by Christine Morgan
Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and
are used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. All others
property of the author; please don't borrow without permission.
#22 in an ongoing Gargoyles fanfic saga
Fox Xanatos knew even before she opened her eyes that she
was alone in bed.
She opened her eyes anyway, because what else would she do
upon awakening? And yes, just as she'd thought, the pillow next to hers
was unoccupied, and the covers on David's side lay flat upon the
A yawn and a stretch later, she was ready to sit up. She
glanced at the clock and saw that it wasn't even seven yet, then looked
back at David's empty half of the bed and laughed softly.
"Even God took Sunday off," she'd chided him once, teasingly,
in the early days of their marriage.
"Yes," he'd replied with a grin, "but He was already immortal,
and I've got a long way to go!"
Time and fatherhood had calmed his overworking Type-A
habits a bit, but evidently not entirely, as proved by his absence. So
much for a leisurely morning in bed, the thick Sunday edition of the
paper strewn out between them, Owen delivering trays of sinfully
decadent Eggs Benedict or Belgian waffles piled high with strawberries
and whipped cream.
Her stomach rumbled enthusiastically at the thought, but as she
crossed to the closet she caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length
mirrors and paused, then moved in for a closer examination.
Inventory time, starting at the top.
Hair of fire-gold, mussed from sleep. Seablue eyes, still a little
groggy, one of them surrounded by her trademark foxhead. Skin creamy
and unlined. High cheekbones, a chin just on the stubborn side of firm.
Graceful neck, good shoulders, supple toned arms. A pair of knockers
that would make a bishop weep (when she'd still been nursing
Alexander, they would've roused a stone statue!). A waist that was ...
How did the old Special K commercial go? Something about
pinching an inch? She gave it a try. No, not an inch, but she could still
seize a dismaying amount of flab between her knuckles.
Fox exhaled a disgusted snort. She poked her middle, feeling
the solid muscle beneath. By anyone's standards, she was still drop-dead
sexy, but by her own standards, held over from her days in the Pack
when she could take a gut punch without flinching, she felt like a
Dreading the completion of her inventory, she let her gaze
keep on going down.
Hips that had widened a bit since Alex's birth, that was
unavoidable and David sure as hell didn't have any complaints. But
there was a puffy pooch below her navel that simply had to go, and
heaven help her, a hint of what could easily become full-blown love
Her legs were still as flawless as ever, so she only gave them a
cursory glance before turning and craning her neck to check her tush.
Now, she'd never been able to crack walnuts between her rear
cheeks the way Wolf had (or at least, the way Wolf had boasted;
thankfully he'd never actually demonstrated that particular skill in her
presence!), but she remembered them being a lot firmer, and she
certainly did not remember having a little dimple on the left side.
Okay, so she was no longer a teen, but did that mean she had
to go gracefully into the twilight zone of pre-middle-age? Not according
to thousands of magazines and Oil of Olay commercials!
Banishing all thoughts of hollendaise sauce and whipped
cream, she quickly pulled on a pair of Spandex jogging shorts and a
sports bra. She twisted her hair into a ponytail, snugged a sweatband
around her brow, put on her athletic shoes (obscenely expensive even
on her clothes budget), and headed out.
One glance out the window, at the beautiful spring morn, made
her abruptly change course. There would be time enough to use the gym
during the winter's chill or the summer's blistering heat. Today she just
couldn't face a treadmill or stairmaster, not when she had a whole castle
to exercise in.
She set herself a rigorous course that would take her along all
of the battlements and up and down plenty of flights of stairs. As soon
as she set out, feeling the crisp wind on her face, she knew she'd made
the right decision.
Twice around the castle, passing the gargoyles in their frozen
fearsome postures. That reminded her of her earlier thoughts about
getting a rise out of a statue. She wondered which of them would watch
her go by if they could, checking out the bounce of her tits and the long
flex of her thighs.
Goliath? Too serious. Too polite. Wouldn't do to ogle the
landlord's wife. If she was Elisa, yeah, he'd look until his eyes popped
out and dangled like big yoyos at the end of his optic cables.
Hudson? Only if he thought he could sneak a peek without
getting caught. He didn't like the younger ones to think he had a spark
of life left in that old husk, but Fox thought she knew better.
Bronx wouldn't care. Broadway would blush. Brooklyn, rogue
that he was, would probably whistle just because he knew it was
Lex? Hard to tell with Lex. He seemed like a typical
technogeek, but more than once Fox had caught him and Aiden in some
fairly compromising positions.
The gargoyles were behind her and she had to make a
decision. Down a flight, or around again?
She glimpsed the welcome green of the courtyard garden
below and decided to go down there. Calisthenics in the shade, and then
maybe a swift dip in the fountain pool.
Maybe even a skinny dip, she thought with a grin. It would
mean getting a lecture from her husband on distracting the security staff
with her exhibitionist tendencies, but since she could already quote the
speech right back at him, maybe he'd see it was a waste of time.
She descended into the fragrant paradise of the garden and was
looking for a likely spot when something unusual caught her eye.
It was a medium-sized shrub, but it was completely covered in
pale yellow blossoms with delicate green traceries. She had never seen
flowers like that before. Especially flowers that seemed to be undulating
softly, stirring in a breeze that wasn't there.
Fox took a step closer, and that was when all of the blossoms
swirled outward, spinning around her like the flakes of a snowglobe, a
petalstorm of pale yellow and green.
No, not a petalstorm. A wingstorm.
Butterflies. Dozens of butterflies in a fluttering cloud around
her, wings against her skin in velvety angel kisses.
And then she was free of it as the swarm moved to a nearby
wall and landed in uniform lines, rows of butterflies with their wings
As she stared, unsure of what to make of this strangeness
(she'd heard about packs of monarch butterflies flocking somewhere in
California, Monterey or Santa Cruz, but nothing like this), the
butterflies unfolded their wings one by one with the precision of a drill
The green markings on the soft wings formed letters, and the
letters spelled out a message:
HAPPY MOTHERS DAY MOMMY I LOVE YOU LOVE
Fox gasped in wonder and delight.
A high peal of childish laughter sounded behind her, and she
turned to see the three main men in her life. The two smallest, who were
paradoxically also the oldest and the youngest, were floating side by
side in midair.
Alex (growing to look more like his father every day -- if not
for the finespun amber of his hair, he could have been a clone) was
laughing and clapping his hands, well pleased with himself. Puck patted
him on the head and tipped Fox an impish wink.
David was standing a bit behind and to the side, beaming
proudly. She smiled at him, feeling as she so often did these days the
bittersweet tang of mingled pride and jealousy she felt whenever she
watched him and Alex together. Jealousy because Alex had been able to
do what her love hadn't, mellowing David's almost frantic drive for
power and immortality. Pride because she, after all, was Alex's mother.
"Well done, kiddo!" Puck said brightly.
"Do you like it, Mommy?" her son piped.
"It's wonderful," she said, plucking him out of the air and
nuzzling kisses on his face in the way that made him twist and squeal.
"Thank you so much!"
David slipped an easy arm around her waist. "And we have
reservations for nine-thirty in the Carnegie Room. Mother's Day
"I hate to interrupt," Puck said suddenly, and his elfin face had
grown somber. "I think we're about to have company."
"Who?" David asked alertly. "Trouble?"
"You could call it that," Puck said. "Titania."
David caught a curse on his lips, casting a quick glance to
Alex, who had picked up some astonishingly vulgar language and liked
nothing better than repeating it at inopportune moments. "The wards
Puck shrugged. "Alex has power and Aiden has talent. Those
wards will keep out just about any lesser power. But the two of them
together can't stack up against Queen Titania. Give them a hundred
years and maybe. Plus, at one point she was invited in. Welcomed. Bit
like Count Dracula, truth be told, but don't tell her I said that!"
A star shimmered in the morning sky, dropping rapidly toward
"Is that Gramma?" Alex asked worriedly, pressing himself
close against his mother. "Is she gonna take me away?"
"No." Fox held him firmly. "I won't let her."
David seconded that as he stepped to a decorative stone
pedestal, slid aside a potted plant, and withdrew a pistol from the
concealed space beneath. "Puck, take Alex inside."
"You go too," Fox said, taking the pistol deftly from his hand.
"I'll handle this."
He opened his mouth to argue, saw the look in her eye, and
wisely closed it again.
The star expanded, a green and gold sphere hanging above the
grass. As the males retreated, Fox moved forward to meet it.
It bloomed outward into the shape of a woman and then there
was Titania. "Hello, child," she said with what sounded like genuine
Fox didn't buy it. "What do you want?" She held the pistol in a
way that advertised she was ready to use it, willing to use it, and really
really _wanted_ to use it, but wasn't going to just yet.
