The Longest Day, Part 2
Written by: Todd Jensen and Patrick Toman
With contributions by: Kathy Pogge
Story Concept by: Todd Jensen and Patrick Toman
Illustrations by: Jessica Entis
Previously on Gargoyles...
"I would do anything to protect you, my child," she whispered. "Anything." She swallowed hard, fighting the quiver in her stomach, and set the photograph back down to wipe at her dampening eyes. She leaned back in her chair, trying to regain her composure. Her fingers curled and uncurled on the armrests as she looked again at the items she had gathered.
"If only there was a way to save them both," she whispered raggedly. She glanced at the clock, noting that only a scant few minutes had elapsed since she had last checked the time... and then her eyes were drawn almost magnetically to her Rolodex. She leaned forward in her chair quickly, snatching up the business card that was staring at her.
Dominique blinked. The card gave phone numbers for the New York office as well as the head office in Germany. She tapped the card on the desk nervously, glancing once again at the items she had readied to cast the spell that would mean death for all fay, and then at the phone.
* * *
Madoc adjusted his grip on the reins of his mount. "And now we finally have you all," he proclaimed.
Angela picked up on the guilty look on Demona's face a second before any of the others did. "Mother, you didn't..." she asked desperately.
Demona hung her head as Maeve nodded at her. "My apologies, Ms. Destine," she said wickedly. "You have proven my doubts unfounded."
The rest of the clan stood in mute shock, but Goliath whirled toward his former mate, roaring. "You have betrayed us again, Demona?!?"
Demona cringed away as he leapt for her, but Madoc tossed the big gargoyle back with but a gesture as his feet left the ground.
"What's done is done," the Unseelie Lord said boredly as Elisa and Hudson pulled Goliath back to his feet. Madoc looked to Maeve, who was staring at Angela in a way that was making Broadway begin to growl. "Our patience grows thin," he announced. "Will you surrender?"
"Mother, why?" Angela whispered tearfully, oblivious to the predatory gaze Maeve was casting in her direction.
"For you, Angela," Demona replied. "You won't be harmed... it was the only way."
"What say you, gargoyle?" Madoc demanded. "Will you surrender?" he repeated.
Angela turned her back to Demona, pulling herself back into Broadway's arms. Goliath looked over the rest of the clan; the group had pulled into a tight circle. Brooklyn and Sata's eyes were cold. Hudson had his sword out and wore a determined look. Elisa had moved into a ready crouch. "Never," Goliath answered finally, growling.
"The more's the pity," commented Madoc. "Unseelies, attack!"
The gathered Halflings and full-blooded fay obeyed gleefully, firing blasts of magic down upon the clan below. The gargoyles scattered, but it was too late. The Unseelies had already surrounded them.
"Destroy them all," ordered Madoc grimly. "Now!"
Their assailants bore down upon them. Coldstone fired laser shots from the cannon mounted on his arm, and Coldfire issued blasts of flame from her hands. Unfazed, the Unseelies easily warded off the assaults. George and Rael looked to each other and nodded, then shot twin bolts of green lightning at the two constructs, hurling them back against the wall to shatter into hundreds of metallic fragments. A crowd of frenzied Redcaps piled on top of Brooklyn, Sata, and the twins, while the yell-hounds from the Wild Hunt overwhelmed Bronx and Nudnik, and Herne laid Hudson and Matt low.
Demona stepped back and looked away, left seemingly unnoticed by the attacking fay. But she did not go unnoticed by Broadway. Moving Angela aside, he leapt at her with a roar. She didn't have time to react. His momentum forced her to the ground and pinned her arms beneath her. "Betrayer!" he screamed in her ear, crushing her wings painfully against her back as he sat on top of her. Demona gasped, then screamed.
Elisa spun about, trying to make sense of the chaos. A winged horse swooped down, and she grabbed for the reins as it moved past. Maeve toppled from her mount and landed at Elisa's feet, but wasted no time in righting herself. Elisa threw a punch, but Maeve caught the fist in her hand, then twisted her grip. Elisa cried out in pain as something in her arm snapped, and she sank to her knees. Maeve stood over her, smiling, and drew her sword.
"Swear fealty to me, human, and I will let you live... as my slave," the Unseelie Queen hissed. She tightened her grip, her smiling broadening as Elisa gasped from the pain.
"I should rip off your wings!" Broadway cried angrily, grabbing Demona's appendages as if he intended to do just that. Demona screamed again, and rolled, forcing him to topple off of her. She scrambled across the floor on all fours, but Broadway caught hold of her tail before she could get away. She dug in her talons as he tried to pull her back.
Maeve raised her sword and twisted Elisa's arm again. "Your answer, human!" she spat over Elisa's scream of pain.
Goliath barely heard Elisa's scream over his own roar. He hurled himself at Madoc, but before his feet could leave the ground, the Unseelie Lord calmly raised one hand and turned the gargoyle at once to stone. Smiling cruelly, he plucked a mace from the air and raised it.
Elisa looked up, at Maeve, and then past her, at the scene behind her. "Nooooo!" she cried in horror, rising to her feet and pushing past Maeve in a desperate attempt to block the blow. A soft gasp replaced her cry as the faerie blade penetrated her side. Maeve frowned with disgust as she withdrew her sword, and Elisa's lifeless body fell limp to the ground as Madoc's blow reduced the former leader of the clan to rubble.
"Father! Elisa!" cried Angela, rushing at Madoc. But the Redcaps and yell-hounds blocked her path, and she froze as Maeve looked up at her sharply. A chill fell over her as Maeve extended her hand and radiant wisps of green energy circled about her like translucent snakes. Maeve waved her hand slowly, almost hypnotically, then clenched her palm into a fist. As she did, the waves of energy coalesced. Angela barely had time to gasp before they tightened around her like invisible chains, binding her wings and arms securely against her body and holding her immobile before the Unseelie Queen.
"'Tis a pity," said Maeve, gesturing to the motionless woman on the ground. "I could've had a bit of fun with that one. She had such spirit." She held up her bloodied sword before Angela and it glowed briefly with intense light. When the light faded, the sword was clean again and she moved to return it to its sheath. "But you have spirit, too," she said, smiling mysteriously. She made another gesture and a whip of light appeared in her hand. She lashed out with it, curling the end around Angela's neck. The young female gasped helplessly as the energy whip solidified into a heavy adamantine collar and a matching length of chain, the end held in Maeve's hand. Maeve grinned and jerked the chain hard, pulling Angela to her knees before her and not more than a few inches from Elisa's fallen body. Angela stared up at the Unseelie Queen, eyes full of tears and horror as the triumphant fay leaned down toward her. "Spirit I shall take great satisfaction in breaking, my slave," she hissed.
Angela looked away from Maeve's fierce, primal gaze, tears forming in her eyes as her hands went numbly to the heavy collar clamped around her neck. The thick band of faerie metal was ice cold against her skin. She tugged at it weakly, but the realization had already set in. Elisa Maza's still body lay slumped on the ground at Maeve's feet. Goliath's stone form lay in pieces at Madoc's. The war was over... and her side had lost.
Madoc looked on, unamused, as Maeve stood triumphant over her new prisoner. "You may have your fun later, my Queen, after we have the key to Avalon. Take her back to the castle," said Madoc, ignoring the girl's terrified whimpering. "She has some questions to answer there."
"Aye," Maeve agreed, tugging on the chain to regain Angela's full attention. The Dark Queen stooped lower and took Angela by the chin with her free hand, smiling wickedly. "And this time, child, there will be no interruptions."
The mace vanished from Madoc's fingertips into the nothingness from which it had come, and he looked at the two broken bodies. "From dust thou art," he said, with utter contempt in his voice. Magic sprang from his fingertips, disintegrating the lifeless shells, letting them blow on the wind.
Broadway and Demona rolled on the ground, clawing and growling at each other, oblivious to everything else going on around them, until at last a few of the Halflings separated them, dragging them apart and back to their feet. Still, Broadway glared at Demona, chest heaving and eyes glowing brilliantly even as Rael and Rita held him fast... until he finally caught sight of Angela, cowed and in chains, kneeling at Maeve and Madoc's feet. At that, Demona was all but forgotten.
"Angela!" cried Broadway in horror. The last member of the resistance still standing, he barely even noticed the absence of his friends as he fought against the hands that held him, trying to spring at Madoc. His struggles were useless; the Halflings held him immobile with ease. "Let her go, you - you - " Words failed him.
"What are you doing?" demanded Demona as she took in the same scene as Broadway. She surged against the Halfling still holding her arm, shrugging George Harrison's hand off roughly. She stomped toward the two Unseelie rulers, pointing a talon angrily. "We had a deal, Ms. O'Connor!" Demona spat. "The girl belongs to me! You promised me no harm would come to her! I delivered my part of bargain - now you deliver yours!"
Angela gasped, her voice trembling in shock. "Mother, I can't believe you allied yourself with..."
"Oh, hush yourself, girl!" Maeve ordered, yanking the chain again and giving a small gesture with her other hand. A gag appeared over Angela's mouth, silencing her. Broadway and Demona gave a simultaneous growl, and Demona took another angry step toward the two Unseelie.
Madoc looked at Maeve disapprovingly, then back at Demona. "You misunderstand us," he said, smiling. "We have no intention of harming her... provided she gives us the information we need and serves us obediently."
"Unacceptable!" Demona growled, flaring her wings. She stalked closer, ignoring the desperate head shaking Angela was doing, until she was nearly eye to eye with the two fay.
"The words of our agreement were quite clear," Demona hissed menacingly. She produced a small scroll from her belt and held it up. "We bound our agreement with magic - human and fay. It cannot be broken. Angela stays with me!"
Maeve chuckled musically, but Demona was unmoved. "I promised you that you and your daughter would always be together, did I not?" Maeve questioned. "Those were the words you speak of, true?"
Demona scowled, unamused. "Yes," she replied.
"Very well, then." Maeve gave a gesture, and a moment later Demona was on her knees beside Angela on the ground, similarly bound and gagged. Her head shot up and she glared at Maeve with fire in her eyes. "You will both be together always," Maeve said, nodding, "as my slaves."
"And you would've thought she had learned her lesson after the first two times she made a deal with a member the Third Race," Madoc commented dryly. "Take them both back to the castle for questioning. I expect to be landing our forces on the shores of Avalon by morning."
Maeve nodded, and with a gesture, a portal of light appeared behind her. "Come along now," she said, addressing the two captives as she moved toward it.
"No! Let her go!" Broadway screamed. Summoning all his energy, he wrenched himself free of the Halflings who held him and plowed past George Harrison on a collision course for Madoc and Maeve.
Madoc shook his head and calmly raised one hand, and Broadway found himself propelled off his feet and pulled upwards towards the heavens. He tried to uncloak his wings, but they were held fast by the Unseelie Lord's spell. He could only watch as Maeve vanished through the portal, tugging Angela and then Demona along behind her. Then, Madoc lowered his hand with a peremptory gesture. Broadway found himself hurtling rapidly towards the ground. He struggled to free his wings, but just as he was about to do so, the first rays of the sun appeared on the horizon.
"NOOOOO!" yelled the portly gargoyle, feeling himself turning to stone and yet remaining conscious this time. "NOOOO!" he screamed silently, as the ground approached him....
And now, the conclusion…
* * * * *
The Longest Day, Part 2
* * * * *
"I've saved you a seat, child," Maeve said off-handedly, jerking the chain to again regain Angela's attention as the glowing portal shimmered and closed behind them. Banshee and the Morrigan stepped forward from the dimness of the dungeon to help their mistress with her new prisoners. Demona fought against her bonds as the ghastlier looking of the two fay women grabbed her and shoved her towards a waiting cage. The younger gargoyle only drooped her head weakly as Banshee took hold of her with ice cold hands and aided Maeve in ushering her quickly to a large, specially made chair in the center of the dank, dimly lit room.
"Do make yourselves comfortable, ladies," Maeve added, not looking back. She gave a feral grin at the answering muffled snarl that came in reply from behind the gag of the red-haired gargoyle. She swept her cloak back off her shoulders with a flourish as the Morrigan secured the last lock on the cramped, narrow cage that had been positioned to give its new occupant a perfect view of what was to come.
"Enjoy th' show," the pale skinned Unseelie hissed as she tucked the key inside her ragged black dress. Demona only snarled again, biting down harder on her gag.
Angela, however, barely struggled at all. As the Banshee finished securing the familiar restraints designed to hold her immobile in the massive chair, the Lady Maeve walked slowly to the far end of the room, opening a large cabinet set into the wall with a subtle gesture of her hand.
"Now then, let's see" she said, addressing the two captive gargoyles behind her, "what shall we begin with first?" She crossed her arms, placing her hand under her chin contemplatively. "So many choices..."
* * * * *
June 20, 1999 - Castle Wyvern, 8:31 PM
Angela's terrified waking shriek met Broadway's ears as he awoke, but he responded only with a loud moan of his own as he fell forwards, collapsing on his stomach onto the paved ground of the courtyard. A moment later, he felt two pairs of gentle hands rolling him over, and then two concerned female faces, one human and one gargoyle, entered his field of vision. He tried to reach out to them, but his arms wouldn't respond. He tried to speak, but found himself unable to even muster the strength to form words. So he lay there on his back, too weak to rise, watching and listening. Angela was bending over him, talking to him in a reassuring tone of voice, but he could barely register her words. Elisa was beside her, her face contorted in worry. Then both faces became blurred, and he could no longer make out their features.
