Written by: Brian Dumlao and Alison Wilgus,
with contributions by JEB
Additional material by Christi Smith Hayden
Story Concept by: Todd Jensen, Patrick Toman, and Kathy Pogge
Illustrations by: Christi Smith Hayden and Alison Wilgus
Previously on Gargoyles…
Zed: [eyes widen] "Hey! I've seen you before. You're the boss's nephew, Umbrella or something."
Umbriel: "Umbriel, actually. Umbriel Strijken, if you please."
~ When The Bough Breaks - Part One ~
* * * * *
Umbriel: "Think of it this way, a little of your freedom for his safety. You could save him by keeping Maeve focused on other things, away from London."
Banshee: As I have told you time and time again, this war between Madoc and Oberon is none of my affair. [Her eyes flare] How is it that you serve the Unseelie Court, human-born?
Umbriel: [pauses] "In the beginning, it was out of a sense of kinship. Oberon has never once acknowledged me as his son but Madoc welcomed me and offered me a second chance at being part of a family." [His eyes harden] "I soon learned that our politics were not the same but without my presence to temper his more radical views, I dare not leave. There must be a balance or else even the Unseelie Court will fail."
Banshee: You play a dangerous game.
Umbriel: "Some games are worth the risk, Banshee. To make change, sometimes one must rise to the challenge. Admit it, if you wanted to play it safe, you would've stayed on Avalon with the others, cowering in Oberon's shadow. Here and now is where things are going to happen. The question is, will you be a part of them or not?"
* * *
Madoc: "So, nephew, this is where you've been spending your off hours."
Umbriel: "It is a comfortable place, and the company of your Halflings has been pleasant enough."
Madoc: "An odd choice for companionship when you have the entire Unseelie Court to chose from."
Umbriel: "Are they so different from me, uncle?" [spreading his hands] "True, their powers were a gift of science while mine were granted by more natural means but I could easily call them cousins."
Madoc: "Your point-of-view is logical, but your perspective is skewed. You, dear Umbriel, have the blood of Avalon in your veins. Your future is limitless, while theirs, alas, is not."
~ When the Bough Breaks - Part Two ~
* * * * *
Madoc: "A different city, for a different time, Garlon." [turning to his nephew] "Remember, nephew, nothing stays the same forever."
Umbriel: "No, uncle," [softly, lost in his own memories of a long ago happier time when he'd walked the streets below them without a care in the world, an auburn-haired young woman at his side.]
~ Homecoming ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
A brisk, chill wind blew in the empty alley, lifting a discarded page of newspaper into the air and whirling it into a dark alcove. There, it came to a sudden halt, seemingly wrapped around a pocket of shadow. Two icy blue eyes melted out of the darkness, looking at the paper for a moment, before a gloved hand reached down and tossed it disdainfully away.
The eyes glowed faintly green as they watched the rear door of a nearby building swing open. Three others joined him in the alley, staggering slightly under the weight of several large crates. Two men and a woman, dressed in dark clothing, all grumbling as they loaded their cargo into the back of a truck. They could have passed for human if not for their pointed ears and vaguely elfin features.
"Aw, geez," one of them growled, a youthful white male with a strange haircut, shaved from nape to ear and long collar length hair from crown to ear. None-too-gently, he dropped the box he'd been carrying into the truck. "Remind me again why we're doing this? I'm a hacker, for goshsakes... all this manual labor's startin' to get to me." He leaned against the side of the truck, making a great show of his exhaustion.
"No whining, Zed," the woman hissed. "We're doing this because Madoc told us to. Do you want to end up like Casey?"
Zed muttered a few choice phrases under his breath, then went off to fetch the next crate. As he passed, the eyes peering out of the shadows narrowed. A man who looked the embodiment of average, dressed in a brown overcoat, stepped out into the faint light. His lips curled into a disapproving frown, and he turned to another, slighter person standing next to him.
"Why are they taking so long?" he asked, his voice a low monotone. "You told them this equipment is important."
Umbriel pushed a wandering strand of light hair behind his ear. "They don't much like this sort of work - it's hardly worthy of their abilities, after all," he said, then sighed. "But I suppose you're right... it is getting late." He pretended not to notice Garlon's smirk.
The Halflings were all standing idly by the truck as Umbriel approached, passing around a thermos. Zed looked up. "Hey, Umb! Want a little something to warm you up?" He offered the thermos and grinned. "It's not Irish coffee, but it'll perk you up all the same."
Umbriel held up a hand. "No, thank you..." He lowered his voice. "I don't think that this is wise, right now. Garlon -"
"Can wait until we're done with our break," Vince said curtly and took another swig.
Candy glanced over at the Unseelie nervously. "I'm done, anyway." She started back towards the open door. "Zed, give me a hand with this next box, OK?"
"Yeah, sure." Zed swiped the thermos away from Vince and screwed it shut. "We both will, right?"
The former Dracon goon snorted. "Whatever."
As Umbriel watched them go, he was only mildly surprised to find Garlon suddenly standing next to him. "It's a cold night," Umbriel protested in answer to the disapproving look on his colleague's face. "They were only taking a moment to warm themselves."
"Weak, useless mongrels, the lot of them," Garlon grumbled. "We should have been finished and on our way back to the Brocken by now."
"They will be done soon enough," Umbriel said. He cast an arch look at Madoc's nondescript lieutenant. "Perhaps if you lent them a hand...?" Garlon glared at him for a moment, then melted back into the shadows.
* * * * *
High above, three winged figures soared over the city, a lavender female and a blue male gliding on currents of warm air and the third, a golden cyborg flying under her own power. They scanned the streets and alleyways below them, searching for matters in need of their aid.
Voices echoing off of brick walls caught Angela's attention, and she squinted down at a group of tiny figures in one of the darker alleys. "Broadway...do they look familiar to you...?"
Broadway cocked an eye ridge questioningly, following her line of sight. "Can't tell from this high." He swooped lower, the two females following suit. "Wait, they're..." He trailed off, eyes blazing. "Unseelies!!!" Roaring his battle cry, Broadway dove down to street level and slammed into a very surprised Zed before the other gargoyles could stop him. The Halfling was hit full in the torso and knocked head over heels, landing in an awkward pile about fifty feet away.
"Zed!" Candy yelled. She turned to his attacker, firing a blast of effervescent turquoise energy. He dodged, soaring high above her on an updraft. She grumbled in annoyance, and the glow around her body brightened and expanded threefold. Suddenly, she launched herself at the big gargoyle in a streak of black and blonde, catching him full in the stomach and knocking him onto a nearby rooftop with the force of the impact. Candy allowed herself a small vicious grin before flying down to continue the assault.
Zed groaned and pushed himself upright, his eyes widening as he watched another gargoyle land gracefully on the pavement. Light from the street lamps glinted off of golden limbs and wings. "Holy mother of Andrew, what the heck is that?!"
"What the heck is what?" asked Vince with a blank look, just before the subject of their conversation hit him with a steel right hook.
Glancing down at Vince, who now lay next to his feet, Umbriel tapped into nearby ley lines and quickly erected a protective force field around the truck. The alley before him was alight with magical energy, glowing an almost neon blue as his comrades warded off the gargoyle attack.
The large blue male gargoyle stalked towards him. "What is this? A little breaking-and-entering?" He cracked his knuckles. "Consider this a citizen's arrest!"
Absently, Umbriel wondered where Garlon had gotten off to as he started generating a defensive charge. Violence and mayhem was more his cup of tea. As if answering his unspoken question, Garlon stepped of the shadows and knocked Broadway out of the air and into a concrete wall.
Candy dragged Broadway to his feet, then grinned maliciously as she sent arcs of blue energy coursing into him. "Well, hello, fat boy," she crooned. "Let's dance."
"Broadway!" Angela tucked her wings and dove into the fray, her blazing eyes lending a crimson light to the eerie scene. Candy looked up towards the noise, but before she could react, Angela had grabbed her and wrenched her away from the other gargoyle. A low growl rumbling in her throat, she seized Candy by the front of her jacket and lifted her off the ground, holding her at arm's length.
Umbriel had a moment of indecision as Angela pulled back her arm in preparation for the knockout blow. But as the fist started on a collision course with Candy's jaw, he made a quick gesture with his hands; Angela blinked in confusion when she found her talons suddenly empty, the Halfling having been teleported in a burst of light to the truck bed.
Candy sprang up and made as if to leap back onto the street, but her progress was halted as she flattened herself against the force field Umbriel had erected. "Umbriel, you pointy-eared idiot!!" She pounded against the invisible wall with her hands. "Let me out of here!"
But Umbriel wasn't listening. Now that she was safe, he turned to the others...just in time to see Coldfire hurl Zed into Vince like an inhuman cannonball. She dusted off her hands and allowed herself a satisfied smile as the two men slumped into unconsciousness. But her victory was short-lived - she took a small step backwards, partially immersing herself in inky shadows, and a small cry escaped her mechanical throat as the darkness closed in around her. Garlon's cruel laugh echoed through the alleyway.
Angela leapt up and went charging to Coldfire's rescue. Again, Umbriel hesitated, uncertain as to what to do next. His indecision could not have been more poorly timed. Broadway, recovered from Candy's attack, slammed into him from behind. Umbriel's concentration faltered, the force field around the truck disappearing briefly as he redirected his attention to disabling Broadway and Angela with small bursts of electric blue. Candy, who had been throwing herself against the field, went tumbling down onto the pavement.
Seconds later, a column of flame erupted from the shadows, as Coldfire escaped from Garlon's well of darkness. Snarling, she turned her fiery wrath on Umbriel, who hastily threw up a small force field to deflect the flames. They coursed around him... and into the back of the truck. Almost instantaneously, the crates within were reduced to pools of ash and bubbling metal.
Too late, Candy sent enough energy surging into the android's body to short out her systems, then dumped her unceremoniously onto the ground. "Good going, Umbriel," she said, the sarcasm in her voice almost tangible. "You just fried a night's work."
