Crossroads, Part 1
Written by: Rahsaan Footman
Illustrations by: Amber
Previously on Timedancer...
"Let's just say that the Phoenix Gate is far from through with you. You still have many destinations ahead of you, if the stories you told us a century ago are true. Many surprises as well."
~ Requiem ~
New York City, 2158
The skyhopper launched from the floating starport out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The six-member team felt five Gs push them into their seats. After five minutes in a steep vertical climb, the aircraft leveled out and the team began unclasping their restraints, floating in the microgravity caused by the skyhopper's trajectory. They moved with practiced efficiency, gliding to the bins above their heads for their packs. In a one-two motion, they slipped on their pack-jackets, making sure each fastener was tight. A team member stopped the pinwheel spin of another who had pulled a fastener a little too hard.
One of the men offered to help a fellow team member with her pack. She shook her head in refusal. He looked her up and down. Her suit left her limbs exposed. Although it gave an appealing eyeful of her shapely arms and toned legs, she was crazy for not wearing a padded thermal suit. At the altitude they were jumping, the freezing winds packed a punch. The man shrugged. It was her lovely neck she was risking, not his.
The commander floated in from the pilot's cabin. He gave a tap on his headset, instructing all to turn on their helmets. In unison, they flipped them on. The sets chirped to life.
"Take one and pass it down," he said gruffly. The commander opened a small box with several vials of pink liquid. Each was capped with a hypospray for cutaneous injection. The vials were labeled, 'Oxy-agent'.
"Your respirators won't kick in until you get below 7000 meters. The Oxy-agent will hyper-oxygenate your blood and prevent suffocation," the commander explained while each jumper pressed a hypo to his or her neck.
The effect was immediate. Everyone relaxed. A couple jumpers loosened up by shaking their limbs and rolling their necks. The leggy woman and another guy let out a whoop of exhilaration. The Oxy-agent gave a rush, but it was temporary.
The lights in the cabin turned red and a buzzing sound came over their headsets. All the members looked up and turned to their commander.
"We're approaching target dropzone. Time for a final check."
Each person checked another teammate's gear. They jerked on clasps and connectors and checked the wings and struts of their paragliders. The man checked out his leggy companion. She only wore the disbursal pack, shunning even the reserve paraglider. He looked to the commander.
The commander gave a deep frown. He wasn't going to put up with any more daredevil antics than necessary. He didn't care if she paid for this or if she had wings of her own. He thrust a paraglider at her.
"Put it on or stay for the trip down," the commander's forceful voice came over her headset.
There was no time to argue. She slipped the extra pack on and floated over to the door. The cabin lights started flashing and the buzzing ceased. The commander floated to the far wall and strapped himself to it. He turned on his goggles giving him a heads-up display of each of the jumpers' vital statistics and orientation.
"Listen up halo jumpers. There's an arctic crosswind coming from the north at about 5000 meters. Drop straight through it, but alter your course by 10 degrees and you'll make your target just fine. Set disbursal for 2000. You ought to come in under the Pyramid's defense grid. Until then, enjoy the rush. Hey-rall!!!"
The commander punched the large button that opened the back of the craft and the jumpers let go of their harnesses. One by one, the halo jumpers gave a shout and let themselves get sucked out into space. Each instinctively gasped into the thin air.
"Breathe in. Hold! Breathe out. Hold! Just like we trained," the commander instructed over the helmet radios.
"Cooldd," one of the members chattered. This high in the stratosphere, the temperature was below zero.
"Break a heat stick!" the commander ordered.
"I'm spinning... too fast!" a frantic voice shouted.
"Open your left arm, then your right. Don't curl up or the Jet Stream will bat you around like a kitten with yarn!" he instructed watching heartrate and horizontal orientation for problems before they happened.
He didn't like dealing with non-professionals. The only one he didn't have to worry about was the one he thought would give him the most trouble, that leggy blonde wearing little more than her disbursal pack. She was the most composed, descending straight through the sky.
