Dark Beauty
Part One: Pursuit
by 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 permission. Inspired by Dean Koontz's
novel, Mr. Murder.

#53 in an ongoing saga.



"Another quiet night," Hudson said, landing beside Lexington. "Even
the muggers have gone to bed."
Lex hopped up to sit on a low brick wall with his feet dangling. He was
munching on a candy bar, and offered it in Hudson's direction. "Twix?"
"No, thank ye, lad. Where's Angela?"
"Investigating a CIT alert."
"A what?"
"Cat-In-Tree," Lex said with a grin. "Mrs. Reilly's tabby again."
"Ye'd think if a cat can get up a tree, it could get back down."
"Yeah, you'd think." Lex finished his Twix bar, scrunched up the
wrapper, and shot it neatly into a trash can. "Two points. Hiya, Charlie."
A man jogging by in a grey sweatsuit raised a hand as he went by.
"Hey, Lex."
"I've seen that one before," Hudson remarked, watching him go. "Be he
a friend of yers?"
Lex shrugged. "Just Charlie. We see him around."
A shadow passed over them, bathing them in the wash of air from
wings. Angela sighed and showed them a row of parallel scratches on her
forearm.
"Cleo?" Lex asked.
"Cleo," Angela confirmed. "But she's out of the tree and Mrs. Reilly
gave me ginger snaps."
"Ohh, lucky you!" Lex made a face. "Those things are like eating poker
chips."
"Come on now, the both of ye," Hudson scolded gently. "It's well and
good we're making some friends at least."
"They're finally getting used to us, some of them," Angela said.
"The crooks, too," Lex added. "I saw on the news that Manhattan's
crime rate has dropped 28 percent this year. We're not careful, we'll put Elisa
out of work!"
Hudson nodded. "We're doing a fine job. When first Goliath said that
this island was our castle, I thought he'd bitten off more than he could chew.
There be more people here than in all of our Scotland. But we're making a
difference, right enough. We'll have a safe home for the hatchlings --"
"In another nine years or so," Angela cut in, giggling. "We've still got a
long wait, remember?"
"Aye, aye," Hudson said. "Too long."
"Here he goes again, with the bit about wanting to have a flock of little
ones gamboling around his knee before he leaves this world," Lex teased. "As if
Amber wasn't enough. Whoa! I thought Alex was a handful, but she leaves him
in the dust."
"Well, she's got the whole clan fussing over her, no wonder she's
spoiled," Angela muttered.

"The other night," Lex said, snickering, "Alex wanted to hold her, so
Goliath put her on his lap, and she did that thing where she stands up, both feet
squashing down on the groin and the top of her head going bang into the bottom
of the chin -- talk about sweet revenge! He did that to me so many times when he
was a baby that it was nice seeing him on the receiving end!"
"She's strong, all right," Hudson said, rubbing his own chin. "Why, she
near pulled me beardless tonight when I was reading her Hop on Pop."
"You should tell her to stop it," Angela said. "She pulls on hair like it's
a bell-rope, and everyone acts like it's so cute. But it hurts! She's never going to
learn unless we let her know."
"She's only a baby," Lex said.
"She's old enough to understand 'no.' But when she gets rewarded for
doing things like that, she's not going to quit."
"What's the matter, lass?" Hudson asked, frowning. "Lex is right. She's
but a babe. There's time enough for discipline later."
"Are you jealous or something?" Lex said. By the way Angela recoiled,
he knew he'd hit it right on the head. "You are? Why?"
"I never said that!"
"Ye didn't have to. Why would ye be jealous of the wee lass?"
"I am not jealous of Amber!" Angela snapped. "I'm just tired of
everyone going on about her all the time. What ever happened to not giving
hatchlings preferential treatment?"
"You ousted that the same time as the 'children of the whole clan'
thing," Lex reminded her.
"And Amber be the only one not in the egg," Hudson said. "For now,
she's our one hope, our bright star for the future of our clan."
"See? That is exactly what I'm talking about." Angela crossed her
arms and tossed her head. "Just because of that, everyone's treating her like
she's special."
"She is special," Lex argued. "She's like Elektra, one of a kind."
Angela rolled her eyes at him. "Don't you listen to yourself when you
talk, Lex? She's like Elektra, so she's unique?"
"You are jealous," Lex accused. "And I know why."
"Oh, this ought to be good," she said, glaring.
"It's not because of how 'everyone' treats Amber. It's because of
Goliath. Am I right?"
"That is the silliest thing I have ever heard. We should finish our
patrol." She turned and stalked off, tail switching in tight arcs of irritation.
"Let her be, lad," Hudson advised.
"I am right."
"I suspect ye are, but it's none of our business."
"Sure it is! We're all clan, aren't we? What affects one of us affects us
all. And you gotta admit, Hudson, ever since Amber was born, Angela's been
acting like a real bitch."
"I'll thank ye not to say such things around me, and I'll warn ye never
to say such things around her."
"But it's true!"
Hudson patted him on the shoulder. "Even if it is, lad, ye'd do well not
to say it."
"Are you going to talk to Goliath?"
"And what would ye have me tell him?"
"Well ... uh ... that Angela's jealous of all the attention he gives to
Amber?"
"Angela be a grown female, Lexington. She'll get over it. Ye have to
see how it is for her. When she came here, she was the only female. Ye and yer
rookery brothers fought over her --"
"She hated it."
"In part, I'll warrant she did ... but if I know females, she was flattered
too. Then Broadway met Elektra, and Aiden changed, and Angela wasn't the
only one any more. That had to steal a bit of her thunder. This with Amber, this
is just more of the same. It'll pass. Now, we'd best be catching up with her, for
in the mood she's in, she's liable to go looking for trouble. Something more
serious than one of yer CIT alerts."
"Yeah, okay." Lex followed, and within a couple of minutes, they found
Angela. Not looking for trouble, as Hudson had predicted, but perched on a large
flat boulder in a deep nest of shadows, her face in her hands.
She looked up as they approached, and managed a weak smile. Tears
shimmered in her eyes like pools of moonlight. "Hi, guys ... sorry about all
that."
"Are ye well, lass?"
"Oh, Hudson." She sniffled and hugged him. "I know I shouldn't let it
get to me. Amber's sweet, she really is. Sweet and cute and adorable. I didn't
mean all those things I said. It sounded like I don't love her, when I do. I'm just
a little ... well, jealous, I guess." She threw an apologetic look Lex's way. "It's
dumb, I know. I shouldn't be having all these silly envies over her. But I was
the one who made Goliath see what it meant to be a father, and now he's treating
Amber the way he never would have treated me."
"He loves ye, lass, ye know he does."
"I know ..."
"And love's not like a pie that can only be cut into so many pieces."
She considered that for a moment, then smiled more genuinely. "That
makes sense."
"I think we've patrolled enough for tonight," Hudson decided. "Let's go
home."
They joined Angela atop the boulder, all three of them leaning into the
brisk early autumn breeze. Just as they were about to spread their wings and leap
into the air, Angela doubled over and cried out.
"Angela!" Lex sprang to her side, sure she'd been shot though he hadn't
heard gunfire, hadn't noticed laser light.
She clutched her head and bent the other way, back arched so that her
long sable hair brushed the stone beside her tail. A scream of agony burst from
her lips.
Hudson grabbed for her as her legs went limp and spilled her like a rag
doll. Her palms were pressing against her temples, her claws digging into her
scalp.
"My head --" she said, the rest of it lost in a drawn-out wail. Then her
body jerked as if from impact. "Gabriel!"
Lex whirled and saw no one nearby, least of all her rookery brother
from Avalon. They didn't have the park entirely to themselves, he noticed. A
pair of disheveled humans popped up from behind a bush several yards off the
path, clutching their clothes and looking nervously toward the source of the
commotion.
"Get away!" Angela's body jerked again as she shouted to someone who
wasn't there.
One of her wings slapped Lex headlong off the boulder. He went face-
first into a flowerbed and cut his brow ridge on a broken beer bottle.
"Quit yer clownin' lad, and help me with her!" Hudson ordered,
struggling to hold on to Angela. She seemed oblivious to his presence, lashing
out at unseen foes and reacting to invisible terrors. Her elbow struck him in the
nose, but he kept his grip.
Lex, blood running into his eye, scrambled back up and tried to grab
Angela. Her tail lashed and he jumped straight up and over like a kid playing
jump-rope. He got his arms around her, his wing membranes enfolding her like a
blanket.
"Angela! It's us!"
Another huge, convulsive jerk sent all three of them tumbling off the
boulder. Hudson got the worst of that one, ending up on the bottom with both
Lex and Angela on top. His breath gusted out of him and he began to cough.
This works in the movies, Lex thought, and let Angela have it across the
face. Whack!
She didn't even notice. "Gabriel! No!" She went rigid, muscles all a-
quiver like she was standing on a live wire, and then keeled over.
Silence reigned in their small section of the park, except for Hudson
wheezing and trying to get his breath back. He was hampered by the fact that
Angela was sprawled across him, in unconsciousness her normal lithe and
graceful body seeming doubled as dead-weight.
"What the hell was that?" Lex gasped.
"Sorcery," Hudson muttered.
"Sorcery? Who? Demona?" He called the last more loudly, and would
not have been at all surprised to see Demona step into view with an evil smirking
grin, a doomsday weapon, and her loyal pervo son Jericho at her side.
The bushes rustled, but it was only the interrupted lovers making a hasty
break for it. A dog trotted past, looked at them with disinterest, and paused only
long enough to gobble up the remains of a hotdog someone had dropped by the
path.
"There's nobody here," Lex said, knowing even as he said it that that
was when a dozen armed goons would appear out of nowhere and turn him into
Swiss cheese. But even that didn't happen.
Hudson nudged him with his foot. "If ye dinna mind, lad, if ye're not
too busy, could ye give me a hand here?"
Lex turned, regarded Hudson pinned undignifiedly under Angela, and
although he was worried and more than a little freaked out, he dug deep and
found enough of a wiseacre left in him to applaud.
"Now, or I'll have ye scrubbing every stone on the tower." Hudson's
voice carried the same tone that had dominated the lives of the young warriors
back when he'd been in charge of their training.
Lex wasted no more time, lifting Angela as well as he could while
Hudson hitched himself out from under. Angela lolled bonelessly in his arms.
Not a mark on her, except for the fading imprint left by his own slap.
"If it was magic, wouldn't we have seen something?" Lex though of
Aiden, all of whose spells were characterized by some sort of silvery light, and
Puck, whose magic tended toward the flamboyant.
"Ye've been watching too many movies." Hudson brushed himself off,
then took Angela because Lex would find it nearly impossible to glide with his
arms full. "Swiftly, now. Back to the castle."
The boulder would have provided enough lift for a gargoyle alone, but
for one burdened down, it wasn't sufficient. Lex glided in the lead while Hudson
hurried along behind him, until they came to a bridge high enough to let Hudson
get airborne. Judging by the claw marks on the rail, Hudson had been here
before with Bronx.
Elektra was on watch detail -- ever since the extremely short-lived and
ill-fated attempt to attack the castle on New Year's Eve, and especially since
Elisa had started getting threatening letters, Goliath insisted on posting a sentry.
Lex couldn't help but grin wryly, thinking of the arguments that would
ensue between their clan leader and Xanatos. Xanatos' repeated assurances of the
castle's security systems were countered by Goliath's ticking off on his fingers
each time and circumstance they'd been breached.
Of course, he thought proudly, my mate's wards make the whole thing a
moot point. Aiden insisted he was overestimating her abilities quite a bit, but he
knew she was way too hard on herself. In fact, she was a better sorceress
without Hecate's Wand, though he wasn't about to tell her that because
nothing made her cringe like being reminded of all her past bloopers.
Elektra spotted them, and upon seeing Angela being carried
unconscious, made a quick call to the living quarters below and then glided on
ivory wings to meet them.
"What happened? Is she hurt?"
"Easier to explain to everyone," Lex said. They descended to the
rooftop just as the rest of the clan, alerted by Elektra's call, emerged.
If Angela had been awake to see the look on Goliath's face as he beheld
her, Lex mused, she wouldn't be worried at all about her status in his eyes. "My
daughter!"
He thrust Amber at Broadway, not even glancing around as the baby
howled in protest, and carefully helped Hudson lower Angela to the stones.
Brooklyn pushed past the others, soaking wet with suds in his hair and a
sodden towel wrapped around his waist. "What's going on -- Angela!!"
"Lex!" Aiden touched his brow ridge. It stung and he hissed. "You're
bleeding!"
"Just a little cut," he said. "I'm okay."
"Daga!" Amber yelled imperiously, reaching for Goliath. "Daga!"
Hudson explained what had happened, leaning heavily toward sorcery as
an explanation. Which made everyone look to Aiden for an answer.
Aiden in turn looked at Elektra. "Do you see anything?"
Elektra, who had studied with the Magus enough to recognize ongoing
spells but not cast any, shook her head. "I sense no magic at all."
"Me either. There's no spells on her."
"Then what did this?" Goliath demanded.
"I don't know," Aiden said meekly, fidgeting with the silver heart-
shaped necklace she wore.
"It was weird," Lex said. "She was calling for Gabriel."
"Is it from Avalon?" Broadway wondered, wincing as Amber expressed
her displeasure at being ignored by getting his ear in a death-grip. "Maybe
there's something wrong on Avalon, and Titania was trying to send a message?"
"Impossible," Owen Burnett said from behind them -- although they
were gathered in a circle, he nonetheless always managed to come up from
behind them. "Aiden was specifically taught to recognize Avalon's magic as well
as human spells."
"Then what's the matter with her?" Brooklyn's towel had slipped off,
but the only one to pay it any mind was Aiden, who goggled, blinked, blushed,
and turned her head away so swiftly that the crest sweeping back from the crown
of her skull almost jabbed Broadway in the eye.
"We'll take her inside," Owen said. "Let the doctor have a look at her.
When she regains consciousness, she may be able to tell us more."

