The Guardians: Cobalt
Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are used here without their creators' knowledge or consent.
All other characters property of the author and should not be borrowed without permission. March 2001; 12,100 words.

#3 in a spinoff series



Previously, on "Gargoyles – The Guardians":

"My mother was born of human and fae. My father, of gargoyle and dragon." He let his wings rise briefly from his shoulders,
those peculiar wings with their star-flecked membranes. "But I always felt most welcome among the gargoyles."



In the waterfall, there was song.
Asanna danced to that music, that very melody of her life. For it was in a place much like this, a rock cleft through which water ran
in white veils of turbulent beauty, that she had been conceived, and born. A place much like this, in Eire long ago, when a shepherd
had happened to discover the falls and the pool, and fell victim to the enchanting spirit who made that pool her home.
She had heard the tale of her beginnings many a time. How her father had dallied with her mother, and how, at the moment of his
release, the water-sprite Mide had forced his head beneath the surface, holding him there, the convulsions of his drowning body bringing
her to greater joys.
Mide had not expected there to be issue, yet in due time Asanna had come along, and been named for the waterfall which was the first
sight to greet her half-mortal eyes. She had grown up there, playing among the reeds, chasing river-fish, and taunting the humans with
fleeting glimpses of her unclad, lithe, blue-skinned form.
Oh, and she had laughed when they tried to chase her, tried to woo her! Foolish in their lusts, some of them even stripping and plunging
into the water after her – in all the world, was there a sight a fraction so amusing as that of an aroused human male? All engorged and
waving, indignant in their frustrated passions.
Those that followed her into the water became prey for Mide, and Asanna became accustomed to luring men for her mother's
ceaseless appetite. Only, having been taken by surprise once, Mide was cautious thereafter and gave Asanna neither brothers, nor sisters.
Asanna herself never sought the touch of human flesh, and grew to disdain her mother for such yearnings. Although she had sprung of a
mortal's seed, she had no wish to know more of them, or their world. She would, when at last she chose a mate, find one worthy of her.
This had at least been her intention …
She danced, she danced like mist on the water, as the falls played their eternal song. But even in the pleasure of her dance, she could
not fully shut the memories from her mind.
The humans had grown suspicious. Their churchmen roused them to rage against the spirits of the pool, and armored with holy crosses
and tools of iron, they had come. They had come with sledgehammers and spades and picks, to destroy the hillside and tumble debris of
rocks, sod, and earth into the deep crystal pool.
It had been the only moment that Mide spared a thought, a care, for her daughter. With her dying flicker of power, she had sent Asanna
to safety. Safety here on Avalon. Safety among others of her own kind … or very nearly so, for these others, these immortals and their rich
kingdom, were fair and grand beyond even her imaginings.
On Avalon, she found amusements that transcended anything she could have known in Eire. She drank of their wine, ate of their ambrosial
meals, learned their dances and games. She had suitors aplenty, but spurned even those worshipped as gods. None of them, she deemed,
were worthy. Not for a merging of the aura in the way many did, not for a joining of the flesh in the way of which so many were so very fond.
She preened at their compliments and returned their flirtatious remarks, but whenever the invitations were made, Asanna always declined.
She found much more enjoyment in the sport that came from toying with mortals. Often, she and her sisters-in-mischief would slip through
fairy rings and hollow hills, playing pranks. Humans, seeing them, would come to join their circle and find that when the dance was done, years
of their lives had sped by and their kin were aged or gone. For fun, she would join in the stealing human babes, sometimes leaving cats or
piglets or imps in the cradles instead. They snuck to the fringes of village festivals and amused themselves by casting love spells in unlikely
matches, watching with glee the resultant outrages and jealousies.
It had been during one of these excursions that she'd seen him, a shadow in flight with wings that glowed as if jeweled with a thousand stars
and cold white lightning leaping from his jaws. He had come rushing out of the night into the village, and with talons and claws and fierce
gnashing teeth torn into the reveling humans.
Spoiling the fun.
Most of Asanna's fellow fae had scattered, none wishing to dare the wrath of a gargoyle. Particularly not a gargoyle who looked to be part
dragon as well, of great size and majestic wingspan. But Asanna, unhappy at the intrusion, wove her magic around him in a blue-white net as
fluid as water and as strong as steel.
She had returned with him to Avalon, to parade him before Lord Oberon's court as a prize. For providing such entertainment, Asanna had
been showered with rewards. Gems, baubles, even a precious flower from the lady's veil. And oh, how her captive's eyes had blazed in fury!
How he would have ripped her limb from limb could be but get free of his bonds!
What a delicious challenge and victory it would be, Queen Titania had suggested, to keep him, and in time to win him over so that he adored
her as any devoted pet might adore its master. But Lord Oberon scoffed, and said that such could not be done. So wagers were placed, and it
was impressed upon Asanna most assiduously that Queen Titania did not expect to lose.
With this well in mind, Asanna turned the cave behind her waterfall home into a pen for her new pet and sought to tame him. Initially, he hated
her, this fierce deep-blue creature. But over time, with no one else to relieve the monotony of his captivity, he had thawed enough to speak to
her.
Rive, he named himself. Born to a gargoyle mother, but sired by a dragon. He had been driven from his clan, made an outcast, when he was
found to be a slayer of humans rather than their protector. This was, he claimed, his sacred duty handed down from his ancestors. To be rid of
all humans, or else surely the gargoyle race would perish instead. But bound as they were by an ancient geas, the gargoyles could not act except
in their own most immediate defense. He would be their champion, he had decided, and as payment for his efforts they had most ungratefully
turned him out.
This vast and seething hatred seemed beyond all reason, and kept Asanna from divulging her own heritage lest he endeavor more vigorously
to loose his wrath upon her. With no humans nearby to inflame his anger, he gradually let go of it and became milder. They went from captor
and captive to friends, and then one fateful night to something more.
It was only much later that Asanna realized that she had been the victim of much the same sort of prank she and her friends had so liked to
play. Her aloofness, her refusals, her rebuffings and rejections, had earned her unkind enemies among the court. The true wager had not been
to see if she could tame the beast, but to see if she would give herself to him.
By the time she understood this, it was too late. That fateful night had not been without consequences even more severe. She had initially
meant to do no more than curl against his warm, velvety side and feel the comfort of his wing as a blanket over her, a way she had grown
fond of sleeping when Avalon's brief and cool winters came. But that night, somehow, some way, perhaps just because of some accidental
contact as she turned, Rive suddenly saw her not as captor, not as friend, but as female.
And she, lulled by familiarity and carelessness and drowsiness, did not realize his intent until his teeth had already closed in a firm but not
painful grip on the nape of her neck, his arms and wings surrounding her, his tail girding her waist to raise her to her knees. Before she could
react, the insistent probe of his maleness had become a deeply thrusting penetration.
There in the cave behind the waterfall, he had taken her. Again and again throughout that long night, never tiring, and her initial shock and
indignation had turned to fevered desire, so that she matched his movements with her own and urged him to ever-greater efforts.
Later, yes, later she learned the truth. Later, she learned how agents of Queen Titania, wishing to see their lady win the wager, had worked
spells upon herself and Rive to push them to this extreme of lust. There would have been no hope of denying it, not when most of Avalon could
see the truth in her aura, and certainly not when she swelled with child.
It hadn't been toward the end of her pregnancy that Rive discovered her secret. Until then, he had been as caring and diligent a mate as
anyone could wish. He roamed Avalon, collecting food for her, responding to old instincts that told him how a male should behave toward
the mother of his offspring. He guarded her intensely, watched over her every move.
But then, during a visit from some of Asanna's giggling nymph-friends, one had let slip a wondering – what would it be like, this child of four
races? Would it look human at all, the poor thing, or would its better blood show through?
Rive's rage knew no limits. What had been protectiveness to the point of being overbearing changed in a flash to an utter and consuming
loathing. He would, he vowed, kill her and the unborn babe, and made to do just that.
Asanna, spurred to action by a strong maternal drive to defend her child, reached for and seized more magic than she'd ever before used.
She forced Rive into the cave, and closed it around him, imprisoning him within, sealed forever behind the waterfall.
Her labor was brought on by the rigors of that spell, and her son was born later that same night. The sight of him sent Asanna into fear and
despair, for he was much like his father. Skin of vibrant cobalt-blue, wings like the starlit sky. But his hair was as black as her own, and in his
features she saw an echo of herself, and he clung to her so trustingly with his tiny hands that she could not bring herself to abandon him.
Cobalt, she named him, and made him the center of her existence. When she saw that he was lonely, for there were few children on Avalon
and none of his own kind, she beseeched Queen Titania to bring some gargoyles to live on the island. Feeling pity for her, perhaps because this
was in part her own doing, Titania agreed and secured Oberon's permission.
So it had gone, life on the enchanted isle. As Cobalt grew, and asked as children do questions about where he'd come from, Asanna told
him as much of it as she dared, excepting to say that she had known his sire in the mortal world, and that he had gone on his way. Better for
the youngling, she thought, that he not know the last words his father uttered before being sealed away were those condemning them both to
death.
Life on the enchanted isle … until it had all begun to change. Until Hecate defied and challenged Oberon. Until she and her three daughters,
and a human sorceress armed with a wand of great power, brought war to Avalon. As the magic battle loomed, Asanna knew that the first
ones to fall would be those least able to ward themselves against hostile sorceries. Those such as her son.
She told him none of this, and sought instead another excuse to have him depart. One was easy enough to find. In the intervening years,
the gargoyle clan – who did not know how different he was from them, and who thought Asanna was his adoptive mother – had lost many
of their females to illness. They were mostly males now, and the prospects for a mate for her son were few.
Cobalt, being of an age to begin to care about such things, agreed readily to her suggestion that he visit the outside world. And to her
additional suggestion that he go alone, so that he would have the benefit of his magic, as well as the option to turn stone or stay flesh as the
need arose. He dissuaded the others of the clan from joining him, and left Avalon.
Just as her mother had sent her here for safety, so had she been forced to send her son away.
But now, as she danced, as she danced in the waterfall, invisible and insubstantial and so weakened that she could not emerge from it,
she sensed a far and distant presence, and knew that at long last, Cobalt was returning.
In the waterfall, from its flowing substance, her face formed. First her face, and then a single outstretched and pleading hand. But her voice
was nothing more than the rushing of the water, and her warning went unheard by all except one.
Behind her, in the cave that had become open again when the magic vanished, Rive stirred from his earthen slumber.

