Written by: Stephen R. Sobotka and Brian Dumlao
Story concept by: Kathy Pogge
Illustrations by: Damocles and Mirai
Previously on Gargoyles...
Angela: "Goliath, I want to go with you."
Goliath: "It's a dangerous path, Angela." (Takes her hands in his.) "But you'd be welcome company."
Angela: (Moves to Gabriel) "Gabriel, I have to go… see the world, find my place in it."
Gabriel: "And so you will. But I will miss you, my rookery sister." (They hug.)
~ Avalon, Part 3 ~
* * * * *
Coldsteel: "The raw energy! The unbridled power! I am Coldsteel!" (The clan advances on him.) "And it seems I am surrounded." (Fires his thrusters and takes off.) "Try not to miss me too much. I'll be back!"
Brooklyn: (Calling after him.) "And this 'scrawny gargoyle' will be waiting!"
Coldstone: "For one night, we truly lived again. We are forever in your debt."
Coldfire: "Thank you."
Broadway: "Uh, don't mention it."
Angela: "It was… our pleasure."
Goliath: "Now that you are free of Coldsteel, you must rejoin the clan."
Coldfire: "Not while he's still out there, a greater threat than ever, and our responsibility."
Coldstone: "But when that treat ends, when the responsibility has passed, we will return. I promise." (They depart.)
~ Possession ~
* * * * *
The mirror grew foggy again, and then returned to its normal reflective status. "These are dire portents indeed," Titania murmured to herself. "Dire indeed."
Katharine joined her at the window. "Sometimes the best thing a parent can do is to let her children take care of themselves." She turned to look at the fay queen. "Sometimes, all we can do is pray that they have the strength to make it through."
"I fear," Titania said, her voice a low whisper, "that even that may not be enough."
~ Fallout, Part 2 ~
* * * * *
"I estimate that the prototype will be ready for final testing by the end of the month," Dr. Bateson concluded.
"Splendid," replied Dominique. "Let's see it."
Dr. Lanel entered a final series of commands into one of the computers, and a moment later, the circular platform began to rise from the floor. Angela stepped closer, too, the words she had just shared with her mother momentarily forgotten as the low "platform" was revealed to actually be the top of a large, open-sided cylinder, inside of which was a tall, oddly-shaped object covered by a loosely draped white sheet. There was a hiss of hydraulics as the cylinder finally stopped, and the female scientist stepped away from her console. As Dominique and Angela both looked on anxiously, her partner stepped up onto the new platform that had been revealed and took hold of one edge of the sheet.
He drew out the moment for all it was worth, announcing with his most dramatic voice, "Presented for your approval, the Valkyrie Mark 1."
~ Prophets and Angels ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
Isle of Avalon, Oberon's Castle
Though the evening sun had long since vanished behind the horizon, the castle was filled with activity and light.
Inside the main hall, Katharine was seated by her table, digging through her sewing basket with a slight frown on her lips. "Och, blast ye! Where did that lace get tae?"
Ophelia looked up from the table where the preparations were being made. "My Princess, is there something wrong?"
"Ah, I canna find that lace strip I finished within th' last fortnight," the elder human replied with a sigh of frustration. "An' it would've made such a luvly accent tae that gift!"
Just then, Simon-Peter - one of Ophelia's rookery siblingss, a blue-skinned warrior with blue-green, gill-shaped ears - looked over to where Boudica was crouched by the fireplace. "Ah! I think I know where it went to, Highness!" Stepping over, he bent down before the guardian beast. "Give it over, girl . . . come on now! We need this for a special occasion!"
The tan guardian beast growled playfully. She tugged back briefly, before allowing Simon to take the length of lace from between her beaked jaws.
"Good girl!" Simon said, giving her a scratch between her ears. He turned back to hand it over to the Princess as he joined her and Ophelia at the table.
"Here you are, Highness." He watched them as they finished wrapping the object they were fussing over at the table.
"Och, it is a grand thing," the Princess said happily, "when an event such as this can remind us of those we hold most dear to us. I just hope this will look right by the time it is received."
"It looks good to me, Highness," Simon commented. The parcel was carefully wrapped in a colorful swatch of red linen with a bright white silk twine.
Katharine cast a critical look on it. "D'ye think she will like it?"
"I think she will love it," Ophelia replied with a bright smile. "It will be the best gift out of all of the ones given on any Naming Day."
Across the way, Tom and one of the other gargoyles - a brown colored fellow with a short beak shaped mouth - watched in amusement, while they idly picked at the pieces on a chess board. The guardian looked at his companion and exclaimed, "With all the fuss they're making, ye would've thought they were about to give away the Grail!" he chuckled.
"Well, why should we not make a fuss of it?" Ophelia asked in reply. "It is wonderful thing to honor our friends on our Naming Day."
"Sure and it's not an excuse to be givin' gifts to one another?" the beaked gargoyle replied with a grin, just as he slyly moved in to check Tom's king.
"Now Ezekiel," Katharine admonished, "rememberin' your Naming Day is a wonderful tradition! 'Tis a time of fellowship, to remember yuir family and where ye came from."
Ophelia sighed. "Aye, even for those not with us now . . . well, I'm almost done here, my Princess."
"Guid, now if someone will go an' fetch Gabriel," Katharine replied, picking up the decorative bundle from the table as the gargess finished securing the lace into a bow, "we can prepare for the rest of this undertaking."
"Am I needed?" a familiar voice replied from the doorway, knowing full well that he was. Gabriel entered the room with two other gargoyles in tow - Edmund, a shorter, heavy-set red male with black hair, and Mariah, a dun-green colored female with brunette locks that cascaded around her horns.
"Och, yes! We need tae get to the main hall tae make preparations for yuir trip," the Princess replied, coming around the table to stand before the gathered gargoyles. "I just hope Oberon's children are in a better mood this night."
"Aye, I wish they would take their nerves outside the castle," Edmund said archly. "One of those Aseir tried to get me to lift one of their number the other night in the dining hall. I didn't expect that he would weigh like all of Avalon on my talons! I was nearly crushed under his incredible girth!"
"Well, ye should have been more careful, my son. Takin' the dare of one of Oberon's get." Mariah clucked her tongue at her smaller rookery sibling. "I can't always be around to protect ye from harm."
Edmund shot his favorite rookery sister a sour look, but smiled when he realized she was only indulging in good-natured teasing.
"You'll do well to remember that Oberon's children have never meant any undue harm against us," Tom said pointedly to Edmund, "so don't take it so hard."
"We've all had brushes with Oberon's children, my brother," Gabriel said soothingly, "and while we would all feel better not having them around, we must remember that WE are the guests in Oberon's domain. This island had been their home long before we arrived."
"Aye, it does no good to make trouble with the lord of the land," Tom added, in a tone which said it was time to close the subject. "Speaking of which, I think it is time we got this whole affair under way. Ready to go, Gabriel?"
"As ready as I will ever be, Guardian. I presume the gift is ready?"
Katharine came over with the bundle in her arms. "Aye, here it is . . . och, I do wish we could do this another way!" she said, a sad frown on her aged face.
Gabriel reached out and covered Katharine's hands with his. "My Princess, if there was any other way, we all would want to use it. But, since this may be the only course for us, we must make the best of it as we can. Besides, if things were ever easy, they wouldn't be worth doing in the end, would they?"
Holding back her tears, the Princess nodded and favored Gabriel with a fond, small smile. "We chose well when we needed someone tae lead the Eggs." Shaking herself, she looked at the others and said, "Weel, there's no delaying' this a'ne further."
"Aye, my love," Tom replied, motioning for Katharine to precede them out of the room. "Let's go and see Queen Titania."
* * *
In the main audience hall, many of the Children of Oberon were arrayed before the dais, all mingling and reveling with one another. A few were amusing themselves with small displays of their abilities, but the general mood of the whole throng was one that teetered on nervousness.
Oberon was seated on his throne, watching the proceedings with half an eye. The rest of his attention was on his queen, who was speaking with several members of his gargoyle Honor Guard.
"The preparations are nearly complete, Lady Titania," Persephone, a peach colored female with bright blonde hair, was saying, "thanks to the aid of Hephaestus. His skill at the forge puts our Guardian's work to near shame!"
"Of all of us, he alone would have the skill to handle iron in any form," Titania replied, her voice undercut with tension. "It was good that your Guardian was able to bring us a ready supply from the mortal world."
"We should have some of the iron weapons available for our number soon. Arrows, spears, and the like. We only wish it could be more..."
Titania looked grim. "Against those of my race, even the sound of iron is enough," she replied. "Go now, and make sure the rest of the preparations are completed."
With a bow, the gargoyles left, and Titania returned to her throne beside her husband.
"Why do you even bother with such measures, my Queen? We need not fear my brother here," Oberon said with a sour look.
"Because, my husband, should Madoc win his way into Avalon, he could challenge you for your throne," she explained. "We paid dearly for one such battle . . . I should think we dare not risk another."
Snorting, Oberon waved her explanation away. "Our brother is no concern of ours. We won the throne from him before, and can do so again. We could even do so now, if we so chose to challenge him to a battle, Seelie to Unseelie."
At that, a small group of Oberon's children approached the dais - Odin, Coyote, and Grandmother. It was Odin who spoke, "A battle would be most welcome, Lord Oberon, but not at the expense of our King!"
"Are you saying that we could not win against our brother, Madoc?"
"Nay, lord! But, should Madoc revert to some treachery, it would be the end of Avalon," the Norse Seelie replied.
Oberon frowned, but seemed to take this to heart somewhat. "True . . . for if we fall, then where would fair Avalon be? We must ponder on this for now." With that, Oberon rose and left the dais with a swirl of his cape, leaving the Seelie and Titania to watch his departure in worry.
"I hope our lord doesn't do something really rash," Coyote said under his breath. "Thanks for the comment, Odin!"
"Odin did well to council my lord not to go into battle with Madoc," Titania said sharply to the Native American fay. "My concern is to avert the war from ever reaching Avalon, as well as prevent it from dominating the mortal world as well."
"For if Madoc does conquer the world outside Avalon's shores," Grandmother said with a touch of dread, "he may find the means to return here and bring the war to us."
Titania nodded grimly and looked away, over the collected members of the Seelie Court. "Fortunately for the mortals, there are those of us that wish to protect them from this rising darkness." She gripped the arms of her throne, as if to rise. "I should speak with those champions, to see what news they bring of any further activity from Madoc and his forces."
She never got the chance to act on her statement, as Thoth came forward to the front of the dais, bowing low as he thumped his staff on the stones. "My Lady Titania, the mortals Tom and Princess Katharine and the Captain of Lord Oberon's Royal Guard are at the entrance to the chambers, seeking an audience with your Highness. Should we send them away or bid them enter?"
Titania cast a glance at the doors to the hall. There, waiting in the corridor beyond, were the two humans that raised and guided the Honor Guard of Oberon, and the one that currently acted as the Guard's Captain. With a slight change in her demeanor, she gestured regally to Thoth, saying, "Bid them enter, good Thoth, and announce them properly."
Nodding, the ibis-faced majordomo turned and took his position to the side, raising his staff and striking the end of it to the stones three times, gaining the attention of all of the Children present. "Hark well, Children of Oberon! Our Queen grants these mortals - Princess Katharine of Wyvern Castle, Tom of Wyvern Castle, and Gabriel of His Majesty's Honor Guard - an audience this night. Hark well, and attend, Children of Oberon!"
Taking that as their signal to approach, the three made their way to the dais, passing before the curious children. Some stopped their conversations to observe the mortals' audience with their queen. Upon reaching the foot of the dais, both Tom and Gabriel bowed, while Katharine curtsied, graceful beyond her mortal years.
"Rise, Guardians," Titania bid them, "and speak. Why do you come to me this night?"
"My Lady," Katharine spoke, "we come tae you this night tae ask for assistance in a matter most important to us. We wish to use yuir mirror . . . tae send our Gabriel tae the world beyond Avalon's boarders on a mission of great importance." This statement drew a few murmurs from the Seelie host behind them.
Titania looked surprised herself, and her tone said as much as she replied, "A mission beyond Avalon? To the world of mortal men? Princess, such a request is risky at best." Her eyes clouded briefly. "The human world is not a good place to be just now, even for one of us, members of my Lord Oberon's court. But, to send one of our gargoyle guardians there, while they carry the knowledge of how to return to this isle . . ." Fixing the aged human with a look, she asked, "What is the import of this mission, that you would risk one of your own?"
Katharine, who had been dreading rejection, replied, "My lady, tis nearly time for our Eggs' Naming Day, and while all on Avalon rejoice at being with their kin, there is one that is not with us . . an' we do not wish tae leave her out of a part of the festivities." Titania nodded, knowing of the Egg the princess spoke of. "We only ask to send one Guardian, one that will be more than careful, since the world beyond Avalon has changed much since we were last there."
"In some ways, it has remained quite the same," Titania commented softly. Looking at Gabriel, she added, "And since you wish to go, do you comprehend the dangers you will face, gargoyle? There are forces that would pay dearly to gain knowledge of how to access Avalon's shores . . . and one such cost could be your life."
"My lady, there are many dangers in this world and beyond," the dusky skinned warrior replied solemnly, "but, to do this will only help to remind our departed sister that there are those still on Avalon that remember her. For that alone, I know and would face any danger willingly."
Thinking for a scant moment, Titania nodded and rose from her throne. "Very well, my young Guardian. Since you do not seem to be swayed by the dangers you would face, you will be aided in completing your charge." With a clap of her hands, Titania commanded, "Bring to me my mirror."
Two Seelie servants appeared from the side of the dais, carrying the tall, angular shape of Titania's Mirror between them. Setting it down before their queen, they bowed and withdrew.
Titania made a pass of her hand over the flat surface of the mirror, causing it to pulse with an inner, eldritch light. "Pay heed, young one. The mirror will allow you to see images of the place that you wish to go. Then, when you are ready, it will take you to there."
Gabriel squared his shoulders, looking to his guardians for support. "I only know that I must go to a place called . . . Manhattan."
"Then step to the mirror," Titania intoned, "and make ready for your journey."
The gargoyle turned to accept the bundle from Katherine - as well as a parting hug and a forearm shake, with well wishes for a safe return - before bowing to the Seelie queen as she stepped aside to allow him to stand before the mirror.
"Show me . . . Manhattan," he said. The mirror shifted, and images of a different island, with sights and sounds he had never seen before, flashed before his eyes. Though it seemed too brief to the others watching, he observed and learned what he needed from the images in the mirror.
With a last look to his guardians, saying, "I will return soon, Guardian . . . my Princess.", he faced the mirror once again. "I am ready!"
Titania, who had watched with a touch of concern, spoke once more. "When ever you are ready to return, speak and say 'By Titania's Mirror, I wish to return,' and the mirror will bring you back to Avalon. Safe journey, young Guardian."
With that, she made a gesture at the mirror. There was a flare of light, and the mirror seemed to stretch upwards until it was tall enough to allow a gargoyle of Gabriel's height pass through its frame.
Taking a breath, Gabriel rallied, then stepped through . . .
* * * * *
Steward Army Subpost, 60 miles north of New York City, February 14th, 1998
Out on the main staging grounds, the grandstand was filled with senators, officers from every branch of the U.S. Military - from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines - and other members of the Committee that were present for the demonstration.
One of the senators was puffing out clouds of breath from beneath his wool hat as he shrugged deeper into his coat. "Fine time to do a field demonstration! With weather like this, I should be warming my chair in the Capitol!"
"Well, you know how the military runs things," his companion, another senator replied, "they'd bundle out to run, even if they had a base in the middle of Antarctica."
A few of the private citizens that had been invited huddled around a service truck that had been brought out from the mess hall, taking advantage of the hot coffee and hot chocolate being offered.
"Gads! And to think I left my warm den to come out for this," one said, thankful for the heat radiating through the cup in his hand.
"I dunno who's more crazy! The government for holding something like this in this miserable weather, or me for agreeing to come out to see it," a female said, making sure her long coat was firmly buttoned against the chill.
Another person pointed out to where several technicians were fussing over two shrouded forms on the field. "Well, at least they have the right idea! Wish I had a full thermal suit like that, right now!"
* * *
Out on the field, the respective teams of technicians were oblivious to the comments of the observers. To them, the cold could be felt even through the three protective layers of their thermal suits and work togs. On both teams, the consensus was the same; it was not the best of days to run their respective machines.
"Hey, Smitty! Wonder what the devil Boss Xanatos was thinkin'? Runnin' Ol' Ironpants here in this deep freeze is going to be really pushin' its performance envelope!"
