Damien
Part One: Atonement
by 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 permission.
Mature readers only, please, due to language, sexual content, and graphic violence. Finished January 2000; approximately 21,000 words.

Commercial: Don't miss Sabledrake Magazine for more work by this and other authors!

#63 in an ongoing saga.


If she knew what he was doing, she'd be furious.
But once she understood, she'd realize it was in their best interests, and she'd forgive.
Comforted by that thought, Jericho settled onto the ledge to wait.
His blood ran at high tide with anticipation, his eyes burned white at the thought of plunging to the wrists into soft pink
human belly. Yes, gloving his hands in the steaming mush of sundered entrails, burrowing past lumpy organs, gouging his
way deeper until at last his claws grated against vertebrae.
If he did it right, his victim would even still be alive until the moment when Jericho closed the spinal column in his fists
and crushed the bones and nerve cord together. Alive and screaming as the guts leaked from the widening rip.
A ranged weapon would have been safer, but there was something so beautifully personal about doing it this way. He'd
be able to look into his victim's face as life spilled onto the ground.
Jericho shivered as a near-sexual thrill swept him. He bared his teeth to the sky and shook his head so that the icy wind
rippled in his wild mane. His fingers curled in longing. A low guttural growl slipped from his mouth.
Ah ... but control.
This time, he would not let his eagerness lead him into recklessness. He had planned this with exquisite care, with a painstaking
secrecy and deviousness that was unlike him, and he was not about to be ruled by his savage nature now.
Not yet.
Not like last time.
He winced at the thought. No, not like last time, never, never again. That his best intentions could have turned so quickly to
failure and shame ... and worse ...
Bad enough that he had forgone caution and attempted to capture MacBeth like that. He should have planned, waited,
chosen his moment. But the televised trial had reminded him of how he could have lost her, and seething impulse would not
be denied.
If he could have brought Tony Dracon's head to her on a plate, he would have done so. The news report showed the
skunk-striped crimelord being led from the courtroom in chains, struggling against the bailiffs and shouting threats at the
turncoat, Pal Joey, whose testimony had landed Dracon a twenty-year sentence. Now Dracon was behind bars and beyond
reach of the justice that Jericho would have given him.
Dracon had killed her ... even if it had been one of his flunkies that actually pulled the trigger, the hand only obeyed the
dictates of the mind. Killed her, and left her for the rats and roaches in an abandoned restaurant.
True, she'd come back ... but only by the grace of enchantment. If not for that, she would have been dead and gone, lost to
him forever, her murder a matter of little consequence to those who did it. Dracon would have and could have robbed Jericho
of everything that mattered to him.
But Dracon was nothing. So Jericho kept telling himself. Couldn't have killed her permanently. There was only one way that
could happen ...
And so in desperation he'd seized upon the idea of MacBeth. Who could. Who would. So tired of his long and empty life
that he'd gladly take Demona with him.
Intolerable.
Yet MacBeth was equally invulnerable. A threat that couldn't be ended. But ... a threat that could be contained.
By imprisoning MacBeth, locking him away someplace so secure that he'd never be able to escape, Jericho would have been
ensuring Demona's life for all time. She would never be taken from him. Let the world throw as many gun-happy Dracons at
her as it wished; she would rise again and again.
His carelessness had been his undoing. Rather than plan, rather than wait, he had let his impulses rule him ... and paid a horrible
price. Not only had he failed to capture the immortal Scot, but there had been the blackly revolting events that had followed ...
Jericho's gorge surged. He locked his jaw against it, lest he advertise his presence here by spewing his supper onto the oblivious
heads of the guards below.
When his innards grudgingly calmed, he gasped several deep breaths to clear the phantom scent of oil and womanflesh from his
nostrils.
Oh, better he had died that night ... better timid Aiden had left him to his fate rather than seek help. Better anything than for
Demona to have seen him like that.
She said it didn't matter, she knew he had not been in his right mind. Gustav Sevarius had analyzed the chemical residues clinging
to his skin and confirmed that sense-altering agents had been involved. He was blameless, a victim.
But it had hurt her. He had hurt her, willingly or not, and he would sooner put out his eyes with a red-hot needle than ever cause
her pain.
When done was done, what was left?
Only atonement.
And so Jericho would atone. Not with words, for words were useless. Not with his body, because he was still unworthy.
Until he made the love shine forth from her smile again, until he had proven himself by a deed so devoted that it would assure her
beyond any doubt that he was hers and hers alone just as he'd always been, he would not let himself enjoy her embrace.
She told him it wasn't necessary, but there was a different truth in her touch. He was not imagining the hesitation there. Tainted, he
was tainted now, and could only be cleansed by his own actions. Once he had proven himself again, he could go freely to her arms.
He would not fail again. Though it was agony to deny himself, and further agony to deliberately torture himself by watching as she
indulged her desires with Godiva ... the two of them, azure and indigo entwined and writhing ... Demona and her insatiable electronic
toy ... just the memory made his throat go dry.
When the deed was done. Then and only then, when he had redeemed himself, then he would no longer just watch. Well, for a
while, yes, why not, it was purest bliss to see Demona's expressions of ecstasy, to be able to observe her for the perfection she was
without being so caught up in his own onrushing passion ... watch for a while and then go to her ... anything she wished, anything she
commanded.
Anything she wished. That was what he would be, what he would do.
What he would give her.
Demona's fondest, most heartfelt yearning.
Soon.
Perhaps even tonight.
His waiting and planning were about to pay off.

* *

If she knew what he was doing, she'd be furious.
But once she understood, she'd realize it was in their best interests, and she'd forgive.
Comforted by that thought, Jason Canmore crossed to the waiting taxi, moving with slow care despite the fact that the sidewalk was
salted free of ice.
The air was so cold it blistered his nose and mouth as he inhaled, then puffed out to hang in a cloud that momentarily looked so solid
that if he prodded it with his cane, it would fall and shatter on the pavement.
He probably could have done without the cane, but the cold made his lower back ache as if it was clamped in a medieval device meant
to extract confessions. And with the deep freeze blanketing the city, he knew there would be other places where the ice hadn't been
tended. A single slip, and he could do himself all sorts of misery.
The sky overhead was crystalline and sharp, starlight glittering on the icicles that depended from the ledges. Jason scanned all gargoylian
shapes within view, just making sure that all of them were frosted as well.
He finished with a glance up at the lighted window in Robyn's room. Her silhouette passed briefly over it, the shadow of a cordless
phone's antenna sprouting from her head.
Her movements, what little he saw of them, convinced him that she was just as tense and nervous as she'd sounded through the wall.
His fault.
She was only doing it to protect him, to protect the family.
Protecting the family was supposed to be his job. He'd let her down, and now she was putting herself in danger to keep him out of jail.
He hadn't thought of that. If he had, he might not have been so diligent in his pursuit of recovery. When he'd been in that hospital bed,
hooked up to more medieval devices, getting the use of his legs back had been his only goal. He'd never stopped to think that his crippling
injury was the only thing that had made the judge treat them mercifully. The old "they've suffered enough" angle.
Now he was well again, not a hundred percent, not the formidable athlete he had once been, but still no slouch. And some people thought
that a second trial might be much less lenient.
Unless, that was, Robyn was willing to play ball.
Some choice. Put her ass on the line as part of this secretive new task force, or she and her brother would both face charges again.
Robyn didn't know that Jason knew as much as he did, which still wasn't much. She ducked the question whenever he tried to ask her
what she was looking so worried about, or who that had been on the phone, or what was in that case that arrived via courier. No, she'd
just tell him she was taking care of some stuff, and that was that.
Protecting him.
That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He was the oldest. He'd been taking care of Robyn and Jon since they were kids and had
no one else.
Fine job he'd done of it, too.
Maybe his own injuries had distracted him, but that was behind him now. No more excuse of his paralysis and pain to hide behind. He'd
let it dominate his existence for too long, and now that he was himself again, he was appalled at how much he'd forgotten.
No wonder he was being haunted.
"Hey, buddy, the meter's running," the cabby informed him through the narrowest possible crack of a rolled-down window.
"Right." Jason opened the back door and folded himself in, carefully, minding his footing on the frozen river of dirty ice in the gutter.
"Where we headed tonight, my man?"
"Anvil Corp, on --"
"Good deal. Brr. You let out all the hot air." He flicked the heater's switch to its highest possible setting.
Jason leaned back and tuned out the cabby's chatter, looking up again as the car made an illegal U-ee. Didn't see Robyn. Far as she knew,
he was going to a movie. She'd have a fit if she knew the truth.
That wasn't right. Robyn should be here with him.
He told himself that she would be. Next time, maybe. She'd know better than any of them that they couldn't ignore the past. Couldn't
forget. It wouldn't let them.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Jason blurted.
The cabby, who had been going on about his sister's kid, only twelve but wanted to get his tongue pierced, what do you think of that,
kids today -- broke off and his reflected eyes regarded Jason warily in the rearview.
"Say what, buddy?"
"Nothing." Embarrassed, he pretended to be enthralled with the scenery. They were on a street where iron bars covered every window.
Nobody loitered; the night was too damn cold for even the toughest punks.
After a fairly long silence, the cabby switched on the radio and cranked it up.
Dummy, Jason berated himself. Talking about ghosts would only have him end up facing a competency hearing instead of a criminal trial.
It might get Robyn out of whatever mess she was getting into, but he didn't particularly like the idea of spending the rest of his life in five-
point restraint.
He felt a gust of cold air against his cheek, and even before he turned his head he knew it wasn't because someone had opened a door or
window. No, the very quality of the cold told him that. This wasn't a brisk and clear winter's chill. This was the damp and moldering chill
of death.
"Jason."
"Oh, God," he muttered, too low to be heard over the music. He didn't want to. Couldn't help it. Looked.
It was not his father as Jason remembered him best. This was his father as Jason had seen him last. Broken. One side of his skull caved in, a
spongy mess of grey matter bulging through the shards of bone. The eye on that side was pushed out in a bloodshot orb, the other squeezed
tightly shut. His limbs were a bundle of jointed sticks and jackstraws within his ripped red and black costume.
"What about me, Jason?"
"Nooo ..." Jason breathed.
"You forgot me."
"No, never."
"My death meant nothing to you."
"It meant everything!"
"Turned your back on our family."
"We were wrong!"
"Failed in your purpose."
"The gargoyles aren't our enemies! They hate the Demon as much as we do!"
"She laughs."
"I know," he moaned wretchedly. "I hear her in my dreams."
"Why haven't you avenged me, Jason?"
"I can't ..."
"Avenge me, Jason! You are a Canmore!"
"Father --"
"Your brother needs you. You left him, Jason, you and Robyn left him. I always told you to take care of Jon. You're the oldest. It's your
responsibility."
"The Demon can't be killed!"
"You must continue my work, Jason."
"We'll all die!"
He was thrown forward and almost flattened his nose on the bulletproof divider between the front and back seats. Horns blared and
other cars swerved around the cab, which was braked in the middle of the street.
"Hey, Hamlet!" The cabby was pale and scared. "Out of my cab!"
Jason's face flamed as he realized he'd been overheard. Though they were still several blocks from his destination, he didn't argue. He
got out, and before he could even free his wallet from his pocket, the cab took off again, turning sharply to swing the door shut. It sped
away, leaving him standing there.
No sign of his father. Just a few pedestrians and other drivers looking at him. Jason sighed shakily and used his cane to pick his way to
the relative safety of the sidewalk. He fixed his sights on the giant sculpture of a hammer-wielding man -- it was just like something out
of one of the Batman movies, he thought -- and began to trudge in that direction.

