The Guardians: The Entombed Lady
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. October 2001; 22,000 words.

#4 in a spinoff series


March 5th, 2018

The silence and tension grew, grew, like a swelling bubble of noxious gas. Soon, it would burst, and poison the room with hysteria, fury, despair.
And yet, would that not be better than this? This tense, awful silence so complete that most of them might have already been turned to stone? The expression twisting Goliath's face was more terrible than any seen on any sculpted gargoyle. That upon Elisa's was no less so for all that she was human.
Soon, someone would break. Someone would speak, and pop that growing, toxic silence. Elektra, her insides feeling thundery and sick, wanted to scream herself just to be done with it. Surely the wild, angry grief would be better, for at least it would be action.
But what was there more to say? Hadn't it all been laid out clearly, first by Alexander and then by Hudson? What was there to say?
Amber was gone.

**

The volcano had blown right on schedule. Gas and ash plumed sky-high. Torrents of mud and snowmelt carried away whole forests in a matter of minutes. The smoke, whirled high into the atmosphere, was well on its way to circling the globe.
Tens of thousands of people had died in that initial eruption and the resultant aftershocks. Mt. Ranier had made Mt. St. Helen's look as serious as a hiccup.
Tens of thousands dead. Countless more injured, homeless, bereft.
"It's not good enough!" Demona cried, and glass exploded on the wall beside the television as it showed once more the dramatic footage of the mountain exploding. "Not nearly good enough!"
She'd been watching the ongoing coverage nearly nonstop. Morgana St. John didn't need to see for herself to imagine the scenes. Just hearing it had been impressive enough.
In the inner eye of her mind, the eye so much sharper than even normal, sighted eyes would have been, she could see the rounded peak first tremble, loosing glacial slides and avalanches, and then blow upward and outward. She could see houses slapped from their foundations and tumbled into splinters by fifty foot high walls of roiling mud and debris.
That inner eye looked toward Demona now. Frustration surrounded her in a red-black cloud. The vase she'd flung had been the last object within reach. The shelves over the couch and tables were empty of missiles.
"Another failure," snarled Demona. Yet it was a miserable, sorrowful snarl – if such a thing could be.
"We did not fail," Morgana said. Her head ached with short, jabbing darts, as if imps with forks stood on her shoulders to do their work. She gave up trying to 'see,' closing the inner eye and sinking into the soft darkness in which she lived.
"No?" came Demona's trembling, scathing reply. "How do you reason that? The thralls were wiped out by that Xanatos pup's robots, and half of the Vials were used up or destroyed. No aspect of our plan succeeded. If that's not considered failure, I must be misunderstanding the meaning of the word."
Her tone turned bitter and suspicious, the aural equivalent of cyanide. "Or did you want it to fail? Why should you seek to strike all humanity barren? You're still one of them. Why would you try to bring about the demise of your entire species?"
Morgana smiled, raising her milky eyes toward the hot-blazing fire of Demona. She could feel that scarlet glare like furnace heat upon her face. "What has my species ever done for me?" she asked. "My own family did nothing but make me first a carnival freak, and then an outcast. But really, Demona, I never expected us to succeed. I was counting on the combined forces of Alexander Xanatos and the gargoyles to marshal to stop us. I would have informed them myself, if they hadn't found out on their own."
"You what?" gasped Demona. "Why? After all we did to get the Vials … why let any of them be wasted?"
"A diversion. A distraction."
"What?" The heat intensified, and the displacement of air as well as the sounds told Morgana that Demona was leaning forward, wings flared, poised to spring. "What did you say? A diversion?"
"You did not get to annihilate the humans, and I'm sorry," Morgana said lightly. "You did get quite the consolation prize by killing Goliath, though, didn't you?"
whisper-hisssss … claws, slicing the air in a cold breeze very near Morgana's throat. She did not recoil, but kept sitting calmly as if they were discussing nothing more than the weather.
"Explain," said Demona.
"With the Vials, we could only have destroyed humanity," she said. "With Hecate's Wand, we can dominate them, rule them. And Avalon, too."

**

Of all people, it was eightteen-year-old Sebastian St. John-Burnett that broke the silence, and he did it by saying the only possible thing that forestalled chaos.
"I have an idea."
Those four words, spoken in his clear and still-boyish tenor, released the tension with an almost-tangible whooshing sigh. A collective exhalation stirred the room and loosened rigid postures, clenched fists.
All heads turned toward Sebastian, Elektra's among them. He stood neat and spare, like a 7/8-size replica of his father. White-blond hair stringently combed, pale blue eyes steady behind thin gold frames and non-prescription lenses. In an age when most teens favored the high-priced hobo look, Sebastian wore crisp, creased slacks, a blemishless white button-down shirt, and a midnight-blue tie shot with a muted gold fleur-de-lis pattern. Slim and trim, he had a fine-featured face that should have been a beacon to bullies, But Sebastian was never troubled by them. Not for his looks, not for his bookish ways, not even for his status as the child of the dean of the Sterling Academy.
An outsider, remote-viewing this moment, might have wondered why a roomful of such competent, powerful, capable beings should regard this fair, slender youth with such a raptly expectant anticipation. It would have seemed laughable to anyone who could not feel the aura of calm confidence that Sebastian had inherited in full measure from both parents. More, he was not entirely what he seemed, for the flicker of puckish humor and ability were there for one who cared to look.
Look, they did. Sebastian was the youngest in the room, since the brood of hatchlings were down in the media room with their tutor. This matter, this dismaying and upsetting matter, would have to be explained to them soon … but for the nonce, they could go on in blissful ignorance. Elektra's chest tightened when she tried to think of telling Malcolm, Kathe, and the rest that their idolized older sibling was lost to them.
Goliath cleared his throat with a deep, coarse rumble. His voice was far more even than it would have been had anyone else spoken first into that grim silence.
"Tell us, Sebastian."
Beside him, Elisa had both hands clamped on the iron bulge of Goliath's forearm. Only a few days ago, she'd come close – they'd all come close – to losing him. Thanks to Amber's bravery, their wise and noble leader had been spared. Elisa had her mate back, but now it seemed that it might have come at the cost of her only, precious child.
Elektra wondered briefly how well she herself would be coping, had she been in Elisa's situation. To have nearly lost her beloved Broadway, but then to have his life saved only to lose Malcolm? It was such a horrific feeling even in her imagination that her mind shied hastily from it.
"The way to Avalon is now closed," Sebastian said. "It has been for many years … our time, anyway. Less than a year will have passed there since Oberon summoned all of the Children to the Gathering."
Angela nodded. "Our rookery siblings had their breeding season before we did, and now our eggs are hatched and growing while theirs will have only been laid a little while ago."
"What does Avalon have to do with anything?" Elisa snapped.
"Amber must be there," Sebastian said. "It's the only answer that makes sense. Before she left here, Alex told Old-Mother the spell of passage through the mists. When Amber departed the castle in the past, she --"
"Hey, wait a minute," Brooklyn cut in. He looked at Alex narrowly. "How'd you know to do that, anyway?"
Sebastian made a faint scowl at the interruption, but glanced deferentially to Alexander.
Steepling his fingers before his short-bearded chin in a gesture eerily reminiscent of his father, Alex grinned dourly. "Good question."
"Let's have a good answer to go with it," Brooklyn said.
"It was something Titania told me," Alex said. "With typical Third-Race crypticness. She told me there'd come a time when Amber's grandmother would need to know the spell. She told me I'd know when that time arrived. Dopey me, I'd been operating under the assumption that it would be Mrs. Maza, Elisa's mother. When Old-Mother turned up, I figured it out."
"But if Amber went to Avalon in the past," Elisa said, and hesitated, and her toffee-gold skin went ashen as she totted up the years. She shook it off with visible effort, that prospect of her daughter being five or six decades older thanks to the time difference on Avalon. Elektra admired her for the strength it must have taken.
"If she's on Avalon," Elisa began anew, "and has been all this time, why didn't any of us ever find her? Why didn't Princess Katherine and the Magus meet her there when they arrived with the eggs? Where was she during the Archmage's attack, or the Gathering?"
"Hiding?" Lexington suggested. "So she wouldn't disrupt history and alter the time stream?"
"Oh …" Elektra breathed. She felt as if a painless blow had landed squarely on her breastbone.
No one noticed, as her dear Broadway was patiently explaining to Lex that this was real life and not Star Trek, and Aiden was chiming (albeit meekly) in support of her mate.
No one? No … Sebastian had noticed, watching Elektra keenly. And as the others became aware of his intent stare, they gradually followed it until Elektra found herself the center of attention.
She looked at Angela, hoping her rookery sister would come to the same conclusion and be the one to say it. But Angela's gaze was as mystified as the rest.
"Something to say, Elektra?" Alex asked.
"Perhaps, but … I daren't create false hopes."
"Elektra, at this point, false hope is better than none," Elisa said.
Elektra could hardly bear to look at her, or at Goliath. She met Angela's eyes. "Do you remember, sister, the Entombed Lady?"

**

March 6th, 2018

Morning came, and with it Demona's painful transformation. Morgana observed dispassionately, interested in the altering patterns of magical aura than in the cries of pain and sounds of bones shifting, cracking, re-forming as wings and tail melted away.
The human form of Dominique was weaker and more prone to weariness. The events of the past weeks had taken a heavy toll on all of them. It was no surprise, therefore, that Dominique fell into an exhausted sleep.
Morgana herself needed no sleep. Not now. Not now and never again. Her personal portion of the Quest for the Seven Vials, as she thought it in admittedly grandiose terms, had been an unqualified success.
The First Vial was the one that had mattered most to her.
Never mind the sterilizing viruses of the Fifth and Sixth. The Fifth had been removed from the volcano and rendered inert by Alexander and dear cousin Patricia's magic. The Sixth had been, at Demona's insistence, consigned to the Nullificus so that its potent power would never harm the few remnants of the gargoyle race.
Never mind the deadly poisons of the Fourth and Seventh. The Fourth had been broken during the initial theft, its concentrated cloud killing several of the men who'd boldly, if foolishly, tried to stop Demona from stealing the rest. The Seventh had served its purpose against Goliath.
The Second was an antidote against any of the others, and Morgana had it hidden away with the Third, a rare concoction of sky iron and the smoky substance of the Unformed. It would strip the lifespark and magic from any of Oberon's Children, and deliver them into a slow and horrible death.
Oh, Morgana had plans for that one, plans that involved Oberon himself. But she was not quite so confident as Demona, who'd exhibited no concern in carrying the Seventh around with her even while in gargoyle form. She'd been confident in her immortality.
In time, once she got used to it, Morgana supposed that she'd be confident in it as well. This had been her plan from the beginning, her goal since she was old enough to understand the memories of places and events that did not belong to the blind daughter of carnies. As her power had developed, she'd gradually realized how old her soul was, and through how many lifetimes it had been awaiting this chance at revenge.
Her mother must have known on some unconscious level. Cassandra St. John had run away from home and joined the carnival, eventually finding a niche as a fortune-teller. It had been a scam, up until the day she found a crystal ball in a London shop, and began seeing actual portions of the future. Perhaps it had been one of these that led her to break tradition and name her youngest Morgana. Then again, Cassandra's own parents had needed no crystal ball to name her after that doomed seer of mythology.
Morgana the changeling. Morgana, blind since birth and looking nothing like her siblings. Caleb, Corrinne, and Chris all had their mother's blond hair and green eyes. Morgana was dark, the earth's child, the moon's child.
Mother to daughter, down through the generations. Most of the time, the power had lain dormant, untapped, unsuspected. Morgana's memories of those lives were patchy and unclear. But every few generations, the ancient soul within them had manifested strongly. The last time had been in Salem, a life cut short by agents of Oberon in the guise of witch-hunters and pious, panicked clergymen.
She'd done a better job of remaining hidden this time around. It helped that the period of exile from Avalon was nearing an end when she'd been born. Oberon had been too distracted to worry about his vow and his old foe. He might even have forgotten.
Morgana had not. Once she'd discovered who she was and what her destiny was, she'd embraced it gladly. If that meant risking death in a confrontation with Avalon's masters, so be it. A small price to pay for the power that had elevated her from being nothing more than a disabled child. Blind, yes, but that inner eye could see into minds, into souls.
And now, she could do more. The First Vial, its contents sweet as cream and heady as wine, had seen to that. It fully wakened that dormant soul and suffused her with magical strength, making her immortal and the equal of any of the Third Race but leaving her humanity intact. That was the important part. Had it changed her, made her something more than or other than human, Hecate's Wand would have been of no use to her.
Now all she had to do was get it. But thanks to her new power, she anticipated no trouble in doing just that. She could have battered her way through Patricia's defenses and taken it by force, perhaps dealing her despised, never-met cousin a hurtful blow or two into the bargain, but she preferred subtlety.
Let the Wand come to her instead. The seeds were already planted, the suggestions made. All it had taken was a crucial moment of distraction while the rest of them were worried about the thralls, and Demona. They hadn't even known she was there. An unfelt touch, an unheard whisper, and he was bound to her bidding in this one simple deed.
Demona slept on, as Morgana bundled herself into a long coat against the damp March chill and went out. Her white cane tapped down the front stairs of the building. The wind was like a living thing pressing close against her, a cold but amorous suitor.
One thing she did regret – she regretted not being able to drive.