**

Avalon! Place of magic, place of dreams!
Amber Maza had been raised on stories of it, stories told to her by her parents, her clan-aunts, and the spritely Puck. As children, she
and Alexander had used it as the setting for their games of pretend, this mystical world where all things were possible. It was the font of
every fairy tale that had ever been, an isle of such beauty as to be beyond compare.
So, as the mists closed around the skiff in which she rode, Amber felt a thrill of excitement despite her otherwise glum and hopeless
situation.
She was over a thousand years in the past, having gone back to 940 A.D. to return the gargoyle Old-Mother to her own time. Old-
Mother, alchemist and Amber's own grandmother, had visited the year 2018 to heal her son Goliath of a deadly plague. Then, aware of
the risks but willing to chance it in exchange for seeing the future of her clan, Old-Mother had remained a week. During that time, she had
swiftly endeared herself to every inhabitant of the Aerie Building. But no matter how much she might have wished to stay, she'd known
she belonged to the world of 10th-century Scotland.
Amber had escorted her home, but drastic events had upset her own plans. An attack by the vicious Sisterhood had resulted in the Phoenix
Gate being lost. Knocked into the ceaseless, pounding sea. Trapping Amber with no way to return.
Although the past was not without its charms – some charms, like the younger and hunky version of Hudson, too tempting for all good
sense – Amber knew that she no more belonged here than Old-Mother belonged in the future. It would have been terrible seeing the shape
of things to come, knowing that the clan was only fifty-four years from the Viking massacre. Knowing that there was nothing she could do to
save them, nothing she could do to help.
Even if she'd been able to deal with that, there was the not-inconsiderable matter of her secret. She would not have been able to keep
her wings hidden forever, nor would she have wanted to. She would have missed the whisper of the night wind too much, missed the freedom
of the sky.
Her only choice had been to leave Castle Wyvern, leave its folk to their destiny. To seek some other way home. Which apparently, she
had done … because Alexander had made sure to confide in Old-Mother the incantation that would open the way to the Sea of Mist.
Amber tried to take some comfort in that fact. If Alex knew to tell, then it must be what she had done … though how he found out about
it remained a mystery.
Thanks to the time difference on Avalon, her own era wasn't that far away. Only fifty years. But even that was depressing enough. She thought
of all the times she'd bemoaned the way that she aged more slowly than her human friends, and shook her head in chagrin. Even so, she'd still
be middle-aged at least by the time she caught up to herself. Older than her own mother.
"Better that," said her companion, "than centuries dead and gone to dust."
She started. "How do you do that? It's like you're reading my mind."
He shrugged, still poling the skiff onward. "It would take no great sage to see what concerns you."
"Maybe not this time, but you've done it before, too."
Cobalt did not reply, gazing pensively ahead into the swirling, dense clouds that surrounded them. Called 'Teacher' by the clan, it had been
his job to tutor the hatchlings of Goliath's generation, which was one reason why Goliath, Demona, Coldstone, and the others lacked the
accents that their elders had.
He appeared to be an elder himself, his wiry black hair streaked with glints of silvery-grey, but Amber couldn't guess what his age might
be. Not once he'd confessed to being of an even more mixed heritage than she was – human and fae on the side of his mother, gargoyle and
dragon on that of his father. But for his unusual wings, he could have passed for any gargoyle she'd ever met. Those wings, though, were
something else indeed. Sprouting from his shoulder-joints, they were rich indigo-blue speckled with starlike dots of white. When he extended
them, they looked like the sky on a clear midnight.
"Is it magic?" Amber asked. "Do you use your magic to know what I'm thinking?"
"No, child. I could, if it came to that, but it's merely a matter of being observant. My mother taught me that there is more magic in just
knowing the hearts and minds of others than in all the spellbooks in all the world."
"How long ago did you leave Avalon?"
"I was a youth then," he said. "Nearly a hundred years ago … though but a fraction of that will have passed there. Five years for them,
perhaps. The rest of my clan should be largely unchanged."
"Are there many gargoyles there?"
"Not many." He glanced at her and chuckled softly. "And all males, my rookery brothers. You might find yourself very popular there, my
young and comely friend."
"All males?" She thought of Hudson, and the few but impassioned kisses they'd shared, and felt her face grow warm. "Um, but won't they
notice that I'm half-human?"
"You have the wings and spirit of a gargoyle. I hardly think they'd mind the rest." His chuckle turned to a sigh. "Would that I could have
brought my own mate back, and hatchlings to renew our dying tribe. But it was not to be so."
Amber fell silent in the face of his old pain. Her own clan had come close to similar straits, she knew – all males surviving the slaughter,
all males but for Demona. She was saved from having to come up with something to say when an eddy of wind parted the mist.
They were coming through! To mystic Avalon, beautiful Avalon! Amber stood up in the skiff, wings half-spread for balance on the rolling
swells, and peered intently into the distance. Waiting, yearning to see the first glorious shifting radiance of the sky-light over Oberon's palace.
"Amber --" Cobalt's voice held a note of premonition, of warning, but before she could even look at him, the bottom dropped out of the
world.
They plunged straight down like an elevator with a cut cable. Amber threw off her cloak, prepared to jump, to catch an updraft and let the
skiff fall away beneath her, saw Cobalt's wings fan out as he made ready to do the same –
With a jolting, squishy-wet crash, the bottom of the skiff hit hard. Both passengers and their small pile of belongings were bounced rudely
up and out. Amber was flipped head over heels and landed with a splat of her own in gluey, gelatinous mud. It slurped at her hands and legs
with clammy-cold lips. She heard the hearty splat of Cobalt making a similarly undignified landing.
A mucky expanse stretched out around them. Amber got to her feet and promptly sank shin-deep in the mud, struggling to stay upright. She
looked around in astonishment at the sodden landscape: slick growth-covered boulders rearing up, straggles of grass lying flat and limp in soggy
tendrils that looked black and slimy. A swampy, dead-fish smell filled the air … coming in part from the dead fish all around.
"Where are we?" she said.
Cobalt, facing the other way, had a terrible look of bleakness in his eyes. "Avalon."
Amber turned, and the breath was punched out of her by shock.
This was Avalon?
True, there was an island rising above the exposed sea-bed – for such she now knew herself to be standing upon – and it did rise to a
volcanic peak just as Aunt Elektra had described … there were the spires of castles to be seen … there was a forest, and cliffs overlooking a
sandy curve of beach.
But in no other way did it resemble the Avalon of her imaginings. The forest was skeletal and dead. The castles were crumbling, their pale
stones blotched with moldy moss. No light except that of the moon shone from the heavens, and the moonlight was a pallid, bleached-bone hue
that gave Avalon all the splendor of a disinterred corpse.
"This isn't the way it's supposed to be," Amber said, horror and disappointment fighting for supremacy.
"Could the war have done so much?"
"What war?"
"There was war brewing on Avalon when I left," Cobalt said. "I only knew what of it I did because my mother feared it would bring us
danger, and so she persuaded me to leave. She said it was that I might find a mate, but even then I knew her well enough to see the fear in
her heart."
"Oh … that war!" Amber's eyes were wide, remembering things she'd heard from Aunt Aiden and Alex over the years. "I forgot all
about it!"
"Come on. We must get to shore."
"But there's nothing there!"
"If we stay here, we'll be drawn down," he said. Cobalt, being considerably heavier, was up to his knee-spurs in mud. "And we cannot
go back."
Amber studied where the ocean wasn't anymore. Now those growths on the boulders were apparent – dead sea urchins, barnacles, starfish.
The skiff was intact, but with no water, it wasn't going to budge. She pulled a leg out of the muck and it came with resistance and a sloppy
sucking sound that would have made the hatchlings laugh. From the shin down, she was caked, and she'd lost her shoe. But standing on one
leg only pushed the other one deeper, and as a result she fell on her rear.
The voluminous skirt she'd worn as part of her Eolande disguise belled out and acted like a snowshoe, preventing her from sinking tush-first.
