The Dissidents: Passages
Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


Author's note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are used here without their creators' knowledge
or consent. All other characters property of the author. "The Dissidents" is a spinoff series involving members of the Avalon
Clan. Some violence.

#1 in a series.



The dictionary one of Oberon's Children brought home to Avalon defines a tourmaline as "a mineral of variable color,
a gem of great beauty."
How, I wonder, did the Magus know that, a thousand years before Webster's was commonplace? Because in choosing
that name for my rookery sister, he was dead on.
Tourmaline, the gargoyle and not the gemstone, is indeed of great beauty. Her limbs are long and well-shaped, her bosom
high and proud, her hips what I've heard Thor refer to as "the cradle of an oarsman's pleasure." She has a lissome tail tipped
with a branching fin, and shapely single-taloned wing-struts from which spread membranes of glistening dark sheen.
She is also of variable color. Which is not to say that she is chameleonic, not that her emerald skin changes ... just that it
looks different depending on the lighting and surroundings. It might have a bluish hue at one time, then tend toward lighter green,
or even have violet undertones.
Her hair is the glossy black of a raven's wing, contained within the pair of undulant horns that curve back from the sides of
her brow ridge. A smaller set of horns grow from her cruelly lovely cheekbones, drawing the eye naturally to the exceptional
flare of her ears.
Yes, my sister Tourmaline is indeed variable and beautiful, like the gem that shares her name. And also like the gem, she can
be hard, cold, and brilliant. In battle, whether the mock combats we use to hone our skills or the infrequent occasions when real
danger threatens our clan, she is relentless and determined.
She is also imperious, blunt, and prone to lashing out either verbally or physically should something displease her ... and over
these past months that last occurrence has come with dismaying frequency. On the few occasions she has attempted to scheme,
her machinations are painfully obvious (at least to the dispassionate observer such as myself), and usually end badly. Witness the
situation that sprang up involving her mate-quest.
Since the time we were first able to glide and Gabriel was manifesting himself as the natural leader of our clan, Tourmaline had
her sights set on him. I daresay she's what the mainworlders -- by which I mean everyone not of Avalon -- would refer to as a
"status-conscious" female if one was inclined to be polite, or "gold-digging bitch" if one wasn't.
Being the leader's mate appealed to her. But by the time we grew old enough for such things, Gabriel's heart belonged to Angela.
Now, some of our rookery siblings are more inclined to share, and despite the Magus' assertion that our clan-parents remained in
monogamous pairs, we have lived a somewhat freer and easier life.
But for Tourmaline, the idea of sharing never set well. Failing to win Gabriel, she concluded that being the mate of his second-in-
command would be almost as good.
She might even have succeeded at that ... though when I think of her temper joined with Jericho's, I shudder. Theirs would have
either been an epic love of the sort of which stories and songs are written, or they would have killed each other in a vicious frenzy.
But just when she could have had Jericho in her clutches, the idyllic peace of Avalon was shattered thanks to the Archmage, the
Weird Sisters, and the timeless warriors Demona and MacBeth. Our Guardian, Tom, was able to bring the legendary Goliath here
to help us, and when all was said and done, Angela elected to leave Avalon and seek her place in the outer world.
What came next was not pretty. Tourmaline wasted no time breaking with Jericho to pursue Gabriel, but Gabriel, after determining
that he and Ophelia made better friends than lovers, chose a trio of close sisters to be co-mates. Twice spurned, Tourmaline tried to
make amends with Jericho, but he would have none of it ... and rightly so, in the opinion of this particular golden-hued male.
One thing having led to another, there was Tourmaline, one of the most comely of our sisters, mateless at a time that most of the
rest were pairing off with forthcoming breeding season in mind. This was all hampered, of course, by Goliath and Angela's sudden
return, the arrival of Oberon and Titania, and the beginnings of the Gathering ... an event which had dire repercussions for myself
especially, as I ended up leaping into a volcano in an effort to save all creation.
We lived so long on Avalon in uneventful harmony ... a thousand years by the reckoning of the outside world, forty or so years
by our count. Each hour here is a day there, so a day here is nearly a month there, and so on. Which means that it has been eight
years there, and only four months here, since the attack by the Archmage.
A lot has happened in those four months -- the Archmage, Goliath's visit, the wakening of the Sleeping King, the death of the
Magus, the ultimatums of Oberon and Titania, the Gathering, Princess Katherine and Tom visiting the fabled Manhattan one Christmas,
Jericho's departure ...
Let us not forget my adventure with the volcano, a noble foolishness that won me the acclaim of Queen Titania and brought rather
spectacular entertainment to Oberon's bring-your-own-mortal party if I do say so myself. Which coincided with the division of clan-
friend Beth Maza into her two distinct selves, one of which, Mai, remains on the island as Coyote's constant companion.
And then there was Elektra's leaving, and her return not long thereafter with Broadway. Which revealed her human-and-royal
heritage to us all, nearly cost the princess her life from the shock, and helped to set the stage for the current problems.
And of course the Archmage again, bringing about the deaths of Onyx, Opal, and Citrine ... and the banishment of the Weird
Sisters. And Gabriel's grief-stricken farewell.
All that in four months. We have been busy. But somehow in the midst of all, my rookery brothers and sisters managed to make
time to breed. It must be the fertile ambiance of Avalon, for it took less than two weeks for all of the participating females to 'spark.'
Which was something of a relief; it was getting very distracting even for those of us not actively involved in the fun.
But back to Tourmaline ... in the wake of her bitter rejection at Jericho's hands, she let herself be won by whoever could catch
her. Ezekiel barely lost out to Zachariah, but then Jacob delivered a stunning upset in the last moments of the race.
A dark-tan in hue with darker hair that sticks up from his pate as if in surprise or fright, Jacob is the smallest and quickest of our
brothers. His entire body rides the air currents on those maneuverable wings that reach from wrist to ankle, and outdistanced Zachariah
by a good ten body lengths in that final race. Of us all, only Fia is quicker, and had she put our brothers to such a test, the result
would have been many an exhausted male and swift Fia uncaught.
Poor Jacob ... for all the good it did him. Oh, he bred Tourmaline, and the egg or eggs she carries are sired by him ... but they are
mates no longer. If I counted, I'd say that the duration of their relationship from the time he caught her to the time she ruthlessly dismated
him was a week, if that. He has subsequently found some solace in an arrangement with Fia and Darach, although it has not yet been
formalized into a mated trio such as that enjoyed (often and rigorously, if I am any judge) by Garnet, Pericles, and Liam.
Tourmaline announced her intention to leave Avalon weeks ago, and was ready to go so far as to challenge for the right of leadership.
But then the tragedy arose that robbed us of Opal, Onyx, and Citrine, and spurred Gabriel to take his leave of us. With so many losses,
not even Tourmaline could bear to put more hurt to the heart of the Princess so suddenly.
But that was six weeks or so ago, and since then I have noticed an increasing restlessness on the part of my dissenting brothers and
sisters. Ophelia leads now, and with a wise and firm hand aided by Malachi's quiet strength and her own mate Niall's soothing artistic
temperament, yet I suspect not even they will be able to convince Tourmaline to stay should she insist on this course of action.
She has tried to win more support, but despite her best efforts, she remains with only her three closest cohorts. I have given much
thought to each of them in turn, wondering what it is that makes them so eager to leave this peaceable and wonderful place for the
uncertainties and dangers of the outside world.
Ezekiel is not much of a puzzle. Of all our brothers, he is the least adept on his mental feet, lacking in keenness of wit. Lacking
firm opinions of his own, he will give way to those who are more strident. And Tourmaline is nothing if not strident. Further, he competed
fiercely for her and lost, and likely harbors hopeful expectations now that she and Jacob have severed their ties. Swayed by her dominance,
lured by her beauty, he and his ironwood staff -- interpret as one will -- shall be at her disposal.
His skin is the faded light green of a willow leaf, but mottled darker in a way that lends itself to the pattern of light and shadow. The
shape of his brow ridge, rising roundedly as it does, gives him an expression of perpetual confusion that is not wholly unwarranted. He
wears his rust-brown hair straight and long, and favors loincloth and vest of woodland hues that let him blend well with the forest on his
frequent solitary excursions.
He has always been something of a loner, and I wonder if part of his willingness to follow Tourmaline might stem from the discomfort
he feels in larger groups. If that is the case, I fear he is in for a rude shock ... the outer world is far fuller and busier than Avalon, even
since the beginning of the Gathering.
Then again, the Gathering itself may be a reason for him to go. Even as a child, he was unnerved by the magic of this place, and when
thousands of Oberon's get descended upon us, drinking heartily and indulging themselves with sorcerous pranks on the nearest mortals
(our oh-so-lucky clan), it provided him a source of no small distress.
In the case of Hippolyta, I suspect her motive in part is to find a place where she'll not feel restricted. Her decision to remain mateless
was not a popular one. When the light shines on her copper skin and white-gold hair, it turns her to a creature of flame and bright metal.
At knee, elbow, and brow, her spurs and ridges rise in attractive serrated-shell formations. It is easy to see why she haunted the thoughts
of so many of my brothers.
Unlike shy and gentle Elektra, though, I suspect Hippolyta made her choice out of a desire to be unhampered by the demands of a mate
and hatchlings. She has ever been impulsive as the wind, filled with wanderlust and the thirst for excitement. A daredevil, even, some might
say. I have seen her laugh as a wild boar charges, waiting until the last possible moment to nock and draw ... and if her shot had missed or
only grazed, she would have been gored badly. But she did not miss. She rarely does.
In some ways, she reminds me of Jericho, being dissatisfied with the placidity of our life here. When the Archmage attacked, I recall
alarm and fear from most others, but the glow of challenge lit Hipployta's eyes like stars.
Icarus sits beside her, but the distance between them seems far greater than the inches it is. As hatchlings, they were inseparable
playmates, encouraging each other to feats of daring until Princess Katherine was ready to wring her hands in despair. But that ended
one horrid morning, when he bet her that he could race the sun. That bet, he lost ... and was never the same again.
Some say, and perhaps rightly so, that the Magus was unthinkingly callous in taking to calling Icarus by that name in the wake of the
accident that cost him most of each wing. To forever after capture that one senseless moment by branding him with a name reminiscent
of his doom and foolishness ... I cannot fathom why he did it. But now that we are old enough to understand the cruelty of it, the name
is set, and not even the princess can remember how Icarus was known before.
He keeps what is left of his wings tightly strapped to his back, and it is a rare occasion that he permits any of us to see more of them
than the ruined prows that jut up above his shoulders. But the way his right horn ends in a jagged edge, the uneven stump of his tail, and
the scrawled white weals of scar tissue that stand out so vividly against skin a shade of grey even darker than we all become by day ... he
does not hide those.
What is perhaps worst for Icarus is that he is gifted with a face rivaling that of any of Oberon's god-children. His are the features of
an Apollonian, set there amidst the wreckage, and permanently contorted by his pain and self-rage into a visage of damnation. I am told
that I am handsome by standards of humans and gargoyles alike, but I am confident that were all else equal, Icarus would better me by
any judging.
I do not know why he follows Tourmaline. In the past, she has been on occasion unkind to him, even mocking. Neither is he unduly
friendly with Ezekiel. And he and Hippolyta have never been close since the accident, as if he resents her for escaping all her risks unscathed.
Why would Icarus join them? If he sought healing for his broken body, he'd find no place more likely than Avalon now that the island
is populated again by its powerful natives. But to my knowledge, he has not approached any of them asking the favor. Nor has he ever
spoken of it in my presence.
What goes on behind the thick, bony brow ridge of my brother? What motives lurk beneath that stony bald crown? Is it that he can no
longer abide the pity of his siblings? Or is it something darker? Does he go because ... because Avalon is safe? Does he desire his own
destruction, and hope that the hazards of the outside world might provide him an honorable end to his torment?
That last strikes me the most plausible. That, yes, I could see.

