed up, he knew it, they knew it, and whining about it would only prolong the agony. "All right," he sighed. "I'll see to it."
"Good lad." Goliath clapped his hand on Graeme's shoulder, staggering the younger gargoyle. He gestured to Happa and Kirima. "Come along now, Elisa will be waiting."
Brooklyn followed them, carefully positioning himself between Mawson and Ariana. Sata had already slipped out with Dodger and Jin-ho so at least Graeme wouldn't have to face her disapproval. One stern look from her was always worse than any amount of yelling from his father. Alex was leading Angela and Scylla off to the hanger where the Steel Clan armor was stored and Lex and his group was heading in the same direction, probably to double-check Alex's armor before he took off.
He turned and almost bumped his beak into Lucy's muzzle. "Oh, hi…. Look, Lucy, I'm really sorry about this—"
"I know," she said, "It's my fault too. I should be sharing the punishment."
"No, Goliath's right. You're a guest. I knew the rules and I broke them."
"Oh, Graeme." Lucy stretched her arms to give him a big hug.
At that moment, it felt as if all the eyes in the castle were focused on the two of them and in a sense of overwhelming panic, Graeme held up his hands to ward her off. She looked at him with great hurt eyes. "It's really okay, Lu-chan," he said in an embarrassed rush. "Just go ahead and we'll get together later, all right?"
"But, Graeme—?" Her bottom lip twisted. "What's wrong? Why are you acting this way?"
"Please, just go." He backed up, turning his head away from her and putting his hands on his hips.
"Right, whatever." Lucy pulled away and stalked after the others heading out to the parapet.
"Great," Graeme muttered. "I've really screwed up now."
o o o O O O O o o o
"Interesting place, your city," Mawson said as they headed east from the Eyrie Building. "Even after London, I don't think I've never seen so many humans in one place." He laughed. "They remind me of penguins."
"Penguins?" Ariana grinned. "What do you mean?"
"When you fly over a colony, they're loud, smelly, and milling around looking at their feet." He winked. "But humans don't taste like fish."
Before Ariana could respond to that, Brooklyn sailed back between them and broke into the conversation. "So your clan hunts penguins, then? I expect they make a good food source."
"Not so much," Mawson replied. "We tried domesticating them, way back when the ancestors came to Antarctica but it was too much trouble. We do an egg cull once a season but the meat is an acquired taste." He wrinkled his broad nose. "Very oily."
"How do you survive there?"
"By cheating, of course!" He laughed again, a rich dark chocolate chuckle that made Ariana's toes curl. "Merlin brought most of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain with him when he first moved in and one of them was the Hamper of Gwyddno Long Shanks. Whatever food you put into it gets multipled a hundredfold."
"And it still works after all those centuries?"
"It has its ups and downs. You see, the ley lines don't remain constant – they shift with the magnetic field. That's why the ancestors started farming in some of the warmer caves, particularly around Mt. Erebus."
"Well, it is the southernmost active volcano in the world, or so I'm told. Some smart old codger came up with the idea to carve out an ice dome so plants can get some light. We supplement the soil with guano and kitchen wastes so it's very good for growing things in."
Exasperated by her father monopolizing the conversation, Ariana attempted to change the topic. "Do you like sports, Mawson?" She pointed towards Queens. "There's a great baseball stadium over that way."
"Baseball?" He crinkled his brow ridges. "I've heard of it but never actually played it. Is it any fun?"
"Beats watching penguins." Ariana winked at him and she was delighted to see him wink back. Maybe Midori had the right idea – spending a little one-on-one time with Mawson could be lots of fun. She began to think of ways to conveniently ditch her father. Surely there was something that could occupy Brooklyn long enough so that she and Mawson could get better acquainted.
"What do you think, Dad?" she called out. "Do you suppose we could talk Goliath into letting us catch a night game? Graeme and Happa will want to go and the others might be interested too."
"Well...," Brooklyn said as he appeared to consider the idea, "I suppose it's probably safe enough. You and Graeme have sneaked out to plenty of games and managed to keep out of trouble."