She extricated both legs and sat there, feeling dampness soaking through. She looked up at Cobalt, not sure whether to laugh or cry.
He didn't notice, still staring at ruined Avalon. Then, shaking himself from his stunned state, he held his hands down so that his palms were
parallel to the earth, and uttered words of magic.
Wavering cones of reddish-orange light shot down. Amber winced against a wave of heat that kiln-baked the mud encasing Cobalt to hard-
cracked clay. She was about to ask how that improved things, when he made a sudden violent lunge and broke free, leaping and beating at the
air with wings that gave him more lift than a normal gargoyle's would. Dried flakes showered from him like shed stone skin. He gained altitude,
circling over her.
He called out strongly in the language of magic, and made a lifting gesture.
Amber squealed as she, the skiff, and all of their strewn belongings rose smoothly from the mud, ringed in a halo of sparkles and light. Her
wings outstretched, she could feel the idle currents of the air but was immune to them. Cobalt floated her into the skiff, and settled parcels
around her.
"I'm sorely out of practice," he panted as he glided nearby. "This is much more difficult than I remember."
"You don't need to carry me," she said, diving from the skiff. It was not as graceful as she would have wished, hampered as she was by
a soggy, mud-clotted skirt. But as there was no one else around to protest immodesty, she shed the heavy wool. Much lighter and more
comfortable in the backless linen shift and knee-length underdrawers, she soared high.
The closer they came, the more dreary and uninviting Avalon appeared. The beaches were littered with mats of kelp and decaying driftwood,
along with the carcasses of various fish and sea creatures. Drifts of leaves, many of them looking crisped by sudden drought and heat, heaped
beneath trees that had gone dun-grey and lifeless. Nothing stirred, not a bird, not a deer, not a single creeping insect.
"No further," Cobalt said as they reached the shore, and let the skiff fall with abrupt loss of control. He landed beside it, crouching with elbows
on his knees and head hanging, breathing heavily.
Amber alit on the bluff, next to a huge stone brazier. According to her parents, it and its fellows should have been blazing with constant magical
fire, the welcoming beacons of Avalon. But they were dark and cold, their insides smudged with ash.
"Hello!" she called on impulse.
It shouldn't have been possible for her voice to echo on an island, and yet it did. It came back to her as doleful as the nymph by that name
must have been upon understanding the horror of Hera's curse. And it was the only answer she got.
A shiver twisted through her. She descended to join Cobalt. "I think … I think we're the only ones here!"
"That cannot be possible."
"Can't it? They must have already left."
He raised his head. "Left?"
"But even so," she said, thinking hard, "the Weird Sisters should still be here. Why didn't they meet us, try to stop us, like they did to the
Magus?"
"The Magus!" Cobalt said, alarmed.
She started to explain, to tell him that it wasn't his Magus but a later one, that his Magus would become the Archmage … then remembered
that the Archmage had ended up here anyway, and it was all too complicated.
"Never mind." She went to the skiff and poked through the things she'd brought. There weren't many. A change of clothes, a bit of food, a
few leftover gems, and an assortment of herbal and alchemical packets given to her by Old-Mother. A dagger that had been a gift from Prince
Corwin. A silver bracelet that had been shyly presented to her by the hatchlings.
Slipping the bracelet on her wrist and finding a length of ribbon that would go around her waist for a belt and support the dagger's sheath,
Amber decided she was as ready as she was ever going to be to face whatever was left of Avalon. The weather and temperature were as mild
as Aunt Angela had always claimed, so she left the cumbersome medieval clothes. Everything else went into a small purse, also strung on the
ribbon.
"We'd better have a look around," she said. "Maybe they're not all gone. Maybe there's someone here who can help, or tell us what happened.
And at the very least, if this is where I'm going to live for the next fifty years, I need to find a place to stay. Somewhere … somewhere isolated."
Her spirits dimmed further as she thought about having to spend the next half a century hiding out, dodging the Magus and Princess Katherine,
and Tom, and the hatchlings they would bring. Having to stay concealed even when her own parents were here, having to watch in silence as
Demona and MacBeth attacked the clan as part of the Archmage's forces.
I don't know if I can do it! she thought in despair. But she had to, she must have, because they would have mentioned it! Wouldn't they
have?
With a heaving sigh, she shook her head and told herself que sera, sera. She touched Cobalt on the shoulder to see if he was ready to go,
and he nodded and rose. His eyes were so sorrowful, so pained … this had been his childhood home, and it was a shell, a tarnished memory, a
ruin of its former self. Amber tried to imagine what it would be like to go home to Manhattan and see it in shambles, and shivered again.
"I want to find the clan," Cobalt said.
"You don't have to stay," Amber said. "You brought me here, and I thank you, but you could go now and not have to see any more of this."
"No. I promised Old-Mother that I would look after you, and I must know what happened here. It would be worse to leave and forever
wonder." Resolute, he set off down the sand toward a rough-hewn stone staircase that curved down from a cleft in the bluff.
Amber followed, listening and alert, hoping to hear a voice, see movement, catch the shadow of gargoyles against the moon. But all stayed
silent and still as they reached the top of the path. A meadow opened out before them, the grass that once have must stood in high, silky, rippling
waves laid flat as if by some tremendous wind.
Across the meadow was a castle, and beyond it a solitary tower rising above a sea of blackened trees. Amber knew at once that this was
where her aunts had grown up. That tower would be the lonely lair the Magus had taken for his own, after deciding he couldn't bear the pain of
seeing the woman he loved go every night to the bedroom she shared with another man. This field … this would have been where Aunt Angela
and Uncle Gabriel first learned to glide, where they and their rookery siblings hunted and played.
But when they had seen it, it couldn't have been like this. There would have been nothing welcoming for Katherine, the Magus, and Tom in
such an ominous, forbidding pile of stones. The walls seemed poised to fall, but not just randomly. They seemed to lurk, to loom, to wait for a
hapless person to walk past and then down would come tons of masonry from on high. The windows gaped like sockets in a crow-picked skull,
and the portcullis was a rusty row of fangs waiting to snap shut.
"It can't have been like this," Amber murmured. "It's only a few more years – Avalon time – until they come here!"
Cobalt either didn't hear or didn't see a need to reply. He approached the castle despite the threat of falling stones. "This was their place. The
clan. Queen Titania gave them this castle to call home. But I see no signs of them."
Amber joined him, keeping a nervous eye on the battlements. They entered the courtyard, where she was braced for the sight of shattered
statues or heaps of gravel, but there were neither. It was bare and barren, except for a few leaves and sticks.
"If they had perished," he said some time later, after exploring through many rooms, "there would be something. Perhaps … do you think they
might have left Avalon?"
"I'm sure they must have," Amber said, putting as much reassurance into her tone as she could muster. "After all, you told me yourself that
they didn't have any females in the clan. They would have had to go someplace else to find mates. Besides, if they were brought here to keep
you company, there wouldn't have been much reason for them to stay once you were gone."
She could see him considering this, weighing it, wanting to believe. At long last, he nodded brusquely. "This way."
"Where are we going? Oberon's palace?" From the top of the battlements, she could see it, and like everything else, it was far from what she'd
expected. Alabaster walls that must have once been ice and moonlight were now a pallid corpse-hue.
"Not yet," Cobalt said. "I must visit my mother's pool."
Misgivings clamored in Amber's mind, but she went along without voicing them. Nothing she could have said would have deterred him, and he
was right – it was better to know than to wonder. Grief was something that could be grasped, dealt with. Uncertainty was another matter.
That trip through a stand of Avalon's forest was something Amber could have done without. Bare bony branches like skeletal fingers caught at
