Bad Girls
by Christine Morgan

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

Chapter Five -- The Longest Night

December, 2003

The senator's mansion outside of the city of Olympia was a new construction that had only been completed the previous year,
yet tried to give the impression of having perched on that rambling hillside estate for a century or more. It might have led one to
wonder about the corruption of the owner, had it not been so widely known that Senator Levesque had made a fortune in the
computer industry before going into politics.
Another compu-geek billionaire showing off …, Hippolyta could almost hear Hyena snidely saying in her mind.
The structure was appropriately magnificent, and they passed through no less than three security checkpoints. The guards
were alert, the dogs were slavering mouthsful of teeth, and motion-sensitive cameras monitored the grounds continually … and
that was all before the limousine had even come within sight of the house.
This all did little to reassure Mr. Dawes. He made a point of frequently reminding them that the last attempt on Daniel's life
had been an attack from above. Fences, guards, and dogs would be of no help if the Coalition decided to try again by that
method.
"It's not like it's exactly a secret that we'll be here," he said.
"So will many other dignitaries, including the Japanese ambassador and the CEO of Infiniware," said Gregory Harmond. "There
are enough armed guards on this estate to conduct a small war."
Hippolyta, seated across from Daniel, shifted distractedly. He noticed, knew the reason why because she'd told him before
they got in the car, and winked slyly.
It was the gown. While beautiful, even stunning, it hadn't taken a certain sensitive part of her anatomy into account.
The form-fitting flow of midnight blue was woven through with gold thread so that it sparkled like a skyful of warm stars. The
skirt reached her calves but was slit to above the knee on one side, and had a strategic hole in the back to allow for her tail. The
neckline was deep enough to tantalize and not so deep as to be trashy, according to Cecily.
But the material was held up by straps of gold mesh that went over her shoulders to join in a V in the back, and then made a
straight course down her spine. It was that ribbon of mesh, metallic and cool and constantly brushing and rubbing against the patch
of skin between her wings, that left Hippolyta in such an unsettled state.
The man whose name was pronounced Ree-shar had fashioned shoes to go along with the gown, a sort of high-heeled golden
sandal-slipper with a band across her central talon and thin ties that laced around her ankles. She also, at Cecily's insistence, wore an
undergarment that approximated what the humans called 'panties', though what purpose the frail scrap of silk would do, Hippolyta
couldn't imagine. Surely not for warmth, and as it was nearly see-through, not for concealment either.
The stylist, a vivacious young woman named Consuela, had tried five or six different looks before they could all agree. Hippolyta's
white-gold hair had been swept up on the sides and pinned with gold pins shaped like stars, and the mass that fell to her shoulder-
blades was curled and sprayed and primped until it felt like something that no longer was part of her at all.
For jewelry, she wore only the necklace Daniel had bought her in Leavenworth. To ward off the winter chill that she didn't feel
anyway, she'd been presented with a mantle of sumptuous fur … and the story that went with it.
Anton Sevarius, accompanying them under the guise of a child prodigy already in medical school at the age of fifteen, had noted
her interest in the garment and proceeded to boastfully tell her all about it.
Not that many years ago, several people had begun to decry the wearing of fur because it was unkind to animals. That in itself was
something Hippolyta as a huntress had difficulty grasping, moreso when she heard that many of these same people also were against
the consumption of meat. Daniel told her that he'd once seen a woman attending be assaulted outside of a concert hall by activists who
doused her in red paint for wearing a fur coat.
But thanks largely to the young Dr. Sevarius, the fur industry in Washington State was now thriving, because a way had been found
to obtain the sought-after pelts without harming a single animal. The mantle that rested around Hippolyta's shoulders was made of fur
that had been grown in a vat.
Cloning … for understandable reasons, it fascinated the young doctor even more than it had his older counterpart. But he had taken
it in a different direction, and perfected a technique that could clone only specific parts of an animal.
So it was that these vat-grown furs went on the market. All it took was a sample of DNA, and they could grow anything. Mink.
Ermine. Leopard. Seal. Cowhide or deerhide for leather. Snakeskin. Sharkskin. Anything.
The vat-growth process also allowed for the creation of edible meat, but that did not do so well commercially. Plenty of humans
might be prepared to wear what was created in the lab, long-accustomed as they were to synthetic fibers already, but few were willing
to eat what was commonly called "vat-meat." It was thus only generally found in prisons, shelters, food banks, and anyplace relying
on donated commodities, despite being proven more nutritious and far less expensive than animal-grown meat.
Sevarius, or rather Harmond FutureTech on his behalf, was currently engaged in a legal and ethical battle to try and gain permission
to extend the vat process to human tissue. The arguments in favor were plentiful – blood banks would never know shortages, organ
and bone marrow transplants would no longer require waiting lists, burn victims could benefit from vat-grown skin.
It wasn't even the same, Sevarius insisted, as cloning an entire human for spare parts. Only that which was needed would be
individually grown. But despite the benevolent possibilities, too many people held out that this was an evil branch of science, that it
could too easily be misused. Some were appalled at the idea that vat-grown tissue could be used in sex-change operations or plastic
surgery.
And so the battle raged on, but in the meantime, at least the fur industry was doing well. Hippolyta had to admit that, as unnatural
and disturbing it seemed to know what she was wearing, the quality of it was exemplary.
Gregory Harmond, sitting opposite his wife, glanced at her with an unreadable expression as she stirred. He hadn't had anything to
say about being overruled by his wife, at least not in Hippolyta's earshot, but she could tell that he wasn't overjoyed by the situation.
As awkward as all of this was, Hippolyta couldn't hold back a familiar tickle of excitement. Attending a ball such as this, a human
fete to try and equal Oberon's revels, and as a guest rather than condescendingly-named honor guard, was a thrill in itself.
Added to that was the spice of danger. For who knew, Dawes may be right … another attack might be in the making and she