**

Avalon

Oberon's court thought it was a jest worthy of Puck himself, a fitting gesture to welcome that merry wanderer of the night back among their numbers.
Zachariah didn't think it was funny at all.
Neither did the rest of the clan.
Poor Elswyth and Carnelian! The two of them had been pining for their respective objects of unrequited love since the Gathering began, never caring that it made them the butt of constant jokes and mockery. They hadn't taken mates, still hoping though everyone around them could see it was in vain, that the ones with whom they were smitten might come to notice, and care.
Instead, they'd played this cruel prank. A bit of illusion here, a touch of deception there, and Elswyth saw Carnelian as the fae of her dreams, while he looked at her and saw the Lady of the Lake in her glittering samite. Each hardly able to believe in this great fortune, they'd fallen into one another's arms and made passionate love until dawn turned them both to stone and revealed the prank for what it was.
Ophelia, and Malachi her second-in-command, had taken it up with Oberon. But of course, there was little he was inclined to do, and sent them on their way with the clear impression that Avalon's lord felt any mortal who presumed to profess love for one of the Third Race deserved whatever humiliations they received.
But Zachariah fumed more than all the rest of his rookery siblings combined. What made this worst of all was that Carnelian and Elswyth had, in the spirit of making the best of a bad situation, decided they might as well stay together as mates.
That left him the only mateless member of the entire clan. Not counting Boudicca, but if he heard one more crack about that, he'd strike someone.
It was infuriating. All of the rest went in pairs and triads, eggs resting safely in the rookery cave. Even Jacob, whose mate had abandoned him and taken their unlain egg with her, was not alone. He had Fia and Darach as his mates.
Zach had no one.
A year ago, first Angela and then Jericho had gone away. They'd shortly been followed by Elektra, and Gabriel in the wake of his trio of mates' deaths. Then, after a row that nearly split the clan, Tourmaline had led Hippolyta, Ezekiel, Cassius, Corwin, and Icarus off into the wide unknown world.
Only twenty gargoyles remained in their clan now. It had been months since they'd known anything of the others, and given the way time flew past in the outside world, those who'd gone had seen close to two decades go by.
There would be no news. Avalon was shut off, the ways across the Sea of Mists blocked. The clan had found this out the hard way when Jacob, with permission from Ophelia and the princess, had set out to see if he could learn what had become of Tourmaline and their hatchling, and the other dissidents she'd led.
Zachariah had volunteered to go along, more because he was fed up with the others fussing over their mates and their eggs than anything else. He admitted to himself that he should have gone with the last group after all, but Hippolyta had damaged his pride once too often.
They'd sailed off in a small skiff, both of them apprehensive but eager. Mai, the alter-ego of Beth Maza, had told them much about the world beyond the mists and they were as prepared as they thought they needed to be.
The mists had closed around them, and the sea had turned smooth as glass, and sounds became muffled and strange. All that, they'd expected. But the mist grew thicker. Thicker. Until it was not only impossible to see but difficult to move.
With both of them poling the skiff, they'd driven onward into a cloud that felt dense as loose-woven cloth. It became steadily more difficult, until it was an effort just to hold the skiff in place and not be pushed backward.
Jacob was sure that if they pressed on, they'd break through, as a hand pressed relentlessly against cloth would eventually rip. Perhaps, if either of them had been as physically strong as some of their brothers they might have done it. Web-winged Jacob was small and fast, and Zach was agile and able to deliver a deadly kick with the high-arching claws that sprouted from his central toes, but both lacked the solid musculature of a Malachi, a Jericho, or even a Laertes.
In the end, they'd had to accept defeat and return to Avalon's shores. Mai, hearing of their problem, brought them before Lord Oberon in worried dismay, and had been as surprised as the gargoyles when Oberon only swept them with a scornful look and told them he'd arranged for that magical barricade himself.
Further questioning of him had only gotten them sternly escorted from the palace, but subsequent queries and outright eavesdropping had told them more. Oberon was frightened.
He'd brought his Children back from their thousand-year exile, believing the magic of Avalon to be fully restored, only to find it threatened by the Unformed. The sacrificial gesture of Titania and Corwin had saved them all, and indeed all creation, but it left the fae with an unwelcome sense of vulnerability.
Too, the outside world had become increasingly dangerous. It was only a matter of time, they feared, until science found a way to breach the Sea of Mists and locate them. No one on Avalon harbored any delusions of living peacefully with the mortals if that happened. All they had to do was look to what had become of the New Olympians.
The pinnacle of the matter had come during that unfortunate business with David Xanatos and Titania's half-mortal daughter, and a quest for immortality gone horribly wrong. Oberon, wanting no more interference, swore to keep his land safe even if it meant walling it off forever.
"Not forever," Moth, Titania's furry-winged, pretty handmaid had confided to Mai, who in turn relayed it to the clan because she still felt more of an alliance with the gargoyles than with the Third Race. "They're bound to destroy themselves, the humans, or leave for space and colonies once they've depleted Earth's resources. When that happens, when they are gone and no longer a threat to us, Lord Oberon will drop the barriers and we'll be free once more to mingle in the twilight of the world."
Mai also reported that Oberon's concern was more deeply personal. It had somehow come to his attention that an old enemy of his was stirring again. Long ago, the goddess Hecate had sought, with the aid of her daughters and a human sorceress, to destroy him. Hecate had been banished to the Abyss, her daughters were given the choice of similar banishment or serving Oberon – they had, as the gargoyles well knew, chosen the latter – and the sorceress had been vanquished.
But the Abyss was not as permanent a dungeon as Oberon might have liked. Called by many names: Hell, Abyddos, the Underworld, it was more than the realm of the gods of the dead. It was deeper than that. The place of the Dragon.
"I think a war is brewing," Mai told them. "Not necessarily a war between good and evil."
"No," scholarly Pericles said. "I'd agree with that. Oberon and his kind aren't necessarily good, so any opposing them might not necessarily be evil. Not in the way that we understand it."
All talk of war aside, the crux of it was that Oberon had closed off Avalon tighter than a drum. No one came, no one left. Communication with the outside world was severely curtailed, limited only to the highest powers like Titania herself, or Mai's odd dual nature that let her be constantly aware of her other self's activities.
"So we're trapped here," Zach said. He was alone, talking to himself, because the rest of the clan had gone off to hunt and arrange a feast to celebrate the sudden, ludicrous mating ceremony of Elswyth and Carnelian.
He couldn't stand it. He just knew they'd be having a private breeding season 'ere the year was out, and if he had to breathe the scent of a fertile female while having no mate of his own, it would surely drive him mad. It was a wonder he'd come through the last one sane, though at least then he'd had his mateless brothers to commiserate with.
Zach roamed the island aimlessly. Avalon seemed so much smaller now. He wondered if that was the way it would feel to the humans when they did, as Moth thought they would, left this world for others. Once one knew how much was out there, how much smaller the rest seemed.
It had never bothered him before. Why would anyone want to leave Avalon? Oh, the Guardian had, and once Thisbe had gone with him in an act that was part accident and part dare, but they'd come home. Avalon had everything to make life bearable and pleasant, with none of the hazards of the beyond. Why would anyone ever want to leave?
Or was it the knowing he couldn't that made home feel more like a prison?
His wandering feet brought him to a clear spring, its mirrorlike surface strewn with floating stars. He paused, as he usually did, to study himself and try to see what was lacking in his features. His skin was a rich rust-red, his black hair shaggy and silky as it fell from behind the thin plate of hornlike bone curving back from his brow. From the triple talons atop each wing to the plain tip of his tail and those rising toe-claws, he saw nothing objectionable in his appearance.
Which, as always, led him to ponder the possibility that it was something lacking in his personality. He wanted to reject this notion, blame it instead on the silly and fickle nature of females, but he'd had partners enough during the carefree nights after they'd finally discovered, with delight, just what the differences between brothers and sisters meant in terms of pleasure.
He was a decent hunter, a fine warrior. Mai had once, after observing him in a practice battle, paid him the compliment of calling him an artist. A martial artist. He wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but he very much liked the sound of it.
Now his path had brought him to the clearing where the towering tree rose above its glimmering golden sculpture of amber. Here was one of Avalon's mysteries that no one could explain, the figure of a woman encased in that translucent honey-colored gemstone. She stood wrapped in a cloak, her face half-covered by a wave of dark hair, hard to see through the variations of the amber.
As Zach studied what he could see of her, and wondered again who she was and why she was confined here ... she must not be one of the Third Race, else she would have been summoned to the Gathering ... a shimmer in the air caught his attention.
It came from off to his right, a warping and rippling as if that part of the scenery was a painting on silk, billowing and receding. And then a pinpoint of light appeared, grew. Formed a portal through which a line of beings emerged in a rush.
As he turned to place his back to the Entombed Lady in a defensive posture and flexed his legs to ready his toe-claws, another opening appeared. Then a third.
For an island supposedly sealed off from the outside world, Avalon had certainly just gotten popular.

**

March 6th, 2018

"Wow," Lexington said. "Elisa's back!"
Elisa stopped on the threshold and looked at him, then down at herself and understood. Her choice of clothes hadn't been a conscious thing, occupied as she was by the mission facing her. Operating purely on instinct, she'd put on jeans and a black t-shirt for the first time in years, and found her old red leather jacket far back in the closet.
Goliath came to her, his face torn between a smile and the grim mask of despair and determination he'd worn ever since Amber and Old-Mother had vanished in a ball of fire. "My Elisa," he murmured. "It's as if you never changed."
"Some things have changed," she said, touching the streaks of silver-grey in her hair.
But he was right. The clothes had worked a peculiar magic of their own and she felt like her old self. She didn't feel like a woman who was pushing fifty and had spent the past decade as more of a politician than a police officer. She had her gun snug in a shoulder holster, her badge in its battered case in her pocket.
"I should be going, not you," Goliath said.
"We've been over this. You're needed here." What she didn't add, but was heavy on her mind, was that he'd been nearly dead only a week ago, and although his amazing stamina was evident in plenty of other ways, she didn't want him going off on an adventure. Especially not one as tricky as this. "I've got Brooklyn, Sebastian, and Elektra. That should be plenty."
Alexander Xanatos came in, stifling a yawn. He'd been up for thirty hours and the fatigue was showing, but a triumphant gleam lit his aqua eyes. "Nothing to worry about, Goliath. I've got it all well in hand."
"I'd feel better if you were coming along," Brooklyn said.
He'd put on the bronze-tinted durasteel half-breastplate that had become his choice of armor in recent years, never knowing that it gave Goliath a chill to see him like that. Elisa was in the know, since she'd gotten the full story of his experiences under Puck's dark mischief vision.
"We've been over that, too," Elisa said. "Alex and Patricia can only direct the magic from his office."
"Extradimensional spaces give me the willies," Brooklyn complained. He strapped a laser pistol to his hip, ignoring Hudson's snort of contempt.
"Better get used to it," Sebastian said. "We're not exactly going by Lear jet."
"All will be well," Elektra said. Her serene attitude couldn't quite conceal her excitement.
Broadway was with her, looking distracted and unwell, none too keen on any of this. Alex had done his best to explain, but Elisa thought that only Lex and Aiden had fully grasped all his talk about alternate probabilities and traversing parallel universes.
They spent the next hour saying goodbye. Angela had wanted to join them, but Goliath was adamant. It might have been different back when the clan didn't distinguish parentage, but this brood had been raised more like human children. Thus, Broadway wasn't allowed to go either. That way, if worse did come to worse, Kathe and Malcolm would each still have one parent left.
"Try to be subtle," Alex said, looking mainly at Brooklyn. "The world you're going to won't be the same as ours. Similar, but with changes that you might not expect. It'd be best to move on as quick as you can."
"Don't mess up anyone else's universe," Brooklyn said. "Yeah. Got it."
Alex handed Elisa a slim rod, six inches long and slightly thicker than a pencil. It was made of some sort of rock crystal, shining with rainbows like a prism. "This will let Trish and I home in on you. Signal us when you're ready for the next portal by holding it between your palms longways, like so."
Elisa tried it, bracing the ends in the middle of her palms. A bright blue flash dazzled her eyes. "How will we know when we're ready?"
"Sebastian will have an idea of what to look for," Alex said. "You won't want to effect the transfer anyplace too public."
"Right." She slid it into her pocket and turned to Goliath.
He stood, somber and handsome and fighting not to show how this parting was killing him on the inside. If she failed, he would have lost another mate, another child, and she didn't know what that would do to him. Reaching up, she cupped the sides of his face and drew him down to her for a kiss.
"I have to do this," she whispered. "I will come home. I promise."
His nod was brusque, but his eyes were filled with emotion and he couldn't speak.
"Time to go," Alex said.
Ideally, they would have been able to leave right from the castle rather than risk being seen. But they couldn't know what would be waiting for them on the other side, and it would not be fun to cross over only to find that the Aerie Building didn't exist in the other dimension. Or the Xanatos in that one might never have had the change of heart that it had taken Elisa several years to fully trust in the one she'd known. Or any of a limitless number of factors.
The four of them piled into the back of the limo, and Breckenridge, who'd gone from security guard to chauffeur over the years, drove them to the park with the windshield wipers slicing through the rain. Once they were situated in a suitably remote spot, and her companions indicated that they were ready, for better or for worse, Elisa brought out the rod and held it between her palms.
It flared blue again, and she swayed at a wave of vertigo. The world around them was bending in funhouse mirrors. Brooklyn muttered something, Elektra gasped softly. Sebastian remained nonchalant.
A dot of light swelled into an oval portal. Taking a deep breath, glancing at the others as if to say, 'here goes nothing,' Elisa Maza stepped through.

