Xantasia
Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


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

#38 in an ongoing saga.



PART ONE -- THOUGH HELL SHOULD BAR THE WAY

David Xanatos was bored.
For the first time since he'd opened it on Christmas morning
and assured his hopeful young son that it was just what he'd always
wanted, he reached out and took hold of one of the silver balls
suspended on wire. He drew it out to the side, released it, and watched
as the balls clacked back and forth.
Bored. Yes, indeed.
No Machiavellian plots in the works. No projects that
currently needed his attention. The business was running itself with
flawless precision. And he'd found that his staff expected, no, _needed_
the boss to take the occasional day off. If he showed up unexpectedly,
he'd create unproductive panic.
He swiveled away from his desk and looked out over
Manhattan, which gleamed under a gentle warm golden haze. A small
smile lifted one corner of his mouth as he wondered how Owen was
doing with the kids.
They were spending the day at the zoo, studying the animals
because Alex's interest in learning shapeshifting had increased since
Aiden had accidentally given the entire household a taste of it.
But Owen would really have his hands full, because his lady
Cordelia had suggested in her satin-cool voice that perhaps their
daughter Patricia would like to go on an outing with her father, and
Owen knew as well as Xanatos himself that when she used her satin-
cool voice, she would tolerate no argument.
He wandered through the castle, pausing once to look up at the
ramparts where Goliath and his clan slept. They'd be no good for
relieving boredom for several hours yet. And when they did, odds were
that Hudson would start in on them again.
Xanatos idly wondered if he'd found the Fountain of Youth on
his recent vacation. It had certainly perked the old boy up! He'd come
back with a fire in his soul that Xanatos hadn't seen in years.
And he'd gotten it into his head that the clan was slacking off.
Angela and Brooklyn bore the brunt of his renewed interest in training
the younger generation, though not even Goliath escaped uncriticized.
The other night, Talon had brought Maggie and Delilah, and
the sky over the castle had been filled with winged shapes in mock
battles. Xanatos himself had even joined in, and found that his status as
lord of the manor did not excuse him from Hudson's stern correction.
He had the bruises to prove it.
Chuckling to himself, remembering how startled and even
pissed he'd been at the time, he let the curtain fall shut and proceeded to
go in search of his wife.
He found her where he knew he would, in the sewing room
with a pencil behind one ear, a smudge of pastel on her cheek, and
swatches of cloth streaming like party favors in all directions. The walls
were covered with sketches and photographs. A dressmaker's dummy,
sized to Fox's own admirable proportions, stood in the center of the
room wearing a dress that gave new meaning to the word 'risque.'
"Hello, darling." He kissed her on the side of the neck.
"Mmm." Fox said, arching her back a little but not taking her
eyes off her easel. "Hello."
"How's it going?"
"Really well." She squirmed away from his affectionate
nuzzle. "David, please, I'm trying to work."
"Work later?" He slid his arms around her waist.
"David, sweetheart ..." Now she turned toward him, pulling
down the glasses she wore for close work and never let anyone but him
see her in. "I'm busy. I can't always be the devoted wife, mother, and
one-woman vigilante squad you married. I need more. And since The
Pack got cancelled and disbanded, this is my new thing. I really think
FoxFire Fashion can be a success."
"I know," he said, releasing her. "I'm sure it will be. You're as
wonderful at this as everything else you do."
She smiled. "And I'll do the everything else later, 'kay?
Promise."
"Okay, okay," he sighed. "I'll get out of your way."
"Thank you, darling," she said absently, already returning her
attention to her design.
He lingered by the door for a while, watching her. Funny, it
was usually her complaining that he spent too much time working and
not enough with the family.
Still bored, and now a little down too because even though he
hadn't really been looking for an afternoon quickie, he wasn't used to
getting brushed off, he found himself wandering into the gargoyles'
quarters.
Even though the place was cluttered with reflections of their
various interests -- Brooklyn had recently taken up model-building and
Angela was teaching herself the piano, in addition to Lex's computer
games, Hudson's movies, Broadway's cooking, and Goliath's books -- it
always seemed big and empty during the day.
Of course, even when it was nighttime, the place still felt
empty, because everyone was aware of Broadway's absence. And now
Lex's, who had gone to the West Coast with Aiden for spring break
(and, Xanatos suspected, to break the news of their relationship to her
parents).
Xanatos idly flipped through Lex's computer games, realizing
that he really _must_ be bored if he was contemplating passing a few
hours that way.
He frowned a little when his gaze fell upon the prototype VR
helmet Lex had cadged off of his R&D people. He'd given consent, but
had expressly told Lex to be ultra-careful with the costly piece of gear.
And now look. It had a hole drilled in it, for crying out loud, and a
silvery cable snaking its way from the helmet into the guts of the
computer.
"All right, fun's over," he grumbled. "What have you been up
to?"
He switched on the computer, and while he waited for it to
warm up, he glanced at an untidy stack of papers on the desk. Some
were printouts of e-mail between Lex and Aiden, others were loose-leaf
sheets covered with scribbles and doodles and half-intelligible notes.
His frown gave way to an expression of interest. It looked like
the two of them had been designing their own program. Lex had
recently gotten a CD-burner ... Xanatos opened the drive and there it
was, a plain disk labeled M5. It seemed to glint with pale silvery runes
instead of the usual prismatic line.
He closed it again, hesitated.
The gargoyles weren't all that concerned with privacy. As long
as he didn't spy on them regularly, they didn't object to having the
security cameras in the room. They weren't used to having a place of
their own beyond a parapet to perch on.
But this was different. This was snooping.
"You picked a funny time to go all moral," he told himself,
then laughed at his own foolishness. Before he got mad at Lex, he might
as well see what was up.
Still chuckling, he sat down and faced the screen. Right there
in the corner was an icon that said M5. He clicked on it, then picked up
the helmet.
It fit snugly, treating him to a view of nothing but sheer dense
black. It also muffled sound so effectively that he could only hear the
oceanic rushing of his own pulse in his ears. Then he heard a faint hum,
and a menu appeared floating before his eyes.
SELECT ONE --
1. Space Adventure.
2. Knight's Quest.
3. Highwayman.
Hmm. The first two sounded fairly standard, but the last,
Highwayman, that had possibilities. He was just wondering how to
select it when a bar of light appeared around it, then the menu vanished.
AVATAR GENERATION OR SAVED GAME? it asked.
He chose the first one. Then, because he'd never been one for
the escapism of pretending to be someone else, he set about making a
reasonable version of himself. Then he signaled the computer that he
was ready, and waited to see what would happen.