Brooklyn winked at her. "You can blame Broadway – he saw you two heading out to the stadium and tailed you a few times to make sure you guys were okay." He shrugged. "When my brothers and I were your age, we were out and about all the time."
"You knew?" Ariana said. "Gee, we thought Mom would throw a fit if she ever found out."
"Eh, I talked her out of locking you both in the tower."
Mawson snorted. "I take it Lady Sata is the overprotective sort?"
"Something like that."
"Can't say that I blame her," Mawson said. "Our rookeries are in the most secure parts of the caverns and it's years before hatchlings ever get to go outside. Even then, we have to acclimatize them gradually and make damned sure that they know their survival skills. The Great White is an unforgiving mistress and if you don't respect her, she'll take you in a heartbeat."
Ariana blinked. "Whoa."
"Sort of makes me wonder why humans would even go there," Mawson continued. "We gargoyles adapted quickly but a human out on the ice is taking his life in his hands."
"Maybe that's the point," Brooklyn said. "Sometimes life is a challenge. It doesn't matter if you're a gargoyle or a human, you just don't feel alive unless you're facing the unknown."
"Yeah, pushing the envelope!" Ariana looped around, nearly missing Mawson on the down swing. "Whoops!"
"No worries!" He laughed. "I'm a bit of a daredevil myself."
As they grinned at each other, neither of them noticed the low, rumbling growl from the red gargoyle keeping them both firmly in his sights.
o o o O O O O o o o
Broadway led them along the southern edge of Central Park. Lucy gave one last wistful glance back at the Eyrie Building and sighed. She wasn't sure why Graeme was acting so odd but she had fully expected to be partnered with him, not Yong. She glanced at the enormous Korean sailing next to her. He was carrying Nudnik and Broadway was carrying Bronx. Part of their patrol was letting the gargoyle beasts roam the park while they patrolled the perimeter.
"Beasts away!" Broadway swooped down and dropped the older beast at a safe distance from the ground. Yong followed suit and Nudnik nearly knocked him off course in his enthusiasm to get down. Both beasts rolled and snuffled in the grass before bounding away on some scent.
"Will they be all right here?" Yong asked. "Shouldn't we stay to look after them?"
"Naw, they'll be fine," Broadway answered with a laugh. "Graeme programmed a microchip that lets Nudnik into the freight elevator and takes them straight up to the castle. They'll check out all the nooks and crannies in the park and then they'll go back home on their own. Muggings went way down when Hudson started letting the beasts patrol Central Park."
"That is your elder? The old one by the fire?"
Broadway nodded. "Yeah, he was the leader before Goliath. His eyes aren't so good these days so I take Bronx out for him. Hudson is really happy that you kids are visiting. He remembers when our clan was a lot bigger."
"Yes," Yong said as he shifted to catch a thermal rising from the street. "We heard the story of the Vikings and the Magus' curse from the Chinese clan." He smiled shyly. "New stories go through our clan like wildfire."
"Guess that's something we all have in common then," Broadway said. "I hear that the London clan puts on plays, isn't that right, Lucy?"
She didn't hear him. At that moment, she had caught sight of Belvedere Castle and all she could think about was the romantic kiss that she and Graeme had shared there.
"Lucy?" Broadway barrel-rolled over and touched her on the arm. He was remarkably agile in the air for such a bulky male. "I'll bet Graeme took you here, didn't he?"
"Well, yes." She was grateful no one could see the blush under her fur.
Chuckling, Broadway said, "That doesn't surprise me. Graeme was always saying, 'I'll bet Lucy would love to see this' or 'I'll take her there' whenever we were out on a quiet patrol. It used to drive us crazy!"
"I'll bet he had big plans for tonight too."
She sniffed. "You wouldn't know it by the way he acted."
"Graeme hates being the center of attention, especially when he's getting called out for messing up. He needs a little space at times like that." Broadway shrugged. "He'll be back to his old self when we get back, you'll see.
"You think so?"
"Goliath isn't completely heartless. I drew the short rotation so we'll be back at the castle in an hour or so." He chuckled. "So cheer up! It'll make the time go faster."
