LIFE GOES ON
Unsolved Mysteries, Part 2: Answers and More Questions
By Kimberly T.
"Mrs. Xanatos, I really am sorry about this, and I swear she doesn't do this often!" Anne Marsden said again, almost in tears.
"It's all right, Mrs. Marsden, I'm not really upset. This is a big castle, and it's easy for even adults to get lost in it!" Fox said with a forced smile, as she finished checking another room for little Bethany Marsden and closed the door behind her.
"Yes, but this makes such a poor first impression," Anne said miserably.
Fox didn't bother to even try denying that. It made for a piss-poor first impression, to meet with the woman who was hiring you for a nanny for her infant son, and immediately have to enlist her help in finding your own daughter. But then, Fox had had doubts about this whole affair from the beginning, when David had called her a few hours ago to say he wanted to hire a live-in nanny for their son Alexander.
When she'd first heard the words, Fox just hadn't believed it. She'd gripped the phone like it was somebody's throat as she demanded, "Who are you, why are you pretending to be my husband and how did you get this phone number!"
On the other end of the line, David had chuckled a little uneasily. "Funny, that's pretty much what I said to Owen when he first suggested the idea. It's really me, honey; April 17, 1988."
That was his half of their recognition phrase, to be used if there was any doubt of identity. "The boardroom conference table," Fox said back automatically, even as she blushed; that had been the date and the place that they had first had sex. (And if her father ever found that out, he'd probably have that massive solid mahogany table reduced to splinters and cinders within the hour.)
"And it's really you, too," David teased back, before saying, "and I'm really serious about this nanny position. The woman I have in mind used to work in a daycare center, so she's experienced with children. Hiring her would give you a break to do things around town without having to take our son along, or tying up my personal aide for hours. And her daughter Bethany is two-and-a-half years old, and seems sweet as can be; she could be a playmate for Alexander and, uh, teach him about sharing and all that sibling stuff."
Fox sighed. "Darling, I'll admit it's a nice idea, but we have a few more complications than the average family…"
"Meaning our houseguests, and the in-laws," David agreed. From the oblique way he was referring to the gargoyles and to the Fey, specifically to Titania and Oberon, Fox knew he was in an unsecured area, and worried about somebody overhearing private information. "But I really don't think our houseguests will be a problem; Mrs. Marsden lives here in the Labyrinth." In which also resided the mutates, and those gargoyle clones Fox had yet to meet, though David had described them for her. Fox silently agreed that anyone who could handle them could certainly handle the gargoyles of Castle Wyvern. "As for the in-laws, well, I think she'll get used to them. Fox, I think you and Mrs. Marsden will have a lot in common. In fact, her daughter Bethany and Alex have a lot in common, as Owen can attest to…"
Fey blood! Fey magic! Another half-breed like her, with a child evidencing magical powers? After a few seconds of stunned silence, Fox swallowed and said, "I still want to interview her first."
"Of course," David said easily. "How about I bring her back with me and Owen this afternoon? But Fox, sweetheart… I just want you to know ahead of time, this woman's been through some rough times in the last two years. Her husband disappeared during the Lost Nights…"
Oh shit. One of the statues Demona had smashed, in her orgy of revenge on the human race.
"…And her best friend and roommate died in the Big Sleep. She also lost her job then, when a trucker asleep at the wheel crashed into the daycare center she worked at, and it was shut down for repairs."
Fox swallowed hard. "All right," she said dully. "Bring her up. But David, she'd better be fantastic with Alexander. This is our son's welfare we're talking about…"
"I realize that, honey. And I really think this will work out." David had rung off then, and a few hours later had stepped out of the elevator with a strange woman and her little girl at his side.
Fox had put Alex down for a nap a short while ago, to give her time to assess this strange woman before letting her anywhere near her precious son, and now gave both mother and child a quick once-over before stepping up to greet them. The woman was of average height, average weight, and average-looking brown hair in a so-so hairstyle; the sort of woman to whom most people passing on the street wouldn't give a second glance. She was wearing a pretty-yet-professional blue day dress that Fox was willing to bet money, from the way the woman was nervously smoothing the fabric, had been bought for her by David and Owen just before bringing her up to meet the missus. Her little girl was a blonde cherub of a child, wearing a pretty and new purple dress and dragging a stuffed Piglet toy, and was saying excitedly up at David as the elevator opened, "More gargles!"
"Yes, more gargoyles," David said to the little girl with a smile. "And I'm sure they'd love to play with you when they wake up." Then he looked up again and said cheerfully, "Hi, honey, we're home!"
"Hello, darling!" Fox said with a falsely sweet smile, coming up to give him a quick buss on the cheek. Then she turned to the woman and said with admirable warmth considering the situation, "And you must be Mrs. Marsden. Pleased to meet you; I'm Fox Xanatos."
"I'm pleased to meet you, too, ma'am," the woman said with a nervous smile. "And this is my daughter Bethany," as she gestured and looked down to her right side, at—
The Piglet toy lying on the carpet, with a noticeable lack of a child attached.
"Bethany!" the woman called out as she spun around, her voice straining towards shrillness as she, David and Owen likewise all quickly looked around. "Bethany, come back here!" But there was no answer, and she moaned after a few moments, "Oh, no. We shouldn't have told her about the gargoyles…"
David gave her a startled look. "But I thought you said she liked to play with the ones in the Labyrinth…"
"She does, sir, but their favorite game is 'hide and seek'! Excuse me, ma'am," as Anne started moving hastily down the hall to their right, calling for her daughter.
Owen and David shared a resigned glance between them. "You take that hallway, and I'll take this one," David said as he started searching as well. Fox just shook her head and picked up the Piglet toy before deciding she'd look down the hallway behind her, just in case the kid had slipped past them all in that direction.
Owen went off in the direction David had indicated, and moments later his voice floated back towards them, with a definite note of dismay. "Sir? Someone left the door to the stairwell open…"
"Oh, great!" David called back. "Go to the security room and start checking the cameras, while the ladies finish this floor and I start on the one below us!"
Fox just shook her head and sighed as she looked under the bed in a spare bedroom. A few minutes later, the front desk called and said Detective Bluestone wanted to see her husband on a matter of police business; Fox sighed again, as she called David on the intercom and told him about it before going back to searching. Now, fifteen minutes later, she and Mrs. Marsden were satisfied that Bethany's hiding place was not on this floor… unless the kid had mastered shape-changing already. And wasn't that a dismaying thought! She wondered if she should ask Mrs. Marsden about that, but decided to wait a little while longer before broaching the subject of Bethany's powers; Fox had the feeling that Mrs. Marsden herself was still in denial about them.
Just after they'd confirmed their floor was clear and Anne Marsden had finished apologizing for the third time, David's voice came over the intercom. "Found her! We're bringing her up to the nursery now."
Fox and Mrs. Marsden hurried back towards the nursery, to meet David and Matt Bluestone on the way there. Little Bethany was snuggled happily in Matt Bluestone's arms, munching away on some lemon cookies and getting crumbs all over the detective's trenchcoat. He didn't seem to mind, though, as he said cheerfully to Mrs. Marsden when he saw her, "Hello there; does this little missy belong to you?"
"Yes, she does!" as she rushed to accept her from him. "Bethany, don't run away like that again! That was a very bad thing to do, to start playing hide-and-seek when we weren't ready for it," as she shook a stern finger in her daughter's face. Bethany's happy face went all teary and her bottom lip trembled, as her mother continued, "And where did you get those cookies from?"
"Uh, sorry, ma'am, those are from me," the detective said with a rueful smile. "I got them from a vending machine at work, but put them in my coat pocket and forgot about them after some excitement last night. But she just knew I had cookies in that pocket, probably smelled them through the wrapper; it's amazing how sharp a kid's senses can be, isn't it?"