would be called upon to defend Daniel once more.
And added to that was the simmering stew of her own fears and shames, brought on more strongly by Cecily's remarks about
representing her race.
It should be Elektra here, not me, she admitted silently to herself. For all she'd looked down on Elektra in their early years
because her shy sister preferred scholarly pursuits to hunting and fighting, for all she'd been so vicious in her remarks as to Elektra's
mixed blood, she now saw that she'd been very wrong. Elektra had her own strengths, a grace of character that Hippolyta knew she
could never possess.
Soul-searching had never been a pastime of hers, but it had been pushed upon her these past several nights.
As the limousine reached the entryway, she braced herself in expectation lest the air should be split by the roar of a jet's engines
as Hunter and the others tried to repeat, with greater success, their previous effort. She saw the same tension in Dawes, and when
his eyes happened upon hers, something changed.
Perhaps Dawes saw past his mistrust and realized that come what may, Hippolyta truly did mean to protect. In that, they were
the same, and an unwilling kinship was struck between them.
They emerged from the vehicle into a wonderland of silver and gold. The mansion's exterior was a shimmering jewel of lights, and
suspended from the ceiling of the arched, covered entryway were the most incredible ornaments Hippolyta had ever seen.
Made of glass and surely heavy, they looked light as soap-bubbles floating on the air and held within them the same translucent
rainbows. Each was more splendid than the last, swirls of light and color that seemed to move, seemed alive with a music made all
of colors.
"How marvelous," she breathed, gazing so raptly at the ornaments that she didn't realize until Daniel tapped her elbow that she was
the object of much attention herself.
The entryway was filled with humans in fine clothes, and all of them were looking at her with anything from mild interest to outright
curiosity to shielded animosity. Being of the elite of their society, they did not blatantly stare, but she could feel the touch of their glances
upon her like dull points of stone as she and Daniel crossed to the doors that let into the house proper.
Cecily Harmond seemed to be enjoying the spectacle they were making, murmuring pleased noises of "I told you so" to her husband
as she deigned to greet acquaintances with a nod here, a smile there.
"You like the glass?" Daniel asked. In blinding white dinner jacket and black slacks, with cummerbund and tie of midnight blue that
almost exactly matched her gown, he at once looked both formal and at ease. "The artist's right over there."
Hippolyta turned, expecting to behold a magician as fair and unearthly as any of Oberon's most elfin Children, who could weave
such splendor of air and light as to hold the very essence of the shifting auras of Avalon. Instead, she saw a stocky man of hard-edged
countenance, one eye covered with a patch, his hair a mane of untamed grey. His skin was marked in many places by the burns of his
trade.
No, she had been wrong … no delicate enchanter here but a son of Hephaestus, making miracles in the power of his forge. More of
his work was in evidence the moment they entered the grand chamber where the party was to be held, for the eighteen-foot fir tree was
adorned in smaller baubles of the same craftsmanship.
As was the star on top, which sparkled and glimmered beneath a domed skylight as if it had descended from the heavens just for
this special occasion.
Humans all around … she had never been in the presence of so many of them. Overwhelmed, she held tight to Daniel's arm, for the
urge welling in her was to flee, to wheel and run from this place and their watching eyes.
But she was a gargoyle and a warrior, and would not run.
Thinking that instantly calmed her nerves, and she was almost able to laugh at her own foolishness. Run? From unarmed humans?
What did she have to fear from them aside from their scorn and cruel words? Those could not harm her, and should by some chance
a few of them produce weapons, she was sure she would be their match even without her trusty bow.
Thus with confidence restored, she lessened her grip on Daniel – it had probably pained him, the clutch of her talons through his sleeve,
but he bore it as stoically as any gargoyle – and was able to remember enough of the courtesies taught her by Princess Katherine to
sweep a graceful curtsey when she was presented to the senator.
Mariah Levesque, for all the exoticness of her name, was a woman of ordinary features, apple-cheeked and plump-hipped, with a
matronly air about her but a firm intelligence in her blue eyes. At first, Hippolyta had wondered if this might be the prospective wife Cecily
had in mind for Daniel, but upon meeting the woman and seeing her to be half again his age and possessed more of candor than the poise
Cecily valued so highly, she knew that was not so.
"Daniel," the senator said after greeting his parents. "It's good to see that you're all right. I take it this is your rescuer?"
"None other. If I might present Hippolyta?"
Here, she dipped that curtsey as if meeting a queen. "Madame."
"I took the liberty of inviting her," Daniel said, and smiled a wryly self-deprecating smile that forcibly reminded Hippolyta of Corwin. "I
know how aggravating it is to plan one of these things and then have someone show up stag and ruin the seating chart."
The senator laughed, and out of the corner of her eye, Hippolyta saw Gregory Harmond subtly relax. It had been the right thing to say,
she realized, making it seem as if he'd brought her both as a show of gratitude and because he had to bring someone. Since a substantial,
if discreet, crowd had been nearby to listen in on the exchange, that was what would be passed along.
Pleasantries were exchanged, hands were shaken – only a bold few dared offer their hands to Hippolyta, and some of those nervously,
as if they expected to draw back a gushing stump. She returned all hands unharmed, ever mindful how fragile their fingerbones and skin
were compared to her talons.
Her initial sense of being overwhelmed gave way to one of uncertainty as the other guests began attempting conversations. Asking
questions. She discovered that it appeared to be generally believed that she was of some undisclosed local clan, that she had been gliding
by and chose to intervene in the evil events on the unfinished rooftop, much as the gargoyles in Manhattan were famed for doing.
Was she of a local clan? Were there many gargoyles in Seattle? Did they plan to reveal themselves as their eastern cousins had done?
These questions she did her best to demur, but artifice in speech was not something at which she was adept. Her discomfiture was
probably all too apparent, but whenever she felt too trapped, Daniel or his mother would adroitly change the subject.
What Cecily Harmond had said about 'gargoyle chic' seemed to be true … Hippolyta found herself regarded as more of a celebrity
