Reprisals, Part 1
Written by Christine Morgan.
Previously on Gargoyles ...
"Nicholas, thanks for everything. If there were only more humans like you around..."
"Lexington, there is no need to thank me. I only wish to see you safe and happy. Now, return to your clan. They have been worried long enough." The businessman smiled as he leaned slightly on his cane.
~ Something Wicked
* * *
"Blazes!" the dark-haired woman punched the "off" button viciously, then tossed the cell phone over her shoulder in disgust. So intense was her anger that she let it clatter to the floor, spilling its electronic insides. Her eyes glowed green, and she turned to the dark man sitting calmly in the straight-backed chair by the fire.
"It dinnae work," she told him, fuming. "I knew that I needed more time t' perfect th' formula!" She clenched her fists, nails biting savagely into her palms. "You were in such a hurry..."
"Tut-tut, my dear Mavis," he interrupted coolly, the flickering firelight illuminating his face eerily in the dark room. "...There is always another night and a new plan."
~ Past Perfect
* * *
Maddox nodded. "It can be very painful when your family turns its back on you," he said. "Extremely painful. Trust me, there is nothing worse than being alone." He placed one hand on the small gargoyle's shoulder, as he spoke, an almost tender look in his gray eyes.
~ The Sorcerer's Apprentice
So intent was he upon the stag that it wasn't until his feathered shaft had sunk deep in the magnificent beast's eye did he look 'round and realize that he had become separated from the others.
Canmore tensed for a moment, fists clenched in worry and anger. Then, with a shaky laugh, he forced himself to calm.
Scotland was his, the battles long over. His enemies had all been dispersed or destroyed. He was king, rightful and war-proved. None could dispute his claim, and the few who dared were treated to a most swift reprisal.
He thought of the traitorous kinslayer Macbeth, who had most basely and with sorcery conspired to murder Canmore's father Duncan. Macbeth, who had ever so graciously deigned to let Canmore live, sending him in shame and poverty to his mother's folk in England. Ah, well, he had gotten his revenge upon Macbeth! He grinned to himself as he recalled how it had been, his blade piercing into the false king's flesh.
Macbeth's death had not ended it, for his son Luach had dared act the upstart and take the crown for his own. Not for long, Canmore thought with grim satisfaction. Luach may have worn the crown, but his backside had ne'er rested upon the throne, and the only Stone of Destiny in his future had been a headstone, needed right quick! Once they had been cousins and friends, and thinking back to those boyhood days he had felt a brief pang of regret. But childhood's playmates amounted to little when a kingdom was at stake.
Yes, Macbeth was dead and his son as well. And even the demon, the scarlet-tressed she-gargoyle that had been Macbeth's unholy ally, was no more!
His grin widened. He looked down at the fallen stag, seeing it not. In its place, he envisioned the she-devil as she had died, crumpled on the earth. As a youth, he had feared her. When returning to Scotland to claim his own, bringing forces gathered in England, he hoped and prayed that the demon would have gone her way, taking her clan of gargoyles. Such luck was not his, but sweet fate had done him a better turn.
How easy it had been, to turn her against Macbeth. His army unsupported, his plans undone, and his shock at her desertion proving the final distraction allowing Canmore's sword to smite him! They had died as one, and by then his soldiers had turned upon their winged "allies" and swiftly made an end of them.
He looked down on the stag again, seeing it now as it truly was, a spread of branching horns, the velvety pelt unmarked, his arrow bristling from its eye. A clean kill, a goodly beast. A good omen. Proof positive that all was well in the world.
Yes, his father would be pleased. Scotland was once more in the hands of its rightful liege. Canmore's young queen had given him two strapping sons already, securing the bloodline. All was well. He need not fear armies or assassins. It mattered little that his hunting party had carelessly gotten lost.
When the stag was slung over his saddle, he paused to gaze around. Evening had come swiftly upon him, but was blessedly clear, even of the fog that so often shrouded the hills this time of year. The rising moon shed a frosty pall of light, enough to guide his way.
Many years, he had lived away from Scotland. His return had been filled with battles and planning, so that he had not been much about the countryside. As a boy, he had known every inch of the land for miles around. Acting on those memories, he set off in what he judged was the best way back to the castle.