The queen of Avalon made a cute little pout. "Why, Fox, aren't
you pleased to see me?"
"Not particularly." She glanced back, and was relieved to see
that the guys had gone inside, where a sturdy iron-cored door was
between them and Titania.
"I only thought to do you a favor, it being Mother's Day and
all. You always used to be so conscientious, even when you'd run away
-- oh, that used to make Renard crazy! But these past couple of years,
not so much as a card! I was prepared to be hurt, but then I realized that
with my being on Avalon, you'd have precious little means to call or
write. The postal service there isn't the best."
"You're not my mother," Fox said flatly.
Titania laughed kindly. "This is who I am, child. It is who I've
always been. I thought you understood that."
"I understood that you tried to take my son!"
"I explained that." She sighed dramatically. "How else would I
have won Puck's right to stay here, and shown you your own magical
"And I'm supposed to thank you? I don't know which is worse.
That you tried to take my baby, or that you put me through that whole
thing as some game, some plot. You never cared about me and how I
"I wanted what was best for you."
"And the fear? The sickening terror and helplessness of having
my son torn from my arms? If that's what you think was best, then
you've got a lot to learn. There had to have been better ways to do it.
But you had to get Oberon all riled up. You didn't care about me or
anyone. Do you know what happened in the city? The midsummer
night's dream he spoke of hurt _thousands_ of people."
"What are you talking about?" Titania frowned.
"When everyone got put to sleep. Crashing their cars. Falling
down flights of stairs. In operating rooms or house fires. People _died_,
Titania!" She got ahold of herself with a deep shuddering breath. "But
they were only humans, so I suppose that doesn't mean anything to
"Fox --" Titania began.
"Shut up!" She almost lifted the gun menacingly but forced
herself to lower it. "Now you come around here expecting a hug and a
present, as if nothing ever happened? I don't think so. You're not
"Fox, you don't mean that." Titania seemed genuinely shaken.
"Follow me. I've got something to show you."
Without waiting to see if the other woman would indeed
follow, Fox turned and walked to a corner nook of the courtyard. Two
willows flanked a stone arch, their trailing leafy tendrils forming a
curtain across the doorway.
"Where are you going?"
"In there," Fox said. "After you." She used the muzzle of the
pistol to lift aside the willow curtain, enough to reveal what was in the
tiny shadowed alcove beyond.
"A headstone?" Titania leaned closer and read the name
chiseled into the marble. "Anastasia Renard? The date -- that's
"As far as I'm concerned," Fox said, "my mother died on that
day. The day, the hour, the very minute she turned out to be you.
Anyone who would care so little about me and my happiness to do what
you did is no mother of mine, and no grandmother to my son."
"Fox, no," Titania said weakly. "Oh, child, I never meant --"
"No more of your stories," Fox snapped. "Now get the hell out
of my house before we need another tombstone!"
Titania drew back. She had gone a paler blue, and her large
liquid eyes swam with unshed tears. She reached out but couldn't quite
touch Fox, as if the younger woman was emitting a force field formed
of hostile emotion.
As for Fox, she stood her ground and never wavered. At last,
Titania backed wordlessly away and vanished in a ripple of gold light.
Only then, when she felt that Titania was truly gone, did Fox turn and
kneel and rest her brow on the cool marble arch bearing her mother's
"Sorry, Mom," she murmured. She plucked a lily from a
nearby stalk and laid it on the grass at the foot of the stone. "Happy
The Carnegie Room was booked solid, but after a sizeable tip
and an Avalonian version of the old Jedi mind trick, Titania was
escorted to a small half-circle of a table on the upper level.
She attracted little notice, since she now wore the guise of
Anastasia Renard in a simple but smart beige linen suit instead of her
more elaborate bare-midriff ensemble.
This section of the room, more dimly lit with secluded cozy
tables, was perfect for lovers but a bit awkward for larger parties. It
overlooked the open, flower- and fountain-filled spacious area below,
where many of the wealthiest of New York's families were gathered.
She had a good view of the table where her daughter, son-in-
law, and grandson were seated. Alexander, her precious prince, was
wearing a miniature duplicate of his father's Armani suit, while Fox was
stunning in a bold blue velvet gown. The three of them seemed to be
enjoying themselves immensely.
Anastasia accepted the menu from the solicitous waiter, gave it
a cursory glance, and turned her attention to the other patrons in her
vicinity. A dismayingly large number were women sitting alone. She
didn't have to read their auras to know that they were the childless, the
widowed, the divorced, the lonely. By coming here, they thought to in
some small way make themselves a part of the joyful celebratory
atmosphere that permeated the rest of the room.
The waiters surely knew what she did, for they were more
attentive than usual, the almost overbearing amiability of cruise ship
staff. Gifts of carnations were offered, although technically these were
supposed to be gifts for mothers only.
Overall, it was a pathetic display. But, pathetic as it was, that
didn't stop her own throat from tightening when her waiter bowed and
produced with a flourish a single white carnation.
Perhaps coming here had been a mistake. She murmured her
thanks to the waiter and picked up her glass of ice water just to have
something to do with her hands.
As she raised it to drink, she happened to look through her
ring. She very nearly slopped water all over her skirt but recovered in
time and sipped slowly, trying to make her scrutiny casual.
The ring on the first finger of her right hand was a wide ornate
and antiqued band of silver, topped with a spherical diamond of
surpassing clarity and value.
The woman who had caught her eye was, like Anastasia
herself, alone at one of the small tables. A bouquet, lilies and daisies in
a crystal vase, was before her on the table. She toyed with it listlessly
from time to time as she sat. To outward appearances, she was in her
early thirties, red-haired and beautiful (if morose).
To the inner eye, seen through the magic gem on Anastasia's
ring, the lady was a gargoyle.
She rose and approached. The woman looked up and scowled
faintly. "Can I help you?"
"I was wondering if I might join you," Anastasia said
smoothly. "I think we have something in common."
"Oh?" She sounded less than interested. "And what might that
Anastasia offered her hand as if to shake, making sure that the
gem moved into the redhead's line of sight. The jewel worked both
ways, revealing her true self even as it gave her a closer look at the
woman's inner gargoyle.
"Demona, isn't it?"
She showed neither shock nor alarm, only a weary sort of
acceptance. "Dominique, during the day. Thanks to your servant's
"You summoned him. You must have known the risks. And
you were very careless with my mirror. Fortunately for you, no harm
came to it. I see that you recognize me."
"Of course, Titania."
She demurred. "Please, call me Anastasia."
Dominique raised an eyebrow. "As in Anastasia Renard, co-
founder of Cyberbiotics?" Her eyes widened in realization, then
narrowed. "As in, Xanatos' mother-in-law."
"You do keep up on the gossip." The waiter drew near, and
Anastasia looked at Dominique's glass. A faint slur in the redhead's
voice hadn't gone undetected. "What are you drinking?"
"Champagne and orange juice. Mostly champagne." She
drained the last of it and gestured for another without bothering to look
at the waiter. "It is my intention to get ... what do they call it? ...
The waiter blanched. Such was not a term heard in the tasteful
Carnegie Room, especially not at the Mother's Day Brunch of all days!
"Make it two," Anastasia said, and he looked thankful for an
opportunity to flee.
"Should've made it a dozen."
"My dear," Anastasia laughed, "if you intend to get that drunk
on that drink, I hope you're prepared to spend the rest of the day in the
ladies' room. Not to mention the cost."
"And what would _you_ recommend?"
"Ah, on Avalon we have such elixirs ..." she sighed longingly.
"But, since we're here, you'd doubtless find hard liquor more efficient,
timewise and money wise. Although, at least with this, you're getting
plenty of Vitamin C."
The waiter returned, bringing with him a basket of warm
muffins and a dish of butter that had been shaped into rosebuds. He
took their orders and hastily retreated once again.
"I do believe you've scandalized that poor youth," Anastasia
observed as she neatly sliced open a blueberry muffin and deposited
butter inside to melt.
"That's nothing," Dominique replied. "When he brings the
check, I plan to pat him on his pert tight little buns."
"Goodness, you have changed in your attitude toward
A snarl curled her lip. "That's not to say I still wouldn't love to
see them all wiped off the skin of the earth! I've just come to accept that
some of them have other, entertaining uses."
Anastasia blinked politely. "Oh?" she inquired, wondering
how much of a confession she could lead out of Dominique.
Not much, apparently. Dominique looked at the bouquet again
and sighed. "How long has it been, anyway?"
A quick calculation later, she replied, "Longer than I'd
thought. Since Will died, isn't it? Tell me, did you ever dance on his
grave as you threatened to do?"