than a monster. Some people avoided her, yes, but others seemed fascinated, and if anyone was inclined to hate her outright, it was well-
hidden.
The longer she was there, the more she saw that this party was no different from ones on Avalon. The guests nibbled fanciful delicacies
and drank, some more than others. Servants circulated, ever attentive. There was music, sometimes as an underlying background and
sometimes for dancing. The crowd flowed and re-formed in continual slow patterns. Anecdotes were met with laughter that was sometimes
earnest and sometimes merely polite. Matters of state or business were discussed in hushed tones. Now and then, pairs slipped away to
continue the party in a more intimate setting.
They weren't unlike Oberon's folk at all, though Hippolyta knew how poorly any of the Third Race might react to that revelation.
She danced a few times, unfamiliar with their waltzes but agile enough to compensate for it … and should agility fail, she could blame
her missteps on trying to keep her tail out of the way of the other dancers.
In addition to partnering Daniel, she danced with his father (most likely at Cecily's urging), a prominent radio psychiatrist, a baseball
player, the vice president of Infiniware, a congressional hopeful, a pilot, and a young man who made a sly remark about how he could turn
to stone too … partway. As if she hadn't heard that one before, but she had learned the trick of their polite laughter.
Funny how quickly the strange should become the accepted … only a few hours after arriving, she no longer felt as if all of the humans
were staring at her. They'd all had their look, satisfied themselves that she was either all right or not an immediate threat, and the novelty
of her presence had worn off.
Thus, when she felt the prickle at the nape of her neck, she was mildly surprised but assumed it to be a late arrival. Until her muscles
tensed in fighting instinct and she knew that someone was watching her with hostile, even deadly, intent.
Hippolyta gingerly set down the slim flute of champagne she'd been sipping, before the tightening of her fist could snap its stem. Her
breathing went light and quick, mouth slightly open to better sample the air. It was what she did when she hunted, seeking the scent-trail
of prey, but of course in here all she could smell were the mingled odors and perfumes of humans.
She scanned the crowd. Dancers, but not as many … a children's choir from a local school was about to perform Christmas carols,
so several of the guests had already moved to the area of seats and tables.
Nothing seemed amiss, nothing seemed out of place …
Yet her nerves were all aquiver.
She reminded herself of the incredible security measures that surrounded this place. Thanks to her training with the Coalition, she had
a fairly good grasp of what all was entailed. She'd noticed, though she doubted anyone else had except perhaps Dawes, that the servants
who'd taken the coats of the guests had been carrying tiny but powerful metal detectors to check for weapons. She'd seen the tall poles
outside and knew of the invisible laser alarm grid that would warn of anything coming in from above.
But even with all that, she knew better than to think it would be impossible for someone dangerous to get in here.
Her slow, casual glance around the room showed no one suspicious … the only one looking in her direction was a brunette in a burgundy
sheath and even she was looking more past Hippolyta than at her. The brunette was listening to a well-fed older man too obviously trying to
impress, and even as Hippolyta watched, the woman excused herself and moved away.
The way she moved …
The way she walked …
Her dress was a strapless wine-red sheath worn with long black gloves and a strand of black pearls. This left her back, shoulders, and
upper arms bare … the smooth flexion of them telling Hippolyta of control, of fitness … of a warrior.
Yes, the brunette moved as one with perfectly honed control of her body.
She had turned away from Hippolyta, black hair in a French braid hanging down her back … but it suddenly was imperative that
Hippolyta see her face.
The woman in red was approaching the area of tables and chairs. The lights in that part of the room had dimmed, as spotlights winked
on to focus attention on the stage where four tiers of children in suits and dresses blinked owlishly and shyly at the audience.
Hippolyta followed at a quicker pace. The woman passed behind the large Christmas tree and –
"Hippolyta, there you are!" Daniel said. His voice lowered as he leaned close. "I haven't had a chance before to tell you how beautiful
you are. I hope you're enjoying the party."
"I'd sooner be elsewhere," she admitted.
He grinned and took her arm, his fingertips brushing the rounded serration of her elbow spur. It was a gesture that looked innocent
enough to an observer, but it sent a tingle shooting up her arm and spreading through her body. "So would I."
The children began singing, so high and pure that it made the very soul weep. Frosty, the snowman …
"Daniel …" She bowed her head and shook it, forgetting about the brunette woman. "I do not know what to do anymore. Why must
it all be so complicated?"
"What? Us, you mean?"
"All of it. Your parents, your future … and yes, us, if there is such a thing. I never thought that loveplay could be such a headache!"
His eyes narrowed but his voice stayed mild. "What have they said to you?"
"They the both of them have so many concerns and consequences that it dizzies me! When all we're speaking of is simple loveplay,
harmless and no business of theirs! Yet they would have it seem that all the world hinges on it, and move us both like toys, like pawns."
"I know." He sighed. "I've heard it from both of them. It's not enough that they have my political life mapped to the micrometer, they
have to do the same with my personal life, because the one affects the other."
"And am I to worry so about all that which might happen or might not or should or should not? I know you would be a good leader,
and of great help to my kind, and I do not want to hamper that, but what of what we want?"
"We, Hippolyta, are selfish children who can't see beyond the gratification of the moment, who shallowly put our impulsive desires
ahead of the greater good. At least, that's what they think."
"Then what are we to do? If we cast their cares aside and enjoy each other, that is the very rebellion your father so smugly predicts …
and I could not bear to see the knowing smirk in his eyes, yet I know that he'll know that I would not …" It became too much for her
to try and explain, so she just fluttered her hands expressively and Daniel nodded in rueful understanding.
"They are masters of manipulation, have to give them that. And yes, I know just how you feel. Finding out that they've been running
my life only makes me want to rebel just to show them, but …" He trailed off, raising a hand to rub at his cheek.
His square gold cufflink, polished to a sheen, reflected a flash of deep red. And in that split second, all of Hippolyta's instincts came