**

"You've gathered enough wool to make me a new dress by now, Corwin."
A softness of carnation-pink filled my vision. I blinked and cleared my gaze, to behold my sister Miriam standing before me. She is a
creature of no straight lines nor angles, Miriam is ... more a matter of globes and curves flowing into one another. Even her brow ridge is
a row of half-circles rising through her pale ringlets like petals in a snowy meadow.
"Beg pardon, sister?"
"Woolgathering. Your mind was far afield."
"Ah ... so it was. What had you asked of me?"
"Only whether you wished more honey-cake. There is an abundance left, and if I must eat it all myself there will be even more of an
abundance of Miriam."
"Well, you are eating for two, or who knows how many." I playfully patted her ample midriff. "Or is it too soon to blame it on the eggs?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed grey Uriel watching with a mild scowl contorting his prominent beak. Tsk, brother, I thought,
you should know better.
"'Tis glad I am to finally have the excuse of eggs to blame it on," Miriam laughed. "But what say you? Yea or nay?"
"Nay, I am overfed already."
Smiling at me, she moved on to offer the sticky-sweet dessert to Deborah, who declined, and then Malachi. Our acting second-in-
command thanked her with a nod and tore into the treat without taking his eyes off Cassius and Ronan as they recounted the latest gossips
and outrages they'd witnessed during their evening's stint at Oberon's palace.
Of all our siblings, if there is any whose aspect non-gargoyles could consider most frightening, it is Cassius. His skin is black as a
moonless night, his hair the red of heart's blood behind a rising row of quill-like curving ivory horns. His tail ends in a vicious stinging
barb, and his wings are of unusual design, the struts framing and completely enclosing the membranes, adorned with still more ivory horns.
But for all of that, he is one of the most cheerful and life-loving of us. His unfailing optimism is undimmed in the face of his matelessness,
for he confidently believes that his true and destined love is out there somewhere. If any others of our clan were to leave these hallowed
shores, it may well be Cassius on that hopeful quest.
" ... how they got Hera to agree to it, I'll never know," Ronan said. He is vastly unlike Cassius in appearance, being of a blue-white
hue with hair of yellow and a solid bony plate of a brow-shield -- similar to those of Ophelia and Laertes only lacking the horns. Yet Ronan
is quick to laugh, deft of hand, and rarely without a smile. "But blindfold her they did, and then brought each of them in front of her, to guess
by the kiss which one was her husband."
He demonstrated with a kiss of his own upon his mate, quiet fan-winged Thisbe, who lowered her eyes demurely.
"She disqualified Raven straightaway," Cassius continued, "for the lack of a beard. But then she was stymied, and to the rollicking mirth
of all could not identify Zeus!" He slapped his thigh merrily. "The best bit being ... none of them were Zeus!"
Amid the laughter of the clan, Tourmaline shot to her feet and hurled her mug into the fire. The flames burned briefly blue with the residue
of the heady Avalonian wine.
"This is absurd!" she announced, searing us all with her gaze. "Look at yourselves! Look at this clan! Is this what we've come to?"
"Whatever do you mean?" Ruth asked, frowning.
"Sitting around with nothing better to do than laugh at fay follies! Isn't it bad enough that we've been reduced to Oberon's lapdogs? Now
even our own castle, our own home, is filled with mindless meaningless chatter about the Gathering!"
"It's amusing," Coira protested, tossing bronze-blond hair back from her diamond-shaped brow ridges.
"And we are Avalon's honor guard," rust-red Zachariah said, tapping his arched central toe-claw in irritation -- he has been vexed ever
since the breeding season left him among the mateless. "That's hardly made lapdogs of us."
"Honor guard!" she scoffed. "Against what? What is it, precisely, that we do?"
"Protect," Malachi said as if there was no need to even answer such a silly question.
"Protect," Tourmaline drawled. "Very good. We --" she brought all her talontips against her chest, "-- protect them." She pointed at
the shimmering melodious gleam of the palace. "Of course. Anything the gods of the ancient worlds cannot handle, we'll dispatch forthwith!
Be sensible, Malachi! All of you! Take a long hard look at what we've become!"
"What do you think we've become?" Ophelia demanded.
"Silly little mortals leaping to Oberon's bidding," Tourmaline retorted. "He calls us his 'honor guard' and has us stand about all night so
that the rest of the Gathered can see how great a lord is mighty Oberon. We are their objects of pity and ridicule."
"That is not so!" Carnelian said hotly.
I couldn't help hide a wry smile at his objection. Poor Carnelian ... hopelessly smitten Carnelian ... since the moment he'd first laid eyes
on the Lady of the Lake, his thoughts had gone toward little else. While she was too kind to hold him as an object of ridicule, she did look
on him with pity. Moreso since he has begun struggling to compose poems with which to win her affections.
"Isn't it? We dance attendance on Oberon all the livelong night. A guard ... he needs no guard! We are toys, pets! It's a wonder he
doesn't have us in fool's bells!"
Ophelia rose and the two of them faced each other across the circle. "You would do well not to insult Oberon. His temper has been
short lately."
"Aye, thanks to Gabriel," Ezekiel grumbled.
"Let us not forget Oberon's other trials of late," Pericles said, raising his eyes briefly from the star-chart he studied. I have never been
able to understand how he glides with wings such as his -- they hang from his arms and sides and across his back in loose drapes of
periwinkle skin, yet when the air catches them it somehow causes them to billow enough to soar the currents as well as any of us. "He's
been many times thwarted by mortals, and perhaps shamed by good Corwin's self-sacrifice."
"Leave me from this, brother, prithee!" I laughed. "I did only what needed be done."
"That for Oberon and his temper!" Tourmaline snapped her talons sharply. "Even were he sweet as honey, the point remains that to
them we are nothing but playthings and curiosities. Our fates matter less than those of ants to the Children. I am tired of surviving only
by Oberon's sufferance. The outer world must be better than this!"
"What could be better about it?" Miriam said, shocked. "We have all that we need here! A peaceful home, all our wants met and
provided for! Would you forsake that for the perils and uncertainties of the outer world?"
"And why not?" Tourmaline turned, pinning one after another of us with her glittering gaze. "We are gargoyles! Our ancestors did
not hide away in a safe haven! Our counterparts do not live soft and helpless! Besides, if Avalon is so much better, why have our brothers
and sisters not returned?"
"They've hardly been gone --" Ruth began.
Tourmaline overrode her. "Even Gabriel has passed years away from here, though it seems only a quarter of a year to us."
"He swore to return," Malachi said, glowering ominously in Ruth's defense.
"Whether he returns or not doesn't matter! We are not held here! We can be masters of our own fates, and I say 'tis time! I have
waited long enough."
"You would leave, just like that?" Jacob's voice was pained and filled with the tension that befalls an animal knowing it is trapped. "With
egg yet unlain, to take it out into an uncertain future?"
"Wait at least until the clutching," Ophelia said. She was doing her best to sound reasonable, not that I expected it to do any good. "An
arduous journey is no place for an egg, Jacob is right."
"You won't be able to glide well, or fight, or hunt for yourself," Uriel added.
Ezekiel picked up the ironwood staff that rested beside him. "She won't have to fight. I can do that."
"And I can hunt." Hippolyta plucked a wayward strand from the braid that hung beside her temple and used it to test the edge of her
arrowhead. "There will be no eggs thickening my waist and slowing me down!"
"We know," Zachariah snarled.
"You see?" said Tourmaline to Ophelia. "A clan looks out for one another."
"Fine words coming from you!" Jacob sprang up, shaking off Fia's cautioning hand. "What do you know of clan? You drove a
wedge between Gabriel and Jericho, you made Elektra leave us in tears, you take and discard mates with all the caring of a whore --"
And thus came a momentous event in our little clan's history ... the first time one of us struck another in anger. Given that she overtopped
and outweighed him, and that he was caught all unprepared, Tourmaline's backhand sufficed to send Jacob reeling.
The silence that followed was broken only by the crackle of the flames, the distant music from Oberon's palace, and Thisbe's soft gasp.
It lasted two heartbeats, and then we were all of us on our feet shouting. Some, like myself and Miriam, were calling for peace and sanity.
Others, like Zachariah and Garnet, were calling for battle.
Jacob shook himself and brought one astounded hand to his face, on which were three small cuts from the spurs on the backs of
Tourmaline's knuckles. He regarded the blood for a moment, his normally genial countenance twisting into a furious grimace, and then
launched himself at his erstwhile mate.
I shudder to think on what might have happened if Icarus and Darach had not intervened. Icarus interposed himself in front of Tourmaline,
who had been standing braced and ready in anticipation. Darach seized Jacob by the shoulders and stopped him mid-lunge. He spread his
eggplant-dark wings wide to block her from Jacob's sight.
Deborah chose that moment to use her greatest gift, that of her voice. While not so piercing as the keening wail of the Banshee, Laertes'
plain-featured mate can sustain a note of such high clarity as to crack crystal and make one's very bones feel as if they are about to shiver
apart. It quelled us all, and there we stood in turbulent tableau.
"I will not have this," Ophelia said in a soft yet carrying tone. "We are adults, siblings, clan. We have held together through many
adversities ... but it seems the worst wounds come from within. As you said, Tourmaline, we are not held here. If you wish to leave
Avalon, so be it. The risk and responsibility are yours, not only to yourself and your egg, but to whoever else might choose to go with you."
"I will go!" Ezekiel announced, moving to Tourmaline's side.
Icarus needed only take two steps back and to the right to be on her other side, and proclaimed himself by a deep rumbling of affirmation.
"I shall go as well." Hippolyta said.
Ophelia regarded the four of them, then glanced around at the rest of us. "Does anyone else wish to join them?"
"And be led by her?" Zachariah scoffed. "Not likely! Not even if I knew assuredly that the first place Avalon would send them was
a land populated all by luscious and eligible females!"
"Although," Cassius said thoughtfully, "betimes one must take destiny by the horns and seek out one's fate. Avalon is my beloved home
and you are all my beloved clan, but if I am to find the mate I know awaits me, why not seek her out?"
Ezekiel did not greet this news with unbridled enthusiasm, perhaps fearing that dark Cassius might suddenly prove a rival, but Tourmaline
smiled triumphantly.
"Welcome and well met, brother!" she said.
"I doubt any of the rest of my sisters are willing to risk their eggs," Ruth said, looking for agreement and finding it in the form of emphatic
nods and murmurings from the other females.
Except, of course, for violet-hued Elswyth who carried no egg, but for her the notion of leaving Avalon and her adored-from-afar elfin
lover was a prospect so abhorrent she needn't even give the matter consideration.
The same objection applied for Carnelian, the only other mateless male save myself who had not yet spoken up. And the rest of my
brothers quite naturally would no sooner leave their breeding mates behind than they would take up Morris dancing.
"I confess," I said, "that I, like Angela was, am curious about the outer world. All of those times when Guardian Tom would leave and
then return with tales of the marvels he saw did stir an interest in me to see them for myself, and since the Gathering I have heard many
more fabulous tales. Like Cassius, if there is a mate for me I must look beyond this island. I wonder as to what our other absent siblings
are up to. And I am weary of being hailed as a hero for my part in that matter with the Unformed. Thus, if I may, I'll go with you as well."
Now Ezekiel's lack of enthusiasm was aimed at me, with even less warrant. I could have assured him wholeheartedly that I had less
designs on haughty Tourmaline than a lion might have on a pot of jam.
"Lo, we are the shepherds of mateless males," Hippolyta snorted.
"Do you reconsider, Zachariah?" Tourmaline asked with exaggerated sweetness.
"Not even were you to beg me."
"Scant chance of that. Very well, then. Corwin, you are welcome. Our clan of six will depart once we've summoned and stocked a
suitable vessel. I will be glad to shake the sand of this island from my talons."
With that, she spun so that her wings flared grandly behind her, and stalked away. One by one, the others of her new clan followed,
until only I remained with the rest.
"Corwin, are you certain?" Ophelia asked.
"Someone must keep an eye on them," I said, knocking my knuckles fondly on the high bony crown of her ridge.
"If she has an ounce of wisdom she'll name you as her second-in-command."
Jacob exhaled grimly. "Not Tourmaline. She'll name Ezekiel, who won't dare contradict her. And she'll lead you to doom, Corwin.
She will. I know it."
"I don't mean to let that happen." I grinned. "Remember, brother ... vain as I am, I'll go to great lengths to keep my handsome hide
intact!"
"I know it's much to ask," he began hesitantly, and then faltered, unable to finish.
Fia came up to him, walking as she did on feet and the hooflike elbows of her wing struts, the pointed tips of her powder-blue wings
angled up behind her. On land, her gait was clumsy, but in the air none could match her, and she excelled at skimming low over the waves
to snare fish with the tri-clawed grasping digits at the end of her tail. She had large and deep eyes, the better for seeing fleet shapes beneath
the water, and lifted them to me sadly.
"Tourmaline will never be a true rookery mother," she said. "Jacob might choose to form a trio with Darach and I, and if so our children
will be as his, but it would do him good to know that wherever in the world they might be, someone is looking after his own. Would you take
on that task, Corwin?"
"Gladly, sister. Gladly."

