A Party on Avalon story
by Christine Morgan
firstname.lastname@example.org / 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. This story takes place just after "Mother's Day" and "Whirlwind" in my
saga, and was written on extremely short notice.
#59 in an ongoing saga.
(Elisa Maza, voice over) Previously, on Gargoyles ...
Beth Maza and Coyote, from "Whirlwind" --
"Right. Listen. There's a kicking party coming up on Avalon. Wanna go?"
"What? Me? To Avalon?"
"To Avalon. We're each to bring a mortal. It's sort of a contest."
"Like the dog parties the frat boys hold?" she asked sourly. "I don't think so."
"No, nothing like that!" He paused. "Well, maybe a little. But you'd be different. Some of my kin
will trick or abduct their mortal guests. I've come to ask instead. To ask you."
"In all the world, Mai, you are the one I would choose. I know your father and grandfather of old.
I've felt your presence since you decided to come here instead of remaining in New York. You helped me
against Xanatos when no one else would. You saw, and you believed."
"That's not all, is it?" she asked, following her intuition. "Flattering as it is, of course."
Beth Maza awoke with a crippling hangover.
The pearly light speared through the rising portcullises of her eyelids and into the tender meat of her
brain. She groaned and rolled onto her side, for a moment certain that she was going to rid herself the hard
way of the remains of the previous night's meal.
Her stomach rolled and then settled, as if telling her it would stay steady for now but let it be a warning
With unsteady hands, she reached down beside the chaise lounge, found her purse, and pawed through it
until she came up with a notebook and a pen. Flipping to a page entitled "Everything I Need to Know About
Life, I Learned on Avalon," she added a line in large, careful, sticklike printing.
Never play drinking games with Bacchus.
"Words to live by," she croaked, and dove back into the pillows.
"Rise and shine, Mai." came a disgustingly cheery voice.
"Give me one good reason."
"It's nearly time for the banquet."
"Not good enough."
"There will be music, and dancing."
"Dancing? I can't even lift my head."
The sound of fingers snapping was loud as a riflecrack and Beth groaned. "Of course! Hangovers! That's
why you're all in such sorry shape this morning! Well, sweet Mai, we can take care of that!"
She flopped onto her back and focused on him, rising slowly over snug faded denim, past a black leather
jacket and white T-shirt, to eyes that twinkled like the vast desert skies. "I'll try anything once."
"That's what I like about you." He grinned as he helped her rise.
She had fallen asleep -- well, maybe 'passed out' would be the more accurate term -- in a gauze-curtained
alcove, one of dozens that opened off of a columned hall with an arched ceiling painted to show cherubs and
nymphs and flowered meadows. At the center of the hall was a fountain of spouting marble dolphins, the water
trickling down a series of basins to end in a deep pool. Coins of many nationalities and many eras speckled the
"Wash up, sleepy one."
Beth bent and cupped her hands beneath one of the basins, catching the water that overflowed. It was cool
and silky. She splashed her face with it, and at once the muddled haze cleared from her mind. Her innards
ceased their complaining and started clamoring instead for breakfast. Her limbs felt at once charged and relaxed,
ready to face the evening's revelry.
"You should bottle that stuff; you'd make a fortune!"
Coyote laughed. "If Oberon ever decides to go into the import-export business."
Sounds of life came from the other alcoves, as more of the Third Race appeared to retrieve their mortal
guests. Most of the humans wore expressions that said they still weren't entirely convinced this whole thing
wasn't a dream. Beth herself had come into it more prepared than the others, but she still saw a little bit of
that look in her own reflection.
"Banquet, you said?"
"And music and dancing."
She looked down at herself. "Should I change?"
"What would you like?" A faint wind stirred his hair, and she seemed for a moment to hear a distant howl.
"Use your imagination, but --" she added hastily as a gleam came into his eyes, "-- keep it decent?"
The wind intensified, spinning around him in a brown funnel, and expanded to include her. She blinked
against the dust. When she could see again, she was clad in Native American regalia from a hodgepodge of
tribes and times -- a fringed tunic of cloud-soft leather, knee-high moccasins, a beaded headband, and a feather-
Coyote had changed his own clothes as well, abandoning the jeans and jacket in favor of his own doeskin and
fringe. It made him seem much less like an echo of her father's youth, which was a relief, but made him seem more
like the creature he was, which was still daunting.
Not for the first time, and not for the last, she wondered just how this had all happened. Growing up in Manhattan
hadn't fully prepared her, despite her father's stories, for life in the desert Southwest, and nothing there had prepared
her for going to a party on a mystical legendary island as the date of a trickster-god.
"Lovely Mai," he said. "Eyes like sun on the water, graceful as a reed in the embrace of the breeze."
It should have sounded corny, but made her all fluttery inside nonetheless. She took his proffered arm, and once
again, they were caught up in the whirlwind.
It deposited them in the grand ballroom of Oberon's palace. Beings of every description milled about, and here
there seemed nothing wrong with seeing a slender sprite deep in conversation with a giant golden lion, or a satyr
pursuing a laughing Norse goddess, or the towering winged serpent Quetzocoatl flirting with a volcanic Titaness.
Talk about anything goes ... nothing here could be considered abnormal ... well ...
"Is that Anansi playing Twister?" Beth asked.
"Jingle got into the toybox again, I guess. He's always coming up with new games."
Overlooking all with an indulgent smirk, Lord Oberon sat upon his throne with the Weird Sisters ranged behind
him like backup singers and a bevy of brownies and elves in attendance. Queen Titania, in a gown of spun starlight
and surrounded with a color-dance of tiny fairies, ascended regally to her own throne.
Gargoyles stood along the upper walkway ringing the ballroom. One of them, a red-skinned male with Byronesque
blond locks, leaned with one elbow on the railing, every now and again hitching a wistful sigh, his gaze never leaving a
beautiful maid in flowing white with lilies in her hair. Another, a black-haired female of a deep blue-green hue, observed
the goings-on with a distinct sneer.
Beth's fellow party guests, milled through the crowd with gapes and gasps. Some of them were distinctly
come-as-you-are: there were quite a few in their pajamas, some in street-person shabby, and there was one guy in
a wetsuit, who had been nabbed offshore of Catalina Island by a particularly buoyant mermaid.