raging up again.
She spun.
The brunette in the burgundy gown was beside the Christmas tree, her arm plunged deep into the dense green needles. When she
yanked it out, it had grown a new appendage – a familiar pulse rifle.
Hippolyta noticed several things at once. With the concert underway, she and Daniel were nearly alone in this part of the ballroom. A
trio of blinking lights traced a sleek wedge-shape in the dark sky above the glass dome. And the black wig didn't suit Hunter at all.
Even as she was noticing, she was acting. A swipe of her tail knocked Daniel's feet from under him and he fell beneath the line of fire
just as Hunter opened up.
The rapid crack of the rifle sounded like pinecones exploding in a fire. A holly-and-ribbon swag disintegrated and a row of craters
were blown in the wall.
Hippolyta made to leap at Hunter, intending to wrest the weapon from her and subdue her. But despite these good intentions, her
leap turned to a clumsy stumble, hobbled by the skirt of her gown.
Even as she fought to regain her balance, she snatched up a silver serving tray and whipped it like a discus. Hunter saw it coming
and turned her rifle on it, and the tray caromed skyward, beaten into a half-molten silvery blob that looked just like the movie museum.
People were screaming now, but Hippolyta let the noise wash over her unheeded. She seized the edges of the slit in the side of her
skirt and yanked. The seam parted with absurd ease, all the way to the hip.
Hunter aimed at Daniel, but as her finger tightened on the trigger, a glass bauble ornament beside her head burst apart into a thousand
sparkly fragments.
"Stay down, Daniel!" Mr. Dawes, a silenced ceramic pistol in hand, shouted.
As last words went, they were noble indeed, because a moment later, Hunter blew him away.
Hippolyta tried that leap again, powerful legs propelling her up and over. She hit Hunter full on and they crashed into the tree. More
ornaments flew off, and the air was suddenly rich with the piney scent of sap and crushed needles. The tree itself swayed, but had been
affixed by wires to prevent its toppling.
A fist smashed into the side of Hippolyta's head, dazzling her long enough for Hunter to burst free. Her wig remained caught in the
branches, revealing her blond hair pinned into a tight cap.
"No!" Hippolyta lunged out of the tree, shedding needles, her own carefully-done hair now a chaotic tangle. She drove Hunter to her
knees as the rifle's crack came again, an ugly seared scar etched across the dance floor.
More glass shattered, but this time it was the domed skylight. Huge chunks of it fell like guillotine blades. A colossal thunder filled the
room, of engines as the hover-jet descended to the roof. And insanely, uselessly, from elsewhere deep in the mansion Hippolyta could
hear the self-important bray of the perimeter alarm.
"Don't do this!" she said into Hunter's ear. "Don't you see, they're using you, Diamond and the Coalition, just using you in their own
power-games!"
"Get off o' me, ye traitor!" snarled Hunter, and flipped Hippolyta head over tail.
She landed on her back in a welter of broken glass and cried out as a razor edge sliced deeply through her wing membrane.
"Hippolyta!" Daniel … but only calling out, not running to her, thank the Dragon!
But even that was bad enough, for Hunter swung toward him.
"Hunter, stop!" Hippolyta yelled.
"Ye know I have t' do it," she said, and fired three times in eyeblink succession.
All three shots slammed home. Daniel's white dinner jacket burst scarlet with blood. He was thrown back, hit the wall, jerked in place
as the last shot hit, and then plummeted face-first.
Hippolyta roared in rage and horror. She flung herself at Hunter, both fists locked together and raised high. Bringing them down and
around with all her charging weight behind them, she felt the side of Hunter's ribcage give and heard the splintery crackle of bones.
Hunter fell and rolled, and came to a stop with breath hitching and face contorted in pain. The rifle slid from her strengthless grasp.
Hippolyta stalked toward her, tail whipping the air. She could hear Cecily Harmond shrieking her son's name, and each repetition of
it made the fury intensify.
"Ye … betrayed the … team!" gasped Hunter accusingly, a mist of red flying from her lips.
There was nothing she could say to that, so she prepared to reply with her claws.
A gout of seething orange flame, a comet, a molten meteor, impacted half a yard from her and showered fire all around. Burning agony
like a swarm of stinging ants engulfed Hippolyta's leg. Her skirt ignited, and her skin pulled taut in the baking heat.
A terrified clamoring outcry arose as Hellcat dropped into the ballroom, at the end of a tether-cable from the open side door of the
hover jet.Her smoking hand was leveled unwaveringly at Hippolyta, but there was something in her lava-glow eyes, a quick flash of
empathy.
She had missed by half a yard … how unlucky … or how deliberate.
Hippolyta tore off the blazing flaps of her skirt, leaving her standing there in a scrap of midnight blue that barely reached below the hem
of the undergarment Cecily had insisted she wear. Her spirits sank as she faced Hellcat, for never once in all their practice bouts had she
been able to get the physical better of the feline fireball.
Hellcat sprang.
Hippolyta readied … but Hellcat was not coming for her, not attacking. Instead, she bolted past Hippolyta, smoke curling in her wake,
and scooped up Hunter in her arms. Hunter screamed as her ribs ground together, spewing a mouthful of blood, but Hellcat didn't falter.
She was still hooked to the tether, and no sooner did she have a secure hold on Hunter than the cable whirred in fast ascent.
They didn't mean to finish it! Didn't mean to deal with her!
Infuriated, offended, and desperate, Hippolyta jumped high as she could. But Hellcat and Hunter were going up too fast, out of her
reach. She went up the tree as quick as she was able, knocking off more ornaments as she clawed/climbed.
The Christmas tree teetered, two of its moorings already torn loose when the dome broke. As she neared the top, the narrowing trunk
bent sickeningly under her weight. But by then, Hippolyta was close enough to leap at the crisscross of metal frames that had held the
panes of glass. Sharp slivers pierced her hands as she pulled herself up and out, onto the roof of the mansion.
Through the windshield of the hover-jet, she glimpsed Hyena sneering cruelly at her. Hyena made an obscene gesture and mouthed
the words to go with it, and the jet's thrusters bellowed.
The hot blast of downdraft flattened Hippolyta against the roof and sent part of her mind spinning back to the helicopter, the Coalition,
the whole reason she'd ended up in this mess. The rest of her was agonized with helpless anger as the jet shot skyward and then sped away,
far too fast for her to catch up.
She tried anyway, but even on a set of whole wings she wouldn't have had a chance. With one split and bleeding, a limping glide was
the best she could do before having to admit defeat.

