Damien
Part Three: Devil's Night
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 graphic violence, language, and some sexual content. Finished January 2000;
approximately 23,000 words. Nikki Taylor, mentioned briefly, was created by Leva Mevis.

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

#65 in an ongoing saga.



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"I accept," Damien repeated, lowering the Grimorum Necronum.
He ached all over, but a single glance down explained it -- a final growth spurt had sent him shooting up two full feet in an
instant. His bones creaked as they adjusted to their new height, stretching muscles pulling on tendons with a dull heat of pain.
The pages of the Grimorum were blank. Damien cast it indifferently aside.
He slowly turned, getting used to his higher center of gravity, and focused on the rest of the tomes lining the shelves. They
began to tumble down like a line of synchronized swimmers diving sideways into a pool.
As each book fell, a flicker of silver riffled its pages.
Occultism. Demonology. Necromancy.
Power.
The shelves emptied. The books were heaped and strewn. Some were tented, others were shut, still more were open with their
blank pages seeming forlorn.
Damien's chest was heaving, his skin tingling. A storm of words and symbols cycloned through his mind and then settled
comfortably into niches.
Power.
Power demands.
Power demands ... sacrifice.
He left the denuded library and paused at the bottom of the ladder, hearing voices and movement above him.
Suitable.
He climbed swiftly upward and through the sliding trap door he had not bothered to close.
The voices were swallowed in a tinny gabble of forced laughter as a television was switched on. The hiss-pop of carbonated
beverages being opened. The clink of utensils.
Damien didn't hesitate, sprang through the door and onto a ledge and into the air. He circled, chose his target, and plummeted
before they even realized he was in their midst.
As he came down, he bent his knees sharply and put his leg-blades to full extension.
The bearded one's eyes bulged and he sucked in a lungful of soda; when Damien landed on him, he pierced the stocky body
through both lungs before Burbank had time to cough. If soda gushed out as well as blood, Damien didn't notice.
He braced his talons in the sagging sofa cushion and locked his legs straight. The vicious-hard motion made his blades rip deep
slashes, harrowing Burbank like a field, nearly flaying him into three large slices.
"What?" Malibu sounded like he'd just been told of something patently impossible, the tone of a man getting the news that he
had ovarian cancer. He was at the stove preparing a family-size can of Dinty Moore. "What?"
Brentwood was quicker on the uptake, scrambling away from the VCR where he'd just put in a Disney video. He snatched a
tall skinny brass lamp and swung it at Damien's head, the cord yanking out of the wall as he did so.
Damien parried it with an arm-blade, scoring the metal with a nails-on-blackboard screech. With the other arm, he swiped at
Brentwood, but the smallest of the gargoyles was fast as an adder, darting back out of reach.
The video began to play automatically. It hadn't been fully rewound; it was Fantasia and Damien found it perfectly appropriate
to kill to this particular selection.
Malibu dropped his spoon, horror beginning to replace puzzlement on his face. "Hey! You -- you can't --"
He fell abruptly silent at a loud cracking. Parts of Burbank broke off, bounced to the concrete floor, and smashed apart. Then
the bigger bits split into smaller bits, and the smaller bits crumbled to gravel, and the gravel was eroded to dust, muddied by the
puddle of soda still gurgling from the can.
Brentwood had climbed until he could glide, and swooped down at Damien with his fists extended. Damien, engrossed in the
spectacle of Burbank's death, wasn't aware of him until it was almost too late, and took a painless blow to the head.
Damien lunged up with both arms, meaning to spit the little one, but Brentwood was already past and away. Snarling, Damien
pursued him into the dank cavern of the two-story enclosed space. Brentwood wove in and out among the support posts and
hanging pipes, yelling for Malibu.
His yells finally sank in. Malibu, like a fire slow to stoke but fierce once it gets going, roared and joined the chase.
They had more spirit than Damien had credited them with, but it wasn't going to make much difference. He bided his time,
waited for his moment.
When Brentwood passed beneath him, Damien dropped.
One knee-blade missed, passing over Brentwood's shoulder and only grazing his ear. The other struck firmly home, in the
small of his back.
They fell together, Damien on top, and landed hard on the floor. The impact jolted Damien so hard that his jaw snapped closed
and nearly fractured his teeth. The tip of his knee-blade came out the other side of Brentwood and stuck two inches into the concrete.
Brentwood shrieked and struggled, caught like a bug on a pin. His frantic flailing only made it worse, only shredded the entry
wound from an initial flat impalement into a rounded, gory hole.
Damien jerked out quickly as Brentwood's flesh stiffened into stone. He still had one more to handle, and couldn't do it trapped.
Malibu, seeing Brentwood's struggles stop, went for the door. Damien pursued, and as Malibu understood he wasn't going to
make it, he dredged up a last bit of courage, wheeled, and charged.
They met squarely. Damien thrust his elbows forward and out. Malibu couldn't stop or turn, and ran himself onto the twin blades
with such momentum that his chest socked up against Damien's forearms. His beak shot through the gap between Damien's wrists
and pecked him a good one right on the brow ridge.
The blades were skewering the two big muscles on either side of Malibu's chest, as well as having caught part of his wings. It was
painful, even crippling, but not fatal. He kicked out at Damien's knee, driving the upper joint a way it wasn't meant to go.
Damien accepted this with equanimity. He pistoned his fists down, slamming Malibu on the shoulders and withdrawing his blades all
in one swift motion.
Malibu staggered back but kept his footing. Blood poured in freshets down his sides, pooling along his belt and then overflowing. He
could move neither arms nor wings.
"Sacrifice," Damien said, and snapped his arm up.
The tip of his elbow-blade hit the underside of Malibu's beak and continued on through his mouth and out the top, missing Malibu's
nose by less than a half-inch.
He lunged backward and pulled the blade with him, flaying Malibu's face wide open. The upper and lower halves of his mangled beak
opened gracefully outward like a blossoming flower.
Malibu's scream bubbled through blood. Damien ended it with another slash, this one a crossways decapitating strike.
He stood over Malibu until the body and severed head sifted down to dust. The music was thrilling, frenzied; the entire battle had taken
less than two minutes.
"Now," he murmured, closing his eyes and tilting his head back, spreading his arms and wings. His limbs began to shake, his back
bowed as if under tremendous weight.
Power.
He exhaled slowly.
On the television, a church bell tolled.
Damien shuddered in revulsion and put a chair through the screen.

* *

Demona emerged from sleep reluctantly, as if it were a warm bath and the waking world were scoured by arctic winds.
The clock informed her that she had only been asleep an hour or so. She yawned and got out of bed anyway, meaning to get a drink
of water and check on Damien before crawling back under the covers.
The outer room was empty.
"Damien?"
There was no answer, which wasn't really so surprising. Even if he'd been here, there would have been no answer; aside from the
occasional displeased growl, Damien continued to remain silent.
She got her drink of water and headed upstairs, to Jericho's sanctuary. She'd find them both there, Jericho exercising and practicing
his combat moves, Damien watching with intent fascination. She hoped that it would eventually bring them closer together, especially
now that Damien was getting big enough to learn to fight.
But when she stepped into the obsidian-and-glass forest that made up what they liked to call Dark Avalon, only Jericho was there. He
was stretched out on a hillock of black grasslike carpet, his azure skin gleaming with sweat, eyes half-lidded from the content exhaustion
he showed after a lengthy bout of either exercise or loveplay. She could tell by the set of his head that he was contemplating a dip in
the silken water of the pond.
He looked around and his face lit up with a welcoming smile as he saw her. She curled into a sitting position beside him, breathing his
male scent, and walked her fingers up his arm. The feel of the coiled waiting strength in his muscles never failed to delight her.
"Where is Damien?" she asked.
Jericho's smile faded. "Isn't he downstairs?"
"He was reading when I went in for a nap, gone when I awoke. I thought he might have come up here."
"No. I haven't seen him since dinner." He sat up, everything flexing in smooth harmony, and Demona smiled in appreciation.
"He's probably in his room," she said. "Or with Sevarius -- no, he left early this afternoon."
He took her hand. "Since he's not here --"
Demona purred. "My thoughts exactly."
"That wasn't exactly it," he said with a low laugh. "I wanted to talk --"
"Not about Damien again!"
"I know you don't like to hear it, but am I the only one to find this so troubling? He's only two weeks old, but --"
"Jericho, enough!" Demona rolled her eyes. "We've been through all this --"
"But you're not listening!" He shouted it, shouted at her, raised his voice in anger at her, Jericho of all beings, and his hands
descended onto her shoulders with a fierce grip. He shook her, a short hard shake that made her teeth rattle.
She looked up at him in absolute astonishment. Her mouth fell open but nothing came out.
"Listen to me," he demanded, and emphasized it with another shake. "We cannot hide from it, something is wrong with him, and we
have to find out what before it's too late! This isn't a matter of jealousy. This is something deeper, that chills me to the very marrow!"
"I have never seen you like this! Not toward me!"
"I wouldn't if I didn't truly feel it was important."
"So ... forceful," Demona said, placing a palm flat against his chest and rubbing it in a slow circle.
He jerked at her touch and blinked, thrown off his mental stride. "Demona --"
She was shaken again, but this time it wasn't him doing it, this time he was shaking too, the floor beneath them was all a-tremble. The
water in the pool first rippled then began to slosh, and the building groaned audibly.
"Earthquake?" Demona said in disbelief. "In New York?"
Jericho jumped up, and in that moment with all of his senses on alert, he was a beast, a beautiful animal, keen and aware, tensed to
react.
The tremors increased, obsidian obelisks swaying, walls seemingly about to buckle. The Nightstone alarm systems blared and
whooped -- fire, intruder, lab containment failure, all sounding at once.
"Lo-oo-ok!" Jericho cried, his voice broken into fragments as he fought to keep his footing. He was pointing out the window at the
neighboring skyscrapers, all steady as stones.
The alarms cut off mid-bray and the "Exit" light that was the only electric source of illumination in Dark Avalon winked out. That
couldn't be, the emergency back-up should have kicked in the moment main power was cut.
All Demona could hear was the distant screams of night shift personnel, the shattering of windowpanes as the building continued to
shudder, and something ... a strange rushing roar that seemed to be getting louder and louder, until it was filling the world, drowning
out everything else.
She sprang up beside Jericho, both of them with tight-clenched fists and wide eyes.
A patch in the middle of the floor suddenly bulged up red and glowing like a blister. It swelled, turning bright orange around the edges,
the heat rising incredibly fast. Then it burst, showering flaming pieces of carpet and chunks of flooring materials.
None of the debris came near Demona and Jericho, not that they would have noticed because they were both stunned immobile by the
column of bloodfire red that exploded up from the floor. It looked like a jet of magma.
The column struck the skylight and didn't so much melt it as vaporize it. The light was searing, blinding.
Jericho grabbed her arm and yelled. She couldn't hear him above the din but his meaning was clear -- they had to get out now.
The building was tearing itself to pieces around them. A huge section of wall broke free and slid out of sight, falling toward the street. As
Demona and Jericho loped for the opening, the floor heaved under them and tossed them headlong out the gap.
They spread their wings and circled, their eyes confirming what they'd seen before. Only the Nightstone Building was affected, split
asunder by the red pillar. It was coming apart, offices and labs and restrooms and cafeterias all collapsing. Bodies and furniture tumbled
among the wreckage.
Demona screeched in horror and rage.
The pillar shot high into the sky, and then something rose rapidly within it, ascending encapsuled in a silver-black ovoid shape.
This shape, this egg, burst out of the pillar and hung suspended for a moment, just long enough for Demona to realize that it was
translucent and she could detect shadow and movement inside. Then it tore apart in wisps, revealing what had been carried safely within.
Or, rather, who.
Or ... upon closer look ... what.
It was Damien, spreading his wings with insolent draconian ease although to her knowledge he had never glided before. Damien, full
grown, as tall as Jericho or even taller, but lean and lithe as a rapier. Damien in glossy black and silver armor that was somehow both
technological and organic, almost insectile. Damien, with the blades sprouting from his knees and elbows shining like polished crimson
bone in the uncanny light.
His eyes were smoldering mercury, his face strikingly handsome but cold, so cold and malevolent and merciless that even Demona went
numb with fear.

