by Christine Morgan
firstname.lastname@example.org / http://www.christine-morgan.org
Chapter One -- Solitary
All other characters belong to the author and should not be borrowed without permission. Some adult language, violence, and sexual
content – a little of everything! g>
The entire wall was one large flat screen, and the
quality of the image was so good that Lorraine Diamant felt as if she were
it all take place through a mural window. As if the violence unfolding in front of her was happening right now, instead of merely being a
However, if she'd been watching it through a window, the scene would not be so jerky, panning around so wildly to capture the
action. There would have been none of these dizzying swoops as the helicopter veered in its flight, none of the choppy cuts as images from
its cameras were spliced with those shot by the ground crews.
Anyone else might have gotten a headache from trying to keep track of what was going on, but Lorraine was accustomed to viewing the
mission video logs compiled by the operatives, and had no trouble following the sequence of events.
She was peripherally aware of the others in the room, all anxiously keeping an eye on her, knowing that her reaction could make or break
careers, even lives. If she thought they'd botched it badly enough, she could have them erased with only a minimum of fuss. On the contrary,
if she approved of the way they'd handled themselves, why, the sky was the limit for those favored few.
Well, maybe not the sky … she would never elevate any of them to within shouting range of her own status in the organization. She was
the Diamond, as hard and brilliant as her namesake, and none of them would ever be allowed to forget it. The same sharp fire glittered from
her jewelry and her eyes – for all that her eyes were a shade of brown that should have been soft and dewy and warm.
She tapped one meticulously-manicured nail against her lips as the video log approached the part that most interested her. It was a risk, a
terrible risk, but they had apparently gotten away with it … provided the log didn't reveal any unpleasant surprises.
They had had far too many of those already. What had initially been supposed to be nothing more than a simple retrieval-and-mop-up had
turned into what her ex-husband was snidely referring to as "The Battle of Bellingham."
"Gargoyles," murmured Lorraine Diamant, shaking her head reprovingly. "It would have to be gargoyles."
On the screen, the image was that of a slate-grey male with mangled wings, clinging determinedly to the underside of the chopper and
tearing at it with a fury that transcended his drugged demeanor. Obviously, the sedative gas darts weren't as effective in practice as in theory,
knowing as little as they did about gargoyle biology.
Another appeared, zigging and zagging through the redwoods. It was a female with a figure that would have been the envy of a woman half
Lorraine's age. There weren't enough spas, Stairmasters, or plastic surgeons in the world to make limbs that muscular and taut, curves that
firm and shapely.
As if sensing Lorraine's scrutiny, the female whirled and stared directly into the camera, her white-gold hair a torrent around features both
barbaric and beautiful, the sort of face one might expect to see painted on a Grecian urn. One depicting the Furies, perhaps.
But it was not the mature and sophisticated Director General of the Coalition that had caught the she-garg's attention. No, she was focused
on the chopper itself, and her cohort who was busily doing his best to tear a hole in it and get at the juicy, defenseless humans within. The
copper-skinned female soared to join him.
The helicopter tilted and the savage downbeat of air from its rotors buffeted her, sending her into a helpless spinning plummet. Her quiver
upended, arrows scattering like a rain of toothpicks. Of her bow, the bow that had let her kill five men that night and one on a previous, there
was no sign.
In another of those jarring shifts, the scene changed to that from the ground crew. They had been approaching Dr. Michelle Jessec's house
overland, from the forested gully that backed onto the property. But the undergrowth had been thicker than anticipated, slowing them to the
point that they could only listen in horror and dismay to the reports coming over their headsets as the gargoyles laid waste to the operatives
who had gone in from the front.
One of them had looked up just in time to catch the female's sudden descent. She struck a tonguelike outcropping of rock above them with
such pulverizing force that Lorraine heard many of the operatives grunt in pained sympathy despite the knowledge that the gargoyle had dealt
clothyard death to many of their friends and associates.
The impact was so severe that it dislodged the chunk of stone from its moorings in the embankment, and the whole thing came loose. It
plunged straight down with the female sprawled across it, and smashed into the rocky creekbank almost atop the ground crew.
The chunk of stone cracked apart, spilling the gargoyle into the creek in a dazed, semi-conscious heap. A small avalanche of gravel sifted
The ground crew stood motionless for a moment, stunned by their close call and riveted by the sight of the winged copper Amazon virtually
at their feet. Then, Op. 55 swung into action, barking commands.
Lorraine watched impassively as the crew on the screen – the same ones now assembled around her and sweating it out because she still had
given them no visible reaction to gauge her mood – tranked and trussed the gargoyle with the speed of rodeo cowboys. They hustled her into
the bushes scant seconds before the male gargoyle got there.
Here, yes, this was the crucial thing, the telling thing. Lorraine stepped closer to the screen, intently studying the male's face. His classically
handsome features, set amid scars like a masterpiece in a bad frame, contorted in anguish as he threw himself to his knees.
He pawed at the mess of broken stone, and tipped back his head to keen grief and rage at the sky. As if that outpouring of emotion sapped
the last of his adrenaline, the dazed, doped look began to creep back into his eyes. He tottered to his feet, clutching a handful of gravel.
"So it's true, then," she said. "He thinks she's dead. Dead and crumbled away to nothing. You were very, very lucky."
A collective sigh of relief went up from the operatives.
"You've done well," Lorraine added. "We have a captive gargoyle of our very own, with no one the wiser. She'll make a perfect addition."
A luxuriously-appointed cell was a cell nonetheless,
and it was very much with the air of one who knew it that Hippolyta paced
of the room.
Her initial thought upon awakening the previous night had been that this was whatever afterlife she'd earned, but she soon dismissed that
idea and understood that somehow, she was alive after all.
Alive, and a prisoner.
Captured by humans.
It had to be thus, because this chamber was outfitted to their tastes and design. It had electric lights, appliances, a bed. Oddest of all had
been drawing back the curtains and finding herself looking out on a scene of sunlit splendor, a tropical curve of bone-white sand and water of
turquoise clarity behind which a verdant jungle marched toward a volcanic crest.