**

She returned to the mansion on foot, each step sending darts of pain along her burnt leg and injured wing. A blood trail in the snow
marked her passage.
Chaos greeted her there. Guards, guests, police, paramedics, choir children, servants … humans of all descriptions milled about in
confusion, shock, terror, and dismay. Sirens replaced carols, their banshee wails screeching into the night. Flashing lights of red and blue
outshone the decorations.
Into this came Hippolyta, looking and feeling as if she'd been dragged through the undersides of hell. Worst of all, eating at her soul
until it was nothing but a black pit of misery, was the knowledge that she'd failed.
Gargoyles protect.
But she hadn't done it well enough to save Daniel. Her friend, her almost-lover … one she would have been proud to consider clan.
She had failed to protect him, and failed to avenge him. Fractured ribs for Hunter would heal. They had bested her and gotten away,
and hadn't even deemed her worthy of disposing of, to complete the repayment for her treachery.
Or perhaps this was their repayment, to let her live. To wake every night with the knowledge of her failures.
As she reached the helter-skelter slew of parked cars, someone pointed at her and cried, "There's one of them!"
Wildfire panic seized them, and suddenly people who had spoken with her, men who had danced with her, turned on her as their enemy.
She shrank back, arms crossed over her face, as they came at her in a maddened mob. They would rip her to pieces with their weak, fragile
hands if they had to … and Hippolyta could not raise a talon against them.
In the abyss of her despair, she almost welcomed them …
"Everybody stop where you are!" bellowed a voice nearly as deep, though not as resounding, as that of great Goliath himself.
Hippolyta looked up in a maelstrom of emotion, but it was no gargoyle she saw. A human, a policeman, in a uniform. His skin was a
shade of chocolate-brown that recalled her sister Thisbe, and an aura of imposing presence radiated from him strongly enough to quell
the mob.
"We were told," he continued, "that a gargoyle fought the assassins. Is this her?"
"Oh … yeah," mumbled a man in the crowd.
"That's right … she did," seconded a woman.
And with that, their fickle tide of madness turned, and they went back to their aimless milling about.
The policeman – a badge on his chest named him Blake – touched Hippolyta's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"No."
"Let me get you to a doctor."
"Daniel … where is he?"
His ink-dark eyes, so solemn … she read the terrible truth in them and the last light of hope was snuffed in her like a candle, leaving only
a cold empty blackness in and around her heart, as if it beat its triple beat silently in the vast barren chasms at the bottom of the sea.
She shook, shook from the bones outward, unable to utter more than the smallest and bleakest of moans. She held onto the nearest car
for support, but the sight of the motto painted across the door was like a dagger stabbed into her heart.
"Come on," Blake said kindly. "I'll take you inside. His mother --"
He had been about to put an arm around her, but Hippolyta recoiled as if bitten. "No! I cannot face her, cannot face his parents! Not
when I failed him! Not when I've ruined all their plans far more finally than they ever dreamed!"
"I want to help you," he said.
"Oh, why?" she flung, meaning her words to be a blow. "What's a gargoyle to you, human?"
Blake took that blow undaunted. "Nothing to me; a hell of a lot to a lady I used to know."
"No one can help me now … unless you'll draw that gun and end my suffering."
That one, he could not take calmly. "What? No chance!"
"Then," she said heavily, standing as upright as she could, "there's nothing more for me here. Farewell, Officer Blake."
"Wait!"
But she did not heed his call, only walked back the way she'd come. She heard another police officer ask if they should stop her, and
Blake's answer.
"No … let her go."
So she went.

