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

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

#56 in an ongoing saga.



"For how long, did you say?" Goliath said, as if hoping that he hadn't heard correctly the first time. He
rubbed his thumb against the pad of his forefinger, where two tiny puncture wounds oozed. There were no
matching ones on the top, but only because the teeth had dug into the hard spur of his claw instead.
"Ten days," Kurt Masters repeated. "Well, ten nights. Whichever. Three times a night for ten nights. Have
to follow the full course of antibiotics."
"Blug!" Amber Maza announced in disgust. A dribble of pink liquid stained the corners of her mouth, and
more had soaked into the hand-crocheted sweater that had been a gift from Elisa's great-aunt Agnes.
"Does it come in a pill?" Elisa asked with tired desperation.
"Sorry, nope. Given her unique biochemistry, this is the only stuff that seems like it'll help knock out that
infection. But I can give you a plastic syringe to squirt it into her mouth, maybe spare you a few bites."
Goliath rumbled deep in his chest. "Hudson said that holding her mouth closed would force her to swallow."
"That only works on Cagney," Elisa pointed out, "and Hudson got bit too."
"If all else fails, try mixing it with applesauce," Kurt suggested, handing them a dismayingly tall bottle. "And
don't worry. She should be feeling better in a few nights. Poor kid. The ear infection's bad enough, but I also
think she's getting a few more teeth."
"Just what she needs," Goliath muttered.
With a faintly malicious grin, Kurt added a tube to the bottle and syringe. "This is a topical analgesic that
you can rub on her gums."
Goliath only looked at him.
"The joys of parenthood," Elisa said, taking a few tissues from the box on Kurt's cluttered desk and wiping
Amber's chin. She regarded the stained sweater, sighed, and unbuttoned it.
It came off, and Amber immediately unfolded her wings and flapped them lazily back and forth, fanning herself.
"That's another thing," Kurt said. "She's running a little bit of a fever. I know it's winter, but as long as
you're inside, she doesn't need to be that bundled up."
As if she understood him, Amber pulled the matching cap off of her unruly dark hair and threw it on the floor.
Seven and a half months old, she was twice the size of a human infant of the same age, but still much less
developed than a gargoyle hatchling would have been. She was nearly as much of a climber as her cousins Tom
and Dee, but the twins had been a lot more cautious about jumping off of shelves and furniture.
She crouched on the examining table and made to leap, but Goliath intercepted her.
"Up, Daga! Up!"
The injury to his finger apparently forgotten, the proud papa swung her high in the air and she squealed with
delight.
"At least she's feeling better," Elisa sighed. "I was getting worried."
"It's normal for kids to be cranky when they're sick," Kurt said, and chuckled. "Count your blessings -- at
least you know she'll sleep through once the sun comes up!"

* *

"Captain, you've got to be kidding," Matt Bluestone protested. "Why us?"
"Because you've dealt with Dracon before," Maria Chavez said. "You know his tricks. And he knows
you can't be bribed."
"He also hates our guts," Matt said. "If you think Pal Joey's going to cooperate ..."
"I don't care if he cooperates. All you need to do is keep him alive until Monday. He'll testify, we'll have
what we need to nail Dracon. Again. Then, if the rest of Dracon's toadies decide to pay Pal Joey back for
ratting on the boss, well, we'll get them too. In the meantime, Joey gets his suspended sentence, we get Dracon --"
"And Elisa and I get stuck babysitting the weasel all weekend."
"If we don't keep him out of the way, Dracon's going to put him out of the way. Permanently. And
speaking of Elisa, where is --"
Three quick raps, and the door opened. "Hi, Captain, hi, Matt, sorry I'm late. Heard you wanted to see me."
"Partner, you're not going to believe what shit detail we pulled!" Matt began.
"Trouble, Maza?" Maria Chavez asked. "You look worn out."
"Amber," Elisa explained. "She's got an ear infection, so she was driving us nuts all night. Crying, fussing
... terrible to admit it, but I was glad to get out of there for a while."
"Well, good news," Chavez said with a sharklike smile. "You're out of there all weekend. I'm assigning
you two to keep an eye on Pal Joey."
"What?!?"
"Told you it was a shit detail," Matt grumbled. "What'd we do, Captain?"
Chavez rolled her eyes. "You didn't do anything, Bluestone. You're the best I've got, and this is a big
case. We need that slimy creep's testimony to tie the knot in Dracon's noose."
"Starting when?" Elisa asked.
"Starting now. I told Hanson and Strick that you'd be there to relieve them by six-thirty, and it's quarter
past now. So get going." She gave Matt a slip of paper. "Address of the safe house."
Elisa and Matt shared a look. Tenacious, they may have been, but they knew when there was no further
point in arguing.
"Nothing like a weekend of playing cribbage with a rat," Matt remarked as they headed out.
"Hey, Maza!" Officer Morgan greeted her cheerily. "How's Batgirl?"
"Jeez, Morgan, keep it down!" Elisa glanced worriedly around, but the only person close enough to hear
was Albert, the sweet but somewhat thick-witted janitor.
"You ought to bring her by again," Morgan said. "We all got a real kick out of seeing her."
"I bet," Elisa groaned, remembering.
Three months ago, after having run out of excuses for her fellow officers, she'd agreed to bring Amber by
the precinct. Wrapped up nice and snug in a blanket, her arched three-toed feet concealed in booties, she was
as darling and innocuous a baby as any of them had ever seen. Only the little bumps at the outside edges of her
eyebrows, which were hard to notice unless you were specifically looking for them, marked her as anything
but normal.
Until she'd sneezed.
It had been a scene straight out of Dumbo. Everyone gathered around, oohing and aahing, and then
ker-choo! Off had come the blanket, out had popped the wings, and silence so thick it could have been cut
with a machete fell over the room.
"Uh ..." Elisa had said.
But then, to her overwhelming surprise, they'd all burst out laughing. "Shee-it, Maza," someone had
hooted, "you must think we're really stupid! Half of us are detectives, for crying out loud!"
"The rest of us aren't such slouches either," Morgan had chimed in. "Give us a little credit, huh?"
They'd known. All this time, they'd known. Or at least guessed well enough that it hadn't come as a
whopper of a shock. She remembered throwing a startled look at Rick Alvarez, the hunk of the 23rd, who'd
been letting everybody josh him for months about having a secret fling with her, and all he'd done was flash
her his pearly whites and wink.
So they'd known, and if they minded they weren't getting in her face about it, and the worst she had to
endure was her daughter earning the nickname 'Batgirl.' She could live with that, as long as word didn't get
around to the wrong ears.
In a way, it was really a relief. Just as it had been a relief when her family'd found out that her relationship
with Goliath was a lot more than friends. Amazing what people would accept.
She told Morgan all was well, and then she and Matt swapped kid woes on the way down to her car. His
son Orpheus was eleven months older than Amber, talking amazingly well for a toddler, and it was unsettling
how often he got his way.
"I think ... I think he's a little ... unusual," Matt confessed.
"Small wonder," Elisa said. "His mom's a figure from Greek mythology, you're a nutcase conspiracy
freak, and his godfather is the head of the Illuminati. It'd be weirder if he was normal."
"Yeah, good point. Sometimes I think you, me, and Xanatos should start a special preschool for freaky kids."
"I'll tell you this for nothing," Elisa said wryly, "I'd rather be in your shoes or mine than Xanatos'. Amber
has wings, Orph is going to grow up to be the con man of the century, but at least they don't upend the whole
house when their magic lessons go wonky."
"What, has Aiden been giving Alex lessons?"
"No, I think that smartass Puck gets his jollies by staging 'accidents' to liven things up."
"Like what, dare I ask?"
She ticked off some of the more recent ones on her fingers. "Transforming Hudson's clothes so that he
was in drag ..." Matt choked. "... reversing Bronx's gravity so he was stuck to the ceiling ... making every
faucet in the place run with root beer ..."
"Okay, okay, I get the picture," he laughed. "Basically, we're all screwed."
"That about sums it up." She started the car, and with Matt watching for a tail in case Dracon figured
on having them followed to the safe house, off they went in the chilly dark of a Manhattan morning.