* * * * *
Destine Manor, 8:32 PM
Demona screamed and tumbled off the sofa onto the floor as the searing pain of her wings sprouting from her back finally roused her to full wakefulness. She rose up on her hands and knees, panting for a moment, then flipped over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide with shock and terror. Sitting up, she uncurled her clenched hand, revealing a crumpled business card.
Demona growled and crumpled the little piece of white paper into a tight ball, casting it into the fireplace as she hurried from the room to her study.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, 8:33 PM
"He's even worse off than ever!" Angela cried, lifting her head up and staring at the other gargoyles as they swooped down from their perches and gathered around. "I don't think he can even hear me!"
Elisa placed her hands on Angela's shoulders in an attempt to reassure her friend. "It won't do him any good for you to panic, Angela," she said softly. Goliath moved closer and put an arm around both of them.
"I think that he's losing consciousness again," said Angela with despair. "And stone sleep isn't even helping him at all. Elisa, I don't know what to do! Please tell me you found my mother. Please, Elisa?"
Elisa's heart wrenched as Angela stared at her with large, tear-filled eyes.
"I wish I could, Angela," she replied, watching Angela's hopes sink like a stone. "I really do. I spent all day looking. I staked out her house. I checked at Nightstone. Either she's not in the city or she just doesn't want to be found right now."
Angela looked at Broadway again and began to cry.
"I'm sorry, Angela," Elisa said, kneeling beside her and holding her.
"We will keep searching," Goliath announced. "We must locate Demona."
He stepped away, leaving Elisa to console his daughter, and began to organize the patrols. Angela finally looked up at Elisa. "I did everything I could, Angela," the dark-haired woman insisted.
"I know Elisa, I know." Angela hugged her impulsively. "Will you help me take him back inside?" she asked after a few more sniffles.
Elisa nodded. As the rest of the clan left to renew the search, Angela and Elisa took Broadway back into the castle.
* * *
From the tower above, Owen looked on worriedly, frowned, and then headed inside to do what he could to help Elisa and Angela with Broadway.
* * * * *
The Brocken, Germany
"Milady?" Banshee approached the lavish couch timidly, hesitating as she neared close enough to the Dark Queen to make out the words she was muttering in her slumber.
"The spell to Avalon, child… you will tell me eventually." She squirmed against the pillows, eyes still closed but smiling in an odd manner that made Banshee uncomfortable.
"Milady," she spoke again, raising her voice some. At last, she reached out and shook the emerald-haired woman's shoulder.
Maeve roused to alertness instantly, sitting bolt upright and blinking rapidly several times to clear the dream images from her mind. "Beansidhe," she greeted, smiling warmly. She shook her head, her smile turning a bit wicked. "I just had the most interestin' dream… is it nearly time?"
"Yes, milady," Banshee replied. "Loki is waiting… though I'm not sure why our cousin the Morrigan does not assist us in this."
Maeve rose gracefully from the couch, looking as alert and well groomed as a woman who had not just woken from a nap. "Our cousin is attending to other concerns… Loki makes a fitting enough substitute."
Banshee nodded submissively. "Very well, milady." She waited until Maeve had strode past, then followed her Queen silently from the room.
* * * * *
Central Park - Conservatory Gardens, 10:55 PM
Three glowing shapes materialized in the gardens, solidifying into the forms of Maeve, Loki, and the Banshee. The Queen of the Unseelie Court gazed about, inhaling deeply and sensing the magical energies around her, then nodded with approval.
"All is well," she said. "The rest of our kind have left the city. We can begin our preparations."
"Good idea, ladies," said Loki. "You two go right ahead. I'll be back a little before noon tomorrow." He began to saunter off towards the bright lights of the city, but was halted by a sharp whistle from Maeve.
"And where do you think you be going?" she asked the Norse trickster in an overly even voice.
"Out to have some fun, of course," said Loki. "I mean, you don't expect me to spend the next thirteen hours just standing around here, do you? I've got places to go, people to torment, that sort of thing... badda-boom, badda-bing." He made shadow boxing motion with his arms, and rolled his eyes when Banshee gave him an incredulous stare.
"Your presence is required here," said Maeve sharply. "I did not ask you to come here to engage in idle amusements, Laufeyson, and you'd best be rememberin' that. We have an important mission, and I require your assistance as well as the Banshee's."
"You mean, I've got to stay here and help you get the Hand ready?" protested Loki. "Instant Dullsville! Come on, Maeve, please! Just for an hour? I mean, after we're done with the place, there won't be enough left of the Big Apple to amuse myself with! Can't I just get out for a moment and turn a few people into iguanas, or something? Pleeeaaaase?"
Maeve's eyes glowed with hot emerald light.
"The answer is 'NO'," she said, pronouncing each word coldly as her hair flew about her like streamers. Banshee couldn't help but cringe and shield her eyes as a violent burst of light shot from Maeve's eyes and enveloped Loki. When she dared look again, Loki was gone. In his place was a small green lizard about two feet long. The reptile looked up at her and flicked a narrow forked tongue. Banshee silently gasped.
Maeve's hair settled perfectly back over her shoulders, and she ran her hands along the front of her tunic, smoothing invisible wrinkles.
"Now then," she said pleasantly, addressing the iguana. "I hope this makes the matter clear." Smiling, she cast a glance at Banshee; the former Seelie ducked her head quickly and tried to look as obedient as possible. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the iguana nodding almost imperceptibly.
Maeve waited a few more moments, letting the silence speak for her. "Good," she said. Turning, she snapped her fingers, and Loki reverted to his original form. "Now help me get things set up," Maeve ordered levelly, not even looking back.
Banshee hurried quickly to Maeve's side, while Loki muttered something indistinguishable in Old Norse in disgust. The flowers nearest him wilted and withered away to dust almost at once, but he barely noticed it. Then he, too, walked quietly over to the Unseelie Queen.
Maeve snapped her fingers, and a marble stand appeared before her. She laid the Hand of Nai-No-Kami atop it, and then gestured. Three tall, unlit candles materialized about the emerald talisman. "Loki," she said. "If you will do the honors...."
Loki sullenly gestured, and each candle's wick began to burn brightly. Maeve picked up the candle in the middle, and motioned to her companions. Loki took the candle on the right and Banshee the candle on the left. All three held the tapers aloft, over the Hand.
"And now, to begin," said Maeve. She spoke a few words aloud, in a dialect of the Japanese tongue that had been ancient when Kyoto was first built. Loki and the Banshee repeated the words after her. Maeve recited another verse from the Invocation of Nai-No-Kami, and again, her two attendants repeated it.
The Hand began to glow with an eerie green radiance.
* * * * *
Central Park, 11:59 PM
Near the other end of Central Park, sheltered in a small clearing among a secluded copse of trees, Demona rose from her meditation and stepped into the pentagram that she had marked out around a forgotten marble disk set in the ground. Moonlight shone bright off the carefully polished face of the sundial, and the gargoyle sorceress smiled slightly, pleased. It had taken nearly an hour to clear away the overgrowth of ivy and to create an area around the old timepiece that was suitable for her purposes. Stout candles now sat at the corners of the pentagram, and next to them clay bowls filled with smoldering incense. The scent was intoxicating. Demona inhaled deeply, feeling her body relax even more as her mind became increasingly focussed.
An electric tingle surged through her feet, up her legs and back, and across the fine membranes of her wings as she brought herself fully into the circle. She knelt to one knee, removing the scroll she had transcribed the previous night from her belt and unrolling it onto the smooth, cool face of the sundial, aligning it with the needle, north to south, and placing four small, weathered stones at its corners to hold it in place. She stood back up, extracting a second, larger scroll from her belt and unrolled it carefully, focussing on the magical energies filling the air about her, waiting for the sign. Her whole body tingled with sensation, and as a prickly shiver raced down her tail, she knew that midnight had come. Her voice rose low, beginning the chant that was scribed on the scroll. She spoke steadily, rhythmically, and in a language that time had long since forgotten.
The random energies converged, focussing in on the center of the magic circle - focussing on the sundial, and on the scroll that lay upon it - as she chanted. The candles brightened, flaring higher as the invisible currents surrounded her, gaining cohesion. It was a combination of these magical energies, enveloping her body like a steady warm shower, and the smoky, intoxicatingly pleasant fragrance of the burning herbs filling her head that soon rendered Demona's perceptions muzzy. The recitation continued, almost mechanically, as a part of her consciousness seemed to subtract itself and suddenly became spectator.
A lone gargoyle stood near the center of a magic circle, chanting calmly in an ancient tongue as candlelight flickered off the wisps of smoke rising about her. Demona watched, fascinated, as ghostly images appeared in the haze - memories floating to the surface of a sea of consciousness.
* * *
"Demona, you must be freezing!"
She took Michel's hand, allowing him to help her through the small window. A fire roared in the hearth, the wood popping and crackling merrily, and the bearded man quickly shut the icy pane behind his friend to keep the precious warmth from escaping into the blizzard raging outside.
"Gargoyles don't feel the cold," she said dismissively, shaking a small flurry of white snowflakes from her flame red hair.
"Just seeing anyone out in weather like this makes me shiver," he stated. "What brings you here on such an unpleasant midwinter's night?"
Demona gave a mischievous smile. "I have the book, Michel," she said excitedly, withdrawing an ancient volume from underneath the protective embrace of her caped wings. "I had to travel all the way to London, but I found it." She grinned sheepishly as she added, "Just like you said."
"May I see it?" Michel asked. Demona held it out to him and he took it in both hands and carried it a short distance to a long table strewn with scrolls and similar books. "Magnificent," he said as he set it down and ran his hand over the scrollwork on the cover. "Simply magnificent."
Demona came next to him, and together they opened the book.
"The Black Book of Nantes," the bearded human whispered in awe as he surveyed the table of contents. "I would not believe it were I not seeing it with my own eyes. Even the vision I had did not fully convince me of its existence."
Demona looked at the handwritten text and shrugged. "It's no Grimorum Arcanorum," she said.
Michel looked up at her questioningly. She blushed slightly and added, "I read some of it on the way back... it was a long trip."
Michel de Nostradame gave an amused smile. "Vous avez raison, petite," he replied. "This book is not like the Grimorum. The Grimorum contains dozens of powerful spells... the Black Book of Nantes holds but one - a spell so powerful and dangerous that it destroyed an entire civilization." He paused, taking in Demona's incredulous stare. "If the ancient stories are true, that is," he added, closing the book gently. "But come... we will have many nights to ponder such burdensome topics. If I am not mistaken, tonight is the eve of the winter solstice." He smiled, his eyes twinkling.
Demona's eyes grew wide. "Michel, you didn't..."
He nodded, placing his arm around her shoulders. "I did not know if you would return in time, but I prepared a little something anyway."
The book was left on the worktable as Michel ushered his gargoyle friend to the kitchen.
* * *
"This is the last one, petite," the elderly, gray-haired man stated as he placed the book shakily into her talons. He looked up at her from his partially hunched over position, hesitating to let go of the volume. "You are certain these books will be kept safely hidden?" he asked.
"Yes, Michel," Demona replied patiently. "I have a secret place where I store the things I have collected over the centuries... and it is protected day and night by magic wards. No one will ever find them without me knowing about it."
"You must guard these books with your life, petite," the old man cautioned, releasing his grip on the ancient tome. "The knowledge contained within them could be used for terrible purposes should they fall into the wrong hands." She offered her arm and he took it, walking with small steps beside her as they exited the now barren library. "I would just as soon have destroyed every last one of them was there not a fellow student of the Arts such as yourself whom I could entrust them to."
Demona guided her friend gently to a chair in the next room. "I am honored, Michel... but I don't understand your hurry... you still have much time left ahead of you," she said, trying to sound encouraging.
The old man shook his head. "Let's not talk of such things," he said. "You'd best be putting that last book with the rest of them. When the next new moon comes, I will set a bonfire in the yard, and announce in my next writing that I have burned every last one of my mystical books."
Demona nodded, though she still wasn't sure why her friend insisted on such an elaborate charade. Who could he think was watching that such a ruse was truly necessary? She shook it off, and didn't pursue the question; she had learned to indulge the ever-increasing number of eccentricities her friend had acquired as he grew older.
"And I would be remiss if I did not caution you, Demona," he added, his tone unusually ominous. "Be wary of using the knowledge within those books - or any others you come to acquire in the future - for your own purposes, as well. In any book of spells, you will find much temptation... but nothing comes without a price. Just make sure before you begin that you are ready to pay it."
Demona looked down at the book in her talons. "I will remember that always, Michel."
* * *
The constellations drifted silently overhead in a crystal clear sky as the solitary gargoyle continued her chant. The wind shifted slightly, and the smoke followed it. Five centuries flickered by in the haze as the candle flames went low. They flared high again as the breeze faded, and the images returned.
* * *
She stretched, freeing herself from the last of the stone skin. A goddess with blue skin and red hair, she exuded a primal energy that Xanatos found exhilarating. She moved with a warrior's training, lightly despite her solidly curvaceous build. She caped her wings, settling them like a cloak around her shoulders and regarded him levelly. "You are David Xanatos? Owner of the tallest building in the world, and the current owner the Grimorum Arcanorum?"
"I am. And you are?" he replied, meeting her gaze.
"You may call me... Demona."
Xanatos gave a half bow and extended his hand. "It suits you." Owen sneezed again. "Owen, go wait at the entrance. I'll be along," he paused, "later." A grateful Owen withdrew to the safety of the parking lot to wait until he was called again. "So tell me, my dear, just what can I do for you?"