* *

His sense of smell came back first. The evocative scent of the
air after a hard rain. Damp earth and greenness. A hint of gunpowder
and cologne.
Next was hearing. The steady but uneven drip of water off of
leaves. The soft nicker of a horse.
And then sight.
"Incredible," he breathed.
He was standing in the forest, the wind spinning webs of dark
clouds overhead. A sleek black horse was tethered to a tree nearby,
regarding him with intelligent brown eyes. The ground felt moist and
springy beneath his boots --
Boots?
Xanatos looked down at himself.
Boots. Of the wide, folded-top variety. And midnight blue
velvet breeches tucked into them.
He extended his arms. Black kidskin gloves. Frothy white lace
cuffs poking from beneath the sleeves of a black frock coat
embroidered in silver. A pistol on one side, a rapier on the other.
Atop his head, he found when he reached up and lifted it off, a
tri-corner black hat with a sweeping white plume.
This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be right. He'd been
expecting a fairly standard VR setup, everything looking a little bit
phony. But here he was, without benefit of the clunky bodysuit, feeling
everything exactly as if it were real.
The detail was mind-blowing. Every leaf, every seam, the
jewels in the hilt of his rapier, everything was exactly as it should be.
He could even feel the breeze in his hair when he removed his hat.
For one thing, he sure wasn't bored anymore!
He walked over to the horse and patted it on the shoulder. It
nickered again, blowing its warm breath in his face.
Just beyond the horse, he saw something pale against the dark
background of the trees. He approached, noting that the perspectives
changed exactly as if he was walking through a real forest.
The object that had caught his eye turned out to be a ragged-
edged, yellowed sheet of parchment, nailed to the trunk of an oak.
REWARD 10,000 FLORINS
THE BLACK FOX
SOUGHT FOR ROBBERY, DUELLING, AND
HIGH TREASON TO THE CROWN.
Below that message was a woodcut image, stark black. He
didn't need to see what was beneath the scarf over the lower half of the
face to recognize the visage he saw in his own mirror every morning.
The devil-may-care glint in the eyes was more than enough.
"Aiden, Lex, you're geniuses," he murmured.
"Sir? Were you talking to me?"
He about leaped out of his boots, and spun around with a hand
on the hilt of his rapier.
"Didn't mean to startle you," the man said. He was short and
stocky, with a wide dirt-smeared face and gaps between his teeth.
"There's news."
"Is there, Dobbins?" To his surprise, the name came smoothly
up in his head.
"I've heard from Sal, you remember, sir, Lady Attewater's
maid --" he winked lewdly "-- that Lord Wintersbourne is bound for
Loallix, along this very road! Lord Wintersbourne, richest and
miserliest man in the county!"
"And why's he bound for Loallix?" Xanatos asked.
"Sal says he's taking his niece to the convent, so as to keep her
inheritance for himself."
"That's hardly gentlemanly of him, now is it? Perhaps Lord
Wintersbourne could use a lesson in manners."
"He won't be learning them from his guards, that's what I
hear," Dobbins said. "He's too much a skinflint to hire more than a pair,
and is taking the back road in hopes of avoiding robbers."
"I'm afraid," Xanatos said, vaulting lithely into the saddle,
"that he's in for a disappointment."
Dobbins put a hand to his ear. "Hark! They come!"
Xanatos found a silken scarf around his neck and pulled it up.
He could now hear it too, the muffled thudding of hoofbeats and the
creak of wheels. "Wish me luck!"
"You've the luck of the devil himself, sir! You don't need any
help from me!"
Moments later, he was sitting astride Shadow (for that, he
knew, was the stallion's name) on a hillock overlooking a bend in the
road. The puddles reflected the clouds above, then dissolved into
ripples as the riders and carriage came nearer.
They swept around the bend. Xanatos was ready. He urged
Shadow to leap into the roadway, kicking up huge splashes, and
brandished his blunderbuss.
"Halt the coach!" he commanded ringingly. "Stand and
deliver!"
The two outriders came at him at once, drawing weapons of
their own. The driver pulled up sharp in the reins, and gasped, "The
Black Fox!"
"The reward is ours!" one of the riders, a mustachioed fellow
with a foppish yellow doublet, exclaimed excitedly.
"I think not!" Xanatos fired.
He was used to non-projectile weapons, and the recoil very
nearly knocked him off his horse. The pistol roared like thunder. Flame
and smoke belched from the barrel.
He'd meant to sharpshoot the gun from Yellow-Doublet's hand;
instead, he missed by two yards and the ball slammed into the wall of
the coach, eliciting cries of alarm from within.
The other rider, more soberly clad in rust-brown, aimed at
Xanatos' heart.
He twisted in the saddle, and a searing line of pain flashed
across his right arm. Shadow reared, and for the second time in five
seconds Xanatos almost went right off. He held on and urged Shadow
straight ahead.
He charged between the two riders. One thing about black
powder weapons -- you got one shot, and if that didn't do the trick, you
had to come up with another plan. Hence, the sword.
Yellow-Doublet hadn't fired yet, so Xanatos slashed at him
with the rapier. Fencing wasn't his forte either, but he scored a lucky
shot on the man's arm. Yellow-Doublet dropped his gun into a puddle,
swore, and grabbed for his own sword.
Xanatos didn't wait to see if he got it, because he had the man
in brown coming at him from the other side. Their blades clashed,
clashed again, then locked in an X with the two of them staring at each
other over the shining steel.
As it turned out, Yellow-Doublet did get his drawn, and now
Xanatos had an armed foe on either side. He dropped the pistol and
drew his knife with his left hand, using that to parry as well.
To make matters worse, as if he didn't have enough to deal
with right now, the driver had produced a musket.
Both his opponents lunged at once, and Xanatos rolled
backwards off the horse, managing by a display of acrobatics to land on
his feet. Their blades passed through the spot where he'd been and
skewered each other.
In one smooth, fluid movement, Xanatos flipped his knife so
he was holding it by the blade, threw it, and pinned the driver's sleeve
to the back of his seat. The musket fell, and by the time the driver
retrieved it with his other hand, Xanatos was standing next to him with
the tip of a rapier resting under his chin.
"I yield," the driver stammered.
"I thought you might." Xanatos threw the musket into the
woods, then picked up a coil of rope he found beneath the seat and tied
the man up. The other two weren't moving, and wouldn't be doing so
ever again, since their blades had pierced deep.
With the three of them taken care of, he approached the coach.
Cautiously, because they might have another gun in there, but with a
bold swagger because that was simply the way it was done.
He whipped open the curtains with his sword. "My most
gracious Lord Wintersbourne," he said with a smile. "Your money or
your life."
It wasn't until he actually prodded the pudgy, fretful lord with
the pointy end that Wintersbourne coughed up the cash. He handed over
a small purse, and Xanatos could tell by fingering it that it contained
only silver, chump change.
"I never carry much money," Wintersbourne explained,
managing to sound scared and indignant and annoyed all at the same
time.
"We'll see about that in a moment. First, lady, if you please?"
Xanatos turned his attention to the other occupant, a woman who was
holding an open fan before her face. "Have you anything worth my
while?"
She lowered the fan. Mahogany-brown hair tucked into a
snood of gold mesh. Fair, creamy skin with full, pouty lips. Hazel eyes
with long, lush lashes. "Do I, sir?"
He arched an eyebrow. "I think you might."
His gaze dropped to her decolletage. She had folded her fan,
but now she opened it again and held it to her bodice.
"That necklace, for instance," Xanatos continued. "It's nearly
as beautiful as you are."
She blushed delicately. "Oh, sir, please, my grandmother gave
it to me."
"Leave her be, you villain!" Wintersbourne said in the tone of
a man who feels he ought to say something even if he doesn't want to.
Xanatos ignored him. "I'll take a kiss in place of the necklace,
fair one."
"A kiss! But sir!" Her hazel eyes tilted up to him appealingly.
"I am on my way to a convent!"
"A waste and a shame. For the sake of all mankind, you shall
not go unkissed!" He seized her wrist and gently drew her toward the
window.
"Oh, uncle, defend me," she besseched, but did not resist.
Xanatos removed his hat and held it between them and Lord
Wintersbourne, then tugged down his scarf. "He can't help you. Just one
taste from those wine-red lips, and I'll be on my way."
She acquiesced, returning his kiss with interest. "His gold," she
breathed as they parted. "It's concealed beneath the floorboards."
He acknowledged it with a brief nod as he replaced his scarf.
"There, you've had your money and your fun," Wintersbourne
huffed. "Now leave us! Or I'll have the guard on you!"
"Not so fast. I find it unlikely that as wealthy a man as you
would travel with so little coin." He bounced the purse on his palm,
then stuffed it into his coat. "So, if you'll step down from the coach,
please?"
"I'll do no such thing, you ruffian!"
"I think you will," Xanatos said along the blade of his rapier.
Wintersbourne grudgingly emerged, followed by his niece. She
glanced coyly at Xanatos over the rim of her fan as he gallantly helped
her down.
"My, my, what's this?" Xanatos asked amusedly. "It looks like
you've got a loose floorboard here! And what's this underneath? It looks
like a coffer of gold!"
"Do not touch that!" Wintersbourne, more upset by the threat
to his precious money than the one to the virtue of his niece. It even
inspired him to rush at Xanatos, a short and futile effort that ended with
the good lord sitting in a mudpuddle with his breeches around his
ankles, his ample backside paddled red by the flat of a rapier, and his
fur-lined cape wrapped around his head and arms.
Xanatos helped himself to the coffer of gold. He leaned close
to the woman and whispered, "Why did you tell me about the money?"
"He plots with the Archbishop against the king," she said in a
low voice. "He thinks to put me away in a convent because I know of
their dealings."
"Sir!" Dobbins called from across the road. "Armed men
approaching!"
"It seems I must be going." Xanatos tucked the coffer under
one arm. He pulled a silk handkerchief from within his coat, its corner
embroidered with a black foxhead. "A token for you, my lady. Will you
honor me with your name?"
"Jacqueline," she said with a slight curtsey, and tucked the
handkerchief into her bodice.
"Lovely!" He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it.
"Sir, they're nearly upon us!"
"Farewell, lady." He swept off his hat in a grand gesture, then
sprang to his horse and galloped away just before the half-dozen armed
guardsmen rounded the bend.