**

Three nights later, the moonrise found the six of us about to take our leave. Although a chill had settled between the majority of the clan
and Tourmaline's followers, our siblings still came to the shore to see us off. For Cassius and myself, if not the rest.
The princess and Guardian Tom came as well. Katherine, still frail from her ordeal some months past, was deeply saddened to see us go.
Tom cloaked his own sorrow in hearty advice and robust slaps to the shoulder and back. But it was plain to all that, like any parents, they
suffer the mix of pride and grief at seeing their children leave home.
We have obtained a craft of larger size than the customary skiff. Named Mists' Passage by Titania, it is a gift to us from that selfsame
queen. She bears particular goodwill in her heart for me, and seemed pleased to finally have the opportunity to grant me some of the reward
she felt I deserved.
Gracious Titania also saw to it that the vessel -- a shallow-bottomed craft with small covered cabin and sail in addition to steering poles --
was well-stocked with supplies. In addition to the foodstuffs, she provided a selection of maps, books, calendars, and atlases.
We are not what I would call well prepared for our adventure, being still largely ignorant of the science and technology of the outside
world. But we have heard much from Oberon's Children in their idle conversations, learned more from helpful Mai, and should not be a
fraction so surprised as Goliath's clan were when first they opened their eyes to a city of the twentieth century. We at least have some
inkling of what we're getting ourselves into.
The year there is 2003 according to Mai, whose way of having a foot in each world lets her stay aware of both. Depending on where
Avalon chooses to send us, we may arrive someplace where our kind is known and trusted, hated and feared, or shockingly alien.
I queried Titania as to that ... how is it that Avalon decides? How prescient, how aware, is this mystic isle? Whose purpose is served?
What defines the greater good?
Her answers were cryptic at best and failed to enlighten me. I sense part of it is no more than her capricious humor, delighting in my
frustration that I should be failing to ask the right questions while she knows full well what information it is that I seek. Behold the smug
mischief of the gods ...
Six of us, equipped and ready, the thrill of anticipation coursing in our veins. Mingled with it was fear, of course, though my companions
disguised it in overloud excitement.
We cannot know if we will ever see this isle again, these familiar and much-loved faces. We go fully aware that we are setting ourselves
forever apart from our siblings. The time that idles by so very slowly here will pass far quicker for us. Should we choose to return fifty years
older, with the weight of those years of experience upon us, we'll come back to an Avalon that has seen only two years go by.
It dizzies the mind to think on it. In fifty years, Tourmaline's children hatched in the outer world will be of mature age ... while their rookery
siblings here will still be eight years from breaking shell. By the time the eggs laid here do hatch, a quarter of a millennium will have passed in
the outer world, and those of us who have ventured forth will be long since gone to dust and gravel.
I saw these alarming thoughts in the eyes of my clan as we exchanged farewell embraces. In a way, it comforted to me to know that they
will remain as they are, that should I return I will do so to a place unchanged and to a clan still young and safe. More frightening for them,
knowing that time speeds on for those who leave.
For all of that, we conducted ourselves well, without much in the way of tears -- Thisbe wept, but it would have been more upsetting if
she did not, being Thisbe -- and with no last-minute pleas for us to reconsider.
A tremulous moment passed in which I felt certain I was not the only one seized by the sudden urge to turn from the ship and race back
to the arms of the clan. I noticed a quaver sweep over Icarus, but he firmed his jaw and breathed as deeply as the constricting bandages will
allow. Hippolyta wore a pensive frown unlike her usual challenge-hungry expression.
But Tourmaline never looked back as she climbed into the ship. Ezekiel, taking strength from her determination, followed. Cassius was
already at the prow, eager to embark upon his mate-quest, waving to those on shore and promising to come back someday and bring his
family to meet them. I could not help but smile at his antics.
We boarded our vessel. It seemed roomy enough now though how it will be should we be adrift upon it for weeks with no way to escape
the closeness of each other's company may be another story.
Icarus and I took up the steering-poles as Cassius and Hippolyta unfurled the sail. We pushed the ship away from the beach.
On the high bluff, a twinkle of golden-emerald light bloomed into the shape of Titania. Beside her, a whirlwind of dust and fog coalesced
into the buckskin-fringed Mai. They waved to us as the hull of the Mists' Passage slid free of the gritting sand.
Mai cupped her hand before her mouth and blew. The resultant breeze swelled our sail and helped speed us swiftly from the cove. It also
carried the voices of our siblings to us, their cries of good-bye, of come-back-soon, of remember-us.
We passed the rippling waves and onto the gently undulant cobalt of the open sea. The lights of Avalon, both the fires that blazed on the
clifftop braziers and the opalescent rainbow shimmer that surrounded Oberon's palace, dwindled behind us. Moonlight tracked silver, and
then became diffuse as the first ghostly wisps of fog began skirling across the water in their own mysterious and entertwined patterns. White
script on blue-black parchment ... spelling out our destinations in words we could not read.