His aleskin was empty, drawing a scowl to his face. He was thirsty and hungry, and now that the thrill of the hunt was done, wanted nothing more than a wash and a meal and warmths of two kinds: a fire and his buxom young bride.
His mind filled with pleasant imaginings, he at first failed to notice the shrill screech. When he did pay it mind, his first thought was that it was only a bird. And then it sounded again, and a silvery spike of terror pierced his soul.
It was the cry of a gargoyle!
He looked up just in time to see wings widespread, fangs agleam, eyes like rubies set afire, and a dream-haunting face contorted in rage.
She ripped him from the saddle. His horse yielded to its panic and lunged one way as the gargoyle went the other, and Canmore shrieked as he was pulled between them, his hands clenched tight 'round the reins. Even through his gloves, the leather straps hissed searingly as they slipped free.
The demon's claws sank into his shoulders, digging, unbearable. Brief relief as she let go her hold, but let go it with considerable momentum so that he was hurled headlong into a tree.
Canmore slid to the ground, groaning, trying to regain his wits and his strength, but his limbs did not wish to obey his command.
A shadow fell over him, blotting out the moon, darkness in a female shape.
* * * * *
Demona stood over the man, chest rising and falling rapidly in her fury.
He lay helpless and befuddled before her, struggling to move. She could smell the sour stink of his fear and it intoxicated her.
She savored the moment. Her grievances made up a lengthy list indeed. Her clan, cut down by those they thought to be their newfound allies. Her alliance with Macbeth, undone by Canmore's plottings. And most of all, her own pride! He had made her the fool, used her, and for that most of all he would have the slow death he deserved!
Canmore moaned feebly, music to her ears. She seized his tunic and yanked him to a sitting position, his back pressed against the tree. Already, a swelling knot was growing on the side of his head, but even that injury could not render him unfit to recognize her.
"Now, human," she snarled. "Now I will have vengeance for my clan!"
She flexed her claws, then paused like an artist contemplating the first brush stroke on a new canvas.
The throat? Too quick. She wasn't in the mood for mercy.
The belly? Too messy. She didn't fancy having his entrails spewing over her feet.
He looked up at her, eyes bleary, and then she knew.
The face. Yes. He had seen fit to take up the Hunter's mask, so let him bear the scars that went with it.
She lay ahold of his thick black hair and steadied his head. He realized her intent just as her other hand flashed down.
His scream was garbled, his boots drumming fitfully on the ground.
"And now I'll have your head!" she cried in triumph, bending it back so that his vulnerable throat was exposed.
White-hot agony shot through her. She screamed in surprise as well as pain and looked down at herself, seeing the tip of an arrowhead jutting from her abdomen. It had entered her back, missing the spine by inches.
She whirled and saw them, a group of mounted men with bows. Even as she turned, another arrow whispered through her hair, and had she not moved it would have taken her in the head.
Too many of them. She leaped onto Canmore, her hind claws gouging his chest as she clambered up his body and into the branches of the tree. A third arrow buried itself in her calf.
The boughs and leaves were concealing her now, and the men rode closer. She could hear them yelling excitedly to each other, their accents thickly Norman. She espied one of them, tall and carrying himself with a more noble manner than the others, steel glinting in his fist.
"It's in the tree, milord!" one of them called, making ready to loose another shot.
"Hold, Garlon," the nobleman replied. "You'll not have a clear aim. We'll burn it out. Strike flints!"
Demona growled and wrapped her fingers around the arrowhead sticking out of her middle. She pulled the rest of the shaft through, wincing at the indescribable feeling of stiff feathers scraping through her inner organs. She plucked the other arrow from her leg.
Her wounds started to heal at once, but the first strike had been a fatal one and the mending of it would leave her weak and drained. She would not be able to fight off this band of well-armed humans, not tonight.
They did indeed strike flints, and soon had a torch blazing. Canmore they bore away from the tree, and one bold soul approached with the burning brand.