A man in skintight brown leather pants and an open-throated white shirt, struck Beth familiar, but in the shifting
tidal patterns of the crowd, she couldn't get close enough to him to be sure. Just a tumble of dark curls like a mane,
and a glimpse of a full-lipped, heavily sensuous face.
Oberon beckoned, and one of his toadying gnomes scampered forward with a silver triangle suspended from a
violet ribbon. Avalon's Lord tinged it with a small mallet, and a clear crystalline chime rang through the room, bringing
silence in its wake.
"Let the feasting begin," Oberon announced.
In a shower of glitter, tables and benches began to descend from the ceiling. The aromas of a thousand different
delicacies blended into an exotic perfume. Everyone got out of the way as the tables, fully laden with covered dishes,
settled into place.
It didn't seem possible that the thousands of beings could all be seated at once, or that the room could hold so
many. Yet it did. Gods and mortals, the ethereal and the monstrous, givers of life and bringers of death, all sat
elbow to elbow, digging into the sumptuous meal set out before them.
No matter how many guests helped themselves from a dish, it never emptied. Every bite was the ultimate of
succulent flavor and texture, unsurpassable, until the next bite.
Beth reached for her glass and it filled as her fingers closed around it, filled with a light ambrosial liquid exactly
suited to her tastes. At the table where the Valhallans gathered, they had huge curved drinking horns and steins
instead, brimming and sloshing with rich ale; Bast and her felinoid minions sipped syrupy date wine; a girl no older
than eleven had rootbeer; an odd group composed of a leprechaun, a centaur, a woman in a red minidress, and a pixie
like a winged Barbie doll were doing tequila shooters.
"Music!" Oberon commanded. "Song!"
Three gargoyle musicians came forward. One was a dun-brown female, and Beth recalled her own words
to Elisa, about how alien and yet beautiful they were ... here was the exception. The female could kindly be
called homely, her most dominant feature a rhinoceros horn. But as her companions struck up their instruments
and she began to sing, all of her ill looks were forgotten, overshadowed by a voice that could have come straight f
rom Heaven. Even the Sirens paused in their chatter to nod approvingly.
"Why?" Beth asked Coyote.
He left off mopping up sauce with a roll. "Why what?"
"Why this whole thing with BYOM?"
Marissa Sylvina, Queen of the Dryads, was seated across from them, basking in the adoration of the mortal
she'd chosen (a forestry major from a Northern California university, if Beth remembered correctly), laughed
delightedly. "BYOM! How perfect! Bring Your Own Mortal!"
"But what's the point?" Beth asked. "You bring us here, show us the secrets and wonders of Avalon, prove
to us that all of our oldest myths and legends are true ... then what?"
"You'll go back the richer for it," Marissa said. "Even though you don't remember what transpired here,
except in your deepest dreams, your souls will still echo with Avalon's music."
"Don't remember?" Beth glared accusingly at Coyote. "You never mentioned that part."
"Fine print, my foot! You brought me into this knowingly and willingly, and I want to leave the same way. I
don't want to forget my stay here."
"If that's your will, Mai."
"Don't shrug at me like that, I want a promise from you. No meddling with my memories, no tweaking my
reality. I already know it's going to be a lot longer on the other side than it is here --"
"What's that mean?" Marissa's forestry major asked nervously.
"Time passes more swiftly in the outside world," the dryad explained indifferently.
"But ... I've got a project due! Rent! My girl ... uh ... people will be wondering where I am!"
"It'll be all right," Marissa soothed.
Beth ignored them and kept after Coyote. "No sending me back as if I've been in a coma. I'll come up with
my own explanations for where I was. That's what I want."
"Yes, but you're not agreeing," she persisted.
"Mai, it's not my choice. Lord Oberon hasn't made his decision yet. But I'll let you remember what
I can, all right?"
She started to argue some more, but Oberon's voice dominated the room.
"Another song!" he called, and beckoned expansively to the dark-curled man she'd noticed before. "If
you'll indulge us, old friend?"
He stood, and Beth had an unobstructed view of him.
"Hey!" she blurted, louder than she meant to. "That's --" she bit it off as he turned sharply to pin her with
his smoldering eyes. For a moment he didn't seem human at all, as if there was a shadow coalescing around
him, a cold and reptilian form.
Coyote made a show of reaching past her for a bowl, leaning between them and cutting off that riveting
eye contact. The spell broken, Beth looked down at her trembling hands.
"That's ..." she said, shaking her head. "But he's dead ... my dad used to have all his albums ..."
"You don't want to attract his attention. I've heard he has quite an effect on mortal women."
"It's true," she said, feeling vaguely oily and ill. "He's one of you?"
Coyote nodded. Around the ballroom, the other guests had noticed her outburst and the exchange that had
passed between her and the man in the leather pants, and while she saw stunned recognition on many faces
(especially the older ones), no one else said a thing.
"What next? Elvis?" Beth asked.
"Don't be silly."
The magical radiance dimmed as the dark man climbed the steps with easy, insolent grace. The gargoyles
drew back from him but didn't leave the stage. At his gesture, they took up their instruments again. The
rhinoceros-horned female retreated and picked up a lute.
The song was a familiar one, a famous one, yet terrible in its power. At the right moments in the chorus,
braziers burst into flame one by one around the ballroom. Heat poured from them, the temperature rising far
more rapidly than seemed possible. And the dark man sang on.
His voice was driving and demanding. Beth didn't dare look to see if his movements were too; she knew that
they would be. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw other human women gripped in the same sick compulsion
that had held her when she looked into the dark man's face.
No one could speak until the last notes had faded into nothingness. The applause began somewhere amid the
tables where the more sinister of Avalon's denizens grouped together in shadowy splendor, and spread until
everyone was clapping, either out of admiration or fear of giving offense.
"Thank you, old friend," Oberon said. "You honor us with your talent."
"Old friend?" Beth whispered.
"Oberon used to be a Hollywood record exec," Coyote explained, and Beth goggled at him.
The dark man made a slicing motion with both hands and the fires were snuffed out. A few thin threads of
smoke rose from the braziers. A new act was called onstage to bedazzle the mortals, this one a petite elfin female
who played a flute with such haunting and unearthly melody that it nearly brought Beth to tears, and cleansed her
mind of the lingering cobwebs woven by the dark man's spell.