**

Morgana waited in the darkness, knowing he would come.
As she stood, alone in a doorway and unnoticed by the few hurrying passers-by that went with their heads bent against the rain and wind, she was disturbed by a flickering at the fringes of her awareness.
Someone was using magic nearby. Not faerie magic, but mortal sorcery.
Frowning, she opened her inner eye and searched about. She made it her business to know and keep track of all other wizards within the area. There weren't many who even had the talent, and of those, few realized it as anything more than the occasional hunch.
Demona and MacBeth were dabblers who'd picked up a thing or two over their long centuries of boredom; neither of them made a true practice of it. Aiden – for whom Morgana felt a certain distant kinship, one changeling to another – and cousin Patricia could have posed a threat to her, but she had made herself familiar with the psychic signature of their auras, and this was an unfamiliar one.
What was more, the impression she had as she searched was that of a gargoyle. She thought she had accounted for all of them, including Aiden's offspring. Had someone new come to the city?
Stretching her senses to the limit, she tried to sharpen and refine that fleeting signal. For a moment, she picked up not only a sorcerer but the presence of more than one potent enchanted item, and then her questing probe was blocked by a slamming defensive ward.
Whoever it was knew he or she had been detected.
Not at all liking this unexpected, and rather ominous, turn of events, Morgana raised her attention to the skies. Where was he? She wanted to get this over with. And once the Wand was in her possession, it wouldn't matter how many rogue wizards came a-calling. She'd be able to handle any and all of them without breaking a sweat.
The stormy night was alive in its own way, and she was surrounded by the overlapping patterns of humans in all states of wakefulness, anger, contentment. But it was simple enough to pick out the aura she sought, even before she heard the rushing of air as he backwinged to land on the ledge above her doorway.
Next, she heard the grating of claws on brick as he descended the wall, and the heavy drop of him landing on the stairs. She could smell him, a wet-leather scent mingled with the unmistakable, heavenly aroma of fresh Krispy Kremes, and heard him chew and swallow before he spoke.
"I'm here. You want a donut?"
"Thank you, Broadway." She accepted the still-warm ring of sweet dough. She didn't really have time for pleasantries, but she'd been using her magic a lot lately, and it took a toll on her energies. The sugar and calories charged into her bloodstream like a shot of adrenaline.
She heard him shift uncertainly. "I did what you wanted. I brought the wand."
"Were you noticed?"
"Huh-unh. Patricia left it in her room when she and Alex went into his office."
Morgana's eyebrows rose. "Why?" She knew all about Alexander Xanatos' 'office,' and if those two were up to some sort of big casting, it was strange they'd leave behind the strongest tool in their arsenal.
"Alex said they needed finesse more than power," Broadway replied. "He didn't want to risk the Wand screwing things up."
"Ah," said Morgana. She'd learned of some of the Wand's more spectacular gaffes and blunders over the years. But enough of this. The time was finally upon her. "Give it to me."
Broadway hesitated. "I don't know if I should."
She sighed. The spell she'd placed upon him was a temporary thing, and several days had elapsed since she'd first given him his commands. Now his loyal personality was asserting itself.
That was easily remedied. She had initially been forced to use a subtle spell, something that wouldn't alert any of the sensitives who came into contact with him. Something so vague and hidden that it could slip by the castle's warning wards.
Now she shot out her hand and caught his wrist, and invoked words in a Druidic tongue.
He stiffened and uttered a low, grunting gasp. Her force flowed out, overwhelming him.
Obedience.
When he gave in, it was like the crumbling of an earthen bank eroded by a river. His good-hearted nature cried out in despair.
"The Wand," Morgana said, reaching out commandingly.
She was trembling on the inside, nearly breathless with anticipation. This was the moment! The circle completed, her destiny attained!
Her fingers felt satiny-smooth wood, a gnarled length some ten inches long. It prickled and tingled with power. She closed her hand around it and her back arched as a pure bolt surged through her body. A soft cry escaped her and turned into a laugh.
"The Wand," she said again, not a demand but a marveling ecstasy. "Mine at last!"
The first order of business was a selfish one, but she rationalized it by telling herself it was necessary for the success of her future plans. She tapped the end of Hecate's Wand thrice on her brow and once on each closed eyelid, muttering incantations. Burning tears gushed from her eyes, as if she'd bathed them in acid. The pain was immediate and immense. But when it ceased, and she lifted her lids, she saw.
She saw. The rain-swept city street, gleaming with watery reflections of traffic signals and brake lights from the line of taxis and limousines tangled in the intersection. The glowing square jewels of windows in buildings all around.
Everything was beautiful. Even a shabby man poking through a garbage can with a newspaper held over his head. The dark colors of the night were lovelier than she'd ever dreamed. The gargoyle before her, water beading on his turquoise skin and running in rivulets down the round drum of his belly to patter onto the concrete between his talons, was a truly wonderful sight because it was a sight.
"I can see," Morgana said, and passed a hand over her eyes to study her own slim fingers.
She turned to the barred window beside the door and peered at her image held there, a shadow in the glass. There was her face, and there were her eyes, whole and well, no longer milky and blank but a rich sapphire blue. Again, unlike her family, but very like the ones that had been hers many lifetimes ago.
"Can I go now?" Broadway asked dully.
"First tell me," Morgana said, tearing herself away from her image, "what was so important that occupied Patricia and Alex, and made them leave this unguarded."
Haltingly, reluctantly – but more because it was something he only partially understood the specifics than out of any desire not to tell – Broadway explained about Avalon, and Amber, and the ingenious plan that Alex had devised. An electrical thrill seized Morgana.
"So that's it!" she cried. "How good of them to come up with such a clever answer. Now my way to Avalon is clear, as well. Once I retrieve the Vial …"
"I'm afraid not," came the voice of a man, imperious and kingly.
Morgana's soul recognized it at once. She gripped the Wand and faced him. "Artus."
The armor had been replaced with a black suit and an overcoat the color of smoke, but the belt and scabbard about his waist were familiar. So, too, was the hilt of the sword that one gloved hand rested upon in a meaningful gesture.
He'd grown old, his hair and beard entirely white, his face seamed with lines. But it was the same face her soul remembered, the same pitiless eyes pinning her like lances of steel. He stood straight and tall, unbowed by age.
Two gargoyles flanked him. Seeing them, Broadway grinned and waved.
"Hey, Griff!" he called jovially.
"How's it going, then, old chap?" said the male with the crested eagle's head and the bomber jacket. His lion-tufted tail swayed lazily behind.
"Oh, not bad, except I'm under this spell --"
"Silence!" snapped Morgana.
"I don't know what devilry you're up to," Arthur said, "and frankly, I don't care so long as it ends here and now."
"My business is none of yours," Morgana said. "I suggest you stay out of it. This has nothing to do with England, and therefore it's no concern of yours."
"The sun never sets on the British Empire," Griff said. He chuckled. "Not speaking quite literally, of course, lucky for our clan. Now, why don't you let my chum there go, and we'll settle this."
"Not this time." She thrust the Wand at them and hissed words of sorcery.
A jet of frost whirled from the end of it, freezing the falling rain into globules of hail, slicking the street with ice, making brittle sculptures out of a windowbox of early tulips.
The third member of their party, a female gargoyle, pointed and called out in Latin, her other hand curled around an amulet she wore as a necklace. Flame leaped from her fingertip, a blast of it like a dragon's breath. The two met, fire and frost, a little more than midway between them and countered each other in a boiling mass of steam.
"Oh, that's your game, is it?" asked Morgana.
She swept her other hand, hooked into a claw. An invisible glove of air sprang from it and raked their legs from under them. Arthur and his gargoyles went sprawling on their backs. The female's flame jet blazed a path into the sky, freeing the frost to engulf them. In a matter of seconds, a snowdrift covered their bodies.
"Come with me," Morgana ordered Broadway, who stood looking on in aghast dismay. He moved to her side like a well-trained dog, but his stricken gaze never left the drift, from which a few ice-sheathed limbs poked like branches.
Hecate's Wand sparkled as she held it aloft, then traced a large circle. A twinkling outline formed and hung suspended in the air. From the direction of the castle, Morgana felt a sudden burst of alarm and knew that the theft had been realized, but they were too late to stop her.
Taking Broadway by the wrist, Morgana St. John entered the portal and let it fall closed as she escaped into another world.

**

"Whoa," Brooklyn said in a gust as if a punch had driven the air out of him.
"My sentiments exactly," Elisa said.
The park was the same – Central Park, with all its trees and paths and nice concealing shadows where the cream of society was wont to lurk at night, or at least on nights not so rainy and miserable as this. The weather was the same too, a typical March downpour. But the skyline of the city was drastically changed, dominated by a structure that would have given Goliath a heartsick sinking feeling.
The Aerie Building had been expanded, incorporating lesser skyscrapers on all sides and joined to them by slanting extrusions that gave the whole affair a pyramidal shape. Suspended at the apex of this modern-day monument was a shining emblem of bright blue, in the shape of a foxhead.
"'Tis the same as …" Elektra began, and trailed off as if she couldn't quite manage to complete the thought.
"Yeah," Elisa said.
Flying things buzzed and hummed over the city. Cybots and Steel Clan robots on preordained patrol routes. A nasty crawling sensation went busily up and down the nape of Elisa's neck.
"Creepy," Brooklyn said. "Who's for finding a boat, pronto?"
The other three raised their hands, and after Elisa safely stowed the crystal rod in her inside jacket pocket, they headed for the lake. Or where the lake should be, assuming the general geography continued to hold true.
"Interesting," Sebastian said, glancing up at the luminous foxhead. "Do you think --?"
"Don't," Elisa said. "Remember Alex's advice. This isn't our world. Whatever happened here doesn't matter to us."
Nice words, but it became a moot point moments later as a spate of shouts and the sounds of violence erupted from a thicket not far from the path. "He's getting away!" a coarse voice roared, and the thin beam of a laser seared through the leaves. It just missed, and in its passage illuminated, a small figure loping on all fours.
"Down!" Brooklyn said to Elektra and Sebastian, as he and Elisa drew their own weapons. With a sidelong, wry look at her, he added, "It matters to us now, I think."
Several men, rough-dressed thugs that were the same in any dimension, burst from the thicket in pursuit of the fleeing figure. Some were laughing and enjoying the hunt, but their leader, he of the coarse voice, was in deadly earnest.
"Oh, my God," Elisa whispered, catching a good glimpse as he went in and out of the spotlight of another's flashlight beam. "Did you see what I saw?"
"I hope not," Brooklyn said.
He had. They all had. The man chasing, and closing on, his prey was in his twenties, with black hair marked by a distinct white stripe … and he had a blue foxhead tattooed around his right eye.
The fleeing figure reached the top of a hill and paused, panting, head swiveling in desperate search of an escape. Lightning shuttled the sky and they saw the wings, the size. A gargoyle, a young one. With one wing hanging injured, and broken ropes hanging from his wrists and ankles.
"Definitely matters to us now," Brooklyn said grimly.
Before Elisa could stop him – and it would have been a half-hearted attempt in any case – he was springing to the top of a rain-slick bronze statue and launching himself into the air. Brief pulses from his laser stabbed down, startling the pursuing thugs. The leader reacted with a true fighter's instinct. He dropped to one knee, took bead on Brooklyn's gliding silhouette, and aimed.
Elisa fired first. She couldn't quite bring herself to shoot to kill, winging him and knocking him hard into the wet grass. His shot went high and wild. The rest scattered as Brooklyn dove among them.
Elektra raced to the hatchling. Upon seeing her, the little gargoyle's eyes ate up his whole face and his beak dropped approximately to the hem of his tattered basketball jersey.
"Fear not," Elektra said, opening her wings to show she was of his kind. "We're friends."
Trusting her to take care of that end, Elisa ran to the man she'd shot. He was rolling, jaw clenched, stoic, holding onto the wound in his shoulder with blood seeping between his fingers. No matter how he might have looked like Tony Dracon, he sure didn't act like him; Elisa knew that Tony would be bawling for a doctor and swearing semi-coherent promises of payback.
He saw her coming and groped for his laser pistol, but it had tumbled away when he went down.
"Stay right there," Elisa said. Habit took over. "You're under arrest for violating the Gargoyle Rights Act, Section 1, Sub-Section ..." She let it trail off, seeing only absolute incomprehension. "Forget it. Hands behind you, smart guy."
"You sure you want to do that, sugar? You know who I am?"
Eerie deja-vu made her rock back on her heels. She steadied herself and reminded him with a gesture just who had the gun. "Nope. Why don't you enlighten me?"
"I'm Joey Dracon. Joey the Fox." He jutted his chin arrogantly toward the pyramid. "Her son."
Elisa didn't know whether to laugh, puke, or faint. She settled on none of the above and set the barrel against his forehead.
"Guess what, sugar?" she said in a deadly tone. "I don't give a damn. Hands behind you or I'll give you something you need like you need a hole in the head."
He acquiesced, and she hauled him to his feet once he was cuffed, glad she'd put them in a pocket as an afterthought. She shoved-dragged him toward a bench, where Sebastian and Elektra had shepherded the young gargoyle. They were examining his wing and conferring in low tones, while the hatchling goggled back and forth between them.
"Right there," Elisa said, indicating a square of cement at the foot of a lamppost. She re-fastened the cuffs to loop around it, holding him in place.
"You're gonna get it," Joey said.
"Who's he?" Sebastian asked.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Elisa said, fighting down bile. "Take a look at his shoulder and see if he's going to bleed to death on us, would you?"
Sebastian, who knew a little bit about everything, went to do so. Elisa moved closer to the bench and got a good look at the young male.
He was maybe a year or two older than the hatchlings back home, scrawny and undernourished. His skin was a rich walnut-brown, his hair jet-black and tied into a clumsy ponytail. His ragged jeans had cuffs torn wide to let his talons pass through – his central toes each rose into a lethal-looking arched curve of claw – and had a hole in the back for his tail. The jersey was slit from collar to mid-back, letting his wings stick out. One of the little claws of his left wing fingers was broken off short, an old scar that stone sleep could heal, but not replace.
"Look at his face," Elektra said in a wondering way.
"I see it," Elisa said.
"Do you think it's possible …?"
Elisa looked around for Brooklyn, saw him coming in for a landing. The hatchling froze, and his tail coiled in a convulsive spasm as the lower half of his beak began to shimmy up and down, the equivalent of a quivering chin.
Brooklyn landed with a thud and blew across the barrel of his laser pistol, which was a wasted gesture because it didn't smoke. He thrust it into its holster and swaggered toward them.
"Dad?"
Although it was pretty much what Elisa and Elektra had been expecting – that beak was a dead giveaway – it still brought everything to a halt.
"No way," Joey Dracon said into the sudden silence. "You're dead. I killed you. You're dead, dammit!"
"Dad … is it really you?" The kid got up and took jerky steps toward Brooklyn. "You're alive?"
"Hey, wait, hold on …" Brooklyn sputtered, raising his hands helplessly.
But the hatchling, sobbing with incredulous joy, threw himself off the bench. The astounded Brooklyn reflexively caught him and held him as the kid mashed his face against the bronze breastplate and broke down completely. Above that dark head and those thin, backswept horns, Brooklyn gaped at the rest of them, as if to ask if they were thinking what he was thinking.
"I guess you're right," Elisa finally said to him. "It does matter to us now."