* *

Jericho prowled his sanctuary, his rooftop dark Avalon, restlessly. As if all of the energy Demona was
lacking had been somehow transferred to him. While she slumped, listless, on the couch in the secret room
behind her office, he paced and paced until he thought he might wear a path in the stone.
He didn't know what to do.
He knew why, of course.
She'd been getting better, and over the summer had been almost back to her usual self. But as the nights
lengthened and grew cold, as the anniversary drew near, she'd begun sliding back into the deep depression
that had enveloped her in the terrible months following the loss of their child.
Nothing he could say or do would bring a smile to her face. Something in her had been destroyed. She'd
been able to throw herself into her work for a while, try to put the tragedy behind her, but it would never be
forgotten.
How overjoyed he'd been to learn they were going to have a child! But his delight had been nothing compared
to hers, just as his grief was nothing compared to hers. For long centuries, she'd lived alone and loveless.
Then fate had conspired to bring her new hope, but nearly every time, that hope had turned against her,
leaving her worse off than she would have been if she'd never known it at all.
First her clan, restored. Who became her enemies.
Then Thailog. Who betrayed her.
Then the discovery of Angela. Who had turned from her.
Of all those hopes, of all those new beginnings, only he had remained steadfast, and true. They had each
other, mother and son, lovers and mates, standing together against the world.
And just when it seemed they'd been blessed beyond belief, with an egg of their own, a future for their
clan ... disaster.
That blow a harsher one than any of the others, for the egg hadn't even had a chance. The same magic that
allowed her to move among the hated humans and better plot her vengeance against them had delivered the
fatal blow to the unborn.
Jericho would have given anything to make it better. But what could he do? As long as she was under the
transformative spell, they could never have another. They'd not even dare try, for to go through the same
thing again would much more than double their pain.
He had nowhere to go for advice. He'd even become so desperate that he'd tried asking Gustav Sevarius,
but of course Herr Doktor had a better-living-through-chemistry answer and offered to whip up some
concoction that would ease or erase her anguish. That, Jericho knew, would be an abhorrent solution.
Nowhere else to go. Unless Hudson might have some insight ... but things were tense as ever between
the Nightstone and Wyvern clans, although they'd managed to keep out of each other's way for most of the
year. An uneasy truce brought on solely by the fact that none of Demona's plots had intersected with Xanatos'.
He'd briefly considered, and just as quickly rejected, suggesting she seek the support of other women
who had undergone miscarriages. His beloved Demona was not about to go weeping and wailing to counseling,
and still spoke in vehement terms about the woman who had visited her in the hospital. Besides, they were all
only humans. What would they know of her pain?
No, she had only him. And in time, she would move through her consuming darkness. Time. She had an
eternity of it. And he was young, utterly hers, able to wait as long as she needed. To wait and be with her, to
love her with the singular obsessive devotion that only he could give.
An image of her suddenly filled his mind, drowning him with overpowering yearning. Though she'd pleaded
weariness and asked to be alone, he had to be with her. Had to hold her.
He hurried through the unlit and silent corridors, letting himself into her office. The secret door was partially
ajar, and he could hear melancholy music, from one of those operas in which everyone dies in agony, issuing
from the speakers.
She was as he'd last seen her, huddled on the couch, wrapped around her misery. Tears tracked in streams
down her cheeks.
His heart twisted within him, and at the same time rage boiled in his blood at the unfairness of it all.
Wordlessly, he went to her and knelt before her. She stared past him, through him, at the floor-to-ceiling
window that looked out on a spitting flurry of sleet dashing itself against the glass like flocks of suicidal moths.
He folded her hands in his, then bent so that the side of his face rested atop them. Closed his eyes.
They sat like that as the sky went from black to a dark blue-grey. Then he felt her slipping one of her hands
free. But rather than push him away, she used it to stroke his hair where it spilled across her lap.
She sighed shakily. "My Jericho," she murmured.
"Always," he promised. "Always."

* *

"We can't stay underground forever," Harry the Hammer complained. "She's out there. It's out there.
Born by now. Growing in evil every day!"
Jon Castaway nodded and let Harry's words roll over him. Same speech, different day. Or night. Or ...
hell, what time was it, anyway? He checked his watch. Almost dawn. Thank God. Daybreak came so damned
late in the winter! The nights were so long!
And Harry was right about one thing. They were out there. The gargoyles.
Mocking him.
"But, dammit, Harry, what do you want me to do?" he snapped irritably. "Yes, we've been keeping a
low profile. I know you're disappointed. But until we come up with a better plan ... until we come up
with any plan at all, I'm not going to stick my neck out and get it chopped off!"
Harry, who hadn't expected any reply let alone this sort of outburst, rocked back a little in his chair
and stared at Castaway. "Well ... um ..."
"Well, um," Castaway sneered. "That's a brilliant plan, Harry, why didn't I think of it before?"
"I'm just trying to help."
"Help!" Castaway shoved away from the desk and stood up. "Is that what you're trying to do? And
here I thought you were nagging me. If I wanted that, I'd get married!"
"It's just ... people are starting to talk."
"Starting to talk? Never shutting up, seems more like to me! I'm trying to juggle a thousand different things
here, Harry, do you understand that? I've had to completely redesign our computer and communications
systems thanks to that happy asshole David Xanatos, this corporation is on shakier footing than a newborn foal,
our contributions have dropped off like lemmings, we lost sixty of our best men to that warehouse fire, and to
top it all off, my dimbulb brood mare's father has tracked me down and wants to sue for custody of my son!
These creatures have been around for hundreds of years, so can I just have a few weeks to get my shit
together without every one-track grunt like you mouthing off at me?"
"Hey!" Harry was just stupid enough to take the offensive instead of beating a meek retreat, and likewise
stood. "Don't take it out on me if you can't cut it! We laid low for most of last year because you kept
promising us that New Year's would be big, the biggest! Look how that turned out! We was routed! I nearly
got my butt kicked by that blue devil! And we didn't even scratch a window at the Aerie Building before we
got soaked to the skin! I caught pneumonia! Damn near died! All for nothing! And instead of doing something
about it, you want to sit back and let those sons of bitches walk all over us! Jesus! Maybe Nickie was right!"
"Nick was an idiot and you're no better!"
"We've got to do something! It's worse than ever, don't you get it? Once we dropped out of sight, there
wasn't anybody to keep people thinking right! Now most people don't care. Far as they're concerned, those
monsters are just another buncha illegal aliens and nobody gives a damn! Nobody cares they're evil
except us, and we're sitting here with our thumbs up our butts!"
"We are not!" Castaway shouted. He hated losing control like this, God, how he hated it, but when even
his own most loyal, fanatic bulldog bit the hand that fed him, it was just all a little much to bear.
"You know what's going on out there," Harry said, abandoning his yelling for a low, urgent tone. "That
woman. The Dark Madonna. You said she'd be exposed. When, when? That devil-spawn brat of hers has
gotta be destroyed. You said it would all come out."
"What would you have me do, go to the press?" He laughed bitterly. "I'm sort of discredited nowadays,
you know. Without proof, all it would be worth was a squib in the Daily Tattler."
"What kind of proof do we need? Pictures?"
"Photos would be a start," he admitted. "But really, Harry, do you think Maza's going to take her whelp
to Sears to take advantage of their holiday portrait special?"
Bull-headed to the last, Harry persisted. "If we can get some proof, will you take action?"
"Oh, fine," Castaway said just to be rid of him. "You do that. But Harry?"
"Yeah?"
"Make sure you leave a contact number for next of kin with my secretary, would you?"

* *

"Steady on, lad." Hudson raised his voice to be heard. "It'll be dawn soon."
"Good," Goliath replied fervently.
The rest of the clan sat around helplessly, looking at Elektra, who was seated cross-legged on the rug trying
in vain to distract Amber with some of her favorite toys. But the child would have none of it, and alternated
between gabbling fits of what sounded like babyish swearing and sustained wails that made them marvel her tiny
lungs could hold so much air.
The antibiotics might be doing the trick, but the gum-ointment apparently wasn't, although when Goliath had
applied it -- needing the help of both Brooklyn and Broadway to hold Amber down while he gently pried her
jaws open -- it had numbed his fingers sufficiently that he hadn't felt it when all four of her little fangs sank in.
"Shouldn't that baby Tylenol be kicking in?" Lex cried over the ruckus.
"I hope so!" Angela was on her knees, digging frantically through Amber's toybox. "Try this!" She tossed a
hard rubber mailman at Elektra.
"That's Bronx's!" Aiden protested.
"Well, look what she did to hers!" Angela held up the sad deflated remains of a teething ring. "Unless you've
got any bright ideas, Ms. Wizard!"
"Please, Goliath?" Lex begged.
"No magic on my daughter!" Goliath insisted.
Bronx didn't object as Amber seized his chew toy and chomped down, because of all the clan, only Bronx
had the good sense to make himself scarce. Everyone else felt too guilty, so they stayed and suffered along with
Goliath.
"The day'll make the wee lass feel better," Hudson said. "A good stone sleep will settle her."
"Yeah, until she wakes up," Brooklyn muttered.
"Elisa's lucky she had to work," Broadway said, earning a dirty look from Goliath.
"Were we this much of a pain in the tail?" Lex wondered.
Hudson just snorted. "Multiply it by two dozen."
"But we were hatched more mature," Broadway argued. "Weren't we?"
Amber had quieted some, enough to be coaxed into Elektra's lap. "'Tis partly that, I'll warrant. She's all in
conflict."
Goliath nodded. "Dr. Masters expects it to be a year or more until her body has caught up with itself."
"Another year of this?" Angela moaned.
"Aw, give her a break, she's teething," Lex said. "And her systems must all be messed up. No wonder
she's frustrated."
"We should get to our perches," Hudson said with a significant look at the greying sky.
"Daga!" Amber demanded around a mouthful of chew toy as Goliath rose. She held her arms up.
"Won't it be fun when all the eggs hatch?" Brooklyn commented to nobody in particular.
"Well, I'm still looking forward to it," Angela said archly.
Goliath tucked Amber in the corner of his arm and carried her upstairs, bringing his wing around to shelter
her from the sleet. Her playpen, as Alex called it, was in the shelter of a place where the battlements came
together. He set her inside.
Amber screamed indignantly and pulled herself upright. Goliath winced guiltily but turned away and went
to take his place on the wall. The rest joined him, and it was clear from their expressions that there had
seldom been days when they'd more welcomed the dawn.
Though they couldn't see the sun through the heavy pall of clouds, they felt the old familiar tightening of flesh
and knew it was time. Stone claimed them, with Amber's yells still ringing in their ears.