After that, Oberon ascertained that everyone was sated, and bade the tables rise back into the air. He and
Titania descended to the ballroom floor and danced the first dance alone, to a classical waltz played by the
As they finished and bowed to each other, the room went utterly black. All of the humans and a few of the Third
Race cried out in surprise, then began to laugh, figuring it for some sort of theatrical prank. But the laughter slowly
died when the blackness went on and on, and a pervasive chill began seeping into the air.
"No," Coyote breathed.
"What is it? What's going on?"
"Lights!" Oberon called, and in just that single word was something that struck dread into Beth's heart --
the Lord of Avalon was afraid.
"To me, my little winged ones!" Titania's voice was composed, but carried an undercurrent of concern.
A row of twinkling spheres streaked to encircle Titania and Oberon. At the center of each sphere was a
tiny pixie, their glowing bodies shedding enough light to illuminate the lord and lady.
Others began to react, summoning balls of witchfire, manifesting their auras, or drawing weapons that shed
eldritch luminescence. A confused babble bounced from one mouth to another.
"Save your power," Coyote murmured.
"What is it?" Beth nudged him. "Coyote, what's happening? Is it a blackout?"
"My lord," an elf named Winken cried out. "It comes!"
"Silence!" Oberon backhanded Winken, sending him sliding on his back to smash into Thor's fur-trimmed
That hushed the crowd, except for the sobbing of one of the youngest humans.
"It does not come!" Oberon declared. "This is but ... an aberration. All will be well soon."
Unspoken doubt narrowed the eyes of the immortals, and Beth felt the emotion in the room click up one more
"If my lord would," Titania said smoothly, "perhaps a more ... private setting ... might be best for this
"Yes, my wise queen. Summon those who should meet with me."
"I want to go home!" the sobbing child now wailed.
"What's the meaning of this?" a man shouted, and human voices rose in a clamor of questions and demands.
"Get these mortals from my sight!" Oberon snapped as he spun with his cape swinging in a wide arc. "Put
them in safekeeping until we've solved this ... trifling problem."
"As Lord Oberon commands," the pale-haired Weird Sister said with a grim smile.
Beth tensed and grabbed onto Coyote's arm.
"Easy, Mai. They're not going to hurt you."
"Bring them to the arena!" the brunette Sister said (Beth had been introduced to them multiple times since
her arrival, but still couldn't keep the names straight).
"But --" Beth protested.
"Come on. It'll be all right."
"What's going on? Coyote, tell me!"
She tried to resist, but the current of humanity was being swept along, shepherded by those who had brought
them to Avalon. The questions and demands now turned into shouts and shrieks and pleas as the humans were
herded through a door that led to a wide upsloping windowless passage.
"Be still!" the blonde Sister barked. "Cease your bleating and obey!"
"Go, Mai. Don't worry."
"Don't you dare do this to me!"
"I have to."
"Then tell me why!"
He escaped her clutching hands and pushed her through the doorway. "It's ... no, Mai, it's best you don't know."
"Don't give me that!" She blocked the door with her body. "I thought I meant something to you!"
Stung, he touched her cheek. "You know you do!"
"Then tell me!" she stamped her foot.
"Cousin Coyote!" Raven beckoned. "We are summoned!"
He waved to show he'd heard, then leaned close and spoke for her ears only. "It's the coming of the Unformed,
Beth. I'm sorry. None of us thought it would ever happen, that it would be this soon."
"What?" His words, though they made no sense, slipped through her like blades of ice.
"At least ... at least for you humans, it'll be quick." He backed off, staring at her as if fixing her in his memory, as
if he might never see her again. "We're not going to be so lucky."
"Coyote!" she lunged, but the pale-haired Sister shoved her down and slammed the door.
"They are in. Set the wards," her muffled words came through the heavy planking.
Panic flashed through the humans and they threw themselves at the door. Beth rolled and squashed herself against
the wall to avoid getting trampled, taking many kicks. She skinned a knee on the stone wall of the passage. Someone
stepped on her leg, someone else's shoe glanced off her funnybone and made her squeal.
She fought her way upright, barely able to breath in the compressed mass of people surging down the slope. Fists
hammered on wood, the din was nearly loud enough to shatter walls by itself, but no one answered. No one let them out.
The door showed no signs of giving way. A faint yellow outline in the image of a padlock floated above the handle,
a matching glow filtered through the cracks. Beth knew that even if the wood itself broke apart, the ward would hold
them like a force field.
Trapped! Beth thought. We're going to die in here!
People were screaming, crying, praying, cursing. Hundreds of them imprisoned in the dark.
Beth slapped her own face to get ahold of herself, and began trying to work her way upstream. After an
eternity of claustrophobic pushing and struggling, she emerged into the open. Gasping, she trudged up the rest
of the slope and felt a cool draft on her skin.
She came out into a huge domed space, lit only by reddish crystals set into the wall. Her mind cross-
referenced to emergency back-up lights and red alerts, neither a very comforting image.
All around her, stone benches covered with cushions marched in rows up the sides of the amphitheater.
Straight ahead, a stairway led to the sand-covered, football-field-sized floor of the arena.
"This must be where they hold the Fairy Bowl," she said. "First ten thousand ticket holders get a free hot
As she prowled the stands, looking for another way out, people began to drift out of the clogged passageway
and stare about in hopelessness and defeated disbelief. Some of them came over and tried to talk to her, maybe
because she was the only one moving purposefully, but she didn't have any answers, any reassurances. All she
had was Coyote's cryptic yet terrifying explanation.
The coming of the Unformed.
No. Not going to share that with her fellow mortals. Nor that bit about how at least for them, it'd be over quick.
Just what, for instance, did the Third Race regard as quick?
And his other remark. Save your power. What had that meant?
By the time she'd reached the highest tier, the rest had given up on the door and were filtering into the
coliseum. Some were furious, some were weeping in despair. The more together of them went to work tending
the wounded, comforting the children, and generally trying to do something constructive.
Which was better than her useless efforts at finding an escape route. All of the other exits were marked with
the same yellow lock. Sealed in. No food, no water, no bathrooms (the Third Race may have enjoyed their feasts,
but it seemed totally unfair that they never had to pay a visit to the little fay's room).
They were all still full from dinner, but how long until hunger set in? How long until they started looking at
each other with unspeakable Donner Party speculations?
Or would it matter? Would they live long enough for starvation to become a threat?