Umbriel swallowed hard, composing himself. It wasn't fitting to show weakness in front of the Halflings; he was their teacher and guardian, and must be worthy of their confidence. There was a long, uncomfortable moment; he could feel Garlon glaring silently at his back. Finally, he shook it off and sent a stream of dark magic into the wall nearby, forming a man-sized portal. "Get the others," he said to the Unseelie. "We're going back to the Brocken."
Quietly, his icy gaze never straying from Umbriel's form, Garlon did as he was told.
* * * * *
The Brocken, Germany
"...and so, due to the gargoyles' interference, the goods you sought were destroyed," Umbriel said, concluding his brief report. "I am sorry, Uncle...I accept full responsibility for what happened."
Perched on his bat-winged throne, Madoc mulled over his nephew's words, still echoing through immense hall. "And you say nothing could have been done to avoid this?"
"Yes," Umbriel looked right into his eyes, praying the lie would go undetected. "The Halflings, Garlon and I did what we could, but the mechanical gargoyle caught us off guard." He gave silent thanks the others were not there to refute his story. He could almost see Garlon licking his lips in anticipation of disgracing the half-human upstart.
"I see," Madoc smiled - it at least seemed genuine. "Well, then...I believe Queen Maeve and I -" He gestured to the armored woman standing next to him. "- can overlook this unfortunate lapse. Provided it does not happen again."
"Yes, my lord," Umbriel said, his tone formal. "Thank you for your generosity in this matter." Bowing respectfully, he turned to leave and another Unseelie, a strange gray man-like creature with bat-wings took his place.
"Ah, Camazotz," Madoc said expansively. "Do you have a report from Huitzilopochtli for me?"
Umbriel barely heard the opening words of Camazotz's response. He stepped quickly from the room and sought sanctuary elsewhere.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Manhattan
The elevator bell rang in the hallway of the castle, and Elisa Maza stepped out from the compartment, pools of water forming around her feet as she stood on the marble floor. Regretting her earlier decision not to bring an umbrella, the detective shivered and set out into the Great Hall, grateful for the climate control systems that blasted warm air into the room. Teeth still chattering a bit, she strode through the hall and toward the living quarters, searching for a particular someone.
The first room Elisa searched was the library, since she could almost always count on Goliath being there. Instead she found Angela and Broadway nestled on the couch, under a throw blanket, reading a rather romantic novel together. However, from the look on Angela's face, this was not a particularly romantic moment in the book. Angela was quietly weeping while Broadway leaned closer to her, stroking her hair and trying to comfort her as best as he could.
"It's okay, Angela. He'll return for her and it'll all end happily ever after," he said in a calm and reassuring tone of voice.
"No, he won't," she responded, trying her hardest to fight back her tears. "Not in time to save her. She's going to die in that cave... alone... without him." The lavender gargoyle took a short, deep breath before returning to her sobbing. Elisa looked at the couple, smiling to herself. This was their special moment together and she did not want to ruin it by her intrusion. She simply moved on to ask someone else about Goliath's whereabouts.
The raven-haired detective stood at the doorway to the entertainment room. Peering in, she saw Brooklyn and his family watching a movie together. The white-haired, beaked gargoyle sat on the couch as Sata leaned against his chest. On the floor, Ariana sat transfixed at the actions of the actors on-screen while Graeme looked on with desperation, hoping that the boat would just sink and the already long movie would simply end.
"Jump off the ship already!" he heckled as the actors huddled around the lifeboats in a reckless fashion.
Ariana socked her twin brother squarely in the shoulder. "Quiet," she scolded, "They still haven't gotten to the best part."
The green gargoyle was about to retaliate with an equally powerful hit when he felt the light sting of a tail-whip hit one of his feet. "Don't even think about it, Graeme," Brooklyn warned as he brought his attention back to the movie and to the female lying on his chest. Graeme retracted his fist and grumbled until he saw the visitor at the doorway.
"Hey, Aunt Elisa," he said as he got up from the floor to meet her. "You looking for something?"
"Actually, a someone," the detective answered. "Have you seen Goliath anywhere?"
Graeme scratched his beak for a second. "Don't know. Maybe Uncle Lex has an idea where he is. He's in the computer room playing with Alex right now."
"Thanks, Graeme," she responded. As she began to proceed towards Lex's location, she felt a talon tug at her hand. She looked back to see Brooklyn's son staring back at her.
"You want me to go look for Uncle Goliath for you? I really don't want to stay and watch this dumb film."
"Hmmm, well," she answered, "I guess so, but then you might miss out on the part where the ship sinks and everyone starts falling off."
"Really?" he asked, intrigued by the prospect of violence in an already dramatic film. "Never mind, Aunt Elisa." He sat back down on the floor and paid more attention to the film, anticipating the upcoming carnage.
"Later, Graeme." Elisa smiled and went to go see Lexington. She found him just where Graeme said he would be. The olive-green gargoyle sat in front of the computer monitor with Alex in his lap. His arms were draped over the toddler, wings shielding his from everything around him except for the glow of the monitor. Alex sat excited, fascinated by the dancing images produced by Lexington's fingers clicking across the keyboard.
"Hi, Lex," she said in greeting
The olive-green gargoyle turned his attention away from the monitor for just a second to greet his visitor. "Hi, Elisa," he responded.
Alex also seemed to send out his greetings, waving his hands frantically in the air and trying to imitate what his babysitter had just said. "Hi, 'Leeesa."
Elisa walked over to Lexington and picked the youngest Xanatos up from his lap. "Well, hello to you too, Alex," she said as she proceeded to give him an Eskimo kiss and fuss around with his hair. The young toddler simply smiled and giggled with delight at all the attention he was receiving. "Are you having fun with your Uncle Lex?" she asked as she placed him back on Lexington's lap.
Alexander said, "Yeah, we have fun."
"Yeah, we're just chatting with Liz right now," the gargoyle answered.
"That's great. By the way, any idea where Goliath is? I haven't been able to find him so far."
Lexington thought about this for just a minute. "He might be outside on the castle tower."
"Thanks," Elisa said quickly as she dashed through the castle to find her beloved. She found him exactly where Lex said he would be. Goliath was standing right at the edge of the tower, looking out into the dark winter city skyline. He stood there, silent, damp, brooding in deep thought.
"Hey, big guy, you okay?" she asked, more than a little concerned.
The gargoyle leader sighed heavily. "When will it all end?"
"I'm sorry?" she asked, prompting him to repeat his words.
Goliath continued to stare out into the skyline. "The war. When will it all end?"
"When we win and when Madoc is defeated."
"Yes," he continued, "but can we win?"
"What makes you think we won't?"
Goliath turned around to face his love, and her heart ached at the frustration etched in his normally stalwart features. She placed a hand on his massive shoulder and the gargoyle leader seemed to gather strength from her. He began to unburden himself, revealing the bottled up fears he kept hidden from his clanmates. "We have never really defeated any of the Unseelie in battle before, not decisively. We have always fought to a stalemate or retreated, but we have never really defeated them. We have so little control. Madoc chooses the time and place of our battles, not us. I fear the longer we wait, the stronger he will become. The less of a chance we have to win." He closed his eyes as if his confession had exhausted him.
Elisa took his massive head into her own small hands and raised it until he faced her. When Goliath opened his eyes, he saw the face of his love, smiling, encouraging, giving him the hope he so desperately needed. "We can win. We must win. We have to... for the sake of the clan and for the sake of all mortals. We can't give up, Goliath. Too many people, even if they don't realize it, are counting on us. I can't give up." She paused for a moment. "And I won't let you quit either."
Goliath's frown turned into a smile as he pulled his love towards him and wrapped her up with his wings, enclosing her in his self-made cocoon. "Thank you, Elisa," he said softly. "What would I do without you?"
Elisa snickered as she said jokingly, "Probably wither away into nothing." She leaned into his broad chest and wrapped him in her arms. "You know, I have a day off coming soon. Why don't you and I go out and do something together? Just the two of us. No clan, no bad guys, no Unseelie. Just us."
"That would be nice," he said as he continued to hold her close to him.
The raven-haired woman looked up to see the lines of worry upon Goliath's brow had softened. "I love you," she said quietly.
"And I, you, my Elisa," he responded. They stood together, ignoring the cold and the rain as they took comfort in one another's embrace.
* * * * *
The Shire Pub, Greenwich Village
The English-style pub was unusually empty that night. A recent series of unpleasantries - particularly Casey's death and the Gargoyle raid several weeks ago - had scared many of the late-night regulars away. Only Zed, Umbriel, a handful of pool-players and Sam Underhill, the barkeep and proprietor, remained.
"You did good tonight, Umb," Zed grinned and downed the rest of his beer. "That thing with the force field? Very cool."
"Awww, c'mon!" The Halfling punched him good-naturedly in the arm. "Yeah, so we screwed up a little, so what? Madoc can just deal with it. And in the meantime, some of us are gonna go out and grab a pizza... you interested?"
Umbriel smiled a little, but shook his head. "No thank you, Zed," He sighed. "The thought is appreciated, but I'm afraid I'm not really in the mood. I... have some things to think about."
A concerned frown tugged at the corners of Zed's mouth, but after a moment he shrugged and stood, taking his coat. "All right, Umb, I'll let you be. Just don't beat yourself up over this, okay? And hey, I'll save a slice for you, just in case."
Umbriel nodded without raising his head. A cold draft seeped into room as the door to the street opened and closed. He took a swallow of his drink, and winced at the unaccustomed sting of the alcohol going down his throat. Something was wrong; the evening's events were far more important than Zed had realized.
There was little question in Umbriel's mind why he had hesitated earlier that night, reluctant to strike out against their attackers. Though half-fay by blood, he was human by upbringing, and did not share the Unseelie indifference toward mortals. He could have killed them. Easily. But he hadn't. As much as his uncle tried to convince him otherwise, Umbriel did not believe the gargoyles deserved to die. Or the humans. Or anyone, really.
He stared at the half-empty glass in his hands, watching the light reflect on the surface of the dark amber liquid. It reminded him on one of the few times he'd ventured into the world from the solitude of his New England home. The ruddy gold of the whiskey became the russet ringlet that escaped the careful arrangement of her hair and lay enticingly on the smooth ivory curve of her neck. In his mind's eye, Umbriel could see her still, Colleen Mackenna of Edinburgh, dressed in the fashion of a century before, just as she was on the night they met in the parlor of the boarding house.
