Something Old, Something New
Written by: Christi Smith Hayden and Patrick Toman
with contributions by: Kathy Pogge
Story Concept by: Patrick Toman and Kathy Pogge,
with a little help from Christi Smith Hayden
Illustrations by: Christi Smith Hayden
The authors wish to extend special thanks to
Christine Morgan, who provided the cake…
Previously on Gargoyles…
Demona: "Nonsense. You are the best of Goliath and myself, as much as I loathe your father and his faith in humanity, he was a worthy mate and a good leader. No child of ours will ever be a failure."
Angela: "Do you really hate Father that much?"
Demona: "I think he is a naive fool and his dreams of peace are just that, foolish dreams." She sighed and her eyes grew distant. "But once, ah, my daughter! Goliath was a force of nature to be reckoned with! He was the best possible successor to Hudson, it was evident even when he was a novice warrior and I was proud to serve as his second-in-command and to be his mate."
Angela: "What happened? I know Father's side of the story and what the others have told me. But what about you, Mother?" Her eyes softened. "I cannot imagine what your life must have been like."
~ Equality ~
* * * * *
Richard: "I fully expect to be invited to the wedding, you know." (looks at their blank expressions) "Well, Angela, you said the other day that you were intending to become mates. I'm assuming you haven't made it official yet."
Angela: (thoughtfully) "A wedding…., hmmm."
Broadway: "Gargoyles don't usually go in for a lot of formality. We don't do weddings."
Richard: "You're kidding. You mean you don't do anything special? If I knew I'd found Miss Right and she said yes, well, I'd want all my friends and family to be there to help me celebrate."
Angela: "A wedding," (smiles at Broadway) "Yes! I think I'd like that."
Broadway: "Angela, that's an awful lot of fuss. It's the custom to swear our love before the clan, have Goliath recognize us as mates, and go off together on the mating flight. Weddings are for humans."
Angela: "Princess Katharine used to tell us about the weddings she had seen at court when she was a girl. It would be just like a fairy tale!"
Broadway: (growling at Richard) "This is all your fault."
Richard: (smiling smugly) "Glad to be of service."
~ When The Bough Breaks – Part One ~
* * * * *
Something Old, Something New
* * * * *
May 30, 1999
Freed from the unnatural hold of the Fimbulwinter, spring had returned to the city. It was as if nature was going into overdrive, trying to make up for lost time. The air was warm and heavy with the sweet scent of the flowering trees that bordered the terrace of Castle Wyvern. Both the gargoyle and human residents were enjoying some well-deserved rest and relaxation in the wake of the recent conflict with the Unseelie Court and were gathered outside to dine al fresco. Xanatos himself was presiding over the grill while Owen set up the buffet table with Angela and Broadway.
Angela looked up at an infectious peal of laughter and smiled as she watched the twins playing tag with Alex under the watchful supervision of Fox and Lexington. "It's a shame Elisa couldn't be here," she commented.
"I did call her," Owen answered as he poured the soft drinks. "I'm afraid that we didn't give her enough notice. Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos decided to have this barbecue only this afternoon. However, Detective Maza did say to tell you that she's looking forward to your party tomorrow night."
"I dinnae understand that," Hudson complained irritably. "Bachelor party? Bridal shower? It's not like the lass needs a bath."
Goliath smiled. "It's merely a pleasant human custom, old friend. Angela and Broadway have agreed to it and I don't see any harm in it. We have been on the defensive far too long."
"Aye, perhaps." Hudson settled into a chair with Bronx at his side. "I could use a little peace and quiet for a while."
Beneath the flowering trees, Sata reclined back against Brooklyn with a snared blossom between her talons. Her mate wrapped his arms around her and inhaled deeply the scent of her hair. "It seems strange," she commented as she watched the twins playing, "to be doing nothing after so many years of constantly being on our guard."
"I like to think that we've earned it, Sata," Brooklyn replied. "Finally after all those years of traveling with the Phoenix Gate and the hassles we've had with the Unseelie Court, we're truly home now."
"Home." Sata contemplated the taste of the word in her mouth. "Graeme and Ariana will have a chance to grow up as young ones should. I should like to take them to visit my old home in Ishimura." She turned her head slightly to look at Brooklyn. "Do you suppose that such a thing could be possible?"
"Maybe. We could ask Xanatos about it." Brooklyn sniffed and grimaced. "Anything to keep him from burning dinner."
"So, how's everyone like their steaks?" Xanatos asked as he manned the barbecue wearing an apron with the motto "Money to Burn" on the bib. "Rare, medium, or—"
"Carbonized?" Fox said sweetly as she neatly tweaked a hotdog off the top rack for Alex. "That one on the right seems to be a little on the crispy side."
Xanatos glared at the offending piece of meat sizzling into shoe leather on the grill. He glanced over at Nudnik who had been staring raptly at him the entire time the billionaire had been cooking. Checking around to see if anyone was looking, he flipped the ruined steak over to Nudnik who cheerfully began gnawing on it.
"I saw that," Fox said as she passed by, hotdog now snugly encased in a bun with mustard on a plate with chips. "You're going to give that thing indigestion."
"Impossible, my dear. Nudnik's already had a pair of Owen's loafers as an appetizer." Xanatos laughed at the almost owl-like way Owen's head turned at his comment. "Just kidding, Owen."
His majordomo's expression was most disapproving. "I should certainly think so, sir."
"Alex!! Dinnertime!!" Fox called as she set his plate on the table.
"Yay!!" The red-headed child abandoned his two gargoyle playmates. "Dinnertime!!"
"Everything's ready, people," Xanatos said brightly as Owen brought a platter of sizzling meat to the table. "Let's dig in!"
* * *
"So, Angela," Fox began as the meal began to wind down, "have you two given any more thought to this 'commitment ceremony' of yours? There's only two days left for any last minute things that need to be done."
Broadway and Angela shared a bashful look. "Oh, we basically want to keep things simple. We've had enough excitement lately."
"A little excitement adds spice to what is normally a solemn occasion," Xanatos quipped as he stretched his arm over his wife's shoulders. "Remember ours, dear?"
"Who could forget?" Fox laughed. "How many couples can say that they went time traveling on their honeymoon?"
Brooklyn cleared his throat. "Well, now that you mention it…."
"Baka-san!" Sata laughed and curled her arm around his. "We were lucky that my clan had all the things necessary for a proper wedding and that Jun-chan was there to supervise." She leaned towards Angela. "You must understand, a traditional Japanese wedding follows a precise ritual according to Shinto beliefs. All must be in balance for an auspicious union."
Lexington nudged Brooklyn. "A major production, huh?"
"You have no idea." Brooklyn rolled his eyes.
Ignoring her mate's comments, Sata continued talking. "I wore my rookery mother's green kimono with a flying crane and chrysanthemum motif. Brooklyn, of course, wore a traditional male's black kimono."
"They made me take a bath," Brooklyn continued to Lex and Broadway, "and then they practically pulled my hair out by the roots!"
"Ouch!!" Graeme grimaced, raising a hand to his own shaggy mop of hair.
"Brooklyn-san made a most touching speech—"
"The one about a thousand years, Mother?" Ariana interrupted, looking up at Sata wistfully with both hands tucked up under her chin.
"Yes, Ari-chan. It was a beautiful speech about waiting a thousand years to find me and that he knew our love was destined to last forever. Then, under the guidance of the village priest, we performed the San-San-Kudo ritual."
"We drank hot sake," Brooklyn commented. "Talk about some potent stuff! I was light-headed by the time I finished the third cup."
"Thus we were acknowledged as mates in the presence of my clan and with the blessings of the gods."
"Then the Phoenix Gate popped up just in the nick of time to whisk us away from all the fuss."
"And then you allowed me to take the Kanzashi from your hair," Brooklyn said, reaching over to caress Sata's cheek, "and our hearts needed no words." Sata lowered her eyes, smiling as she nuzzled his hand.
"Aw, mush!" Graeme said and began making gagging noises. His sister promptly smacked him with her tail.
"It sounds lovely," Desdemona commented softly as she sat with Othello, their hands intertwined in plain view on top of the table. Since their revitalization, they spent almost every waking moment together, in constant contact with each other as if to reassure themselves that they were no longer cybernetic beings, but living, breathing gargoyles. "Our joining ceremony was not as elaborate, but do you remember, beloved?"
"How could I forget?" Othello's smile was strangely gentle. "The heather was blooming. Whenever I smell the scent of heather, I remember how you wore a wreath of it in your hair. We were the first of our rookery to stand before the Leader and the circle of Elders to swear our love before the clan."
Across the table, Goliath was nodding in agreement. "I had almost forgotten there were also times of joy and celebration in those days, even as the Vikings raids plagued us." He glanced down the table at Hudson, who was staring moodily into the night sky. "Hudson, my old friend, you may remember most of all of us. Tell us of the old days of Wyvern."
"Yes, please!" Angela moved down to sit by the old warrior. "Princess Katharine used to tell us of the weddings she witnessed at court and Tom would tell us of simple peasant gatherings, but I've never heard the gargoyle version. Please tell us!"
"I dinnae see why yuir all making such a grand fuss over as simple a thing as mating," Hudson said gruffly. "'Tis a perfectly natural state o' affairs. Th' males court th' females, th' females pick an' choose, an' th' couple is recognized by th' clans as mates." He glanced at the children present. "As to after th' mating flight, we'll have a word wi' ye two later."
Graeme pouted. "We never get to hear the good stuff."
Ariana's look matched her brother's. "Yeah!"
"You know," Broadway began thoughtfully, "I was only a hatchling at the time, but I remember a mating celebration where the Second sang a song for the newlymates."
"You sing, Goliath?" Sata asked. "Brooklyn said you were Hudson's second-in-command before you were leader."
"Not I," Goliath answered, "although I'm told my singing is not unpleasant." He smiled at Hudson. "The Second before me was Hudson's mate. She was our instructor in the warrior arts and fierce in battle, but her voice-- ah, yes. She had a glorious voice."
"Aye." Hudson stared into the drink between his hands. "Beautiful, she was, skin blue-green like the sea, but a warrior, first an' foremost. The singing was something she saved for special." He took a sip from his cup. "I remember th' time yuir thinking of, lad. One o' th' young warriors she'd taken an interest in had chosen a mate and my love gifted them with a song that she'd overheard from a human wedding. Angels wept when she sang."
"Yeah," Broadway said dreamily. "I remember her coming into the rookery and singing to me." He and Hudson both became silent, lost in their memories.
The old warrior shook off his reverie first. "Och, come along, Bronx," he said to the gargoyle beast at his side. "'Tis time for Celebrity Hockey." He got up and walked slowly into the castle, his stiff manner clearly indicating his need to be alone with his memories.
Angela curled her arm around Broadway's massive arm. "This isn't the first time you've talked about her, my love. Why is this gargoyle so special to you?"
"I don't know, Angela." Broadway shook his head. "It just seems whenever something big happens in my life, I find myself thinking of her."
"I know." She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I wish my family back on Avalon could be here with me for our ceremony but at least Gabriel will have told them by now. I can be content with that."
Sata eyed the mates-to-be with a knowing eye. She left the cleaning up to Owen and casually made her way to the rest of the clan. "I think perhaps Angela and Broadway could use some time alone. It is time for Graeme and Ariana to have their bushido lesson so I will take them to the gymnasium." She looked at her mate and raised a browridge. "Would you like to join us?"
Brooklyn and Lexington exchanged a mischievous look and it was all the red gargoyle could do to hide the smirk. "Thanks, Sata, but Lex and I have a little something that we need to do."
Cocking her head, Sata regarded the two rookery brothers suspiciously. "You are not planning something that might ruin the wedding, are you?"
"Us?" Lexington blinked his large dark eyes innocently. "No, never."
"Make things at the party tomorrow night a little more interesting, maybe." Brooklyn smiled. "Don't worry, beloved. We wouldn't do anything to Broadway that Mako or Yoshi didn't do for me at our wedding."
"Now that truly does worry me," Sata murmured thoughtfully as she watched Brooklyn and Lex neatly intercept Xanatos and disappear into the castle. She turned to Graeme and Ariana. "Come along, my loves. Time for tonight's lessons."
"Sata?" Desdemona stepped towards her. "Would you mind if Othello and I join you?"
The Ishimura gargoyle blinked in surprise. "No, of course not. You are always welcome but I am curious – why?"
Desdemona and Othello exchanged a wry smile. "I'm afraid we became too accustomed to being machines and relying on built-in weapons. We need to re-learn our warrior skills."
"And as we've observed time and time again," Othello rumbled, "you are an excellent teacher."
"I am honored." Sata bowed. "Please join us for tonight's lesson."
* * * * *
It was the squeak of the trolley that roused Broadway and Angela. They both looked up to find that they were sitting alone in the courtyard, with Owen methodically cleaning up after the communal meal. The blond man had been going about his work so quietly neither one of them had noticed until he had started to wheel the heavily laden cart away.
"I beg your pardon," Owen said politely. "I did not wish to disrupt you."
"Where is everybody?" Broadway asked.
"Off somewhere, I should think." Owen raised a thoughtful eyebrow. "I would suspect since they left without informing you, that the majority of them are no doubt involved in some celebratory preparations. However, Sata is giving lessons in the gym and Goliath, I believe, is in the library." With a cursory nod of his head, Owen left them.
Angela looked up at the moon and estimated the time. "It's getting late and I should be going." She glanced at Broadway's expression. "What's wrong?"
"You couldn't just call her?" Broadway rumbled.
The lavender female shook her head. "I promise I won't be too long." Angela disentangled her hand from Broadway's and rose to her feet. "You know how mother is. It's much easier to get a commitment from her in person. She always puts me off when I try and talk to her over the phone."
"I know," he sighed as he stood up, too, and started with her toward the doors leading inside. "It's just there's so much to do and so little time to do it in. I feel like I hardly get to see you."
Angela smiled and shook her head. "We just spent the better part of an hour sitting here together. Doesn't that count?"
"We spent most of that time talking about the ceremony," Broadway groused. "I don't care if we have the Piano Sonata in B flat major playing while the guests are waiting for us to take our places, Angela, or about having the twins precede us in a processional carrying ceremonial incense. All I care about is declaring before Goliath and the entire clan that I love you and I want you to be my mate!"
"I feel the same way," Angela consoled. "But think of all the people that want to help us celebrate. How can we turn down their generosity, especially at a time like this?"
"I guess you're right," Broadway replied as he hugged the slender female. "Even if it does seem like they're trying to kill us with kindness."
"It's just for one night," Angela reminded.
"Uh-uh, two," the burly male reminded her. "There's those parties tomorrow."
Angela looked chagrined. "I knew that. That's why I'm going to Mother's. But those are just parties. What harm can come from them?" She nuzzled him fondly. "Now you better hurry or you'll be late for your patrol."
"I'm going, I'm going," he groused affectionately as he captured Angela for one last kiss.
"Be careful," she called softly as Broadway retreated out of sight.
Just down the corridor from the Xanatoses's apartment, Angela paused. Fox had just closed the door to Alex's room and was coming towards her with a few magazines tucked under her arm. "Yes, Fox?" Angela said politely. "I was just on my way out."
"This will only take a minute," Fox said brightly. She held out the magazines. "These are for you."
Curiously, Angela glanced over the brightly decorated covers. "Modern Bride? Wedding Chic? Aisle, Altar, and After? More bridal magazines, Fox?"
Fox nodded. "Look, I know that you and Broadway want to keep things simple, but after hearing Sata talk about her wedding, I thought perhaps you'd might want to at least have a nice dress." Fox opened the magazine on top of the pile in Angela's arms and began turning pages, pausing so Angela could get a look at each design. "I know a dressmaker who could whip up something in only a day or so."
Angela's mouth twisted. She was terribly tempted to accept Fox's offer. "Well, I don't know, Fox. Part of the ceremony requires that we take a ceremonial flight around the castle. I could never glide in one of these dresses. They're all too bulky – beautiful, but bulky."
Fox nodded. "I know, but a good seamstress can work around that. Why don't you think about it for a while? It would be a shame not to have something special to wear on your big night."
"I do appreciate your offer, Fox." Angela looked at the glamorous gowns on the page. "Let me look through these books and I'll let you know before sunrise, all right?"
"That's all I ask," Fox replied with a smile. "You only get married once, you know!"
Angela stared at the pile of magazines in her arms. "Now what on earth am I going to do with these?" she wondered out loud. "I was going to Mother's but I know what she'd say about this."
Deep in thought, Angela walked out to the parapets. "Of course!" she said suddenly. "She always has good advice!" Without a second glance, Angela was up and over the wall and into the night.
* * * * *
Cagney meowed impatiently, his tail twitching as he sat up and sniffed the air.
"Sleep, work, feed the cat - that's what I live for," Elisa said tiredly. She forked the last of the cat food from the can into Cagney's bowl, then picked it up and moved it down off the counter. The gray cat stood up and began purring, sticking his nose over the edge of the bowl before Elisa had even completely placed it onto the floor.
With a barely stifled yawn, Elisa shrugged off her jacket and draped it over the back of a chair, then crossed the kitchen and took the small safe box down from the shelf. "Two weeks of desk duty," she mumbled as she slipped her service pistol from its holster, removed the clip, and placed the weapon into the metal box. "'I'm sorry, Maza, but those are the rules,'" she continued in a fair imitation of Captain Chavez. Elisa sighed as she locked the box and placed it back on the top shelf. "Only one more week to go."
A soft rapping on the patio door made her look up. Her eyebrows raised in surprise as she spied the lavender female waving from the other side of the glass.
"Angela," she greeted as she opened the door and let the young gargoyle in. "I wasn't expecting to see you tonight."
"I had some things I wanted to talk to you about… about the ceremony in two nights," Angela replied. She paused, eyeing her human friend carefully. She looked dead tired. "Are you feeling all right, Elisa?" she asked.
"I'm fine. I just got home a few minutes ago. The only thing I'm suffering from is an overdose of paperwork," she replied, giving a small smile. "It's nothing a warm shower and a good long nap wouldn't cure."
Angela nodded, suddenly feeling a bit guilty for dropping in unexpectedly. "I'm sorry… I didn't realize…"
"No, Angela, it's all right," Elisa reassured. She put her hand on Angela's shoulder, guiding her fully into the room as she closed the door again behind her. She seated the girl on the couch and sat down beside her. "Now, you said you had some questions - about the ceremony?" she prompted.
Angela thrust the sheaf of magazines at Elisa. "Fox gave me these tonight."
Elisa scanned the titles. "More bridal magazines. What detail have you overlooked now? Doves?"
The younger female gave her friend an odd look. "No, not doves. I told her weeks ago that releasing birds into the city didn't seem fair. No," she sighed. "It's these fancy dresses." She picked up a magazine from the stack and flipped through it at random. "They're beautiful dresses, Elisa. I admire the craftsmanship and detail, but to be honest? They're just not me."
Elisa nodded. "I believe I'm beginning to understand. Tell me, Angela, are you starting to feel like the trimmings are becoming more important than the ceremony?"
The girl nodded her head. "It's not that I don't appreciate all the effort that everyone is going to on our behalf, Elisa. It's just that I don't feel like our mating ceremony is about us anymore."
"I guess that's because in some ways it's not," Elisa explained. A puzzled look crossed Angela's features as the dark-haired woman continued. "You see, when a couple gets married, uh, makes a permanent commitment to each other," she corrected, "their family and friends start projecting their own feelings about what would be the perfect way for the couple to begin their new life together. And then they start giving advice."
Angela nodded. "I know. It seems like every night, Sata or Desdemona or Fox are pulling me aside. But I still don't understand. Don't they think we can figure these things out for ourselves?"
Elisa shrugged. "Sometimes. Sometimes it's because there was something in their own ceremony that they'd wished they'd done differently. Or," she added with a shake of her head, "they thought theirs was so perfect that they want to make sure that yours turns out the same way."
"But how do you know so much about this, Elisa? You've never done this before, have you?" Angela asked.
Her companion smiled ruefully, "No. But in our culture, unmarried females are given the same type of 'helpful' advice whenever one of their family members or close friends gets married, usually by their mothers or aunts. You've met my mother. Believe me, Angela, I've had loads of unsolicited helpful advice thrust upon me over the years." She dropped the magazines onto the coffee table with a slick thud. "Now, glossy pictures aside, what do you want?"
Angela looked both wary and relieved. "You promise you won't laugh?"
Elisa smiled and patted her shoulder. "I promise. This is your mating ceremony, Angela. You tell me what you want to have happen and I'll run interference with Fox."
Angela looked down at her hands. "My foster mother was a princess. Yet she taught us that there was no shame in simplicity. I'd just like a simple dress, Elisa."
"So you're saying that something like this-" She pointed to an elaborate hoop skirted creation with several yards of lace trailing behind."- is out?"
The detective smiled. "Just checking." She picked up a second magazine and flipped at random. "No. No. No way. Who in their right mind would wear that?" She leaned the magazine toward Angela and the two females giggled, earning a dark look from Cagney as he curled up on the opposite end of the couch. "No. Nuh uh. Hey, what about this one?" she said as she tore out a page and handed it to Angela.
On it was a photograph of a dress cut from ivory satin. The sheath's cut was stark in its simplicity, the only ornamentation a bit of embroidery at the neck.
Angela drew in her breath. "It's perfect! No long skirt to trip over and it wouldn't be difficult to alter to accommodate my tail!"
"And it's a Clive original," Elisa commented as she looked over the mate-to-be's shoulder.
"Someone who'll meet with Fox's approval," Elisa replied dryly. "Trust me, she'll think you have excellent taste when you show her that," she said before stifling a yawn.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I've kept you from your bed and you still need rest." Angela concentrated her attention on the weary woman at her side and mumbled a bit of Latin. "It's just as I thought, Elisa. Your aura shows that you are much improved, but you need to take better care of yourself."
"You sound like your dad," Elisa grumbled good-naturedly. "I've been behaving. Just ask Cagney."
The cat flipped over onto his back and put his paws over his face at the mention of his name.
Angela scowled. "I've got to go see Mother, but I want you to promise me you'll go straight to bed."
Elisa saluted. "Yes ma'am. Now go on, and don't worry about a thing. I'll call Fox in the morning and we'll get your dress squared away. Is their anything else she needs to tone down a notch?"
Angela considered for a moment, her head cocked to the side in thought. "No, David talked her out of the string quartet and Broadway is happy with the catering arrangements."