Demona took his arm and indicated a path that led into a patch of Apothecary roses. "It is more like what we can do for each other." She looked up, tilted her head, and regarded Xanatos with a level gaze. "Because of me you now have the keys to awaken the sleeping gargoyles of Wyvern. They have been waiting a millennium for just the right moment and the time grows near. If you awaken them, I will pledge you their fealty. It seems in these days of hostile takeovers and strong armed tactics some real muscle might come in handy."
"True," David agreed, "but what is in it for you, my dear Demona?"
She strolled quietly at his side for a moment. Michel had told her to trust this man. Over the centuries most of the things that Michel had warned her of had come to pass. She hoped he was right this time. "My mate is among those that sleep at Castle Wyvern. It is time for him to awake. For us to be reunited. I am tired of being alone."
Demona, caught up in her thoughts and old memories, failed to notice that Xanatos had stopped and was staring at her thoughtfully. "How is this possible? How can you still live if you were born at the same time as the others? Are gargoyles immortal creatures?"
"No one is immortal," Demona sighed. "I have been cursed with an exceptional life span and I have learned a few ...techniques along the way for maintaining my youth." She saw the hunger in David's eyes even in the dim light. "Perhaps as a bonus, if you do this for me, I shall share them with you."
* * *
She waited, breathless, behind the door, as the voice she had waited for centuries to hear again spoke in the room just beyond.
"You wished to see me, Xanatos?"
"Goliath, there's someone here I want you to meet," the voice of her new ally said casually. "An old acquaintance, I believe."
"Who?" Goliath asked, while the door slid open, right on cue. She saw him clearly only a moment before he saw her. He drew in a powerful gasp, his wings rising up. "You," he breathed. "You're alive!"
She stepped into the room slowly, opening her arms and her wings as a thousand years turned inconsequential in comparison to that moment. "Goliath, my love," she cried.
He drew her into his arms and they embraced, his wings falling about her like a warm blanket as he stroked her hair and she stroked his. "My angel, it really is you," he said.
"Oh, Goliath... all the days that I've dreamed of you and this moment..."
* * *
"I have promised to meet a friend," Goliath stated as he turned to go. "I'll be back soon."
"A friend? Who? Not one of us," she said quickly, turning to him.
"No," he replied. "A human. Elisa Maza."
Anger filled her eyes as she saw her world shattering around her for a second time.
* * *
There was sorrow, but no tears. The lone gargoyle continued her chant unswayed, her rhythm steady, unaware she was being watched. The smoke grew thick again.
* * *
Demona circled Fox slowly, like a jungle cat, eyeing her disdainfully. Fox stood there uncomfortably, dressed in her finest clothes, but remained silent, while Xanatos watched both of them carefully from the sidelines. Demona crossed her arms as she came to stand in front of the auburn-haired woman, and gazed deep into her eyes for a moment, focussing on something intently. Fox shifted nervously again as Demona's penetrating stare sent a shiver down her spine, and at last she broke eye contact to glance over at her fiancé.
"A most intriguing choice for a mate," Demona said at last, removing her gaze from Fox and shifting it to Xanatos. "So why have you asked me here?"
"We want you to attend the wedding, Demona," Xanatos said jovially.
Demona eyed him dangerously. "And why should I want to do that, human? Your race's ridiculous bonding ceremonies mean less than nothing to me."
Xanatos smiled deviously and stepped toward the azure gargoyle. "Consider your attendance as a favor to me." He put his hand on her shoulder as if they were the closest of friends, earning an evil warning glare. "You do still need me as an ally, Demona."
Demona shrugged off his hand, and considered his statement and the implications behind it quietly for a moment.
"What would I have to do?" she asked quietly, barely concealing the growl in her voice.
"Just be my maid of honor," Fox replied, speaking up for the first time since Demona had entered the room. Demona turned to her, giving an incredulous look. "Don't worry," Fox said, holding up her hands, "I wouldn't dream of making you wear a hideous dress. All you'd have to do is hold the ring."
Demona's eyes narrowed. "And what part of this farce are you not telling me, Xanatos," she asked as the suave billionaire moved in near Fox and took her arm around his own.
Xanatos smiled mischievously. "Just saving the best for last, my dear winged friend," he commented slyly. "Goliath will be there, too. Alone."
A small, wicked grin tugged at Demona's lips. "Very well," she announced. She looked at Fox, her eyes sparkling briefly. "I will be your 'maid of honor.'"
* * *
The Puck perched atop a large globe like a demented monkey, grinning down at Demona where she sat in the high-backed, wooden chair she had reappeared in seconds before.
"'Twas a romp indeed," he summarized joyfully.
Demona slumped in the chair melodramatically. "Spare me your gloating. Just go."
"Without giving you something in return for all this merriment?" he questioned, floating around and coming up beside her. "Puck is many things, but never a poor guest," he stated, wagging a slender finger.
Demona sighed. "Please. Leave!"
Puck's merry smile turned to a scowl. He faded from her side. Demona looked around as his voice suddenly echoed from nowhere.
"You want to be your gargoyle self by night, but not stone by day?" he queried, reappearing in the air above her. "So be it."
"Fearsome creature who would stay
Unchanged by the light of day
Remain you thus throughout the night
And be thou flesh by dawn's fair light!"
The fay trickster vanished in a flash as he finished his pronouncement; Demona only scowled.
* * *
She looked out at the rising sun, astonished. "I don't believe it. He actually did it," she said softly. "And the sun is so warm," she added, stretching her arms over her head. "I never dreamed it would feel this good."
Content, she turned from the window. She walked past Titania's mirror. She gasped as a human visage greeted her from behind the glass. A split second later, the glass shattered.
* * *
The moon slipped at last above the horizon, edging its way slowly along its predetermined arc. Demona did not see it, but instead felt its presence as the magical energies intensified. She continued her chanting, oblivious to all but the magic.
* * *
An unnatural wind filled the studio as she chanted. Owen fought to maintain a hold on the camera as he spoke. "Stop! This is not the spell you..."
Blue lighting crackled through the air, and the indoor storm threw Xanatos's majordomo against a table, then an invisible hand pulled him through the air and deposited him, entranced, in a chair near the wall as the winds subsided.
Demona rolled the parchment back up and yanked a length of cable from the wall. "You are the tricky one, so we'll just make sure you stay put," she declared as she proceeded to tie up the entranced human.
* * *
"You must give them the code."
"I will have vengeance for the betrayal of my clan. Vengeance for my pain."
"But who betrayed your clan?"
"And who caused this pain?"
"The Vikings destroyed my clan," Demona said, staring out into space at something only she could see.
"Who betrayed the castle to the Vikings?"
"The Hunter hunted us down."
"Who created the Hunter?"
"Canmore destroyed the last of us."
"Who betrayed Macbeth to Canmore?"
"Your thirst for vengeance has only created more sorrow. End the cycle, Demona. Give us the code."
"The access code is... alone."
She emerged from her trance a moment later, taking quick stock of her situation as she rubbed her head. Goliath was there, along with three little girls in sailor suits, one with hair of black, one of white, and one of gold.
"Ugh," she gasped, shaking off the lightheadedness. "You tricked me! You had me under a spell! None of this was my fault! It was the humans - always the humans!"
Goliath shook his head sadly. "You have learned nothing."
"Nothing but your lies! I will still have my revenge!" She made to move, but two of the girls grabbed her by her wrists. She snarled, pulling away, but they held her effortlessly with supernatural strength.
"You are tired," proclaimed the blonde one, waving her hand before her. "Sleep."
* * *
Demona lunged and grabbed the bars of her cage, snarling. "You again! Who are you?"
The lavender female cringed back, then took a timid step closer. "Angela," she replied. "Your daughter."
"My daughter?" Demona exclaimed incredulously. "How dare you mock me! I have no daughter!"
"Yes you do," the young female insisted. "The clan's eggs survived. You and Goliath are my biological parents. I'm told there's a resemblance."
Demona stared at her. "My daughter?" she said softly. "After so long... can it really be?"
"I've been living on Avalon," Angela volunteered. "Princess Katharine took all of the eggs there after Castle Wyvern was attacked."
Demona's rage returned. "Typical humans! They pillage the castle and steal our children."
"No, it wasn't like that," Angela retorted quickly. "The Princess saved us. She's part of my clan, as you are," she added tenderly.
"Know this, young one," Demona said, her voice growing cold, "humans have no place in a gargoyle clan. Goliath has lost sight of this simple truth." She put her arm through the bars, laying her hand on Angela's shoulder. "If you truly are my daughter, we must always be there for one another. That is what it means to belong to a clan."
Angela looked away sadly.
* * *
Angela gave a tired, frustrated sigh as Demona paced to the far side of the small cell that had become her home. "I want to understand, Mother, I really do," the young gargoyle said pleadingly, taking hold of the bars and gazing at the captive female sadly.
"No one can ever fully understand, not even you," Demona returned miserably. She turned back around, meeting her daughter's eyes. "Not without living the life I have lived these past centuries... and mine has been a fate I would never wish on you or any other gargoyle." Her eyes took on a distant cast. "I have seen whole clans wiped out in a single night, watched our race teeter on the brink of extinction for centuries, all because the humans fear anything that is different from themselves. And you ask why I have such a hatred of humans... I ask you why I should not. Humans destroyed my clan and have taken from me everything and everyone I have ever loved. I have been betrayed, hated, and hunted by humans for centuries!"
Silence hung in the air for several moments as Angela absorbed the latest of her mother's angry outbursts. "Yes, but that... that doesn't explain how you could have done so many terrible things," she finally said.
"How can you judge me?" Demona questioned. "You've been hiding on a magical island while I have been out in the real world."
* * *
She held the Praying Gargoyle before her, gazing at it sullenly as the fluorescent lights hummed overhead. She sighed deeply, and set the precious statue gently back on the counter, beside the Medici Tablet, and moved across the room to a computerized console.
Demona jabbed a couple buttons on the oversized keypad with her talons. Lights flickered briefly, and a moment later a trio of DNA helixes appeared on the display, accompanied by a mass of text. At the bottom of the screen, the words "Match Probability: 99.99%" flashed in red.
"Angela. My daughter," she pronounced, the sound of the words said aloud seeming to sooth her. She hit a few more buttons and the display changed. A crude graphical simulation played out quickly, followed by a massive block of text. "Results Inconclusive... Continuing Iteration" flashed at the bottom of the screen. Demona sighed and turned the display off. She moved in front of another screen and touched another button. An image of herself in real time appeared, captured by a camera mounted at eye level on the console, as she slipped a diskette into a waiting slot.
"Begin recording," she stated quickly. A light began flashing near the lower right corner of the screen. She took a deep breath.
"Operation Clean Slate: The culmination of five hundred years of preparation..."
* * *
"Demona!" growled Goliath as he and the others rushed into the room. "What sorcery is this?"
"She's already cast a spell," Brooklyn said. "My Latin's rusty, but it can't be good news."
Demona smiled slightly and chuckled as she turned toward the clan. "Oh, but it is." She picked up the container of purple liquid in her talons and turned, holding it up for them to see. "All I have to do is shatter this vial and all of humanity will be destroyed," she declared. "Only our kind will survive, thanks to the power of the Praying Gargoyle."
She ducked as Goliath leapt, thinking he was lunging for her. Instead, he vaulted over her head. She came back up with her laser gun ready, but he already had the Praying Gargoyle in his talons. She hesitated, then gasped as he crumbled the little statue into pieces. They fell to the tabletop in a small pile, and the magical glow faded.
"Now spread your evil if you dare," the big gargoyle stated as she stood there in numb shock. "We can all die together. You and I, the whole clan..." He put his arm around Angela as the young female caped her wings and came to stand beside him. "...and our daughter."
* * *
"Mother!!" Angela stood there in the doorway, eyes a fiery crimson. "How could you?"
Demona half rose from her desk. "Angela? I-I don't know what you mean, my child. What is wrong? Are you hurt?"
"Don't lie to me, Mother," Angela said, stalking across the plush carpet towards her. "We know you used an enchantment on Elisa. She nearly went mad from the nightmares you gave her. She actually started to believe that she hated Father, hated all of us."
"All humans hate us," Demona said bluntly. "It is the way of the world."
"Not in my world, Mother. Elisa is my friend and she is very, very dear to me." Angela stopped in front of the desk and Demona could see the tears shining in her daughter's eyes. "I don't know how you could do such a horrible thing to Elisa and frankly, I don't want to hear your reasons right now. Know this, Mother," she leaned forward with an intense stare, "if you ever, ever hurt anyone I love again, I swear that I will NEVER speak to you again for the rest of my life. As much as I want to be a daughter to you, there is no way on Earth I'd ever forgive you for such a thing."
Numbly, stunned by the cold anger in Angela's voice, Demona watched her daughter turn and leave the way she came. She slowly sank into her chair. When she had used the enchanted dream powder out of a fit of jealous vengeance, Demona hadn't even considered how Angela would react to it. The immortal gargoyle had never had anyone else to think about before. It was a curiously disturbing feeling.
The blood rushed from her face and Demona stared at the French doors. Her relationship with Angela was the first serious attempt that she had made at any kind of friendship in centuries. An unfamiliar emotion swept over her and she swallowed hard to clear the sudden lump in her throat. She realized at that moment that she would have to tread very, very carefully with her daughter or risk being truly alone forever.
Demona sniffed and turned back to her work. A wet blot wrinkled the slick magazine paper and as she stared at it, another drop joined it. She dabbed at her cheek and looked at the moisture on her fingers in shock. Tears? But she never cried. Not since that awful night when she found Goliath and the others frozen in stone on the abandoned battlements of Castle Wyvern and very rarely since in her dreams. Surely losing the affection of one gargoyle wasn't worth crying over. Her lip trembled.
Alone, Demona wept.