* *

Brooklyn leaned his head back against the trunk of a tree in the castle courtyard, and gazed idly up at the stars.
There weren't many to see, this being New York, and what few were visible had been diminished by the glow of the supernova that
had dominated the sky for the past two weeks.
Ever since, his mind insisted on reminding him, the night we found out the egg was missing. Like an omen.
He reflected grimly on how unfair it was that one bad thing could turn an entire good life to crap, while one good thing hardly made any
difference to a crappy life.
"Brooklyn?"
"Hey, hi," he said gently as Angela appeared from the shadows.
It was the first time she'd come to him in a week. Following their dismal (and painful!) confrontation with Ventura, Angela had lapsed
into a depression as deep and black as a sea-trench. Though no one in the clan had discussed it, they'd all begun, as if by some
unspoken agreement, to spend extra time around her, not pressing, just being there, being there and being ready in case she might
decide to ... to ...
For no good reason, his memory chose that moment to flash back to the first time they'd fully consummated their relationship. Not their
New Years' Eve encounter on the high tower, but the time a few nights later when she'd convinced Lex to write a new program into the
VR automotive simulator that Brooklyn was using to teach himself to drive.
He'd been cruising along, totally unsuspecting, when a hitch-hiker had turned up on the side of the road. Angela, saucily raising her tunic
to show a lotta-leg and then even more. He'd been so startled that he promptly crashed into a mailbox.
And then she had climbed right into his lap, pulling off the helmet, leaning him back to the seat's fullest recline, murmuring something
about this book she'd read talking about how Americans loved to do it in cars and as they were more-or-less Americans now ... and
all the while her hands and been busy undoing his seatbelt, his regular belt, pulling off his loincloth, lowering herself onto him with a
delicious slow sinking heat ...
Xanatos still hadn't forgiven them for breaking the simulator ...
He looked at her now, and his soul mourned for the carefree and frisky female she'd been before all of this had to happen. They'd
never be the same, neither of them. Even if by some miracle everything turned out all right, the specter of these things would hang over
them forever.
Angela studied him as if reading his thoughts, sighed, and folded herself onto the ground next to him. "I wanted to tell you ... I'm sorry."
Brooklyn pressed his knuckles against her brow ridge. "Angela ... don't ... don't blame yourself. None of this is your fault."
"Nearly getting you and Gabriel killed was my fault."
"But it had to be done," he said. "So it didn't turn out like we hoped ... at least we found out that Ventura didn't do it."
"I almost wish she had," Angela said. "Then at least we'd know. That's the worst part, the not knowing. The helplessness." She
bowed her head onto his shoulder.
"Yeah," he said heavily.
"And I can't help blaming myself. Hudson says that the rookery mothers and fathers used to check the eggs every night --"
"Now, wait, stop! For one thing, there were a lot more gargoyles in the clan then, and they only had a castle to protect, not a whole
city! Besides, the castle was supposedly more secure than it's ever been before, there's central heating in the rookery now for
crying out loud --"
"I know, I know," she admitted glumly. "I just ... can't help it."
"Me either," he said, stroking her dark hair. "We're all beating ourselves up over it, thinking coulda-shoulda. But even if we had,
there still might not have been anything we could have done. Unless someone was down there all the time, and who's to say it didn't
happen during the day? The best precautions we could have taken still might not have been enough."
"I suppose you're right. Oh, but it hurts to think we're giving up!"
"We're not!"
"Life's just getting back to normal." She managed a wan smile. "It's like Xanatos said. We can't do anything until we have something
to go on, and it's not looking like that's going to happen. So we're giving up."
"No ... don't --"
"Not hope ... I'll never give up hope, but I've got to face facts, I've got to accept that our egg is gone and might never be returned.
I don't like that, not a bit ... but I just wanted you to know that I'm going to try not to let it be everything anymore. Not let it consume
my every waking minute. Yes, our egg is gone, and it's terrible, but if I let it break me, too, that's another victory for whoever did this."
Brooklyn pulled her into his arms as she started to sob. Before he realized what was happening, they were kissing, their lips seeking
with a desperate yet tender hunger they hadn't known even during the breeding season.
On one level it seemed so very wrong to him, but overwhelming that was the rightness, that yes, as she'd said their egg might be
gone but they were still here, still alive and well, that life and hope hadn't been stolen from them along with that one fragile shell.
"Love me," she whispered into his ear, clinging to him. "Love me, and show me that we still do have each other."
He was about to oblige, he was glad to oblige, when Aiden and Lex went swooping across the courtyard hollering at the top of their
lungs for Goliath. Aggravated, Brooklyn leapt up --
-- and a pillar of red light shot into the sky, like a geyser of glowing blood boiling higher and higher.
It was answered by a beam shooting down from the distant blaze of the supernova.
That was impossible, flat-out impossible; Brooklyn might not have been a science whiz-kid like Lex but even he knew that the nova
was billions of miles away, light-years away, and it could not just spear its own pestilent light down toward Earth to meet that rising
pillar ...
Impossible, but it happened. When the two met, they collided with a brilliant flash/splash that sent scarlet and violet and black spouting
across the sky, spreading out and running down like wet paint.
Their moment of amore dashed to bits, Brooklyn and Angela scrambled up the wall and stared out as the descending edge of that riot
of hideous color covered Manhattan in an oblong dome.
The power went out all over the island, not in flickers and stutters but as if a giant hand had thrown one master switch. It was the
Quarryman Y2K blackout all over again, except this time everything went dead, car headlights and battery-powered boom boxes
and everything. The Aerie Building's generators, which Xanatos had taken such pains to improve and safeguard after that hectic night,
didn't even kick in, leaving them without power as well.
Yet the night was hardly dark. Far from it. The pulsing hellish light in the sky made Brooklyn think of what they said nuclear sunsets
would look like, the sky reddened and ablaze.
The rest of the clan -- barring the six on patrol -- swarmed around Aiden and Lex as Aiden breathlessly tried to explain the feeling of
foreboding that had crashed over her while they'd been working at their computers. Lex interrupted with a bleat of misery when he
realized that he hadn't had time to 'Save.'
"And behold," Elektra said in a soft but dread-filled tone. "From whence it comes."
The Nightstone Building looked like a Lego construction that some mean kid had blown up with an M-80. It was falling in on itself even
as they watched, not neatly and all-at-once the way buildings were professionally imploded, but collapsing in a crunching unsteady series
of dominos as each story bellyflopped onto the one below. Even from here, they could all hear the noise of its destruction; it sounded like
tons of gravel and glass being dumped from a great height onto a tilted sheet of iron.

* *

Elisa stared at the place where the bridge ended.
She had absolutely no desire to go closer, and that urge in itself surprised her because it was her job to go closer, her job
to investigate ... but even her usual sense of duty didn't inspire her to take another step.
The car -- a pearl-white Rolls Royce from Xanatos' collection -- was angled across two lanes. It had stopped dead on them
just after the sky had lit up like judgment day, losing all power and coasting freely until Owen was able to bring it to a halt.
Ten seconds slower, and they would have been on the other side when the wall of smoky mist and light slammed down from
the sky like a portcullis. Two seconds slower, they would have been under it ... and she didn't want to think about that.
Thank God Nikki hadn't been at the airport after all! Owen had offered to drive her out there to pick up her cousin in the style
to which Nikki Taylor had become accustomed, especially as the Fairlane was in the shop awaiting a part on order, but when
they'd gotten there, they'd learned that all flights from Southern California had been canceled due to abnormal weather patterns
over the Mojave. They'd just been crossing back into the city, and then this ...
Patches of the mist thinned enough to give Elisa a glimpse of what lay beyond. Instead of the rest of the bridge, the other island,
the rest of the world, she saw a dull rust-colored plain pocked with craters and dotted with grey-black spires of stone that stuck
up through crumbly soil like reaching fingers.
"Okay," she said shakily, combing her hair back from her face with both hands. "Okay, where the hell are we?"
Beside her, Owen blew through pursed lips and nodded unhappily. "Exactly."

* *

"Here ye are, lad, do yer business."
Bronx whined anxiously and butted his head against Hudson's leg.
"What is it with ye? Look ... ye scarce even touched yer pretzel," he said reproachfully, holding up a giant pretzel from which
only a few grains of salt had been taken in one tentative lick.
"Hiya, Hudson," a jogger in a grey sweatsuit puffed, stopping to run in place with his knees rising and falling like the bobbins of
a sewing machine.
"Good eve t'ye, Charlie. Still having yer midnight runs, I see."
"Less crowded, and hey, the park's been safe as a cop convention since you guys came to town. What's up with your fella there?"
Bronx wrinkled his muzzle at the sky and made a nervous noise in his throat: "Hhhrrrooooun!"
"He's na been himself tonight," Hudson said. He scanned the sky himself. "I'd think he was expecting a storm, but none o' my
weather-aches are speaking. For a change."
Charlie chuckled. "Maybe an earthquake's coming. They say animals are sensitive to -- holy crow, is that Celeste Perry?"
"Who?" Hudson turned his head.
A tall, slender brunette was jogging with a muscular young man; the two of them could have been an ad for a health club or travel
agency.
"Celeste Perry, the new Victoria's Secret angel!"
"Ah!" Hudson looked closer. "I didna recognize her without her panties."
Charlie busted up. "That's a good one! Damn, if she wasn't with that guy, I might just use that one!"
As if she'd heard them, the woman stopped short, her eyes widening. The man with her went on three more paces before realizing
he was alone, and came back to her with a questioning tilt of the head.
In the distance, red light shot straight up.
Strange things started happening.
Hudson barely knew which way to turn. Bronx was howling and snapping his jaws at the air, Charlie was grabbing at his arm
trying to ask what was going on, and the Perry woman contorted as if shot with a crossbow.
Her companion touched her shoulder as she bent double, and she straightened up with the most horrific expression Hudson had
ever seen on a human face. The next thing he knew, it wasn't a human face at all but the burnt-orange, plate-browed visage of a
demon.
"The Sisterhood!" Hudson spat in disbelief, thinking back almost eleven hundred years.
Courtesy of hindsight he now figured out that the Archmage -- then, though, still only called the Magus -- had not only conveniently
banished the she-devils, thereby earning Prince Corwin's favor ... but had probably been the one to summon them in the first place.
It went through his mind in an instant and he was already drawing his sword. The man with the creature that had once been Celeste
Perry was stunned, revolted but stunned, unable to move as her transformation continued.
Her stylish cream-and-gold jogging outfit ripped to pieces as spiked armor replaced it. Her back wrenched as vestigial batlike wings
forced themselves from her shoulderblades. She raised her axe, and in the deathlight of the sky it seemed to already be glistening
with blood.
"Get back, lad, get down!" Hudson bellowed at the young man.
He left Charlie goggling in shock and charged toward the Sister, Bronx bounding ahead of him with a fusillade of thunderous barks.
"Celeste, dear God!" the man screamed.
She yowled like a cat in a campfire and swung. The man flung up a defensive arm, his feet tangling as he tried to retreat. The axe
chopped through his forearm, leaving him with two inches below the elbow. Hudson had time to notice how the fingers on the severed
length spasmed wildly.
Bronx launched himself in one of his favorite leaping tackles. The Sister whirled toward him and his heavy forefeet whammed into her
chest. They sailed a dozen feet and smashed through a park bench.
Her knee came up and Bronx's breath burst out of him in a whoofing yelp. He flipped over like a big blue tiddlywink and lay dazed.
"Over here, ye unclean thing!" Hudson challenged.
The Sister got up. Hudson remembered that they weren't terribly fast, but they were strong and relentless and well-nigh unstoppable.
She pulled her lips back from snaggled yellow-black fangs and hissed at him

* *

Rayana Fredericson crossed her legs and demurely smoothed her skirt. "I don't think so, Mr. ...?"
"Paletti," the man said, easing himself into the chair beside her as slickly as if it, or he, or both, were made of oil. "But my friends
call me Pal Joey."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Paletti ... I'm meeting someone."
"You've been sitting here forty-five minutes, doll-face, and it's almost midnight. I'd say, whoever he is, he ain't gonna show. And
that makes him the idiot, see?"
She smiled thinly. "She said she'd be here."
He grinned broadly, lewdly. "She? Well, well, talk about a dream come true."
Trinka Veles waved from near the door, and began navigating her way through the smoky, crowded club. Pal Joey watched her
with a lascivious gleam, and Rayana knew that his mind was already busily composing. Dear Penthouse, I always thought the letters
in your column were fakes until ...
Rayana tossed down the rest of her drink. Scotch-rocks, her fourth, and she wasn't feeling so much as a buzz. All it seemed to do
was make her body feel more restless and busy, as if she was hollowed out and full of wasps.
And her temper was on a short, sputtering fuse already ... it took every ounce of effort she could muster to keep from breaking her
glass on the edge of the table, leaving her with the thick base and a rim of jagged shards ... which she could shove into Pal Joey's
eyes, popping them like water balloons.
As Trinka got closer, the feeling got stronger. They could take this bar apart, the two of them, and the screams would drown out
the shitty music on the jukebox -- starting with whichever jackass selected all the perky 1980's music ... the Go-Go's might have
the beat but far as Rayana was concerned, they deserved a beating ...
The music cut off, the lights went out except for the candles guttering in pear-shaped holders in the middle of each table.
A headache tore across the front of her skull. She jerked forward, knocking her glass on the floor. It broke into exactly the shard-
rimmed weapon she'd envisioned, but at the moment she hardly noticed because she was dying, on fire with her bones grinding into
new shapes.
Trinka wailed once, agonized, but the wail turned into a glorious shout of release. Rayana arched her back and tore the remnants of
her sweater off of her spiked breastplate, answering Trinka's call with one of her own.
"Son of a bitch!!!" Pal Joey shoved his chair away from the table, too hard, over he went with his feet in the air. His wrist came down
on the broken tumbler, crunching it into unusable pieces.
But that was all right ... Rayana didn't need it.
She had her axe.