* *

If she knew what he was doing, she'd be furious.
But once she understood, she'd realize it was in their best interests, and she'd forgive.
Comforted by that thought, Jon Canmore buttoned his jacket over the blood-pack strapped to his shoulder.
A tiny wire led from it to his cufflink. One push of the hidden button, and the pack would burst. And show up nicely against his
white suit.
"You're certain you know what to do?"
Harry the Hammer tried to pick up the gun, but it tumbled from his hand and bounced on the carpet. "Do I have to wear these? It's
like having on oven mitts."
Jon retrieved the gun. "We want the illusion to be perfect, my friend."
"Never seen one packing a 9-millimeter. How's that going to look?"
"Much better than if you attacked me with your bare claws. Mustn't chance anyone noting that you've got a zipper up your back, or
being close enough to try and apprehend you."
"Guess you're right. I'd hate to get clobbered by one of our own."
"Good man, Harry. I know we've had our differences, but when it comes right down to it, there's no one I'd rather have assisting me."
"I'm just glad to see we're finally doing something."
Jon chuckled. "It has been a while. I do admit, I'm quite looking forward to tonight. If all goes well, we'll even bring a lost sheep back
into the fold. With Jason on our side, believe me, Harry, we'll have all the 'doing something' you could ever hope for. Now, you'd best
run along."
Harry wedged the gun through his belt and carefully made his way to the door.
"Mind the Steuben," Jon pointed out casually, grasping a wing edge and bending it down. "And once the deed is done, change and
hurry back. Your inspired rhetoric never fails to ignite the crowd. As I've always said, scratch a crowd, find a mob."
"You can count on me!" He saluted awkwardly, and left.
Alone, Jon checked himself in the mirror. Yes, very sharp, very natty indeed. A winter's worth of sunlamps had given him a nice even
tan that went well with his blond hair, his mustache was neatly trimmed, and when he smiled, his teeth sparkled and the corners of his blue
eyes crinkled warmly.
He was adjusting his tie when someone tapped on the outer door. The tap was followed in short order by Margot Yale.
"I still think we're underusing security," she said.
"And you look lovely too," Jon replied.
Which she did, a nice green gown not so bright that it would draw eyes away from him, lace-trimmed wrap over her shoulders, and some
fairly nice jewelry. Not the Vandermere emeralds, she'd been quick to point out when he gave them to her, but he'd simply had to remind
her that the Vandermeres went along with the Vandermere emeralds, and thus was laid to rest that discussion.
"Jon ..."
"Dear Margot, do calm down. Yes, we've gone lightly with the guards at the conference center, but remember, the rest of our organization
is holding a meeting of their own right in this building. They could be on the scene in a matter of minutes should anything go amiss. Which it
won't. I'm perfectly confident with the security arrangements."
"But for a rally --"
"Meeting," he corrected with a hard but gentle edge. "We're merely meeting. No rabble-rousing. Not even media coverage. Once
we've decided our official stance on Senator Harmond's proposals, we --"
"Yes, yes." Margot flapped a hand at him irritably. "Call it what you will. I'm just concerned."
He brushed a kiss next to her cheek so as not to disturb her make-up. "And I do appreciate it. Now, then ... which tie tack, do you think?"
She chose a small gold hammer and pinned it through his silk tie. As she finished, the intercom buzzed.
"Mr. Castaway? There's a gentleman here to see you."
"That'll be Jason," Jon said happily. "I'll be right down." He offered his arm to Margot. "Shall we?"
"Your brother ... are you sure about this, Jon? He's one of them. A sympathizer. He and that detestable Maza woman --"
"Margot, Margot, Margot," he laughed. "You do go on, don't you? Trust me. Everything is going to be fine."
"What if it's not?"
"Well, then," he said with just the right amount of jovial levity, "I'll count on you to take care of it, won't I?"
His spirits rose as the elevator descended, so by the time the doors slid open and they stepped out, Jon felt as if he might just float to the
ceiling. When he saw his brother standing in the lobby, a wide and genuine smile lit his face.
"Jason!"
Oh, and it was as if the intervening years had never happened ... gone was the hateful wheelchair, the visible reminder of the worst night
of their lives. Jason was holding a cane, just holding it and not leaning on it, and to the casual observer he might merely have chosen it as
a fashion statement, for it did go well with his charcoal-grey suit and overcoat.
His second thought was that the intervening years had happened, and by the look of it, more besides ... Jason appeared to have aged
double what he should have. He was still handsome, but there was a weathered haggardness to his features that hadn't been there before,
and Jon fancied he could even see the advance of silver into Jason's crop of black hair.
It was most apparent around Jason's eyes, their vibrant turquoise clouded with inner troubles and undershadowed with the smudges of
one to whom sleep was more and more of a stranger.
"Jon ..." Jason said, and trailed off.
They hadn't seen each other for almost two years, since Jon's son Bryce was born. That last meeting was probably best not brought up.
"I've visited your exhibition," Jon said. "Marvelous work. You always were the artistic one of the family. I even bought one of your pieces.
'Lady in Garden.' It's Mother, isn't it?"
"I've been following your career, too," Jason said, but there was no bite in the words. They rang oddly hollow, with just a touch of what
Jon believed was wistfulness.
"Margot, my dear, would you excuse us? I'd like a few moments alone with my brother."
"Of course. It's nice to see you again, Mr. Canmore," she said, with a polite nod, just as if she hadn't once vehemently encouraged the
courts to throw every book there was at not only the gargoyle-sympathizers but these destructive vigilantes with no regard for human life
or property.
Jon beckoned. "I think we've just time for a drink before heading over to the auditorium. The rest of the stockholders are there already,
so we should have the bar to ourselves."
So they did, except for the discreet and attentive bartender. Jon felt much better once he and Jason were in a corner booth with Glenlivet
in front of them.
"I was so very glad you called," Jon said, sensing that Jason wasn't going to start.
"It's just us. You can drop the British accent."
"Sorry. Been doing it so long now ... is that better?"
"Better." Jason took a hearty swallow.
"Jason, are you all right?"
He put his elbows on the table and his forehead in his hands. "God, Jon ... I don't know. Part of me says I shouldn't have come here.
The gargoyles aren't our enemies! I tried to tell him that but he wouldn't listen, any more than I expect ye will." In his stress, a hint of
Jason's own accent began creeping back in.
"Who?"
"But the Demon ... the Demon, Jon ... it's not all o' them, it's her. She's the one. Her sorcery and evil. The others are ... are just ...
people."
"That's not true and you know it!"
"That's what ye tried to tell me the nights of the Hunter's Moon."
"I was wrong."
"No, Jon! Ye were right! Goliath and the rest, they might have been our allies. If we'd thought to talk to them first ... if we'd even been
sure o' our target that first time!"
"They're all evil. The Demon may be the worst of them, but you can rest assured that the others are just as bad."
"I canna believe that."
"Then why are you here? Why did you call me after all this time?"
"The Demon," Jason whispered. "She's still out there. I dinna care about the others, but she must be stopped. If we dinna at least try,
we're turnin' our backs on our father and everything our ancestors fought for and died for."
"At last you speak sense."
"I've seen him, Jon. He comes t' me. He canna rest until we finish his work. He says she laughs at us an' he's right! I hear her laughin'
in my dreams." He started to say more, and changed his mind with such suddenness that his teeth clacked shut.
"Jason," Jon said soothingly. "It's all right. We're together now, and we will finish Father's work." He checked his watch and finished his
drink. "Come on and have a listen. You'll see. We're not alone in this now."
"What about Robyn?"
"She'll come around. You did. And ..." he hung his head a little, "and it was losing the two of you that set me so against the rest of the
gargoyles, at first. I thought they'd stolen my family away. It had always been the three of us, don't you remember? Without you and
Robyn, I ... I didn't know what else to do."
"An' Father will rest?"
"On my life I swear it!"
Jason drained his glass. "All right. All right, Jon. I'll come an' listen t' ye."
They left the bar, took the escalator to the second-floor atrium, and crossed the skybridge connecting the Anvil Corporation headquarters
to the conference center across the street.
The lightly-manned security points were all as they should be. Jon fingered his cufflink and hid a smile. What would dear brother Jason do,
he wondered, when it wasn't the Demon after all? Might just have to re-think your position there, Jason-old-chap!
The auditorium was on the tenth floor, carpeted in topaz-gold that matched the threads running through the rich brown upholstery of the
seats. Drapes of a lighter champagne shade were tied in the center with gold braided cord, revealing wedges of the light-spangled city view.
At the front of the room, a podium stood before a lowered screen. Later in the proceedings, Jon planned to have a short video presentation.
People like Harry the Hammer might think he'd spent the past year hiding his head in the sand, but he'd actually been quite busy. Even
before the Harmond Bill, as it was already coming to be called, he'd been taking steps to re-create the Quarrymen and present them to
the public as a civic-minded organization equivalent to any of the benevolent fraternal orders.
The seats were three-quarters full. Most of the attendees were men in the comfortable upper reaches of age, wealth, and weight. Solid,
respectable members of the community. Bankers. Businessmen. Brandy and cigars and five-hundred-a-plate Republican dinners.
The rear rows were filled with a younger and more diverse group. Chapter leaders, the boys who actually donned the blue hoods and
swung the hammers and personally recruited others into the honored ranks. A few of them were in on his little stunt, just enough to make
sure that nobody accidentally slaughtered poor Harry.
Margot had, with her usual canniness, saved Jason a spot in the front rank. Jon gave his brother a supportive nod as he made his way up
to the podium. A welcoming wave of applause greeted him, with cheers and some chanting of his name from the back rows.
Jon risked a glance up at the balcony. It was dark, locked and guarded. But as it happened, the guard would have been called away for
just a few crucial moments. And spare keys were such handy things. He thought he saw a shadow stir up there in the back.
Satisfied, he turned his most charismatic smile on the audience and began his speech, noting Jason's minor twitch of disapproval as he
poured on the accent full-force. Opening with a humorous anecdote to get these well-fed moneybags in a jolly mood, he then got down to
brass tacks.
Some of these men were old friends of William Harmond, moved in the same circles as the retired politician. But they were here tonight
instead of at the banquet in Harmond's honor, here and all but eating out of Jon's palm as he outlined all the reasons they should take firm,
decisive action against Harmond's position.
"Because where will this lead, my friends?" Jon asked, gripping the sides of the podium and fixing them with a sincere, concerned stare.
"We're already seeing --"
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Jon jumped. No! Too early! Just one shot, you idiot!
He scrabbled for his wrist, hoping the initial moment of confusion would cover the delay in the appearance of blood, preparing to stumble
back against the screen.
But then he saw the smoke billowing from one of the windows and realized it hadn't been the sound of pistol-blanks at all but of small
explosive devices.
The window toppled inward, hinges and latch burst like metal flowers. The entire twenty-foot-high frame and pane shimmered like a
mirage before striking one of the chandeliers and shattering. Glass fell in whickering flickering lacerating shards onto middle rows of the
audience.
A gargoyle dove through the opening. Jon, badly confused, thought to himself how amazingly lifelike Harry's costume looked once he
was playing the part.
Then he realized that Harry's costume had included no provisions for flying ...
The gargoyle was upon him before he could do more than take a single backward step. The podium crashed over at a single swipe of
the muscular tail. The gun that Jon had secreted in there just in case was knocked out of its hiding place and into the third row.
Jon recognized the blue-skinned male. His mind flashed back to New Year's Eve, over a year ago. The son of the Demon and the hated
Goliath. Worst of both worlds.
He yelped in fright and turned to flee.
A clawed hand slammed down on his shoulder, popping the blood-pack. It doused his white jacket exactly as shockingly as it was
supposed to, adding a fresh spate of screams and shouts to the chaos already reigning in the auditorium.
The gargoyle spun him around and raked another set of claws across his stomach.
Once again, crimson soaked startlingly vivid against the white, but this time there was something else that went with it -- a silvery-hot
bolt that seemed to shoot from Jon's belly up to his temples and down to his toes.
The claws dug and him and then they were in, awful and rupturing, widening the gashes and forcing themselves deeper into his torn flesh.
Jon shrieked and caught the monster's wrist, trying to push the invading claws away from him, out of him.
The gargoyle laughed, low and evil and utterly self-contented.
Blood everywhere. Blood and more. Jon was suddenly afraid he'd voided his bladder and just as suddenly sure that incontinence was the
least of his troubles.
A stick rose and fell, landing with a meaty thwack!
No, not a stick. A cane.