**

"Where did she go?" demanded Arthur. "Find her. Take us there."
Fawn wanted to tell him he was out of his mind, she was nowhere near that powerful a sorceress despite having been tutored by Una all her life and despite having the Amulet of Malduc.
Una should have been here in her stead, but she and Draga were so great with egg that they could barely move, while their mates Leo and Hart fussed over them in the manner of nest-happy males, leaving all of the hunting and protecting of their home to Bors, Equua, and Drake.
The latter two had become inseparable since Drake finally made his choice, leaving Fawn for a life of spinsterhood. Or worse.
Maybe Una should have been here, but Fawn admitted that she'd much rather be away on this quest with Arthur and Griff than staying at home. Ever since she and her rookery brother and sister had come of age, Bors' attention to her had been increasingly purposeful. He'd lost out in the competition for Draga, not that it had been much competition once Hart had decided the time had come to be done mourning his lost mate, Fawn's mother.
That left Fawn. And while she admired Bors' skill as a hunter and a warrior, and was sure he'd be a good provider, she couldn't abide the thought of being his mate. He was so old, and gruff, and bristly. He had a temper and no humor at all.
So here she was, making use of her scant knowledge of magic. She, Fawn of the London Clan, up against the reincarnate of one of the greatest sorceresses of all history.
"You can do it, luv," Griff said, giving her an encouraging nod. "Go on. Give it a go."
"I can … I can!" The idea exploded in her so brightly she wouldn't have been shocked to see a lightbulb pop into being over her head, like in the cartoons. "There's yet time!"
With that, she concentrated and latched onto the dwindling residue of energy left by Morgana's spell. She could never copy what Morgana had done, but she could … she could slipstream it, slide them into the wake of the spell and be carried along. Riding Morgana's coattails, as it were.
Her hands shot out, one to either side, seizing Arthur's in one and Griff's in the other. She threw her head back, told them to hold on for dear life, and experienced a feeling of slack rope going briskly taut, yanking her ahead. Her arms were wrenched in their sockets, her wings fluttering and shedding a strew of feathers, and for a moment her grasp on Arthur slipped. Then his fingers bore down crushingly on hers and he held fast.
The portal, with its sparkling outline, had vanished. But there was still a wavery wrongness lingering in the air, and it was into the heart of this that they were sucked, as if caught in a mighty vortex. Fawn cried out as she was thrown this way and that, and lost consciousness.
She revived sometime later, being held by an anxious Griff. Her limbs felt weak and stretched out, as if she were made of taffy that had been pulled beyond endurance. Her head swam.
"Is she all right?" asked Arthur.
Fawn rolled her head and saw him, standing guard with Excalibur's blade drawn in naked steel to the night. A host of humans and other creatures were gathered at a cautious distance. The entire scene was illuminated by a bluish glow, from some triangular object hovering in the sky like a giant gem.
Upon seeing the crowd, Fawn fought her way upright. She was still child enough to want to hide behind Griff, but kept at his side.
The humans all looked hard and dangerous. The others – at first, she thought they were gargoyles but dispensed with that idea in a hurry – were manlike animals that made her think of movies of experiments gone hideously wrong.
"Where is Morgana?" she asked Griff in a hushed voice.
"Fled with Broadway," came his reply. "The poor bloke. I'm sure he's not doing it of his own accord. We couldn't rightly go after them until you'd come 'round."
"I'm so terribly sorry --"
"Don't start in with that." He gave her a grin. "You got us here, didn't you?"
"Yes, but where is here?"
"That's not important," Arthur said. "So long as we can reach Avalon. This way."
He strode toward the crowd and they parted around him, perhaps no one quite bold enough to confront a man who, despite his age, moved with the grace and confidence of a master swordsman. Griff and Fawn followed, keeping their wings folded tight against their backs. Lessons learned the hard way had taught them about feather-collectors.
No one molested them, but hostile grumblings came from hither and thither, and if looks could kill they would have all three of them been slain in an instant. As they went on, Fawn gazed about in consternation. The trip to New York had been her first, and whatever this version of it was, she could tell it was in far worse repair.
"Should we try to find Morgana?" asked Griff. "If we can prevent her from getting to Avalon …"
"We're probably too late for that," said Arthur. "We'll have to go to the island ourselves, for it's there she'll do the most damage."
They came to Central Park, or so Griff explained to Fawn, and proceeded into it. Signs of Morgana's having come this way were evident – here a group of predatory teens sleeping where they'd fallen, there a rustling tree with a horribly humanoid aspect. Here, too, were Broadway's prints laid deep in the mud, and a pretzel cart that had been peeled open like a can of sardines, which Griff swore was sure proof he'd been this way.
At last, they came to a wide lake, with a boathouse and a dock and a concrete patio where the chairs and tables were all overturned and draped with green tarps until the seasons changed and the weather improved. The boathouse doors were agape, and when they entered they saw one vacant slip, one untidy heap of rope.
"They've gone," said Arthur. "We must make haste."
So saying, he unmoored a second boat and they climbed in. The motor coughed, then settled into a putting rhythm as they moved steadily out of the boathouse and into the lake.
Fawn glanced nervously to Griff. He smiled reassuringly, but of course it was easy for him to do so; he'd spent the past twenty years going around the world with Arthur on their various quests and crusades. Thanks to his tendency to embellish, none of the rest of the clan were quite sure which were true and which were exaggerations. The one about the isolated castle populated entirely by lonely she-gargs … that one had to be made-up.
Arthur, the breeze blowing back his long white hair and making him look more regal than ever, spoke the words. From nowhere, tendrils of mist arose to embrace the boat, and surround it.

**

Morgana had paid no attention to the different version of Manhattan in which she found herself. Broadway fretted and moaned enough for the both of them. Every six steps, he'd stop and shake his head until his large fan-shaped ears flapped, and protest, "This isn't right, this can't be right!" until Morgana had to compel him to hush up and come along.
She'd used her magic whenever it was needed. And, truth be told, sometimes when it wasn't. It intoxicated her, having the power of the Wand at her disposal. Instead of having to measure her energy and pace herself in her castings, she could fling spells with impunity and suffer not even a hint of weariness.
There was only one bad moment, but it was a corker.
"Buh … Buh … Broadway? Is that you?"
The man was far too old to be out so late and on his own. He paused, jogging in place with his grey-sweatsuited knees rising and falling like pistons.
"Charlie!" Broadway called. "You gotta help me!"
"I thought you were dead," said the jogger. "I thought all of you were dead!"
Impatient, Morgana waved Hecate's Wand. At once, Charlie's body elongated and swelled. His feet stuck to the earth as if rooted, and indeed, rooted they were, as his toes punched through the tips of his shoes and embedded themselves in the earth. His arms, thrown up in surprise, stayed up, and the fingers branched out, sprouting leaves. His skin darkened, hardened, became a thick bark. A groaning crevice replaced his mouth, and his uneven eyes were knotholes.
"No!" shouted Broadway, and leaped at Morgana.
Almost too shocked by his temerity to respond in time, Morgana raised a hand and stopped him with a wall of force. The impact shuddered her. She deliberately motioned with the Wand and his gaze followed it dreadfully.
She reinforced the spell of obedience, ruthlessly stifling his good-hearted nature and enslaving him to her will. She hadn't intended things to go this far, certainly hadn't planned to spend her evening touring other worlds while seeking a route to Avalon, but she was here, they were both here, and she was going to make the best of it. An ally, even an unwilling one, could prove helpful.
To make matters all the more troublesome, she'd sensed that Arthur and his gargoyle lackeys had managed to follow her.
Fine. Let them come. If they thought they could go up against her, they'd regret it. And if they wanted to follow all the way to Avalon, that was fine too. Anything to distract Oberon.
Speaking of which …
Her senses caught the fringe of an aura, an untapped power nearby. On impulse, she investigated, and found a young man chained to a post, like some victim awaiting sacrifice. Between curses, he shouted into the darkness for Pete, Randy, Lefty, and Mario to come help him. He'd gained his feet, and managed to hang onto shreds of his dignity as he struggled with the handcuffs binding him.
Even if he'd had any active use of his power, Morgana supposed, he'd be helpless against the metal. Here was the aura she'd detected. Here was this dimension's answer, Titania's grandson, never trained, never tutored, maybe even unaware of his impressive heritage.
"Who's there? Mario? Randy?" He peered in her direction.
"I am Morgana," she said. "Who are you?"
His demeanor changed. He eyed her in what was almost a leer. "Well, well, well. Out all by your lonesome, sugar?"
"Not quite." She beckoned, and Broadway trudged up next to her like a large, mute dog.
"Another one?" His expression was priceless. "Damn things are coming out of the woodwork! I thought the little brat was the only one left!"
"You've seen others?"
"Look, sugar, I'd love to chitchat, but in case you didn't notice, I'm stuck here. Be a good Girl Scout and get me outta this, what do you say?" He shrugged and shook, jingling the chain that joined his wrists.
"You'd like to get back at the ones who did this to you, wouldn't you?" she asked as she went behind him to examine the cuffs. The lingering aura of a quick-heal spell was on his shoulder, where blood-stained clothes were torn away to reveal pink, mending skin.
"Got that right."
"As it happens, they're no friends of mine either."
"Yeah?"
"Fox's son. Titania's grandson. How did Oberon miss you when the time of the Gathering came?"
He looked at her blankly. "Say what?"
"And who is your father? Not Xanatos."
"Not who? The name's Dracon, toots, Joey Dracon. Would you mind speeding it up back there? I want to take care of the old bitch who did this to me, and that red freak while I'm at it. How many times do I have to kill him?"
"Your magic is almost nil," Morgana said. "Nowhere near as strong as that of Alexander. Perhaps breeding does tell. Perhaps that's why Titania never bothered. I take it the Puck isn't your tutor?"
"Just my luck," he said, rolling his eyes. "A nut case. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You don't even know who you are," she said.
"I know my mom has this city and most of the world in the palm of her hand," Dracon said, nettled. "I know she's the richest person on the face of the earth, and governments kiss her ass. That's all I need to know, sugar."
"Really?" Unable to resist although she knew she shouldn't be frittering away her time, Morgana brought out the wand and tapped Joey Dracon lightly on the crown of his head. A whispered spell, and information flooded his mind. Avalon. Titania. Fox.
Joey reeled. Broadway, sly thing for all he was so slow, tried to seize the moment and slip away while her attention was elsewhere, but she clamped down on him with a merciless mental fist. He groaned and she felt the rebellious spark of his will dim under her control.
"What was that?" gasped Joey.
"The hard, cold light of truth," Morgana said. "Interested in finding out more?"
A short while later, the three of them reached the lake. The door to the boathouse was locked, but Broadway took care of that in short order.
"So you're saying it's mine," Joey said. "My destiny. When this Oberon guy is out of the way, I can take over." He rubbed his hands together, palms rasping. "And no more Mom telling me what to do, acting like she's the queen of the cosmos. I'll be in charge."
"That's right," Morgana said.
Grinning with avarice, Joey sat down and grabbed another set of oars. He and Broadway, working in concert, propelled them swiftly toward the center of the lake.
Remembering the law – no magic save Avalon's own – she laid the length of Hecate's Wand along her forearm and cupped her other hand over it. Slowly, not without considerable pain, she melted the Wand through her flesh so that it rested flush along her radius bone.
Would her soul's half-brother remember? Excalibur might have been of Avalon's make, but the amulet worn by his fledgling sorceress was clearly of mortal design. She could just imagine them stopped, as it were, at the border.
Morgana laughed, and then cast the spell to connect this body of water with the Sea of Mists. When the first foggy wisps appeared, she laughed again. It was true, then! From this world, the way to Avalon was not blocked, and to get from one Avalon to another would be simple as thought itself.