"There was no love lost between us." Dominique attacked a
lemon muffin with a savagery that would have made their waiter, had he
been present, take a step back.
"I was always rather partial to him," Anastasia said, smiling in
fond remembrance. "Oh, but Oberon was furious! I told Puck he
shouldn't have gone around mouthing off about my lord's and my little
squabbles. And you, well, you've no one to blame but yourself, for
trying to make dear MacBeth look bad."
"Where is Puck these days?" Dominique asked with sudden
cunning, as if she hadn't heard or (more likely) was ignoring the dig
about MacBeth. "I've been meaning to thank him for his parting gift,
and I've always had the feeling he was nearby."
"He's around," Anastasia said lightly. "But as a word of
friendly advice, I'd think twice before trying to get revenge on Puck. He
might seem like a harmless prankster, but he can be devilsome if
crossed. So, let us talk about something else. What brings you here
today? It hardly seems your scene, you know. Here in the midst of
happy and loving human families."
She sighed again. "My daughter."
"Hmm? Oh, yes! Why, of course, I should have realized! The
sweet child Goliath brought back from Avalon." Her mirth faded a bit.
"Oh. I see. These broken marriages, or matings as the case may be, are
so often difficult on the children."
"She doesn't understand me," Dominique said, sitting back
briefly as the waiter returned.
"French Toast Monte Cristo," he announced. "Thinly sliced
ham and Swiss cheese between two pieces of our own fresh cinnamon-
raisin bread, dipped in egg batter and Grand Marinier and cooked to a
nice golden brown."
"I read the menu!" she snapped. "You don't need to quote it at
He backed off hastily and turned to Anastasia, who gave him
an encouraging smile. "And for you, madam, the spinach omelette."
As soon as he was gone, evidently having realized that in this
case over-attentiveness was more apt to earn him a glass of ice water
down the front of his pants than a nice tip, Dominique went on.
"All I want is what's best for her, but she doesn't understand.
She doesn't know the humans as I do. She was sheltered on Avalon, and
now she's been blinded by Goliath's stubborn optimism. She won't even
listen to me."
"I know just how you feel. It's the same way with Fox. When I
try and do what's best for her, she accuses me of not respecting her
decisions, or caring about her feelings."
"Angela wants me to rejoin the clan. Forgive Goliath, when if
not for him none of this would have happened. She thinks gargoyles and
humans _can_ live together, no matter how often it's proved to the
contrary! And Goliath is no help at all. He just encourages her to think
that way, and it's going to get her killed."
"Fox won't even speak to me," Anastasia confessed. "She had
a headstone made with my name on it. Rather gruesomely symbolic,
don't you agree?"
"At least Angela sent me these. But look at the card. 'Dear
Mother, how I wish you could be with us to share this special time, that
we could be a real family and a real clan again.' Even with her gift, she
drives the knife deeper!"
"I only wanted to show her how much more there was to life
than being human! She had such potential, but even as a girl she
resisted my every attempt to turn her mind toward more ... intuitive
thoughts. Always fixated on her looks, her figure, athletics. So
"I can't give Angela what she wants. Even if I wanted it too,
there's no way it would work. I could never bow to following Goliath as
the leader, not when I've spent centuries as a leader myself. The others
would never accept me back. They'd always be waiting for a trick, a
trap, a betrayal."
"Fox doesn't understand how precious she is to me."
"Angela too. She's my daughter, my only --" Dominique broke
off. Her mouth widened into a perfect O. A piece of bread fell from her
fork with a syrupy plop.
"By the Dragon," she breathed. "How could I forget?"
"What is the matter?"
Her emerald eyes came into focus again, fixing on Anastasia.
"I laid _two_ eggs that mating season!"
Anastasia picked up on it at once. "Avalon!"
"I must go there!" She grasped the other woman's wrist
urgently. "Take me to Avalon!"
The breeding season was nearing its peak, and the cries of
mating gargoyles reached even to the lonely tower that had once been
lair of the Magus. Dark silhouettes wheeled and frolicked against a
backdrop of ever-shifting stars. In the east, light glimmered, but it was
not the dawn, only the golden-rose-silver glow of Oberon's palace.
"What a terrible thing to ask!" Elektra gasped. "Never!"
"Oh, come on, sister," Jericho wheedled. "What's the point of
knowing magic if you never use it? Why, if I had half your skill, I
wouldn't spend all my time sitting on my tail in a musty old library! I'd
be putting it to good use! Benefitting my clan!"
She frowned sternly at him, and for an instant looked eerily
enough like a scolding Katherine to make him shiver. In the candlelight,
with her wings folded and her pale brown hair brushed smoothly over
her shoulders, she almost didn't seem a gargoyle at all.
"How would enspelling Gabriel's mates benefit the clan?" she
He ran his talons through his shock of scarlet hair and sighed
in frustration. "Angela is supposed to be Gabriel's mate."
"Your concern on her behalf is touching," Elektra remarked,
"but I think it is rather your own benefit that you put first."
"Well, does he really need three mates?" Jericho asked
bitterly. "He knows that there are already some of us, his brothers,
destined to go mateless. With Angela gone, Elswyth in love with one of
Oberon's get, Hippolyta too caught up in being a warrior to even think
about mating, and you locked away here, that only leaves twelve
females to eighteen males! And if three of those twelve decide to play
harem girls to Gabriel, what are the rest of us supposed to do?"
"I'm not locked away," she said quietly.
"It's just not fair," he continued, ignoring her. "Gabriel should
know that. But he's always had to be first and best at everything."
"They care for him, and he for them. He could not command
them to cast their sights elsewhere. Choosing a mate is not as simple as
the way the Magus used to seat us male and female at the feasting table,
as they did in Castle Wyvern in days of old."
Jericho went to the window and looked down over the moon-
dusted forests. "How he's going to keep up with all three of them is
beyond me," he muttered darkly.
"Then perhaps the strain will prove o'ermuch for him, and
you'll have your other wish."
Though she'd said it in the same soft tone she always used, he
reacted as if slapped. He whirled to face her. "Is that what you think of
me? That I'd cheer Gabriel's death and seize power for myself?"
She regarded him evenly with her pale blue eyes. "The though
He spun back to the window. "Right or wrong, he's the leader,"
he said, mouthing the hollow words. "And my rookery brother."
"Then why do you begrudge him the happiness of his mates?"
"I don't." He was confused now, a usual state when talking to
Elektra. Sometimes it was as if the Magus hadn't really gone away, just
donned false wings and a girlish disguise so that he could continue to
spout his nonsense. "I just don't think it will last. They'll start bickering,
fighting over him. He won't be able to keep all three happy. You'll see."
"Opal, Citrine, and Onyx have always been able to share," she
pointed out. "The Magus did say it was as if they'd hatched from the
same egg. They're inseperable and have ever been. It seems only
reasonable to me that they would not want different mates."
"It's supposed to be one male, one female."
Elektra trailed her slim hand across the desk. "Such cannot
always be," she said sadly. "Some hearts years for that which they
cannot have, and seek solace in other things."
"You mean Carnelian and his infatuation with the Lady of the
Lake?" Jericho laughed, sharp and short. "He and Elswyth, a fine pair
of dreamers! They'll go on chasing stardust and their own tails, and
when all's said and done the immortals will laugh at them. They laugh at
us already. The humans drove our kind from their rightful homes, the
humans chased us from our very world, and now we must grovel and
tug our forelocks before Oberon to even remain here!"
"If Avalon so dissatisfies you, brother, why do you stay?"
"Leave Avalon?" Sudden fear clutched his soul. "Where would
Elektra moved to his side and gestured out the window. "The
wide world beckons. Angela told us of her travels and the gargoyles she
did find in many lands. We did ourselves meet those two who brought
their sacred plants to grow and thrive free of danger, proof of Angela's
words. The magic of this place is strong, my brother. Mayhap it calls to
you. Mayhap it has a mission for you. Where do you need to be,
Jericho? Where will Avalon send you?"
"I don't know," he said uncertainly. "Leave Avalon? Leave my
home? I ... I must think on it."
She inclined her head. "Of course."
David Xanatos signed his name to the credit slip with a
flourish, glanced up to give the waiter a grin, and faltered only
momentarily as he saw his mother-in-law leaving the restaurant with
none other than Dominique Destine.
He opened his mouth to call Fox's attention to it, but she was
engaged in listening to one of Alex's stories (something about a little
boy, a time machine and a magic dinosaur) and wore one of the first
real smiles he'd seen on her since this morning. He hated to rob her of
her good mood.