The sight had initially almost triggered her to drowsiness despite having just woken, but when she shook off the impending stiffness of sleep,
she understood that it was not a true window. The waves did not move, the trees did not sway. A moment of preserved time, a picture, so
perfectly rendered that it fooled the eye and the mind.
A false window, and a door that would not open. And a feeling, a persistent tickle on the back of her neck, that let her believe she was being
observed. Seeing Stone or camera, which it was did not matter, for the effect was the same.
Her shouts had been to no avail, and the walls and furnishings bore the evidence of her futile attempts to break out. She'd been left stewing
in her fear and anger for several hours, and finally made herself admit that she was well and truly held.
The day's sleep had healed her of the injuries she'd sustained. But they must have been severe, for she had earnestly believed death was at
hand. Even now, after another full day spent in stone, she was still sore.
She was also ravenous.
Her initial exploration had included a cursory glance into the larders, but until now she hadn't dared eat lest the food be poisoned. She
returned to the small kitchen area and peered once more into the refrigerator, noting that it was well-stocked with the meat that her body
If they meant her harm, surely they would not need to resort to poison. She had been at their mercy in the firmest and most fundamental of
ways, insensate and utterly helpless, for hours. Yet rather than destroy her, they'd evidently transported her with some care, and were therefore
going to pains to keep her unharmed.
So saying, she convinced herself and pulled out a chunk of cold ham. A few careful sniffs only informed her that it smelled wonderful, and
without further ado she sank her fangs deep and devoured it down to the bone.
When it was gone, she tore into a platter of cold cuts, meats and cheeses arranged in an artful layered swirl around a heap of olives. She
washed the repast down with most of a carton of milkk surprised at her hunger. But then, hadn't Ruth always speculated that a serious healing
placed great demands on their systems?
As she ate, she wondered again what had become of the others. When last she'd seen them, Icarus had been trying to defeat the airborne
flying machine while Corwin, Cassius, and Ezekiel were swamped in combat at the front of the house. Tourmaline, wounded thanks to
Hippolyta's own dismal failures, had been waiting on the boat.
And she, Hippolyta, had disobeyed her clan leader's direct orders. Ignored the punishment she was supposed to be enduring. Gone off on
Gone off to kill.
Her hesitance had vanished, her purpose had been restored, as she'd sighted down her arrow at the human who was about to order Corwin
shot. There had been no pause that time, only a cool and even resolve.
To do what she was best at, and do it well, brought on a terrible, prideful, savage joy. It welled hotly in her heart as one by one her targets
fell. Some had time for a scream, but most went only in mortal silence.
Oh, she had earned their fury and revenge, that had to be a certainty. But when given the chance, they had imprisoned rather than killed her.
Why? Was their intent worse than a quick punishment of death? Much as she craved novel experiences, her desire did not extend to
experiencing a slow and agonizing torture.
It was torture enough of the mind, simply not to know what had happened after that night. Where were the others? Were there other rooms
like this nearby, where her brothers were contained? If so, the walls must be thick indeed, else surely she would have heard them. Had they
Were they …
No, unbearable thought swiftly banished. To imagine them dead – cheery Cassius, taciturn Icarus, steadfast Ezekiel, charming Corwin – was
intolerably grim and bleak. They must have survived, even made their way back to the Mist's Passage, back to Tourmaline.
Sated for the time being, Hippolyta shoved the platter back into the fridge and prowled the room once more on a hopeless quest for a weapon.
She had lost her bow at some point during that wild flight, and her arrows had either spilled out or been taken from her, because the quiver
strapped to her belt was empty.
Nothing in the room would suffice unless she fashioned a crude club out of a table leg. Disdaining that, she knew that her own talons were
better weapons in such close fighting. Some of the pieces of her shed skin had potential as arrowheads, but she had neither shafts nor feathers,
and no bow to shoot from if she did.
Finding one shard that tapered to a point, she kept it as a crude knife and brushed the rest under the bed.
The food had restored her mental equilibrium. She wasted no more energy on pointless fretting. It all came down to survival now, survival and
escape. Like any predator, she would have to rely on her cunning and instinct to tell her when the moment was right to strike. If, that was, the
moment ever presented itself.
She settled down into a comfortable crouch, wings half-extended and tail coiled loosely on the carpet behind her. All of her senses alert, she
nonetheless took on an aspect of relaxation, turning her attention toward grooming. She unbraided the thin plaits that dangled by her temples and
with her claws combed her white-gold mane into a smooth drape over her coppery shoulders.
"Well, Dr. Johnson?" Lorraine Diamant inquired. "What
do you think of our specimen?"
The woman she was addressing consulted her notebook for several moments before looking up, taking the time to gather her thoughts and
order her words. That was one thing about Irene Johnson that Diamond found both respectable and exasperating in one. She rarely spoke, and
never until she was sure of herself.
The xenologist was a plain woman who could have been attractive with only a bit of attention and cosmetics. Prime makeover material,
Diamond had always believed. As she waited for the doctor's report, she amused herself by thinking what she'd do if she had the chance.
That thick dark hair should have been conditioned and styled, not just combed straight from a boring central part. Make it shorter, add a
loose curl, maybe some highlights in copper or chestnut.
The glasses had to go. Diamond didn't even know they still made those ordinary black plastic frames. At the very least, a nice gold wire-rim
like she herself wore, or possibly contacts. Yes, contacts, with the barest of greenish tint to add some color to those flat hazel eyes.
"She definitely appears to be of the classic gargoyle mold," Dr. Johnson said. "Approximately forty years of age, making her a young adult.
She's in good physical health, now that her injuries have healed. Judging by her clothing and weapons, which are fantasy-medieval in design,
she's probably from this Avalon island the others talked about."
"You think she's related to the Manhattan gargoyles, then?"
"It's a possibility I wouldn't dismiss."