Demona reversed the arrow in her grip and threw it like a miniature spear. It only grazed his arm, but startled him so that he dropped the torch and it extinguished itself. She used that precious few moments to climb to the highest branch and launch herself.
The men cried alarms, and yet another cursed arrow came at her. It passed through her wing, but she only faltered briefly in her flight.
"I will return!" she shrieked over her shoulder as they diminished. "I will have my revenge!"
* * * * *
The demon had turned into a man. A tall, handsome man of noble bearing.
Canmore raised one trembling hand to the bandage-swathed terrain of his face. Nearly all but one eye was covered. Each breath pained him. His head rolled and swayed like a moored ship on a stormy sea.
"Who ...?" he managed, then regretted it as the movement of his mouth caused a fresh burst of pain.
The man inclined his head. "Sir Nicolas de Maduc, sire, as it please you, ambassador from the court of King Edward."
"The demon ..." Canmore mumbled.
"Gone, sire. Sorely wounded as well. If it lives until daybreak, it will only be by the Lord's own miracle."
Canmore shook his head as much as he dared. "Supposed to _be_ dead," he said thickly. "Slew Macbeth ... slew the demon. How can it be the same one? I must put an end to it!"
"You've been grievously hurt, sire. Permit us to bear you home. The creature, or more of its kind, may return. It is not safe to remain here." He frowned as if puzzled. "I'd been under the impression that your land was rid of those beasts. Are there no more Hunters?"
"No." Canmore let the other men help him into the saddle and lash him securely in case he lost consciousness. "The demon was gone. There was no more need for the Hunter."
"I thought there would always be a Hunter," de Maduc mused. "For it seems there is still a need."
"Your counsel is wise," Canmore said, although by now he was hurting so much that he was only half-aware of his words. "There shall be a Hunter, this I vow!"
The last thing he saw before a welcome greyness washed over him was de Maduc's triumphant smile.
* * * * *
"Oh, ye-es!" Lexington chortled, doing a triumphant little barrel-roll and attempting to high-five himself. "That was the coolest! Those crooks didn't know what hit them!"
He was pleased and rightfully so. Thanks to his new cyber-enhancements, he was twice the gargoyle he used to be! His senses had never been sharper! Even half a block away, even from the top of an eight-story building, he saw and heard them as well as if he'd been standing in the middle of their illicit circle of plotting.
The shadows they'd thought hid them, the fountain they'd thought masked their words from eavesdroppers -- neither of those things mattered one bit now that the new and improved Lex was on the job!
He soared high, then tucked his arms tight and plummeted, laughing like a loon all the while. At the very last moment, he spread out into a wide kite and skimmed a pond, roiling its calm surface and starting dozing ducks into a flurry of scolding.
No more ribbing from the others about being too small to take on the big jobs. And all thanks to Mr. Maddox's generosity.
His jubilant mood dimmed a bit as he realized he couldn't enjoy full bragging rights. They'd want to know how he did it, and he wasn't sure the time was right to tell them.
If there even ever would be a right time to tell them.
"Well, phooey!" he said to himself. "I did it, I know I did it, and who cares if I can't boast to Broadway about it?"
He grinned widely, remembering how smoothly it had gone. He'd never felt more at home in his own skin. Faster reflexes, adding to his already swift dexterity, meant that none of their shots had even come close.
The looks on their faces! It had been great, absolutely great!
"Better living through technology," he said, and laughed out loud all the way back to the castle.
* * * * *
"I've taken apart everything I can possibly take apart," Peterson said, shaking his head. "I even cross-sectioned the handle."
"They don't look so bad, when they're like this," Elisa said thoughtfully as she scanned the plastic bins of parts. She stepped closer to examine one of the diagrams that covered the walls.
"And what have you found?" Chavez asked in a tone that suggested he'd better have come up with something, since he'd been spending ten expensive hours a day in here ever since the hammers had been confiscated, and the bill for lab equipment had spiked into the stratosphere.
Peterson's hangdog expression got more so. "Nothing."
"What do you mean, nothing?" Matt said just before Chavez could.
Elisa kept her silence and listened, still finding it oddly fascinating to see the hammers like that. Robbed of their menace. Robbed of their stone-shattering power. Broken apart, just like (she hoped) the Quarrymen themselves.