The crew chief only shrugged. "I know, but when David Xanatos says this baby needs to be ready to run, then it has got to be ready!" Smitty Forester replied, checking where one of the crews was detaching a power feed line from where the coupling housing of the main power plant was. "Double-check that seal! The cold is going to be affecting our competition as well, so let's just make sure we've done everything to prepare this bucket for it's paces."
Another tech jerked a thumb over to where the crew from Nightstone was laboring over their machine. "Think they'll lend us a quart of anti-freeze?" he joked.
"Mind your job, Frank!" Smitty snapped. "Mr. Xanatos doesn't pay by the wise-cracks. He wants us to do our jobs, so do yours and do it right!"
* * *
In one of the seating sections, David Xanatos and members of his Research and Development team discussed their strategy for the day's demonstration in low tones to avoid being overheard by Dominique Destine, who was ensconced with members of her own team in the next box.
Leaning over to where the representative from his Robotics Division was seated, he murmured, "Make sure we have better seats the next time they hold a little soirée like this."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Xanatos," the man replied, "the arrangements were made two weeks in advance by the Committee and couldn't be changed at the last minute. Had I known-"
"That's all right, Dennis . . . let's just try to keep on top of things today, shall we?" David sighed, wishing for Owen's steady competence.
"I-I'll try to be more careful, Mr. Xanatos," Dennis replied. "And I'll be more on my toes from now on!"
"You do that. More than likely our esteemed opponent will try to be on hers." He glanced over to where his red-haired competitor was having a rapt discussion with her aide as well, more than likely going over last-minute details of this gathering. "We have to do better than 110 percent today. This is a multibillion-dollar contract at stake. Not exactly pocket change."
Xanatos was only marginally worried about the competition. So far, the preliminary tests had whittled the field down quickly, leaving only the best machines and companies still in the running. However, his one concern was that of the machine Nightstone was fielding. If anything he had partially heard from the gargoyles could be believed, Dominique had a real contender against his machine.
Still watching as Ms. Destine dismissed her aide to carry a message to the technicians that she had brought to monitor the test, Xanatos had only one thought on his mind. "No matter what your little toy can do, Dominique, we'll still win," he said to himself.
Almost as if she heard him, the head of Nightstone looked over at him, smiling politely for a moment before she turned back to watch the progression of two teams of technicians, who were lugging two canvas-covered forms onto the field in front of the grandstand.
Allowing himself a small smile, Xanatos nodded at murmured in reply, "Well, at least she acknowledges our present threat to her victory." With a slight tug at the corners of his mouth he added, "Let the games begin."
* * *
A soldier in his "dress-mess" uniform came over to where two men were ascending the steps to the center portion of the grandstand. "Sir, I just got word from base ops, and they say with the way the weather is going, we don't have a whole lot of time to perform the demonstration."
"All right, son, thanks for the info," the officer growled, dismissing his aide with a wave. "Looks like we're gonna have to get this show on the road, Doctor! I hope that these new, fang-dangled machines are worth the taxpayer's money and my time," he said gruffly.
His companion took a moment to open his attaché case before answering. "The Committee is well aware of the cost of this demonstration, General, but the end result will be the military's gain in the long run." Dr. Cale Grisom was a mousy individual with small eyes, a thin nose, and an extremely balding pate fringed with dark hair. He had been hired on as the government's technical expert. He was overseeing this end of the demonstration, and his findings would be the hinging point on which the senior members of the Committee would base their decision on.
The general - General Nelson McDermitt Harcourt, who was the Army's liaison officer for this field test - watched the proceedings as he took his seat next to the Doctor. A career officer, he had salt-and-pepper hair, along with a pock- marked face that spoke of some field experience, if not for all the medals along his left chest. He was a robust figure, and obviously was one that preferred to have things his way, in as much as the Army's way.
"So far, I haven't seen anything that even makes a dent on good old-fashioned American armor and weapons."
Grisom looked up from where he was tapping away at a sophisticated laptop computer, linked by a wireless connection to his lab back in the capitol. "General, the last entries for the contract had great potential. I might point out, especially, the ones from Mishima H.I. Inc. and CyberBiotics."
"Hmph! Cybots and tri-legged tanks . . . sounds like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon!" Harcourt growled.
"Be that as it may, Sir," Grisom returned, "I think you'll find that the final qualifying bidders have some new twists that will most certainly peak your interests."
Harcourt only arched one eye, leaning back in his chair. "Let's get on with it then," he rumbled in his bass voice.
With that, Grisom motioned to a pair of people waiting to the side. As they moved to the podium in front of the grandstand, the other people that were present began to still their conversations as they waited for the people below to take their places.
After a moment of deliberation, Jacob Lang, Head of R&D for Xanatos Enterprises, took his place at the podium's left side, while the other, Dr. Bateson of the Special Projects Division of Nightstone Unlimited, took the right.
Activating the boom mike on his headset, Grisom spoke to the assembly gathered behind him, "Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the United States Armed Forces, welcome to today's field test."
"Before we begin the demonstration, a representative from each of the bidding companies will give a brief read-down of their respective models," Grisom explained. "We shall begin with the representative from Xanatos Enterprises."
Lang turned to the small team of XE technicians and nodded. He waited a beat while they uncovered the demonstration unit on the field. Then consulting his notes one last time, he cleared his throat and began to address the crowd of spectators.
"General, ladies and gentlemen . . . Xanatos Enterprises has been on the cutting edge of applied robotics technology for many years. We've recently began programs to develop construction and labor-mode models for the application for the space program, and have had great success with our heavy industrial models for commercial use.
"Now, we wish to extend our margin of success with the creation of a fully capable, military combat model for the US military. For than purpose, Xanatos Enterprises would like to propose for the Committee's consideration . . . our multi-role combat model, Series SC-X3."
The technicians dropped the tarp to the ground revealing a gargoyle-shaped construct. It had thicker armor across the shoulders, chest, forearms, and lower legs. The front of its head was a smooth faceplate, broken only by a single red sensor strip that took the place of its eyes. The chassis was painted in the typical red, white, and blue color scheme that the military preferred to have on their test craft.
"For use in a variety of combat missions, from reconnaissance to surgical strikes, from low-level bombardment to high speed interception, the X3 is the perfect combat machine. With twin afterburning-turbine jets, it can reach a top speed of Mach-1, and, with its micro-fuel cells, it can maintain a top operations range of 300 miles, with an effective operating ceiling of 30,000 feet."
While he spoke, the Steel Clan robot moved from behind him, walking in front of the assembly with a measured, lumbering gait. Several people murmured comments, and a few were very impressed with its appearance.
General Harcourt frowned. "Funny . . . I seem to recall a report on some robot that looked a lot like that one. Mentioned about some robbery or the like." Shrugging, he turned his attention back to the person speaking.
"Its duranium armor can withstand the firepower of most equivalent war machines currently afield in most modern armies to date. For close combat, its combination of servomotor and synthetic 'muscle' fibers gives it incredible strength and power. Add to that a variable weapons assortment - from razor talons, variable-frequency particle cannon, and multiple anti-personnel weapons - and you'll see that it has the capacity to take and deal damage on a scale currently unmeasured in traditional combat vehicles."
Dr. Grisom jotted rapid notes into his data pad, growing rapidly more impressed with the SC-X3.
"Thank you, Mr. Lang. Now, we will hear from the representative from Nightstone Unlimited."
Lang nodded, ceding the floor to Dr. Bateson as he prepared to give his presentation on his company's proposed machine.
* * * * *
Some moments away, the stillness of a small copse of trees was shattered by the outburst of particle fire, as two forms slipped in and out between the trees, turning from time to time to fire blasts of super-conducted ions at the other.
During one of the exchanges, the one form reached down and ripped out a large chunk of stone from the ground and lobbed it at the other one. Before it had even cleared half the distance, a pair of whip-like forms shot out and snared the rock from midair. There was a brief moment, then the rock shattered as the silver-colored tentacles crushed it like a china vase.
Laughter sounded. "Come now . . . surely you can do better than that!"
The one growled and leveled its arm at the other, a blaster cannon popping up from its crimson casing to fire a suppression burst at the other, but its intended target moved out of the way, taking cover behind a thick tree trunk.
"You haven't learned from our previous battles, have you Coldstone? You're becoming as predictable as the sunset!"
Coldsteel's voice was cut off when a third form, gilded in gold-toned armor, flashed from out of the sky above, smashing the other to the ground with a savage kick that resounded with a cacophony of metal on metal as the other was driven into the dirt.
Coldstone quickly moved up to back up Coldfire. "Beloved! Are you all right?"
"I am," she answered, coming up to a defensive stance. "I doubt our . . . brother is."
"We mustn't draw this out any longer. There is one of the human installations, not to far from here," her mate said harshly, pulling her out of the way as Coldsteel raked the ground beside them with a volley of his own.
She nodded. "Then let us end this now, once and for all."
Just then, Coldsteel lashed out with it's tentacles, catching the two of them off-guard as the steel whips impacted against them, sending them crashing to the ground.
"Sorry, my little Sister, but I do not wish to 'end this' . . . not now, nor ever!" He fired off another blast, this time severing several trees clean through their trunks. With a groan, the towering trees fell over, coming down on top of the two cyborgs.
"Look OUT!" Coldstone shouted, and together they hurled themselves from the crashing trunks, just barely getting out of the way in time.
However, Coldsteel was on the other side of the woodpile. "And now I take my leave of you, Coldstone!" With that, he sprinted for a clear spot in the copse, while the others scrambled to get out from behind the barricade of trees. With a burst of flame, he sprang into the sky and soared away.
Slamming his fist into a tree trunk, Coldstone snarled, "Blast! He must not get away. Not now! Not when we are this close!"
"He is flying towards that direction," Coldfire said as she rose beside him. "If he continues to do so, he will fly over that installation you detected!"
"He is doing so to prevent us from following! After him! Even if it means we have to expose ourselves to the humans therein!"
"He has a good lead from us, love," Coldfire commented grimly.
"It matters not! I will not allow him to slip away again!" Coldstone replied. A roar of fire erupted from the engines mounted behind their wings as they leapt towards the sky, in pursuit of their evil brother.
* * * * *
"And, so, with its improved speed margin, weapons, and much refined and streamlined production process," Dr. Bateson said, closing his presentation on his company's entry, "The Nightstone Valkyrie Mk-2 is the epitome of everything a combat machine should be, and will serve the US Military well into the 21st Century and beyond."
During his speech, the model of the Valkyrie that had been brought to the demonstration had moved from behind him to stand alongside the Xanatos Steel Clan robot. Its female form was sleeker and much more appealing to the eye - if any of the men present were any judge - but the power behind its limbs was not easily missed. Trimmed in blue and silver, with a band of bright red across its chest, it was apparent why the Valkyrie had managed to come as far as it did in the ranks for this contract.
Xanatos had to admit it; Dominique had come up with an interesting attempt to copy his Steel Clan. "Still, it will be up to its performance today on whether or not it has the moxie to go against my creation," he commented softly.
Dennis frowned as he looked at a clipboard with some data he'd hastily scribbled on it. "According to what I can see, sir, the Valkyrie has a lot of speed on its side . . . good proportion of agility, combined with it's advanced AI make it a good flyer. But . . ."
Xanatos regarded his temp aide with a slight rise of one eyebrow. "But?"
"But, sir, it doesn't have close to half the strength ratio or armor that our X3 has," Dennis quickly, hoping he didn't just can himself for making the opposition look better, "and, when you add the fact the SC-X3 carries a larger fuel payload, it can stay in the air longer than the Valkyrie... Nightstone has a good interceptor model, but ours is the perfect distance fighter."
"You have a good point, Dennis," Xanatos said at length. "However, it's what the generals and ultimately what the Committee thinks, that matter today. Remember to keep such observations for when we're back in the office next time, hmm?"
Just then, Dr. Grisom spoke up, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin the main phase of today's demonstration. This will consist of three segments: first, a test of each machine in targeting accuracy and raw firepower, then a test of agility and speed maneuvering, and finally a simulated combat phase, where both machines will be offered a series of 'live' targets, culminating in a one-on-one battle with each other."
Murmurs shifted through the crowd as the representatives and most of the non-essentials left the staging area on the field, while the technicians prepared the two robots to begin the last part of the demonstration.
* * *
Staying low to the ground at first, Coldsteel managed to keep his lead for a while. His mechanical siblings caught up to him, gaining enough distance for ranging shots to pass dangerously close.
"More speed!" Coldsteel growled, pumping more power to his flight jets as he swerved to avoid another volley.
Behind him, Coldstone snarled as he saw his shots miss. "Blast him! We must get closer!"
Coldfire was flying beside her enraged mate, and while she wanted to stop her hated brother as much as her mate wanted to, she was painfully aware of the border of the human's installation coming up rapidly. "My love, we are almost to the boundary! If he crosses it-!"
"We will follow!" Coldstone snapped, just as their brother fired several harassing shots of his own at them. With another snarl, he increased speed to close the distance, forcing Coldfire to have to fly faster to keep up.
Just then, Coldsteel arced into the afternoon sky, avoiding another blast as he rocketed over the steel mesh and cantania-wire of the outer fence that ringed the installation. He headed deeper into the place, his mocking laughter echoing back to his pursuers.
"Is he mad?!? If these humans spot him, he will be in more danger from them than he will from us!" Coldfire gasped.
Just then, they too passed over the boundary. "Our 'brother' was never concerned with his actions, so long as he got want he wanted in the end!" Coldstone replied. "Never the less, this ends today! Come, before we have to deal with the humans as well!"
* * *
Back on the proving grounds, the physical demonstration was nearly over. Both Steel Clan robot and the Valkyrie had been put through their paces, and both showed impressive displays of strength, aerial prowess, and marksmanship. Now the two were powering their weapons down to "safe" levels to commence with the final phase: the one-on-one contest.
To his credit, and somewhat to his gall, Harcourt was greatly impressed with both machines, and he said as much to Dr. Grisom. "That SC-X3 has the makings of a first-class assault machine! It's big, and powerful, and it's got enough raw firepower to take out an entire battalion!"
Grisom had his own observations. "The Valkyrie has it's own merits, General. With its speed and aerial maneuverability, it can make a first class interceptor."
Smiling as if it had been his own idea, Harcourt nodded. "True . . . either machine would be a welcome addition to any branch of the armed forces." Stroking his chin, the tan-skinned general watched as the two robots moved into position to begin the mock battle. "Perhaps there might be a way to purchase both machines . . ."
"If I might remind you, sir, the contract's clauses state that only ONE applicant may win," Grisom replied, somewhat perturbed.
"There are ways around such things, Doctor. You of all people should-" Harcourt started to reply, when one of the soldiers posted to the base came over, a worried look in his eyes.
"General! Sir! Base command reports there's been a unidentified contact that just passed over the outer boundary," he hissed under his breath, "Three unknown air contacts, traveling at low altitude, all headed this way!"
Harcourt snapped out of his musings, years of military training and experience coming into play. "Did the Commander alert base security to deal with the intruders?!?"
"Yessir! We're turning out every man on post to detain or destroy if necessary!"
Harcourt nodded, adding, "Just try to do it quietly! Last thing we need is a crowd of panicky VIP's over here!" The soldier nodded, and Harcourt turned to one of the men attached to his personal staff. "Sergeant, I want every man on the alert, just in case the base MP's need help! Spread the word to the rest of your men!" As the guard left to tell the others, the General turned back to Grisom. "Doctor, can we keep the demonstration running?!" the general asked, looking pointedly at the Committee Head.
"I think so, but unless something unexpected happens, our guests will know something is up!"
Almost as if the Fates had been listening, a triple line of while particle fire lanced out, over the heads of the people in the grandstand, only to strike one of the Army jeeps sitting on the edge of the proving ground. The beams punched through the steel sides, one rupturing the fuel tank, immediately turning the vehicle into a fireball of shredded metal and rubber.
Harcourt all but shouted an unrepeatable expletive, accompanied by the shouts and screams of the people in the grandstands. "What in the bloody blue blazes was that?!?!?"
Before Dr. Grisom or anyone could answer, a fast moving blur shot over the grandstand, arrowing out over the proving grounds, followed by another blur that was firing more of those white particle bolts. The two blurs twisted and came at each other, crashing together in a symphony of snarls and roars, before they slammed into the ground.
"Get everyone BACK!! Get the MP's out here, NOW!!!" the general snarled, barking orders even while he watched with a repulsed fascination as the two forms rolled apart, coming up in a defensive stance as they eyed on another. The demonstration forgotten, he watched as the two... things circled one another.