**

"Before I was hatched, my clan lived in the castle," Jake said.
They'd taken refuge in a boarded-up newsstand after leaving Joey Dracon handcuffed in the park. The right thing to do would have been to head straight for the lake and keep going with their plan, but none of them were prepared to abandon the young male, and though it was probably nothing they needed to know, the thought of hearing about this world filled them with an awful, compelling curiosity.
The four of them – Elisa, Elektra, Sebastian, and Brooklyn – gathered around Jake in the enclosed darkness of the newsstand. The place smelled of wet paper and stale alcohol, some shards of glass glittering in one corner near a filthy blanket indicating it had once been a shelter for one of Manhattan's legion of homeless.
A thin orange glow from the streetlamps filtered through cracks in the walls, enough to let Elisa see the others as more than shadow-shapes in the dark. The gargoyles, and probably Sebastian too, were not bothered by the lack of light.
It hadn't been easy for Brooklyn to explain, and even harder for Jake to hear, but they'd told him as best they could who they were and where they'd come from. The understanding that Brooklyn wasn't really his father killed the new hope that had come into Jake's eyes and now he crouched with his elbows on his knees and his beak pointing at the trash-littered floor as he spoke.
"It was brought over from Scotland by a man named Renard," he went on dully. "My mother's clan had lived in caves under it, but when they moved the castle, my mother stowed away. See, my father's clan was under a spell --"
"Frozen in stone sleep," Brooklyn said, nodding. "I know that part."
"Renard," Elisa marveled quietly.
"They were the same clan, really," Jake said, his brow furrowing under his horns as he tried to explain. "The five of them, my father and Hudson and Broadway and Lexington and Bronx, had been asleep all that time, while my mother's clan stayed nearby."
"What of Goliath?" Elektra asked.
"They told me about him," Jake said. "He was the leader, and when the rest were turned to stone, he stayed to take care of the eggs that had been left behind. Him and his mate, Angel."
Elisa coughed. "He … he what?"
"Oh, man," Brooklyn said. "No Goliath? No … no Demona? That …" He had to hold onto the wall to keep from falling over.
"That changes quite a bit," Sebastian said evenly. "No Demona equals no Hunter, ergo, no Quarrymen. No MacBeth, either, if you think about it. No trip back in time for David Xanatos, so he could not arrange to send himself the coins that made his fortune."
"You mean," said Elisa, a massive headache preparing to pounce on both temples, "that Xanatos is probably still hauling nets somewhere up in Maine?"
"That'd almost be worth a side trip to see," said Brooklyn.
"No Xanatos, no Pack," Sebastian continued. "And from what I understand, as villainous as they each could be, he and Fox were good for each other. In this world, without him, she seems to have fallen in with a lesser quality of villain."
"The clan, then," Elektra persisted, brushing her knuckles against Jake's brow ridge. He looked up at her with a soulful gratitude that was heart-rending. "What of the clan? Goliath and Angel stayed to tend the eggs, so they were never sent away with the Princess, the Magus, and the Guardian? What became of them?"
"There's a song my mother used to sing me," he said. "All about how Goliath and Angel died protecting the castle, and Jericho led the rest to victory."
Elisa had to sit down, cradling her pounding head in her hands. She and Brooklyn chorused in disbelief, "Jericho?"
"The leader after Goliath," Jake said, as if everybody should have known that. "Anyway, the clan lived there for hundreds of years, but it got harder and harder to keep secret, and soon there weren't very many left. When Mr. Renard came to get the castle, my mother was only one of five. She hid and got brought to New York because she didn't want to leave my father. He was still stone, but she says she was in love with him even before he woke up."
Brooklyn scratched fitfully at the underside of his beak, abashed. "Uh …"
Elektra exhaled shakily. "By the Dragon … in this world, then, if the eggs were never taken to Avalon, why, Angela and I and all of our rookery siblings have been dust for centuries."
"Goliath, too," Elisa said, and her jacket was suddenly doing a rotten job keeping off the chill. "He and I never met!"
"Where's your clan now?" asked Elektra. "Why were you out there alone, and why were those men after you?"
"Do they ever need a reason to be after one of us?" complained Brooklyn. "Have they ever?"
"They're all gone now," Jake sniffled. "They lived in the castle until Mr. Renard got sick, and his daughter took over. She fired his assistant and stuck him in a nursing home down in Florida, that's what I always heard. She had all his money, all these connections, and they say she got offered a wish by a pixie and chose to become ruler of the world."
Sebastian winced. "Rather than a lifetime of service from Owen Burnett."
"She wanted the clan under her control, wanted them to do bad things. But Hudson, who was sort of the leader until my father was ready for it, made friends with a policewoman, and she helped them move to the clocktower over her building. That's where I was hatched."
"A policewoman," Elisa echoed faintly. She'd been fidgeting with the crystal rod that Alex had given her, and put it away again.
"But Fox Dracon never stopped trying to get us," Jake said. "My clan got in the way of her plans once too often, I guess, or maybe she just thought if she couldn't have us, she'd destroy us. And she did, one by one, first Hudson and then the rest."
"Your mom," Brooklyn faltered. "Who is she?"
"Who was she," corrected Jake, and swiped at an errant tear. "They killed her, too. Her name was Feather. Because she had big, beautiful feathery wings, all black and white and grey." His chest hitched, and though he was trying manfully to be brave, the grief piled up on him and he covered his face, sobbing.
Elektra embraced him, rocking him and crooning soft nonsense. Over his bowed head, she looked at the others with a strange mix of sorrow, pity, and determination.
"We can't," Brooklyn said, fully understanding that look. "Elektra, we can't."
"Nor can we leave him here. Alone, orphaned, clanless, barely out of the shell? And your own, in a way."
"Yeah, but …" He swallowed, glanced to Elisa and Sebastian as if for help. "But Angela … what'll she say? We've been through a lot of rough patches these past few years … hell, ever since we got together, really, what with Ventura and Damien and everything. What'll she say if I come home with my kid by some other female?"
"Under the circumstances, she'd understand," Elektra said. "She'd have to."
"Sentimental attachments aside," Sebastian said, "it might cause irreparable damage to the dimensions. Would you risk that for the sake of one gargoyle?"
"We're Guardians," Elisa said. "It's our job to protect all gargoyles."
"How can there be Guardians, here?" he countered. "Where there are no, and have never been, Hunters?"
"How can you debate this?" Elektra snapped, and venom from her was so unexpected that Sebastian jumped a little. "He's but a child! One of our own, one of our clan, however he may have come to be!"
"Believe me," Sebastian said, trying to regain his customary composure, "I applaud your maternal instincts, truly I do, but --"
"She's right," Brooklyn said firmly. "We can't leave him here. He comes with us."

**

Avalon

A nameless unease disturbed Oberon as he sat at his high table, presiding over the festivities of the Gathering. He diverted his attention from a witticism by Hermes and sought for the source of it, turning his aloof profile to the great hall so alight with moonbeams, starlight, and the clouded prisms of rainbows.
Hermes, thinking that something in his joke had offended, concluded it hastily and withdrew to find a more appreciative audience. On winged sandals, he flew over the table where Odin berated Loki for interfering with the All-Father's most recent attempt to regain his lost eye, past the circle of onlookers around the poker game between Raven and Coyote, and rejoined his own clique by squeezing between Hecate and Aphrodite.
Hecate, bumped by the messenger god, glanced around. For a fleeting moment, her eyes fell on Oberon like two cold stones. He pierced her with his gaze, wondering if perhaps she were somehow the cause of whatever nagged at him. But she hastily looked away, looked down, and the smoky fabric of her gown swirled around her feet as she shifted her weight uncomfortably.
Not her. She'd learned her lesson a thousand years before. To think she'd had the presumption to try and oust him! To think she'd dared bring a human to the shores of Avalon! But her daughters had served him faithfully and well, standing sentinel over Avalon and making sure no mortal intruded, and their contrition as well as Titania's murmured remark that to show lenience would increase his already lofty status among the Children had convinced him to release the goddess of magic from her imprisonment.
Yet still, there was something …
Oberon signaled the Sisters, making sure Hecate saw him doing it, making sure she saw how her daughters were his dutiful handmaids now.
Floating with their toes inches above the floor and their white and blue robes drifting, the three came before him. Selene spoke.
"My lord summons us?"
"Return to your post," he said. "See that nothing is amiss at our borders."
"Yes, lord Oberon," said Phoebe.
"As my lord commands," Luna added.
Hecate's jaw tightened, and there was pain in her eyes. Since her release, since the Gathering began, her daughters had ignored her as completely as if she were invisible, mute, intangible. They would not dare risk incurring more of Oberon's wrath.
As one, in a whirl of fire, the Sisters departed the hall.
Oberon sat back, sure that they'd tend to anything that was amiss. The only thing remaining to trouble him was the throne at his side, still empty. Across the room, queenly and proud amid her flitting butterfly-winged attendants, was fair Titania. And was that Puck with her? Why, it was none other.
Avalon's lord hid a mild scowl. The two of them had returned to the island thicker than thieves, some secret between them that he'd yet to uncover. Luckily for them, they'd not lauded it about and lorded it over him, because he would brook no such insolence.
He had hoped that a thousand years among mortals might have shown Titania the error of her ways in divorcing him. She would see that no mere man could compare with mighty Oberon, and her loneliness would bring her back to him. He was, after all, her superior. She could never love one of less power, for she'd soon come to despise even a god. In his strength was her love. So it was, so it had been, so was it meant to be.
And yet, she had come back to Avalon as its reigning lady but still not as his wife. His query on the matter had been made to sound casual, for it would not do to let her know that he had spent ten centuries in boredom and misery as well. Mortal females might amuse him for a time, and chance encounters and dalliances with others of his race had broken the monotony of the years, but only Titania, clever and devious Titania, could capture his interest, his emotion, his passion.
That query, however casually it might have been put, was met with nothing more than a gracious, somehow secretive smile and her polite demurral.
Now, there she was with Puck, who was supposed to be his servant. Had she won him over, lured him away from Oberon? After that incident with the ass and the love spells, he wouldn't have expected Titania to want anything to do with Puck, unless it be revenge.
Before he could muse more on it, a thunderclap rent the room and brought all conversations to a halt. Three shapes appeared, three owls, wings flapping madly and their cries a screeching alarm. One was golden-fair, one was dusky-dark, the last moon-pale, and at that same moment the magical atmosphere of Avalon was roiled by a ringing challenge delivered not by voice but on every level of awareness.
"Oberon! Face me!"
Horror and recognition suffused Titania's face. Puck looked both astonished and bemused. The owls flapped and screeched, flapped and screeched. Hecate went suddenly white, and on her silently moving lips, Oberon read her words.
"The Wand? My Wand?"
He rose from his throne, sweeping his cloak behind him in a grandly dramatic gesture. "Come, then!" he replied in the same fashion, addressing his challenger.
A humanoid form rippled into existence in the miraculously-cleared space at the bottom of the dais. Oberon, braced to see a woman, a sorceress, another of the long-vanquished Morgana's ilk, drew up sharply as the figure solidified into that of a young man, with streaked hair and a blue mark encircling one eye. He was dressed as an ordinary mortal, but there burned in and around him the fire of a recently awakened Child of Avalon, a changeling or someone's part-mortal offspring abruptly wakened to his own.
"Joey," said Titania, and turned furiously to Puck. "You swore he had no power, that it was buried too deep to ever be reached!"
"I'm immortal, not omniscient," barked back the Puck.
"So you must be by grandmother," drawled the newcomer. "Nice outfit … sugar."
"My Wand," Hecate said aloud. "It has touched him. It has brought his power to the surface. It's here, on Avalon."
"See to it," Oberon ordered, and shook back snowy hair from his glacial blue brow. "And you. Joey, is it? You dare to come here uninvited? You dare to challenge me?"
"Yeah." He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans and sneered. "I do."
"Fool," said Oberon. "Unlike some here, who admire suicidal displays of bravado --" here, several of the war gods stirred guiltily, "I will simply destroy you."
Joey Dracon laughed. "Put your money where your mouth is, bigshot."