So he calmly returned pen and pad to the waiter, assured him
once again that everything had been fabulous, and stirred the dregs of
his coffee as he watched the two women vanish through the brass and
He had a feeling that life was about to get a lot more
"Why should I do this for you?" Anastasia asked as they
settled into the plush backseat of Dominique's favorite limo. "I owe you
After giving instructions to the driver and raising the window
to seal them into silence, Dominique smiled and played her trump card.
"Because I know where the lady's veil grows."
She had the distinct pleasure of seeing Anastasia's eyes fly
wide open before slitting into avaricious glinting jewels. "Lady's veil!
But how? It was all destroyed, centuries ago!"
"Not so." Oh, she was enjoying this, having the almight and
all-powerful Titania hanging on her every word. "There is a place, a
secret place where it still blooms. I have been there. I have seen it with
my own eyes, smelled its sweet perfume. The Inquisitors came to root it
out and burn it and instead they were the ones left hacked and
Suspicion touched Anastasia's gaze now. "Why would you risk
yourself to protect it? You cannot use it. Only my kind can draw upon
Dominique shrugged. She was no longer feeling the chamagne,
thanks to a combination of her swift metabolism and this new
excitement. "The Inquisitors were my enemies too. They thought me a
demon." She showed her teeth. "They weren't the first, or the last, but
they were among the most resourceful. Besides, I knew of your people
and I knew that someday the information might be of use to me."
"That was so long ago. How can you be sure it still exists?"
"You're right. This is the modern world, the age of growth,
when humans spread like a pestilence upon the earth. They could have
plowed the lady's veil under, blacktopped over it, put up a shopping
"But I know that is not the case," she continued.
"Have you been there, have you seen it?" Anastasia pressed.
"I have. It is not far."
"Lady's veil," she sighed, gazing through the windows but
surely seeing something other than the dingy crowded streets of
Manhattan. "What I would do for that!"
"So, do we have a deal?" Dominique extended her hand.
"A deal." Anastasia shook it firmly.
"The world feels strange tonight," Angela observed.
"Aye. It puts me in mind of a night not so long distant, when
we first met yer friend Griff." Hudson looked up at the sky, which was
tinged a peculiar shade of emerald green over deep blue. "There be
"Do you think it's the same thing?" Lexington wondered.
"I would like to see Griff again," Goliath said, "but I sense
only foreboding tonight."
"Hey, come on, it's just an atmospheric inversion or
something," Brooklyn said. "No need for everyone to get all gloom and
Hudson slowly and somberly shook his head. "Nay, lad. This
be not the work o' nature."
Elisa emerged onto the roof. "Hi, guys! What's up?"
"Oh, they all think something bad's going to happen,"
Brooklyn said. "Hudson's seeing omens again."
"Dinna mock yer elders, laddie."
Elisa went to Goliath. "What's wrong?"
"I do not know," he rumbled. "A feeling, nothing more. But I
think we should all patrol tonight, and be vigilant."
"How's your mother, Elisa?" Angela asked.
"Great! Dad and I took her out for brunch, Beth sent a singing
telegram of all things, and then we went to dinner in the Labyrinth." She
patted Goliath's arm. "I gave her that bracelet, like you said. She loves
it! And for once she couldn't tell me I'd spent too much on it!"
"Can't put a price tag on Viking plunder," Brooklyn said. He
nudged Goliath with his tail. "Kissing up to the future in-laws?"
Goliath mock-growled, then cast a teasing eye at his daughter
before fixing Brooklyn with a stern glare. "You'd do well to think of
such things yourself."
Brooklyn flushed maroon. Angela smiled and twined her arm
through his. She pressed a quick kiss on his ear. "Don't let him bully
you. If he had his way, I'd view the whole clan as my parents, so he
doesn't have a wing to glide on with this protective father act!"
Everyone laughed, but it was oddly muffled, as if the
strangeness of the night robbed their mirth of some of its strength.
"How are the kids?" Broadway asked.
"Cute," Elisa said. "Real cute. Almost too cute. Makes me
have very un-Elisa-like thoughts. I was never much of a one for those
old maternal urges, you know? But when Dee fell asleep on my lap, just
a warm little fuzzy bundle that smelled like milk and baby powder ..."
Hudson glanced knowingly at Goliath, and Elisa promptly shut
up with a maroon flush of her own.
"Come on, then," Goliath said, looking a bit embarrassed
himself. "The night is short this time of year, so we'd best get started
before we find it is dawn again already."
"Why, Father!" Angela fluttered a hand in front of her mouth
as if shocked. "Get started? In front of all of us?"
"I thought we were going on patrol," Brooklyn added, leering.
"Though this sounds like more fun!"
"It sure would be great to have a rookery around again,"
Lexington chimed in.
Goliath roared and made a halfhearted lunge, which sent the
others diving off the wall in twirling fits of laughter. Even Hudson,
normally disapproving of such behavior, hid a smile as he trudged off
after Bronx, who was prancing anxiously in front of the closed door
between him and his food bowl.
"Can't blame 'em for trying, I suppose," Elisa said. "My folks
are just as bad, but they're still focused on the wedding thing. We really
should set a date before Dad comes after you with a shotgun."
"I thought your parents were not fully supportive of our
"Well, it did take some getting used to." She chuckled. "Can
you imagine the guest list? Mom would want to invite Fara Maku, and
he'd want to bring Te'a ..."
"Our friends from Japan ..."
"MacBeth and King Arthur ..."
"And of course your Aunt Agnes," he finished.
"David?" Are you coming? Alex is waiting to be tucked in."
"Hmm? Yes, in a minute."
She approached and peered over his shoulder, out the window
at the weird-tinted sky. Her hair crackled faintly, full of static electricity
despite her expensive conditioner. She felt unsettled, ill at ease, as if
she was having a mild case of PMS. "What's going on?"
"The gargoyles think there's magic afoot, and I believe them."
He sighed and absently slipped an arm around her waist. "I wish Owen
"You'd promised him the rest of the day off. He's where he
should be, with Cordelia and the baby. The wards are in place, and if
Titania does come back here, she'll regret it."
"That's just it," he replied. "I don't think she is coming here,
but I know she's up to something, and I don't like not knowing what it
"All this, for a simple transport spell?" Titania said. She had
abandoned her guise of Anastasia, confident that no prying eyes could
penetrate the high-walled garden of Dominique's stately home.
All about her, gargoyles loomed. In the variable light and
flickering shadows of the blazing braziers, they seemed to move. Why,
she wondered, would Demona surround herself with stone gargoyles?
Mementos of her lost clan? Penance for her guilt at their destruction?
Ah, but she sensed that now was not the time for in-depth
psychoanalysis of her hostess. Even sweet, muddled old Sigmund
would have had his hands full with Demona. A cigar is just a cigar, but
what would be make of the bulbous, spiked mace that swayed from
"Some of us had to _learn_ our magic," Demona retorted,
casting a handful of black sand into the leaping flames.
The light flared bright yellow. She intoned some words in
Latin, and the chalk lines she'd etched on the patio between the three
braziers began to shimmer with faint purple light.
The air felt heavy and leaden, pressing down on them. Even
the trees seemed to droop dispiritedly under that unseen weight. No
clouds gathered, but a haze of greenish mist seemed to lay over the city.
Titania eyes the glowing triangle apprehensively. It neither
looked nor felt like something meant to trap one of her race, but
Demona had lived a long and crafty life and only a fool would trust her
Oh, but the lure of the lady's veil was too strong to deny! It had
been centuries since she'd known its fragrance, felt the softness of its
leaves upon her cheek.
"It is ready," Demona said. She stepped into the triangle and
glanced impatiently at Titania.
With a shrug, Avalon's queen joined her. Demona raised her
hands overhead, holding between them a slim twig of white willow. She
spoke one final command, snapped the twig, and the purple lines grew
blindingly bright before rapidly shrinking into an amethyst starburst.
When the starburst was gone, no eyes except the stone eyes of
the gargoyles looked upon the empty patio and the darkened braziers.
It was a side of Owen Burnett that few people ever saw, and
Aiden Ferguson still wasn't used to it even though it was all her fault.
A year ago, toying with a magic wand, she'd put a spell of love
on Owen and her schoolmistress. She had been much more careful with
her studies and her magic since then, to atone for her carelessness, but
she still felt responsible. Her actions hadn't gone without repurcussions.
Far from it, she thought as she peeped into the parlor and saw
Owen, lying on his back on the rug, holding his infant daughter Patricia
in the air.
Patricia, a platinum-haired cherub with bright and dancing
eyes, cooed and gurgled and smiled down at her father. Looking at the
baby made Aiden feel even weirder, because yet another magical
mishap had given her a look at a possible future in which Patricia would
grow up to marry Alexander Xanatos, and their daughter would prove
to be even more darkly ambitious than Alexander's own father.