The blonde kept her eyes focused below her. She could see the eastern seaboard sprawled below her, a myriad of lights forming lines, swirls and beads. Her attention was focused on a particular cluster of lights far to the east, New York City and the Eyrie Pyramid.
* * * * *
"Buenos noche, bonne soir and good evening!" A perky blonde in a poofy party dress stepped in view of a camera. "I am Aleta!"
Theme music played, a light playful riff accompanied by a whispered, 'Aleta'.
"We are here at old Castle Wyvern," the camera panned around showing the medieval castle underneath the glowing apex of the neo-modern pyramid arcology, "for the confirmation of the Manhattan Clan's new leader, Artus."
A hologram appeared at her side, depicting the tall brown gargoyle. He had a muscular frame, with thick arms crossed over a broad chest. His deep tan wings folded on his shoulders. A black beard was cut in a square trim outlining his jaw. Warm brown eyes stared straight into the camera.
"Yowza!" Aleta's eyes grew to the size of saucers, literally. "What rock did they carve you out of?"
She jumped into the gargoyle's crossed arms, now wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt and a red bomber jacket.
"Take me, I'm yours, big guy."
"Aleta?" a man off-camera whispered. "That's just a picture. The real thing is inside."
"Why didn't you say so, Sid? Boost me over there." Aleta jumped off the holographic Artus.
A woman's voice, from the control room across the world in Christchurch, New Zealand, grumbled, "Hyperactive AI."
"I heard tha..." Aleta dissolved into pixels and vanished, rematerializing in the foyer to the Great Hall.
Her program reset with the data transfer. Now, she wore a more sedate outfit, a black waistcoat with white-silver embroidery. Her honey blonde hair was tied back with a deep blue ribbon, making her look the part of a schoolteacher. In the background, a receiving line of people waited to join the party inside.
"Traditionally, gargoyles don't have a lot of ceremonies. Confirmation of a leader is simple affair. The old leader would come out with the new one and say, 'He's the leader, now. Direct your questions to him.' But times have changed!"
Aleta tore off her clothes revealing a garish costume underneath, donning a wide brimmed red hat and a blue facemask, looking like the gypsy Clopin.
"Sid! Stop her! Quick, before, she starts singing!" The woman in the control room screamed. Aleta dissolved and reformed inside the Great Hall, among the throngs of people and gargoyles mingling and talking. Once again, she wore her statelier suit.
"Clan leaders and big-wigs from all around the world have come to congratulate Artus in his new role. Did I say Bigwigs? Dearie me, I'm underdressed."
Aleta stepped off camera and came back all dressed up. Her blonde hair was coifed in an elegant bun. She wore a sequined gold ballroom gown with a low cut neckline and matching white gloves.
"Now, aren't I a Belle for the ball? All I need is my dance partner." Aleta eyed the party going on around her. "There!"
* * *
"Persephone!" a voice called from out of the crowd. A pink-orange gargoyle with slate gray wings turned around from the people she was conversing with. She scanned the crowd of business moguls, city leaders, and state heads, finally spotting a dark blue gargoyle coming up to her with three young gargoyles close behind. Persephone put on a patient smile.
"Yes, Estrella?" Persephone addressed the blue gargoyle stepping up to them.
"I was showing our new recruits around and I thought I'd introduce them to our second-in-command. Everyone, this is Persephone, Artus's mate and the clan's new Second."
Estrella was young and eager with a beaming personality. One look at the three gargoyles and she could tell that they were about to go into sugar shock from Estrella's upbeat attitude. Persephone, herself, appreciated Estrella - in small doses.
"It is a pleasure meeting you, all of you." Persephone gave each a handshake. "You are from the clans in Asia, correct?"
The male in the group nodded. "I'm Tao." Tao was a gargoyle with glossy red scales and smoke-black wings. He sported a long black beard on his chin, giving him a wise, and sometimes, fatherly look, in great contrast to his youth.
"My companions are Chandra..."