"Dearest Colleen," Umbriel murmured under his breath. "How very long it's been, my darling."
Reaching into his pocket, he took out an old-fashioned pocket watch and popped open the cover. The sepia tones of the photo had faded to shades of beige over the years but Umbriel could only see the brightness that Colleen had bought into his life. Ten glorious years they had spent as man and wife, snug in their comfortable house on the Scottish coast. It had been the happiest time of his life until that last fateful year when he had acquiesced to Colleen's desire for a child. For reasons he could not explain, Umbriel had been plagued by premonitions of disaster for the duration of Colleen's pregnancy. Once again, his fay blood ran true and he cursed it as he watched them lower Colleen and their stillborn child into the cold, cold earth.
Deeply hurt and heartsore, Umbriel had retreated to his home in Cotuit soon after and had remained there for decades afterwards. It had been a contented life but the damage had been done. Colleen had taught his human heart how to care and now there was a deep desire to belong that nothing seemed to quench. When Madoc had found him, Umbriel couldn't help but follow, even when he realized he was fighting the wrong cause.
"So why am I here?" he murmured aloud.
"To get a drink, I'd imagine."
Umbriel looked up and for a baffling moment, he thought it was Colleen. He blinked, shook his head, and re-focused to see a young, red-haired woman sitting across from him in the booth, one eyebrow cocked questioningly. He relaxed a bit, leaning back in his seat. "Good evening, Banshee. I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"I needed a change o' scenery," she said. "And it's Molly, if you don't mind."
"Of course," Umbriel sighed. "Actually, I feel rather the same way. My uncle had wanted to ask more questions about what happened earlier, and....I don't know..."
"You're avoiding him, in other words."
"I suppose so, yes..." said Umbriel. "He can be rather...discomforting. Especially these past few months. He's always talking of the war and his plans for after our victory, but... to be perfectly honest, none of it sounds all that appealing."
"Then why do you stay with him?" she asked, leaning forward across the table. "You told me before that you want to 'temper his more radical views,' keep him from doin' too much damage. But you and I both know that isn't true."
"Of course it is," said Umbriel, a defensive edge to his voice. "Without me, Madoc would --"
"Go on just as he is now. Madoc may humor you, but he doesn't care one whit about what you think." Banshee frowned. "My alliance with him is one of convenience. I wanted revenge on Oberon, and escape from that awful gag. But you... you haven't any vendettas. No agenda. Nothing to gain. For you, there's something more than just utility."
He was quiet for a long moment, then, "Madoc is my uncle. The Halflings are my cousins, by genetics, if nothing else. And as for the rest of the court, well... at least they're company." His voice was barely audible, now. "I've been alone for a very long time."
"Bah...a few hundred years never killed anybody," Banshee said with a dismissive gesture.
"Perhaps, at least in our case," Umbriel admitted. "But I've almost always lived by myself; only allowed myself the briefest moment of happiness. I can't change my form as you do, Molly. I couldn't hide my agelessness from the world and still interact with it." He closed his eyes, brow furrowed as memories rose to the surface. "Death had taken my family, my friends, and my loved ones...And now that I have them once again, even if they are in the form of Madoc and his court, how can I simply walk away?"
The frown creasing her face deepened. "I have no love for Oberon, but... as much as I hate to say this, you might be better off with him, on Avalon." Banshee winced slightly at her own words, but forged ahead. "He's an arrogant, childish, pompous blue idiot; if Madoc wants to challenge his rule, he has my blessing. But sometimes I question his intentions. He's out to improve his own lot in life, that's for sure. But, as for the rest of us, I wouldn't count on his generosity or his compassion. We're important to him only as long as we are useful." She paused. "Oberon and Titania may be infuriating, but they're not evil. I can't say the same for your dear uncle."
"He means to make a better life for those who serve him," Umbriel replied, sounding as if he were reading from a pamphlet.
"He maintains what's convenient, and gets rid of what isn't." In an uncharacteristic display of affection, she covered his hand with hers. "Watch your step, will ye, darlin'? I'd hate to see you hurt."
Umbriel was quiet for some time after that, his light hazel eyes wide as he looked at her. "But... I'm his nephew. Surely he wouldn't - "
The exchange was stopped mid-sentence by a sudden flash of green light in near the bar. Hovering before them amidst a halo of swirling energy, Maeve's image smiled. "Beansidhe, dear. Sorry to disturb your little chat." She paused to give Umbriel a scathing look. He hastily pulled his hand back from under Banshee's. "But you're needed at the Brocken. Come to the throne room - Lord Madoc has a mission for you... one I think you'll enjoy." The apparition's mouth curved into a feral smile, then dissolved into mist.
Banshee sighed and stood up, pulling on her leather coat. "It seems I have to go," she said apologetically. "Take care, Umbriel... perhaps I'll see you here again?"
"Perhaps." Umbriel watched her go, then went back to staring into his empty glass. There was a lot for him to think about.
"Can I get you another?" Sam asked solicitously.
Umbriel thought about it, but realized he had a craving for something else. "No, thank you very much, Mr. Underhill." He tossed some money on the bar and left.
* * * * *
Somewhere in Manhattan -- two nights later
It was a beautiful moonlit night in the city of New York. The air was bitingly cold, yet crisp, something the average New Yorker could at least tolerate. For the first time in a long while, the skies were clear of any winter clouds, and moonlight shone brightly on the city streets. The only occupants in the heavens were the moon, the stars, and a winged figure gliding in the night, holding someone in his arms.
"We're almost there," Elisa said as she held on tightly around the back of Goliath's neck, half-looking into his eyes and half looking out into the city below.
"Elisa," he asked, "Where are we going?"
The detective smiled a coy smile as she replied, "Can't tell you 'til we get there. It's a surprise."
The gargoyle sighed and continued gliding in the direction Elisa indicated earlier. He did not like many surprises but he trusted Elisa's judgment and thought he should make the most of the situation, whatever it may be. At the very least, he had Elisa with him, and on a quiet night like this, that was all that mattered.
"There it is," Elisa said after a few more minutes of gliding. "Land over there in that parking lot."
Goliath touched down gently between the white painted borders of the asphalt-covered plain. As he helped Elisa to her feet, he looked at his surroundings. Orange light poured from the lampposts that littered the parking lot, the light itself very faint, barely able to show the white borders marked on the ground. They were surrounded by emptiness, save the building that they were now facing. The complex itself was bordered by a chain link fence that was already covered with rust. One side of the fence held a sign saying "Future home of Super Q. Opening Fall 1999."
"Where are we?" Goliath asked as he looked around, bewildered.
Elisa removed a flashlight from her jacket pocket and shone the light onto the building. "The Hoboken Family Recreational Center. Dad used to take me, Derek, and Beth here on Sunday afternoons for a little R&R when we were kids." She scanned the building, looking for the doors of the gate. When she found them, she fished around in her pockets and produced a set of keys.
"How did you get those?" Goliath asked.
"From the owner of this place," the detective answered as she fiddled around with the padlock on chain that held the gate doors together. "Mac was always nice to us, especially since dad was a cop. I just came here to play one last game for old time's sake, before they tear it down." She grinned up at him. "And I can't think of anyone else better to play it with than you."
The lavender gargoyle smiled a little, then wondered, "What game are we going to play?"
"You'll see." Another coy smile. The snap of the padlock echoed in the air as did the sound of the chains rattling against the metallic fence as they fell to the ground. "C'mon," she said, "I'll show you around." Taking his hand in hers, she pulled Goliath along behind her as she ventured inside.
Elisa kept the flashlight on as she searched for the circuit breaker. She found it, covered in dust, in a control room just to the left of the entrance. After opening the control panel and flipped a few switches, Elisa jumped back to keep away from the sudden shower of sparks. Electricity flowed through the wires of the neglected center, and the once dark room lit up to show the two visitors everything it contained.
Goliath's eyes widened at the sight before him. To him, this was the sort of place that Lexington and the twins were more likely to enjoy than himself. Scores of arcade games and pinball machines lined the walls, filling the room with their electronic music and noisy sound effects. Inside a glass case were small toys and signs marking their prices in tickets. Behind the counter was a slew of sports-related equipment, including baseball bats, baseball helmets, and driving helmets for the go-karts outside.
Elisa emerged from behind the counter with two sticks and two small balls, one colored orange and the other green. "The game is miniature golf," the raven-haired woman said as she handed her love both a club and the orange golf ball. "You can learn as we go." She led him to the golf course, which was brightly lit and in surprisingly good condition, despite its abandonment a few months ago.
"Okay, big guy," Elisa started, "this is how you play." She placed her green ball on the tee. "You have to get the ball into the hole using only this golf club; you win by doing it in the least number of strokes." Taking the club in hand, she putted her ball down a wavy course. The ball rolled smoothly, stopping a half a foot away from the hole. "See, very easy. Now you try."
Goliath's face brightened a bit as he remembered where he had seen all this before. "I remember Hudson watching this game on the television," he rumbled, clearly pleased with himself. Caping his wings about his shoulders and smiling a smug little smile, he stepped up to the tee. "I think I will fare very well here." He put his ball in place, held his club firmly in his hands, then raised it high in the air.
"No, Goliath, stop!" Elisa shouted, but it was too late. With a mighty swing, Goliath smacked the ball with tremendous force, causing it to fly towards the miniature castle in the middle of the field, ricochet off the windmill, go whizzing over their heads to hit the fun center wall, and, finally land right back near the golf tee.
After a minute or two of uncontrollable laughter, Elisa managed to gain enough composure to speak. "Hold on there, Tiger!" she said. "It's called 'mini-golf' for a reason. You can't swing the club that hard. Here, let me show you how to do it." She went behind the gargoyle and wrapped her arms around his massive body, ultimately taking hold of his wrists. "You bring the club slightly back," she instructed, moving his arms for him. "Remember, mini. Then you hit the ball... not too hard!" Goliath grunted a reply. "Okay, now...here we go..." Under Elisa's guidance, he tapped the club's head against the ball, causing it to glide smoothly over the astroturf, rebound off one of the bumpers, and land neatly in the hole.