* * *
The moon had risen above the treetops, and the candles had shrunk away to stumps. The flames flickered unpredictably, yet still the chant continued.
* * *
"What happened?" Angela asked. "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."
Dominique sighed bitterly. "My story is a tale much too long for one telling. Suffice it to say, I've been hunted and hated and feared for over a millennia and never in all that time, have I known love."
"All things change, Mother," Angela said. "Even that."
* * *
Dominique took Angela's hand reassuringly. "I'm fine. Really." She smiled again, a little broader this time, and at last Angela smiled, too.
"Come," she said. She led Angela by the hand to the other side of the small secret room, then turned and picked up a small silver jewelry box off a waist-high marble pedestal. "I have something I wish to give to you, my daughter."
Angela's eyes lit up. "What is it?"
"It's a little something to remember this day by," Dominique replied as she opened the mirrored lid of the jewelry box and withdrew a smaller box from within. She turned back and handed the small, velvet-covered case to her daughter.
Angela accepted it, her eyes sparkling with curiosity, and looked to her mother again questioningly.
"Open it," Dominique urged, nodding.
Angela turned the small box around in her hands and then carefully folded it open. Her eyes went wide and she gave a small gasp of surprise as she caught a glimpse of gold. A delighted smile covered her face as a heart-shaped locket on a matching gold chain stared back at her.
"Oh, mother... you shouldn't have!" she exclaimed happily. She looked back up at Dominique, beaming.
Dominique gave a small smile of her own and gestured toward the locket. "Here, let me help you," she said.
Angela's smile grew even broader as she handed the box back to her mother and turned and lifted her long hair to one side with her hand so that Dominique could fasten the chain around her daughter's neck. She found herself near a long mirror on the wall, and again she was startled for a moment by the attractive young human woman she saw staring back at her. She felt the locket fall against her skin, the metal cold as ice for a split second, and she let her hair fall back into place and moved her hand to the gold heart, holding it up and examining it in the mirror. "It's beautiful," she whispered as her mother moved up beside her and joined her in looking. "Where did you get it?"
"I... made it for you," Dominique said. She hesitated a moment, then added, "A friend gave me the idea a long time ago."
"A human friend?" Angela asked suspiciously, arching her eyebrows.
Dominique turned her eyes to the floor sheepishly. "Well..."
The next thing she knew, Angela had wrapped her arms around her. "Thank you, Mother," she said, smiling. "I really enjoyed being with you today."
Dominique hesitated only a moment, then brought her arms up around her daughter and returned the hug. "I enjoyed being with you, too," she sad, a bit sadly, a tear quickly forming in her eye.
Angela moved her head back a little, and was surprised when Dominique did not let go. "What's wrong, Mother?"
Dominique turned her head away and closed her eyes, but the tear had already run down her cheek. "It's... just that..." She held her daughter tighter as a ghost of what might have been passed before her eyes. "I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you when you were growing up on Avalon... I'm sorry I wasn't there to see you grow to become what you are now."
Angela closed her eyes and tightened her embrace, adding her invisible wings to it, as well. "I'm sorry too," she whispered softly, "but we're together now, and that's what really matters."
Mother and daughter held each other silently for a long moment.
"I love you, Mother."
"I love you too, Angela."
* * *
Demona rose from her chair and escorted Angela away from the table. "Something is troubling you, child. What's the matter?"
Angela looked up abruptly. "Nothing!" she said in alarm.
Demona's expression indicated her disbelief. "I'm your mother, Angela. Whatever it is, you can tell me. Is it Broadway? Did that big..."
Angela cut her off. "No, Broadway is wonderful. He wouldn't ever hurt me." She looked at her hands, clasping and unclasping them rapidly. "There was some trouble the other night..."
"What kind of trouble?" Demona fought to keep her voice neutral.
"Lexington made friends with a human, only he wasn't a human, he was a fay in disguise." The words began to tumble out. "He tricked Lexington into allowing him to install cybernetic implants into his body. He was using the implants to track Lex and the rest of us so that he could send the Ultra Pack to attack us."
"The Ultra Pack! Who was this rogue?"
"Nicholas Maddox and his partner, Mavis O'Connor." Angela looked up. "You were right not to trust them, Mother. They knew I was from Avalon. They took me and tied me up and tried to make me reveal the secret to getting home. They had taken the others hostage and were going to kill them one by one until I talked."
"Angela, no!" Demona was aghast at the terror her gentle daughter must have felt. "What happened then?"
"What happened?" Angela parroted numbly. "Elisa and the Labyrinth Clan and Xanatos rescued us. We fought them to a standstill, then they escaped. I was so angry! But we were too late to free the gnomes that Maddox had locked away in a secret workshop."
"Gnomes? Why did he have gnomes?" Demona asked carefully.
The tears were rolling freely down Angela's cheeks. "All the time that he was befriending Lexington, Nicholas Maddox was supplying the Quarrymen with their hammers. He was inciting the humans in the city against us."
Demona began to work her way back towards the most troubling aspect of her daughter's story. She handed Angela a box of tissues and rose to pour her a glass of water. She passed the heavy crystal goblet to the girl and allowed her to take several sips before poising her next question. "Angela, if this Maddox and his companion O'Connor were fay, why did they need you to get to Avalon? Is that not their home?"
"It was their home, once. But they belong to the faction that Owen called the Unseelie Court. Maddox, or Madoc as he's really called, is its leader. They were banned from Avalon a long time ago and the way to the island was sealed against them." Angela took several more swallows of water then looked up at her mother. "They want to go home, they want to wage war on Oberon and his followers. The rest of us," she paused and drew a deep, ragged breath before continuing, "if they win, we will become their slaves."
* * *
Demona increased the pace and volume of the chant, as though as second wind had come over her. A new determination filled her voice as the magic energies held her ensconced in their hypnotic grip.
* * *
She landed in their midst, and silently took in the varying degrees of hostile stares. Her chin came up firmly. "Goliath, I must speak with you."
"You have no business here," he replied.
"I would not have come if it wasn't important!"
"Don't listen to her, Goliath," Elisa said, taking his arm.
"He must listen!" Demona insisted desperately.
"He's heard enough from you," Brooklyn said.
"Enough, all of you." Goliath regarded Demona, who met his gaze with earnest urgency. "I will hear her out. Alone."
Elisa opened her mouth to protest, then closed it, her eyes smoldering.
"I will only be a moment," he promised her.
She nodded curtly, and joined the others, leaving him and Demona with the courtyard to themselves.
"You're making no friends by coming here," he growled.
"That doesn't matter. I have to warn you, Goliath! Terrible things are on the horizon!"
"What could be more terrible than what we've already faced?"
"You have to send Angela back to Avalon. There, perhaps, she will be safe! She'll go, if you tell her to. Please, Goliath! If not for my sake, then for hers! For our daughter! Send her to Avalon!"
"I will not force her to go, and she would not leave her clan to save herself. A clan stands and falls together, Demona, or have you forgotten?"
She ignored the barb. "All I want in the world is for Angela to be safe!"
"Safe, with her clan, where she belongs," he said firmly.
Demona flung her hands in the air. "I knew it was a bad idea to come here! I knew you would refuse, but I had to try!" A sudden tear welled, and she dashed it angrily away. "Go on, then! Be blind, await your fate. But remember, I did try!"
She spun and ran from him, diving into the night.
* * *
Angela closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, groaning with frustration as the magic slipped from her mind's grasp for the third time that night.
"The headaches will pass once you become more accustomed to using the Arts," Demona assured her, placing a hand on her shoulder gently.
"It's not just the magic," Angela replied, grimacing as she opened her eyes again. "It's the flickering of the lights I see. I... I can't hold my focus..."
"You'll get used to that, too," Demona insisted. "You just need to keep practicing. Reading auras is not easy at first, but it is vital for you to learn so you can protect yourself. The Third Race can disguise themselves in many forms, but they can never fully suppress the magical energies surrounding them. And once you are able to recognize disguised fay, you and your clan will be that much safer from them. After what Maeve did to you..." She paused, trying to maintain a level tone. "I don't want you to find yourself in that situation again, and I want to give you every advantage I can to help you."
Angela's wings drooped in shame as she pushed away the memories of her capture. "I know you mean well, Mother... I just don't know if I'll ever get the hang of any of this... maybe I'm just not cut out to be a magic user," she said dejectedly.
Demona took her hands into her own and made Angela look her in the eye. "You're my daughter, Angela. I know you can do this if you try. I wish this were easier for you. Under any other circumstances it would be. But the Unseelie threat is too great. You must learn the things I can teach you." She looked at the girl meaningfully. "Don't do it for me, Angela. Do it for yourself, and your clan."
Angela nodded slowly. "I understand, Mother." She took a deep, cleansing breath. "Can we try the lesson again?"
Demona smiled. "Of course, my daughter."
* * *
"Happy Solstice Night, Mother," Angela said, smiling. She drew her hands from under her caped wings and offered a small, gaily wrapped package.
Demona offered a questioning look and accepted it hesitantly. "For me, Daughter?" she asked incredulously, inspecting the careful, crisp wrapping job. She held it up near her ear and shook it lightly. "What is it?" she asked finally.
Angela beamed. "Just open it, Mother," she encouraged, bouncing with excitement and impatience.
"You know that it's a human tradition, not a gargoyle one, to exchange gifts at this time of year," Demona lectured mildly as she shredded the gold foil paper with her talons. She fumbled with the flat box underneath for a moment before freeing the lid and pulling back the tissue paper to reveal her daughter's gift to her.
Angela's smile broadened as Demona's eyes widened in wonderment at what she saw. "Angela," the elder female gasped. "How on earth did you do this?" She trailed off, lifting up the framed photograph of Dominique Destine and her daughter, Angela Brigitte Destine, as humans, and staring at it in awe.
"I thought it'd be something you could keep in your office," Angela said. "Do you like it?"
Demona looked up at her daughter in astonishment. "Do I like it?" she parroted. Then a smile appeared on her face. "Angela... of course I like it." She took Angela into a grateful hug. "Thank you, my daughter," she whispered softly.
Angela squeezed Demona tight and rested her head against her shoulder. "Thank you, Mother, for being there for me this past year," she replied, her voice brimming with emotion. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Angela," Demona returned, brushing her knuckles over the younger female's brow ridges. "I will always be there for you."
* * *
The sky was beginning to brighten. A deep blue had replaced the black, and the faintest of the stars began to wink out one by one. Still, the moon shone bright, and the chant continued.
* * *
Angela put her arm around Demona as they turned back to the fireplace. They had watched the flames dancing for several silent seconds before Angela noticed the new painting hanging over the mantle.
"Where did you get that?" the girl asked, staring at it in wonder.
"It was a gift... from a fr-," Demona began, "from an artist I just hired to help spruce up the Nightstone offices."
Angela smiled at her mother's slip of the tongue. "But I thought you hated humans," she accused mildly, still smiling.
Demona shrugged, and a small smile formed on her lips. "Some of them I can... tolerate."
Angela just hugged her again and sighed contentedly as the fire bathed them in its warm glow.
* * *
"Then I'm afraid our companies have nothing left to discuss. Good day, Mr. Montrose." Dominique hung the phone up quickly, sighing in annoyance. "Sorry for the interruption, Andrea," she said, returning her attention to the casually attired young woman who was sitting in the chair across from her desk.
Andrea looked up from the photograph she had picked up from the desk and presently held in her hands. "Is this your daughter?" she asked curiously, indicating the smiling, dark-haired girl beside Dominique in the picture.
Dominique smiled. "Yes. That is Angela," she said, leaning forward slightly.
"She's a very attractive young lady," Andrea commented as she set the framed picture back in its place on the desk. "She must take after her mother," she added, smiling.
Dominique grinned and relaxed back in her well-padded chair. "Why, my dear Miss Calhoun," she said teasingly, "you must know that flattery like that will get you everywhere."
Andrea and Dominique shared a momentary giggle. "I'd love to meet her sometime," Andrea said sincerely. Then her eyes brightened with inspiration. "I know," she said, "why don't you let me do portraits of the two of you!" She glanced over at the far wall. "You need something to liven up this office, anyway."
"A portrait?" Dominique said warily. "I don't know..."
Andrea rolled her eyes amicably. "Dominique, all company presidents have portraits in their offices." She rose from her seat and moved to the empty wall, surveying the barren expanse of wallpapered plaster with her hands on her hips. "You can hang it right here," she declared after a moment of consideration. "It'd look perfect!" She turned back to her friend, smiling broadly despite the dubious look on Dominique's face. "Come on, you don't think I can only paint gargoyles, do you?" she cajoled.
"No, of course not... it's just that..." Dominique fell silent, unable to think of one good reason why she shouldn't allow Andrea to paint her portrait.
Andrea bounced eagerly, awaiting her friend's response. Finally, a smile broke on Dominique's face again. "Okay, you win," she conceded. "You may paint my portrait."
"Great!" Andrea cheered. "And how about Angela's?" she asked excitedly.
Dominique considered the idea. If they used the illusion spell again, Angela could sit for a portrait at night if she was willing. "I will talk to her about it," she announced.
"Cool!" Andrea replied. "I can't wait... this is going to be so much fun!"
Dominique couldn't help but smile; her new friend's enthusiasm was contagious. She brushed a bit of lint off the sleeve of her red suit jacket. "So I guess all I have to do now is figure out what to wear," she said wryly.
Andrea smiled, and the two women shared another chuckle.
* * *
"She wants to paint a portrait of me?" Angela asked, setting down the scroll she had been studying.
"Yes. She wants to paint both of us." Demona moved to her daughter's side and lit another candle on the worktable. "I told her I would talk to you about it."