her hair, snagged her thin clothes, printed scratches on her skin. Normally, she was glad of any chance to be rid of the clunky shoes that she had
to wear in public, the shoes that concealed her high-arched feet, but now she would have been glad for them. The leaves on top were tinder-dry
and crackled like tissue paper, but the layer underneath was mulchy and spongy and felt like it should be positively crawling with worms, beetles,
and slugs. It wasn't, because there didn't seem to be a living thing left on the island, but it felt like it should have been, and that was enough to
make Amber grimace in distaste with each step.
But then they emerged from the woods to a scene of undamaged beauty, and she stopped almost breathless, almost tearful, at the sight of the
waterfall sheeting in white and silver into a deep and clear pond. Around the very edges of it, some green remained. Moss that looked vibrant
rather than moldy clung to the split sides of the slate-grey boulder through which the water coursed, and a thin rime of grass still thrived around
the pond itself.
"Thank the Dragon," sighed Cobalt. "Still here!"
Something moved in the waterfall, a hazy darkness that seemed to be coalescing.
"Mother?" he called. "Asanna?"
Water exploded out in a cold spray as the draconian form burst through the falls. The sudden eruption of his arrival startled Amber so that
she jumped back, tripped, and fell flat on her back in the lee of a stone.
Her initial thought as he passed over her without slowing was of an amusingly antique movie that had always been a great favorite of her uncles.
But then he roared with a voice that was much more death-metal rock band than Sean Connery, and she saw the powerful humanoid-gargoylian
torso, and knew he wasn't a dragon. Not entirely, anyway.
Cobalt recoiled but kept his footing as the large male buffeted past him. He whirled, gaping, probably seeing and understanding the same things
that Amber was. The glossy indigo coloring. The constellation wings. Impossible to deny. She suspected with dread that her friend was about to
have himself what Uncle Brooklyn would have called a "Luke Skywalker moment."
The male, Cobalt's father, banked sharply and came back, arrowing straight at his son. In addition to the deadly claws on his hands and feet,
he had sharply-elongated grasping talons at the tips of his wings, a crown of jutting horns, and a mouthful of razor fangs. All sharp and pointy,
coming at Cobalt at lethal speed, and as if that wasn't enough, the dragon-garg spat a zigzag beam of hot-blue energy.
Amber lunged to her feet, too late to do anything. But she didn't have to. Cobalt sprang to the side, the lightning-like bolt scarring the ground
where he'd been, and ducked-rolled as his father plunged by. He made it almost unscathed – the tip of the dragon-garg's tail snapped like a whip
and struck Cobalt a glancing blow.
"I am held no more!" he bellowed, perching atop the cleft boulder and rising high on his back legs to unfurl his wings and screech triumph to
the sky. "Free! Free to continue my work! I am Rive! Fear me! Cower, and I may slay you swiftly! Defy me, and die screaming in pieces!"
"I am not your enemy!" Cobalt shouted. "I am your son!"
"Fool!" The word shook the air like thunder. "Do you think I am ignorant of that? It is for that reason you must die!"
So saying, he spat another bolt. Cobalt threw himself prone and it missed, blasting a tree behind him into toothpicks. But in almost the same
instant, Rive sprang from his perch and landed on all fours, astraddle Cobalt with one hand pressing him flat against the earth.
"Now," he nearly purred, "I will undo the mistake I made."
Cobalt struggled, but could barely move. Rive's head dipped like that of an eagle about to tear chunks out of a spine-broken rabbit.
Amber delivered a flying kick that caught Rive where his brow ridge met his ear. She felt the jolt all the way up her leg to her chin, all of her
bones feeling like they compressed from the impact, but it smacked Rive's head sideways and down and into the ground, his long neck flexing
like a Slinky.
As his weight shifted in response, Cobalt twisted onto his back and kicked up hard, both feet, talons raking into Rive's underbelly even as
the force knocked him onto his side.
Snorting and shaking his head, the dragon-garg lurched upright. His neck swiveled to bring his lambent white eyes to fix on them. Incredibly,
the hate that burned from them intensified a thousand-fold as he spied Amber, landing beside his son.
"It shall not be!" he raged, and came at her with such suddenness that Amber was taken off-guard even though she'd been expecting an attack.
He shouldered Cobalt aside with barely a care and snatched Amber. His clawed hands were huge, bigger than Goliath's, and clamped one of her
arms to her side like a vise. She yelled and lashed with her legs and wings.
"Obscenity!" Rive roared into her face, blowing her hair back to expose the bumpy nubs at the edges of her eyebrows. "Human and gargoyle
shall not become one!"
"Let her go! Your quarrel is with me, Father!" Cobalt challenged, seeming to double in size as he extended his wings and stood tall in threat-
display, his tail snapping back and forth.
"My quarrel is with any who would profane our blood! My sire wishes it to be so! The world must be purged of humans! They are our
enemies, our most utter enemies! And now, look! Look!" With no apparent effort, he thrust Amber into Cobalt's face and shook her like a
rag doll. "They breed with us, absorb us into themselves, and we will be gone! Gargoyles will be gone! In the name of my most ancient mother
and immortal father, it shall not be so! And you … you … oh wretched thing … are almost as great an abomination as this one!"
His finger-talons squeezed crushingly, and it was all Amber could do to keep breath in her lungs, let alone try to break loose.
"I was tricked," Rive went on in a low growl. "Tricked by sorcery, all a ploy, their ploy. For just as it has always been, these folk of this
fetid stinking island have despised us. To use me as a tool for the downfall of my mother's second-born race … unthinkable! I will undo the
evil malice that they have worked. When you are dead, when this one is dead, I shall finish what Oberon brought upon himself. Avalon will fall,
the barriers will melt away, and the Dragon shall rule over all!"
"Let her go!" demanded Cobalt, paying no attention to this rant. He raked his claws deep, splitting the fine-scaled skin of Rive's wrist. Hot
blood sprayed Amber, almost scaldingly hot.
By way of response, Rive's head darted down. He meant to chomp Amber like a stick of jerky, but with a burst of terrified strength, she
wrenched his thumb loose and slipped out of his grasp just as his jaws slammed shut – on his own hand.
Rive shrieked in fury and pain. More scalding blood showered Amber as she scuttled like a crab out from under him. Cobalt went at him
again, relentless, and in the flurry of blows and slashes he unleashed, Amber recognized moves familiar to her from learning combat under the
tutelage of her clan.
Unprepared for this assault, Rive was taken aback. But he recovered with vicious speed, and reared up to swipe crosswise with both hands.
Cobalt was able to get his arms up in time, so that Rive's claws shredded the flesh of his forearms instead of his chest.
Amber, knowing all too well how her talonlike fingernails would do against those scales, drew her dagger and jabbed it into Rive's ribs. But
it was nothing more than a beesting to the infuriated dragon-garg. He advanced on Cobalt, backing him toward the pond with a series of quick
strikes.
Cobalt evaded most, but some scored more bloody wounds, and he was weakening. Amber gripped the knife in her teeth and seized the
strut of Rive's wing, swinging and flipping herself in an acrobatic maneuver that ended with her astride his back. He bucked like a horse, but
Amber's legs were strong. She dropped the knife from her jaws into her hand, and raked it in a cruel long slice directly down his spine.
Rive roared again, and flung his shoulders to try and throw her off. She held on, wishing that the prince had given her something bigger. A
sword, maybe. Or a polearm. This teeny dagger would take all night to carve Rive's hide.
As if realizing that himself, he went after Cobalt again. His son was at the edge of the pool, a puddle of his blood mixing with it. Rive drew
back and hissed, a blue-white glare building within his mouth.
A column rose from the surface and took on the shape of a woman, a woman of water. She threw her fluid arms skyward and as she did
so, a wave-wall swelled between Rive and Cobalt, just as Rive's breath-energy flared out.
Normally, when lightning and water met, the results weren't good for anyone. But this was magic meeting magic, and the wave-wall
absorbed the bolt, swallowed it, fell apart in a flood, and left Cobalt untouched.
The rushing of the waterfall, a soothing susurration, became a ghostly voice. "Not my son, Rive, never my son!"
"Asanna! Mother!" Cobalt, dazed and in pain, reached out to the woman-shaped column.