Broadway's good humor began to lift Lucy's spirits. He was right; being miserable would only make time drag on. "How are patrols here?" Lucy asked. "We still get Minion outbreaks from time to time. Weller thinks that they're breeding now."
"'Minions?'" Broadway's forehead creased for a moment and then smoothed out. "Oh, yeah... those were the Unseelie halflings that turned up in London. They were different from the ones that we got here."
"'Unseelie halflings?'" Yong said. "What are those?"
"Over ten years ago," Broadway said, "a bunch of rejects from Avalon decided to come out of hiding and challenge Oberon for control of the Third Race. They started causing trouble and we found out about it. One of the things that they did was to alter humans with fae DNA. They called themselves the Halflings – they were stronger and faster than ordinary humans and each of them could manifest some kind of magic."
"They did the same thing in London," Lucy said, "but they used homeless street people and something went horribly wrong. Most of them can't bear the light so they went underground and only come out at night. They're very unpredictable – we can go weeks without a sighting and then suddenly they're everywhere like cockroaches."
"Heh, cockroaches – I like that." Broadway chuckled. "We didn't have that many here in New York but what we did get was bad enough." He shifted to glide over one of the routes through the park and the younger gargoyle altered their flights to follow him. "I think we'll have our hands full with the regular lowlifes. There's more tourists in town than just you kids and there's always going to be someone to take advantage of that." He nodded at the ground. "Case in point: look down there."
A young couple was strolling up to a carriage stop, oblivious to everything but each other but what they couldn't see were the two thugs trailing them. One was paralleling them from the cover of a hedge wall; the other was ambling behind a few steps back.
"Lucy, Yong, time to go to work." Broadway grinned. "Bonus points if you do it and the lovebirds aren't the wiser."
Eagerly, Lucy tucked her wings into a dive. She was in the mood to bust some heads and these muggers would do nicely until she could get Graeme all to herself.
o o o O O O O o o o
Spiraling over Chinatown, Sata suddenly back-winged and hovered in mid-air. "Ah, see there?" she said, pointing down at a red cloth draped over the top of a potted tree in a tiny courtyard. "I know the herbalist that lives there. He gives us information from time to time and that is his signal that he has something. I will go down and speak with him."
"Shall we go with you, Lady Sata?" Jin-ho asked in her bell-like voice.
"No, too many of us will attract attention and I do not want to cause trouble for him." Sata pursed her lips and looked around. "There," she gestured to an aging hotel across the street, "you two keep watch over there. I will only be a few minutes."
While Sata glided down into the alley behind the herbalist's house, Dodger and Jin-ho took up their positions on top of the five-story building. Nervous birds stirred in a rickety pigeon coop as Jin-ho approached them for a closer look. The tip of her tongue ran across her upper lip as she leaned in, eyes intent on the inhabitants of the cage.
Dodger watched her as he took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. "I wouldn't if I were you. Those are somebody's pets, those are. An' even if they weren't, city pigeons taste nasty. There's no tellin' what they've been eatin.'"
"Ah." She wrinkled her nose. "An excellent point."
"So," Dodger asked as he lit up his cigarette, "fancy a smoke?"
"No, thank you," Jin-ho said, giving a polite shrug. "Please go ahead and enjoy yourself."
"Thanks." Dodger took a long drag and blew it out. "That friggin' butler caught me lightin' up out on th' parapets an' I've been dyin' for a nicky fit all night."
The little Korean gargoyle blinked. "'Nicky fit?'"
"Nicotine, you know, the lovely addictive stuff that th' tobacco companies use to hook you." He laughed. "I really ought to quit – Lord knows I get told that often enough."
The corners of her mouth quirked up. "And who tells you? You have a sweetheart?"
"Not so much," Dodger said. "Just one o' my rookery sisters who likes to boss everyone around." He shrugged. "She an' I have been scrappin' for years – you know how it is."