* *

Jason Canmore roared in fury and whipped his cane around again. This time it hit the gargoyle full in the face, splitting the skin of his
brow ridge and cheekbone, driving his head back like a punted football.
The gargoyle's hand, slimed halfway to the elbow with blood and other substances never meant to see the outside of a human, came
out of Jon's body with a gruesome wet sucking sound. It was followed by a slithery plop that was a coil of Jon's intestine looping down
to slap against the sodden front of his pants.
The stink was unbelievable but Jason didn't let it reach him. Rage wanted to possess him and he gave in to it gladly.
Rather than swing, he thrust the cane like a fencer. The tip, metal-shod but not sharp, punched through the gargoyle's wing membrane.
Jason prepared to rip it downward, shredding the bastard's wing. But the gargoyle kicked, incredible starburst of agony as Jason's elbow
was slammed in a direction it wasn't supposed to bend, then a rotted-plank crack and his right arm was a limp shell of meat filled with a
thousand yellowjackets.
Half-blinded by the pain, he somehow got ahold of his cane with his left hand and lashed out, clumsy but good enough, another hit to the
head, ear-cartilage crunching like popcorn.
BANG!
The gargoyle jerked as a bullet drilled into the thick part of his calf.
Jason swung and missed, spotted Margot Yale in the third row, gown and hair mussed. She was correcting her aim in proper target-shooter's
stance, eyes wild but hands steady.
The gargoyle saw the barrel of the gun line up with his chest. He leapt/twisted as Margot fired. Hot lead carved a bleeding crease along
his side.
He bounded for the gap where the window had once been, plowing through and trampling the audience. In the back of the room, the
younger men were fighting to move forward through the struggling, escape-seeking throng.
Jason gave chase, but the gargoyle was out and away before he could cross half the distance. Bellowing incoherent obscenities, he hurled
his cane through the gap and into the freezing wind, and ran back to the stage.
Margot was kneeling in a puddle of unthinkable gore, Jon's head cradled in the lap of her evening gown. Jason didn't dare look too closely
at what had been done to him. He bent over his brother, shaking his head frantically.
"Jon! Jonny!"
Incredibly, horribly, Jon was conscious. "Jaaaayyyyy-sssson ..."
"Dinna try to speak!"
"Someone call a doctor!" Margot shrilled.
"I'm a doctor," a portly gent replied on autopilot, got near enough to have a gander at his would-be patient, and stumbled away retching.
"Jaayysson ... you ..." Jon's chest hitched and a runnel of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth. He raised one hand, slow and
unsteady like that of a drowner.
Jason reached for it, but Jon didn't take his. Instead, his trembling, red-dripping fingers wavered up, up, to touch Jason's forehead.
"Always," Jon gurgled. "Always ... be ..."
"Aye," Jason said. "I will, Jon."
A faint smile tugged Jon's lips. His eyes rolled up, and he went limp. His fingers slid across Jason's face. Margot caught the falling arm
before it could land on Jon's ravaged stomach. She burst into tears and started rocking back and forth, keening Jon's name like a banshee.
Jason slowly got up. All around him, people were running and carrying on, but he seemed to exist in the center of a cloud that blurred sight
and muffled all noise. He barely noticed when paramedics charged in.
Moving as if sleepwalking, he made his way over to the surviving windows and looked out. The glass showed him a distorted image of the
room behind him, and his own ghostly reflection ...
With three red lines streaked diagonally, the marks left by Jon's fingers.
"Aye," Jason repeated softly. "The Hunter."

* *

The wind whistled through the hole in Jericho's wing as he left the scene.
He'd have to be careful or it would tear more. But on the plus side, it meant he didn't have to pretend to glide more slowly and awkwardly
than usual. They'd have no trouble seeing where he was going.
To that, add a bullet in his leg, the grazed path of a second along his side, a painfully swelling brow ridge, a throbbing ear, and a welt on his
back that wasn't really worth mentioning.
Still ... he had nothing to whine about. At least his guts were still all where they belonged, and his plan was going as it was supposed to.
He hoped Castaway had spent at least one of his last seconds mulling on the particular irony of it all. That he should, on the one night he'd
staged his own mock assassination attempt by a Quarryman in a gargoyle costume, be butchered by a real gargoyle ... that his best
warriors would have been warned to expect a false attack and by the time they'd realized it was genuine, they'd be too late do do much
more than watch.
Jericho laughed and congratulated himself on his luck. Of all the things to overhear while casing out the Anvil Building! Castaway and
Harry the Hammer, thinking themselves so cunning and sly!
The brother, though ... that had been unexpected and almost dangerous. But almost didn't count.
He dipped his head for a casual glance.
Yep.
Being followed.
Just as planned.
Now the tricky part. If they attacked tonight, he was ready. Even wounded, he would still be able to go through with his part. If cooler
heads prevailed, they might be smart enough to wait until morning. That would foul things up, though Jericho was still willing to bet that
once dusk came, he'd still have the conditions that he needed.
Best of all if they considerately waited until tomorrow night, giving him a day's sleep to be back in fighting trim, but he couldn't count
on that.
In fact, maybe the brother's presence would be the extra fuel to the fire that would guarantee a hasty attack tonight.
He glided on, faltering more visibly than he had to as he descended toward the entrance. They wouldn't rush in right after him, no. They'd
go back, tell the others, get their hoods and hammers and other toys. By the time the fun really got underway, he'd be far from here,
waiting for what he knew would happen next.

* *

Aaron Gillespie's motorcycle skidded on a patch of ice. The side of a bakery truck loomed large, larger, a smiling blueberry muffin-man
with stick-figure arms and legs coming right at him.
He tried to swerve and the wheels shot out from under him. He and the bike screeched along the asphalt, sparks flying. Aaron let go of
the handlebars and parted ways with the machine, letting his momentum carry him under the truck. A cushion of slush sent him on through
like a pig in a mudslide.
His head clonked against a pipe on the underside but he was wearing his brain-bucket so he only saw stars instead of getting scalped.
He emerged on the other side with his jeans, leather chaps, and jacket drenched. But the important thing was that when he looked up,
he saw the gargoyle swooping through an arch, and he knew exactly where the son of a bitch was going.
"Now we gotcha!" he panted excitedly. "Shoulda cleaned that place out years ago!"
The bike wasn't going anywhere, not with the rear wheel bent like that. Aaron didn't even bother trying. He had better things to think
about than his bike. Like kicking some gargoyle ass! He was ready for it this time!
The lair, Aaron thought. The nest.
A bunch of them. Yeah. Maybe even the ones with which Aaron had personal scores to settle.
Like the big-beaked dickwad who'd tried to pass himself off as a biker, only to have his bitch jump out and the two of them trashed on
Aaron and all his buddies. Or the tubba-lard that dropped a hot-dog cart on Aaron once when the stupid twat whose purse he'd grabbed
started caterwauling even though he told her to shut her yap. Or the old fart and the dog ... yeah, he owed them for butting in when he and
some of his friends had been just having a little harmless fun stomping some queers in the park.
He jogged back the way he'd come, and less than a minute later, a dark blue van squealed around the corner. Ten people had piled into
it but there was room for one more, especially when Aaron told them what he'd seen.

* *

Harry the Hammer was sweltering inside his costume but he didn't dare stop yet.
Had to get away. Follow the plan. Even if the plan had apparently gone totally bonkers. Play it like it was on track. Don't think about J.C.
God's hands. He was in God's hands now. If J.C. was, as his initials implied, chosen to lead them ... but then, God had seen His own son
put up on a post while Centurions jeered ...
Tears made tickly paths on his cheeks and he couldn't get at them with the mask on. He yanked at it, heard the farty sound of Velcro
letting go, and then cold air blasted his exposed face.
He stuffed the mask into his belt. Had to ditch the suit. If the cops found it, they'd know the whole thing had been a stunt -- even though
it hadn't been! but they'd never believe that, even if Harry explained.
Ditch the suit. Just like planned. Then go back.
But what would happen after that? How could J.C. follow through? This wasn't a pretend wound, so he could gamely put his arm in a
sling and still play the charismatic leader, determined to triumph despite his suffering. Not if he was ... if he was ...
If he was, it was God's will ...
No!
Couldn't be God's will! Not for a gargoyle's hand to do the deed! They were creatures of evil! Beyond God's control!
Nothing was beyond His control!
Except maybe for demons ... it was the end times, Harry knew that. The end times. Oh, the date might be off by a year or two, but
the Imp of Darkness was already born and among them! Even if it wasn't yet her time to rule, it was an era of evil.
He became aware that he was praying continually under his breath as he pelted up the fire stairs, his tail whapping the steps behind
him, his stuffed talon-toed overshoes dangling from their straps at the end of his arm because he could barely walk in them, let alone
run or climb.
His wings scraped at the dingy graffiti-covered walls and tried to wedge him in when he had to corner at the landings. Couldn't stop
to unhook them; they'd be as much of a bitch to carry as they were to wear.
How had it gone so wrong so fast? It wasn't supposed to be like this!
What had brought it upon them?
J.C.'s pride? Pride, the mother of sin?
It had been the evil of the demons, that was all there was to it. Insidious evil at work.
If only he'd been successful in killing the Imp! He'd been so close! But he'd let God down twice, letting the Imp and the Devil's
Handmaid escape. He'd seen right away that it had been a mistake to presume to be guided by his own will. He was meant to be a
follower, and hadn't shown proper faith in his designated leader.
This plan was to have been his atonement, and the Devil must have sensed it. Feared it! Known that the forces of good and right
were finally growing strong and gathering against him! That his Imp and all her foul protectors would be sought out and destroyed,
the Dark Madonna pierced through the breast and daubed with ashes and sent to wander the land in garments of brambles, so that
the righteous could cast her down with flung stones.
So, to ruin Harry's road to forgiveness, to undermine J.C.'s power, the Devil sent one of his vile Minions to try and ruin everything!
Well, Mr. Splitfoot was reckoning without Harry! He was going to carry out his mission! Either way, he was going to carry out his
mission! If J.C. was dead, Harry was going to do his utmost to see that all the world knew his martyrdom. And if J.C. lived -- it
seemed impossible, Harry had seen the Minion's claws plunge deep, but surely miracles were possible and who better to be the
recipient than their chosen leader? -- if he lived, he would want Harry to hold up his end of things.
And he would.
He reached the top floor, heart galloping in his chest, and emerged onto the roof's iceswept lunar landscape. With one eye fixed
firmly skyward, half-expecting hoards of howling demons to dive down on him, he unbuckled and shrugged out of the harness that
held his fake wings to his back. Next was the belt, complete with attached tail and loincloth.
That left him in a padded purple bodysuit. He wiggled out of it, thankful that it was bulky enough for him to have worn ski pants and
two sweaters underneath. He was still sweating like crazy despite the frigid wind, despite the fact that it felt like icicles were forming
on his nose and eyebrows and a fine glaze of frost was coating every inch of visible skin.
He wrapped the costume in as small a bundle as he could manage, folding the wings around it and using bungee cords to hold it all
together. The mask slipped out and lay there, vacant sockets staring up at him in mute accusation from beneath a snarl of hair. He
stuffed it back into the middle and crammed the whole thing into the big Army-surplus backpack he'd hidden up here earlier.
The whupping of rotors drummed louder in the night, and a stark white beam speared from the underbelly of a helicopter as it zoomed
between buildings to zero in on the conference center.
Harry hunched over, the weight of the backpack dragging at his shoulders, and scuttled crablike to the far edge of the roof. A crude
bridge, just a bunch of planks held together by a few nails, led to the next building over.
Luckily, the same hard-frozen snowdrifts that nearly landed him on his butt several times also prevented him from leaving any telltale
tracks. Harry crept across the bridge on hands and knees, all too aware of the wind pushing at him and the bulging backpack.
He made it, and dragged the plank construction after him. Just as it clattered down, the helicopter began a sweeping circular pass, and
Harry threw himself flat.
The spotlight traced the roof and ledges of the conference center. That was where they'd be looking, at least at first. It gave him a little
time. He scootched backward, pulling the planks, all the way to the other side.
He'd planned it all. The next building was undergoing a big remodel, and a large Dumpster full of wallboard and other debris was
parked squarely between them. Harry pushed his bridge over, watching it flip and careen and almost get tossed by a sudden gust, then
land right in the Dumpster.
"Two points," he cackled.
Another helicopter droned into view. They were going all out -- no, that one was a medical chopper. A good sign?
His next stop was the roof access door. The lock had been cut earlier that day by Harry himself; he supposed that someone might
have come up, seen it, and replaced it all in one day, but that hadn't happened. He went in -- incredible relief just to get out of the
cold -- and went straight to the incinerator chute.
He shoved his bundle down, backpack and all, into the hungry dark throat with a flicker of red far, far below ... like a vision of the
gates of Hell, so he was sending this gargoyle costume right where it belonged!
Harry paused a moment, leaning his head against the wall, to wipe his brow and catch his breath. So far, so good. Evidence was already
charring into ashes.
He still had the 9-millimeter, and the original plan had been to ditch it too. But he hadn't used it, hadn't even drawn it. It was still loaded
with blanks, but he also had ammo so it was an easy matter to replace that. He wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to drop the blank
rounds down the chute too; he didn't know if they'd explode or not. Better to err on the side of caution.
There.
What now?
His part of the script called for rushing back to the scene and joining the others, where J.C. would, wounded but gamely plugging along,
inspire them all to even greater efforts against the evil enemy.
That wasn't going to be the case now. Which meant the rest of the script was no good, and he had to improvise.
What would J.C. do?
He grinned a little at that, not sure if it was blasphemous or not.
It all crashed in on him then. He crumpled to his knees with a miserable wail, seeing in his mind's eye the blue monster, rippling with muscle
and malice, those demonic eyes full of white fire, witnessing the attack in memory as clearly as if it were happening all over again, right here
in front of him.
Maybe there was something he could do.
Maybe it was time. Time to be the Hammer of God, and smite down the evil beast that dared lay its filthy touch on a righteous man.
Harry looked up. There was nothing to see but a watermarked ceiling with a single bulb hanging from a chain-pull socket, but his face lit
up as if he beheld the full majesty of all divine creation.
He would do it. He would accept this glorious task. What good man wouldn't? The chance to be the instrument of divine wrath. He'd
find the demon and he would slay it.
With strong and purposeful strides, Harry the Hammer set forth, never doubting that his faith would lead him to his prey.