"Human-spawned treacherous witch!" Rive spun, Amber dizzied and clinging for all she was worth. His tail slapped through the column and
out without harming it. All the more enraged, he spun back the other way. This time, he and Amber parted company.
She sailed off his back, tumbling and unable to get straightened out before slamming into the earth. Coughing out dry leaves and pawing at
the mucky ones stuck to her face, Amber scrambled up again.
Rive leaped at Cobalt, but in the instant before he could reach him, the water-sprite grasped her son's hand. A capsule of water ran down
her arm, up his, and enveloped him. Rive hit it like it was solid stone, a protective ward that he could not break no matter how he bit at it or
slashed with his claws.
"Never my son," the sprite said again, and drew the capsule after her into the pond. It began sinking into the depths, and Amber had one
last glimpse of Cobalt, soundless but alert, trying to warn her away.
She did her best to follow that warning; though bruised and scraped and aching all over, Amber dashed for the cover of the forest. She heard
Rive's spate of snarling curses as he realized his son was beyond his reach, and then a growl as he also realized she was making a getaway. She
felt more than heard the downdraft as he propelled himself skyward, saw it in the whirring of the few leaves that still clung to the boughs.
A brutal storm of lightning bolts lanced down, trees fracturing into fragments. The night came alive in weird electrical light, flashing fiercely
into Amber's eyes. A particularly large specimen was cleaved straight down the middle and peeled apart outward, one half crashing down at
her and tearing off branches or even bringing smaller trees down with it.
Her only thought being to escape getting crushed, Amber ran straight out of the small stand of woods. She saw her shadow tracking her in
the moonlight, a girl-shadow with wings fanning and hair flying, suddenly eclipsed by a larger one. The panic a field-mouse must know at seeing
the hawk's cross-shaped blackness fall over it was the panic that now shrieked in Amber's voice.
Panic she might, but freeze as a prey-animal would, she did not. Dodging madly from side to side, she evaded the snatching claws. The wind
of his passage threw her hair into her face. She stumbled and fell headlong into a jackstraw pile of broken branches
Rolling, she saw Rive diving at her again, with rear talons outstretched. Some hopeless voice inside her said to just close her eyes and hope
it was over quick, but the daughter of Goliath and Elisa Maza was not going to die cringing on her back.
She somehow got into a kneeling position with a long, straight tree limb in her hands. Bracing one end of it against the ground, she angled the
other upward just as Rive struck.
His hindclaws found her even as the jagged end of the stick pierced his gut. The branch gave way with a dusty snap, pelting Amber with
splinters and bits of bark. Twin hammers pounded her shoulders, twin beartraps clenched shut, and Rive flapped his mighty wings hard enough
to heave them both into the air, Amber dangling beneath him, the end of the branch still embedded.
Amber fought but could not break his hold. Their shadows dwindled away until only a black speck sped across the Avalonian landscape, then
grew again as the ground sloped steeply up toward the caldera of the volcano.
The Heart of Avalon, she remembered Aunt Elektra telling her. It, unlike most of the island, was not lifeless. Roiling heat-ripples rose above
a bed of red-orange, a bubbling morass of molten lava seething below her.
But Rive did not cast her into the volcano. He continued past it and descended toward the corpse-white structure of Oberon's palace, and
dropped her into the vine-draped courtyard.
She landed badly, bashing a knee against the flagstones, abrading the skin from both palms and one elbow, and almost fracturing one of her
wing struts. Fetching up on all fours, she gasped for breath as Rive descended onto the roof of one of the castle buildings.
No ways out of her predicament readily presented themselves. The courtyard was walled, entirely walled, with no visible egresses. The vines
that scaled its walls were spidery-thin and unhealthy, certainly unable to support her weight.
Rive, his inhuman features scowling in an uncharacteristically finicky moue, was attempting to pluck the long spear of wood from his belly. Not
a fatal wound, but clearly painful, and he didn't seem in a hurry to injure himself any further. Thankful for the respite, however brief, Amber kept
looking about.
At the center, a fountain rose mute and dry from a basin half-filled with scum-covered water. Sculptures, their sleek marble coated in mildewy
growths, stood about in odd poses, odd groupings.
No …
Not sculptures … she knew better than that. As someone who had spent much of her life seeing the bulk of her family turn to stone at dawn,
she knew what she was seeing. These were living beings turned somehow to stone. And not gargoyles.
The Third Race. She saw butterfly-winged pixies no bigger than a handspan, a spider the size of a minivan. A bearded man was caught midway
in a transformation either to or from a giant bear. And there … could it be?
Her various aches and pains shocked out of her, Amber went to the statue that had caught her eye.
"Puck!"
She touched him as if it would waken him from this uncanny, unnatural stone sleep. She hadn't seen him since she was a little girl, and now she
had grown so that he only came to her sternum, but there was no mistaking him. She would have known him even if they'd never met, solely by
the indefinable resemblance he had to her friend Sebastian.
He did not move, did not respond in any way to her touch.
Rive let the bloodied stick fall. It clattered on the stones, the sound impossibly loud amid all that stillness. He folded one hand over the wound,
which Amber now noticed had sunk deep into the gouges that Cobalt had already put there.
They regarded each other for a cold eternity. Amber had seen the look in his eyes before, but hardly ever from anyone with wings. It was
usually from humans, on the rare occasions when someone who wasn't already in the know came to the understanding of what she was, what
she represented.
"There's no escape from here," Rive said in a surprisingly conversational tone. "You may as well put such thoughts right out of your head,
whelp. I will kill you, have no doubt of that."
"Then what are you waiting for?" Amber shot back, filled with bravado.
He laughed, a snorting roar of a laugh, but his pale eyes narrowed. "Because he'll come for you. He'll come to save you. And then I shall have
you both."
"I'm bait, in other words." She waved around at the statues. "And what about them?"
"What about them? They sleep. They … they torpor. Only those with mortal blood can walk on Avalon now. There is not enough magic to
sustain them, and so rather than die, they hibernate. The witch who bore my son, as you saw, cannot even fully manifest. So do not think to look
to them for help. You shall find none."
As he spoke, he licked and worried at his wounds with his long forked tongue. The bleeding turned sluggish, then stopped, and soon torn flesh
began to knit together. Amber, having no such abilities and not being hurt enough for stone sleep, turned away from him and continued her
exploration of the courtyard.
She approached a bower draped in floral vines. Once, they must have been dainty bell-shaped flowers hanging like a curtain from the white
stone arch. Now they were black and somehow insectile, clinging like cocoons. Parting them, Amber peered within, and gasped.
Two chairs, chairs so grand and ornately decorated that they were only a short step removed from being thrones, rested within. And on those
chairs, in postures at once regal and recumbent, sat two marble sculptures. A man and a woman, sharp-featured, with elegantly pointed ears and
elaborate clothing. Although she had never met them, Amber knew at once whom she was beholding.
If even they, even Oberon and Titania themselves, were somnolent and powerless, then Rive was right. There was no help here. Not unless the
magic came back, and –
Amber's thoughts cut off with a crisp sound, the mental equivalent of biting into a fresh stalk of celery. Hardly daring to breathe, hardly daring to
hope, she patted along her hips until she found the purse she'd tied there. It hadn't come off in all her rough-housing adventures, though when she
slipped her fingers inside, she found loose herbs and crumpled wrappings.
She risked a glance at Rive, who had moved on to idle grooming. The tip of his tail twitched, letting her know he wasn't so relaxed as he wished
to seem. The moment she tried to climb anything high enough to get aloft, he'd be on her. The moment she tried anything else … he would probably
be on her as well. And she didn't even know if her tentative plan would work. She couldn't chance making him mad, not when possibly, all she'd
have to do was wait until dawn. She could stay flesh by day … she was hoping that his gargoyle blood ran so strong that he would be compelled
into stone.