"Surrender, Brother! You will not escape me this time!" the one, looking like a hodgepodge of mechanical and organic parts slapped together, snarled.
A laugh came from the other - all silver-colored, but looking more complete than the first - as it popped up a weapon of some sort from his left arm. "Do you think 'surrender' is a viable option for me, Brother!" It sneered the last word, full of contempt. "Surrender, and you consign me to oblivion! No, I think I will remain as I am, dear Coldstone." With that he leveled his arm at him. "Unfortunately, you shall become so much scrap!"
Before he could fire, a golden blur shot in from the side, slamming into the silver-colored one like a rocket. The impact threw its aim, sending the particle blast ripping into the grandstand, which had been mostly evacuated when the creatures arrived.
"RRRAAAAGGHH!!!" The jigsaw creature roared like a mechanical lion, leaping on the silver one as it tossed the golden blur aside to meet it head on. The blur resolved, becoming another figure that turned to help the first creature.
By now, Harcourt and Dr. Grisom were well out of reach, but still able to watch the fight as it occurred.
"Doctor, what are those things?!? Was there another company that was supposed to be on the itinerary!?"
"Definitely not!" Grisom said firmly.
Just then, a squad of soldier appeared at the General's side, armed with assault rifles. "Orders, Sir?"
Harcourt didn't care who or what these things were, other than they had just ruined the demonstration. "Capture them all and we'll sort it out after! Try to take at least one alive!"
With that, the squad moved on the battling trio, forming into cluster groups that could fire with concentrated strength, but not be easy targets in return. Once in place, they opened up with their weapons, scoring dings and ricochets off the armored sections of the creatures.
The golden one turned to face the humans, and, realizing they were only protecting their base, extended her arms, palms open, and shot a twin stream of flames at them. Sweeping them left to right, she formed a firewall in front of the humans, forcing them to pull back in shock.
"Do not interfere," she shouted out, concern coloring each word, "and you will not come to harm!"
* * *
Xanatos and Dennis huddled within the equipment truck watching the robots battle without. "I wish I had my exo-suit," David muttered as the truck rocked from the fury of a nearby barrage of high-powered laser fire. He hazarded a peek through the observation bay.
"That's Coldstone!" he had exclaimed softly. "What is he doing here?" Suddenly, he recognized the other two he was with. "Looks like Coldstone finally caught up with Coldsteel," he mused.
"Sir, shouldn't we withdraw? This could be endangering you and the others if we stay," Dennis said, worried for their safety.
"You," Xanatos said to one of the technicians, ignoring Dennis, "can you get our Steel Clan robot back to full status with all weapons live?"
"Yessir, but what good would that do?"
"We're going to do the Army a little favor. Make it so, and direct it to assist Coldstone."
Xanatos pointed to one of the view screens, where Coldstone could be seen, locked in combat with Coldsteel. "Help HIM!"
* * *
Dominique Destine received an escort from the stands, who took her to a safe distance away, nearly to her armored limousine, before she managed to wrench herself away from the over-eager MP that had been told to get her and her aides to safety.
She was about to rip into him, when she caught a glimpse of the battling forms . . . and recognized one of them right away! "Coldstone!?!? What is he doing-? Never mind!"
She turned and snatched the control headset from her aide, slipping it over her ears as she automatically adjusted the frequency of the transmitter. One good thing about this demonstration, she had worked it so the control elements for her Valkyrie robot were all inboard on the machine, leaving only a small computer transceiver to be used to control the robot.
"Command Protocol: VK-201a . . . Designate and attack all hostile targets and assist unit, designated Coldstone. Lethal Force Authorization; Zeta-One-Two-Beta!"
* * *
Coldfire had been able to keep most of the MP's at bay, but a few were edging around the sides of her firewall. Unable to shift her flame-throwers, she watched as several broke through and charged where Coldstone and Coldsteel were still battling.
"Beloved! Watch out for the humans!"
Three of the MP's were just a few feet away from leaping on Coldstone's open back, when a roar of jets announced the arrival of the Steel Clan robot, who landed just in front of them. With a sweep of its broad hand, it backhanded all three humans into the ground, just hard enough to stun them.
Slightly distracted, Coldstone gaped at the red-white-and-blue construct. "Xanatos' robot? What is it doing here?" Suddenly, a blow to the side made him realize that he was still not finished with his foe.
"Why, I do believe it's given me the upper hand, dear brother!" Coldsteel chuckled, preparing to fire once more, when a crimson beam lanced into his shoulder, scoring the silver metal. Snarling, he turned, his optics widening as he took in the sight of the lithesome mechanical Gargoyle that was sailing down to meet him.
"Well, well! What is this?" He watched with a feral smile as the Valkyrie robot landed a few feet away.
Silent, the Valkyrie simply raised both arms and popped its forearm cannons up, triggering a burst of particle fire nearly at point-blank. Reacting with desperate speed, Coldsteel barely escaped being fragmented; his wings and torso only just got scored like his shoulder.
Looking at the female robot, he sneered, "I think it is time I left this battle until another day!" With that, he extended his tentacles, whipping them out to snare the Valkyrie around its waist and legs.
Coldstone shook off a vicious blow to the head and blinked as Coldsteel hurled the Valkyrie straight at him. Shouting, the jumbled warrior ducked, and the silver-and-blue missile that was the Valkyrie sailed into the Steel Clan robot behind him. The impact lifted the hulking machine into the air, and both rocketed over the heads of the MP's, over Coldfire, continuing on in a tangle of metal limbs and bodies until they crashed into the Committee's radio truck.
The collision was touched by the flames from the two robot's flight jets, and the entire collective went up with a loud explosion. Everyone threw themselves to the ground - even those nowhere near the area of the blast - as the shock-wave of the explosion tore into the wind, sending fragments of metal, plastic, and more into the air to come raining down on the surrounding proving grounds.
Coldstone tossed himself over Coldfire's body. For several seconds, no one moved. When Coldstone hazarded a look, he couldn't see any sign of Coldsteel.
"By the dragon! He has escaped again!" Coldstone growled, helping his mate to her feet.
"He may not have gotten far," she replied, looking around herself, seeing the carnage that had been wrought. "We may be able to catch him if we hurry."
"Perhaps, but we must leave now!"
"FREEZE! You're not going anywhere!"
Both constructs turned. Humans in uniform leveled their weapons. They were accompanied by a huge man wearing a be-ribboned jacket. His voice boomed again.
"I want to know just what in holy hanna is going on here, and I want some answers, NOW!" General Harcourt shouted. "Men! Take those two into custody for questioning!"
Coldstone growled, "We have no time for this!"
"Please understand," Coldfire said, hoping that the men would not start another fight with them, "we mean you no ill harm, but we must not be detained!"
Harcourt shook his head. "I don't care if you're late for your first tune-up! You are not going to leave this base until I have some answers!" He motioned towards the two with a jerk of his head.
Before the men could react, Coldstone snarled and bellowed aloud, the sound causing the MP's to flinch and turn away briefly. It was enough for him and his mate to spread their wings and ignite their flight jets, and, without another word, they launched themselves into the sky.
Harcourt recovered his wits and shouted, "Shoot them down, you idiots!" Several of the soldiers struggled to obey, but they were ineffective as the two constructs winged their way into the air. When it was obvious that they were going to get away, the general ordered the men to stop firing.
"General, I don't think those were part of the demonstration," a corporal had the bad sense to say in the silence that followed.
Harcourt looked on the unfortunate soldier with a face that looked like he had just eaten a bunch of sour grapes. "Thank you for stating the obvious, son . . . now, all of you get started on getting this place cleared, and get me some answers! I want to know who those things were, and what they were doing here!?!"
* * * * *
The Eyrie Building, the same day, early evening
A small army of caterers had descended on the hall to decorate it for a private party, filling it with artfully done decorations in white, red and pink. Tables were filled with fine linen and cutlery, along with fine china decorated with gold trim. A table was filled with party appetizers and libations, crowned with a glittering ice-sculpture that resembled a flying cherub.
Now the caterers were gone, and as Fox and her husband looked the hall over, expecting nothing but the best work that could have been done, they still came away thinking it was missing something.
"I don't know what could be missing!" she said, shaking her head at the entire room.
"Well, it's not like the parties we used to got to as kids, my dear," Xanatos said with an arched eyebrow. "Remember those?"
"Ugh! Don't remind me," Fox replied. "Going around to pass out those cheap valentines..."
David chuckled. "Passing around those little heart-shaped candies with those words on them, like 'BE MINE'?"
Fox had to grin. "Or 'KISS ME'," she chuckled. "I can remember one time when they put up some heart-shaped balloons..." Her words trailed off as a sudden inspiration hit her. "That's it! We can put up some of those balloons with the decorations! It will give all of this a little more 'feeling' of Valentine's Day!"
David only smiled and told her to do what she wanted, provided that she didn't put small paper cups filled with those chintzy candies by every plate.
Now, in the middle of all the work that had been done, Fox was darting among the tables, while going back and forth from the interior entrance to the Great hall, constantly bringing in and arranging several bouquets of flowers that had been delivered only just recently.
"Owen? Are you working on those balloons yet?" she asked.
"Yes, Mrs. Xanatos," the stolid major-domo replied. Alex sat on his high chair, giggling as he moved some of the heart shaped balloons that Owen had inflated around the room with the wave of his fingers. He had taken to some of Owen/Puck's teachings very well, and though his speech was still that of an average toddler, he was becoming very adept with simple spells.
"Good! That's just what this setting needed! I told David this would make everything perfect," she commented aloud.
As the last set of balloons was magically guided to a bare corner of the room, a yipping sound came from the far end of the hall, accompanied by the sound of two sets of running feet. The sounds grew louder and louder until the doorway revealed Nudnik, running in with a wooden stick in its mouth. He was followed shortly by Graeme and Ariana, who had her bo staff strapped across her back.
"Nudnik, come back here," Graeme called out. "You're supposed to give me the stick, not run away with it."
Ariana shook her head and playfully chided her twin brother. "Isn't it sad that you can't even control your own pet?"
Graeme sighed, but then he remembered some of the things that Jeffrey Robbins had taught him. Not making his voice sound so sharp, he called out, "Nuddie, heel boy!"
At that, Nudnik skidded to a halt, turned and trotted back to his master, looking up at him with a canine grin, the stick still clamped between his jaws.
Graeme patted him on the head. "Good boy! Now, give me the stick." With that he took hold of the piece of wood, as the garg-pup started to pull back, thinking his master wanted to play a new game. They wrestled back and forth for several moments until Nudnik let go with a bark, letting Graeme fall flat on his backside before the beast darted away, tearing off as he dashed out of the hall.
All the while, the young gargoyle was watched by a giggling Ariana, Alex and Fox, until Fox had to leave the room for more flowers.
"Ha-ha-ha! What were you trying to do again?" she teased her twin. "I thought it was supposed to be 'fetch' not 'tug-of-war'!"
"Very funny, Ari-chan," Graeme retorted. "I didn't see you do anything back there to help me out."
"Well I didn't think you needed any help, Graeme-kun."
"Kids, don't start," Fox said as she entered the room carrying another bouquet of flowers. "It's Valentine's Day. You shouldn't be arguing with each other tonight. You should be doing something nice together."
As the twins simply stared at each other, slightly confused, Fox looked around the room trying to think of something for them to do. Suddenly she had an idea as Owen entered the room with a bundle in his arms. "Why don't the two of you go help Owen decorate the room for the party," Fox suggested.
Without another word, the twins ran to Owen, who was under one of the many hall doorways, struggling to put up some of the balloons that Alex hadn't gotten to yet. They continued to look at Xanatos's personal secretary with seemingly innocent faces until he turned his attention to them with a slightly annoyed look on his face.
"May I help you two?" he asked in a condescending tone of voice.
"Can we help you decorate for the party?" Graeme and Ariana asked in unison.
Owen let out a brief sigh before adjusting his glasses. "I suppose you can help me with these decorations. After all, two young gargoyles such as yourselves should have no trouble accomplishing that task."
The twins smiled with glee as they snatched several of the balloons from Owen's good hand. As they began inflating them and hanging them at the front of the hall, a yipping sound that had faded away earlier ago was returning, as Angela emerged from the castle doorway cradling Nudnik in her arms.
"Ariana? Graeme?" she called out. "Where do you want me to put Nudnik?"
"Anywhere is fine, Aunt Angela."
She gently placed the beast on the floor and, as Nudnik scampered away to see what his young master and his sister were doing, she stood back to admire the decorations that adorned the room.
"This place is going to look wonderful tonight," she commented softly, more to herself than to the others, "with all the guests dancing . . . the music. I can just see it now."
It was then that something caught her eye: a single white lily surrounded by various other flowers. Almost as if she were drawn to it, she stepped over and removed the single bloom from the arrangement, turning it about on its stem in her hand. Her look of slight amusement changed quickly to that of sadness. She walked away without saying a word.
"Auntie Angela, you okay?" Ariana asked, concerned about her elder rookery sister. This time she was greeted with no response.
Graeme caught his sister's remark, looking over as Angela left the hall. "Huh. What's wrong with Aunt Angela?"
"I dunno . . . she picked up that flower, and was sad all of a sudden," Ariana replied, puzzled.
Owen's light cough got their attention again. "Children, I am sure Miss Angela will be fine. Now, please help me by finishing with these decorations, please."
* * * * *
Angela walked from the great hall to the stone parapets of Castle Wyvern, looking at the flower in her hands and thinking.
"Avalon . . . they always make me think of Avalon," she said to herself, turning the white blossom around on its stem.
She approached the parapets and leaned on her perch, gazing at the city skyline in order to forget about her memories. Yet the cool night air, filled with the aroma of flowers that were placed nearby, only made the dilemma worse. The lavender gargoyle inhaled the scent of flowers once more before letting out a deep sigh and reminiscing of times past.
"Is everything all right, love?"
Angela broke away from her thoughts, starting even thought she recognized the familiar and loving voice. "Broadway," she gasped, "you startled me."
"I'm sorry, Angela," the blue-green gargoyle said. "I was just looking for you and when I saw you staring out like that, I started to worry. Are you okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine."
"I'm fine. Really."
The husky gargoyle cocked his head, looking at her in such a way as if he could see right through her. "Angela," Broadway said, "I know you well enough to know that something is wrong." When she looked down on the ground, a downtrodden look on her face, seemingly unwilling to speak, he added, "Whatever it is, you can tell me. We can face it together."
Angela looked into the eyes of her blue-green companion. Those eyes spoke volumes about the honest, sincere, caring nature Broadway had in him. She truly felt safe in his presence and feared nothing when she was with him.
"Well, it's just . . . this." She showed him the flower she had taken.
"A lily? Why would that make you sad?" he asked.
"You're going to think this is silly," she replied, ducking her head slightly.
"No! Angela," he said in earnest, "I won't!"
She looked at him again. "Promise me?"
"Of course, I promise."
Taking a breath, she decided to tell him what was troubling her. "Broadway, when I left Avalon, I knew that I was leaving behind many things that I had loved about the island. The Princess, Tom, my brothers and sisters. I knew I would miss everything about my home, but I still left, knowing I had to find my place in the world.
"I knew that while I was leaving them behind, I would always have fond memories of them and fond memories of the life I had in Avalon. Yet..." She paused, and Broadway encouraged her to continue. "Yet, until today, I never realized how much I would miss Naming Day."
"'Naming Day?'" Broadway asked, a bit puzzled.
"The Princess, Tom, and the Magus didn't know if gargoyles celebrated birthdays or not, so they gave us Naming Day," Angela explained. "It was the day that they first gave us our names, and all of the Clan celebrated it every year." Sighing, she continued, "It was one of the things I miss most about my time spent on Avalon . . ."
* * * * *
Isle of Avalon, The Castle of Oberon, Time Unknown
There was a flurry of small wings and the clatter of claws on stones as thirty-six hatchling gargoyles scurried down from their place on the castle walls, all giggling and laughing as they rushed to get to where the Princess was standing in the courtyard below.
"Hurry, Gabriel! Th' Princess wants to see us!" a pistachio-green colored girl gargoyle was calling.
"I am coming, 'Phelia!" the blonde, tow-headed youth with the small horn buds answered back, his stubby, twin-layered wings flapping as he hastened his steps down the stairs that lead down from the parapets, all the while joining in with the press of his other rookery brothers and sisters as they clambered down toward the courtyard.
Almost at once, Katharine was surrounded by a mob of youngsters, some clinging to her long skirts, while some were bouncing on their haunches. One of the smallest ones - a darling beaked girl with peach skin and titan curls - had managed to leap into the Princess's arms, nearly knocking her over with her weight.