Beth slumped onto a bench, arms dangling, staring blankly at the dome and wracking her brain for
answers. She noticed the half-dozen trap doors set into the ceiling ... none of them had that lock-image,
but it didn't matter because even if they made a human pyramid fit for the Guinness Book, there was no
way they could reach.
Darn it, where were gargoyles when you needed them?
Even as she though it, the trap door nearest her opened.
A wedge of darkness was suddenly filled by a gargoyle's head. He looked around, spotted Beth,
scrutinized her closely, and then broke into a smile. He waved.
Uncertainly, she waved back.
His head disappeared, and then a pair of overlarge taloned feet came through. Followed by long, well-
muscled legs, a dark red loincloth, a tail, and then the rest of him. He dropped a few yards and spread his
wings, which were like no gargoyle wings Beth had ever seen before (in her admittedly limited experience),
oddly split into two panels on each side.
He landed nearby and she looked him up and down. Tawny gold skin, white hair, and the handsomest
face she'd ever seen on a gargoyle. Heck, one of the handsomest faces she'd ever seen, period. Not utterly
buffed like Goliath, but nice chest, excellent shoulders and arms, narrow waist.
"Yes ... but how do you know me? I don't --"
He bowed and swept an imaginary hat before him. "Corwin of Avalon Clan, at your service."
"Coyote asked if I'd be so kind as to check on you."
"How'd you find me?"
"My sister made use of the Magus' Seeing Stone ... while she could." His expression darkened worriedly. "It
seems Avalon is losing her magic."
"Is that what's going on? How? Why?"
"I know not, but I do know that soon the only magic on this island will be that borne within the spirits of the
Children themselves, and once they use that ..." he spread his hands and shrugged.
"Save your power," she mused. "That's what he meant. What about the Unformed? Do you know what that's
Corwin shook his head. "Oberon's court does not tell us these things. We're his 'honor guard' in name, though
in practice more pets and curiosities. But the name fills me with foreboding, and brought gentle Elektra to tears."
"I've got to find out. They locked us in here like ... like sheep!"
"Allow me to deliver you from this prison."
"What about the others? We can't just leave them here!"
"We can do little else. It would take all three dozen of us most of the night to do it, and even then, we could
not hide so many."
"I thought you lived to protect!"
"We do ... but we must also use sense. To take all the humans from this place would be to openly defy
Oberon's wishes, and we dare not do that. Besides, if this Unformed is such a threat that it turns Oberon himself
pale, this place is safe as any."
"Then why me?"
"Coyote asked me. And you are kin to Elisa, which makes you a part of our clan."
"I guess I can't argue with that. But I'm not going to just go hide. I want to know what's going on, and if there's
anything we can do about it."
"I see you've your sister's strength of will."
"She's a lot more stubborn than me, if that's what you're saying." Beth stepped toward him, then hesitated. "I ...
uh ... I've flown with my brother before, but ..."
"I'd not let you fall." He opened his arms to her.
"Just ... just mind your manners."
Corwin laughed. "Oh, be that your concern? And what of her flights with mighty Goliath has your sister told you?"
Beth went beet red. "Hey!"
"Fret it not, Beth Maza," he chuckled. "I'll mind well my manners, I assure thee."
She let him scoop her up, imagining the ridiculous picture they must make, with her still dressed like Tiger Lily.
"And away," he said, launching himself with a powerful leap.
The amphitheater floor spun dizzily below them, way, way below them. Beth gulped and grabbed Corwin
around the neck.
"How are you going to get back through there?" she asked. "The opening's too small for your wings."
"It'll be a bit on the tricky side," he allowed, gliding high toward the ceiling. "Hold on."
"What are you -- careful, you crazy gargoyle!" She scrabbled for a tighter hold as he shifted her entire weight
into the crook of one arm and reached up with the other.
He caught the edge of the opening and hung there by one hand, boosting her up and through. Something seized
her wrist and she sucked a scream deep into her lungs.
"Peace, Beth Maza," a soft voice said. "Thou'rt in no danger from me."
Exhaling wheezily, she turned to a slender female gargoyle with long brown hair. "Who ...?"
"I am called Elektra. Beware thy footing, 'tis steep."
They were standing on the outside of the dome. Overhead, the colorful auroras that had previously filled the
skies of Avalon day and night were gone. No stars. No moon. Just a solid darkness from horizon to horizon ... and ...
"What's that?" Beth gasped, pointing.
Elektra helped Corwin up through the trap door and eased it closed. "'Tis the very doom of us all, I fear me.
How could she see black on black? It wasn't possible, but that was just what she saw. High above, a cloud-shape
of slowly churning stuff was moving inexorably toward them.
"But what is it?"
The gargoyles looked at each other helplessly.
"Well, sweet sister?" Corwin asked. "Any words of wisdom the Magus might have left thee?"
"Nary a one for such a thing as this, brother. Yet I do know, without needing be told, that it is a force most
malevolent. And it comes to Avalon."
"We saw it come," Corwin said. "Those of us not within the palace, not on guard duty. A strange thinness
overtook the air, and then the magic rose like steam from all of the island. The palace became as plain marble,
the larders in our castle were as ordinary cupboards barren of food ..."
"The lights, the fires inside, everything went out," Beth said. "Like a power failure."
"Gabriel sent us to inquire," Corwin said. "Which was when Coyote found me, and bade me seek you out,
Beth Maza. I went swift to Elektra first, and she used the last of the Seeing Stone's ability to find you here."
"So this thing is coming, and it ... eats magic."
"So't seems," Elektra said. "And then all that shall be left is that magic of the Childrens' own possessing ..."
"And then it eats them," Beth finished grimly. "Drains them dry like a vampire. Killing us in the process,
maybe just in passing, just us incidental mortals. Collateral damage, is that what they call it? Okay ... we've got
to do something."
"This is no foe that can be met with sword and claw," Corwin said. "What 'gainst it can be done?"
"I don't know ... but I know who would. Take me to Oberon."
Corwin glanced doubtfully at Elektra. "Sister, what think thee?"
"Do as she will, brother. Recall ... in truth 'twas not Goliath who saved us from Oberon's own wrath before,
but Elisa's undoing of Titania's riddle. And Elisa who woke the Sleeping King, when without his aid the minions
of the Archmage might have slain us all, instead of only ..." Her breath hitched. "Instead of only the Magus. These
Maza women are headstrong, but courageous, and luck walks with them."