**
**

Epilogue –

He'd been on-duty for fourteen hours now and it wasn't looking like he'd be getting to go home soon.
Damon Blake was escorted upstairs by a stone-faced young man with a dark suit and "feds" written all over him. He wasn't sure where
these people had come from, but half a dozen of them had shown up and unobtrusively taken over … and without ever showing anyone
their credentials, as far as rumor among the boys in blue went.
Whoever they were, they were efficient. The estate was locked down, the news was blacked out, and nobody was being permitted in
or out until whatever investigations they were doing had been completed to their satisfaction.
The man at the desk was on the phone when Damon came in. He acknowledged the policeman's presence with a nod, intent on whatever
he was hearing from the person at the other end.
Damon wasn't sure what to make of any of it. Instead of Senator Levesque calling the shots – which would have been okay since it was
her property … instead of the cops or even the unidentified feds calling the shots … Gregory Harmond was in charge. Sure, he had military
rank, but the war hero had retired from the service two decades ago and gone into the lower-profile life of business and industry. Yet there
was no question in Damon's mind that he was in front of a big cheese indeed.
He stood at parade rest, eyes fixed on a vague point somewhere above Harmond's head, and did his best to be oblivious of the conversation.
Harmond finally wrapped it up congenially. "Thanks, Gary … my best to your lovely wife and the kids. Yes, of course. No, you don't need
to worry about that. You can still count on it. Absolutely. Yes, Merry Christmas to you too."
He hung up and scrutinized Damon. "Officer Blake."
"I'm told you wanted to see me, sir." Damon kept his words crisp and formal.
"Yes. You saw a gargoyle earlier?"
"I did, sir."
"Tell me what happened out there."
With a brusque nod, Damon told him how the wounded gargoyle had appeared and nearly been attacked by the hysterical crowd.
"Yet you intervened. Why?"
"They would have hurt her, sir, and the reports we'd heard all confirmed that a gargoyle tried to stop the perpetrators."
"And you let her go."
Damon frowned. "I didn't have any reason not to. I offered her help and medical attention, which she refused."
"Didn't it occur to you that she might need to be questioned?"
"No, sir … it didn't."
"Hmm. And what happened next? Where did she go?"
"I don't know, sir. She left on foot, and I returned my attention to the more immediate problems surrounding me."
"I'm very displeased, Officer Blake."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir, but I fail to see why. All accounts agree that the gargoyle was trying to defend your son." And aren't you a
cold bastard about it anyway, he added silently.
A tightening of Harmond's lips made Damon worry that the older man had heard his unspoken remark. But rather than mention it, he said,
"Naturally … it's what they do. It's all their kind can understand. And that's why I want her found."
Damon didn't let his expression change, but he had gone still and frosty on the inside.
It had been in Harmond's tone even more than his words, sending Damon's memory back twenty years to when he was a teenage kid in
one of New York's poorer neighborhoods. He'd gotten a job with a corner grocer, and been in the stockroom one day when he heard someone
ask his boss how the new guy was working out.
His boss had been a huge greasy slovenly barrel of a man, beer-swilling and lowbrow, the complete physical and social opposite of Gregory
Harmond. But the arrogance had been just the same as his boss had replied, "Well, you know how it is. They work hard, but only while you're
watching 'em … it's all their kind can understand."
Their kind.
Not as good as our kind.
Bad enough when that attitude came from an uneducated, ignorant slob. But when it was coming from a man admired for his fairness, for his
stance on human rights …
Well, that was the catch, wasn't it?
"She's gone," Damon said, keeping his tone carefully neutral.
"I'm aware of that. I want you to track her down."
"No can do. I'm a beat cop, not a detective."
"I don't think you grasp the importance of --"
"Explain it to me."
Clearly, Harmond wasn't used to being talked to like that, and clearly, he didn't get a kick out of it. "Officer Blake, we're on the same side
here. I don't know how you've gotten it into your head that I'm your enemy, or that my reasons for finding Hippolyta are somehow … sinister
… but I assure you, they're not."
"It's sounding to me like you're blaming her for what happened here, when there's plenty of fault to go around. Like the estate security, who
let someone stash an illegal pulse rifle inside the Christmas tree. Like whoever didn't run a thorough check on the guest list so the gunwoman
could get in here. The gargoyle – Hippolyta – did her best to try and save your boy … and I'm not getting the idea that you want her found
so that you can thank her."
"Fair enough … you're partly right. I don't blame her for the attack. I don't even blame her for not being able to stop Daniel from getting shot.
But I want to know where she is. I want to keep tabs on her."
"Mind my asking why?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
"Okay. Sir," he added belatedly. "Suit yourself. But I don't know how you're going to find her if she doesn't want to be found. Her kind kept
themselves hidden for hundreds of years."
"I seem to have inadvertently touched a nerve," Harmond observed, drumming his fingers on the desk. "You're familiar with them, aren't you,
Officer? Gargoyles?"
"No more than anyone else," Damon said guardedly.
"I understand you are originally from New York. And that you once served with Detective Sergeant Elisa Maza."
"She was my first partner."
"And her connection with gargoyles is rather, shall we say, well-known."
"Where's this leading, Mr. Harmond?"
"Indulge me," he commanded. "Tell me about your partnership with Elisa Maza."
Damon almost told him to go to hell, but figured that it couldn't hurt. "I joined the force in 1992. She trained me. We worked together about
eight months, and then she passed her detective exams. After that, we didn't run into each other much."
"But you knew about the gargoyles."
"I was there when the sightings started, but back then, everybody thought it was all phony. Urban legends, hoaxes, crank calls. I moved
out here in 1995. And with all due respect, if you know so much about my record, you must know all that already."
"True," Harmond said, unruffled. "So why are you so determined to protect this gargoyle?"
"Why are you so determined to find her?"
"She's a loose end, Officer Blake. I despise loose ends." He paused. "And also … my son will want to know where she went."
"Your son is alive?"
"I've heard nothing to the contrary, though I suppose the issue may still be in doubt, depending on how the surgery goes."
"We were told he'd been killed."
"You'd also heard that Hippolyta wasn't involved … a caution, Officer, not to believe everything you hear."
"Are you saying she was?"
"Would that make you more inclined to look for her?"
Damon remembered the gargoyle's devastated reaction. "She wasn't," he said surely. "But I will do my damndest to find her."
"I'm glad to --"
"Not so fast … I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for her. I let her leave thinking your son was dead."
Harmond brightened … brightened … at this. "Did you? Well, in that case, Officer Blake, never mind. There's no need to trace her after
all."