* *

"Oh, oh, oh," Aiden muttered. "Is anyone seeing this?"
Nobody replied, probably not hearing her. The rest of them were caught up in a turbulent discussion of what to do.
Who would go out, who would stay and protect their home, should they help Demona or let her suffer whatever she'd brought upon
herself, what would they do about a city full of looters and panic? What about the members of the clan on patrol? Talon and Delilah
had gone over by the Labyrinth, Gabriel and Broadway were investigating a purse-snatching ring that Matt had mentioned, and Hudson
had taken Bronx to the park to get him out from underfoot because he'd been a pain in the tail ever since sundown. They'd come back
for instructions in something this big, right? At least, Broadway and Hudson knew the drill ... Talon might be a different story. Maggie
was determined to take Claw and go find him; Goliath was against it.
"Elektra?" Aiden called, a bit louder.
"Yes, Aiden?"
"Do you see what I'm seeing or am I going loony-tunes?"
Elektra's indrawn breath had a paradoxical effect, reassuring Aiden that it wasn't a case of loony-tunes (unless it was a shared one),
and at the same time scaring her a lighter shade of grey because it meant that what was happening out there was real.
"Goliath!" Elektra's high, clear voice cut through the babble and brought Goliath quickly to their sides. "Do you see? The ripples?"
He frowned ponderously. "No."
"Ripples, yeah, good," Aiden said. "That's just what they are. Started a few seconds ago. They're ... silver, but not like my magic,
this is a crazy deadly silver that I don't like one bit ... and red and black all swirled together like spin-art ... ripples rolling out ..."
"Coming here?" Angela stared, shook her head. "I don't see anything either!"
The rest murmured agreement.
"It's magic, then," Lex said. "They're the only ones of us who can see magic."
"Coming here, going everywhere," Aiden confirmed, nodding. "The ... the epicenter seems to be that beam from the Nightstone
Building."
"Not everywhere," Elektra said, perplexed. "Those spots ..."
"Like islands." Aiden saw them too, the meaning eluded her for a moment and then she grasped it. "Churches. Synagogues. Hallowed
ground. Consecrated ground. It can't touch those places. Magic all right, of the worst kind!"
"What's it doing?" Goliath demanded.
"Just flowing outward now ... it's almost here." She lifted her eyes to him worriedly. "I don't know how long the wards'll hold, Goliath.
That dome, whatever it is, it damped all the power in the city and energy's energy like Owen always says -- gosh I wish he was here! --
and I might not be able to use my spells!"
"Magic of the worst kind," Maggie said. "What do you mean, voodoo? Black magic?"
"Necromancy," Elektra said. "The sorcery of the dead, the undead, and the demonic."
"You mean ... raising the dead?" Samson asked.
Aiden thought of something and tried to hide her reaction but wasn't quick enough.
Goliath caught her chin between his thumb and his knuckle -- his hand was bigger than her whole head, she realized with sour humor --
and made her look at him. "What, Aiden?"
She really hated tattling, even on someone who wasn't very nice ... "Demona mentioned a book. Back during that unicorn business. She
called it the Grimorum Necro-something."
"What has she unleashed?"
"I don't know ... but I'm pretty sure that --" she gestured at the wreckage of the Nightstone Building, "wasn't what she had in mind. I
think something went wrong, got away from her."
"How do we stop it?" Brooklyn asked.
Aiden shrugged, on the verge of tears. "I don't know! There's no way I could handle something that got out of Demona's control, she's
a lot better a sorceress than me. Alex, maybe, but he's in Maine!" She heard herself say 'Maine' like it was 'Timbuktu,' and Lex
laughed wryly though it was anything but funny.
Goliath pinched her chin again, forcing her to get ahold of herself. "Can you go there? To Bar Harbor? With your magic, the way
you took us to Ebon's house?"
"By myself, I could get that far ... except for that dome. It's the granddaddy of all blocking wards. I've never seen anything like it.
Nobody's getting out, by magic or any other way, as long as it's there."
He sighed as if that was no more than he'd expected to hear. "Then we must see if we can find what controls that dome, and put a
stop to it." He must have felt her shivering, because his eyes went from hard to compassionate. "You and Lexington will wait here,
and if we are successful, go to Xanatos, find Alexander. And Owen too; I have a feeling the boy will need his teacher."
Aiden smiled tremulously, feeling vast relief mixed with shame. She didn't make any speeches about how she should go with him;
she knew all too well that without her magic, she was more of a burden than a help in these situations.
"Brooklyn, Angela, Elektra, you're with me," Goliath continued. "Maggie -- where is Maggie? Where is Claw?"
Everyone looked around, even Samson seemed startled.
Goliath hammered a fist on the battlement hard enough to crack a stone, but the deed was done, they were gone, it was too late.
Pointless to send anyone after them and divide their forces further.
"When the others return," he said to Lex, "tell them where we are, but do not leave our home undefended."
"It comes," Elektra said, tensing as if bracing herself.
The ripple of hot-madness silver rolled toward them. Aiden squeezed Lex's hand, wanting to flee but knowing there was no escape.
She thought of the beach back in Southern California where she'd grown up, not that she'd ever been much of a beach girl. Too flat-
chested and self-conscious to fill out a bikini properly, too indoorsy to tan ... but every now and then, the family had packed up a big
old picnic and gone down to the beach.
And if you were tired of looking for shells or playing in the surf or building sandcastles (her father had been a champion sandcastle-
builder; his thing was to base them off of actual historical ones and then quiz her to identify them), if you weren't feeling particularly
skittish about sharks and jellyfish that day, why, then you could wade out past the line of breakers, where the waves came in swells.
Yes, just stand there up to your sunburnt shoulders in the water, gritty-soft wet sand down in the blue-green dark where your feet
were, and a swell would come closer, closer, and lift you up in a giddy weightless swoop ... then go by and settle you gently back down.
That was what this was like, as the ripple passed over them.
Her wards flared hurtful-bright in her mind; this wasn't a single hostile entity but scores of them, hoards of them, as if each molecule
of air was in and of itself a sentient but heartless thing bent on destruction.
Then it was gone, and Aiden realized she was kneeling on the stones with Lex calling her name. She blinked woozily at him.
"It's okay, I think I'm okay."
Elektra was in the same state, though not as strongly. She released Goliath's arm and distractedly smiled her thanks. "The castle chapel
... I saw ... it, too, seemed untouched. Mayhap the children should wait there?"
"A good plan." Goliath looked meaningfully at Samson, who nodded in compliance.
"Okay, gang," Brooklyn said, stepping up onto the battlement and offering Angela his hand. "Let's rock and roll!"

* *

"Thank you for not saying 'I told you so'," Demona said.
"It didn't occur to me," Jericho replied. "What shall we do?"
Far below, mortar dust was still billowing in a dirty cloud where her building once stood. Some of the upper levels had collapsed
into the hole of the cellar, so the heap of debris had a sunken shape. None of the bodies that she could see were moving.
Above and before them, Damien hovered as a silhouette against the towering bloodfire column. His arms were raised skyward, his
head tipped back, as if enraptured, or in worship. He brought his arms to his sides in a single sharp motion, and the pillar was abruptly
sucked back into the earth. It took most of what was left of the Nightstone Building with it. In its place, a pit with inward-sloping sides
dropped in a funnel-shape. Deep within, at the very bottom, was a glowing dark red hole perhaps a foot and a half across.
The dome remained, pulsing on all points of the compass like a livid wound. All around them, the city was filling with screams. The
humans were pouring into the streets, milling about in terror and confusion. No sirens added their wails, and no peppering of gunshots
could be heard. Some, always ready, seized the opportunity to loot or rob, while others barricaded themselves inside.
The humans had been reduced to helpless bleating sheep. Thousands of them would die before dawn, possibly tens of thousands, or
even more. By their own hands, by those of their neighbors, in accidents, on purpose.
But Nightstone was in ruins ... the rest of her clan, if they lived, were trapped under tons of rubble ... millions of dollars in equipment
annihilated in the snap of a finger.
Demona caught an updraft and soared toward Damien, not entirely sure what her plan was, initially only wanting to get a closer look
and hopefully figure out what he was doing. Jericho looked ready to protest but held his peace and followed.
Her surprise at hearing Damien speaking was so great that it even overlooked, for a few moments anyway, the fact that he was using
the oldest languages, and invoking Names that should never be uttered aloud.
She listened to the Words, and knew.
All over the city, everywhere that this magic could touch, the dead were rising. Not if they were buried on hallowed ground, but these
weren't the old days in which every cemetery was in a churchyard. And there were always the morgues, the freshly-dead ...
Rising to walk, with an unquenchable ravenous hunger for the flesh of the living. Romero had been more right than he knew.
But it wasn't just the undead. The rippling wave of magic that had spread out over the island had been one large welcome mat for evil.
Already, amorphous forces (say that five times fast, Demona thought to herself, and laughed madly while Jericho watched her with
growing concern) were let loose, glamours with the ability to take on whatever form most terrified their chosen prey. Already, tiny
but monstrous devils and imps, the souls of small-time wicked, were crawling up the sides of the pit, sometimes flopping and scrambling
over each other like a clutch of baby turtles making their way toward the water on the pull of blind instinct.
Most incredibly of all, Damien had put forth a Call that had been answered by a dozen or more voices from all over Manhattan, the
voices of demons nearby.
She understood all of this without being told, and her fear deepened. But at the same time, pride glowed like an ember in her chest.
This was already proving to be far more productive than the time she'd turned the population to stone and gone through town with
her mace.
"Damien!"
He broke off and glanced her way, showing no emotion, pleased or not, that she was there.
"Not bad for your first try," Demona called. "Once we've gotten rid of all the humans --"
Damien reached out, then clenched his fingers as if crushing a paper cup.
Incredible pain wracked her body, a year's worth of dawns and dusks compressed into one, too great an agony for screaming, because
if she tried to express even half of it in a scream, her throat would split and her head would burst.
She was falling, spinning, unable to right herself, unable to get her wings to respond. She was aware of Jericho diving after her, but he
was too far away and she was falling much faster than she should be, falling straight toward the funneled pit.
"Demona! No!" Jericho roared.
She looked up at him, reached out as if it would be enough to span the dozen or more yards between them, and her throat closed in shock
as she saw her hand, her pale, peach-pink-white five-fingered hand.
Human!
He had turned her human!
No wings!
Demona tried to let herself go limp, knowing it would hurt so much less if her body was relaxed, but she couldn't do it. Tension drew her
tight as a wire, and she was already anticipating the horrid crunch of her landing.
Strong arms caught her and broke her fall.
She laughed shakily in relief, pressing against his powerful chest, should have known her Jericho wouldn't let anything happen to --
But Jericho was still above her, she could see him, diving now in raw fury instead of anguish.
Demona whipped her head around, and was eye to eye with Goliath.

* *

"No riddles!" Elisa yelled. "Tell me what happened!"
She had her badge in one hand and her gun in the other, and the thronging panicked people in the streets didn't seem to care
about either. They also didn't listen when she repeated Owen's advice to them, that they'd be safe in the churches, for a while
anyway.
Owen, though he looked a little silly running in his severe black suit, had no trouble keeping up with her. And it wasn't as if
anybody was going to be looking at him strangely, not with everything else going on.
They had to stop or be trampled as the crowd abruptly changed direction. A recessed doorway offered momentary shelter
while the tide of humanity surged past.
Pursued by a screeching, yammering bunch of people ... waxy-pale people, most of them half-wrapped in sheets, many with
tags tied to their toes, long Y-shaped incisions stitched with black thread on their torsos, gruesome but bloodless wounds ...
Elisa's mouth dropped open. Owen only shook his head in a fussy, worrisome manner, as if he'd expected something like this.
None of the zombies noticed them. Elisa was tempted to start shooting, but she only had one clip, and it was still a long way to
anyplace.
She nudged Owen instead. "Tell me!"
"Watch," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. Elisa did, hoping for something helpful, but all he did was pull the inner lining
of his pocket inside out. "That's what's happened to Manhattan."
"Goddamn it, Owen, that's a riddle!"
"Someone pulled our dimension inside out as easily as I did that," he explained.
"And into Hell?"
"Effectively. Avalon is not the only mystical realm out there. They overlap, but rarely come into contact. The barriers are usually
not broken. Detective Bluestone, for instance --"
"When Matt went after Edie, he didn't go to Hell! He went to the Underworld, like from Greek mythology!"
"The afterlife isn't just one place," he said dryly.
"You mean there's a Heaven, too?"
"Of course. But this is hardly the time for a theological debate. We are in very real danger here."
"Can't you --" she waggled her fingers. "You know?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos, as you know, took Alexander to visit his grandparents in Maine."
"Like Oberon's going to drop by Hell to check up on you?"
"Good point."

* *

"Git out o' here, lad!" Hudson ordered Charlie as he parried the Sister's axe. Sparks showered from both weapons. "Take him
wi' ye if ye can, but go!"
Bronx whined, lurching gamely to Hudson's side. He left wet red tracks as he did so; he hadn't taken into account the effect of
spiked armor on a flying tackle, and both of his forefeet had been punctured.
Charlie bent over the man who had been with Celeste Perry before her unholy change. He had fallen unconscious, probably from
blood loss and most likely a mercy. Without a tourniquet and immediate surgery, Hudson knew, the fellow was a goner. And by
the sounds of the city, no ambulance would get here in time.
The Sister circled, her eyes narrowed to black slits in which a spidery flicker of orange flame seemed to dance.
"Ye're a mockery and an abomination," Hudson told her. "Ye've no place stealing the body o' that girl. Let her go, and go back
t'where ye belong."
Her laughter was a nail dragging down a windowpane. "This is where I belong, old carcass!"
She drove him back with swipe after swipe of the gleaming crescent-axe. He avoided each blow, not wanting another gash to match
the one she'd given him on the shoulder. Those he landed in return just struck more sparks from her armor.
Bronx went in low, trying to seize her calf in his jaws. She kicked at his head and Hudson took advantage of the distraction to swing
not at her but at the axe itself. The edge of his sword hooked it under the curve where blade met haft, ripping it from her gauntleted
hand and flipping it into the bushes.
Her infuriated shriek was almost shrill enough to make his brain explode. She came at him bare-handed and he laid the side of her
head open to the bone. Bronx sprang up on her back, avoiding the spikes, and clamped down on one of her vestigial wings. There
was an awful gristle-popping noise, another of her shrill shrieks, and then Hudson thrust his sword into her side, where the corselet's
seam should have been.
The Hell-forged armor had no such seams, but he drove the point through the inky-black metal anyway and buried it deep in burnt-
orange flesh.
She punched at him as she fell, the smaller, sharper protrusions on the knuckles of her gauntlet gouging holes in his cheek and
snagging out tufts of his beard. Then she was down and Bronx was standing on her, working the other wing.
Hudson shooed him off and hacked through the back of her neck until her head rolled free. Dead, she did not revert as the werewolves
did in the movies, but remained just as she was.
He heard someone call him from on high. Broadway and Gabriel, both looking somewhat banged-up and the worse for wear,
descended into the park and landed with thumps.
"Whole city's gone nuts!" Broadway informed Hudson breathlessly.
"What is that?" Gabriel asked, gaping.
"They're called the Sisterhood," Hudson said. "The legends say when a succubus mates wi' a human man, these be the result. What
else is wrong?"
"What isn't?" Broadway countered, eyes wide. "There's zombies all over the place, giant rats, things that look like goats on their hind
legs except they breathe fire, and that dome up there won't let anyone off the island!"
"People are saying it is the end times," Gabriel said, troubled. "The places of religion seem safe, though, and we directed what humans
we could to take refuge there."
"Have ye been to the castle?"
"Not yet," Broadway said. "We were going there, but then we heard your fight."
"Good that ye did. I canna carry Bronx with this cut on my shoulder, and he's hurt his feet. Ye two can bear him between ye, and we'll
go back t' the castle."
"Correction, gargoyle."
Hudson could have kicked himself for taking his eye off her, sure that she'd recovered and put her head back on the ragged stump of
her neck when he wasn't looking, served him right for not having a stake of rowanwood with which to spike the head to the earth.
But when he looked he saw it wasn't the dead one speaking.
It was the leader of the other six that had them surrounded ...