"Little Bethany is indeed an amazing child," Owen said as he appeared suddenly next to them, seemingly out of nowhere. "Good afternoon, detective."
Matt had almost jumped out of his shoes at Owen's voice coming from behind him, and now turned around to glare at him. "Dammit, Owen, didn't anyone ever tell you it's downright dangerous to startle a police officer like that!"
"A detective?" Mrs. Marsden said, blinking in surprise.
"Yes, ma'am; excuse my poor manners. Detective Matt Bluestone, 23rd Precinct, at your service," as he turned back around and gave her a somewhat rueful smile, plainly hoping she hadn't noticed, or at least wouldn't comment on, his swearing in front of her little girl.
"I guess that's why you were able to find Bethany's hiding place so fast," she said with a slight chuckle, as she held out a hand. "My name's Anne Marsden, and it's a pleasure to meet you!"
He shook her hand with a wider smile. "I understand you're going to be the Xanatos family's nanny?"
"Well, we haven't exactly had a chance to do the interview yet," Fox said ruefully.
"Which brings us to our next point of business," Owen said smoothly as he opened the door to the nursery and ushered them all inside.
Matt balked at the entrance to the nursery, looking over at David. "I do still need to talk to you, and this isn't the best place for it. Would you mind if we went to your office?"
Before David could even answer, Owen gestured more firmly through the door. "I believe our business at the moment takes a higher precedence, detective. And since you are already acquainted with this family's more unusual aspects, you are invited to attend this matter as well."
Both Fox and David gave Owen a startled look at that; why did Owen want Matt Bluestone present for the nanny interview? …To provide a sympathetic non-prospective-employer shoulder for Anne Marsden to lean on, when she received what just might be the shock of her life? Fox speculated that just might be it, remembering the visit a month ago, when Matt Bluestone had last visited the Aerie Building.
Officially, Detective Bluestone had been there on business for the Gargoyles Task Force, asking hard questions of David Xanatos about the gargoyles he was 'allegedly' harboring up in the castle. In reality, he'd been there to compare notes with David on what they had learned about the Quarrymen that had attacked Goliath and Elisa the week before. And in addition, he had wanted to see with his own eyes what Elisa had told him about Owen's dual nature, and the baby Alexander's magical powers. For a man who had passionately believed in the Illuminati, alien intelligence and the Loch Ness Monster long before learning of solid proof of their existence, Matt had been highly skeptical about the existence of Oberon's Children. That had changed in a hurry, after Owen had gotten annoyed with his skepticism and Puck decided to give Alexander another lesson in levitation, teaching the boy how to float the detective around upside-down and bounce him off the ceiling.
Once they were all inside the nursery, Owen closed the door while Fox went to scoop Alexander out of his crib. "Wakey-wakey, precious boy," Fox cooed to her son as she picked him up, yawning and blinking. "Time for some introductions…"
"Indeed," Owen said as he walked towards Fox and the baby, carefully taking his glasses off and putting them in his pocket. "Mrs. Marsden, meet Alexander Xanatos. And now…" He abruptly spun around, and kept spinning faster and faster in a blur of colors and whiteness… and when the spinning stopped, appeared as a white-haired man scarcely four feet tall, floating in midair, and grinning from ear to pointed ear. "Meet Puck!"
Mrs. Marsden had gasped and clutched her daughter to her, when the spinning transformation had begun; now she just stared at him with her eyes big as saucers, and her mouth soundlessly opening and closing like a fish out of water and drowning in air. Bethany, on the other hand, clapped her hands and squealed delightedly.
"Time for another magic lesson, m'boy," Puck said gaily as he scooped Alexander out of Fox's arms. "Time, I think, for some stability practice in your levitation. Never too young to learn the finer points, that's what I always say," as he sat carefully tailor-fashion in midair, setting Alexander in midair beside him. "Now, the easiest way to do this is to make an ethereal anchor line... Like this. See?" as he gestured seemingly at nothingness. But Alex's eyes glowed bright green as he looked at whatever Puck was pointing to, and he unsteadily nodded his little head and babbled. "Here, let Uncle Puck teach you how to spin an anchor line. …See, just like that!"
Fox squinted, trying with all her might to see what her infant son could evidently see so easily. But he was being trained from birth in his heritage and powers, while Fox hadn't known about either until the night he'd been born… Finally, she thought she saw a faint glimmering line of power, going from Puck to the wall nearby and from Alexander to another point on the same wall. (And David, who'd happened to glance at her in that same moment, suppressed a gasp when he saw that her eyes were also glowing Fey green.)
"Now, m'boy, do you think you can hold onto that line for a while, and stay in one place?" Alexander babbled at him, and Puck smiled as he fondly ruffled his hair. "Good boy." Then he sighed, and his smile faded as he turned to face Mrs. Marsden. "That gives me time to have a talk with the other people here… Specifically you, Mrs. Marsden. And you, Bethany. I suggest you both have a seat; this is going to be a long and difficult conversation."
David had already brought over a chair for Mrs. Marsden to sit in; now she blindly groped for it, and sat down heavily, still clutching Bethany in her arms. "Th-this is real. Y-you're real. Oh, God."
"No, no, the name's Puck," he wise-cracked automatically, but his heart wasn't in the automatic grin. "Yes, I am real. I am one of the Fey, known also as Oberon's Children; the fairies and elves so popular in your myths and fairy tales. And yes, some of those tales are true. Not all of them, by any means; Daanu's tears, but some of you mortals have incredible imaginations! But a few of them. I am as real as you are, and your daughter. And as real as your husband was while he lived, may Avalon give his spirit peace."
Fox hadn't thought it was possible, but Anne Marsden's eyes went even wider. "Y-you knew Philip? My husband?"
Puck shook his head. "No, milady, I did not have the privilege of knowing Philip Marsden. I… may have known his sire or his true nature, as I'm acquainted with most of my magical kin, but I cannot name him. Milady, your husband was of my race, at least partially. The evidence shines brightly in your daughter's aura, just as it burns even more brightly in Alexander's."
"Bethany?" Anne stared at her daughter disbelievingly. "Her…aura?" She stared at Puck again. "Phil was an elf!"
"A Fey," Puck corrected. "At least in part, likely through his sire. If so, Philip himself may not have been aware of this; you have seen already how we can take human form when we choose."
"His father? B-but… he died before Phil was even born; Phil was raised by his mother and uncle…" And abruptly, Anne's eyes narrowed. "Or did he really die?"
Puck had the grace to look embarrassed. "Very likely the death was as faked as the mortal form. I am somewhat ashamed to admit, milady, that while many of my race have dallied with mortals at one time or another in their millennia-long existence, some of my kin are overly fond of indulging in fleshly pleasures with human maidens. And while it has also been known to happen seemingly by accident, some of them have been known to deliberately make themselves cross-fertile for the occasion, for the thrill of experiencing what happens so very rarely among our own kind…"
"You mean they deliberately get a poor girl pregnant, then leave her with the kid!" There was no doubt about it now; Anne Marsden had both a temper and strong opinions, and was not afraid to show either in front of strangers. "Those bastards!" she hissed, then jerked as she was struck by a thought. "B-but… No. No, he wouldn't! Phil wouldn't have…" Now she looked both shocked and ready to burst into tears, while Bethany, staring up into her mother's face, began to cry in earnest.
"No, milady, I did not mean to imply such a thing!" Puck said hurriedly. "I am quite sure that your husband did not so leave you and your sweet daughter, from all that I heard while in the form of Owen Burnett. Milady, your husband is indeed dead; he died on that first Lost Night, as did so many others."
"He… he really is dead?" Anne took a deep, shuddering breath, automatically rocking Bethany to soothe her daughter and calm her tears. Once Bethany had been quieted again, Anne asked softly, "How?"
