|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
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?
"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, 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,
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
"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
"Perhaps, but … I daren't create
"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.
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
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
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
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
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,"
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Oh, that's your game, is it?"
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"Who's there? Mario? Randy?" He
peered in her direction.
"I am Morgana," she said. "Who
His demeanor changed. He eyed
her in what was almost a leer. "Well, well, well. Out all by your lonesome,
"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
"Got that right."
"As it happens, they're no friends
of mine either."
"Fox's son. Titania's grandson.
How did Oberon miss you when the time of the Gathering came?"
He looked at her blankly. "Say
"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
"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,"
"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
"What was that?" gasped
"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
"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
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,
"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."
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,
"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
"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
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.
"No," Griff choked out. He set
his ear to Arthur's chest, and closed his eyes in relief. "He's alive.
Sleeping, but alive."
"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
"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,"
"I don't see how you could possibly
know that," Sebastian began in a pompous tone, but Elektra interrupted.
"Nay, 'tis true." She pointed.
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
"Want to go investigate?" asked
"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
"There is no Phoenix Gate," Sebastian
"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
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
"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
"What's the matter, Broadway?"
she asked sweetly. "Don't like betraying your clan?"
"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
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
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,
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
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
"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
"Why, it's my cousin," the blond
man said with no kin-warmth whatsoever.
"That doesn't belong to you. That'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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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
"It's true," she whispered. "It
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
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
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
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.
Excalibur drawn and shining with
white fire, he stalked toward Morgana with his jaw grimly set.
"No more of your mischief, sister,"
"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.
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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"And Arthur, Griff, and Fawn,"
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
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.