"What can we expect from her?"
"What do you intend to do with her?" Johnson countered.
"That depends on what we can expect. Will she be cooperative?"
"Not initially. They are a very proud species. You've seen the interview with the one called Goliath?"
"Of course. Very stirring. He has a marvelous voice. 'Gargoyles protect … it is our nature, our purpose.' Sound byte of the year, wasn't it?"
"You can expect a similar attitude from her. They tend to be forthright, honest, noble, stubborn, and hot-tempered. What makes this case
especially interesting is that you have one solitary gargoyle. They are herdbeasts, pack animals. Gargoyles don't do well alone, and if you keep
her by herself for any significant length of time, she'll begin to show signs of mental and emotional instability."
"What are we to do, then? She is the only one we were able to capture."
"They live in clans, not family units … and a clan doesn't necessarily have to consist of relatives, or even other gargoyles. The ones in
Manhattan consider several humans and mutates to be part of their 'clan.' They need that sort of bond, and can't function without it. The worst
punishment that can be imposed on a gargoyle is exile, banishment from the clan. They'd prefer death to being alone."
"So without some sort of clan-bond, you're telling me that she's going to be unstable?"
"Yes. But the psychological imperative of that bond will force her to seek out a new clan, someone with which to have that vital relationship."
"I see." Diamond tapped a finger thoughtfully against her lips.
"My advice would be to let her stew for a while. Let the isolation start to get to her. By the time you approach, she'll be so pitifully glad to see
anyone that she'll be easy to manipulate. And once that clan-bond has formed, you'll find gargoyles to be extremely, even blindly, loyal."
"Thank you, Dr. Johnson. All good advice."
"I'm not finished. There's a down side to this intense loyalty … gargoyles trust implicitly within the clan, almost cannot conceive of dishonesty
and betrayal from one of their own clan members. If they find out that one of their own has been deceitful or treacherous, once they believe it,
they react harshly, even violently. So you'll have to be careful dealing with her."
"I am always careful," Diamond said patiently. "Is there anything more?"
"Remember that they are not like us. That's the big mistake we make when dealing with another species. They. Are. Not. Like. Us. There are
similarities, yes, but in all ways – physical, psychological, social, cultural – they are different. You cannot expect a gargoyle to act or react the
same way a human would. Likewise, we are not like them, but that's the big mistake they make too. They'll expect humans to act and react the
same way a gargoyle would, and it perplexes them when we don't."
"What about more mundane matters? The care and feeding thereof?"
Johnson consulted her papers again. "You know about the dietary requirements – high protein, salts and heavy minerals. If you're going to
keep her confined underground without the environmental cue of the sun, be prepared for a shift in her sleeping habits. Oh … and speaking of
the sun, get some full-spectrum lighting in there to turn on when she's stone. They absorb UV radiation from the sun while they sleep to help fuel
"What happens if she's exposed to full-spectrum lighting at night? Will it put her to sleep?"
"Actually, it acts as a mild stimulant, an effect not unlike that of coffee on the human nervous system. That's one of the many things we still
don't understand. We might never know all there is to know about these creatures, especially as no specimens are available for dissection."
"No, I suppose there wouldn't be, would there?"
"The only way to do a thorough anatomical examination would be to use one that was still alive but heavily sedated."
"And I doubt that David Xanatos was willing to go quite so far in the interests of scientific advancement," Diamond said, wrinkling her
aristocratic nose just slightly at the mention of the despised name.
"Are you?" Johnson asked baldly.
"When this specimen has outlived her usefulness, do you mean?"
"I'll consider it, doctor. Provided, of course, that what I have in mind for her doesn't get her killed by more conventional means."
It was the waiting that most preyed on the mind.
The not knowing. Bad enough to be at the mercy of unseen strangers, but
to be left hanging
while the mind had the leisure to imagine countless horrific fates … it was the worst torment Hippolyta had ever known.
That and not having her freedom! It was the quest for freedom that had led her to leave Avalon in the first place. That had made her refuse to
take a mate during the breeding season, so as to not be earthbound with eggs and burdened ever after with the needs of hatchlings.
Now that for which she had sought had been taken from her, and the future to which she had so avidly looked forward turned to an uncertainty
as dark and clouded as the mists that gathered around the island of her previous life.
She waited out that entire long night, a churning anxiety eating away at the guts of her. And still nothing happened.
She woke the next evening in the same state, and it built as the hours ticked by until she feared she might erupt in a desperate panic. Yet if a
full-blown rage could not break through the walls of her prison, a panicked effort would do no better.
Disturbing to see that someone had been in here while she slept … the room had been tidied, some of the damage repaired, the foodstuffs
restocked. And a new light had been added, a bulb in a cage on the ceiling, but it was unlit.
They had been in here, moving around her as she stood motionless.
It made her skin creep just to think of it. But of course she understood their concern … they need not fear her attacking them if they came
when she could not move.
Hippolyta searched around, sure that they had to be watching her. Perhaps they listened as well? Feeling foolish, she spoke aloud into the
"I won't fight you … I only wish to know who you are and what you intend!"
There came no reply, no indication that her words had even been heard. She was left once more with her imagination, which had never been
more energetic than it was that long night, suggesting cruelties and tortures that would reduce her to a pleading wretch.
And still they did not come for her. Soon, she would have welcomed them joyously even if they came laden with instruments of pain, just to
see another face, hear another voice.
She made herself eat to keep up her strength, felt edgy and strange and out-of sorts. The window-picture with its unchanging sunlit scene left
her all at odds with herself. She knew it to be night for she was awake, yet with no changing horizon to guide her, how was she to know when
dawn neared? The hours stretched like taffy and stone sleep took her by surprise.
Waking, she nearly sobbed to find herself still alone.
She had never been alone for so long, not in all her life. None of them had. Even in the shell, she and her brothers and sisters were near each
other. After hatching, well, it was a small island and got smaller quickly when the Children were summoned home for their Gathering.