"Ah, that is true." She gave him her first genuine smile. "Many of my rookery mates have their favorites. Yong and I are at opposite ends – I am the smallest of females and he is the largest of males. We were picked for this because we are expendable."
Her candid words made Dodger cough and splutter. "What's that? Expendable?"
"Perhaps I used the wrong word. What I meant was that it was only logical – neither of us is being courted and we are unsuitable for each other. The elders chose wisely."
"That's bloody cold, that is."
"Perhaps." The serene expression never left her face but there was the faintest trace of a frown. "Ariana explained why Lucy is here – what about you? How were you chosen?"
"Easy, I'm her second."
Jin-ho raised her brow ridges. "Females lead in your clan?"
"Anyone can lead in our clan," Dodger answered, "so long as they're able for th' job an' willin' to do it. When our rookery started trainin' for patrol duty, Lucy was picked as wingleader an' she picked me as her second. It's th' way we've always been."
"I do not understand," she said. "How is it that Lucy favors Graeme over you? Does it not bother you that she chose another?"
"Oh, I had a crush on Lucy for ages but the first time that Graeme came to London for a visit an' I got to see how they were together, well…." Dodger huffed and blew out a long puff of smoke. "Me feelin's were hurt, make no mistake, but I got over it. I figure they're lucky to have found each other an' someday my luck'll turn too."
"Ah." She nodded. "You are an optimist."
"Always look on th' bright side of life, that's what th' Python boys say," Dodger said as he took one last drag and snuffed the cigarette out against the wall. "Here comes Lady Sata an' she's in a hurry."
They both leaned over the building's edge to watch Sata rising up the thermals towards them. She soared up and landed like a dancer. "Miyagi-san reports that there's a new branch of Yakuza setting up shop in Manhattan."
"Yukuza?" Jin-ho was instantly alert. "The Japanese crime organization?"
Sata arched one brow ridge. "You know of them?"
"Yes, they have involved themselves with the Korean black markets, mostly weapons smuggling and drugs." Jin-ho frowned, crinkling her tri-horned forehead. "My clan is dedicated to seeking justice and those few humans that we deal with have had their livelihoods threatened by the Yakuza in the past. Very bad – I had not thought to find them here."
"Unfortunately, criminals, like cockroaches, go everywhere. They've already crossed the local Triads and the merchants in the area are getting nervous."
"So what now?" Dodger said, cocking his head. "Are we gonna poke around for them? See what we can turn up?"
"We will finish our patrol for now," Sata said as she stepped up on the edge of the roof. "Goliath will need to be informed and I should contact Sharon Nomura who lives with the Labyrinth clan beneath the city. She spent some time undercover with the Yakuza before she became a mutate and she'll need to be careful." She scanned the surrounding neighborhood carefully. "I'm quite sure they haven't forgotten her."
o o o O O O O o o o
"What exactly will ye be doin' t' Bronx, lass?" Hudson asked as he limped along the corridor. He seldom left the castle proper these days so it was a rare occasion to see the old gargoyles down in the Eyrie building. Bronx, who had returned with Nudnik minutes earlier, was keeping pace with him and gently nudging him when Hudson seemed to falter.
Kwan Lin bowed slightly. "Most honored elder," she said, "my clan has a tradition of raising guardian beasts. We have studied them for generations and only recently we have begun collecting genetic material from other clans. I will begin by weighing and measuring your beasts3 and then I will do some physical tests."
Graeme led them to an empty laboratory in Xanatos' bioscience division. "This lab has been gargoyle-proofed just for us." He laughed at Kwan Lin's expression. "We used to break the standard medical equipment – let's face it, we're bigger, stronger, and heavier. The Xanatech scientists finally dedicated a few labs just for us."
As the lights came on, Kwan Lin gasped and Graeme was hard-pressed to hide his smirk. After all, he and Lexington had helped the Xanatech bioscience nerds design most of the equipment from the exam table that was a cross between a medical bed and a hydraulic car lift to the gargoyle accessible computer station. Everything was built to study a species that was stronger and heavier than the average human and the design was being copied by other gargoyle research facilities around the world.
"So...," Graeme drawled out, "will it do?"