"Milady, first you must understand, for each of the sentient races that inhabit this world, there are both good and evil beings. Each race has its 'bad apples', if you will, those who will spoil an entire barrel if left unchecked. I am sure you are already aware of humans who have turned to evil, and since you've dwelt in the Labyrinth since mid-summer, you are surely also aware of the existence of an evil gargoyle: Demona."
Anne nodded. "I never went down to the cells to see her, but the others told me about how they and the gargoyles were taking turns guarding Fang and… Oh, God," as her eyes went wide again, one fist going to her mouth. "I never thought… they told me she was blue, but I never thought…!"
Puck nodded soberly. "Yes. She was the one who cast the spell over the airwaves, and caused the Lost Nights. You see, a very long time ago, Demona's clan had been almost completely destroyed in its stone sleep by marauding humans. Ever since that day and night, Demona has sought revenge on the human race… And she duped David Xanatos and myself, my Owen self that is, into helping her." Puck paused for a moment, then continued, "She had told us that the spell she wanted to cast was a beneficial one, a longevity spell. Being a well-known benefactor of the city, David thought to broadcast it to all of New York at once for maximum benefit, and so we arranged for the broadcast."
That was a very neat way of phrasing the truth, Fox mused to herself; of admitting her darling husband's complicity in the Lost Nights, while still making him seem blameless and harmless, which he certainly hadn't been back then. Puck continued on, "As soon as she began to chant the spell, I knew she had lied to us and tried to stop her… but I was still in the form of Owen, a powerless mortal. She overpowered me with another spell, and kept me helpless in the televising studio while she broadcast it to the entire city. And all who heard and saw her cast that spell were affected by it, and turned to stone at sunset, much as a gargoyle turns to stone at sunrise. All who heard it, including myself… and yourself, and your daughter, and your husband Philip. Philip's half-Fey nature, untrained in his heritage, was apparently still strong enough to let him know that a dangerous spell had been cast, but not enough to discern the spell's intent. He was right to tell you to stay indoors that night, but by going out himself at sunset, to borrow a weapon for defending you… He became as a sitting duck on the street, his statue helpless prey for Demona. And when she smashed his statue, and the statues of so many other helpless humans, she murdered them as her clan had been murdered. Milady, the only words of comfort I can give are that when it happened, he felt no pain…"
Anne was quietly weeping into her daughter's hair, as Bethany buried her face in her mommy's dress and keened in high-pitched muffled wails. Suddenly, a handkerchief was thrust into Anne's field of vision; she glanced up as she took it, to see Matt Bluestone's eyes filled with tears of sympathy for her. "Puck's right, ma'am," Matt said quietly. "He felt no pain. And his last thoughts before he turned to stone were undoubtedly of you and your daughter…"
This was why Owen had wanted Matt Bluestone present, Fox realized as she sniffed away her own tears. The detective had sorrowful experience in this, in dealing with those who have been bereaved by foul murder. And he was far better suited for helping Anne and her daughter through this than an ex-mercenary and a formerly cutthroat billionaire could ever hope to be…
After a few more minutes of Matt speaking softly to Anne and Bethany, taking David's handkerchief for Bethany to blow her nose in, and sneaking Bethany a few more cookies from his coat pocket, they had calmed enough for Matt to let them go and stand up again. Anne sniffed a couple more times, then said softly, "At least now I know the truth. Thank you for that…"
While mother and daughter had been weeping, Alexander had gone teary-eyed, as well, and Fox had unthinkingly plucked him out of midair to comfort him. When she looked at Puck after calming Alexander, she noticed that the smooth and eternally youthful elfin face was showing lines of strain. When Anne spoke to him again, Puck added a look of rueful apology to that strain. "You know some of the truth now, milady. But not all of it…"
"There's more?" Anne blinked her tear-reddened eyes. "About Phil's father? I thought you said…"
"Nay, I still can tell you nothing about Phil's sire. No, I regret to say I am referring to New York's other 'Greatest Unsolved Mystery'."
"The Big Sleep!" Anne sat bolt upright again. "Did Demona do that too, did she kill Cassie and all the others who died that night?"
Puck shook his head. "No… I regret to say, that was caused by one of my kind. By the ruler of my kind, King Oberon."
Now Fox stepped up, still holding her son. "I think I can take it from here, Puck. And my apologies for inadvertently ending Alexander's lesson…"
Puck sighed, and spun quickly back into Owen. "No apologies are necessary, Mrs. Xanatos. I doubt I could have reasonably prolonged the lesson more than a few more minutes, regardless."
Fox turned to Anne with a sympathetic smile. "Believe me, I understand the shock you felt when seeing Puck for the first time, and learning about your husband's Fey blood. I went through the same thing, only worse, the night my son was born. That's when I learned that my mother, whom I'd known all my life as Anastasia Renard… was actually Titania, Queen of Avalon and wife of Oberon. And that while I'd never done so much as a card trick all my life, my son had magic potential to spare. And that my own mother wanted to take my son away from me and David, to raise him on Avalon with her and Oberon! And she got Oberon to agree to it! Can you imagine what it was like, to be told that you had only one hour to kiss your newborn child goodbye, knowing you'd never see him again!"
"Sweet Jesus," Anne said softly, her eyes wide, clutching Bethany to her even more tightly at the very thought.
"But we had an ace in the hole, an ace I didn't even know about, in the form of Owen Burnett," as Fox gestured towards him. Owen was currently facing away from them all, with his flesh hand clenched as tightly as his stone fist always was; Fox guessed that the recounting of that night was bringing up as many painful memories for him as it was for her. "He used to work for my father, before coming to work for my husband, and he knew of my mother's true nature… even if he never told me about it," as she shot him a dirty look out of sheer habit.
Owen turned around then, to say with a perfectly straight face, "It was really none of my affair at the time."
"Anyway, Owen had a hunch about what my mother would do as soon as everyone found out I was pregnant, and prepared the castle to defend against a Fey attack, though he didn't dare to confront Oberon himself; not battle his own liege lord, the most powerful Fey of all. When Oberon came, with the help of the castle's defenses, my father, David's father, the gargoyles, and ultimately Puck himself, we managed to beat him off until he agreed to leave Alexander with us, and Puck with him as his tutor in magic. But Puck paid a heavy price for defying his lord," as Fox gave him another sympathetic look. Owen did not meet her eyes, looking fixedly at the floor. "Oberon banished him from Avalon, his homeland, for all eternity, and put a geas on him; a magical binding, that strips him of all his powers except when he's either teaching or protecting Alexander."
Fox sighed before continuing, "And there were other repercussions, though we didn't know about them until after the fight was over and Oberon and Titania had gone back to Avalon. When Oberon came for Alexander at the end of the hour he had so generously given us," and her sneer was dripping with sarcasm, "and found out we weren't going to just roll over and die for him, he cast a massive spell on the entire city. Partly to ensure he wasn't distracted by 'foolish mortals' getting in his way, and partly in a fit of pique at not getting his way immediately, he put everyone in the city to sleep, not giving a damn what they had been doing at the time. Whether at home, or driving down the road, or crossing the street at a crosswalk, or in surgery… The bastard just didn't care." Fox drew a shuddering breath. "When David and I found out, we were appalled, but we couldn't undo what was done. All we could do at the time was call all the hospitals, and anonymously pay for the hospital bills of everybody who'd been hurt but had lived through the night. Any more than that, and we wouldn't have been able to keep it anonymous. And if people found out we were paying for everything, helping total strangers, and started asking why, somebody might have found out what had really happened… and then they would have found out about Alexander's magic potential… Can you imagine what sort of life Alexander would have if the entire world knew he had magic potential?"
Anne gulped. "He would be either near-worshipped, and constantly called on to work miracles… Or burned at the stake."