"Nothing. To deliver the electrical charge these do, they'd need batteries the size of a Thermos bottle. There's nowhere to put a power source that size. Unless the Quarrymen carry fanny packs full of batteries, but then there'd have to be some sort of connection that would channel it through their gloves, and there isn't. Not in the gloves, not in the handles, nada. Zip."
"Do you mean to tell me you don't know how they work?" Maria Chavez drummed her fingers lightly, her voice mild. Yet Matt and Elisa both edged away.
"I know how they work," Peterson protested. "I just don't know where the energy's coming from!"
"You must have some idea," Chavez urged.
Peterson's wry chuckle only thinly masked his intense frustration. "Magic? I can't think of anything else that would do it."
Matt snorted. Elisa frowned and elbowed him. "More things in heaven and earth, Horatio."
"Come off it, Maza," Chavez said absently, focusing most of her attention on Peterson. "We'll find the answer. Won't we, Peterson?" Her voice dropped to a very ominous level, and Peterson's shoulders sagged in defeat.
"Yes, ma'am, Captain," he sighed. "I'll go over the whole thing again."
As Matt and Elisa were headed away from the Captain's office, he gave her a sidelong glance. "Magic?"
"I'm just saying, don't dismiss it out of hand. We've run into some pretty strange stuff these past few years, remember?"
"Yeah, but where would the Quarrymen get magic? They're supposed to be just a hate cult."
"Uh-huh, and gargoyles are just supposed to be an urban legend and the Illuminati are just a myth."
"Okay, point taken. Trouble is, what are we going to do about it?"
"For now, nothing. Not unless they crop up again, and then we'll do whatever it takes to stop them."
* * * * *
"Hey, kids, whatcha doin'?"
"Hi, Uncle Lex!" Ariana chirped brightly, patting her wild black hair into place. "We're fixing the computer!"
"Why?" Lex asked with sudden wary dread. "What happened? Geez, I've told you kids a thousand times --"
"We didn't break it," Graeme said quickly. "We're just trying to -- uh-oh!"
"What'd you do?" Ariana wailed, tapping frantically on the keyboard.
"I don't know!" He reached for the mouse, but Lex scooped him out of his chair.
"Let me take a look."
"Uncle Lex will fix it," Ariana said confidently. "He always can."
Lex beamed at her and turned back to the computer. Several minutes later, though, he was sweating under the impatient gaze of both youngsters.
"Well?" Graeme finally asked.
"Keep your loincloth on," Lex muttered, scratching his head.
Several more minutes passed.
"He can't fix it," Ariana said in a voice that mingled surprise, hurt, and betrayal.
"Whoa, hey, not so fast!" Lex protested. "I can too!"
He opened a drawer and took out a small cable, inserting one end into the computer and the other into the tiny port behind his ear.
whrrrrrr -- a humming vibration more felt than heard, and his eye clicked into a mode that overlaid a fine red film on the world. Text and symbols began scrolling past, too quick for a normal eye to decipher.
"Okay," Lex said to himself. "Okay, I see what's wrong." He called up a diagnostic of the machine's inner workings, made a few adjustments, re-checked to be sure everything was doing what it was supposed to be doing, and reluctantly disengaged.
When he came out of it, he found both kids staring at him in awe.
"Wow!" Graeme gasped.
"I knew you'd fix it!" Ariana cried, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "That was neat! Hey, Dad!"
"Ari, wait!" Lex reached for her but missed as she bounded toward the sounds of voices and movement. The rest of the clan had just gotten back from patrol, just his luck. "Ariana, wait!"
"Yeah, wait for me!" Graeme scooted after her, also avoiding Lex's desperate grab.
The adults looked toward the two youngsters with indulgent smiles, but when the two announced in delighted unison, "Uncle Lex is a cyborg! Isn't that cool?" those smiles changed to looks of puzzlement. And in Goliath's case, puzzlement changed swiftly to dark understanding and horror.
"Oops," Lex mumbled. He busied himself with the computer, head cringing so far down between his shoulders that a turtle might have been impressed. A single thought: don't notice me, don't notice me, don't notice me -- ran in his head like a hamster on a wheel. He clamped his lips shut when he realized he was speaking the words quietly, like a fervent prayer.