* *

"Oh, this is great," Elisa said, wrinkling her nose.
"Hey, it's the maid's day off," Pal Joey retorted.
The squealer, once one of Tony Dracon's most trusted associates and now willing to tell all in order to save
his own skin, was tipped back in a chair with his feet up, watching an infomercial on home food dehydrators,
and munching on a cold slice of pizza.
"Class all the way, eh, Joey?" Matt took off his tan trenchcoat and hung it on the back of the door, then
swept a pile of newspapers and empty pop cans off of the couch so he could sit down.
The safe 'house' wasn't really a house at all, but a furnished studio apartment two steps up from a fleabag.
Hot and cold running roaches, a radiator that rattled and clanked like the Tin Man confronting the Great and
Powerful Oz, a window with a view across a four-foot alley of a soot-stained brick wall, and a fold-down bed
that was currently folded up and looked to Elisa like it had been sealed in place with mildew for a good ten years.
"I see the department budget is still strained," she observed to Matt.
The other two officers had gone, so it was just the three of them. Stocked up with all the necessities -- a few
decks of cards, a Scrabble game, a stack of videos with nothing more recent than 1985, a case of ramen noodles,
and a whole box of back issues of the Reader's Digest.
"Laughter, the Best Medicine," Matt said.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm watching TV here," Pal Joey said.
"Heaven forbid you should miss a word of the thousand and one uses for dried fruit." Matt grimaced at Elisa. "I
asked the captain, and now I'm asking you. What did we do?"
"I haven't taken her parking place lately, and I'm sure she's forgotten all about the time you called the FBI in
to interview that hooker who swore she'd been abducted by saucer people."
"They weren't FBI."
"What?"
"Never mind. So what are we gonna do?"
"Wait it out." Elisa moved as far from Pal Joey's shoeless feet as the small room would allow, and sank into
one of the chairs. Tubular metal and split vinyl padding. Comfy.
Outside, the dingy alley lightened a bit, and Elisa's internal clock told her it was dawn. But as she tried to get
into the 'Drama in Real Life' tale of a guy caught in a threshing machine, she suddenly got the weirdest feeling that
something was wrong.
Something was very, very wrong.

* *

The intercom buzzed, and David Xanatos frowned as he leaned over to push the button.
"Xanatos here," he said, by tone alone trying to remind whoever was on the other end that he'd just made
it clear he was not to be interrupted.
"This is Breckenridge, sir, at the front desk?"
"Yes, Breckenridge, what is it? Weren't you told I --"
"I know, sir. I'm sorry to interrupt, but something strange just happened down here in the lobby."
"Strange how?" he asked, interest overcoming annoyance.
"Well ... is anyone up there missing a baby?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"A baby ... the private elevator from the castle level came down a few minutes ago, and a baby came out."
"That's impossible," Xanatos said flatly. "Mr. Burnett drove my wife and son upstate to look at a private
school this morning; they left half an hour ago."
"It wasn't your son, Mr. Xanatos. A smaller kid, maybe one, two years old. Dark hair. Wearing a purple
coat or something."
"Just a second ..." With an unpleasant suspicion growing in his gut, Xanatos punched up the monitors fed
by the castle security cameras. "Breckenridge?"
"Here, sir."
"Where is she?"
"Got into one of the other elevators. She could be anywhere in the building."
"Find her. Now."
"But, sir --"
"Just find her!" He clicked off the intercom, drummed his fingers fitfully on the desk for a few seconds, then
left his office in a hurry.

* *

Photos would be a start.
Fair enough. If that was what was needed, that's what he would get. Somehow. Then, maybe, it would spur
or shame Castaway into action.
Harry regretted his angry outbursts, but someone had to light a fire under that man. Couldn't run away from
the world, couldn't hide from one's responsibilities. It was no use hoping that God would take away the cup He
had set before you, no matter how sour its contents. Drink it down, that was the ticket. Drink it down, do your
duty, for the glory of God and the grace of mankind.
Castaway was faltering, that was all. Stumbling in his faith. Lost some of his hope. Lost some of his purpose,
his drive.
Well, Harry was going to give it back to him.
Sure, photos. That might just do it. Once Castaway got an eyeful of the hellspawn born to the Dark Madonna,
he'd remember his calling.
Yeah, and then everything would get back on track. The fire, the ... the charisma that had seemingly abandoned
Castaway over the past months would come flooding back. The members who had started second-guessing their
place in the world would lose all their doubts. The hammers would shine, brilliant in their divine strength.
And all would be well.
All thanks to Harry. The only one who had never lost faith. Never lost sight of God's righteous plan. Surely
this was what God wanted him to do. To steer Castaway back onto the right path. To get rid of the demons
before it was too late, before the world was thrown into a thousand years of torment.
He looked at the skyscraper. Up and up. Closer to it now than he'd been in almost a year. Ever since that
midnight fiasco, when he'd been at his moment of greatest glee, leading a small army against the stronghold of
Hell, only to be struck from above by gallons and gallons of water, such force that it had knocked him flat into
the gutter.
This time, he'd be much more cautious.
Playing tourist, bundled and unrecognizable in his overcoat and scarf, he goggled at the world's tallest
building and then fiddled with his camera, pretending to take pictures.
The hellspawn child was there. He could sense it. God was shining a light in his head. It was just like the
Pope had said. The medication hadn't been able to take that shining light away from that main man of God,
and fear of demons wasn't going to take it away from Harry. Not when he'd met the Pope, spent long
hours in the dayroom listening to him, touched his hand, eaten at the same table.
Evil was strong, and God worked in mysterious ways. Harry knew that. Why, otherwise, God would just
open up a crevice in the earth and send that whole building plummeting back into Hell where it belonged, or
strike down the demon child with a bolt of lightning. But that wouldn't give God's faithful the chance to prove
themselves. Earned salvation was lots better.
He crossed at the corner, acting like he was admiring the building from that different angle. He wasn't the
only one. Despite the foul weather, lots of people paused to peer upward. Even native New Yorkers were
awed and dwarfed by it. Or maybe they could sense the malevolent power radiating from every stone and girder.
Harry sure could.
But how was he gonna get in there? Place was guarded to the dogs and back. Literally. Harry normally
didn't mind dogs, but these were big thick-chested beasts that were probably Hellhounds masquerading as
regular dogs. They'd sniff the power of God on him in no time, and be all over him with their sulphury breath.
Plus, the security systems were top of the line and the guards were packing stun-lasers and sidearms, and
for all he knew, were themselves minor devils sent up to safeguard the child.
He didn't linger too long by the garage doors, which gave onto an underground parking structure. Just kept
ambling by, hunching his face into his collar as if to keep it out of the worst of the wind and rain, taking little
sip-glances instead of long drink-looks.
How was he gonna get in?
"God, gimme a little nudge here," he pleaded.
His watch beeped, and Harry about jumped out of his galoshes thinking it was a sign from God. Then he
realized it was eight o'clock, or almost -- his watch was set seven minutes ahead so's he would never be late.
Harry Standard Time, he called it.
Eight o'clock.
And a long line of cars waiting their turn in front of those garage doors. Employees. Maybe evil themselves,
maybe unknowing pawns of the dark powers. Showing up for work. Even on the weekend. No rest for the wicked.
He strolled down the street, past the line of cars. Fancy stuff. Yeah, that figured -- the good went without,
while the evil drove Jaguars.
If he could somehow get into one of the cars unnoticed ... that'd be a good trick, though. Not like he could just
jump in, put a gun to the driver's head, force him to drive inside. No way.
Fuming, aware that he was rapidly running out of time that he could keep meandering along without someone
getting suspicious, he jaywalked over to a newsstand and pretended to check out the headlines on the daily paper.
Thinking, thinking, his brain running fast and furious as a hyped-up hamster on a wheel.
"This isn't a lending library, buster," the old fart tending the stand snapped after less than thirty seconds.
Harry shot him a glower, but the old fart wasn't looking at him anymore. Was looking past him with his
seamed forehead even more wrinkled up.
"What the bejesus, is that a kid on the back of that truck?" he said as if he was sure he was seeing things.
Half-thinking it was a variation on the your-fly's-open trick and the old fart would then clobber him one, Harry
played along anyway and turned. Then his chin came all unhinged as he saw the kid, clinging to a metal ladder on
the back of a black truck with the red 'XE' logo.
The guards didn't even glance that way, being more concerned with checking up on who was coming in
rather than going _out_.
A kid, all right, and maybe the old fart thought said kid was wearing a purple superhero cape, but Harry
knew demon wings when he saw them.
He stood there, the paper in his hand, so stunned at his good fortune that it didn't immediately register on
his brain that the truck was driving off down the street.
"Hey!" he blurted belatedly. He broke into a run, camera jouncing on its strap. Behind him, the old fart set
up a ruckus as if Harry had just taken off with the Crown Jewels instead of the Saturday edition. Not even looking
back, Harry threw the paper over his shoulder and kept on running.
God had, indeed, provided.
All he had to do was catch up.