"Okay, then leave those magazines with me, and I'll take it from here." Elisa yawned again as she escorted Angela out, and watched after the female gargoyle for a few moments as she glided away across the city. Then she walked by the coffee table, strewn with bridal magazines, picked one up at random and carried it with her into the bedroom.
As she changed into her nightshirt and picked up her hairbrush, the detective's dark eyes strayed to the happy bride on the cover of the magazine. "Angela's right, it's silly to fuss with so much pomp and circumstance over what should be a simple exchange of vows."
She slid between the sheets and her hand strayed toward the magazine. "Still, some of these dresses are awfully pretty." A bridal party still caught her eye and she paused, imagining herself and Goliath at the center surrounded by Maggie, Talon, Angela and the rest of the clan as bridesmaids and ushers. "Wouldn't Mom just love that," she said as she recalled the brave front Diane had put up as she fussed over Claw's decorating efforts. "A real church and all the trimmings."
Elisa shook her head sadly and tossed the magazine into the hamper of unwashed clothes. "Not in this lifetime, Maza." She snapped out the light but despite her fatigue, she found herself contemplating the shadows long into the night.
* * * * *
"This isn't like Goliath," Broadway muttered as he looked out over the city. "He should have been here half an hour ago. I'd better go find him." The burly gargoyle looked out over the city once more, then headed straight for his clan leader's favorite retreat.
A few moments later, he was tapping hesitantly on the library door. "Um…, Goliath?"
There was no answer to his call and the turquoise gargoyle slipped inside to find Goliath caught up in one of the books Fox had given to Angela: a wedding guide of rather daunting proportions. It had not been his only selection, either. On the floor stacked near the chair were other books and magazines with similar themes, also gifts to Angela from Fox.
Deeply engrossed in his reading, it was several minutes before Goliath became aware of another presence in the castle library. He looked up to find Broadway sitting in a neighboring chair, his hands folded in his lap and his tail twitching nervously about his ankles. "I beg your pardon, Broadway," Goliath said as he placed a scrap of paper in the book and closed it. "Have you been waiting long?"
"Not that long," Broadway replied. He realized he was on uncertain ground and though he knew the answer he asked, "What are you reading?"
"A book on mating rituals," Goliath replied with a wry smile. "I thought it would be a wise idea to read up on the subject - to have a basis of comparison when answering Angela's questions about the ceremony," he finished somewhat awkwardly.
Broadway looked at the lavender gargoyle curiously and wondered briefly if that was his only motivation. "It looks like you've really gotten into it," he remarked as he gestured toward the stacks at Goliath's feet. "Did you learn anything useful?"
There was a curiously frustrated tone in Goliath's voice as he replied, "Only that there are as many ways for a male and a female to declare their love for each other as there are stars in the sky. So many different rituals for a very simple thing!"
Broadway chuckled. "You almost sound like Hudson."
"I'm beginning to see his point-of-view," Goliath admitted. His eyes grew distant and his lip curled in a chagrined smile.
"Yeah, I guess." Broadway looked up at Goliath and shrugged. "I mean in the old days, when all the matings were taking place, I was just a hatchling and didn't pay much attention. What was it like to court a female?"
"Not so different," Goliath replied. His smile grew ironic. "Some things never really change."
"Really?" Broadway looked thoughtful. "I thought everything was different back then, more straightforward and a lot less complicated. You and Hudson sure make it sound that way."
"I suppose we do." Goliath sighed as his thoughts strayed back to a different life. "But even then, gaining a mate was a challenge worthy of the greatest of warriors."
Broadway's curiosity got the better of his common sense. "What was it like for you, Goliath? I mean you don't have to tell me if you don't want to," he added as his brain caught up with his mouth. The question was out in the open though, and the burly turquoise gargoyle had no choice but to complete it. "What was it like for you and Demona?"
Goliath studied the cover of the book before him thoughtfully for a few seconds. "No," he said finally, "I do not mind. Those were different times -- we were all different then. It was a time when she was not Demona or even my 'Angel of the Night', but simply another of my rookery siblings who, like myself, was lonely… and it began with a mating…"
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern – 974 A.D.
"—Let it be known," the Leader said solemnly to the gargoyles assembled, "that these two are one in the eyes of the clan."
Oblivious to the roars that rose around them, the brown gargoyle with the heather in her hair and the blue-gray male with the white hair embraced. Goliath added his congratulations with the others but his heart was not in it.
"Lovely ceremony," his smaller brother with the twisted horn said sardonically. "It couldn't happen to a nicer fellow." He laughed harshly. "Better him than me."
"Why do you say that?" Goliath asked.
"Love is too complicated an emotion," Thersites answered. "One moment you're free to do as you please and then the next, you can't do anything without consulting your female. I don't know how the mated males stand it." He glanced over at the newly-mated couple. "While they're busy being romantic, I'm going to raid the mating feast. Coming, brother?"
"In a bit, brother. You go on ahead."
Goliath settled down on a perch overlooking the courtyard below and brooded, as was his habit of late. The pairing off of his rookery siblings had begun and he had no doubts that more mating ceremonies would follow. Tonight's event merely drove home the fact that Goliath was terribly, terribly alone.
By all rights, Goliath should have no trouble attracting a mate. In the eyes of his rookery sisters, he had many admirable qualities – strength, intelligence, and above all else, he was being groomed as second-in-command. That alone was an excellent selling point. Unfortunately, everyone assumed that his long-standing friendship with his clever sister would blossom into love – when, in fact, it had not.
Letting his eyes wander, Goliath soon located her golden hair and spiral horns shining in the torchlight in the courtyard below. Since the Leader had been training him to be Second, the time he had normally spent with his clever sister had dwindled away to nothing. He had naturally felt terrible about it but she accepted their changing paths graciously with her usual logical wit. None of his brothers seemed interested in courting her and Goliath suspected that she liked it that way. He wished he could feel the same way.
"Brother!" called the newly-mated male. "Come and drink to our happiness!"
"Yes!" said his mate cheerfully. "Come down and celebrate with us!"
Goliath forced a smile and stood up. "In a moment," he replied. "I must see to tonight's guard rotation first."
It was an excuse, he knew that, as he coasted over the battlements, giving a cursory nod to the sentinels as he passed. Goliath could only hope that this disconcerting feeling would pass; it made him feel awkward and uncomfortable. On the far side of the castle, he noted that his brown-skinned rookery brother with whom he had hunted the night before had taken up the solitary post in the watchtower at the forest's edge. Goliath frowned. Something had upset the brown one, and despite Goliath's best efforts to encourage him to unburden himself, he had abandoned the hunt and returned to Wyvern alone.
"This would appear to be as good a time as any," Goliath reasoned to himself. Immersing himself in another's miseries would be a good cure for his own uncomfortable feelings.
He started to glide down the valley to the watchtower when a pale, wobbling speck in the sky caught his eye. Frowning, he launched from the tower and soared up to meet whatever it was, grateful for the distraction.
"Help…," came a feeble cry on the wind. "Please…, help me…"
Quickly, with powerful wingstrokes, Goliath bridged the distance between them and came face-to-face with a pale-colored female with a long, horse-like face. He could tell that she was clearly exhausted by the way her feathered wings drooped but the determination he could see in her eyes was driving her on. He made a quick decision and looped around to snatch her up in his arms.
"I beg your pardon," he said politely, "but I can see that you are very tired. You must have come a long way."
"You are more right than you know, friend gargoyle," the strange female said weakly in an English accent. "I've flown for two nights straight to reach you. My clan is in danger and Wyvern is our only hope!"
* * * * *
Destine Manor – present day
"Mother!" Angela's voice echoed through the empty room. She paused to light a fresh candle on a table next to the French doors of Demona's study, then went out into the hallway. "Mother!!" she called again. "Now, where could she be?" Angela snapped her fingers. "Her lab!"
Fortunately, Demona met her halfway. The crimson-haired gargoyle was drying her hands with a towel and there was a curious aroma in the air. "Hello, my dear," Demona said calmly. "I did not expect you tonight."
"I know, Mother," Angela replied. "I just wanted to drop by and make sure you remembered about the party tomorrow night." She sniffed and wrinkled her nose. "What is that smell? It's familiar but I can't seem to place it."
"Just some minor research I've been doing -- nothing to be concerned with," Demona said as she continued down the hall. "I was just taking a break. Will you join me?"
Angela followed her mother into the kitchen where Demona prepared them both a cup of her special gourmet hot chocolate that was so rich and calorie-laden that Angela wondered briefly if she might be too heavy to fly back to the castle. They took their cups back into the study and made themselves comfortable. As they sipped their hot chocolate, Angela couldn't help noticing the troubled glances that Demona was giving over the rim of her cup.
"Mother?" she asked finally. "Is something wrong? Did I come at a bad time?"
"No, of course not." Demona set down her cup and let out a deep breath as if girding herself for battle. "Something has been on my mind for many days and now that the time is almost here, I must ask – are you absolutely certain that Broadway is the one you want as your mate?"
"Why, Mother! What a thing to ask!" Angela sat back in astonishment. "Broadway is everything I want in a mate – he's honest and brave and good-hearted and he makes me very, very happy."
Demona stared at her daughter for a moment with indecipherable eyes. "Then as long as you are happy, that's all that matters to me." She sank into the overstuffed chair as a sad, almost wistful expression crossed her face.
"Mother?" Angela leaned towards her and touched her hand. "What is it?"
"It is nothing."
"No, it is something." Angela insisted. "You know that I worry about you, Mother. I want you to be part of my life, especially now that we have something truly wonderful to celebrate. This should be a happy time for us all."
"Perhaps for you, my dear." She sighed and looked away. "Don't misunderstand me, I am very pleased to see you taking a mate. It's my dearest dream come true to see our clan growing and coming alive again." She sighed again. "But it also makes me sad, as all such mating rituals have saddened me over the centuries, because it reminds me that I once too had a mate and now I am alone."
Angela knelt beside Demona's chair. "You are not alone anymore, and I want my joy to be your joy." She rubbed her browridges against her mother's hand. "I know that now things are different between you and Father but surely there must have been a time when your feelings for him were just as strong as my feelings are for Broadway."
"Yes," Demona said softly. She paused and let the centuries of hardness slip away from her features. "There was a time, long ago, when I dared to believe in an impossible love…."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern – 974 A.D.
Demona had been watching the festivities from the Archmage's window. He had gone off on another of his visits to that game-playing colleague of his and had bid her to study her grimoires in his absence. She knew very well that he didn't expect her to learn very much on her own but that was where her master was wrong; without the Archmage hovering over her shoulder, Demona found the mysteries within his books interesting indeed.
Tonight, however, Demona's mind was wandering on more mundane matters. It had been no surprise to her that the two gargoyles just formally mated would be among the first in her rookery to do so. Her beautiful sister had managed the whole affair quite cleverly, Demona thought, choosing him initially to ward off her other unwanted suitors but eventually they fell in love with each other, even though at least one of her former suitors did not accept that. Demona glanced to the seaward wall. The dark gargoyle with the earring was there all by himself, no doubt sulking. She had considered dallying with him briefly after she and the breast-plated one had parted company but he could see no one but their beautiful sister for a potential mate.
"Love has made a fool of you, brother," she had told him then. "And I have no patience for fools."
It had been a rash thing to say. Within days afterwards, certain rumors had been spread about her and what she might or might not be doing with the Archmage and very few of her rookery brothers would have anything to do with her thereafter. Demona sighed and leaned heavily on her hand as she continued to watch the mating feast. Her beautiful sister and her white-haired mate were surrounded by well-wishers and they seemed so very happy together.
"Who's the fool now?" she berated herself sternly. "Wasting your time on hatchling dreams while you could be learning something worthwhile. For shame!"
Demona stood up and was turning from the window when her large lavender brother, the one that was training to be the Second, shot by. Leaping onto the window ledge, she could see something pale fluttering in the sky and intrigued, Demona set off after him.
There was a strange gargoyle in his arms as Demona neared and she could just barely hear her say, "My clan is in danger and Wyvern is our only hope!"
"Brother!" Demona called out. "What is it?"
"Sister, fly on ahead and tell the Leader that I have someone to see him." The set of his jaw sent chills down Demona's spine. "Something has gone terribly wrong for our English cousins."
Demona turned on a wingtip and raced back to the castle, landing nimbly in the courtyard. "Summon the healer!" she called out. "Leader! You're needed!"
The bearded brown gargoyle stepped forward with a puzzled scowl. "What is it, lass? Is summat th' matter?"
His answer arrived a few seconds later in the form of a tall lavender gargoyle. The young Second carried a horse-faced female gargoyle to a neighboring bench. "Quickly, some water!" he ordered. "She's exhausted!"
The Leader came over and squinted at the newcomer. "Lass, do I know ye? Ye seem familiar somehow."
Gulping down a few swallows of water from a crockery mug, the strange female lifted her eyes to his face. "Yes, my clan and I came here many weeks ago from England. We were having trouble with the humans in our area and came to ask for help." Her voice took on a hard edge. "You refused us so we went back, but our home was no longer our own and we were no longer welcome."
The Leader exchanged a troubled look with his fellow elders. "Och, lass, we dinnae know it was tha' bad for ye."
"It doesn't matter. The past is the past," she said as she shook her head. "We fled north, wandering for nights without knowing where we were going. Finally, we came across a hunting party whose leader had fallen ill. One of our numbers was skilled in herbs and prepared him a restorative potion. In return, this nobleman invited us to come back with him to his castle. We were in need of rest so we accepted, saying that we would trouble him for only a few days while the young and old among us regained their strength."
"But something went wrong," the lavender male prompted, "didn't it?"
"Yes," she admitted, biting her lip. "Within a few days, it became clear that the nobleman regarded our presence as some sort of prize, a way of achieving status among his peers. We learned from the servants in the castle that he displayed us to his guests, calling his new 'treasures.' To him, we had become his property."
This caused an angry buzz of hushed conversation all around them. Demona's eyes burned. Gargoyles were not beholden to humans, nor should they ever be!
"Quiet!" one of the Elders snapped. "Quiet, all of ye!"
"What then, lass?" asked the Leader.
"Our leader went to the nobleman and thanked him for his hospitality, informing him that we would now be on our way. Guards surrounded him as the nobleman told him in no uncertain terms that our clan was now a permanent part of his collection." A grim smile crossed her face. "Fortunately, our leader had the foresight to position some of us so that in the event that things went badly, we could fly free to get help."
Carefully, the English gargoyle rose to her feet. "I ask you, gargoyles of Wyvern, as one clan to another, to return with me and set my people free!!"
Demona found herself roaring in agreement with the others. The Archmage, she decided, could mind his own books for once. Gargoyle blood was pulsing through her veins and it was crying out for justice.
* * * * *
The Leader returned from an audience with Prince Malcolm where he'd had the English gargoyle repeat her story to him and his face was like an approaching storm cloud. He moved to the circle of elders and motioned for Goliath to join him. " 'Tis worse than we feared," he said gruffly. "Prince Malcolm has heard o' this nobleman. His name is Lord Ravyn an' he's well known as being a collector o' curiosities. He sent Prince Malcolm an invitation not long ago for a visit but th' prince was not planning to attend… until now."
"What d'ye mean?" said the talkative elder with the beard. "Prince Malcolm has always been fair an' just wi' us, but all those nobles stick together. 'Tis like some great grand social club."
Shaking his head, the Leader disagreed. "Not this one. According to th' prince, this Lord Ravyn prides himself on being a self-made man. His title was granted him in battle an' his lands a prize o' war."
"He'll nae be an easy adversary to overcome," said the Eldest, her gnarled hands folded over the knob of her walking stick. "His pride an' vanity, though, that might be his undoing."
"Aye, exactly what Prince Malcolm proposes. We will divide into two groups. You," the Leader looked at Goliath, "will take a small scouting party ahead with th' English female. Search out th' weaknesses in his defenses an' try to discover where he's holding th' others. I will take a second group an' accompany Prince Malcolm's party. It's his hope that Lord Ravyn can be shown th' error of his ways, but if not, we mean to teach him a hard lesson about ownership."
The remainder of the night was spent organizing and planning. A number of Goliath's rookery volunteered for his scouting party – the crested warrior and his unlikely comrade with the twisted horn, the newly mated couple, and most surprisingly, the blue female with the flaming red hair. Although she had excelled in their warrior training, of late she had shunned the company of her rookery siblings, participating in drills and patrols only as the Leader required her. There had been rumors that she'd been seen in the company of the Archmage, but Goliath had dismissed them as malicious gossip.
Still, as she stood awkwardly before him, he couldn't help ask, "Why? I don't mean to be rude, but it has been some time since you've sought your rookery mates' company."
She caped her wings around her shoulders, the elbow spurs jutting out like ornamental hooks. "I have heard the story of our English cousin and I did not like it. Gargoyles should never be subject to a human's whim. They must be free." She lifted her eyes to his. "I want to make that happen, brother. Take me with you and every skill I have is yours to command."
Goliath merely nodded approvingly and replied, "I will welcome your skills. Be ready to leave first thing tomorrow."
* * * * *
It wasn't until they were halfway to Castle Ravyn that Demona began to regret her decision to come along on the rescue mission. The antics of the newly-mated pair were starting to get on her nerves. True, they had been discreet about it, her brown-skinned sister and her white-haired mate, as they would dip out of sight for a time and then re-appear later looking flushed and happy. Demona had expected her lavender brother, who was leading them, to tear strips out of them for their behavior but he had simply admonished them to not fall too far behind.
Her rookery brother with the twisted horn was somewhat more verbal about his observations. "Disgusting," he commented. "You'd almost think we'd brought along a pair of lovesick hatchlings on this mad quest."
"What is wrong with the way they're acting?" asked the English gargoyle. A day's sleep and a few solid meals had restored her strength. She had been telling them all about the castle's defenses as they traveled and one of Demona's rookery brothers was being particularly attentive. "I was so ashamed to have disturbed their mating ceremony but it was so generous of them to volunteer to come free my clan. If they wish to snatch some small bit of happiness for themselves along the way, I say it's all for the good." Her equine face lengthened as she sighed bitterly. "I've learned that you must appreciate what little you have in this world before it's taken from you forever."
"Come now, fair cousin!" said the attentive male who glided at her side. "Have heart! We will do our best to free your clan and all shall be as it should be, you'll see!"
The English gargoyle smiled wanly at him. "I pray that everything shall be as you say, dear friend, but forgive me if I seem reserved about our hopes for this rescue. Except for my time at Castle Wyvern, my faith in dealings with humans has been disillusioned lately."
Having witnessed the darker side of humanity under the Archmage's tutelage, Demona could see her point but before she could say so, their lavender leader spoke up.
"You must not let the actions of a few color your opinion on the human race," he said calmly. "There are good and bad among them, just as there are good and bad among our own kind."
"Truly?" the English gargoyle asked, genuinely intrigued.
"Regretfully so," the lavender male replied. "Among my own rookery, there was one who chose to leave the ways of the clan and now lives the life of a bandit chief. It is a pity, but none of us dare call him brother, for his actions are beyond contempt."
"And don't forget that enormous female that attacked us during our Adult Rites," added the one with the twisted horn. "It's gargoyles like her that give the rest of us a bad name."
"Still," the crested one said thoughtfully, "she was a fine figure of a female. I can't help but wonder what kind of a mate she might have made."
"Brother!!" his twist-horned companion exclaimed. "Surely you wouldn't consider her as a possible mate when you have so many others to choose from?"
As usual, his ironic wit was lost on the crested one as that gargoyle struck a noble pose. "Why not? She might have been misguided but she had many admirable qualities which would have redeemed her."
"Good qualities? Since when was avarice and mayhem considered admirable?"
Demona glided away from her mismatched rookery brothers as they began to squabble, the twisted horned one doing so simply for the sake of exercising his quick wit and the crested one to occupy himself until it was time for action. Her own thoughts wandered and she didn't notice she was drifting until it was too late.
"Careful, sister," came a low voice in her ear and a large hand took her arm gently. "The winds are fickle tonight."
Blinking, Demona looked up into his dark eyes and found them filled not with cold aloofness but instead with a warm humor. The spiciness of his scent made her reluctant to pull away and her heart pounded in her ears. Her lips curved into a seldom-used shape.
"Sister," the lavender male said simply without sounding condescending, "You are quite lovely when you smile."
"I don't know what to say," Demona stammered, an unfamiliar heat rising to her cheeks. "T-thank you, brother. It's very kind of you."
"It is merely the truth," he answered kindly. "We see so little of you. No longer do you join in the nightly hunts or patrols unless the Leader commands it and since you've parted company with our breastplated brother, you rarely attend the revels and skydances."
Demona shrugged. "I've found my own company to be sufficient of late. But what of you?" she said turning the subject carefully away from herself. "It seems you are always on the Leader's errands. I've noticed you've scarce time for making merry."
"This is true," he rumbled. "However, anything worth having is worth working for. The Leader has chosen me for reasons known only to him and I feel it is my duty to live up to his expectations. If it means a few less feasts and dances then so it must be." He gave his rookery sister a speculative look. "At least for now."
The azure gargoyle blushed under his gaze and turned away. "Perhaps I have been too solitary of late," she mused. "Thank you, brother, I had not realized I was spending so much time away from the clan." His frank look lingered on her features and she felt vaguely disquieted. She cleared her throat. "So, tell me, how fares our clever sister?"
The face of the lavender gargoyle turned a pinkish shade and clearly it was his turn to be uncomfortable. "She fares well enough and is busy working with the blacksmith's apprentice on her mechanical projects," he answered at last. "As you said, it has been some time since you have socialized with the rest of us, so perhaps you did not know – our clever sister and I are simply good friends, nothing else."
"Oh!" Demona withdrew, genuinely chagrined. "I-I'm very sorry. You two were always close, even as hatchlings." She spread her hands apologetically. "We always assumed, well…"
"I know," he admitted with a sigh, "I had hoped so as well, but like hatchlings sometimes do, we grew up and away from each other. There are times when I wish things could have been different, but realistically, I know that she would never be as contented as the mate of the Second than she would be tinkering away in her cave. I wish her well, no matter what fate brings."
They glided together for the next several minutes in silence, both casting sidelong glances at each other, catching themselves looking and turning away. Demona chided herself silently. This was not the way she had acted when she had attracted her brother with the breastplate. Then she had been bold, alluring, not timid like some rabbit. She lifted her chin firmly and prepared to launch an opening salvo in the battle of the sexes.