**

The mists began to clear. Fawn, at the rear of the boat, strained to see ahead. The dark bulk of an island, lit here and there by fairy-lights –
And the Amulet of Malduc leaped on its cord like a living thing, half-strangling her and bursting into a crackling ball of violet-red electricity. Fawn was jerked backward, her hooves clattering on the wooden seats. Griff lunged for her, caught her, as the momentum of the boat carried them on while she was caught, suspended, as if the amulet had snagged on some unseen barrier.
"Glaaak!" cried Fawn, the cord digging into the fine fur of her throat.
"Get her!" Arthur called.
"I've got her!" Griff grappled, his hands on her waist, her hips, pawing at her as urgently as a lust-starved teenager. He braced and brought the boat to a halt, and Arthur reversed with the oars and rowed back until Fawn could breathe.
"The amulet," she said, little spasms of shock still cavorting merrily along her nerves. She'd lost a few feathers, saw them floating on the placid surface. If she'd had hair, like Una or Equua or even Griff, she wouldn't have been surprised to feel it standing out around her head in a static-filled corona.
"Sorry about the rough handling, luv," Griff said, setting her down on her own legs again.
"The amulet," Arthur said. "Of course. I remember now. All magic not of Avalon's own making is forbidden to enter. My sword, a gift from the Lady of the Lake, is exempt. But the amulet, crafted by a human wizard, is not."
"Shall I leave it, then?" asked Fawn worriedly. "I admit, it hasn't done much good so far, but if I just drop it overboard, Una will have my hide and that's a guarantee!"
"I can see the island," Griff said. "Why not leave the amulet in the boat and glide for it?"
"And how do we get home if the current bears the boat away?" Arthur pointed out reasonably.
"Well …" Griff raked his fingers to and fro through the tuft of hair sweeping up rakishly from his scalp. "As I see it, if we don't catch up with Morgana and see how she's planning on making the return crossing, we might not have to worry about it."
"I can't leave it," Fawn protested. "Una trusted me with it."
"Hang on," said Griff, and clacked his beak thoughtfully. "Didn't Goliath say something about how the Archmage swallowed up the Grimorum Arcanorum?"
Fawn looked dubiously from him to the amulet, which was a leather ball sewn with gold thread, and stuffed with lumpy items that could have been anything from stones to bones. She started to ask how they'd get it back, grimaced, and said, "Maybe I could leave it in the boat after all …"
"Give it here," Arthur said.
She obeyed at once, although apprehensively. But rather than eat it, Arthur drew Excalibur and stuffed the amulet down into the scabbard. Which was, as she recalled, also enchanted.
"Capital idea!" Griff crowed.
The boat drifted to the point at which Fawn had encountered the barrier … and passed it. The magic of the scabbard engulfed and concealed that of the amulet, hiding it from detection.
Just then, on the distant land, a commotion began in earnest. Gouts of flame, lightning bolts, cyclones, blasts of ice, and glowing green comets flew back and forth between two towers of a palace.
"I say," murmured Arthur.
The beach was near, and another boat, identical to their own, was drawn up on it. Tracks, two sets of human and one of gargoyle, led from it.
"Morgana found a friend," Griff noted. "Do you think that's her kicking up a rumpus?"
"I wouldn't doubt it." Arthur stepped onto the sand, and tottered, suddenly overcome by dizziness. He fell despite Griff and Fawn's quick move to catch him. Tremors shook him like a seizure.
"What's the matter? Is he ill?" Thoughts of strokes and heart attacks spun in Fawn's brain, reminding her that she knew simple spells to heal a cut, fade a bruise, or ease pain, but nothing major enough to save a life.
Arthur went still. Horribly still. Deathly still.
Fawn wailed.
"No," Griff choked out. He set his ear to Arthur's chest, and closed his eyes in relief. "He's alive. Sleeping, but alive."
"Sleeping …"
"On Avalon. Bloody buggering hell!"
"Griff!" Fawn cringed in expectation of Una's sudden appearance; no such language was allowed around the hatchlings, and the one time Drake had let himself be overheard saying something similar, Una had washed his mouth with soap until foamy lather oozed from between his sharp teeth and dripped from the scales of his chin.
Ignoring her outburst, Griff snapped his fingers angrily. "That's it, I'll bet it is. Morgana's done something right tricky, the little witch. That wasn't our world, and this isn't our Avalon. On ours, Elisa broke the spell and woke Arthur before his time. Here, for whatever reason, that hasn't happened."
"The Sleeping King," Fawn said. She was awestruck, but also on the verge of tears. "What do we do? Is there anything at all?"

**

The mists parted around them like wisps of fleeing ghosts and Elisa saw a sight she'd earnestly hoped never to see again – the familiar shape of Avalon's outline rising dark from the indigo sea. She heard Elektra's wistful, indrawn breath and knew that for the pale gargoyle, this was a poignant homecoming.
"All I can say," said Elisa as they drew near the beach, "is that when we leave, we better go straight back to Manhattan with no fooling around. I did my world tour, thank you very much."
"I'll do what I can," Sebastian said. Unusual for him, he looked tense, edgy, was biting fitfully at his lower lip and seemingly unaware of it.
Jake, eyes wide, didn't speak. Brooklyn, standing at the prow with his white hair blowing back dramatically and the edges of his wings rippling like a cape, gazed resolutely forward like some strange buccaneer.
"Something's not right here," he said.
"I don't see how you could possibly know that," Sebastian began in a pompous tone, but Elektra interrupted.
"Nay, 'tis true." She pointed. "Behold."
A dazzle of dueling lights rose amid the spires of Oberon's palace. They'd all witnessed enough magical battles to know one when they saw one.
"Wonder what hit the fan?" Elisa murmured.
"Want to go investigate?" asked Brooklyn.
"I'll pass. Let's just do what we came to do and get out of here."
"And bear in mind," added Elektra as if reinforcing it in her own, "that this is not our Avalon, any more than the world we just left was our own. There will be no gargoyles here, and the denizens of this place will likely have no knowledge of us."
"What's that?" Sebastian squinted through mist-dappled lenses, pursed his lips, took the glasses off, and fastidiously cleaned them on a handkerchief. "Other boats. Two other boats. Identical to ours."
"It did look like a couple were missing, back in Central Park," Brooklyn said.
Elektra looked at Elisa. "I do not like this. Who else would come? Is it us? Some other-version of ourselves? Might we have stumbled into some temporal effect akin to that of the Phoenix Gate?"
"There is no Phoenix Gate," Sebastian said.
"This is getting too weird," Elisa said. "All I want to do is land, blip over to the other Avalon, find Amber, and get home." She flicked her gaze quickly from Jake to Brooklyn. "I think we've meddled around with other dimensions enough for one night, don't you?"
They came to shore with a grating, sandy thump. True enough, there were two other boats, which could have come from the same boathouse on the lake. The surf had reclaimed some of the tracks, but Brooklyn called out as he spotted both human and gargoyle prints marching up the beach.
"And something else," he said, pointing out a particular set of small, cloven-hoofed marks. "Like a deer, but the stride's all wrong. Then again, it's been a long time since I've hunted deer."
"They cannot belong to us," Elektra said. "There aren't enough, nor are they the right size and shape. Someone else must have come here recently."
Sebastian, his glasses once more set squarely on his face, regarded the distant fire and lightning with consternation. "Shall we transfer now?"
"I'd just as soon not give our Oberon much time to notice us," Elisa said, feeling to make sure she still had what Alex had jokingly referred to as a 'D-Hopper' in her inner pocket. Luckily, apparently it counted as being made by Avalon's magic, or she might have gotten stopped at the border. "I've seen how he gets about trespassers. Whatever's going on over there is probably keeping them busy. I say we get as close as we can here, and then make the switch. Elektra, you're the only one who knows the way. It's all yours."
She inclined her head. "This way."
In a line, Elisa behind Elektra, Brooklyn next with Jake at his side, and Sebastian bringing up the rear, they struck out across the island. Elisa drew her gun, more for the comfort of holding cold iron than because of any immediate threat.
They came to the abandoned castle that, in another place, was home to Princess Katherine and the clan in which Elektra, Angela, and Gabriel had grown up. It had fallen into disrepair, overgrown with weeds, empty, desolate. A thick forest and a wild meadow lay beyond. Elektra led them with calm assurance until, with shocking suddenness, the magical battle ended and all Avalon was plunged into utter darkness.
The fairy lights that hung in the air like the Aurora Borealis turned to smoke and ash. The glimmering windows and pearly walls of the palace went black. A tremor jolted through the earth, nearly knocking them off of their feet.
For a moment, all was silent. Then, trembling, Sebastian whispered, "Oberon is dead."
A vicious cry of triumph came from the direction of the palace, but it was drowned out by the outraged roar of many voices. Godly voices. Thunder and whipcracks, a banshee wail that Elisa remembered all too well, the furious shriek of Anansi, the desert-born howl of Coyote, Raven's high screech.
The volcano at the heart of the island threw a fountain of fire into the heavens, lighting Avalon in its molten glow. The five of them clung to each other for balance as the ground heaved under them. Trees swayed, cracked, toppled.
"Time to go," Brooklyn said. He swept Jake into his arms and motioned for the others to run, now, go, don't waste time. Nobody argued.
Elektra still led the way, arms raised to ward off falling branches and chunks of stone hurled up from the tortured land. Elisa and Sebastian kept close behind her, grateful that she was ivory-white and visible even in the shadows through which they ran. Brooklyn brought up the rear.
"Here," panted Elektra, stopping in a glade. "That is the tree."
A horrific war cry shook the air, as if every single inhabitant of the island was berserk and bent on revenge. Elisa didn't need to be told that if they were found, it wouldn't matter that they had nothing to do with the attack. They'd be killed, probably before anyone even realized they weren't of this world.
"Your turn, Sebastian," Brooklyn said. "I hope you can do what you said you can do."
"So do I," he replied, and closed his eyes as he reached deep within himself for that spark of power, the crystal rod balanced between his palms on a cushion of air.

**

"You're gonna just leave him like that?" Broadway asked.
"Actually, yes, I am." Morgana smiled as she heard the commotion get underway.
Joey Dracon, now in touch with his inner fae and augmented by a touch from Hecate's Wand, would keep Oberon busy for a while, long enough for her to effect the spell that would send her to the other Avalon. It would mean Joey's death, of course. Even if he somehow, against all odds, destroyed Oberon, the rest wouldn't stand for that. They'd unite against him and smite him into extinction.
But it would buy her ample time.
She bade her hapless minion follow, hurrying away from the palace in search of some nice, quite spot. What happened here wouldn't be happening there, and she didn't want to risk popping in on anyone and alerting them.
"Here," she said. "This will do."
Broadway stopped, his chest and formidable belly heaving from the unexpected exertion of a cross-country jog. Hate flickered white in his eyes as he looked at her. Morgana's smile widened.
"What's the matter, Broadway?" she asked sweetly. "Don't like betraying your clan?"
"That's right."
"Don't worry. I don't mean to keep you. Once my business is done, I'll release you from my spell. Won't that be nice? Then you can return to them and explain just how I happened to get my hands on the Wand."
He growled, and his fists clenched, but he couldn't move against her.
Tittering a laugh, Morgana brought out Hecate's Wand and held it in front of her, clearing her thoughts and preparing to cast. It would have been nice if she'd had the Vial, if she'd been able to plan rather than run off like this on the spur of the moment, but she would just have to improvise.
A flutter and a rustle of wings disturbed her. She opened her eyes to see a blurred, brown-and-white thing rushing at her headlong. With a startled cry, she aimed the Wand like a weapon and a ball of ice shot from the end.
The oncoming gargoyle banked sharply, the ice ball just missing, and as she passed overhead, she snatched at the Wand. Only a quick sidestep by Morgana let her keep it. She whirled, aimed again, and this time the ice ball slammed into the winged doe gargoyle's side.
Griff arrived a moment later, pausing only to lower an unconscious Arthur to the ground. He advanced on her. "Give it up, Morgana. No more games."
"If you think I'm playing a game, you've got a lot to learn." She leveled the Wand at him. "Not another step."
He took another step.
She loosed a whirling hailstorm.
Griff bounded over it, first to a rock and then to a tree and then throwing himself into the sky with an acrobatic flourish. As Morgana turned to follow his movements, the young female tackled her from behind. They went sprawling, tussling for the Wand.
"Aha!" The female wrested it away.
Morgana made to grab it, but slapped her foe's arm by mistake. The Wand skittered toward the creek and almost went in. Griff swooped for it.
"Broadway! Stop him!"
The spell still held and his had to obey, apologizing as he brought his locked fists around in a double haymaker. Griff grunted explosively and crashed in a heap. Broadway picked up the wand.
The doe-gargoyle's punch landed on Morgana's cheekbone, half-blinding her as that eye squeezed helplessly shut. She lashed out, untrained but furious, and tore out a handful of soft feathers. The doe yelped and kicked, a dainty hoof cracking hard against Morgana's shin.
With a desperate scrabble, Morgana found herself out from under the female and on her knees. She reached out, demanded the Wand of Broadway. He, standing over Griff with one foot planted heavily on the other's back to keep him pinned face-down in the mud along the creekbed, tossed it to her. Up and over, swapping ends –
And then all of Avalon lurched and screamed with the death of its lord.
Amazed – she hadn't really thought he could do it, and if she'd known he could, she would have taken him along to help in her battle – Morgana missed the spinning Wand. It hit on end, bounced away into the bushes. Spitting curses, she crawled after it, and found it just as the doe came at her with once-mild brown eyes blazing like torches.
This time, what shot from the wand was a glob that looked like the play-ooze kids got in plastic vending-machine eggs. It splattered over the doe-gargoyle, sticky-slimy-gluey, and with her hooves mired to the ground, she fell headfirst. Leaves and twigs adhered to her immediately. The more she thrashed, the more she cocooned herself in a mess.
Aching all over, especially on her shin and cheekbone, Morgana got up. She was scuffed and dirty and indignant, and despite her promise to Demona to kill no other gargoyles, she could have quite happily unleashed a disintegration spell right then. But she didn't have the time. Avalon was screaming, Avalon's children were answering, rising up righteous with vengeance over their lost lord, and it wouldn't take them long to find out who was truly responsible.
She thought about leaving Broadway here to face that brutal music along with Arthur's do-gooder companions, but he was still under her enchantment, she might still have use of him, and most of all, she did rather want to send him back to Patricia to explain how the Wand had gotten away.
A pencil-thin beam of blue light speared out. When it struck him, he went rigid, then turned and walked like a wind-up toy soldier. Griff, sputtering and gagging on a beakful of mud, pushed himself to knees and elbows. Morgana glanced toward the approaching sounds of an enraged army of gods and smiled coldly.
"You should have stayed in England," she said, and spun the Wand in a circle around herself and Broadway.