* *

Much later, he was still utterly engrossed -- it turned out that
he led a clever double life as both highwayman and noble confidante to
the young king, and had uncovered a convoluted plot of deception and
court intrigue revolving around the king's sinister uncle, the
Archbishop, and several of the older lords.
He'd just resisted (though it pained him to do so) a seduction
attempt by the king's gorgeous and venomous cousin Madelaine, and
was preparing to meet a hotheaded count in a duel before rushing off to
spirit Jacqueline out of the convent because he'd learned her life was in
danger, when the computer tactfully informed him that someone on the
outside was trying to get his attention.
Xanatos saved the game, and removed the helmet. It took him
a few minutes of blinking to readjust. Everything looked purple.
That was because, he realized, he was looking at the center of
Goliath's chest, a purple expanse that seemed wide as a movie screen.
"Xanatos? What are you doing here?"
"And playing with Lex's toys, too," Brooklyn added.
"Good God, it's after sunset?" Xanatos checked his watch.
His body ached, and at first he thought it was because he'd
been sitting in the same position for nearly five hours. Then, as he got
up and stretched, he realized it wasn't the same sort of feeling at all. He
felt exactly as he would have expected to if he'd really been doing all
the riding, duelling, and other assorted cavorting that he'd done in the
game.
His shoulder was still sore where he'd been shot, and when he
raised his fingers to his cheek, he wouldn't have been surprised to find a
couple of bleeding furrows, a souvenir from Madelaine's wrath when
he'd spurned the blond siren's advances.
His cheek was unmarked, and his fingers came away clean. He
looked up, aware that the entire clan were watching him with markedly
peculiar expressions.
"Are you all right?" Goliath finally asked.
"Yes, fine, do you give Lex the third degree when he plays a
computer game?"
"It's just that we're used to Lexington doing it," Hudson said.
"We've ne'er seen ye do anything of the sort."
"What they've done here ... it's unbelievable!" Xanatos said,
shaking his head as reality settled back in. "Have any of you tried it?"
"Lex wouldn't let anyone near it," Brooklyn said. "He and
Aiden were designing their own VR program, or something."
"They succeeded." Xanatos riffled through the stack of papers.
"And how! I've got to investigate this."
"Why?" Goliath's brow ridges drew ominously low. "Why
does this program of theirs interest you?"
He held up the disk, noting again the silvery runic patterns
instead of the rainbow line. "If it can be duplicated, if this isn't a one-
shot wonder, those two little geniuses of ours may well have come up
with the next big sensation. I can see the slogan now -- 'Magic in the
Making.' And no one will ever guess that's exactly what we've done!"