* *

"Go wi' him," Jason said. "Stay wi' him."
"What ... what about ... you?"
Margot's hands were shaking as badly as her voice, the water in the cup she held tossing like a stormy sea. But the pill that one of the medics
had urged on her was beginning to take effect. At least it had stopped her from that terrible keening, and they'd been able to persuade her to
let go of Jon so they could move him to a stretcher.
Jason dimly supposed that he ought to offer some words of comfort to her, but none would come. She would just have to be strong. If she
couldn't be, she wasn't fit to be a Hunter's woman. She'd learn, or she'd run.
"We're taking him out now," an earnest, handsome young medic said.
"I'll stay," Jason told her. "Ye go wi' Jonny."
He didn't move as they wheeled his brother out. Margot went with them, a plain white blanket held tight around her.
The other wounded were being tended, the worst of them transferred to ambulances. Already, the police were everywhere, and already
they had begun their snide suggestions that this was all a publicity stunt that had gotten out of control.
Jason turned away from them, knowing that if anyone made such a remark to his face, he would kill that person.
He watched out the window instead, the babble of the room behind him fading so that it seemed he was viewing a silent movie below.
The medics appeared, rolling Jon toward the waiting helicopter. He had a glimpse of the pale oval of his brother's face. Not covered. Still
alive.
The street had filled up fast with emergency vehicles of all descriptions. There weren't many gawkers, thanks to the hour, the wind, and the
twenty-degree temperature, but there were some ... and Jason knew that the reporters would be on their way.
Another car threaded through the barricades. Even from here, Jason could identify the red and white Fairlane.
His jaw tightened until cords stood out on his neck.
Elisa.
She got out of the driver's side, the wind catching her black hair until she pulled up and tied the hood of her parka. Matt Bluestone got out
of the other side, winding a scarf around the lower half of his face.
Margot, preparing to enter the helicopter, stopped and turned. She and Elisa stared at each other across thirty yards, with such venom that
cops paused in their tasks to look.
The glare-down was broken when a young thug in a black leather jacket and motorcycle helmet raced up to Margot. Jason's pulse sped up
as he recognized the man -- one of several that had rushed from the room to follow the gargoyle. Margot shook her head and pointed,
directing him toward the building.
Elisa and Matt hurried toward the man, but couldn't reach him before he got inside. Elisa almost fell, and as is human nature, looked to see
what had tripped her. Went back. Picked it up.
A cane.
His cane.
Jason backed hastily away from the window. He headed for the exit, and when a medic tried to intercept him, mistaking Jon's blood for
his own, Jason shoved him so hard that he went heels-up over one of the seats.
The elevator dinged just as he reached it and the doors parted to reveal the young man in the helmet.
"Ye're comin' wi' me," Jason said, seizing him by the arm and propelling him halfway down the hall before the man recovered.
"Hey! Hands off, okay? I was looking for you. The Yale chick says you're in charge. That true?"
"Aye. Did ye find where the monster went?"
The helmet bobbed in a nod. "Yeah, but it's a nest, a fucking den of them, could be fifty or more! I seen it on a TV show."
"D'ye know where my brother keeps his weapons?"
Another nod.
"Third time pays fer all, boy. Can ye rally me an army?"

* *

"I should be there with you," Goliath's deep voice rumbled in her ear.
Elisa snuggled her face down into the collar of her parka as if for warmth and spoke into the tiny microphone. "Bad idea, big guy. This
place is crawling with Quarrymen and they're claiming a gargoyle attacked them. If you showed up, they'd go nuts."
"It's not safe for you."
"Place is also crawling with cops," she told him. "Hang on, here comes Matt."
Her partner shook his head and pursed his lips as he approached, letting her know he'd learned something and it was a doozy. "Get this --
according to one of the saps on guard, our good buddy Castaway was planning himself a little assassination attempt. Had a guy in a
gargoyle suit all set up and everything. But it got out of hand, so now they're trying to save face, saying it was a real gargoyle."
"That's a new one."
"I asked them to bring me this alleged phony, and wouldn't you know, he skedaddled too. Convenient, huh?"
"These guys." Elisa rolled her eyes.
"But even so, we better question everybody. What are you doing with that thing?"
"This? Found it out there. Tripped on it, actually. But this is the weird part ... Matt, maybe I'm crazy here, but I'd swear this cane belongs
to Jason Canmore."
"Say what? What would Jason be doing at this lodge meeting?"
"It's got his initials on it."
"So maybe Jonny-boy took to carrying one. Those are his initials too."
"Yeah ..."
"Give him a call later. Right now, let's see if we can find that guy in biker gear. He looked like he knew something."
"A hoax?" Goliath asked softly as Elisa followed Matt.
"Maybe. I sure wouldn't put it past them."
"They have been too quiet lately."
"I know. I don't like this. There's something all off-kilter about it."
"Be careful."
"Always am."
"I should be there --"
"Goliath, come on, if this is a hoax the last thing we need is a real sighting for these clowns. There's something you could do for me,
though. Have Angela or someone call over to the Canmores' and see if Jason's there. He probably is and I'll feel like a dummy, but ..."
"Should they be told what happened?"
"Uh ... better leave that to me."
The guy in biker gear wasn't around. Neither were several of the others that Elisa would have expected to see. Most of the really
dedicated fanatics weren't present, and the ones that she and Matt tried to talk to were shocked to the bone.
"Elisa?"
"Yeah, go ahead, Goliath."
"Angela spoke to Robyn." He paused weightily. "Jason has been out all evening. He told her he was going to a movie."
"Damn. Okay, but it still doesn't mean he was here. Could be a coincidence."
"Coincidence? Ain't no such animal," Matt said agreeably, returning and giving her a cup of coffee. "What is?"
"That Jason's not home."
"Doesn't mean much. It's a big city."
"I'm aware of that, Matthew."
"I'm just saying, is all, that we might have better luck starting with people who are here instead of worrying about people who aren't."
"Yeah? It's the people who aren't here that we should worry about. Like Harry the Hammer, for instance. Seen him around?"
"So what? Castaway was putting on a show for the money-men. He probably left his real freakshows home so they didn't make bad
impressions."
"Probably, but I still don't like it."

* *

Jericho just had to laugh.
From his vantage point, he could see the police cars all clustered around one building, all the ambulances and activity, the news
reporters arriving to set up their cameras, the injured being led out, statements being taken, questions being asked.
And meanwhile, from the rear of the neighboring Anvil Corp Building, a small fleet of vans was leaving with headlights off, cruising slowly
away from the scene, out of sight of everyone else.
Six vans. Each able to hold between eight and a dozen. A respectable fighting force, especially on such short notice. Then again, maybe
the Hunter had arranged to have his troops nearby, in case emotions ran so high that a riot was called for.
He shifted on his perch and his calf twinged. He'd been able to dig the bullet out with his claws, and patch himself up with supplies from
a first-aid kit that he'd tucked in with the rest of the gear that he would be needing later. Since it looked as if the Quarrymen were going
to oblige after all.
Foolish humans. Just like Demona always said.
The thought of her erased all the nagging pains of his injuries. It would be tonight. Before dawn claimed him in stone, he would be able
to present her with the gift that she desired above all others. He would see her eyes widen with joy, and she would look at him and
know that his love for her was utter and complete. She'd throw her arms around him ...
Jericho made a small needful sound
Anything for her. Everything for her.

* *

"I double-checked all the wards," Aiden Ferguson reported.
"And I checked the security systems," her mate chimed in. "Everything's all set."
Goliath nodded approvingly at them. "Good work."
"You don't really think they'd come here, do you?" Angela asked. "Not after they tried a year ago New Year's and couldn't even get
near?"
Brooklyn and Hudson tromped down the stairs, Hudson blowing on his hands to warm them. Bronx sprang up from where he'd been
lounging by the fire and cavorted gleefully around Hudson's legs.
"We took a quick patrol like you asked, and nothing's going on for blocks in any direction," Brooklyn said.
"Aye, we're na the only ones to decide to stay home tonight," Hudson added, giving Goliath a sour look; he was none too pleased at
being torn away from his Fawlty Towers marathon on PBS.
"They've gotta be up to something," Lexington said. "Elisa's hunches aren't often wrong."
"Yet not here," Goliath said thoughtfully. "Could they be moving against Nightstone?"
"Well, if that be the case," Hudson said, sinking into his chair with a grateful sigh, "we needn't be bestirring ourselves t'help."
"Yeah." Brooklyn poked Aiden. "Demona and Jericho can fend for themselves."
She blushed.
"What about crashing the banquet?" Lex suggested. "It's not like Xanatos and Senator Harmond made a secret about some gargoyles
being there. They could be after Gabriel, Broadway, and Elektra."
"Maybe more of us should have gone," Angela said.
"But Mr. Xanatos didn't want to freak out the guests," Aiden said. "He wanted the non-scariest ones of us." When they all raised brow
ridges at her, she blushed even darker. "Except that I couldn't ever get up in front of all those people. Elektra was the runner-up."
"Gabriel's pretty intimidating, though," Brooklyn noted.
"But he's Katherine's lad through and through," Hudson said. "A fair and diplomatic leader."
"Hhrm," Goliath commented.
"Is that 'hhrm,' the princess wasn't very diplomatic to us, or 'hhrm,' and that means I'm not?" Brooklyn teased.
The alarms commenced beeping. Lex was off the couch like a shot, vaulting over the unconcerned Amber as she sat on the floor with her
blocks. The rest of the clan all tensed in readiness.
"Uh-oh," Lex said. "We've got an 'unidentified' coming in, and fast."
"That doesna help much," Hudson growled, hauling himself back out of his chair.
"Aiden?" Goliath asked.
Her eyes went hazy. "Nope, wards aren't getting anything, no hostile intent."
Lex fiddled with his console; his personal computer was hooked into the castle's monitors. "On-camera. Hey! It's Claw! And he's got
the twins with him!"
"Huh?" Brooklyn leaned over Lex's shoulder. "What's ... whoa, he's hurt! Come on!" He loped for the stairs with Angela at his side.
"Bronx, protect Amber!" Goliath ordered, then followed.
They came out into a cold so sharp that even gargoyle hide broke out in goosebumps. The battlements twinkled beneath a coating of frost.
Claw was still a hundred yards out and listing to the right, and the Maza twins, Tom and Dee, were flapping their own little wings frantically
as if in hopes of helping tow him along.
It had only been a few weeks since his miraculous awakening from the coma that had held him for so long. His limbs had begun to pull up
into a fetal position as those of coma patients sometimes did, and despite coming out of it with a prodigious appetite, he hadn't regained the
weight or muscle tone he'd had before. His tiger-striped fur was faded and lusterless, and the wings that steered him toward the tower were
so thin that the clan could see the starlight shining through the translucent skin.
Brooklyn and Goliath reached Claw at the same time, each getting a shoulder under one of his arms. He raised his shaggy head and blinked
at them in relief.
When they landed and the twins had scrambled down, Goliath saw the puffed and blood-crusted wound on Claw's back. It was squarely
between the tops of his wingjoints, and the fur around it was crisped and black.
"Quarryman hammer," he said grimly, the muscles of his own back twitching in sympathy.
"Hit him in the back? Damn dirty fighters!" Brooklyn punched a fist into his other hand. "So they're at the Labyrinth? Why?"
Claw nodded, and grasped the forearms of both leader and second imploringly.
"Where are Maggie, Talon?" Angela asked.
"Delilah?" Hudson cut in, coughed self-consciously, added, "Samson?"
With gestures and expressions, Claw pantomimed battle, a sense of urgency, conveyed the message that Maggie had sent him to take the
twins to safety and seek help.
"We won't know why until we get there," Goliath said. "Hudson, you and Bronx stay here with Claw and the children. The rest of us will
go." Without waiting for a response, he dove from the tower.
"Should we call Mr. Xanatos?" Aiden asked, leaping hand-in-hand with Lex.
"No time." Goliath reached for the transmitter that hung from a cord around his neck.