**

"Asanna, you must let me leave," Cobalt said, the words leaving his lips in great wavering bubbles yet somehow able to be heard clearly.
They were deep in the pool, where Asanna made her home beneath the dulled roar of the waterfall. Overhead, the surface was churned and
made white by the gallons of water tumbling down, but here all was still, and he could barely make out the indistinct shape of his mother floating
before him.
"He will surely slay you if I do. I sent you from Avalon to keep you safe, my son, so why did you return? Why?"
"I did not know! You had me to believe that he lived in the outer world. How was I to know, when you kept these things from me?"
"Verily, the mistake was mine," she said. "Do not make it worse."
"I have to help Amber."
"He will have already devoured her."
"Perhaps … but I must see for myself."
"Is she your child?" Asanna asked.
"Nay."
"Is she, then, your mate?"
"Nay," Cobalt said again. "A friend, and part of the clan that took me in. I owe a debt to them to see this distant youngling of theirs safely
home."
"It is too late for that. Even if Rive has not slain her, he will hold her as bait to trap you, and then you both shall die. All minglings of gargoyle
blood with human, no matter how diluted by that of other races, he despises and seeks to destroy."
"So I observed. That changes nothing. I swore to a wise and good female that I would look after her granddaughter, and so I must."
"You cannot defeat Rive."
"Have you so little faith in me?"
She drifted closer, and a watery hand brushed tenderly through the floating tendrils of his wiry black hair. "I know you are strong and quick
and capable. But your magic will be weak now, and because of your time away, you are now older than your own sire."
"I will not argue with you, Asanna, but I will go. Release me from the pool, and do not make me expend any of what weak magic I have in
doing it myself."
Her sigh sent cool currents spinning through the water. "Very well. As you will."