"Probably both," David chimed in from where he'd been standing all this time. "That's not a fate I want for my son… just as I'm sure it's not a fate you want for your daughter. But that just might happen, if we don't do something about it immediately; Owen says she's already using True Sight…"
"Also known as Second Sight," Owen explained, "the power to see things which are normally hidden from the mortal eye. Such as magical auras; as Owen, my aura is normally buried deep within this mortal flesh, beyond even a full-blooded Fey's casual glance, but Bethany could see it immediately. And the true nature of beings, whether kind or unkind; I suspect that is why she has never shown fear of either the mutates or the gargoyle clones. Even more mundanely hidden things, such as cookies in a coat pocket," as he looked mildly at Matt, who looked startled. "But her power is untutored, uncontrolled; if she receives no training in how to manage it… I can foresee magical accidents caused by bursts of temper, and an ever-more-tenuous grip on her sanity when she cannot tell the difference between True Sight and mundane vision, among other fates."
Anne shuddered in anticipated horror. "Not my Bethany! Can you help her, train her?"
Owen nodded slowly. "I believe I can, to some extant, if Bethany is present when I give lessons to Alexander. Please understand, not every Fey has the same mastery over magic. Some of us change shape as easily as thought; some of us can shape the wind and waters, or wood and stone; some of us can heal with a touch, and others kill with a song. The most powerful Fey are capable of all or most of those powers, such as Oberon, Titania… Puck, if I were not bound so… and Alexander, if what the Queen and I have seen in his aura is fulfilled. Your daughter's aura shows potential for great power, not as great as Alexander's but still far greater than for the average sprite, siren or will-o-the-wisp. But I can not yet say what powers she may develop, beyond True Sight. Only the lessons, and how well she learns them, will tell."
"So Puck trains your daughter in magic, and in return you look after our son during the day, when we and Owen are busy with other things," David said to her. "That way we get a nanny who'll keep our secrets, and you get a job and a new home as well as training for your daughter." He grinned as he finished, "In business, we call that a 'win-win situation'."
"Not that you really need my opinion, but it sounds like a good deal to me," Matt said with a smile.
Anne looked up at Fox. "Mrs. Xanatos? Will you accept me as a nanny for your son? I know we didn't make a good first impression, but I used to get very high performance marks at the Wee Folks Daycare Center…"
Fox smiled. "I think you'll do fine. Of course, the real test is how well Alexander takes to you." She walked over while Anne put her daughter down, and handed Alexander over to her arms while saying cheerfully, "How about it, Alexander; is it okay if Mrs. Marsden looks after you sometimes?"
Being held in Mrs. Marsden's arms, the infant boy babbled delightedly and drooled for her. She smiled as she looked up and said, "I think that's a yes." Then she turned to her daughter, who was standing beside her chair and looking at Alexander with wide eyes, and said softly, "How about for you, sweetheart? Is it okay if we stay here, and you learn to do neat things with Mr. Puck, while you help me look after Alexander?"
Bethany looked thoughtfully at Alexander, then poked him with a chubby finger as she asked her mother, "A li'l bruvver?"
"Er, sort of like a little brother, sweetheart. Like all the little boys and girls you used to play with and help me with at Wee Folks, but even more special."
After another moment of thinking it over, Bethany grinned from ear to ear. "Okey-dokey!"
Also smiling widely, Anne looked up again as she said, "When do we start?"
"No time like the present," David said with a grin. "One of us can take you back to the Labyrinth this evening, so you can pack up your things and move in immediately. We can put you up in a guest bedroom for tonight; Owen, will you see about turning the room next to the nursery into living quarters for her and her daughter?"
"Of course, sir," Owen said with a nod.
After congratulating her on her good fortune, Matt said, "Mrs. Marsden…"
"Oh, please, call me Anne," she said quickly, then unexpectedly blushed.
Matt smiled as he said, "Anne, do you happen to have a picture of your husband?"
Anne smiled sadly. "That's one of the few things I've managed to hang onto through all this." She dug into her purse, and pulled out an object wrapped carefully in a handkerchief; she unwrapped it to reveal a pair of 3.5"x5" framed photos hinged together. "That's us. The one on the left was taken at our wedding; the other one was taken the day we brought Bethany home from the hospital."
Matt studied the photos thoughtfully for a little bit, before handing them over to Fox when she held her hand out for them. In the first one, a much younger version of Anne looked radiantly happy in a white wedding gown, standing on the courthouse steps with her husband: a young man with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, green eyes, a nose that looked as if it had been broken once, a rented tuxedo and a nervous smile. In the other, a few years older but still happy, she held a red-faced infant wrapped in a pink blanket in her arms. Next to her, with one arm around her shoulders and the other holding up a finger for the baby to grasp, was the same young man, his blonde hair now longer and shaggier and now grinning from ear to ear.
David looked over the photos thoughtfully as well, then showed them to Owen and said, "Any clues there as to Bethany's granddaddy?"
Owen studied the photos for a long time before handing them back, saying, "None at all."
Matt took the photos back for a moment, studied them again, then shrugged and handed them back to Anne. Fox looked at him curiously as she asked, "If you don't mind my asking, why are you so curious as to what he looked like?"
Matt blushed a bit as he said, "Actually, I was wondering if he looked at all like me." He rubbed the back of his neck as he admitted, "See, when I found Bethany, she called me 'Daddy'…"
David took a quick look at the photos again, then shrugged, "No resemblance I can see." But Fox and Owen traded significant glances. Not seeing that, David asked, "Has Bethany called anyone else 'Daddy'?"
"N-not that I know of," Anne said, blushing beet red. "I'm sorry if she embarrassed you…"
"Oh, no harm done," Matt hastily reassured her. After a moment of awkward silence, he turned to Xanatos and said, "I still need to talk to you about… that other matter."
David nodded, as Fox remembered the front desk calling to let them know that Detective Bluestone was here on police business. "Let's go talk in my office."
As the two of them left the room, Bethany looked up from where she was showing Alexander her Piglet toy, and instantly ran after them. But Anne intercepted her, swooping her up into the air as she said, "Oh, no you don't! No more hide and seek today, young lady!"
"Not hiding," Bethany said, twisting in her mother's grip to see the door closing on the two men who had just departed. "Want Daddy!"
"Bethany Angelina Marsden…" Anne started sternly, then sighed sadly. "I'm sorry, honey, but Mr. Bluestone is not your father. He's not Daddy."
But Fox added with a wicked grin, "At least not yet."
"W-what!" Anne turned to her, startled and blushing again.
Owen explained with a perfectly straight face, "True Sight is occasionally accompanied by the power of prophecy…"
Once they had reached his office, Xanatos looked at the detective questioningly as he gestured him towards a seat. "What sort of case has brought you to the castle, anyway?"
"A very messy murder," Matt said bluntly as he sat down. "And the perpetrator was extremely strong, with clawed but five-fingered hands. Elisa told me about a fourth mutate, one called Fang, who left the Labyrinth to be cured after Claw beat the crap out of him. What can you tell me about events concerning Fang after that?"
Xanatos frowned. "At last report, Dr. Morgenstern deemed he was finally strong enough to undergo the cure. But that report was a few days ago…"
"Would you mind checking again?" Matt asked.
Xanatos was already pulling a personal organizer out of his desk and flipping through the pages. Once he found the number he was looking for, he picked up the phone and started dialing. "I'll put this on speakerphone, so we can both hear the latest. …This is Mr. Xanatos, doctor. What's the latest update on Fang?" as he hit the speaker button.
A mild voice came out of the speaker, saying in a very pleased and self-satisfied tone, "The cure's going quite well, sir. He's already lost most of his fur, and the leg and foot bones are beginning to shift back to human standards."
Matt spoke up, saying, "This is Detective Bluestone, doctor. Can we speak with Fang himself?"
Now the voice sounded a little distressed. "Oh, I'm afraid that's not possible, sir. He's heavily sedated for most of the process, to reduce the shock to his system."