* *

Jason Canmore felt things giving way in his mind.
Whether they were the final eroding bastions of his sanity or of his madness, he didn't know. Didn't much care, either.
He and Harry had gotten separated in the chaos. What they'd seen in the streets had unhinged Harry completely, left him gibbering
about Dark Madonnas and little girls and how he'd been wrong, wrong all this time. When he'd started going on about cathedrals
being proof that gargoyles weren't their enemies, Jason tuned him out. The next time he'd looked around, Harry had been gone.
He found he also didn't care much about that.
None of the rest of it mattered.
His first thought had been that his family's long quest seemed rather puny and paltry now. What was one bloodline's vendetta against
one apparently unkillable gargoyle, compared to this? Hell on earth, the end of everything.
But then Jason understood, like a clean knowing light in his mind, that the Demon was responsible for this, too. She wasn't content to
destroy the Canmores. She wanted them all dead, all the humans, just like before. Her virus hadn't worked, so she'd turned to sorcery.
None of the rest mattered. He was still the Hunter, she was still the Demon, and they had a score to settle that went back nine hundred
years.
With that one thought seemingly the only clear one he had, Jason walked with purpose through a city of nightmares, ignoring the screams
and violence around him, intent on his destinations.
First, Anvil Corp. He wasn't going to face the Demon and vanquish-or-die in the pajamas and slippers he'd been wearing in the psych
ward.
And next ... Nightstone.

* *

The freaky gargoyle-looking dude in the black armor paid no attention to what was going on beneath him.
Good thing, too, Brooklyn thought. Because it looked like Jerk-O was going to be a problem.
Demona struggled in Goliath's arms and slap-clawed at him. Goliath exhibited far more restraint than Brooklyn ever would have done
and refrained from dumping the bitch. Of course, he probably wouldn't have caught her in the first place.
"Mother, don't!" Angela shouted.
"Get your stinking hands off of her!" Jericho bellowed.
Goliath landed on the roof of an insurance company building, between the site of destruction where Nightstone's headquarters had been,
and a taller brick building dating back to the 1940's or so.
Brooklyn, coming down beside him, thought about the paperwork the insurance people would be facing in the morning. Then, with another
glance upward at the darkly ominous gargoyle, he figured they'd all be lucky to even be alive come morning.
Angela and Elektra landed as well. Goliath released Demona, who pulled away from him with a hiss that lost nothing coming from her
human mouth.
Jericho touched down and stalked forward, eyes burning. "How dare you --"
Brooklyn got in his face. "If he hadn't she'd be splattered for a three-block radius," he snapped, jabbing Jericho in the chest about every
third word for emphasis. "Even she would take a while bouncing back from a fall like that. So how about showing a little gratitude, huh?"
"I need no help from you!" Demona snarled at Goliath.
"What happened here? Who is that?" Goliath demanded, pointing. "What have you done?"
"Stand aside!" Jericho made to go around and Brooklyn stayed right on him.
"You gonna make me, Jerk-O?"
"This is none of your concern, Goliath!" Demona barked.
"Look around you!" Goliath grabbed her by the shoulder, bruisingly hard. "Look around you and tell me that what you've done to my
city isn't my concern!"
"She is no longer yours to touch!" More rubble shifted from the sheer volume of Jericho's roar.
As he lunged in an all-out ballistic rage, Brooklyn just sidestepped and stuck out his tail. Jericho tripped and went down jarringly. Before
he could get up, Brooklyn jumped on him. He got two handsful of Jericho's hair and pounded his face into the concrete.
"Leave him alone!" Demona screeched. She started forward, Goliath hauled her back, she went for his eyes, he cuffed her upside the head
and almost knocked her on her can.
"Stop it!" Angela dashed between her parents, hands outstretched imploringly.
Jericho flung Brooklyn off and sprang up. He went for Goliath but suddenly Elektra was there, looking very pale and delicate, but her eyes
were orange as firelight and her wings were flared to their fullest.
"No, brother," she said firmly.
"Move, Elektra."
"I shan't. The enemy is there, above us. Not down here. Not tonight."
Brooklyn, who had been about to give Jericho the kick in the ass he so richly deserved, lowered his foot sheepishly.
"Elektra is right," Goliath said. "It is clear that he's no longer an ally of yours, if ever he was. He must be stopped. Even if we must work
together to do it."
"Please, Mother," Angela said softly.
Demona curled her fists, then relaxed them and sighed. "Very well." Her gaze flicked warningly to the fuming Jericho, and he subsided with
low grumblings and mutterings like a receding thunderstorm.
"So who is this guy?" Brooklyn asked. "What is he? Where'd be come from?"
"We don't have time for all of that now," Demona said. "What matters is what he can do. All the powers of evil magic are alive in Damien,
and he is learning how to use them. The more he learns, the stronger he'll become. That pit --"
She looked toward the glowing funnel and they all did the same. It was a vivid arterial red, the opening at the bottom as big as an elevator
shaft. A swarm of hideous centipede-like things with malformed human heads were thrashing and lashing their way over the top. They
slithered down the slope of debris and off into the city with liquid speed.
"That pit," Demona went on, "is surely a gate to the deeper bowels of Hell. I've heard part of the ritual he is using. He's already
transported the island into one of the upper levels, and made the dead walk the earth --"
Goliath cut through the horrified gasps and murmurs. "How do we stop him?"
"Whatever else he can do, he is mortal," Jericho said, fangs glinting briefly.
"But his power grows with each creature that emerges from the pit," Demona said. "And with each human life lost."
"Power for what?" Elektra asked. "What does he seek?"
"He is evil." Jericho shrugged.
"So you should know if anyone would," Brooklyn fired back.
Rather than blow his stack, Jericho merely shook his head. "He and I have nothing in common. I live for my passions, be they love or
anger."
He folded his fingers around Demona's and, in a gesture that Brooklyn found truly puke-yer-guts gross, brought her hand to his lips and
administered a playful nip to her knuckle. Demona preened in pleasure and moved against him. He folded a wing to envelop her before
continuing.
"Damien feels nothing. He loves no one, he hates no one. He is empty, cold as the arctic wastes, hot as a bed of ashes. Nothing and no
one matter to him. All life, even gargoyle life, is of no worth to him whatsoever."
They all digested this with deep apprehension. Goliath looked sick, and Brooklyn wasn't sure whether it was from watching that little bit
of loveplay or the prospect of being faced with someone even worse than Jericho.
He felt the same thing himself. Worse than Jericho? Who'd've thunk it?
"How do you know him so well?" Demona asked in a low voice.
"I've watched him, and seen what you refused to see." He said it with no recriminations, just stating the fact, not trying to blame her, and
it made her look at him with something akin to adoration.
Angela blanched almost grey and turned from them. "What do we do, then?" she asked Goliath.
"If stopping this Damien is the only way to save the city, then that is what we must do."
"If they're telling the truth," Brooklyn said.
"Although I know they lie when it suits them," Elektra said, shuddering as a reptilian beast that resembled an eight-legged alligator with
saber teeth hunched itself over the rim of the pit, "this time I am convinced. This, of a certainty, is the greater evil and the worse threat."
"How can we close the pit?" Goliath asked.
Demona's face was glum. "All of my books are under it. I remember one incantation that might work, but I couldn't cast it even if we
had holy water."
"Why not?" Angela looked at her in mixed sympathy and wonder; they'd seen her this way on film before but never in real life. "Because
you're not a gargoyle right now?"
"No ... because that particular incantation can only be cast by one of pure heart, who has never known hatred."
"Great," Brooklyn snorted, "and we left Aiden of Sunnybrook Farm at the castle."
Something way creepy happened just then with Goliath and Jericho, but only Brooklyn saw it -- the way they both frowned in
contemplation, and turned to regard Elektra. Their expressions were exactly the same, and Brooklyn shivered like someone had just
tipped a full glass of icewater down his spine.
"Elektra," Goliath said.
"If any are of pure heart, sister ..." Jericho began.
They broke off and scowled at each other in surprised distrustful realization.
"Yessss," Demona drew out, studying Elektra. "It might work!"
"Unless she hates us," Jericho added, very matter-of-factly, the prospect not upsetting him unduly.
"Never that," Elektra said softly. "Pity, aye, and dismay; these I've felt ... but never hatred."
"I don't suppose that the princess had you and the other hatchlings blessed or baptized in any way?" When Angela, Elektra, and Jericho
all shook their heads, Demona nodded. "Then it's even more important we have some holy water."
Movement at the edge of the building made them all whirl. A human head poked up, one with wild corkscrews of grey hair and a slightly
pudgy face.
The man climbed the rest of the way up the fire-escape ladder. He was wearing pajamas and slippers and had one arm in a cast.
"You!" Jericho spat venomously.
"Harry the Hammer!" Brooklyn blurted at the same moment.
The Quarryman fanatic started toward them with a hectic, feverish light in his eyes.