**

"It clears!" Hippolyta called, her voice muffled as if she spoke through a wrapped veil of cotton. "We're coming through!"
From my spot at the rear of the ship, I could see no further than a wingspan away. At the very fringes of my vision, Icarus loomed as a
darker grey mass, holding to the steering-pole as if he feared something might surface and try to wrest it from his grip.
The mist parted around our prow like a gauzy curtain. As we emerged from it, the sea beneath us changed noticeably. No longer placid,
it heaved and dipped. A sudden snap of brisk wind belled the sail taut and flung the ship ahead over the whitecaps.
Cold drops spatted my face. The deck was soon slick with it, the sky overhead a solid blanket of darkness. The smells of salt, fish, and
elusive evergreen mingled with that of the rain.
I struggled with the steering-pole, though it only wagged useless in the unguessed depths. The wind snatched Tourmaline's commands from
her lips and tattered them into fragments of sound. Not that they would have done much good; what did any of us know about seamanship?
A wave slammed the side of our craft, tilting us nerve-wrackingly.
"Hold tight!" I shouted to Icarus.
He was far ahead of me, both arms clinging grimly to a post. The others did likewise and we let the storm have its way with us like a
resigned partner to an over-amorous lover. Not even daredevil Hippolyta tested her wings against this weather.
In a matter of minutes that seemed far longer than it probably was, the violent breath of the air slackened and the sea settled to a milder
rolling. Up and down, up and down, the bow of our ship soaring and falling in a manner that made us all reflexively try to spread our wings
even as our stomachs went giddy and unhappy.
When I dared, I let go my hold and made my precarious way to Tourmaline. "What now?"
"Those maps do us little good when we don't know where we are," she said, shaking soaked tresses out of her eyes. "Does anyone see
anything? Anything at all?"
We searched the horizons, and as the rain lessened still further we were able to pick out the glint of lights here and there, set against darker
masses that appeared to be islands. Another, behind us and in motion, seemed to belong to another vessel. It gave off a strange sound, a
distant but sustained glottal muttering roar that was like nothing we'd heard from the throat of any beast.
"That must be what they call a 'motor,' that noise," I concluded, "for it seems to lack sail, or oars."
Cassius cried out in astonished alarm.
Tourmaline and I spun toward him, our talons sliding on the deck. What we saw so amazed us that we could only stare.
Something had come up not far from us ... several somethings ... sleek fins and black bodies marked with patterns of white. A herd of
the creatures, rising to exhale lustily from mouths atop their heads.
Hippolyta leaned far over the side. "Some sort of whale, it seems."
"Careful!" snapped Tourmaline. "They might make a snack of you, sister."
Ezekiel held his staff at the ready, but the rest of us crowded close to watch in wonder as the whales paced us. Their grace was joyful
to behold, and we were sorry to see them go.
"Is this what we were meant to find?" Cassius wondered.
"I take it your destined mate is not among them?" I teased him.
"I prefer wings to fins, brother, don't you?"
"Oh, assuredly."
We were quite close to one of the islands now, and could make out the shape of a large house overlooking the water. A single light burned
on its long porch, and a pair of smaller lamps marked the end of a wooden dock.
"This seems as good a place as any to begin our introduction to the world," Tourmaline said.
"Do you think there are gargoyles here?" asked Ezekiel doubtfully.
"Yes, just what is it that we plan to do?" Hippolyta said. "We have left Avalon, but what do we seek? Not Angela, Gabriel, and the others,
surely."
Tourmaline barked a short laugh. "Surely. We go to find out own way. Establish a home, a clan, of our own."
"Befriend humans?" I suggested.
"If they are deserving."
Icarus poled us up to the dock, and Hippolyta was first to disembark. She grinned widely as she set foot upon the planks.
"For the first time, a place that is real, and not of magic!"
"Shh!" Cassius hissed. "Are we ready to confront humans? This is one of their dwellings, and remember, sister, we have never before met
any who did not already know about our kind."
"True," said Tourmaline. "We cannot know how they might react."
"What do you mean?" Hippolyta demanded. "That we skulk about, staying only to ourselves? I have come to explore the world, not hide
from it! The marvels that we have heard described by Broadway, and Mai, I wish to experience for myself!"
"I share that wish, but we must act with caution and discretion until we know what we're facing," I said.
She rolled her eyes and waited impatiently as the rest of us secured the Mists' Passage and one by one joined her on the dock. We
turned our attention curiously to the house, from which there had been no sign of activity.
A stone-paved path led up to the covered porch, which was made of redwood and extended the length of the building. The rest was
constructed from log timbers and river rock, a long two-story abode with three chimneys and many windows. To one side, a carriage of
the modern horseless sort was parked on a gravel roadway. All appeared dark and quiet, as if the household already slept or was vacant.
Hippolyta went boldly to a window and pressed her face to it. Anyone inside would have had a good view of her distinctly inhuman features,
but no commotion ensued. After remaining thus for several moments, she astounded us all by marching to the door and trying the knob.
It opened, and before Tourmaline could voice an objection, our impulsive sister entered the house.
"I'll go after her," I offered.
Hippolyta reappeared, waving. "No one is here!"
"We may as well all go, and get out of the rain," Tourmaline said resignedly. "Icarus, bid the boat conceal itself beneath the surface, until
we need it again."
So it was that we proceeded up the path and inside. It was a relief to be somewhere dry again; we rarely saw rain on Avalon and when
we did it tended to be of a mild and temperate variety.
Most of the bottom floor consisted of one spacious room. Several sofas covered in dark red and green plaid cushions were grouped around
a fireplace large enough to roast a whole stag. Warmth issued from a layer of ash-coated embers, and came quickly back to life when Ezekiel
stirred them and added wood from a scuttle on the hearth.
There was a gilt-framed portrait above the mantle, of a human family. The man, woman, and young boy were well-groomed and smiling.
The only other room downstairs was a brick-tiled kitchen, with a central butcher's block and hanging copper-bottomed pots. The air was
sweet with the scent of apples and fresh bread.
A flight of stairs led to an upper gallery, off of which opened six more rooms. I joined Hippolyta in exploring these, and we found nothing
living but for a tank of goldfish burbling to themselves in a bedchamber that by the look of it belonged to the child. It bemused me to discover,
scattered on the floor, several playthings in the shape of gargoyles.
"Look on this," I said to Hippolyta, showing her one. "When I flick this lever here, behold!" The toy's wings sprang to full extension.
"Strange," she concluded, and I agreed.
Off of the largest bedchamber was a final room, a book-lined study. It boasted several unsettling paintings on the walls: a lycanthropic young
woman silhouetted against a full moon, a knife and a silver-and-black pentagram disk resting atop what seemed to be a child-sized uniform-
dress of blue and white fabric, an elderly man seen from behind as a clawed spectral hand stretched toward the back of his neck, other images.
"Even stranger," I murmured.
Hippolyta nodded, brow ridges drawn low in consternation. "Might this be the lair of evil humans, dark sorcerers, enemies to our kind?"
"I hope not."
"If so, we know why we were sent here."
Something out the window caught my eye. Out on the water, the other boat that we had noticed behind us was closer to the island, and
appeared to be heading this way.
"Ah," I said. "This may prove a problem."
From the front door, Icarus called out a warning. We all regrouped downstairs, looking to our self-appointed leader.
"It seems the humans are returning," she said. "Who knows what they might do if they find us here?"
Hippolyta related our discoveries from upstairs, and reiterated her suspicion that these humans might be our enemies.
"Into the woods, then ... we shall wait there until we have a better idea of our situation."
The woods came close to the house, and beneath the trees we were sheltered from the worst of the rain, though instead of a constant
pelting we were splashed by larger, irregular collection of drippings that fell upon us from the boughs above.
From this new vantage point, we could see the boat slowing as it approached the dock. I was grateful Tourmaline had had the presence
of mind to conceal the Mists' Passage, for surely it wouldn't have escaped the humans' notice.
"There is another vessel," Cassius reported, peering intently. "A small one, perhaps the size of a skiff, drawing up alongside the first. I
see three humans in it. They are all dark-clad ... and something in their movements strikes me furtive."
"What is this?" Tourmaline scowled.
"Yes, I see it too," I said. "They are climbing aboard."
"Up to no good," Icarus said.
Thin beams appeared on the deck, handheld lights bobbing rapidly as if carried by someone in a hurry. Two of the humans vanished
from our view, the third remained on deck but we could not discern his actions.
And then, a thin scream like might come from the throat of a young girl, or child.
The humans reappeared, clambering down into their skiff. It pulled away at a high rate of speed, jouncing across the waves so badly
that I would not have been surprised to see the passengers catapulted out. When it was some distance from the other boat, it slewed
around to a halt and one of the humans raised something aloft in both hands.
A spark, a high arcing trail of smoky sparkling light, and a projectile struck on the deck of the larger boat. A flicker of orange burst
suddenly into a fire-rose. A flat and huge bang of false thunder rattled the night.
The skiff came about and sped away, so fast that now it was leaping from one swell to the next like a skipped stone.
The rear half of the larger craft was engulfed, smoke belching skyward. A despairing cry drilled into our ears, before being swallowed
in a second explosion.
"This must be why we're here," Hippolyta said, and charged through the trees toward the dock.
"Reckless idiot!" Tourmaline shouted, but went after her nonetheless.
"Come on!" I ordered the others, and ran in pursuit of the two females.
Hippolyta reached the end of the dock and off without slowing, in a graceful swan-dive that held her suspended mid-air for a timeless
moment before her wings caught the updraft. Tourmaline was only paces behind her, the rest of us bringing up the rear. Only Icarus stopped,
clenching his fists in frustration as we leaped one by one.
The voice, so young and starkly full of terror, shrieked for help, shrieked for Daddy, from the depths of the floating inferno.
Oil had been loosed upon the deck, igniting into rivers and lakes of fire that were not deterred in the slightest by the ongoing rainfall.
I glimpsed letters on the hull -- Jessica -- then choked as a billow of thick oily smoke surrounded me.
I came through with an ashen, greasy residue coating my skin, sinuses, lungs, and the inside of my mouth. Flames jumped at me like
a pack of enraged beasts.
A third explosion sent blazing shards of wood spraying out in a deadly hail. I flung a wing over my face just in time, stifling a cry as
smoldering splinters pierced the membranes. I was tossed in an airborne somersault, struggling to right myself.
Ezekiel dove past me, beating at the fire with his staff as if he thought it an enemy that could be pummeled into submission.
I could see no sign of my rookery sisters. No, there they were! Coughing, half-blinded, they had a man slung limply between them.
And Cassius, bearing a child in his arms, staggered close behind. The deck beneath them was breaking apart to reveal shimmering coal-
beds below.
I swooped low, my wake disrupting the smoke into roiling spirals, and hooked one hand under Tourmaline's right arm, the other under
Hippolyta's left. They held fast to their unconscious burden, and my momentum carried all of us to the edge and over.
Letting go of them, I wheeled on a wingtip. Cassius' foot plunged through the weakened deck, releasing a gout of blistering heat up his
leg. He roared in agony, but still turned his body to shelter the boy.
I landed as near him as I could, trying to balance where it looked most solid. Even so, the deck groaned and sagged with my added
weight. I wrenched Cassius' stuck leg free of its trap and dragged him to the side.
Just as we reached it, there came a fourth explosion, the largest yet. A shockwave slapped us cartwheeling. I lost my grip on Cassius
and struck with such pulverizing force that my only coherent thought was that I must have landed on a very large rock.
But it was the sea, clenching me in a briny fist of coldness that shocked the breath from my lungs in a wavery bubble. It at once soothed
and stung my pain-seared body.
I fought my way to the surface, spewing out salt water.
The Jessica was destroyed, nothing but scattered burning rubble quickly being doused as the pieces sank. A few yards from me,
Cassius surged halfway out of the water in a flailing frenzy of limbs.
"-- boy!" he gasped.
I cast about desperately. There were Tourmaline and Hippolyta; evidently I had given them enough of a boost to let them put their
own wings into use. They were gliding back toward us from the direction of the shore, where I could only assume they had just left the
man they'd rescued. And there was Ezekiel ... but where was the boy?
A floating tangle of hair answered my question. I swam that way and caught hold of a handful of it just as the boy's body slipped under.
I hauled him onto my shoulder, unable to tell if he lived or not, and stroked toward the dock.
By the time Icarus pulled me up, I wasn't all that certain whether I lived or not. I let Hippolyta take the boy from me and fell weakly
onto my side, fully aware now of all my injuries. My lungs, treated first to smoke and then to seawater, labored wretchedly. My head
pounded, my thoughts were fogged ... as if in the tumbling blast had so battered my brain against the inner walls of my skull that it had been
bruised to pudding.
Cassius was collapsed nearby. Singed and soaked, he looked even worse than I felt. His right leg and foot in particular were horrific,
his black skin blotched grey-white with the puffing domes of blisters.
"They're alive, man and boy, both alive," Hippolyta said. She looked from us to them and back again, then glanced wryly at Tourmaline.
"No Ruth to tend them ... what do we do?"
Oh, how keenly in that moment I missed sister Ruth's gentle physician's touch! And the mind-easing songs of Deborah and Laertes!
"Wait it out," Icarus said. "Wait until dawn."
"That'll not help the humans," Tourmaline said.
"Inside," I coughed. "Safer."
I was able to walk -- nay, stagger, in honesty -- with Hippolyta's shoulder to lean on. Icarus carried Cassius, while Tourmaline and
Ezekiel picked up the humans. We made a slow painful progression up the path and into the house.
Cassius sank onto a sofa and gingerly lowered his leg onto a hassock. His breath passed between clenched teeth in whistling gasps.
Ezekiel may not have been the most canny of us, but he knew when a draught of wine was called for. He went first to Cassius, and
then to me.
I took the proffered cup from him gladly, albeit shakily, and though my manners are normally sterling, I spilled more on my chest than
I got down my throat. Still, it was wonderful, sluicing away the sooty, salty taste. I began to feel almost myself again.
"Should we leave here?" Ezekiel said.
"Back to Avalon?" Tourmaline frowned. "Dawn will --"
"I meant leave here, this place, before more humans turn up."
"Someone will have seen the fire," I said, "and may come to investigate. Or, more likely, those villains who caused this might return to
check that their work was successful."
"It was the boy's cry we heard," Tourmaline said. "I found him trying to rouse his father, who had been struck in the head. He begged
me to help him, and then swooned as the smoke became overwhelming."
"He wasn't afraid?" Ezekiel asked. "Of gargoyles?"
Cassius, between wine taken in great pain-drowning gulps, said, "I doubt he noticed, or, noticing, cared."
I glanced at the portrait. "Was there no woman with them?"
"None that we saw," Hippolyta said, but I could tell that the idea disturbed her. She went to the window and looked out at the strewn
flotsam. "Nor did the boy mention one."
"What of them?" Ezekiel indicated the humans. "Who is to say what they might do when they revive? We cannot chance having foes
with us when dawn comes and we are at our most vulnerable!"
"They are hurt and hunted," I said. "We cannot abandon them."
Tourmaline nodded brusquely. "We shall not. We've saved their lives, and they owe us a debt of honor. If they do prove to be our
enemies, we'll deal with that later."
"And deal with their would-be killers, should they be fools enough to return!" Hippolyta added, her thrillseeking lusts whetted by the
adventure.