"Mom and Dad didn't raise any cowards," Beth said. "Fools, maybe ... weirdos definitely ... but not cowards."
"I'll hie me to Gabriel," Elektra said, "and tell him of this news. Go quickly, brother. Take care, and be well,
and I'll see thee anon." She unfurled finely-structured wings and glided off.
"Pretty girl," Beth observed as Corwin picked her up again. "Is she your ...?"
"Elektra? Nay, we are not mates. She pines, both for the lost Magus who was as a mentor to her, and for our
brother Jericho, who has but recently quit Avalon." He jumped into a rising wind from the sea and veered toward
one of the high towers. "I would not be surprised should she go after him ere long, though I would be surprised
should she win and keep him. They would be ill-suited as mates. Our gentle Elektra has need of one of matching
In the courtyard of Oberon's palace, members of the Third Race milled about in nearly as much consternation
as the humans they'd let be locked away. Beth didn't spot any of the one-time gods among them; these were the
lesser of Oberon's Children. Nymphs, gnomes, fairies, trolls, kelpies, wraiths, centaurs, and more ... and Beth
somehow knew that they, with their minor magics, would be the first to go.
As they approached the tower, a male voice rang out challengingly. "Corwin! What are you doing with a human?"
"What are you doing, Ezekiel my brother, blocking my way?"
The gargoyle, his hues all in shades of woodland browns and greens, brandished a staff as if he was tempted to
swat Corwin out of the sky. "The Weird Sisters themselves ordered me to keep all away from the tower."
"You've no love for Oberon, brother, or his witches. Let us pass."
"And bring down their anger upon our clan?"
"Look at that thing!" Beth said sharply. "It's getting closer all the time! Oberon's got bigger problems
than punishing gargoyles, believe me!"
"Whither a scold's bridle when needed?" Ezekiel sneered. "These humans come to our land and believe
themselves our betters, just as Oberon and his ilk did!"
"It won't matter when that thing gets here."
"Stand down, brother," Corwin beseeched. "She speaks true. If the Unformed ends us all, we'll not have to
suffer Oberon's wrath ... but if there be some way to stop it, and we can help, and you prevent us ..."
"Oh, go!" Ezekiel said irritably. "You know I've not the nimbleness of wit to match yours. You'd talk me
into standing on my head and make me think 'twas mine own idea." He withdrew, scowling in disgust as they
passed him by.
"Family squabbles," Beth said. "Always such fun."
"He's been cross since the breeding season," Corwin confided. "Our sister Tourmaline bid the males compete
for her favors, and Ezekiel thought to win her, until Zachariah bested him."
He landed on the ledge that ringed the tower and set Beth down. There was no railing, just the narrow rim of
stone and then a very long drop, made longer by the fact that this part of the palace was perched at the edge of a
sea-inlet chasm. Far below, the froth and spume leaped high as it was driven against the rocks with a hollow,
"Oooohhh ..." Beth closed her eyes. "I don't like this."
"The walkway widens at the window," Corwin said.
"Then why didn't you land there?"
"And be seen?"
"Okay, okay." She began edging toward the flickering spill of firelight -- natural firelight -- from the window.
Corwin came along casually behind her. Must be easy to be so confident when you spent as much time in the air
as on the ground, she thought.
Soon she could hear voices, raised and anxious. Everyone wanting someone to do something, everyone in
agreement that something must be done, and everyone clueless about what to do.
" -- and be ended with some dignity," Oberon was saying.
"You'd have us give up? Just give up and accept our fate as that pestilence comes roiling from the skies?"
"And so it ends." Odin's sigh was a dirge.
"First Avalon," Athena said, "and then Earth."
"What?" Beth caught herself in time to only gasp the word.
She gingerly poked her nose around the edge of the window and saw the more powerful immortals, the
gods and goddesses and kings and queens, around a massive table inset with precious gems. Even the dark
man was there, slouched in a corner, watching with cold indifference.
"Maybe not Earth," Marissa Sylvina said. "There are those on Earth who can drive back the Unformed,
if they know what to do."
"Why are all eyes suddenly upon me?" Titania asked. "I am not the only one among us to have children
who walk the mortal world."
"Well, don't look at me," Zeus said. "I've reformed."
"Yes, he has." Hera's tone brooked no argument.
"But yours, Lady Titania, are strong," a goddess Beth didn't know said. "Strong enough to do this and
"Keep rein on your jubilation," Oberon said wearily. "It matters not how strong my queen's get are, or
how powerful any of your offspring are."
"But Lady Titania's daughter and grandson --"
"Are not here," Titania finished.
"Nor is my son Caliban!" a green-black monstrosity said, her voice sounding bubbly and underwater, as if
spoken through a mouthful of rotted seaweed. "Thanks to your wretched servant Puck! I notice he escapes
"Even if one of them were here, what could they do?" Athena asked, standing to draw attention away
from the glares flashing between Titania and the green-black thing.
"What does it matter?" Oberon made an impatient gesture. "They are not. There is nothing more to be
done. So, go, my Children, and indulge your final hour."
"That's it!" Beth shook off Corwin's hand and hopped through the window. "So this is how the world ends?
Not with a bang but with a whine? I can't believe it! You ... people ... are the most powerful beings ever to
have lived! Get out there and fight that thing!"
"Impertinent insect!" the brunette Weird Sister hissed. "I shall wither you like a dry leaf!"
"Wait!" Coyote moved swiftly to Beth's side.
"Step aside," the blonde said fiercely. "This mortal intrudes on Lord Oberon's private council
chamber, and dares to speak so to us! You know such is not tolerated!"
"Coyote, I am surprised at you," Oberon said lazily, examining his fingernails. "Taking her side against
my handmaidens. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't turn her into a blade of grass right now."
"I sense the power in her," the green-black thing announced.
Everyone looked at Beth. All the gods of ancient times, looking at her as if she was on a microscope slide.
"Sycorax is right," Oberon said, sounding faintly surprised and chagrined to have to admit it. "She has
the power. It is buried, but there. Coyote, explain yourself! Does this little bedwarmer of yours bear your seed?"
Beth whirled on him. "I'd better not! You promised!"
"No!" Coyote held Beth's arm and tried to draw her from the room. "It's not like that. I'll get her out
of here. Lord Oberon, my apologies for the intrusion. It won't happen again."