Demona and her lavender brother both glanced behind them. Their newly-mated sister was streaking towards them, her double set of wings extended fully to catch the night air. Her eyes were wide and troubled.
"Soldiers!" she called. "There are soldiers in the forest!"
* * * * *
Goliath was both relieved and faintly annoyed when they found the white-haired blue-gray male keeping watch high up on a ridge overlooking a small valley, several miles to the east of their original flight path. Below them was a camp of encircled tents that seemed to be going out of their way to be inconspicuous. Even their campfires were sunk into deep pits to conceal their light.
"Odd," Goliath commented as he landed by his rookery brother's side. "They're trying very hard to be unnoticeable. How is it that you and your mate discovered them?"
"Ahem. Well, we were, um, well, involved ---" The blue-gray male cleared his throat awkwardly, "—when suddenly, we were interrupted by a sentry."
"Did he get off a warning?"
"No, I didn't let him have a chance." He scowled and gestured to a heap of tumbled limbs nearby. "He's still unconscious, I'm afraid. I was rather… upset when he surprised us."
The crimson-haired female was crouching next to the fallen human. "He won't be coming around anything soon," she reported. "It's a wonder you didn't crack his skull, brother."
His brown-skinned mate patted his arm affectionately. "But under the circumstances, my love, you acted magnificently." Behind them, the twist-horned gargoyle gagged.
The English gargoyle dropped to her knees and gasped. "No, it can't be!"
"What is it?" her admirer asked.
"This insignia." She tugged at the man's leather jerkin to pull it into the light, revealing an embossed circle surrounded a flying bird painted black with the recessed areas dyed a bloody scarlet. "This is Lord Ravyn's man. He bears his mark."
Goliath frowned. "But we shouldn't be anywhere near his lands." He took a folded piece of a parchment from his belt pouch. "This is a copy of one of Prince Malcolm's maps. Look here," he pointed, "according to this, we are at least five leagues from Lord Ravyn's borders."
The crested one glanced over Goliath's shoulder and then squinted at the camp. "Say what you will, brother, but I can see the same markings on the tents below. And look, he has a large number of war steeds as well as foot soldiers. This is not a common hunting party to my thinking; they lie in wait for someone."
"That is what I thought as well," the blue-gray male agreed. "While I was waiting for my mate to return with you, there was a great deal of activity. A few riders came and went." He pointed to a large tent near the center of the camp which flew a scarlet banner. "Several men went into that tent and are still there."
"How curious." Goliath caught a movement in the far corner of his vision and turned to catch the gargoyle with the twisted horn trying to slink into the shadows. "Brother, I have a little job for you."
"Oh, no." His expression dropped, making his beaked face look even longer. "You couldn't possibly mean--"
"But I'm not the heroic type!!" He thumped his crested companion on the chest. "This is more what you should be looking for! Strong, brave, and--"
"—And for all that, he lacks the guile and stealth I know you to possess in vast quantities." Goliath smiled grimly. "Go, brother, and find out just who is in that tent."
Grumbling under his breath, the twist-horned gargoyle trudged up the ridge and a few minutes later, they all heard the hushed whoosh of his launch into the air. His sooty coloring blended seamlessly with the night and he was soon lost from sight.
The English gargoyle chewed her lip nervously. "Are you sure this is wise?" she asked. "I don't mean to question your judgment, Second, but--"
"Do not worry," the crested one answered for Goliath. "Our brother may shirk his duties and complain loudly about his troubles but he is as swift on the wing as he is with his tongue and when he does not want to be seen, he won't be." He smiled proudly. "He may not look it, but he is a trustworthy sort."
Minutes slipped away as the gargoyles perched among the rocky outcropping of the ridge, their keen senses tuned for the slightest disturbance from the camp. A few of them jumped to their feet, wings unfurled at the sound of the picketed horses neighing softly to one another but the men in the camp did not react. The tension grew until even Goliath's patience was at the breaking point. He flinched violently when the blue female put a hand on his arm.
"Easy, brother!" she said in hushed tones. "I have been thinking. If these are indeed Lord Ravyn's men, then he has divided his forces. Perhaps we should consider pushing on to his castle to rescue the English gargoyles while it is less heavily guarded."
Goliath mulled her suggestion over. "Your idea has merit," he said at last, "but let us wait until our brother has returned. I would prefer to know more about our enemy before rushing into any plan."
"Well, if you ask me," came a voice from behind, "as enemies go, this one is not too shabby." As one, the scouting party turned to see the twist-horned gargoyle perched on a small boulder gnawing on a roast chicken leg. "No dry battle rations for these soldiers. Their field kitchen is as well-stocked as the one back at Castle Wyvern." He tossed a tied-up bundle into the newly-mated female's arms. "I took the opportunity to liberate some extra provisions for us."
"You fool!" the blue female spat. "You could have been caught!"
"Hardly," he snorted. "Men with full bellies sleep deeply. A clumsy hatchling could have made his way through that camp without anyone being the wiser."
"Enough!" Goliath said sternly, stepping between them. "What did you find out? Are these Lord Ravyn's men?"
"I should say so. That insignia is positively littering the camp." The twist-horned gargoyle wrinkled his beak and gestured with the half-eaten bone in his hand. "I managed to make my way to that central tent. Our brother was right, there is some sort of strategy meeting going on in there. I split an eye slit along one of the seams of the tent and there were four or five men huddled around a map. I never heard him called by name, but their leader is a dark-haired man with light-colored eyes."
The English gargoyle stepped forward. "Amber-colored? A strange, pale gold?"
He tapped the chicken bone against his chin. "Yes… yes, now that I think of it, they were an odd color for a human. He wore black save for that bird-in-circle emblem all in scarlet in the middle of his tunic."
"Then it is Lord Ravyn!" the English gargoyle said eagerly, her eyes blazing bright scarlet. "That means that my clan is very lightly guarded."
"Brother!" the blue female said, looking at him with a gloriously radiant expression on her face. "It is as I suspected. Let us leave these humans here and fly on to Castle Ravyn to rescue our English cousins!"
Their spy cleared his throat. "There's something you should know before we all go on some daring rescue. There was a lot of talk about a envoy from Normandy, 'an inner circle' and plots within plots, but the thing that got my attention is that their route is going to cross the one that Prince Malcolm is taking."
Goliath's blood froze. "Are you certain?"
"I had a clear view of the map. If Prince Malcolm's party makes good time, they'll be meeting this rogue lord and his soldiers sometime tomorrow."
"Second!" The crested one looked up from where he had been counting on his fingers. "This force out-numbers Wyvern's men by two score! If we do nothing, Prince Malcolm will be slaughtered."
"But this may be the only opportunity we have to rescue my clan!" cried the English gargoyle. She gestured to the crimson-haired blue female. "My cousin here has the right of it. Let the humans fend for themselves! There's no way of knowing what Lord Ravyn's intentions are towards your prince – they might not even meet at all – but my clan needs us now!"
The Wyvern male that had been so attentive to their visitor took his place besides her. "Yes, Second," he agreed, "let us make the most of this situation. Even if they do meet, the castle guardsmen have faced down Viking berserkers and rabid sea monsters. They should be more than a match for these men."
"But it will be daytime," the newly mated female said anxiously. "The Leader and his party will be in stone sleep and carried along in wagons, unable to defend themselves."
"I do not like the idea of leaving here and risking Prince Malcolm to meet an ambush alone," said the crested male, drawing himself up impressively. "It seems cowardly. If we rout these brutes now, we will ensure our allies' safety and strike a blow to our enemies."
"Enough!" Goliath said firmly. "You all have valid arguments. However, the Leader put me in charge of this scouting party and I will decide our actions." He looked at them all carefully, his gaze lingering on his blue-skinned rookery sister for a few seconds before resting finally on the English gargoyle. "Cousin, I know how urgent the matter of your clan's rescue must be but this is an opportunity to cripple our enemy that we may never have again."
"Trust me, cousin. We will rescue your clan but after we deal with this raiding party. If all goes well, we will have kept them from ambushing Prince Malcolm and we will have delayed their return to Castle Ravyn." Goliath looked around at his rookery siblings and found them all riveted on his face, some approvingly, some not, but all waiting expectantly. He nodded. "Listen carefully. This is what we're going to do…"
* * * * *
Quietly seething, Demona bided her time as she watched the lavender male organize them for the attack. She couldn't see how he could possibly choose defending the unwary prince when an entire clan of their own kind was still imprisoned. Still, there was a certain nobility to his logic, as faulty as it was. He paired off the twist-horned male with her newly mated sister to free the horses from their paddock and scatter them through the forest. The crested one and the white-haired male set off to destroy the wagons and siege engines on the outskirts of the camp. Finally, he turned to her and the two remaining gargoyles.
"All right," the lavender male rumbled in his deep voice that made Demona's toes curl, "I've left the most difficult task for us." He looked directly at the English gargoyle. "Cousin, you alone know the face of our quarry. He will be heavily guarded but without him, his followers will be disorganized and confused."
Demona smiled slowly. She had not considered the Second capable of such dark thoughts and began to see the lavender male in a whole new light. Eagerly, she took her position off of his right wingtip as they launched simultaneously from the rocky outcroppings. As they sailed in, one of the horses screamed and an entire tether of animals bolted into the forest. There was a faint yelp and series of thuds as if someone was being reluctantly dragged behind.
As expected, the commotion drew the attention of the humans. Groggy soldiers burst from their tents and ran into the darkness after their mounts. When the four gargoyles were nearing the center, they had to a dodge a wagon wheel spinning past. More followed, taking out whole rows of empty tents. A small group of men rushed out of the large tent just as the main shaft of the catapult came tumbling end over end out of the night sky to pin the tent to the ground like a huge scarlet butterfly.
"By the Dragon!" swore a dark-haired man all in black as he drew his sword. "What manner of madness is this? Who is attacking us?"
The English gargoyle's eyes blazed. "That is the one! That is Lord Ravyn!!"
"Dive!" the lavender male ordered. "Brother, you grab Lord Ravyn. Sister, Cousin, scatter the crowd with me!"
Like avenging angels, they plummeted from the sky. Lord Ravyn and his underlings had no warning. Their pale faces looked up at Demona like so many sheep as she snarled and struck them down, scattering them before soaring back up into the sky. The English gargoyle and the Wyvern male had their hands full with Lord Ravyn. Somehow, the man had retained his sword and was slashing wildly at his captors. The male gargoyle was trying to keep his grip on the man but he bore several cuts on his arms and legs.
"Foolish human!" the English gargoyle cried. "Stop struggling! You will fall to your death!" A wayward slash of his sword ripped through a fold of her tunic and she shrieked as she backwinged out of range.
Demona cursed and darted in to help her hapless rookery brother. "You seem too overly fond of playing with sharp things, human," she observed. "Let's correct that little problem." Before the last words left her lips, Demona whirled about and slapped the sword from his hand with a stinging whipstrike of her tail. She watched with satisfaction as the sword cartwheeled to the ground below.
There was an inarticulate yell from behind her and she turned to see a flash of silver. Abruptly a wall of lavender came between them, hurling them apart, and her brother's deep roar drowned out all other sounds. She let the updraft send her skywards to see the Second take a dagger away from the human. He handed it to the English gargoyle and looked up at Demona with a strange, endearing look in his eyes. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "When I saw him draw the dagger on you, I was afraid I would not reach you in time."
It was then that she noticed the red ribbon of the knife wound on his forearm. "You—you took the blow meant for me," she stammered. Demona fought to find the words she was searching for but, finding none, found herself simply meeting his eyes and smiling.
Returning her smile, he reached out and just barely brushed his knuckles against her brow ridges. "I would gladly do it again for a smile such as that. Angels would weep to see it."
"Not to interrupt," called the English gargoyle, "but what shall we do with this blighter? We can't very well glide around with him forever."
Reluctantly, the lavender gargoyle turned from Demona and narrowed his eyes at their captive. He leaned in and growled in the human's face. "Lord Ravyn, I presume?" The man nodded numbly. "We would like a few words with you…."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern – present day
"And then?" Broadway asked eagerly, perched on the edge of his seat.
Eyes still focused on days long gone bye, Goliath rumbled, "We carried Lord Ravyn to meet Prince Malcolm's party and he, in turn, used Ravyn as safe passage through Ravyn's lands where we freed the imprisoned English gargoyles, although not without some opposition. When we returned at last to Castle Wyvern, Demona and I were quite enamored with each other." He smiled unexpectedly. "Those were… miraculous days, not unlike what you and Angela have had over the past two years."
"Really?" Broadway asked wistfully.
Goliath nodded solemnly. "I believe my daughter has chosen wisely when she selected you as her mate. I'm very proud of the way you have grown as a warrior under my tutelage and I have no doubts that you will honor and cherish my daughter."
Broadway's ears burned under such praise and he found himself tongue-tied for a response. The growing silence was broken by the tolling of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room.
Goliath stood and began to gather the stack of books and magazines into a neat pile. "Dawn approaches," he said with surprise. "I had not realized we had talked at such length."
"I guess patrol is out then," Broadway added wryly.
"Yes," the gargoyle leader replied as he set his reading material back onto the bookshelf.
"Angela is probably on her way back from Demona's. I really ought to be waiting for her outside."
Goliath nodded and side by side, the males left the library.
* * * * *
Destine Manor – present day
"—And you won't forget? The entrance to the Labyrinth is--"
"My dear, I have lived over a thousand years. I think I can find my way to a simple party." Demona opened the French doors and ushered Angela out onto the balcony. "Now, you must hurry and get home before dawn or I'll be getting some nasty phone calls tomorrow." She stood on the balcony and waved as Angela glided away.
A million colorful images cluttered Angela's thoughts as she traveled the familiar route back to the Eyrie building. She'd never imagined her parents as young adults, having the same longings and desires as she did. They had not been looking for love and yet, it had found them, even though their individual fates had driven them apart. She found herself daydreaming on what her parents' early life together had been like and whether it would be the same for her and Broadway. This idea occupied her thoughts so thoroughly, that she found herself at the castle before she realized it.
Shaking her head, Angela looked down to find Broadway and Goliath walking across the parapets together. She glided in for a flawless landing between them and glanced at her mate-to-be to her father and back again. "Good morning," Angela said as she fell in step with the two males. "Did you have a good patrol?"
Goliath and Broadway shared an embarrassed look and Goliath cleared his throat. Angela's eyes narrowed as she realized the pair were keeping something from her.
"How was Demona this evening?" the lavender male said, changing the subject. "She will be coming for the ceremony, yes?" There was the faintest of hesitant tones in Goliath's deep voice.
"Mother was fine, Father." Angela smiled sadly. "She finds mating ceremonies to be a little depressing but she's agreed to be here, and attend the party tomorrow night."
"Demona at a party." Broadway whistled. "Now there's two things I would have not put together."
"True," Goliath's voice softened as old memories surfaced. "She was never very comfortable with celebrations of any sort." Goliath smiled in a way that warmed Angela's heart. "But you'll find your new -" he hesitated for a moment as he searched for the right word, finally settling on a human phrase gleaned from his reading, "- mother-in-law can be quite pleasant after she warms up." He patted Broadway on the shoulder and continued to walk up towards his tower.
Broadway, in the meanwhile, had a glazed look on his face. "Mother-in-law?" he moaned softly as the punch line for dozens of human jokes assailed him at once.
Angela gazed after Goliath with an amused expression. "Well! Mother will be so pleased. Father does still have a dark sense of humor."
* * * * *
May 31, 1999 - Eyrie Building
"All the arrangements have been made, Mr. Xanatos," Owen Burnett stated as he walked along the corridor beside his employer. "I just talked to the company providing the, ahem, entertainment and they assure me they'll send exactly what we requested."
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "You mean they were able to find someone on such short notice who could play the part? Excellent." He paused at the doorway to his office, listening as his wife spoke on the phone.
"A-N-G-E-L-A," she spoke, spelling out the name. "Definitely chocolate… and yes, I want the one with the cream filling," Fox instructed. Glancing up, she noticed the two men standing there and gave a small, mysterious smile. "No, I'll come by this afternoon and pick it up myself," she answered into the phone again. "Thanks. Goodbye."
"And what was that all about, my dear?" Xanatos asked as Fox placed the phone carefully back into its cradle.
Fox grinned. "Just ordering the cake for Angela's party tonight," she replied innocently. She eyed Owen as he stood just inside the doorway. "I assume you two have already taken care of getting a cake for Broadway's party."
Owen cleared his throat. "Of course, Mrs. Xanatos."
Fox nodded, trading a sly, knowing glance with her husband as she picked up her purse from the desk. "Well now, boys, if you'll excuse me, I've got to meet up with Elisa. She and I have some shopping to do."
Owen stepped aside as Fox strode confidently from the room. Xanatos simply chuckled.
"Sir?" the majordomo prompted.
"Poor Angela," Xanatos commented, smirking. "With Fox running the show, that girl has no idea what she's in for tonight."
* * * * *
Across town, offices of Nightstone Unlimited
Andrea Calhoun held her breath, waiting as her friend, the smartly dressed Dominique Destine, surveyed with a critical eye the canvas laid out on the desk. Nervously, she pushed a lock of her dark, honey-blonde hair back behind her ear and finally dared to speak.
"I know it took me a lot longer to finish than I had originally thought, but what do you think, Dominique?"
Dominique continued to stare at the painting, captivated by the image the young artist had captured with her oils upon the canvas. Two gargoyles, one slight and feminine, the other bulky and male, glided together under a full moon, their arms and wings intertwined in a loving embrace. The image was as realistic as a photograph, but something about it portrayed the feeling of the moment, as well. So much so that Dominique felt again as she had on that day over a year ago at the sidewalk art show where she had first seen one of Andrea's gargoyle paintings.
"Dominique?" Andrea asked again, moving up beside her friend and finally stirring her from her seemingly entranced state. The red-haired woman looked up, her green eyes sparkling.
"Andrea, I hardly know what to say… it's… beautiful."
Andrea's brown eyes brightened, and a smile came to her face. "You really think so?" she asked.
Dominique nodded. "It's perfect, Andrea. They're going to love it." Impulsively, she placed her arm around the younger woman and gave her a gentle, friendly hug. "Thank you for doing this for me, Andrea."
Andrea's smile grew broader as she returned the hug. "Thank you for getting me the opportunity," she answered as they stepped apart again. "I mean, doing a commission for David Xanatos is impressive enough, but doing a painting for a gargoyle mating ceremony?" Andrea shook her head, grinning. "You must really have some connections inside that funky old castle, Dominique."
The flame-haired executive gave a wry smile and tugged at the hem of her suit jacket. "As I told you, I was the maid-of-honor at the Xanatoses's wedding… but it was your talent that got you this job more than anything."
Andrea smiled again as she picked the painted canvas up from the desk. "Well, my work isn't done yet. I still have to get this thing framed." She turned to Dominique as the older woman sat back down behind her desk, still smiling as she asked, "I hope it's all right if I just deliver this myself tomorrow night. It's going to take at least a day to get the frame done, and I wouldn't even want to entrust this painting to a courier."
Dominique froze. She, as Demona, was supposed to attend the mating ceremony, and Andrea would certainly recognize her in the "costume" she wore last Halloween if she saw her. Her stomach turned. She had already told Andrea several half-truths just to get the painting done as a present to her daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law without her artist friend asking any questions. She certainly didn't want to get caught and have to try to explain her dual identity to Andrea on Angela's mating night.
"You really don't have to go through all that trouble," Dominique began.
"Oh, I don't mind, Dominique," Andrea answered. "The Eyrie Building will be right on the way to the PIT rally in the park I'm going to, anyway." The young woman paused, and her eyes brightened excitedly. "Hey… do you think I might even get to meet a real live gargoyle?"
Dominique sighed softly, knowing from experience that there was no point now in trying to dissuade her eager friend. "I guess there's always the possibility," she answered worriedly. "We'll just have to see what happens."
* * * * *
Elisa peeked into the shopping bag one more time before handing it off to Fox. The raven-haired detective shook her head. "I still can't believe you went back and bought that."
Fox gave a sly grin. "Now who says that particular item is for Angela, hmm?"
Elisa blinked and gave the auburn-haired woman an incredulous stare… and a few seconds later, an absurd, involuntary grin appeared on her face as well. "You know, I bet Angela's going to wish she had never agreed to let you plan her bridal shower," Elisa commented, stifling the urge to snicker as she slid into the car.
"Relax, detective, I won't corrupt your little girl," Fox answered as she fastened her own seatbelt. Elisa looked up, ready to object, but Fox didn't stop to let her. "Remember, Elisa, the whole idea of a party like this is to get the bride-to-be to relax - take the edge off her pre-wedding jitters. Some food… a few gifts… with a few novelties mixed in… and all her friends gathered around her. I guarantee you by the end of the evening she will be smiling and laughing like you've never seen before."
Elisa chuckled. "Okay. Maybe you're right." She sighed lightly. "So… where to next, Mrs. Robinson?"
Fox grinned. "Just one more stop before the Labyrinth. It's time to pick up the cake."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Eyrie Building
"Sata sure was in a hurry to get Angela to the Labyrinth," Broadway commented as his two rookery brothers escorted him into the castle.
"I'll bet the females have quite an evening planned for her," Brooklyn replied. "But don't worry. We've got something just as good for you tonight." He clapped his hand on Broadway's shoulder as they entered a room off the Great Hall. "This is your last night as a free gargoyle, you know."
"Gosh, Brooklyn, you make that sound like a bad thing," Broadway protested. He paused and turned to the crimson Timedancer. "I love Angela and I can't imagine spending my nights with anybody else." The burly gargoyle's eyes narrowed as he looked at his much older rookery brother. "Hey, wait a minute, you're not trying to warn me or something, are you? Did you see something in your timedancing that I should know about?" He gripped the crimson gargoyle's forearm anxiously. "Are we making some sort of terrible mistake?"
Brooklyn's arms came up in self-defense. "Whoa, take it easy, Broadway! You and Angela make a great couple and I'm sure you'll be very happy as mates." He pried his rookery brother's hand from his forearm before continuing. "Do me a favor and avoid caffeine tonight, will you? You seem to be just a little bit on edge."
"I'm sorry, Brook. I guess I am just a little nervous," he admitted as his tail began to beat a syncopated rhythm against the floor stones.
"A little?" Brooklyn smirked to Lexington.
The shortest member of the rookery trio rolled his eyes dramatically. "A cat in a room full of rocking chairs is a little nervous," Lexington corrected. "You're over the moon."