Angela's expression showed a mixture of familial pride and confusion. "And this is the same human you only met two weeks ago, right?"
"And she knows that we're gargoyles already?" Angela asked.
"Well, not exactly..." Demona replied hesitantly.
"Mother," Angela's tone was mildly scolding.
"She thinks we are human, and that is just fine for now," Demona proclaimed simply. "All we have to do is use the illusion spell again when she meets you."
"If Andrea is your friend, Mother, you shouldn't keep lying to her."
"I'm not lying to her," Demona replied defensively. "I'm... just not telling her all of the truth."
"Because you don't trust her?" Angela finished.
"No," Demona retorted quickly. "Because right now," she paused, forming the explanation carefully in her head. "Right now, with all that is going on, all of us are safer if she doesn't know we are gargoyles."
Angela considered that for a moment, recalling the events in the Labyrinth of just a few nights past. "I suppose maybe you're right," she conceded. Her face was grim.
* * *
"What do you think of this one?"
Dominique looked up from a selection of blouses to see Andrea holding yet another ghastly looking dress up in front of herself. She made an involuntary face and Andrea's expression sank. "That isn't really your color," she said consolingly as Andrea shoved the hanger back onto the rack.
"I don't even know what I'm doing here," Andrea said dispiritedly as she followed Dominique through the clothing displays. She looked about the boutique, shaking her head. "All this stuff is so expensive... and I don't know anything about fashion. I might as well just stick with jeans and t-shirts."
Dominique made a funny sound in her throat as she pulled several items from another rack. "Ugh. Please don't say that," she said, turning to her new friend. "Here. Now this is more appropriate for you." She handed Andrea a stylish jacket and skirt combo in a shade of pale blue and made her hold it up as she examined it.
Andrea only returned a doubtful look. "It's kind of short, don't you think?"
"Nonsense," Dominique stated, giving a satisfied nod. "You shouldn't be afraid to show off what you have and use it to your advantage - that's been my experience." She led Andrea on to the next cluster of clothing racks. "And you don't need to know a lot about fashion to look good. Those 'models' you see on the television and in the magazines - nobody dresses like that." Andrea blushed slightly as Dominique began casually pawing through a selection of undergarments. "The only thing you need to figure out is what looks good on you, and then run with it," she said as she tossed a lacy white slip onto the growing pile in Andrea's arms. "Now let's find you some new shoes," she said, hurrying Andrea along beside her.
* * *
"...so I guess I'll see you on Monday," Andrea said as they stepped outside.
Dominique looked up. "Yes," she replied. She paused, and grabbed Andrea by the arm as she began to move away. "Andrea, wait," she said hesitantly.
The younger woman turned back to her. "What is it, Dominique?"
Dominique let the words come before she could think twice about them. "Andrea, I want you to know... I value our friendship greatly. It has meant a lot to me... much more than I can probably ever explain."
Andrea looked at her oddly. "Jeez, you make it sound like we're never going to see each other again."
Dominique's mouth fell open. "Andrea, I..." No more words would come.
Andrea dismissed her previous comment with a shake of her head. "It means a lot to me, too, Dominique," she replied. Before Dominique could say more, the young woman gave her a quick hug. "I've gotta run or I'm gonna be late for that PIT meeting. I'll call you later!"
Andrea was already hurrying off. Dominique stood there for several seconds, shaken, and then finally managed to call after her with a "Goodbye."
* * * * *
Central Park, 5:05 AM
Demona finished the chant and shook her head, staggering slightly as the magical energies dissipated. She rubbed her head for a moment, and wiped at her eye to brush away the beginnings of a tear, then looked up at the sky and found it was already reddening with the approaching dawn. Exhaustion settled over her like a grim fog with the realization that she had been standing there for nearly five hours, reciting the same words over and over in an endless loop.
She bent down wearily, plucking the small scroll from the sundial and rolling the innocuous looking piece of parchment up tightly before tucking it securely into her belt. The candles had burned away to stubs; she gathered them up and cast them aside, discarding them into the surrounding underbrush. The incense had burned away, too, but the clay pots she left for later.
Demona yawned as she regained her feet, double-checked to make sure both scrolls were secure, and sank her talons into the tallest and sturdiest of the surrounding trees. A few moments later, she emerged from the canopy of the small forest, staring through tired eyes at the sprawling cityscape encircling her on all sides and trying to get her bearings. She spied the Eyrie Building immediately, its size and distinctive shape unmistakable in the pre-dawn half light. She looked up at the castle atop it, and checked her belt once more for the scroll. She sighed, finding it still secure.
"For you, Angela," she whispered as she looked at the castle one last time, "and for the greater good." She pinned her eyelids shut for a moment, fighting the unease in her stomach, until the tears retreated once more, then spread her wings and set off towards home as fast as the early morning winds would carry her.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, 5:16 AM
Goliath entered the library. Broadway was unconscious on the sofa, and Angela was curled on the floor beside him, her wings drooping.
"Angela?" he said softly as he approached. She turned and looked up, and as he saw her eyes, he could tell she had been crying. "How is Broadway?" he asked.
"No change," she said. Her eyes flickered with a tiny speck of hope. "Any luck?" she asked quietly.
He stifled the frustrated growl that rose in his throat. "No, I'm afraid we did not find any sign of Demona."
Angela sighed wearily. "I didn't think so," she said. She took Broadway's hand in her own. "Why does she disappear when I need her most?" she asked aloud, starting to cry again.
"Do not lose hope, my daughter," said Goliath, taking her into his arms and comforting her. "We will find a way to undo this evil. That I promise you."
He held her until she stopped trembling, then wiped the tears from her cheek with his talon. "It will be dawn soon, but Elisa can still continue the search during the day." He looked up, suddenly noticing the human woman's absence. "Where is Elisa?" he asked.
"I told her to go home and get some sleep," Angela replied. She looked at Goliath meaningfully. "I think she had been awake for hours. She was ready to collapse but she didn't want to leave... and she felt so guilty about not being able to find Demona..." Angela sniffed, and gave a small smile. "Luckily, Matt stopped by and helped me talk her into going home and getting some rest before she starts searching again."
Goliath nodded. "She needs her rest, as do we." He looked to the windows, where the traces of the coming dawn were appearing in the eastern sky. He helped Angela to her feet, and the two of them began moving Broadway back out to the courtyard.
* * * * *
Destine Manor, 5:23 AM
Demona felt a twinge in her stomach that had nothing to do with apprehension, and she pulled in her wings and dove towards the second floor balcony. She landed just as the edge of the sun's disk appeared over the horizon, stumbling to her knees and screaming in agony as the transformation began. Bones popped, internal organs shifted, and her skin went tight as human features and skin tones replaced her true gargoyle ones. Within a few seconds, it was over, and she collapsed forward, panting and gasping.
Summoning her last remaining ounces of strength, she crawled to the doors and made her way inside. She pulled herself up onto the bed and collapsed atop the covers, placing the scroll she held clasped in her right hand onto the nightstand before falling into a deep, quiet sleep.
* * * * *
Central Park, 5:25 AM
Maeve picked up the glowing talisman carefully as the first rays of sunlight appeared in the sky. Banshee watched, fascinated, as the Hand pulsed with green light, its rhythm like that of a beating heart. Loki only seemed board, making no effort to hide his yawn as he cast the burnt out stub of his candle into the ivy.
"The first part of the ritual is complete," the Unseelie Queen stated, smiling as her emerald eyes reflected the throbbing glow of the Hand.
"Good. Can I go now?" Loki asked, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.
Maeve shot him a withering look, and Banshee half expected him to turn into a small, scaly creature again. "We are far from done yet, Laufeyson," she chided.
Banshee nodded. "We have only succeeded in attuning the talisman to the area's patterns of magical energy," Banshee summarized.
"Indeed," Maeve replied, smiling at her kinswoman's correct observation. "Now we must begin the second half of the ritual, and follow the sun in its ascent to bring the Hand to its full power. And when the sun reaches its zenith on this longest day of the year," she continued, her lips curving evermore into a wicked grin, "I shall speak the final words to unleash the collected energies and create a cataclysm the likes of which this city has never seen."
Loki's expression turned optimistic again as Maeve finished speaking and placed the Hand back in its place on the pedestal. As the unsuspecting city awakened around them, the three Unseelies joined hands, and Maeve began reciting the next part of the invocation.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, 6:17 AM
Owen stood in the courtyard as the sun broke over the castle walls, gazing concerned at Broadway and Angela. Unable to even stand without support, Broadway had turned to stone with Angela beside him, and the two now seemed a single statue, two gargoyles joined as one. Under any other circumstance, the Puck in him would have found that conjunction poetic, perhaps even amusing. But the image they presented together now as sunlight fell upon their sharp, cold features was anything but jovial.
Broadway's face bore a look of agony, and even as stone he seemed to be slumping, his wings hanging frailly behind him. Angela's face was similarly contorted, her normally lovely features distorted into a mask of concern and anguish. Her wings were caped, but gave the appearance more of a shroud, and her arm was wrapped around Broadway, supporting him.
Owen looked up at the tower. The other gargoyles also wore looks of concern. Even the hatchlings had adopted crouched, brooding poses. And all the while the sun streamed down, the bright, warm light screaming silently in contrast to the melancholy scene within the castle walls. He gazed at Broadway again, fancying as the sunlight glinted off the stone that he could see the big gargoyle moving.
"Impossible," he said to himself, placing his good hand on the cold stone. His eyebrows shot up as he realized he could feel Broadway writhing in agony. He jerked his hand away, and his eyes returned to Angela. Could she feel it, too, since they were locked together as one? He shuddered imperceptibly at the thought, but his gaze was drawn directly into Angela's blank, hollow eyes. Those eyes, her whole face, in fact, betrayed her fear as well as if she were still flesh and blood.
He put his hand on her shoulder, unconcerned that he was trying to offer comfort to stone. "I am sorry, Miss Angela," he said clearly. "I truly am. If there was any way that I could save your friend, believe me, I would carry it out at once."
* * * * *
Destine Manor, 9:32 AM
Dominique awoke to sunlight streaming in the windows, and she dragged herself out of the bed before sleep could overcome her again. She blinked wearily as she gathered up the scroll that was resting on the nightstand. She could barely remember even coming home; she had been up nearly all night, gathering the magical energy that she would need to cast the spell, storing it in the scroll onto which she had carefully and laboriously translated the incantation to word for word. In just a few more hours, she would open that scroll, chant the words, and the Unseelie threat would be no more.
"And Angela will be safe," she said softly, staring at the scroll in her hand. She looked up into the mirror at the far side of the room. That thought should've made her happy, but the haggard woman who stared back at her wore a grim, tight expression.
She pinched her eyes shut and shook her head, trying to block out the voice reminding her that Andrea and perhaps many others would die.
"The greater good!" she screamed aloud, snapping her eyes open. Her resolve hardened along with her eyes. She couldn't afford these distractions of conscience, these internal moral debates. Noon was but a few hours away and she needed to meditate again to prepare herself before casting the final part of the spell. "The Unseelie must be eliminated, no matter what the cost," she said, her voice cold. She looked down again at the scroll she held in her hand "There is no other way."
* * * * *
Elisa's apartment, 10:07 AM
Elisa tossed in her sleep and sneezed as cat hair tickled her nose. Cagney, undeterred, nuzzled his head under her chin again, then licked her face.
Half awake, Elisa pushed him away. He jumped to the floor as she tossed over onto her side, squinting at the clock. She cursed under her breath and sat up, grabbing the timepiece up off the nightstand and fumbling with the switches. "Forgot to set the stupid alarm," she muttered to herself, "Great move, Maza." The clock was returned unceremoniously to the tabletop, and Elisa sat up on the edge of the bed and grabbed for the phone.
She dialed a number, waited, counting the rings, and hung up after twenty. She repeated the action twice more then hung up, sighing. "Why can't it ever just be that easy?" she asked, staring at the little scrap of paper Angela had given her with Demona's three phone numbers - home, car phone, and work.
Cagney rubbed at her ankles and meowed. "So much for a weekend off," Elisa moaned as she rose and followed her cat obediently to the kitchen.
* * * * *
Central Park, 11:45 AM
Sunlight filtered through the thin leaves of the overhanging trees, falling in mottled blotches on the pages of the journal Dominique held in her lap. She sat cross-legged in a patch of grass near the edge of the clearing, reading intently the same passage she had already reread a dozen times since returning to the secret place over an hour before. Bowls of incense again sat burning around the perimeter of the reclaimed stone sundial, and a small metal box about the size of a portable radio sat atop a nearby stump, its low hum inaudible over the rustling of leaves in the late spring breeze.
"Such an event would destroy the faerie-folk outright and without mercy; magic is their life-blood, their very essence, and to disrupt it is to kill them. But they will not be the only ones who will suffer from its effects. It shall also slay any of mortal birth who have been touched by magic or attuned in any way to Arts, from the mightiest wizard to the lowliest apprentice, regardless of their skill or awareness of magic. Were this spell to be cast, the only users of magic to survive its utterance would be gargoyles, for only at noon on the longest day of the year may it be cast, and the stone sleep of the gargoyles would protect them from it."
Dominique looked up, stifling a sneeze, as the wind shifted slightly and a wisp of fragrant smoke met her nose. Sunlight now fell unblocked in a narrow column at the center of the clearing, and the glare off the sundial's polished face blinded her for a second before she could squint and flinch away. Fuzzy spots danced in her vision, swirling as she closed her eyes to take the form of the faces of those she knew would be affected by the spell she was about to cast. Madoc and Maeve... the Puck and the Sisters... then Xanatos, Fox, and their toddler son, Alexander... and Elisa Maza, Owen, Andrea. Each image lasted no longer than an eyeblink, and the first few stirred a strange feeling of satisfaction within her. Yet the final one lingered. Andrea, the first real friend she had made in over five hundred years.