"Is there something we can help you with, Miss Ferguson?"
Cordelia St. John asked coolly, glancing up from where she sat on the
Even after a year as a student of the Sterling Academy, it only
took one word or a single look from her to reduce Aiden to a nervous
fourth-grader. She _knew_ that Owen had long since explained her
unusual course of study at Castle Wyvern, _knew_ she hadn't done
anything wrong, but still her stomach rolled itself into a tight ball of
"Thank you, ma'am ... um, but ... I hate to intrude, but I was
wondering if I could talk to Owen ... just for a minute?"
Owen rolled onto his elbow, setting Patricia on the rug next to
him, where she promptly grabbed his tie and crammed it into her pink
rosebud mouth. "Is something the matter, Aiden?"
She twisted fitfully at a lock of her own beige hair. "Do you
remember asking me to raise warning wards over the school and the
"Yes. To test your ability at maintaining them over a large area
and for a considerable time."
"Well ... um ... they just went down."
Owen gently extracted the considerably dampened end of his
tie from Patricia's mouth. He glanced at Cordelia. "You might want to
give your uncle a call," he suggested. "It may be nothing, but caution is
ever called for."
Aiden groaned inwardly. Now she wasn't just barging in on
Owen's rare family time, but she was also going to get the Illuminati all
worked up. All because she hadn't taken her roommate Birdie's advice
and gone quietly to check it out herself. It would turn out to be nothing,
of course, Owen would be right about that, and then she'd look like a
skittish little girl.
Cordelia nodded, gathered the baby into her arms, swept
Aiden with a wordless gaze that managed to convey a whole spectrum
of disdain and irritation while still remaining chillingly polite, and left
the room. Owen donned his suit jacket, straightened his hair, and saw
the miserable look on Aiden's face.
"What is it?"
"She doesn't like me."
Owen smiled slightly. "Pay it no mind."
Which, Aiden thought glumly as she followed him outside,
wasn't anywhere close to a denial.
The purple light winked out and Titania inhaled deeply. "What
place is this, where the air is so clean and the night so fair? It almost
puts me in mind of Avalon!"
"Upstate New York," Demona murmured distractedly. "The
"Really?" Titania perked up even more. "I taught a course in
advanced chemistry here once, oh, forty years ago. This was where I
met Halcyon Renard." She looked around approvingly. "They've kept it
"We're not here to admire the landscaping. Something's not
right. I felt something as we came in. Wards, maybe. We'd better be
quick." Demona dropped into a tense, alert crouch. "This way."
The campus lay slumbering although it was still fairly early. A
few lights gleamed behind the shutters of the dorms, and here and there
was the irregular bluish flicker of a television. Moths ticked against the
soft moon globes that shed their light on the walkways, but nary a
student was to be seen.
To the east was a bulking, hulking mass of dark stone, an
unkempt manor falling slowly into decay, or so it appeared. Demona
knew better. Inside would be found levels of luxury, comfort, and
technology decades ahead of the rest of the country.
The Illuminati liked to conduct themselves in style.
Had they erected the wards? She doubted it. They were men of
knowledge and secrecy, but their power came from old rituals and
musty artifacts that they hardly dared use. What she had sensed felt
No time to worry about it. If there existed a threat that Demona
herself couldn't handle, surely her companion could. Until Titania had
her dainty mitts on the lady's veil, she would surely do all in her power
to preserve their freedom.
On the north side of the campus, the well-tended grounds gave
way to a more natural sprawling of woods, still within the fenced
boundaries of the Academy. Demona slipped wraithlike between the
trees, moving fast, enjoying the race, the hunt. Titania came after,
seeming to drift, never getting her hair entangled in a bough or
muddying her feet on the creekbanks.
"It is near!" Titania breathed excitedly.
"Here." Demona stopped.
There before them was a gentle hollow, where a shimmering
rill trickled over moss-clothed rocks and pooled mirrorlike in a frame
made of the ancient and gnarled exposed roots of an oak. From the
middle of the pool rose a small hillock, tufted with velvety grass. And
from the middle of the hillock rose a thin, graceful plant, with stalks of
milky green and flowers of pure translucent white. The petals were long
and flowing, like a veil; hence its name. At the center of each bloom
was a cluster of tiny golden nubs.
"Ohhh," Titania sighed, pressing her hands to her lips. "So
"Now your part of the bargain," Demona said. "I've fulfilled
Like someone in a dream, Titania produced a slender silver
bracelet from somewhere in the folds of her garments. Runes were
inlaid around it, shining in the moonlight with eldritch fire. "Wear this,
and recite the inscription, and any body of water will be your portal to
Demona studied it, memorized it, and slipped the bracelet over
her claws and onto her left wrist.
Of all the people who could have come crashing through the
bushes at that point, Owen Burnett was one of the last ones she would
There was a human with him, a pale and frightened girl that
Demona would have dismissed if not for the wand clutched in one small
hand. To her sharpened senses, it was the magical equivalent of a
Owen moved forward, his fists clenched, and then his gaze fell
past Titania and his mouth fell open. "The lady's veil?"
"No you don't," Titania chided. She struck swiftly, pulling the
plant up by the roots. A faint trill of pain rang briefly through the night.
"This posey is mine!" A green glow wavered into being around her.
"No!" Owen jumped at her, pased through her as she vanished,
and brought himself neatly into Demona's reach.
Her claws clamped around his throat. She could feel his fragile
human lifebeat pumping beneath her palms, and traced the ridge of
bone that was his spine. She debated briefly between snapping and
"Let go of him!" the human girl cried, brandishing the wand.
That fanfare sounded in Demona's mind again. She recognized
the item, Hecate's Wand, long thought lost. Here was the caster of the
wards, young, but formidably armed.
She froze, neither killing nor releasing Xanatos' dogsbody
servant. Eyeing the wand, she felt much as Titania must have when the
lady's veil was mentioned. Hecate's Wand could only be great in the
hands of a human sorceress, but thanks to Puck, half the time she was
"Give me the wand, and I'll free him."
"No, Demona," the girl said, and then Demona recognized her
as well. She was the tiny human that had come a'caroling last
Christmas. A friend of the gargoyles. A friend of Angela.
Killing Owen was one thing. He'd been a thorn in her side time
and again, he and Xanatos. There had always been something
exasperatingly sneaky about him, something she could never quite put a
talon on. But she dared not kill this frail girl, not if there was still a
chance to win Angela over.
She made her decision half an instant before Owen made his
move. Even as he flexed to attack, she hurled him away from her. He
reeled back the way he had come and the girl was not quick enough to
Before either of them could get up, Demona recited the
incantation and dove headlong into the shallow pool. If Titania had
tricked her, she would finish this night with a hell of a headache and a
faceful of mud.
A silver ripple expanded from the point where her left arm met
the water, and she passed through into another world.
Owen brushed himself off, his lips tight in a pucker of disgust.
"She's gone to Avalon."
"I'm sorry!" Aiden gasped. "I didn't know what to do!"
"The fault is partly mine. I've taught you no spells of attack.
There was no way you could have stopped her."
She fingered the wand absently, before remembering that it
made him almighty nervous when she did that. Hastily, she put it back
in its case. "Do ... do we go after her?"
Owen sighed. "Avalon is forbidden me. The incantation
Demona used was a shortcut, linked to an item. A gift, no doubt, from
Titania. Therefore it is of no use to us."
"How did Goliath and Elisa get there? Doesn't he know a
"He does, but even so, we dare not follow. Whatever is going
on, it involves an alliance between Demona and Titania. You are not
ready to face either of them, let alone both. And Oberon would not
allow Hecate's Wand to return to Avalon. He thinks it long-destroyed."
It was Aiden's turn to sigh. "But we should do something,
"All we can do is inform and warn Mr. Xanatos and Goliath.
And Fox. Fox especially, now that Titania has the lady's veil." He shook
his head and laughed ruefully. "Here all this time, and I never knew."
"The flower? What is it? My mom kept a garden, but I've
never seen anything like that before."
"Nor, in likelihood, will you again. That was the lady's veil,
most precious of all growing things. To Avalon's Children, it is both
energy source and drug, ambrosia, giver of power." He took a deep,
wistful breath, then blinked and recovered himself.
"Kind of like catnip?" Aiden asked doubtfully.
"That will do. I had thought that there was no more. It was
once plentiful. Humans --" he glanced over his shoulder toward the
distant gabeled roof of the abandoned manor "-- an offshoot of an old,
old society, sought it out and burned it. All of it, or so we'd thought."