* *

Brooklyn carried his mate into the castle's medical unit and gently
placed her on an exam table. He cradled her head and stroked her hair, watching
with unconcealed urgency and impatience as Dr. Fielding donned a pair of
gloves.
"How long has she been out?" a nurse named Brannigan asked, his
fingers going clicky-tap as he called up Angela's records on the computer.
Hudson and Lex recounted the events of the park. Dr. Fielding listened
in silence as she examined Angela.
"Well?" Brooklyn demanded.
"There doesn't appear to be anything physically wrong," Kay Fielding
said. "A few bumps and scratches that would have come from the struggle, but
no apparent head injuries. We'll need to run some tests."
"I don't have time for tests; I want you to tell me what's wrong!"
Brooklyn shouted.
Goliath's large hand closed firmly around his bicep. "Perhaps we should
wait outside." His voice was tense and strained, but composed, and Brooklyn felt
dull heat mount in his face as he realized how irrational he himself sounded.
Still, stubbornness persisted. "I'm not going anywhere!"
"I need room to work," Dr. Fielding said.
"I'm not leaving her," Brooklyn stated. "I won't be in the way." Then
he immediately made himself a liar by banging into a stainless-steel table with his
hip and tripping Brannigan with his tail.
Brannigan went down and went down hard, opening his scalp on the
edge of the exam table and poking Lex with a luckily still-capped syringe. The
cacophony of jangling instruments drowned out his obscene commentary.
"I beg to differ," Dr. Fielding said dryly.
"But --" Brooklyn began, to no avail as Goliath applied a crushing
squeeze to his upper arm and steered him toward the door.
"Smooth moves," Lex remarked, rubbing the fresh bruise where he'd
almost gotten an unexpected injection. "Get it together, for crying out loud.
You're the second in command, remember?"
"But Angela --" Brooklyn tried again, twisting in Goliath's grip to stare
in worried distress at her still features.
"Let them do their work, lad," Hudson said, getting ahold of his other
arm. Between the two of them, they nearly propelled him into the hall with his
toes dragging on the floor.
"You freaked out that time Elisa went after Sevarius' goons," Brooklyn
reminded Goliath accusingly. "Between you and Talon, you tore half the place
apart."
Goliath didn't answer, his very silence filling Brooklyn with more
shame. Of course he had; that had been an altogether different situation.
Taking out his worry on the people who were trying to help wouldn't do any
good.
But that was Angela! Angela lying there so limp and pale! If anything
happened to her ... if he lost her ...
"The doctors will set it right," Elektra said. "For now, we need but
wait."
"When we find out what's happened, and who is responsible," Goliath
said, "that will be the time for action." He released Brooklyn.
"What if ... what if it's not sorcery?" he asked. "What if it's not an
attack? What if there's something wrong, a tumor or something?"
"The doctors will set it right," Elektra repeated soothingly.
"Daga!" Amber insisted. This time, Goliath complied, taking her from
Broadway before the inquisitive hatchling pulled the ear right off his head. She
perched on his shoulder and popped a thumb in her mouth while rubbing her soft
little cheek against a fistful of Goliath's hair. Somehow, Goliath bore this
without losing a shred of his dignity.
"It were too sudden, too severe, for anything but sorcery," Hudson
said.
Lex nodded. "Yeah ... it was just bam! out of nowhere. One minute she
was fine, and then it was like she got shot."
"It isn't, though," Aiden murmured, low but certain. "It isn't magic. I'm sure of it."
They returned to their quarters, where there was nothing to do but wait
and get on each other's nerves. Or, more accurately, there was nothing to do but
for Brooklyn to get on everyone's nerves.
Elektra returned to her sentry duty with Broadway accompanying her.
Goliath took up a spot by the intercom in readiness for the moment the doctors
buzzed with news. Aiden and Lex sat side by side at their desks, and even in his
state of mental turbulence, it struck Brooklyn just how strange the two of them
were, her poring over her magic books for something she might have missed
while he called up neurological websites on his computer. Hudson betrayed his
own unease by flipping through the channels restlessly, unable to find a program
on which to settle.
Brooklyn jittered randomly from one end of the suite to another before
setting off another chain reaction of chaos.
He tried to lean over Aiden's shoulder to see if anything in her books
made sense to him, but that only brought an offending and unclad part of his
anatomy in contact with her sensitive back, so startling her that she leaped out of
her chair and knocked a full can of soda onto Lex's keyboard.
Lex pushed back to get away from the sudden fizzy sparks as his
keyboard went dzat! As he wheeled his chair over the plastic mat protecting the
carpet, he ran over Bronx's foot.
Bronx jolted up with a bellow that made Amber, who had been cooing
contentedly, let out a shriek straight into Goliath's ear and yank hard on his hair.
Goliath instinctively clenched his fists. One hand had been lightly resting on the
control panel of the intercom. His claws punched through the plastic casing,
producing a second dzat! and a whiff of smoke.
"I think," Hudson said after a long moment had passed, "that ye could
do with some fresh air, lad."
"And some clothes!" Aiden blurted.
"Sorry, hey, I'm sorry!" Brooklyn said, backing away from the
exasperated expressions of his clan. "Fresh air, yeah, that sounds great." He
retreated into the bathroom, put on his loincloth, and came back out. He grabbed
a radio communicator, slinging it around his neck. "You'll call me as soon as
you hear something?"
Goliath somehow refrained from looking at the smoking wreckage of the
intercom. "Yes."
Brooklyn offered a tentative, apologetic grin, and headed for the stairs.
As he trudged up toward the battlements, he muttered to himself. "Smooth, yeah,
Lex was right, smooth as sandpaper. Gotta get out of here before I bring the
whole place down on us. She'll be okay. Let the docs do their thing. No sense
staying around here getting in the way, getting underfoot. Yeah. She'll be fine.
I'll go get her some of those chocolates she likes. Flowers, maybe. That's what
I'll do."
He waved to Broadway and Elektra but didn't dare go up there, for fear
of triggering another round of slapstick and destruction.
"Second in command," he scolded himself. "Get it together. Come on.
Goliath's right. If it is a spell, no matter what Aiden says, then we'll go after
Demona. Demona and Jericho. I still owe him one anyway. Jerk."
He glided away from the castle, trying to let the cool autumn wind wash
away his worries. It didn't help. All it did was remind him that his hair was still
damp from the shower and tacky with the remnants of the shampoo he hadn't
finished rinsing out.
Almost two in the morning, and not a siren or a scream to be heard. No
crimes to take his mind off his troubles. Just the sleeping city. He considered
swinging by the station to see if Elisa needed a hand on her current case, but the
way his luck was going tonight, he figured it would be a bad idea.
Coming up ahead was a new skyscraper apartment building that boasted
a rooftop garden which was probably described as a "private parklike setting" to
the prospective tenants. Carefully landscaped and tended, free of graffiti and
junkies and muggers, only admissible by key card.
Key card, or wings. Brooklyn and Angela had discovered the place last
summer during the breeding season, when Fox was getting ticked about one too
many awkward question from Alexander as to just what was going on, were they
fighting?
He did a quick sweep around the perimeter to make sure no one was
enjoying a late-night stroll in the garden, then descended. The trees and lush
vegetation seemed to absorb the city noise, so that he could almost imagine he
was somewhere out in the country.
Being in such a pastoral place with so many good memories turned out
to be just what he needed. He relaxed for the first time since he'd heard the
alarm call and seen Angela. Here, it was impossible to believe that this would
turn out badly. Here, he could tell himself that she would be fine, and the words
didn't sound like an empty delusion.
He sat in the grass where the two of them had once spent long, lazy
hours of tantalizing loveplay, watching the moon as it slid along the edge of the
wall, slowly disappearing as if it was a silver craft submerging in a dark sea.
Tilting his head back, he picked out what few stars could be seen. He
wondered, though not with the same scientific interest that might have consumed
Lex, what it would be like to be in space. Couldn't glide on currents of air when
there was no air. What would happen at dawn?
The swoop of wings caught his attention in a hurry. He saw a female
shape atop the wall, silhouetted against the half-arc of the moon. A familiar
shape.
She was okay! She'd known where he would go, and had come to find
him!
He tapped his communicator, only a little bit miffed. Top of the line
technology, right, sure. They'd probably been trying to reach him ever since he
left the castle.
Brooklyn started toward her. "Over here!"
She hopped down from the wall and he paused, struck by the way the
moon's light seemed to shine so brightly on the thick cable of hair swinging
behind her. Too brightly. But then she was in the deep shadows, almost
impossible to see.
"Who's there?" she called.
"Me. Brooklyn."
"Brooklyn." There was something in the way she said his name that
made him shiver in mixed reaction. It was part sexy purr, part savoring hunger.
Turned him on, but was a little spooky all the same.
"How are you doing? What happened? I told Goliath to call me but I
guess this dumb thing is broken." He took it off and dropped it on a bench,
grinning ruefully.
"I'm fine," she said. "Now that you're here, I'm fine."
"I was worried about you," he said with a shaky, relieved laugh.
"Don't be." She moved, seeming not so much to step forward into the
dim spill of light but to solidify out of the solid darkness. The solid darkness that
made up the deep black of her skin. Her hair, which had looked too bright under
the moon, lay over one shoulder in a twist of purest white.
Brooklyn froze. "What ... who are you?"
Her eyes, red-purple as pomegranate, looked yearningly at him. "Your
mate."
"You're not Angela!" He backpedaled.
"She named me Ventura, but I am Angela. I am. Just give me
the chance." She wore an outfit of tight Kevlar and glossy armor plating that
hugged and showcased her figure. A headpiece of silvery metal covered with
intricate black and gold traceries covered part of her brow.
"You're a clone!"
"I'm real!" She came toward him, opening her arms beseechingly.
"Don't turn from me, my love. I am your mate."
"Angela is my mate."
"You and she are one, she and I are one, so you and I are one," she said
with an implacable logic. "Her blood and mine are the same. I know her
thoughts, her emotions, her every wish and dream. I am Angela and more than
Angela. And you are mine."
"Huh-uh, no way," he said, still backing up. Then stopped in a burst of
understanding. "You did it! Whatever happened to Angela, it was you behind
it! What did you do? Some sort of spell?"
"It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that I am here. We are
together. I want what is mine. What should be mine."
"Listen ... Ventura. Listen. This is crazy. You're not Angela. You're a
clone. A copy. I'm not your mate, I'm hers. I've never seen you before. Angela
and I have two eggs in the rookery."
"My children!" She smiled beatifically. "Our children!"
"No. Mine and Angela's. Not yours."
"I need my life," she said as if that explained everything. "I need my
life, and I mean to have it."
She reached for him again, and Brooklyn, utterly weirded out by this
insane capper to an already upsetting evening, dodged and used his tail to swipe
her feet out from under her. She thumped to the grass, coming back up cat-quick
with an incredulous, hurt look.
"Ventura, you've got to listen to me --"
"Don't deny me. Don't run from me. Or you won't like what will
happen."
"What ... what will happen?" Brooklyn asked, more than a little
nervously.
Ventura brought her arms from behind her back and cocked the
enormous laser pistol. It began emitting a powering-up hum --
vvvvvvvvrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiii.
A row of red lights along its barrel began to pulse, sending flickers
across the serene ebony planes of her face. "Do you really have to ask, my
love?"
"Jalapena!" Brooklyn jumped to the side as she fired. A beam of scarlet
seared through the wrought-iron bench, turning the metal into dripping wax. The