* *

It was working perfectly.
He knew the moment it all came together, because down below, he could see the figures of the two detectives, Elisa Maza and her
trenchcoated partner, dash out of the conference center, go through a clamoring line of reporters like a pair of charging bulls, leap
into her car, and peel out.
Still moving with care and caution, Jericho slung a bundle over his arm and walked along the ledge. One corner, and now he could
only see the revolving whirls of flashers thrown onto the walls. Another corner, and the scene was blotted from his view, but he could
see a rising majestic skyscraper of glass and steel, topped with ancient Scottish stone.
And yes, there ... almost invisible against the sky ... one, two, three, four, five shadows gliding away from it. Plus the three that were
with Senator Harmond, simpering and kissing up to humans. That left only Hudson and the watch-beast, no doubt left behind to look
after the child.
He didn't even have to worry about the other inhabitants of the castle; Xanatos had taken his wife and son to the banquet as well to
show that the gargoyle rights movement was a wholesome family pursuit, and as an added stroke of luck, Jericho had ascertained
from Demona's assistant Stephanie that Owen Burnett was vacationing upstate until Monday.
Jericho opened the bundle. Time to test the prototype.
The fabric was slate-grey woven with black and silvery filaments. It was a light and loose billowy garment with pockets for his wings,
enclosed sleeves for limbs and tail, a baggy mask over his head and face.
He fastened it, enclosing himself head to foot, then grabbed double handfuls of the material and tugged sharply.
At once, the fabric shrank and contracted to mold itself to his body. Even to his wings and tail, clothing him in a stretchy, clingy, second
skin. He could see through it with only a faint clouding of his vision, breathe through it, move normally.
This latest product by Nightstone was going to make them a fortune, if Demona decided to put it on the market. The military and covert
branches of the government would go wild for Stealthweave, as would less legitimate organizations and individuals.
Best of all, no one was going to be able to steal the design and duplicate it. If Xanatos could get away with selling his VR games with
"magic in the making," it was only fair for Nightstone to make use of similar 'advances.'
Jericho launched himself from the ledge and headed for the Aerie Building. The Stealthweave patched the hole in his wing membrane,
putting an end to that whistling sound and enabling him to glide almost as well as he did when unhurt. There was still pain, of course, but
he would gladly suffer it an a thousand times worse for the sake of his Demona.
He flew in low, not wanting to silhouette himself against the sky because while the Stealthweave did make him almost impossible to spot,
he hadn't come this far to begin taking chances now. It wasn't true invisibility; he could be seen if someone knew what to look for.
When he neared the skyscraper, he caught an updraft and soared toward the castle. Demona had described it so many times that he felt
as if he'd grown up in those halls and passages. Although his only personal visit had seen little else but the dungeon, he knew exactly
where he was going.
Closer now ... they would be picking him up on their motion sensors or radar if they were going to. But no automatic systems were
preparing to blow him out of the air.
The fabric over his eyes sparkled briefly as he passed through the wards that surrounded the castle.
Some of the filaments in the Stealthweave were thread drawn by Demona from the very spool of magic itself and enchanted to deflect
any sorcery, divert it, cause it to part harmlessly around him like water. There would be no way, even after, of divining what intruder
had penetrated their defenses.
He nearly laughed aloud.
It was going to work!
Ah, but he shouldn't get cocky now ... he still had to find what he'd come for and get back out without being caught.
He circled the tower ... there was the portion of the wall where Goliath was wont to roost ... and down below here, the rest of the clan ...
and there was the stairwell ... but light issued from beneath the door at the bottom landing, so he'd be wiser to enter through a darker
and less-used way.
His shadow pacing him across the courtyard was misty and ill-defined, proof that the Stealthweave did its best to divert light as well as
other forms of energy. He landed, paused in momentary apprehension -- here he was, actually setting foot on the castle grounds -- and
when nothing happened, when no Steel Clan robots erupted from hidden silos, he proceeded on his way.
It wasn't being killed by Dracon that had so upset Demona. He understood that now, and knew what it had been. Not the death but
the life.
The child. Amber.
A sister to him, he supposed, or half a one. Not that he cared much for ties of biological kinship. But the daughter of Goliath and his
human brood mare had stirred something in Demona. Reminded her of what she'd spent a year trying to forget. The loss of hope. The
loss of their own child, taken from them.
That was what made her weep. The feel of a child, an embrace brief and bittersweet, speaking to her of all that she would never know.
For she had never seen her own clan's children hatch; that honor had been granted to the princess-mother-thief Katherine. Never had
the chance to breed again, living as she had in such a time of fear and uncertainty at first and then finding herself so alone even among her
own kind. And then, finally, the surprise of involuntary breeding season and the growth of a new life ... ended so cruelly and unfairly.
He knew grief of his own but understood it to be a fleeting thing, shallow compared to the depths of hers, the ache in his heart nothing
next to the hollowness carved in hers.
Anything for Demona ... everything for Demona.
If she wanted a child, he would give her one.
By whatever means necessary.

* *

Harry the Hammer couldn't stand heights. If man had been meant to fly, God would have given him wings. But God hadn't ... so instead
the Devil had given wings to his Minions, so that they could wreak their evil on humanity.
But sometimes it was just plain unavoidable. To face the enemy, one sometimes had to use the enemy's means and methods.
He told himself that, trying to reassure his quaking nerves, and inched toward the edge.
Just like the simulator, he also told himself. And it was, the grips in his hands were identical to those he'd used before. He just had to
imagine that the scene in front of him was an extraordinarily realistic screen, with vents providing the wind and a city soundtrack
providing the background noise.
Before he could change his mind, Harry made himself jump and hit the go-button. The jet-glider's twin engines screamed and he was
shooting straight ahead so fast that his lips skinned back from his teeth.
"Eeeeyyyaaaaaahhhhh!"
Harry pulled too hard on the controls and gravity dragged his internal organs all the way down to his crotch. The skyline spun. One of
Harry's flailing feet grazed a flagpole hard enough to rip the rubber heel off his boot.
He straightened out and leveled off, hiccuping in reaction. Now he was beelining toward a row of lit windows, beyond which arrogantly
fit people ran on treadmills and pedaled vigorously to nowhere. He streaked past, startling them and leaving calamity in his wake as feet
faltered while canvas belts kept whizzing along and pedals kept revolving.
Glancing in, he saw himself in the mirrors that lined the far wall, distorted and strange, looking something like a gargoyle himself.
Then a jut of wall almost peeled the nose from his face, and then he was looking in at a roomful of shameless harlots in thong leotards, all
on their backs thrusting their pelvises rhythmically in the air.
He veered away from the health club, sweating more than any of the exercisers.
Harry was starting to get the hang of this. It was just like the simulator. If he babied it, things would be just fine; if he manhandled it, he'd
end up a spot of strawberry jam on a wall.
"Praise God!" he shouted enthusiastically. "Lead me, Lord! Help me do Your will!"
Not five minutes later he skimmed up a wall, over a rooftop, and almost had a mid-air with something that was a streaky blur of greyish
black. They passed each other with inches to spare, so fast that their wakes spun each other in a circle.
They hovered, Harry on his jets and the other on an updraft, as they recovered from the dizzying spin. He couldn't see its face, but didn't
need to in order to know that his prayers had been answered.
The aura of evil surrounded it in a cloud more visible than the strange streaky-shimmery fabric hiding it from his sight. A large bag of the
same stuff, weighted heavily at the bottom, was clenched in its grasp.
Harry realized a flaw in his plan ... he needed both hands to control the glider, which left him none free to loose the hammer strapped to
his back. But the gargoyle was similarly hampered by the bag.
Without a moment's pause, Harry charged. A wild victory whoop trailed behind him. His thumbs jammed down on switches on either grip,
and twin rows of sharp spikes popped from the leading edges of the glider's wings.
The gargoyle folded his wings and dropped. Harry passed a yard over his head. His tail lashed up, meaning to ensnare Harry's legs, but
missed.
Harry circled around for another pass, pouring on the speed when he saw that the gargoyle was making a break for it. The Minion had
shifted the heavy bag into the cradle of his arms, informing Harry about the value of the contents.
They soared above the city, high into the freezing wind. Harry had time to thank all the angels of Heaven for the goggles that had been
stored with the glider; as it was, the skin of his face felt both frostbitten and windburned but it was a small price to pay for his impending
victory.
The gargoyle zigged and zagged, but Harry was on him like a tick. Almost as if divine Hands were guiding his own on the controls, letting
him anticipate the foul creature's every move.
Gaining, gaining!
There!
It was the tip of the wing, not the spiked leading edge, but it struck the gargoyle in the small of the back, just above the base of the tail.
One of the doctors who worked for J.C. had theorized a cluster of nerve endings there, analogous to the solar plexus. The bellow that
burst from the gargoyle's throat and the way he crumpled like old newspaper made Harry pretty sure the doc had been dead-on.
Even better, he dropped the bag.
Down it went, eliciting a new bellow. Body contorted with pain, the gargoyle still forced himself to dive for the precious bundle.
Harry plunged after him. The blurred grey outlines were hard to see, but he never faltered.
The gargoyle's claws snagged the falling bag, wheeled to check where his adversary was, and Harry plowed into him with the full row of
spikes.
Whatever else the fabric was, it wasn't armored; as they were thrown apart by the force of their collision, Harry saw a line of bleeding holes
across the gargoyle's chest.
The gargoyle was hurled backward into a glass rotunda. The glass cracked on impact but didn't shatter. He slid down, struck a ledge, and
dropped the bag again. Battered but desperate, the gargoyle threw himself after it.
"Not this time!" Harry called into the wind.
He went for a crude tackle, letting go of the controls and landing on the gargoyle's broad back. The damnable cloth was slick and slippery
under his gloves, so he yanked off the hood and mask, and grabbed onto the streaming scarlet hair like it was a bronco's mane. He locked
his legs around the gargoyle's middle, and craned one arm behind himself to get at his hammer.
No standard-issue jobbie this, it was one of the deluxe models, light enough to wield one-handed but solid enough to pulverize stone or bone
indiscriminately.
At the whine of the hammer powering up, the gargoyle lost all interest in the plummeting bag and writhed in an effort to throw off his
unwelcome rider. Harry held on tight as they did a barrel roll, aware that he was praying at the top of his lungs, mostly a babble but it was
extremely heartfelt and sincere so he was sure the good Lord wouldn't mind.
They bucked and tumbled across the sky. The gargoyle's tail coiled around Harry's neck and pulled just as Harry was about to bring the
glowing, sparking hammer down on his skull. He lost his hold and the hammer slipped.
On blind stupid instinct, he tried to catch it.
The head socked firmly into Harry's palm and came alive with electricity.
A tunnel of onrushing thunder and white light swallowed him whole.