"They knew of us, they feared us. They knew also of Oberon's
decree that we be exiled upon the world. They worried that, had we the
lady's veil, we might become a power to rival theirs. And so they got rid
Aiden frowned. "That doesn't make sense. From everything
you've told me, Oberon's Children don't work together. It doesn't seem
like they _would_ organize to seize power, even if they could."
"You're right, of course. But these humans, these Inquisitors,
did not see it that way."
"Why do we need to warn Fox, though?"
"She has the blood of Avalon in her veins. Titania may try to
use the lady's veil to make her daughter beholden to her. Fox rejected
her harshly this morning, and Titania does not take rejection well."
Jericho sat on a rock outcropping, sharpening his knife in long
slow strokes as he looked down at the gathered clan below.
The remains of a respectable feast were spread out around
them. Malachi and Uriel had taken time out from breeding to hunt down
two fat hinds, and their mates Ruth and Miriam had spent the night
coaxing breads and pastries from Avalon's generous magical larders.
The clan was mostly arranged in mated pairs, with some
exceptions. Hippolyta sat apart, fussing with her bow. Three were
absent: Elektra still brooding in her solitary tower and Carnelian and
Elswyth off making sheep's eyes at their fay fancies. A few other
mateless males lingered at the fringes of the circle, some still foolishly
and hopelessly trying to change Hippolyta's mind.
And of course, leader Gabriel, a sultan, surrounded by his
His three mates were nearly identical in their beauty. They
differed only in the colors of their hair, and it was that which had
earned them their names. Opal's tresses were silver blond, Citrine's as
yellow as the sun they never saw, and Onyx's as dark as the gem by that
Jericho fumed silently. Only Tourmaline noticed him, and
offered a faint smile. He ignored it, and saw it turn into a glower before
she returned her attention to Jacob. Jacob, smallest and quickest of the
clan, pale tan with wings that stretched from wrist to ankle, was only
too glad to accept her attention.
The feasting was done. Deborah began to sing softly, and soon
Garnet and Ezekial joined in. Ruth and Malachi left hand in hand with
Jericho jabbed his knife idly into a loaf of bread, again and
"What's the matter, brother?" Corwin asked. "You've been
some quiet of late. Are you troubled?"
"Indeed, brother. Look at this clan. We've grown fat and soft."
"Nay, that will be the fate of the females, as they grow big with
egg," he grinned.
"No egg of yours, nor mine," Jericho meanly but truthfully
pointed out. Handsome Corwin, despite a strong resemblance to
Gabriel, was also among the mateless.
"'Tis for us to be the best warriors," Corwin said. "Do you not
remember what the Magus told us of our clan, in the days of Castle
Wyvern? How the leader before Goliath took no mate, but was a
warrior without compare and leader for many decades? That is the fate
that awaits us, my brother, a good destiny if ever there was one."
"Warriors," Jericho snorted. "Once in all our lives have we
been called upon to be warriors, when the Archmage attacked us. A
poor showing we made! It was only blind luck that none died!"
"I charge any warrior to do better against a wizard!" Corwin
argued. "Had we but fought Vikings, as our parents before us --"
"Bah! You're grasping at excuses, Corwin. We failed.
Guardian Tom had to go find Goliath to pull our bacon from the flames.
We would have otherwise been killed, one and all."
"Goliath is the greatest warrior of our kind! There is no shame
in seeking his help!"
"Shame? Aye, shame indeed! What must he have thought of
us, his clan's children, unable to hold off even one attack without
sending our human Guardian to beg for his aid! Small wonder he did
not wish to remain, to bring his clan back to rejoin us. He was right glad
to leave us behind!"
"Not so! He welcomed Angela to join him."
Jericho snorted again. "Think it through, brother dear. The
Magus enspelled Goliath, the leader before him, three young warriors,
and their watchdog. Males all! Of course he was pleased to take Angela
"I disagree with you," Corwin said, but he said it thoughtfully
and Jericho knew his words had hit the mark a time or two.
"What good is it to be a warrior, with no battles to fight?"
Jericho wiped crumbs from his knife and replaced it in its sheath. "We
have no purpose."
"We protect our home and clan." Corwin gestured to the
"From what? Any threat to this island will be swiftly sundered
by Oberon and his defenses. We are not needed here. Nor wanted here.
He suffers our presence, and do you know why, brother? Because
Goliath forced his hand. If not for Goliath, we would have been cast
out. So, he saves us from the Archmage, he saves us from Oberon's
wrath, all because we can do nothing for ourselves!"
"My heart says you are wrong, brother," Corwin said slowly,
"but my mind cannot fashion a goodly debate."
"That's because the heart is more easily misled." Jericho rose
and stood braced with the wind in his hair. "Isn't that something else the
Magus always said? I, brother, will follow my mind!" With that, he
leaped from the outcropping and let the wind catch in his wings.
Demona had emerged from a rippling stream-fed lake,
untouched by the water thanks to the spell that had brought her to
Avalon. At once, some dim memory had stirred in her. She knew that
somehow she had been here before, during that curious blank period
before Paris. She strove to recall more, but the best she could come up
with was a ghost of a voice, Goliath's voice.
"These are our clan's children," he'd said. And strangely,
MacBeth had been nearby.
She shook her head. It made no sense. Whenever she tried to
remember those unsettlingly vague days, a sweeping tingle of fear
overtook her and she was left with just the image of the moon, the silver
moon with its darker mottlings that almost seemed to form the shape of
But, whatever had happened before, this was Avalon. She had
followed distant firelight and the smell of roasting venison, and soon
found the gathering place of the clan.
She looked upon them from concealment. So many, so vibrant
and healthy and happy! Owing their very lives to that snippet of a
princess, the cause of all of the clan's misfortune! Had Katherine not
dismissed them with scorn, as if they were even lower than the hogs in
the castle's pen, Demona would never have been compelled to strike her
bargain with the captain of the guard.
She set aside her old anger and studied the young gargoyles.
At the time their eggs had been laid, she would have never
given another thought to their parentage. She and all of the other
gargoyles would have taken equal care of and given equal attention to
the hatchlings. But now, after centuries of seeing how humans were
devoted to their offspring, and after seeing some of herself in Angela,
she looked differently upon the children of her clan.
Her rookery brothers and sisters had produced these young
ones. She saw familiar features everywhere. That amber-haired male
ringed with admiring females -- what would Coldstone think if
presented with this son of his? She strove to recall how many eggs he
and his mate had laid, and thought it was three.
Other old friends, centuries dead and dust, seemed to come
vividly alive to her as she looked upon their children. She looked,
seeking, scanning, and then her breath caught in her throat.
There on an outcropping was a familiar silhouette against the
A male very like in build to Goliath. He lacked some of the
breadth of shoulder and depth of chest, but was tall and strong and had
the same majestic wings.
She crept closer, circling around until she could see him in the
His skin was the same twilight blue as her own, his hair was
thick and coarse and fell over his eye in a blood-red tumble, and his
features were a masculine version of hers.
"My son," she whispered into the night, and moved even
Another male joined him, golden-skinned, with unusual split
wings the banded deep brown of a tiger's eye agate and ivory-white
hair. Surely another hatchling of Coldstone and his mate. Demona
keened her ears to hear. Soon she was close enough to make out their
"What good is it to be a warrior, with no battles to fight? We
have no purpose."
Listening to the remainder of their discussion, Demona could
have wept with the fierce savage joy that welled up in her soul. She
heard the dissatisfaction in her son's voice, the bitter tone with which he
spoke Goliath's name.
When her son spread his wings and took to the air, it was all
Demona could do from shrieking in triumph and pride.
Oberon's Children were busy with their own plans, plans for a
peculiar and amusing little party they planned to hold.
They were busy also presenting the gifts with which they
honored their Lord. He hadn't demanded gifts, no. But all knew that
gifts were expected, and a way to earn the goodwill and favor of
Busy renewing age-old acquaintances, reminiscing, scheming
against each other. Some were busy having fun, others were busy
griping (as Puck would have, had he been in attendance) how dreadfully
dull Avalon was compared to the unpredictable humor to be found
So, in all the general business, few noticed the absence of
Queen Titania. As Oberon himself had declared in the presence of all,
she came and went as she pleased. It did not concern him. He'd been
occupied with other things. Casting out an incubus, for instance, or
enduring ceaseless pleas from the sea witch Sycorax to free her half-
mortal son from his imprisonment.
"Our Queen does come and go these days," Phoebe observed
to her sisters as they lounged in the marble-columned enclosure that had
once been the domain of the Archmage.