* *

Kurt Masters was a night owl.
In med school, he'd gone into the OB-GYN field thinking it would be a good way to meet women, then
found out he enjoyed delivering babies even more than seeing women naked -- and also found out that the
majority of women coming into the office weren't much like centerfolds or the stuff of fantasy.
From there, he'd gotten interested in genetics, and gone back to school to get his degree in that, primarily
curious about genetic conditions that could be detected and treated prenatally. And reproductive technologies
that could overcome some of the bloopers of heredity.
Anthropology had been a hobby that had become a degree when he realized he'd taken almost enough
elective courses to qualify. He'd always been fascinated by the idea of ancient, primitive, or foreign cultures.
All of that meant that lucking into a job with Xanatos Enterprises was the best thing that could have happened
to him. He would have done it for free, once he found out that he would be the first person on the planet to be
studying not only gargoyle physiology and reproduction, but interbreeding as well.
But just because he would have done it for free didn't mean he was stupid enough to turn down the salary.
Which was princely to say the least. He even got room and board as part of the deal, not just a dorm room but
a suite that was damn near palatial.
He also got the boss knocking at his door just three hours after he'd bid farewell and good night to Elisa and
Goliath.
Blinking at David Xanatos, he ran both palms up the sides of his face, fluffing his beard, and from there into
his untidy auburn hair. "Say that again? Can Amber what?"
"Stay flesh by day," Xanatos repeated.
"I'm sure she'll eventually get the knack. Elektra can, though she says it's not easy. Why?"
"Because she's gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" He was wide awake now, and followed Xanatos into the hall without caring
that he was wearing just a pair of sweat pants and the boss was, as usual, decked out in a three-piece suit that,
despite the aforementioned princeliness of his salary, Kurt still couldn't have afforded. "She can't be gone."
Xanatos told him what Breckenridge from Security had said. They stopped at one of the ops rooms and
there, on the monitor, Kurt could see with his own eyes that Amber's playpen was empty.
"Maybe she's in their --" he began, but Xanatos, anticipating it, pressed a button to switch to the camera
that showed the interior of the clan's suite.
"Nothing," Xanatos said. "And there's no way anyone could have removed her from the castle without us
knowing. The motion detectors on the outer perimeter are calibrated for anything larger than a pigeon, the
electronic sensors can pick up a pocket calculator, Aiden's wards will register hostile intent --"
"Okay, okay, spare me the technobabble, I get the picture!"
"The point is," Xanatos said, and for the first time Kurt realized the boss was close to panic, "that Amber left
under her own power. And we've got to find her. Before sunset."
"Ohhhh, Jesus." It sank in. "Goliath is going to ..."
"Kill someone?" Xanatos' lip curled away from his teeth in a pained grin. "Probably. Any ideas who he'll
start with? It's you or me, doctor, and I'm guessing it'll be you." He paused, exhaled gustily, and added, "Then
me."

* *

The feeling wouldn't go away.
Elisa looked at the clock. Five after eight.
She didn't want to be here.
Not just because Matt was right about this being a shit detail, not just because he and Pal Joey were driving
her crazy with their arguments over what to watch, not just because she had always preferred action to waiting
and thus was always edgy and bored on a stakeout.
No, something was wrong.
Was it Dracon? Was that it?
Ever since he and Brode had teamed up and broken out of jail, her old buddy Tony had been busting his
buns to rebuild the Dracon hold on Manhattan. Trouble was, there had been plenty of other scumbags eager
to move in, so he'd had to fight for every scrap. If he'd turned that energy to honest work ... but no point
worrying about that; Tony Dracon was one leopard who wasn't ever going to change his spots.
He'd finally gotten things put back together, and now Pal Joey was about to bring it all crashing down. No
way Tony would allow that. Not if he could help it.
So did he know where they were? Was Glasses or the thug-of-the-week currently moving into position? Was
that why her nerves were jangling?
She glanced over at Matt, who had commandeered the remote control. He wasn't showing any signs of
edginess, and usually he had the best danger sense on the force.
Cop instinct.
But it didn't feel like cop instinct. Not this time.
What the hell was it, then?

* *

Harry the Hammer charged down the sidewalk, shouldering through the morning crowds, for once
wishing it was Monday so the traffic would have been at a near-standstill. As it was, the hour was right
for the streets to be fairly well jammed, and he had no problem keeping the truck in sight.
So far, nobody had paid any attention to the kid, who had climbed the rest of the way up the ladder
and was now holding on to the roof with those devil wings blowing in the breeze. Not because this was
New York and nobody got involved -- Harry knew that wasn't always true, just as it wasn't always true
that everyone in California was a heathen drug addict sex fiend -- but simply because few people looked
up. They stared at the pavement, window-shopped, averted their eyes from each other or turned to openly
ogle, but rarely looked up. That was one of the reasons why those gargoyle-demons had been able to live
among them for so long. Why, one of them could be perched above him right now ...
Harry smothered a fearful yelp and scanned the ledges. True, it was day, but if the devil-child could be
out and about, then why not the others? Their power was gaining in strength all the time.
Nothing. No ghastly faces leering down at him.
His heart rate dropping back to a more normal level, he went after the truck. But just when he was
getting close enough, just when he might have been able to make a grab for that ladder and swing himself
up, the hellspawn jumped.
Wings spread wide, it swooped across and landed on top of a bus in the other lane.
Harry cussed a blue streak as he plunged into traffic. Horns blared all around him, closed fists and
upthrust fingers popped out of windows, and a moron on a ten-speed missed him by a hair. The bus was
picking up speed.
"Hey, buddy, what the fuck are you doing?" the cyclist yelled at Harry.
He answered with a fast elbow to the face, dumping the moron to the asphalt, and swung a leg over the
bike. Some bystanders started hollering, and one would-be hero tried to grab Harry by the collar of his
overcoat, but Harry whirled his camera like a bolas and the hero backed off before he got his dental work
rearranged.
Harry knew he was making a scene, and knew he must look like a prime idiot wobbling and weaving
through traffic with his coat billowing and his galoshes pumping the pedals. But this was his chance, his big
chance, and if he could pull it off, it would all be worthwhile.
Photos would be a start ... yeah, great, but when he brought the hellspawn itself, alive and kicking and
squirming, that would be the ultimate.