**
An outcry from below yanked me from my curious scrutiny of the dark paintings in the study. I hurried onto the gallery.
The man was awake, blinking groggily but alert, rubbing at his eyes as if he discredited what they showed him. He was of middle years,
with brown hair that had receded and greyed drastically since the portrait was done. His bedraggled and shocked state distanced him further
from that pleasantly-smiling likeness.
He looked from one gargoyle to the next. Cassius to Ezekiel to Icarus, and then to Tourmaline who came in from the kitchen. His eyes
grew wider with each stop, and a sound -- "uh-uh-uh" -- issued from his slackly parted lips.
Hippolyta emerged from the room at the end of the hall in a warrior's pounce, the sudden motion on the gallery drawing the man's gaze
upward. There he saw two more uninvited visitors in his house.
None of the others moved or spoke, no one sure how best to proceed. Diplomacy was not a strong point among most of my companions,
I had noticed ... of them all, only Cassius could make others readily feel at ease, and Cassius was too consumed with waiting out the night to
bring healing to his burnt leg to care much about anything else.
Which left it up to me. I offered up my most reassuring smile, making sure that I did not reveal too much fang, and was glad I had gone to
an effort to make myself presentable. "Be well, friend, we mean you no harm."
"Toby?" he asked, voice rich with fear.
I had been poised to say 'gargoyles,' explaining to him that we were neither angels nor demons, friends and protectors rather than foes.
This unexpected question threw me off, the word making no sense to me at first. Then understanding came.
"There," I said, tipping my head toward the boy.
He got up gingerly. Ezekiel got out of his way as he moved in a careful unsteady shuffle to kneel by the other sofa. He touched the boy's
face and wrist, slumped in relief when he found the flesh warm and the lifebeat strong.
Only then did he turn and look us over again, and ask what I had been ready to hear.
"Who ... what ...?"
"Gargoyles," I said. "We are gargoyles, and here to help." I introduced my siblings in turn, and Tourmaline gave me an encouraging
nod as if to say, go on.
"Gargoyles," the man said, his tone thoughtful. "Like they have in New York, that drove out the demons a couple of years ago?"
"We do have kin in New York," I said carefully, troubled by this mention of demons. "A place called Manhattan. But we have not
come from there."
"What do you want?"
"Shelter from the storm," Tourmaline said. "We have just saved your life, so it is the least you can offer."
He was taken aback. "Saved my life ... why? How? What happened?"
That one, I was ready for. I told him what we had seen, what we had done, and concluded with a question of my own. "Why did
these men seek your death?"
"This is incredible! I've never done anything to hurt anyone! I don't have enemies! Who would want to kill me?"
"Yet they did try," Tourmaline said. "You and your son would be dead now if they had their way."
"Who are they?" I asked. "What do they have against you?"
"Nothing! I don't know! God help me, I don't know!" He thumped weakly to a sitting position, Toby's hand clasped in his own.
"What do you remember?" I urged.
"We were coming back from Seattle, I heard something, turned around, and a man in a ski-mask was right there behind me. He ...
he hit me, and that was it!"
"And you have no idea why?" pressed Tourmaline.
"None!"
"Are you, or is the boy, heir to a kingdom?" Ezekiel asked.
The man goggled at him. "I'm a novelist. Toby's eleven."
"What of your wife?" I asked.
"Barb? What about her?"
"Was she with you? We found no woman on the boat."
"Oh ... no, she's dead."
"They killed her?" Hippolyta snarled.
His smile was both weary and sad. "She died three years ago. Ovarian cancer."
We lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, which was thankfully broken by the boy coughing, sitting up, and gaping at us in wide-eyed
wonder.
"They are!" he said, his voice a rusty croak. "Real gargoyles!"
"Toby, thank God, are you all right?" His father hugged him, but the boy was too busy trying to fill his eyes with us to return the embrace
more than absently.
"I yelled for help and they came! Real gargoyles! They really did! They saved us, Dad! Did we fly? Did you carry us? Did we really fly?"
"We swam," I told him with a low chuckle. "The boat exploded beneath us, knocked us into the water, and we swam."
"Though we carried your father," Hippolyta said. "To the dock at least."
"Wow, Dad, you lucky!"
"Lucky? I guess we are at that, lucky to be alive, but I wouldn't call anything else that happened tonight particularly lucky!"
"These men may come back," Tourmaline said. "You are still in danger."
"It must be some sort of mistake. I can't believe anyone would try to kill me!"
"Yet they did," she said. "And when they learn they failed they will try again."
"But why?"
"That's what we'd like to know," I said. "There must be some reason."
"Humans don't kill each other for sport, do they?" Ezekiel muttered.
"Nothing sporting in what they did," Hippolyta said.
"Real gargoyles, wow, wait until the guys at camp hear about this!"
"Toby ..."
"What?"
"Until we know what's going on, we can't tell anyone about this."
"But camp's not for five weeks!"
His father hushed him with a pat on the arm. "But you're right, Miss Tourmaline. We owe you our lives, we're in your debt, so feel
free to stay as long as you like."
For a man who'd had more than a brush with death only a little while before, he did his best to play the good host after tending to his
aching head and getting himself and Toby cleaned up and into fresh clothes.
He offered us a meal, taking things from an icebox and warming them in a small oven with a speed that nearly rivaled Avalon's larders
-- I understood now many of the references Broadway had made when he visited us -- and provided an ointment spray for Cassius that
dulled some of his pain.
He introduced himself as Ronald Jessec, and as he cooked he rambled about his past and his family in a way that led me to think he
rarely had other adults with which to converse, even ones as unusual as we.
"Before Barb died, this was only our vacation home," he said. "She was a professor of English Lit. at Wazzu" -- whatever that was,
"and I made my living at my computer. Horror novels. Pulp trash, which is why I use a pseudonym. But they pay the bills. Anyway, after,
I brought Toby out here. Thought we needed to get away from it all. I home-school him, send him to an academic and sports camp every
summer."
In all that he said, I could glean no reason why such a man would be marked for death. Unless vacation homes were such a treasured
rarity as to inspire murder. "You are a writer of books?"
He made a face part grin, part grimace. "Published two under my own name, which tanked. Amazingly few people want to read about
heartwarming Depression-era triumphs of the home and family. But I've sold eight Jessica Reynolds books, and they sell like mad bastards.
Always a market for sex, gore, and scary monsters."
"Could something in your books have earned you these enemies?"
"Book reviewers don't send hit men." He laughed, then sobered. "I'm sorry, Corwin ... I still can't believe this is all really happening.
I'm more than half convinced I'll wake up regretting having a spicy meatball sandwich for lunch, and this will have all turned out to be a
dream. Mysterious attackers, explosions, gargoyles ... it's all too much."
"I assure you, we are real, and it did happen."
"I know ... it's just pretty hard for me to wrap my head around it."
"But you and Toby will still be at risk. You cannot pretend it is a dream."
"It just makes no sense. What could I have done to make anyone want me dead? It's got to be some sort of a mistake."
"Yes," I said, believing that myself, "but what consolation will that be if they succeed? For the nonce, they will think they have and
you will be safe, but soon they will realize their error."
Ron shook his head, determined to disagree.
Hippolyta burst into the kitchen. "Other boats, Corwin, as you said. Come to investigate. We can see them even now, playing lights
across the water and scooping up what is left of the wreckage. Will they come here, do you think?"
Icarus came in behind her and loomed there. "They will. If you are wise, human, you will tell them nothing of attackers. Let them
believe it is the accident your enemies went to lengths to make it seem to be. All you know is this -- you remember little, dazed from
your injuries, but were somehow able to swim to shore with your son. So distressed were you that you did not think to summon help,
but brought the boy home to rest."
Hippolyta and I looked at him, incredulous at this lengthy speech from our normally taciturn brother. Yet his words had merit, and I
found myself nodding.
"And say nothing of gargoyles, or they will think you addled," I said. "We will hide ourselves."
"Promptly," Tourmaline said, sticking her head in. "They are coming to the dock."