"Och! Persephone, ye wee wicked thing," she said, laughing as she recovered enough to remain standing, "Do be cairful!"
"Princess! Princess! Guardian Tom say there be sur . . .sur . . . surprise for us tonight?!" This came from a short, roly-poly hatchling as red as an apple, who was being shadowed protectively by a girl gargoyle nearly twice his size.
"Aye, my little Eggs," Katharine beamed, "there is a wonderful surprise a-waitin' for ye. Come, let us go an' see what it is." With that, she waded through the small sea of hatchlings - most of which had enough sense to let her pass without getting underfoot - as she led them to a large set of double doors.
As the rest of the mob clustered behind her, Katharine paused briefly, smiling at the shining eyes of all the hatchlings before she reached out with one free hand to rap on the wooden door three times.
"Who comes a-knocking?" a mirth-filled voice asked from within.
Trying not to laugh, the princess replied, "'Tis but a wee clan of gargoyles, seekin' entry for a grand surprise this fine night!"
"Then, I bid this clan 'Enter!'," the voice replied, just as the doors were flung open to reveal Tom and the Magus, standing there just beyond the entrance, smiling at the gathered hatchlings. "Good Naming Day, Eggs!"
There was a collective gasp, then squeals and giggles as nearly every hatchling tried to fit through the doorway at one time, eager to get at the wonderful spread of food that had been set out on tables inside. It was all that the three humans could do to remain standing and keep the mob from overturning the tables in their rush.
Amid the frenzy, several of the hatchlings also noticed a pile of hand-made toys - all made by their guardians - over to one side of the feast. Soon, mingled within the feeding gargoyles, were several hatchlings brandishing toy swords and other such items, a few of the girls had cloth dolls that they were chattering over.
Katharine managed to extract herself briefly, finding a seat to the side as she and the others watched the milling hatchlings enjoy themselves. Eventually, she was joined by three of the Eggs - the ones she had named Angela, Mariah, and little Edmund - who were all wide eyed as they gathered at her feet.
"Having a good time, my Eggs?" She asked, looking down with a fond smile.
"Oh, yes, Princess!" Angela replied, her arms wrapped around a simple cloth doll, complete with wings. "This is won-der-ful!"
"Weel, I am glad tae see ye havin' a grand time."
Edmund was gnawing at the large drumstick of some wild fowl he had taken from the tables, and he glanced up at his protector to bob his head in agreement. "Uh-HUH!"
However, Mariah had a slightly puzzled look on her face, and it was something not easily missed by the princess. "What is troublin' ye, my wee one? Are ye not happy tae be a part of this, the celebration of yer Naming Day?"
The dun-green colored female looked up at Katharine, her brow crinkled with a frown as she asked, "Princess? What is 'Naming Day'?"
The Magus heard what the little gargoyle had said as he was walking towards the Princess. "What's this?" he asked.
Mariah looked at Katharine, then up at the Magus, "I want to know what 'Naming Day' is? Why do we have to 'member it?"
The princess glanced at her advisor, then fixed the gargoyle girl with a small smile. "Och, my little Egg! Have ye not understood why we celebrate this day?" Katharine asked, to which Mariah simply shrugged. Shaking her head, the Scottish princess reached down and - albeit gingerly - cradled the hatchling in her lap. "Well, then, I think it is high time we told you the reason why we do celebrate on this day."
Surprisingly, when Katharine began to speak, the activity level began to quiet down as most of the hatchlings stopped their mad play and eating, perking up their ears to listen.
Tom, who had been caught in the center of a mock fight between three of males, blew out a sigh of relief, chuckling under his breath as the hatchlings settled down to listen. "Trust our Princess to know what is needed to calm the Eggs! They always will hark to a good story."
Katharine was now speaking, somewhat aware of her extended audience as she spoke to Mariah. "Weel, back before ye and yuir rookery kin were even hatched, Young Tom, the Magus, and I all came to this island to keep ye safe from a wicked king named Constantine. We didn't know when tae expect ye tae hatch, but we knew once that day had come, we would need tae give ye all names so we would be able tae tell ye apart from one another."
"Did all garg'les used to have names, Princess?" Edmund piped, his food long forgotten in his claws.
"Nae, laddie, not all gargoyles used tae have names," she replied, "for I remember yuir former leader, and he was named Goliath, but all of his sisters and brothers never took names for themselves."
"Is that bad, Princess?" Angela asked softly, her dark eyes full of curiosity.
Shaking her head, Katharine replied, "Nae, nae! For them, it was their way, not tae take a name. But here, so we could better take care of ye, we had tae give you all names. On that day, we decided - Tom, the Magus, and I - that such a day was very special indeed. So, it wasn't long after that, nearly a year had passed . . .
* * *
Several Years Before
The sun had just risen over the horizon as three humans: a man with long white hair wearing a wizard's garb, a woman dressed in the finest of clothing, and a boy barely in his teens, sat under a large tree in front of the castle. Their faces and bodies spoke of exhaustion as they lay there, elated that the night was over with.
Seemingly as one, the trio looked over to where the foot of the parapets of the castle lay. There, in the lee of the wall, stood numerous small statues in menacing but adorable poses, all facing out towards the sun.
Princess Katharine was the first to speak. "Sometimes I wonder what we were thinkin' when we agreed tae this," she said with a tolerant chuckle. "I donna mind caring for one or two gargoyle hatchlings, but thirty-six of them is a wee bit much."
"Yes," the Magus chimed in, "and the gargoyle beast is another matter entirely." He looked down to where the ends of his robe was nearly in threads, soggy from where the one hatchling that turned out to be a guardian beast had taken great relish in chewing on it.
"But, at least they're asleep now," Tom finished, blowing a few locks of his brown hair back from over his forehead. "And, we do have time to prepare for tonight." This earned him a groan from the older members of the trio.
"Och, don't remind me, Tom!" Katharine said with a smile, and a groan as she pulled herself to her feet. "Come. It is mornin', and we best get somethin' tae eat before we have tae get things ready for tonight, for I would be willin' tae get some sleep before then!"
The Magus nodded. "I'll see that something is prepared, Highness. Tom, please fetch some water from the well," he said to the youth.
"Yes, Magus." Tom replied cheerfully, though he was very tired. As he trotted off, the Magus escorted Katharine into the castle, to the small, ground level kitchen they had found near the back of the main courtyard.
While the princess sat in a low chair by the fire that had been banked since the early morning hours, the Magus busied himself with preparing a small meal to break their fast, since the magic-user was surprisingly adept around a cooking fire. Tom soon returned with a pail of water, and, with his help, the Magus soon had a small but fine meal for the three of them prepared.
It was only after their meal was finished, that Katharine finished her though from before. "Tonight will be one of the first of what I hope is a long tradition for the Eggs. Time's not been easy to track here on this Island, but as far as I can tell, it's been nearly a year since the Eggs hatched."
"Yes . . . that was a night to remember," the Magus said with a chuckle. "Seems we were forever going back and forth from the rookery, each time turning around, and another one would be hatching!"
"But we finally got through that night," Katharine said with a smile, "and we have forever been stuck with our labors."
"Would you have left the Eggs alone, Highness?" Tom asked, a worried look on his face.
"Och, Tom! Dinnae worry yuirself! I made a promise tae Goliath that I would look after his children as if they were my own," she replied, trying to soothe the youth's concern. "And, I think we're all living up to that task." She sighed and smiled slightly more to herself. "Though, at times I wish there were nae so many of the bairns!"
"Still, it is good that they are growing so fast," The Magus commented thoughtfully. "Had they been normal children-."
"Och, dinnae give that another minute of thought, Magus!" Katharine admonished playfully. "Anyway, tis a guid thing we are planning tonight. A celebration will be just the thing for the Eggs, to help them all learn to come a little closer to one another, and be more like a clan than a gaggle of hatchlings."
"Sounds wonderful, Highness," Tom replied. "But, what shall we call this celebration? It's not like us, when we have a birthday."
The Magus tapped his chin thoughtfully. "This is true, Tom . . . from what I recall about the gargoyles, they don't have too many celebrations. Except for honoring the solstice, near as I remember."
Katharine pursed her lips in thought for a moment, then brightened. "I know! We'll call it their 'Day of Naming'."
Tom caught her enthusiasm. "Their 'Naming Day'!"
The Magus added his smile to the trio. "It sounds wonderful! Yes!"
"Then it's settled," Katharine said with a note of finality. "From now on, we call this day the Egg's Naming Day . . ."
* * *
". . . and that is why we celebrate this day, my little one," Katharine finished, looking around briefly to see that all of the hatchlings were watching her, listening to her every word.
"Ooooh," Mariah said in awe, "so that is why . . . we have this food, an' toys?"
"Aye, my Egg, tis true," the princess replied with a smile. "Yuir Naming Day is a special day, just for you and yuir rookery brothers and sisters. It is where ye can remember where ye came from, and who ye and yuir fellow clan members are."
"And to keep the memory of your sires," the Magus added solemnly, a touch of regret in his voice that only Katharine and Tom could pick up.
"Well, I am glad we have to cel-a-brate Naming Day then!" Mariah said cheerfully.
"Me too!" Edmund piped.
"Weel, ye will all be able tae celebrate Naming Day for many a year tae come!" Katharine said, placing Mariah on the ground before she noticed one of the bundles of wild flowers they had placed on the tables.
Reaching for a couple of lilies that were in the middle, she reached down and placed one in both Angela and Mariah's hands.
"Thank you, Princess!" Angela said with a smile as she sniffed her flower.
"Yuir welcome, my wee one," Katharine replied fondly. Standing up with a helping hand from the Magus, she announced with a tolerant smile, "Now, some of ye will need tae help clean the hall before ye can return to the outside."
A collective "Awwww!" came from the hatchlings, accompanied by a chorus of crestfallen looks on their faces.
"Now, let's not all make a fuss! I'll lend a hand, so it won't take so much time!" Tom said with a laugh.
So mollified, the mob of thirty-six soon had the hall clean, and later they were treated to the princess' playing on her hand harp, while they and the Guardians all enjoyed the remainder of their celebration night . . .
* * * * *
"...And, that's how it was... at least that's what the Princess told me," Angela said, finishing off her anecdote. "My rookery brothers and sisters always celebrated our Naming Day every year. Some gave gifts, or they did special things for the others, but we all spent time with on another as a clan, remembering all that we were, and looking forward to what we would become."
"Sounds like a real special occasion. So when is Naming Day?" Broadway asked.
She turned away from her beau for a moment. "I... I don't know. Time passed differently on Avalon. So much so that it's hard to pin it down to one exact month or day here in the real world."
Broadway looked at his love, concerned, wondering what to do now. In a flash of brilliance, the blue-green gargoyle walked back inside for a moment, just to snatch a few flowers from the nearby planter.
Returning to the parapet, he placed one of the blooms in her ebony colored hair. As Angela turned around, Broadway smiled, causing her to smile as well. He then embraced her in his arms and wings, before giving her a kiss on the cheek.
With a deep sigh he said, "Don't worry, Angela. We'll figure out when your Naming Day is. But this is Valentine's Day and I planned something special for today." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Something to make up for last Valentine's Day. Only this time..."
"This time there won't be any sudden interruptions," Angela finished the thoughts of her companion. The two gargoyles giggled at what just occurred, realizing that they have come to the point where they could practically read each other's minds.
A moment of silence passed before Broadway spoke. "Oh, I almost forgot. Love, I have a surprise for you."
"A surprise?" Angela asked with amusement.
Broadway nodded. "Just wait right here while I bring it to you." With that, he trotted off, leaving her smiling as she waited with anticipation.
* * * * *
New York City Harbor, By The Docks
The fog was thick as gravy this February evening. Dense enough to hide a traveler from the prying eyes of the workers on the docks below . . . or so he hoped.
Gabriel held on to the weathervane atop the tall building, as he gazed onto the outline of the city. The lights alone were brighter than what he saw through Titania's mirror. The sights of this new world were amazing and the sounds were deafening but exciting at the same time.
Despite the density of the fog, the visiting gargoyle easily spotted the Eyrie building. After passing his gaze over the length of the dock to make sure he wouldn't be seen, he sought out the roof of the nearby fish cannery and used the ocean winds to glide him to his destination.
In a matter of minutes the gargoyle was close enough to the Eyrie building to see the castle on top of it.
"It's just like the Princess and Tom described it," he marveled, seeing the birthplace of his foster parents and his clan for the first time. As he approached, Gabriel caught sight of a figure standing on the parapets. He nearly swerved away to hide himself from them, but a sudden recollection made him realize just who the person was.
"It can be only one," he mused, "I'll glide up from behind and surprise her."
All the while, Angela remained standing on the parapets, waiting patiently for Broadway to arrive. "You always do try to surprise me, Broadway," she mused. Every now and then, he would spoil her with some sort of small gift for no particular reason. Since this was Valentine's Day, she knew that he would try and get her something special.
Just then, she heard a swooping sound come from behind. Angela turned quickly, not really knowing who to expect, and to her surprise, she saw someone she thought she would never see again.
"GABRIEL!" she said out loud, her eyes lighting up at the sight of her rookery brother.
"Angela," he said, "It's good to see you again, my rookery sister!" Both gargoyles reached for each other and locked in a firm embrace. "You do not know how much I have missed you," Gabriel said.
Angela responded, "I've missed you all. Is everyone all right?" She smiled up at the blonde-hared warrior and couldn't help but look at him with such intensity, not even caring why he was here. "I never would have thought you would have left Avalon, much less come here!"
Gabriel shrugged and smiled in return, "Where else would I need to go?"
While the two were having a happy reunion, Broadway was walking back up the stairwell to the castle parapets, nervous as he hid a small gift-wrapped box behind his back. He had waited weeks for this moment and it would not have happened without Fox's help.
"I gotta thank Fox. Maybe I can cook her and Xanatos dinner."
As he emerged from the doorway, he caught sight of Angela . . . and an unfamiliar gargoyle, locked in each other's arms. The shock was too much for the blue-green gargoyle to bear. He simply stood there, mouth partially agape, unable to say a word as he found himself interrupting a tender moment between his love and another.
Just then, Gabriel focused his gaze towards Broadway, and smiled in a seemingly friendly manner. Angela noticed he was looking at someone else, and broke free of the embrace. She led her rookery brother towards Broadway and made the proper introductions.
"Broadway, I would like you to meet my rookery brother from Avalon, Gabriel," she said. "Gabriel, this is Broadway."
"A pleasure to meet you, Broadway," Gabriel said, extending his talon out in friendship. The rotund gargoyle mumbled out an incoherent greeting as he half-heartedly reached for his hand and shook his forearm in a more formal greeting.
"Come, I'll introduce you to the rest of the clan. Then we can catch up on what has happened since I last left the island." Angela led Gabriel into the castle, leaving a slightly dazed Broadway all to himself.
"She didn't even tell him I was her boyfriend," he said softly. Looking at the box he never gave his intended, he tried to piece together what just took place in front of him.
His wings drooped as his happy anticipation was snuffed like a candle. Looking back to where the two had left the parapet, he sighed and muttered. "I wonder if Brooklyn must have felt like this?" As he looked down at the small gift box once more, he closed his eyes and shook his head in sympathy. "I have to agree with you, Brook, though you really never said so... it hurts..." he said, his words trailing off.
Feeling the need to get his mind clear, Broadway tucked the present away in a pouch on the belt of his loincloth as he stood at the castle's edge. He hesitated as he judged the wind, then spread his wings as he leapt off, gliding away to the city below.
* * * * *
Elsewhere, near the 23rd Precinct House
Coldsteel dipped down from the sky, landing behind one of the air conditioning units, looking out over the city.
Landing, he chuckled to himself. "To think my brother was so foolish to have gotten embroiled with those humans . . . now I must find a way to deal with him once and for all! Then, I can take my beloved sister as my own, as she was meant to be!"
Striding over to the side of the roof, he scanned the streets and the buildings below, before he shifted his gaze to rest on the clock tower. "It will be wonderful to pay a visit to my former clan . . . By the Dragon! What is this?!? This does NOT look like the last time I remember!"
Sure enough, the repairs and the scaffolding that still remained around the clock tower made it look far different that when Coldsteel had left it long ago.
"When I possessed that . . . scrawny gargoyle's body, this did not look this way? And where are the others? They would not have abandoned their home! Unless they were forced to leave..."