two halves of the bench sagged toward each other.
"I wouldn't really hurt you," she said, "unless you make me."
Brooklyn heard her, but by then he was already sprinting for the wall. If
he was going to take down this psychotic clone who was armed to the teeth, he
was going to need room to maneuver. He couldn't even call for help, since the
communicator had been on the bench and was now melted into slag.
"Don't run from me!"
Just as he reached the wall, the laser went off again and splashed like a
bucket of paint on the wall. He saw mortar bubbling and running. It came apart
beneath him as he tried to vault over it, sending a shower of bricks plummeting
toward the street.
Brooklyn recovered, a little battered and with one knee sending signals
of pain, and looped around the building. Another laser beam passed so close over
his head that he smelled vaporizing shampoo.
"I don't want to hurt you, Brooklyn!" she shouted.
Yeah, right! he thought but didn't say, saving his energy for gliding. If
that last shot was her idea of not hurting him, she was either lying or had the
most terrifying aim in the world.
She was fast, too. He'd hoped to outdistance her, or lose her through
evasive action, but she was on his tail like a burr. In a flat-out race, he thought
she might even be as fast as Lex. Which, under the circumstances, he couldn't
really appreciate.
He made a sharp turn between two buildings, but instead of
overshooting and having to double back, she stayed right with him. When he
went headlong toward the side of a skyscraper, then pulled up at the absolute last
second to skim along the windows, she didn't plow into the wall but followed as
if she'd anticipated that very move.
"Damn it!" he panted. He was rapidly running out of tricks here, tiring,
and Ventura was after him like some sort of obsidian tracker-missile.
Hadn't Broadway and Elektra noticed the laser fire? Weren't they going
to investigate? Or were they sitting in the sentry tower making out?
He backwinged desperately, coming to a bone-jarring halt in midair.
That time, it worked and Ventura shot over him as he went straight down. She
turned on a dime, but he'd gained enough distance on her to put a block between
them.
Ventura screeched in fury and put a laser blast through his left wing
membrane. He actually felt the edges of the hole crisping and curling like a
charred piece of parchment. His speed dropped drastically.
Ahead and below was a rooftop where Goliath and Lex had once evaded
and successfully ambushed the Pack. Brooklyn fluttered clumsily toward it,
toward the ranks of stone gargoyles perched in menacing snarls and poses. Once
his feet touched down, he folded his wings and started running, weaving a
football-player's course among the statues.
They seemed to look down at him with pity. Gargoyle wasn't supposed
to fight gargoyle. It They had enough enemies without making more among their
own kind. But things had changed, changed plenty.
And all thanks to Demona, he thought sourly and perhaps a little
unfairly. Maybe he couldn't blame her for all his woes, but he had no problem
blaming her for the hellion on his heels. It made perfect sense, perfect for a
nutcase like Demona. Couldn't convert the real clan? Okay-fine, make a new
one. Couldn't win over the real daughter? Okay-fine --
The air around him turned red, casting strange plays of light over the
frozen features of the gargoyles around him. His unsettled mind made one of
those cross-connections ... this was how his clan could have looked, red in the
smoke-filled sunlight of their last day, as the Vikings took the castle and started
destroying them.
The laser scorched a bubbling black path at his feet. He knew that any
time Ventura tired of this chase, he'd be toast. The only thing he had going for
him right now was her assurance that she didn't want to permanently damage
him.
His wounded wing even gave testimony to that. She'd struck in exactly
the right spot to cripple his flight. He wasn't going to get away by air. It either
had to end on this rooftop, or he was going to have to do some really creative
escape planning.
Brooklyn ducked between two gargoyles as he heard her land. Quickly
and quietly as he could, he slipped from the concealment of one to the next,
trying to get around behind her.
Not sure what I'll do if I do get the drop on her, he thought. If her
hand-fighting's as good as her gliding and shooting, I'm dead meat.
Still hours until dawn. No way he could carry on a cat-and-mouse like
Hudson and Demona had done. Not for that long.
He could hear her soft steps and tried to make his own even softer. He
practically oozed into a deep alley formed by two rows of back-to-back statues
and held absolutely still, concentrating on trying to breathe without making a
sound. No easy task after his exertions.
Even with his breathing under control, he suddenly became convinced
she would hear his heartbeat. It slammed in his ears like a drum corps.
She came closer. Brooklyn didn't even twitch an eyelid, sure that she
would notice even that much movement. Her posture was tense, her red-tinted
eyes keen and alert. He had plenty of time to study her as she moved slowly
down the line of gargoyles.
Her form might be the same as Angela's, but up close, their features
were very different. Or maybe it was just that Angela had never worn such an
expression, such a hard and cold look. It wasn't just the look of a warrior, or
even a hunter. This was the look of an assassin, and it chilled Brooklyn even
more than being on the receiving end of a laser pistol.
His already-shaky confidence about his chances of beating her in single
combat dwindled even further. Psycho she may be, but an effective, efficient
psycho. He noticed that she was also in better physical condition than Angela,
her body the lean sleek muscle of a panther.
Under other circumstances, i.e. something other than a life-or-death
pursuit, he would even have gone so far as to say she was a total babe. But that
thought only barely registered, because he knew that at any second now, she
would whirl ninety degrees, shove that laser pistol between the stone gargoyles,
and blow him away.
She passed by.
A sigh of relief edged toward the front of Brooklyn's line of reactions,
but he held it back. She was playing with him. Didn't want the fun to be over so
soon. Waiting for him to make some move and give himself away.
She reached the end of the line. He slid sideways around the large statue
that he'd been hiding behind, trying to keep it between him and her while also
trying not to let his wings or tail touch against stone. The barest brush would
sound loud as a shovel grating across a tombstone and she'd be on him. Game
over.
Ventura peered down the long space between the rows. For one horrible
instant, Brooklyn was sure their eyes met just as he pulled his head behind the
shoulder of the statue. Then he heard metal against stone, exactly the shovel-
and-tomb sound he'd imagined, and knew it was her armored trim scraping as
she pushed her way into the space.
A cloud chose that instant to cruise across the face of the moon,
cloaking the rooftop in deeper darkness. Brooklyn darted silently away from the
twin ranks of statues, around several turns and corners.
He reached the edge of the roof and looked longingly at the open air,
but a single stretch of his wing told him that if he was stupid enough to try it,
someone on the street below was going to get a rude and grisly surprise.
Seeking another way down, his ear still cocked toward the stealthy noise
of Ventura's systematic search, he crept toward the other side of the building.
There, he found a roof-access door. But it wasn't going to open without a
ruckus. He mouthed a few filthy words.
Climb down the side? No, couldn't risk punching his claws into the
wall. It would bring her on the run, and she would find him neatly trapped.
That only left one option, which was something that worked in the
movies but he frankly didn't put much faith in. He groped around until he found
something to throw, coming up with a baseball-sized chunk of broken concrete.
Rising tall as he could, he chucked it at the far corner of the roof, then ducked
down low and made himself small.
The missile cracked against something solid. Oh, if only it had been her
skull!
"Aha!" she breathed, and his skin prickled in shock as he realized she'd
been practically on top of him. If she'd been looking the right way when he stood
up to throw that ...
Some things just didn't bear dwelling on.
Swift as an eddy of black water, she passed him so close that he could
have reached out and tweaked her tail.
Now or never.
He tried the access door. Locked, of course. So he attacked it, battering
it open. He shoved it wide, but rather than go through, he reversed and headed
for the edge of the roof. The door banged into the inside wall and swung back,
slamming with a resounding boom.
Brooklyn hoped that the ledge he'd noticed really did extend all the way
around the building. Hoped, because he didn't have the leisure time to check.
Ventura, understanding that she'd been tricked, was on her way with a rising
siren-shriek of outrage.
He grabbed the edge and swung himself over, felt a ledge with his toes,
and let go. He landed, found it to be much narrower than he'd expected, and
teetered for balance. He won, barely, and crouched with his pulse racing and his
mouth dry.
Ventura kicked the door open with such force that if he'd been waiting
on the other side to ambush her, he would have been squashed into a cartoon
pancake-shape. He heard her go through, heard the door slam in her wake, and
started to straighten up.
Then pulled himself back down, calling himself a hundred kinds of
stupid. What if she'd figured him out and was pulling the exact same stunt? What
if she was up there, hiding, waiting for him to get all overconfident and show
himself?
Nuh-uh, no way, forget it.
He shuffled sideways along the ledge. A decorative cornerpiece, carved
with all sorts of fluted designs and knobby bits, offered him plentiful hand- and
foot-holds. He climbed down fast as he could, and when he reached the street
with no more laser blasts, finally let himself breathe that sigh of relief. But he
didn't spend a lot of time doing it, aware that Ventura could put in an appearance
any minute. He wanted to get as much distance between himself and here as
possible, preferably damn quick.
Crossing over three blocks and up two, hugging the shadows and feeling
more acutely vulnerable than ever, he kept his eyes open for a phone booth. Call
the castle, have Owen send one of Xanatos' flunkies with the van, and he'd be
home and safe. All this madness behind him.
Soon, though, he was grumbling because it seemed that all of the phones
were, quite reasonably, situated in pools of light. Although it was ten past three
-- this knowledge surprised him on two levels, because his encounter with
Ventura had seemed both to last forever and to take place in a flash -- he didn't
have the street to himself enough to risk sauntering boldly over to a booth.
A glimmer of movement, a reflection in the windows of an office
building up ahead, made him turn his attention skyward.
There she was.
He crowded into a recessed doorway with a broken bulb jutting from the
overhead socket. Still looking for him. Probably sorely pissed off by now.
Brooklyn slouched down. This night was never going to end.
A cab pulled up and he looked at it longingly, though knew from
experience that, weird as the Big Apple was, it still wasn't ready to tolerate
gargoyles hailing taxis.
Then it occurred to him that he might have a problem.
Two humans, males of about fifteen, got out of the cab and he realized
they were planning to go into this very building. And here he sat, no way to get
past them before they came up the stairs and saw him. The resultant hollering
would be sure to draw Ventura like blood in the water attracting a shark.
They started up, arguing good-naturedly about something called L5R.
One of them was wearing an X-Files t-shirt, the other wore one that read
"Chicks dig skinny pale guys." Both carried bulging bookbags, and the skinny
pale guy had a faux-velvet pouch tied to the belt loop of his jeans.
Figuring he could at least try, Brooklyn stood up. They saw him and
stopped, mouths falling open.
"Look, I'm not gonna hurt anyone," Brooklyn said. "Just let me get out
of your way."
"Hey, you're one of those gargoyles!" the kid in the X-Files shirt
gasped.
"This is so cool!" his friend exclaimed. "We've read all about you
guys!"
"Yeah?" Brooklyn said, a trifle askance.
"Yeah! You're the best! Better than Batman!" Skinny Pale Guy said.
"I dunno ..." the other said. "Batman's the greatest, in my book."
"He's just a cartoon. These guys are real!"
"Uh ... hey, this is going to sound weird," Brooklyn said, "but can I
come in and use your phone?"