* *

PART TWO -- ANOTHER DOUBLE DATE.

The mists lifted, and the warm, balmy air closed around them,
bringing with it the cries of birds and the chatter of monkeys, and even
the muted growl of a large jungle cat.
Trees crowded close to the edge of the slightly dank river,
vines looped around their thick branches.
Elektra was crouched beside Broadway, relieved beyond
measure that the sight before them was so different from the New
England landscape where they'd so recently fought a monstrous clan.
"Where could this be?" she wondered aloud.
"Looks like Africa or someplace," Broadway replied.
Brendan was no help; he lay curled in the bottom of the skiff,
snoring gently. He was wearing a natty tweed jacket with suede elbow
patches, borrowed from the unfortunate Howard Mosswell's closet. He
hadn't been able to sleep much since that incident, claiming nightmares
kept him awake. This was the first time he seemed to be sleeping
soundly and untroubled.
Broadway poled the skiff onward. "Avalon sent Goliath, Elisa
and Angela to Africa. We lucked out, though; they went over a
waterfall. And had to deal with poachers, were-panthers, one of
Oberon's kids dressed like a big spider, and Elisa's mom."
"Behold, there is a waterfall." Elektra pointed. Up ahead, a
massive rock thrust up from the river, undercut so that the fine sheet of
water made a curtain. "No threat to us, methinks."
A spotlight danced along the rippling spray, and now they
heard the sound of an engine. An engine, and an amplified voice.
"...and as we come around the bend, you'll see something
you've never seen before ..."
"Damn right!" Broadway muttered, poling strongly. The skiff
slid into a shadow of tangled, draped vines just as a boat came into
view.
"... the back side of water!" the voice announced as the boat
slipped under the overhang, behind the waterfall.
It was open-sided with a green-and-white-striped
plastic/canvas top, and the words "Yangtze Gal" written on it. At the
front stood a man in shorts and a safari-style shirt. The sides were
crowded with people -- men, women, lots of children -- in colorful
clothes. Many held cameras. They groaned and laughed, leaning back
so as not to get splashed by the falling water.
Elektra looked up at Broadway, and he looked down at her,
equally confused. The boat continued on, the pilot now saying
something about hippos.
"Shall we follow?" Elektra asked.
Broadway shrugged. "Might as well find out where we are and
what's going on. There's something weird about all this."
"Aye, I feel it. Something in the air. Magical, almost. It puts
me in mind of Avalon."
They followed the Yangtze Gal at a discreet distance, pausing
when it slowed.
"... only dangerous when their ears are wiggling," the pilot said
in a hushed yet amplified tone.
Now they could see what the passengers were looking at. A
herd of hippopotamus, submerged to the nostrils, blowing bubbles as
they periodically rose. And their ears were wiggling, one and all.
One huge specimen reared from the depths, tusked mouth
gaping, right at the side of the boat. Elektra's cry of fear mingled with
those of the people aboard, and Broadway spread his wings as the pilot
produced a gun.
A sharp report rang out, and the hippo descended.
Elektra found herself clinging to Broadway. She'd had enough
of creatures rearing from the depths, thank thee kindly! His arm was
snug around her, holding her close to his comforting bulk.
"That's a fake gun," he said.
She realized that the cries of the passengers had been mostly
surprise and laughter, lacking in genuine fear.
"A fake gun!" he repeated. "Like a cap pistol! And those
hippos --"
"Please, let us not go near them."
"Elektra, it's okay. Look. They're not real."
"What mean you, not real?" But she observed the repetitive
motions of the creatures, and as the noise of the boat and the pilot
passed further away, she could hear the hydraulic wheeze and grunt of
machinery.
"Constructs?"
"Robots," Broadway said.
Not reassured in the least, she pressed closer to him. "What
manner of place is this, then?"
"I think ... no, that's nuts. Come on. Let's check it out."
They kept following, past a scene where several men had been
chased up a large pole by a raging rhinoceros, listening to the pilot's
jokes about how they'd been tresspassing, but he was sure they'd get the
point, in the end.
Now lights glinted through the trees, and Broadway brought
the skiff to a halt just as they came to a final bend in the river. The
Yangtze Gal proceeded to a dock where half a dozen of her sisters -- the
Amazon Annie, the Queen of the Nile, and others -- loaded and
offloaded merry chattering passengers.
Beyond the docks was a teeming marketplace. Thatched huts
offered displays of goods -- bright-patterned garments, shrunken heads
hanging by their long hair, seashell necklaces, dead snakes dangling
from the eaves, carved totems and wooden animals.
"What _is_ this place?" she pleaded.
Broadway grinned. "I was right!" He gestured to the people
moving through the marketplace. Like the passengers on the boat, they
were of all ages with an abundance of children, in summery garb. Many
carried plastic shopping bags adorned with a picture of a castle. "We're
at ... Disneyland!"
"An amusement park? This is an amusement park?"
Broadway's chuckle became a laugh became a guffaw. "You
wished for Avalon to send us to a happier place! What place could be
happier than the Happiest Place on Earth?"
"But why?"
"Why not? Maybe, after Innsbrook, we deserved a vacation!
Come on, let's backtrack and hide the skiff."
"What of Brendan?"
"Poor guy. He's barely slept this whole time. He'll probably be
out for hours. We can take a quick look around and be back before he
wakes up."
"It's not as if we can walk unnoticed among so many humans,"
she said.
"Avalon must have sent us here for a reason," he reminded her.
"We'll stick to the shadows and see what we can spot."
She picked up her coat -- like Brendan's jacket, it was
borrowed from Howard Mosswell's closet, since her old one had been
rent asunder during the battle with the Squid Clan. She considered it for
a moment. "It is far too warm for this garment, yet without it, I cannot
well pass for human."
"Leave it. Just keep your wings folded. We'll try not to get
seen in the first place."
They hid the skiff in a dark cove behind a mockup of a canoe
which held a witchdoctor and his display of shrunken heads. It was
eerie, the way the figure moved its arms, raising and lowering a fistful
of the wizened monkey-like trophies. But there was space enough
behind it to conceal the skiff, and from there they made their way
through the edge of the makeshift jungle.
At last, they were looking once more at the marketplace. The
people came and went in throngs, some with trefoil balloons (the shape
more often than not mirrored in the black feltlike hats worn by many of
the children), and even she knew the symbol of Micky Mouse when she