* *

"Okay, here's the tape." Xanatos put it in, and he and Masters watched together as Goliath deposited
the very upset Amber in her playpen. "She's pitching quite a fit."
"Those aren't pain-cries. She's not tugging on her ear anymore, either. She's mad."
"There they go." Xanatos leaned closer as the tape showed the gargoyles freezing in place, one after
the other.
Amber paused in her carryings-on long enough to yawn, but then her little face screwed up into a defiant
snarl and she slammed her tiny fists on the confining walls of her playpen. Then the most amazing look of
surprise replaced her anger as she gaped at the motionless clan.
"I know she's ahead of her age in physical development," Xanatos said. "What about intellectual?"
Kurt shrugged, not removing his eyes from the screen. "She's bright, I know that much, but other than that
I really couldn't say."
"And she's not turning to stone. Explanation?"
"From everything I've been able to determine, she's not a fifty-fifty hybrid. Most of her genetic makeup is
human. Just as most of Elektra's is gargoyle. I'm fairly sure it depends on the race of the mother. Elektra is a
gargoyle who can pass for human, Amber is the opposite."
"Except for her wings," Xanatos noted.
"Which are a tremendous advantage, if we look at it from a natural selection viewpoint. The feet, too ... a
flying creature needs to have good grasping feet and strong calf muscles for takeoffs and landings."
"Up until now, she turned to stone every morning just like the others. Could the antibiotic have caused this?"
"I doubt it. She's mad. She's totally pissed off, pardon my French. The times Elektra's done it, it's taken a
lot of willpower and determination on her part."
"If there's anything I'd expect from the daughter of Goliath and Elisa," Xanatos said dryly, "it's willpower
and determination. She inherited a full measure of temper from both of them."
"Plus, unlike Elektra, Amber is closer genetically to humanity, and she's also a lot younger. Elektra didn't
know she was part human until she was already full grown. It had never occurred to her to try to resist, so she's
stuck by force of habit. But the younger you are, the more adaptable you are. Some of the psychologists say
that childhood can be just as much a period of forgetting as learning -- look at the wide range of vocal sounds
a baby can make, which they lose as they get older and learn one language."
"Fascinating as this is, Doctor, what do we do now?"
On the tape, Amber had abandoned her verbal protests, evidently realizing that it wouldn't do any good
as no one was able to hear. Instead, a very familiar expression replaced the surprise.
"Look at that," Xanatos marveled. "I've seen that look before. Every time Goliath used to decide he had
to thwart whatever evil plan I was cooking up next."
"Determination and willpower," Masters said. "And I think she's probably a lot smarter than I was giving
her credit for."
"Just what we need, another child prodigy around the place."
Amber tried to dig her fingernails into the wall, but she lacked strong gargoyle claws and couldn't get a
good enough grip. The observers could almost hear the wheels turning in her little head.
Holding onto the top with both hands, she hopped up and down experimentally. The hops became jumps,
and she flapped her wings vigorously.
"That's another thing," Masters said. "Her body is a lot lighter than a gargoyle's would be. I'd bet that
she'll eventually be able to fly, not just glide."
The lift provided by the wings was enough to let her bound out of her playpen and land sprawling. Cooing
to herself with pride, she got up and toddled out of the camera's sight, a small figure in red corduroy overalls,
clunky leather-soled shoe-things that Fox called 'mukluks,' and a T-shirt that had been a gag gift from Brooklyn,
with 'Chip off the Old Block' on it.
The T-shirt had holes in the back, and of course Brooklyn had also given Goliath a gigantic matching one
that read 'Old Block.' But, to the extent of Xanatos' knowledge, Goliath had never put it on. A shame; that
was something he would have loved to see.
"So, from here, she evidently made her way to the elevator and down to the lobby. Where would she
have gone from there? Breckenridge saw her getting into another elevator, but so far, security hasn't come
up with anything."
"Well, she could probably only reach the bottom few buttons," Masters suggested. "But the only things
under the lobby are some of the labs, right? And the --"
"And the parking garage," Xanatos finished, feeling himself turn pale.

* *

Either it was the longest stoplight in the history of the city, or something was going on.
Dominique Destine tilted her head against the window, but couldn't see what might be blocking the
road. She pressed the button that lowered the shield of dark glass between herself and her driver.
"What's going on, Carl? Is there an accident?"
"I can't tell, Ms. Destine," he replied. "Everybody's stopped, but I don't see any police or ambulances.
Looks like there's a crowd gathering on the other side of the street, though."
She slid across the seat. True enough, a large number of humans were ignoring the morning drizzle to
crane their necks upward.
"Must be a leaper," she said, trying to hide the satisfaction she always felt when one wretched human
did her a favor and took his own life.
Carl was one of Nightstone's loyal drones, kept content with his lot in life by Sevarius' drugs, but he
still had his share of morbid curiosity. Despite the cold, he rolled down his window and called to a man
hustling through the sea of cars. "Hey, what's the deal?"
"There's a baby crawled out on a ledge," the man replied excitedly. "Some guy's up there trying to
save it."
Resigned to the fact that the limo wasn't going anyplace until this matter had been resolved, Dominique
pulled on her stylish fur-trimmed coat and got out. Carl promptly opened an umbrella to protect her
impeccably-bunned scarlet tresses from the damp, but she pushed it aside because it blocked her view of
the goings-on above.
Halfway up the building, on about the sixth floor, a brawny man who struck Dominique as passingly
familiar was inching his way along a foot-wide ledge, toward a child who sat, feet dangling, apparently
laughing and waving at the terrified (yet ghoulishly interested) people below.
Wanting a better look at the man, Dominique pushed her way closer. She could see his face now, which
wore an odd mix of exaltation, dread, and embarrassment. As if he wished everybody would quit staring at
him and go away. A camera swung from a strap around his thick bull neck. The wind riffled through brown
hair only a touch longer than a crew-cut.
Then she placed him. He was listed on the Anvil Corporation staff roster as Harold Hammerton the
Second, aka Harry the Hammer, one of Jon Castaway's lunatics. Quarryman dirtbag. But evidently
civic-minded enough to try and save a child in trouble.
He got within arm's reach and made a grab. Missed, and the child -- it was a girl, Dominique saw,
wearing red overalls and a purple jacket -- scrambled away from him. They were directly over the crowd
now, but nobody moved, either confident in his ability to make the rescue, or suffering from the common
affliction of can't-happen-to-me.
Dominique didn't move either, though she had more reason to be convinced of her own invulnerability
than did those around her. For her, death was a spectator sport. Though the prospect of seeing that child
fall, seeing its brains leak from its smashed skull, didn't fill her with the usual grim joy she took in human
tragedy. An aching knot pulled tight in her belly.
The man grabbed again, caught the child by the arm. As he pulled her into his grasp, the crowd raised
their voices in a cheer.
But that cheer turned to a collective horrified gasp as the little girl bit her rescuer's hand, then squirmed
free. And fell.
Then, just before disaster, what Dominique had mistaken for a jacket opened into light purple wings,
and the child glided over the upturned, amazed faces.
Some old lady yelled and swiped at the child with a cane, missing but scaring her. The child faltered
and would have crashed, but Dominique got there first.
The small body collided with hers, rocking her back on her heels.
"No! She's mine!" Harry the Hammer roared from on high -- now Dominique realized what he'd really
been about up there. He drew a gun that looked big as a cannon even six stories up, and the first thunderous
boom blew a mailbox into confetti.
Their eyes locked, and she saw him recognize her. According to Castaway's propaganda, she was a
gargoyle sympathizer; he didn't want to risk panicking his followers further with the news that evil might
walk among them by day.
The black hole of the gunbarrel lined up with her head.
"Ms. Destine, get down!" Carl tackled her just as Harry fired again. She held on to the terrified,
shrieking girl as they were knocked to the pavement. The shot made a crater between Carl's splayed feet.
Humans stampeded to the four winds. Dominique got up and ran, hunching her body around the child.
Rather that trying to get away, she raced toward the building, into the recessed doorway, out of Harry's
line of sight.

* *

A search of the garage had turned up nothing, and Xanatos was really beginning to sweat.
"Maybe we should call her mother?" Kurt ventured.
"Here's my phone."
"Wouldn't you rather --"
"Do I look crazy to you?"
"She can't have gotten out of the building."
"We've got to assume the worst."
"You mean, we're dead meat."
"Basically," Xanatos said. "That my quest for immortality should not only fail, but end like this ... life
really sucks, Dr. Masters." He began dialing.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling Elisa. Might as well get it over with."

* *

Rick Alvarez and Marty Arnes were first on the scene. The info had been sketchy at first, so they
expected to find a suicide attempt in progress (though it had been Rick's experience that few people who
really wanted to die would go out on a ledge and wait for the cops to show up; they wanted talking down,
they wanted attention; the ones who really meant to kill themselves would do it without fanfare and assorted
dicking around).
Instead, they found abandoned cars slewed every which way, evidence of gunplay, and assertions by
panicked bystanders that some maniac had opened up on them after the kid he'd been trying to nab
sprouted wings and flew away. Of the maniac, there was no sign, and a boy of about eleven insisted he'd
gone back through a window.
Marty Arnes was newly transferred to the 23rd Precinct, this was his first week on the job, and he scoffed
loudly. "Oh, come on, kids with wings? Gimme a break!"
Rick didn't join in the scoffing because he knew just such a kid, though it was way past her bedtime. Of
course, the kid had cousins who also had wings -- the Maza family photo album was a wild ride to say the
least -- but the Labyrinth was a good forty blocks from here.
In the meantime, they had a situation on their hands.
"I'm going to get us some backup," Rick said. Cop instinct told him the boy was right, their perp had
already made himself scarce. But just in case he wasn't ... "The headcase might still be around here, and if
whatever sort of popgun he's got can do that to a mailbox, I don't want to put money on our vests. You
get these lookie-loos out of here before someone winds up ventilated."
Marty grabbed the bullhorn and from a reasonably covered spot between two cars, started telling
people to get off the street.
Rick called in and got Officer Whitman, who was Morgan's brother-in-law. Whitman agreed to dispatch
more units right away.
"Yo, Rick, one more thing -- I just fielded a call for Elisa ... do you know who's looking after her
daughter?"
"Why?" he asked, iciness coalescing in his stomach.
"This mystery man, wouldn't leave his name, says her daughter's missing. I figure it's a hoax, I mean, it's
the middle of the morning, but --"
"Oh, hell."
"You mean it's legit? Or a kidnap threat, maybe?"
"Listen, Whit, I'm up to my neck here already. Send the backup. But then see if you can get in touch with
Elisa. Chavez knows where she is. Don't waste any time, okay?"
"You got it, Rick."