When hunting, she would often distance herself from her less woods-wise siblings, sometimes preferring the quiet of no tread nor breath save
her own, but she'd always known that a mere few moments' glide would take her back to them. Back to the voices and firelight and merriment.
Back to the squabbles and jesting and play. The comfort came in knowing they were there should she need them.
Now, that comfort was stripped from her. No Ruth to scold as she bandaged a scrape. No Gabriel to settle a dispute over whose claim was
a kill. No Corwin to braid her fresh-washed hair. No Miriam to coax sweets upon them. No loveplay, no stories, no shared meals.
Why hadn't they come for her? Why hadn't they rescued her? Did they think her dead? Had they tried and failed? Had they given up?
If she was dead to her clan … she might as well be dead in truth! It would be better than this! Better than being alone!
She forced herself to calm her rapid breathing before it turned to frantic gasps of fear. Dead was not better. While there was life, there was
hope. Hope of escape, of reunion.
But in dead, whispered an insinuating part of her soul, was reunion as well … with all those who've gone before. Some of your sisters are
there – remember Opal, Onyx, Citrine? Your rookery parents are there – great Goliath's brothers and sisters, the elders of the clan.
Recall how pleased and proud Angela was to tell them that great Goliath was her own true father, or Jericho to boast that Demona was his
mother? What of your parents, Hippolyta? Your flesh-and-blood parents whose love brought you life? They will be there too. And the Magus,
let us not forget him. Think of all whose company you could keep in death! Far more than those around you now in life!
But as tempting as that sly inner voice was, Hippolyta knew that she could not heed it. Could not, no matter how despairing her circumstance,
give in to death. She wanted to wring life of all its wonders first, and there were so many things she had yet to do! Places yet to see! Adventures
yet to have!
No, she could not die, not until she was old and old, with a long life of experiences to look back upon. Not until she had mated and bred and
seen hatchlings grow tall and strong, to breed young ones of their own. And that was still far, far in the future!
But to be alone … suppose they meant to leave her like this forever? Suppose this was her fate, to be here in this room, eternally confined?
Alone for all time, denied all that she craved …
That would be a torture worse than anything they could inflict on her with tools and devices.
She realized with a shameful start that hot tears were flowing from her eyes. Angrily, she dashed them away, but more came after. It was as if
her eyes, able to see into the future, were grieving for that which the rest of her was not yet ready to admit.
The tears did not cease until stone claimed her.
She woke badly, bursting sluggishly from stone and feeling low and ill. For the first time, she understood what Princess Katherine had meant
when she complained of sleeping poorly. Despite the hours, she felt unrested, unwell.
And she was still alone.
Once again, her unknown captors had come and gone.
It went on that way for night after night.
She tried to occupy her time with solitary pursuits. She told herself all the legends and stories with which the Magus had once filled their ears.
She sang all the songs she knew, since Zachariah was not around to laugh at her and tell her to leave the singing to Deborah and Laertes, who
could do it without sounding like a lynx in a snare. She exercised, she danced, she shredded the bedclothes into long strips and attempted
weaving a crude rug.
She ate to keep her strength up, though her appetite dwindled. Eventually, she became indifferent about her grooming, letting her hair knot
itself in unkempt snarls. She quit tidying her shed stone skin, leaving it heedlessly where it fell.
By her internal calendar, a full turning or more of the moon had gone by. It had been summer, or so the Jessecs said though the cold rainy
weather of their region did little to support that claim. Was it into autumn now? Were the leaves changing to gold and flame? Were the fruits
"Please!" Hippolyta suddenly screamed at the roof. "Do not do this to me! Punish me, kill me, do what you must, but by the Dragon do not
leave me alone any longer!"
When there came no response, she broke down completely into such a storm of wracking sobs that she felt they might never end.
Much later, as her fit subsided, she felt hollowed out yet somehow cleaner, as if her heart had sicked up something that did not agree with her.
She washed her face, which felt fevered and swollen, and lowered herself to the floor with her wings caped and her back pressed against the
side of the bed.
There she sat, head in her hands and tail coiled around her feet, and waited.
"Thirty-nine days," Dr. Johnson said with grudging
respect. "That's a good week and a half longer than my outside estimate.
She's a tough
one. But all nuts crack sooner or later."
"We couldn't afford much later," Diamond said.
Hippolyta's vigil was at long last rewarded, when
a strange clunk from deep within the wall heralded its opening. A section
of it swung
outward on hidden hinges, but it admitted no one and appeared to have moved untouched by human hand.
She rose slowly, in disbelief, and went toward it. She could see an outer chamber, a floor covered in dark blue tiles, and another wall
made of something that looked like thick glass. Someone was waiting on the other side of the glass.
Before stepping through, Hippolyta studied the person. It was a human, a handsome woman of relatively advanced years. Not so old as
the princess had been when they'd left, but more grey than brown was in her hair, and despite much attention to cosmetics, a fine network of
wrinkles spread from the corners of her eyes and mouth.
The woman was dressed in crisp dark brown slacks, a cream-colored silky blouse, and a patterned scarf-drape in hues of brown, tan,
and gold. Gems glinted in her earlobes and on her fingers, and dainty gold-framed spectacles rested at the end of her narrow nose.
"No need to hide," the woman said. "I've been in meetings about you for four weeks straight, so isn't it time we actually met?"
"Who are you?" Hippolyta said, still not leaving her furnished cell for the empty space of the outer room. She feared that the moment she
did, the woman would vanish. It was a foolish notion, yet her mind clung firmly to it.
"My name is Lorraine Diamant, but you can call me Diamond. I am one of the directors of this organization."
"Organization … the Coalition?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"Why should I talk to you? I know what your people do." She tried to sound brave and challenging, tried to hide the pitiful gladness she
felt at having someone to talk to again, even a human, even the enemy.
"And we know what you've done, which puts all of us in a very awkward situation. Do you have any idea the trouble you've caused?"
"I do not know what you mean."