**

In the darkness of a 'guest room,' we six strange guests huddled in silence and keened our ears to the voices below.
Ron followed the advice of Icarus, blaming his shaken state and foggy recollections on the trauma of the accident. Toby could not help
but claim that gargoyles had rescued them, but the investigators dismissed this as the confused excitement of his youth.
They wanted to take father and son to a hospital, but Ron declined, stating that neither of them were seriously hurt and would rather rest
peacefully at home.
I noted that one of the new arrivals, who answered to Agent Shaw, was particularly relentless in his questioning, demanding again and again
to know how it was that Ron and Toby had escaped the disaster.
"This Shaw knows something," Hippolyta whispered in my ear. "He may even be one of them, for he sounds to me more incensed than
concerned."
"As if to ask how dare they survive," I agreed softly.
Tourmaline jabbed me just above the base of my tail with a sharp talon and hissed at us to hush.
"We'll be contacting you with the results of our investigation, Mr. Jessec," Shaw said. "If you remember anything else, you can reach me
at this number. You also might want to reconsider having a doc take a look at the both of you. Can't be too careful."
"I'll call our family physician tomorrow," Ron promised, and after a few more exchanges, he closed the door behind them.
We waited until we heard a motor chug into life, and then Hippolyta could bear it no longer and eased the door open. Through the wide
windows, we could see their boat moving away from the dock.
Toby was halfway up the stairs, and waved. "The coast is clear!"
"They've gone," Ron said, pocketing the card that Shaw must have given him.
"Did you know any of them?" Tourmaline asked.
"No, why?" His eyebrows went up. "Oh, come on, you can't think that --"
"We're cautious, Ron, that's all," I said easily. "After all, we did save you and Toby, and it would make us look rather bad if something
else imperiled you right away."
"Explosions, gargoyles, and cops all in one night!" Toby crowed. "This is better than TV!"
"But I think you've had enough for now," Ron said. "It's way past your bedtime."
"Awwww, Dad! Can't I stay up until dawn to watch the gargoyles turn to stone?"
Ron laughed. "Kids ... I don't know where they get this stuff."
"But we do," Ezekiel said. "How'd you know that?"
"Everyone knows that," Toby said dramatically. "I know all about gargoyles."
"You do?" Ron asked.
"And it heals us," Cassius said, limping into the hall. "Thankfully."
"But dawn is still five hours away," Ron told his son. "You need your sleep."
"We'll wake at sunset," I said. "You can watch us then. It is, I'm told, much more interesting."
With that promise, Toby reluctantly got into his sleepclothes. But before he would permit himself to be tucked into bed, he insisted on
showing us his 'action figures,' 'comic books,' and other items featuring representations of gargoyles.
Most intriguing of these was a 'magazine' purporting to feature interviews and photographs of actual living gargoyles, and lo! when I
examined it, there were before me images and statements from Goliath, Elektra, and other members of their clan.
Yawning, sleepy and trying vainly to deny it, Toby finally settled into bed. I carried the magazine downstairs, where we took turns
reading through it.
"You must needs sleep too," Tourmaline said to Ron. "We can guard the house by night, but not by day."
"I don't know if I can," Ron confessed. "This has all been ... a little much. But if I don't try, I might just collapse on you."
He went to his bedroom, and the six of us remained below to wait for daybreak. The rain had passed, the storm blown away, and through
the fluffy tatters of the clouds a waxing moon peeked like a shy lover.