* *

"Can't you just pop us there?" Elisa called nervously, hating the feeling of being supported in midair by nothing but an invisible force.
Gargoyle arms, sure, she was used to that, she liked that ... but this levitation business was too much.
Puck, zipping along slightly above and ahead of her with his long white hair streaming around his sharply pointed ears, turned so he was
zipping backward just as fast in the same direction. "What did one piece of twine say to the other?"
"What?" She was sure she hadn't heard that right.
"I'm a frayed knot."
"What?"
"Do all police lack a sense of humor or is it just you?"
"How about a straight answer?"
"No."
They were at an altitude of ten feet, high enough to avoid the ground-based ruckuses but low enough to be well beneath the flocks
of winged imps, harpies, giant bats, and other flying demonic threats.
"What?" Dear God, and to think it had been her idea for him to transform. She'd forgotten what an irritating little sprite the Puck
could be.
"No, ma'am."
"No, what?"
"I can't, as you put it, 'pop' us there. This happy wonderland taxes even my magic to the limits. We're lucky I've been able to hold
it together for --"
Puck keeled over and they both plummeted.
"This isn't funny --" Elisa hollered, expecting him to resume her flight at the last second and grin beamingly at the wittiness of his prank.
Instead, she hit the ground. She twisted one ankle, banged her kneecap as she went down, rolled, and was just in time to almost be
able to catch Puck before he smacked into the sidewalk.
"Guhhhh ..." he moaned, his large eyes rolled up into his head.
Elisa shook him and he only wobbled bonelessly. She whacked him lightly across the face. His head lolled.
"Puck! Puck! Come on, don't do this, don't do this to me, fooled me good, yeah, you can laugh all you want, just come on!"
Not so much as a flicker.
They had the street mostly to themselves, but a sensation of danger made Elisa look around.
A cloud was moving toward them. It was three or four yards tall, and its color was a deathly white with streaks of green and black
that roiled like the surface of a gas giant.
"Puck?" She whacked him again, not fooling around this time. Still no response.
The cloud slowed, stopping a few feet away. It shrank and solidified into a statuesque figure that shook a tangle of green-black,
moist-looking coils like hair back from alabaster shoulders marbled with grey and black. Cat-green eyes examined her, and lush lips
curved into a snide, knowing smile.
"So you are the one," the apparition said, and even in his state of unconsciousness Puck seemed to be trying to draw away from her
voice.
"Who are you?" Elisa demanded. "What do you want?"
"I've come for the Puck. You do share some of the blame for my brother's fate. You and the gargoyles. But you were only the bait,
and they were the jaws of the trap ... it was the cunning Puck here who played the part of the huntsman. For that, I mean to repay."
Elisa understood and nearly gagged at the unwelcome memory. "You're a succubus."
"I am T'chambleau, first among them," the demoness corrected. "As my brother was first among his kind. His dissolution cannot be
allowed to go unpunished."
"No way." She stood over Puck, drew, and aimed. "Iron. I'll shoot."
T'chambleau tossed her head and laughed. The slick coils of hair-tentacles bounced. "In this realm, your machines do not function,
your power sources are dead and dry. Go on and fire. Your gun is useless."
"You're bluffing." She pulled the trigger.
Click.
The demoness laughed again, and her hair began to creep toward Elisa, leaving glistening snail-trails on the concrete.
Puck surfaced to semi-alertness, his eyes glazed and groggy. "... 'lisa ... run ..."
"And leave you for this hell-slut?" Elisa said with more boldness than she felt. "I don't think so!"
"Oh?" T'chambleau inquired. "What did you think you were going to do against me? Are you a sorceress? A goddess? A daughter
of Oberon?"
"No," Elisa said.
"Well, then."
A tentacle snapped out whip-fast and twined around Elisa's forearm. It squelched horridly on her jacket, but the worst was where it
lay against the skin of her wrist. Because against her skin, the coil felt warm, soft, tingling, exciting ... as if the flesh beneath it was
changed, just by that contact, into a site of sheer sensual pleasure.
Her breath quickened. She wanted to strip off her jacket, all of her clothes, let those coils wrap around her entire body.
The gun fell from nerveless fingers. Through the fog beginning to blur her perceptions, she noticed that the rest of the coils -- and there
were masses of them now, slithering toward her like a nest of snakes -- avoided the gun, left a wide bare patch around it.
Puck blew like a kid teaching himself to whistle. A visible current of sparkly white air issued from his lips as he did so, and when it
touched the coil, a thin brittle shell of frost surrounded it.
The pleasant, intoxicating contact turned to the stinging of a thousand needles. Elisa gasped harshly and yanked her arm away. Every
feeling of disgust, dirtiness, and nauseating self-loathing she'd experienced during the time the incubus had invaded her dreams came
back on her now, tenfold.
T'chambleau screeched, possibly pain, possibly anger, most likely a bit of both. She darted at Puck with her long pale hands hooked
into claws.
Just that small effort of magic had exhausted him anew. Elisa scooped him up, a portion of her mind astounded at how light he was,
and T'chambleau's nails scraped along a rain-faded hopscotch grid.
She turned to run. The demoness leaped over her head in one smooth move, landing facing Elisa, her hair wavering like a bed of undersea
grasses pulled by the current.
Elisa backed up, slowly, one step at a time, Puck cradled in her arms. Her heel touched something.
"I was prepared to leave you alone," T'chambleau chided. "You mortals live such short and wasteful lives anyway, that it would hardly be
worth my while to bother with killing you. But now you've annoyed me."
"Yeah? I've annoyed Anansi, Raven, Odin ... even Oberon himself. Take a number, bitch."
"I'll take more than a number." Her voice was guttural now, not the least harmonious or sultry, and Puck stirred in aversion again. "I'll
take your soul ... for starters."
"No thanks." Elisa hooked her toe behind the gun on the ground, and kicked. It flipped through the air and struck T'chambleau in the hip.
The barrel split her skin, and the edges peeled back like paper. Smoke burst from the wound. At once, the questing forest of hair
contracted tight against T'chambleau's head. Her scream this time was of definite pain.
Elisa ran, mentally X-ing off yet another gun and knowing that Chavez was really going to be ticked ... what was this, six, seven in as
many years? At the moment, she'd cheerfully accept the bawling-out, because that would only happen in a world that was back to normal.
Up ahead, the spires of St. Bernadette's rose bravely, making Elisa think of a battle standard held aloft by the last desperate squire in the
army of a fallen king.
Puck started struggling weakly. "No ... no church."
"But you said --"
"Not for me. Iron ... in the doors ... on the roof! Keep out the ... spirits ..."
"Oh, great!" Elisa glanced back and wished she hadn't; the demoness was gaining, and a green light that made her think of radiation was
pouring from her eyes.
"... airs ..."
"What?"
"Stairs!" he forced out. "Safe on the ... stairs."
"I hope you're right!"
She scrambled up the steps, skidding in heaps of damp, worm-riddled, rank-smelling dirt. The doors were shut, and she could hear singing
from within. Something about it, the faltering quality, told her that there were a lot of people who'd never set foot in church before were in
there now, trying their best to join in the hymns and gain the favor of a God that seemed to have abandoned all Manhattan.
Deathbed conversions, she thought. No atheists in the trenches ... or in Hell.
T'chambleau stopped short at the bottom of the stairs, and paced tensely back and forth like a lioness in too small of a cage. Elisa let out a
relieved breath.
"What's with the dirt?"
"Demons," Puck said as she set him down. He hitched as far from the doors as he could, into the corner. "Tried ... tried to come up. Same
... happen to ... her."
Elisa knelt beside him. Without his formidable powers and with his spark of fun squashed out of him, he seemed very young. "What about
you? What can we do?"
"You can't stay there forever," T'chambleau snarled. Her hair stretched out, and mashed against nothingness as if it had met a glass wall
springing from the base of the stairs. "As the dark forces in this city gain in numbers and strength, these little bastions of safety will dwindle."
"Is that true or is she messing with me?" Elisa muttered.
Puck's miserable grin told her all she needed to know. "Go ... inside. Altar ... last place to ... stay strong."
"You're not getting rid of me that easily. I got you into this. I talked you into switching."
"Wouldn't ... matter ... she knew."
"Can you get your strength back? She sapped you somehow, right, brought us down back there?"
He nodded.
"So what do we have to do? Will it come back if you rest?"
"You're wasting your time, woman," T'chambleau said. "But I'll make a bargain with you ... bring him to me, and I'll let you go."
Elisa didn't even bother looking her way. "What would help, Puck? I'm not running out on you. Believe it or not, I'd miss Owen. Might
even kind of miss you."
"Tough cookie," he smiled.
"You know it."
"Only one thing ... can think of. Got ... lady's veil?"
"Not unless it's an ingredient in Chapstick."
"Didn't ... think so. Worth a shot."
"Where could I find some?"
Puck uttered an unsteady sound perhaps meant to be a wry laugh. "Some ... in castle."
She groaned. "Beautiful. Any other ideas?"
"Nope."
"The castle ... the gargoyles are probably all over Manhattan by now trying to make sense of this mess ... the phones won't work ..." She
kicked at the base of the door in frustration, and the heavy iron knocker clanked.
Puck winced. "Hey ..."
"Hey!" Elisa said with altogether different inflection.
She glanced over her shoulder at T'chambleau, who had given up pacing and now waited with a look of impatient expectation. Behind the
demoness, a motley collection of other hellspawn were gathering, perhaps drawn to her evil presence like moths.
"Churchbells?" she asked Puck. "A bell worked on Oberon."
"Maybe," he said, though she could tell he didn't like the idea. In this form, he was a hundred times more vulnerable to iron and its various
effects than was Owen. "But even ... drive them away ... still too far."
She caught herself before she could use vulgarities on the steps of a church. "Is there any way we can reach someone at the castle? Even
in all this, Goliath wouldn't leave it undefended."
For the first time, a truly nasty wrench of fear went through her, as the notion finally sank home -- Goliath was out there somewhere, out in
this devil's night ... and knowing him, he'd be right in the thick of it, right where it was worst.
"State I'm in ... could maybe reach ... Aiden ..."
A cry of triumph rang in their ears. Elisa saw T'chambleau on the first step, as if the mass of the demons behind her, the density of their evil
presence, weakened whatever power it was that had been holding them at bay. And as more of them congregated, the safe zone would
shrink more and more ...
"Better do it," Elisa said. "We're running out of time."
"But one more thing, Elisa?"
"Yeah?"
He gave her a ghost of a grin. "If someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes."

* *

The Hunter entered Nightstone Plaza and came to an abrupt halt.
The purpose that had been running through his mind ever since he'd pulled Jon's mask drained away and left him staring in uncertainty
at the tumbled remains of the Nightstone Building.
There wasn't enough debris, not nearly enough ... and even as he watched, more of the volcano-like mound collapsed inward.
Sinkhole?
But to where? No sinkhole could be big enough to devour a building that had towered to a very-respectable-for-Manhattan height!
And it didn't explain the brilliant red-orange glow; it was the exact color of an electric stove's burner on the highest setting. He felt no
heat, though.
And there were the monsters.
Crawling over the rim of the shrinking mound of rubble. Sometimes pausing to rip with their teeth at the flesh of the bodies tangled amid
bricks and pieces of wallboard. Slinking off into the streets.
Strangest of all, in the middle of the Plaza, at one of many small dark green metal tables, an old man sat with a briefcase open on his lap,
unconcerned at the horrors that passed him (and they were equally unconcerned with him).
High overhead, basking in that hot-stove glow, the figure of a gargoyle hovered. One quick look assured Jason it was neither the Demon
nor her son. But they had to be around here somewhere.
With Nightstone destroyed and no other gargoyles in sight, he was at a loss.
He fixed his gaze on the old man, who seemed to sense the weight of it and looked up. For a heart-chilling moment, Jason was sure it
would be the specter of his father again.
Strong, but somehow vulpine features. Short white hair. Piercing eyes the color of emeralds. No resemblance whatsoever to Jason's
father or any of the Canmore ancestors of which he knew.
He moved closer. The old man did not appear threatened or bothered, though he did close and clasp his briefcase, and scrutinized Jason.
The offices, and indeed all of Anvil Corp, had been deserted when he got there. None of the alarms had gone off. He had no idea where
the Quarrymen were. It had been a simple matter to get inside and equip himself.
Along with the Hunter's mask, Jon had kept the rest of his uniform in the same locked glass case, but because Jason had always been
far broader through the chest and shoulders, only the pants fit him. He'd made do with a plain black T-shirt, and had a gun at one hip
and a hammer banging against the other leg.
The old man looked him up and down, and there was something so commanding and superior in his manner that Jason instinctively
stood straighter, chin held proudly high.
Suddenly he understood what role this man must play. He approached with more eagerness, though he would have been lying to himself
not to admit to a qualm or two.
"You must be Jason Canmore," he said. He spoke with a faint German accent that turned 'Jason' into 'Chayson' and his eyes glittered
brightly, brightly.
"And I know who ye are," Jason replied. "Ye're here t' gi' me wisdom an' guidance. For the Descent."
"Descent?"
"Into Darkness. Ye're the Old Man, are ye not?"
That emerald gaze intensified for a moment, becoming almost unbearable, and then he laughed richly. "How very Jungian of you! I'm
sorry to disappoint."
"Then ... then who are ye? What are ye doin' here?"
"I am watching my workplace sink into the Abyss," he said, and it wasn't quite 'vatching' and 'vorkplace,' but wanted to be. "My name
is Sevarius. Doctor Gustav Sevarius."
"Sevarius!" Jason recoiled from the hand the man held out. "The geneticist, the monster-maker?"
"My brother's reputation precedes me."
"Brother ..."
"And what are you doing here, young Canmore? As if I couldn't guess. Come to try your luck against the Demon again, nicht wahr?"
"I have to! See what she's done!"
Sevarius exhaled heavily. "Ja ... this is a bad one. But the fault is not all hers. I bear my share. Though it is pointless parceling out the
guilt now. All that remains is to resolve, and cover up if possible."
"I dinna follow ye."
"Don't worry yourself. My advice to you is to go home, lock your door, and wait for it to be over."
"For dawn, ye mean?"
"I think we'll see no dawn, not here. It will be over when it is over. Either when Damien up there is dealt with and his work undone, or
when he does whatever it is he is trying to do, which I assume will involve the wholesale slaughter of every other living thing on this island."
"I canna sit back and let the Demon --"
"My dear boy, you still do not follow. Damien has demonstrated quite conclusively that he feels neither obligation nor friendship to Demona.
I saw it all with mine own eyes. She will be working to destroy him now. If she is successful, and everything returns to normal, that is where
my part comes in."
"To do what?"
He patted his briefcase. "Bad enough that Nightstone will take the blame for this disaster. Worse if people know what actually happened.
They will be far better off believing they suffered a form of mass hysteria, caused by an explosion that released a chemical into the air.
Wouldn't you rather think that than think your neighborhood had been overrun with monsters?"
"I dinna know what I'd rather think!" Jason cried in anguish, clutching the sides of his head. All of this, and then this strange man calmly
discussing cover-ups ...
"Poor boy," he said with a dearth of genuine compassion. "What medications are you on? I may be able to help."
"Hear me! I've come t' kill the Demon, and that's what I'm goin' t' do! If I stick t' that, I'll be fine. Do what ye will, just leave me out o' it!"
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
Jason heard the underlying threat and dropped his hands to the weapons on his hips. The old man had nothing but the briefcase and a
silver-handled black cane leaning against the leg of the table, yet he still felt absurdly frightened.
They held each other's gaze for a long tense moment.

* *

"I'm not going to hurt you!" Harry the Hammer said.
"Hurt us?" Brooklyn snickered. "That'd be a good one. You're in your jammies, unarmed, and in a cast."
"Well, you're right about that, human," Demona said. "I don't know what madness possessed you to come here, but you'll find that
your luck has finally run out. Jericho --"
"Wait," Goliath commanded.
Jericho glowered at him. "Give me one reason."
"Demona herself told us," Elektra said swiftly, stepping between Jericho and Goliath again, "that every human life lost makes Damien
all the stronger. Why do his work for him?"
"No, listen ... I understand now!" Harry rushed forward eagerly, but skidded to a halt when Brooklyn raised a fist threateningly. "I
understand! God be praised! I've seen the Light, and it's all clear now!"
"What do you understand?" Angela asked.
"It's a trick!" Demona said. "He could have dynamite strapped to his chest. People like him, they're fanatics! He'd think nothing of
blowing himself up to take all of us with him!"
Harry tore open his pajama shirt, revealing a paunchy, white, hairy belly with an appendix scar. "No, see, I'm not here to fight you,
we're all on the same side!"
"What are you talking about?" Goliath rumbled suspiciously.
Demona glared at him. "I can't believe you're listening to this lunatic! Have you forgotten, he tried to kill your daughter! He would
have done it too, if I hadn't --"
"It was you?" Goliath cut in. "You were the ... the ..."
"Tart in the fur coat," Brooklyn said, smirking, drawing a snarl from Jericho.
"I was wrong!" Harry protested. "She wasn't the Evil One, and the Maza woman wasn't the Dark Madonna. I was wrong! Praise
God I didn't hurt her! That would have been the Devil's work for sure! But that's the Evil One, up there! Nobody could deny that!"
He pointed with his good arm up at Damien, who continued working his dark magic as if the actions of beings below were of as little
consequence to him as the skittering of ants. Conviction blazed from his homely, earnest face. Angela tried to say something, but
Harry vocally ran right over her.
"I mean, gargoyles, I should have known!" He smacked himself in the forehead. "Yessir, it was Mr. Splitfoot putting that idea in
my head for sure! Probably did the same to J.C. We didn't think it through! Gargoyles! Not evil! Our ancestors put your images
on churches! On cathedrals! Just look, look at Notre Dame, places like that! They're teeming with gargoyles! And do you know
why? Because our ancestors put them there to keep evil away! Which makes you good by definition! Angels, almost! All this time
we've been persecuting you wrongfully!"
"Oh, man," Brooklyn murmured. He twiddled his forefinger in a big circle at his temple. Angela and Jericho both nodded agreement.
Harry's eyes were feverish and starry, the eyes of a man in the throes of a revelation. "You might look hideous, demonic ... no offense
... but even that makes sense! A cute little cherub or a prissy feathery angel the way people show them now could never hold their own
against Hell's Army! Gotta be big and tough, able to take some lumps, like gladiators! We've been so stupid! You're God's servants
just like we are, just like I am!"
"Harry --" Goliath tried.
"And that's why I'm here! To right my wrongs! And you, Ms. Destine, I called you the Devil's Handmaid but I was wrong about
that too; it really was God's Hand upon you that brought you back from the dead! You haven't been trying to destroy us, you've
been protecting us! The Evil One must have been trapped in there for who knows how long, and you've been guarding the way
out ..." He pondered, and then a new and even brighter light came on in his eyes. "And I bet it's because of us that you failed!
Because of what J.C. and his brother did, trying to expose you and everything, and the rest of us went along with it."
Demona sank her face into her cupped hands, and to Elektra it seemed that she was trying mightily not to either bray hysterical
laughter or burst into a storm of tears.
Harry turned his zealot's fire on Goliath. "We made offenses to God! Mistaking your daughter for the Evil One, that fake attack
we tried to blame on God's chosen gargoyles, everything ... all offenses to God! But God spared me, see, gave me this broken
arm as a warning but spared me to set things right! So I'm going to!"
"What mean you to do?" Elektra asked in cautious concern, bringing his frantic gaze to rest on her.
He pointed at her with his good arm, which wavered. "Now you, you ... you even almost do look like an angel. So you're the
one. I can help you. You need holy water, you need to be blessed? I can help you."
"You have holy water?" Jericho asked skeptically.
"No, but there's a church right near here and I know the parish priest. He'll give us some. He'll even say a blessing over her. I'm
sure of it." He looked suddenly abashed. "A few years back when everyone realized you gargoyles were real, really real, he
started preaching that God made all life and you were God's children too and so we should accept you, welcome you. That it
isn't our bodies that are made in God's image but our minds and souls and capacity to love and reason and take care of one
another. I didn't want to believe that, so I stopped going. The Devil put blindness and hate in my heart, filled my head with crazy
thoughts. He must've thought it would be funny, to take a decent God-fearing man like me and make me a weapon against you."
Goliath glanced at Demona, one brow ridge raised. She, dumbfounded, made a dismissive gesture with both hands and shook
her head slightly, silently telling him that she had no idea what to make of this peculiar new development.
Elektra touched Goliath's arm. "Goliath ... I will go with him."
"Sister, he is a madman," Jericho objected.
"Definitely a couple cans short of a six-pack," Brooklyn said.
"Fanaticism has worked against us so long ..." Demona murmured in an undertone. "Why not let it work for us for a change?"
Angela shifted her gaze from Harry to Elektra and back again. "He seems sincere, but ..."
"I trust him," Elektra said, still speaking only to Goliath. "He means well, and he can help us. I deem the risk acceptable, if we
are to stop this Damien and spare the lives of so many."
"All right," Goliath said, pressing his knuckles against her brow. "Demona, tell her the incantation."
"In the meantime, what are we going to do?" Brooklyn asked. "We can't just stand around while that psychopath --"
"Sociopath," Jericho corrected. He grinned viciously. "Believe me, I know the difference."
"We," Goliath said, silencing them both with a stern look, "are going to do all we can to hamper Damien's efforts."
"You mean, fight him," Angela said.
Elektra missed the rest of their discussion as Demona drew her aside. It struck her odd, the two of them standing here like this,
bringing back memories of the first time she'd denied the day, and fought the human Demona for Broadway's life in the basement
of Jon Castaway's house.
"It is in Latin," Demona began.
"The Magus found me an apt pupil."
"Good." She recited, and Elektra attended.
When she was confident she knew it, she turned to Harry. "If we're to reach the church quickly, we ought make use of my wings."
He realized what she was saying and his complexion went curd-colored. "You mean ... carry me? You?"
"I am stronger than I look."
"Um ... well, okay ..."
Before he could change his mind, Elektra picked him up and jumped.