Brooklyn wrapped one arm around Broadway's broad shoulders and resumed escorting him down the corridor. "You need to relax, my friend and we have just what the doctor ordered."
A few steps later, the trio paused in front of a heavy oaken doorway. Lexington turned the handle and Brooklyn nudged his turquoise rookery brother through the open door.
"Well, now that everyone's here, let's get this party started," Xanatos commented, smiling as the trio entered. Touching an intercom button on the wall, he said, "Owen, we're ready."
"I'm on my way, sir," the majordomo's voice replied. Less than a minute later, the blond man appeared in the doorway, pushing a handcart upon which rested an enormous, four-tiered, frosting-covered cake.
Broadway's eyes went wide at the sight of a frosted dessert that stood taller than Lexington did. "Wow!" he exclaimed as Owen maneuvered the cart bearing the cake through the door. "It's huge! There's even enough for you guys!" With a quick motion of his talon, he snatched up a taste of the creamy white frosting. "Mmm," he mumbled as he licked his finger clean. "And it tastes good, too!"
"Ah-ah-ah," Xanatos cautioned, cutting Broadway off as the big turquoise gargoyle went for another taste. "This cake isn't for eating just yet. Owen, please carry on."
"Of course, sir." As Broadway stood in open-mouthed befuddlement, Owen moved the massive cake away. With careful precision, he wheeled it to the far end of the room, positioning it in the middle of the arrangement of lights that had been set up for it.
"If everyone could take a seat, please," Xanatos said. Holding out his arms, he herded the slightly confused group of gargoyles to the two rows of chairs set up facing the cake.
"Are you sure he's gonna like this?" Lexington whispered to Brooklyn.
"Oh yeah," Brooklyn whispered back.
"Broadway, you're right here," Xanatos said, beckoning the burly gargoyle to the center seat of the front row.
Broadway took his place reluctantly. "I don't get it," he grumped to Brooklyn as his rookery brother claimed the seat beside him. "What fun is there in just sitting and looking at it?"
Xanatos gave a smile and patted the big gargoyle on the shoulder. "Trust me. You'll see." Brooklyn only shrugged at Broadway's still-confused expression, and turned his attention to pointing Graeme to the seat beside him.
"I hope we're gonna see a movie or something… I'm bored," the young male complained as he sat down and surveyed the massive array of spotlights that had been set up around the cake as if it were a stage. He peeked around his father at Broadway, then lowered his voice to a whisper. "I bet Ari's having tons more fun at Aunt Angela's party."
"Nah," Brooklyn answered after a moment. "I bet they're just doing boring girl stuff."
"Hmph," Graeme retorted. "I bet if they have a cake, though, they're at least getting to eat it."
* * * * *
Still smiling and shaking her head over a joke Fox had just told, Angela moved away from the table while the other females who had gathered in the Labyrinth continued to converse amongst themselves. Quietly, she approached the solitary, blue-skinned gargoyle lingering near the bookshelves at the far side of the common room. "Are you having a good time, Mother?" she asked carefully.
Demona licked the last traces of frosting from her plastic fork and did her best to give her daughter a smile. "Good enough," she answered. "At least the cake was chocolate… though that certainly was an interesting filling. But what's more important to me," she added, "is whether you are enjoying yourself." She lowered her voice, scowling across the room at Fox as she directed Elisa, Sata, and Maggie in clearing the dishes from the table in preparation for the next activity. "This human 'bridal shower' ritual seems so…"
She made a face and trailed off as Delilah approached to collect the empty paper plates, and the air around them went decidedly chilly as it had every time that Demona and the gargoyle clone had come within ten feet of each other since the evening began. Without saying a word, she handed her plate and fork to Angela and moved away. Angela, in turn, handed the rubbish to Delilah and gave her cloned half-sister a consoling pat on the shoulder. Delilah nodded silently, and added Demona's discarded paper plate to the bag she held before moving off toward the kitchen.
From across the room, Elisa watched the entire silent exchange and frowned.
"Elisa?" Maggie asked, noticing the other woman's sudden mood change.
Elisa watched as Delilah retreated into the kitchen, her shoulders and wings drooping. "Excuse me a minute," the dark-haired woman said. "I'll be right back." Leaving the remaining cleaning up to the others, Elisa moved away and followed after her clone.
* * * * *
Xanatos clapped his hands together and looked over the room. "All right," he said, addressing the seated group of gargoyles. "Is everyone ready?" A general murmur in the affirmative came from the crowd, and Xanatos smiled. "Excellent. Owen, the lights, please."
With the flick of a switch, the room's overhead lights were extinguished and a single spotlight came on, focussed on the large cake resting at the opposite side of the room from where the gargoyles now sat, safely hidden in the darkness.
Xanatos moved quietly, taking a place near Owen near the door at the back of the room. "Gentlemen," he announced as he brought a small remote control from his pocket and touched a button. "Enjoy the show."
Somewhere in the room, a CD player responded to the button Xanatos pressed, and, from hidden speakers, strange, exotic music began. A few seconds later, seven male gargoyles collectively gasped as a hand, and then a shapely arm burst through the frosting-coated tissue paper forming the top of the "cake." Slowly, a sinewy form came into view. Swaying sensuously to the rhythm of the exotic music, the female occupant of the cake emerged, and the gathered males took in her features one by one… pointed ears, cloaked wings, even a tail.
Graeme glanced around at the others, all watching bug-eyed as the dancer, her back still to her audience, swayed her hips and tail suggestively. The youngest male rolled his eyes as Broadway's jaw dropped. "It's just a costume," he grumbled to himself. "And it's not even a very good one."
"Quiet, Graeme… don't ruin it for everyone else," Brooklyn hissed, his eyes still locked on the dancer's backside.
Graeme frowned, and turned his attention back to the female "gargoyle" that the others all found so fascinating. He looked at her "wings" again and smirked. Fake. He looked at the tail. Fake. Then he looked at the ears. He blinked, and stared for a few seconds before turning to his father and pointing. "Um, Dad, isn't that--?"
"Shh!" Brooklyn replied, eyes still focussed on the figure standing now fully out of the cake. The music hit a crescendo, and the female reached up and loosened the bindings in her hair, letting a wave of soft, dark curls cascade down between her "wings."
Broadway gasped. "Whoa…"
Graeme ignored it all. "But, Daaaaaad..."
"Be quiet or your mother will never let me hear the end of this!" Brooklyn ordered.
Broadway nodded. "Angela's gonna kill me…" he mumbled, his eyes wide and unblinking.
Graeme opened his beak to speak again, but it was at that same moment that the dancer turned around, running her hands slowly along her body from her hips upward. Tossing her head saucily, she smiled, revealing tiny fangs. As the music picked up in tempo and volume, she began getting into her dance in earnest, shaking her hips and letting her "wings" slide down her shoulders teasingly.
The youngest gargoyle gave a disgusted shiver. With Brooklyn and Broadway now hopelessly transfixed, he turned in his seat to the web-winged gargoyle behind him. "Come on, Uncle Lex," he pleaded, waving his hand in front of Lexington's saucer-like eyes, "it's just a dumb girl in a stupid costume."
Lexington pushed Graeme's hand from his field of vision and shifted in his seat. "Stop that… I don't want to miss anything."
The music segued and changed tempo, taking on a fast and distinctly Latin beat as Graeme heaved a dramatic sigh. "Sheesh, am I the only one here who can see that --"
A surprised yelp from the "gargoyle" dancer interrupted him as her "tail" snagged mid-twirl on a nearby part of the rigging for the lighting. Jerked off balance, she stumbled, falling to one knee and bringing the lights down with her. Domino style, they tumbled to the floor, accompanied by a painful crash and a shower of electrical sparks. The music abruptly stopped as somewhere a fuse blew, and as the last light shattered, the room was left in sudden and total darkness.
* * * * *
"I just wish I could get her to talk to me, Elisa… but she won't even look at me," Delilah sighed. She turned away, biting back tears, and placed her hands on the edge of the sink, her talons curling in frustration.
"I know, but we've got to give her some time." The dark-haired woman stepped closer and put a consoling hand on the shoulder of the half human, half gargoyle clone she was beginning to see as something of a daughter. "Let me try, Delilah."
The clone looked up at the woman hopefully. "What can you do?"
Elisa shrugged and tried to look reassuring. "I'll talk to her; not tonight, it's not a good time." She took in Delilah's eyes rimmed with tears. "Tomorrow, before the ceremony, when it's quiet. We'll make this work, don't worry." Elisa gathered the winged woman into her embrace and stroked her hair for a moment.
Delilah sniffled and blinked her eyes. "Thank you, Elisa. That means a lot to me."
* * *
Demona looked up, startled for a moment by the mere sound of a voice she hadn't heard in over a thousand years.
"Sister, why do you not join us?" Desdemona asked, gaining nerve and becoming less hesitant with each passing moment that she stood near her azure-skinned rookery sibling. She gestured across the room, where Angela was at the moment being set upon by a giggling Maggie and Sharon, who made her sit down and sit still as they proceeded to secure a blindfold over her eyes. "Surely you would enjoy yourself more over there, with us, than here, alone by yourself."
Demona stared at her regenerated sibling, realizing as she got her first good look at her that she scarcely looked any different than she had that last night so many years before. "I… I'm not comfortable around these human rituals," she demurred, her voice coming out squeaky, betraying her sudden nervousness.
Desdemona chuckled. "Ah, so is that your excuse now, sister." She crossed her arms and placed a talon to her lips contemplatively. "Hmm, before, as I recall, it was mysterious errands that kept you away from our evening frolics."
Demona gulped uneasily. "I should really check on what they are doing now to Angela," she said, already beginning to edge away.
The brown-skinned gargoyle blocked her retreat. "I do not remember you a coward, sister - least of all from such trivial pursuits. The years have changed you."
"A coward?!" Demona protested, whirling. She opened her mouth to continue, but found herself silenced by her own thoughts. Had she truly been about to go check on Angela, or had she been ready to head for the door? She felt her face flush with warmth. "You have made your point," she admitted grudgingly. "And this party is for my daughter, after all."
Demona squared her shoulders as if preparing for battle, and Desdemona gave a wry smile as she reached out and took her rookery sister's hand. "Yes, it is," she replied, "and we're going to miss it if we just keep standing here."
* * * * *
"Just perfect," Xanatos said from the doorway, breaking the uneasy silence that lingered in the pitch-blackness. "Everyone, just stay calm… Owen…"
"I'm already on it, sir," the majordomo's voice replied from the opposite side of the room.
"And the lights go down on Broadway," Brooklyn quipped.
"Ha-ha, very funny," the party's guest of honor replied.
"Ouch! Watch it! That's my foot!" Lexington complained.
"Och, I'm sorry, lad."
"Perhaps someone could get the lights?" Othello suggested.
"Yes, that would be a good idea," Goliath answered.
The squeaking of chairs on the floor, the padding of feet, and the rustling of clothing filled the air as gargoyles sprang into action and fumbled around in the dark.
"Hey, I think I found the switch," Lexington said.
"No, wait a minute -" Xanatos began, but too late. The room's lights came back on suddenly, momentarily blinding gargoyles and humans alike.
It took a few moments for everyone to blink the spots from their eyes before the damage could be clearly scene. Every last one of the high-tech light fixtures had been brought to the floor, and broken glass lay everywhere. In the midst of the mess sat the cake, miraculously untouched, and in the middle of the cake, looking shaken but unhurt, still stood the "gargoyle" dancer. She straightened her wig, pushing Owen away as he tried to quickly get a blanket around her and block her view of the rest of the room.
"No touching, jerk!" she complained. She froze as her vision finally cleared. For a long, silent moment, everyone simply stared at each other.
"Oh boy," Xanatos whispered.
"Gargoyles?!" the costumed dancer finally gasped, shocked, her eyes flashing green for only a split-second. But that one sign was all it took; chairs toppled to the floor as a group of angry gargoyles advanced as one.
Tanya Spencer gulped audibly and drew her flimsy costume wings tightly about her scantily clad body, already feeling her face burning with embarrassment while a sudden rush of fear made her stomach lurch. The big lavender gargoyle she remembered as the leader pulled himself to his full height, his eyes glowing hotly. "You!" he growled. The icy tone of his deep voice sent an involuntary shiver up her spine.
Instinctively, as the massive gargoyle stepped forward, she stepped back. In a gesture that had become almost second nature, she brought her hands up in front of her to form an energy sphere and shifted her feet to steady herself for the shot. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that she was still standing partly inside the huge cake, balancing precariously on a pair of spiked heels. Tanya's feet slipped from beneath her, and instead of a magic-powered fireball, she let out a startled, comical yelp as she tumbled backward and crashed painfully to the floor.
"Dinnae let her get away, lad!"
"See, dad, I tried to tell you…"
"Graeme, this isn't the time or place…"
"I've got her!"
"Allow me, sir."
Stars swam about Tanya's head as she was pulled back to her feet by several pairs of hands. As the flurry of voices subsided, she found herself staring through a tangle of dark curls at a scowling bearded man. A second later, the wig was unceremoniously pulled from her head. And then… "Ouch!" she squealed as one of her ears was tweaked.
Owen tightened his grip on the costumed Halfling's arm. "They do appear to be real, sir," he stated.
Xanatos scowled. "I knew we should've just built a robot."
Goliath gave a rumbling growl as he came up beside the billionaire. "What is the meaning of this, Xanatos?"
"Believe me, Goliath, I'm wondering the same thing myself," he answered, giving Tanya a hard stare.
Tanya struggled for a moment against the iron grip Owen had on her arm, but strangely found she was unable to even shake him loose. She gave an exaggerated sigh. "Oh yeah, right, like I took this stupid job popping out of cakes at bachelor parties just so I could sneak in here and shake my tail for you and your pet gargoyles."
"You shook that tail pretty well, too," Brooklyn commented, "for a human." Broadway, Lexington, and Graeme snickered in spite of themselves, while Tanya just shot the brick red gargoyle an icy, withering look.
Xanatos turned his attention back to the burly clan leader, who still did not look convinced. "You've got to believe me, Goliath. I had no idea that this was going to happen. It was just supposed to be a bit of fun for Broadway. I didn't know that they would send her."
Tanya scowled and grabbed her wig back from Owen. "Of course they stick me with all the orders from the sick weirdoes who want the gargoyle act," she grumbled to no one in particular. "Just 'cause I already have the ears." She looked at Goliath distastefully. "Trust me, if I had known they were gonna send me out tonight to dance for them, I would've quit right then and there." She shivered melodramatically. "Ugh! I can't believe I nearly let them see my -"
"Owen, I think we've heard enough," Xanatos stated over the low growl rising in Goliath's throat. "Escort this lady to Sector 13, please."
"It would be my pleasure, sir," Owen answered. Clamping his hand even tighter about Tanya's upper arm, Owen guided her from the room.
Tanya looked back, the meaning of the brief exchange taking a moment to sink in. "Wait-a-minute," she protested, "you can't just lock me up in some dungeon!" She struggled again, but in vain. Owen pushed her onward. "I got rights!" she yelled back. "I'll sue!"
Broadway stepped aside as they passed, and watched her go, an apprehensive look on his face. "What do you think they're gonna do with her?" he asked Brooklyn quietly.
"Hopefully, put her somewhere where she can't cause us any more trouble," the former Timedancer answered.
"She'll be confined, but she won't be harmed," Xanatos stated simply.
Goliath gave an uneasy, rumbling sigh. "I did not think we'd see one of them again so soon."
"I know," Xanatos replied. "Once again, I want to offer my apologies to you, Goliath. And to you as well, Broadway."
Goliath settled his wings back over his shoulders. "It is all right… I know you would never knowingly bring a Halfling into the castle."
"Yeah," Broadway agreed. "It's not your fault."
Xanatos smiled. "I'm glad there's no hard feelings."
"I've just got one question," Broadway said, turning back to Goliath.
"Yes?" Goliath replied.
Broadway gestured to the far side of the room. "We can still eat the cake, right?"
* * * * *
"Okay, Sharon," Fox announced, "now you can let her look."
Angela blinked as the silk blindfold was finally removed from her eyes. The sudden brightness was nearly blinding after several tense minutes spent sitting quietly in darkness while the others bustled around about her, whispering conspiratorially. Her vision rapidly cleared, however, and the young female gargoyle took in with a gasp of astonishment the mass array of gaily-wrapped parcels laid out on the coffee table before her.
"Are these all for me?" she asked, looking up at the others, who now all sat in a loose circle around the table, save for Demona, who stood just behind her, wings caped and arms folded.
Fox nodded, smiling deviously. "Yes, Angela. It's time now for the best part of this decadent 'human bridal shower ritual': the presents."
Demona simply wrinkled her nose and scowled.
"Open mine first, Aunt Angela!" Ariana pleaded, bouncing up and down rapidly on the sofa cushions.
"Ari-chan, be patient," Sata chided mildly.
Angela laughed. "Which one is yours, Ariana?"
The youngest female surveyed the table. "This one," she declared, snatching up one of the smaller packages and holding it out. Angela accepted it graciously, and took a moment to examine the careful wrappings of white paper and a small pink bow. Glancing up to see the others all waiting anxiously, she at last tore into the paper with her talons.
"One of the secretaries at Nightstone mentioned that you shouldn't break the ribbons when you open the packages, Angela," Demona offered.
Angela looked up, perplexed at this revelation from her mother. "What harm could come from breaking the ribbon?"
The human and once human females exchanged an amused glance and Maggie whispered in Angela's ear.
"Oh," the mate-to-be replied, even more perplexed. "What an odd idea. Mother," she said addressing the gargoyle sorceress, "do you suppose the number of our hatchlings can be predicted by this ritual?"
Demona's face darkened as she realized she'd unwittingly passed along a human superstition to her daughter. "Of course not, Angela. It's just a silly, human belief."
The room went profoundly quiet and awkwardly, the younger female cleared her throat. A few seconds later, she pried the lid off a small white box and fumbled with a layer of protective cotton padding.
Angela blinked. "It's a little gargoyle," she announced, a bit astonished. She lifted the statuette out of the box for all to see, her expression turning slightly puzzled. "A gargoyle holding a hair dryer," she corrected herself.
Ariana beamed. "Actually, Aunt Angela, it's a Girlgoyle," she said, leaning over to examine it. "This one's named Blowdrya. She protects against bad hair days," she continued expertly. "There's five more of them, and you'll receive another one in the mail every four to six weeks!"
"Gee," Angela said, gritting her teeth. "Isn't that sweet." She looked around the table, seeing each of the other adults doing their best to hide laughing smiles. Even Demona was on the verge of snickering. At last, Angela turned to the red, beaked gargoyle who still sat beside her, smiling broadly. "Thank you, Ariana," she said. "I'll be sure to find a special place to keep them all."
* * * * *
Broadway wolfed down the last mouthful of his fourth piece of cake and ran his finger over the plate to collect the remaining bit of frosting. "This is good stuff," he declared as he sucked the small glob of creamy white frosting from his index talon. "Does anyone else want some more?" he asked enthusiastically as he picked up the knife to cut himself yet another slice.
Brooklyn patted his stomach. "No thanks, Broadway… I'm full."
"Ditto," Graeme replied, pushing away his unfinished second piece of the over-sweetened dessert.
"Two pieces is my limit," Lexington said.
Broadway shrugged, plopped another piece of cake onto his plate, and ambled back over to rejoin the group.
"Well, it's too bad the entertainment was a wash," Xanatos mused as he set his own plate aside.
"No matter, lad. There be other things we can do to fill the rest of th' evening. In fact, 'tis a guid time right now for an old gargoyle tradition."
Broadway's ears perked up. "What kind of gargoyle tradition?" he asked. He swallowed the fifth helping of cake in one massive gulp and listened attentively.
"Something the mated males of th' clan have always done for the males who are about to join their ranks. Sit down and pay attention, lad, and we'll share with you some advice about females that you might find helpful."
The bearded gargoyle looked at the others as they gathered around, and waited until Broadway had set aside his empty plate and seated himself before he continued. "Now, I be the eldest, so I'll begin," he announced as he settled himself comfortably into his chair. "There are many things you need to remember once you are mated, but this be the most important of all. Rule number one, lad: th' female is always right."
Xanatos nodded. "Rule number two: in the event that you think the female is wrong, refer to rule number one."
Brooklyn spoke up next. "Rule number three: when the female says 'Nothing's wrong,' she really means 'Of course something is wrong, you insensitive dolt.'"
Broadway's eyes grew wide. "Really?"
The mated males shook their heads in unanimous agreement. "You better believe it," Xanatos confirmed. "One time, just once mind you, I took Fox at her word. I slept on the couch in my office for three days."
"Whoa, so what did you finally do to make her forgive you?" the big turquoise gargoyle asked.
Xanatos stared at the ceiling, the better to recount the bribes and promises he'd made to his spouse. "Let's see, flowers, chocolates flown in from Belgium, a fur coat... and oh yes, I bought her a new helicopter."
The others chuckled as Broadway's face fell. "Gosh, I hope Angela never gets that mad at me."
"Trust me, Broadway, if you ever displease Angela you will have me to answer to, as well," Goliath rumbled ominously.
The clan leader gathered himself to his full height and Broadway gulped, "Right, Goliath."
Othello stepped forward from the outer edge of the loose circle they had formed around Broadway and put his hand on his rookery brother's shoulder, only to be shrugged away as Goliath laughed good-naturedly. "I was only jesting, Broadway. My daughter is more than capable of dealing with you herself."
As Broadway considered that, Brooklyn turned to Lexington, smirking. "I don't know... I think he'd fare better against Goliath," he whispered. Lexington just chuckled.
* * * * *
Angela's eyes widened in surprise and wonderment. "Elisa," she breathed, "you made this yourself?" The female gargoyle lifted the handmade, heart-shaped wall hanging from its gift box, being careful not to snag her talons on the delicate cross-stitching. Across the front, in gold-bordered white letters, was, "Broadway & Angela, June 1, 1999."
Elisa smiled. "I needed something to do with myself all those days I spent in bed." The dark-haired woman leaned in and accepted the hug Angela offered. "I'm glad you like it, Angela."
"I love it, Elisa. Thank you," the girl replied sincerely, squeezing Elisa lightly.
Demona watched, somewhat uncomfortably, as her daughter and the human woman backed apart again and Angela placed the wall hanging carefully back into its box. With the cover back in place, she moved it out of harm's way, setting it on the glass-topped end table beside the bonsai tree she had received from Sata. As Angela began considering which of the remaining gifts to open next, Demona cleared her throat and spoke up.