**

It yet lacked two hours until dawn, going by what Ron had told us, when I went into the kitchen in search of something to slake my thirst,
and glanced out the window beside the back door to see a man-shaped shadow detach itself from the larger shadows of the woods.
My every nerve came alive. I set down the glass from which I'd taken but a single sip, and slid myself to the wall where I would be less
visible while still having a view.
A second man-shape joined the first, both of them crouched now beside the motored carriage. I could not see well enough to determine
if they were up to mischief with the machine.
Moments later, though, they stealthily approached the house and I could hear snatches of their quiet words to each other.
"... to inhale the gas ... bronchial reaction ... rapid swelling ... like a delayed ... inhalation."
" ... wakes up?"
"... kid, hold him ... gas anyway ... Jessec, can shoot ... make it look ... remorse for not getting the boy to a doctor."
They were right outside the door now, and I could not alert my siblings without alerting the men as well. The element of surprise and the
element of shock would be my most potent allies in the first crucial seconds that were to follow.
The door was locked, but the lock clicked almost instantly. The first man pushed the door open and I saw some sort of device in his hand
that vaguely resembled Elisa Maza's gun -- before we had melted it down for its reincarnation as a bell.
He would see me the moment he came in, for with my golden skin and white hair I was not as well-designed for blending into the dimly lit
surroundings as Cassius or Icarus would have been.
And so I seized the initiative in the split second in which the man was about to become aware of me.
I leapt forward with a great roar, flaring my wings to their fullest, and grabbed him. One fist manacled his forearm, grinding the bones
together and forcing him to drop the gun-thing. My other set of claws grated on wiry fibers woven through his clothes but I clenched a handful
anyway and hauled him off his feet.
He bellowed as I whirled and propelled him at the array of pots and pans. The crash and clatter of copper ringing on brick was deafening,
a cacophony that went on and on.
I spun back to the other man, ready to spring to the side should he be about to fire on me. Instead, he was gone.
Behind me, more pots gonged and clanged as the first man was struggling to right himself. Hippolyta came rushing in like a berserker, bow
in one hand and arrow in the other but gripped not as if she meant to nock it but meant instead to use it to stab. Ezekiel was close on her heels.
Confident that they could handle the first man, I raced out the back door in pursuit of the other.
More fool, me!
He was waiting just beside the door, flat-backed against the outer wall of the house, and as I conveniently charged past him, he shot me.
It was not the first time; the enspelled Demona had scored my thigh with a lightning-weapon during the Archmage's invasion of Avalon. But
this was entirely different. It was like being kicked in the shoulder by an enraged, steel-shod Asgardian heavy warhorse. A hot white lance of
pain impaled me all down the left side.
I hit the damp earth hard enough to impress the outline of my body, and lay there with a face full of mud and loam, every muscle so locked
with agony that I could not even draw breath. A red tide washed over my vision just as surely as a red tide was washing over my back.
With monumental effort, I raised my head and saw my doom coming at me. The muzzle of the gun swelled in my sight, a monstrous mouth
meaning to devour me, a cavernous tunnel meaning to swallow me up.
And I, unable to move, would have to lie here in the mud and take it.
But then the man halted, stiffening, his back arched. His finger tightened convulsively on the trigger, the thunderous shot blowing a crater in
the earth only inches from my body.
The man tottered a step forward and half-turned, and as he did so the faint light glistened on an arrowhead and seven inches of blood-
slicked yew protruding from just beneath his sternum. He clutched at it as if unable to believe it was an arrow that transfixed his torso.
Making a hideous gurgling sound in his throat, the man raised the gun again.
A second arrow took him in the hollow just behind the jaw and below the ear, a spot oft found sensitive by lovers. But this steel kiss
passed through his neck and out the other side, loosing a scarlet flood.
He fell face-down and did not move.
I craned myself to look, and beheld Hippolyta braced in shooter's stance, a third and unnecessary arrow already drawn. Her expression
was one of mingled horror and crazed exhilaration. Her breasts rose and fell in frantic heaves. Had any of my brothers who had so ardently
sought her affections been able to see her in that moment, their hearts might have ruptured with yearning.
"My thanks, sister," I gasped. I let my head fall back into the growing puddle around me ... and knew no more.

**

I revived when they set me down in front of the fire. The pain raved and snarled through me like a beast, bringing me to full consciousness
with a shout partly composed of incredulity that I lived to experience the pain at all.
"Corwin!" Tourmaline hovered over me, her skin faded to a drab and sickly green. "By the Dragon, Corwin! What were you doing? What
were you thinking?"
A swallow -- muddy rainwater flavored with my own blood -- wrenched my throat sorely. "Protecting?"
Ron clicked open the metal box of his first aid kit, which had already seen more use this night than it had in all the previous time he'd owned
it. "I don't know if there's anything we can do," he said, whey-faced and trembling. "He needs a doctor ... hospital ... surgery."
"Look at him, human! We cannot take him to one of your hospitals! Do what you can!"
My confidence was not mustered when the first thing Ron did was to open a book entitled The Writer's Guide to Emergency Medicine.
"Attackers?" I asked weakly.
"Ezekiel rendered one senseless." Her gaze flicked, dark and troubled, toward the kitchen. "The other ..."
"Dead," Hippolyta said, from somewhere beyond my field of vision. She sounded as I had never heard her before, voice high and thin and
shrieky. "Dead, I killed him, killed him, he is dead --"
"You've killed before," Tourmaline said impatiently.
"Animals, only animals, hunting for food, never like this!"
Icarus soothed her with wordless rumblings that receded as he led her out of the room.
Ron did something to my shoulder and the world went briefly grey. When I returned to myself, I realized that he was attempting to apply
pressure to thickly folded pads on both sides of my shoulder.
"At least the bullet's not in there," he said, speaking to Tourmaline as if I wasn't there. "The entry wound doesn't look too bad. It's the
exit wound that's the problem."
"My wing hurts," I mumbled.
"There's a hole in it," Tourmaline said.
"That explains it."
"He needs medical attention," Ron persisted. "A trauma surgeon."
"Will he live until dawn?" Oh, she was so cold discussing my fate! Had she not looked so stricken, I might have believed she cared hardly
at all.
"Maybe, I don't know, how could I know?"
"I'll make it," I said. "Where's Ezekiel, Cassius?"
"Cassius is upstairs with the boy, keeping him from seeing this mess. Ezekiel guards the other human. The man Shaw; your suspicions were
correct."
"Can you lift your arm?" Ron asked.
I did, and groaned sickly as savaged tissues pulled on one another. Tourmaline helped me to hold it up so that Ron could wend bandages
under and around to bind the pads in place. He then took a belt, one of his own, and cinched it tightly over the bandages. I groaned again.
"You're not permitted to die on me, Corwin," Tourmaline said. "I'll not lose one of my clan our first night out."
I moved my mouth in a ghastly rictus meant to be a grin. "Would reflect poorly on your leadership?"
"We can't have that."
Ron opened a small canister. "These are left over from when I had all four wisdom teeth extracted. They're past the expiration date, but
might still be effective. Codeine-based. If they'll work on you, that is. How different are you from humans? Do medications affect you the
same?"
Tourmaline shrugged pensively. "We've never had occasion to find out."
"I don't want to risk poisoning him."
"Is it for the pain?" I asked.
"Yes."
"Risk it."
"Go ahead," Tourmaline said.
He fed me a tablet, regarded me for a moment as if calculating my weight compared to that of a human, and gave me another. I drank them
down with a cup of water, and lowered my head weakly to the floor.
"All right ... now we wait," Ron said. "But what about that man? Shaw? Should I call the police? He is the police! FBI, even, that's worse."
"What is the difference?" Tourmaline asked.
Ron outlined law enforcement in broad strokes. "He said he was working with the sheriff's office on a series of ongoing investigations, but
I can't believe that the FBI would have any reason to investigate me! And even if they did, even if they had something on me, this isn't what
they'd do!"
"Thus, he must be lying about some part of it."
"Might not even be real FBI, I guess," Ron allowed, his entire face a furrow of puzzlement. "CIA, NSA, or some other set of initials ...
but still, what could I have done to get on their bad side? Government agents don't just try to murder civilians and children!"
"If you have done nothing, they must mistakenly think that you have."
"It would be nice if they'd fill me in!"
"It would be nice if the rivers ran with wine, too," she said with a half-shrug. "Pointless to play that game. The fact remains."
"Well, yeah ..." Ron said, taken aback.
Something wonderful was happening to me, and I let my attention drift from their conversation to contemplate it.
The raw misery all down my left side was receding, fading, being gradually covered over with layers of painlessness the way I imagine a
gentle snowfall might cover over a meadow. Softly at first, soft flakes wheeling down from the heavens, spotting the grass with faint speckles
of white ... then growing in patches that spread and touched and overlapped until there was a gauzy apron through which the color of the
grass could still barely be seen ... then thicker still until all was buried in soft silent whiteness.
I sighed, and that simple inrush and exhalation seemed to encompass all that was right in the world. Such a simple thing, being free of
pain, that we so readily take for granted.
Icarus and Hippolyta came back in, and for a fleeting moment my mind skipped back through the years to see them as the carefree
hatchlings they'd once been. He had his arm comfortingly around her, just as he'd done when we were all younger and one of her flirtations
with danger had gone slightly awry, leaving her bruised and disgusted at her failure, but generally undaunted.
She did not look quite so undaunted this time.
"Hippolyta," I said, speaking with a dreamy and disconnected quality that made it seem I was far from myself. "Sister ... thank you."
"Corwin." She knelt beside me, and Icarus stood at her back with his hand resting on the white-gold glory of her bowed head. "I killed
a man."
"In defense of clan and rookery brother."
"I took a life. A sentient, human life."
"You saved mine."
"I was first among us to hunt," she said. "First to bring game to the table. But this ..."
"When the Archmage attacked, you were first to fight back," I said. "As the rest of us were still reeling in shock, you were springing
to action."
"Against fay and immortals, my arrows were meaningless. I could never have killed one of them. It's not the same."
"But it means you are a warrior, Hippolyta."
Icarus nodded soberly. "You did what had to be done."
"Then why do I feel so wretched?" she burst out, and buried her face in her hands.
"Because you are not a heartless murderer," I said. "You know that life is precious, and regret what circumstance forced upon you."
"Even great Goliath must feel wretched when he is forced to kill," Icarus said. "To enjoy it would be to be a monster."
"Which you are not," I finished.
"What about honor?" she asked plaintively. "I shot him in the back."
"He did the same to me."
This did not much mollify her, for tears welled between her fingers and sparkled like jewels as they fell onto my arm. "I killed him."
"You had to," Icarus said.
"And you did it exceptionally well," Tourmaline cut in, exasperation in every word. "That is what matters."
"Tourmaline, please," I murmured. "She is hurt to the soul by this. Be kind."
"We are supposed to be warriors. Which means there will be times when we must deal death. The opportunity demanded itself of her
first, but I am sure it will come to us all in turn. When my turn comes, I do not plan to blubber about it."
"Tourmaline!" I said, sharply. "Have you heard nothing of what we've been saying?"
Hippolyta, stung, looked up at our sister. "You speak thusly now, but your hands are not wet with human blood!"
"Not yet, true. But we still must deal with this man Shaw."
"You mean to kill him?" Icarus asked, unnerved.
"It may be necessary," Tourmaline said.
"In the heat of battle is one thing --" thunderstruck Hippolyta began.
"What else can we do? He apparently is, or at least passes for, a member of the human authorities. We cannot turn him over to them.
And he has seen us, which means he poses a danger to our clan."
The coldness in her tone so appalled me that I moved without thinking to sit up. And just as an earthquake might shake the covering of
snow from a meadow, so too did my motion shake the painlessness from my wound. I felt myself sliding into oblivion again, clinging by my
mind's talons to consciousness. I succeeded, just barely, and leaned my uninjured right side against the sofa.
"We are not executioners," I said. "It is not our place to judge who lives and who dies."
"I will do the deed myself and take the responsibility myself," Tourmaline replied. "We must be sure of our clan's safety."
"It is Ron's home," Icarus said. "Should not he decide?"
I looked around, but Ron had gone upstairs. "It may be his home, but remember, brother, the human world works differently. He is not
lord of this land, and must bow to the laws just as anyone else must do."
"Further, he is a weak-spined creature and would not have the stomach for it," Tourmaline declared.
"I doubt any of us do," Hippolyta said. "Even you, Tourmaline. When the moment comes and you hold his life in your talons, I do not
think you will be able to slash. Not like that. Not in cold blood."
"Are you challenging me? Are you saying that I am afraid?"
"No," I said. "She is not. None of us are."
"Because I can do it now, if that will satisfy you."
"No!" Hippolyta jumped up. "What is come over you, sister? This is not our way!"
"We set out to make our own way. Weren't we told over and again how harsh, how deadly, this outside world can be? We must be
harsh and deadly to match it! I, at least, am prepared for it. I would have hoped for sterner stuff from the rest of you."
"We must also be honorable," I said. "And compassionate. Else we become the evils that humans fear and loathe."
She shook her head as if we were all dolts and weaklings, and walked away. With my eyes I signaled Icarus to follow her, lest she
seek to prove her point by gutting Shaw this very moment. He dipped his head briefly and did so.
"What will become of us, Corwin?" Hippolyta asked, staring down at her hands where they lay folded in her lap. "Already, this is not
what I had hoped to find when we left Avalon. And it has not even been one full night."
"Sweet brave sister," I said gently, "I am so very sorry this had to happen. I was foolish to charge blindly as I did, and it hurts more
that this wound to know that I put you in such a spot. But though I do not care for much of what she said, in one thing Tourmaline is right.
All warriors must eventually face this trial. Your response seems far healthier; were you unaffected or savagely gleeful, I would be frightened."
"I am in that one deed set apart from the rest of you," she said. "As if I am on the far side of a chasm. Alone."
"You are not alone. None of us are there yet, I grant ... but many others are. We know from the Magus that our ancestors fought and
killed in battle. You stand in good company, Hippolyta."
She managed a small smile. "Wise Corwin ... strange that you speak to me as though you were my elder."
I chuckled even though it sent dull throbs of pain through me. "At the moment, I feel positively ancient. That may have something to do
with it."