"Coyote," Oberon said warningly.
Coyote hung his head abashedly. "Long ago, Lord Oberon, when my chosen people were at their strongest,
I walked among them as a mortal. Sharing my wisdom, playing my games, never letting them know the truth.
But there was one, a medicine woman, who figured out who I really was."
"You got a child upon her," Zeus supplied helpfully, earning a scathing look from his wife.
"Some gods can't ever keep it in their tunic!" she snarled.
"Hera, really ..." Titania said. "Your jealousy is unbecoming. Did you see me behave so when my lord
Oberon dallied with his mortal lovers?"
"You're ..." Beth pulled away from him. "Oh, eew, isn't it enough that you look like my father, now I find
out that you're our ancestor? And I ... we ... eew!"
"No, it wasn't like that!" he protested. "The medicine woman's infant son was ill, dying. She ... she tricked
me, all right? She stole some of my power and gave it into her son, saving his life. It stayed with him, passed on
to his children. It's cropped up again every few generations, sometimes there, sometimes not --"
"What the human scientists would call a recessive gene," Titania said. "I see. It is in Peter Maza, and in his
Oberon drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "So there is one here who may be able to drive back the
Unformed ... yet the whole while we debated, Coyote, you mentioned nothing."
"No, Lord Oberon, I beg you ..."
"You'd put this feeble girl against the Unformed?" Thor bellowed in disbelief. "She hasn't the strength to
control the Heart of Avalon! The volcano's fire would render her to lamp oil!"
"Volcano?" Beth asked weakly. "What does he mean, volcano?"
"The Heart of Avalon," Oberon said. "If your power is indeed strong, you would survive the destruction
of your body, and the release of your soul's energy would overfill the Unformed."
"And if it wasn't?"
A portly leprechaun snickered and drew his forefinger across his throat. "Glaaaaccccck!"
"Enough!" Coyote said. "She is no part of this!"
"Cousin," Raven smirked, tipping his chair back and putting his feet up, "you can't let your mere love for this
mortal stand in the way of doing what has to be done."
"Shut up!" Coyote knocked Raven's legs off the table.
The sudden movement sent Raven's chair crashing sideways, and dumped the startled trickster into Mother
Goshen's ample lap.
"Oh, goodness!" the old crone giggled, and flung her arms around Raven. "This is so sudden!"
"Mere love?" Beth asked, turning to the red-faced, blustering Coyote.
"She's only a human," the leprechaun grinned. "She wouldn't live much longer anyway."
"You know nothing of loving a human!" the river-maiden Rusalka retorted.
"And you know too much!" Baba Yaga cackled. "I told you your prince would be faithless, but did you
listen to me? Oh, no, Baba Yaga, you said. Not him, not my prince. He will love me always! Where was that
love, sweetwater, when --"
Oberon cleared his throat. "If you all don't mind ..."
"Yes," Titania said imperiously. "Let us return to the matter at hand."
"I won't let it happen!" Coyote cried. "I won't put her at risk!"
A clamor of protests arose at that.
"What's the life of one mortal?"
"Thinking with his totem pole again!"
"Did the rest of you learn nothing in your thousand years among them? Each human life is to be treasured!"
"She'd live only an hour longer if the Unformed has its way!"
"Who are we to save ourselves by murdering an innocent?"
"Wooo! You naughty thing!" Mother Goshen pinched Raven's cheek. "Do that again!"
"Anansi! Help me!" Raven implored.
The spider shook with mirth. "She's got you more entangled than even I could undo!"
"Be still!" Oberon roared, flinging his chair into the wall. "If this bickering is all you can do, perhaps we should
let the Unformed come and claim us all!"
They all lapsed into a sullen, simmering silence.
"We shall let her decide," Oberon declared magnanimously.
"Just ... just what is it that you want me to decide?" Beth's voice trembled. "If I'll ... if I'll ..."
"Risk yourself to save us," the Frog King croaked.
"To save everyone," Freya corrected. "And all the world."
"You mean jump into the volcano?" Beth just could not wrap her head around it.
"I've said no!" Coyote clenched his fists. "You'll send her to her death, and it'll mean as little to you as a
plucked flower! There has to be another way. Can't we fight it?"
"We're talking about Fate here, Cousin," Raven said, having finally escaped Mother Goshen's amorous
clutches. "Even we can't fight Fate. We've always known the Unformed would return, just not when. Fight?
Corwin stepped through the window and bowed deeply. "As hopeless, your majesty," he said, not looking at
Raven but at Oberon, "as my clan fighting you for our home?"
"You --" Oberon stopped, and inclined his head. "Touché."
"My lord," Thor rumbled, fingering the haft of his hammer, "you know none of us would ever shirk from
battle, but how can we fight that which cannot be touched?"
"We can't use our magic against it," the blonde Weird Sister said. "The mortal is our only hope."
"Yes! Let the mortal do it! If not for us, surely she has those on Earth that she cares for."
"Earth!" Raven spat. "That for Earth; Earth is nothing without Avalon!"
"Stop it!" Beth shrieked. "All of you, just stop it, just shut up!" She thrust her finger at Oberon. "Tell me,
exactly, what I'd have to do."
A howl split the air. Coyote leaped at Beth, wind swirling about them both, heat and sagebrush and dust,
and before she could react, he pushed her against the curved wall.
"No, Mai! They'll make you think it was your choice, to absolve themselves of guilt!"
"Coyote!" Oberon's voice was a rapier.
"And I won't let them do it! I take back what is mine!"
"Stop him!" Raven lunged, and Corwin tail-whipped him smartly back into Mother Goshen's lap, then
upended the table in a huge crash that sent Children sprawling.
"Foolish creature!" Thor hefted his hammer. Corwin ducked the first swing, which struck the floor hard
enough to crack a flagstone in two.
"Let go!" Beth screamed. "Coyote, let go, that hurts, that hurts, aaaaaaah!"
Her body went rigid and slammed against the wall, paralyzed, a statue, not even able to draw breath. Coyote
loomed only inches from her, and then a funnel of greyish-brown rose between them, seemingly from Beth's
own flesh. A triangular head with glinting silvery eyes floated in its midst.
"I take back what's mine!" Coyote roared in anguish and triumph.
Oberon thrust out his fists, and beams of brilliant sapphire exploded from them to strike the rebellious Coyote.