* *

Harry the Hammer had, as Rick guessed, made himself scarce.
He'd blown it. God was not happy with him. Bad enough that he'd followed the hellspawn up the building,
drawing the attention of half of Manhattan, but then he'd lost her! And when he'd tried to shoot the devil's
handmaiden who had appeared out of nowhere to rescue her, he'd missed!
His hand throbbed and stung, and he could feel her vile poison working in him. Burning like fire, creeping
through his veins.
Had to do something. Had to do something quick, before it killed him.
If he'd had a knife or an axe, he might have stopped right then and lopped off his torn, tainted flesh. But
he didn't. Only other choice was to put his faith in God and hope the Almighty was going to give him another
chance.
With his tooth-marked extremity hidden in one coat pocket and his gun in the other, he reeled up the
steps of St. Bernadette's. He wouldn't have been surprised if the doorhandles seared him when he took hold,
but he wasn't that unclean. Not yet.
A service was going on, the pews about one-third full. Harry only went as far as the fonts of holy water at
the rear of the church.
He withdrew his hand from his pocket, stared at it for a moment as a small whimper escaped his clenched
jaw, then immersed it to the wrist.

* *

The first vacant building Dominique came to was Varducci's House of Pasta, which had closed following
a gangland-style shooting six months ago. The door and windows were boarded over, but one of the boards
was loose enough for her to easily pry it out and slip through the opening.
Once inside, she finally let herself exhale and relax. No one had followed her. She was safe.
They were safe.
She held the child away from her and looked closely at it for the first time.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. Toffee-colored skin. Lavendar wings.
"You ... you're ... who are you?" she demanded, though she knew the truth, shaking the little girl.
"Ammer," the child said, her eyes wide in the gloom of the unlit restaurant. She must have seen something
terrible in Dominique's expression, because she began to cry.
Conflicting emotions stormed inside her. She wanted to hurl the child to the dusty floor and stomp her
lifeless, she wanted to cradle her close and reassure her, she wanted to see Goliath and his human slut suffer
as she and Jericho had suffered, she wanted to rid the world of this foul hybrid, she wanted to keep her to
raise as her own.
Amber's tears splashed on her hands. Dominique could feel her trembling. This fearless hatchling, who
glided by day and laughed as she perched high above the humans ... was trembling ... crying ... all because
of her ...
A single ragged sob burst from Dominique, and she hugged Amber against her. "Shh, shh now, little one.
It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you."
Amber laid her head on Dominique's shoulder with a soft sigh. Dominique closed her eyes in mixed
heartwrenching pain and joy as she felt small arms creep around her neck.
She lost herself in the soft weight in her arms, the scent of the child, the folded butterfly-leather velvet wings
as she stroked them soothingly.
Lost herself, yes, so lost that she didn't pay any attention to the creak of hinges, the approaching footsteps,
the stink of gunmetal. Lost, until she heard a voice.
"Well, well. An uninvited guest."
Dominique gasped and opened her eyes to the sight of two men. One bespectacled and black, covering
her with a pistol. The other slim and smug, the dim light gleaming on the white streak in his lush dark hair.
"I don't believe we've met," he said. "The name's Dracon."

* *

The phone rang, and all three of them jumped as if in anticipation of a blow.
But Elisa didn't just jump, she barked a short, explosive, "Oh!" that was very close to being a shout of
alarm, and almost pulled her gun. Her pulse was racing, and a sudden clammy sweat had broken out on her
forehead.
It rang again.
She was closest to it, and Matt hoisted a reddish eyebrow as if to ask, "Well?"
She put her hand on the phone.
This was it. Whatever had hit the fan, this was it.
Let it ring, a whispery but compelling voice spoke up in her head. Just let it ring, it's bad news, you don't
want to hear it.
Third ring. She drew her hand away.
"Je-sus Christ," Pal Joey said in exasperation. "I'll get it."
"No!" Elisa stopped herself, swallowed, and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Elisa?" Maria Chavez asked.
"What is it? What's happened? Is it my folks?"
"Elisa, I'm sending a car over. Goldberg's going to take over for you. Just stay calm, okay?"
"Is it Dad?"
"No, it's not your father." After a heavy pause, she said, "It's Amber."

* *

"Oh, dammit ..." David Xanatos groaned.
The new tape, from one of the parking garage cameras, clearly showed a little girl clambering onto the back
of a truck just before it departed.
He typed the truck's number into the computer. A shipment of computer disks and VR headsets,
Xantasia II -- Dragon Crusade, ConSPYracy, and Ghoul World. Three games in one, magic in the making.
Okay, that was something, at least; it wasn't a load of weapons.
He checked the truck's destination and groaned again, trying to imagine what he'd say to Goliath and Elisa
if their daughter wound up on a flight to Tokyo.
"Put me in touch with the drivers now," he ordered. They couldn't be at the airport yet, just couldn't.

* *

The holy water didn't heal the devil-bite.
When Harry took his hand out of the font, which was now pinkish from his blood, the wounds were still
seeping. But the poison was gone. He was sure of that.
Feeling better already, cleaner, more uplifted, Harry tied a handkerchief around it and quickly crossed
himself before heading back outside.
The drizzle was done, and it even looked like the clouds were parting. Bits of blue showing through. An
omen. God was still with him.
He hurried back the way he'd come, wanting to jog but not wanting to attract any more attention.

* *

"What do you know," Tony Dracon said. "A baby gargoyle."
They were in the back room of Varducci's, which they'd converted to use as a hideout after the restaurant
had closed down.
And wasn't it his good fortune that on the very day he was trying to figure out what lever he could use
against Maza and Bluestone, a baby gargoyle should just fall into his hands? Someone up there liked him.
"Something the matter, honey?" he asked the redhead, whose glare was a killer. "Look, I got nothing
against you personally. I'm a businessman."
"Wan my Daga, wan my Zaza," the kid sniffled, holding onto Red for dear life.
Glasses had tried to pry them apart, but wasn't about to make that mistake again. At the moment, he
was leaning half-bent over and spraddle-legged against the wall, barely coherent but still keeping a machine
gun trained on Red.
The rest of his diminished gang had her covered too, and kept a discreet distance, alternately wincing
and smirking when they recalled the kick she'd given Glasses. If those'd been spiked heels, talk about body
piercing! Ouch! She was limping, favoring that foot, and no wonder.
"I got nothing against you personally," Tony repeated. "Leave the kid with us, and you can go. Deal?"
She told him what he could do with his 'deal,' and Tony blinked.
"Nice language," he said. "Okay, so what do you want? You look familiar; did you nab the kid or
something? Ransom, is that what's on your mind? Or are you one of those Quarrymen?"
She was out of her chair in a flash, supporting the child with one arm and going for his throat with the
other. Her fingernails were painted vermillion and sharp as needles.
Tony reeled back as his gang moved in. "Don't hurt the kid!" he shouted.
The butt of a shotgun slammed into the back of the redhead's skull. Gino Monatella snatched the little
girl out of her grasp as she went down.
"You want we should finish her, Tony?"
He touched his neck and looked, incredulous, at the spots of blood. "The bitch tagged me!" They were
no bigger than shaving nicks, but still! "Do it."
Sal Clemenza spun a silencer onto the barrel of his gun. Gino brought the kid to Tony, who was still
messing with his neck. She was squirming and fighting like a wet cat, darting her head at Gino, hoping to
plant those little fangs in his arm. And screaming to raise the roof. None of them dared try to cover her mouth,
for fear of losing a finger.
Tony looked at the redhead, recognized her. "Sal!"
Too late. Sal pulled the trigger. Her body jumped. Tony clapped a hand across his face and swore fluidly
in Italian.
"You said to get rid of her," Sal argued worriedly.
"Do you know who that was? You just wasted Dominique Destine!"
"How was I supposed to know?"
"Don't you read magazines? She was the CEO of Nightstone Unlimited! We could've gotten good
money out of her!"
"You told me to do it!"
"Come on!" Gino urged, struggling with his captive. "Let's just get the fuck outta here, what do you say?"