* *

"She's a what?!?" Goliath demanded.
"A clone," Brooklyn said, trying not to let on how much it hurt as Dr.
Fielding carefully examined the hole in his wing.
His new friends had been more than accommodating, inviting him in to
the apartment where Skinny Pale Guy, whose real name was Eddie, lived with
his mom. Mom worked the late shift at an all-night diner, so the boys had the
place to themselves. Eddie's pal Trent, the kid who favored Batman, lived with
his dad but spent most of his time at Eddie's place.
They'd let him use the phone, where he'd sketched out a severely edited
version to Owen, choosing to wait until he was back at the castle before
unloading the whole incredible tale. Eddie and Trent had also provided all the
Doritos and Pepsi he could take, and in the short time it took for the van to
arrive, he learned more about gamer geeks than he'd ever wanted to know.
Apparently, it was like a law or something that they were all big fans of Star
Trek and able to quote verbatim from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
Still, they were a decent couple of guys, and their xenophiliac
enthusiasm was a welcome change after the usual reactions of people he met.
And Eddie's computer had a plaque on top with a Latin slogan Brooklyn could
hardly wait to spring on Aiden.
But now he was back in the castle, where mixed good news and bad
awaited him. Angela wasn't conscious yet, but their tests had turned up no
physical problems. No brain tumors, no cerebral hemorrhages, nothing.
"Do you think it could have something to do with Ventura?" Broadway
wondered after hearing Brooklyn's story.
Goliath frowned. "I had no such experience with Thailog."
"Yeah, and when we met the other clones, nothing like that happened,"
Lex chimed in. "So where's she been all this time? If she was made at the same
time as them, why haven't we run into her before?"
"She's a lot more advanced than the other clones," Brooklyn said.
"They could barely talk, and they fought like savage animals, not gargoyles.
She's even sharper than Delilah, I think."
"Maybe she's new," Aiden suggested.
"I don't like to consider that," Goliath rumbled in displeasure. "If some
new foe has access to the cloning technology, not to mention samples of our
clan's DNA ..."
"The only people who'd know for sure are Sevarius, who's dead,
Demona, and Thailog," Brooklyn said.
"No one has seen or heard from Thailog, or Ebon as he still wants to be
known, in over a year," Goliath said. "As for Demona, somehow I doubt she
knows anything about this. It would not be like her to keep such a secret for so
long. Unless, in fact, Ventura is new."
"Just the fact that she's called Ventura shows Demona's involved,"
Aiden said meekly, clearly hesitant about contradicting Goliath. "Burbank,
Malibu ... all the others had L.A. names."
Broadway nodded. "Ventura, sure!"
"But if she is one of Demona's plans," Lex said, "where were Demona
and Jericho? And what was all that stuff she said about being Angela?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it," Brooklyn said.
"Maybe we should pay a visit to Nightstone Unlimited," Hudson
suggested.
"Not tonight," Goliath said. "Not until we know more. When Angela
wakes, she may be able to tell us what happened."
"Yes, and what has Gabriel to do with it?" Elektra said. Her head tilted
as if she heard something, and then with a slight smile and without looking
around, she added, "What think you, friend Owen?"
"How'd you do that?" Lex asked of Elektra. "Is that how he does it?
Uses magic to sneak up on us?"
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to divulge that information," Owen said,
fixing Elektra with a look of mock-sternness. "Doctor Fielding, Nurse Brannigan
requests your presence."
"Is Angela okay?" Brooklyn got up.
"She may be coming out of it," Dr. Fielding said. "As for your wing, I
believe you're right. A day's sleep will take care of it. A few inches higher,
though, and that shot would have taken a chunk out of the wing strut. That, I
think, wouldn't regenerate. I'll go check on her, and if there is a change, I'll
send for you."
Brooklyn started to protest, remembered his previous disastrous visit to
the med lab, and subsided with an abashed mumble.
"As for this other matter," Owen continued, "I may have some ideas.
I'd prefer to get Mr. Xanatos' approval before I investigate, as I may have to use
some equipment that is still in the experimental stages --"
"I will not have you experimenting on my daughter," Goliath decreed.
Amber, nestled in his arms, added her voice to his in a wordless babble that
nearly perfectly captured his commanding tone.
"I had no intention of doing so," Owen replied, unfazed. "Would it
trouble you unduly if I was to experiment on Anton Sevarius?"
Over the outcry of denial and shock that followed, Brooklyn said, "He's
dead, I saw Talon kill him and Xanatos crush his brain tape ..." he trailed off
and his shoulders sagged. "Oh, you've got to be kidding. He saved it, didn't he?"
"What?" Goliath drew himself up imposingly. "What is the meaning of
this?"
"Mr. Xanatos is loathe to waste any resources, as you well know,"
Owen said. "I assure you, this time the good doctor will be well controlled and
confined."
"This time?" Lex cut in, and Owen looked pained. "What do you
mean, this time?"
"I only wish to assure you that we will do all that is necessary to
minimize any risk. Now, if you'll excuse me --"
Goliath barred his way. "I think an explanation is in order."
"If you'd prefer, but it would take valuable time away from attempting
to solve the problem at hand. Shouldn't Angela be given first consideration?"
Hudson exhaled in a growl and shook his head. "Ye still do enjoy this,
don't ye?"
"My position does have its perks," Owen said as he headed for the door.
He paused and removed his cellular phone from inside his suit jacket. "Aiden, do
you know Birdie's number?"
Ever obedient to her tutor, she rattled it off, then asked, "Birdie?
Why?"
"Yeah, what's the plan?" Lex said. "Need her to mimic Xanatos to get
past some voice-activated security?"
Owen's pale eyebrows went up, contemplating. "That is not without
possibility ... but the person whose assistance I shall need is actually T.J.
Provided, of course, that Mr. Xanatos consents to this course of action."
"Xanatos picked a fine time to go on vacation," Brooklyn grumbled.
"What are ye up to?" Hudson asked Owen.
The door opened at that precise moment and Brannigan stuck his
bandaged head in. "The doc wants you," he announced to the room at large.
"Dinna think ye're going to misdirect me that way," Hudson said,
shaking a finger at Owen. "I'll still be seeking ye out for some answers."
"As you will," Owen said, as if the matter was of complete disinterest
to him.
Brooklyn didn't care what Owen was up to. He followed Brannigan. "Is
Angela awake?"
Brannigan nodded curtly and kept his distance, clearly still blaming a
certain red gargoyle for his scalp laceration and attendant stitches.
The rest of the clan came along behind, and when they reached the
medical lab, they found Angela sitting up, her talons dangling over the side of
the bed, looking groggy and disoriented but otherwise okay. Brooklyn went
straight to her and pulled her into his arms. She clung to him and loosed a shaky
breath, pressing her face into the side of his neck.
"Daughter ..." Goliath said, touching her shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Sleepy," Angela replied.
"That's the medication," Dr. Fielding explained. "It'll wear off soon.
Otherwise, she's got a clean bill of health."
"What happened out there?" Lex asked.
Angela shivered. "I don't know. It was like ... like a cold hand took
hold of my mind ... and squeezed. Wrung it out like a sponge. Things running
out of me, draining me."
"Ye called for yer rookery brother, lass, d'ye remember?"
She nodded. "Gabriel. I saw him ... like a vision or a dream. He was
hurt. Bleeding. There were other images too. A ... a coffin, I think. Mist on the
ground. And people. Humans. Some of them in white coats, some of them in
uniforms. There were children, too, children with their skulls cut away and wires
coming out. Then nothing. Until I woke up here."
They passed an uneasy glance among them. Angela shivered again.
"It's connected," Brooklyn said to Goliath. "She's a part of it,
somehow."
"What?" Angela asked. "Who's a part of what?"
"Something really bizarre is going on," Brooklyn said cautiously, not at
all sure how Angela was going to take this bit of news. "I met ... I met Ventura
tonight."
"Who's Ventura?"
"Another clone," Goliath said when Brooklyn had trouble getting the
words out. "A clone ... of you, Angela."
Her eyes widened. "What?"
"It's true," Brooklyn said. "She looks like you, she's got the same
coloring as Thailog."
"Mother." She said it flatly, devoid of warmth.
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Goliath said.
A shudder of revulsion went through her. Brooklyn caught Lex and
Broadway exchanging a rolling-eyes glance, and remembered how Angela had
oh-so-righteously taken them to task for their low opinion of their own clones,
and given them a hard time for being much more willing to accept the shapely
and comely Delilah.
"A coffin," Lex muttered thoughtfully. "Mist, lab coats ..."
"A research facility," Aiden continued, picking up his train of thought.
"Not a coffin, a cryogenic tube. Fog from a cooling agent. Scientists. Guards."
"Experiments," Lex went on. "Experiments on children, on their
brains."
"A psychic link!" Aiden finished excitedly. "Ventura and Angela must
share some sort of psychic link!"
"No, no," Angela protested. "This is madness!"
"True," Brooklyn agreed. "But it makes sense. She was talking about
knowing your thoughts, about being you."
"That sensation you described," Aiden said. "Like a hand, squeezing.
That could have been her, reading your mind."
"That's impossible," Angela said.
"Nothing's impossible anymore," Lex argued. "Have you got a better
explanation?"
"Leave her alone!" Brooklyn said, turning his body so he was between
Angela and the two smaller gargoyles. "Can't you see she's tired?"
"We cannot ignore this," Goliath said. He gazed out the window, into
the distance, and his voice took on a darker, ominous tone. "From what you
said, Brooklyn, it seems to me that Ventura is a danger to us."
"Duh," he mumbled, flexing his wounded wing.
Goliath scowled at him, reminding him without a word that he was still
second-in-command, and therefore needed to show even more respect to the
leader, lest his insubordination be taken as a challenge. "If Ventura 'needs her
life' as you said, she may well seek to harm Angela."
"And replace her," Lex said. "Sure, I get it."
"You mean that this ... this clone wants to kill me and take my
place?" Angela was aghast. "Why? She can't think she'd get away with it!"
"She thinks she is you," Brooklyn said. "But she's crazy. Full-blown
psycho nuts. Worse than Demona. Maybe even worse than Jericho."
"We've got to find out where she came from," Lex said. "What she's
capable of. That's the only way we can find out how to stop her."
"Whatever we're gonna do, it's gonna have to wait," Broadway pointed
out. "It's almost dawn."