* *

Jericho collapsed in the center of the street, hot hissing steam from a manhole cover bathing his face.
The block was deserted. No one saw him and fled screaming, or ran to pummel him as he lay gasping. He had the night to himself for the
moment.
Sporadic convulsions wracked his limbs. The Stealthweave had deflected most of the energy from the hammer, but his head had been
uncovered and the cloth over his chest was ragged with holes, so enough had gotten through to jolt him half-senseless.
He wasn't entirely sure how he'd landed in one piece, or what had become of his passenger. All he knew was that the man was no longer
on his back, either alive or as a galvanized corpse.
His hair crackled as he lowered his head into his hand. He could feel it standing up from his scalp, gradually settling as the steam continued
to gust out at him.
The bag!
He sat up too fast and the world reeled in a sickening spiral.
Oh, no! Oh, damn!
Jericho tottered upright, swayed, and stood drunkenly until his balance returned. His previous aches and pains had been encompassed
by new ones.
Refusing to listen to the part of his brain that was soberly telling him it was a lost cause, he stumbled back the way he thought he had come.
Cursing the Stealthweave now, for it would make the bag nearly invisible.
He could hardly bear the thought of finding it, of opening it. More shattered hopes, more despair. Everything he had planned, everything he
had suffered, would be for nothing. The life that he had promised Demona would be gone, snuffed out, nothing left but a dead and broken
reminder of their dreams.
At least, he tried to console himself, it would have been quick. The child would have felt nothing. No fear, no comprehension of what was
happening.
Where was it? Had to find it, couldn't let the Stealthweave or its contents be discovered by the humans.
He looked up and around, trying to get his bearings. There was the glass rotunda he'd collided with, so it had to be around here somewhere ...
The graceful curve of an upswept wing drew his eye. It was cast in clean, pure marble glittering beneath a layer of frost, as if the statue might
wake and break from her icy sleep.
Winged Victory, he thought. The one named after a running shoe. Adidas ... no, Nike, that was it. Long sleek limbs well-revealed by short
robes, poised as if about to take flight, a slim sword raised in her outstretched hands ...
A surprised and weary laugh burst from him. The Stealthweave bag was caught on the end of Nike's sword, swaying twelve feet above the
hard granite stairs.
Jericho shook his head in numb amazement.
The ripping sounded very loud.
He sucked in a breath, seeing what he'd missed before. Yes, the tip of the sword had pierced the bag and stopped its fall, but now the bag
was sliding down, along the blade. While the edge wasn't sharp, it was causing the tear in the cloth to grow.
Riiiiiiipppp ...
It spurred him into swifter action than he would have thought his battered body capable of. He vaulted to the top of a parked car, denting
the roof and almost slipping on the coating of ice, and from there sprang toward the statue.
He embraced Nike most familiarly around the thigh and stretched up and out. Felt the curve of weight brush his palm.
Riip!
The bag plunked into his hand and he drew it tight against his chest. Pressing his face into the side, he breathed the warm scent that
reminded him so much of Angela.
"It's all right," he murmured. "I've got you, little one. Safe now. Safe now."

* *

"... repeat, we have a state of emergency for a ten-block radius."
Travis Marshall was hunkered down between a SWAT truck and a police car, managing to sound calm while still keeping his head down.
He knew too many brother journalists who believed that nothing bad could happen to them as long as they were doing their job, but he
wasn't about to risk his future deluding himself that news only happened on one side of the camera. Bad enough that he risked his future
tagging along after Detectives Maza and Bluestone.
"Police in full riot gear have swarmed the scene," he went on. "Initial attempts to disperse the crowd with tear gas only served to
incapacitate the Labyrinth residents, already hard-pressed to defend themselves against the instigators, who are equipped with gas masks
of their own. Reports that the mob is composed mainly of Quarrymen, the self-proclaimed anti-gargoyle radicals, have yet to be confirmed --"
"Shit!" Frannie MacAbbee, his intern, hollered lustily.
"We're live, you ninny --" Travis began, then saw what Fran was looking at. "Shit!"
The two of them and their cameraman scrambled for cover as what at first looked like a comet headed straight down their throats.
Fran pointed at the metallic wings. "It's one of those robots!"
It kept coming down, and in the instant before it struck, Travis realized it was neither a comet nor a robot but a man with a jet-powered
hang-glider on his back. The man was lolling in the harness, unconscious or dead, and his glider was sparking and smoking badly.
"Beautiful," the cameraman said, standing up to focus on the glider. One of the jets sputtered out and it banked above them, and the silver
Q with a hammer-shape for a crossbar showed up clearly in the firelight from two burning cars.
One of the wings hit the roof of their van. The glider cartwheeled down the street, and on one of its revolutions the harness parted company
with the rest of it. The man was thrown clear, missed going ass-first through the windshield of Maza's car by about a foot, and ended up in a
heap only a few yards from Travis and his team.
The three of them looked at each other.
"Well?" Frannie urged.
"Almost became the news, there, huh Trav?" The cameraman grinned. "We've still got live feed going."
"Come on!" Travis went in a bent-double crouch copied from action movies. He reached the man, and his mouth fell open. "Harry the
Hammer."
"I'd call that a confirmed report, then," Frannie said.

* *

"This might interest you, my lamb."
"I've told you to quit calling me that," Demona growled, knowing Gustav Sevarius would not be affected in the slightest. She indicated the
thick book, silvery ink glinting with eldritch light on pages of pure black parchment. "And I'm too busy."
"Oh?" He turned the portable television toward her.
It was showing scenes of flames and destruction and humans fighting each other, with the Action News "LIVE" logo in the corner. She could
hear Travis Marshall's voice over distant shouting and crashing.
Demona's mouth curled in a cruel half-smile and she pushed the tome away. "Well, I could use a break. What's happening?"
"Quarryman riot," Sevarius replied.
She sat up straight. "What? Where?"
"The Labyrinth, evidently. Tell me, my lamb, don't you know a Harry the Hammer?"
Leaning forward ravenously, she turned up the volume and shushed him. Her eyes avidly devoured the footage, which alternated between
LIVE, "recorded just moments ago," and "recorded earlier."
Demona gaped in amazement as they recapped the alleged attack that had sent Quarryman leader Jon Castaway to the hospital, where he
was now in surgery and apparently barely clinging to life. She was treated to a shot of him being lifted into a helicopter, and savored the
expression on the whey-faced correspondent describing his injuries.
"There's just something about the word 'disemboweled,'" Demona purred.
On the television, police in riot gear went toe-to-toe with hooded hammer-wielders while panicked people stumbled around in clouds of
tear gas. There, quick as a flash, an image of four Quarrymen struggling to bring down a seven-foot Sasquatch.
"How nice, my nephew's on TV," Sevarius remarked.
A shaky pan across the sky, and if those weren't the silhouettes of Goliath and his clan rushing to help, Demona would kiss a pig. "Hah!
Fools!" she said. "Why bother? Only humans and former humans!"
"And one gargoyle."
"If you're thinking of Delilah, you're so wrong. That ... thing isn't worthy of the name 'gargoyle'!"
He scoffed mildly. "Of course, my lamb."
"In fact --"
Whatever she was going to say was lost as the picture went back to LIVE. Part of the battle had ranged back aboveground, and two large
muscular figures were wrestling on the roof of a deli. One was a panther mutate, and the other was a man in a black mask marked with red
slashes.
Demona was on her feet in a flash. "Hunter!"
"But Castaway's in surgery," Sevarius said.
"It's the other one, the brother." She shook her head, astonished. "What happened tonight?"
"Are you going to summon your clan?"
"No. It could be a trap to lure me out. It's me the Hunter wants. Let him wear himself out fighting Goliath and the mutates. Maybe for
once I won't have to kill one of them. Wouldn't it be ironic if, after all this, Goliath did my work for me?"
She sat back down once the scene changed, and they watched the rest of the broadcast. Harry the Hammer, also barely clinging to life,
had been taken to the hospital. Of the estimated fifty Quarrymen, thirty-eight were arrested. Their leader managed to elude capture, to
Demona's disappointment but not to her surprise.
It was already being called a backlash against Senator Harmond's proposals, and then cut to an interview segment in which reporters had
corralled the old man as he was leaving the banquet. He was horrified and dismayed to hear of the evening's incidents, and then they cut
again, this time showing footage of a trio of gargoyles addressing the banquet attendees.
Demona jumped up again, appalled to recognize Broadway and Elektra, as well as a male she suspected was one of Jericho's rookery
brothers from Avalon.
"No!" she raged. "What are they doing? First Thailog becomes a rock star, then that bitch Fox tries to parade my daughter around as
a fashion model, and now this? Going begging to the humans to be treated as equals? They should be living in terror of us, not legislating us!"
Incensed, she put her fist through the screen.
Sevarius sighed in the manner of a parent who's just seen a tantrumy child break yet another toy, and used his cane to lever himself up from
his chair.
She shook the smoldering, gutted television off of her hand. "I'll buy you a new one." It was the closest the old lizard was going to get to an
apology, but at least he understood and accepted that.
Picking slivers of glass from her arm, she went to the sink and washed up. As she was doing so, she heard a familiar tread on the stairs.
Poor Jericho ... he was letting that distasteful business with the humans get to him. Yes, it had been awful, but it wasn't the end of the world.
He'd been drugged at the time. It wasn't as if she blamed him. And it wasn't as if she hadn't done similar deeds herself, while stone sober.
MacBeth ... Vito ... Nick Diamond ...
She summoned a welcoming smile for her devoted lover, but it widened into a gasp of shock as he limped in with a Stealthweave suit hanging
around him in shreds.
"Jericho!"
"I'm all right," he said, with a grimace probably meant to be a reassuring grin.
"Quarrymen! You got caught in that --"
"No ... not exactly. It wasn't like that. I ... it's a long story." He gingerly set a Stealthweave bag on a chair, and began divesting himself of
the sad remains of his suit.
Demona helped him, and brought a damp washcloth to wipe away the drying blood across his chest. "Sit down."
He obeyed, and looked up at her with adoration as she tended his wounds. "I did it for you. All for you, always for you."
"Did what?"
"But I had to have a plan. A distraction. Something to get them out of the castle. It went well. Almost perfectly. Oh, Demona, if only you
could have been there to see me slit his belly open!"
"The Hunter!"
"The Hunter. His flesh gave way like butter. Look! I still have his blood on my claws!"
"You did that ... why?"
"Like I said, a distraction. I knew they'd follow me. I let them follow me. All the way to the Labyrinth. Hid just inside, so no one who lived
there saw me, but the Quarrymen thought I'd gone in, thought I was one of them! And they did just what I knew they'd do. Declared war."
The washcloth was forgotten as she stared at him.
"So of course, mighty Goliath hurries to the rescue. Left the castle undefended. Not even Xanatos was there. The Stealthweave ... it
works perfectly. A ghost couldn't have passed through those wards better than I did."
"What were you doing in the castle?" She was almost afraid to find out.
The adoration in his eyes deepened and brightened. "It was for you. I failed you, shamed you. Had to make up for it somehow. Had to ...
to give you the one thing you wanted most of all."
"Jericho ... what have you done?"
He stood, touched her gently under the chin to lift her face to his. "I love you. There aren't words in all the world to say how much. I would
do anything to keep you from being hurt. Or, barring that, to try and make up for it. But I couldn't ... we couldn't. It would only happen
again, hurt more, if we tried to do it ourselves."
"Do what?"
"Have another child." He picked up the bag and offered it to her. "So I brought you this one."
She took it and sank into the chair he'd vacated. Overwhelmed and more than a little fearful, she opened the bag.
There, nestled in the folds of cloth, was an egg.
"Whose is this?" she asked tremulously.
"Ours."
"You took this from the rookery. From the rookery in the castle."
"Yes. They'll never know. They couldn't detect me going in, and when they find it missing, all their security videotapes and divinations will
be able to tell them is that it just disappeared. We can keep it in Stealthweave and hide it someplace that you've warded, and they will
never be able to find it. It's ours. Yours."
"But whose was it, then? Do you know?"
"They had the rookery divided, with photographs and toys, making little nurseries. I knew you wouldn't want Elektra's, because she's
half-human. Or Delilah's. And Aiden ..." he looked abashed and shrugged. "She helped us, and she was human once. That left --"
"Angela!" Demona whispered. "You stole Angela's egg!"
"One of them, yes." He knelt at her feet and cupped her calves in his hands. "Why not Angela? Why should she have two eggs and us
none? She owes it to you! Your own daughter, but she turned her back on you. It's only fair that she should provide you a child to
replace the love that she denied you!"
"When she finds out --"
"She won't." He reached up to caress her cheek. "Demona ... this is ours! Yours and mine. We'll raise it together, our way and not
Goliath's! We'll be a family, be a true clan, at last! No more clones, no more loneliness. Here is our future, our hope."
Her eyes flooded. "Ours ...?"
"Don't you want it to be that way?"
She touched the egg, first with a fingertip, then, feeling its warmth and life, rested her hand upon it. "Oh, Jericho!"
"Please, Demona. Accept this. Let me atone. Let me ... let me be a father."
"Yes!" she cried, hugging the bundled egg to her breast. "Jericho, how I love you!"
He embraced her, the egg between them to feel the beating of both their hearts, their mingled tears raining on its curved shell.
"It's been so long," she said when she could speak again. "I can't remember which pattern of mottling means a boy or a girl."
"If it's a boy," Jericho said, holding her hand to his face, "I want to name him Damien, for you."
"And if it's a girl --" she began, voice nearly breaking with emotion.
"Antigone," Gustav Sevarius said dryly.
Demona, irritated and having forgotten he was there, gave him a dirty look to which he was totally immune.
Jericho frowned in puzzlement, but she didn't explain, just leaned forward and kissed him with more genuine tenderness than she'd shown
anyone in over a thousand years.
"You are hurt and tired," she murmured. "And dawn comes soon. Go up to your sanctuary and rest. I will see to it that our child is secured."
"Tomorrow ...?" he trailed off hopefully.
"Come to me when you wake. I'll be waiting for you."
He closed his eyes in momentary exultation. A heartfelt tear slipped from beneath one lid, and Demona gently wiped it away. Evidently not
trusting himself to speak further without giving way to weeping, he brought her hand to his lips and kissed the palm, then bowed to her as
graciously as ever courtier bowed to his lady-queen, and left the room.
"Incredible," Sevarius observed. "You couldn't own him more completely if --"
"Hush, you old lizard," she said, lacking her usual bite. "He's more to me than that."
"Oh, is he? I'm honestly to believe that you actually do love that poor deluded, demented boy as more than a possession and a conquest?
Since when?"
She looked down at the Stealthweave-swaddled egg in her arms. "Since tonight, if not before."