* *

The chattering roar of the descending helicopter threw Elisa's hair around her head in a dark tornado, but
she didn't bother to look.
Rick Alvarez did. "Xanatos. What's he doing here?"
"Coming up with one hell of a good reason why I shouldn't stuff his balls up his nose," Elisa said in the
hardest voice Rick had ever heard. He actually took two steps back.
They'd cleared the street after searching all of the cars and questioning all of the people, but nobody
remembered anything between seeing Amber swoop through the air and the gunfire starting. Nobody wanted
to become a statistic, so they'd fled in all directions, and no one had paid any mind to where one little girl might
have wound up.
It was Amber. Elisa had no doubts. Even before she'd spoken to Kurt Masters on the car phone on her way
over here and heard his explanations and theories as to just why Amber was wide awake and moving around in
the daytime, she knew.
Cop instinct?
No. Maternal instinct.
Harry the Hammer chasing after her daughter. Now she knew how Goliath had felt last New Year's, upon
hearing that she'd been carried off by Jericho.
"She's alive," Elisa said.
Rick glanced worriedly at her. "Elisa ..."
"She is. I'd know if she wasn't."
He knew better than to debate. "We did a quick sweep of the area, got someone who matched Harry's
description coming out of St. Bernadette's. Haven't come up with anything since."
Xanatos emerged from the helicopter, his grey trenchcoat blowing around his legs and exposing the dull
gleam of body armor.
"You'll need it," Elisa growled, looking pointedly at him.
"I'm here to help," he said. "I imagine you've got a lot of yelling to do, and I'll hear you out, every word,
but first, let's find Amber."
She came within an inch of letting him have it anyway, but something in his eyes stopped her. They were the
eyes of a man who'd had his own child stolen away more than once, eyes that knew how she was feeling.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Fair enough."

* *

Two cop cars wailed past, and Harry faded into an alley until they were gone. He wondered if he should
contact Castaway, get some help out here.
No. This was something he had to do alone.
This was something he wanted to do alone.
But he was back at square one. The devil's handmaiden hadn't gone back to her car; her driver had left
without her. Harry'd seen him go.
So she had to be nearby. Hiding out.
Close.
Someplace where she could wait out the day, especially now that the sun was coming out. Didn't the
sun turn them to stone? Yeah, like at the rally when they'd smashed one of the monsters to gravel. Sunlight
was their enemy. All those creatures of the night couldn't go out in sunlight.
Hiding ... but where?
A dark place ... where nobody might find them ...
His gaze happened upon the abandoned restaurant, and it was as if a great starburst went on in his head.
That was the place.
He let himself in through the loose board across the doorway, and paused while his vision adjusted to the
dimness. There was another door standing ajar at the rear of the room, and when he peered inside, he saw a
bundle of rags on the floor ...
No, it was a body!
Harry rushed to it, took hold of a shoulder, and rolled it onto its back.
The woman! The devil's handmaiden!
He looked around. No hellspawn child, but signs of a scuffle. An expended shell casing. An overturned
chair. Lots of footprints in the dust, leading to a back alleyway.
The sound of a car engine.
Without thinking of his own hide, Harry plunged outside. An expensive black car, surely the Lexus of Satan
Himself, was driving away.
Enraged, he almost gave chase, almost opened fire on the car, but made himself stop. Bullets wouldn't be
any good against that. He had to think of another plan, quick.
He retreated into the restaurant before the servants of evil saw him in their rearview mirror. He stood
uncertainly by the corpse, trying to clear his mind and think.
"Help me out, here, God! Thy will be done, You bet Your halo, but I need to know what to do. I need
a sign."
At his feet, the dead woman sucked in a breath.

* *

Just when they thought things couldn't get worse, the press showed up.
And, of course, seeing Xanatos right in the thick of things, the reporters had a field day.
Elisa wanted to grab them, slam them up against the nearest wall, and screech in their faces that this
was her daughter they were talking about, not some urban legend brought to life, not some genetic experiment
gone awry, her daughter. But that, she knew, would only get her name and picture plastered on front
pages all over the country. And it wouldn't help find Amber.
Rick Alvarez finally turned up a lead. An old woman, one Mabel Jenks from Nebraska, who had been
knocked down and out in the panicked exodus.
But she'd regained consciousness, dismissed the paramedics in a crotchety manner, and told Rick that
she had "tried to swat that critter clean out of the air" with her cane. Then "some tart in a fancy fur coat" had
grabbed the winged child and run off with her.
"What did this ... tart ... look like?" Elisa asked urgently.
"Hooker," Mrs. Jenks declared. "Hair dyed just as red as a whore's porch light, fur coat, high heels. I
knew she was a tramp just looking at her."
Rick and Elisa exchanged a dubious shrug. "A hooker?" Rick mouthed.
"Which way did she go?"
"How should I know? Right about then, half the city trampled over me and damn near broke my hip
again!" She brandished her cane as if she might try to swat Elisa too, then stomped off.
"It always warms my heart to see a kind, grandmotherly figure like that," Xanatos remarked.
"I thought you were here to help," Elisa reminded him, scowling.
"But ... Elisa ..." Rick said hesitantly, "It's not looking like there's much more we can do."
"Except wait," Xanatos said.
"I am not giving up!"
"Without some more leads, there's no way we're going to be able to find one kid in a city this size!" Rick
gestured around. "You know everybody on the force is going to be doing their damndest, but --"
"But nothing!" Elisa sliced the air with both hands in a vicious negative motion.
"She could be asleep," Xanatos said. "Remember Elektra? Kurt thinks that as soon as Amber gets tired,
she's going to turn to stone."
"I will go over every building on this island one inch at a time if that's what it takes," she vowed, curling her fists.
"Okay." Xanatos began fiddling with a remote control, and a radar dish on the back of his helicopter began
silently spinning. "But I'll handle that part, what do you say?"
She frowned blankly at him, until six Steel Clan robots zoomed into view. Then she understood. "You're
going to have them scan all the exteriors?"
He nodded. "I've programmed them with surveillance tape images of Amber, both awake and asleep. If
she's on a ledge, we'll find her." He fetched his own helmet from the helicopter, shed his trenchcoat, and
extended his red metallic wings.
"I keep forgetting you're not such a bad guy after all," Elisa said with a weak smile.
Xanatos grinned, then lifted off.

* *

Dominique opened her eyes.
She hated getting killed.
There was a dwindling bump on her head, and a tender spot on her chest. Oh, yes, and a lump of misshapen
metal trapped inside her blouse. The wretched humans had shot her, and the healing processes had forced the
bullet back out.
She sat up, her bloodsoaked clothes sticking to her mended skin, and saw Harry the Hammer gaping at her.
But at least it didn't seem she was about to get shot again, because his hands were hanging slack at his sides.
"You ... you're alive," he said. "Is it the devil's work or the Lord's? I asked God for a sign, and there you
are, but was it Him that resurrected you, or not?"
"Oh, keep your God," she snapped, getting to her feet. What was she doing here, anyway? How had she
gotten into this mess?
Then she remembered -- Amber! Tony Dracon and his murdering thugs must have taken her.
Without another word for Harry, she burst into the alley.
Nothing. Nobody. Just fresh tire tracks.
Her arms ached with the bittersweet memory of holding the child. She pealed a desolate shriek to the
uncaring sky.