"With one of our chosen she deals and plays," Selene added,
"Unless our edicts Demona disobeys," Luna said, "no harm in
her visit here, and no reason have we Titania to fear. Other news
troubles me now, the Archmage's curse --"
"What? No! How?!" the other two broke in, alarmed and even
Luna dipped a finger in the still pool. It rippled and an image
appeared, of gargoyles lazing in a woodland glen. "Look and behold, as
Her sisters studied the scene in silence, and then Phoebe
passed her hand across the water and disrupted it.When the water
cleared there was naught to be seen save their nearly identical
"The curse did not die with his life's end," Luna said. "Beyond
our powers all, to mend."
"Gargoyles three, alike as we," Selene mused.
"Humans as well, I have seen when in the mortal world I've
been," Phoebe said reluctantly.
They looked solemnly at each other for a long, long time.
Dawn came to Avalon with a diffuse, milky light.
Dominique, tired after the long night, ate well of sweet fruit
and drank deeply of clear water. She never strayed too far from the spot
where a single male gargoyle stood in stone sleep, because she had the
feeling that Avalon would shift about just on a whim and she might
wind up getting lost.
She used the daylight to study her son. Cast in stone, he looked
more like Goliath, but she could still see her genetic heritage. Goliath's
jaw was a stubborn square block; her son's was sharper. He had her
nose instead of the sizeable chiseled ship's prow in the middle of
Goliath's face. He even had her brow ridges.
Very pleased, she gathered herself a pile of soft leaves and
grasses and settled down to snooze the day away. Just as she was about
to drift off, she realized that Princess Katherine was somewhere
hereabouts, as well as that annoying whelp of a human lad, Tom.
But, frustratingly, the same logic that had spared Owen's little
sorceress sidekick also applied to Katherine. Angela spoke fondly of
the human woman, who had been more of a mother to her than Demona
ever could be. Most likely, her son would have at least some of the
So, much as she might have otherwise liked to gouge holes in
Katherine's soft white skin and pull out her innards, she accepted that it
might be a bad way to start off her relationship with her newfound son.
She slept, and dreamed old dreams of her long-dead clan,
bittersweet now that she had seen their children.
"I don't like this," Xanatos said. "There's nothing we can do?"
Owen shook his head. "Short of going to Avalon. Some
consolation, though -- Titania is unlikely to make her move quickly.
She may take time to form a plan, and a few days on Avalon can
amount to many months here."
"Which means we'll have to be on our guard forever," Xanatos
"She also knows that I know what she has done," Owen
pointed out. "She must realize that I would warn you. She may not try
anything at all."
"Somehow, nice as that thought is, I just can't believe she'd let
it go." Xanatos sighed. "Don't I have enough to worry about with just
"Normally, yes. However, sir, your unusual lifestyle has its
"Yeah. Tell me about it."
Jericho awoke to an agonized cry.
He shook off the lingering shards of his stone skin and leaped
forward, to the side of the hunched figure.
He reached, he faltered. "What --?"
The figure stood and looked at him. A gargoyle, a female. A
stranger, yet somehow familiar. And then he had it.
"You look like ... me?" he said.
She smiled and tears glimmered unshed. "I am your mother."
Jericho staggered back and put a hand to his brow. "Mother?"
His gaze fell upon the grass where she stood and he saw that something
was wrong, but he couldn't quite bring his thoughts together.
"My son!" She held out her arms.
He looked at her, at the love shining from her face with the
imagined brightness of the sun. The rightness of it rang in him like a
deep bell. A need he'd never even suspected washed over him in a
flood. He ignored the darkness in her eyes and gladly accepted her
She cradled him as if he was a tiny hatchling, and finally they
stepped apart. She touched his face, traced his brow ridges. "Such a
handsome lad," she said approvingly.
"How can this be?" he asked. "How did you come to be here? I
thought our clan was destroyed, all save a few males!" Something else
occurred to him and he frowned. "Wait ... when the Archmage attacked,
he brought two great warriors. I saw only one of them, a silver-haired
human." He rubbed his jaw in remembered pain, and saw his mother's
eyes flare dangerously.
"Did he hurt you? That insolent fool MacBeth! When I see
him again, I'll --"
He hastened to calm her, even as he was trying to get over his
surprise at seeing his own lightning-quick temper mirrored in her. "A
glancing blow, and I am unharmed. But my brothers and sisters saw the
other, and they said it was one of our kind, with hair of red like yours!"
"I am not your enemy," she said firmly. "If I have been here
before, believe me, I was under a spell and not acting of my own
choosing. I would never want to hurt you, or your brothers and sisters."
"I do believe you. I just don't understand." He looked at the
grass again and realized what had puzzled him before. There were no
stone fragments where she'd been standing. The ground around his feet
had been littered with them, as usual, but he could not spot a single one
in all the grassy glade.
"I will explain everything ... " she paused and laughed. "What
are you called, my son? I know the princess gave names to you all."
"Jericho," he said.
"Jericho." She sampled it, then nodded. "I like the sound of
that. I am called Demona." She extended her hand. "Come, my son. I
will tell you my story. I will tell you everything. Even ..." she drew in a
deep breath and let it go. "Even about your father."
Here was another all new subject. Jericho blinked. "My
"Your father." She had trouble meeting his eyes, then found
the strength. "Goliath."
"Is this a jest?" he cried.
"No." She squeezed his hand. "I was once his second-in-
command and his mate. Mine is a long story, but I escaped the
destruction of our clan and spent long centuries alone, seeking,
desperate. When at last we were reunited ..." she looked away, unable
to go on.
"What?" he urged.
"He turned me away," she admitted heavily. "He refused to
welcome me back to the clan. He said I had grown too hard and cruel.
Maybe he was right."
Jericho was shaking his head slowly. "No. I cannot believe
She gripped his hand bruisingly tight. "He _was_ right. But I
had to become hard and cruel if I was going to survive! Goliath never
understood that, never believed that being _too_ trusting was even more
"I have met him," Jericho said. "But ... why did he not tell me
he was my father?"
Demona shrugged and looked away, distressed. "I ... I don't
"Please, tell me! Mother, please!"
"He's ashamed of us, isn't he?" Jericho said bitterly. "Because
we're such poor warriors."
She didn't answer but he saw the truth of it in her eyes. His lip
curled in a snarl.
"Now, wait," Demona said hastily. "You must understand, that
is his way, to judge others without knowing or caring what their lives
have been like. He cared not that I had spent a milennium being hunted
and hated by the humans, but just blamed me for not trusting them as he
does. He certainly should not blame you for something that is not your
fault. It's his fault, if anyone's, for he gave our eggs into the keeping of
the princess and abandoned you."
"Why did you let him?"
"I did not learn of it until it was too late. I am sorry." She hung
Jericho sank to his knees and put his arms around her waist. "I
know you would have taken care of us if you could," he said fervently.
"You would have given us a home that was our own, a purpose! You
would have raised us as warriors!"
She stroked his hair. "I would have raised you as warriors, yes.
And I would have led you against the Vikings for revenge, and put you
in danger. Even led you to your deaths. You've been safe here."
"Safe, soft, and useless!" He clung to her velvety wings and
looked up at her. "I'm not afraid of death, Mother, but I want to live
first! Live as a gargoyle, to protect and avenge and to _be_ a warrior!
Oberon calls us nothing more than decorative stonework, and I want
more than that!"
"What of your brothers and sisters?"
"They are content to sit about. I am not. I've never been. Of
them all, only one came close to understanding, and she's already gone
to the real world to find her place in it."
"Yes! She left with Goliath. How did you know?"
"I know, because she is my daughter. Your sister, not just your
rookery sister but your sister in birth and blood." She turned her head
away. "But she sees things as Goliath does. She cares more for the
humans than for her own kind. Goliath tried to keep her from even
knowing about me, and then to poison her against me! When I learned
of Avalon, I knew I had to find a way here, to see my other child, and
hope that you might not come to hate me too."
"You're all I have left, Jericho. I've lost my clan, my daughter,
everything. Yes, I've done terrible things against the humans. No
terrible than what they've done to our kind, but terrible nonetheless. I
tell you this because I want you to know the truth."
"You've done only what you had to do. I can see that! And
been ill-used by humans and your own clan alike! I won't do that,
Mother! All my life, I've wanted something more, some purpose, and
you've brought me new hope! Take me with you!"
She gasped. "You cannot mean that!"
"I can and I do!" He clutched her hands and pleaded. "Teach
me to be a warrior! Give me a cause to fight for! We will be our own
clan, a clan of two, mother and son against the world if need be!"
"Goliath would never allow it. He seeks to deny me --"
"To the Dragon with Goliath and what he will and won't allow!