The Chinese gargoyle with the gazelle-like horns walked through the room in a dream-like trance, touching things lightly and smiling to herself. "It is perfect," she said at last. "We have modified human equipment back home but nothing like this."
Bronx crooned and leaned up against Hudson's leg. Nudnik peered in curiously from the door but his feet remained firmly planted in the hallway.
"Come along, ye daft beasties," Hudson said as he commandeered a rolling stool for himself. "I dinnae like this room anymore than ye do." He glowered at the exam table. "If that young doctor with th' funny accent finds me down here, I'll get poked and prodded again."
"Oh?" Kwan Lin raised a brow at Graeme.
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, c'mon now – Dr. Blackwell's not so bad. He'd probably treat you to a beer when he's done." Leaning in towards Kwan Lin, he said very quietly, "Hudson had a mild stroke last year. Dr. Blackwell's a neurologist down from Canada on a research grant and he's been treating him."
"You... allow humans to study you?"
"Yeah, but Xanatos lets us share the information with other clans. He's in negotiations to set up similar facilities for London and Ishimura since their healers have been keeping records for generations." When Graeme saw the disconcerted look on Kwan Lin's face, he was quick to say, "It's been useful – Lex and Red Wind would have never successfully produced an egg without it."
Her cheeks blushed a deep mauve. "You mean, they allowed the humans to ..."
"Oh, the doctors weren't involved with the actual mechanics of the thing." Graeme sheepishly ran his hand along the back of his head. "Lex and Red Wing were picked for each other by the world council so when the breeding moon came around, they didn't react to each other like they would have if they had picked each other in a normal way. The doctors here figured out that they needed to tweak Lex and Red Wing's pheromone scents to a something that would trigger each other's reproductive cycles. Once they did that, everything worked out fine."
"Still," Kwan Lin said, deliberately not looking at the males in the room, "it must have been very embarrassing."
"Yeah, Red Wing's still pretty peeved about it."
"That'll be enow o' that kind of talk," Hudson said with a scowl. "That's their business, nae yuirs or anyone else's." Bronx laid his broad head on the old gargoyle's knee and crooned softly as his ears were rubbed. "Get th' lass set up wi' yon machines, Graeme, an' let's get on with it. Th' beasts will only cooperate fer so long, y'know."
Fortunately, Xanadu was one of the few clans that kept up with modern technology, even if they were wary about humans; Red Wind was perfect proof of that. Graeme only had to set up an account for Kwan Lin on the local server and talk her through some of the software programs on the computer. She had brought several bound books with her and set them out on the table for them to examine.
"These are copies of the breeding charts that we've been working on since the first World Gathering," Kwan Lin said as she opened the first one. The pages inside folded out in sections, revealing complicated graphs and symbols, lines going from one group to another. "Our own charts go back centuries but over time, we added surveys of the Korean and Japanese beasts as well. We track different traits, body types, intelligence, and other features." She opened a second book that contained pictures from ancient drawings to digital photos. "As you can see, although guardian beasts have many similarities, they vary from region to region."
Hudson leaned heavily on Graeme's shoulder as he looked on in fascination. "Och, I wouldna guessed! So many different kinds!"
Nudnik heaved his paws on the table and wuffed at the pictures.
"Yeah, Nuddy, your relatives are all there. Get down now." Graeme laughed as he scratched his pet's large fan-like ears. "We picked him up in China ages ago."
"Yes," Kwan Lin said with a faint smile, "he is a classic fu-dog but it is Bronx that truly interests me. His breed type has never been registered although he has many traits similar to other beasts."
"Is that so?" Hudson looked down at Bronx fondly. "He has been guarding our clan for quite a long time now. I cannae count th' times he's saved us. He is a good an' loyal friend, he is."
"Lucy's clan has three beasts in residence," Graeme said. "One was born in London but the two younger ones were found running in a wild pack on the Yorkshire moors in north England. The locals were calling them 'barghests.'"