* *

The breakfast buffet on the pool deck was heavily aimed toward the
kids. David Xanatos couldn't recall the last time he'd seen so many selections of
sugary cold cereal.
Beside him, Fox was stretched out on a lounge chair, wearing a one-
piece bathing suit of a sun-permeable fabric to allow an all-over tan while
retaining the outward appearance of modesty.
Down by the wading pool, Alex was playing with a flotilla of sailboats
while nearby, a bossy three-year-old tried to marshall a group of smaller kids
into towing her around on an inflatable rubber raft advertising a Barbie-
competitor doll.
"You dumb babies!" she shouted as they ran her aground on the low
edge of the pool.
Alex glanced that way, frowning in disapproval. His lips moved, and
abruptly the water beneath the pigtailed blond girl swelled up, capsizing her raft.
"Play nice, young man," Lydia Xanatos, David's stepmother, said from
the table where she and Petros were engaged in a game of cribbage.
David wanted to smile, but the usual churn of mixed emotions went
through him. His father loved Lydia, Fox and Alex both adored her. To all
outward appearances, she seemed to be nothing more than a pleasingly plump
middle-aged woman of Greek-American descent, once-widowed and now happily
embarked on a second marriage.
But David knew better, knew that Lydia was merely a guise. She was
actually Titania, queen of Avalon, mistress of the Third Race, and Fox's mother.
Determined to be a grandmother to Alexander no matter what. If Fox ever found
out, and found out that he'd known since even before Petros and Lydia married,
she would go through the roof.
Of all the secrets he kept, this one was the thorniest. He could have told
Fox, but then he would have been taking away his father's chance at happiness,
and it would be his fault.
This vacation had been Alex's idea. From the moment he'd seen ads for
the child-and-family-oriented cruise line, nothing would do but to go. And best of
all would be to take his grandparents along for the ride. So here they were,
cruising the balmy Florida coast, just the five of them.
It was nice, relaxing, but David Xanatos was ready for a distraction.
As if on cue, one of the pursers appeared with a cordless phone on a
tray. "You have a call, Mr. Xanatos. A Mr. Burnett?"
"Perfect timing as usual." Xanatos took the phone. Fox pulled down her
sunglasses briefly to look at him over the top of the frames, and he winked at
her. "Yes, Owen?"

* *

"You could just drop me off," T.J. Lawton said.
Birdie Yale pulled her Pepto-Bismal-pink Mustang into the underground
parking garage of the Aerie Building. The other cars seemed to put their grills in
the air in a haughty manner as she drove past -- Xanatos paid so well that even
the janitorial staff drove good stuff. In the confined space, the Mustang's muffler
blatted and snarled.
"And miss whatever's going on? I think not."
"And you could let me work on this thing," he said as he got out. "Get
it running really smooth."
She laughed. "Have you looked under the hood of this thing? Mr.
Goodwrench would have a heart attack. I think there's a Lionel train transformer
in there, and rubber bands, and a giant hamster wheel ..."
"You're lucky it even runs."
"Exactly. Soon as you start tinkering with it, I'm back to riding the bus
and the subway."
"Oh ye of little faith," he groused.
"Oh me of having to wait six weeks for a whole new engine," she
corrected. "Which I can't afford."
"Here we are, doing a favor for the richest man on the friggin' planet,
and you can't afford a new engine?"
"You're doing him the favor, sweetbuns. I'm just hanging around
being a pest. Besides, you should talk. It's not like you're mooching off of him
either, and he's your stepdad."
He headed for the elevator. "Well, what about your sugar-daddy
boyfriend? He's rolling in it."
Birdie smacked him on the butt. "Watch it. For your information, we
don't have that kind of a relationship. I'm not his mistress or anything. It's
purely sexual."
"Class all the way."
"You know it."
T.J. punched in the code for the castle level and they rode up, yawning
to pop their ears in the high-speed elevator. Owen Burnett was waiting for them
in the great hall as the doors opened.
"Okay, what's hit the fan this time?" Birdie asked.
Owen gave her one of his patented arch looks. "I only need T.J.'s
assistance."
"Just consider me moral support."
"Moral?" T.J. snickered, and Owen's lips twitched.
"Yeah, yeah, have your chuckles at my expense. So what else is new?"
"This way," Owen said, leading them down to what had once been the
castle's dungeon level. It was dark and spooky despite fluorescent lighting, as if
the stone walls were determined to remain gloomy and thus absorbed the light.
"Nice," Birdie commented. "Didn't see this part when Lifestyles of the
Rich and Decadent
did their feature on Mr. X."
"That's because we keep many sensitive projects down here." Owen
went down a short, wide flight of stairs into a spacious but low-ceilinged room.
Along one wall, a tarp-draped row of Steel Clan robots stood in silent formation.
The room was ovoid, with pseudo-Gothic archways leading off into thicker
darkness.
It was to one of these archways that Owen went. "Lights on!" he said
clearly, and lo and behold, they did. The room was cluttered with equipment that
Birdie couldn't even begin to identify, all of it high-tech and gleaming through a
thin film of dust.
T.J. was looking around with interest. Given his unique rapport with
things mechanical, he could probably tell what everything was just by sight.
Owen went to the desk and pressed a button. With a faint humming
noise, a slab protruded from an alcove at the rear of the room. Upon the slab
was a shape covered by a sheet.
"What's under there?" T.J. asked. "The Bride of Frankenstein?"
"Close." Owen turned back the top of the sheet and a gargoyle face
came into view.
Indigo skin, a face that was one part supermodel and two parts pricey
hooker, with a row of quill-like brow ridges that swept back over her hairline
like one of those fancy Spanish combs. Her head was pillowed on a mass of thick
golden hair.
He turned the sheet back further, and Birdie whistled in awe.
"Godiva?" T.J. glanced at Owen, then back at the indigo she-garg. She
was in restraints, metal mesh straps at wrists, ankles, waist, knees, and tail.
Owen looked mildly surprised, mildly impressed. "You know about
Godiva?"
"Brooklyn and Lex told me."
"Ah. Of course."
"What's the story?" Birdie circled the slab, gawking freely.
"She's a robot," T.J. said.
"No way."
"Oh, yes," Owen said. "Mr. Xanatos ordered her construction to
provide the entertainment at Goliath's bachelor party."
"So ... you mean ... when someone says she's built, she's really
built?" Birdie prodded Godiva's foot, which boasted exceedingly high arches
and gold-painted talons. "Just what sort of entertainment was there, as if I
couldn't guess?"
"As a dancer only, I assure you. Her performance was most ...
stirring."
Birdie smirked at him. "I can imagine."
He ignored her. "Unfortunately, Godiva encountered a problem some
time later. Her computer system was invaded by a virus, a virus that happened to
be the electronically recorded and stored mind and personality of Anton
Sevarius."
"The mad scientist?" T.J. had been giving Godiva a close once-over,
particularly certain prominent features, but now he stepped back.
"The very same. He took control of the body, used it to help invade the
Labyrinth and convince the clones to join Demona. During the course of it, the
Godiva robot was severely damaged and encased in a salty cementlike residue."
"Did you say cementlike or --"
T.J. nudged her. "Don't even go there."
"As I was saying," Owen went on, "we were able to retrieve the robot
and restore it, but we have been unable to bring it back online. Our back-up copy
of the Sevarius disk had fatal errors, as Mr. Xanatos and I discovered several
months ago. So we need to determine whether or not the doctor's personality is
intact, so that we can question him." He quickly sketched out the problem at
hand, and their need to find out whether or not Ventura had been created at the
same time as the rest of the clones, and what if any additional programming
she'd been subjected to.
"I see where this is headed," T.J. said.
"Yes. I would like you to assist me in bringing Godiva back online.
Your abilities make you the perfect candidate for the job."
"Oh, man," he sighed. "You know I'm never going to get used to this."
"The only way to get used to it is with practice," Owen said implacably.
"You are born of the Third Race, and you must learn to use your powers."
"I'm just a guy, okay? I hate hearing about all that Third Race stuff. I'm
not a fairy."
"Being fey is nothing to be ashamed of."
"Elfin-American," Birdie suggested. "Political correctness and all."
"You think you're so funny," T.J. said to her.
"Ten out of ten surveyed agree," she said with a grin.
He turned back to Owen. "Maybe the gargoyles work for room and
board, but I don't live here. I've got rent and bills to pay."
Owen inclined his head. "I'm certain we can arrange suitable financial
compensation for your time and effort."
Birdie bumped her hip against T.J. "Play your cards right, and I'll even
let you buy me that new engine!"
"Can you believe this?" T.J. asked the room. "Teases me, picks on me
all day long, and then expects me to spend my hard-earned cash on her junkheap
of a car. And I bet she things she's going to hang around here the whole time,
making smartass remarks while I'm trying to concentrate."
"Would I get paid for that?" Birdie asked Owen.
"Roberta Yale, professional nuisance," he said dryly.
"Hey, I like it! I liiiiike it!"
"You would," T.J. said, and went to work.