**

"I hunger," Rive announced. Given the scarcity of game they'd seen, it was no wonder that he ran his tongue across his lips as he looked at
Amber. He seemed to weigh whether she was worth more as bait or supper, and exhaled a growl. "If he has not come for you by an hour 'til
dawn, I feed."
Amber, with an idea burning like one last hopeful star in her mind, said nothing. There were benches about, but she dared not sit for fear her
aches would stiffen up, leaving her hobbling when the time came for action.
"Rive! Come for me, if you dare!"
"Cobalt!" Amber was both aghast and overjoyed to see him, hovering on an updraft near one of the high towers.
Rive's hind legs tensed, and then launched him in one powerful bound. He roared in challenge and savage anticipation. Cobalt waited until the
last minute and then folded his wings and fell, opening them again to sweep beneath Rive and come up behind him. His slightly smaller size gave
him greater maneuverability, but Rive was fast and canny and spurred on by both anger and purpose.
The moment the battle was joined, Amber pulled the packets of herbs and alchemical preparations from her belt-purse, and ran for the bower.
She shuffled through them as she stood before the statues of Oberon and Titania, and finally found the one she sought.
Snapping the twine and ripping the parchment, she finally got to the contents. The delicate white petals had been dried and pressed flat, and
taking one in each hand she held them over the heads of the Lord and Lady of Avalon, and crushed-crumbled-ground the petals into powder. Pale
particles of it sifted down, onto the sculpted waves of their hair … and as it touched, the marble softened. Color flowed into it, a frostier white for
him, and a sunset-red for her.
The effect moved down their bodies, turning stone to flesh. Their regal and composed faces relaxed, and each simultaneously made to draw
breath. As they did so, Amber blew the residue from her palms, and Oberon and Titania breathed of the lady's veil.
Their eyelids fluttered. Hastily, Amber brought forth the last two petals and waved them under their noses like smelling salts.
"Please! Please wake up!" she said.
Oberon opened his eyes, and they were glacial and cold as they fixed on her. Titania's, framed by long lashes, were kinder.
"Lady's veil," she said. "What is this?"
"Please, my lord, my lady, I cry assistance!"
"Who are you, mortal girl, and why do you trespass upon Oberon's realm?"
A terrible peal of agony rent the night. Amber couldn't tell if it was Cobalt or Rive, but as the sounds of fighting continued, she knew it hadn't
been a mortal blow.
"I demand an explanation," Oberon said. "Who are these ruffians to disturb our twilight slumber?"
"Why, it is Rive, Asanna's pet," Titania said. "And that must be their son, the one he swore to kill."
"Please don't let him," Amber begged.
"I asked you a question, girl."
"Amber. My name is Amber. And I don't mean to trespass. I need your help."
Oberon yawned. "Were we to grant our aid to all who sought it, we would be --"
"My lord," Titania cut in, "she did wake us, and bring us lady's veil. We may as well hear her out."
"Have you more of it?" Oberon demanded.
"Only these." Amber held out the last petals, and the royal pair both grabbed for them like greedy kids. Each getting one, they held them to
their faces and inhaled deeply.
"Ahhh," Titania said. "I feel my strength returning. But only for a time. What is it you seek, child?"
"My friend needs help. Please. We can't fight Rive alone."
"It is too late for that," Oberon said, glancing skyward.
Amber turned, and screamed in horror as she saw Rive's jaws close on Cobalt's neck. Even from this distance, even against the dark curtain
of the night, she could see blood spouting. And as Rive jerked his head in a violent motion, he tore Cobalt's throat out with such force that Cobalt
was nearly decapitated.
"No!" Amber cried.
He tumbled bonelessly, brokenly, into the courtyard.
She called his name and ran to him. His face was locked in a rictus of pain and his body was already beginning to go rigid. But it was nothing
like the gargoyle deaths Amber had seen. He didn't turn to stone and then erode away into gravel and dust. He faded, like something seen in a
movie, growing more and more transparent, until she could barely see him at all. He left behind the human-made clothes and silver earring he'd
been wearing, but all the rest of him was gone.
"No, oh, Cobalt," she said in a voice thickened with tears.
"And now you, oh mis-born obscenity!" bellowed Rive. A wide white bolt, like a ribbon of diamond fire, shot from his mouth.
Amber crossed her arms and wings in front of her face, so she didn't see what happened. All she knew was that she was not zapped out of
existence, and a split-second later, Rive's shriek of victory turned into one of pain.
She risked a look, saw Rive foundering in his flight. A long scorched patch marred his hide.
Sensing a presence beside her, Amber turned. There stood Titania, clothed in shining silvery mail like fish scales and holding a spear chased
in gold.
"You have overstayed your welcome here, Rive," she proclaimed. "Get thee hence from Avalon, for you came here as a prisoner and shall not
stay as a conqueror."
"You are lovely when you're fierce, my queen," murmured Oberon appreciatively.
"Do not command me, witch-goddess! You burn brightly, but like a hot flame will burn out fast! Your magic flees you even now, and Avalon
will fall!"
Oberon stood, and his cape billowed behind him as if in an unseen wind. "Avalon shall never fall. We know you, winged worm. We know your
mother of old. Have we not shown mercy to her elder children? Have we not given them a place here? This is how our generosity is repaid? She
sends her dragon-spawn among us with such words and such deeds?"
"You are mighty with talk, oh lord Oberon, but your time is at an end. Your own folk turned against you, betrayed you, brought your downfall
upon you. It was not I, not my mother, not my sire, who pitted you one against the other until this land was a barren shell of itself … but it is I, my
mother, and my sire, who shall rule now! The Gates shall be opened, the Locks undone, and those who were banished millennia ago shall take
their rightful places as gods of the earth!"
"That shall not," said Oberon, "be so."
"Even now, my sire laughs! Even now, your power dims!"
"I grow weary of these taunts, my queen. Shall we?"
Titania smiled sweetly and slipped her hand into Oberon's. "Stand back, child," she advised Amber. "And shield your eyes."
"Dragons, gargoyles, and hellions all shall be the heirs of the earth!" Rive began, and then the two of them thrust their linked hands toward
him.
Amber did stand back, and did try to shield her eyes, but even that couldn't blind her to the unearthly barrage of pale blue-green light. Against
her good sense, she just had to hazard a peek. And once she did, she knew that even if it left her blinded for the rest of her life, it was worth
seeing.
The light raced up from the ground, up the bodies of Titania and Oberon, and along their arms. When it merged at their hands, it redoubled
and intensified, an aquamarine laser of pure magic, and shot from them in a nearly solid beam. It struck Rive squarely in the chest and for a
moment he was a living x-ray, all of his bones visible through an eerie blue haze of flesh.
Then he was gone.
The light vanished, leaving fuzzy orange dots dancing on Amber's dazzled retinas. She heard exhausted groans from ahead of her, and,
reaching out, was able to catch Titania just as she was about to fall.
"My thanks, child."
Blinking, finally clearing her vision, Amber stared in shock at the two of them. They were ancient and wizened, their faces deeply creased
with wrinkles, their hair piebald and patchy and with the texture of brittle weeds. Their glorious raiment hung on scarecrow frames, and the hand
that grasped hers for support was a hard birdlike claw.
Choking down her reaction, Amber helped Titania to her throne. Oberon disdained the offer and got there himself, and they slumped side-
by-side breathing of the lady's veil until their former youth and beauty returned.
"I regret to admit, my queen," Oberon said rustily, "that he may have spoken some truth. And this little dance has only worsened matters."
"I know, my lord. But what are we to do? Avalon cannot sustain us much longer, yet we cannot let it fall."
"You have to leave," Amber said. "That's the only way. All of you. To give Avalon a chance to replenish itself."
Oberon eyeballed her as if he'd forgotten she was there, and took on a haughty expression. "And what does a mere mortal like you know
of magic?"
Swallowing back the first thing she'd been about to say, reminding herself to strive for Old-Mother's gentle wisdom rather than Daga or
Zaza's temper, Amber downcast her eyes.
"My knowledge is like a leaf, and a leaf that was given to me at that, compared to the vast forest of your knowledge, my lord," she said.
"But I do know that when a spring is drained dry, it needs time to let the water come back. Why not send your Children away from Avalon for
a time?"
"Do not think we haven't been tempted. It is plain to us that they have grown arrogant. If Hecate was bold enough to challenge us, which
of them might try next? Hah! It would do them good to live among the mortals and learn some humility."
Titania touched his arm. "It might, my lord and husband, do all of us good."
"You presume to criticize me, my queen?"
"I mean only to say, my lord, that the human world is advancing. They build and invent, and my sense is that they shall only continue
to do so. We should be aware of what they do, lest they gain in power to the point that they might threaten us."
"Threaten us? They would not dare!"
"Even so, this girl makes sense. We are weak now, and vulnerable, as is Avalon. It would be best to go while we are still able."
Oberon scowled, but relented. "You are wise, my queen. We have but fleeting strength left us before the power of the lady's veil wanes,
barely enough to rouse our Children and bid them go. We shall see to it at once … but not all. We shall leave some behind to guard our
home." His eyes narrowed into an unpleasant smile. "And we have just the three in mind …"
"A fitting punishment, my lord. They should be grateful that you, in your mercy, did not banish them as was done to their mother."
"Leave us," Oberon commanded Amber. "There is much to be done."
"But, my lord –"
"Leave us, I say!"
She backed away, pausing only to bend and fetch the silver earring that Cobalt had once worn, closing her fist around it and feeling the
cold metal warm. Tucking it into her belt-purse, she scaled a vine-covered wall. When she reached the top, she looked back down, but
for the rulers of Avalon it was as if she had ceased to be.
Amber glided away from the palace, toward the castle that would one day house Angela's clan. Halfway there, she veered away, and
sought instead the deepest thicket of woods she could find. Only when she had landed by a great spreading tree, and sank to a sitting position
against its old, seamed, sap-sticky trunk, did she let herself cry.
She cried for everything – for the clan, for herself, for her parents. For the fifty long years that lay ahead, five decades of being in hiding,
denied all company, denied all comfort. But most of all, she cried for Cobalt, who had given his life trying to save her, when it all seemed
such a waste.