saw it. Broadway was right.
"Why would we be sent here?" A cold thought struck her.
"You don't suppose some evil might threaten this joyful place!"
"Samson said he was kidnapped by Sevarius, right out of the
park," Broadway said darkly. "Bad things can happen here, too."
A group of teens went past their hiding place, all of them
eating delicious confections. Some munched what looked like
chocolate-covered bananas that had been rolled in nuts, while others
enjoyed Elektra's weakness, ice cream.
Broadway's longing gaze followed them too, then he started
violently. "Hey --!"
"What?"
"That's ... that's Aiden!"
"Where?" She looked where he was looking, and saw a petite
beige-blonde in a pink sleeveless top, standing at a refreshment kiosk
proudly displaying the Dole pineapple logo.
"And she's with some _guy_!" Broadway continued, appalled.
Elektra had only met Aiden a time or two, but it did look like
her, and she was with some guy. A young, attractive fellow at that. They
were drinking pineapple juice and laughing together.
"She can't do this to Lex!" Broadway declared indignantly.
"Perhaps it is not what it seems." Elektra held him back as he
made ready to go storming over there. "Perhaps --"
Whatever she was going to say went unfinished as Aiden and
the young man exchanged a lingering kiss, then started off with their
arms around each other.
"Nobody treats my rookery brother like that!" Broadway,
deeply hurt and indignant, shrugged off Elektra's hand and stomped
right out into the open. "That two-timing little -- ooh, she comes across
all innocent, but ..."
Elektra shrank into the shadows with her hands over her
mouth. "Broadway, come back!"
He didn't. He stalked past a restaurant which advertised a
tropical floor show and kept on going. People turned to watch him.
She gathered her courage and dashed after him. Then, when
she heard what the staring people were saying, she started to giggle.
"... new animated movie based on those gargoyle things?"
"Get real! Disney would never do that. Might scare the
kiddies!"
"Good goddam costume, though."
Aiden and her escort were standing in a line of people in front
of something billed as "The Enchanted Tiki Room," their heads close
together, their bodies in an attitude of comfortable intimacy. Broadway
was almost upon them, and Elektra gaining on him, when she suddenly
understood, and her giggles turned into a relieved spate of laughter.
"Aiden!" Broadway bellowed.
Elektra choked on her laughter and raced to his side.
"Broadway, don't!"
Aiden jumped about two feet and whirled. "Broadway? You
scared the -- you scared me!"
"Who's your _friend_?" he growled, looming threateningly
over the young man. Who, rather than being intimidated, started
grinning fit to split.
"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" They were drawing
quite a crowd by now, and Aiden looked horrified to be the center of
attention.
"Broadway!" Elektra seized his arm. "Cease! It's not what you
think!"
"That's her line," he rumbled. "Go on, Aiden, what do you
have to say for yourself? Is this how you treat Lex? Going behind his
back?"
"Aiden, how could you?" the grinning young man asked.
"He _is_ Lexington!" Elektra and Aiden said together.
"Hey, what's going on?" someone asked. "Is it a show or
something?"
Aiden, frantic but doing her best to be composed, threw a
weak smile his way. "Something like that!" Then she uttered a few
words in Latin, which Elektra recognized as words of concealment and
misdirection, and the next thing they knew, nobody was paying them
any mind.
"That was too good!" Lexington chortled.
"What the heck is going on?" Broadway demanded.
"Illusion," Elektra said. "She has clothed him in illusion, to
make him appear human." She pinched Broadway's fan-shaped ears
between her fingers and shook his head fondly. "You great, good-
hearted ninny! How noble of you to speak out on behalf of your injured
brother!"
"Let's get out of here," Aiden said. "I can't keep up this spell
forever. Too many people. Sooner or later, someone's going to notice us
again."
Indeed, the people now moved around them without so much
as a glance, excepting for the younger children.
"Lex?" Broadway asked as Aiden hustled them all toward a
corner off the main path. "Is that really you?"
"Really me," he confirmed. "What are you doing here?"
"Avalon washed us up in the jungle boat ride. What are _you_
doing here?"
"Spring break. We flew out to see Aiden's folks. It's great to
see you, even if you did embarrass my girlfriend!"
"Well ... um ... you know ..." Broadway mumbled, shuffling
his feet.
"You can't go around Disneyland looking like that," Aiden
decided. "Mind if I disguise you? It's a lot easier than trying to maintain
that S.E.P. field."
"S.E.P. Somebody Else's Problem," Lex explained before they
could ask. "Hitchiker's Guide. Makes people not notice anything they
don't want to see. Aiden, are you sure? I thought one illusion was
pushing it."
"I thought so too, but this place really is the Magic Kingdom. I
feel like I could cast a hundred spells and not tire myself out. But
illusions don't take concentration, and the other one does."
"You mean, we could just go around like normal people?"
Broadway asked.
"Sure! It's great!" Lex said brightly. "Better than Halloween!
We've been on rides, and into shops, anywhere we want!"
"I should very much like to try," Elektra said, and looked
imploringly at Broadway. "For a short while, at least? Brendan should
sleep some hours yet."
"Brendan?" Lex goggled. "Birdie's uncle?"
"So he's not dead! I'll have to call Birdie later!" Aiden
laughed. "We want to hear _everything_, but first, the spells. This won't
hurt a bit." She focused on Elektra first, murmuring soft words.
"Are you using the wand for that?" Broadway asked.
"Nope," Lex answered for her. "After what happened, Owen
wouldn't let her bring it."
"What happened?" Elektra looked down at herself, amazed to
see her tail melt away, and galoshes-clad talons become regular human
feet in pretty blue shoes that matched her dress.
Aiden winced. "I blew it again. Turned everyone in the castle
into animals. Right before Mr. Xanatos' dad showed up to introduce the
lady he wanted to marry. It was a huge mess. We had to go clear to
London to straighten it out. So, since then, I've stuck to regular old
Aiden-magic. Less chance of a foul-up. There, all done, Elektra."
"Wow," Broadway said. "You really do look just like the
princess!"
"Now you." Aiden turned to him and concentrated.
Moments later, he took on the aspect of a large thickset man
with sunbleached blond hair, a man perhaps suited to the game of
football. Through it all, he still had Broadway's genial, sweet features,
only made human.
"This is like that time with the mirror, remember?" Lex said to
him.
"There." Aiden sighed, then smiled. "Two nice young couples
at Disneyland. What do you want to do first?"