He was ripped from Beth, making her shriek as indescribable agony split her in two. She slid bonelessly into a heap.
Coyote collided with Thor just as the hammer came down in an arc meant to shatter Corwin's skull, deflecting
it into a glancing blow that sent the gargoyle to his knees. Thor instantly dropped the weapon and fell to pummeling
Coyote ruthlessly with fists that were as large, and nearly as solid, as the hammer's head.
"Oh, lord husband, look what you've done!" Titania added a few choice oaths in French.
The whirling funnel that had risen from Beth was spinning faster now, coalescing, taking on solidity and substance.
Taking on form, a familiar form that collapsed in identical posture to Beth's.
"Beth Maza?" Corwin asked incredulously into the silence that followed.
A sound, part whimper and part sob, came from Beth's throat as she stared at the woman who was her twin in
every way, except for the exaggerated point to her ears. Her own jeans and blouse were back, while the double wore
the doeskin and fringe that Coyote had created.
Eyes met, and a peculiar sensation filled her mind. Looking at herself and looking at herself, picture-in-picture,
seeing through two sets of eyes at once. And it seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
"Am I all right?" she asked together. "I'm ... I'm okay."
"What I've done?" Oberon irately turned to Titania. "You blame me?"
"We're lost!" someone groaned.
"You!" Thor shook Coyote by the scruff of the neck. "Dog! Bone-gnawing flea-scratching cur! You threw all
of our existences away for that!" He hurled Coyote to the floor between Beth. "Have her, then! Enjoy your last
hour, but know this! In the moment before the Unformed drinks the magic from you, I will crush you myself!"
"Leave him alone!" Beth cried together, huddling on either side of the battered Coyote.
Corwin looked appealingly to Titania. "Lady, please ... explain?"
"What was Coyote's, he attempted to take back into himself. My lord Oberon interrupted, and that energy
was let loose. The one is the mortal Beth Maza, the other her ... her Mai." Titania smiled. "Made real."
Beth looked at herself, then touched her own hand. It was like touching a mirror, except warm and alive. "Okay ...
this is weird ... but I'm still me," she said in unison.
Oberon blew out an exasperated breath. "A curious turn of events, indeed, but it leaves us with no solution to
the current problem."
"Unless, my lord," Titania said with a voice like dripping honey, "we fight."
"Can we fight?" Athena frowned, running her thumb along the tip of her spear. "Can the Unformed be defeated?"
"Never know unless we try," Odin said. "At the very least, we'd go out grandly."
"But only the spark of mortal fire mixed with the starstuff of our magic can harm the Unformed!" the brunette
Sister said. "You know that!"
"I say," the dark man spoke up for the first time in a deadly tone, "that we take both of her and pitch them into
the Heart of Avalon. That should be enough energy."
"No," Coyote groaned, struggling to rise.
She/they held him and fearfully avoided the dark man's smoldering eyes.
Corwin knelt at Titania's feet. "Gracious lady, if I am correct in my understanding, both mortal soul and the
magic of your race must be sacrificed to avert this dire fate? Then, for my clan and for the world, I am willing. Find
one of yours to go with me, and we shall into the Heart of Avalon together."
"Corwin!" Beth gasped through two mouths. "No!"
Titania rested a hand atop his head, curling her fingers through the thick white hair. "Behold, oh Children. As
we bicker and bargain, this noble gargoyle does not hesitate. Who would join him, and give all for Avalon?"
Everything else in the room became utterly fascinating and engrossing. No one would meet Titania's gaze, no
one said a word.
"None of you?" Titania asked softly. "Nary a one among all? It makes a difference, doesn't it, when it's
yourself on the line, not some anonymous mortal for whom you care nothing. My lord Oberon, your Children are
as selfish as ever they were. But ... your wife is not."
Oberon raised his head. "Titania, what --?"
"I will do this."
"I forbid it!"
"Then, husband, once again I disobey." She clasped Corwin's hands in her own, and they vanished in a burst
of emerald light.
"Titaaaaaaaania!" Oberon's shout echoed from one end of the island to the other.
A rainbow enfolded the room. Beth was never sure just whose magic it had been, or all of their magics
combined. But the next thing she knew, she was standing on either side of Coyote, on the rim of the volcano.
At the startled outcry of many voices, Beth looked around and saw all of the Third Race gathered on the rocky
terrain. Not just those who had been in the tower, but every lowly sprite and troll from the courtyard. But no humans
except her, no gargoyles to cry out their brother's name in horrified understanding.
Corwin and Titania were suspended above the bubbling caldera, wreathed in cool green mist that protected them
from the searing heat. Overhead, the amoeboid nothingness of the Unformed spanned the sky and quested downward
in hungry pseudopods.
"Titania!" Oberon flung out a hand.
"Farewell, my lord!" she cried, and the green mist whiffed out, leaving them both defenseless and vulnerable.
They plunged together into the seething lava as a thousand voices shrieked denial.
The earth lurched and shuddered, throwing the witnesses all away from the volcano as the very cone of it pushed
upward. They tumbled across the rocks, ears ringing from screams and rumblings.
A gout of green- and gold-tinged molten rock shot up in a column to the heavens. It struck the Unformed in a
Avalon shook to its roots. Trees tilted. Boulders tore loose from their moorings and bounced like toy balls. Fire
rained from the sky in great blazing globs that hissed into the sea and spread flame over the trees and meadows. Ash
and smoke and sickly fumes gusted from the roiling pit.
And high above, the Unformed curled in on itself and was gone. Everything seemed to sparkle as the siphoned-off
magic came flooding back. Once again, the sky lit up with shifting hues, the palace shone like a star, the night came
alive with Avalon's own sweet music.
Beth, weeping, held Coyote in a clumsy three-way embrace.
"Oh, Titania." Oberon's whisper was louder than any shout. He dropped to his knees at the edge of the volcano,
which was now settling back to its usual state. "Brave Titania."
"Corwin, oh, no, how are we going to tell his clan?" Beth moaned as she and Coyote got up.
Oberon heard her and whipped around fast as a snake. "You! It should have been you!"
"Lord Oberon --" Coyote began.
"It should have been her, Coyote. See what you've done! Was your love worth the loss of my queen?"
"She chose!" Beth said. "And Corwin too! They chose this!"
"It should have been you!"
"Husband, husband ... you've learned nothing." The voice rose lazily on the volcano's steam.