The woman sighed. "Would you mind coming closer? It's hard to carry on a conversation like this."
Reluctantly, Hippolyta edged onto the blue tile. It was cold beneath her feet. The walls were painted drab grey, the ceiling pocked white
panels. But the woman did not vanish, only smiled encouragingly.
As she got closer, she saw a speaker-grill mounted in the glass wall, as well as a door with a large metal handle on the other side. Only
on the other side. And if the workings of the lock visible through the clear guts of the door were any indication, her chances of getting it open
were beyond none.
"Where is my clan?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"Why would I, even did I know? That you might hold them prisoner as well?"
"There's no need for antagonism with me. Right now, I'm the only ally you have."
"What mean you?" Hippolyta asked in suspicion.
"Six of our operatives are dead by your hand, and most here would like nothing better than to see you turned over to the proper authorities.
Do you know what would happen to you then? A gargoyle, a killer? Your kind is already not very well-regarded, and this incident would only
reinforce the public's belief that you're all vicious monsters."
"I did only what I had to do!" flared Hippolyta. "Your men were attacking my brothers!"
"Your 'brothers,' as you say, started it. Our men were defending themselves."
"They meant to abduct a woman!"
"They were assigned to bring her here, yes," Diamond said. "Because we needed her help. You gargoyles prevented us from getting that
Despite everything she'd been through, Hippolyta felt herself getting mad. And she welcomed it, preferring anger to the state of misery
that had ruled her for so long.
"You sent assassins to do murder on her brother and nephew, threatened her family. If that be how you ask for help --"
"I don't know whatever gives you that idea --"
"A confession from the very lips of the man named Shaw, 'ere he died."
A pained look flitted across Diamond's face. "I see. Well, as you've probably noticed, others in this organization tend to have a more
straight-forward approach. They sometimes get carried away. But the operatives sent to Dr. Jessec's house were only instructed to bring
her to us, unharmed."
"We saw what became of the man, Smythe. We know of your magic portal and what is beyond it. Michelle Jessec would be no party to
continuing such evil work, no matter how you seek to 'convince' her."
"That's just it; we don't want to continue it. We want to stop it. We were hoping that Dr. Jessec would be able to help, but you gargoyles
interfered. Now several of our men are dead, and there are plenty of people who would be more than happy to see you pay for your butting-in."
Hippolyta grew very still. Although there had not been so much as a hint of malice in Diamond's tone, she was suddenly very sure just
precisely how these people would like to see her pay.
"If word got out that you had killed humans," Diamond continued, confirming her worry, "not just one but six, everyone in the country
would be howling for your blood. What tentative truces have been established between humans and the few known gargoyles would be cast
into an unfavorable light once again. The only way to keep that from happening is for you to cooperate."
"And tell you where my clan's gone?" She shook her head. "I told you … I cannot. They could be anywhere by now, or they could be at
your door, come to retrieve me."
"I'm afraid that last is not an option." Diamond looked at her evenly. "They believe you to be dead."
"See for yourself."
A young man in a grey suit pushed a rolling cart up beside Diamond. A small black device of the sort she thought to be a television was
atop it. Diamond aimed a squat sort of wand at it and it came to life.
Hippolyta gasped in amazement to see herself, but her amazement swiftly turned to horror as she witnessed her own crashing descent. She
watched, stupefied, as the humans surrounded her limp body, binding her and bearing her away. And then, a new shape entered the scene, and
her heart wrenched as she recognized him.
"How fitting," remarked Diamond.
Ignoring her, Hippolyta kept watching as Icarus scooped up gravel of the shattered outcropping and mistook it for her remains. She had
never seen her brother and one-time best friend weep, the stoicism brought on by a lifetime of pain a source of awe to the entire clan. But
now a single tear rolled from his eye to wet the sorry handful of what he believed to be her.
He cried for her? Icarus? After all that had gone between them, after the misfortune and suffering she'd caused him with that long-ago
She reached out, but the wall of glass was in the way. And of course this was not happening now. This had happened before and been
preserved, a tragic moment in time. Kept forever like the Entombed Lady on Avalon, unchanging, unable to be changed.
"Icarus," she said again, a low, mournful plea.
"You see," said Diamond briskly, triggering the wand and making the television go dark.
The woman went on talking, but Hippolyta barely heard. Her mind was filled with her brothers and sister, her clan. By now, with no sign
of rescue, she had assumed they must have believed her lost, but it was one thing to assume it, another to see such proof.
Thinking her dead, would they have departed while the rest were all right, or stayed and vowed revenge? Were they, even now, seeking
a way to strike at the Coalition? Or had they taken the more prudent course and returned to the mists, to try their luck again on some happier
If it had in truth been weeks, they must have gone. Tourmaline was not patient enough to wait on an assault …
"Are you listening to me?"
The words cut sharply through her thoughts. She was alarmed to find that she was perilously close to tears of her own, at the prospect of
her grieving brothers. Perhaps even proud Tourmaline, despite their bitter parting, might find it in herself to grieve for her?
"I must go to them, find them!" she said.
"That's not possible right now."
"You mean to keep me here always?"
"Obviously, you weren't listening. If you had been, you would have heard me explain the choices to you."
"Go on." It was all she trusted herself to say, when her soul cried out that she should scream, I am dead to my clan! How can you talk of
fripperies and nonsense and choices when they speak of me now only as a memory?
"I have enough authority in this organization to keep you alive," Diamond said. "I've had to pull a lot of strings to do it, though. Two of the
operatives you killed were very well-connected indeed."
"Why should you care? What am I to you?"
"I despise waste, especially senseless waste. You have shown many useful abilities and skills. If you are willing to cooperate and agree to
my terms, I can buy you your life."
"What are these terms?" she asked warily.
"I am in charge of forming a special team of operatives," Diamond said. "To conduct missions that for one reason and another aren't able to
be handled by our usual ops. I'm willing to offer you a position on that team."
"And this entails what?"
"Does it matter? Given the alternative?"