* *


Moments after the last bits of shed stone finished gritting to the floor,
Broadway and Bronx stretched their heads and sniffed in identical gestures.
"Hroooo," Bronx whined, flapping his tail.
"Pizza!" Broadway translated, leaping down from his perch.
"What kind?" Lex asked, only half-jesting.
Broadway closed his eyes and sniffed again, wearing the thoughtful
expression of a wine connoisseur challenged to identify a particular vintage.
"Pepperoni ... mushrooms ... green peppers ... and a side order of garlic
breadsticks."
Elektra laughed and tucked her arm lovingly through his. "You have
magic of your own, I see."
In a sheltered nook, Amber pulled herself upright and waved her arms
over the side of the little stone playpen Xanatos had ordered made for her. One
evening she'd awakened slightly before Goliath, wiggled, and fallen from his
arms right before Elisa's horrified eyes. Only Elektra's quick action had saved
the child, and ever since, Amber spent the day in a secure spot.
"Hey," Elisa said warmly, bending over to pick up her daughter. Amber
immediately grabbed a fistful of Elisa's hair and crammed it into her mouth.
"Zaza," Amber cooed.
"Hey, Zsa-Zsa," Brooklyn grinned. His wing was completely healed,
and judging by the way Angela stretched and shook out her own wings, she was
feeling much better as well.
"From Amber, it's okay," Elisa cautioned him, with a glint of
amusement in her dark eyes. "From you, I don't have to put up with it."
"Where's the pizza?" Broadway rubbed his stomach. "I'm starved."
"I brought enough for everyone," Elisa said.
"You've heard of our ... troubles?" Goliath asked, one arm and one
wing going around his mate. Amber promptly grabbed his hair too, pulling their
heads together and making a dark tent for herself, giggling as the long strands
brushed over her skin.
"Owen filled me in. He's had T.J. working on it all day. They could use
your help, too, Lex." She frowned. "I don't know if I like it, but he's right, it's
the only choice we have right now."
"What is he up to?" Hudson grumbled.
Elisa sighed. "Apparently, Sevarius isn't really dead. Sort of."
"Yeah," Lex said. "Xanatos saved his brain tape, the thing he was using
to transfer from one clone-body to another."
"Exactly. And he installed it in one of his computers. Sort of a ...
Sevarius program."
Lex's eyes widened. "Really?"
"And then he got out. Remember Godiva?"
Brooklyn thumped a fist on the battlement. "Sure! When she got loose!
The Labyrinth, the sinkhole. Sevarius was controlling her!"
"Sevarius ... and Godiva?" Broadway made a face. "Yuck."
"I get it!" Lex enthused. "Godiva got broken, her system crashed, but
Sevarius was still in there!"
"Bingo, Lex. Now T.J.'s got Godiva operational, and they're hooking
her up to a computer to try and communicate with Sevarius."
"I don't like this either," Goliath growled. "Trust Sevarius? How do we
know he's not going to escape again?"
Elisa shrugged. "Owen swears up and down that they've taken better
precautions. As for trusting him ... right now, we don't have much of a choice."
Birdie and T.J. were waiting in the clan's quarters, with several pizza
boxes spread out around them. T.J. looked both fatigued and energized, and
Birdie was her usually vivacious and flamboyant self. To prevent Lex and T.J.
from boring the tails off the rest of them with technical jargon, she regaled them
with anecdotes from rehearsals of the off-off-off-Broadway production in which
she'd landed a role.
Brooklyn only listened with half an ear, most of his attention taken up
with Angela. "How you doing?"
"Fine. Much better. Not even a headache." She smiled at him and took
his hand, but he could tell the smile was a bit forced. "I'm just worried ... what
happens next? We have to do something. We can't leave her out there, thinking
she's me. If Mother doesn't know about her, we don't want her to find out."
"That's for sure," he agreed. "The last thing she needs is another wacko
in her clan. But what can we do with her?"
"That's putting the cart before the horse, my love." The words coming
from her lips gave him a momentary chill -- Ventura's use of them, in a
possessive and coveting tone of voice, had temporarily soured him on the
endearment. "First we have to find her."
"Finding her won't be the problem, I bet. Catching her, that'll be the
problem."
Owen came in when the pizza was nearly demolished and Bronx was
snuffling through the boxes in search of some missed cheese drippings, discarded
crusts, and overlooked morsels of pepperoni.
Dr. Fielding was with him, but her report was very brief and unhelpful.
The test results were all in, and there was nothing physiologically amiss with
Angela.
"I still say --" Hudson began.
"Sorcery!" Lex and Aiden chorused. "But it isn't," Aiden added
earnestly.
"No offense to ye, lass, but ..." Hudson turned toward Owen. "Any
chance of someone with a wee bit more experience taking a look?"
Owen raised one hand to gently massage his forehead as if he had a
splitting headache. "You know the restrictions under which I must labor."
"I've been after him all day about it," Birdie said. "It makes sense to
me."
"What does?" Goliath asked.
"She seems determined to find loopholes in Oberon's decree," Owen
explained with exaggerated patience.
"Isn't that what you do?" Broadway wanted to know.
Birdie smirked. "See, the deal was that he could only use his powers to
train or protect 'the boy,' right? Which boy? Fox's son. Well, T.J. is Fox's son
too. Therefore ..."
"That is a far too liberal interpretation," Owen said.
T.J. looked around at all of them as if to say, 'see what I have to put up
with?' Aiden shared a commiserating smile with him -- she knew very well.
"I still think it's worth a shot," Birdie argued.
"Perhaps we can discuss it further if we run out of other options,"
Goliath said, ignoring the look Owen gave him. "In the meantime, what next?"
"Lex is going to interrogate the prisoner," T.J. said.
"Why me?"
"You're the best hacker, and Owen is going to be watching out to make
sure he doesn't try and escape."
"Where would he go?" Brooklyn asked.
"You're not hooking him into the main computer, I hope!" Lex said,
alarmed.
"Certainly not," Owen replied. "The system and the room are secure.
We've even rewired the room so the electricity is on a separate circuit, to
prevent any transference via the power cords."
"How am I supposed to get him to tell me anything?"
"During his previous ... incarnation, Mr. Xanatos ascertained that
certain keystrokes have what could be termed a painful effect."
Lex goggled at him. "Hey, I'm nobody's torture master! Talk, or I'll
CTRL-ALT-DELETE?"
"Those are the precise keystrokes."
"This is creepy," Broadway said. "Not even Sevarius deserves this."
"If there's anybody who does deserve it, it's Sevarius," Elisa said
coldly, and Goliath nodded.
Brooklyn was inclined to agree. Xanatos had caused them a lot of
problems in the old days, but through it all he'd been guided by a strange sort of
... well ... 'honor' wasn't the term he wanted, nor was 'nobility;' those were far
better suited to MacBeth. But something.
Sevarius, on the other hand, had been vile, craven, and all-around
slimy. Xanatos had, in the eyes of the clan, redeemed himself and become a
friend. Sevarius would never even entertain the possibility that his actions might
be reprehensible. He didn't care. All life, gargoyle, human, or otherwise, was
just something for him to use. Xanatos had changed because of his son; Sevarius
had experimented on his.
"What about the rest of us, then?" Hudson stroked his beard and looked
at Goliath. "Should we be trying to capture her?"
"How? And what would we do with her if we did?" Aiden didn't look
pleased at the prospect. The smallest of them, with a severe flinch reaction even
to something as harmless as an incoming volleyball, she was none too eager to
pit herself against someone Brooklyn had described as the quickest warrior he'd
ever seen.
"That's a good point." Goliath tipped his head toward Aiden. "What do
we do with her?"
"Talon took the other clones in the Labyrinth," Broadway suggested.
"She's not like the other clones," Brooklyn said.
"You invited Thailog to join the clan," Elisa said.
"Oh, no." Angela shook her head firmly. "Not as long as I'm a part of
this clan. The last thing we need is another daughter for Goliath." By her
startled expression, this last had slipped out, but when Goliath turned raised brow
ridges on her, she hastily busied herself cleaning up the plates and pizza-smudged
napkins.
"If we caught her," Brooklyn said, "and that's a helluva big if, we'd
have to lock her up. In the Labyrinth's jail cells, or here, where we put Jericho."
"But if she is linked to Angela," Elektra said, "as Aiden and Lex
suggested, then holding her would prove a danger to Angela."
"Maybe she'll just give up and go away." Angela stuffed paper plates
into the garbage and mashed them down fiercely. "There's nothing for her here.
Nothing!"
"Lass, we canna expect that."
"Yeah," Brooklyn said heavily. "She's not going anywhere until either
she gets what she wants, or we do something to stop her."

* *

Home.
Ventura gazed longingly at the castle, standing so high above the city,
wreathed in glorious light.
That was where she belonged. The moment she'd seen it, she'd
known. The compelling tug of her instincts had led her to within sight of it, let
her sense others of her kind within. Her family. Her clan.
And the Other.
She clenched her teeth in fury.
It had been the pull of the Other than had led her here in the first place,
led her the long and risky journey from the place of her imprisonment. Even
then, she could feel that not-rightness within herself. The emptiness where
something, perhaps her soul, had been stolen and replaced with cold fire and
burning ice.
So she'd come, slowly, gliding north in the darkest hours of the night
until at last she'd reached the vast city. With every mile, the pull of the Other
had grown stronger.
Then she'd gotten close enough to hear the whisper of the Other's
thoughts. Flickering impressions filled her mind. Tantalizing. Haunting.
Glimpses of what had been taken from her. Taunting her. Mocking her.
Gloating.
Brimming with a huge, inarticulate rage, she had reached out. Reached
out and seized hold of the Other's thoughts, trying to wrest them away, take back
what was hers, fill the holes in her memory and the gaps in her heart.
The Other had resisted, resisted with surprising strength, but in the end,
Ventura won. Nearly everything flooded into her. There were still some spaces
of emptiness, and now she knew why. The Other was most determined of all to
keep Ventura from knowing about the eggs. The child-stealer wanted them for
her own.
But now she knew. Her beloved mate had revealed all to her.
Thinking of Brooklyn made her throat tighten, her eyes sting. She
hadn't wanted to hurt him. No, never. Her pain at shooting him had been even
greater than his at being shot.
He didn't understand why she'd done it, why she'd had to do it. The
Other had worked her wiles on him, tricked him so completely that he couldn't
even see the truth when it was looking him full in the face. She'd only been
trying to hinder him, so that she could talk to him, make him see, make him
understand.
How had she done it? How had the Other stepped so seamlessly in and
taken Ventura's life?
It didn't matter. All that mattered was getting it back. Even now, the
memories she'd taken from the Other felt strange and hollow, unnatural.
That was worse than the gnawing emptiness of before. She knew what
she should know, but it lacked the texture of reality. Like she'd read of her own
life in a book, the experiences all but meaningless to her.
Surely, when she killed the Other, everything that had been hers would
be again.

* *

The green glow of the monitor bathed Lex's face and made him look
more goblinlike than ever.
Aiden stood by, ready with a ward spell. Energy was energy, be it from
science or sorcery, as Owen said. If they did contact Sevarius and he tried
something -- taking over T.J., for instance, which she imagined was not beyond
the realms of possibility -- she was going to stop him. Somehow.
At any rate, it sure beat going trolling for psychotic clones with the rest
of the clan. She was much more confident in her magical skills than her combat
ones. Though, given her amount of confidence in her magical skills, that wasn't
saying a whole heck of a lot ...
They'd gone over Angela's objections, said objections increasing tenfold
once Goliath ordered Angela to stay at the castle. To add insult to injury, he had
instructed her to watch over little Amber while he led Elisa and the others in
search of Ventura. Elisa had overruled that one, not wanting to leave her
daughter in the charge of someone who had just last night been stricken with a
mysterious seizure.
So now Angela was sulking in the clan's quarters under Bronx's
watchful eye, and Birdie was doing her best to keep Amber entertained by
reading book after book and doing funny voices for all of the characters.
And the rest of them were trying to contact a dead man.
Aiden shivered. This reminded her too much of the time she and Birdie
had interrupted a gaggle of girls with an Ouija Board. Except the planchette in
this case was a mouse, and it was her own Lex with his fingers on it, at risk.
The computer was hooked up to a series of multicolored wires that ran
from its guts into Godiva's exposed cranial circuitry. Her astonishing chest was
rising and falling steadily, her eyes moving behind the closed lids as if she slept.
There was such a thing as making a robot too lifelike. Like a Stepford
Wife or something.
The VR helmet that they'd used to test their prototype Xantasia game
rested off to one side. Aiden hoped they didn't have to use it. She'd seen way too
many episodes of Star Trek in which someone got trapped in a computer-
generated world, and the last thing she wanted was for that to happen to Lex.
With Sevarius as company.
T.J. was on a stool beside Lex. The grease monkey and the computer
geek. Owen hovered like a circulating O.R. nurse, keeping an eye on everything
and ready to jump in at a moment's notice.
"Do I have to ... you know, torture him?" Lex fretted.
"Think of his consciousness as a security feature," Owen suggested.
"You're trying to get at the information without alerting it."
"Hacker stuff."
"Exactly. The precise information we want is anything and everything
having to do with Ventura, particularly any mention of unusual abilities,
psychological programming, and the like."
"Gotcha." Despite Lex's misgivings, Aiden knew her mate well enough
to recognize that gleam in his eye. He always relished a challenge. "Okay, I'm
ready."
"Here goes." T.J. spread his fingers over Godiva's face, thumb and
pinkie resting on her sculpted cheekbones, the other three on her brow just where
her quills divided. A spark jumped from his hand.
Godiva's body twitched and jumped like someone getting hit with
defibrillator paddles. Her eyes flew open, then closed again. Ripples of current
ran along the circuitry beneath her folded-back scalp, and then lines of data
began scrolling rapidly across the monitor.
The scrolling stopped with a blinking, expectant cursor.
Lex grinned and began to type, first humming and then softly singing to
himself. "I'm just a lit-tle green gar-goyle, hack-ing my way through se-cur-i-ty
... I'm just a lit-tle green gar-goyle, pay no at-ten-tion to little me."
"Is he gonna keep that up all night?" T.J. wanted to know, looking
disgusted.
"Aha!" Lex cried. "Let the games begin!"