Nice try. A heavy, purposeful tread stopped just behind him. A large purple hand settled onto the back of the chair and inexorably turned him around. Lex looked up at Goliath, and up, and realized that sometimes he forgot just how big the leader of the clan really was.
Go for innocence, he thought. "Hey, Goliath, what's up?"
Goliath's scrutiny was so intense that Lex could almost feel his skin blister. "What have you done to yourself?"
"Cyborg?" He stared directly into Lex's eye, no doubt noticing for the first time that it had a constant reddish cast.
"It's no big deal."
"Who did this? Who did this to you?"
"Nobody did it to me! It was my choice!" Lex felt himself starting to get ticked. "I'm not a hatchling anymore, you know. I'm old enough to make my own decisions!"
"Age does not always equal maturity! Did you think about the consequences?"
"The consequences saved by life!" Lex flared. "Jackal and Hyena would have had my head for a centerpiece if I hadn't been able to battle them on their own terms!"
"You've made yourself like them, and you think it's a good thing?" Goliath bellowed. "Was this Xanatos' doing? I'll see him answer for it!"
"Hey!" Lex heard himself shout, and jumped up so that he was standing on the chair, which put him almost eye to eye with Goliath. "I can answer for my own decisions, thank you very much! And no, it wasn't Xanatos. I knew he wouldn't, not without tattling to you!"
"If not Xanatos, then who?" Goliath demanded. "Cyberbiotics?"
"None of your business!"
"If it concerns my clan, it is my business! And I will know who is responsible for this!"
"Goliath," Brooklyn ventured, "it sounds like Lex is the one responsible. No one did this against his will."
Lex flashed him a grateful look. It turned out to be the only one he got because Hudson was giving Brooklyn a would-ye-shut-yer yap glare, Sata was wisely staying out of it, and the two little ones were clinging to each other in the background, unable to comprehend why something they thought was a neat bit of news resulted in so much yelling and anger.
"You're not leaving this castle until you tell me!" Goliath declared.
"Fine! His name's Maddox. Nicholas Maddox. He's my friend!"
"Friend? What kind of friend would do this to you? Didn't you learn your lesson with the Pack? Trusting outsiders is something that must only be done with extreme care and caution!"
"I did learn my lesson! That was years ago, and I wish you'd get over it!"
"I don't think you did learn anything. Why else would you keep it from the clan? If you trust this Maddox, you should have told the rest of us."
"I don't have to tell you everything I do, everyone I talk to! You don't tell us everything you do with Elisa!"
"We are not talking about Elisa! We are talking about a stranger, a stranger with the power to change you into a --"
"A what? A monster? Is that what you were going to say?" Lex leaped onto the desk. "I don't have to take this from you, Goliath. You're the leader, but that doesn't mean you control every aspect of our lives!"
"Where are you going?" Goliath started toward him as he headed for the window.
"I'm getting out of here! You don't understand me! You never have, and you never will! So I'm going to talk to someone who does!"
"This friend of yours?" Goliath said scornfully.
"Yeah! What are you going to do about it?" With that, Lex sprang out the window, not waiting around to see if Goliath did indeed plan to do something about it, something that involved clapping him in leg irons and throwing him in the dungeon.
Goliath couldn't fit through the window if he did decide to give chase, but his voice was nearly enough to knock Lex from the sky.
He almost turned back, but with tears of distress and fury stinging his eyes, he soared on toward the distant spires of Maddox Technologies.
* * * * *
"Let him go, lad," Hudson said. "He's needing some time to cool off."
Brooklyn moved to block the door. "Hudson's right, Goliath. He'll come back when he's ready. If you chase him now, he'll just get more upset."
Sata went to her mate's side, though she still looked more confused about her clan-in-law's behavior than anything else. "What has he done that's so bad?"
"He hasn't the slightest idea what he's letting himself in for!" Now that he was no longer thundering in rage, they could all hear the bleak terror in Goliath's voice, see it in his eyes. "But he's not the only one who can give me an answer for this madness!"