"See, there you go," she said, disentangling herself. "Not so hard, is it?"
The lavender gargoyle had a somewhat goofy expression on his face. "Perhaps not, but... could you show me again?"
Elisa smirked. "C'mon, Big Guy... let's play on!" Again, she took him by the arm, and together they set off for the giant wedge of Swiss cheese.
* * * * *
The Shire Pub, Greenwich Village
Umbriel leaned forward in his chair, scowling at the chessboard. His hazel eyes flicked carefully over the playing surface as he studied the positioning of his pieces and that of his opponent. Finally, after much deliberation, he moved his knight.
Zed promptly took it with his queen, snapping up the ivory horse with one quick motion.
Umbriel's mouth gaped open as he reared back in his chair. "Must you move so quickly? You hardly give one time to think!"
"Umb, you know I love you like a brother but you play like an old lady," Zed said with a laugh. "The chess hustlers that hang out in the park would eat you alive."
"Sometimes I think the world moves too fast for the likes of me," Umbriel said ruefully. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Headache?" Zed asked solicitously.
"I've been sleeping badly," Umbriel admitted. "Strange dreams that I can never remember later."
Zed made a face. "Yeah, I know what you mean. That makes me crazy." He looked over the edge of his glasses and grinned. "I have this dream about me and Girl Power Five and I always wake up right when we start wrestling in cherry gelatin."
Umbriel was staring speechless at the Halfling hacker in fascinated horror at that vivid image when the door of the pub opened and a gust of ice-cold air swept the room. Zed and Umbriel both looked up at the redheaded newcomer. Umbriel began to smile without being aware that he was until his tablemate nudged him.
"Go on," Zed said with a conspiratorial wink, "buy her a drink. You know you want to."
Zed made shooing motions with his hands. "Go, go!"
Shaking his head, Umbriel gave his friend a grin and crossed the room to meet Banshee at the bar. "Two Irish coffees, Mr. Underhill, if you please."
"Ach... honestly, I don't know what I ever saw in that Maeve woman," Banshee sighed. Once again in her human guise, she ran a hand through her short, red hair and shook her head. "She was touched in the head centuries ago. She's absolutely psychotic now."
"So's my uncle. No wonder they get along." Umbriel grinned wryly and handed her a drink. "What is it that she needed you so desperately for, anyway? You never did tell me."
Banshee shrugged and took a long sip, delicately licking whipped cream off her lip. "Nothing terribly interesting. Madoc wants me to keep an eye on Goliath and his wench. And then Maeve took me aside for a while and droned on about the 'good ol' days' of wreaking havoc through Ireland." The redheaded woman scowled down at the remnants of her drink. "I'm not overly fond of her or the Morrigan anymore, but they're constantly seeking me out."
"Which isn't necessarily a bad thing," said Umbriel thoughtfully as he reached for the peanuts. "One of the reasons you joined us in the first place was to protect Rory from Maeve... what better way to do that than by staying close?"
"I joined the court," Banshee said, jabbing him in the arm with her index finger, "because you convinced me to. I was perfectly capable of watching out for Rory on my own in London. But you kept telling me how the Unseelies weren't all that bad and how I was better off with them than with Oberon."
"Frankly, no. These... people..." she used the word reluctantly, "aren't anything like me. Or you. We don't belong here." She raised her eyebrow at him. "Speaking o' which, you've made yourself scarce lately. Where have you been?"
"My house," Umbriel replied. He sipped his Irish coffee and smiled just a little. "Whenever the world becomes too much, I retreat to my house on the Cape. It's a strange thing but sometimes I just need to spend a night or two under my own roof, sleeping in my own bed." He laughed. "What little sleep I did get."
"Bad dreams?" Banshee smiled at his startled expression. "Bad dreams and I go hand-and-hand, boyo. Have for centuries." She looked him over. "There's a look about your eyes… these dreams of yours, they haunt you, do they?"
"Perhaps..." Umbriel looked contemplative for a while, mulling over what had been said. Then, abruptly, he set down his glass and stood, stood taking his coat and hat off a nearby peg. "Come on… let's go for a walk."
Banshee glanced out the small window to the street, then looked at him incredulously. "Are you crazy? It's freezing out!"
"Nonsense," he declared, handing her the jacket and scarf she'd worn earlier. "It's nothing we can't handle." Seeing that his companion still looked doubtful, he took her arm and pulled her up next to him. "Please?"
A few minutes and a considerable amount of grumbling later, they were wandering through Washington Square, their tracks alone in the virgin snow as they passed between the trees. A gust of wind swirled around them, sending light, powdery flakes showering down from the rooftops. Banshee shivered and buried her face in her scarf.
"I hate this sort of weather," she was saying, her words distorted by wool and chattering teeth. "Wind, I can handle. Cold, I can handle. Rain, I can handle. But months and months of endless winter?" She shook her head fiercely. "Nasty weather."
"Do you really think that?" Umbriel surveyed the wintry landscape around them. "I've always loved nights like this one. The trees, the snow, the tranquillity...it's so magical, in a way." There was a feeling wonderment and reverence in his voice that was almost childlike. "See how everything glitters? How the only colors are blues and whites and grays?" He paused and closed his eyes, breathing deep. "Beautiful."
"I don't know... tolerable, maybe... but beautiful? I think you might be deluding yourself."
Umbriel chuckled. "Molly, I lived in the same little New England town for three hundred years. I'm a Yankee, born and bred, and we Yankees are a proud and stubborn lot. We love everything about our little corner of the world, weather and all."
Umbriel's eyes grew distant as he thought back to his home in Cotuit, a tiny cottage near the sea. "I remember, when I was just a small boy, my favorite day of the year was the morning after the first snow." He smiled. "I used to go out into the woods with my mother and have the most wonderful adventures. She was the Snow Queen, and I was the handsome Prince, and together we ruled over the Kingdom of Ice."
Banshee took his hand gently, her expression concerned. "You miss her, don't you?"
There was a long silence. "Yes," he said finally, "I suppose I do. Even after all this time... she was my mother and a mother's love never fades. She left Amsterdam when she discovered her pregnancy, sold everything she owned and came to the New World, so I wouldn't be born in disgrace. All my life, she protected me from the rest of the world... no one else has ever looked out for my well-being like that."
"It sounds as if you have quite a story to tell," Molly said, "and I must admit, you've got me curious." She shivered. "But perhaps we could go back inside first...?"
A short walk later, they'd returned to the Shire Pub, now almost wholly deserted. The pair slid back into their booth and ordered another round of drinks, then sat for a few moments regarding each other.
"So?" Molly prodded. "Let's hear the rest o' it."
"Well..." Umbriel swallowed, collecting his thoughts. "Where should I start?"
Molly grinned lopsidedly. "The beginning is always good," she said. "Your mother... what was she like?"
"Her name was Miranda Strijken," he said slowly, remembering. "She never told me much of her life before I was born. I know she lived in Amsterdam and loved the ocean, and that she was very shy. Which is why she was so startled when a tall, handsome stranger walked up to her at a party and asked her to dance." He sighed. "And, later, wondered if he could stay the night in her home."
Umbriel nodded. "The next morning he was gone, and my mother was with child. Oberon had abandoned both of us." He paused and took another sip of his drink, his eyes fixed on a point somewhere over Molly's shoulder. "She couldn't stay there any longer, obviously - naive as she was, she still knew that a child born out of wedlock wouldn't be welcome there. So she sold everything she owned, wrote brief letters of farewell to her family, and booked passage on a ship that would take her to the New World.
"A tiny village on the southern coast of Cape Cod, bought from the Indians for a kettle and hoe, Cotuit was a tight community from its earliest days. But no one asked about who my father had been - many understood from personal experience the desire to leave one's past behind. The townsmen built Miranda a tiny house on the ocean, and a few months after she gave birth to a son."
He smiled faintly. "I was the first among them born in America, so I grew up being the eldest child of the entire village. When I was a baby, everyone spoiled me rotten, and as a grew up, I was adored as the darling, polite young man with the wispy platinum hair and glowing smile."
"Didn't they see there was something odd about you?"
"Not really, no. The ears and the strange allergy to iron were easy enough to ignore. And when my magical abilities began to surface, Mother kept them well hidden. No, Molly, there were no witch-hunts. Throughout my young life, I was happy, healthy, and loved. Life for the Strijken family was as near to perfect as it could be.
"But then, one night in late December, I returned from my work at the docks to find the house dark and still. The fire had gone out hours before and a meal sat half-finished near the hearth." Umbriel bowed his head. "I raced up the stairs and into my mother's room, and... she was there, lying across bed." There was no need to elaborate; Banshee reached over to cover his hand with hers.
He smiled wanly, then continued. "By then, the differences between myself and the other villagers had become impossible to ignore. I'd long-since discovered my magical talents, or at least the beginnings of them, unconsciously reaching out to catch falling vases or fetch needed tools. I could see things - currents of energy, auras - that no one else could. More importantly, though, was how I aged." He chuckled. "Or, rather, how I didn't. On the day my mother died, I was forty years old... I could have passed for twenty.
"Others were bound to notice. As my small circle of friends withered away, someone would see that I alone remained unchanged. And they would drive me away from all that was dear and familiar. Molly, everything that mattered to me was slipping away...I couldn't lose my home as well...so, my mother died, I locked myself in the house and hid from the world.
"Since then, I've been almost entirely alone. Oh, I traveled a bit, even lived in Europe for a decade or two." Umbriel sighed bitterly. "I even dared to love a mortal once for a brief, wondrous time."
"You did?" Her voice softened. "I'd thought as much when you didn't seem disturbed about me an' Rory. Most of the others wouldn't have understood."
"Colleen and I were very, very happy together," he said sadly. "But time conspired against me as it always has. Every time I've sought companionship, in the end, I've had to leave them behind." He looked into Banshee's eyes. "Until now. In the court, I -"
"Madoc isn't the answer."