* *

Aiden ...
"What?" She was sitting in the open chapel window, watching hopefully for returning shadows against the red-violet dome of the
sky. She turned and swung her legs back inside. "Did you call me?"
"What?" Lex replied. He was on the floor with Amber, trying to teach her to play Mousetrap, though she was more interested in
playing with the little plastic mice.
"Someone called me."
Samson glanced over from where he sat on a bench with his shaggy knees about up to his chin. At his feet, Tom and Dee Maza
were curled together in a black and tan yin-yang of fur, sound asleep. "I didn't hear anything."
Aiden ... I need you!
She gasped and teetered on the sill; if it hadn't been a deeply recessed ledge, she would have fallen off for sure. "Puck!"
"What? Where?" Lex bounded up. "From outside?"
"No," Aiden said. "He's in the city! He ... oh, no!" She shushed Lex and listened keenly, nodding. "Okay ... yes, I can find it ...
I will ... fast as I can!"
"Aiden?"
"He's in trouble. Him and Elisa both." She scrambled down from her perch. "They're at St. Bernadette's. I've got to go." Turmoil
filled her. "Oh ... but I promised Goliath ..."
"He'd say we go."
"We can't both go, Lex! We can't leave Samson here with the children!"
"I can take care of them," Samson interjected.
"Wan go Zaza!" Amber tugged importantly on Lex's tail.
"Not this time. You stay here with Samson."
"Wan go Zaza now!"
"Sorry, kiddo."
"There's something in Owen's room I need," Aiden said. She hurried into the castle with Lex at her side, and told him everything
she'd been able to grasp from the brief communication with Puck.
Owen's suite was so neat and impersonal that it could have passed for an unused guest room. Not an article was out of place, and
all the furnishings looked like they'd been chosen as mere stage dressing.
Aiden went straight to a large trunk at the foot of the bed. It was the sort of thing that a girl from an earlier decade might have used
as a hope chest, but as Aiden got close to it, her hands began to prickle.
"What's the matter?" Lex asked.
"This chest ...strong magic!" She whispered the spell that Puck had passed on to her, and the latch clicked. She opened the lid. "Here.
You can take this."
Lex hefted the unbalanced, knobby-ended club that she gave him. "Shillelagh?"
"It's made from rowanwood, very good against ghosts, spirits, demons, and other intangibles."
"Am I going to need this?"
"Puck said it might help. Aha!" She brought out a tiny square of folded spidersilk cloth tied with a shimmery blue ribbon. "Got it!
Okay, let's go!"
"What's that?"
"Lady's veil."
"That elf-nip he was warning T.J. about? Why?"
"Remember how I was worried I couldn't use my magic? Puck's in the same boat. I got the idea that he was running on fumes just
trying to contact me. This'll give him back his power. Under the circumstances, I guess he's willing to risk the other side effects."
They ran for the battlements, and just as Aiden was about to dive off she saw something that filled her with relief.
"Look! Lex, look!"
Three winged forms were gliding haltingly toward the castle, two of them supporting the familiar shape of Bronx between them.
"Hudson! Broadway!" Lex called, swooping toward them. "Gabr -- whoa!"
He pulled up sharply and Aiden almost crashed into him. Her eyes flew wide when she got a good look at them. They were drenched in
blood that ran freely from deep slashes. One of Broadway's ears was hanging on by threads. Worst of all, Gabriel had one wrist tightly
bandaged in a strip torn from his loincloth, and in his other hand, he held that hand, neatly severed.
"I have to --" Lex said, holding out the shillelagh.
"You have to --" Aiden said at the same time, reaching for it.
They shared a quick but intense look full of love and duty, and then she veered away while he came up alongside Hudson to help him
bear Bronx's weight.
One small gargoyle alone in a city of the damned, Aiden thought, clenching the packet tightly. Below her, buildings were on fire and
burning unchecked. Bodies were scattered in the streets, providing a ghoulish banquet for the imps and undead.
She shared the sky with hosts of winged monsters, and drew upon the very last of her energies to weave a spell of dimness around
herself.
Something huge loomed in her path. Aiden stifled a scream.
The dragonlich was the size of a 737, but far less substantial. Its scales were ghost-grey, eaten away in places to reveal the empty cage
of its ribs. No heart beat within that hollow darkness, no lungs drew breath. Its wings were spidery fingerlike struts with tissue-thin
membranes stretched between them; its eyes were a baleful yellow above the leprous jut of its muzzle. The teeth that lined its jaw were
rotted black, but still more than strong enough to crunch her into juicy bits.
Dim, dim, dim, she willed, terrified.
It passed over her without seeing. The air currents from its lazily-beating wings tumbled her like a dry leaf. She couldn't tell up from
down, plunging in a head-over-heels spin.
She recovered inches before pasting herself onto a billboard. She landed under it, gasping, and saw that she was only a few blocks
from St. Bette's, as it was familiarly known. Those clusters of iron weathervanes and lightning-rods were unmistakable.
And the streets all around the church were dark and stirring with a living carpet of demonic creatures. They were streaming in from all
over the place: giant rats with barbed scorpion tails, things that looked like people partly transformed into dogs, larger dogs with heavy
hunched shoulders and fangs dripping acidic foam, long snaky multi-legged alligators, bat-winged imps, slick rubbery monsters that
resembled the unholy offspring of squids and manta rays, goat-men clattering on their hind hooves, pig-devils with beady greedy little
red eyes.
Aiden felt her courage running out of her like water from a sieve. She unthinkingly brought the packet of lady's veil to her face and
pressed it against one cheek, then the other. Then against her nose, eyes shut, and inhaled the misty-moonlight scent of its magic. It
did nothing for her powers, but it quieted her fears enough for her to open her eyes and go on.
She started to put the packet under her belt, reconsidered, and tucked it even more securely under the belt but on the inside of her
tunic-dress. She took to the air again, coming around to the front of the church.
Below on the steps, she saw Elisa, standing defiantly between Puck and a strikingly beautiful (and altogether scary) naked demoness. The
demoness was more than halfway up the stairs, bolstered by the encroaching masses of evil crowding eagerly behind her.
A cold finger ran the length of Aiden's spine. She bit back a shriek and whirled, then went ahead and loosed the shriek.
A skeleton wreathed in cool blue fire hovered in front of her, eye sockets dancing with flames like gas jets. It settled its bony hands on
her bare shoulders and the flickers spilled out onto her skin.
She reacted with a thoughtless panicked speed, flailing wildly with the shillelagh. More by luck than skill, she clocked the skeleton right
in the skull and knocked it off. But the headless body kept grabbing at her.
Aware that she was emitting small eeks of fright like a bad sitcom housewife seeing a mouse, she bit her lip and started swinging in
earnest. The weapon almost seemed to guide her blows, so Aiden went with it, clubbing on autopilot.
Bones flew, some of them still flickering, raining down on the throng below. This got their attention, and Aiden was treated to the
wholly unwelcome sensation of having thousands of evil eyes trained right on her.
"Aiden!" Elisa shouted.
"Stop her!" the demoness ordered.
Everything that could fly was coming straight at her. Aiden froze for a moment, then poured it on, racing them for the roof of the church.
Something awful reached her first, a shrunken head that flew by flapping coarse wings of hair from its desiccated scalp and steered by
lashing a tail of vertebrae. It latched onto her foot with what felt like six hundred needle teeth.
Aiden shrieked again and tried to smack it off. She missed, darn near shattering her own ankle, and realized that she was on a collision
course with the weathervanes and lightning-rods.
She clamped the handle of the shillelagh in her mouth, seized the highest iron pole in both hands, and let momentum whip her around.
Just like the Olympics, only sideways ... until her legs slammed into a shorter one and she was falling, hearing the scree of bolts tearing
loose, and down she went in the middle of a bunch of falling iron bars.
One of the lightning-rods socked into the big muscle on the left side of her back; if it had been a pointed one instead of one tipped with
a metal ball, she would have been Aiden-shiskabob for sure. As it was, that whole side of her body spasmed and went numb. The pain
would catch up with her in a second, she knew, but right now she was just falling too fast for it. At some point, she realized, the demon
clinging to her foot had vanished, leaving a grubby dirty residue.
Broken iron poles clanged and clanked all over the stairs. The din was tremendous, ringing and rebounding, seeming to go on and on.
Several monstrosities withered inwards or melted away just from the noise.
The biggest one struck on end and bounced at the demoness, but she ducked and it sailed over her head to land on the crowd. A
bubbling hiss rose up, followed by a horrendous stench.
Aiden noticed little of this; she was too busy twisting and turning and trying not to get beaned in the head or skewered. She actually
landed on her feet, but a combination of impact force and surprise sent her backwards, where she landed again, plunk! right on Puck.
She lay there, unable to move and amazed to be alive. She was peripherally conscious that Elisa had grabbed up one of the sharp
poles and was taking threatening jabs at the demons with it.
"Ow."
"Stirring entrance, sweet cheeks," Puck coughed from under her. "Pardon me for taking liberties."
Then he was reaching inside her clothes, and Aiden squeaked.
"Ticklish?" he teased, folding the packet of lady's veil between his pinkie and palm, leaving the rest of his fingers free to skitter up her ribs.
"Eeeee-yiii!" Aiden said, vaulting off of him and crouching with her arms crossed, pulling her wings defensively around her body. She
stared at him, shocked and flustered.
Puck grinned and winked.
"If you two are done fooling around --" Elisa called, backing toward the doors as the demons grew bolder.
"I have not yet begun to fool around," Puck informed her loftily. He deftly unfolded the packet, removed a tiny seed, and put it in
his mouth. His eyelids drifted dreamily to half-mast and he shuddered as if caught by a pleasant chill.
Aiden, still not to terms with the knowledge that she'd practically been felt up by her own teacher, suddenly couldn't help thinking
that he looked like he might look during ... she spatted her palm against her own face before the thought could be completed.
To her great relief, she espied the shillelagh, which she'd lost at some point during her graceless, noisy descent. She picked it up and
joined Elisa.
"Goliath?" Elisa asked.
"Went to find the source," Aiden explained.
"I was afraid of that."
"You will not win," the demoness said, advancing another step.
"Any closer and you're going to have this for a suppository," Elisa shot back, holding the pole like a lance.
"Sorry, T'chambleau," Puck said, floating easily to his feet. "Looks like you lose this one." He flourished his hand like a magician, and
a golden helm with a lush white plume appeared in it.
"You destroyed my brother."
"Since when has sibling loyalty meant anything to T'yamathet's get? Who really put you up to this?" He settled the helm onto his head
-- it had special cutouts on the sides to allow for his ears. As he put it firmly in place, a sparkling curtain of gold light fell from it, leaving
Puck arrayed in gold chainmail.
Aiden saw her own stunned expression mirrored on Elisa's face.
"I come for revenge!" T'chambleau said, but there was a hint of unsurety in her voice.
Puck gestured at the rest of the stairs, thickly littered in iron. "Come and get me."
"Come and fight," she returned, mimicking the gesture. "Lady's veil or no, you can't cross that iron any more than I can."
He looked at Aiden and Elisa, and they both shrank back. The Puck they thought they knew, the fun-loving trickster, was gone. This
warrior-elf was a grim stranger, and for the first time an incredible sense of age and timelessness struck them.
"Move the bars," he said.
Aiden would have automatically moved to obey even if he had still been that same merry wanderer of the night; when he spoke that
commandingly, she leaped to obey.
Elisa paused. "Are you sure?"
He inclined his head. "This one's my fight."
T'chambleau waited, her pose one of arrogance, the coils of her hair waving slowly. Behind her, the hoard quieted and at the same
time seemed to surge forward though they didn't move, the atmosphere of predatory hunger as heavy as the air before a thunderstorm.
"You may want to go inside," Puck said, flexing his fingers.
"No way," Aiden said.
Elisa heaved the last of the poles out of the way. Now there was a clear path between Puck and T'chambleau, and both combatants
stepped into position. Puck at the high end, the doors of the church towering over him, the demoness at the midpoint.
"You have grown weak living among the mortals, Puck. All of Avalon knows how you must rely on them to win your battles. But not
this time. It is only the two of us."
"Understood," he said, unruffled as Owen Burnett on his blandest day.
"Naturally, you couldn't beat Oberon on your own ... but you couldn't even best Earneau without their help. And I am stronger than
my brother."
"Then why are you stalling for time?" Elisa asked insolently. "What are you afraid of?"
"She's waiting for me to strike the first blow," Puck said. "To test my strength."
"Are you going to?" Aiden asked.
"Yes, are --"
Puck thrust out both arms, the heels of his hands up, palms out (the exact way, Aiden thought, that Spiderman does it when he's
shooting webbing). He snapped his fingers out straight, and an enormous flare of white-gold energy sheeted from his hands.
T'chambleau never finished her question. For a moment, she was there, outlined in white, and then she was gone in a confetti-whirl
of ash.
A pie-wedge of space extending into the middle of the street was scoured bare behind where she had been. It eradicated every
demon in its path. It even cleansed the oil stains, dried wads of gum, and painted lanes from the asphalt.
Aiden blinked and blinked and rubbed her eyes and blinked some more, but the orange dazzle of afterimage wouldn't go away.
The silence that fell was heavy and complete. Then Elisa whistled softly.
A low muttering arose from the remaining demons. They began to disperse, slinking back into the shadows. The only visible traces
were heaps of dirt or bubbling patches of goo that had been taken out by the iron.
"Wow," Aiden said.
Puck blew smoke from his fingertips. "Thanks. Let's bid this place a fond adieu before they come back, shall we, ladies? I may
be good at these ugly little games, but that doesn't mean I enjoy them."