**

They argued, but halfheartedly, and one by one they left. Until only a handful remained, the Moon-Sisters Selene, Phoebe, and Luna among
them. Even the Puck had gone, taking his wisecracks with him.
Seeing that Oberon had all well in hand, and was even enjoying, in some dour way, the misery of the Children as they were told they must
spend the next thousand years living among the mortals, Titania excused herself and slipped away.
She found the girl-child at the base of a tree, so young and so sorrowful. There was something about her that struck Titania, some premonition
of familiarity.
"Amber," she said softly.
The girl raised her head and wiped tear-streaked cheeks. "Lady Titania --"
"Tell me." The simple words had the power of magic behind them, and whether Amber wished it or not, her story unfolded between them.
"So," Titania said when it was done. "You are from the future, and wish to return."
"Yes, my lady."
"Such is not within my ability, child. But I can allow you to stay here, and I can even make it so that those fifty years pass in what is to you,
the blink of an eye."
Tentative hope brimmed in the girl's uncertain smile. "You can?"
"I can and I will. For while my lord may have forgotten the service you have done us, I have not. Without you bringing us the lady's veil,
we would still sleep, and Avalon would still suffer. Enough of its strength remains to let me work one final spell upon you, if you will permit it."
"What will it do?"
"As I said, it will make those years pass swiftly. So that you do not age, and are unaware of the passage of time. But it must fall to another
to release you, when the time is right."
"I accept," Amber said. "I don't have much other choice, do I?"
"It would appear not. But we must act now, child, or not at all. Stand up. No, stay right there where you are." Titania looked her over,
and clucked her tongue at the torn, stained linen shift and drawers. "Well, perhaps I have the strength for two final spells …"
She spun her finger at Amber, and filaments of emerald light wove from it, clothing the child in a simple gown of rich mahogany velvet.
"It's … beautiful."
"Now, fold down your wings and cross your arms upon your breast, close your eyes, and remain still."
"Will it hurt?" Her voice shook, betraying her nervousness, but she obeyed and stood as Titania had directed.
"You'll feel nothing." Gathering her will, Titania focused upon the tree. Its boughs rustled, its roots sank their wooden toes deeper into the
earth, and from cracks in its bark, warm sap began to flow in rivulets and runnels, joining together as it reached the top of Amber's head.
She gasped when she felt it reach her, but did not move. The golden-syrupy sap coursed sluggishly over her and around her, piling up upon
itself around her feet rather than spreading out across the ground. It engulfed and encapsulated the girl, last of all flowing over her face. She
was visible within it, although her features were blurred by the thick layers that surrounded her.
When she was completely covered, completely buried in it, Titania gave a silent command. The sap instantly hardened, becoming in a
matter of moments what would normally take thousands of years.
Amber.

**

In years to come, the clan of young gargoyles being raised on the otherwise-deserted island would find this marvel during their explorations.
It was a mystery for which not even the Magus could find an answer, and they came to refer to it as the 'Entombed Lady.'
It even so happened that one night, while walking alone in thought, a pale female called Elektra came to this place, and after gazing at the
figure trapped within the translucent stone, found a small piece of the amber that had broken off.
This smooth gem, she took to wearing on a necklace … which she would, in the fullness of time, offer as a gift to a woman named Elisa.
And on Avalon, the Entombed Lady slept on …

**

The End.



2001 Christine Morgan