Pacing a bit, Coldsteel was silent in thought, until he remembered something. "Wait . . . my red-haired sister! She wanted to destroy Goliath and the others! Could she have been responsible for this? Hmmm, possible," he said to himself. "But, if they are no longer here, then where could they be? Even in a human city this size, they could not be easily hid."
Suddenly, he noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye. Ducking back into the shadows again, he looked out, and gasped when he saw one of the gargoyles, slowly riding the updrafts above the city.
"It's one of them! The fat one, that my rookery brother possessed," he snarled softly, before a grin broke over his face. "If he survived, then surely Goliath and the others have as well!"
Activating his wings, Coldsteel stepped away from the shadows of the roof, igniting his engines on a baffled setting as he sprang into the nighttime skies. Being careful, he slowly followed behind Broadway as the large gargoyle glided ahead of him.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Great Hall
The Xanatos Valentine's Day Charity Ball was barely underway and it was already deemed a success.
The melody created by the quartet of musicians was both soothing and beautiful. The piece they played mixed with the murmur of the party guests, as several were pulling out their check books to make their donations at a table near the back of the hall, each contributed thousands of dollars to the Xanatos-Renard foundation.
A photographer meandered from table to table, pausing to snap off a few frames of film for the press, pleased that there were several in attendance that were practically leaping at the chance to get their image in tomorrow's print.
"Looks like the Xanatos' have done it again!" Representative Graves, a city council member, said admiringly, flashing a smile for the morning edition.
"Have they ever thrown a bad party?" his wife said, smiling at another couple that wandered by with Jackson and Bowen, two members of City's Advisory Board.
The Governor of New York had just shaken hands with David, commenting his approval of the whole gathering, before someone from the Police Commissioner's group came to drag him into the thick of things.
"Another amazing party, my dear," Xanatos said with a smile, nodding to three members of the DA's office as they passed by.
"Naturally," Fox slyly replied. "And it looks like everyone's here from George Diamant to Senator Kelly." She scanned the room, giving quick polite glances to everyone in attendance. Then, from the corner of her eye, she spied a few of the more important guests arriving at the party.
"Darling," she said, nudging the multi-billionaire on the arm, "there's someone you might want to see."
David looked at the main doorway and saw just who his wife was referring to: a man in a black tuxedo carrying a small tray of food. "And I see there's someone you need to meet with as well," he said as he caught sight of a new party attendee.
Fox nodded as she accompanied her husband to meet the new guests.
* * *
"Welcome to the gala event, Dr. Goldblum," Xanatos said to the new arrival. "I'm glad to see the complimentary tickets arrived to you safely."
The doctor turned to David and smiled. "Hello again, Mr. Xanatos. I hope you don't mind that I brought over some sweets for the party, but my wife made an extra rugelach." He presented Xanatos with a dish of pastry, which was made of several layers of thin dough drenched in butter with crushed walnuts in the middle. "I learned through experience that fancy parties like this usually don't have an after dinner dish you can chew on."
Xanatos gave Dr. Goldblum a smirk. "My good doctor, I usually don't throw parties with boring food." He glanced at the food on the tray in front of him with a raised eyebrow. "May I?"
Dr. Goldblum nodded as David took a small piece of the pastry and popped it in his mouth, which later spread into a wider smile. "Delicious! Your wife is an excellent cook."
"Oh, she does very well for herself. I'll be sure to pass on your compliments to her after I get home tonight."
Xanatos chuckled. "In the meantime, let's pass some of this along to my other guests. Shall we?"
As he and Dr. Goldblum made there way to the food table, Xanatos passed his gaze over the revelers briefly, before he turned to the geneticist and asked in a subdued tone, "How's the research coming along, doctor? Any progress worth noting?"
The doctor also looked around briefly before answering in the same tone, "Depends how you look at it. Every day I'm learning more and more about the DNA structure of the mutates and about the formula used to create them. I have to say, however, that Dr. Sevarius did a good job on the formula. So good that reversing it is still a challenge."
"Did the notes from Sevarius help?"
"Greatly," Dr. Goldblum answered. "But Sevarius left a lot of gaps in his research. On purpose, no doubt."
Xanatos nodded. "He is a tricky fellow." Returning to a more normal tone, he added, "Enjoy the rest of the evening, Doctor. Do keep me informed on your progress."
Dr. Goldblum nodded with a smile. "As always, Mr. Xanatos."
* * *
Broadway never felt so miserable, but he was doing his best not to show it as he followed Angela and Gabriel around. He went looking for her after returning from his short flight, and found the two of the meeting with Hudson, Brooklyn, Sata, and the twins, who were leaving to go on patrol while the Xanatos party was in full swing. After Gabriel's introductions, she took her rookery brother on a tour of the castle. He halfheartedly trailed behind as Angela and Gabriel chattered about the history of the castle and all of the recent renovations.
They were now in main suite, where the clan gathered in the evenings and Gabriel was fascinated by all of the marvels of the modern world before his eyes. Intrigued by the television set, he commented, "It is like Titania's Mirror!" and when he saw the microwave and other implements in the small kitchenette, he exclaimed, "This modern world is filled with a magic of it's own!"
Giggling, Angela replied, "Modern science does have it's own advantages. Come, there's so much more to show you!" Taking him by the arm, she towed him to the doorway of the suite, stopping briefly to look at Broadway and say, "Are you coming?"
The husky gargoyle had been picking idly at a bowl of snack fruit when she asked. Looking up, he put on a smile and replied, "Sure . . . be right with you."
Angela frowned a bit, but Gabriel was out the door looking into one of the other rooms, so she put her thoughts about this aside for the moment and followed him out.
* * *
Meanwhile, several floors below in the Eyrie Building, an uninvited guest was making his way inside.
As the edges of the super-dense safety glass cooled, Coldstone strode forward confidently into the confines of the room. "The alarms are child's play, thanks to the 'tech-no-logy' in this metal body. It makes my efforts so much easier to complete!"
Coldsteel passed his optics around the room, slowly taking in the information the sensors were sending to his mind. "This looks like one of Xanatos' workshops . . . there are several parts for his . . . robots. Ahh, now there is a stroke of genius! An automaton, devoid of any will, save that of its master!" He chuckled and moved deeper into the room, locating a side door that led into another. "Would that we had such things when I still had my real body . . ."
Silently entering the other room, he paused as he looked around, noting the long row of shrouded shapes that lined the far wall. "Well now . . . this looks promising!" Stepping over to the nearest one, he snagged the cloth covering with one taloned hand and pulled it free.
He let out a loud gasp, then cracked his metal face with an even more feral grin. "By the Dragon! This is something most useful... and just what I need to take my revenge a little more closer to home!" With that, he raised one hand, making a small port open in the base of his palm, where a small waldo extended with a whirr-clik! "Now, if what the information this automaton has stored in its memory is correct, I should be able to get you running in no time, my metallic friend . . . "
* * * * *
"'Because of the intervention of the three unknowns, and until the resulting investigation is completed, all bids for the weapons contract are frozen until further notice.'" Snarling, she crumpled the notice in her hands savagely. "Blast it! We need that contract!"
Stalking around her living room, Demona continued to fume. "I'd swear Xanatos had been responsible for causing that fiasco, if he hadn't looked as surprised as he did! No thanks to Coldstone showing up, now Nightstone may have lost the best chance of showing that we can build a better machine than Xanatos! Hmph! Not that there wasn't any other major competition to begin with. Although, CyberBiotics had an interesting entry in that race..."
Pausing to rub her chin in thought, she murmured, "But what was Coldstone doing there in the first place? And who were those other two. . things with him? Xanatos couldn't have built more constructs!"
At that point, she happened to look down on a small bundle on the table before her. Reaching down, she picked it up and softened her scowl just a touch. "Well, I can speculate later. If Angela is home tonight, I can deliver this scroll as I promised. She needs the wards to protect those around her from the effects of her spell casting."
She made her way to the bay windows across the way, flinging them open before she launched herself out into the night.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Library
Dim overhead lights barely illuminated the room while the fireplace provided both warmth and more light to the immense facility. Though every possible space was filled with countless pages filled with countless words, one space was recently left unoccupied.
It's former occupant, Homer's The Odyssey, was now cradled in the lavender talons of Goliath, as he sat on the couch in front of the fireplace, his wings loosely caped around his massive body. He looked transfixed, reading the printed words as they spoke of a large man-eating Cyclops, vicious storms, and amnesia inducing flowers.
Goliath murmured softly, "This is like the trip Angela and Elisa and I had on the skiff." He said with a warm voice. "Our trip was almost an odyssey itself."
Suddenly, before he could return to his reading, he felt a pair of delicate hands cover his eyes, enveloping him in a world of darkness.
"Guess who?" a soft voice asked seductively.
Goliath initially stiffened, but when he heard that voice, he relaxed and gave a small smirk. "Hmmm . . . could it be . . . Elisa?"
The detective took her hands away from the gargoyle's face, leaning over the back of the couch to give him a kiss on his brow ridge. "Good guess, big guy."
Goliath slipped a bookmark between the pages of the book, placing it down on the couch as he turned to look at Elisa, and gasped softly at the vision before him. She wore a long dress of deep-red fabric, trimmed with while lace accents along the sweetheart neckline and the edges of the skirt and cut in a way that accentuated every curve on her body.
Coming around to stand in front of him, she smiled as she modeled the dress for him. "Well, what do you think?"
"Elisa, you look beautiful," Goliath said admiring his love. "But I thought you had to go to work tonight."
"Change of plans. I swapped with one of the day shift officers so he could take his kid to a dentist appointment," Elisa responded.
"I see," Goliath replied in understanding.
She leaned closer to her love, comforting him as she placed her head on his chest. "Hey," she said softly, "we did want a night alone, just the two of us. No interruptions. What better night for it to happen than Valentine's Night."
The lavender gargoyle smiled and let out a deep, rumbling purr of delight. "A night where nothing could possibly interrupt us . . . " His voice trailed off, looking down at the woman in his arms.
Elisa pulled away from Goliath and looked up with an inviting smile. He bent his head down and the couple's eyes met.
Elisa sighed happily. "Oh, Goliath, we have so few of these nights together."
"Then we better make the most of it," the clan leader said in a low but soft tone of voice. The couple hesitated no longer as they met each other for a kiss. It was a long kiss, full of affection.
Without warning, a voice from the hallway grew in intensity as it approached the library, just before the door opened wide.
"...and this is the castle library. We have even more books than the Magus had-." Angela stopped in mid-sentence as she looked into the room, straight at the couch where the couple was half-hidden. When she saw what was happening, her eyes widened, but she had the sense to only blush and say, "Oh, my apologies, father. I didn't know that... you and Elisa were in here!"
Goliath immediately broke the kiss he and Elisa were locked in when he saw that his daughter and another gargoyle, with Broadway just behind them, were watching them. The clan leader and Elisa sprang apart like scalded cats, but they caught themselves before either one ended up on the floor.
"No, no, Angela," he said in a slightly surprised and embarrassed tone. "Elisa and I were just... er... um..."
Elisa immediately blushed and fixed the creases on her dress while trying to find an excuse for the situation. "Yeah, we were... you know... um... and..."
Angela and Gabriel were slightly grinning as they saw the two lovebirds struggling to hide their actions and blushing at the same time.
Goliath continued. "... we... um, Gabriel, how wonderful it is to see you again." He stepped over and gripped forearms with the young warrior, beginning to wonder why Gabriel was there in the first place.
"It is a pleasure to see you again as well, Goliath," the Avalon gargoyle replied, returning the greeting with his own firm grip. "And you, too, milady Elisa."
"Good to see you too, Gabriel. But why are you here?" she asked with a slight hint of worry in her voice. She glanced at Broadway, saw the hurt look in his eyes, but decided to comment on it later.
Angela suddenly looked interested. "Yes, my rookery brother. Why are you here in Manhattan? Did Avalon send you here . . . to find us?"
"No, Angela, Avalon did not send me here for you," he answered with a smile, at which all three of them breathed a sigh of relief. "It was Princess Katharine, with Queen Titania's aid, who sent me here."
Goliath frowned. "But, why would the princess send you out from Avalon? Have the Unseelie found a way to get to the island?"
"The Clan is fine, Goliath," the blonde-tressed gargoyle replied darkly for a brief moment, before he shook it off and smiled again. "We live and flourish on Avalon. As for why I came here, it is to give something to Angela for her..."
Gabriel's explanation was interrupted by a loud rumbling boom mixed with the sounds of shattering glass. Everyone turned to face the direction of the sound, extreme looks of worry and concern blossoming on faces of Goliath, Elisa, and Angela.
"Does that happen often here in this city?" Gabriel asked, looking puzzled as well as worried.
"No," Goliath answered. "Something is amiss. We had better go investigate." Immediately, the gargoyles bolted from the library. Elisa raised the skirt of her dress to reveal a small pistol strapped to her leg by a garter. She took the weapon from its hiding place and cocked the action.
"I just knew it was too good to last," She said as they headed down the hallway.
* * * * *
The Parapets Above, Just Moments Before
Hudson and Bronx returned from patrol. They set down in the courtyard with a gentle thump. A moment later, Brooklyn and his family soared over the east wall, the children embroiled in a game of tag.
"Ev'nin' Lads and Lassies," he said with a smile. "How was yuir patrol?"
Both of the twins spoke excitedly at once, "It-was-great-stopped-a-robber-shoulda-seen-it-Dad-!"
Hudson looked at the other adults, and got a shrug and an bemused smile in return, while the twins continued their recanting of their night on patrol. Eventually, they calmed down long enough to receive a greeting from Bronx before they went to go let Nudnik out from a room in one of the low towers, where the pup had been placed to keep him out of mischief.
Brooklyn smiled at his children, but when he spoke to the elder gargoyle, he sounded concerned. "Not too many crooks were out tonight . . ."
Hudson remarked, "That's guid, lad! Meanin' we shouldn't have as long of a sweep as we used to in the nights tae come."
Brooklyn shook his head. "That's not what's bothering me, Hudson. They've all been coming out less and less because of the weather. Can't you feel it?"
Now that the Second-In-Command of the Clan mentioned it, Hudson did notice something odd. "Aye, lad. Seems the weather is still unbearably cold."
Sata replied, "From what my husband tells me, your winters in this city are savage at worst, but never as bitter as this."
Brooklyn watched as the twins emerged with their pet, then he looked out over the city. "I don't like it!"
"Y'think there's mare trouble than that aboot then, lad?"
"There's something evil out there, Hudson. I just wish I knew what it was!"
Suddenly, there was a loud "BOOM!", and the sounds of shattering glass from below.
"DOKI! What was that!?" the twins cried out, followed by Nudnik's yapping.
"An explosion!" Brooklyn said.
"Someone attackin' th' castle?!" Hudson snarled, one hand on his sword.
"But who?" Sata asked.
Almost as if in answer to her question, seven shapes rose from beneath the edges of the walls, rocketing into the air above the courtyard on plumes of flame. As one, the seven turned their glowing read eyes down up on the gargoyles, their IFF systems quickly identifying them, while their weapon arms snapped up to deploy their blasters.
"Cooool! Giant robots!!" shouted Graeme.
Brooklyn was not as enthralled as his son was, as he glared at the robots and snarled, "It's the Steel Clan! Xanatos must have made more of them!"
"But why are they moving against this place? Against us??" Sata queried, even as she growled and drew her paired swords.
Hudson was doing likewise. "Someone must have gotten control of them! Xanatos wouldna dare attack us now!"
As eight forms rose up from below, a single figure landed on the tall watchtower and replied, "It is not that feeble human that controls these automatons, my former Mentor, but I . . . Coldsteel! And I have come to have a small portion of revenge against my dear brother's clan!"
All eyes were on Coldsteel, but it was Brooklyn's that flared up like spotlights. "You!"
At that, Coldsteel recognized the former Timedancer. "I see you've made some changes, my former avatar! Not all for the better!"
The crimson warrior bristled. "You'll find I'm not the scrawny gargoyle you once possessed, you . . . rotten THIEF!!!"
Coldstone waved a silver talon at Brooklyn, "Ah,ah,hah! Temper, temper! Why not show me what you can do, my friend . . . instead of just standing there and TALKING about it!" With that, he motioned to the Steel Clan, still hovering in the air, and they fired off a volley of blaster fire at the grounded gargoyles.
"SCATTER!" Brooklyn bellowed, shoving Sata to the side while he dove into a tumble, coming up with his blaster rifle to the ready. Hudson and Bronx dove to scoop up the twins and Nudnik, coming to a stop behind a low wall. The place where they all formerly stood was blasted apart, left as a smoldering crater.