**

Hunter swam up to consciousness as if surfacing through murky water. Her lips were glued together with dried saliva, and when she peeled
them apart, the skin of her upper lip split in a painful, stinging line.
"How bad?" she croaked.
"You won't be doing the limbo for a long time," Hyena replied from somewhere near her head.
Her eyes were gummed shut too, and when she tried to raise her hands to rub them, nothing happened. She was encased in something solid
and heavy from her chin to her hips.
"Ye have the bedside manner o' a coroner. How bad is it?"
"Six broken ribs, three cracked vertebrae, one punctured lung, some internal bleeding, and a partridge in a pear tree." Hyena finished on a
sing-song note that made Hunter dearly wish to clout her one.
She managed to squinch her face about and get her eyes unstuck, opening them to the sight of the Coalition's main infirmary. "Am I paralyzed?"
It was her worst fear. Taking care of Jason, her once strong and admired brother transformed into an invalid unable to walk or tend his own
bodily functions, learning more about wheelchairs and physical therapy than she'd ever had a desire to know … it had always been too easy to
imagine herself in his place. Helpless, dependent on another for even the most personal of tasks.
"I dunno … do you feel this?"
Nothing.
"No."
"How about this?"
"No. Och, God …"
Hellcat moved into Hunter's field of vision just as it was starting to blur with tears. She gave Hyena a smoking look – literally – and reached
down.
Hunter felt a furry hand close around her foot, the sharp but gentle prick of claws extending.
"I felt that!"
"Party pooper," Hyena said to Hellcat.
"What are ye talking about?"
"Aw, I was messing with you before. Didn't touch you. See?" She flicked at Hunter's big toe.
"Ow! Ye bitch, d'ye think that's funny?"
"Yeah, you should have seen your face!" She whooped with cruel laughter.
"What about Hippolyta? What happened? What day is it?"
"They must give you good drugs. I told you all of that an hour ago."
"Tell me again!"
Hunter realized that Hyena was right … they must be good drugs, because despite the catalog of injuries she'd obtained, she had no pain
at all and everything seemed to have nicely rounded edges, no straight lines. She also made a personal little promise to herself – no more
undercover missions in evening wear. Body armor only. That damned red dress hadn't absorbed a thing!
"We could have taken her out too," Hyena said, "but some pussy didn't blast her when she had the chance."
Hellcat bared her teeth and hissed.
"Still," Hyena went on, "gotta admit, it was pretty ballsy of her. Ditching us like that, stabbing us in the back. You think she and Harmond
were bumping uglies or something?"
"She did what she thought was right," Hunter said. "How many o' us can say that? She stood by her convictions. Ye have t' admire her for
having the strength t' make the decision."
"Instead of being a good little soldier but angsting about it until the cows come home like some people. Got to do something about this
conscience of yours, Hunter. Either give it up like I did, or live by it, but pick one because you're driving me bugfuck."
The infirmary doors opened and a Coalition physician came in, followed by Diamond. The former looked at Hunter as if privately amazed
that she was still drawing breath and taking nourishment – which she was, if the IV tubes running into her body were any indication. The latter
wore the pinched expression of someone very displeased.
But whatever it was that was on Diamond's mind, she let it wait until after the doctor had a chance to explain to Hunter in more detail the
extent of her condition and her prospects for recovery. Long, tedious, and painful, was what it sounded like.
Then it was Diamond's turn. She had a folded-up newspaper in one hand, and slapped it repeatedly against the palm of the other. "Well,
girls …quite the night's work, wouldn't you say?"
"What, we did it!" Hyena said defensively.
"Did you?"
Diamond opened the Seattle Times and held it up so they could all read the headline – HARMOND ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT FAILS –
and beneath, in slightly smaller lettering, Teenage med student saves America's Prince with eighteen hours of heroic surgery.
Hunter swore loudly and vehemently … but on the inside, despite herself, she couldn't help smiling. Just a little.

**

"Gone," Daniel Harmond said. "How can she be gone?"
His mother smoothed the hair back from his forehead and gave him one of her patented Cecily Tate kisses, the kind that never quite touched the
skin lest it smudge her makeup and leave an unbecoming mark of lipstick on the subject.
"Try to rest, Daniel dear. Don't think about it."
"She left," his father said, and shook his head. "We don't know where she went, or why, but your mother's right. She's gone and there's nothing
we can do about it."
Daniel tried to raise his head but it felt like a swollen October pumpkin on the end of a pipestem neck, and he could only hold it up for a second
before letting it drop into the softness of the pillow.
"I can't believe it. She wouldn't go. Not without saying goodbye."
Hardness crept into his father's voice. "Unless she had something to hide."
"No. Not Hippolyta. You can't expect me to believe she was a part of this!"
"Shh, Daniel … don't try to move!" Cecily said. "Mustn't undo all of Anton's knitting, now."
"We're not sure what to believe," Gregory Harmond said. "Some might think that she got you away from the crowd, right near the tree, so that
the other one could have a clear shot, and all the rest of it was just for show."
"That's not what happened."
"That's enough, both of you, really," Cecily chided. "Daniel, you've been very seriously hurt and you need to rest. Gregory, don't badger him.
I'm sure Hippolyta had reasons of her own for leaving, whatever they were. But the important thing now is to get you better again."
He just didn't have the energy to argue any more, but as he drifted off to sleep he thought he heard her, Hippolyta. Alone … weeping, miserable,
and alone.