**

Zachariah's jaw dropped as the strangers rushed out of the portal of light. Because they weren't strangers, not all of them at least … the one in the lead was, incredibly, familiar.
"Elektra?"
She was older, many years older, but there was no mistaking that fair skin, or that fine curtain of light brown hair. And could that be Elisa Maza behind her? Greying and aged, but still dressed as she'd been when she and Goliath had helped them fight the Archmage, carrying a weapon very like that which she'd let them melt down to toll the bell of Oberon's defeat.
He did not recognize the young man, or the gargoyle at the end of their line with a hatchling in his arms, but knew in an instant that the latter was kin. In all ways but coloring, he resembled Uriel, and in the reddish cast of his skin and the leanness of his form, Zach saw echoes of himself. As if this male were some uncanny elder sibling to them.
"Zachariah!" cried Elektra gladly, and came at him with arms spread for a welcoming embrace. Before she could reach him, she saw the second of the portals that had caught his notice, and nearly swooned in shock. "Broadway?"
So it was! Zach remembered the portly blue-green male from his long-ago visit. It had been Broadway to teach pretty Miriam how to craft pizza and nachos from Avalon's magic larders, delicacies that had become great favorites of the clan. Yet here was Broadway with some human woman, who was all smudged and disheveled and holding a gnarled length of wood. Broadway's eyes wore a miserable expression, and when he saw Elektra, it was as if he would have wished the earth to swallow him up.
There followed a moment of incredulity, broken by the arrival of the third group. Zach, unsure who was friend and who was foe but knowing that not all of them came in peace, backed up a step and felt the cool satiny solidity of amber at his heel.
As the light faded behind the third group, the man being carried limply in the arms of a gargoyle the likes of which Zach had never seen before came alive with a start and a shout, as if wakened from a deep but nightmare-laden sleep. The female with them was so covered with woodland debris that it was impossible for Zach to see much more about her.
"Broadway," Elektra said again, horrified. "What are you doing here? Who is that?"
"And what are you doing with Hecate's Wand?" the red male threw in accusingly. He set down the hatchling, protectively behind him.
"Arthur?" Elisa asked dubiously, and Zachariah looked anew.
Could it be? He'd only had the barest glimpse of the Sleeping King before, and that man had been clad all in proper armor. Yet, allowing for the evident years, he supposed it was so.
"Why, it's my cousin," the blond man said with no kin-warmth whatsoever.
"Hello, Sebastian."
"That doesn't belong to you. That's my sister's."
"It does belong to me. It was meant for me, and you know it. I'm the one. She's alive in me, cousin. Not in Patricia, not in Corrinne, but in me."
"What's going on here?" demanded Elisa.
"He's enspelled!" Elektra took a step toward Broadway, but was halted by the red male. "She's cast a spell upon him to make him do her bidding! Oh, you witch, you wretch, when I set my claws into you …"
"Stay where you are." The wand sparkled with deadly promise.
"You're outnumbered, Morgana," said Arthur Pendragon, and drew his sword with a silvery singing noise.
"I'm not here for you, not any of you. My business is with Oberon." She looked at Elektra. "Let me alone, and you'll have your mate back. Hinder me, and you won't like what will happen."
"Everyone take it easy," Elisa said. "Nobody do anything hasty. We can work this out."
"Broadway, hear me," begged Elektra. "Come back to me."
"I didn't mean to," he said dejectedly. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right, old chap," the eagle-headed one said. "No harm done. You're not to blame."
"He knows you're here," the blond man said. "It's over, Morgana. You can't face Oberon. You're not strong enough, even with the Wand. I know my history. Last time, it took you, and Hecate, and the Weird Sisters, and you still couldn't beat him. Now you're alone. None of them can help you."
Zachariah didn't know what was going on, but he wished the rest of the clan were here. True, the only adversary seemed to be this one young human female, against a crowd of opponents, and yet he wouldn't have wagered against her. There was something about her, something strange and dark and forbidding, something growing stronger.
And yes, Avalon had gone quiet and somehow attentive. He had the impression of many eyes watching, many ears listening. He saw in the unsurprised realization on all the others' faces that they wouldn't put it past Lord Oberon to let them try to handle this themselves first, before he could be bothered to intervene, even though he was the one for whom this witch had come.
But not all of Avalon was content to sit back and wait. In a flash of golden light, a figure appeared beside the blond-haired youth.
"Hi there, junior."
A peculiar mix of emotions crossed his face at the sight of Puck. Part fondness, part bitterness, part wistfulness, part respect. "Hi, Dad."
The Puck, Zachariah knew, had been exempted from the Gathering on two counts. Firstly, because he'd made a pact with the man called Xanatos for lifetime service from his mortal form, Owen Burnett. Once Xanatos had achieved immortality for himself and his wife (as was gossiped around Avalon, and it was said that in true left-handed monkey's paw fashion, he was sorry now!), that bargain had been deemed null and void. The second count had involved Queen Titania's grandson Alexander, who required a tutor. But when Alexander came of age and had shown his competence, Oberon decreed there was no further need of instruction, and brought Puck home.
It had not been a joyous reunion, Puck protesting that he was still needed in the world beyond because he had, as Owen, fathered children. At this, half of Avalon had burst out laughing, for if that were the case, most of them would have gotten permission to stay as well.
Now, here was one of those children, and by the prideful way Puck looked at him, Zach understood that it was by his doing that they'd circumvented the closure of the Sea of Mists and come here.
"He's right, you know," Puck said to Morgana. "The Weird Sisters aren't even here. They're trapped out in the mortal realm. You don't stand a chance alone."
"Release my mate," Elektra said, so fiercely and unlike her that Zach would have taken another step back if he'd had the room.
Ignoring her, Morgana looked scornfully at Puck. "Toadying for your master again?"
"It's a living."
"You're wrong on one thing," she said. "I'm not alone."
"If you think you're going to make my rookery brother fight us --" Brooklyn snarled.
Ignoring him as well, Morgana tipped back her head and exhaled. On and on, she breathed out, more than it seemed her lungs could possibly have held. And what emerged from her mouth was not simple air, not even the clouded vapor that might be seen on a cold night, but a swirling blue-black mass like a swarm of miniscule insects, motes billowing into a smoky pillar that grew and grew.
Zach jumped, because while his and everyone else's eyes were fixed on Morgana, Elisa Maza had come up next to him and was looking at the Entombed Lady with tears shining in her eyes.
"It's true," she whispered. "It is true."
The rest moved together, Arthur and the adult male gargoyles in front of the others. Zach told himself he should be up there with them, not standing back here like a lump, for was he not a warrior? But he didn't even know what was happening, let alone what to do.
"So that's it," Puck said, and gave a very good impression of sounding as if he'd expected this, but a pallor in his cheeks gave him away. "Hecate."
The blue-black motes coalesced into a woman-form fully twenty feet high, garbed all in smoke with her hair floating around her head in inky tendrils. Her eyes were yellow as a cat's, baleful and spilling their own inner light.
"The Dragon has released me," this apparition said with a throaty laugh that reached down into the souls of everyone within earshot and coiled there like a snake. "And now, Avalon shall be mine!"

**

Morgana staggered as the dark force of Hecate's presence surged out of her. In the wake of that spectral passage, she was left cold and trembling. The bargain, to which she'd agreed in exchange for being on hand to greet Demona and the thralls when they escaped the Dragon's realm, was now fulfilled. She'd brought Hecate to Avalon, unleashed this terrible power, and as everyone realized the depths of this new peril, they forgot all about one unassuming woman.
Puck made a sour face. "Lovely. Elisa, Brooklyn, everybody, great to see you again but I think you'd better scoot, and scoot now. This is no place for mortals."
"I'm not going anywhere without Amber," declared Elisa.
"Enough chatter!" Hecate thrust her blue-tinged arms skyward. "Where is Oberon? Does he dare face me, or does he send his imps while he cowers?"
"Oberon is here," the lord of Avalon said, manifesting in a chilly glacial light. "You overstep yourself again, Hecate. We are not amused."
"I did not come to bring you amusement," she said. "I come to bring you death."
With that, with no further preamble, she swept her hands around and ended with them clasped, arms outstretched, index fingers pointing. A lance of pure blackness stabbed out, impaling Oberon and carrying him, like a bug on a pin, backward into the side of a mountain.
His scream was terrible to hear.
Around them, chaos reigned. Avalon's court would have known the instant Hecate materialized, and were appearing in a variety of magical effects to meet this challenging intruder.
"Shall we again?" Hecate called strongly. As she spoke, an army of phantom soldiers, ghosts of the damned, sprang silently up behind her. "Shall we do battle again, and deplete the magic of Avalon until it can sustain none of our kind? What say you, oh Children? Having finally returned from your long exile to sup and sip once more at the font of Avalon's sweet ambrosial power, are you willing to see it drained away? Are you willing to be sent back into the mortal world? There, where you dawdled and played and grew weak, lax, and diminished? While I, seemingly imprisoned, grew strong? Stand with Oberon, and even if you defeat me, it will be at that terrible cost. Join me, or merely abstain, and I promise you amnesty."
At this, more than one of them faltered, and they looked at one another in furtive, slinking fashion. Weapons which had been upraised defiantly now sagged in doubt.
"They would not fail us!" Oberon announced as he drew himself wobblingly upright. He glared hotly at those nearest him. But only Titania, garbed as a warrior-queen and standing tall in a chariot drawn by winged unicorns, met his gaze steadily.
"Or is Oberon too weak to face me himself?" taunted Hecate. "Too afraid?"
By answer, he began to increase in height, wind snapping his cape and frost spinning about him. "Oberon does not fear the likes of you, and shall show you the meaning of weakness!"
As Morgana watched in avid admiration, even a gloating glee, she felt her concentration slip. And Broadway, despite his bulk and apparent slowness of wit, wasted no time acting on his new freedom.
He swung at her, one aquamarine fist the size of a ham. The blow landed squarely on her solar plexus and knocked her to the ground. She sucked desperately for the breath that had been driven from her, curled around the throbbing agony of her midsection.
Elektra darted in quick, and seized the Wand from Morgana's nerveless fingers. The wrath in her sunset-orange eyes was such that Morgana thought she was going to snap the Wand over her knee, and tried to brace herself for the inevitable disaster.
But Elektra was too wise for that. She thrust the Wand through the braided cord that belted her slim waist and stepped back as Broadway, his genial face contorted in rage, hauled Morgana up and held her, feet dangling, in the air.
Neither Hecate nor any of the other immortals noticed, no more than a man might have given attention to the busy scramble of ants beneath his feet. Oberon and Hecate had swelled to titanic size, him in blue and white and ice, her in blue and black and smoke
The rest of the mortals, keenly aware that they'd blundered into something far beyond their abilities, stood and stared at the spectacle above. All save Elisa Maza and cousin Sebastian, who were busy by a formation of richly colored amber at the base of a tree.
And Arthur.
Excalibur drawn and shining with white fire, he stalked toward Morgana with his jaw grimly set.
"No more of your mischief, sister," he said.
"Fool, I do not need the Wand for this!" Morgana hissed, and clamped one hand on Broadway's brow. He howled as the spell burrowed and blasted into his brain.
Arthur thrust.
Broadway pivoted, carrying Morgana out of the path of the blade and bringing himself into it. Elektra cried out in horror as Excalibur bit deep. Blood welled, thick and dark, from Broadway's chest. He dropped Morgana, who fell to hands and knees, and swayed on his feet as he tried to staunch the flow.
"No!" said Arthur, and let go of the sword.
Critically injured though he was, Broadway's eyes flared and he lunged at Arthur. Brooklyn and Griff intervened, and the scuffle was almost an even match because they had superior numbers, but were trying to subdue him harmlessly, while Broadway was under Morgana's power and able to lash out with impunity. Morgana dashed around them and came up against Elektra.
Claws slashed, splitting Morgana's cheek into red flaps. She threw herself into Elektra, knotting her hand in long brown hair and yanking. With her other hand, she fumbled for the Wand, where it had gone askew in Elektra's belt.
Another gargoyle, an unfamiliar rust-colored male, tore them apart. Elektra slashed again, but Morgana ducked her head and sustained the gashes above the ear instead of across the face. And then, mad at herself for her own stupidity in resorting to a brawl when she had magic at her disposal, she called up a crushing fist of invisible strength and hammered them both into the ground.
Sparing a look – Hecate had beaten Oberon back and was harrying him mercilessly with bolt after bolt of that black deathlight, while he tried vainly to counter with warding spells and attacks of his own – Morgana veered around the crumpled gargoyles and ran. Her intent was to get away from this mess and transport herself home.
But not without the Wand!
She turned back.
The young doe-gargoyle, still a mess from head to tail with gummy glue and dried leaves, blocked her way. A fireball missed Morgana by inches, searing her with the hot wind of its passage and crisping the ends of her hair.
By response, she scooped-shoved the heels of her hands at the earth, and brought up a great cresting tidal wave of it that swept toward the female. The rust-red male called out a warning and leapt, bearing the doe to safety. The toppling fringes of the wave of earth found no target but Elektra, burying her but by no means crushing her. Morgana stamped her foot furiously.
A finger tapped her on the shoulder.
She whirled, and there was her cousin. He looked very much like a St. John, with his blond hair and his eyes that might have been blue but looked jade-green in the strange lights of the battle. More like a St. John than she did, and so clean and neatly-kept while she was smudged and tattered from her efforts that she wanted to bury him in the heap of loose soil and stones as well.
"Your magic is no match for mine," she said harshly.
"It doesn't need to be. The little I know will do."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can't undo Titania's spell," Sebastian said, and over his shoulder Morgana saw Elisa Maza beating uselessly at the amber formation. "But I can effect a swap."