* *

"Whoo." Aiden collapsed on a bench under a metal leafy path
where cars made to look like colorful caterpillars ran in and out of the
Alice in Wonderland ride. "Remind me never to go on the teacups with
Broadway again!" She closed her eyes, but that only made the spinning
worse.
Elektra sat beside her. "'Twas your Lex who challenged him to
see how fast they could make the cup go 'round."
"Yeah, I guess so! I hope they hurry with the sodas; I'm
parched!"
"Will your spell hold although they're not in your sight?"
"Sure. Unless they go a mile or so. Or I fall asleep or get
knocked out or something."
"I do envy you. All the while I studied with the Magus, I ne'er
could learn a single spell. I can sense when magic is used around me,
hence how I knew your illusion, but I've no talent for it myself."
Aiden laughed a little. "Sometimes I wonder if I do, too. I get
by okay on my own, with the spells Puck teaches me, but whenever I
pick up that darn wand, everybody runs for cover. And I don't blame
them!" She paused, then said more softly, "Sometimes I wonder if I
shouldn't just give the wand to Patricia now. Then I could ... well, no,
it's silly."
"What? Few wishes are silly, sister."
"Sister?"
"Are you not? For I've been welcomed into the clan, as have
you. Does that not make us sisters?"
"Okay ... sister!"
"And behold, here are our gallant companions, to assuage our
thirst!"
"We also brought presents," Lex said. He handed Aiden a nice
cold 7-Up, then produced a bag from The Mod Hatter. He pulled out a
royal blue wizard's hat embroidered with stars and moons, a copy of the
one Mickey wore as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Her name was scrolled
across the front in silver letters.
"I got you one, too," Broadway said to Elektra, holding out a
periwinkle-blue conical cap with a trailing veil and her name in gold to
match the trim. "A princess hat. 'Cause, well, you are one."
He put it on her head, and she gently touched his cheek. "My
thanks, dear friend! It is lovely."
Aiden and Lex exchanged a knowing look. "Isn't it funny," she
whispered in his ear, "to feel like _we're_ the worldly ones?"
After Broadway and Lex tried valiantly but unsuccessfuly to
draw the sword from the stone in front of King Arthur's Carousel,
joking all the while about how much easier it had been to get the real
Excalibur from the breast of a stone dragon, they boarded the Skyway
to Tomorrowland.
The colorful gondola carried them through the Matterhorn and
over the submarine ride. Space Mountain poked its white spires at the
sky, the rocketships went around and around, and the line to Star Tours
was well past the two-hour-wait-from-this-point signpost.
They rode the Monorail once all the way around, then took the
train to Main Street and wandered in and out of the shops and the
arcade. They posed with Goofy and Snow White and Chip & Dale,
Aiden snapping photos with her camera -- "Now we'll find out if my
illusions show up on film!"
At last, they ended up in New Orleans Square and took a ride
on the sailing ship Columbia along the Rivers of America, around Tom
Sawyer Island (closed after dark). They had the ship mostly to
themselves, since they'd elected to skip watching the fanciful Mulan
parade that attracted most of the park's guests. Here on the river, it was
quiet and serene in the midst of the hectic bustling.
"My feet hurt," Aiden said. "But this has been the best night
ever!"
"_Your_ feet hurt?" Broadway chuckled.
"Well, yeah, I guess none of you are all that used to walking!"
She leaned close to Lex, and he put his arm around her. Though she
couldn't see it, she could feel the warm drape of his wing over her back.
That always made her feel safe and loved and protected. She tipped her
head to his shoulder and sighed contentedly.
"Um, Aiden?"
"What? Oh, am I standing on your tail?"
"No, nothing like that." He threw a nervous glance toward
Broadway and Elektra, then cleared his throat. "I had something I
wanted to give you."
"Another souvenir? Lex, you're spoiling me! I've already got
the hat, the toy Tinkerbelle --"
"But you don't have one of these." He reached into what the
illusion made look like his pocket, which she knew was the pouch he
sometimes wore tied to his belt.
"What?"
"I wasn't expecting to have an audience," he said with a
slightly abashed chuckle, "but here goes." He held out a tiny black
velvet box. A ring box.
Aiden gasped. "Lex ..."
He snapped it open and showed her a silver ring set with a
small but sparkly diamond. "Will you marry me and be my mate? Now
and forever?"
"Oh, Lex, oh my God!"
"Will you?"
"Yes, of course! Yes!" She threw her arms around his neck,
laughing and crying. He captured one hand long enough to slide the
ring onto her finger, where it fit perfectly. He scooped her up and
whirled her around.
"Lex, you dog!" Broadway cheered, socking him on the
shoulder when they finally separated.
Elektra clasped Aiden's hands in hers, tears shining brilliantly
in her eyes. "How splendid! How wonderful! Oh, but I am so very
happy for thee!"
The few other passengers looked their way, drawn by the
commotion, and smiled indulgently when they realized what was going
on.
The Columbia docked behind the impressively white Mark
Twain and they disembarked, all four of them linking arms as they
headed toward the Haunted Mansion.
"Methinks I've had enough of haunted houses," Elektra said
dubiously.
"It'll be fine," Broadway assured her. "I'm right here."
Aiden barely noticed the flitting spectres. Every time her gaze
fell upon that twinkling ring, she felt giddier and happier. And as soon
as she and Lex were comfortably ensconced in their black car, trundling
through the darkness, they cuddled up and started kissing. Except, that
is, when the cars swung close enough together that Broadway could
lean out and rap playfully on the back of theirs.
Toward the end of the ride, a spooky voice warned them to
beware of hitchiking ghosts, just as the cars swiveled around to face a
row of mirrors. To the extreme consternation of the passengers on
either side, Aiden's illusions did not appear in the mirrors. So, not only
were they treated to the sight of green ghostly figures in each car, but
also gargoyles.
"Guess that answers that question!" Aiden said as they hustled
out of the Mansion before anyone could come asking. "My pictures are
going to turn out great! But it sure puts an end to the notion of making
megabucks handling special effects for the movies!"
They looped back through New Orleans Square, past Pirates of
the Carribean, and ended up in Carnation Plaza, listening to a big band
combo and eating sundaes. They were easily the youngest people in
attendance by a good thirty years (twenty, if one took into account the
peculiarities of gargoyle aging).
"I know not why Avalon sent us here," Elektra said, spooning
up the last of her strawberry sauce and whipped cream, "but I'm ever so
grateful it did."
She merrily coaxed Broadway into joining the swing dancers,
and though Broadway dancing was about one of the last things Aiden
would have ever expected to see, he went without a qualm.
"I think _I_ know why Avalon sent them here," Aiden said to
Lex with a knowing, conspiratorial smile. "I think Avalon's trying to tell
her something."