Matt and Xanatos' eyes met, and they simultaneously frowned. Then Xanatos said aloud, "Doctor, I have a video hookup here in this office, and I know you have cameras in the lab to record the process. I'm going to give you fifteen minutes to find a way to transmit to us a video of Fang, as he is right now."
"Fifteen minutes!" the voice squeaked. "Sir, I'm not an expert in electronics…"
"You have at least one lab technician who is. Tell Bleeker that his Christmas bonus depends on it."
Fifteen minutes later, after some minor electronics adjustments at the castle and some frantic rewiring at the upstate lab, Matt, Xanatos and Owen Burnett were all looking at a live feed video, showing a man lying on a sheet-covered table, hooked up to a few monitoring machines and several IV's. The man was unconscious, with an anesthetic mask over his face; the mask had obviously been jury-rigged to fit over a muzzle, though through the transparent plastic of the mask they could see that the facial features had already begun the shift back to the human norm. The naked body was indeed virtually hairless now. Looking down past the clipboard that somebody had discreetly placed over the nether regions, they saw a pair of digitigrade legs, with the highly arched and outsized feet common to all creatures that walk on their toes, though no longer as large as Talon's or Claw's feet; the process was indeed reverting Fang back to normal.
A man wearing a lab coat and a worried expression stepped into the frame, saying loudly, "Sir, can you hear me?"
"We hear you just fine, Dr. Morgenstern," Xanatos replied. "Excellent work, both on Fang and on the video feed. Tell Bleeker his bonus is assured."
Dr. Morgenstern still looked worried. "Sir, may I ask what this sudden urgency is all about?"
Matt spoke up now, saying, "We had a report of a creature with some of Fang's characteristics who committed a crime recently, doctor." While technically true, that was vague and innocuous-sounding enough that it shouldn't alarm the good doctor. "We needed to see with our own eyes that he hadn't escaped the lab, or was holding you hostage and forcing you to lie to us."
"Oh, I see!" the doctor was relieved. "No, sir, nothing like that has happened… though Fang did have a distressing habit of disturbing some of the lab animals here. He liked to--"
"Ah, I think we can do without the details of that for right now," Xanatos interrupted hastily. "Sorry for disturbing you, doctor; we'll let you get back to your work."
After they severed the connection, Matt shook his head. "Well, scratch one suspect. But even if he'd been in town three nights ago, he wouldn't have fit the timeline for the other cases, anyway."
Xanatos looked at him in some alarm. "Other murders?"
"From cases years old, a series of cases stretching from 1987 to 1990. Various known criminals or suspected criminals, found dead by violence involving either superhuman strength or claws. Which is why I now need to ask you about the scientist who created the mutates; Dr. Sevarius. Was he in your employ during those years?"
Xanatos sat down at his desk again and sighed, seemingly suddenly weary at the reminder of his unscrupulous past. "I hired him away from Cyberbiotics in 1989, so he was on my staff for part of your time period. But back then I had Sevarius predominantly working on longevity experiments; the idea of synthesizing a gargoyle didn't even occur to me until years after I found out that living gargoyles weren't just a fairy tale, and that was in 1991. Before 1989, he was Halcyon Renard's employee at Cyberbiotics. But I know Halcyon well enough to know that he would never have given Sevarius the equipment or funding to do the experiments necessary to create mutates; Halcyon has always been unrelentingly ethical. Of course, it is possible that Sevarius conducted experiments in mutating humans on his own, in his private laboratory at home; I wouldn't put it past him. He did come up with the mutagen formula on surprisingly short notice…" After a few moments of thought, he looked up and said, "Detective, can you 'take your badge off' for a moment, or should I ask you to leave the room? I'm about to say something unethical again."
Matt sighed as he sat down in an armchair. "Consider the badge off; over the past year or so, I've learned how to keep a few secrets." As he spoke, he casually brought his hands together in front of him, forming a rough triangle with thumbs and steepled fingers. The sign for a pyramid, one way of referring to the Illuminati.
Xanatos, also an Illuminati member, smiled ruefully before turning back to Owen. "Get our best hackers and 'sneak team' together again, to break into Sevarius' home again. This time they're to look for files from before 1990." He turned back to Matt for a moment to confide, "We did this once before, to get our hands on the files he made while working for me; we needed that information for Morgenstern, so he could work out a cure for the mutates."
Matt looked up at the ceiling and commented, "Funny, I have this buzzing sound in my ears all of a sudden…"
Xanatos snorted in mild amusement, while Owen assured him that the team would be assembled immediately. Then he told Matt with a grim look in his eyes, "There's another possibility for the most recent case, though frankly I think it unlikely. When Nightstone Technologies was formed last winter, Sevarius left my employ, to work for Ms. Dominique Destine. I had the impression that Demona thought the mutates were mere mockeries of gargoyles, and as such she wouldn't pay Sevarius to make more of them for her. But if she's decided that even 'mockeries' have their uses…"
"Oh, crap. I hadn't even thought of her," Matt admitted as he ran his fingers through his hair. "Elisa and I were sort of hoping that that last Hunter had chased her clear out of the country…"
"She did flee the country at first, but she's back now; I have reports that she's back in the saddle at Nightstone headquarters, as of last week."
"Just great." Matt sighed and stood up. "Well, sorry for taking up so much of your time, and I hope to hear from you soon about... whatever it was that I didn't hear clearly."
Xanatos smirked at him, but Owen suddenly spoke up, saying, "Detective Bluestone, may I impose upon you for a favor?"
Both Xanatos and Bluestone were visibly startled, but Bluestone said, "Well, I guess… it depends on the favor. I don't have to take the badge off again, do I?"
"Not at all, detective. This is more a matter of chivalry. Mrs. Marsden and her daughter will need to return to the Labyrinth and pack their belongings, to bring them up here, and it would be well if they could do this with some dignity. I have a set of luggage they may borrow for the occasion waiting by the elevator, but neither my employers nor I myself have the time remaining today to escort them to and from the Labyrinth again; this rather unexpected hiring and revelation has taken up hours of business time already. Would you do the Marsdens and us the favor of chauffeuring them to the Labyrinth and back?"
Relieved that they were asking him a favor well within his principles, Matt smiled and nodded. "Sure, I'll be happy to help out! Just let me borrow your phone for a moment and call the station, to let them know I might be a little late for work tonight."
"Feel free," Xanatos said with a wave towards the phone on his desk.
Matt called the station and told the day shift captain to leave word with Captain Chavez about his possibly running late for work, saying that he was "helping a friend move to a new apartment." Then he said his farewells to Xanatos and his aide, and went back to the nursery.
He met Fox along the way, with an armful of linens for the guest bedroom and a hopeful look. "Did Owen tell you we needed a favor?"
"Yes, he did, and I'm happy to help out," he assured her. "Consider it my good deed for the day."
"I'll bet you were a great Boy Scout," Fox said with a saucy grin. "Tell Mrs. Marsden she can leave Alexander in the nursery, and I'll mind him until after they've settled in."
He assured her he would, then went into the nursery. He found Anne Marsden and her daughter there, Anne changing Alex's diapers while Bethany danced around the room with her Piglet toy, singing some kiddie song at the top of her lungs. When he walked in, Bethany turned around, saw him and immediately ran straight for him like a blonde meteor. She wrapped her arms around his legs, looking up with a wide sunny grin. He smiled down at her, saying, "Hi again! Ready to go get your stuff, and move up here to stay?"
Anne had glanced up, smiled and nodded to him when he came in, but didn't turn around until she'd finished diapering Alexander. Now she turned around with Alexander in her arms, and a slightly startled look on her face. "Mr. Bluestone?"
"Please, call me Matt," he said with a smile. "I volunteered to take you back to the Labyrinth, and help you and Bethany pack your things and move up here. Mrs. Xanatos said she'd mind Alexander until you're settled in."