* *

Damien saw them come, and growled in annoyance.
The pit to the deeper levels was wide as a city block, the light rising from it a sulfur-yellow in hue. All of the Nightstone rubble
had slid into it, and part of the Plaza as well; it was even beginning to undermine the neighboring buildings.
The creatures climbing from it were larger than ever, stronger than ever. A greater test of his control, a greater testament to his
mastery.
But he could not maintain that mastery and control when distracted. The Others, the vast and immensely powerful ones waiting
on the other side for their chance to surge forth and overpower this world, would only need the tiniest slip on his part.
He wasn't ready for that yet. When Manhattan had fallen, when every last spark of human life had been snuffed out, then
would be the time for the others to be released. And after that, he'd drop the dome, return this island to the world from whence
he'd torn it, and the evil ones would spread across the globe.
But now these gargoyles were determined to get in his way.
He Called, but the Sisterhood were too far away to be of any use. And there seemed to be fewer of them than he'd reached
before.
That meant he would have to deal with these gargoyles himself, since he couldn't count on their ancient ancestral enemies to get
here in time.
Growling again, Damien focused on the pit and spoke other Words, sketching two parallel lines with his first and second talons,
then crossing them. A mercury-silver grid, like a tic-tac-toe game, appeared across the opening.
A mass howl, a wrathful and cheated cry, burst from the pit as the demons realized their way was blocked, that they were held at
bay. Immediately, Damien could feel them straining against their prison.
He'd have to be quick.
The leader, a large purple male, was almost upon him. A female of the same coloring was on the leader's right, and to the left
came a white-haired male with skin almost as red as Damien's own. Bringing up the rear, his expression a mix of disgruntled
sullenness and bloodthirst, was Jericho.
Demona, Damien saw, had remained below on the roof. Stripped of her gargoyle form, made vulnerable by the change-magic
inherent in her body, she was weak and of no consequence.
"Damien!" the leader shouted. "There is no need for this!"
"You can't appeal to his better nature, Goliath," Jericho sneered. "He has none. Hasn't that come clear to you yet?"
"But gargoyle shouldn't fight gargoyle!" the female said. "Not if there's any other way!"
"I don't think there is this time, Angela," the red male replied.
They all looked at Damien, taking special note of the armor and long lethal blades; for their benefit, Damien obligingly straightened
his upper elbow joints to extend the ones on his arms. He said nothing.
The leader, Goliath, frowned as if some elusive knowledge was on the verge of making itself known. Before he could attain it,
whatever it was, Damien attacked.
He went in fast with his arm-blades fully outthrust, not expecting a gargoyle that big to be able to get out of the way in time.
Goliath served him up a nasty surprise, deflecting one blade with a defensive swipe of his forearm and twisting to avoid the other. He
followed up with a ringing punch to the side of Damien's head.
The rest were moving in. Damien grappled Goliath and lunged backward with all his strength. They rolled in midair. Damien let go,
sending Goliath tumbling and forcing the female, Angela, to veer frantically to get out of the way.
Even as she was doing that, Damien spotted the red male coming up beneath him. He dropped blades-first, felt a conflicting breeze,
and realized that he'd just missed taking a roundhouse from Jericho in the back of the head.
The red male proved to be limber, pivoting on a dime as he saw those blades coming straight at him. He managed to get behind
them, so Damien's unprotected shins struck him instead.
Even so, the force of their collision was hard enough to fracture his left wing strut. The red male bellowed and fell, fluttering like a
crippled moth.
"Brooklyn!" Angela dove after him.
As she passed under Damien, he pistoned his heel down hard as he could manage, and connected with the small of her back. She
arched into a bow, mouth gaping silently. From below, Demona screamed for her, in anguish and fury.
Iron-solid talons closed around Damien's neck from behind. He reached back with both arms, his elbow blades pointing uselessly
at the sky. He dug at Jericho's face with his claws, and Jericho bit his hand to the bone.
Goliath rose before him. As Damien struck out with his knee, Goliath seized the blade, slicing his palms deep but caring about that
no more than he apparently minded the bleeding defense cut on his forearm.
Holding it in both hands, Goliath brought the blade down over his own knee. It cracked loudly, the sound a well-seasoned length
of hickory might make under a woodcutter's axe, and snapped in half.
Damien roared in disbelief. He had less than half the blade left, ending in an uneven break.
Goliath grasped the rest like a knife and thrust it at Damien, but when it hit his demon-black armor, it shattered into a dozen pieces.
Jericho squeezed harder and sank the tips of his claws into the flesh just over Damien's windpipe. Damien, understanding that Jericho
meant to pull his throat apart like the segments of a ripe orange, slammed his elbows around and back in a fierce, tight arc. They both
hit home in Jericho's stomach. Hot breath gusted against Damien's ear and then Jericho fell away from him.
Damien rocked back as Goliath lunged. He brought up his remaining knee-blade. It plunged deep into the right side of Goliath's
chest, just under the collarbone. Damien linked his hands behind the nape of Goliath's neck, holding him in place as he prepared
to flex his powerful leg and rip that blade all the way down to Goliath's belt.
Just then, a distant but staggering flash of white-gold light left Damien stunned. At almost the exact same moment, the death-cries
of hundreds of the pit-spawn drilled into his ears. Among them was a higher and more resonating shriek, the sound of a full-fledged
greater demon wiped from existence.
Angela came out of nowhere, returning the kick he'd given her with a gliding drop-kick that smashed into Damien's face. He and
Goliath were flung apart, his blade sliding free on a gout of blood.
Jericho was waiting and tackled Damien, locking his arms around Damien's waist and applying tremendous crushing pressure. His
armor began to buckle.
Damien, beginning now to be concerned, spoke a Word. Red-black energy crackled from his hands. He grabbed Jericho by the
sides of the face.
The energy exploded around Jericho in a corona. His body bent backwards until his heel-talons were nearly touching the back of
his skull. Then the light winked out and Jericho was falling, trailing ribbons of smoke.
He landed half-on and half-off the roof. Demona caught him as he started to slide, and pulled desperately. It seemed a lost cause
for certain, but then Brooklyn, one wing hanging slack as a sail on a calm sea, reached over and helped her drag him to safety.
Damien looked around. Goliath and Angela were below, her supporting him and casting frightened glances up over her shoulder.
His hands were still pulsing. He clapped them together, extending his forefingers and lacing the rest.
A comet of red-black burst from his pointing fingers. It hit Goliath dead-on, swatting him from the air. Angela was hurled sideways.
Goliath crashed into the wall of the next building over. It broke like a piƱata and he rebounded onto the roof where Demona stood
with clenched fists beside a motionless Jericho. An avalanche of bricks came down on top of Goliath, burying him from neck to heels.
Brooklyn ran toward him, calling his name.
Damien turned, seeking Angela, and she kicked him in the face again, splitting his lips against his teeth. He got ahold of her ankle this
time, and pulled her down to eye level. His other hand closed around her slender throat and prepared to choke the life from her.
Demona shouted a Word of her own.
Ropes of fire entangled him, ropes that burned like nothing he'd felt before. It was pain, for the first time actual pain, and with it for
the first time came actual anger, shaking him from his detached and dispassionate state.
It lasted the better part of a minute, long seconds of searing agony, before he found another Word to counter it and make the ropes
sizzle into nothingness.
He descended, caping his wings as he settled onto the roof.
Angela was on her knees with her head hanging, struggling for breath. Brooklyn crouched beside her. Goliath remained pinned.
Demona faced Damien, her green eyes seeming to flicker with embers. "It wasn't supposed to be like this! You were supposed to be
mine, ours! Now look what you've done!"
Jericho had just opened his eyes when Damien, by way of reply, whipped his arm forward and ran her through, killing her instantly.

* *

"Joo-wee-unn doot bedda," Amber announced. She had flatly refused to stay in the chapel with Samson and the twins,
and was now 'helping' Lex.
"Yeah, well, if he was here he could take over with my thanks." Lex tied the bandage securely around Broadway's
head. "There. That ought to hold your ear on until dawn."
"By my reckoning," Hudson said, still ignoring his own wounds as he wrestled with Bronx to try and treat his gouged
paws, "dawn should've come already and the day be mostly passed. We may ne'er see a change, so long as all this is
going on."
Gabriel raised bleak, haggard eyes to him. He had lost a lot of blood, and more was soaking through the dressing on the
stump of his wrist. "No dawn?"
"It'll come," Lex said with more confidence than he felt. "Dawn will come. And Broadway was right to tell you to save the
hand. One of the warriors back in the olden days got most of his tail chopped off, remember that, Hudson? And you got
Prince Malcolm to have one of his guards hold the ends together as the sun rose?"
"Ye canna remember that; it was Prince Corwin, and ye would have been hardly more than a hatchling!"
"But it happened! And his tail was fine the next night, right?"
"That it was."
"We have to do something," Broadway said. "Go help Goliath or something."
The room lit up. A bubble like a huge flawless pearl appeared, then popped and dumped Elisa, Aiden, and Puck onto the floor.
"Zaza!" Amber pounced on her mother.
Lex sprang to them and swept his mate into his arms as if he hadn't seen her in a year. "Aiden! You're okay!"
"Yeah," she said, sounding fairly surprised about that herself.
"She came through like a champ." Puck grinned wearily and thumped Aiden familiarly on the crest.
"Elisa? What are you doing here? I thought you were going to the airport!" Broadway said.
"Long story. What happened to you guys?"
"That'd be another long story, lass."
"Goliath's not back yet?"
Broadway shook his head. "I was just telling Lex we ought to go look."
"Sounds like a plan." She glanced expectantly at Puck.
"Dream on, detective. It took nearly everything I had to bring us home, and any more lady's veil would flatten me with an OD.
Best I can do is show you where they are." He held his fingers as if supporting an invisible ball. A sphere of white mist appeared
there. Its heart went black, then cleared to show Goliath.
"Daga!" Amber leaned close, then recoiled in a terrified cry as the black-armored gargoyle battling Goliath thrust a long sharp
knee spur into his chest. "Daga owie! Bad gargo Daga owie!"
Elisa quickly turned Amber's face away, stifling her own cry.
Puck made the sphere vanish. "Then again, maybe not."
"I'm going," Elisa said.
"I'll carry you." Broadway stood up.
"Ye're injured, lad!"
"Yeah, but it was only my head, how often do I use that?"
"Wait for me," Lex said. "I've been safe in the castle all night, gotta do something!"
Moments later, the three of them were on their way. Broadway picked up Elisa, and Lex led the way toward where the Nightstone
Building used to be. Now there was nothing but a yellow pit as bright as the sun, and the buildings around it were beginning to take
on a noticeable lean. It was all too easy for Lex to imagine that pit spreading, sucking in streets and skyscrapers and stalled cars,
until there was nothing left.
"Hey!" Broadway cried. Gladness filled his voice. "Elektra!"
Lex's first thought was that the blow to the head really had addled Broadway's brains, but it was Elektra, Elektra and a human
standing over the sprawled body of another human down in Nightstone Plaza.
Something was different about her. She seemed to glow almost. Probably just the way the strange light of the dome and the pit fell
on her ivory skin, but it looked more to Lex like she really was emitting a pale radiance of her own.
"That's Harry the Hammer!" Elisa said. "There, the one in the cast!"
"Elektra, look out!" Broadway dove toward them. His sweeping tail hit Harry the Hammer in the chest and bowled him over. He
landed fast, almost pushing Elisa over in his haste to set her down, and charged at the startled Harry.
"Broadway! Nay, my love!"
Elektra put herself between them, and Elisa winced, knowing that Broadway was the proverbial unstoppable force and slight
Elektra was no immovable object.
But he did stop, his feet skidding out from under him. He thudded down on his tail and goggled at his mate. "Huh?"
"Elektra, he's a Quarryman!" Elisa said.
"Not anymore! Scout's ... scout's ..." Harry raised his hand and fumbled with his fingers, never quite getting the sign right. "Well,
you know what I mean." He commenced babbling, all about his conversion, how he had Seen! The! Light! (and you could hear the
capitals and exclamation points in his voice).
"Such it is," Elektra said while Harry kept on going. "And by his aid, I've come to close the pit, and end this night of evil."
"So who's this guy?" Lex asked, bending over the white-haired old man. "Looks like someone whacked him on the head."
Elisa checked his wallet, and nearly dropped it. "Gustav Sevarius???"
The ground shook. Sections of the Plaza cracked into puzzle pieces. The ones nearest the edge of the pit fell in and vanished,
widening its radius. A phone booth toppled in, followed by a pair of cars and a hot dog vendor's wagon. Windows broke all down
the side of the closest building, the one that was developing the most pronounced tilt.