"Why don't you open my present next," she suggested. Angela looked up. Reaching into her belt, the red-haired gargoyle extracted a small package. Kneeling down, she brought herself to eye level with her daughter, placing one arm on the back of the sofa as she handed her the tiny gift. The elder gargoyle gave a small smile at Angela's curious expression. "You didn't expect me to not have a gift for my own daughter, did you?"
Angela smiled as she accepted the package. The wrapping fell away easily, and the lavender female found a small glass vial in her hands, filled with a gold-brown liquid. "What is it?" she asked after a moment.
"It looks like perfume," Fox commented, peeking over Angela's shoulder.
"It is a very special perfume," Demona explained. "I made it myself, just for you, Angela. It's designed to enhance your natural pheromones." She smiled deviously. "One drop and your chosen male will be unable to resist you."
Angela looked at her mother, then at the tiny bottle, then back at her mother again. "Oh…" she said, her eyes widening, "I see…"
Demona ignored the soft chuckle that came from Fox. "Just remember to be careful with it, Angela," she cautioned. "You need only use a little at a time. There should be enough in that one bottle to last you a year."
Angela's eyes widened even more. "It sounds… powerful," she said at last. "Thank you, Mother."
Demona smiled. "You're quite welcome, my child."
The conversation quieted as the shower guests considered Demona's unusual gift and Angela hunted for a spot to put the crystal phial. She finally settled on her belt pouch, tucking the tiny bottle carefully away as Fox said brightly, "My, that's a pretty package."
She scooped up a gaily beribboned box and handed it off to the mate-to-be. The other females, glad to be back on safe ground again, added their compliments as Angela held the box up for display. "Oh, look at the card," she added as she spied the tiny bell-shaped missive. "Delilah, did you do this yourself?"
The white-haired clone nodded shyly. "Elisa actually helped me a little," she explained as Angela carefully undid the elaborate wrappings.
"All I did was provide some of the supplies," Elisa corrected, smiling proudly at the clone. "Delilah came up with the idea and put it all together."
"Oh my… it's a photo album," Angela said, shaking her head and smiling as she set aside the wrappings and opened the cover. "This one is from our first Thanksgiving," she said, pointing with a talon, "and that one's from Halloween." She trailed off as she became absorbed in the happy memories the photos inspired.
Delilah smiled. "Flip to the back, Angela."
The lavender female did so, finding the last page blank save for a caption at the bottom, identical to all the others in being scribed in Delilah's careful handwriting. "The newly mated couple - June 1, 1999." Angela looked up, a curious expression on her face.
"I saved that page for tomorrow night," Delilah explained.
A delighted smile spread over Angela's face as Maggie spoke up, "I'll be sure to bring plenty of film."
* * * * *
"And that's why if your female ever asks that question, you should simply act as if you did not hear her," Othello stated in a serious tone. Another round of chuckles rose from the gathered group, and Goliath clapped his hand on his rookery brother's shoulder.
"It sounds as if you speak from past experience, my brother," the clan leader stated.
"Yes. The recent past." Othello rumbled. "She is a lot more sensitive about such things than she was as a cyborg."
"Och, that is understandable, lad," Hudson put in.
Xanatos nodded. "I've always said you can never give the woman you love too many compliments."
"Uh, guys?" Broadway asked. He swallowed nervously as the other males returned their attention to him. "What about after the ceremony," he continued hesitantly. "You know when..." he trailed off and looked down at the floor.
Brooklyn raised a brow ridge. "You mean you and Angela have never... um... done anything before?"
Broadway's cheeks flushed a deeper turquoise. "Well, nothing like this before, ever," he added as he looked up at Goliath.
Brooklyn rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Well just listen to me, bro, I'll set you straight."
Broadway leaned forward, listening attentively as his rookery brother began to share some of the finer points of male and female relationships. "First, you need to remember…." He lowered his voice and whispered so that that only Broadway and Lex could hear. Broadway's eyes went wide as Brooklyn held his up his hands to illustrate his point, earning a dark look from Hudson.
"We can get to that sort of a thing in a bit, lad," he said, inclining his head subtly in Graeme's direction.
Lexington's mouth had already fallen open. "No way!"
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, Lex… um, you'd better take notes."
Hudson sighed and shook his head. Placing a firm hand on Graeme's shoulder, he steered him away towards the refreshments. "Och, come along, lad. Yuir too young to be hearing the likes of that."
Xanatos stepped into the gap created as Hudson and Graeme moved away, looking interested. "You do what?"
Graeme sighed as he was reluctantly led from the room. "Just when things get interesting..."
* * * * *
"It's… another box," Angela said, forcing herself to keep smiling as she lifted the third in a series of progressively smaller but identically wrapped gift boxes from a nest of foam peanuts.
Fox grinned. "It's the last one, I promise," she said, chuckling along with the others. "What can I say, Angela." She shrugged. "I couldn't resist."
Angela nodded as she examined the final package. It was only about six inches on all sides, a good five times smaller than the original large box she had started out with. Yet the fact that Fox had carefully kept it saved for last told Angela that it had to be something good.
"Well don't keep us waiting all night in suspense, young one," Desdemona chided mildly.
"Yes, Angela… open it," Demona put in.
The others nodded in agreement. Now Angela was even more curious. With all of the other gifts she had received, each person seemed to know already what the others had selected. With this gift, however, everyone except for Fox was waiting anxiously for the secret to be revealed. Angela put her talons eagerly to the pristine white wrapping paper. Within a few seconds, she was opening the lid of the small box to find… more foam packing material.
"Keep looking," Fox encouraged as Angela cast her a skeptical glance.
Tongue stuck in the corner of her mouth, Angela plunged her hand into the foam peanuts and felt around. Her fingers closed almost immediately around something slender, cool, and metallic. With a smile of triumph on her face, Angela extracted her prize… and just as quickly her smile turned to a look of puzzlement as she discovered what she held was nothing more than a simple, old-fashioned brass skeleton key.
"That's the key that unlocks the door to the west tower, Angela," Fox explained. "I finished cleaning it out last week. I talked David into allowing me to give it to you… I figured you needed a place for a workshop of your own now… a place where you could practice your magic or where you and Broadway can be alone together if you want."
A look of astonishment and surprise crossed Angela's face. "My own room in the castle?" she asked as she looked at the key again. "Fox, I… I don't know what to say."
"I took the liberty of setting up a few pieces of furniture to get you started, but you can do whatever you want with it," Fox continued. "And I made sure there were plenty of bookshelves for all those texts and scrolls you've been accumulating," she added, her tone mildly teasing.
From her place behind Angela, Demona gave a small grin. "It sounds like a wonderful gift to me," she commented, nodding in approval.
Fox glanced up, raising an eyebrow in surprise at the azure gargoyle's words.
"Yes," Angela agreed at last. "Thank you, Fox. This is the best gift of all."
As the human woman accepted the young female gargoyle's grateful hug, Sata finished writing her contribution to a hardcover, bound notebook that had been subtly making the rounds all evening.
"What's everybody writing stuff in that book for, Mother?" Ariana asked curiously as she tried unsuccessfully to peek over her mother's shoulder before the jade female closed the book.
"It is tradition at times such as this for the older members of the clan to pass down advice to the younger," Sata explained quietly. She handed the book off to Maggie, who in turn passed it to Elisa.
"Now, Angela," Elisa said as the girl released Fox from the hug. "There is one more gift we have for you." She passed the book on to Fox, unable to not grin slyly as the auburn-haired woman's eyes lit up.
"Oh yes, we definitely can't forget this," Fox said, her own smile becoming devilish. Angela regarded them both curiously as Fox held the book up and explained. "We've all got some spicy tips for you, Angela… for the wedding night and beyond." She held the book out and the lavender female accepted it somewhat hesitantly.
"We hope you find our advice useful, Angela-chan," Sata stated. The jade female had the same funny look in her eye that Fox and Elisa had in theirs. Angela nodded, her cheeks already flushed. Tentatively, she opened the book to a random page. Biting her lip, she read a passage penned in a familiar freehand cursive.
Angela's tail twitched involuntarily and her eyes widened. "Mother!?!" she gasped, turning to the female behind her.
"What?" Demona replied innocently. She peered at the page Angela was on and smiled the same mysterious smile as the others. "Oh, that," she said, waving her hand. "Honestly, Angela… it's certainly a more practical suggestion for a gargoyle than what some of them wrote. And I know I've always enjoyed it…" she added, her eyes narrowing wistfully.
Desdemona and Sata looked at each other, trading grins and nodding in knowing agreement. Overcome by her curiosity, Elisa peeked over Angela's shoulder and read the section in question. The dark-haired woman blinked, and did a double take of the female gargoyles in the room.
Demona crossed her arms, smirking slightly as she noticed Elisa's reaction. "Luckily for you, detective, Goliath's mellowed since his prime."
Angela was paying the exchange no heed as she gave in to the odd compulsion to read further. A few seconds later, she blinked and looked at Fox. "Oh my… is that even physically possible?"
Fox chuckled. "Oh, you'd be amazed what you can do when you try, dear..."
* * * * *
Broadway climbed the last of the west tower's steps and hesitated at the small landing at the top. The heavy oak door wasn't latched; it rested partially closed. Gently, he rapped his knuckles on the frame. "Angela?" he called.
"It's okay, Broadway. You can come in," the female's voice replied from inside the room.
He pushed the door open and entered slowly, still a bit unsure. "Fox told me you had come up here right after you got back," he said. He looked about the sparsely furnished tower room, taking in the bookshelves, the worktable, and the single narrow window overlooking the courtyard.
"I just wanted to see what it looked like," she said as she placed a book carefully on the shelf and turned to him.
"So… did you enjoy your party?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied. "How about you?"
"It was okay," he answered. He paused. For a brief moment, Angela glanced down at his tail. Self-consciously, he drew it in behind him and wrapped the tip around his ankle, and both of them blushed.
After a moment, Angela stepped closer to him. "I missed you tonight, Broadway," she whispered.
Broadway took her into his arms. "I missed you, too, Angela."
The silence between them stretched and finally, Angela looked away. "Look, dawn will be here any minute."
"You're right," Broadway replied. "I guess we should get to our perches."
He extended his palm and, together, the two gargoyles walked hand and hand to take their places for the day.
* * * * *
June 1, 1999 - Eyrie Building
Xanatos and Fox met the gargoyles halfway across the parapets. The shapely redhead brandished a small rectangular package. "Angela!" she called. "This just arrived for you from England." She examined the address curiously. "It's not from Emrys. Who else do you know on the other side of the pond?"
Angela brightened immediately. "It must be from the London clan!" she said excitedly as she accepted the package. Her talons quickly tore away the wrappings. "A video!" She glanced up. "Do you think we have time to see it?"
Broadway shifted his feet, looking uncomfortable. "Well, I don't know…"
"Oh, you have plenty of time!" Fox answered. "Owen's still ordering around the caterers and besides, it'll be a great tension breaker." She winked at Xanatos. "Things are likely to get busy later."
"All right." Angela's eyes danced. "Come on, everyone. I'm dying of curiosity, aren't you?"
"Yes!!" chorused the twins. They led the way into the TV room where Angela popped the tape into the machine. Hudson manned the remote and the screen was filled with a party scene taking place in a high-ceilinged room with ornate hangings on the walls. A blond-headed boy took a seat in front of the camera, and scowled at it for a few seconds before speaking.
"Is it on? Yes?" Emrys cleared his throat. "Well, yes, my dear Angela, seeing as we're now an ocean apart and it's unlikely that all of us can fly over for the festivities --" A small cluster of young gargoyles raced past behind him in the background, led by a white lioness with golden hair. "-- we've all decided to record our best wishes for your upcoming wedding."
"Hey!" Graeme squeaked, sitting up straight. "They've got kids there!"
"Yeah!" Ariana looked up winsomely at Brooklyn. "Could we go to London, Father? Pleeeeeeeze?"
Arthur stepped in front of the camera and put his hand on Emrys's shoulder with all due dignity. "I don't know if he remembers, but I met Broadway during that brief time Griff and I were in Manhattan to recover Excalibur. I found him to be a most honorable individual and worthy of your love, milady Angela. I would like to wish you both the best of luck, both now on your wedding day, and for the rest of your life together."
"Ditto what Arthur said!!" Griff said brightly as he slid into the picture, his arm around a dappled green female with braided hair. "Speaking from experience, there's nothing better than having a mate. Brianna and I wish you all the best!"
"Aye!" Brianna added in her soft Scottish lilt. "In Caledonia, we have a sayin' for when ye take a mate -- May ye have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, an' th' road downhill all th' way to yuir door." She smiled and tilted her head. "Best o' luck to ye, Angela, an' ye too, Broadway. Bring him wi' ye th' next time ye come our way."
A curious snuffling sound came from the corner and everyone glanced over at Hudson. The old gargoyle glared back at them. "What are ye lookin' at? It does my heart good to hear a proper Scottish accent again."
"Angela dear," Una said as she took a seat in front of the camera, "Emrys tells us that you plan to continue your studies with your mother. We're sending you a selection of grimoires from our library here at Into the Mystic but due to the nature of the books, we're going to be sending them by somewhat irregular channels. You'll find in the cassette box a sealed envelope. At the next full moon, open it and follow its instructions precisely."
Emrys leaned forward and winked. "Consider it a do-it-yourself present."
"In the meanwhile," Una continued as Leo joined her, a smaller replica of himself nestled in the crook of his arm, "we'd like to give you a tour of the estate where our clan has lived for generations. Michael," a brown hand waved in front of the camera, "in addition to being our cameraman this evening, is also our clan leader. It's a quiet evening here and ---"
"I beg your pardon." Owen stood at the door. "Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos, the caterers have finished and I've sent them on their way. The lobby guard has been given the guest list." He regarded them all archly. "I would suggest that it might be a good time to start getting ready."
Fox checked her watch. "Right on schedule, Owen." She jumped up and crooked a finger at Angela. "Maxine delivered the dress this afternoon. I've got everything ready for you in one of the guestrooms."
Angela shook her head, still impressed at her benefactor's guile and generosity. "I still can't believe you told her you'd commissioned a new painting and that the artist had decided that I was to be his inspiration."
The tattooed woman grinned. "It worked didn't it? Maxine was able to fit you while you slept and she's none the wiser. Now hurry along. Even a simple ceremony," she said, her mouth twitching with bemusement, "has a million last minute details."
Fox took Angela by the hand to escort her from the room. The female gargoyle resisted as she turned to speak to Broadway. "My love, I -"
"Ah, ah," Fox admonished good-naturedly as she directed her charge toward the door. "There'll be plenty of time for that after the ceremony." A moment later the two females were gone. Owen turned to follow, but he paused as his cell phone chirped.
"Yes? I see. She insists that she bring the portrait herself. What do you mean she doesn't trust our staff?" The majordomo looked annoyed as he checked his watch. "Very well, escort her to the entry hall. I'll take things from there."
Broadway watched the trio disappear and took a step forward, intending to follow them. He was restrained by Brooklyn. "Come on, Broadway. This might not be Japan, but we've still got to get you ready for the ceremony."
"Right this way," David said extending a hand toward the doorway. Together the remaining males escorted the burly turquoise gargoyle to a suite on the opposite end of the guest wing.
* * *
Hudson cleared his throat and gestured at the twins. "Well, while they're fussin' over those two, we'd best see to these two beasties. Bronx an' Nudnik must be presentable if they're to mingle wi' th' guests."
Bronx and Nudnik looked at each other, whined, and started to slink away.
"Now, nae o' that, ye auld rascal," scolded Hudson. "Ye know that ye'll enjoy it once I've got started. Now come along." He slapped his hand against his leg and looked expectantly at the large gargoyle beast.
Bronx gave a long, articulate whine that ended in what almost sounded like a resigned sigh and went over to walk by the old gargoyle's side reluctantly. They went through a side door and left the room.
Nudnik, on the other hand, was somewhat less cooperative.
"OOOOmph!!" Graeme dove for the rambunctious young beast and landed hard on the flagstones. "Ariana! Head him off!! If he gets out where the food is, Owen will never let us hear the end of it!!"
"I know! I know!" Ariana leaped over Nudnik and crouched before the entrance to the courtyard, blocking him from going further. "Come on, Nuddy!! Be good!"
The little gargoyle beast yipped, tongue hanging out as he pivoted away from Ariana and dove through Graeme's legs to freedom. He galloped out into the Great Hall where the human guests would be arriving.
"Aw, Nudnik!" Graeme exclaimed. "It's only a bath! It's not the end of the world!" He dropped to all fours and tore off after his pet. Ariana gasped and quickly followed.
The light above the elevator lit up and the gold doors slid open. A distinguished African-American man stepped out, led by a German Shepherd. The dog gave a low, short bark and the man stopped, turning his head in the direction of the oncoming sound. Without warning, he shouted, "NUDNIK!! SIT!! STAY!!"
Surprised, Nudnik skidded to a stop, feet slipping on the polished floor. Unable to slow his momentum, Graeme crashed into him, with Ariana flipping over to land on top.
"Baka! Why didn't you warn me?"
"Oh, shut up, Ari-chan, and get your foot out of my ear."
"Can't!! Your wing talons are caught in my hair. Owwww!!!!"
Nudnik merely whined.
"Kids, kids!" Robbins laughed. "Are you all right?"
Graeme scissor-locked his legs around Nudnik's midsection before replying. "Oh, we're fine, Mr. Robbins." He sat up and started to carefully untangle his sister's hair from the tiny clawed 'hands' on the top of his left wing. "Nudnik was just being, well…, Nudnik. Hold still, Ari-chan, I've almost got it."
"Who's with you, Graeme?"
"This is Ariana, my twin sister. She was helping me catch Nudnik so Hudson and I could give the beasts a bath before everyone got here."
"Good evening, Mr. Robbins. I'm sorry if Nudnik scared you," Ariana said shyly. "I don't know why he doesn't like baths so much."
"Not to worry, Ariana," Robbins answered with a smile. "Nudnik and I are old friends and besides, I am early. I thought Hudson could show me around a bit before there's a crowd."
"Hudson is busy with Bronx right now," Graeme said eagerly, "but I'll go tell him that you're here."
"I'd appreciate that, Graeme." Robbins turned his head towards Graeme's sister. "If Ariana is willing, I'll have her take me to where the party's going to be and Hudson can find me there. Is that all right with you, Ariana?"
"Yes!" Ariana said gleefully. "I'd be happy to!"
"All right then," Robbins said. "Let me put my hand on your shoulder and you can tell me all about this castle while we walk, hmm?"
* * * * *
Andrea Calhoun looked up at the imposing figure of the security officer. "It's nothing personal, Officer Jackson, it's just that this is a very important commission and I want to make sure that it's positioned just right for the unveiling."
The uniform man nodded, "Yes, miss. The Xanatoses's have that effect on people. Now if you'll follow me to the elevator, Mr. Burnett will meet you when you arrive in the residential wing."
Jackson pressed the elevator call button and a moment later the doors opened smoothly. Andrea, carrying the large paper wrapped canvas, entered and moved automatically to the back of the car.
The security officer was a quarter inch from sending the young artist up to the residential wing when a voice called, "Hey, hold the elevator!"
Jackson looked over his shoulder to find Matt Bluestone and Sara Jasper standing at the reception desk.
"Evening, Mr. Bluestone, Miss Jasper," the security officer greeted politely.
Matt crossed the lobby, Sara in tow with a gift box in her arms, and the pair stepped into the elevator car. "Thanks, Jackson. This thing gets upstairs in a hurry, but it always seems like it takes forever to come back down."
"Have a pleasant evening." Officer Jackson touched the brim of his cap and sent the elevator car on its way.
Andrea studied her two car-mates curiously and her eyes went wide with surprise. "Excuse me, aren't you Detective Matt Bluestone of the Gargoyle Task Force?"
Matt looked down at the small woman with the dark honey-blonde hair and the large parcel in her arms. "That's right, Ms..." he trailed off as he tried to place her face. She looked familiar but some of the details were off. "Do I know you?"
She juggled the canvas carefully and held out her hand. "Andrea Calhoun. I'm a member of P.I.T. You came and spoke at one of our town meetings."
The face came into focus. A young woman with a careless ponytail in a slightly darker shade, wearing white canvas painter's pants and a serious expression, and asking hard questions. "Of course. What are you doing here?" Matt asked with just a touch of anxiety in his voice.
Sara watched the exchange carefully, purposely fading into the background in case Matt needed her to come to his aid.
Andrea beamed with pride. "I'm delivering a painting to Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos. I don't know if you recall, but I'm an artist."
"You specialize in gargoyles," Matt added as another fact tumbled into place.
"That's right." Her eyes suddenly lost their happy glow. "Why are you here?"
The elevator chimed and Matt shrugged as the doors opened. Owen Burnett waited patiently on the other side. "I specialize in gargoyles, too." He looked at Sara and she caught the amused glint in his eye. "After you?" He took her arm and the pair exited, nodding to the officious looking Mr. Burnett. Andrea watched, confused, as the head of the Gargoyle Task Force and his companion disappeared into the recesses of the castle.
Owen cleared his throat. "If you'll follow me, miss," he intoned, "I'll show you where you may set up the painting."
"Painting?" Andrea looked up at the tall blond man. A moment later, her brain caught up with her. "Oh yes, the painting," she said, holding up the wrapped package she carried.
"Yes," Owen replied, deadpan. "This way, please."
Andrea felt her skin going prickly with goose bumps as she followed the Xanatoses's butler through the Great Hall. Her eyes darted about anxiously, and she nearly jumped when Owen spoke again.
"You may place the painting here," he stated, indicating an empty display easel sitting just inside the doors to the courtyard. "I have some things to attend to. I will be back shortly to see you out."
Andrea nodded, and her unspoken hopes of getting a quick look outside evaporated as Owen slipped through the doors and pulled them shut behind him. She sighed. "Well what did you expect, Andrea," she mumbled to herself. "A dozen gargoyles waiting up here to meet you?" Shaking her head, she set the painting in its place and began to undo the careful, protective wrapping of brown paper.
* * * * *
"See, you guys," Talon said to the anxious male clones that landed beside him in the castle courtyard. "I told you we'd make it in plenty of time." There was a second series of whooshes and thumps as Maggie, Sharon, Delilah and Claw set down beside their companions.