**

The truck stop was a sprawling, stinking sea of concrete out of which diesel pumps jutted in a strange rectangular atoll around a cinderblock-and-
glass island.
That island housed a diner, a bar, and a closet-sized convenience-mart. The ships that docked there were for the most part long and rumbling,
sailing on their eighteen tar-black wheels. A few smaller vessels mingled with the semis, families on long drives needing a fill-up, a restroom, or a
quick resupply of junk-snacks.
Hippolyta stood in the shadows beyond the reach of the jaundice-yellow streetlights, scanning the vehicles idly. They were all going somewhere,
and where hardly mattered. It was best to be away from this place before she was discovered, and possibly linked to the break-in.
Here in Redding, at the northern end of California, the weather was dry and only moderately cold. A thin skin of frost glazed some of the windows
of trucks that had been parked for a while, perhaps while their drivers napped in the large cabs.
Her nightmare journey was still fresh in her mind, yet at the same time oddly jumbled. She wasn't sure how many nights it had been, or exactly
how far she had come. All she knew was that in leaving the senator's estate, her wing torn and unable to support her for any sustained gliding, she
would have to find some other transportation.
So it was that she'd come to the trainyards, and seen one just chugging its way down the tracks. It had been no difficult matter to cling to the side
of a boxcar long enough to work open the door.
She'd huddled there amid the crates, driven to move only when her hunger became too great. Some of the crates held apples, others packages
of vacuum-sealed smoked salmon, and she had eaten as well as her heartsick appetite would allow.
When she sensed dawn nearing, she left the safety of her boxcar and watched the train leave, finding shelter in the forest. She didn't dare risk
staying aboard, not wanting her statue to be discovered by rail-workers.
The day's sleep mended her wing and her various other hurts, except for the deep wound to her soul. For that, she knew, stone healing would
do nothing.
She found another train, and made her way south in this fashion. Once or twice, she was nearly spotted by humans, but the only time one actually
did see her, it was a whiskey-smelling and grievously addled old man who seemed to have made a home for himself beneath a trestle.
When she'd reached Redding, however, she knew that she would have to do something other than ride along and scavenge for scraps. She was
still in just the tatters of her fine midnight-blue gown, with no weapons, no money. Her only real possession was the gold necklace she wore, and it
gave her bittersweet comfort to fold the castle-shaped pendant in her palm.
But she could not go on like that, so when her gaze fell upon the large building opposite the trainyard, she knew what she had to do. It had been
a combination army-surplus and sporting goods emporium, and after forcing the back door, she was able to outfit herself properly. Though quickly;
she had disabled the alarm but knew that it probably hadn't gone unnoticed.
Now she at least looked more like herself again, and felt more like it too. The baggy, many-pocketed pants were splotched black and grey, and
once she slit a hole in the rump and tore the bottom cuffs wider, they fit well enough. She had a snug black zippered halter of the sports-bra variety,
and a rainproof hooded poncho. She had a sturdy hunting knife sheathed on her calf.
A dun-brown duffel bag was filled with random items she'd collected – matches, a canteen, foil-packaged dried foods, a lightweight cook pot,
a 50-in-1 folding tool, a booklet on woodland survival, other things.
Most crucial of all, she had a bow in hand and a full quiver of arrows at her hip, and at last that made her fully Hippolyta again.
Thus equipped, she had departed the store before anyone could arrive in response to the alarm, and found herself at the truck stop.
She looked at the bright-lit windows, breathed the scents of grilled meat and grease beneath those of oil and exhaust, listened to the music that
swelled and diminished in time with the opening and closing of the doors.
That was no place for her. If she walked boldly in, she would find no welcome there.
What she needed was another ride. Not knowing where she was going made it senseless and tiring to try and glide there. Better to save the
strain on her wings and let engine and tires expend the effort.
As she watched the ebb and flow of the traffic tide, she realized that many of the trucks coming from a certain direction were laden with felled
trees, huge shaggy-barked logs. That way was the mountains, that way was the sea. If there was a good large wildland in which a gargoyle might
lose herself, surely that was the direction to travel.
So thinking, she waited until she spotted a likely prospect driving toward the sign reading "Hwy. 299 West," and glided after it. The truck was
the girdered-skeletal sort that carried cars on its back as a mother opossum might carry her kits.
Hippolyta chose the uppermost, frontmost car – the one the driver could least see if he happened to look in his mirrors at that moment. She
wrenched the rear door open, crawled into the back seat, and closed it after her. It wouldn't latch quite as well, since she'd mangled the lock, and
the wind made an annoying whistle thanks to it, but she could tolerate it.
It was only then, warmer and more comfortable and better-fed than she'd been in several nights, that Hippolyta could be lulled into grieving. She
wept for Daniel, for herself, for the clan she'd lost … and for the uncertain, lonely future unspooling before her in a black ribbon of roadway toward
the coast.

**
**

The End.