"This, then, is my choice? Accept your offer sight unseen, or be executed?"
"That sums it up. I know you gargoyles are an honor-bound breed, but does it extend so far as to include needless self-sacrifice? A young,
vibrant creature like yourself surely has much to look forward to in life. I'd hate to see you throw it all away on principle."
Hippolyta turned away from her, talons knotted together and knuckles paled from the tension.
Diamond let her stand that way for a while, then said in a softer tone, "Why don't you think about it? I'll be back later if you have any
On legs that felt like stilts of wood, Hippolyta returned to the more familiar room. She sank onto the edge of the bed and buried her head
in her hands as the door swung soundlessly shut.
The woman had put her finger right on it … so much to look forward to, so much living yet to do!
She was not afraid to die someday. Someday far down the years, when she had a full life behind her. Yes, she would accept it when it was
inevitable. But that was different, so very different, from choosing death!
"I … do not wish to die," she whispered. It both felt and sounded like the coward's admission that she knew it was.
Yes, that was it … for all her thrillseeking, for all the risks and dares she had faced so bravely countless times before, she had never truly
believed that she would die. After Icarus' terrible, crippling accident, her daredevil ways had been curbed only for a few nights, because deep
down she never thought anything so serious would happen to her, not Hippolyta, not fortune-favors-the-bold Hippolyta!
Had she ever thought anything serious would come of her actions? Not before loosing the arrows that had slain the man who had shot
Corwin … and even in her resultant crisis of doubts, even after taking a life, she'd still not believed that she could be harmed.
Only when she'd been flung earthward by the cruel downdrafts of the rotating blades and slammed into the ground, only then had she finally
believed. And then, she'd thought it was too late. Inevitable. Nothing to be done.
Now, here she was, alive and whole but facing the prospect of her own death by her own choosing. How could they expect her to do that?
How could they expect any sane and thinking creature to deliberately choose to die, unless it was to put an end to incurable suffering?
She couldn't do it. Could not, now or ever, stand fast and let herself be killed. Go peaceably and willingly to the headsman's block? To the
gallows? To whatever engine of execution these humans favored? No! Never!
Not when there was so much living yet to be done! So much excitement yet to be had! How could she give that up? She had only barely
begun to experience all the world's wonders. Good or bad, fair or awful, she at least wanted to be able to find out for herself. To give it all up
… no! For what?
And yet … if she accepted Diamond's offer, who knew what that might include? A special team of operatives, she'd said. Going to work for
the very people whose malice had nearly killed Ron, Toby, Corwin, even herself … the very people whose unholy thirst for power had brought
Dr. Smythe to his awful end … how could she do such a thing? They were the enemy! What evil work might they expect her to do?
What indeed? Her special skills and abilities, Diamond had said … Hippolyta had the dark and sinking feeling she knew what that meant.
They would seek to turn her into a soldier, turn her ready eye and steady hand against their foes.
They would put her to work fighting for them, and perhaps next time they needed to murder someone to send a message to someone else, it
might be her shadow that fell across the victim in those final few moments.
But if it was that or death …
"Do you fully understand these oaths as I've
explained them to you?" asked the black-suited man gruffly.
Winston Brock III was a tall man verging slightly on portly, with wiry grey hair that came to a pronounced widow's peak and a face that
was better suited to a dour gnome. A dour gnome of a particularly miserly and suspicious nature.
He was not at all a handsome man by the standards of any of the three races. The downturn of his mouth suggested to Hippolyta that this
was something he'd been aware of his entire life, and vowed to compensate for not by seeking to improve his features but by becoming so
wealthy and influential that his looks ceased to matter.
"I do so understand," she said.
Beside her, Diamond smiled measuredly at the man. "Is everything in order, then, darling?"
The endearment gave Hippolyta a start, and moreso when Brock replied, "Yes, dear, all seems to be in order. You have my permission
to undertake this, but I'll expect regular reports."
"I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise."
"She's an impressive specimen," he said as if Hippolyta had no grasp of speech. "I just hope she'll fit in with the rest of your girls. Some
of them haven't gotten on well with gargoyles in the past."
"I can handle my girls, darling. It's our boy that I have trouble with."
Brock grimaced, making him look all the more dour and gnomelike. "Don't remind me. He's called nearly every day about the Bellingham
situation. Just once, it would be nice if he'd offer a solution, even a suggestion, but all I get is such a selection of whines I feel as if I'm at one
of my nephew's show-off dinner parties."
"That reminds me," Diamond said. "It's our turn to host the Political Action fundraiser ball this year. Do you have any recommendations for
"Let's make it interesting," Brock said, folding his hands across the expensively-suited bulge of his paunch. "See if you can get the Yale
woman. She's always good for a few laughs."
"Good idea. Now, if we're done here, I'd like to introduce Hippolyta to the others."
"Of course." His gaze shifted back to Hippolyta. "Welcome aboard. I trust we'll find this to be a mutually-agreeable arrangement."
She nodded, not quite able to bring herself to actually thank the man. The oaths she'd just sworn and the documents she'd just signed made
it clear that while she may have trouble taking things seriously, these people showed no similar problem.
Diamond led her out of Brock's office, a groaningly opulent yet somehow impersonal affair of mahogany – and down a hall papered in
flocked velvet and floored in hardwood. It was all a far cry from her subterranean prison-cell, which was many stories below this.
The house itself was huge and grand but, like the office, impersonal. It gave the impression of having been carefully styled to duplicate some
other place, while falling short on some fundamental level. It lacked … it lacked a soul.
It was also eerily quiet. A place such as this screamed out for servants, unobtrusive and forgettable but there if one bothered to pay
attention, like the constant rushing of the surf on Avalon. Yet there were none, and the entire building could have been empty but for the three of
As if sensing her thoughts, Diamond commented, "We're not a large enough organization yet to really make the best use of this white elephant."
It took Hippolyta a moment or two of looking for pachyderms to realize the woman was referring to the house. She wasn't sure how to
respond, so said nothing.