"There!" Athena thrust her spear toward the center of the Heart of Avalon. "There!"
An emerald bubble rose amid the lava, and when it popped on the surface, Titania floated out,
unchanged and unharmed, smiling playfully.
"Did you so doubt me, my lord?"
The Children cheered deafeningly and swarmed about their queen, many chanting her name in
"Wait!" Beth pushed through the crowd, almost shouldered Oberon himself aside, and came at Titania
from left and right. "What about Corwin? It's not fair!"
"Oh, child," Titania said, touching her chins with both hands. "The world is not. But do not weep so."
"He was my friend!"
"And still is." She swept her arm grandly, and a second bubble emerged from the lava. "I could not let
such a valiant one be lost, could I?"
Beth burst into a fresh spate of tears, these ones of gratitude and joy. She nearly tackled Corwin the
moment his feet were on solid ground, and he swept her up in each arm.
"Corwin!" hailed Elektra from on high. She descended with two other gargoyles, a greyish-olive male
with light reddish-blonde hair and a forest-green male with huge ram's horns curling on the sides of his bald
crown. "I sought you at the palace and found naught; what dost thee here?"
"And what's going on?" the greyish-olive male asked, looking around at the mess and the throng of jubilant
immortals. "We thought the island was going to crack in two! What happened?"
"Suffice to say, brother Gabriel, something I hope I never must needs do again!" Corwin said fervently,
clasping forearms with him.
Beth turned. Coyote approached her, hesitantly.
"I'm sorry, Mai. Too much of this is my fault."
She kissed him on both cheeks at the same time. "Stop. You saved me. You do care."
"But ..." he looked back and forth from her to her. "I don't know if I can ... put you back together."
"I don't want you to."
"Ever since you brought me here, I was wishing there was a way I could stay, but I knew I couldn't.
Now, I can. I can stay here and go home."
"You don't really mean that," he said. "You ... do you? You'd want to stay? Even now? Even after
... all of this?"
"What?" she laughed. "Just because most of your relatives were ready to toss me into a volcano? You
should meet the rest of my family! Aunt Agnes could eat Oberon for breakfast!"
Coyote threw back his head and howled. She joined in, adding two voices to his.
"Are you quite finished?" Oberon snapped.
They broke off. "Uh ... yes, my lord," Coyote said.
"My Children!" Oberon called, spreading his arms expansively. "My queen Titania has saved you all!
Tonight we feast in erh honor!"
Beth saw Corwin roll his eyes and grin knowingly at Gabriel. "Some night, brother, someone should
take him down a peg."
"Why not you, then?"
"Oh, no. I've done my foolish deed for the year. Come. Let's go home."
"Corwin, wait!" Beth ran to him. "I wanted to thank you."
"No need, Beth Maza ... and Beth Maza ... are you well with this?"
Elektra did an astonished double take (literally, Beth thought amusedly). "By the Dragon ... what's come
"I'm well with it," she assured them. "Though I don't think I'll tell my family. They've had to put up
with a lot lately. So let's just keep it our little secret, huh?"
"As you will," Corwin said. "And we should thank you, all of us."
"Why? Oberon's right; it should have been me --"
"No, it shouldn't!" Coyote objected.
"But 'twas you, Beth Maza, who made it happen."
She looked from Corwin to the volcano and raised her eyebrows at him. "And for that, you want to thank me?"
"If not for you, Oberon and his court would have elected to sit and let their fate take them, and we all of us
would have perished never knowing why, or what could have been done to prevent it."
"You're giving me way too much credit, Corwin. You were the one who offered to give up your own life."
"What?" Gabriel cut in. "Corwin, as leader of our clan, I think I should know exactly what went on here!"
"Trust me, brother, you'll be happier not knowing, and I'll be happier to put it behind me."
"Amen to that!" Beth said, giving the golden gargoyle a fond squeeze and a kiss.
"Ah, I see you're not overworried about my manners now!" he chuckled.
"Should I be?"
"Nay ... with all due apologies, Beth Maza, thour't truly not my type." He winked.
"Thour't mine, though," Coyote said, slipping an arm around each waist. "Shall we?"
He loosed another ululating howl, and a whirlwind rose from the ground to encompass them.
By the time it had carried them back to the palace, the humans had been released and were acting as if
nothing strange had ever gone on (Beth gave Coyote a suspicious look, to which he only shrugged and made
a wry grin), the feasting was underway, and though many toasts of mead and ambrosia were lifted to Titania,
no one said specifically what for. The denizens of Avalon were old hands at putting unpleasantness behind them,
Beth figured, and they were going to it with gusto.
Not all was forgotten, though.
Thor kept glowering at Coyote and socking one fist into the other palm, like a school bully promising the
class brain that he'd get his at recess.
The Weird Sisters made one snide remark after another, though that quit in a hurry when Beth twirled her
fingers, used her newfound power for the first time, and a dust devil whooshed their skirts up like Marilyn
Monroe in triplicate. The resultant hoots, catcalls, and whistles from the gods and satyrs sent them fleeing in
Raven had the gall to ask Beth to dance even after the snotty way he'd carried on, but she was rescued when
Mother Goshen's, "Yoo-hoo, Raven, where is my widdle snookums?" came trilling across the floor and Raven
disappeared so fast he left only a single black feather behind -- Beth poked it into her headband and wore it like
And the party rocked on, until dawn turned the sky to rose and pearl.
"I'd better get home," Beth said, checking her watch. "Let's see, one day on Earth equals how long here?"
"An hour," Coyote replied.
"Ooh, yeah, I'd really better get back!" She hugged herself. "I'll miss me."
Coyote shook his head. "I'm glad you're taking this so well."
The whirlwind spun, turned dark, got noisier, and then it was just Beth and Coyote, speeding down a deserted
stretch of highway that cut through the dun-brown desert like a black satin ribbon, his motorcycle snarling like a
He stopped in front of her building and heeled the bike over onto its kickstand. "Well?"
Beth concentrated and saw/heard/smelt/felt/tasted another world through another set of senses. "I'm fine."
"Even for Avalon, this is bizarre," he muttered.
"Go on," she said, kissing him. "Say hi to me when you get back."
The bike roared off into the night, trailing a howl. Beth waved until he was gone, then dug her key out of her
pocket and climbed the steps.
"What a party," she said, and closed the door behind her.