"They resemble Bronx a little bit so maybe some of the Scottish beasts made it that far south. Castle Wyvern wasn't the only gargoyle roost that was destroyed in the Dark Ages. The survivors gathered in little clans here and there." Graeme went over to the computer and popped up a map. "See here? There's two clans in Britain, the big group in London and this smaller one up in Scotland's Caledonia Forest. Four of the barghests live there with the Caledonians." He popped up a photo file. "See? Here they are."
"Amazing!" Kwan Lin leaned in towards the screen. "And this picture here? Is Lucy bonded with this beast?"
"Yeah, that's Ranger," Graeme said. "He's mated to Treacle, who belongs to Musgrave, one of Lucy's rookery brothers. You'd like him, he's good with beasts."
"I should like to meet him someday." She sighed and shook her head with a faint smile. "It seems strange to even think such a thing. We never used to think about going past our mountain tops and now here I am."
"You'll get used to it." Graeme grinned back and then looked down at Bronx and Nudnik. "So... where would you like to start?"
Under Kwan Lin's direction, Graeme and occasionally Hudson helped her weigh and measure both Bronx and Nudnik. She measured them from tail to snout, chest width, cranial size, the size and number of their teeth and even the depth of their ears. The curious thing was that while she worked with them, Kwan Lin kept up a low whining croon, not unlike the beasts' own vocalizations. It had a strangely calming effect on them, allowing her to even take samples easily with very little fuss.
"You know," Graeme said as he watched her draw blood from Nudnik's front leg, "the last time Nuddy had to be treated, it took three of us to hold him down while Angela bandaged him up."
"Guardian beasts react to the emotions of their keepers," Kwan Lin said, keeping her voice soft and low. "They sense that I mean them no harm so they are at ease with me. It's very important to lead by example."
"But you're not the leader of our clan."
"I'm the alpha female in this room," she said as she carefully placed the vial in the rack and swabbed the injection site with antiseptic, rubbing her nose against Nudnik's as if she were a beast herself. "Among themselves, guardians beasts are led by females. If they are the sole beasts in a clan, such as yours are, they will react positively to a female, even if they have already attached themselves to another master."
Graeme looked over at Hudson, who nodded sagely. "Th' lass speaks truly. I remember that my mate could get beasts to do her bidding any time she pleased. I expect that's why Demona has been able t' get into th' castle on occasion, provided she wasn't tryin' to kill us." He rubbed Bronx's broad head. "You've always had a soft spot fer th' ladies, haven't ye?"
"He's only being true to his nature," Kwan Lin said. She held her hand out. "Come along, Bronx. It's your turn now." Her words ended in a gentle croon that Bronx answered with one of his own.
"That sound you're making,"Graeme said, "are you imitating him or do guardian beasts have a language of their own?"
"Some of this and some of that." Kwan Lin went nose-to-nose with Bronx as she had with Nudnik and smiled as he huffed and his breath blew loose hair from her face. "Part of it is our study of them. Certain sounds are associated with certain behaviors. By acting like them, we can communicate on a deeper level."
Red Wind chose that moment to rap her knuckles against the door frame. "A thousand pardons," she said in polite deference to the elder in the room, "but the young ones are returning. We should begin setting up to feed them."
"Och, already?" Hudson rose to his feet, groaning slightly as he did so. Bronx gave a questioning noise from the exam table but the old gargoyle waved him off. "I'm fine, ye big worrier. Stay here until th' lass is finished wi' ye."
"I only need a few more samples," Kwan Lin said with a pleasant smile, "I can manage Bronx by myself, Graeme, if you'd like to join the others."
"For what it's worth," Red Wind said, "Broadway has been back for some time."
"What?" Graeme yelped. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"I was under the impression that you were in disgrace." Red Wind shrugged. "In any case, Broadway put his young ones to work in the kitchens." She turned on one foot and walked away, her long raptor-like toe talons click-clacking on the linoleum.
"I don't know how Lex puts up with her," Graeme grumbled under his breath but Hudson heard him anyway.