"Look at all the pretty decorations!" Brentwood said as he scampered toward what was to be the nexus of the evening's festivities.
"Slow down," Delilah chided as Malibu and Burbank followed rapidly in their brother's wake. She followed after them, Claw in tow. Only Hollywood remained behind carefully clutching a large paper wrapped cylinder tied carefully with ribbon.
"They're really looking forward to this, aren't they?" Maggie said as she tucked her arm around her husband's broad waist.
"Are you kidding?" Talon replied, amused. "Those guys are party animals. They're gonna have a great time tonight." He nodded toward Hollywood, the groom's bulky doppelganger, who was talking with Sharon, and dropped his voice. "I think he's the most excited of all. He's so proud of Broadway."
"Sharon, can we give our present now?" Hollywood looked up to the panther-like woman and she smiled gently.
"Not yet, Hollywood-kun," she replied as she straightened the sleeves of her kimono. "We must wait for the other guests."
Talon kissed the tip of Maggie's ear and nudged her forward. "Come on. It looks like Delilah and Claw are going to have their hands full." The couple joined Sharon and Hollywood and together the foursome hurried to catch up with their clanmates who were now gathered around Lexington and Goliath, filling the evening air with their excited questions.
"Whoa, take it easy, guys," Lexington said good-naturedly. "It's gonna be a little while before things get started, but before you know it, there'll be cake and everything."
"Just like for Maggie and Talon?" Burbank asked curiously.
"Yes, just like for them," Goliath replied as he turned to shake the Labyrinth Clan leader's arm in a warrior's grip. "Good evening, Talon. Maggie. Thank you for coming."
Talon returned the gargoyle's wrist grip. "Mom would say it's a family obligation. But we're not quite family yet, are we?" he added as he regarded Goliath, his cat-like eyes narrow with unspoken questions.
Maggie squeezed his hand in warning and looked up at Goliath. "Who would have known that Derek was such a closet romantic?" she apologized for her spouse. "He just can't wait to see everybody paired up and married off. He's practically worse than his mother. By the way," she added casually as she glanced around the courtyard, "were Diane and Peter able to make it back to town for this?"
Goliath shook his head and though he tried, he could not hide the unmistakably relieved tone in his voice. "Regrettably, no. Though they did send a telegram from Dallas offering their congratulations." He inclined his head towards Owen who was escorting Matt and Sara. "If you'll excuse me, I must greet our other guests." Goliath moved away rapidly away from Maggie and Talon's uncomfortable questions.
"What was that all about?" Maggie hissed to her spouse as soon as Goliath was out of ear shot.
"What?" Talon replied, feigning innocence.
"I don't get you sometimes, Derek," the cat-like woman replied. "It bothers you to no end that your sister is involved with him, and yet you push every chance you get for him to marry her."
The winged panther turned away. "It's complicated," he said quietly.
Maggie reached up and with a gentle hand turned her husband's face back to look at her. "No, it's simple. She's your sister and you're overprotective. Back off, they'll marry when they're ready, not before." She leaned up on tiptoes and kissed Talon's velvety nose. "Right now, we're here to celebrate Broadway's and Angela's joining. Let's be content with that, okay?"
Talon nodded reluctantly as Matt started towards them. "Yes, dear."
Maggie cuffed him affectionately on the ear and went to greet Sara.
* * * * *
"I promise, Sata," Angela called as she hurried down the hallway, "I'll just be a minute." Clutching her bathrobe close around her, the lavender female padded quickly towards her new room in the west tower. "I can't believe I forgot Mother's per-" The gargoyle quieted as she spotted the stranger working in front of an easel, positioning a painting. She was studying the hall lighting, turning the canvas a few degrees first to the left and then to the right to catch the best effect. Angela caught her breath as the artist stepped away, admiring her work and the image came fully into view. Despite her earlier caution she stepped forward to get a better look. "What a beautiful painting," she said softly.
The artist nodded as she began to arrange a length of shimmery red cloth over the top. "That should do it." She started to pivot towards her admirer, speaking as she did so. "Thanks. Sorry," she apologized as she crumpled the plastic dry cleaning bag that had held the protective cloth covering and shoved it in her pocket. "I didn't mean to seem rude, I always kind of get lost in the moment when I'm arranging my work." Her eyes widened in shock and surprise as she finally focused on the object of her apology. A gargoyle. A female gargoyle in a fluffy white bathrobe, her dark hair pinned this way and that, standing barely ten feet away. Andrea's jaw dropped.
Angela realized her error at once and took a step backwards as if to retreat.
"No. Please, wait," Andrea said as her brain slowly kicked back into gear. "I know you, don't I? That night the Quarrymen raided my apartment. You helped me."
The gargoyle paused in her retreat, stepping forward and holding out her hand shyly instead. "I remember that night, too," she said, nodding. "My name's Angela. I'm so glad to see you kept painting."
Andrea stared for a few seconds and, realizing she was doing so, quickly jerked her eyes downwards. She saw the barely visible burn scars on the back of her left hand and all at once she knew why the gargoyle before her seemed so familiar. It was the same one who had gently tended to the injuries she had suffered during the foiled break-in at her apartment nearly two years ago. Gratitude overcame her initial shyness and propelled her across the floor. For a moment, she stared up at the lavender female wordlessly, the night replaying in rapid, fragmented pieces in her mind, until she remembered the one thing she had been waiting every night since for the opportunity to say.
"Thank you… Angela," Andrea said, a joyful tear rolling down her cheek. Inside, she wanted to throw her arms around the girl and hug her, but as the moment overwhelmed her, all she could manage was to offer her own shaky hand.
"You're welcome, Andrea," Angela replied, taking the human woman's five-fingered hand into her four-fingered one and giving it a light squeeze.
Andrea blinked. "You know my name?" she asked, her tone a mixture of surprise and awe.
Angela nodded. "I've heard a lot about you lately," she replied, smiling mysteriously. "We all have."
The young artist nodded, her mind whirling at the thought that her work had gained a following among gargoyles.
"There you are, Angela," a new female voice chided mildly. The female gargoyle and the human artist turned together as Fox, dressed to the nines, strode up to them. "Good evening, Ms. Calhoun," she greeted the artist. She smiled wryly as she placed a hand on Angela's shoulder. "Our lovely bride-to-be isn't trying to talk you into letting her peek, is she?" she asked teasingly, nodding her head at the covered canvas.
Andrea's eyes widened. "Bride-to-be? Then tonight is your 'mating ceremony'?" she asked.
Angela nodded, smiling. "Yes… and I was just about to ask you if you'd like to stay. You've worked so hard on our clan's behalf, I'd be honored if you'd join us."
Andrea took in Fox again, dressed elegantly in a form-hugging dress of emerald-green silk, and then glanced down at her own jeans and denim shirt. "I'd like to," she began sincerely, "but there's a P.I.T. rally in the park tonight and I'm the stage manager. We're trying to build support for the Gargoyle Protection Act and several members of the state assembly are supposed to be on hand."
"I know the governor is eyeing that legislation favorably," Fox said with a sly smile. "But some of the rest of the crew at the state house could use a little persuasion. We've all got our work cut out for us."
Andrea nodded and she gave Angela an encouraging smile. "Don't worry, it's just a matter of time... Time," the artist repeated as she looked down at her wristwatch. "Oh my, look at the time! I've got to get moving or I'm going to be late."
Fox looked over at Angela, her expression full of mock consternation. "And she's not the only one."
Angela blushed. "Thank you again, Andrea, for all you've done."
"Good luck, Angela. Happy landings," the artist replied as the panicked gargoyle took off down the hallway.
"Happy landings," Fox murmured curiously to the artist as she escorted her back to the elevator. She cocked her head thoughtfully. "Strangely enough, it fits." Fox pressed the call button for the elevator and smiled graciously at Andrea. "The clan appreciates your hard work, Ms. Calhoun and ...your discretion. As much as I'm sure you'd like to talk about your experiences this evening, I can assure you, it would be in everyone's best interests if you kept this to yourself."
Andrea paused before replying. A part of her wanted to sing from the rooftops about what had just occurred. But another part realized she'd been given a precious gift. "Of course, Mrs. Xanatos. This is a secret I'll treasure. But it won't be forever." She gave the red-haired woman a determined look. "Someday, a person will be able to speak with pride about their gargoyle friends."
The elevator chimed and Fox nodded thoughtfully. "I believe you're right, Ms. Calhoun."
The doors parted to reveal a tall, dark-haired woman, clad in a midnight blue dress. She was holding a rectangular shaped gift box tucked absently under one arm. She greeted Fox with a smile, but her expression became guarded as she became aware of Andrea.
"Good evening, Elisa," Fox greeted the woman, her tone relaxed and friendly. "Are you ready for the big night?"
She nodded, still unsure of the young woman.
"Oh," Fox apologized. "Forgive my manners." She gestured toward the shorter woman. "Andrea Calhoun, Elisa Maza."
"We've met," the pair replied simultaneously as they exchanged places on the elevator.
"Small world," Elisa added.
Andrea nodded as the doors closed and the elevator began its descent.
* * * * *
Elisa smiled as the object of her search came into view. Goliath stood apart from the others, his proud expression softened by the wistful set of his mouth. She crossed quickly, murmuring a general hello in the direction of Matt and Sara who were deep in conversation with Brentwood and Malibu.
"Hey big guy," she said softly as she reached Goliath side, "how are you holding up?"
"Elisa," the clan leader said, snapping out of his reverie. He gazed down upon her, smiled and embraced her gently, mindful not to crumple her sleekly cut blue dress. "I am well," the brawny gargoyle replied as he released her and stepped back, the better to watch the activity of the growing crowd.
She looked up at him unconvinced. "You're not a little nervous?"
He nodded. "Perhaps a little. Though I've been to many mating ceremonies, this is the first that I've conducted."
A bemused smile twitched at the corner of the dark-haired woman's mouth. "And the fact that it's your daughter's mating ceremony has nothing to do with it. Right?"
Goliath opened his mouth to protest, but could not find the words. "She has come to mean a great deal to me in the time since we were reunited," he admitted. "And though she is not leaving the castle, I find myself experiencing an odd sense of loss."
Elisa wrapped her arms around his muscular waist and unmindful of her dress, hugged him. "I know what you mean," she said softly.
* * * * *
"Guys," Broadway fretted as he paced around the gargoyle's main living area. "I don't know, what do you think?" He held up a black satin bow tie in front of his chin.
Othello rolled his eyes at Brooklyn and Lexington before replying. "Our opinions have not changed in the last ten minutes, Broadway. You look equally distinguished with or without the cloth bow tied around your neck. It's a human contrivance, true enough. But it suits you. I cannot see any harm in you wearing it at your mating ceremony."
"Me neither, Broadway," Brooklyn contributed.
"Yeah," Lexington added sardonically. "Maybe you'll start a gargoyle fashion trend."
"Really?" the burly male replied. "Then maybe you guys should wear them too. Xanatos brought enough of them for everybody."
This time it was Brooklyn who rolled his eyes as he tugged at his ceremonial kimono. "Yeah, and remind us to thank him for that. Nope. This is your fashion statement, bro. Tonight everyone's eyes should be on you."
Broadway returned to fretting in front of the mirror and Brooklyn crossed to Othello and Lexington. "How much longer do we have to do this? He's gonna turn himself into a gibbering idiot if we don't distract him somehow."
There was a knock at the door, and Othello crossed the room to answer it. He stood, whispering to the person in the hallway for several moments before admitting Matt Bluestone to the chamber.
"Matt!" Broadway said, glad to see his human friend. "I'm glad you made it!"
The lanky detective entered and shook the nervous gargoyle's hand. "You think I'd miss this?" He blew out his lips as if shocked. "Not on your life." He turned toward the others. "Listen guys, I don't know if there's some sort of gargoyle ritual about keeping the happy couple separated before the ceremony or anything-" There was a collective negative head shake and Matt continued. "Great. Cause there's a whole bunch of people waiting in the courtyard who'd just love to get a peek at what's under all that wrapping paper." He looked at Broadway ingenuously. "Any chance of you opening a few presents before the ceremony?"
Broadway's eyes went round with excitement. "Presents?" He thought about it for two seconds and shrugged. "You don't suppose Angela would mind, would she? I mean she got to open presents last night and I didn't."
"A fine suggestion," Othello replied. "Let the females coop themselves up with all of their primping and fussing. Males should be drinking your health under the stars!"
Brooklyn shrugged. "Sounds like a plan to me. You guys go on ahead. I'm gonna check on Graeme."
"Come on, Broadway," Matt said. He looked at the now slightly crumpled bow tie clutched in beefy turquoise talons. "Here," he said as he extracted the satin bow and tied it quickly around the burly gargoyle's neck. "Let me get that for you. Perfect." He wrapped a companionable arm around Broadway's shoulders and escorted the nervous gargoyle from his hideout as the other males breathed a sigh of relief.
* * * * *
Twitching his tail irritably, Lex had left, virtually unnoticed, as the other males huddled around Broadway. He felt like a fifth wheel in there with Brooklyn extolling the virtues of being mated. "To think," Lex muttered to himself, "he used to be the moody one of our Trio." He sighed. "Now that's my job."
"Pardon me, Lexington," Owen said as he passed by with a tray of drinks. "Are you joining the other guests?"
"Yeah," Lex replied unenthusiastically. "I suppose so." He followed Owen's tuxedo-clad back into the secluded annex to the courtyard where they would be holding the ceremony. Maggie and Talon were sitting on a bench together holding hands. As he watched, Maggie laughed at something Talon said and leaned her head against his shoulder for a few seconds. Lex had to turn away.
The new direction wasn't much better. Elisa had her arm resting on Goliath's massive forearm as they talked with Hollywood and Burbank. Absently, the lavender gargoyle gently lay his broad hand on top of hers and stroked her hand as if reassuring himself that she was there, as he had countless times since Elisa's recovery. Goliath himself was probably unaware that he was doing it, but the clan had noticed and decided to let him be.
Lex sighed bitterly and shut his eyes. "Maybe I should go give Hudson and the twins a hand with Nudnik and Bronx," he said to himself. "I'm not doing myself any good here."
Voices echoed up the corridor leading to the courtyard.
"—anyway, that's how I found how that Angela was really a gargoyle." A male voice laughed. "Once the shock wore off, I realized that we'd developed a good enough friendship that the differences really didn't matter."
"Me too!" chirped an exuberant female voice. "That's exactly the way it happened with Lex and me!"
"Liz?" Lex grinned and hurried towards the sound of her voice. She was standing just behind Richard Harrison and Quinn Ramsey in the doorway. Lex had to admit that Richard and Quinn did make a handsome couple, him in a navy suit and her in pale blue jacket and skirt. Liz's blonde head bobbed into sight around Richard's shoulder just as Sharon and Claw decided to shepherd the clones back across the room and Lex's view was blocked.
"Wow." Quinn was looking around at the crowd with wide eyes. "Would you look at all this?"
"See?" Richard said teasingly. "I told you that there was nothing to be scared of. The gargoyles are amazing, aren't they?"
"Gargoyles?" Quinn made a face at him. "Honestly, Richard, I'm a New York City girl. Weird is a way of life." She grinned like a little girl. "I'm amazed because I'm in the castle at the top of the Eyrie Building. The top of the heap where the elite meet."
Richard raised an eyebrow above the gold rim of his glasses. "You're not going to belt out an old Ethel Merman number, are you?"
"If she breaks into song," Liz commented, "I'm going to gag."
"Liz!" Lex managed to squeeze between Brentwood and Malibu. "You made it!!"
Liz heard him coming and stepped out to meet him. "Don't laugh, okay? This outfit was not my idea." She sighed. "I made the mistake of telling my mother that I was invited to a wedding."
"Well, it's certainly different," Lex admitted. Instead of her usual jeans and ponytail with a pencil stuck behind her ear, Liz looked soft and feminine in a rose-colored floral spaghetti strap dress with a pale pink baby T-shirt under it. Her blonde hair was held back on one side with three tiny barrettes decorated with ribbon roses.
"I cannot believe Mom did this to me." Liz rolled her eyes. "Me. The Eliminator. In a dress."
"Well, I think you look beautiful." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Liz turned almost as pink as her dress. Lex tried to cover his embarrassment by folding his arms over his chest and shrugging. "For a human, that is."
"And you're right!" Richard said jovially, putting a hand on Lex's shoulder. "I think with the possible exception of the bride, I'm in the presence of two of the prettiest girls here."
"Flatterer." Quinn said it lightly but an amused smile lingered around her lips. "He's right, of course," she said to Liz. "It's always good to encourage that sort of thing. There's not nearly enough true gentlemen these days."
Liz giggled and fanned herself to cool her flaming cheeks. "A deal's a deal, Lex. I came to your brother's wedding and now you have to go with me to the prom."
"Well, all right," Lexington agreed, still somewhat embarrassed. "But you'll have to take me as I am. They don't make powder blue tuxes that'll fit me."
"Ladies," Richard said extravagantly, "if you'll permit me, Lex and I have something to go do for a few minutes." He winked at Quinn. "We'll be right back."
"No problem," Quinn said with a little wave of her hand. "Liz and I will mingle."
The minute they were in the hallway, Lex visibly deflated. "Thanks, Richard. I don't know why I said that. It just blurted out!"
"Hey, the first thing I learned about girls is that you can't compliment them nearly enough." The cheerful expression slowly left Richard's face. "George told me that a long time ago."
Lexington swallowed hard at the mention of the Unseelie Halfling. "I'm sorry about your brother."
"Did Angela tell you –?"
"Yeah." The olive green gargoyle led Richard away from the party. "I'll take you right there."
* * *
A metallic creak reverberated up the shaft as Lexington pulled open the hatch. "This is where we found him," Lex said in quiet voice.
Richard stepped through and walked along the catwalk, looking up at the bell. "And you say George was hanging from the bell ropes? What was he thinking?"
"We'll never know," Lex answered. "He had to know that the sound of the bell would kill him, but if it hadn't been for him coming down here and ringing it when the mechanism failed, things could have been a lot worse."
Richard shook his head and leaned against the railing. "My big brother always did have a knack for doing the unexpected." He sighed. "Ever since the funeral, I've tried and tried to put myself in George's head and figure out why he did what he did but I guess we'll never really know."
"How's your mother taking it?"
"Mom's coping. As far as she knows, the official story is that it was a bad car wreck. George had everything taken care of in advance – his will, his property, his cremation -- I knew that he had thought about dying a lot but I just didn't realize how far he was willing to take it."
Lexington perched on the catwalk railing next to Richard. "That's the effect Madoc had on people. I know that if it wasn't for the clan standing by me, I might have gone down the same path that your brother did."
Richard raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean, Lex?"
Reluctantly, the web-winged gargoyle began to talk. "Madoc used both of us to get what he wanted. He pretended to be my friend and tricked me into getting my cybernetic implants, just like he tricked George into those genetic enhancements. Neither one of us realized that there was a catch until it was too late."
"You mean, all that time that George spent looking for a cure, it was all for nothing?" Richard frowned. "The last time I saw him was the night I caught him at Quinn's place. George had Hope in his arms and he had such a strange look on his face. Sad, but also resigned, determined. I think that was the moment that he realized that he was never going to get his old life back."
"I can't take back my implants," Lex sighed, "but I've learned to live with them."
"I'll bet that's it." Richard's voice was soft as it echoed hollowly up the bell tower. "George couldn't learn to live with it. I know he was desperate to reverse his condition. In the end, he would rather die than live less than human." Richard was silent for a few minutes. "I just wish he'd trusted me more. It really bothers me that he felt he couldn't count on me when he really needed me."
"Maybe he couldn't take the risk," Lex suggested, "I think maybe he wanted to keep you as far away from them as he could. I know that's what I'd want to do if I knew what I was doing might be endangering my clan." He paused thoughtfully. "George went into his changes willingly; mine were done to me. That's the only real difference between us."
"George kept his word to me." Richard smiled sadly. "He stayed away from us but I always felt he was around somehow. It's going to be strange not having my big brother watching over me, but I'll get by. I've got to keep a promise to him." He glanced up the bell tower. "Don't worry, George. Hope will always know who you are and what you gave up for her. I'll make sure of that."
Lexington waited a few moments before clearing his throat. "We should probably get back. Your mate's probably wondering where you've gotten off to."
"Quinn's not my –" Richard thought about it a minute and began to smile. "Well, I guess you're right. Our wedding's not until later this summer but in gargoyle terms and in our hearts, we already are mates."
"There must be something in the water," Lex joked. "Everybody's getting paired off." He let Richard go through the hatch first and while he was waiting for the human to pass, he muttered to himself, "Yeah, everybody's got somebody. Just not me."
* * * * *
"Gosh, Sara, this is great," Broadway said as he dropped the gift-wrappings onto a growing pile of discarded paper and ribbon. "I've always wanted a crock pot. It will be perfect for those short winter days. I can start breakfast before I go to sleep and it will be ready when we wake up!"
"You're welcome, Broadway." The lithe young woman gave him a hug. "I hope you have a lot of fun with it."
"Okay guys, just like you practiced," Talon said softly to the clones. They shuffled up to the gift table and retrieved the carefully wrapped cylinder.
"We brought a gift too," Malibu, their designated spokesman said. He pushed his long hair away from his face and stood up straight and proud. "This is for you and Angela."
Hollywood fumbled the wrapping on the package and handed one end to Brentwood and Burbank. Carefully the trio stepped apart unrolling a large hand decorated sign. Broadway moved around the clones and slowly read the missive. As he did, his smiled broadened. "To Broadway and Angela. This certificate is good for one month of patrols from Hollywood, Burbank, Malibu and Brentwood."
"It's so you can have a 'honey moon'," Burbank said bashfully.
"Wow, that's really nice," Broadway said sincerely. "And you did such a nice job on the certificate, Angela and I can hang it on the wall in the tower." He gripped each clone's arm in turn, before turning to the next unopened box.
"Right this way, gentlemen," Owen intoned as he escorted Officers Morgan and O'Malley out on to the terrace and into the company of Elisa and Goliath. "I believe you are both acquainted with Detective Maza," he said, nodding toward the raven-haired woman, "and this is Goliath, leader of the Manhattan Clan. If you'll excuse me?" The major-domo stepped away, leaving the police officers in the care of Elisa.
"Pleased to know you at last," Morgan said extending his hand to the brawny lavender gargoyle. "I've been waiting to thank you guys for your help for a long time."