"No," she declared aloud, snapping her eyes open and the journal closed. "The greater good must prevail." She tried to steel herself, forcing her voice to be cold and hard. "I must follow through."
She rose from her spot quickly, ignoring the cramps that shot through her legs in protest to the sudden movement, casting the journal aside as she pulled the tightly rolled scroll from her belt.
"Who determines the greater good?"
The voice echoed eerily in a familiar three-point harmony. She whirled, feeling muscles tighten in her shoulders to flare wings she no longer had, and saw... nothing. Only trees, their brilliant green leaves dancing on a sudden gust of wind.
Dominique's chest heaved as she tried to calm her breathing. She stepped into the protective circle surrounding the sundial, speaking a few brief words in Latin to activate the magic wards she had laid in place the previous night, but still her mind lingered on the question that had been asked just moments before. This time, it was her own voice, whispering in the back of her mind. "Who determines the greater good?"
She growled, something she rarely did while in human form because of how ridiculous she sounded. "No," she argued aloud. "The world will be a better place without any fay, Seelie or Unseelie." He mind flitted involuntarily again to the image of Fox and Alexander. "Or their offspring," she added bitterly. "And if a few humans must be sacrificed, then so be it."
Her voice had lost its cold edge; she spoke the last words sadly. She shook her head, forcing away the thoughts of her friend - Andrea, unsuspecting, innocent of everything but using a gift she didn't even know she had. "No! I must do this!" Dominique ordered herself. She swallowed painfully, adding softly, "There is no other way."
With a grim expression set on her face, she unrolled the scroll and began to read.
* * *
Elisa gazed quietly over the courtyard of Belvedere Castle. A few tourists snapped photos of their friends, waving from the top. A few more congregated near the pagoda, some with their jackets slung over their shoulder or tied about their waists, enjoying the spring-like warmth of the first day of a summer that had already been too long in coming. A jogger in gray sweats and a worn baseball cap padded past, and Elisa stepped aside to allow him to continue unobstructed down the stairs, taking in each face present quickly and mechanically. There was no redheaded woman with brilliant green eyes among them. Elisa moved to the low wall overlooking the lake and the amphitheater at the other side, sighing.
"I suppose even this would have been too easy," she muttered to herself as she stared across the park and the sprawling metropolis beyond. "Where are you?" she whispered angrily, dropping her head and letting her hair fall over her face. Her stomach knotted. She brought her head back up and turned again to the paved courtyard, brushing her hair back into place and unable to shake the feeling of her cop instinct telling her something big was about to happen.
Her eyes drifted over the crowd again as the shadowy memory of a battle long past played in the back of her mind.
"This is... diverting."
Elisa chuckled slightly, then gasped. She froze, her eyes locking on three women, clad in identical dark jumpsuits - three women who she was certain had not been in the crowd just moments before. She had only time to catch the briefest glimpse of them before they vanished around the corner, headed toward the back of the castle, but that was enough.
"Wait!" she yelled, breaking into a jog and darting through the thickening throng of sightseers. She rounded the side of the castle just in time to spy the backs of their heads as they hurried down the stairs carved into the rock - a quick glimpse of hair in shades of raven black, pure white, and brilliant gold. "Please, wait!" she cried again, racing after them down the uneven, moss-covered steps as quickly as she could without loosing her footing.
Elisa staggered near the bottom, taking two steps when she had meant to take only one, and tottering uncertainly for a moment before regaining her balance as she reached the worn dirt path. She kept moving, looking up from her own feet to again see only a brief blur of movement to guide her. She turned from the heavily traveled path into the woods, following a narrow, overgrown one through the brambles and brush without really realizing why. She hesitated, then turned, keen eyes picking up the bent vegetation indicating someone had passed through ahead of her. She slowed to a walk as the undergrowth became thicker, the odd feeling in her stomach growing stronger with each step.
A bluejay called a warning from above her and fluttered away. Elisa halted, listening, as the faint sound of conversation met her ears. She turned her head. No - not conversation - there was only once voice speaking. She crept closer, drawing on training that had become more like pure instinct to move silently through the thin woods. The voice grew louder. She could make out the rhythm now, but not the words. Those were unfamiliar... almost ancient, yet they were lined with unmistakable pain. She pressed closer, the voice becoming more familiar with each step, until as last she neared the edge of a small clearing hidden within the trees.
Elisa crouched down, her eyes wide. "Demona!" she gasped silently.
* * *
Dominique paused in her reading, eyes glistening with sudden inspiration. "I could send her away... to someplace she'd be safe... maybe Avalon..." she whispered raggedly. Her mind grasped at the latest thought desperately, holding on to it until the stark truth of reality wrenched it away. High noon was but a minute away. She had to act now if she was to act at all.
With a heavy heart, Dominique lifted the scroll before her again. Barely able to read the words through the tears filling her eyes, she began to recite the final line of the chant. Each word fell slowly from her trembling lips, until only one remained.
From the sheltering shade of a nearby tree, Elisa watched, as she had for several minutes already, transfixed. The tears now rolled freely down a haggard Dominique Destine's cheeks as the red-haired woman read from a scroll a spell that would do who knows what. The sun neared its apex, and the shadow cast by the angular needle of the sundial narrowed to a thin line as Elisa finally shook off her hesitation and moved to intercede.
Dominique pressed her tongue to her lips to form the last word and tasted the salt of her own tears. A sound escaped her mouth... not the final word of the spell, but a wail of anguish as she flung the scroll away and lifted her head back to stare through watery eyes head-on at the brilliant sun.
Elisa stopped, no more than a few feet away. The scroll ignited spontaneously as it drifted toward the ground, consumed in an instant in a raging flame of green.
Dominique's head fell limply forward into her hands. Her shoulders heaved with silent sobs as she rubbed her burning eyes with her fingers.
Elisa moved carefully to her side, resisting her initial urge to put a hand on the distraught woman's shoulder. "I don't know what you just did, Demona," she said gently, "but I think you must have made the right choice."
Dominique looked up slowly, still blinking the dark spots from her eyes. "I'm not so sure, Detective," she answered. She looked down at the sundial sadly. "Would the loss of a few more lives really matter if it ended this war?"
* * *
Meanwhile, in the Conservatory Gardens
"Noon is nearly here," said Maeve. "Loki, make ready to go to the Eyrie Building. If the statue of Angela falls from the battlements, catch it at once. As for the rest of the gargoyles..." She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "...catch them or let them fall, 'tis all the same to me. I will not mourn their destruction."
Loki nodded. "I get her when you're finished with her, right?" he asked, hopeful.
Maeve eyed him, a dangerous glint in her pupils. "Doubtful," she replied coolly.
"Well, can I at least watch?" Loki tried again. "You know I just love to watch you work."
Banshee's eyes widened; was that the faint glimmer of a grin on Maeve's lips again?
Maeve straightened up proudly. "I make no promises," she replied. Her eyes flitted over to Banshee for a brief moment. "Besides," she added, "there are a great many other mortals in this world for you to torment, in any case."
"I know, I know," said Loki, "but this one's a bit more interesting. Don't know why. Probably comes from old Timedancer's attitude towards her." He shrugged. "Yeah, that could be it. You stick around a gargoyle for forty years, and some of its habits start to rub off on you... not to mention some of its smell. Yeesh!" He eyed Banshee, looking again for a reaction, but she still stared blankly at him. "Man, tough crowd," he said, turning to depart.
Ignoring those words, Maeve raised the Hand of Nai-No-Kami up above her head and began to speak the final words to fully activate its might. But before she could complete the spell, the talisman began to shiver. Maeve and Banshee stared up at it in alarm.
"What is happening, milady?" asked Banshee.
Loki froze and turned back around, quivering as if a bug had just run down his back beneath his jacket. "Whoa... there's some sort of disturbance in the area!" he said. "A magical one! I can't quite pinpoint it yet, but - " he shivered again, looking faintly ridiculous in the process.
Maeve gritted her teeth. "No!" she growled, her eyes flickering. "NO!"
The Hand of Nai-No-Kami shattered in her grasp, and its pieces fell to the ground, smoldering. Maeve looked down at the remains of the magical charm, and then slammed her fists in fury onto the marble pedestal.
"NOOOO!" she screamed, her hair flying wildly. Pebbles of marble joined the shards of emerald on the grass. A curse escaped her lips, an epithet whispered in a tongue that was beyond ancient. She stared at the fragments on the ground at her feet, and repeated the word again, bellowing it with her eyes flaming.
Banshee shivered and staggered slightly as a dark wave enveloped her senses for a moment. Her vision faded briefly, and the image that greeted her when it returned was that of her new Queen kneeling amongst the gravelly remains of the talisman and the pedestal, sifting the shards through her splayed fingers. She moved instinctively to her, then stopped just as quickly, uncertain.
"The spell has been ruined!" Maeve hissed, looking up at her two assistants. "What has caused this interference? Tell me!"
Loki and Banshee both concentrated hard, but it was Banshee who first spoke.
"Loki spoke the truth," she said quickly. "There was an invocation of great power prepared upon this very island - mortal magic! What its purpose was, I do not know, but it has been abandoned."
"That doesn't make sense," said Loki, waving her off. "How does not casting a spell interfere with what we were doing?"
Banshee shot him a quick glare, then readdressed herself to Maeve. "The abandoning of the spell came at a point when much energy had already been built up in the preparations," she explained, gesturing with her hands. "When the spell itself was not cast, the summoned energies were set free, and scattered our own. Thus, the destruction of the Hand."
"All right. So who's the guilty party?" asked Loki smugly. He crossed his arms and stared at Banshee, but she didn't have a chance to reply.
"I do not know," said Maeve, her eyes now hard as she stood back up and regained her regal bearing. "But when I find out, they shall be punished for their effrontery... and punished severely."
* * * * *
Uptown, 12:05 PM
"To us," Macbeth stated.
"To us," Joanna Walker echoed, raising her glass to his. The fine crystal goblets met with a delicate ting.
Joanna sipped her wine and gazed out the window of the restaurant, which overlooked most of the city simply due to being located on the building's thirtieth floor. "Now this almost makes up for the other day," she said teasingly. "You simply must tell me, though, how you got a reservation here."
Macbeth set down his glass. "That would be giving away a trade secret," he replied wryly. Joanna smiled and started to laugh, but her expression turned to concern instead as her companion suddenly paled a shade and fell forward slightly, grabbing the edges of the table to steady himself.
"Len? Are you all right?" she asked quickly.
Macbeth sat back up, the bizarre spasm ending as quickly as it had begun. "Yes," he replied, feeling the familiar twinge fading. "Yes, I'm fine." He picked up his wineglass again. "Another toast," he said heartily. Joanna picked her own glass back up again and regarded him curiously. "To... Dominique Destine," he said at last. Joanna balked, staring at him like he was crazy, but he just gave an odd smile. "May she never come between us again."
Joanna's expression turned to a grin as she clinked her glass against his once again. "I'll drink to that," she chuckled.
* * * * *
Central Park, 1:02 PM
Elisa moaned softly and opened her eyes, the smell of fresh leaves and damp earth greeting her as her senses returned. She sat up slowly, rubbing her head, and looked up to see Dominique standing over her, steadying herself wearily against a tree.
"I'm fine, thanks," she said sarcastically as the other woman looked at her. Seeing that Dominique wasn't about to offer her a hand, Elisa pushed herself back to her feet as she asked, "What happened?"
"I do not know," Dominique replied, shaking her head and blinking. "A magical backlash of some kind... we were both knocked unconscious." She glanced at the sundial, blinking again, this time in shock. "For almost an hour!" she added.
Elisa checked her watch, confirming that fact. "Well, I needed some sleep anyway," she sighed.
Dominique didn't appear to appreciate the comment. "What are you doing here, anyway?" she asked finally. She moved to gather her empty incense bowls and scratch out the pentagram marked on the soil. "Did you come on behalf of the clan to thwart another of my 'evil schemes'?" she added dryly.
"No, I came to find you. I didn't even know you were casting a spell." Elisa's brow furrowed in sudden suspicion. "What kind of spell, exactly, were you casting anyway?"
Dominique's face paled, but luckily, her back was to the other woman. She stuffed the clay bowls back into her satchel, cinching the bag closed roughly. "It is not important," she replied. She hesitated a moment, consciously making her expression an emotionless mask before turning back around. She looked at Elisa again and found the dark-haired detective holding the device from the Nightstone Special Projects Division, examining it intently.
"Be careful with that!" Dominique cried, startled, leaping to Elisa's side. She took the electromagnetic flux stabilizer from her gingerly, noting the Detective's suspicious look again as she surrendered it.
"You said you were looking for me," Dominique said edgily as she turned the device off and hastily packed it back into its carrying case. "Why?"
Elisa could feel the apprehension wafting off of Dominique, and see the wariness in her eyes, as if she were going to bolt at any moment. She sighed softly. "Angela asked me to find you," she said, letting the questions about the spell remain unanswered and choosing the response she felt most likely to keep Dominique listening. "She needs your help," she continued as Dominique looked up, giving her full attention. "Broadway is sick. He got injured during a fight with some Unseelie Halflings and stone sleep hasn't made him better. Angela doesn't know enough magic to do something on her own to help him. She's been trying to get hold of you for the past two nights... the whole clan has been looking for you, including me."