* *

After an hour of not finding a single thing, Elisa was about to lose her mind. She kept telling herself that
Amber was all right, but the certainty with which she'd said it to Rick was being eroded by doubt.
When it was clear there was nothing more that could be done at the scene, she let Rick talk her into
going to the station house, where she could coordinate with the search units. But when they got there, Rick
himself did most of that, while Elisa wandered the halls, breath stopping every time a phone rang.
Finally, when she was ready to start screaming, she went out front and looked up, hoping against hope
to spot a small shape on a ledge.
"Hello ... sugar."
"Oh, hell," Elisa sighed. "Not now, Tony, okay? I know you want Pal Joey, and I really don't give a
damn. I've got other things on my mind."
He leaned against the wall, oh-so full of himself. Bold as brass. Right there at the foot of the station stairs,
and the cops couldn't touch him because all they had was suspicion. At least until Monday, when Pal Joey
spilled the beans. There was a black Lexus waiting at the curb, with Sal Clemenza behind the wheel.
But Elisa wasn't kidding ... she really didn't give a damn.
"I think you'll hear what I have to say. I've got a message for you to give to your gargoyle friends. I found
something of theirs."
She had already turned away, preparing to ignore him, but now she froze. "What did you say?"
Tony smirked, enjoying himself hugely. "Weren't you listening, sugar? You tell your gargoyle friends that
I've got their brat. She's fine, and I'll be happy to hand her over ... if ..."
Elisa descended the steps like someone in a dream. "Tony ..."
"I mean, it's all up to you. I want Joey. We've got some things to settle, me and him. But if you can't do
that, I understand." His grin widened. "I understand, but I don't know if your gargoyle friends will."
"No, you don't understand."
"Hey, I know I'm putting you in a spot here. You're a cop. I respect that. But --"
She moved. Fast.
The barrel of her gun was mashed against Tony's lips before he even realized she was moving.
"You're not dealing with Elisa Maza the cop," she said, voice both low and fierce. "You're dealing with Elisa
Maza the mother, and if I don't get my daughter back in the next five seconds I'm going to blow your teeth
out the back of your goddam head! Do you understand that, Tony?"
His eyes were big and round and filled with consternation and what might have been chagrin. He eased his
head back far enough to speak. "Hey, Elisa, take it easy, okay?"
"My daughter, Tony. Now."
"You don't think I would have brought her --"
"Five."
"I need more time!"
"Four."
"I'll get her, I swear!"
"Three."
"Come on, Elisa, give me a chance!"
She stopped the countdown, but pressed the gun hard against his teeth. "And your scumbags better
understand something too. If they try anything stupid, I'll kill you on the spot, and then I'm going after them.
Me and my clan. Until every single one of them is dead."
"Sal," Tony called, the stink of fear coming off of him in sickly fumes. "Go get the kid! Hurry!"
"Oh, no you don't," Elisa said. "We're going down there. Both of us. You're going to take me to my
daughter, and then you're going to let us go. Don't cross me, Tony."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he assured her.
She eased off a little, knowing that one great truth about Tony Dracon was that he was a coward at heart.
Not that it would have mattered. Police procedure and her own safety weren't foremost in her mind.
Shifting the gun to the back of his head, she nudged him down the steps toward the Lexus. One of her fellow
officers could come out at any minute, Travis Marshall could show up, but none of it mattered.
"Boss ..." Sal began.
"Just cooperate with the lady, Sal," Tony said as he slid across the back seat and Elisa climbed in after him.
The interior of the car still held a whiff of her daughter's scent. It almost brought her to anxious tears but she
held on grimly to self control.
"Let's go," she ordered.

* *

"It's the Hand of God at work!" Harry the Hammer insisted, following awestruck after her. "You've been
given a second chance! I asked for a sign, and He answered by reaching down His Hand and bringing you
back to life! Don't you see? There's still time for you to repent your evil ways! God wants you to!"
"Oh, shut up!" Dominique yelled, stamping her foot. It was the same one she'd used to kick Glasses, but
thanks to her recuperative powers, the ankle no longer ached.
If only the wounds to her soul could be so easily healed.
She went to the end of the alley, but there was no sign of Dracon. He would be long gone by now, with his
'baby gargoyle' hostage.
And here she was, saddled with this idiot human ...
"Pray with me!" he exclaimed, near-overcome with rapture. He grabbed her arm and tried to drag her to
her knees.
"Enough!" She disarmed him, assessed the gun, thumbed off the safety, and pointed it at his face.
Ponderous comprehension crawled across his features like a lizard navigating a difficult rock. She waited
for the moment ... ah, there it was! The blossoming realization of terror.
"So much for your God," she mocked, and pulled the trigger.
Missed!
Less than three feet from him and she missed!
The explosion was colossal and loud in the alley, startling flocks of pigeons. A trashcan beside Harry burst
into flame and overturned.
In that moment, Harry and Dominique wore the same stunned and disbelieving expressions. Then, before
she could fire again, he was bolting through the reeking-charnal burning sludge, skidding and slipping but never
quite losing his footing.
Her second shot was centered squarely on his back, she could already see his guts spraying out in front of
him, but at that very instant, a dirty grey cloud dropped between them and was blown apart in a shower of blood
and feathers.
Pigeons.
She'd slaughtered a bunch of pigeons.
Harry reached the end of the alley and kept on going, not looking back once.
Incredulous and highly pissed, Dominique stared after him until a foul pall of greasy smoke, stinking of burnt
garbage and smoldering pigeon-feet, gusted toward her.
She flung the gun into the mess, not worried about prints because the ones that Ms. Destine officially had on
file bore no resemblance to the ones that actually tipped her fingers. Before someone decided to investigate the
noise, she retreated into the restaurant and from there made her way toward home.

* *

A warehouse on the waterfront. One-time chop shop, if Elisa recalled correctly.
She looked at Tony, a flat and deadly look that brought a simpering, worried grin to his lips.
"Out," she said, gesturing. "You too, Sal."
The three of them got out of the car and stood in the warehouse's shadow. Now Elisa's cop instinct was
buzzing like crazy, but it was still overpowered by that unstoppable maternal force.
"Keys," Elisa said to Sal. He glance-checked with Tony, got the nod, and handed them over.
"Stay cool, Elisa," Tony said. "You want the car? Hell, keep it!"
"You'll get your mean machine back, Tony. Right now, get your goons to bring me my daughter."
"Go on, Sal," he urged. "Tell Gino to bring the kid."
Elisa waited, tense, gun still pressed to Tony's side to remind him not to try anything cute. Sal vanished into
the warehouse and they heard voices from within.
"Aw, come on, dammit! Come down!" That would be Gino Monatella, Elisa knew.
"How the hell did she get up there?" Sal demanded.
"She climbed. Like a frigging monkey."
"Well get her down, the boss is waiting."
"Who do I look like, one of the Amazing Wallendas? I'm not going up there!"
Elisa prodded Tony with the gun. "Tell them to quit dicking around. I'm running out of patience."
"Hurry it up in there, wouldja?" He was perspiring freely, but there was that old familiar shiftiness in his
eyes again that Elisa didn't like.
"Hey, kid, look, I got a lolly!" Gino tried desperately.
"Amber!" Elisa called, raising her voice. "Amber!"
From within: "Zaza? Zaza!" followed by a swoop, a thump, and Sal's remark, "Nice catch, dickhead," and
Gino's groan of discomfort.
A small figure appeared in the doorway, and Elisa nearly laughed with relief. When Amber saw her, the little
girl broke into a huge beaming smile and toddled toward her as fast as she could, arms outstretched and wings
half-flared behind her.
"Zaza! Zaza!"
Elisa crouched and scooped Amber into her arms, an embrace never more welcome. Amber clung to her,
babbling excitedly, presumably telling Zaza all about her busy morning.
No injuries, not even a scratch. A little bit dusty and grubby, that was all.
Tony had edged away, and all of a sudden Elisa's cop instinct came raving up full-force. She shifted Amber
to one arm and raised her gun.
"Too late, sugar," Tony said, shaking his head and smirking.
Six guys popped out from behind dumpsters and cars, the warehouse door rolled up with a rattling clatter to
reveal four more, and all of them were armed.
"Tony, you bastard."
"Hey, you got your kid back. Now it's time for business. Let's talk about Pal Joey."
She looked around for an escape route, but the goons, led by a gingerly-walking Glasses, closed in and
ringed her.
"No deal, Tony."
"You're not in a position to argue, sugar. No gargoyles around but that little one. And it sure would be a
shame if she got caught in a crossfire. But, you know, regrettable things like that happen sometimes."
Amber had ceased her babbling and was now tense in Elisa's grasp, watching Tony warily.
"So, you see," Tony continued, having flipflopped back to confidence instead of cowardice now that the
odds were comfortably stacked in his favor, "your only way out of here is to cooperate. No bottom-of-the-ninth
miracles to get you out of this one."
A mechanical, amplified, sardonic chuckle drifted down to them. "Are you sure about that?"
An army of Steel Clan robots descended on jet-heated downgusts, landing in a larger circle around Dracon's
men. Precise lasers made short work of the machine guns and more conventional weapons, and in seconds the
goons were routed and running.
Dracon himself ran for the Lexus and was actually behind the wheel when he remembered the keys were in
Elisa's possession. He went all the way across and out the passenger-side door just as a particularly impressive
pyrotechnic from the forearm-mounted blaster of a red and black gargoylian battlesuit turned the car into a heap
of slag. Tony kept on going, down the dock with his coattails flying, and didn't slow even when he came to the edge.
Splash.
Then silence, but for the low steady hum of the robots, and the click and whoosh of Xanatos removing his helmet.
"Xatos!" Amber cried delightedly, and began to laugh high and shrill.
Elisa felt along the collar of her jacket and pinched off a small lump of metal. "Old habits?"
He nodded. "Old habits."
"For once," she said, handing it to him, "I'm glad."

* *

The End.



1999 Christine Morgan ** vecna@eskimo.com ** http://www.eskimo.com/~vecna