"Aye, I wonder that meself at times." Hudson clapped a hand on the younger gargoyle's shoulder. "Come along, lad – take me up to th' castle an' then you can come back down t' wrap up things here. It'll take me forever t' figure out this bloody maze."
With a last minute assurance from Kwan Lin, Graeme led the old gargoyle through the office complex back up to the castle level. The sad fact of it was that although Hudson had had successful surgery on his remaining eye years before, his vision had been growing dimmer with age. Bronx usually guided him around but Hudson felt the need to make some excuse before accepting anyone else's help. They were just coming out of the elevators when they came across Midori and Li Kao. The pink-haired female was giggling and leaning against Li Kao's shoulder.
"Oh, Graeme-kun! You must hear the story of Li's friend Ox and the goat! It's too funny!" She smiled fetchingly at Hudson and took his arm. "Hudson-sama, I was admiring the tapestries in the Great Hall. I don't suppose you might know anything about them, ne?
"That I might, lass," Hudson said, flattered by her attentiveness. "They tell the story of Castle Wyvern back in the day when I was leader."
"Do they? I would just love to hear about them!"
As Midori and Hudson walked away, Li Kao held out his hand to stop Graeme from following and waited until their voices faded away. "Interesting talent she has there. We are fortunate that she chooses to use it for the greater good."
"What do you know about someone called Thailog?"
Graeme flinched. "He's an evil clone of Goliath. He's given us trouble before but we haven't heard anything about him in years. Why?"
"I have reason to believe that has changed." Li Kao glanced around. "Lexington took us to visit the clan living under the city. Their leader took him aside and they had a long talk about this Thailog person. Then Lady Sata arrived and told them something about the Yakuza. It caused some excitement and one of the mutates, a female like a winged panther became very agitated. Then we returned here and the adults went up in the tower for a meeting."
"Thailog is bad enough but the Yakuza too? That's bad news."
"So Midori told me on the flight back." Li Kao crossed his arms. "What are we walking into, Graeme?"
"Let's go find the others," Graeme said, jerking his head towards the Great Hall. "We need to compare notes before we do anything else."
o o o O O O O o o o
As luck would have it, finding a place to meet up with the others turned out to be quite easy. Happa and Dodger were talking animatedly with Ariana and Mawson while Jin-Ho and Kirima looked on. Midori caught sight of them as she settled Hudson in his chair and went over to herd the other young gargoyles in their direction. By the time Graeme and Li Kao reached the kitchens, Broadway was just getting off the intercom. "Hey, great timing, Graeme. Would you mind taking over here? Everything's in the warmer and I'm just waiting for the rolls."
"Take them out when the timer goes off?"
"You got it." Broadway hustled out the door. "Be right back!"
"Brains and you cook too," Lucy said as she came back into the kitchen with a tray on her hip. "You're a girl's dream come true." The teasing tone of her voice made him hope that he'd been forgiven for his earlier behavior.
"It's not so much my cooking skills," Graeme said as he lifted a lid on the warming tray and sniffed, "as it is for the fact that Ari burns everything she touches."
"That's not true," Ariana said, scowling at him as she walked in with the others. "I do great sushi and veggies."
"You'll note those are things that don't require cooking."
"Oh, yeah!" Dodger gave a barking laugh. "I remember those charcoal biscuits she sent over for Christmas."
"Hey! Those were chocolate chip!"
"Please tell me Ari's not cooking again," said Alex as he came in with Scylla slithering in behind him. "I chipped a tooth on the last batch she made."
"Oh, come on! They weren't that bad!"
"Okay-okay-okay!" Graeme banged a spoon against a lid. "Settle down – we need to talk. I need everyone to give me a brief report on your patrols tonight."
Ariana raised a brow ridge. "What's up, bro? We had a standard patrol on the east side of the city."
"Ditto for us," Alex said, taking off his helmet liner and running his fingers through his sweaty auburn hair. "It was pretty quiet out there tonight."
"We caught some muggers in the park," Lucy reported. "Why do you ask?"
Graeme waited until he had everyone's attention. "Li Kao just told me that Thailog is back in town and I understand the Yakuza is here too."