"Ye're not going after this Maddox fellow, are ye?" Hudson asked worriedly.
"No." Goliath motioned Brooklyn aside, and he gave way after only a brief hesitation.
"Is Uncle Lex in trouble?" Ariana's lower lip trembled.
"I hope not, skychaser," Brooklyn said, ruffling her hair.
"Well, somebody sure is," Graeme said, peering after Goliath. "And whoever it is, I wouldn't want to be them!"
"We'd better be going after him." Hudson shook his head. "I dinna know what's got him in such a state, but we'd best be finding out."
* * * * *
The door was closed.
He didn't let that stop him.
The door was locked.
He didn't let that stop him either.
Owen Burnett looked calmly up from his work as the splinters of wood finished raining onto the carpet. "Yes, Goliath?"
He pushed through the wreckage and stalked into the office. "We're going to settle this once and for all! Was it a dream, trickster? Or was it a prophecy?"
"Can't this wait?" Owen replied. "I am in the middle of some very important paperwork for Mr. Xanatos --"
"Paperwork!" Goliath swept his huge hand across the desk, clearing a wide swath. Papers and office supplies joined the door fragments. "That for your paperwork! I'm talking about the future of this clan, this city, this world!"
Through it all, Owen kept his usual bland, placid expression. "I appreciate your emotional investment in this --"
Goliath's claws curled into Owen's shirtfront and lifted him out of his chair. "I've had enough of your --"
"Goliath!" Hudson stepped through the broken door. "Is this the example ye set for the clan?"
"If you don't want the clan to see this, get them out of here," Goliath snarled. He pulled Owen closer, so they were nose to nose. Owen's feet trailed across his desk, knocking off the last few things Goliath's outburst had missed, but he still managed to keep his dignity.
"We want to know what's going on too," Brooklyn said. "But this isn't our way, Goliath. You taught me that, and that lesson helped me through all those years."
"Please, Father." Angela crowded in too, still windblown from her recent patrol. "We don't have enough friends that we can afford to hurt them."
"If he is our friend, which I've come to doubt!" Goliath set Owen down so hard his teeth clacked. "He's toyed with us since the beginning!"
Owen rolled his eyes. "If that's how you choose to see it --"
"Don't help, okay?" Broadway suggested. "He's liable to pop you one."
"But why?" Angela asked. "What's Owen done now?"
Goliath uttered a sighing growl. "It's not what he's done now. It's what he did before. There's something I never told you, something I should have."
"Then maybe you should now," Angela said gently, touching her father's arm.
"It concerns Avalon, and our quest, and the Phoenix Gate."
"The dream." Angela nodded. "You were unconscious, and Elisa and I were so worried! Then you awoke, and said you'd had a dream that you had to make sure didn't come true. And you hurled the Phoenix Gate into the air, ridding yourself of it."
"Yeah, thanks for that one," Brooklyn muttered.
His mate poked him in the ribs. "Regrets, Brooklyn-san?"
He slipped an arm around her. "Not anymore."
"The dream that I had was crafted by him." Goliath leveled an accusing finger at Owen, who didn't look terribly thrilled to have all their suspicious attention focused on him.
"This is all very interesting," Owen said, sidling around the others. "But if you'll excuse me, I really must --"
Goliath took a single stride toward Owen. "You've been able to avoid my questions for too long already! I'm not going to keep this secret from my clan any more, and then you'll have all of us to deal with!"
Owen sat with a sigh. "I think you're making a mistake."
"Tell us," Hudson said. "Tell us what this all be about."
"It seemed to me that Avalon had finally sent us home," Goliath began. "But the skyline of Manhattan was not as I remembered it ..."
* * * * *
For the amount of attention the poor boy was paying to his tea, Maddox thought, he would have replied in the same tone if I asked him if he cared for arsenic, one lump or two.
"Arguments between family are the worst, aren't they?" He carefully squeezed lemon into the tea, added sugar, and handed the tissue-thin china cup to Lexington.
"They just don't understand me," Lex said. "Everyone else has something that makes them special. Goliath's the leader, Hudson's the elder, Brooklyn and Broadway have mates ... but what have I got? Nothing but a knack for machines and electronics. So why shouldn't I make the most of it?"