* *

"Oh, Broadway," Elektra said sadly. "I am most sorry."
"Huh? For what?" He quit trying to figure out where his feet
were supposed to go, and found that it was a lot easier that way.
"It should be your Birdie here, sharing in this happiness."
"Elektra ... hey, listen ... uh ... Birdie and I are just friends. We
went out a few times, but it was never anything serious."
"I thought ...?"
"Nope. Honest! She's fun and all, but she's not really my type."
"I feared I was intruding here, that Lex and Aiden might have
believed I was trying to steal you away from their friend, when that
most assuredly is not my intent."
"Yeah," he mumbled, trying not to show how crestfallen he
was. "Don't worry about it. Lex and Aiden know how it really is."
Them and just about everyone else, he reflected glumly. His
whole clan, all her siblings on Avalon, everybody but Elektra herself.
Even Brendan, of all people, had remarked to Broadway, "You've got
the worst case of Nice Guy Syndrome I've ever seen!" Meaning that he
was the perfect friend, the perfect non-threatening teddy bear, that
females felt at home with sharing their thoughts and dreams, but never
considered a possible mate.
He wondered if he should tell her how he felt. Tell her that she
was the most beautiful, wonderful, exciting female he'd ever met. But if
he went and opened his big old mouth, she wouldn't feel comfortable
around him. He didn't want to lose her friendship and affection, and
wasn't about to fool himself that there might be more. Her heart was set
on Jericho.
The set ended, and they automatically joined the other dancers
in applauding before returning to their table. Lex and Aiden were deep
in a serious conversation and barely looked up as they approached.
"I thought you wanted to avoid that future!" Lex's expression
managed to combine apprehension and overwhelmed adoration. "Do
you really mean it?"
"Only parts of that future were bad." She clutched his hand.
"Some of it seemed right, _felt_ right. Don't you want that, Lex?"
"You know I love you just how you are," he said. "But if that's
what you really want -- I'm not going to complain!"
"Is something amiss?" Elektra asked.
Aiden blushed a little. "I'm thinking of becoming a gargoyle."
"Like that time we went to the concert?" Broadway almost
blurted something about Birdie, but caught himself at the last minute.
She nodded. "Only permanently." Her blush deepened. "See,
Angela's planning to ... well, have a breeding season next year."
"Angela means to breed?" Elektra said wistfully.
"If she can talk Brooklyn into it," Lex said.
"She and Delilah have been talking about it," Aiden continued.
"And, well, I'd like to join them."
"As a gargoyle?" Broadway asked. "Why?"
"We haven't really told anyone about this, anyone in the clan,
at least. But Lex and I saw the future once. Saw _a_ future once; I think
it's like that scientist's principle, Heisenberg or whoever, that just by
looking at a particle, you change it. I think that's how precognition is.
Anyway, though, in that future, I was a gargoyle. And we, Lex and I,
had two kids."
"Aiden," Lex said, squeezing her hand. "Just so you know you
don't have to change because of me! I still want you, no matter what!"
"I know. And there's more to it than that. I've never been as
_invested_ in being human as someone like Elisa is."
"Angela means to breed," Elektra said again, softly. "Lucky
sister! Oh, lucky all my sisters!"
"Are you sure you're ready, though?" Lex asked. "For
hatchlings, I mean?"
"As I understand it, the eggs come in a year, and it takes ten
more before there's hatchlings," Aiden said. "I think by the time ten
years went by, I'd be ready! We'd still have plenty of time to be together
before they came along. What about you, Lex?"
"If I'm ready to get married, I'm ready for that, too." He
embraced her firmly. "Besides, there's nothing sexier than a breeding
female!"
Broadway caught himself nodding in agreement, thinking of
the season that had produced the last batch of eggs. Elektra's
generation. Then his shoulders slumped as it sank in -- both of his
brothers were going to breed, and he was going to be left out again.
"How I wish ..." Elektra began, then shook herself as if to rid
herself of the thought.
"What?" Broadway asked, without much hope.
"I did not take part when my sisters bred on Avalon. Too wary
of my secret, that they might revile me for my mixed blood." She
twisted a napkin into a tight coil, the only outward sign of her anguish.
Her voice remained smooth and even. "As they did revile me. Mule,
they called me. You remember."
"Yeah," he said grimly, thinking of that bitch Tourmaline.
Aiden sucked in a hurt breath. "They _didn't_!"
Elektra nodded. "Even so. Oh, how I should like to prove them
wrong! How I should like to send word to Avalon, as the princess bade
me do, that I had borne a son to give the name of Malcolm, our father!
They would then eat their words! But ..." she looked to the dimly
visible stars and sighed, the spirit seeming to drain from her. "But such
petty revenge is not my way."
Lex nudged Broadway sharply under the table and mouthed,
"Say something!"
"You don't have to prove anything to them!" Aiden said hotly
while Broadway was still fumbling for words. "To heck with what they
think. You should do what you want."
"It may be too late for that," Elektra said, and now her voice
trembled. "From what you told us of Hudson's meeting with Jericho ...
he seems more warlike and sworn to his mother Demona than ever!"
Lex nudged Broadway again, even harder.
Aiden threw a help-me-out-here-guys look at them. "Well, you
know, he's not the only fish in the sea, or ... gargoyle on the
battlements."
"Yeah," Lex said. "Face it, Elektra, you're a babe! You've got
a lot to offer the right male." His talons dug into Broadway.
He coiled his tail around Lex's ankle and pulled his leg into a
painful contorted position. While Lex squirmed but tried not to let on,
Broadway hestiantly patted Elektra's arm. "They're right. You deserve
someone who cares about you. Someone who'd put you before anything
else in the whole world. Someone who'd worship the wind you glide
on."
She smiled gently. "Thank you, all of you. Forgive me for
letting my gloom darken what should be such a joyous night."
"We just want to help," Aiden said.
"And you have." Elektra looked fondly at Broadway. "You
most of all, my friend. Whenever I doubt myself, you lift my hopes
anew." She stood and gathered their empty ice-cream dishes, carrying
them toward a trash can.
"Tell her! Duh!" Lex exploded.
"What am I going to say?" Broadway retorted. "Hey, Elektra,
choose me over Jerk-o? I've got lots more to offer -- at least a hundred
pounds!"
"Broadway!" Aiden's tone was shocked and reproachful.
"You've got to say something!" Lex said.
"Look, you two are happy. Sickeningly, cutsily happy. It's only
natural that you'd want everyone else to be that way too. It's just not
going to work out."
"It ... could," Lex said, giving Aiden a sidelong look. "Worked
for Owen --"
"Don't even go there! I am not putting a spell on her! She'd
know, anyway. Maybe she can't cast anything, but she'd know the
minute I started with the bibbidy-bobbidy-boo."
"Hey," Broadway said. "Let it go, okay? I can ruin my own life
without any help."
"Is everything all right?" Elektra asked, coming back to the
table.
He moved to meet her. "Yeah. Everything's fine. We've just
got time to get to the fireworks show, if you want."
"Is it so late already?"
Aiden checked her watch. "Ooh, it is. Park'll be closing soon!"