**

"Broadway, stop, it's us!" Brooklyn said as he and Griff warded off blows.
Blood was pouring in a steady freshet from Broadway's chest, but it didn't slow him down. He fought like a wild thing, dishing out one painful punch after another even when Arthur joined them in trying to wrestle him to the ground. To Brooklyn's additional dismay, little Jake, whose head had to be spinning from all this craziness, came rushing up to help. Full marks for guts, the kid had guts, got to give him that, but …
"No, Jake!" he ordered, swiping the kid back with his tail. "Let us handle this!"
Overhead, some colossal to-do was going on, and Brooklyn didn't really care. As far as he was concerned, the real battle had nothing to do with Oberon and everything to do with whether or not they could take Broadway down before he bled out and went death-gravel on them. He caught sight of Elektra, digging her way from under what looked like a dumptruck load of dirt, the Avalonian male helping the deerlike female up, and past them, Sebastian confronting the little bitch who'd done all this.
Then Morgana turned into Amber, and all the fight went out of Broadway.
"It's a trick!" Brooklyn yelled, seeing Elisa running toward Amber, who was tottering and looking dazed. "Elisa, don't, it's a trick!"
Elektra pushed past him, elbowed Griff out of the way, and fell to her knees beside Broadway. He, weeping in huge heaving watery gasps, tried to shrug her off. She would have none of it. Heedless of his protests, she put her arms around Broadway and would not let him go. Her low, pleasant voice murmured ceaselessly to him. As he broke down, hiding his head in his hands, she cradled him to her like a hatchling and lifted her tear-filled eyes to Arthur.
"Thy sword," she said, reverting to the archaic speech she used under stress. "'Tis said that the scabbard is an item of power as well, of healing power. If so, I pray thee …"
"Say no more," Arthur said, unbuckling the tooled leather belt that went so oddly with his business suit. He touched the tip of the gem-studded scabbard to Broadway's chest, and a golden glow ran from it to pool along the gored wound.
Trusting that they were taking care of things here, Brooklyn raced to Elisa and the Amber that had to be an illusion. But Sebastian was sitting down, exhausted, his hair mussed and falling over his glasses, and he didn't seem the least bit alarmed. And the girl who looked like Amber was unconscious, showing no signs of being an illusion, while Elisa patted at her and tried to revive her.
"Where's Morgana?" Brooklyn asked.
Sebastian pointed. "In there."
When Elisa nodded, Brooklyn stepped closer to have a look. There, deep within the honey-gold translucent solidity of the amber, was Morgana. Her expression was frozen in dawning shock, her arms partially raised as if in an attempt to ward something off.
"Dad …?"
He turned to Jake, poor bewildered Jake. An explanation was probably in order, but Brooklyn had no idea where to begin. And it wasn't exactly the time, either. Because it looked more and more like Hecate was winning, and nobody was jumping in to give Oberon any help.
That was when ten shots rang out in rapid succession.
All ten plowed into Hecate, cold iron ripping through her smoky flesh. She shrieked and writhed, gushing misty ectoplasmic stuff from the tight cluster of bullet holes – you could have covered them with a dinner plate – and before their eyes she started to shrivel and age and wither.
"Nice grouping," Brooklyn said, grinning at Elisa.
But Elisa wasn't holding the gun. Elisa was checking her empty shoulder holster and looking around in a panic.
The gun, smoking, thumped to the grass. The hands that had been holding it, also smoking, were attached to Puck. He was much the worse for wear, a wizened gnome with deep lines in his skin and his hair more of a brittle yellow-white than a lustrous frost, and his sticklike limbs wouldn't support even his scant weight.
Sebastian reached him first, drew back with a sympathetic grimace from the blistered, blackened, peeling mess of Puck's hands.
"Do you think," rasped Puck, "that'll make up for defying him all those times?"
Without waiting for an answer, he keeled over.

**

Amber Maza remembered taking a deep breath as the thick, honeylike substance flowed over her face, and her last conscious thought had been a fervent wish that this would work.
The next thing she knew, she was opening her eyes to a scene of total chaos. Everyone on Avalon was here, fae and gargoyles alike, going toe-to-toe with a host that looked to have come straight from Hell – it brought back childhood memories of Devil's Night in a chilling rush. All it needed was the Sisterhood to make things complete.
"What …?" she choked out, and clutched at her head because she felt like a thousand years were trying to catch up with her all at once.
Someone held her. "Amber. Amber. It's okay. I'm here."
"Zaza? Zaza, it's really you! But … what's going on?"
She saw some of her clan too, Brooklyn and Elektra and Broadway, but they weren't in on the fighting. Neither were Griff or King Arthur.
It occurred to Amber then, with an awful pang of grief, that her friend Cobalt, and Old-Mother, and all the friends she'd left behind in the 10th century, were gone. Yet it was hard to be too distressed. She'd known that was the price she'd pay for wanting to return to her own time.
"What's happening here?" Amber asked in soft awe, viewing the carnage.
"Once Puck shot Hecate and saved Oberon," Elisa said, "her army attacked and Avalon's had to defend itself. The tide's turned, though, now that the gargoyles are here. We're winning."
"That's good," Amber said faintly. Her thoughts struggled through a brain that was inch-deep in cobwebs. "It'll probably all make sense once someone tells me what's going on."

**

"Cold iron," Puck said, wincing as Sebastian wrapped his hand in the pliant leaf of a Guatemalan medicinal plant that had taken to Avalon's fertile soil with such vigor that it was crowding out many an indigenous species. "Never touch the stuff, son. Bad for you."
"Do as I say, not as I do?" Sebastian quirked a blond eyebrow.
"One of the tenets of parenting. How's your mother?"
Sebastian shrugged. "Terrorizing her students as usual. Butting heads with Patricia because they're so much alike. Keeping busy with the Illuminati. She misses Owen, though. Not that she'd admit it. We all miss Owen."
"So do I," Puck said with a sigh. "I really liked that stuffy stick-in-the-mud. I miss the rest of you, too. We had some good times around that old castle. Best ever."
"Can't you come back?"
"Maybe someday." He had recovered most of his youthful, elfin aspect, and grinned. "In the meantime, I'm trusting you to look after things for me."

**

Oberon was too indisposed to bother with the mortals, but Titania swept down in her chariot after seeing her lord and husband safely back to the palace, where he'd be ministered to and cared for until he fully regained his strength.
It had been close, closer than he'd ever want to say, and to Titania's surprise, the thought of losing him had struck a pang in her heart. Oh, it would have been bad losing Avalon to Hecate's rule, too, of course, but this hidden affection for Oberon ran deeper than she'd suspected.
The visitors from the outside world – oh, clever boys, to have devised such a plan to bring them here and circumvent Oberon's ward around Avalon! – had gathered at the castle where the gargoyles dwelt, doubtless feeling more at home there than among the gods. Mai, too, was in attendance, visiting cheerily with Elisa and Amber.
"Avalon owes you a great debt," Titania said, once all eyes were focused on her. She wished Alexander could be among them; she missed her brilliant grandson almost as much as she missed her daughter. "Some might argue that your help in defeating Hecate and her phantoms is outweighed by the fact that you helped them to come here in the first place --"
Sebastian stirred in objection, and Titania quieted him with a benign smile.
"But I," she continued, "prefer only to offer my thanks. Morgana would have found some way here, and now she and Hecate are both contained. There shall be no more interference from either of them. As for the Wand, please see that it's returned to its rightful owner."
"You mean to see it back in the hands of a human sorceress?" asked Elektra, who hadn't left her mate's side since the end of the battle. He had been healed, but he bore a white scar like a comet and probably always would. "After all of this?"
"I mean to see it in the hands of my grandson's bride-to-be," corrected Titania. "They'll do great deeds one day, those two, and their children should be a force to reckon with."
"That's what worries me," said Elisa in an undertone.
"Queen Titania," Amber said hesitantly, "thank you. For … for everything."
"You are welcome, child." Titania's smile faded and she looked around seriously at them. "I shall send you home, but the barrier across the Sea of Mists will still remain. Although Hecate has been beaten, although the battle's been won, the war is not yet over. I warn you all to be on your guard. The Dragon won't give up easily. Be mindful, be wary, and be well."
Arthur Pendragon bowed to her. "By your leave, good lady, we shall, but we'd best be returning to where we belong before our world speeds past us. We've all left unfinished business on the other side."
"I'll see you on your way," Titania said.
They said their farewells to the clan, Elektra having exclaimed delightedly over the eggs and not done too much bragging about their healthy hatchlings back home. Embraces were exchanged, and on more than one gargoyle face, Titania saw a sort of envy. On one in particular, that look changed to one of resolve, and rust-red Zachariah stepped forward. Fawn saw him, and dipped her head to hide a shy smile that was missed by no one.
Princess Katherine and King Arthur shared a knowing, paternal nod.

**

March 10th, 2018

"We ought to do something," Lexington said. "How long do we have to wait?"
Aiden touched his shoulder. "Remember the time difference. Even a day on Avalon is almost a month here."
"A month!" He shook his head. "It's been four days already, and no sign of them. No sign of Broadway, either. I can't believe he would have done it. Patricia must be wrong. Why would he take her wand?"
"He knows what trouble that thing can cause," Aiden said, grimacing ruefully in remembrance. "At least, when I had it."
They looked up, to where Goliath perched in his thinker's pose. He'd spent the past nights there, ever since Elisa and the others left, ever since Broadway turned up missing. Alex and Patricia had kept closeted in the pocket universe Alex called his office, trying to stretch their awareness across dimensions. It was all very fine and technical, or would have been if technology had anything to do with it. Since this was magic, Lex figured he'd just let the professionals sort it out.
Hudson had the hatchlings down in the hall, training as usual, every effort being made to keep the nightly routine. But perceptive youngsters that they were, they'd noticed the absences. Malcolm especially, since both of his parents were away and didn't come to stand with him and tuck him in every morning. Angela, who had been improving and coming out of her depression since Old-Mother's visit, was slipping back, anxious over Brooklyn and hardly willing to let Kathe out of her sight.
To make matters even more interesting, they'd had a message waiting from the London clan, asking if, just by chance, they'd happened to have heard from Arthur or Griff. It seemed they, plus one of the younger generation whom Aiden remembered meeting during one of those aforementioned troublesome episodes with Hecate's Wand, had also taken an unscheduled leave of absence.
"There ought to be something we can do," Lex said, returning to his original scripture.
"All we can do is wait and see," Aiden said.
He drummed his heels against the low wall upon which he sat, fretting and grousing until she asked him what else was bothering him.
"If they don't come back," Lex said with difficulty, "Brooklyn and Broadway … don't you see what that means?"
"The trio's down to one?" she said, trying to make light of it.
"That too, but … I'll have to be second-in-command! Angela's nowhere near fit for it. Unless you --"
"Me? Lexington, are you nuts? Goliath would put one of the kids in charge before he'd look to me and you know it."
"It's a stupid thing to be worrying about. I just can't help it. I don't want to be second-in-command. I never did. Not even when he was evaluating us, way back then. I acted like it, sure, but it was all for show."
She hugged him, resting her cheek on the smooth skin of his head. "It'll be all right. They'll come back. I know they will."
"Yeah," he said, unconvinced.
But a few minutes later, twinkling high in the sky over Manhattan, a green light appeared and descended rapidly toward the castle. It went through Aiden's wards unimpeded, triggered none of the building's automated defenses, and settled into the courtyard like a giant pearlescent green soap bubble. And, like a soap bubble, it popped.
Several figures stood where the bubble had been. More than the original four who'd left, even more than the five they had expected and hoped to see come home. Aiden and Lex dove, arms out so that their webbed wings could catch the air. Although they were closer, and normally faster, Goliath beat them to the courtyard and had Elisa and Amber one in each arm by the time they touched down.
Everyone else showed up from all points of the compass, Alexander making the best entrance in a gaudy display of fiery teleportation that mimicked the look of the Phoenix Gate. Angela was nearly hysterical with relief as she threw herself upon Brooklyn, overbearing him and kissing him all over his beak before he'd even hit the ground.
"They found Broadway!" Lex cheered to Aiden.
"And Arthur, Griff, and Fawn," she said.
"And …"
Once that initial spate of greetings was done, all eyes turned curiously to the two that none of them recognized. Well, not quite none of them; Angela hailed the red male with the raptor claws as Zachariah, one of her rookery brothers from Avalon. But the hatchling, who was staring around wide-eyed at this teeming clan, he was a stranger.
Hudson and the rest of the little ones had arrived, and they were especially interested in this new arrival. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis surrounded him, sizing him up, their chests puffed and wings spread in an attempt to make themselves look bigger. Finella, who certainly didn't take after her mother in some ways, giggled and batted her eyelashes at him and fluffed her yellow ringlets.
Lex, unable to put words to the thought that had come busting into his head, looked at Aiden. She looked back.
Goliath cut through the ruckus with a roar that silenced them all. By now, even Angela had left off her enthusiastic kisses and was, without moving her head, switching her eyes from Brooklyn to the hatchling and back, and it was phenomenal to see all their suspicions slowly surface in her expression.
"I know what you're all thinking," Brooklyn said. "And I can explain."
They settled down to listen, knowing it was going to be a long, long night.

**

The End.



2001 Christine Morgan