* *

"Right here," Brooklyn said. He peeled the remains of the radio
communicator he'd been wearing from the hardened-lava that had once been an
iron bench. "Her warning shot."
"Rick was out here today on a vandalism call," Elisa said. "The
property manager was none too happy about that." She pointed to the section of
wall that had come apart under Brooklyn. Most of the bricks had fetched up on
balconies belonging to the apartments, but several had punched through
windshields of cars parked on the street below.
A flashlight beam cut through the darkness, and all of the gargoyles did
a quick fade into the shadows.
"All right, you punks! Come out where I can see you!" It was a gruff
male voice, belonging to a stocky man in his fifties. In his other hand, he held a
baseball bat.
Elisa stepped forward, flashing her badge. "Mr. Sorenson? Detective
Maza, 23rd Precinct."
The beam fixed on her badge and he scrutinized it with suspicion.
"Police? But I didn't ..."
"I'm following up on an earlier call. Officer Alvarez' report ties in with
an ongoing investigation." She casually led him away from the gargoyles as she
reassured him.
"It doesn't seem she's been back," Elektra whispered.
Brooklyn agreed. "It was a long shot. She's got to be roosting
somewhere, but where?"
"Maybe we can find a clue," Broadway said.
Elisa returned, having promised to tell Mr. Sorenson if she turned up
anything. They fanned out to search, but came up with nothing helpful. No Gen-
U-Tech tracking devices, no Xanatos Enterprises bugs, nothing with the
Nightstone logo. Hudson collected some strands of white hair that had been
snagged on a branch, and that was it.
From there, Brooklyn led them to the statue-adorned rooftop where he
and Ventura had played their tense game of hide and seek. The roof access door
had been boarded up. Other than that, there was no sign of Ventura.
"We can't search every building in Manhattan," Elisa said, stuffing her
hands in the pockets of her jacket. "Where would she go?"
"Somewhere she feels safe," Broadway said. "Where would any of us
go if we knew the castle was off-limits? The clocktower."
"How would she be knowing about the clocktower?" Hudson asked.
"How'd she know about that garden place?" Broadway countered.
"Because Angela did. Remember what she was telling Brooklyn? If she does
know Angela's thoughts, she'd know about the clocktower. That was Angela's
first home here."
Goliath clapped him on the shoulder. "A very good idea. Let's go."

* *

"There are a couple of ways we could do this," Lex said. "I could
create a program that would be like a chat, letting me talk to Sevarius. Or I
could try to access his memory files."
"I doubt talking to him would be helpful," Owen said. "Mr. Xanatos
tried something similar before, and the moment Sevarius figured out what was
going on, he shut that program down. Try the memory files."
Aiden frowned. "This isn't very nice."
Lex, Owen, and T.J. all turned to look at her.
"Well, I mean ..." she fiddled with her fingers and couldn't meet their
eyes. "Just going into his brain like that, taking what we want? It's so ...
violating."
"Someone always trots out the morality clause," Owen sighed.
"He'd do it to us," Lex pointed out. "He took our DNA, made clones of
us without our permission. Or look at Talon, Maggie, Samson."
"But that's him, not us," Aiden said. "We're supposed to be the
good guys." Seeing that the we'll-be-just-as-bad-as-our-enemy argument wasn't
gaining her any ground here, she shrugged. "Okay, never mind. I'll shut up."
Satisfied, Lex and Owen returned their attention to the computer and
T.J. went back to monitoring Godiva to make sure Sevarius didn't suddenly seize
control of her and lurch off of that slab and try to kill them. Exotic dance them
to death or something. Crush them with her thighs like a James Bond villainess.
Lex's fingers clattered over the keyboard --
CLONE/CROSS.REF/VENTURA.
A menu came up --
VENTURA
1. PHYSIOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONING
3. PROJECT NOTES
"Any requests?" Lex asked, fingers poised.
"Physiological," Owen said.
He typed, and then leaned close to peruse the flood of data. "I was
afraid of this. It's all in jargon. Wow, if this is how he thinks, I wouldn't want to
live in his brain."
"This is a DNA sequencing program," Owen said, tapping the screen.
"Note the date ... it corresponds to the creation of the other clones. Demona
must have collected a sample from Angela just as she did from the rest of you."
Lex read over more of it. "Vibratory muscle toning and passive
resistance training?"
"When Thailog was initially created," Owen explained, "Mr. Xanatos
wanted him to be as strong as Goliath."
"Oh, sure, I see," Aiden said, lured in despite herself. Violating or not,
it was kinda interesting. "A clone wouldn't have had the years of combat and
exercise and stuff to build him up. He'd be weak. His muscles wouldn't be used
to it."
Owen nodded. "So, while in the growth tubes, the clones would have
been subjected to passive training. In Ventura's case, though ... it appears that
she was given excessive amounts for her size and body weight."
"Whaddaya mean, she's super-buff?" T.J. asked.
"Her frame and skeletal structure would not support a strength
comparable to Goliath's," Owen said, "but if this is any indication, she is far
stronger than Angela, and more agile."
"That fits with what Brooklyn was saying," Lex said.
"What about the psychological conditioning?" Aiden asked.
"We know most of the clones received an extremely simple motivating
force -- obey Thailog," Owen said. "He wasn't interested in a free-thinking clan,
only an army of obedient slaves. Delilah's programming was somewhat more
sophisticated, but nowhere near the level that Thailog himself was given.
Clearly, neither he nor Demona wished to take the chance of creating another
Thailog."
Lex went back to the menu and selected the second option. As words
filled the screen, all four of them read in silence and with a growing sense of
dismay.
"Oh, man," Lex groaned softly when it was done.
"Demona wanted her to be the perfect assassin," Aiden said, sickened.
"Every warrior trick, every weapon skill, everything that Demona herself has
learned about fighting over the past thousand years, all of it ingrained in
Ventura. No wonder she anticipated all Brooklyn's moves."
"But no obedience factors," Owen said. "Not to Thailog, not to Demona
herself. No subliminal hatred of humans. None of what I'd expect to see."
"Because look at this!" Lex said, scrolling down, excited. "The program
was cut short! Look, all those things are on the schedule, but they stopped before
they got there! See? Look at the date. That was still a few weeks before we ran
into the clones for the first time."
"They stopped her program ... why?" Owen mused.
"Let me check his notes." Lex chose the third item on the menu.

* *

The clocktower had long since been repaired of the damage inflicted by
the Hunters, with the help of a substantial donation from Xanatos. It was
nowhere near as dark and dingy as it had once been, and entering it gave
Brooklyn a weird sense of nostalgia that he could see the others shared.
Sure, it had been dark and dingy and lots of other words beginning with
D -- drab, drafty, dusty. Quite a far cry from the comforts they'd enjoyed at the
castle. But Goliath had been right. Wherever they were together, it was home.
Goliath raised a hand, halting Broadway just as he was about to go in.
Brooklyn dipped his beak in a nod and they spread out. Couldn't let nostalgia,
memories good and bad, get in the way of alertness.
Elisa stealthily drew her gun. "Something's not right here," she
whispered.
Goliath opened the door, and Brooklyn heard the snap of a wire, caught
a whiff of an oily scent.
"Goliath! Get down!" He tackled Goliath, knocking him down. As he
did so, he realized that Elisa, who had been behind Goliath, was now totally
open and exposed. But she was already diving to the floor, landing on her
shoulder and bringing up her gun.
A ball of flame boiled out of the doorway. Elisa rolled. Hudson seized
the back of her jacket, hauling her to safety.
The fireball whooshed out. Brooklyn saw the nozzle that had been aimed
at the door, the wire running from the handle to its switch.
"Trap," he said. "If you'd been standing in front of that thing ..."
"Thank you," Goliath said as they got to their feet.
Add "deadly" to that list of D words, Brooklyn thought.
Nobody came rushing out to finish them off. Their every sense told
them they were alone on the roof, and the burst of flame, while intense, had been
so short-lived that it hadn't drawn any attention from below.
Goliath motioned the rest of them back and stepped through, using his
foot to shove the tank-and-nozzle contraption to one side. He scanned carefully,
then beckoned.
"So now we know she's been here, or someone has." Broadway
preceded Elektra, shielding her. "Someone who doesn't like us."
Elisa rested her hand on an open steel crate. "Someone who doesn't like
a lot of people." From within the crate, she lifted a lightweight laser cannon with
a familiar design on the side -- a black obelisk on a white circle, the new logo of
Nightstone Unlimited. "These were reported stolen from a shipment meant for
the U.S. military."
"Demona is involved!" Brooklyn snarled.
"Behold," Elektra said. "A hotplate, and the remains of a meal."
"And it's still warm," Broadway said.
"Why go to all the trouble of reporting them stolen, then?" Hudson
asked. "Why wouldn't Demona just supply the lass with one? I'm thinking she
did steal them."
"I'm thinking a visit to Nightstone is overdue," Brooklyn said.
"No, Hudson's right." Goliath ran his talon thoughtfully over the crate,
scoring the metal. "If Ventura is allied with Demona, the security of the
Nightstone Building and the company of her clan would be preferable to living
alone. I'm convinced that Demona knows nothing of this."
"And that's the way we should keep it," Elisa said. "Until we know for
sure what's going on. The last thing we need is Demona getting into the mix."
"So we're back to our original problem," Brooklyn said. "Finding
Ventura."

* *

"I can't believe it," Aiden breathed as she finished reading. "I can't
believe he would do anything so mean!"
"You only know him as Ebon," Lex reminded her. "Before the amnesia,
he was pure evil. It wasn't the first time he'd betrayed Demona. He did it in
Paris, and he did it when he commissioned Delilah. And now this."
"What's a cataleptic trance?" T.J. asked.
"A state nearly indistinguishable from death," Owen said. "According to
these notes, Thailog had Sevarius inject Ventura with an agent to cause it,
thereby giving her the appearance of death. Then they devised their story of a
chemical imbalance in her growth tube. Demona in all likelihood suspects it was
no accident, but she suspects murder. She believes Ventura to be dead."
"Then, instead of disposing of the body, they moved her," Lex said.
"To this ... what was it? There. The Institute of the Human Mind, in Virginia.
I've never heard of that place."
"I have," Owen said. "It fronts as a hypnosis clinic using a dignified
name to give itself the illusion of legitimacy."
"Hypnosis?" Aiden asked.
"For controlling smoking, weight loss, that sort of thing. They also
openly research parapsychology, investigating claims of past life experiences,
ghosts, poltergeists, and other paranormal activity. The combination of the two
gives them a reputation of ... quackhood. Behind that, though, is the true
function of the institute." He left them hanging, deliberately, waiting.
"Which is?" Lex hinted, exasperated.
"Psionic abilities. The Institute s main focus is on developing telepathy,
telekinesis, remote viewing, pyrokinesis, and other powers generally referred to
as 'psychic.' By means of drugs and genetic engineering, they have demonstrated
several notable, albeit secret, successes. And more than a few spectacular
failures."
T.J. looked uneasy. "You mean they kidnap people who can do those
things, and experiment on them?"
"Possibly."
"Nice."
"Isn't it, though."
"They sent Ventura there." Lex nodded at Aiden. "Psychic link. Just
like we said. They sent her there, and worked on her. She does have some sort
of power."
"A psychic super-warrior," T.J. said.
"And now she's out," Owen finished.

* *

Angela peered into the mirror, turning this way and that, trying to
imagine what she would look like with Thailog's coloring.
Sinister, she concluded.
The large suite was quiet. Birdie had taken Amber down to Alexander's
playroom, and Bronx was on the floor with his head resting on folded forepaws,
his eyes tracking her as she moved aimlessly around. She picked things up, put
them down, riffled through magazines.
"I hate this," she told Bronx.
His ears twitched and he made an inquisitive grunt.
"Cooped up here, useless. I should be doing something."
"Hrf?"
"I don't know what," she snapped. "No, I do. I should be finding that
imposter and clawing her face off."
Blip!
On the console, which was connected to the castle's computerized
security systems, a small light began to flash. Angela saw the light for Owen's
portable extension also go on. She pressed the button that would let her listen in.
"Long-range sensor alert," a modulated feminine voice said.
"Identification discrepancies noted."
"Clarify," Owen's voice said tinnily.
"Scan notes discrepancies between subject and previously-recorded
data."
"Clarify," Owen said again.
"Previously-recorded data for designee ANGELA does not correlate
with sensor scan."
Hearing her own name, Angela went cold.
She knew.
Even before a dark wave of pressure drowned her mind, she knew.