"Well, that's very kind of you!" Anne said with a smile and another blush.
"Aw, just consider it my good deed for the day. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout!" Matt joked, as he scooped Bethany up again. "Sorry, kiddo, no more cookies in my pocket," he told her apologetically. But Bethany didn't seem to mind, just threw her arms around his neck and snuggled into his arms, smiling blissfully.
After Matt had left the office, Xanatos looked at his personal aide curiously. "Now that he's gone, do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
Owen looked at him way too blandly as he replied, "I have reason to believe, sir, that Mrs. Marsden and her daughter will benefit from further time in Mr. Bluestone's company."
"Benefit how?" Xanatos asked, before his eyes went wide. "Wait a minute… if Bethany called him 'Daddy'…"
"True Sight is occasionally accompanied by the power of prophecy," Owen reminded him.
"Then you and Fox are looking to hook them up!" Xanatos gave him an amazed look. "I never thought I'd see this; Owen Burnett, closet Cupid! Will wonders never cease?"
Owen looked a bit pained. "Sir, I would rather you not use that phrase; my cousin may take offense."
Xanatos paused at that, at the implication that there really was a Cupid flying around and firing love-arrows at unsuspecting mortals, then figured it didn't matter anymore, since all the Fey had been recalled to Avalon. "All right, no teasing. For now," he added with a twinkle in his eyes. "But there is one other matter I wanted to talk to you about, now that they're gone for the moment."
"Phil Marsden. I noticed how you looked at those photos for a lot longer than the rest of us. And you kept telling Anne that you could not tell her who his sire was… not that you didn't know. So, if you can't tell her, can you tell me? Who's the father, Bethany's granddaddy? It might come in handy to know ahead of time, if he decides to try pulling the same stunt Titania and Oberon tried pulling on us."
"I believe, sir, that such a scenario is highly unlikely," Owen said, not meeting his eyes. "After besting Oberon, the most powerful of all the Fey, I have little doubt that the entire island of Avalon knows better than to come here and test our defenses, regardless of the prize they may seek."
Xanatos cocked an eyebrow at him. "Come on, you know better than to think I didn't notice… Again, you didn't actually say you don't know who Granddad is. Who is he?"
Owen was silent for just a moment, then said, "Sir, despite eight years of knowing my true identity, there are aspects of the Fey that you do not and may never understand. Sir, do you value my continued employment?"
Xanatos looked at him uneasily. "You know I do…"
Now Owen turned to face him, looking directly into his eyes as he said, "Then, sir, I strongly urge you to never ask me that again."
Dr. Morgenstern shrugged after the call from his employer had ended, nodded to Bleeker and Honeywell and told them to keep monitoring Fang's condition, then returned to his office. He idly hoped that whatever crime this other mutate-resembling person had done, no one had been seriously hurt in the process; Horace detested violence.
Once he'd reached his office, he checked with the programming team managing the Cray computer that Xanatos had provided a few weeks ago, to aid in the cure for the unborn mutate child. The head of the team reported that they were still in the process of mapping out the original gene map for Maggie Reed-Maza, but were anticipating finishing her gene map within another week. Of course, then they had to do the same for the original genes of Derek Maza; then they had to put together a few thousand different combinations for those genes, to try to predict what a normal child of theirs would be like. And then they would have to map out the genes for the mutated child, and match up as many of the still-normal-human genes as possible with one of those theoretical maps… Horace wryly agreed with the head of the team that he certainly had job security for the next few years, at the very least.
Glancing back towards the lab after hanging up the phone, Horace reflected that Fang was actually quite lucky that Horace had gotten that admittedly brilliant idea only a few weeks after being assigned to the task of curing the mutates, and receiving the copies of Dr. Sevarius' notes on how he'd created them in the first place. Really, he'd almost cheated, by taking a shortcut that was absurdly simple in retrospect. Using the teratogenic component of Dr. Sevarius' own mutagen formulae, to re-mutate the mutate to match a cell sample of his original gene structure; it was far faster and easier—for the scientists, anyway—than mapping out the mutation samples, the other component of the formulae created by Dr. Sevarius, then working out a way to extract the mutated genes and replace them with standard human ones step by step. If they'd had to do that, the cure for even Fang would still have been years down the road, if even possible at all.
As much as Horace loathed Dr. Sevarius, just from reading his notes—the man was egotistical in the extreme, a prima donna of science, with even less sense of ethics than a lab rat—he had to admit the man was an utter genius. Not only to create the teratogenic drug, but to come up with the mutation samples as well. He'd spliced in not only the feline genes, the chiropteran genes, and those of the electric eel, but somehow managed to concoct entirely new genes, genes that formed the skeletal structure for a six-limbed creature instead of the standard four limbs (not counting the optional tail, which is nothing more than an extension of the spinal column) that were common to every mammal, avian, reptile and amphibian on Earth. How had he done that? Had he spliced in insect genes as well? Had he spliced in genes from Goliath's cell samples after all, the cell samples he'd used for the Thailog project that had been going on at nearly the same time? Sevarius' notes were maddeningly vague in that regard; Horace wondered if they were incomplete, if the people who had somehow acquired these notes for him had missed a few vital pages.
His mental wanderings brought him around to pondering the mysteries of the gargoyles themselves. There were so many things about them that simply didn't add up, that made no scientific sense to him at all. Why did they generally have six limbs instead of four? If they were egg-layers, and Xanatos had assured him they were, why had the females of the species developed mammalian breasts? Even the only other known egg-laying mammals, the platypus and echidna, had barely-developed milk glands for feeding their young, who took less than ten days to hatch, not ten years. And then there was the whole puzzle of 'stone sleep'. How did they manage to convert organic flesh to a stone-like substance and back? It was even more incredible than the cold fusion process that every energy research scientist dreamed of discovering; it was almost alchemy, the changing of one element to another, like the lead-to-gold process so sought after by the medieval alchemists. How did it work, and why was this conversion process keyed to a diurnal cycle? If Dr. Sevarius' theory was correct, that the stone-like substance somehow converted solar energy to cell energy so the gargoyles could expend the energy for gliding without needing to eat three cows a day, how precisely did that work? How had that process evolved?
Horace sometimes wondered if the gargoyles were actually aliens from another world, a world with an environment so radically different from Earth's that stone sleep was an absolute necessity just for surviving, let alone gliding, which their pet—what did they call it, a watchbeast?—certainly didn't do. (And why did he have the 'stone sleep' ability, but only four limbs!) It was actually a tragically touching sort of thought: ancient astronauts, somehow stranded on this world many millennia ago, forced to adapt and survive as best they could alongside humanity, and forgetting more and more of their extraterrestrial heritage with every successive generation until they didn't even have myths about it anymore. Or if not ancient astronauts… maybe an ancient wizard with a magic wand had just brought statues to life to guard his castle, and stuck wings on them so they'd be company for his pet Pegasus!
Horace snorted at his own thoughts; he wasn't normally so fanciful as to even consider 'magic' might really exist. "Too many nights of not enough sleep, old boy," he told himself, "to be thinking of magic wands and winged horses in broad daylight." Then he cast a glance out the window, and noticed it was actually getting close to sundown. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Still another couple of hours before he normally went home, but it wouldn't hurt to leave work early just this once; Bleeker and Honeywell had his pager number, if anything untoward happened with Fang. Yes, he'd leave work early for once, and set aside his speculations in favor of a sitcom or two. He could spend the rest of his life trying to unravel the mysteries of the gargoyles, and strongly suspected he'd still barely scratch the surface of it all before dying of old age. But then, nobody had ever said scientific research was easy…
Getting mother and daughter to the Labyrinth was relatively simple, though Matt found himself biting back several words unfit for tender young ears as he fumbled to get the child carseat, which had been bought earlier that day for bringing Bethany to the castle and thoughtfully left with the luggage for them, installed properly in the back seat of his old Chevy. "I swear, you gotta have three hands and a telescoping spine to get this thing in right," he grumbled aloud to Anne, after the second try at installation which still left the seat just a little too loose for safety.