He arched an eyebrow. "From what you've told me, I gather the idea of technology is still new to them. And what is new is often threatening."
Lex laughed a little. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Please. What's a crumpet?"
Maddox proffered the silver tray. "Help yourself."
"It's really good."
"I'm so glad you approve." Maddox sat back and stirred his own tea. "I deeply regret the problems I've caused you."
"You've caused? You didn't cause this, Nicholas. You helped me!" Lex stared morosely into his cup. "Sometimes I think you're the only real friend I have."
"Oh, now, I'm sure that's not true," Maddox said with a smile.
* * * * *
Mavis O'Connor hummed quietly to herself as she worked, raising her eyes now and then to the picture window and the dazzling spray of city lights beyond.
The intercom buzzed, and a momentarily sour look flitted across her face. "Yes?"
"Who else would it be, Garlon?"
The sound system turned his voice tinny. "Burning the midnight electricity, are you?"
"Is this purely a social call, or was there something on what passes for your mind?" She smiled sweetly at the intercom.
"Actually, yes. There seem to be a few problems down in S. A. D. The Special Arms Division?"
"Thank you, Garlon. I know what the acronym stands for; I made it up myself. I'll see to it as soon as possible."
* * * * *
"And Elisa begged me to use the Phoenix Gate, to go back in time and avert this horrible future. Or, if I was to injured to do it, to give her the Gate. I told her to take it. She insisted I give it to her, into her hand. She shouted at me. Then I realized she was not my Elisa." He caught himself, cleared his throat. "Not the real Elisa. At which point, she turned into Puck, and confessed that it had all been a trick, an attempt to get the Gate away from me as a bribe for Oberon."
The rest of the clan were stunned into silence.
Angela and Broadway held each other, her trying to get the image of her blinded, dying love out of her mind while he tried to banish the thought of her shattered stone form.
"Whoa," Brooklyn said shakily. "Ate too many jalapenas the night before, did you?"
Sata was regarding him with the narrow-eyed suspicion that females of any species turn on their males, even when the infidelity is only in a dream. "You and Demona, hmm?"
He stammered and blustered until he saw the teasing gleam in her eye, then coughed and stared abashedly at his feet.
Hudson, who had looked initially pleased at being immortalized as the first martyr of the rebellion, now turned to Owen. "Why?"
When Owen didn't show any signs of answering, Goliath did. "He hoped to buy his exemption from the Gathering, thinking nothing of the cruelty he was inflicting on me. Even as he took his leave, he taunted me by asking if it was dream, or prophecy. So now I've come for the answer."
"It's like you said, Father." Angela raised her head from Broadway's shoulder. "A trick. He was only trying to make you give him the Gate."
"That is what I wanted to believe," Goliath said. "Until things started happening that reflect and echo that future. Xanatos siring a son, Alexander Fox. The destruction of the clock tower." He looked at Brooklyn. "You look now exactly as you did in that future I saw. The Ultra-Pack has been formed. Thailog's death in the Clone Wars. And now Lexington, Lexington with his implants ..."
"That dinna mean it's going to come true," Hudson argued. "Ye say Brooklyn looked as he does now, but he'll nae look like that in forty years."
"And in that vision, we had never come back!" Angela said. "But we have! We're here! So it can't come true!"
"Yeah," Broadway chimed in. "Some of it sounded fake too. Like he made it up on the spur of the moment."
Goliath scowled, still unconvinced. "Well, trickster, what do you say to all of that?"
Owen smiled an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. "Would you believe me if I told you it was all a fabrication? When so many of those things have come to pass? Am I precognitive or a good guesser? It doesn't matter what I say, Goliath. What matters is what you do about it."
* * * * *
"Are you okay, my love?" Broadway asked, coming up behind her as she sat on the battlements. "You're awfully quiet."
Angela sighed and tipped her face into the night wind, closing her eyes to the sparkling skyline. "I'm worried, that's all."
"About this future thing? It's just Owen trying to mess with Goliath's head."