Coldstone motioned again with a sneer. "Deal with them, my mechanical brethren! I am sure my dear brother and his mate will be pleased to know they died in battle!" The seven Steel Clan dove at the courtyard.
Sata recovered from her mad tumble, springing into the air in a charge at the silver construct, her warcry sounding like a snarling cat. She was just a meter away, when one of the Steel Clan intercepted her charge, forcing her to have to deflect it with a strike with her katana.
"Shimatta!" she snarled, unable to recover fast enough as the robot extended his blaster to hit her at point-blank range. It never got off the shot, because a green surge of laser fire sliced through its arm at the elbow joint, severing the limb.
From below, Brooklyn snarled as he sighted his weapon at the robot's head. "Nice try! But NO ONE touches my wife!" He triggered the rifle again, and this time a larger blast slammed into it, blowing the head apart. Sata dodged the headless body, watching as it crashed into the castle wall below.
"Sata! To me! We have to keep them away from the kids!" His mate soared down to join him, and together they turned to face the other robots.
* * * * *
The Courtyard's Main Entrance
At that point, Xanatos - who had left the party to get some more background information on Sevarius' for his research - ran into the foursome from the library, just as Lexington came out from nursery, where he was helping Owen put Alexander to sleep.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"That is what we'd like to know!" Goliath replied. "Something is amiss outside!"
"Then let's see what's what then," the billionaire said simply. They rushed out onto the courtyard proper, just in time to see two Steel Clan robots soar by while being chased by Brooklyn and Sata.
"What's THIS?!?" Goliath bellowed. "Why are your robots attacking my clan???"
"I'm just as surprised as you are! They're supposed to be part of the castle's defenses!" Xanatos shot back. Everyone ducked back, just as a stream of crimson laser bolts raked across the front of the entryway.
"Gargoyles . . . in armor?" Gabriel said in awe.
"No! Those are Steel Clan robots!" Broadway snarled.
"They're automatons! Created by Xanatos!" Lex added.
"And they've got Hudson and the others trapped!" Angela said, pointing to where Hudson and Bronx were running interference for Ariana and Graeme. She gasped as another blast struck the stones beside her, making her flinch away into Gabriel's arms.
Broadway growled, "What's making them attack us?"
Xanatos had no clue, but Elisa suddenly squinted, looking across the courtyard and up to one of the towers. "Waitaminute! Did your tech boys build a new version of the Steel Clan?" she asked him.
Looking at her blankly for a moment, Xanatos shook his head, then followed her gaze. "What the-? Is that who I think it is, Goliath?" he asked, grabbing the giant's hand and pointing to the tower.
Goliath looked, and immediately his eyes flared. "Coldsteel!"
Angela and Broadway both reacted in a similar way. "What is that monster doing here?!" she growled.
"Whatever he's doing, I have just the thing to put a stop to this," Xanatos said with a note of finality. Reaching into his suit pocket, he removed a small control box. "I had a fail-safe program built into each one of the Steel Clan."
"So?" Elisa said, just before she comprehended the gravity of his statement. "Oh!" she added belatedly.
"Precisely, and both Coldsteel and Coldfire had a similar program onboard!" Xanatos thumbed a button, keying a transmitter. "Initiate Override: Xanatos Alpha-Zeta-One!"
Everyone turned to watch, but the silver-skinned construct was laughing now, firing on Hudson and Bronx while they tried to get the twins to the relative safety of a shielding wall.
Puzzled, Xanatos hit the button again. "Initiate Override: Xanatos Alpha-Zeta-One! Blast it! The override's not working!"
Another series of blasts made everyone duck again. "That is painfully obvious!" snarled Goliath.
"Why wouldn't the override work now?" Elisa asked.
Lexington half-studied the device, his cybernetic sensors analyzing the operating components. "Nothing's wrong with that transmitter . . . could it be the program itself?"
"That is possible," Xanatos replied, "but, we'd need to access the program to be sure!"
"The rest of us will go to save the others, while you try to get your override working, Xanatos," Goliath ordered. "Lexington, go with him and see if you can help." As the two of them left, he turned to the detective. "Elisa, go with them as well! Angela, Broadway and I will help the others!"
"Goliath! Be careful, okay?" Elisa replied, not liking the idea of being ordered out of a fight.
"I'll come too, Goliath!" Gabriel said grimly. "I'll not stand by and watch while gargoyles are in danger!"
Nodding, Goliath motioned to the others. "Let's go!"
As Lex, Elisa and Xanatos raced for the control room, the billionaire suddenly remembered something. "Wait! The party! We have to warn Fox!" Reaching down for his cell phone, Xanatos punched one button. "Owen! We've got an emergency!"
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Great Hall
Thanks to the construction of the ceilings and floors that muffled the sounds, the party continued, unaffected by the battle above.
"Mrs. Xanatos, don't you feel a bit uncomfortable discussing business at a charity ball?" Preston Vogel asked his former-employer's daughter, as stiff and formal as he ever was.
Fox glared at her late father's personal assistant. "Nonsense. This is my son's company now. Until he can properly run it by himself, I'm running it for him. And if I want to know the status of the company, I want to know the status of the company now."
Vogel gulped quietly. Although his facial expression did not change, it was apparent that he was intimidated by the former television star. "Yes, well, Mrs. Xanatos, the quarterly reports will be due in two weeks, and dividends are not going to be what they should. Also, we've seen a steady decrease in CyberBiotics stock, since there's been no new groundbreaking technology since the development of Fortress 2 a few years ago."
"I'll see those reports when they are finished, and the lag in the stock will pick up if we can produce some new product for the sales division to promote. What are the boys at R&D trying to do to fix this?" Fox asked.
"The Research and Development team is trying to develop an improved self-automated system based on the specifications used on the Fortress 2 robots. Give or take a few years, this could be the most incredible thing CyberBiotics has ever produced."
Fox nodded. "I read the reports on the military division, but that's not what is going to save CyberBiotics! Has there been any progress on the home consumer market?"
"To be completely honest, Mrs. Xanatos, we have no home consumer market," Vogel answered. "In the past, CyberBiotics has only dealt with military and government firms."
"Then it's time for a change. With my husband's company and Nightstone vying heavily for the bulk of the government's military contracts, CyberBiotics doesn't stand a chance... even after that fiasco with the weapons demonstration today. First thing in the morning, I want you to work up a project plan to split some of CyberBiotic's resources off from the military division, to help form up a consumer division of the company. Have them apply our old technology to... whatever consumer product they want. Action figures, answering machines, VCR's, you name it." Fox ordered.
"But, Mrs. Xanatos," Vogel asked hesitantly, "isn't that technology obsolete by now?"
"Not for the public, Preston. There isn't a lot of people, if any, have seen just what CyberBiotics can do." Fox smiled.
"Yes, Mrs. Xanatos," Vogel said in a manner almost identical to that of Owen Burnett. As he started to walk away, he was stopped by Fox's voice.
"And Preston?" she called out. The assistant turned around. "Loosen up a little! After all, this is a party," she said with a grin.
Vogel kept his deadpan expression intact as he gave a slight nod and headed for the buffet table.
The hostess of the party gave the room another quick scan. The guests were enjoying themselves immensely. Fox allowed herself a sigh of self-satisfaction, but before she could return to her task of being the gracious hostess, a light cough got her attention.
"Mrs. Xanatos," Owen said, standing behind Fox, "I must speak with you at once."
Fox turned around to meet her son's guardian. "Is something wrong?"
The stone fisted man nodded. "It seems there is a disturbance going on above the castle."
"Dangerous?" Fox asked. Looking out through the thick, reinforced windows, she could see the after-flash of laser fire being reflected off of some clouds as they trundled by. None of the guests noticed it, but it was certain it would only take one person commenting on it to drag everyone else's attention around.
"Indeed," Owen answered. As if he could read her mind, he pressed a stud on a remote control, and several sets of thick curtains began to slide into place over the windows.
Sighing a breath of temporary relief, she asked, "Is Alex safe?" Concern for the welfare of her child colored each word.
"Alexander is safe. Both the gargoyles and your husband are attending to the matter at present."
"Take me to David," the tattooed woman demanded. Owen nodded and accompanied her out of the room, unnoticed by the rest of the attendees. "Is it Madoc?" she asked as they quickly stepped into one of the smaller elevators that only went from the top floors to the castle.
"No, Mrs. Xanatos," Owen answered. "It appears that the gargoyle construct Coldsteel has returned and is attacking the castle with our own Steel Clan robots."
* * *
The duo arrived in the control room, where Xanatos was already tapping away furiously at the keypad fixed on his desk. Elisa stood behind him, the worry on her face an accompaniment to his frustration. He kept entering a sequence of keystrokes, which caused the monitor on his wall to flash the words "Access Denied".
"Any luck?" Fox asked her husband.
"Nothing yet, dear. The fail-safe program in Coldsteel doesn't seem to be working." Xanatos took a deep breath and hit a few more keys before the result was the same as his previous attempts.
"Access Denied," the computer belched out in a soft feminine voice.
"Blast!" Xanatos exclaimed, "Nothing I do can get past the security locks Coldsteel must have put in!" He persistently tapped away at the keypad, not willing to give up just yet.
Elisa looked away to face Lexington. "Lex, how's it coming on your end?"
In a secluded corner of the room, the olive-green gargoyle was tapping away at a keyboard with his talons while his head was attached to another computer located beside him. Although he looked like he was in a daze, he was fully aware of what was happening around him.
"No good," he called out. "I can't get into his system even with a two-pronged attack from the interface's back door. Either he physically broke off contact with you transmitters or he put in a good counter-program to ward off your signal from activating the fail-safe!"
Xanatos took his focus away from his monitor for a while and glanced at the other smaller monitors. From the looks of things, the gargoyles were having some trouble with Coldsteel and his reinforcements. "Lex, you better get out there. You've done all you can here."
Without another word, Lexington unplugged himself from the computer. After a second of re-orienting himself with his physical environment, he scampered off to enter the fray.
"Fox, do the guests know anything about what's going on outside?" Xanatos asked.
"Not a thing, thanks to Owen," she said. "But we have to get them out of here before they get hurt."
"And before they notice World War Three going on above their heads," Elisa quipped grimly.
"Let's move them into one of the interior halls. That way no one will really see what is going on upstairs!" Xanatos immediately jumped out of his chair and accompanied the two women and Owen out of the office.
"What should we do about the clan? They're going to need more help!" Elisa asked, worried for Goliath and the others.
"I think we'd better see to that then, Detective," Xanatos replied. "Owen, you and Fox see to our guests. Detective, my exo-suit is in the armory. I think I can get you something more your size in sidearms as well!"
* * *
From her hidden place inside the passageway within the castle wall, Demona listened to the conversation with her mind in two places.
"For someone to give Goliath a good needling is something I wish I could see," she said to herself, "but, who would have the means to use Xanatos' own robots against him... besides me, of course?" Looking up at the ceiling above, she considered her options. "I could just leave... but Angela could be in danger from whatever is attacking the castle!
Suddenly concerned for Angela, she slipped along the passage to head for the outside above.
* * * * *
The Parapets Above, Castle Wyvern
Coldsteel watched as the clan tried to overwhelm the Steel Clan under his control. Even with the addition of Goliath, the fat one, the pretty female he remembered from his former encounter, and another gargoyle he couldn't place, they were having a terrible time of it.
The entire clan was engaged with the Steel Clan robots; Goliath was joined by Brooklyn and Sata in taking on three, while two harassed Hudson and Bronx as they shielded the twins. The remaining two were swooping over the castle and courtyard, buzzing the others and forcing them to keep their heads down.
"Would that my brother were here to see his clan fall!" he crowed. With that, he launched himself into the air, coming down amid the fray just a few yards from Broadway, Angela and Gabriel.
Snarling, Angela turned to face him with glowing eyes. "YOU!"
"It is good to see you again, my sweetling! Perhaps I can persuade you to surrender, before I destroy the rest of my brother's clan?!"
At that, Broadway growled and crouched, ready to charge. "Leave your mitts off of her!"
"Aye! You will never harm Angela, monster! Not so long as I can stop you!" Gabriel challenged, leaping at Coldsteel before either of the other two could react.
"Gabriel!? NO! He's too strong for ONE gargoyle!" Broadway shouted, but the Avalon warrior was slapped aside by one swing of Coldsteel's hand, sending him skidding into the wall with a THUD!
"Fool! I know not who you are, but you and these rabble can not foil me now," the construct proclaimed, reaching out to ensnare both Angela and Broadway with a pair of extended tentacles. Unable to break their seemingly unbreakable grip, the two were hauled over until they were dangling in front of the silver menace.
"UrrGH! We stopped you once, Coldsteel," Broadway snarled, struggling, "and we can do it again!"
"Such confidence," Coldsteel sneered, "especially for such a bloated excuse for a hero! You only defeated me because I was unprepared, but now I have the upper hand!"
His words seemed true, for unlike their predecessors, the seven Steel Clan were proving themselves smarter. Goliath led one robot on a high-speed chase straight toward the battlements. He swerved at the last minute taking cover to avoid the inevitable shower of debris. His jaw dropped as the drone avoided the wall, neatly reversing course. It paused in mid-air for a moment before beginning the chase again.
Sata and Brooklyn tried to sandwich one between them, but it twisted out of the way and slapped the two of them down with a pair of blast bolts.
"That's not possible!" Angela gasped, watching the Steel Clan in awe. "They're not supposed to do that!"
"That would have been true," Coldsteel chuckled, "However, I used Xanatos' human 'tech-no-logy', and gave my mechanical brethren a better fighting sense." With an air of malice, he turned and snagged Gabriel with his other set of tentacles as the Avalon fighter tried to rush him again.
Lexington emerged from below, ready to aid in the fight. "Goliath! We can't shut Coldsteel down!" he shouted out to his leader, who was struggling under the assault of two of the robots.
Strutting like a confident bully, Coldsteel replied aloud, "Of course! I learned of all of the secrets this body contained a long time ago! I blocked the deactivation command. NOTHING can stop me now!"
Lex growled as his cybernetic eyes locked on Coldsteel. "Well, call me Nothing, pal!" He leapt into the air to attack, only to find himself plucked from his flight by his tail by a speeding Steel Clan robot.
"YEEEEYOOOOOWWWWWW!!!" the olive-green warrior roared, just before the robot made a sudden climb into the sky, releasing Lex so that he tumbled, all elbows and kneecaps, into the side of one of the towers.
The silver-skinned construct grinned at his captives. "As I said, NOTHING can stop me now!"
His revelry was short lived, when a quadruple blast of particle fire raked over his tentacles and severed them, freeing Broadway, Angela, and Gabriel. They all looked up as a pair of winged forms screamed down from the sky, firing more particle bolts and streams of fire, forcing Coldsteel to fall back from the newly freed captives.
Broadway and Angela both couldn't stop the smiles that leapt to their faces. "It's Coldstone and Coldfire! They came back!!"
The two cyborgs landed amid a pair of flame-jets, each one looking grimly at their former rookery brother. "Enough! This time you go too far," Coldstone shouted angrily. "You DARE to attack our clan!?!?"
Coldsteel snarled, snapping his damaged tentacles back home as they repaired themselves. "OUR clan??? I have no more clan, my dear brother! All I have left is my vengeance against YOU, for taking what was rightfully MINE!" This he said with a sharp look towards Coldfire.
"And as I told you before, I will decide whom I will love," she replied, her mechanical tail lashing in anger.
"Surrender, Coldsteel! We will not let you escape again!" Coldstone intoned. "Our battle must not live to see another night! We shall end this, NOW!"
With a sneer, Coldsteel only nodded. "Aye, my dear brother . . . this battle will end tonight!"
Suddenly, there was another roar of engines, and another six Steel Clan robots appeared, soaring to land on the parapets above. Immediately, their particle cannons popped up, locked onto any of the flesh gargoyles in the courtyard below.
By now, Goliath and the others had been forced back into a knot against the far wall where Hudson, Bronx and the twins, had been herded by five of the original seven that had first appeared.
"This is NOT good," Brooklyn said under his breath.
* * *
Lex groaned, just coming to his senses as he rolled onto his back at the base of the tower.
"Anybody get th' number of that castle?" he murmured, trying to get his eyes to focus. He was about to stand up, when a hand slipped over his mouth and a weight pressed him back to the stones.
"Sssh! Quiet, Lexington!" a familiar voice said in his ear.
"DmMNUH!" he mumbled, suddenly fearful for his life. If she was part of the attack-???