They took the elevator down, though not so far down as the containment level, which was where Hippolyta had been staying. Now that she
was sworn in or signed on or whatever, she assumed that she would be moving to more congenial quarters. Perhaps. She remained unclear on
that part, and was not sure how to ask.
The underground floors did not even make a token attempt at opulence. Pure function was the rule down here, function and budgetary
concerns. As this was where much of the Coalition's work got done, there were more people in evidence. They tended to give Hippolyta a wide
berth but no one addressed her or said anything about her in her earshot.
"I should warn you about my girls," Diamond said as she paused to allow a machine scan her palm, her eyes, and take a small sample of blood
from a fingertip pinprick. "Like you, they've all come to us under rather unusual circumstances."
"Your mate said that they have no love for gargoyles?"
"My what? My mate? Oh, good heavens! You mean Winston? We're no longer married. It's just that those old habits die hard."
Hippolyta thought of their bantering and contrasted that with what she'd seen of the ex-mates Jacob and Tourmaline, and scratched her brow
ridge in confusion. But rather than try and puzzle out the peculiarities of humans, she let it go and followed Diamond into a brightly-lit, locker-lined
The air was warm and moist, steam rising from what appeared to be a bubbling hot spring in the corner. More steam clouded the glass of a
bench-filled room. She saw nozzles in tiled stalls, basins, mirrors.
From around a dogleg hallway came the sounds of thuds and punches, and voices raised in exhortations and taunts. As they headed that way,
an eerie feral howl set Hippolyta's teeth and nerves on edge. She was about to spring forward but Diamond laid a hand on her arm.
"It's all right … it's just my girls."
The weird cry was followed by a strange crackling bellowing noise. Orange light flared briefly on the tiled wall. Next came a clanging crash
and a spate of curses the likes of which Hippolyta had never heard before. It was made all the more unusual by the fact that it was in a female
"Leave off already," replied another, in an accent that sounded so like that of Princess Katherine that Hippolyta's pulse leapt. "She got ye fair
"It's not my fault," protested the curser, as Diamond and Hippolyta entered the room.
So many sights hit Hippolyta's eyes that she didn't know where to look first. The room itself was a fairly standard gymnasium setup with some
odd and incomprehensible additions, but it faded into insignificance as her gaze happened upon the woman who'd been cursing.
Or, at least, on first view she guessed it was a woman …
The being before her was part flesh and part shining metallic gold, built like some nightmare centaur with two wheels instead of legs. Where arms
should have been was one outthrust cannon and one freakishly elongated hand tipped with long razor quills. Her head was mostly human, topped
and framed with wild brown hair, but one oversized red orb replaced her left eye and plates of metal were fused with her cheekbones.
"Ever since I picked up that virus from my dinkweed brother, my system's been all screwed over," this apparition complained, her voice at once
nasal and peevish and husky.
"I'm sure that's more disgusting information than we needed t' know," said the one with the accent. She was a well-built human all dressed in red
and black, her face concealed from brow to mouth by a cutaway hood-mask that left her blond ponytailed hair flying free.
Something snarled in what sounded like agreement, and Hippolyta found herself staring at what she first took to be a tiger. Then she noted the
feminine, humanoid shape to it, and the lack of stripes on the reddish fur, and the face that mixed feline and human traits. Most prominent of all were
the teeth, great sharp ivory fangs jutting down from the upper jaw. After that, the slitted, flame-hued eyes. A tangle of disheveled orange and red
streaked hair tumbled down the creature's back, and what seemed to be smoke was curling from her clawed hands.
The metal-and-flesh centauress began to undergo an incredible transformation, wheels shifting to legs in shining spike-heeled boots, arms becoming
more-or-less ordinary arms.
"Oh yeah?" she sneered at the blonde woman. "That's saying something coming from you … I read all about your family. 'Fess up, toots … you
and those hunky-sexy brothers of yours, I bet you really knew how to put the 'fun' in 'dysfunctional.'"
Black-gloved fists clenched and her accent thickened. "Shet yer cake-hole, ye stupid fem-bot!"
"Ooo-hoo-ooo!" Now fully transformed, the other fluttered her hands on either side of her head, miming fright. "Tough talk, Blondie, but whatcha
got to back it up?"
"I'll show ye --"
"Girls, girls," said Diamond, delicately pinching the bridge of her nose above her dainty gold spectacles. "We have a new arrival, so could we at
least try to be civilized?"
They broke off and turned to look, all staring at Hippolyta with varying degrees of curiosity and animosity.
"Hippolyta," Diamond went on cordially, "these are my other girls. Hunter, Hyena, and Hellcat. Girls, this is Hippolyta, the newest member of the
team. Put her through her paces, would you, Hunter? Let's see what she can do."
It was only after she'd unconcernedly stripped that
Hippolyta remembered the humans and their strange taboos and prudishness.
and glanced around, but none of her cohorts seemed to be paying her any undue mind.
And come to think, only one of them truly classified as 'human' …
Dropping her halter and strap-skirt on a bench, she dunked a talon in the seething, steaming water and satisfied herself that the bubbles came
only from air. With a groan of appreciation, she descended the short steps and lowered herself onto a bench until she was immersed to the chin.
Imagine, she'd thought herself to be in some sort of fighting condition! The workout that Hunter had put her through left Hippolyta weak and
shaky and wringing with sweat from pinions to tail. Her every move had been analyzed and criticized, until she felt like the clumsiest hatchling ever
to take wing. In areas of strength, speed, endurance, and agility, she had been tested until she felt she was at the breaking point.
Then, when she was ready to collapse and not budge until dawn locked her in a heap of stone, she was bade to face off against Hunter and
demonstrate her combat skills.
At first, Hippolyta tried to tell herself that the only reason she fared so poorly was because she was worn out. But after witnessing the blonde
woman in action, she was forced to admit that Hunter would have given her a grievous challenge even were she fresh as the dusk.