Maybe he clouded Angela's mind, but not mine!"
Demona embraced him again, and her tears wet his shoulder.
"My son! I will take you with me, because you are all that I hoped you
"This be dire news indeed," Hudson said, at the end of the
lengthy silence which followed Owen's story.
Angela wrung her hands. "She _wouldn't_ do anything bad!
Brooklyn, whose forgiveness of Demona was still fairly new
and shaky, glowered but said nothing.
"Why would she go to Avalon anyway?" Broadway asked.
"Didn't she make enemies last time she was there?"
"She was enspelled," Goliath said. "As was MacBeth, and he
has no memories of Avalon except images that might have been nothing
more than a dream." He doubled his fists and then saw his daughter
looking at him with worry and heartbreak all over her face. He forced
his fingers to unclench.
"Whatever she's up to, it's got to be no good," Lexington said.
"You don't know that!" Angela flared. "Maybe she's sorry! No
one in this clan will give her a second chance --"
"_Second_ chance?" Brooklyn blurted, then bit his lip.
But Hudson nodded at his outburst. "Aye, the lad is right.
She's had chances aplenty to mend her ways, and little to show for it."
"Maybe we should just go and take a look," Broadway
suggested. "To make sure everything's all right."
"No," Goliath said heavily. "We will not go to Avalon."
"What? Why?" Brooklyn's beak got away from him again, the
words coming out sounding like a direct assault on Goliath's authority.
He ignored the tone and replied. "If we go, if any of us go,
Demona will see it as an attack. We cannot know that her purpose there
is malign; Angela is right. But if a battle breaks out, the Avalon clan
will be drawn into it, putting innocent gargoyles at risk. They are my
"If they're your first concern, though," Broadway said slowly,
"then shouldn't we be trying to protect them from Demona?"
"Demona has no quarrel with them." Goliath strode to the
window and looked out, as if he could see Avalon from the windows of
"But they might with her," Angela reluctantly said. "They'll
remember her other visit, even if she does not. They might attack her
"What about Oberon?" Lexington piped up.
"That is my other concern," Goliath said. "Oberon would not
tolerate further disruption of his island. He may drive the clan from
their home, or his punishment might be more dire. I do not want to
chance angering him."
"Demona and Titania were together," Owen reminded them.
"Whatever Demona's purpose, it might be part of some plan of Titania's
and not even involve the gargoyles."
"I wish I could believe that," Goliath said. He growled/sighed.
"No. We will not go after her, but we will be ready in case we are
Angela walked away with her arms wrapped around herself,
clearly torn between worry for her siblings and her mother. Brooklyn
muttered darkly but followed her.
"If Oberon throws them out," Broadway wondered, "will they
"They'll be welcome, I'm sure," Hudson replied. "Ah, would
that not be fine, to have the castle filled again? And a breeding season,
too, so Goliath told us. I'd thought I would not live to see a thriving
Owen glanced at him under arched brows. "I cannot predict
what Mr. Xanatos' response to that idea might be."
Hudson grinned and patted the hilt of his sword. "He can take
it up with me, then, should it come to pass!"
"I'm going to call Aiden," Lex announced. "She must've been
scared stiff, going up against Demona like that!" He bounded off
toward the phone.
Goliath turned to Owen. "You will keep us informed," he said.
Owen inclined his head. "Of course."
Days passed, and then weeks.
"Look, Owen!" Fox snapped one afternoon, "I appreciate your
concern, but if you don't quit hovering around me, I'm going to have to
either hit you or sleep with you!"
One month slowly turned into two months.
"Nightstone is still operating without Dominique Destine,"
Matt Bluestone reported. "The vice-presidents are finally getting a
chance to do things their way without the dragon lady breathing down
their necks, and they're getting to like it."
At the end of the second month, after much discussion, Goliath
and Elisa formally set the wedding date for October 31, Halloween, in
honor of their first dance. Two weeks after that, Elisa got a call from
her sister Beth in Arizona.
"I need some advice," Beth said over hundreds of miles of
long-distance. "I'm kind of seeing somebody."
"That's great!" Elisa responded enthusiastically.
"Well," Beth wavered, "I'm worried Dad won't approve."
Elisa laughed. "Sis, I'm marrying a gargoyle and Derrek's kids
have fur! Who could you possibly be going out with that Dad wouldn't
Beth told her.
"Oh," Elisa said through numb and shocked lips. "Oh, I see
what you mean!"
Summer came to New York. Hudson, at least, was glad of the
extra hours of sunbaked warmth on his old bones, even if the others
bemoaned the shortness of the night.
"Will it never end?" Angela wailed. "Will we never know?"
Goliath consolingly rubbed his knuckles against her brow
ridges. "Sometimes there is no clear ending. We must wait, and watch,
and see what will come to pass."
And the time went on ...
"My lord, if I may take a moment of the Gathering's time?"
Oberon at once raised a hand for silence. "Attend our Queen,
by Oberon's command!"
Titania made a gracious gesture of thanks. "My lord and
husband, I have seen many grand gifts given by Avalon's returning
children. I would not seem remiss in my own devotion."
He smiled. "Why, Titania, you need not bring us any further
gift, when already you've once more afforded us your love."
"Even so, my lord, I have a small trifle, if you will aceept it.
Nothing so fine and bejeweled as many of these splendors, yet it may
please your fancy."
Oberon leaned forward, intrigued and anticipatory. The
gathered children shuffled for positions and vantage points.
Titania swept a graceful curtsey. "Here, Lord Oberon, is the
gift with which I honor thee." She held out her hand, palm up, and
uncurled her long slender fingers.
Bright and airy though the Grand Hall of Oberon was, the
shine from the white petals was the clearest light in the room.
"A trifle indeed," Oberon gasped breathlessly. "To please our
fancy? Titania ..."
She demurred sweetly. "Say no more, my lord. Accept this gift
of me, and bear me only goodwill in return." Stepping forward, she
placed the flower in his eager outstretched hand.
An envious, hungry sigh went up from the assemblage.
Although Titania kept her gaze fixed on Oberon, she sensed still the
furtive gleam that came into many an eye. Plots were being formed,
schemings were underway.
Oberon had been getting bored, starting to think of other
things, starting to look beyond his own self-absorbed ego. The lady's
veil would change much of that, and the plots and schemings would
occupy the rest of his attention.
And Titania would continue to rule Avalon her way.
"He's gone," Elektra said softly.
"What do you mean, gone?" Gabriel nearly took his slim sister
by the shoulders and shook her, but restrained himself. "When? Where?
Most importantly, why?"
"I could answer your questions, brother, but it would change
nothing. You never saw him as he truly is."
"What?" He blinked at her.
She sighed restlessly. "Envious of you, close to no one, always
a shadow on his spirit that urged him toward a destiny he did not
understand. Nor do I, but I've at least an inlking of it. He has chosen to
follow another path, although I fear it will be his undoing."
"If all this is because he didn't get a mate, or if he was still sore
because Tourmaline tried to win him when she couldn't get me --"
"No, no. Not that. If he truly wanted a mate, he would have
had one." She dropped her eyes, long lashes brushing against her ivory-
pale cheeks, and Gabriel looked at her with sudden comprehension.
He put a hand on her wing-caped shoulder. "And you just let
him go? You said nothing?"
She nodded mutely.
"If he regrets nothing else, my sister, I know he will live to
He turned slowly in a circle, his face alight with awe. "This is
Demona smiled. "It serves my needs."
"It is the most splendid place I've ever seen! We've nothing
like this on Avalon! Not even Oberon's palace holds such wonders!
How is it that you have such magic?"
"Not magic, my son. These things are the work of science, and
human inventors. They are not all entirely without merit, I give them
credit for that at least."
Jericho leaned close to the blank television screen. "What is
this, a window of darkness?"
"Hardly." She triggered the remote control and smothered a
laugh as her son sprang back in alarm at the sudden light and color and
sound. "A window to many places, some real, and some imaginary."
Her thoughts flashed back several years to something she'd overheard
while lurking in a secret passage outside of Xanatos' office. "Think of it
as a ... living tapestry."
He roamed around the room. "I feel so primitive," he finally
said. "A barbarian amid all of these marvels."
Demona shook her head. "Not for long. Those days on Avalon,
I told you all about the past. Now, your education on the present and
future begins. I will teach you to understand and use everything you'll
find in this world. A warrior in this era must be able to do more than
swing a sword. And you, Jericho, will be a great warrior."
He drew himself straight and tall. The new garments she'd
given him, made of metal like the armor that Guardian Tom wore but
lighter and stronger, gleamed glossy black and shining silver. "I will not
fail you, Mother."