"I said QUIET, and listen! I don't know who this Coldsteel is, but I will not allow him to threaten Angela!" she explained in a voice that was quiet and filled with malice. "I have a plan, but I will need your help!" She raised up and removed her hand, letting the small fighter scramble out of arms reach.
Getting his breath back, he hissed, "Why should I believe you?!?"
"Do you think I would endanger my daughter like this?" she asked pointedly, her eyes glowing crimson at the very idea that she would harm Angela.
"Okay, what do you have in mind?" he asked, a part of him still not trusting her.
She handed him a device from a pouch at her side. "This emits a powerful sonic frequency that will disrupt the control and logic chips in the Steel Clan's main processor matrix," she explained quickly. "Use it, and I can take care of them with this!" She hefted a powerful looking rifle into view. "You'll have to fly over the castle so that it will affect ALL of the robots!"
Still skeptical, Lex however reached out one hand, and caught the device. "Wait! What about Coldstone and Coldfire?!? Won't this harm them too?"
"Unlikely! When Xanatos first build Coldstone he had him shielded against sonic weapons! And this frequency will only affect the Steel Clan! Now get ready! I will not wait a second longer to debate this!"
Grimly nodding, Lex looked back over to where the standoff was beginning. "I hope I'm not making another big mistake!"
* * *
Coldstone and Coldfire looked at the stalemate they were up against. With twelve Steel Clan robots, and their evil brother against them and the remaining ten gargoyles, it seemed even enough, but considering all Coldsteel had to do was fly out of harm's way, and none of the Clan had any hope of surviving a direct particle blast at close range, there seemed to be no way to win and have everyone survive.
"We cannot let him WIN!" Coldstone growled under his breath.
"My love, we cannot let him harm the others," his mate replied.
Coldsteel was purely pleased with himself. "What do you say now, Coldstone? Unless you want to lose your beloved Clan a second time, you will forgo destroying me and surrender . . .NOW!"
The members of the clan watched the tableau in front of them. The Steel Clan remained locked in position, their weapons never wavering as they awaited the command to cut the gargoyles down.
Brooklyn whispered to Goliath, "I don't think we can get out of this one, this time."
"My brother will do what is right. He will never surrender to Coldsteel!" Goliath whispered back. "Be ready to move on my signal."
With a sneer, Coldstone looked at Coldsteel and said with finality, "We will never surrender!"
Shaking his head in mock sympathy, Coldsteel simply replied, "Then, for you my dear brother and sister, our long battle is at a bitter end!"
Before he could order his robots to deliver the killing blow, a strident voice shouted out, "Don't count on it!"
"What?!?" Snapping his head up, the evil construct looked up to see Lexington, hovering in a cross-wind over the castle, with a look of utter contempt in his eyes.
"Time to shut this party down!" Lex pressed the trigger of the sonic device. A high pitched shrieking sound blasted down over the courtyard, reaching every exposed corner and saturating it with wave after wave of ultrasonics. Bronx and Nudnik began to howl, and every Steel Clan robot began to shudder and quake, as sparks cascaded from each seam, joint, and vent on their bodies.
As the robots danced under the effect of the ultrasonic weapon, Demona leapt up from her hiding place and laid down a withering rain of laser fire on the Steel Clan robots that held Angela, Broadway and Gabriel at bay.
Goliath shouted, "NOW!" and the rest of the clan lashed out at the disabled robots in front of them, driving them back and pounding them into submission.
Coldsteel roared in anger and vaulted away from the fray onto a wall. He spread his wings to escape but was thwarted by Coldstone.
"You will NOT escape THIS time! I will put and end to your malignancy once and for all!" the hodgepodge cyborg growled.
Backing up a step, Coldsteel matched his grimace with one of his own. "But you will not have that chance, dear brother!" With that, he aimed his own particle cannon and fired. The shot went wide, slamming into one of the towers with a deafening explosion as it dislodged a large chunk of stone from its side. The stone plummeted, and while Coldstone watched, it slammed dangerously close to Coldfire - who had been using her weapons to aid the others in dealing with the Steel Clan.
"BELOVED! NO!!!" Coldstone turned to go to her side, only to be brutally punched by Coldsteel. The force of the blow drove him to down onto the stones. Immediately, the silver-skinned cyborg was on top of him, one hand wrapped around Coldstone's throat as he pressed his weight atop him.
"Now, dear Coldstone, I shall at least rid myself of you!" Reaching back with his other hand, he extended his talons into a wedge of razor-tipped points, meaning to plunge them into Coldstone's head.
"RRRAAAGH!" Coldstone struggled to get free, but Coldsteel had the leverage.
"Farewell, my brother!" As he was about to deliver the final stroke, a ripple of laser fire raked Coldsteel across his back. He let loose a mechanical shriek that sounded like torn metal. Coldstone threw the stricken cyborg off of him, gasping in reflex as he rubbed his neck.
As Coldsteel collected himself, Demona landed on the wall, the smoking end of her rifle leveled at his head.
The evil construct's eyes seemed to widen as he looked at her. "Sis-ter?!? Why do you attack ME???"
"I may not have any use for Goliath, or his wretched clan," she snarled under crimson eyes, "but to threaten them is to harm my daughter! And THAT is something I will not allow!"
Coldsteel looked at the two of them, then down into the courtyard. By now, all of his Steel Clan allies were either shut down, or pounded into scrap - thanks in part to a concerted effort by Goliath, Brooklyn, Hudson, Broadway and Gabriel - leaving him without any further help.
Coldstone raised up, adding his own weapon to Demona's as they faced Coldsteel down. "Surrender, and your end will be quick and merciful, my brother! This is the only way it can end!"
"Never!" Coldsteel snarled, reaching up to touch a hidden switch on his chest plate. A loud triple signal sounded, and suddenly there was a high-pitched whine coming from several of the disabled Steel Clan robots.
Lex, recognized the source of that sound. "The self-destruct signal! They're GONNA BLOW!!!"
As the Clan pulled back, Coldsteel shot off a glancing blast at Coldstone and Demona before diving over the edge of the castle. Just then, four of the robots exploded, sending everyone to the ground amid the cataphony of flying debris, smoke, and flame.
When the smoke cleared the clan found themselves bruised and scraped, but otherwise unharmed.
Both Demona and Coldstone looked over the edge after they had regained their senses. No sign of Coldsteel could be seen.
"Blast! He got away!" Demona snarled. She was about to go over the side to look for the fleeing cyborg, when a metallic hand stopped her.
"Yes . . . but he will not be able to evade me forever," Coldstone replied softly. If there was any way a cyborg could sound tired, he was doing a good job of it. "His day of reckoning is coming soon."
Coldfire landed on the wall beside them, reaching out to her mate. "My love! Are you injured?"
Pulling her into his arms, Coldstone replied, "Nothing . . . serious, Beloved. I was fortunate that our sister was able to aid me!" As one they both turned to Demona, who was looking at them with a look of confusion on her face. "My sister, I thank you for saving my life."
"As do I," Coldfire replied, "and I am pleased to see another of our rookery kin has managed to survive."
Demona looked at her sharply. "How dare you call me that! Who are you!?"
"I am Coldstone's mate, my sister. From the time before our clan was massacred on these very walls, so very long ago," Coldfire replied.
Demona's face paled in shock. "But… how is this possible?"
"When I was resurrected, the souls of our brother and my mate were trapped inside this form. A being named Puck later restored her spirit to this metal form, as she did to our former brother," Coldstone explained, looking off sharply in the direction Coldsteel had disappeared to. He then looked at Demona with a smile. "Thank you for your assistance, Demona. Had you not arrived, both I and our clan would most likely be dead."
"I . . . I, um . . . I am pleased I was able . . . to . . . to . . ." Demona stammered, suddenly feeling a wave of guilt wash over her as she recognized Coldfire. Unable to stay, she blurted, "I have to go!" Demona turned and stepped onto the edge and vaulted into the night sky.
* * *
From the courtyard below, Angela watched as the two cyborgs spoke briefly with her mother, just before she seemed to duck her head and turn to leave.
"Why did mother do that?" she asked herself.
Broadway had been watching as well, "And why was she even here in the first place?"
"She has her reasons . . . but I guess I'll find out eventually," Angela replied. Just then, she noticed Gabriel as he groaned, rubbing a sore spot on the side of his face. "Oh! You've been hurt!" she exclaimed, rushing over to where the Avalon gargoyle was standing.
"Ach, it's nothing," he replied, even though she insisted in checking it to make sure, "just a bruise. I've had worse."
Angela grinned at him, "You liar!"
Broadway just sighed, but before he or anyone could do anything more, Elisa and Xanatos appeared - him in his crimson-and-black armor, her with a powerful looking assault cannon - expecting the worst, but surprised that the battle was over.
"Well . . . this has been another interesting night," smirked Xanatos, taking in the scattered debris and blasted stonework.
Elisa shot him a look. "And you just live for normalcy, right?"
* * * * *
The Main Hall, Later
Xanatos and Fox had some trouble mollifying the guests, since several had not wanted to be crammed into one of the smaller halls deeper into the Eyrie, but he did apologize for their sudden change of venue by saying that they would make up for it the next time a big charity event was held. After the last guest had departed, they returned to the main hall of the castle, where the clan was resting and tending to their wounds.
Coldstone and Coldfire were there to speak with Goliath and the Clan. Coldstone was somewhat surprised to see the changes in Brooklyn, and Coldfire was delighted to meet Sata, Ariana and Graeme.
Goliath and Hudson both asked what they had done, prior to their arrival tonight, but the cyborgs said little about the past.
"Such tales of such times is best meant for another night," Coldstone explained.
"Besides, my love and I are happy to see that the clan thrives," Coldfire remarked, changing the subject as she looked over the gathered gargoyles. When her sensors came to rest on Gabriel, she asked, "Who is this one? I do not recall his face."
Angela remarked, "This is Gabriel, my rookery brother from Avalon." She made the introductions, and the blonde-haired warrior came over to grip forearms with the large cyborg.
"I am pleased to meet you . . .um, Coldstone, Coldfire," he said, somewhat uneasy around the two living constructs.
"As am I, and very grateful that Angela has a fine warrior for one of her brothers."
Brooklyn was watching the goings on with Lex and Sata, when he noticed the odd look on Sata's face as she stared at Coldstone and Coldfire, standing with Gabriel.
He commented, "Why do you look at them, Sata-chan? Is there something wrong?"
"Nothing is . . . wrong, beloved," she replied, as a thoughtful look crossed her face. But… I just have this feeling about those three," she explained.
"What do you mean?" he asked, confused. With a smile, she leaned over and whispered something at length in his ear. Suddenly, his eyes lit up with a smile, his face following, as Sata finished explaining. "I see it! Yeah . . . it makes sense!"
He walked over to where Angela and Broadway were standing. "Angela, do you see what I see?" he asked, pointing to the trio.
Angela followed her clan brother's gaze. Coldstone and Coldfire were standing beside Gabriel, continuing to talk with the Avalon warrior. "No… what should I be seeing?"
"Come on, look again," he insisted. "Tell me you can't see something that doesn't strike you funny? About the way Gabriel favors Coldstone and Coldfire!"
Puzzled, Angela looked again. It hit her. The skin coloring. The horns. The hair. Their attitudes and the way they stood. There were similarities in almost everything about them.
"I don't believe it!" Angela exclaimed.
Goliath and the others all looked over at her outburst. "My daughter?"
"What's wrong, lass?" Hudson queried.
Breaking away from Brooklyn and Broadway, she dashed over to the trio and pulled Gabriel to the side, so everyone could see what the former Timedancer had pointed out to her. "Gabriel and Coldstone look alike! I mean . . . look at them. He favors Coldfire, too!"
The rest of the clan was soon mumbling to themselves, also noting the similarities between the three.
Gabriel and Coldstone looked at the clan members, then at each other quizzically. "What are you talking about?" the Avalon gargoyle asked his rookery sister.
Angela answered, "Gabriel, Coldstone and Coldfire... might be your parents."
Gabriel glanced at the two constructs then shot a look of confusion at Angela. "I hope you are not trying to make a joke."
Coldfire gazed upon her mate and Gabriel, head tilted slightly as surprise slowly colored her voice. "I think you are right, Angela!" She turned her head to Gabriel, studying him for a moment.
Her mate looked uncomfortable, for all the talk about similarities and parents was unsettling. "What is she saying?"
Coldfire took the flesh and steel talons of her love and held them in her own metallic hands. "I am almost certain of it. Beloved, he could be our hatchling!"
Coldstone looked into Gabriel's eyes. The others waited silently, nervously for the cyborg's reaction.
"Could it be true, my love? Could our egg have survived the massacre so many years ago?"
"Princess Katherine transported all of the eggs to Avalon," Angela interjected. "And as a result we live." She paused for a moment before turning to Gabriel, who was looking at the two cyborgs in awe.
"My . . . mother? Father? Alive???"
Goliath stepped over and said with a smile. "I can understand your confusion… and how you are feeling, my brother. When I learned that Angela was my daughter, it took some time to get used to the concept... we were all raised to believe all of our children belonged to the clan, but our eggs were raised by Princess Katharine and her guardians. They have grown to believe differently than we, and to appreciate the knowledge of their parents."
Coldstone looked at his rookery brother with a wince. "But . . . that is not the Gargoyle Way."
"My love, the times have changed for our clan, just as we have changed," Coldfire said to her mate. "As we have adapted and grew with our changes . . . why not do the same with this one as well? Goliath and Angela both benefit from their knowing."
Goliath nodded, placing a hand on Angela's shoulder with a smile. "I have come to learn of the gift of a child's love . . . perhaps you can benefit from that as well?"
Coldstone and Coldfire both looked at Gabriel, trying to take all of this in. Hesitantly, Gabriel held out one hand towards them. With a final look at each other, the two cyborgs extended their own and gripped his, and all of them slowly began to smile.
"M-Mother . . . Father . . . "
Coldstone said softly, "Gabriel . . . son . . ."
* * *
While the trio had their reunion, Angela broke away to come over to Broadway, smiling as she and the others watched. "Oh, Broadway, isn't this wonderful? Gabriel's parents have been found."
"Yeah, wonderful," the blue-green gargoyle mumbled out. He took a look at the reunited family, then at Angela and the smile that graced her face as she basked in her rookery brother's joy. "Excuse me for a moment. I have to check something in the kitchen," he said suddenly. Broadway then capped his wings and swiftly walked off into the castle.
Angela watched his hasty departure from the hall "Broadway, are you all right?" Angela called out, suddenly concerned when he refused to answer back. "Broadway?"
Broadway started for the kitchen but found himself in the library, closing the door behind him as he heaved a heavy sigh.
"I guess I'm just about the biggest fool around," he told himself, unable to take much more of what he perceived as the happiest day of Angela's life. "Gabriel's back in her life, and he obviously means something to Angela . . . more than me . . ."
Broadway stepped deeper into the main section of the library. This was the room that gave him the chance to expand his mind. He stopped to pick up a book from one of the shelves, smiling briefly as he read the title.
"I read a lot of my favorite stories in here . . . about my favorite detectives and gangsters, thinking they were the untouchable ones."
But most importantly, this was the room where he had the best memories of Angela. Looking at the couch in front of the fireplace, his smile turned sad. "We'd sit together on the couch and drink cocoa, while warming ourselves by the fire. I'd read my books to her, and listen while she told me about the adventures she had on the skiff."
The gargoyle looked at the terrace built in the library. With a sigh, he said, "That's where I guess . . . my best memory of the times Angela and I spent ever was." He could remember it as if it happened yesterday.
* * *
The Library, October 1996
They had both been inside the library, on that very balcony. He had his wings down, reading a book, while Angela leaned on the railing, looking down onto the room below.
"'But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,' " he read aloud, when he closed the book and put it down. "Oh, how am I supposed to concentrate on my reading lesson when Goliath is missing?"
The female turned away, saying, "He's not missing. He just hasn't come home yet."
Concerned, he had come up to her, placing one hand on her near shoulder. "Angela, you know you don't have to act brave around me."
Angela had replied sadly, "I just don't understand why the city hates us so. I was raised by humans. There's no reason why we can't all live in harmony." With that, he could see the tears beginning in show in her eyes.
It hurt him to see her so said, so he reached out to gently turn her around to face him. "Someday we will."
"Do you really believe that?" Her words were filled with the need for assurance.
"I know it." was his simple reply.
And then, without any preamble, she came to his arms and they embraced . . . and then came that first kiss. Sudden. Unexpected. Surprising. Perfect.
* * *
A tear ran down Broadway's cheek. "Maybe, it's better this way," he whispered to himself.
"Broadway?" a voice called out.