He shrugged helplessly. "I have no where else to go. I don't want to be alone anymore, Molly."
"What about Avalon? You're o' Oberon's blood, after all, an' your magiks are respectable enough. If he an' Titania were so bent on gathering a fay-touched human infant, I'm sure they'd be happy enough to see you."
Umbriel's voice was suddenly cold. "My father has demonstrated his lack of interest in me clearly enough already. I don't need another reminder," he said, then looked up. "Why don't you return?"
"There's no going back for me, not anymore," she said, shaking her head. "I can't live under Oberon's rule."
"Then it seems we're both stranded."
Banshee glanced around the pub. "We could leave," she whispered, her eyes brightening for an instant with faerie light. "Leave Madoc, leave the court... maybe even help the humans an' gargoyles defeat him. You and I both know what he's doing is wrong."
Umbriel looked away. "I don't know..."
"Think about it," Banshee said, resting a hand on his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "Now come on...it's time for us to be gettin' back to the Brocken."
They gathered their things and headed towards the door, journeying out onto the windblown streets. Near the booth they'd abandoned was a corner hidden in shadow, and now the outline of a figure could be seen. Cold, blue eyes peered out from the darkness, and a low, malicious chuckle echoed through the empty bar.
* * * * *
The duo of golfers had reached the sixth hole. Goliath had caught on rapidly under Elisa's tutelage, and his score at each hole rapidly improved. The raven-haired detective, though she had not played in many years, was having a stellar night, scoring under her normal par. As she looked over at her gargoyle companion, she noticed him doing something he rarely ever did since the war had begun... smile.
"What are you smiling about?" she asked as she headed up to the tee.
Goliath's train of thought seemed to have been broken by her words. "What?" he asked.
Elisa turned to face the gargoyle. "What are you smiling about?" she asked for a second time.
"Nothing," he said as he attempted to maintain a semblance of his normal sober demeanor.
"You know I don't believe that. You're hiding something, I know it."
"Elisa," he said calmly. "What can I possibly hide from you?"
The raven-haired detective shrugged it off and concentrated on the hole. Pulling back on her stick ever so slightly, she swung at the ball and watched it, hoping for another hole-in-one. The little golf ball made it perfectly through the wooden doors, hit one of the red borders, and stopped just short of the hole. A little disappointed, she turned around and saw Goliath, his grin wider than ever.
"And just what is so funny?" she asked, slightly miffed at his reaction. She was greeted with no response. "You're laughing because I missed, right?"
"No, I didn't say that," he said, voice trembling, trying to protect himself from whatever Elisa might do to him. To his surprise, she calmly walked away and allowed him to take his place at the tee.
"Okay, Mr. Golf Pro, let's see if you can do any better," she said as she took her club and playfully swatted him at the base of his tail. Goliath jumped, both a little surprised and teased by what his love did, and took his place at the tee. When he finally got a good hard look at what he was faced with, he froze. It was a windmill with three doors in front. As the propellers of the windmill moved, all three doors moved up and down in unison.
"Goliath?" Elisa asked. "Are you all right?"
The gargoyle stood motionless.
"Goliath?" she asked again.
This time Goliath shook himself out of the stare and looked at Elisa.
"Are you all right?"
The fearless leader cleared his throat. "I'm fine. Nothing to be concerned about."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am fine," he said, trying to convince both his love and himself that what he was saying was the truth. However, Elisa did not seem convinced.
"Hey", she said softly, "you know that if anything is bothering you, I'm here to talk about it."
Silence struck the duo. For a while, no one said a thing. Then Goliath spoke. "This device," he said. "It reminds me of something that my rookery sister would make."
"Is this the one you were telling me about? The one you called your 'clever sister'," Elisa asked, genuinely interested in his past.
"In a sense, yes," he answered as he began to recall an event that happened between he and his rookery sister, the one Brother Edmund called Asrial.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern - 979 A.D.
"But that's ridiculous!" the bearded gargoyle elder said for the umpteenth time. "You go down there and tell your rookery sister that this is no time for her inventions!"
"Yes, Elder," Goliath answered simply and turned to go.
"And take these two with you," the elder snapped, gesturing to his rookery brothers, the one with the twisted horn and his crested friend. "You three and your sister can patrol the western border."
Thersites kept his tongue until they were gliding away from the castle. "The old windbag is in a foul mood tonight. What has our clever sister done that's got him all ruffled?"
"She's spent every night for a week down by the river," Goliath rumbled. "Some sort of water-powered machine, I think. All the elder knows is that she's missed her patrol duty three nights in a row."
"Some gargoyles have all the luck," Thersites commented wistfully.
"I don't see what the problem is," Ajax said seriously. "Our sister is better suited for other tasks than patrolling. She is too delicate to be a warrior. Her time would be better spent learning to be a rookery keeper. That's a fine and honorable occupation for a female."
Both Thersites and Goliath gave Ajax a curious, disbelieving look and then glanced at each other. Thersites cleared his throat delicately. "Brother, I've noticed that you don't often have much success when conversing with the unmated females."
"So? What of it?"
"You might have better luck with them if you kept silent. Let them admire your physical prowess and noble profile instead."
Ajax considered it and nodded his crested head ponderously. "You have sage advice, my brother, as usual. I will do as you say."
"You'll find you'll live a long fruitful life that way." Thersites did an aerial wingover to the far side of Goliath and murmured, "Slight she may be, but our clever sister would cleave his skull in two if she heard his words."
"And that would be kind compared to what some of the other females would do," Goliath agreed.
It wasn't long until they reached the small building on the river's edge where Asrial had been spending her nights. One of the blacksmith's sons was there as well as the miller and his apprentices. Asrial was trying to remove a block from the waterwheel and was tugging with all her might, tongue stuck in the corner of her mouth in concentration.
"Sister!" Goliath called as he touched down, lightly for all his massive bulk. "What are you doing?"
"Trying—ummph!" Asrial gave another tug. "Trying to start up the waterwheel. I've finished the modifications inside but the current is strong tonight. It's pushing against the wheel and the wedge is jammed in too tight."
"Then you must let us help you," Goliath replied kindly. "Brothers! You move the wheel from that side and I will move it from this side while our sister pulls the block free."
Ajax began to unbuckle his breastplate and toss it aside but the gargoyle with the twisted horn seemed reluctant.
"Ugh," Thersites said, grimacing at the mill pool. "That means I'll have to get wet. Water stays in your ears even when you're in stone sleep, you know, and the last thing I need is to be mistaken for an ornamental fountain, not to mention waking up with pigeons roosting from my horns and the reek of pigeon droppings first thing in the evening is JUST more than I can bear—"
"Fine!" Goliath snarled. "Trade places with me and I'll get wet, all right?"
Thersites took a step back at Goliath's expression and smiled nervously. "Oh, yes, that would be just splendid, thank you, brother! Sister? Anytime you're ready…!"
The male gargoyles took their places, Thersites on the bank next to Asrial and Ajax and Goliath up to their chests in the river-fed mill pool below. Asrial nodded and gave the signal. Working as a team, the gargoyles forced the wheel back against the current and Asrial pulled the block free, landing smack on her tail.
Goliath stepped dripping from the river. "Now, sister. I hope you're finished here. Our elder sent me—"
"Everyone!" the blacksmith's son called. "Come and see!"
The humans and Asrial rushed inside the open doors of the mill. The three male gargoyles trailed along behind. An extra cog had been added to the main assembly of the mill wheel that ground grain to flour. The new cog led to another and then to a series of shaved wooden bars that went up and down alternately, pounding the grain in the stone trough below it.
Excitedly, the miller's son clasped Asrial's forearm and beamed at her. "You were right! That was a good idea you had!"
Asrial patted his hand and smiled back. "But it was your finer skills in ironworking that made it happen, my friend. We did it together."
"By the Dragon!" Ajax exclaimed. "What strange device is this?"
The miller pulled a lever that stopped the beaters. He raked the pounded grain into a basket held by his apprentice who trotted to the mouth of the door to toss the grain up so that the chaff and loose dust was carried away in the wind.
"Master!" he cried. "It works! It really works! The grain is perfectly threshed and cracked."
The miller examined a handful of grain. "Yes, yes, this will grind very finely." He gave Asrial a crooked smile. "I was not sure, lass, when you came to me with this idea but I believe it will work quite well. I can offer threshing for those who cannot do it as well as grind flour."
"Then, friend Miller, do we have an agreement?" Asrial said boldly, holding out her hand.
The portly man barely paused before seizing her hand. "Yes! As agreed, I will give you and young Smith here who helped with the machinery each a sack of the finest flour for your services. But I wonder, what does a gargoyle need with cake flour?"
Asrial shot a bashful look at Goliath and laughed self-consciously. "A present for a friend."
The wet gargoyle turned a pinker shade of lavender.
* * * * *
"As it turned out," Goliath finished. "The very finely ground flour the miller gave her in exchange for her invention made a glorious Solstice cake at our next celebration. Everyone agreed that it was the best part of the feast." He looked at the windmill and smiled sadly. "Sometimes I wish she was here to see all this. This world would have suited her indeed."
"I wish I could have met your clever sister," Elisa said quietly, "and your other clanmates, too. It sounds like you were all really close. Not like my family."
The lavender gargoyle looked at her slightly puzzled. "I thought you had a good relationship with your family."
"I did. I mean, I do. But…." She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "My dad and grandfather are a different story. They never saw eye to eye for as long as I can remember." Elisa fell silent and tried to push the painful memories away. As she picked up her club and walked to the next hole, a gentle hand came to rest on her shoulder. She looked over to see Goliath looking down on her with concern.
"Elisa," he said. "Talk to me." The dark-haired woman froze and turned around, her companion's simple plea warming her heart.
"According to mom," she began slowly, "dad and grandpa had a really big fight the day my father decided to turn his back on the traditional life and leave the reservation. Dad stayed away for a long time, but when he met mom, he brought her to meet his parents, mainly because I think she insisted. I know it was that way when we were growing up. Mom wanted us kids to know about our entire heritage. So every few years we'd go to Arizona for our summer vacation." Elisa smiled as she recalled the warm reunions with her grandparents, then frowned as she recalled her father's stiff formality. "They loved seeing us, especially grandpa- he'd always have stories to tell and things to show us, but he always seemed to greet dad with some sort of... distance. The adults all tried to keep up the act in front of us kids, but," She looked up at Goliath and shrugged. "You know how intuitive kids are, we could tell something wasn't right."