"My daughter needs me?" Dominique asked incredulously. "Why didn't you just say so, human?" She hefted her bag and the metal case, her weariness suddenly gone as impatience took its place.
"Demona, wait," Elisa said, putting her hands up in a halting gesture. "You can't do anything until they wake at sunset," she said, glancing up at the sun, which was still high in the sky. "And you certainly can't go walking through the city dressed like that."
Dominique paused, looked up at the sun, and down at her attire. Setting the bags back down, she sighed resignedly.
"My guess is you left the house in a bit of a hurry this morning," Elisa said wryly as she pulled off her jacket. Dominique frowned at the comment, and stared at Elisa, bewildered, as the dark-haired woman held the red bomber out to her. "Take it," Elisa insisted. Dominique hesitated, then took it into her hands timidly and continued to stare at it. "Put it on," Elisa prompted after a moment, "unless you want every guy in the park to be staring at you." A look of disgust crossed Dominique's face at that thought, and at last she complied, slipping the jacket on.
"I suppose this will do," she commented, shrugging uncomfortably as she zipped the jacket partway.
"My car isn't far," Elisa assured her. She straightened the holster hanging at her side, which was now in plain view against her black t-shirt, as were the chromed handcuffs on her belt.
"You will take me to my home first, human," Dominique stated as she picked up her belongings once again. "I will need to collect the things that may be useful in aiding my daughter with healing her... mate-to-be."
Elisa nodded. "Of course," she replied. She stepped aside, allowing Dominique to lead the way back out of the trees, then followed her back into Central Park proper.
* * * * *
The Brocken, Germany
"Things seemed to have been going quite well, milord. The first test subject succumbed just as predicted in the preliminary simulations. I do wish we had been allowed to remain in the city to observe the final outcome, though," Garlon stated, hiding his annoyance carefully in his words.
"It could not be helped," Madoc said, waving his hand nonchalantly. "Lady Maeve's activities had to take precedence. It was safest to recall our own to the Brocken for the time being. Besides... I'm sure you can find plenty more 'test subjects' to sic that annoying little harridan on."
Garlon nodded. "She already has another target in mind, actually... it seems she has a bit of a vengeful streak in her."
Madoc's eyes narrowed. "Just as long as she is kept in line. I don't want to be forced to take matters into my own hands again. The Halflings' petty wants are your concern. All I require is their obedience."
"Yes, milord." He paused. "I have to wonder, though," he added carefully, "if some of the difficulties with this latest batch of recruits are attributable to the genetic splicing."
Madoc raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. "I suppose that is a possibility. Let's be certain to make the good doctor aware of..." Madoc paused and looked about, as if sensing something odd in the air.
"Milord?" Garlon inquired.
Maeve materialized, unannounced, in a flash of eldritch light, appearing on the dais in front of her throne. Loki and Banshee appeared with her, popping into existence on either side of Garlon. He barely blinked, but Madoc straightened in his throne and looked up sharply at Maeve. Her eyes were cold as she swirled her cape about her and fell into her seat.
Madoc raised an eyebrow. "How did it go?" he asked after a moment.
"It didn't," Maeve answered through clenched teeth, not looking at him. "Someone interfered. Someone versed in magic."
Madoc looked over at Garlon. "I thought we had neutralized or secured all sources of mortal magic within New York City."
Garlon shrugged. "We must have missed something, milord."
Maeve's eyes were glassy. "Then we will search again before we make our final assault. We can take no more chances. And when I find the mage or sorceress responsible for destroying the Hand..." she trailed off, her voice low and murderous.
"We will see to it," Madoc agreed. "Perhaps Lady Sekhmet would be interested in the assignment."
"I'm sure she'd be just purr-fect for it," Loki commented softly to Garlon. The trickster adjusted his jacket and stepped forward. "If you don't mind, Lord Madoc, I've got some things do," he whispered, motioning towards Maeve. The Unseelie Lord nodded, waving him off, and returned his attention to his co-ruler as she sat with hands clenched on the arms of her throne, fuming.
"Perhaps hearing Garlon's report on the latest advances with the Halflings..."
"No," Maeve replied coolly. "I already know what I be needin' right now." She rose from her throne regally and descended from the dais.
"As you wish," acceded Madoc, relaxing back in his seat.
Garlon took a step back as Maeve walked past him, then froze as she stopped and turned, looking at him contemplatively. Maeve's eyes lingered on him for a second, then drifted over to Banshee.
"Milady," her kinswoman said softly, lowering her eyes.
"You're with me, cousin," Maeve announced. "Come. There's been something I've been after wantin' to show you, anyway."
"Yes, milady." Banshee fell into step with her Queen as Maeve continued from the room. Garlon gave a small, relieved sigh as they disappeared out the door.
"Well, Garlon," Madoc said, "continue with your report."
* * * * *
Destine Manor, 3:10 PM
Elisa peered through the peephole as the doorbell rang for the second time and within a few seconds decided the young woman she saw on the other side looked innocuous enough. "Yes?" she greeted as she opened the front door.
The young brunette with the neat pageboy hairdo seemed a bit startled. It took her a moment to respond. "Hi," she answered hesitantly. "Um, maybe I have the wrong house... I was looking for Dominique Destine."
Elisa blinked. "And you are?" she inquired, suddenly very curious.
"I'm Andrea, a friend of hers," she replied, starting to sound impatient. "Who are you?"
Footsteps sounded behind Elisa, and a familiar voice spoke before anyone could say anything. "Are you coming back up here with those candles sometime today?" Demona said, sounding annoyed, as she reached the bottom of the steps. Elisa tried to block Andrea's view but moved just a bit too late.
"Dominique?!?" Andrea exclaimed. She pushed past Elisa and stepped into the foyer, then froze, her eyes wide as she took in her friend's attire - a skimpy halter top, a loincloth, and several pieces of gaudy gold jewelry.
"Andrea!" Dominique froze as well, and when she realized why Andrea was staring at her, her entire face suddenly flushed with color.
"Wait-a-minute, you two know each other?" Elisa asked, letting the door close, momentarily oblivious to the awkward moment Demona was having.
"Dominique, what in the world are you doing in that?" Andrea said, astonished, "And who is she?" she added, turning to Elisa. Her eyes widened even more as she spotted the handcuffs on Elisa's belt.
Dominique stepped between Elisa and Andrea, clearly flustered and still blushing heavily. "Let me explain," she finally managed. "Andrea, this is Elisa Maza... a... friend of my daughter's."
Andrea eyed Elisa skeptically, still focussed on the handcuffs.
"I'm a cop," Elisa said finally, producing her badge as proof. "Elisa Maza, Detective, Second Class, NYPD, 23rd Precinct. And you are?" she asked again.
Dominique sighed. "Detective, this is Andrea Calhoun, a friend of mine."
Elisa and Andrea just stared at each other. Dominique turned to the younger woman quickly, pulling her away from Elisa. "Andrea, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I got worried about you," Andrea explained. "I've been trying to call you all weekend but nobody's been answering the phone."
"Tell me about it," Elisa muttered under her breath as she crossed her arms.
"I started thinking maybe something terrible had happened to you... I'm glad you're all right," she said, sounding relieved. She looked Dominique up and down again, unable to stop a foolish grin from playing over her features. "Now just what are you doing dressed up like... like..." she gestured with her hands, "...like that?"
Dominique looked down at her bare feet and loincloth, floundering for words. "Andrea, I... I was..."
Demona was sinking fast, and Elisa wrestled a moment with the decision of whether to remain silent or dive in and help a drowning woman. Inwardly, she was laughing at Demona's plight. But as the look on the red-haired woman's face changed from one of embarrassment to one of pure desperation, Elisa could hold her tongue no longer.
"It's part of a costume," she offered, stepping into the conversation. Andrea and Dominique both looked up at her, Andrea's eyes curious and Dominique's pleading for her to continue. "For the next PIT costume ball," Elisa added, thinking quickly.
Andrea's eyes brightened as she turned back to her friend.
"Yes," Dominique agreed, her mind already grasping onto the story and constructing the details. "It was supposed to be a surprise," she added, trying to sound a bit sad. "Detective Maza... Elisa... was helping me with the clothing."
Andrea shook her head, puzzled. "But Halloween is months away, Dominique."
"I know," Dominique replied. "I... I wanted to get a head start while I still had a few spare moments."
Andrea nodded. "Okay," she said, her tone still indicating some disbelief, "so what are you supposed to be?" She looked her friend over again appraisingly, from her wildly styled red hair to her long bare legs. "A slave girl from one of those barbarian movies?" she guessed mockingly, barely able to not giggle as she said it.
Dominique blushed deeply again. "No, I... I'm going as..." She floundered for words again.
"She's going as a gargoyle," Elisa offered again, an odd twinkle in her eye.
Dominique glared icily at the detective, but Andrea jumped in excitement, her eyes animated. "Really?" she cried hopefully.
Dominique regarded her friend carefully for a moment. "Yes," she agreed finally. "Though I wish she hadn't ruined the rest of the surprise," she added coolly, her eyes narrowing to fine slits as she glanced at Elisa again.
"You're welcome," Elisa mouthed behind Andrea's back. The dark-haired woman crossed her arms, a mischievously satisfied smile on her face, and stepped back to the sidelines once more.
"This is so cool! Why didn't you tell me!" Andrea said, barely able to contain her excitement.
"Like I said," Dominique replied, finally beginning to relax a bit as she took Andrea's hands and tried to get her to stop bouncing so much, "I wanted it to be a surprise. I was going to show you once I had the whole costume done."
Andrea frowned a bit sadly. "I'm sorry, Dominique... I didn't mean to ruin your surprise."
"It's okay, Andrea," the older woman replied. She paused guiltily, then squeezed Andrea's hands. "I'll tell you what," she said hesitantly. "How about if you help me finish my... costume... and we attend that party together?"
"Really?" Andrea asked, her eyes brightening.
"Really," Dominique affirmed, nodding. "The PIT Independence Day party is next weekend, but we can start on your costume the weekend after that if you'd like."
Andrea was speechless. Finally, she simply grabbed her friend in a hug. "I'd love that, Dominique," she agreed at last.
Dominique returned the hug affectionately, stifling a sniffle. A smile was on her face again by the time she and Andrea stepped apart. "I have to go visit my daughter in a little while," she said carefully. "If you need a ride back home, I can call up Gregory..."
Andrea waved her off. "That's okay, Dominique," she said brightly. She pushed back the curtain and peeked out the window beside the door. "My cab is still waiting for me."
Dominique nodded and opened the door. "I'll see you tomorrow at lunchtime, then?"
"Sure thing," Andrea agreed. She stepped outside, then turned back to wave. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Dominique returned the wave. "Goodbye," she called.
She closed the front door softly, the smile fading quickly from her face as she turned to take in Elisa, leaning against the balustrade and staring at her smugly with eyebrows raised questioningly.
Dominique regarded the other woman levelly, then shrugged. "In for a penny..." she said wryly.
Elisa smirked. "I guess I'm just going to have to make sure I don't miss that party this year," she quipped.
Dominique peered between the curtains, watching as Andrea's cab departed. Her eyes narrowed as her usual demeanor returned. She started up the stairs, barely giving the dark-haired woman another glance. "Get your jacket, Detective," she ordered snidely. "We've got some shopping to do before sunset."
* * * * *
Chinatown, 7:45 PM
"Do you think this is enough?" Elisa questioned sarcastically as she deposited her armload of merchandise on the counter - a dozen assorted glass containers filled with dried leaves, roots, and who knew what else.
"I like to stock up," Dominique replied dryly. She pulled a handful of cash from the pocket of her overcoat as the elderly Asian woman behind the counter totaled the purchases on an abacus and scribbled an amount on a piece of paper, which she passed silently to Dominique.
Dominique counted out some bills quickly. "Keep the change," she said, folding them into the slip of paper and passing them back to the "cashier." The elderly woman nodded as Dominique hoisted her satchel onto the counter and motioned for Elisa to help her bag her purchases.
"Friendly sort of place, isn't it?" Elisa observed as they exited the gloomy little store and headed toward the Fairlane parked at the curb.
"I don't shop there for the atmosphere, Detective," Dominique replied acidly as she waited for Elisa to unlock the passenger door. She looked up through the windshield at the sky as Elisa slid into the seat beside her. "We should head to the Eyrie Building now," she stated authoritatively, settling her bag on her lap.
Elisa sighed and started the car. "Yes, Ms. Destine," she answered.
* * *
A bit further down the block, a tall blonde in a long, stylish black leather jacket pushed her companion back into the alcove near the door of the restaurant they had just exited.
"Nikki, what are you..." the man stammered.
"Shh! Frank, look! It's her!" Nicole St. John whispered loudly, pointing past a red car parked just down the street.
"Who?" Frank replied, peering over her arm. Two women had just exited one of the many small shops lining the narrow street, one with dark hair and one with a fiery mane of red hair. The redhead adjusted the strap on a heavy bag she carried slung over her shoulder as the two approached the classic car. Frank shook his head and shrugged, confused.
"That's Dominique Destine!" Nicole hissed, excited.
Frank looked again. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Nicole insisted. "I don't know who the other one is, but that is definitely her." She pulled her producer back further into the shadows of the doorway as the car started up and moved past.
Nicole St. John watched the Fairlane's tail lamps receded into the distance, her brow furrowed. "Shopping at occult stores now... just what are you up to, Ms. Dominique Destine?" she asked the reclusive executive as she sped away.
* * * * *
The Eyrie Building, 8:20 PM
The elevator doors opened, and Dominique and Elisa stepped out into the great hall. Owen was standing there, waiting for them.