"Er… May I?" Anne asked, uncertainly gesturing for him to let her give it a try. He shrugged and agreed, and she reached in and installed the car seat properly in five seconds flat. "I used to do this a lot, for parents of the children at the daycare center," she explained with a rueful smile and another blush. "Four out of five of the new parents had their seats installed incorrectly, and our supervisor insisted that no child leave the center in an unsafe seat."
"Makes sense," Matt muttered, blushing slightly. Then he set aside his own embarrassment at being bested by a car seat as he looked down at Bethany, who had wrapped her arms around his legs again and was giving him another wraparound grin. "Okay, kiddo, let's get you strapped in…"
No, getting to the Labyrinth wasn't a problem. Neither was packing up their belongings, since they had very little; all their clothes together didn't even fill the set of suitcases loaned by the Xanatos family, and the few toys and knickknacks they still owned were also tucked inside. Leaving the Labyrinth, though… that proved to be more of a hassle. Seemingly dozens of people wanted to say goodbye to them, congratulate them on their good fortune in finding a new job and new home so quickly, and offer their unneeded and sometimes ridiculous advice on being a live-in nanny for a billionaire. It seemed little Bethany and her mother were well loved by most of the residents, particularly the other children in the Labyrinth and the gargoyle clones, who awoke while they were packing; Brentwood even started sniffing back tears, and Anne had to promise them all that she and Bethany would come back for visits on her days off.
While Anne and Bethany were with the gargoyles, Talon pulled Matt aside for a few minutes to have a private chat. "Listen, I know we only met at the wedding, but we'd like to ask a favor of you," Talon said as he uneasily rubbed at the fur on his neck.
It seemed to be a designated day for favors, Matt thought as he blinked in surprise. "What sort of favor?"
"Well… If you can find some reason to swing by the castle from time to time, I'd appreciate it if you'd check up on Anne and her daughter for us. I still don't entirely trust Xanatos, not after all the stuff he's pulled in the past."
Matt regarded him soberly as he said, "In this matter at least, I think we can trust him now. But yes, I'll check on her for you from time to time." He understood how it felt to be betrayed by somebody you once trusted with your life, and how trusting again was difficult afterwards, if possible at all. Even if his old FBI partner Martin Hacker approached him on hands and knees, begged forgiveness for all the times he had secretly thwarted Matt's search for the Illuminati, and handed over top-secret files that spilled the beans on every other mystery Matt had ever looked into, it would be a cold day in Hell before Matt completely trusted him again.
But the conversation about Xanatos reminded Matt of the conversation he had just had with Xanatos about the murders, and he internally sighed as he acknowledged that he had to ask some hard questions of these good people, if only to satisfy his own conscience as a police officer. "While I'm down here, there is something else I need to talk to you about. Can you tell me what you, your wife and Claw were doing on the day and night before Halloween?"
A former police officer himself, Talon eyed him keenly and said bluntly, "You just switched into 'detective mode.' What's up?"
"A pimp was murdered that night, by somebody with superhuman strength, and clawed, five-fingered hands. I've already verified that Fang has an alibi for that day and night…"
"And now you need to verify our whereabouts." Talon scowled, not liking being questioned but knowing that Matt had no choice. "Daytime whereabouts are easy; anyone here can tell you we stay down here until after dark. We don't even bother to get up until past noon on most days. Claw and I spent the afternoon installing those safes for the medical clinic, for keeping the drugs in." They both knew keeping those prescription drugs under exceptionally stout lock and key was an absolute necessity, when they had recovering drug addicts living in the Labyrinth. "Maggie and Dana spent the afternoon giving sign language lessons to a few of our newer residents, and organizing the 'trick or treat route' for the next night. After dark, when the 'kids' woke up, I took Burbank and Hollywood up Topside for their turn to stretch their wings; they can verify that they were with me at all times. I think Dana went out too, probably to arrange with one of her friends to borrow the motorcycles we all rode on Halloween night, but Maggie and Claw stayed in, playing Scrabble. Other residents down here can probably verify that, if you insist. I was back with Burbank and Hollywood before midnight, and we stayed in the rest of the night."
"Where exactly did you go gliding with Burbank and Hollywood, and did you notice anything unusual going on?"
"Out over the harbor and docks, mostly; fewer distractions out there, for them to get interested in and want to explore. And no, we didn't se anything unusual that I can recall."
Matt sighed. "Well, I had to ask; you understand. Listen, if any of your people down here hear anything about another man or woman with superhuman strength and claws, wings optional…"
"I promise, we'll let you know."
Eventually Anne and her daughter managed to leave the Labyrinth with Matt and their luggage. Standing at the entrance, Talon stood next to Maggie, Claw and Dana as they waved to them until Matt's car drove away. Then Talon commented to his wife as they went back down, "I'm still going to ask Elisa to keep an eye on them, too. In fact, I don't know why you insisted we ask him to do it; Elisa's got more excuses to go up to the castle, since Goliath lives there."
"Derek, I do love you, but sometimes you're just a little dense," Maggie sighed as she leaned on his arm. "Didn't you see how Anne kept blushing when she looked at Matt, and Bethany kept wrapping herself around his legs?"
"Huh? Well, I noticed Bethany doing that; she's not usually so clingy, is she?" Then the nickel dropped in the slot, and he stopped and stared at her. "Wait a minute… Are you saying you're expecting them to hook up!"
"Well, not expecting, but hoping a little. He's Elisa's partner, so we already know he's a good man… and Anne and Bethany could use a good man in their lives, for a husband and father."
"And you had me help set him up to see her again." Derek rolled his eyes. "Woman, I had no idea you could be so devious." But Maggie just laughed softly, and Claw gave her a thumbs-up before telling Dana in sign language what Maggie had done. Once he had, Dana grinned wide and gave her two thumbs up and a merry wink.
Just after sunset, back at the castle, Brooklyn looked towards the southwest with a wicked grin carved in his beak. "Here he comes," he said aloud to the others. With snickers and snorts of amusement even as they tried to hush each other, the clan assembled on the battlements and awaited their leader.
Over by the door leading inside, Fox and David also waited, with similar wicked grins. "After this is over, have Owen pop out the tapes for the security cameras on that side, okay?" Fox murmured as they watched the familiar silhouette of Goliath approaching in the deepening twilight.
"I already told him to," David whispered back with a smirk. "I want this recorded for posterity." And maybe future blackmail, a tiny voice inside him added in a wicked whisper. Not for money or anything bad, of course, but if he ever needed a favor that the lavender giant was reluctant to grant, just one mention of those tapes…
From their vantage point by the door, they could see the clan assembled in a group, standing at something close to military attention; the bundle Angela was holding behind her back; and the dreading look on Goliath's face as he came in for a landing in front of them, wearing a terrycloth towel tied in place with twine instead of his usual loincloth.
David could almost read Goliath's mind as he came in for a landing; his clan had seen his change in attire, and he knew it. There was no way to avoid them… so he might as well just brazen it out, and remind them all in the process that their very big, very powerful clan leader was not to be trifled with. Which is why, instead of backwinging to a gentle landing as he usually did, he dropped out of the sky and landed right in front of them with a giant WHUMP! that was likely felt throughout the castle.
As the dust and gravel raised by his landing began to settle again, he stood tall and regally caped his wings in front of him (which, coincidentally, completely covered the towel.) "Good evening, my clan," he intoned solemnly.
"Good evening, Leader," they chorused back to him, like a group of exceptionally obedient students greeting their schoolteacher. Brooklyn took one step forward and bowed, saying solemnly, "Welcome back, Goliath. The clan has prospered in your absence, but has eagerly awaited your return."