Elisa pushed her free hand over her eyes. "I think they tried to find common ground over the years, but things never quite came together. It wasn't until Coyote got involved that dad was finally able to find some understanding." The dark-haired woman shook her head in disbelief. "You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I wish he'd done it sooner. I wish Coyote had found a way to fix what went wrong between them all those years ago."
Goliath looked down at Elisa in sympathy. "Somehow, knowing Coyote, if there had been a way, I believe he would have."
Elisa paused, framing her response.
"Hey, what are you two doing here?" a feminine voice called out. The accent sounded Irish. The players looked up to see a red-haired security guard standing next to them, arms crossed. She lifted an eyebrow, as if to add, I can't wait to hear this one.
Elisa handed her club to Goliath and stepped forward. "Just playing through."
"Uh-huh," replied the guard. "And how did you get access to this place?"
"Mr. Hoboken's a friend of mine and gave me the keys for the night." While the guard considered this, Elisa added, "Listen, I'm a cop." She flashed her badge. "We're just here for some mini-golf, nothing sinister."
The security guard smiled a bit. "All right, I'm convinced, officer. Just remember to replace your divots," she said wryly, then turned and walked away, disappearing into the night.
Goliath turned to Elisa, a look of mild concern on his face. "Elisa, did something about her seem peculiar?"
"You mean her reaction to you?"
"Or lack of it," he rumbled.
"Yeah, that does seems a little strange... I didn't think the PR campaign was going that well...."
Once she had slipped around the corner of a building and out of the couple's line of sight, the guard's uniform and human features melted away, and Banshee stood pale and willowy in the moonlight. For a moment, her form glowed with magical energy; when it faded, all that remained was a faint, misty outline.
* * * * *
The Brocken, Germany
Madoc looked up from the flames that roared in the pit before him. "Ah, Banshee...you have news regarding your charges, I trust?"
She inclined her head slightly, firelight casting highlights in her lavender hair. Her large, white eyes flickered briefly to Maeve, sitting in a throne-like chair at his side, before returning to Madoc's cold face. "Yes, my lord. Goliath and the Maza woman are alone, in a park outside of the city. They will be there for another hour or so, at least."
As she spoke, Umbriel and Garlon entered the room, then stood respectfully to the side. Garlon's dark glare flicked between Banshee and the half-blood next to him, sending chills up Umbriel's spine.
Arching an aristocratic brow, Madoc had turned back to the fire pit before him, studying the flickering patterns of light intently. Slowly, the amusement center came into focus, its occupants deep in concentration as they studied the seventh hole. "Excellent," he said. "Thank you, Banshee...you have been most helpful."
Despite her implied dismissal, Banshee stood her ground. "If I may be so bold," she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice, "why do you have such interest in these mortals? They are o' no great concern to us."
Madoc's eyes narrowed. "You know of the Weird Sisters' prophecy as well as I do," he said. "That I am destined to be destroyed by a union of the human and gargoyle races. I have reason to believe that the... relationship between Goliath and the detective is the union of which they spoke." He straightened. "Now, if there is nothing else..."
"Uncle," Umbriel started, taking a step forward. "There have been many alliances between the younger races in recent years, in all corners of the world. Ishimura, London, New York...with so many to choose from, how can you be so certain that this pairing is the right one? It seems a rather obvious choice for the Sisters..."
"All fine observations," Madoc said in a somewhat condescending tone. "However, evidence in support of my suspicions is more than adequate. I have been researching their backgrounds. The gargoyle's daughter was raised on Avalon. And, they have aided my brother and his followers on several occasions." He steepled his fingers. "I know the marks of a conspiracy when I see them. Those two are the weapons forged to destroy me. Unless I destroy them first."
"Destroy?" Umbriel asked, frowning. "Isn't that a little extreme, uncle?"
"It is the only way," Madoc replied grimly. "I cannot afford to take risks on this matter. Only by killing them can I be certain that the prophecy will never be fulfilled." He rose to his feet, the folds of his cape pooling around him on the marble floor. "Tonight, they are alone and unprotected. We must strike now, while the window of opportunity stands open." He glanced over at his nephew, who looked as if he wanted to be just about anywhere else. "Umbriel, you will fetch whichever Halflings you feel will prove most useful and wait for me at the park. Garlon and I will join you shortly."
Casting an indecipherable look at Umbriel, Banshee said, "if you please, Lord Madoc, I would like to accompany you as well."
"Beansidhe?" Maeve said, lifting one elegantly shaped eyebrow. "Whatever for?"
"Surely, cousin, you haven't forgotten that it was Goliath and the woman that led to my defeat at the hands of the resurrected avatar of our age-old enemy Cuchulain?" Banshee gave a grim smile. "Tit for tat an' all that. They owe me."
Maeve's emerald eyes glittered as she returned the smile. "An excellent point. Beansidhe claims right of vengeance, Madoc. What say ye?"
He considered the matter briefly, then made a vague gesture in the rogue Seelie's direction. "Very well. Go with Umbriel to New York and take the Halflings to the place."
Umbriel looked as if he wanted to say something, but Banshee took him firmly by the arm and led him out into the hall.
After they had disappeared from sight, Madoc looked over at his aide. "Now, Garlon... you wanted to speak with me?"
Partially immersed in shadow, the Unseelie smiled a crooked smile. When he spoke, his words dripped with malice. "It's about your half-breed nephew, Milord...I think your trust in him may be misplaced." He cast a careful glance at Maeve. "You might find this interesting as well."
"Oh?" Madoc looked intrigued, but there was something dangerous in his voice.
"He and the Banshee have been spending quite a bit of 'quality time' together," Garlon said slyly. "And I think you'll be surprised at what they've been talking about..."
* * * * *
The Shire Pub, Manhattan
"I'll take two."
"And dealer takes two, no, three cards."
Candy laughed over the tops of her cards. "You can deal them, Zed, but you sure can't play them."
"Ha, ha." Zed tucked his cards into the palm of his hand and tossed a blue chip into the pile in the center of the table. "I'll raise ten."
"Hmmm, is he bluffing or isn't he?" George commented as he leaned back in his chair, munching a pretzel. He studied Zed for a few seconds. "I'll see that and raise you five."
"I'm out." Candy slapped her cards down on the table.
"Too chicken to play with the big boys, eh, sweetheart?" Vince teased as he tossed down some chips of his own.
"Too smart," she shot back. "I've seen these guys play before."
"Big deal," Vince snorted. "Dracon's floating poker games, now that was some cutthroat, high stakes action."
Zed's eyes flicked from his cards to George's face. "I'll see your bet and raise it."
George tossed his chips in without even looking. "Call."
Vince groaned as Zed laid his cards face up one by one with a little smirk on his face. The former Dracon goon flung his cards down disgustedly. "Gah! How did you manage to built a straight by taking three freakin' cards, you little hairy geek?"
Zed grinned as he raked in the chips. "Just lucky I guess."
"Lucky at cards, unlucky at love," George commented. He stretched his arms out and draped one over Candy's shoulder. She scowled at him but didn't make an attempt to push him away. Vince glowered and downed the remainder of his drink.
A bright light lit up outside the round entryway and the heads of the card players turned to look at it. The light dimmed to nothing as the door opened and Umbriel opened the door, letting redheaded Molly step through first. Zed squinted over the tops of his red-tinted glasses. For some reason, Umbriel looked genuinely unhappy.
"Hey, Umb!" Zed called. "C'mon over and we'll deal you and your date in!"
Molly smiled ruefully while Umbriel blushed right up to the pointed tips of his ears. "Actually," she said smoothly, "we've just come from Lord Madoc. He's got a job for three o' you."
"Three?" Umbriel asked, having regained his composure.
"Call it me lucky number."
"What's up?" asked George.
"Two o' our enemies have foolishly strayed away from the city," Molly said. "The gargoyle leader Goliath an' that Detective Maza wench."
Candy and George were on their feet in seconds. Blue fire blazed from George's eyes. "Yes! I've been wanting to go head to head with Goliath again."
"Count me in!" Candy said affirmatively, almost knocking over the chair in her haste to put her leather jacket on.
"That's two," Molly murmured to Umbriel over her shoulder.
"Vince," Umbriel said suddenly, "you'll come with us too."
"Aw, come on, Umb!" Zed whined. "I wanna come too!"
Umbriel chewed on his lip for a few seconds. He took Zed aside and spoke frankly. "My friend," he said softly, "I don't want you to come with us. Do you remember my saying that I've been dreaming a lot lately?"
"More often than not, I get visions in my dreams -- things that may or may not happen. I will not risk your life tonight."
Zed looked vaguely sick. "Something's up, isn't it? C'mon now, you're scarin' me here, Umb."
"Just stay here and everything will be fine." Umbriel managed a weak smile and suddenly shook the Halfling hacker's hand. "Thank you for your friendship, Zed." His grip tightened. "Be well."
"Umbriel!" Molly called. "We're ready!"
Without a word, Umbriel turned and dashed across the pub to join the others in a brilliant flash of light as they passed through the doorway.
Zed blinked. "Well! What do you know about that?" He sat down heavily, jarring the chess set on the table. An ivory rook teetered and fell over, rolling off unnoticed onto the floor.
* * * * *
"Goliath, maybe you should just give up on this one," Elisa said, examining the scorecard. "I mean, fourteen strokes is pushing it as it is..."
"No," he growled, clenching a massive fist around his club. "I will not let this... CLOWN defeat me!" A look of fierce determination on his craggy features, he set up for his next attempt.
His concentration was broken, however when the green-haired clown exploded in shower of sparks, blasting them with heat and shards of metal. Goliath reacted quickly, shielding Elisa from the worst of it with his body.
"What happened?!" she yelled, her voice muffled by his wings. Wondering the same thing, Goliath raised his head to look around.