When the grueling ordeal was finally done, she'd been allowed to rest and watch as it was time for a rematch betwixt Hyena and Hellcat. Their
abilities astonished her, from the versatility of Hyena's robotic body to the jets of flame that Hellcat could shoot from her palms. The fiery feline
never spoke, only growled or snarled or caterwauled like a beast, but there was a strange intelligence in those molten eyes.
"So what's your story, anyway?" Hyena asked. She, too, had removed her scant bits of clothing, exposing a patchwork of fleshly nudity and
sculpted metal. The effect was made most bizarre as she donned a pink plastic shower cap dotted with big yellow flowers. "What's a nice 'goyle
like you doing in a mess like this?"
"I had no choice."
"Pfuh. Join the club. Join the goddam club." Sounding more resigned than bitter, she stood beneath a showerhead in a separate stall, and sighed
contentedly as what seemed to be high-quality heated oil sprayed down on her and made her glisten.
"What mean you by that?"
Hunter, swathed in a towel that did not conceal the strong lines of her body, sat on a bench between lockers and flipped her hair over her
shoulder to comb it. "Only that none o' us had a choice. What d' they hold over ye?"
"My life …" Realizing how selfish and cowardly that must sound, she added, "And the fates of other gargoyles, should the world learn that
one of us did murder on humans. I could not let my actions ruin all they've striven to accomplish."
Hyena perked up. "Murder, not bad!" She was scouring herself with a tuft of woolen steel, and the scree it made on the metal of her legs was
painful on the ears. "So you're not one of old Goliath's goody-two-wings clan?"
"You know great Goliath?" First Toby Jessec's toys, then the article in that magazine, and now this! He was legend enough on Avalon, but to
be so famed in the outer world …
"We've both had our run-ins wi' him," Hunter said dryly.
"Diamond did tell me that some of you were none too fond of gargoyles," Hippolyta said, not eager to bring up a sore spot but reasoning best
to get it over with.
"Why, just because every one I've ever met has tried to turn me into scrap?" Hyena laughed with the sound of a rusty nail being pried from a
"My family's crusade was against one gargoyle," Hunter said, her tone perhaps meant to be reassuring but so filled with a lifetime's worth of
pain that it was hard to tell. "We were overzealous an' made enemies o' quite a few more while the one we sought kept slipping away. In the end,
it nearly cost both o' my brothers their lives. But I've nothing against ye unless ye give me reason."
"Fair enough, and I shall endeavor not to. But why are you here? Why are we all here? What do they mean for us to do?"
"The dirty work none of them want," Hyena said. "The suicide missions. We're expendable, so get used to it. I don't know about Blondie
there, but I'm here because these people can keep me operational. I work for them, they keep me running, no questions asked. Anyone else
would throw my butt in the slam."
Hunter nodded. "Expendable … because as far as the rest o' the world's concerned, we're already good as dead. Or might as well be. For
me, I'm here because o' my brothers. One's in a maximum-security physical rehabilitation ward, an' may never be fit enough t' live on his own
even when his sentence is up. The other … that's too long a story."
"And her?" Hippolyta glanced at Hellcat, who was perched on top of a row of lockers, smoothing her shower-wet fur with long swipes of her
"We're na sure," confided Hunter in a low voice. "No one's ever told us much about her, but my guess is she's some sort o' mutate."
"Better living through genetic engineering," snorted Hyena. "Ever since crazy old Dr. Sevarius whipped up his formula, every Johnny Test-tube
in the country's been trying to do the same. You know the Coalition's got themselves a few secret think-tanks of brainy nerds trying to build a
"What about ye? How'd ye come t' be here?" Hunter asked.
"Some of us split off from our clan," Hippolyta said. "Seeking a new home of our own, seeking adventure. We got more than we'd bargained
for and ran afoul of the Coalition. We interfered in one of their plans, and I slew six of their men. But when I was knocked from the sky and from
consciousness, they captured me. My clan believes me to be dead, and thus they must have gone on without me. But there are others here, most
of them, who would see me killed for my crime. If I do not do as Diamond wishes, that will be my fate."
"Tough old world," Hyena said without a note of sympathy. "Life's a bitch, yadda-yadda. So now you're one of us. Isn't that just the coziest
She turned off her oil-shower and clanked on metal heels, leaving slick puddles as she went.
"Ye're dripping, ye careless bint," Hunter snapped. She unwound her towel and tossed it at the biggest of the puddles.
"Yeah, right … you spend all night beating the snot out of us but God forbid someone should slip and fall and get a boo-boo." Hyena showed
Hunter a long golden quill of a central finger, then shut herself into the steam room.
Remembering something Hunter had said, Hippolyta asked, "Your family sought one gargoyle in particular? Surely not great Goliath …?"
"Nay. One we called the Demon, or Demona."
"I know of her. She once attacked our clan, though they say she was enspelled at the time."
"She needed no enspelling t' torment my family for fifteen generations," Hunter said harshly. "Thanks t' her, my brother Jason is gone. Thanks
t' her son, my brother Jon nearly died."
"Her son? Do you mean Jericho?"
"You know him too?"
"He was part of our clan, before leaving to be with his mother. He fought your brother?"
"He gutted my brother," Hunter corrected. "Jon lived, but it might have been better for him if he hadn't. He got peritonitis – an infection o'
the insides. He can barely walk, can hardly eat or drink without agony. An' Jason … I knew Jason was having troubles, but after seeing what
Jericho did t' Jon … it drove him crazy. He went after the Demon on Devil's Night two years ago, and they say he took the both o' them into
Hell t' put an end t' her evil."
"I'm sorry for your family and your loss."
"Well." Hunter finished combing her hair and began putting on clothes. "The Coalition canna help Jason, wherever he is, but they can help take
care o' Jon an' his son Bryce. They're all I've got left, and I'm the only hope they have."
With that, she headed for the row of sinks while buttoning her blouse, leaving Hippolyta to muse on her words as she emerged from the steaming
Continued in Chapter Two -- Necrivore