* *

Once upon a time, dawn would have filled him with a sense of relief. The gauzy trailers of morning mist touched rose and orange by the
rising sun would have cleared the dread from his heart just as they cleared the shadows from the sky.
Relief and hope. Relief for no danger could stalk them by day, and hope that they might find the Demon held helpless and immobile.
Now the breaking day only brought Jason a dragging sense of half-relief, because the world had gotten far more complex. Now the Demon
herself shifted form by day, and he didn't dare go after her although the personal risk was less. The public took even less kindly to attacks
on apparent humans than they did to gargoyles.
And as if that wasn't enough, now he had other enemies to contend with. The rest of the gargoyles, well, if they chose to make this their
fight he would oblige. Because he knew something now. He knew he'd been wrong ... it wasn't just the Demon any more. Unless she'd
come across sorcery to turn her male.
No, there were others determined to make themselves his foes. The one that had gutted poor Jonny, and the ones that harbored him.
They were good, Jason would give them that. Very believable in their protests that they knew nothing about the attack. But of course
they were only delaying, giving their guilty clanmate a chance to escape, pretending surprise and innocence.
Not that they'd been given much of a chance to talk. Even though they must have been expecting some repercussions, they hadn't been
prepared for the assault Jason had led. His army had gone through them like scythes.
It pained him slightly that some humans had been hurt. Civilians, probably not even aware of what had happened, with the bad luck to be
in the way. But they hadn't been the main targets of his forces. That honor had been reserved for anything with wings.
Therein was the other reason the dawn no longer relieved him. This new breed, the lightning-lashing mutates didn't turn to motionless,
helpless statues by day.
To think, he'd once called them friends. Met with them socially. If things had gone differently so many years ago, if Elisa had accepted
him instead of choosing Goliath, the mutates might even have been family.
That could no longer be. They were all against him now, because they had sent one of their own to try and murder Jason's brother, then
stood against him when he sought to avenge that grisly and unprovoked act.
Oh, and how they had lied to him ... he wondered bitterly how long they'd been laughing at him behind his back. Letting him think he
knew all of the gargoyles, that they all shared a common foe in the form of the Demon.
But that was such a patent lie ... there were more turning up all the time. Two new ones seen with Harmond -- a grey-green male and an
ivory female. The homicidal monster from last night, so like the Demon that he might as well have been her own offspring. And the deep
blue female ...
Jason winced as a painful spasm clenched him. When it eased, he couldn't remember what he'd been thinking about, but was sure it
wasn't important.
What was important was where to go from here. What next? He'd been listening to the news ever since his narrow escape from the
Labyrinth, and knew the score. Six dead, all human. Two were Quarrymen, one was a policeman, and the rest hapless bystanders. Dozens
more wounded, under police guard at several area hospitals.
And not a single gargoyle or mutate among the casualties.
He ground his teeth. They had the luck of the Demon herself, as if her malevolent power spread out to cover them like an umbrella. Every
single one of them practically unhurt, and now fled beyond his reach to the height of the Aerie Building.
He'd also heard how they were being hailed as the defenders, valiant defenders swooping in to protect the innocents and subdue the
mob as peaceably as possible. Not one of the deaths had been caused by inhuman hands.
"What do I do now?" he asked the first rays of the winter sun, peeling off his mask to let their pallid warmth fall on his bruised skin.
Couldn't go to the hospital, not to be treated, not to visit his brother. The moment he showed his face, he'd be arrested and shackled.
Couldn't go home. They'd be expecting that, the apartment under surveillance, Robyn possibly in custody. They'd probably sent Elisa
herself to do that job.
A pang of sharp agony pierced him. The apartment! They'd search his room, find his paintings! The ones he kept hidden away! They'd
take them, and those paintings were the only things that kept the Demon from infiltrating his dreams!
"Jason."
Hitching in a breath, he slowly turned and saw his father standing beside the stolen car that had gotten Jason this far. This time, he wasn't
a mangled corpse but whole and unmarked, though remarkably less substantial than he'd been in the taxi. Jason could easily see the lines
of the car through him.
"Father."
"You don't need the paintings now, Jason. You've taken back the destiny that is yours, taken up your responsibility. The Demon cannot
laugh at you anymore, and I am closer to my final peace."
The sweet, soothing balm of understanding flowed over Jason. "And Jon ...?"
"Jon will live."
"He ... he will?" A grateful sob burst from his lips. "He will live!"
"But his road to health will be long, and he'll need you. You'll have to carry on until he's able to join you again."
"Yes!" He paused, troubled. "What about Robyn?"
His father shook his head sadly. "Your sister forgets who she is. She thinks she can clear her conscience by bending to the law, and
instead, she's only going to become a pawn in a game she can't begin to comprehend. You must go your way alone for a while, Jason.
Show her by example what it means to be a Canmore. Let her come back on her own."
He bowed his head. "I'll miss her ... but it must be this way."
"The Hunter's road is a lonely one," his father agreed.
"What should I --?" he looked up, but the specter had vanished, leaving only a scarred alley cat that hissed threateningly as if it feared it
would have to compete with Jason for the frozen bounty in the trash bins beside his car.
"... do?" he finished in a whisper that was almost a sigh.

* *

Dominique Destine took the private elevator from her penthouse office to the sub-cellar, humming to herself, stealing several quick glances
at the heavy bag that rested at her feet.
The doors opened and she picked it up, stepping out into the cool, dimly-lit hall. A winged shape moved sinuously toward her.
"Good morning." Godiva made the greeting sound warm and sultry as a tropical storm. She tossed her head, the waves of golden hair
rippling between her indigo wings. "I was just headed up to work, unless you ... needed me for something?" Her inhalation and the
suggestive curl of her tail made the offer more than clear.
"The boys didn't wear you out?"
"Nnnhah!" laughed Godiva richly. "They can only barely keep up with me. Oh, speaking of which, you might want to have the doctors
take a look at Burbank."
"Stone sleep will heal any scratches you left," Dominique grinned.
"Not that ... I think his heart's not as strong as it could be. Remember, he was cloned from a much older specimen. The data suggests
that he might suffer some effects from the inevitable DNA breakdown of aging."
"Maybe he's just not up to the sort of workout you put them through. You could take it easy on him."
"I try, but Brentwood and Malibu, energetic as they are, have to recuperate some time. Just the two of them aren't enough, and I'm
hardly going to push Burbank away."
"Aren't there any other options open to you?"
"There might be if your Jericho wasn't determined to make me crazy. At first I thought I frightened him, but now I think he's toying with
me. He knows what I want, and he has to want it too, but he won't give it to me. Must be your sadistic streak coming out in him."
"I doubt it's that, though he does have it."
"Then why? Has he said anything?" Godiva's tiara of quills drew together and she eyed Dominique. "Or is this some game of yours,
and you put him up to it?"
"You might just not be his type."
"I'm everyone's type." Her tongue traced the pursed heart-shape of her lips. "I know he likes me. I can tell."
"Godiva, Godiva. You don't understand my Jericho. In fact, until tonight, I didn't fully understand him myself. He'd take you if I told
him to, and pound at you until even your appetite is sated --"
"Mmmmm, sounds good to me!"
"But I've left it as his decision, and he's decided not to. He ..." she smiled bemusedly, touched by the notion, "he wants to be faithful
to me."
"Strange kind of fidelity," Godiva said. "He loves watching us together."
"I enjoy having him watch."
"So do I, but I wish just once, he'd grab me instead of you when he can't stand it anymore! Oh, sometimes he'll send his tail over my
way, but I want the rest! If all you have to do is tell him --"
"I'm sorry, Godiva. I can't do that. He'd agree to please me, but I think I like him this way. Haven't you noticed, he's been denying
himself for weeks now?"
"I noticed. Thought it was because you were punishing him."
"No, it was a self-imposed penance. He loves me, you see, and didn't want to come to my bed sullied."
"Sullied! He does know you're his mother, doesn't he? Sullied ... tsk!"
Dominique ignored that remark, stroking the curve of the eggshell through the light fabric. "Now he's made up for it. He's proven
himself to me and made me realize something I should have seen long before now. I've known that he would do anything I asked.
Dutiful, obedient Jericho. But he's taken it a step further ... he'll do anything I want, even if I haven't fully realized I want it. That,
Godiva, that is love."
"What is ... that's an egg? I thought ... that was fast!" Godiva actually backed away, as if fearful that it might be catching; even if her
android body was capable of breeding, that would be the last thing on her list.
"We're going to be parents, he and I." She smiled dreamily, then sighed. "If only we didn't have to wait so long for the hatching! Ten
more years ... it shouldn't seem like much when I've spent a millennium alone, but I wish it was sooner! I wish it was right away! A
child of my own, to raise my way, to need me and love me with blind devotion --"
"You've already got Jericho for that."
"And I know Goliath, I know Angela. If they realize where this little one has gone, they'll try and take it back. Take it away from me.
One egg shouldn't be so much to ask. Jericho's right. Goliath gave away three dozen of our clan's eggs, but he'd deny me this one just
to hurt me. Once it's hatched, though, once it's mine ... there wouldn't be anything they could do."
"Too bad there's no way to hurry things along." Godiva shrugged, saying it offhandedly and clearly in disinterest, but Dominique was
riveted. "I'm going up to my office. If you decide you do need me for something, you know where I'll be."
"Fine," Dominique murmured, no longer listening.
She continued down the hall as the elevator doors closed. On her left was the rumpus room, which had once been a parking garage but
was now a two-story open space of concrete and support beams; it had been taken over by the clones, who preferred an enclosed lair
safe beneath the building to the risks and freedoms of the air.
They'd done their best to make it homey, but since the advent of Godiva into their clan, what little standards of cleanliness Gustav Sevarius
had been able to foster in them had now gone the way of the dodo. They lived like frat boys, amid a litter of aluminum cans and pizza boxes,
and the pile of mattresses had seen such a hard tour of duty lately that they were quashed into a single mass leaking stuffing from split seams.
The three of them were there, Burbank actually crouched in proper gargoyle pose, Malibu draped over the back of a swaybacked sofa,
Brentwood splayed out on the floor like a petrified and hairless bearskin rug.
Dominique barely looked at her so-called clan, just closed and locked the door in case any of the regular staff mistakenly wandered down
this far. Not that it would matter much if they did; everyone who worked for Nightstone had been treated to Sevarius' special cocktails
and behavioral modification videos.
To get to her destination, she had to pass some of the secret labs. She paused at one, thinking about what Godiva had so casually tossed
off with no idea of the implications.
"Hurry things along," she repeated musingly, staring at a large tarp-draped cylinder hulking in one corner of a dark and unused lab.