* *

The building trembled and groaned, and shifted beneath them. A few bricks slid over gravel, a few pipes rolled musically.
Behind Damien, Demona stirred in her pool of blood.
Only Jericho saw, but he realized it might be the chance they needed. If he could delay Damien for a few more seconds ...
Damien ignored the trapped Goliath, scraping his elbow-blades together in long knife-sharpening motions. He moved toward
Angela and Brooklyn.
"NO!" Goliath roared, straining against the weight of bricks pinning him to the ground.
Angela was panting harshly through her swollen, bruised throat. Brooklyn hunkered over her, one wing dragging limp from the
fractured strut. Of all of them, only he still looked able to put up a bit of a fight. Not much, though ... not nearly enough.
"Damien, wait." Jericho drew himself into a sitting position and nearly passed out from pains too numerous to count.
Demona was stealthily moving, raising her head, reaching for a length of metal pipe that had come to a stop near her. A moment
of distraction would be all she needed.
"Wait," Jericho said again as Damien closed in. "They are your parents."
His gaze was fixed on Damien, but in the periphery of his vision he saw Angela and Brooklyn's faces as the enormity of his words
sank in. Saw them look at Damien with new eyes, and see him ... the backswept horns, the coloring, the wings ... see and
know. First came the incredulity, then the belief ... and then the drowning wave of realization and betrayal. Goliath, who had
finally freed himself, froze in shock.
Damien only paused long enough to give Jericho a cold, contemptuous look, a look that said and that affects me how?
Demona swept up the pipe and leaped up, lithe as a panther. She swung from the heels, putting everything she had into it.
The pipe struck Damien just above the ear. Blood flew from his scalp in a fan-shaped spray. He fell to his knees, then pitched
forward onto his face. The black armor slid off him like water and vanished, leaving him in loincloth and belt.
Angela screamed hoarsely.
At the same moment, Demona bent double as she reverted to her gargoyle self.
Angela got up, coughing, and leaned on Brooklyn. Together, they stared down at Damien, then looked at Demona.
"Our son?" Angela choked. "You ... you took him ... what have you done to him?"
"It wasn't meant to turn out like this," Demona said.
Brooklyn spoke without unclenching his teeth. "What did you do to him?"
"Demona." Goliath said her name like it was the vilest oath ever uttered. "Of all the wrongs you have done my clan, this is the
worst!"
"My egg!" Angela cried. "Your own grandchild! How could you?"
"Don't speak to her that way!" Jericho forced himself to his feet. "I took the egg, if you must know!"
"Angela --" Demona said.
"Oh, does it matter?!" Angela shrieked at Jericho. "Everything you do, you do for her, I know that, you're sick, both of you,
sick and insane, selfish and rotten! I hate you both more than I have ever hated anything! I have no mother, no brother!"
"If you had been a better daughter, this never would have --" Jericho said.
Brooklyn's fist hit him like a runaway train. The next thing Jericho knew, he was flat on his back with a throbbing mass where
his jaw was supposed to be.
"I'm going to kill you," Brooklyn said, not a threat but a stark and brutal expectation.
"Don't be a fool!" Demona said. "What we did may have been wrong, but the fact of the matter is that Damien is the enemy now!"
"Because of you!" Angela retorted. "You turned him into this! Why? Wasn't it enough to steal our egg? What did you do to him?"
"You couldn't wait," Goliath said, in a voice as dark and foreboding as a thundercloud. "You've lived a thousand years, and couldn't
wait ten. Or couldn't chance us finding out, taking the egg back from you. So you altered him somehow, altered time, made him grow.
And look what it's done, Demona! Look what your impatience has done! To Damien, to your daughter, to this entire city. You've
doomed us all, damned us all ... for your own selfishness!"
"You know nothing about me, Goliath! It was an accident! This was never our intention! And now I mean to set it right." She
reversed the pipe and held the rough end above Damien's back, ready to drive it through him like a stake.
A chunk of brick flew down and tore it from her hands.
"Quite the family gathering," said a voice that would have been identical to Angela's if not for the taut, bitter, barely-contained fury. "I
see I wasn't invited."
They all looked up at the source of this new interruption. The instant Jericho saw the ebony-skinned female with the ruby eyes and
form-fitting battle armor, standing on the ruins of the wall that had caved in on Goliath, he knew who she had to be.
So did Demona.

* *

"Ventura!" Demona gasped. "Alive! He lied ... Thailog lied! You're alive!"
The look of mad joy on her face sent a chill through Goliath. What little was left of Demona's sanity was crumbling to
death-gravel second by second.
"You came back!" Angela growled.
"I was called," Ventura said, and the look on her face sent another chill through Goliath. "Now I know why. I am part
of a clan. Not yours, not hers --" she indicated Demona with a knife, a long sleek one well-balanced for throwing. A laser
pistol was slung at her waist, but like everything else mechanical, it was useless. "His. Damien's. A clan for all the unwanted,
despised children that all of you made into outcasts."
"No," Demona said. "I wanted you. I was tricked! You are my daughter!"
"Am I? What do you offer me?" She lowered the knife slightly.
"A place in my clan, where you belong!"
"Not good enough." She was holding the knife by the point, poised and ready.
Just as Ventura threw, the buildings both tipped. Windows burst all down the sides, bricks flew in a hailstorm. The spinning
knife missed Demona, who was thrown flat as the roof bucked and heaved.
But Ventura fared far worse; the entire top story of the building upon which she was perched simply pitched off. It passed
over the roof where the others all scrabbled for handholds, and plunged toward the brilliant yellow glow.
She tried to get clear, but falling bricks battered her wings and the wall carried her down with it. Red lightning streaked up
from the pit as the whole thing was engulfed.
Then it was gone, and Ventura with it.
Their building tilted more steeply. The debris that had trapped Goliath slid over the edge.
Damien began to slide as well.
His eyes snapped open, their normal silver turned to molten gold by the glow of the pit. One hand darted out and clamped
around Jericho's tail, and as Damien continued over the edge, he dragged Jericho with him.
Goliath leaped and reached, going on pure instinct.
His hand closed over Jericho's wrist, and Jericho's talons closed on him nearly hard enough to draw blood.
He looked down into a churning, swirling vortex a thousand times worse than the one that had once tried to consume Coldstone's
mind. He saw shapes, shapes so monstrously huge and hideous that to look at them too long, to try and put sense to them, was
to give up all sanity.
Goliath's eyes met those of his son in a moment of perfect understanding.
They both let go.

* *

Demona screamed Jericho's name and lunged for the edge.
Her belt yanked tight against her belly, jolting her to a halt and sending her breath out in a grunt.
"I ought to kick your ass right in there after him," Brooklyn snarled in her ear. He was holding her by the back of the belt,
preventing her from taking another step. He yanked her backward and wrapped his other arm around her neck. "Ought to
send you straight to Hell like you deserve."
"Let me go!"
"Oh, no. You're going to stay right here, knowing what it's like to lose your son. That's what you gave us, so that's just
what I'm giving you."
The roof slanted even more and began to come apart in big fragments. Brooklyn punched Demona in the head, knocking
her out. He slung her over his shoulder and scrambled for the dubious safety of the other side of the building. It was collapsing
under him, chunks breaking off even as he jumped from one to the next.
"Brooklyn!" Goliath extended his hands.
Brooklyn slung Demona at him, then leaped as the rest of the wall gave way. The issue was in doubt, but then Angela grasped
his hand and pulled him away from the brink.
She was sobbing in rasps and hitches. When she saw Demona, her eyes blazed. "You should have left her!"
"This will be worse."
Goliath considered that, and nodded. After a thoughtful pause, Angela did the same.

* *

Elektra was still as a statue, her eyes wide, the bottle of holy water forgotten in her hand.
The yellow glow of the pit had given them a perfect view.
None of them could speak, until Lex finally said, in a very small voice, "That ... was Jericho, wasn't it?"
"He ... he sacrificed ... himself?" Elektra whispered.
Elisa put a hand on her shoulder. "I don't think that was it."
"Yeah," Broadway said, sounding stunned. "Goliath dropped him!"
"I don't think that was all of it either," Elisa said as gently as she could. "Think about it, Elektra ... would Jericho let Goliath
save him?"
"No," Elektra admitted. "You're right, Elisa ... t'was no act of nobility ... only of stubborn hateful pride."
"Um, not to be a pain in the caboose," Lex said, "but if you can't close that pit, it won't matter why he went in, because we'll
all be down there too."
"What do you mean, if?" Harry the Hammer scoffed. "Of course she can! It's all God's plan ... don't you get it? God's will!"
Elisa glanced at him, still not sure what to make of his sharp 180-degree turn. This exalted devotion was almost as troubling as
his rabid anti-gargoyle stance had been. Harry the Hammer as one of their most ardent supporters? If stranger things had
happened, she'd yet to hear of one.
Elektra bowed her head and closed her eyes, soft brown hair hanging like curtains on either side of her face. She took a deep
breath and exhaled slowly. "Keep you well, brother, wherever you may be," she murmured.
She stood straight and tall, wings drawn close around her. By Broadway's expression, if his heart hadn't already belonged to
Elektra, it would have then. She advanced toward the pit, the white nimbus around her seeming to become brighter with each step.
When she uncorked the bottle, ghostly smoke of that same pale shade billowed from it and flowed down like the fog from liquid
nitrogen. Her voice was pure and clear as she spoke the Words that Demona had taught her.
Nearer and nearer to the edge of the pit she went, and when she stood on the edge (here Broadway muttered unhappily), she
upended the bottle.
Water ran from it in a sparkling stream, much more water than the bottle should have been able to hold.
Elisa suddenly thought of little Julian, of fish sticks and animal crackers and chocolate milk, and wondered wryly what Harry
would make of that. Then she felt ashamed even for her mental tone; now was not a time to be having snide thoughts about
anyone's faith.
The yellow of the pit darkened to goldenrod, then darkened more toward orange. As the color of the light changed, it began
receding as well, leaving bare dirt in its wake.
Darker still, now the dulled orange-red of autumn leaves. The dome over the city was beginning to fade.
On the far side, coming around, were three gargoyles, all limping and moving in pain. One of them carried a fourth.
The two groups met where the fountain in front of the Nightstone Building had once stood. Goliath set the unconscious Demona
down and opened his arms to Elisa. She threw herself against him, taking comfort from his presence and his strength, never mind
the caked blood all down his front and the gritty gummy brick-dust covering him from head to toe. They held each other tightly
and wordlessly.
Elektra touched Angela's tear-streaked face and made a connection that had eluded the rest of them. "Oh ... no, sister, please,
no ... the caller of demons ... he was your son?"
That news hit Elisa, Broadway, and Lex like an uppercut.
"He's gone now," Brooklyn said, carefully controlled but betrayed by the quaver of his hands and lower jaw. "So's Ventura."
"And Jericho," Goliath said. His arms tightened around Elisa.
"We saw," she told him, resting her head on his chest. "Some things just have to be the way they are."
They stood together in a quiet circle as the pit shaded toward scarlet and continued shrinking. The dome was only a vague
shadow of red over the sky, the brighter stars becoming visible through it -- and the nova was gone as if it had never been. But
the position of the moon and stars were wrong somehow ... as if they'd seen the clock most of the way around.
"It's over," Angela said shakily. "At least it's over."
"Maybe not quite," Lex said in alarm.
Jason Canmore was a few yards away, in partial Hunter's costume. He held the hammer that Elisa suddenly knew he'd used to
clout Gustav Sevarius senseless. His turquoise eyes were flat and shiny. Elisa had once seen a similar look in the eyes of a cop
who'd gone home from the precinct one night and killed his entire family before eating a bullet.
Harry rushed toward him, beaming in exaltation. Elisa started to cry a warning, and Jason bashed that hammer dead-bang on
his forehead. Harry fell like a clubbed steer.
The gargoyles spread out warily, but Jason's attention was centered solely on Demona.
"Your crusade has gone on long enough," Goliath said. "You cannot kill her. None of us can. She is immortal, eternal. Spare
yourself and your family this empty quest."
"She didna die," Jason said. "I saw it all. He stabbed her clear through and she didna die. Ye're right. She canna be slain." He
stood over her, letting the hammer drop to the ground.
As if hearing herself as the topic of conversation, Demona groaned and her eyelids fluttered.
Elisa moved closer. "Jason ... it's going to be all right. You can get past this. We all can."
"Nay, Elisa, there's where ye're wrong." He looked at her with such stark misery that she took a step back. "She canna be killed
... but there's another way."
He grabbed Demona's wrist. Before any of them could react, he had her in his arms and was sprinting for the blood-red glow at
the heart of the sloping pit.
"No!" Brooklyn gave chase.
"Jason!" Elisa ran after.
The rest of them followed, running, yelling for Jason, begging him to stop.
Demona came fully awake and found herself in the grasp of the Hunter. She clawed at him, going for his eyes, ripping the mask
from his face. Her knee slammed between his thighs as her tail whip-snaked around his legs. He did not so much trip as fly, down
the steepest part of the funnel, both of them bathed in its dull maroon light.
It was barely wide enough to admit them both.
Just barely.

* *

The End



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