A silent group of figures stood behind them, their faces lit by the clown's flaming remains - Banshee, three of the Halflings, and a young man with platinum hair whom Goliath had never seen before. But before he could give it any further thought, a thunderous boom cracked through the air, followed by a sphere of blinding white light. Shielding his eyes as best as he could, Goliath looked on to see two more figures step through the portal.
Goliath growled low in his throat, his eyes already blazing white. "Madoc."
The Unseelie lord looked at Goliath coldly, still and silent. Next to him, Garlon glared at the human and gargoyle, his disdain obvious. "Look at them...disgusting."
Eyes never straying from the Unseelie lord, Elisa reached for her gun, only to realize she'd left both it and its holster locked securely in her kitchen cabinet. "Fine time to leave your piece at home, Maza," she muttered under her breath.
"Fine time indeed," Madoc said, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes at his adversaries. Again, a long stretch of silence. Then his eyes flared bright silver, and he gave the order to his troops, his voice chilling in its calmness. "Kill them."
Goliath's eyes reverted back to normal as he quelled his rage and devised a strategy to follow. "Split up. We can try to take them out separately instead of together." Elisa nodded and they parted, each running for different sections in the fun center.
Madoc watched them go, then motioned to George. "Harrison, you and the women track the gargoyle. Umbriel, take Garlon and the other Halfling," he gestured to Vince, "and go after the human." The former thug and the Unseelie immediately started after Elisa, and Umbriel was about to follow when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Ice gray eyes bore into his. "Remember, nephew," Madoc said. "They are the enemy. I expect no mercy."
A blank look fell over his face. "Yes, uncle...of course,"
* * * * *
Elisa darted past the Swiss cheese and around the windmill, finally taking shelter behind a miniaturized pyramid. This was most definitely not good. She had no gun, no means of contacting the others, not even an iron bell in her pocket, and a bunch of Unseelies trying to kill her. For a moment, she allowed herself to think she might have lost them; then the statuette of Anubis next to her foot was reduced to a smoldering mess. Desperate, she looked around for something she could use as a weapon, hoping there might be a club at the very least, or maybe a bat from one of the cages nearby. What she found was a large bucket of golf balls.
She studied it for a moment, then grabbed the handle and shrugged. "What the heck? It works in cartoons..."
A minute later, a stocky Halfling – if memory served, an ex-Dracon enforcer named Vince -- ran full-tilt into Elisa's make-shift defenses, lost his footing, and went hurtling past her into a chain link fence with a comical yelp. Allowing herself a smug grin, she peeked around one of the pyramid's sloping walls. The immediate area seemed empty, and though wondering vaguely where the others had gone, she took her chances and ran out into the open again, hoping to take cover in the main building.
She was almost past the batting cages when another Unseelie - the blond one this time, dressed in a long, dark overcoat - came charging out of the shadows.
He frowned and waved a hand at her. "Wait! Miss, please wait! I won't hurt you!"
"Yeah right," Elisa muttered. She whirled one of the pitching machines around toward him, flicked on the power, then launched a barrage of baseballs in his direction. Eyes widened in surprise, he dodged the first few, then was hit full in the chest and knocked backwards onto the Astroturf. Elisa didn't bother to see him get up before dashing further into the maze of the golf course.
* * * * *
Umbriel sat there for a moment or two, blinking and somewhat dazed as he watched her run through the doors of the amusement center. He should have known better than to think she would actually stop and listen to him, but... even if she had, what exactly had he intended to say? "I'm sorry, Miss Maza, but my Uncle wants to destroy you and there's really not much I can do about it...you understand?" Not that, of course, but...
"You were going to warn her, weren't you," Garlon finished Umbriel's thought with quiet menace as he suddenly appeared standing next to him. But Garlon didn't wait for an answer; before Umbriel could speak, he had once again disappeared into the shadows.
* * * * *
Stilling her labored breathing, Elisa took refuge in the darkened game room. Sharp shadows cast by the inactive machines loomed over her and she found them strangely comforting as she slipped between the rows.
"Think, Maza, think!" Her thoughts were not encouraging as she reviewed her situation. No gun, no phone, no iron. No one who knew where they were or even that they were off the island of Manhattan. "Great," she muttered. "This is another fine mess Goliath and I have gotten ourselves into."
She froze as running shadows passed by the windows. As her eyes followed them, a dim light attracted her notice. There, on the far side of the room near the restrooms, was a payphone.
"Yes!" Elisa exclaimed in a loud whisper and started towards it in a crouched run, using the cover of the game machines to hide from any watchers outside. Heartbeat pounding in her ears, she reached the shallow alcove and fumbled for some pocket change. The metallic clink of the coins sliding into the slot sounded like thunder.
She chewed her lip as she listened to the dial tone. "C'mon…. c'mon….!!!"
"Hello?" The sound of Hudson's gruff brogue was music to her ears.
"Huds—urk!!" One gloved hand covered her mouth and the other twisted her arm painfully behind her back. The receiver fell free and banged noisily against the wall. Furious to be caught unaware like a rookie, Elisa struck out instinctively, elbow to mid-section, foot to instep. She saw sparks before her eyes as a powerful surge of energy jolted her body.
"Naughty, naughty, detective," the deceptively quiet voice growled in her ears. "My lord Madoc wishes the pleasure of your company."
Faintly, she could hear the tinny echo of Hudson's voice from the dangling receiver as the world faded to gray.
* * * * *
Goliath retreated deeper into the fantasy realm of the golf course. There was a crash, followed by some muffled cursing, that almost made him smile despite the gravity of the situation. It would seem that his beloved was handling things in her own inimitable fashion. He vaulted a fence into the neighboring children's play area littered with life-sized fiberglass animals. The metal railings surrounding the kiddie rides looked to be a more effective source of weapons. He stepped out from the shadows and headed towards them.
Voices echoed from the sky.
"Looks like there's a new animal in the zoo," a woman's voice called with a harsh laugh.
"I've always thought gargoyles belonged there," a familiar-sounding man's voice answered. "In the reptile house, right between the Gila monster and the two-headed snake."
A brilliant bolt of blue energy shot down, lasering through the head of the elephant Goliath was standing behind and severing the long neck of the spotted giraffe nearby. Another burst came from a different direction, nearly missing his right wing. Quickly, Goliath caped his wings around his shoulders.
"Yippee-yi-yo-ki-yay!" crowed the female Halfling as she came within Goliath's view. "It's time I put my mark on you, little gargie!!" She swung around, switching ley lines to get a better shot.
Growling, Goliath reached for the fallen giraffe's neck and bided his time, waiting for just the right moment. Muscles tensing, eyes flaring, he hurled the long cylindrical hunk of fiberglass at Candy like a lance, striking her from the sky.
An enraged shout came at him from behind and before Goliath could turn, the full weight of the male Halfling stuck him between the shoulder blades. The lavender gargoyle roared and rolled with the momentum but came to his feet face to face with George Harrison. The Halfling's red-gold hair crackled with a life of its own as George conjured up an energy blade in each hand. Goliath growled softly.
"That's right, monster," George said menacingly. "It's just you and me." Like a lethal dancer, he dodged in and slashed, neatly slicing the edge of Goliath's wing. "Come on, let's do it."
Goliath narrowed his eyes as the two warriors began to circle. "We have never understood why you hate us so," he said calmly, watching his opponent's moves carefully. "All this time you've been against us -- first, with the Quarrymen and now with the Unseelie Court. It makes no sense. Your brother is a good friend to the clan and has been from the very beginning."
"My brother," George spat, "is none of your concern." He leaped up and evaded a sudden sweep of Goliath's tail. He lunged, his right hand blazing like a comet as he aimed a roundhouse punch at the gargoyle's head. "If it wasn't for you and your stupid clan, I wouldn't be in this mess."
"My clan?" Goliath caught George's fist in his massive hand and grew tight-lipped at the corona of arcing power forming. "We have always sought to live at peace with humanity. How can you can say that your acts are my fault?"
George's eyes turned electric blue. "You freaks went public the moment the Air Force revoked my commission. Coincidence? I think not." He extended the psionic blade of his left hand and slashed at Goliath's mid-section. "Not with the kind of things I was involved in. You ruined my career!" He twisted around and managed to hurl Goliath in a modified throw. "I had everything! Now I have nothing! For everything that's been taken from me, you're going to pay!" He channeled an energy blast straight at the fallen gargoyle.
Goliath rolled to his feet, narrowly missing the blast and charging back at George. They grappled messily like bar room brawlers, locked in mindless combat. Candy got to her feet groggily and was attempting to aim at Goliath when Banshee glided up, her pale green gown floating inches above the frozen slush.
"I can't get a clear shot!" Candy cried. "George! Let go of him! I'll get him!!"
"Oh, bother that," the Banshee said disgustedly. "Cover your ears, girl!" She took a deep breath, dropped her jaw, and the sonic vibrato of her voice knocked the combatants head over heels, toppling the fiberglass elephant and tangling the lines of the kiddie airplane ride behind them into a demented May pole. She wiped the corners of her mouth daintily and regarded her handiwork with a mild expression.
Candy was aghast. "But George is on our side!?!"
"An' making a right regular mess of it too," the Banshee observed. "Just like a man." She dusted off her hands and made a casual gesture. Goliath suddenly rose from the ground, shrouded in a glowing mist. "Now let's be off. Madoc's waiting."
Blinking, Candy watched the rogue Seelie walk off. "I do not believe these people," she muttered and went to check on her fallen comrade.
* * * * *
The small group of Unseelies reconvened in the center of the park, surrounded by the smoldering remains of the golf course. Goliath and Elisa's unconscious bodies were dumped unceremoniously on the ground at Madoc's feet, and he allowed himself a small smile.
"'...Or together they be destroyed,'" he murmured, quoting the Sisters' prophecy. "For a momentous event such as this, there should be some sort of ceremony. What say you, Garlon?"
"Crucifixion is long overdue for a comeback, milord."
"True, but it's time-consuming and bothersome." Madoc clenched his fists, bringing them forward as he began to summon his power. The air all around them began to crackle with energy in preparation for the final blow.