"No, no. I'm worried about Lexington. I don't know whether what he did was right or not. He felt strongly enough about it to do it, so it must feel right to him. But the man who helped him, that Mr. Maddox? I've met him."
"Yeah? What's he like?"
"I really couldn't say. He dropped by my mother's house on Solstice Night, so I really only barely met him. I didn't have time to get much of an impression. I think my mother didn't want me to be around him too much."
"Oh, really?" Broadway bristled a little. "He didn't make a pass at you --"
Her merry laugh dispensed with his concern, but then she got serious again. "Nothing like that, but you're so cute when you're jealous!"
He hugged her close for a moment. "Maybe I still can't believe you picked me."
She kissed him on the ear and sighed contentedly, leaning her head against his shoulder.
He enjoyed the scent of her hair for a moment before remembering once more what they had been talking about. He frowned again. "But if Maddox wasn't putting the moves on you, then what's the matter?"
"It's this woman. Mavis O'Connor. I've met her a few times, and it's always left me with a funny feeling."
His brow ridges went up. "She didn't --"
Angela swatted him. "Behave yourself! No, it was just a strange feeling. She was always perfectly pleasant, but it still made me uncomfortable. And she's the second-in-command, the vice president, I think it's called, of Maddox Technologies. It just makes me wonder if Lex isn't getting in over his head."
* * * * *
"Lexington, this is Sherry."
"She'll be happy to show you around," Maddox concluded, noting with approval how his olive-green young friend goggled at the blonde with the perky smile and the powder-blue cashmere sweater.
He'd objected when Mavis first presented him with Sherry. "I don't like dealing with people," he'd said.
"Well, I can't be bothered to do all your photocopying and message taking," she lilted, not put off in the slightest. "Besides, she'll pretty up this Spartan office of yours."
"A plant would do that," he remarked dryly. "And those matters I wish kept private would be."
"You haven't met her yet," she replied in the exact same tone. "When it comes to smarts, the plant might have a slight edge."
He'd grudgingly given in, and so far, Sherry had worked out well enough. She didn't object to the odd hours, especially considering what Mavis was paying her. Another bit of crumpet to distract his guests, as it were.
"Nice to meet you," Lex said, and he sounded like he meant it. "Gosh, thanks, Nicholas!"
"My pleasure," he said with a slight incline of the head.
"Thanks for letting me look around. I promise, I won't touch anything!"
"Ready for the grand tour?" Sherry took his arm and flashed her pearly whites again as she led Lex away.
Maddox folded his hands behind his back and nodded in satisfaction.
Behind him, in his office, the intercom buzzed and a voice spoke. "Mr. Maddox, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Strijken?"
"There's a Mr. Leifson to see you, sir."
"Tell him I'm --" Maddox stopped short. "What was that name again? Did you say Leifson?"
"Send him in! At once!" When the light on the intercom went dark, Maddox exhaled and shook his head, trying to control the wild excitement that bubbled up within him. He paced the floor, rubbing his palms together briskly. "Leifson!"
"Speak of the devil," a rather insolent voice replied, and Maddox turned to see a man lounging in the doorway.
He was tall and lean, with a shock of long white-blond hair and a hawkish demeanor. He wore black engineer's boots with chains snugged down over the insteps, acid-washed jeans so tight you could read the dates on the coins in his pockets, and a black leather jacket with "Hel's Angels" scrawled on the back in letters of multicolored fire.
He and Maddox, the latter impeccably clad in a dark blue Italian suit with a black pearl tie-tack and matching cufflinks, looked at each other for a long, weighted moment.
"Hullo, old man," Leifson drawled, tipping his fingers from his forehead in a casual salute. "I'm back at last. Out of the slammer."
"If that's the case," Maddox said carefully, his heart racing at the implications, "then that ... that means --"
"That it's going to be just like old times. Just the way you want it."
Maddox closed his eyes briefly in delight. "And not a moment too soon," he said with such eager longing that it surprised even him. "You have no idea how long I have been waiting for this moment!"
A sinister smile curled Leifson's lips, and a fiendish gleam lit his eyes. "Oh, I've got a pretty good idea, all right!"
TO BE CONTINUED ...
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