"Good evening, ladies," he said, nodding to them in his usual almost-wooden fashion.
"Hi, Owen," said Elisa. "How's Broadway doing?"
"Very poorly, I fear," said Owen. "I can't even call the condition that he is currently in 'stone sleep' any more." He looked at Dominique, raising an eyebrow just slightly as he took in her attire. She had a leather satchel slung over her shoulder, and wore a long coat that fit her too loosely, even with the belt knotted at her waist. She was also barefoot.
"It's a good thing that you found Demona," he continued seriously. "I doubt that he will be able to survive much longer."
"How long is it until sunset?" Elisa asked him, checking her watch.
"Not long," Dominique said softly. Elisa turned to her. "I'm attuned to this sort of thing, Detective," she explained, her tone vaguely sad. "Just a few minutes more."
Elisa nodded. "Do you want to be out there to meet them, or should we wait until after..."
"It does not matter," Dominique interrupted. "Everyone here has seen me transform... it will save me no shame to do it here or outside." She cast a brief glare at Owen, but did not meet his eyes. Elisa merely nodded, and took the bag from her, shouldered it, and then helped her remove the long coat she had covered herself with for the trip over.
Owen took the coat from Elisa and hung it over his arm, and the three of them stepped out into the courtyard just as the sun began to set. Elisa held back and blocked Owen with her arm as Demona hesitated, seeing Coldstone and Coldfire standing watch over the conjoined statues of Angela and Broadway.
The two constructs looked up, taking in the tired-looking, red-haired human woman for a moment before realizing who she was. Coldfire laid her hand on Coldstone's arm, gave him a wordless glance, and the pair stepped away quietly, giving Dominique some distance. Still, Dominique was unsure, and she looked back at Elisa.
The detective gave an encouraging nod, and Dominique slowly approached the two statues. She reached out gingerly, touching her fingers to the stone hesitantly. Tears welled in her eyes as she met her daughter's fearful, frozen gaze. She blinked them back, and ran her hand lovingly along Angela's stone cheek, then stepped back as she felt the twinge in her gut.
She doubled over in pain a second later, screaming, not caring for the first time in ages how loud her cries were. She didn't fight it; she just let the transformation take over. Her skin turned blue, her feet and legs contorted, and her head throbbed as the brow ridges formed. Her back arched as her spine twisted and a tail sprouted from its base and wings erupted below her shoulders. She collapsed to her knees, then to all fours, moaning in agony as her insides rearranged themselves. And she stayed there, on the ground, until it was over, and the screams dissolved into whimpering.
She looked up at feeling a gentle hand on her shoulder, and her tear-filled eyes met Elisa's. She accepted the offered hand after only the briefest of hesitations, and wiped her eyes with the back of her other hand as Elisa helped her to her feet.
Angela's cry, half relieved, half frantic, drew her attention back completely to where she was and why she was there. Demona rushed to her daughter's side, helping her to support an unconscious Broadway as the other members of the clan glided down from the tower and landed around them. Elisa was soon right beside her, and she shifted her position slightly to allow the human woman to help steady the big gargoyle, as well.
"Oh, mother... Elisa, thank goodness you found her," Angela said through the beginnings of tears as the three of them gently lowered Broadway to the ground.
"It wasn't easy," commented Elisa, watching as Demona lay her head against the big gargoyle's chest and listened for a heartbeat.
Tears trickled down Angela's cheeks as Demona lifted her head. "Is he...?"
"Shh, don't cry, child," the elder female said softly. She took Angela into a quick embrace and stroked her brow ridges lightly with her knuckles. "He's still alive, but barely," she said quickly. "But you must tell me what happened to cause his illness before we attempt to cure him."
"He got bitten by a Halfling," Lexington chimed in. Demona looked up, and blinked in shock for a second at seeing the whole clan gathered around her, watching anxiously - though only Brooklyn and his mate and children did not seem wary, as well.
"On the neck, like a vampire," Graeme added, speaking up, too. Demona looked from the child to his father, and Brooklyn gave a small nod.
Demona turned her attention back to her patient, inspecting his neck. She gasped as she spotted two ominous dark splotches on his skin. "He's been poisoned by it," she said, thinking aloud. "The bite must have been venomous!"
'There's magic at work, too," Angela said, grimacing as she swallowed some of her tears. "Dark magic... Unseelie magic. I read his aura the night after it happened," she explained as Demona looked back up at her. "I would've done more but I didn't know how."
Demona's mind was still locked on the first sentence.
"Unseelie magic?" Demona echoed. "But then, he would have - " She stopped short, and gulped audibly, not wanting to ponder the thought further, and certainly unwilling to admit it before the clan, particularly Angela.
She looked up at them again. They waited expectantly. Even Goliath, who had yet to say a word, had the same look in his eyes. She looked to Elisa, and then back at Angela, and after a moment's silence, she laid her hand upon her daughter's shoulder. "We must work together if we are to save him, my child," she said.
Angela nodded, and Demona gestured to Elisa. The detective unslung the satchel from her shoulder and handed it to the azure gargoyle, kneeling down next to Broadway beside Angela.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked as Demona began hurriedly rifling through her bag.
Demona looked up, pausing a moment and considering the question. "Perhaps," she replied, extracting a brass bowl from the bottom of the sack and placing it carefully on the ground beside her. "Rituals such as this do work best when three individuals participate. So you may help, Detective. That is," she added, going into the sack again, "if you are willing." She withdrew a long, wicked-looking knife with a wavy, curved blade and set it beside the bowl.
Elisa gulped slightly, staring at the knife for a moment as Demona removed a third item from her satchel. She set the small white stone gently into the center of the bowl, draping the attached gold chain over the rim.
The stone gleamed in the light of the slowly appearing stars, and the gathered clan exchanged curious glances. Even Owen by now had moved into the circle to watch, and Brooklyn and Sata moved over a bit to allow him in.
"The Bloodstone, mother?" Angela asked, remembering the time Demona had used it to heal her. "Will that work on an injury caused by magic?"
Demona gave a small shrug. "I'm honestly not sure. I've never had to treat a bite from a poisonous Unseelie Halfling before." She took Angela's hand comfortingly. "But it's the best chance I think we have now... and if we combine our energies..."
Angela nodded. "The larger the investment, the bigger the payoff?" she recited.
Demona smiled. "You have been paying attention," she praised affectionately.
"Um, I don't meant to interrupt, but what exactly is this 'Bloodstone'?" Elisa asked hesitantly.
"It's a healing talisman," Demona explained with extraordinary patience. She picked up the knife and turned it so the blade gleamed in the starlight. "It requires an infusion of blood to power it."
"Elisa, you don't have to participate in the ritual if you don't want to," Angela said gently, seeing the apprehensive look on her human friend's face.
"No, I said I'd help," Elisa replied. She looked to Demona. "You said it would have a better chance of working if three of us participate, right?"
Demona nodded affirmatively as she arranged a trio of candles and incense bowls on the ground around the brass bowl holding the Bloodstone. "The magical energies are strongest with three."
Elisa looked down at the motionless form of Broadway, then met Demona's gaze again. "Then just tell me what I have to do," she said resolutely.
"There isn't much time left," Demona replied as she finished lighting the candles and used one of them to start the incense smoking. "Just watch, both of you, and do as I do."
Angela nodded mutely, and Elisa felt the girl's hand slip over her own, giving her fingers a grateful squeeze. Elisa returned the gesture, and kept her eyes focussed on what Demona was doing.
The gathered clan was riveted as well, watching as Demona extended her arm over the bowl containing the Bloodstone and turned the knife toward herself. A collective gasp sounded as she dragged the knife across the length of her arm and let the blood trickle into the bowl.
Owen's brow furrowed, and he stepped back from the crowd and retreated back into the castle, his departure going unnoticed by the others. Graeme and Ariana traded squeamish glances, then turned back, fascinated, as Demona handed the knife off to Angela.
Angela ran her fingers gently over the unconscious Broadway's brow, then held her arm out over the brass bowl and repeated her mother's motions. Her blood trickled over her talons and joined the small pool of Demona's surrounding the Bloodstone.
Angela waited until Elisa had shrugged off her jacket before passing the knife to her. She pressed her hand over the cut on her arm as Elisa took the weapon gingerly, gripping it as Demona and Angela had both done before her.
She held out her arm over the bowl, hesitating, and then took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She slipped the blade across her arm before she could think about it again, wincing from the stinging pain and keeping her eyes pressed firmly shut as the warm liquid ran down her arm and between her fingers.
She opened her eyes again at feeling the knife being taken from her and strong hands helping her to her feet. She looked up at Goliath, and then at Owen, who was already bandaging her self-inflicted wound.
Angela still knelt on the ground beside Broadway as Demona lifted the Bloodstone on its chain from the bowl. The collected and commingled blood had vanished, and the stone now shone in a hue of rich vermilion. Angela gently lifted Broadway's head so Demona could place the Bloodstone around his neck. As she fastened the chain, the stone began to glow.
Owen had finished tying her bandage, and Elisa knelt back down near Angela, her eyes nearly as wide as the young gargoyle's. For a moment, all was silent as everyone watched Broadway.
Angela gave a soft gasp as Broadway stirred, and took his hand into her own. He moaned, then opened his eyes slowly, blinking. Every member of the clan filled his field of view... and Demona as well. He sat up quickly, then wavered, his head reeling.
"Not so fast," cautioned Angela gently, steadying him. She was smiling, but her eyes were filled with tears.
"Angela? What - what happened?" he asked, looking around at the relieved faces of his clan mates. He turned his head too quickly again and winced. "Ow, what a headache," he complained.
Angela immediately embraced him, weeping in relief, and Broadway seemed a bit bewildered even as he returned the hug and held his beloved close.
"I was so afraid I would lose you," she whispered softly, burying her face against his chest.
Broadway stroked her hair comfortingly. "Hey, I made a promise, remember?" he answered back gently.
Demona rose back to her feet, giving the pair some space. Elisa did the same, accepting Goliath's offered hand after picking her red jacket back up off the ground.
"Thank you," the big gargoyle said simply.
Elisa looked at him oddly. "Don't thank me, big guy. Thank Demona." She turned and looked at the red-haired gargoyle, standing by herself off to the side as the remainder of the clan gave Broadway and Angela their moment together and were content to share their relief with each other. Sata embraced her children as Bronx and Nudnik barked happily. Lexington and Brooklyn traded a quick high five before clapping Hudson on the shoulders, while Coldstone and Coldfire joined hands and just watched Angela and Broadway.
* * *
"So what's this thing around my neck?" Broadway asked as he and Angela finally stood up and backed apart.
"It's called a Bloodstone," Angela answered. "Demona used it to cure you."
"She did?" Broadway asked. He looked up, noticing her standing some distance away, hefting a small bag over her shoulder and looking rather uneasy.
"Elisa and I helped," Angela added, showing the bandage Owen had tied on her arm, "but if it wasn't for Mother..."
Broadway pulled her into another quick embrace before she could complete the thought. He looked up again a few seconds later to see Demona slowly walking away, heading toward the stairs that led up to the parapets.
"Demona, wait!" he called as he and Angela stepped apart again. Angela turned in time to see her mother pause and look back, a sad, pained expression on her face. She followed after Broadway as he moved to catch up with the azure-skinned gargoyle.
"Wait," he said again, slightly out of breath, stopping a few feet away from her.
"What is it?" she asked quietly.
"I haven't had a chance to thank you yet, Demona," Broadway replied.
Demona hung her head and made to turn away, but Broadway stepped forward and put his hand on her arm to stop her. She made a half-hearted attempt to pull away, then let her arm go limp as she looked up at him.
"Thank you, Demona. Thank you for saving my life," he said sincerely.
Demona stared at him for a long silent moment, her eyes quivering. She parted her lips to speak, but then they trembled as some undeterminable emotion rushed over her, and she hung her head and turned away quickly, sucking in a shaky breath to stifle a sob.
"Mother?" Angela was beside her in an instant, taking her by the shoulders. Broadway moved to her again, as well, but held back slightly as Angela pulled Demona close and held her.
"I should go," Demona finally managed after a moment of pained silence. Angela loosened the hug enough to meet her mother's eyes. "I don't belong here," Demona continued hoarsely. "I don't deserve this... not after what I've done."
Angela shook her head, uncomprehending. "Mother, you did everything right tonight," she said gently. "Please... I want you to stay, even if it's just for a little while?"
Demona looked conflicted... and very tired. Her eyes fell. "Angela, I..."
"I want you to stay, too," Broadway agreed. Angela and Demona both looked up at him. He stepped closer and put a hand lightly on Demona's shoulder.
* * *
Goliath rumbled a small growl. "Why do they not just let her depart?" he asked low.
Elisa was the only one who heard him; she looked up sharply. "She just saved his life, Goliath. Cut her some slack, would you?" She looked back over at Broadway, Angela, and Demona as the odd trio began moving away from the walls and toward the doors leading inside. "After all," she added in a wry, even tone, "she is still clan."
Goliath frowned, opened his mouth, then shut it again quickly as he realized he was unable to offer counter to his own words.
Elisa turned to him as he stood there, looking confused. "Besides," she said, "you and I never did have that talk we were going to have. So let's let Broadway and Angela worry about Demona tonight."
Goliath still did not look happy as Broadway and Angela ushered Demona into the castle, but one look into Elisa's eyes told him he had other more important battles to fight. He nodded, and held out his large four-fingered hand. "You are right, Elisa," he said. "Let us go and talk."
Elisa smiled and took his hand, and as the other clan members broke off to their own pursuits, they headed off together to find a quiet place on the tower.
* * * * *