"Uh, yeah," O'Malley chimed awkwardly, a second later. "Me too. You guys have been a big help out there."
Elisa smiled smugly. "I figured after what you guys had been through the night of the big blizzard it was time everyone got to know each other better. After all," she said as she looked fondly at Goliath, "we are all on the same side."
"Guys," Matt said as he and Sara joined the cluster of police officers, "glad you could make it. Steady there, O'Malley," he added to the younger cop. "You look a little overwhelmed."
The beat cop surveyed the terrace populated by humans laughing and joking with gargoyles and cat-like winged people. "It's just a little much. I mean, sure, you're out on patrol and you see a shadow, or you find some mug tied up with a steel girder and you know that someone is out there giving you a hand, but to actually see you guys in the flesh…" he trailed off.
"I know exactly what you mean," Sara said, breaking the silence. "It's a little scary," she admitted. "But it's a good scary." She smiled as she looked in turn at Goliath and her fellow detectives. "I'm glad you trusted me with your secret."
Goliath looked down at Elisa's one time partner. "I hope, Sara, that someday there will be no more need for such secrecy."
Owen returned with a tray of sparkling cider and Matt snagged a glass and raised it. "To the future," he began. "May it bring peace and happiness."
"Hear, hear," his friends replied as they touched their glasses.
* * * * *
"All right," Hudson crooned softly as he rubbed behind Bronx's ears. "Now yuir all nice an' clean, fit to meet a king. It wasn't nearly as horrible as ye thought it would be, was it, ye great beastie?"
Bronx shook his head and wuffed at the old gargoyle. Hudson stood up and grimaced at the vertebrate popping in his back. He glanced over at Graeme and Nudnik. The young green gargoyle was furiously scrubbing away at Nudnik with one hand firmly gripping a fold of skin at the nape of the beast's neck. Nudnik was still whining loudly, but his propeller of a tail was spinning around as he tried to lick his master's face. One side of Graeme's hair was stiffly plastered up with saliva from Nudnik's affections.
Hudson fought to keep a straight face at the sight. "Is there any water left in that tub, lad?" he asked.
Graeme glanced around at the damp flagstones. "Um, well, not much." He looked wistfully at the buckets of water waiting several feet away and then back at Nudnik. "Are you going to be good and stay here so I can get your rinse water?"
Nudnik merely yelped and struggled in his grasp.
"Never mind," Hudson said as he hefted one of the buckets. "I hope ye'll forgive me for this, lad, but ye've got just as much soap on ye as ye do on th' beast."
"Hudson!" Graeme glanced up with a startled look. "No--- glup!!"
Ariana appeared just as the second bucketful of water was unceremoniously dumped on the pair in the metal tub. She was collapsed on the ground in hysterical giggles when Sata arrived. The Ishimuran gargoyle took in the scene calmly – her son looking like a wet cat with his dark hair plastered over his eyes as he wrestled with Nudnik – and managed to press her lips together in a tight smile.
"Hudson-sama?" Sata said calmly, when she was able to speak. "Are you and Graeme finished yet? The guests are beginning to arrive and we should confine the beasts to the tower until after the ceremony."
"Aye, we're nearly finished here." Hudson tossed a towel to Graeme. "Speakin' o' guests, how's my old friend Robbins?"
Ariana swayed to her feet, a few giggles still escaping. "He's just fine, Grandfather. I left him with Aunt Maggie." She brightened. "Did you know that he knows the lady who writes the 'Heebee Geebee Screamer' books? Isn't that just the coolest?"
"Yeah?" Graeme tossed his hair back out of his eyes. "I didn't know that. I'll have to ask him when the next one's coming out."
"Later, my dears, later." Sata steered Ariana towards the castle. "Graeme-kun, you help Hudson-san take the beasts to the tower and then go straight to the males' dressing room. I left your good clothes with your father."
Graeme and Ariana rolled their eyes at each other.
"Mother?" Ariana asked sweetly. "Could I please wear my fuku? The one that Fox gave me for last year's Solstice gift?"
Sata shook her head. "No, Ari-chan. This is a formal occasion honoring Angela and Broadway. Your fuku would be unacceptable."
"But, Mo-ther!!" Ariana's howl of protest echoed long after she and Sata disappeared.
Graeme grinned. "Sometimes, I think it's easier being a male."
"Only until yuir mated, lad," Hudson answered with a wry grin. "Only until yuir mated."
* * * * *
Full dark had finally fallen and the moon shone brightly in the sky as a lone figure glided down to land in the courtyard. Demona caped her wings around her and surveyed the gathering crowd quickly with keen eyes. She relaxed just a fraction as she examined the humans one by one and determined that Andrea was not among them. Then she turned her attention to the gargoyles and winged mutates, looking for a familiar form among them. She frowned slightly, not finding her daughter within immediate sight.
"Good evening, Demona."
The red-haired gargoyle looked up, startled to find Elisa standing just a few feet away. "Good evening, Detective," she replied.
"Angela's inside, getting ready," Elisa offered. "If you have a minute, though," she added quietly, "I'd like to talk to you."
"What do you want, detective?" Demona's defenses went into high gear as she sensed Elisa had something to say which she, too, was uncomfortable discussing.
"Well, first I wanted to say 'thank you', Elisa answered, "for what you did for me a month ago in the hospital." She looked up, met the sorceress's eyes and held them. "Thank you, Demona."
Demona felt her stomach tighten. "I explained my reasons that night," she replied automatically. She paused, and her voice softened. "But you're welcome… Elisa," she replied at last. "Now," Demona said warily after several seconds of uneasy silence, "what is the other thing?"
Elisa took in a breath. "It's about Delilah," the dark-haired woman continued resolutely. "Don't you think it's about time you got to know her better?"
"No!" The ancient gargoyle's eyes flashed red at the mention of the hybrid clone's name. "I have no desire to associate with such an abomination! Now if that's all you wish to discuss, I must find Angela."
"That 'abomination' is our daughter, Demona." Elisa shook her head. "Look, I know it's not the easiest concept to deal with. I've had more than my fair share of problems coping too. But it's not fair to let our hang-ups get in the way of the facts: she's part of our clan and she needs us both."
"Hang ups? Hang ups?" Demona gave her antagonist an incredulous look. "Do you know what I see every time I look at her?" Elisa shook her head and the gargoyle took a deep breath before continuing. "Thailog. I see Thailog and I'm reminded that even as he was whispering sweet nothings in my ear, he was growing that thing in his secret laboratory. And do you know why he was doing it? Because he was using me. He didn't want a partner to stand at his side; he wanted a sweet, brainless little female to be his compliant plaything. And you have the temerity to ask me to get to know her better." She lashed her tail angrily and turned on her heel. "You presume much on our truce, detective."
"Then I see that Thailog is still winning," Elisa said quietly.
Demona whirled around. "What did you say?"
Elisa shrugged. "He doesn't even have to still be alive to hurt you, Demona. You do it for him. Thailog may have had plans for Delilah, but she's beaten him at his own game. Sure, she's still kind of shy, but she's a lovely young woman with a mind of her own." The dark-haired woman smiled. "She probably gets it from both of us, but Delilah's as stubborn as they come; she's proud and she's determined. I've realized I did us both a disservice by not getting to know her sooner. I thought you'd like to know her too. All it would take is a little time. And last I heard, you've got plenty of that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I promised Desdemona I'd help her with the flowers." Elisa turned away, leaving Demona alone in the courtyard.
* * * * *
Elisa rapped on the door with the back of her hand. "Hey, it's me," she called. "Hope I don't need a secret password."
There was a click as the door was unlocked, and then it opened. The human woman smiled down at Ariana as she slipped into the room.
"Hi, Aunt Elisa," Ariana said miserably.
Elisa raised an eyebrow. "Well, you sure don't sound too happy tonight," she said. "What's got you down?"
Ariana made a face. "I look stupid."
Sata looked up from her intricate work on Angela's hair. "Do not mind Ari-chan, Elisa. She is merely disappointed that I would not let her wear that ridiculous fuku."
"Fuku?" Elisa asked.
"My Sailor Senshi outfit," Ariana explained. She flopped down on an ottoman and stuck a finger in the wide band of her obi. "It may have been too cutesy for a wedding but at least I could breathe in it."
"Now, now," Sata clucked, "sometimes one must suffer for art, and you, my child, are beautiful."
"No, I'm not," Ariana sulked. "I look like Dad in drag."
Sata glanced over her shoulder and raised one browridge at that comment but continued arranging Angela's hair in a long, complicated braid. "It is not easy to be tengu, my darling, but it is a gift with many sides."
"Tengu?" Angela asked, holding shut a towel draped over her shoulders to protect the ivory dress she was wearing.
"An ancient Japanese legend but one that had special meaning for those beaked members of my clan," Sata explained. "The Tengu were winged warriors with the bodies of men and heads of birds. They were wise and the greatest warriors in Japanese came to learn at their feet."
"Mother," Ariana said as excitement began to override her clothing-induced depression, "does that mean that I'm Tengu too?"
"Yes, Ari-chan." Sata deftly secured another segment of Angela's braid. "The beak you inherited from your father but the Tengu you inherited from me. We will have a long talk about it later, when all this is over."
"Later, Ariana." A scolding note crept into Sata's cool voice. The younger female appraised her mother's set features and sank sullenly back into her funk.
A few moments later, light knock came on the door. "Hey, open up," Fox's voice called from the hallway. "The mother of the bride is here."
Ariana opened the door and Demona barely recognized Brooklyn's feisty young daughter. She was clad in a pale blue kimono with a red, pink, and white cherry blossom pattern along the bottom third of the outfit. Her dark hair had been brushed until it gleamed and pulled back to the crown of her head with a cluster of silk flowers.
"Hi, Fox, hi, Aunt Demona," the little female said glumly. "Come on in."
The tattooed woman chucked her under the chin. "Aw, what's wrong, kiddo? You look like a billion yen."
Ariana sighed. "I'm bored. Everyone is helping Aunt Angela get ready, but there's nothing for me to do to help but open the stupid door."
"Ari-chan!" Sata called. "Please step aside and let them in." She was wearing an elegant kimono embroidered with chrysanthemums and had her hands full with Angela's hair. The mate-to-be attempted to look up, earning a stern scowl from the Japanese gargoyle. "Do not move yet, Angela-chan. I am almost finished."
Fox let Demona precede her into the room. She viewed the controlled chaos with narrowed eyes and waited with thinning patience to speak to her daughter. But it was with interest that she watched as Fox knelt to regard the young gargoyle at eye level. "I have the perfect job for you," she announced.
"You do?" Ariana said doubtfully.
The redheaded woman nodded. "Uh, huh. And it's very important. Somehow, we forgot to put somebody in charge of the guest book. Let's go some place quiet and I'll tell you all about it."
The pair disappeared and the jade green gargoyle pinned one last lock of hair in place and stepped back. "There… most elegant. Now for the flowers."
"A moment, if you don't mind?" Demona stepped forward and hugged her daughter, forcing Sata to step out of the way. "How are you, my child?"
"Mother!" Angela pressed her cheek against the azure gargoyle's and held her. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"And were else would I be on a night such as this?" Demona broke the embrace and stood up. "Let me look at you," she regarded her child fondly. "Are you nervous?"
"A little," Angela admitted.
"Don't be," Demona scolded with a smile. "You've chosen a male that pleases you."
Desdemona stood at the back away from the exchange and whispered to Elisa. "My sister is a different person where her young one is concerned. Isn't she?"
Elisa shook her head. "You don't know the half of it. Angela's been an amazing influence on her mother. I'm glad for them both." She glanced downward and caught sight of her small gold bracelet-like wristwatch, a gift from her own mother. "Oh, look at the time." She stepped forward and cleared her throat. "I hate to break up this reunion, but Angela, you've got to get your hair finished or you'll be late to your own mating ceremony!"
Desdemona picked up a basket and carried it over. "Here are the flowers for your hair," she said as she held out a sprig of blue forget-me-nots.
Demona plucked the sprig from her rookery sister's talons and placed it in her daughter's elaborate braid. "As eldest female, it is my right to do this for Angela."
Desdemona smiled as she picked up another forget-me-not and handed it to her rookery sister.
"Of course," said Sata, who was regarding a rattail comb. "We must honor all of Angela-chan's clan traditions and family." She handed Demona the comb and watched as the immortal female worked in silence, her taloned fingers trembling slightly as she positioned the flowers in a heart-shaped frame.
As Demona slipped Angela's silver and black hair clip into the center of the arrangement, an odd smile crossed Elisa's face. "You know, Angela," she commented as she stepped closer, "the only thing you're missing is something borrowed."
The only human in the room froze as the four female gargoyles all stopped and stared at her, confused. Elisa's face reddened slightly. "Sorry. There's a saying humans have for weddings," she explained. "The bride should have 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.'"
One by one, the gargoyle females nodded their heads in understanding.
"The hair ornament Broadway gave her as a betrothal gift is 'something old,'" Sata said.
"And my dress is 'something new,'" Angela added, her eyes brightening.
Desdemona picked one of the leftover forget-me-nots from the basket and twirled the stem between her fingers. "Yes, and these flowers are blue," she said, smiling.
Elisa nodded. "Exactly. As I said, all she needs now is 'something borrowed.'"
Demona frowned for a moment, then looked at Angela, her expression turning thoughtful. Without a word, she removed the gold armlet she wore and presented it to her daughter.
Angela lifted up her arm; the smile on her face as Demona slipped the armlet into place was priceless. "Thank you, Mother," she whispered, drawing the azure female into another warm hug.
"Anything for you, my child," Demona returned softly.
As Demona and Angela broke their embrace, there was another tap at the door. Sata opened it slightly to find Fox, her eyes gleaming merrily. "I've brought some more surprise guests," she announced as she slipped into the room.
Angela sat up, curious. As Fox moved aside and admitted the new arrivals into the room, her eyes widened in astonishment and surprise. "Princess! Guardian!" she exclaimed happily, rising from her seat as the gray-haired Princess Katharine and Guardian Tom rushed up to embrace her.
"Angela, my Egg," Katharine greeted, throwing her arms warmly around the girl. She held her tight for a moment before backing away a bit to take a look at her, her hands still resting on Angela's shoulders. "Och, how ye've grown! Such a beautiful young woman ye've become."
Tom nodded, seeming slightly uncomfortable the formal court attire he wore, as though he'd have rather worn his armor. "It's guid to see you again, Angela," he said, taking his turn to accept a hug from her.
Angela's eyes glistened. "I've missed you both," she returned. "I'm so happy you're here… I had never even dreamed you would be able to attend my mating ceremony."
Katharine smiled affectionately and patted Angela's hand with her own. "Och, how could I possibly miss being there tae see the first of my Eggs take a mate? When Gabriel first told me, I knew then we had tae come." She smirked, glancing back at Fox still standing in the doorway. "Luckily for us, 'twas not terribly hard to convince the Lady Titania to permit us tae make the journey."
"Aye. I'd say we had a bit o' help in that," Tom commented wryly.
Angela shook her head in joyful bewilderment. With words unable to express her happiness, she drew her foster mother into another warm hug. Katharine laughed and returned the gesture. "Och, that's my little angel," she chuckled as Tom looked on, smiling. "Ye may have grown older and bigger, but ye've never really changed."
Demona had slipped into the corner, and watched with barely controlled unease as the elderly human smiled and stroked Angela's hair lovingly. Her expression went unreadable, with her mind spinning dizzily as it tried to reconcile what she was seeing before her right now with her memories of the young Princess Katharine from a thousand years before. Demona blinked, clearing the beginnings of tears from her eyes. "I… I need to get some air," she said at last, quietly. She nodded at Angela as she moved toward the door. "I'll see you in a little while, my daughter."
Angela looked up. "Mother, wait…," she began. She broke the hug with Katharine and watched the azure female depart, uncertain whether to follow after her. Katharine, as well, stared after the fleeing gargoyle. Her expression went to apologetic as she turned back to Angela.
"I'm sorry, my Egg. Gabriel told me about her after his visit here. I dinnae mean tae…"
"No, Princess, it's not your fault," Angela interrupted.
"Don't worry, either of you. She'll be all right," Sata said, laying her hand gently on the younger female's forearm. "My own rookery mother was one of the toughest warriors you would ever hope to meet, but even she was reduced to tears on mating nights."
* * *
Fox stood just outside the doorway, smiling as she watched Angela and her foster parents have their reunion. "Thank you, Mother," she whispered after a moment to the shadows beside her.
"It was the least I could do, child." Fox turned as Titania moved partially into the light. The slender fay woman stepped closer, and then hesitated as she caught sight of her own alien image reflected in her halfling daughter's eyes. She lifted her hands, but Fox took hold of them, stopping her before she could make the small gesture that would bring on the more familiar guise of Anastasia. The Faerie Queen's eyes turned questioning as her daughter gently squeezed her hands.
"You don't have to do that any more, Mother," Fox said softly. "You are who you are, but no matter what, you'll always be my mother." She smiled, drawing the regally dressed woman into a warm hug, adding, "And I will always love you."
Titania's eyes glistened as she returned the embrace. "Oh, Janine," she whispered, her normally calm voice quivering with emotion, "I love you, too."
* * *
Angela gasped. "You mean they actually took her back to Avalon?" she asked, shocked.
"Aye," Katharine insisted, "I saw the Sisters arrive with her myself." The elderly woman looked about, and lowered her voice as she continued. "Th' rumor be that Lord Oberon has given th' Lady Titania leave tae decide her fate."
Angela's eyes widened. "Titania?"
Katharine nodded again. "Aye. And in the meantime, it's the rest o' us who suffer the loss of our peace and quiet. Those three witches have nae been down from the tow'r since they brought her back, if ye can believe it. And can that harridan ever scream... 'tis worse than the Banshee!"
Angela wasn't sure for a moment how to respond. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you like," she offered finally.
Princess Katharine smiled, taking Angela's hand and patting it affectionately. "Now there's a thought, my egg." She paused thoughtfully. "Ye dinnae suppose my old room is still available?"
Angela chuckled. "I don't know… but I bet we can find out."
* * *
Fox felt a tap on the shoulder, and she turned around to be greeted by a kiss on the cheek. "And who are you talking to, my dear?" David asked.
The auburn-haired woman glanced back into the shadows where the Faerie Queen had been just a second before to see that she had vanished. "Oh, just Mother," she replied, placing her arms around her husband. "She stopped by to drop off some more guests." She eyed David speculatively, grinning. "How'd you like to give the grand tour to the old owners? I'm sure Princess Katharine would love to see what you've done with the place to bring it up to twentieth century standards."
David chuckled. "Why not?"
* * * * *
There was a knock at the door and Elisa, being the nearest, opened it just wide enough to peer through. On the other side stood Delilah clad in a simple shift of pale orange that replaced her more practical everynight wear.
"Hi, Elisa." The hybrid clone touched the spray of yellow flowers in her hair self-consciously, before continuing. "I came to tell you that Hollywood and I have seated all but the honored guests. They told me that Demona was in here."
Elisa nodded, then shook her head. "She was, a minute ago, but she needed some air. I can go find her and seat her if you like."
Delilah shook her head. "I appreciate you trying to fix things, Elisa. But I could tell from what you didn't say earlier that you didn't have much luck. That's okay." Her chin went up into a stubborn echo of her human mother's. "It's my job to seat Demona and I'll take care of it. I'll deal with the rest, later. Now you better hurry, too. Hollywood is waiting to take you to your seat."
"I'll just be a minute," Elisa promised as she checked her reflection one last time.
* * * * *
Demona stood leaning against the parapets lost in thought as she gazed out over the city.
"It's a lovely view," said a voice from behind her.
"It's a shadow of what it used to be like," she responded automatically. "You should have seen it when the castle looked out onto the rocky cliffs of the sea. Now that, detective, was a sight to behold."
"I'm sure it was beautiful, but I'm not Elisa," the voice said quietly. "I'm Delilah."
Demona looked up sharply as the hybrid clone came to stand at her side. She involuntarily edged away and the white-haired gargoyle smiled sadly.
"It's hard enough being a gargoyle living in this city. So many people hate or fear us, even when we try to help, but to be shunned by one's own family." Delilah ran a frustrated hand over her hair, loosening the spray of flowers. They fell to the ground unnoticed. "I just don't understand. I've done nothing to hurt you, so why do you reject me?"
"Even if I wanted to," the azure gargoyle said wearily, "I couldn't begin to explain to you. Now if you'll excuse me?" She stepped lightly away from the wall, neatly missing Delilah's flowers.
"You hate me because of Thailog," the clone said flatly. "You condemn me because of the way I was created."
Demona stood stock still as Delilah's voice echoed weirdly in her head. It resonated with a snatch of conversation a millenium old. "It was the Archmage who was responsible, not me!" She remembered a young Demona, surrounded by her rookery mates, trying to explain away yet another in a series of misadventures.
"I just want to know you," Delilah said quietly. "Angela says that you are kind and generous and a good teacher. Why can't you show some of that kindness to one of your own flesh?"
The ancient gargoyle regarded the flagstones, old memories continuing to resonate against the present. She finally noticed the tiny bundle of yellow flowers that were gathered with a satin ribbon. She leaned forward and picked them up. "Here." She extended the fallen comb to Delilah. "I believe these are yours."
The white-haired female took them and automatically attempted to tuck them back into the upward sweep of her carefully done hair. Lacking a mirror, she fumbled, nearly dropping the comb back to the ground.
"Here," Demona said gruffly, "let me." She plucked the comb from Delilah's hand and swiftly positioned the flowers in her hair. She stood back and eyed them critically, made a small adjustment, then pronounced her satisfaction. "There, that's better."
"Thank you." Delilah said softly. "I won't trouble you any more, Demona. I can see now that this was a mistake." The clone turned away, took a few steps toward the main courtyard, then remembered her appointed mission. "I forgot. I was supposed to escort you to your place for the ceremony. If you'll wait here, I'll get one of the others to do it for you."
"Delilah," Demona called softly after her. "Wait. This joining seems to be a complicated affair, not like the old days. And it seems we all have designated roles to play. If yours is to escort me to my place then by all means." She waved toward the ceremony and, hesitantly, Delilah joined her at her side. "You know," the azure gargoyle said thoughtfully as she regarded the hybrid, "the detective may have been right. You show a certain courage that I find admirable. There are not many that would seek my company after I have turned them away."
Delilah smiled. "Elisa says sometimes the most rewarding things are the ones we have to fight for."