"Thailog?"Ariana's eyes flared. "But he's supposed to be dead!"
"Apparently not. The Mutates have reported a sighting of him."
"An' Lady Sata's informant in Chinatown reported th' Yakuza," Dodger said. "Jinny an' I were there when it happened an' we went down to th' Labyrinth to hear about this Thailog bloke too."
"Thailog...," Lucy chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Wasn't he the one that teamed up with Demona and caused that fuss in Paris years ago?"
"He's also the one that created the Clones by sampling our clan's DNA,"Ariana said, "but this was a long time ago, before Dad's time-dancing adventures."
"It sounds to me that you had a more adventurous patrol than we did," Happa said. "We followed Detective Maza around while she was on a case."
Kirima snorted. "Goliath follows her around like a bull seal in heat."
"Kiri..." Mawson said, tilting his head in her direction.
"Well, he does! I thought Aurora had been making it all up until I saw for myself!"
Mawson narrowed his eyes. "What our host does in private is no concern of ours. Leave it there."
A deep growl resonated off the copper pots hanging overhead. The others took a judicious step back from the Antarctic pair. Mawson's expression was mildly disapproving while Kirima's was still defiantly righteous. Ariana reached up and silently took down a skillet, just in case.
"Guys?" Graeme said cautiously, "Broadway really frowns on fighting in his kitchen. Says it spoils the food."
"No worries," Mawson said, not taking his eyes from Kirima. "Our clan still has difficulty being around humans in general. Kiri just forgot her manners for a moment."
"Well, interspecies romance is the least of our worries now," Happa said. "The Yakuza has been around for centuries and the reach of their criminal organization is immense. Yama keeps track of them since we discovered Taro had business with them."
"True," Midori said, having just slipped into the kitchen. "Our clan has learned that while most of the Yakuza's dealings are in Hawaii, they do have some business here in New York."
Happa nodded. "Weapons smuggling, I believe."
"Swell," Graeme said under his breath. He sniffed and checked the rolls in the oven. They weren't quite ready so he shut the oven door. "The adults are probably going to want to keep us as far away from this as possible."
"Screw that," Dodger snorted. "Me an' Lucy have seen our share of action back in London. I'm not backin' off from this just because they think we can't handle it."
"I'm with the scruffy dog," Alex said. "I say let's do it."
"Thailog is not like chasing down a mugger," Ariana said. "He's sneaky and devious and very, very smart. Even though we've haven't seen any activity from him, that doesn't mean he's just been hiding. Thailog is a planner-" Ariana glanced at Alex "- he's a lot like Xanatos in that way."
Crossing her arms, Lucy gave Ariana a bemused look. "What's this? Caution from the Go Girl?"
"Yeah, yeah..." Ariana rolled her eyes. "Graeme had to rub off on me sometime, you know."
"She's right though," Graeme said. "I don't know what kind of opposition that you guys have faced in your home clans but Thailog by himself is bad news. The Yakuza may or may not be connected but it's also something to be taken seriously." He took a deep breath. "There's also the possibility that this might be a test."
"A test?" Yong rumbled. "What do you mean?"
"Ah, yes!" Li Kao nodded. "I see where Graeme is going with this. Think – we were all sent here because of our leadership qualities. What better way to test that than to set up a situation that we must solve?"
Ariana made a face. "I don't know..."
"You say that this Thailog hasn't been seen in what, months?"
"It's been a few years, actually. We weren't there when it happened but they said he was really badly injured." Ariana shrugged. "It would fit his standard MO, coming back from the dead like that. He's done it before."
"We can't afford to second guess ourselves," Graeme said. "If this is a test, we need to determine which is the real threat."
"Let's play it cool for now," Ariana said. "The adults will be coming back down any moment. They'll either involve us in the investigation or they'll try to find things to do to keep us busy. Either way, we'll learn something."
The timer went off and they all flinched at the sound. Graeme grabbed some dish towels and began taking out the rolls. "Ari's got the right idea but for now, we have to wait for just the right moment. It's not our time to act, not yet."
To be continued in Part VI…