Horrified, Umbriel looked on as Madoc raised Goliath and Elisa in the air. There was no more doubt in Umbriel's mind. What was happening was terribly wrong, and nothing, not even his desire to be part of a family again, was worth the price of two innocent lives. He took a deep breath and stepped forward.
"Madoc!" His uncle looked up from his intended victims, the dark magic shrouding him in macabre shadows. Umbriel set his jaw and gathered his strength. "This is wrong. I can't let you do this." Deftly, he deflected the ley lines around Elisa and Goliath, wrapping that energy into a tight ball of energy and, in flash of light, transported them to a place vivid in their memories, faraway across the river. It was the greatest distance he'd ever teleported anything and the effort staggered him.
"Oh, no, Umbriel," Banshee whispered, shocked at his open defiance. "Run, you poor, stupid fool!"
"Uncle, I realize you must be angry with me," Umbriel said in a calm, sensible voice with the barest hint of a quaver, "but I couldn't let you do it. To use your powers for such a despicable act, it's not worthy of you. It just felt wrong, Uncle. I know you can see that for yourself if you'd only—"
When Madoc turned to face him, he didn't even think to run.
"You traitorous little half blood," Madoc growled, slowly advancing. "Betrayer!!"
Umbriel backed away reflexively, panic beginning to set in. "Uncle, I..."
"Did you honestly think I wouldn't find out?" Another step closer. "That all your scheming with the Banshee would go unnoticed?"
"But," Umbriel stammered, "we weren't..."
Madoc seized him by the front of his coat, jerking him forward so that they stood with their faces mere inches apart. "You overestimate your usefulness to me," he hissed, his eyes now burning with starfire.
Banshee, who had been watching all of this with a growing sense of dread, did not share her friend's naiveté; she knew what was coming next. So, despite her better judgment, she started to open her mouth for a mind-shattering screech to send Madoc reeling but found her voice paralyzed by the cold touch of a blade at her throat.
"Not one word," Garlon murmured menacingly, "or I'll slice your voicebox from end to end."
Umbriel was frozen in place, a deer in the blinding headlights of his uncle's eyes. His expression as the realization began to set in sent screaming goosebumps all along Banshee's spine.
"I had hoped to use you against my brother... to let him see what it is like to be betrayed by his own son." He pushed Umbriel roughly away. "You were to be my companion, my advisor... my successor, if need be."
"Such a disappointment," he snarled, an unholy wind swirling about him. "I don't know why I even bothered with you."
"Uncle...!" Umbriel's eyes were pale and wide, the blood rushing from his face. "Please, no...!!"
Madoc curled his lip contemptuously at the feeble plead for mercy. He channeled all the rage and pent-up fury meant for Goliath and Elisa upon his nephew. Silver flames sprang up from the ground, engulfing Umbriel as arcs of hot white energy coursed over him. Umbriel's body tensed, his mouth open but without the breath to scream, tears escaping from clenched eyelids. Madoc's eyes widened eagerly as he relished the agony on his nephew's face. Then the last wave of arcane flames swept over him, and Banshee caught a final glimpse of Umbriel's terrified face before they became blinding in their intensity. When the light faded, all that remained was a mound of ashes at the Unseelie's feet.
"No....." Banshee lowered her eyes, ceasing her struggle against Garlon's hold.
Garlon laughed softly in her ear. "Your turn," he purred. Certain that the Banshee had lost her will to fight, he relaxed his grip and lowered the blade from her throat.
Unfortunately for him, Molly's baser instincts took over, and Banshee grabbed Garlon's wrist, twisting the knife away following it up with an incapacitating knee to the stomach. She tossed him aside and glared at Madoc.
"Go on! Conquer Avalon an' do battle with Oberon if you must! But you'll be doin' it without me!!" Banshee cut loose with a heartfelt shriek of mournful regret that sent Madoc and Garlon stumbling back on their heels long enough for her to scoop up the still warm ashes of what was Umbriel in her skirt and teleport herself away.
"Shall I pursue, my lord?" Garlon asked, shaking his head to clear the ringing in his ears.
"No," Madoc said grimly. "Leave her to Maeve's tender mercies. She'll wish for my quick death to Maeve's slow tortures."
Candy and Vince hobbled up the path with George slung between them. Garlon flicked his eyes over them coldly. "You're dismissed for the evening," he said bluntly. "Go home."
He and Madoc disappeared into a portal without a backward glance.
* * * * *
Somewhere in Greenwich Village
"Father?" Angela's voice was faint, but growing stronger as it pierced through the incessant ringing in his ears. "Father?"
"A-angela?" Realization made Goliath sit straight up. "Elisa!"
"She's fine, Father," Angela said soothingly. "Brooklyn and Sata are seeing to her." She moved aside so he could see his second-in-command and his mate tending to his beloved. Sata snapped something under Elisa's nose and the dark-haired woman coughed, batting weakly at Sata's hands.
"Where are we?" Goliath asked, slowly growing accustomed to the nausea accompanying the ringing.
"Yuir on th' roof outside o' Elisa's old apartment, lad," Hudson said as he hunkered down next to Goliath. "When Elisa called us an' I heard th' commotion on th' other end o' th' phone, Lex had th' call traced. We were on our way when we saw a bright light that appeared suddenly. When we checked it out, we found you an' th' lass here."
"I don't understand," Goliath rumbled. "Madoc was going to kill us."
"What?" Brooklyn exclaimed as he came over. "Why didn't he?"
"I'm not sure," Goliath answered. "I was fighting George Harrison when this incredible sound overwhelmed me." His brow furrowed. "I seem to recall seeing Madoc before us. I couldn't hear his words but it was clear he meant to kill us but then, an Unseelie with long, pale hair stepped between him and us. There was a flash –" He shook his head. "That's all I remember."
He looked up to see Elisa on her feet, leaning heavily on Sata.
"Careful, Elisa-chan, you must save your strength." Sata shot a slightly worried look at Brooklyn. "We should really get both of them back to the castle."
"The guy that got in the way," Elisa persisted weakly, "did he have greenish eyes, a thin face and a long dark coat?"
Goliath nodded slowly. "Yes, that's the one."
"I ran into him," she said in a puzzled tone. "He said that he wanted to help me but I didn't want to believe him."
Angela chewed on her talon thoughtfully. "There was someone very much like that in the room when Maeve was trying to get me to tell them about Avalon. He looked very unhappy about being there."
"Dissension in the ranks?" Brooklyn suggested. "Maybe things aren't as united in the Unseelie Court as we think they are."
"I certainly hope so, Brooklyn." Goliath rose slowly to his feet. "All I know is someone had a change of heart tonight. We owe him a debt for his sacrifice that we may never repay."
* * * * *
An isolated house on Cape Cod
The French doors overlooking the Harbor opened seemingly of their own volition. Airy curtains billowed as the early morning fog rolled in, the mists rising and slowly forming into a lavender-haired woman with a tear-streaked face, clutching a fold of her pale green gown in her hand. She drifted to the mantle over the fireplace and took down an antique vase in a blue-and-white Dutch pattern to carefully deposit the ashes she carried. That sad task done, she shimmered and took her human form of redheaded Molly.
"Friend Umbriel," she said softly, "I couldn't save you from Madoc's wrath but at least you're home." She placed the vase back on the mantle.
Banshee wandered Umbriel's beloved home, observing how it was so like Umbriel himself quiet, reserved, filled with odd knickknacks and antique furniture collected over the past three hundred years. Nantucket baskets with yellowing scrimshaw; paintings of mermaids and sailors; an assortment of seashells and driftwood gathered from the beach. Models of old fishing boats were displayed on the mantel, next to a bowl of mermaid's toenails that shone like golden stained glass in the morning light. A wooden lobster trap sat in the corner, bits of dried seaweed still clinging to its nets. Banshee surveyed the collection solemnly, then paused at a serigraph portrait of a turn-of-the-century Umbriel and a young woman. The joyful look in his eyes struck her to the core in a way she had not thought possible after all her centuries of existence.
With a sob, Banshee collapsed in a wicker chair by the window. Her arms struck the edge of a book on the neighboring table and tumbled it into the floor. As she picked it, she noticed it was a journal and felt compelled to open it at the place marked by a dark green satin hair ribbon.
"Such strange dreams," Umbriel had written in his old-fashioned handwriting. "I keep seeing the image of a woman. Not young, older… a motherly woman with silvering dark hair, crowned with stars. She seems so sad. I want to ask her why she grieves so profoundly, but each time, she manages to turn the tables on me and draws out my pain and my troubles instead. Who is she, this dark lady who comforts me, like a mother comforts a child?"
Banshee set her finger in the book and held it in her lap while she pondered Umbriel's words. "There is only one among us," she said thoughtfully, "that fits this description, an' she sides not with Avalon or with the Unseelie Court, but follows her own council." She looked sadly at Umbriel's journal. "You may have not known her, my friend, but I think Danu knew you for one of hers. Had you not chosen sides, she might have shielded you."
Shadows crept across the room unnoticed while Banshee read Umbriel's journal from cover to cover. Tales of his years as a fisherman, of his marriage to Colleen, and countless other episodes in a long and often lonesome life. Finally, at nightfall, she collected the vase containing his ashes and walked down a small path through the sea grass and to the water's edge, changing gradually to her true form once again. Holding the hem of her gown in one hand, she waded out into the warm waters of a sandbar, and cast Umbriel's ashes into the sea.
"Farewell, my friend. I will miss you but I know now what I must do. Danu must be told what Madoc intends to do an' now that I've crossed the Unseelie Court, Rory's life is doubly endangered." She glanced up at the tiny house high upon the hill. "Your home is a comfort indeed, Umbriel Strijken, an' I thank you for the use of it, but it's time I was going."
Closing her eyes, Banshee raised her face to the night sky and sang one last lament. It was not the mournful cry of legend nor the brutal sonic scream that could level mountains, but a benediction to mark the passing of a fallen friend. Her dulcet tones carried out over the harbor on the wind, and by the time the echoes disappeared, so had she, leaving only a blue-and-white vase lying in the sand.
* * * * *