* *

"He's not wakened, nor been discovered, thankfully! We were
gone far longer than I expected!" Elektra stepped into the skiff, careful
not to disturb Brendan.
"Yeah, but it was fun!" Broadway cast off and poled them
away from the headhunter with his grisly cargo.
"It was the grandest time I've ever enjoyed." She settled their
bags of souvenirs beneath one of the benches, then came to stand at his
side. Swift and light as a hummingbird's wing, her lips brushed against
his cheek. "Thank you, Broadway. I'll ever treasure the memory of this
night."
He was sure he must be blushing bright enough to light up the
river, but he pressed a quick kiss of his own in return, just above the
delicate nubs of her brow ridges. "Me, too, Elektra."

* *

EPILOGUE -- MAGIC IN THE MAKING.

Birdie Yale laughed and shook her head as she picked up
another slice of pizza. "So, you not only get engaged, but drop that
bomb on your folks as well as the one about wanting to go garg this
winter and make babies. And they took it okay! That's the part that
boggles me. When I got my tattoo, you'd have thought it was World
War III!"
"Your family's a lot more normal than mine," Aiden pointed
out.
"_Then_ you come back and Mr. X. wants to market that game
you and Lex designed, and he even lets you off the hook about the wand
and all the money you think you owe him for footing the bill for your
education, so you _can_ go garg with a clear conscience. Damn, Fergs,
and to think I spent my spring break just hanging out at the Rockaway!"
"He wants to call it Xantasia."
"He would. Man's nothing more than an ego in a suit."
"The best part is that I don't have to use the wand! The spell's
so simple that I'll be able to do it after I change. Owen's sure that I'll
still have my talent, and he's going to start teaching Patricia early so she
isn't as likely to screw up as I am."
"Or she'll do it sooner."
"Maybe. But this is what I've always wanted! I'll be part of the
clan, with a family of my own and a good job. The only thing I'll miss is
school, and you. But we'd be graduating soon anyway."
"Don't think you can get rid of me that easy! I'll still be around,
you know that."
"I know. Oh, Birdie! You're my best friend, except for Lex!"
"Ditto. And if you ever need me, you just give a yell and I'm
there. I'm going to be wild Aunt Birdie, the bad influence on your kids!"
Aiden laughed and sipped her soda, then grew serious. "Are
you okay about Broadway?"
"Fergs, I've told you before. I'm not his type. Didn't I predict
that some sweet little lady garg would come along? Elektra sounds like
just the one. I'm cool. I just wish Broadway would get off'n his tuckus
and do something about it before she gets away!"

* *

"David," Fox said patiently, "you've resisted going into the
entertainment marketplace for as long as I've known you, unless there's
some hidden benefit for you. The Pack, for example. Or that horrible
learn-Latin-at home show you aired starring Demona. So what's the real
story with this game?"
"This time, it's purely for the money. Fox, you've got to try it.
It's like being there. The people are practically real. Jacqueline --"
She slapped the table, making her silverware jump. "Would
you shut up about Jacqueline? You've talked about nothing else all
week, and I'm getting sick of it!"
"There's no reason to get jealous --"
"Jealous? Me? Of some pixel nymph?"
"She's not a --" he bit off the rest of his retort. "This is
ridiculous. What are we doing arguing about a computer game?"
"I don't know, but we're done arguing."
"We are?"
"Yes. We are." With that, she stood, dropped her folded
napkin across her plate, and stalked out of the dining room.

* *

The End.