* *

"Oh, come on, you know he's faking!" Elisa was too loud in her exasperation, earning warning glares from the attendants in earshot.
"I'm sorry, Detective, but I don't believe he is. We've noted lapses in short-term memory in ECT patients, and the shock that Mr.
Hammerton received was much more powerful than anything we use."
"But the entire night?" she asked scornfully. "You can't expect me to buy that."
"He also suffered multiple traumas when that glider of his crashed. We can't rule out a head injury. The man is lucky to be alive. And
even barring his experiences of last night, I have to tell you that I've reviewed Mr. Hammerton's file and wouldn't put too much faith in
anything he might tell you."
"I know, I know, the man's a fruitcake."
"Detective, please!" the doctor hissed. "Show a little consideration for our other patients, if you don't mind!"
"Right, okay, sorry. So you're not going to let me talk to him?"
"Not until we've stabilized him on a medication regime."
"Look, Doc, if I can get him to confess to his part in this phony assassination attempt, it'll solve a lot of problems."
"I understand your position, but you have to understand mine. I have to put the welfare of my patient first."
"Even before the law?"
"The law backs me on this one. It's none of my business, Detective, but I think you're taking this case much too personally and
overworking yourself. When did you sleep last?"
"You're right. It's none of your business."

* *

Stephanie Greene had the feeling she was being watched.
Ever-so-casually, as she turned a page, she let her eyes roam briefly around the subway car. It was twenty-til-six and packed shoulder to
shoulder with commuters, more standing and swaying as the train clattered around a turn.
No one returned her gaze, or seemed to be conspicuously-guiltily looking away.
Probably the book that was freaking her out. She didn't know why it should; she'd read plenty of Dean Koontz before and it never
bothered her much. But she did wish that he'd get off of this hypnosis / mind control / government conspiracy kick. It gave her the
creeps for no well-defined reason.
Wouldn't it be awful if the human mind was so fragile and easily manipulated? If scientists, instead of being crusty-but-benevolent like
Gustav Sevarius, really could and did experiment on people so insidiously?
Although she was too warm in her coat, boots, and scarf, Stephanie shivered. The blocky grey-haired lady next to her noticed the
uncontrollable movement and gave Stephanie a dour and wary scowl before returning her attention to her own book -- good Lord,
"The Total Woman" by Marabel Morgan; Stephanie wasn't sure whether she was more surprised to see it still in print or being read by
someone like her seat-mate; the thought of that honey meeting her man at the door in a Saran-Wrap toga was too much to bear.
The image made her forget about her peculiar reactions and she went back to Koontz, wondering how long it would be before the latest
in a series of plucky golden retriever characters saved the day. Man was a blatant dog person. Stephanie herself often thought that if she
wanted someone to slobber all over her face and drink from the toilet, she could have stayed with Jim ...
Being watched. Cold, hard, hostile ... sharp pieces of ice.
Her hands clenched convulsively and the paperback squirted out of them like a watermelon seed. Bending down for it, she also dropped
her gloves. She scrabbled quickly for her belongings, an awkward task with one elbow squashing her purse tight against her side to make
sure no one took advantage of her distraction and dipped her wallet.
Someone picked up one of her gloves and held it out to her. "Here ye are, Miss."
Stephanie looked up into a striking pair of turquoise eyes in a dusky-skinned face that would have been awesomely handsome if not for
the puffed bruises.
"Thank you," she said, with a fast and noncommittal smile.
"Ye're welcome." His smile was neither fast nor noncommittal, and for a minute it was easy to forget all about the bruises.
But he said nothing more, only rattled his newspaper as he turned to the business section.
Definite hunk, Stephanie thought, not without wistfulness, and opened the paperback again.
When the train got to her stop, she stuffed the book in her purse and put on her gloves while waiting for the press of people to let her
out. The hunk didn't emerge from behind the paper, ah well.
Only four blocks to her building, but it felt like a trek across the Antarctic wastes. The snow had frozen solid in uneven dunes and
ripples, and the howling wind seemed to be working in concert with it to catch her off balance.
She made it all the way to the steps without falling, and then just as she thought she was safe, her right foot shot out from under her.
"Oof!" Flat on her fanny. Luckily, none of her neighbors were coming in or going out. She got up, brushing at her rear, and carefully
climbed the rest of the way, muttering to herself and shaking her head at her own clumsiness.
As her key rattled home and the door started to open, a large heavy body bulled into her from behind. Stephanie went sprawling, this
time on her stomach. A knee drove into her back and forced her breath out in a tidal rush.
Bright fear ignited in her, but she was too dazed by the fall to even remember her self-defense courses let alone try any of the maneuvers.
She wheezed for air.
Her assailant grabbed her under the arms and hauled her roughly to her feet. He half-shoved half-carried her to the rickety elevator,
shoving her at the far wall.
She rebounded in a clumsy spin, still holding her keys, and tried to take a swipe at his face. He snatched the keyring away and she
recognized him.
Stupid! her mind screamed. Never make eye contact on the subway! Aunt Gert's advice, often heard and usually followed even though
she'd always privately thought it was paranoid, and now look! She could just see Aunt Gert clucking sorrowfully at the funeral, telling all
the relatives how she'd always tried to warn Steffie that Manhattan was no place for a single girl.
"Scream and I'll snap yer neck," he told her, and the way he said it, as if he was informing her that it was snowing again, quelled the
shriek that was about to explode out of her.
Instead, she shrank against the wall, wondering if her purse was heavy enough to stun him and wishing she'd brought home a nice big
briefcase to clout him with. Just her luck to have finished all her work early this week!
He found her apartment key, which had 11-C stamped on it, and pushed the button. The elevator began to jerkily rise. Though he
wasn't even touching her, she felt crushed, squeezed, trapped.
They reached the eleventh floor, and Stephanie was torn between hoping that someone would be in the hall and no one would. She
wanted rescue, didn't want to be responsible for one of the Farnbergers or the Davinsky kid getting hurt.
No one was there, and the only sound was Mr. Farnberger's radio turned up too loud; some talk-jock was ranting about a couple in
Minnesota that had just, with the aid of fertility drugs, given birth to a sickly set of octuplets, three of which had died.
"... to give the rest a chance at survival because they said it was all in God's hands. God's hands? God made you barren! Don't talk
to me about God!"
The man forced Stephanie into her apartment and shut the door, dulling the rant to a muffled and unintelligible gabble.
"Sit!" he ordered, pushing her toward the couch.
Stephanie did, holding her purse on her knees. A star of awareness went nova in her mind and she remembered the taser. It was down
at the bottom of the purse, under the paperback and her wallet and cosmetics and the other necessities of life, but if she could just get
to it ...
She dumped the purse on the cushion as the man threw the deadbolt. There it was! Futuristic and powerful, and when she seized it she
felt like King Arthur must have felt when he first laid hold of the hilt of the sword in the stone.
He lunged, and Stephanie let herself slide onto the floor. She jammed the taser against his leg and shouted, "Bastard!", wincing in
anticipation of jolting sparks.
Nothing happened.
Dead batteries.
What the hell good was the thing if the batteries went dead right when she really needed it? They were supposed to be good for
years and she'd only had it for ...
... years ... oops ... oh, damn!
The man slapped it away and yanked Stephanie up by a handful of her coat. There was nothing warm or sexy about his turquoise eyes
now; they were chips taken from deep in a glacial crevasse.
"I'm na goin' t' hurt ye," he said in a low, intent voice. "I've a message for ye t' deliver." He emphasized it with a shake that made
seams rip.
"What message?" she whispered.
"Ye tell the Demon ... ye tell Dominique Destine or whatever ye call her ... that the Hunter's back. If in a week she gives herself an'
the murderin' blue whoreson up t' me, I'll leave the rest o' the gargoyles be. She refuses, an' I'll tell her secret t' all the world."

* *

Jericho awoke bathed by a frosty glow, reflecting from a blanket of clouds that seemed to lay only inches above the skylights of his
sanctuary.
He stretched slowly, reveling in every crackle of his spine. He yawned, flexed his wings lazily.
No pain at all. The hole in his wing membrane was gone as if it had never been, his brow ridge and ear no longer ached. He crouched
and tore away the bandage over his calf, revealing unmarked flesh beneath.
Good as new, and better than ever in spirit.
Her words came back to him as if hearing them all over again. Come to me when you wake ... I'll be waiting for you.
He stripped and dove into the dark pool, rinsing himself of what little dried blood remained on his skin. He stood beneath the waterfall
that plunged from one of the obsidian obelisks and tilted his head into it to wash his hair.
Waiting for him.
Those words roused a hunger in him greater than anything he'd ever known before. Greater than the need for food, water, air itself. She
was waiting for him.
After toweling himself off, he chose a fresh loincloth and belted it on, and combed his talons through his hair until it was partly dry and in
a semblance of order.
Waiting ... waiting for him ...
And she loved him ... had told him so with such emotion in her eyes and voice that it nearly made his heart burst!
He composed himself enough not to run from his Dark Avalon, but neither did he dawdle on his way to her office.
It was empty and unlit, but the door to the inner room was ajar, and golden firelight beckoned him even before he heard her voice.
"Jericho ..."
She stepped from the shadows and he was lost in her beauty. The gown she wore was not so much cloth as it was black mist swirling
around her body, offering tantalizing glimpses and hints as she moved toward him. Her hair shone like crimson satin, swept up in a coiled
knot that begged him to loose it and let it fall free.
"Oh, Demona ..." He went to his knees, brought to tears by the sight of her. "You are my every dream made real. I ... I ..."
"My love," she said, and he was shocked to see that there were tears in her eyes as well. "You are more than I ever dared to dream."
Her wings flared slightly as she knelt with him, and they remained there together for long moments, not touching, just looking at each other.
Jericho didn't trust himself to speak. In all the time since she'd first appeared to him on Avalon and brought him home, through all of his
lewd yearnings and her surprised but hearty acceptance, she had never been like this ... gentle, unsure ... almost shy, though that was
never a trait he would have expected to find in Demona.
She didn't speak either, but only because there was no need. Her touch spoke for her, as honest and curious as a young virgin's.
Her fingertips lightly caressed his face as if she was seeing him for the first time ... as if she was discovering herself for the first time in
far, far too long.
Trembling, he willed himself to remain still and let her continue her tender exploration. Her hands slipped to his shoulders, paused to toy
with the strands of still-damp hair that curled around his neck, moved down his arms to the spurs at his elbows, down his forearms to his
wrists.
She grasped them and brought his hands to her waist. He held her there as she leaned forward, the edges of his palms just at the
beginning sweep of her hips.
Oh, the fire dancing in her eyes, the earnest and hopeful smile on her lips ... the soft white flame of her kiss blazing through him ...
unbearable in its innocence and promise.
They gave themselves up into a silken embrace unlike anything they had ever shared before, for this time it was a sharing, slow
and sweet, weeping together in the extremity of their joy, and from there sinking together into a drifting pleasant haze in which they
communicated in murmured lovetalk and more gentle kisses.
At some point Jericho sank deeper still, into a doze in which he was dimly conscious of her leaving his side, but when he roused
and opened his eyes, she was coming back into the room wheeling a cart ahead of her. The cart was laden with a dinner that had
grown cold during the hours they'd spent in each other's arms but they devoured it anyway, feeding each other and laughing as lovers do.
Much later, she set her unfinished food aside and raised serious eyes to him. "Jericho ... there is only one thing that could make me
happier than I am at this moment."
"Name it," he said, "and if it's in my earthly power to do, I shall."
"Ten years to hold our child ... it's too long to wait."
"I don't understand. Would you rather have another one instead? I didn't think you'd want Amber, but if you do --"
"No, no. Not that. There's a growth tube -- get that grin off your face, darling, that's not what I mean!" She snapped her sharp white
teeth in a playful nip on his wing talon. "It's the machine Anton Sevarius developed to accelerate the growth of embryos, to bring the
clones to maturity in a matter of months instead of years. We could put our egg in there, and bring it to hatching in just a week or two!
We'd have our family, and by the time anyone else found out, it'd be too late for them to steal it back! We --"
"Shh, shh, my love!" He kissed her to silence. "You don't have to convince me. If that is what you wish, I'm with you. We'll have our
son or daughter sooner than we hoped. Our Damien ... or Antigone?"
Demona laughed ruefully. "In that case, let's hope for a boy!"

* *

Continued in
Damien, Part Two: Unholy Alliances



Copyright 2000 by Christine Morgan / vecna@eskimo.com / http://www.sabledrake.com