* *

"The wards!" Aiden gasped. "Living thing, hostile intent. Big-time
hostile intent!"
"Ventura." Lex started to push away from the computer, then stopped
and looked in agony at T.J. "We can't leave this thing on and risk Sevarius
escaping. How long to shut it down?"
"Beats the hell out of me. Get started."
Owen motioned for Aiden to follow him, issuing brisk orders to the
Aerie Building's security guards. The wards were a warning system only, since
Aiden hadn't yet gained enough skill to erect a defense shield that would let some
gargoyles through and keep others out.
"She'll be intent on the castle instead of the skyscraper," he said into the
phone. "But I want your team on alert and ready to do any mop-up operations.
We don't need another incident of gargoyle-paranoia among the citizenry."
A bellow rose from the direction of the gargoyles' quarters, followed by
sounds of a struggle. Owen and Aiden dashed that way, bursting in to see Bronx
holding Angela's tail tight in his mouth, trying to restrain but not hurt her, while
the lavender female tried to pull away and reach the stairs.
Before either of the new arrivals could act, Angela yanked her tail free,
heedless of the gouged wounds from Bronx's teeth caused by her sudden
movement. She ran up the stairs.
"Stop her," Owen commanded. "Sleep spell."
"Right." Aiden bounded after Bronx.
Bronx burst onto the roof and went at Angela without stopping. He
jumped, slammed into her, and pinned her against the wall. Angela fought him
silently, her eyes wide and glazed.
Aiden looked up. Her wards were only visible to eyes trained in magic,
providing a silvery shimmering backdrop to the ebony angel hovering on an
updraft.
"Come to me!" Ventura called from on high, and Angela redoubled her
efforts.
Mind control, Aiden realized. She swiftly went to Angela. Cupping her
hand in front of her mouth, Aiden uttered some quick words in Latin and blew.
A twinkle of silvery dust swirled from her palm into Angela's face.
For a moment, the outcome seemed doubtful. Angela nearly threw off
the effects, then succumbed with a breathy sigh. Bronx stood over her, growling
skyward.
"Good boy." Aiden patted him.
"Nooooo!" Furious, Ventura dove toward the castle.
Aiden saw the laser cannon on her shoulder and gulped. "Uh ...
Owen?"
Calmly but urgently, he finished entering his authorization code. Panels
slid open all over the turrets, allowing guns and Steel Clan robots to appear.
Ventura, who had been about to turn one little grey gargoyle into a whiff of
ozone, banked sharply and screeched in rage. The shot that would have been for
Aiden instead took out a robot in a bright nova.
"Thanks," Aiden said to Owen.
The castle guns began to fire, brilliant yellow arcs that forced Ventura
into a defensive aerobatic display. She returned fire with her laser cannon,
scoring a direct hit even as her body was twisting and wheeling to avoid the
blasts. A turret gun exploded, showering Aiden and Owen with smoking bits of
metal.
Lex sprang up the stairs just as four of the Steel Clan closed in. The
turret guns held off while the robots surrounded Ventura.
Surrounded her ... for about three seconds. Then, in a black blur, she
shot one point-blank, reversed her cannon and swatted the head off another,
punched her hind talons into the chest of a third, and slung the sparking and
seizing third straight into the fourth.
Then she paused, and looked down on the man, the watchdog beast, and
the two gargoyles standing between her and her prey.
With a cruel and heartless smile, brought her cannon to bear on them.

* *

Broadway said it for all of them. "Wow."
"See?" Brooklyn strained to glide faster. They'd just witnessed
Ventura's destruction of the four robots, and now they could see her aiming at
something on the castle. He was all too afraid he knew what it was. Or, who it
was.
"Ventura!" Goliath roared so loud that Elisa, in his arms, covered her
ears and winced. The name rebounded in an echo.
No, not an echo. Approaching the castle from the left were two other
gargoyles. One was a stranger to Brooklyn, but the other was not. Thailog, now
known as Ebon.
Ventura looked around, her thick white cable of hair flipping from one
side to the other. Her eyes blazed and she turned her back on Goliath and Ebon.
In the instant before she fired, Brooklyn got close enough to confirm his
worst fears. There on the tower below was Angela, limp and motionless.
Standing over her protectively was Bronx, and lined up in front of Bronx were
Owen, Aiden, and Lex.
He saw them, and time stretched out like taffy, letting him etch every
detail into his memory. Then the laser cannon went off, and a ball of ruby
energy engulfed them.
It winked out a heartbeat later, leaving nothing but a scorched, gaping
hole in the stone where they had been.
Above the castle, all of the gargoyles froze in horror, unwilling to
believe what they'd just seen.
"Oh, no, please, no," Elektra gasped, that soft plea of denial carrying as
much weight as the agonized cry that burst from Brooklyn's throat a moment
later.
Ventura's cold, satisfied laugh cut through Brooklyn's anguish, leaving
him with one very clear thought.
Revenge.
That single thought propelled him into motion while the rest of the clan
remained stunned. He glided toward Ventura, knowing what he was going to
have to do. Knowing that he would only have one shot at this.
She whirled on him, centering the laser cannon.
Bile surged into the back of his throat, but he made himself say it
anyway. "Angela ... don't."
Ventura hesitated. "You ran from me," she accused, uncertainty in her
voice. "You denied me."
"I was wrong. My ... my love. I was tricked." It was all he could do to
keep from vomiting. But he had to get close, had to get her off her guard. And
then, once she let him near, he was going to take the slim obsidian column of her
neck between his hands and snap it.
Distrust filled her eyes. He could see her wanting to believe him, but
suspicious.
Another gargoyle was closing in on her from behind. Brooklyn didn't
dare let his gaze shift that way. He thought it was the unfamiliar male that had
appeared alongside Ebon, but couldn't tell for sure. He kept his attention fixed
on Ventura.
"It's all over now," he said, trying to sound comforting and welcoming.
"Come to me. Come join your clan." It was Maggie in the Labyrinth all over
again, only in reverse. Using deception, playing on a female's emotions.
The other male was closer now. Brooklyn had an impression of grey-
green skin, reddish-blond hair. He could sense his clan watching anxiously from
below. Goliath and Ebon had moved out, one to each side of him but hanging
back. It was all up to him, him and the stranger.
"I want my life," Ventura said.
"I know." He swallowed thickly and opened his arms, still several yards
from her, trying to appear loving, nonthreatening. "It's yours. You've won.
Let's put all of this behind us."
She lowered the gun, and the stranger made his move. He seized her
from behind, pinning her arms with his and lashing his tail around her legs to
bind them.
Ventura reacted with the speed of a scalded cat. Her wings battered at
the stranger's head, her tail snaked back and coiled around his neck.
Brooklyn dove at her. She squeezed off a shot at an awkward angle, the
laser searing a path into the empty night, before he clawed the weapon from her
grip. It spun toward the distant lights of the city below.
They grappled with her, but it was like trying to hold onto a bundle of
snakes. She writhed and hissed. Her teeth tore a furrow in Brooklyn's cheek,
nearly costing him an eye. The stranger pummeled at her, but though his blows
were so strong that Brooklyn could feel the impact vibrating through her body,
she barely seemed affected.
She drove her head backward, the back of her skull smashing into the
stranger's face. Dazed, he slipped away from her. She tore free of Brooklyn's
grasp and kicked out at him, her talons gouging his chest. As he doubled over in
pain, she spun and brought both fists down on the stranger, breaking his
collarbones.
Brooklyn reached for her, but her tail whispered through his hand like
an eddy of night wind.
Again, time stretched out and Brooklyn saw all of his options with a
clear detachment. The stranger was below them, tumbling semi-conscious and in
pain. Ventura was making a break for it. Goliath and Ebon converged on her,
but neither of them was close enough to make a difference. It was all up to him.
Chase her, or save the stranger?
Revenge, or rescue?
He dove after the stranger, and caught him with only a few yards to
spare before he would have slammed into the courtyard flagstones. They landed
together badly, earning more bruises as they rolled. Brooklyn ignored the pain
and jumped back up, howling in cheated frustration at the sight of Ventura now
just a darker speck against the sky.
Goliath and Ebon, knowing they couldn't catch her, gave up the chase
and descended. Broadway, Hudson, and Elektra touched down near Brooklyn as
he fell to his knees and buried his head in his hands.

* *

"Love you," Lex said, in the instant before Ventura fired.
Aiden didn't answer, but brought both hands around fast and clamped
them into a fist. A dome of silver light surrounded them just as the laser struck.
Silence encompassed them. The silvery dome turned blood-red as the
energy raced and flowed over it like water over a submerged rock. Aiden had a
sudden attack of vertigo, a sense of falling.
The redness vanished. Aiden tentatively lowered her shield-ward, and
blinked in confusion. They weren't where they had been, and at first she
wondered if she'd goofed again. Glancing up, at the perfectly round hole in the
ceiling above them, she understood.
The laser had gone around the ward, and blasted through the stone
beneath it with near-surgical precision. The ward and all its contents had dropped
straight down, coming to rest in the guest room on the next floor.
She exhaled shakily and hugged Lex. "Love you, too." The strength left
her limbs and she tottered against him.
"Very good," Owen said with a pleased nod.
She grinned wearily up at him. "Somebody's got to play defense."

* *

Goliath stood somberly beside Brooklyn, one hand resting on his
shoulder. Broadway stood on his other side, one arm around Elektra as if to
assure himself that she was still there. Hudson, looking like he'd aged fifty years
in the last ten minutes, leaned against the wall.
"I can't believe it," Brooklyn said, but that was a lie, oh, was that ever
a lie.
No one had words that would have done any good. Elisa looked out over
Manhattan, perhaps scanning the sky for trouble, perhaps just unwilling to let
them see her tears.
"Did we win?" Lexington's voice drifted over to them, just before
Bronx plowed into their midst like an overgrown puppy.
They all whirled. Lex was supporting an exhausted-looking Aiden, and
behind them, Angela was clinging unsteadily to Owen's arm. All of them were
mussed and dusty, but unharmed.
"You're all right!" Brooklyn expected them to vanish like a mirage as
soon as he said it, but they stayed solid. His mate's weak smile was the most
beautiful thing he had ever seen.
"Aiden saved us," Lex said proudly.
"Angela ..." He touched her, found her real, and uttered a fierce shout
of joy as he crushed her against his chest. She hugged him and covered his beak
with kisses.
While the rest of them embraced each other and stumbled over their
words in a rush to explain what had happened, Ebon went to the stranger and
helped him to a sitting position He groaned. Elektra glanced that way, and drew
in an amazed breath.
"It is he!"
Broadway followed her gaze. "Gabriel!"
"Gabriel?" Angela paled, evidently remembering her odd visions. She
started to go to him, then stopped before touching him so as not to worsen his
wounds.
He smiled sadly up at her. "It's been a long time, my sister."
"How did ye come here, lad?" Hudson asked. "Did Avalon send ye?"
"Avalon sent him to me," Ebon said. "Over a year ago."
"Your arrival here was timely," Goliath said, taking Ebon's forearm in
a firm grip. "Have you finally come to join our clan?"
"We've come to try and set something right," Ebon said. "Thus far,
with less than notable success."
"Thanks for your help," Brooklyn said to Gabriel.
"Don't thank me." Gabriel shook his head grimly. "If not for me, none
of this would have happened."
"The blame isn't yours," Ebon said firmly. "If anyone's, it is mine."
"Wait!" Goliath commanded as everyone began talking at once. "One at
a time!"
"And not until I've had a chance to look at him." Dr. Fielding pushed
her way through the crowd of gargoyles, summoned by a call from Owen. She
knelt beside Gabriel, setting down her traditional black doctor's bag outfitted
with all the latest gadgetry that Xanatos' people had developed.
"What's going on?" Angela looked from Ebon to Gabriel and back to
Ebon. "You knew about Ventura? Are you behind this?"
"It's not his fault!" Lex said quickly. "He's not Thailog anymore. Not
the same gargoyle he was. You can't blame him for something he did back
then!" While Dr. Fielding worked, Lex and Owen gave the condensed version of
everything they'd learned from Sevarius' memory files.
"So how did she get from this Institute to here?" Brooklyn demanded.
"And why's she trying to kill Angela?"
"Because of me," Gabriel said. "I loosed this evil on your clan. And I
have to stop her."

* *

To be continued ...