"Indeed," Demona replied archly. "And what other words of wisdom has she passed along?"
"There you are!" Desdemona appeared at Demona's elbow and began to hurry her along. "Everyone else has been seated and they're waiting for you to begin."
"Very well," Demona sighed.
"I'll walk you to your place," Delilah explained. "When it's your turn to speak, Goliath will call you forward."
"A complicated affair, indeed," Demona muttered under her breath as she allowed Delilah to escort her to her appointed spot in front of the assembled guests.
* * *
Goliath stood near the castle wall, watching with a raised browridge as Delilah guided Demona her seat in the front row. The rows of carefully arranged folding chairs were filling rapidly as the ceremony's many guests began taking their places. An area near the flowering trees had been partitioned off with red velvet ropes, with chairs on either side for the guests. An aisle down the middle led to the spot near the base of the stairs running up to the parapets where Angela and Broadway would soon stand.
Peripherally, Goliath became aware of a presence beside him. "What do you make of that, sister?" he asked quietly, nodding his head towards the crowd as Demona paused to adjust the flowers in Delilah's hair one last time before taking her seat.
"Our sister is full of surprises," Desdemona replied, "but these latest ones seem to portend a positive change. We should do what we can to encourage her. " Goliath looked away and Desdemona sensing his unease, changed the subject. She scanned the crowd quickly, frowning. "Have you seen my mate?"
"I think he went back inside the castle," Goliath answered absently. "He has taken it upon himself to distract Broadway until the ceremony."
Desdemona smiled. "I seem to recall he undertook a similar role during your own mating ritual." She realized her gaffe and covered her mouth, embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"
Goliath cut in quickly. "Do not apologize, sister," he said. "That was long ago and I have made my peace with the past." Despite his words to the contrary, the lavender gargoyle seemed uncomfortable. "If you'll excuse me, I wish to seek out my daughter before the ceremony." He moved away rapidly, leaving Desdemona alone by the castle wall.
* * *
"Hurry, children," Titania said as the portal reopened and she stepped through leading the rest of the "Eggs" into the Great Hall. "You don't wish to miss your rookery sister's mating ceremony, do you?"
There was an excited murmur of "No, my lady Titania" and "By the Dragon, no" from the excited gargoyles.
"Then go now and enjoy yourselves," the Faerie Queen said as she disappeared once more.
"Isn't it just as I told you?" Gabriel said as he stepped to the front of his clan.
"Oh, no, Gabriel," Ophelia breathed as she surveyed their surroundings. "It's much, much more."
"It's nice enough," Edmund added. "But I want a look at this 'City of Metal and Glass' you told us about. Surely you're stretching our tails about that."
Simon-Peter scratched a blue-green, gill-shaped ear and nodded. "Aye, let's get a look at this marvel you've told us about, Gabriel."
The leader of the Avalon gargoyles raised his hands. "Peace, siblings, we will. But first we must find Princess Katharine and Guardian Tom to let them know that we've arrived and we must also introduce ourselves to Lord and Lady Xanatos. 'Tis common courtesy after all."
"You're right, of course, Gabriel," Gwendolyn answered as she straightened her tunic. "And we must find Angela so that we may bid her congratulations."
The Eggs formed into ranks as Guardian Tom had taught them long ago, preparing to seek out their sister and their hosts, when the sound of voices stilled them.
"We've not much time, and I want just a word or two," the deep voice rumbled.
Gabriel broke ranks and moved quickly forward to intercept the speaker. "Goliath!" he called as his siblings began to whisper eagerly among themselves again.
"Gabriel?" the gargoyle leader stopped and his solemn expression softened into a smile, as did that of his companion.
"Father?" Gabriel stared at Goliath's companion, no longer an amalgamation of stone and metal. He hesitated the briefest of moments before embracing the older gargoyle tightly. "Father?!" his voice was a mixture of awe and shock. "Is it truly you?"
"Yes... my son," Othello replied. "I have been restored to flesh once more as has my mate... your mother."
"'Tis a miracle," Gabriel breathed.
"'Twas the magic of our Lady Titania," Goliath corrected.
The mention of Titania's name reminded Gabriel of his siblings waiting impatiently in the hall. "Our lady has granted us yet another boon," he said as he gestured for the two Wyvern-born gargoyles to follow him.
The trio stepped into the empty Great Hall and the elder gargoyles looked around perplexed.
"All right, the lot of ya," Gabriel called good-naturedly. "You can come out now."
From behind furniture and doorways they appeared, all thirty-three of Angela's remaining rookery brothers and sisters.
Goliath stepped backwards, stunned, before he smiled widely. "Welcome to you all," he greeted as he shook hands and embraced the younger gargoyles. "You've arrived just in time. The ceremony will be starting soon. Perhaps, my brother," he said to Othello, "you would be good enough to escort our children to the terrace and help them find their places?"
"Of course, Goliath," Othello said warmly. He wrapped an arm around Gabriel. "So these are your brothers and sisters. I look forward to getting to know them all."
Ophelia lagged behind as her rookery siblings disappeared from view. "Goliath," she said. I was wondering if I might see Angela for a moment before the ceremony?"
The great lavender gargoyle nodded his head. "I was hoping to do so myself. Why don't you come with me and we'll see what can be arranged." He inclined his head toward a different exit and the pair headed for Angela's dressing chamber.
* * * * *
Graeme tugged at the belt of his black kimono. "Are you sure we have to wear these outfits?"
"Oh, you don't have to," Brooklyn said mildly as he straightened the lapels of his son's kimono, identical to the one he himself wore. "The question is, do you want to take this up with your mother?"
"Um, no…" Graeme admitted sheepishly. "It's better to keep Mother happy with us, isn't it?"
"Smart boy. It took me years to figure out that keeping a female happy is the number one thing in a male's life."
"Ah, Brooklyn-san!" Sata came through the party guests, smiling and nodding graciously at the many compliments she was receiving on her ensemble as the other guests made their way to their seats. She moved with smooth gliding steps that Ariana was trying to imitate - with little success.
"Sata-chan, how lovely you look!" Brooklyn stood back for a few seconds with his hands on his hips. "This reminds me of our wedding except for one thing."
The jade gargoyle tilted her head slightly. "What is that?"
Brooklyn kissed her and smiled. "You are even more beautiful now than you were then." Sata merely smiled and stroked her mate's beak.
Ariana glared at Graeme gaping at her. She sighed heavily and crossed her arms. "Go ahead. Say it. You're dying to."
Brooklyn glanced at his son and raised one browridge as if to prompt him.
Graeme cleared his throat. "You look really kawaii, Ariana."
Ariana blinked and stared at her brother. "What?"
"I mean it, oneechan." Graeme shrugged. "You look just like Usagi in that episode where she goes to the Shrine of the Weeping Maiden with her family."
Ariana beamed from ear to ear.
Brooklyn bestowed a fatherly wink on Graeme. "Well, family," he said broadly, "shall we go take our places?" He offered his arm to Sata, who took it with a serene expression.
The twins looked at each other. Then at the ground. Then at various people in the crowd. Finally, Graeme sighed noisily and stuck out his arm. "Here."
Ariana started to reach for him and stopped, biting her lip. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, come on, Ari-chan," Graeme said exasperatedly. "Even wearing that dress, you could still kick my tail."
"Why, Graeme!! You say the sweetest things." Giggling, Ariana allowed her brother to escort her to their seats.
* * * * *
Angela recited a calming mantra and waited, watching with detached amusement as the female members of her clan fussed and primped before the various mirrors. By singles and pairs they entered and left the chamber murmuring words of encouragement and good luck. She smiled and nodded, careful not to undo any of the elaborate preparations that had been done to her hair or dress.
There was a tap at the door and Maggie rose to answer. The felinoid gargoyle stepped back in surprise and admitted Goliath and Ophelia. "Goliath," she said, recovering her poise. I don't believe I've been introduced to your friend."
Ophelia raised a talon to her lips and smiled impishly as Maggie crossed the threshold to join Goliath in the hallway. "This is Ophelia, one of Angela's rookery sisters," he explained as the tri-horned gargoyle stepped quietly into the chamber and crossed her arms in a fair imitation of a stern Princess Katharine.
"'Tis nearly daybreak and look who still hasn't taken their place in the rookery! Aye, you are a pair of naughty imps." Ophelia's voiced softened. "But were you my own wee bairns, I'd love you nae the less."
Angela's eyes opened in surprise. "Ophelia!" she squealed in delight. A moment later the two rookery sisters were wrapped in a double winged embrace. "I can't believe it's you... here."
"We're all here, Angela," Ophelia revealed. "We couldn't let our wandering rookery sister get mated off without her brothers and sisters surrounding her; so we took a petition to our Lady Titania and here we are."
"It's a wonderful surprise. But why didn't you come earlier with the princess and Tom?"
The triceratops-headed female shrugged. "Titania consented, but only if we would follow her bidding. And what was a little wait if it meant we would see you?" Ophelia lowered her voice as she knelt at Angela's side. "So tell me all about your mate. And what's it like to be in love? Does your heart really tremble with anticipation whenever he steps close?"
Angela's expression softened as she confided in her rookery sister. "Oh yes, all that and much more. I wish I could explain but…" She trailed off as she regarded the eager light that shown in Ophelia's eyes. "But I think you know. Tell me, sister. Who's been taking you for moonlight glides over fair Avalon's green mountains?"
Ophelia flashed a glance toward the partially opened doorway, unwilling to speak.
Angela grinned. "All right, if you won't tell me, then let me guess. Is it our tall, smoky gray brother, Angus?" Ophelia shook her head 'no'. "What about our quiet Fergus? No," Angela said before Ophelia could reply, "I think not. As I recall he favored Mara and she him." She tilted her head in faux-deep thought as she pretended to consider Ophelia's choices. "I know!" she said excitedly. "It's-"
Her companion cut her off, unwilling to keep her secret any longer. "Promise not to laugh?" Ophelia said as she blushed a deeper blue. "'Tis Gabriel," she confessed.
"Gabriel!" Angela smiled, delighted.
"Aye, Gabriel," Ophelia confirmed. "Though at first I had to throw myself in his path to get him to notice me, he's been an eager enough suitor of late."
"So when are you going to ask him?" Angela asked eagerly.
Ophelia looked toward the door again and the murmur of voices that was growing louder with each passing moment. "Soon, I think. Maybe even tonight!" She grasped Angela's hands in hers. "Promise you won't tell?"
* * *
As Angela and Ophelia talked, Goliath stood in the hallway, aware that even as he waited to speak with his daughter, he was unsure of what he wanted to say. Lost in his thoughts, he nearly missed the soft burr of a familiar Scottish accent as it grew closer to Angela's dressing chamber.
"'Tis a magnificent thing that you've done, David," Princess Katharine said as the tour group rounded the corner. "The castle looks near the same as it was all those years ago. And to have combined it with the miracles of your century-" she trailed off, impressed beyond words.
"Princess Katharine?" Goliath whispered coming out of his reverie. "Tom?" A delighted smile creased the great gargoyle's craggy features as the pair rushed forward to greet him. "Princess," Goliath greeted as he bowed his head low. "You honor us with your presence. As do you, Guardian Tom."
"Och, Goliath," Katharine admonished. "How could I stay away on a grand night like this one? 'Tis every mother's dream to see her daughter take a husband. And though Angela is not mine own child, I feel a mother's joy."
"Our tradition is for every egg to be parented by all the clan, my lady," the gargoyle leader replied. "And though our children were raised far from their home, I am content in the knowledge that members of the Clan Wyvern watched over them."
Katharine inclined her head and Tom held out his arm. Goliath took it in a traditional warrior's handshake as Fox, accompanied by Gabriel and his parents, approached.
"Everyone," Fox said, hushing the soft din of conversation, "it's almost time." Smoothly, she gathered the remaining stragglers together and began moving them towards the courtyard doors.
"I've got to go now," Ophelia said as she rose and carefully hugged Angela one last time.
Upon hearing Ophelia's voice, a curious Gabriel stuck his head into the chamber. "Sisters," he greeted the pair warmly.
An amused glance passed between the female rookery siblings and they dissolved into a helpless fit of giggles.
"Did I miss something?" Gabriel asked, perplexed, as Angela winked at Ophelia.
"Good luck, sister," Angela whispered. "He shall be a worthy prize."
"And good luck to you on your mating flight, Angela," Ophelia whispered in return, smiling conspiratorially as she slipped away to join Gabriel, Katharine, and Tom. Othello and Desdemona joined hands and followed after as David led the group outside.
"That means you, too, Goliath," Fox chided.
"A last moment with my daughter… alone," the big gargoyle rumbled.
Fox looked to Angela, and the girl nodded. "It'll only be just one more minute, Fox," she assured.
As the auburn-haired woman nodded and followed the others outside, Goliath stepped closer to Angela and took her hands in his own.
"I was not sure what I wanted to say to you," Goliath confessed. "Though it seems that words of 'fatherly advice' are indicated." Angela smiled gently at her parent's befuddled expression. "I am proud of you beyond words, my daughter. I was concerned when you first joined our clan that your presence as the only eligible female would prove to be disruptive to the younger males under my charge."
Angela's eyes grew wide with surprise at her father's candor. "You never said anything to me about it."
"How could I?" Goliath questioned. "Our own relationship was tenuous at best and I was unsure how to deal with you. But you put my fears to rest. You quickly proved yourself to be an excellent warrior and you handled your choosing of mate with tact and diplomacy. Our clan has become stronger because of you." Goliath looked away and gathered his thoughts before he continued. "I wish you all the happiness in the world, Angela. And I want you to know that even though you are a warrior and," he swallowed, uncomfortable with the next word, "a promising sorceress, you will always be my daughter, and I will always love you."
Angela rose and stepped into Goliath's embrace. He held her gently, blinking hard as tears came unbidden to his eyes. A gentle throat clearing separated the pair and Angela brushed away her own, freely flowing tears. "Here, let me." Goliath picked up a tissue from a box on the dressing table and blotted her cheek gently. "Are you ready, child?" he asked after a moment. Angela nodded her head and together the pair joined Fox.
"You remember your lines for the ceremony, right, Father?" Angela asked as they neared the door.
Goliath nodded. "Yes. Even Demona's part."
Angela smiled and held out her hand, and the clan leader led his daughter out into the courtyard.
* * *
The last of the guests had taken their seats, and Broadway waited nervously off to the side, his eyes glued on the courtyard doors. His jaw fell open in surprise as Angela finally appeared from within the castle, led by Goliath. The big gargoyle's eyes went wide as he watched his love begin her journey down the center aisle, flowers in her hair and wings caped elegantly like a flowing cloak over her new dress.
"Lad, it be time," Hudson prompted.
Snapping out of his momentary daze, Broadway mumbled, "Right," and began his entrance from the side, accompanied by the clan elder.
Angela caught sight of her beloved as she made her way down the aisle, and her pace quickened just a bit more as she proceeded past the gauntlet of female well-wishers whose seats lined the aisle. Sata gave an encouraging smile. Maggie and Sharon mouthed last-minute wishes of happiness and good luck, and Angela returned beaming smiles. Princess Katharine couldn't stay in her seat; rising to her feet, she embraced her foster daughter one last time, tears now streaming from her eyes. Angela hugged her warmly, and whispered to her softly as she helped Tom guide the human woman gently back into her seat.
Only delayed for a few seconds, Angela took Goliath's arm once more and continued toward the front, where Broadway now stood waiting. She acknowledged more happy smiles as she made her way past the final few rows, where Elisa and Delilah sat beside each other just behind Demona. The azure gargoyle turned in her seat to look at her daughter, her eyes filled with only love as she caught the girl's gaze.
At last, Angela took her place beside Broadway, and Goliath moved into his place in front of them. He turned to address the gathered crowd, and was taken aback for a moment at realizing how large and diverse the group actually was. The original survivors of Wyvern's great massacre sat and whispered with their new human and mutate allies. Surrounding them, crowding close, were Angela's Avalon-raised rookery siblings, their presence the surprise that no one had anticipated. The Manhattan clan leader's heart swelled with happiness and, as his eyes settled on one certain face, hope for the future.
"My friends," he began. "We have gathered here this evening to celebrate a joyous event. Tonight, Angela and Broadway will swear their love and commit their lives to one another. They have come before you," he said as he surveyed the crowd. His eyes traveled to Brooklyn and his family who were sitting next to Lexington, and to Desdemona and Othello who held hands a few rows away. "Our clanmates." The gargoyle leader's gaze drifted to the human faces in the audience: Matt Bluestone and Sara Jasper and Officers Morgan and O'Malley; Hudson's friend, Robbins, whose guide dog Gilly sat quietly at his side; and Richard and Quinn, who had become favorites with all the younger members of the clan. "Our friends." His gaze flitted over the denizens of the underground labyrinth. Elisa's brother, Talon, and his mate, Maggie. Sharon, who was in the process of handing the silent Claw a tissue with which to dab his tear-rimmed eyes. And the clones: Malibu, Burbank, Brentwood and Hollywood, who sat as quietly as they could, watching the others with rapt attention. Sitting near the front, David watched with paternal pride as son, Alexander, one hand held in his mother's, waved the other at the happy couple. "Our allies." His eyes strayed to the "eggs" as Princess Katharine had dubbed them, standing in a rough semi-circle at the back with Guardian Tom and Owen. Lastly, his gaze made its way inexorably to Elisa and he smiled gently. "Our family." Goliath found himself momentarily overwhelmed and cleared his throat several times before continuing. "Angela and Broadway have chosen a traditional mating ceremony, and it was our custom in the days of Wyvern to have the clan's eldest members join the couple at the front to stand as witness. At this time I would ask that Demona take her place as an honored elder before the clan."
Demona looked up, startled. "Me?" she questioned. To declare her a clan elder would be tantamount to Goliath granting her a full pardon and restoring the place she had abandoned in the clan. The ancient gargoyle pulled her spinning thoughts together and rose shakily to her feet. She hazarded a peek at Angela who was smiling through tears of joy. "I accept my role as witness in this mating," Demona declared as she took her place next to Hudson.
Goliath waited until his former mate had taken her appointed position before continuing. He met Angela's eyes as he spoke. "Of all the decisions a female warrior must make, the choice of a life mate is perhaps the gravest of all. He will stand at her side, guard her back and be a source of comfort for her for as long as he lives."
The clan leader paused, turning his gaze to Broadway. "And the male must be just as wise when he chooses a female to court," he continued, "because should she choose him, she will be his chief advisor and most cherished ally for as long as she lives."
"For as two vines woven together make a stronger rope, so it is when two warriors unite," Goliath stated. "And so now Angela comes before this clan to declare her choice as mate. Angela, do you affirm your choice?"
Angela did not hesitate. "Before the clan, I swear my love and affirm my choice," she replied, gazing a Broadway fondly. He in turn looked at her, taking in the curve of her form beneath her sleek new dress, and the flowers in her carefully arranged hair, until finally his eyes locked with hers.
"Broadway, you have been chosen," Goliath continued. "Do you accept the challenges that the future might hold?"
Broadway's eyes never left Angela's. "Before the clan, I swear my love."
"Then let it be known," Goliath said solemnly to the assembled group of gargoyles, humans, and mutates, "that these two are one in the eyes of the clan."
Oblivious to the cheers that rose around them, Broadway and Angela embraced. As the assembled witnesses rose from their seats, applauding and cheering, Goliath stepped aside, allowed the new couple access to the stone steps leading up to the parapets. Smiling as they broke their embrace, the lavender female and the aquamarine male joined hands and began their ascent.
* * *
As Broadway and Angela reached the parapets, Ophelia moved to stand in front of her assembled rookery siblings. With Princess Katharine giving her an encouraging smile, the crested female raised her hands and the boisterous Avalon-raised gargoyles quieted and fell into line. A moment later, the sound of thirty-four voices singing as one filled the midnight air.
Angela and Broadway paused. Hands still clasped, they turned back to acknowledge the chorus raised in tribute to them, wide smiles of wonderment on their faces. Then, slowly, they turned back to each other.
"Are you ready, Angela?" Broadway asked softly, guiding her up onto the rampart wall.
"In my entire life, I've never been more ready for anything," the lavender female declared, pulling the big male up beside her. "I love you, Broadway."
"I love you, Angela," he answered. With hands firmly linked, the two gargoyles spread their wings and launched themselves from the parapets.
The voices of the Avalon chorus swept upwards in intensity as an updraft filled the wings of the newly-mated couple and carried them high into the clear, moonlit Manhattan sky. The eyes of the crowd roamed skyward as the two gargoyles spiraled up, becoming silhouettes against the face of the moon, captured for a brief moment against the shining white disk in a midair embrace.
Elisa took Goliath's arm, leaning her head against his chest as she watched. His talons went absently to her hair, stroking the ebony locks. Just a few feet away, Demona did not even notice. Her eyes were glued to the sky, the expression on her face one of pure joy even as a tear rolled down her cheek.
Othello and Desdemona held hands, enraptured as they listened to a melody now centuries old sung by the children of their clan. Their eyes drifted over the faces of the thirty-four young gargoyles, settling at last on one: Gabriel.
"Do you really think we should do it, my love?" Desdemona asked softly. "Go back with him to Avalon for a time?"
Othello nodded. "I do, beloved. The danger here is past for now… I shall like to get to know our clan's children."
Desdemona smiled. "So shall I."
"Then we are agreed." Othello took his mate's hand in his own. "I will let Goliath know of our decision." He looked back to the Avalon gargoyles as they launched into a final chorus, then gazed up at the sky. "After the newly-mates return."
A short distance away, Brooklyn pulled Sata close. "Remember our mating flight?" he whispered softly.
Sata nuzzled her brow against his. "Baka, Brooklyn-san," she chided mildly, chuckling.
Their voices were lost under the harmonious song of Angela's rookery siblings as Fox turned to her husband and spied the gleam in his eye. "Oh, no," she said, shaking her head. "Don't you even think about it, David Xanatos! My mother brought them over so I get first dibs at trying to sign them."
David gave his wife a resigned look, smiling as he said, "And I wouldn't have it any other way, my dear."
As the newly mated couple touched down in the courtyard, the human and mutate guests began to clap enthusiastically. A moment later the gargoyles joined in, welcoming the windblown and blushing Angela and Broadway back from their mating flight.
The ceremony was complete, but the celebration lasted long into the night.
* * * * *
In case you thought we made them up… Girlgoyles.