**

Less than an hour until dawn. Although the eastern sky wore such a mantle of black wool that we could see no impending signs.
Luckily, the kitchen chairs were made of good solid oak that could support even a gargoyle's weight. Cassius and I sat with Ron between
us, doing our best to look intimidating despite our suffering.
We needn't have bothered. The image presented by Tourmaline standing flanked by Icarus and Ezekiel was threatening enough to send
terror burrowing deep in the heart of any mortal.
It certainly worked on Shaw, who roused blearily when Tourmaline crushed a capsule from the first-aid kit beneath his nose. The capsule
loosed a sour, astringent vapor and brought him coughing and sputtering to consciousness.
He tried to leap up and flee from the alarming sight of fierce gargoyles before he realized he was bound securely to a chair. He went over
in a jarring crash and crayfished on the floor, trying feverishly to get away.
Icarus and Ezekiel stepped in and righted him. He squalled aloud at the touch of their hands, and shuddered as they backed away to resume
their spots to either side of Tourmaline.
"Guh ... gargoyles?"
"So you know what we are, human," Tourmaline said. "Then you know what we're capable of." She flexed her claws in front of his eyes.
He blanched, and then took on the look of one trying manfully to regain his self-control. "Since when are there gargoyles in the San Juans?"
"We are not here to assuage your curiosity. Who do you serve?"
"What?"
"Who do you serve? Who is your lord and master?"
"My ... I don't have a lord and master!"
She lunged, eyes flashing with a ruby glow and fangs gleaming only inches from his face. Her wings snapped out, making her seem to
suddenly double in size. "Answer me!"
"The Coalition!" he yelped. "I work for the Coalition!"
I glanced sidelong at Ron, but he was as mystified as any of us.
"Explain," Tourmaline ordered, withdrawing and letting her wings settle into their caped position.
"They'd kill me if I --"
Ezekiel reached out and prodded the side of Shaw's head with the butt of his ironwood staff, right on the puffed and swollen goose-egg
that told of Shaw's first encounter with the staff.
"Your companion is already dead," Tourmaline said. Hippolyta flinched but stayed silent. "What do you think your life is worth?"
Most of what he told us made little sense, partly because it was a slew of babblings mixed with pleas, partly because we being of a less
complicated world had no frame of reference for organizations such as he described. But the overall gist of it seemed clear -- this Coalition
existed behind and outside the established structure, and placed their own goals above the laws of the land and the methods of civilized men.
"This is crazy," Ron whispered. "Shady government outfits, secret societies ... who believes in that kind of stuff?"
As aware as any of us that the night was fast waning, Tourmaline pressed on. "Why did you seek the life of this man and his son?"
"I was assigned the job. Someone wanted them out of the way. I don't know why."
"You dare lie to me?" It was mild enough, but there was something soul-chilling in her tone that was not lost on Shaw.
"Because of Dr. Jessec! Michelle Jessec!"
"Shelley?" Ron was stunned. "What does Shelley have to do with this?"
"Who is that?" I asked.
"My little sister. She's a research scientist. Theoretical physics. Calls herself a quantum mechanic. She works for a company in
Bellingham ... Everstar, it's called."
With nothing more than a single look and an eloquent curl of her fingers, Tourmaline invited Shaw to continue. I must admit I was
impressed; this cold mistress of interrogation was a side of her I'd never seen before. But it was a worrisome sort of feeling ... was
this the niche she was meant to fill?
"Everstar was on the verge of some sort of breakthrough," Shaw said. "The Coalition wanted the head of the team, Dr. Jessec,
to come and work for them. She wasn't being cooperative. So they were going to send her a message."
"And your people thought this would make her agree?" Hippolyta said, incensed. "It would only have the opposite effect, and
make her all the more determined to stand against you!"
"No ... because if she didn't come around after this, they'd make sure she knew the same thing would happen to other people
she cared about. The nice retired couple in their condo in Arizona, for instance. And that next time it wouldn't be over fast, but that
dear old Ma and Pa would go slowly, in agony, fully aware that their stubborn daughter was condemning them to torture and death."
"You son of a bitch!" Ron cried, standing up so fast that his thighs collided hard with the underside of the tabletop.
"And they call us beasts," Icarus growled.
"What was this breakthrough?" Tourmaline asked.
"I don't know. I really don't. I'm no scientist. They sent me to wipe the brother and the kid, make it look like an accident except
she'd know it wasn't, know they were serious. That's it, that's all, I swear!"
"That's it? That's all?" Ron was shaking, hands opening and closing convulsively. "You hit me on the head, knocked me out,
fine and well ... it would have been over fast for me, I never would have known a thing ... but you left Toby ... you left Toby ..."
He couldn't finish except to howl his inarticulate fury.
That howl would have befitted a gargoyle; coming from the lungs of this thin, middle-aged human it was extraordinary, stunning
us all into immobility.
He went over the table, snatched a butcher knife from the block on the counter, and shouldered past Tourmaline so forcefully that
she fell against Icarus.
"Ron, no!" Hippolyta shrieked.
Holding the knife high in both hands, he drove the point of it directly at Shaw's bulging, horror-filled eye. He stumbled, tipping
Shaw's chair over backward. Their legs flew up as they hit the floor. Shaw's scream, half-begun, ended in the gruesome crack of
his skull on the unyielding bricks.

**

Something was eluding me.
Some crucial piece.
Dawn was upon us, finally the dawn, after a night that seemed as if it never would end. Mist and rain, fire and blood ... the silence
of stone would be very welcome.
If I could but quiet this nagging doubt!
Shaw was dead, dead thrice over from the striking of his head on the floor, the concurrent snapping of his neck, and the butcher
knife that had ended up hilt-deep in his brain.
At Tourmaline's command, he and his unnamed accomplice had been stripped to their skins -- looking so defenseless and fragile
in their human nakedness -- and she and Ezekiel had glided with those empty shells out to where the sea's current seemed strong. Their
clothes were cast separately into the waters, where, being woven with armor fibers, they swiftly sank.
Ron slept the fathomlessly deep sleep of shock as we six lined up on the gallery. Old habits ... the house had no battlements, but perched
here on the gallery above the living room and facing the windows which overlooked the dock and the sea and the eastern sky, we felt most
at home.
There would be much to do in the coming evening. Much to decide.
I could not manage a fearsome pose. Standing upright was all I could do without sending myself mad with renewed pain. But standing
upright, even if slightly hunched to favor my left side, was good enough.
Cassius gave me a reassuring grin, or a reassuring baring of his teeth, as he limped into position. We'd never been more thankful for our
innate gift of stone sleep. If only it could mend the wounds to poor Hippolyta's spirit as well ... but that would take time and the firm hand
of experience.
The sky was a grey that matched Icarus' skin, the sea a sullen sheet of slate. But I felt the stiffness and lethargy that heralded the day
and thought it one of the most beautiful dawns I had ever seen.
A speck far out on the water ... a boat ... no bigger than a skiff ... with a single dark-clad human aboard.
And I remembered what had been eluding me.

**

The End



April 2000 Christine Morgan