Goliath nodded and smiled approvingly. "That is good to hear." The smile faded as he asked, "Have there been any further encounters with the Quarrymen?"
"Not a sign of them," Brooklyn assured him. "I think the sight of all those humans dressed up to resemble us, for two nights in a row, spooked them so much they all stayed indoors."
Now Goliath grinned wide. "You may well be right!" He turned then, to look at David and Fox as he said, "And I believe we have you to thank for that. A most ingenious way of countering their threat without violence," as he bowed in their direction.
"It was my pleasure," David said with a bow in return.
Now much more relaxed than when he'd arrived, Goliath turned back to the clan and started to assign patrols for the night. That's when Angela stepped forward and said solemnly, "Actually, Father, while not battling any Quarrymen, we did encounter something very unusual recently, a mystery we have yet to solve."
Goliath looked at her sharply. "Oh? What sort of mystery?"
"While returning from patrol last night…" Angela began solemnly, then gave a wicked grin as she whipped out the bundle from behind her back, "we found these lying on a rooftop." She was holding Goliath's normal loincloth and belt.
Goliath jumped back like she'd waved a rattlesnake in front of his face, then blushed a deep purple fit for a coronation robe. Angela continued blithely, "They appear to be a loincloth and belt, but we simply can't imagine who they might belong to or how they ended up there… Do you think you could solve this mystery for us, Father?"
By now the entire clan was grinning from ear to ear at Goliath's discomfiture. "Give me those!" Goliath growled as he snatched his clothing out of Angela's hands; then he roared and half-heartedly lunged at the entire group.
They scattered and dodged backwards out of his way, laughing, while Angela affected a look of surprise. "Why Father, do you mean they're yours! But how on earth did they end up lying abandoned on that rooftop?"
Goliath growled at her, still blushing… then stopped and gave her a slow, wicked grin. "Some night, daughter… One night, I'm going to take great pleasure in reminding you of this occasion. We'll see how well the arrow flies when it's headed in your direction." Now it was Angela's turn to blush.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the entire scene, David and Fox now spoke up. "Before anyone leaves to go on patrol, we have an announcement to make. There will be two more people joining us in the castle, coming here to live."
"What?" "Who is it?" "Do they know about us?" and other questions were tossed at them, as the merriment of moments before was set aside.
"We're hiring a nanny to help with Alexander during the day, and she has a young daughter; they'll be arriving here tonight. They're coming from the Labyrinth, so you might already have met them: Anne Marsden and her daughter Bethany. They're certainly already aware of your existence, and hoping to become friends with you." David smiled wryly as he added, "In fact, I can almost guarantee that the little girl will want you to play hide-and-seek with her."
Lex grinned. "Sounds like a nice kid already! Alex needs rookery siblings, anyway." Then a thought almost visibly struck him, and the smile dropped away. "But what about Alex's magic abilities, and Puck?"
Goliath was frowning worriedly. "We haven't shared our knowledge with the Labyrinth residents, of either Alexander's heritage or Owen's true identity, and most humans in this age are disbelieving of magic. How will you deal with that?"
"We've already dealt with it," Fox assured him. Then she smiled wryly as she added, "We had to; little Bethany's doing Fey magic already."
"Another mixed-blood kid," David nodded. "This time from the father's side, though. Owen's convinced that her paternal grandfather was one of his kin, though he can't say just who it is. Oh, confidentially, he says that Anne Marsden has a trace of Fey blood in her, too, but probably from several generations back; not enough to make magic of any sort, so we didn't even tell her about it... Not after she cussed out the paternal grandfather in absentia, for running out on her husband when he was a baby. Her daughter, though, with Fey blood from both sides of the family, is a potential powerhouse; she was able to see Puck's aura while he was still Owen, something even a full-blooded Fey has trouble doing. So Puck will be giving little Bethany lessons while he teaches Alexander, and her mother will watch over Alexander when we and Owen are busy with other matters."
"Sounds like a good deal all around to me," was Brooklyn's considered opinion, and the others nodded agreement. "But you mentioned the girl's father, while not saying he was moving in, too. Are the mother and father divorced, or…"
"He's dead," David said, looking down at his shoes. "We're pretty sure he was one of Demona's victims, back when she cast that spell to turn the entire city population to stone at night."
"Fey blood doesn't help you counter a spell if you don't know how to use your powers," Fox added sadly, as the gargoyles all gasped and groaned in sympathy for the bereaved. "After he seemingly just disappeared without a trace, they had to move in with the mother's best friend in order to keep a roof over their heads. Then, when we all fought Oberon to keep him and Titania from taking our son away… Her best friend died in a car crash caused by the Big Sleep."
"Aw, man… as if she hadn't suffered enough already!" Broadway groaned for her.
"That's pretty much the way we feel, too, so when they arrive with their luggage, we hope you'll make them feel welcome," David told them.
They all agreed they would, while Goliath stated solemnly, "They shall be welcomed and protected as one of our own, a part of this clan."
"Glad to hear it," David told him. Then he couldn't help smirking a little as he added, "And they'll probably be arriving any minute now…"
Goliath hastily left to change into his usual attire, while Broadway declared he would make a big dinner and bake some cupcakes in order to welcome the mother and child to the clan. He asked Angela hopefully, "Would you mind giving me a hand in the kitchen, so it'll all be ready faster?" Angela smiled and followed him inside.
When Anne and Bethany Marsden arrived with Matt Bluestone and all their luggage, they were indeed welcomed warmly to the clan. Goliath assured them that the clan would care for and protect them as one of their own. Then, as the rest of the clan added their own welcoming words, he quietly asked Matt if he could talk to him alone for a minute.
Matt eyed him coldly, feeling a resurgence of that jealousy that had been eating him for most of last night, though not nearly as bad as it had been. But he nodded, and they walked back down the empty hall a short ways. Then Goliath turned to him and said, looking very embarrassed, "I… I want to apologize for my actions last night. They were entirely unwarranted, and unworthy of the trust the clan has in you."
"I'll consider accepting that apology," Matt said dryly, "After you tell me what prompted it in the first place. I already figured out what Elisa and you are up to on her nights off, but is this going to happen every night we're on the job?"
"Oh, no, not every night!" Goliath assured him hastily. "But there may be some nights, when…" he paused, looked off to one side, then sighed heavily. "I once swore to myself I would never use this phrase, but… Matt, it's 'a gargoyle thing'."
That sounded so odd coming out of Goliath's mouth that Matt almost snickered despite himself. "Meaning: a very long, involved and embarrassing explanation, right?" he retorted instead.
"Yes," Goliath admitted. "And tonight is not the night to explain it all… But we intend to do all we can to ensure the situation does not arise again."
Abruptly, their conversation was interrupted by an unusual trio running past: little Bethany, riding bareback on Bronx and shrieking with delight, as Lexington ran alongside and steadied her on Bronx's back. Mat couldn't help grinning as he saw her; looked like she, at least, was settling in just fine already. Goliath was also smiling indulgently at the trio, when Matt turned back to him and said, "All right, apology accepted. But while we're talking about last night… I assume Elisa told you about that case we were investigating when you heard the shots. But what I never had a chance to tell her before our little incident, was what else we found at the scene. Our killer had clawed but five-fingered hands…"
Goliath's eyes went wide. "A mutate? Fang has left the Labyrinth, supposedly to be cured but--"
Matt shook his head. "I already thought of that. Fang's got an airtight alibi, since he really is upstate undergoing the cure right now. I already talked to the other three, too; they're all in the clear. But there's more than just this one case to consider…"
THE END… FOR NOW
P.S. A double handful of brownie points to the first reader who, after reading both this two-part story and the five-part "Revelations of the Labyrinth" story, can guess which other ended-but-not-forgotten television series I'm preparing for a crossover with!