Broadway broke out of his trance and turned around to see a figure standing in the doorway to the library. "Angela?"
Angela rushed across the room. She stopped a foot in front of him. Her eyes were blazing red. She raised her hand and shoved him down onto the couch. "What is wrong with you?" she demanded. "Ever since Gabriel came, you've been acting like someone I hardly know!"
Broadway tried to answer but Angela didn't give him a chance. "Now the whole clan finds out that Gabriel has a mother and father and you 'conveniently' make an excuse about going to the kitchen. This is... this is... How could you do such a thing? Couldn't you be at least happy for him?"
Broadway righted himself in front of Angela, rubbing the spot on his chest where her talon had poked him. "I am happy for him, Angela," he said, unable to keep the disappointed tone from his voice. "But..."
"But what?" Angela asked, the anger evident in her tone and posture.
"Angela I…" he paused, took a breath and started again. "Angela…" he cut himself off a second time, the frustration building in his voice. Finally he blurted, "Angela, I thought I was the only person in your life. But tonight, when I saw you in Gabriel's arms, I realized I was wrong. I felt I was important in your life. I felt like I was special. Then tonight I come up to the parapets and see you in the arms of someone you knew your whole life. My heart was shattered, Angela. At first, I just couldn't accept the fact that you love someone else. Heck, some of me still doesn't want to accept that.
"But," he sighed, "I see just how you look at him and how he looks at you. No matter what I want to do to stop all this, it'd be unfair to you if I did." Silence suddenly hit Broadway as he was prepared to say something he thought he would never have to say in his entire life.
The lavender female looked at him like he was out of his mind. "What are you saying?"
Thinking she hadn't heard him plainly, he looked away and said, not without a little touch of heat, "Angela, if you love Gabriel, then go to him and forget about me. As long as you are happy then I can be happy for you."
Angela just looked at him in shock. Shock soon melted away into a look of utter affection. Coming closer to him, she reached up to grip one of his fin-shaped ears to turn his head around to face her. Before he could protest over the twinge of pain, she said, "Broadway, I love you. I can't love Gabriel like that! He's my brother!"
Broadway looked at her dumfounded.
Angela smiled and stepped even closer, wrapping her arms around his neck before he could say another word. "Broadway, You make me happy. You've made my life so fulfilling, so complete."
Broadway finally found his voice, "But, I thought Gabriel-??"
"I could never see myself with anyone else," she replied, unable to stop the beginning of a smile as she watched the incredulous look on the big gargoyle's face. "I want to be by your side forever."
Broadway was taken aback by the news. "You mean...?" he stammered out.
"You and me...?"
"Forever," she whispered, finishing his thought.
All of the tension left his body. "Whhoooo!" Broadway shouted in joy. The books on the shelves rattled in agreement. The big turquoise gargoyle wrapped Angela in his arms, then caped his wings around her in a double embrace. "Oh, Angela," he murmured. "I feel so stupid for doubting our love."
She let out a little giggle and leaned her head on his broad chest. "Now you know that my love for you will never go away."
Broadway nodded. "You have no idea how happy you've made me."
"As long as you're happy, I'm happy." She leaned in closer and hugged him tighter. For several moments, all they did was stand together and hold each other, until Angela pulled back to look at Broadway.
"Broadway . . . let's make it official. Let's be mates."
"You mean now?" he asked.
"No, not with everything that is going on, but soon," she replied. "I do think we'd better tell my father and the others, though."
"Oh, yeah," he replied with a nod. "I guess we should. Come on!" He started to lead her out of the room, when he suddenly came to a halt. "Oh! Wait!"
She looked at him with a curious expression. "What?"
"I'd almost forgotten about this," he explained. Reaching back behind him, he removed the small package that he had gotten from Fox earlier and held it out to Angela. "I should be doing this in front of the clan, but . . . since this was going to be your Valentine's gift from me, perhaps I'd better make this your engagement present?" His head ducked briefly, his blue-green cheeks deepening in color before he looked back up and continued, "I mean, I don't know what the Princess told you about human courtship, but . . ."
Angela gripped his hand and reached out to take the package, looking at it briefly before she opened it gingerly with her talons. A moment passed, then she gasped at wonder at the object inside; a silver filigree hair broach, shaped in the pattern of a Gaelic love knot. It was edged with a circle of small hematite stones.
"Oh, my!" Angela smiled and reached up to hold his opposite cheek in her other. "Broadway, it's wonderful!"
That being said, Broadway reached out to take the broach and sweep up a portion of her hair, fixing the broach so it rested at her left temple. Once in place, he pulled back to get a better look."
"How does it look?"
"It looks . . . beautiful, my love," Broadway replied softly.
The two of them leaned forward, faces instinctively coming closer as they looked deep into each other's eyes as they kissed again. For a moment that seemed an eternity, they stayed that way.
Eventually, they broke off and looked at each other, smiles seemingly fixed permanently to their faces. "Now then, do you feel like going back and being happy for Gabriel now?"
The blue green gargoyle brushed his hand over her brow ridge and smiled. "Now that I know you aren't going to do anything to him, yes."
The lavender female playfully punched him squarely on the shoulder then smiled. The pair then left the library, arm in arm, going to the parapets above to congratulate the new family.
* * * * *
The Main Hall
While the drama in the library was being played out to a blissful end, Goliath was speaking to Coldstone, standing apart from the others - who had been joined by the Xanatos' and Owen - while they all talked and rested.
"Well, my brother, now that you and Coldfire have returned, perhaps you will consider staying with the clan?"
Coldstone sighed, his mechanical eye seeming to shift about as if looking at something unseen. "I wish that I could, Goliath, but Coldsteel is still out there . . . still as evil as ever. I must not stop until his threat to the world is ended." Looking over at his mate, where she was talking and laughing with Gabriel and the Brooklyn family, he added, "We cannot rest…"
Goliath had been expecting this. "I understand, but would you reconsider and stay, at least until the spring has passed."
The cyborg sighed, but he answered, "We shall never be too far away, Goliath. Coldsteel knows we would never leave the castle unprotected now, knowing that he may return to threaten the clan again."
Just then, Coldfire and Gabriel joined the two males. "My love, the threat of our brother is great, but even he will not be so foolish as to strike back so soon," she said.
"Aye, and from what Brooklyn and . . . mother have told me, Coldsteel will more than likely lay in hiding, until he would deem it safe to come out again," Gabriel added, the unfamiliarity of referring to Coldfire as his parent apparent in his tone.
Goliath pleaded once more. "For the good of the Clan, Coldstone . . . brother . . . please stay with us at the castle."
Coldstone looked at his former leader, then to his mate and their offspring. Closing his eyes, he nodded. "Very well . . . at least until the threat is gone, or until the spring comes to this place."
Reaching out to clasp his forearm, Goliath nodded in agreement. "You are welcome then, my brother. And we shall all benefit from you and your mate's presence."
Just then, Broadway and Angela returned to the hall, linked arm in arm with a pair of smiles the brightness of which rivaled the sun.
Brooklyn spied the silver hair broach and couldn't help but comment, "Well, you two look extremely happy. Care to share it with the rest of us?"
"Brooklyn!" Sata chided him, but she caught the kidding tone in his voice.
"It is all right, Sata," Angela replied, leaning closer to Broadway, "besides, we have an announcement to make."
At this, everyone turned to face the young couple, with looks ranging from keen interest, slight concern, to outright surprise on their faces. "Angela? What's going on?" Elisa asked.
Angela turned to look at Broadway, who spoke for them both by saying, "Angela and I have decided that we should make it official. We're going to become mates!"
Everyone was silent for a fraction of a second, then they all sprang up to crowd around the two, giving their congratulations all at once.
"Way to go, Broadway!" Lex congratulated his larger rookery brother.
"Guess we won't be the only mated couple in the castle then," Brooklyn added, slapping Broadway on his shoulder.
"Awww, guys!" Broadway said, embarrassed. He nearly turned as red as Brooklyn when Ariana jumped up to plant a kiss on his cheek.
"Oh, Uncle Broadway! I'm so happy for you!" she cried.
"As we all are," Sata added with a smile.
Xanatos looked at the two, then to Fox as he smirked, "Did we ever look like that, my dear?"
"If you mean happy as any two people in love can look," she said with a chuckle, "I'd like to think we still do."
Elisa asked the two happy gargoyles, "Well, when are you lovebirds going to make the date official? I mean, just how do two gargoyles get married?"
"Oh, well, there's no rush," Angela replied smiling at her human friend. "We want to have a ceremony that best reflects 'our' clan."
Both Goliath and Hudson were smiling at the two young ones. "Well, lad, it is nice tae know yuir daughter will be verra happy with him. I can see that as plain as moonlight."
"I agree, my old friend." Stepping through the crowd, Goliath stopped before his daughter and her intended, and for a moment he almost laughed aloud at the sudden nervous look that washed over Broadway's face. "I wish for the two of you to be happy together, and I hope that someday you will have children of your own." Placing a hand on each of their shoulders, he proclaimed, "I condone and approve of this union. It is a good match."
Broadway reached out to clasp forearms with his leader. "I will always honor and protect her, Goliath. I give you my word on that."
Smiling, the lavender gargoyle replied, "I know you will."
Coldstone and Coldfire offered their well wishes for them both, and Gabriel gave his rookery sister a big hug. "I'm very happy for you, Angela. And for you too, Broadway. My rookery sister could not have found a better mate."
"Thanks, Gabriel, but for a while I thought that you were the best man. I'm sorry," Broadway replied.
Laughing, the Avalon gargoyle said, "Oh, I've still got a long way to go before I'll find my mate. Besides, there is one among my other rookery sisters that I have taken a liking to. But I've no idea whose heart she holds dear."
Suddenly he smiled and said, "That reminds me! In all of the excitement, I forgot the real reason why I am here!" He dashed away, heading for the entranceway, leaving everyone to look after him curiously. In a moment, he returned, carrying a bundle in his arms.
"What is that, Gabriel?" Elisa asked, coming to stand by Goliath as they all watched him fumble with the ties on the bundle.
"It was supposed to be a surprise for Angela," he explained, finally removing a brightly wrapped cloth package from inside. "Before I left Avalon, it was the night of our Naming Day, and the Princess and Guardian thought we should have one of us come to give Angela her Naming Day gift."
Angela gasped with delight. "Oh, Gabriel! But, you shouldn't have done this!"
Chuckling, Gabriel handed the gift over to her. "Well, all of your rookery kin felt none of us should be left out, not even you, my sister." With a smile, he made a short bow and added, "Happy Naming Day, Angela!"
Broadway grinned and prodded his intended. "Well, go on and see what it is!"
Giggling, Angela placed the bundle in his hands so she could work off the ties and the lace, while everyone watched with anticipation. Eventually, she revealed the object in the center of the wrapping, her eyes growing wide as she lifted it out for everyone to see.
"Oh, my . . . it is so . . . beautiful!"
"What is it? Can we see it?!?" Graeme and Ariana piped up.
Turning around, Angela held the object out for the others to look at. Everyone marveled at the sight of it; a globe made of pure clear crystal, mounted on a base of snow-white marbled stone, no bigger than a medium-sized melon.
"It's beautiful!" breathed Sata.
"Must have cost a pretty penny," Brooklyn uttered softly, getting an elbow in the side from his mate.
"Actually," Gabriel explained. "The Princess found it in the castle when she and Tom and the Magus first arrived on Avalon. Titania later confirmed that it was of her making, and that she left it behind when Oberon banished the Children from their home."
Lex and the twins had crowded in close, peering at the globe intently, when Ariana's eyes grew round. "There's a castle inside!"
"What? What do you mean, Ariana?" Angela frowned, looking down at the globe.
"She's right, Aunt Angela! Look! There is a castle inside the ball!" Graeme piped. "And, LOOK! There's gargoyles inside too!!"
Lexington nodded. "He's right! I can see them too!"
Everyone tried to get a closer look all at once, but it was Elisa that snatched the globe out from the hub-bub before someone knocked it out of Angela's hands. "Let me see . . . they're right!" Looking even closer, she suddenly exclaimed, "One of the gargoyles looks like Ophelia!"
"Ophelia?!? My rookery sister!?" Angela asked incredulously. "How can this happen?"
Gabriel was all smiles. "It was Titania's doing, I believe. At first it was a way for Princess Katherine to keep an eye on all of us, while we tended to our duties, but when this Naming Day was coming closer, some of us suggested that it be given to you, so that you can always know that your brothers and sisters are doing well on Avalon."
"Wait? Naming Day? What is this 'Naming Day'?" Brooklyn asked.
"Its like a birthday," Broadway replied, explaining quickly what Angela had told him before about the Avalon clan's special day.
"Well, if that means what I think it means, then shouldn't we be having a party? For Angela's Naming Day too?" Fox asked.
"A party?" Broadway asked, then his smile grew all the more. "Why not?"
"I think it would be a grand idea, seeing as I've missed the one back on Avalon." Gabriel added.
Fox looked to Goliath and the rest. "Would such a thing be against the wishes of the clan?"
Everyone looked to Goliath, who only smiled and nodded. "After what we when through tonight, who am I to say no?"
* * *
Across the way, Demona watched as the impromptu party got underway. Perched on a building, she sighed as she sat there, the bundle in her arms long since forgotten.
"I wonder why they are in such a festive mood?" she wondered aloud. "Pity. With all of them there, I cannot give Angela this . . . " She trailed off and regarded the bundle for a moment. "Still, I can bring this to her tomorrow night. Besides, I have to deal with other things before dawn."
With one last glance at the castle, a look that was half contempt, half guilt, touched with a little longing, she turned and kicked off, gliding her way back to her manor.
* * *
"It was Demona," Lex was telling Xanatos and Owen, having pulled them to the side while the rest of the Clan celebrated in the main hall. "She had me use some kind of sonic device to disable the Steel Clan robots Coldsteel was using."
Xanatos frowned, listening to the web-winged gargoyle tell all. "That's disturbing, since I thought I designed the new Steel Clan to resist sonic attacks."
"Actually, Sir, the Steel Clan's main systems - hydraulics, guidance gyro, and so forth - ARE shielded from high-powered sonic waveforms," Owen explained, consulting a small reference report from his notebook. "However, if the data the security cameras were recording during the battle is correct, then there is a serious design flaw: that of inadequate shielding against ultrasonic waveforms in the main AI matrix."
Lexington also added, "Demona knew where to hit those robots to bring them down, too. She was using a sub-standard rifle, and those shots should have bounced right off the Steel Clan's armor."
"How would you know that?" Xanatos asked, one eyebrow raised.
Pointing to his eyes, Lex remarked with a rueful smirk, "These eyes don't lie! I used the data-scanner to lift the serial numbers off the side of her weapon. She must have taken it from one of your hidden armory lockers before she joined the fight."
Nodding, Xanatos spoke to Owen without looking at his assistant, "Owen, I want to talk to the boys in R&D and Robotics first thing in the morning! I want to take the Steel Clan apart and fix everything that is wrong with them, and everything that may be right with them as well."
"Very well, sir. I would say Demona's demonstration of those weaknesses is a blessing in disguise, Mr. Xanatos," Owen replied.
Xanatos looked at the clan taking a small measure of enjoyment in their sudden good fortune. But a nagging doubt crept into his thoughts spoiling the moment. He turned to Owen. "I was going to use the Steel Clan to protect the castle if we had to face Madoc here, now I'm not so sure. Have we done any modifications since the computer break-in?"
"A few, sir," the majordomo replied. "But the new tactical schematics hadn't been loaded into the system yet."
"I can make sure he doesn't get them," Lex cut in grimly.
Xanatos and Owen turned to the small green gargoyle together.
"What was that, Lexington?" David asked.
"I won't let him get near this castle again! I'm volunteering to work on any upgrades to the Steel Clan."
Xanatos looked at Owen, who replied, "Lexington does have an extensive knowledge of how our computer system works, and his . . . abilities do give him an edge when it comes to working with hardware."
Nodding, the billionaire looked at Lex squarely. "Think you can handle linking up to the Steel Clan to make sure our new schematics work?"
With a brief flare in his eyes, Lex replied, "If it will stop Madoc, I'd shake hands with Trouble himself!"
"Then, gentlemen, I suggest we retire back to my office," Xanatos said finally.
"About the celebration, Mr. Xanatos? Should we tell the other gargoyles about what we are doing?" Owen asked before they took another step.
"Let's not bother them for now, Owen. Let them enjoy this one while they can."
While the rest of the clan continued with the celebrating, the threesome slipped away to begin their preparations for the coming storm . . .
* * * * *