A dusky purple gargoyle with two sets of arms, one from her shoulders and another from her sides, with wing membranes attached. She gave the traditional handshake, but said nothing.
"And this is..." Tao started but was cut off by a white gargoyle with dark brown wingspars.
"I don't have a name!" The white gargoyle proclaimed quickly.
"...'Cloud from stone'." Tao finished.
"That is a given name. I chose to follow our tradition." The white gargoyle glared at Tao, then looked to Persephone. "I shall be called 'sister' or 'friend'."
"As you will," Persephone smiled. There was a strong traditionalist movement among the younger rookeries asserting their gargoyle heritage. Princess Katharine and the Guardian had given Persephone and her rookery siblings names, but they often spoke about their nameless parents; the single exception was Goliath.
"Well, my new rookery brothers and sisters, please enjoy the party. That goes for you, too, Estrella. I think you've fulfilled your duties for tonight."
The three gargoyles smiled in relief and quickly departed for different parts of the party. Estrella, now minus her charges, started to mingle.
"Oh, Estrella, have you seen Gwenyvere around?"
"No, I haven't. She was suppose to help me show the new ones around." Estrella's browcrest wrinkled in the most anger she ever showed.
"Well, if you see her, send her my way," Persephone called after the blue female as she blended into the crowds of humans and gargoyles.
* * *
Artus was talking pleasantly to Gabriel and Ophelia when a cameraman walked up to them.
Artus turned to him. "Yes?"
"Sidney Rasmussen," he introduced himself, "cameraman for Aleta."
"What is Aleta?" Ophelia asked.
"Oh don't say that!" Sid warned. He looked in his sim-camera. "Too late."
Aleta began 'improving' on Ophelia's looks. The blue-green gargoyle suddenly had a little stuffed animal swinging from one of her horns and a sign across her chest that said 'Triassic Reject.'
Artus explained. "Aleta is an artificial personality, part of the entertainment community. She's quite popular."
"That's digital diva to you," the camera replied, speaking in Aleta's voice.
Sidney, a tall man with thinning hair, smiled wanly. "She can be a bit sensitive."
He reached into his coat and pulled out a pair of glasses. "Would you mind playing along?"
"Playing along?" Gabriel asked.
"You know, I might, at that." Artus stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Would you happen to have extra glasses for my friends?"
"Claro! The more the merrier." Sid reached back into his coat and offered glasses to Gabriel and Ophelia.
Artus put his glasses on and gestured for Gabriel and Ophelia to do the same.
"You are going to love this." He smiled as the Avalon gargoyles put on the eyewear.
Sidney tapped a button on the camera and vanished from sight. Aside from the glasses' darker tint, it looked like nothing happened. The revelry was still going on around them.
"So what's supposed to happen?" Ophelia asked just as a stuffed bear dangled in front of her head.
"The camera generates an exact simulation of its surroundings," Sidney explained in a disembodied voice. "It's the same as reality, with the addition of..."
"Me!" Aleta sprang out of nowhere. She reached up gave the brown gargoyle a big kiss on the lips. Artus felt a slight tingle on his lips, an effect of the neural interface in the glasses
"Hey, big boy, you come into this sim often?" she said in a sultry voice.
"I hope Persephone isn't watching," Gabriel chuckled.
Ophelia was still having trouble with the stuffed bear. She kept tearing at it, but not grasping it.
Aleta noticed Artus's stiff body language and went to work to loosen him up. She started trailing kisses down his chest.
"Who's Persephone?" Aleta asked, snuggling closer to his chest.
Aleta stopped her teasing, looking at the brown gargoyle sharply. "A mate? You mean you're married! How could you string me along like this?"
"He never said he was available," Sidney replied.
"He all but threw himself at me," Aleta argued. "A married man! You should be ashamed of yourself."
"Aleta! Be nice!" Sid said in a warning tone. Aleta relented and got down.
"Well," Aleta rolled one of her bared shoulders at Artus, "you can't blame a girl for trying."
"What is this?" Ophelia snarled. "Why can't I grab it?"
"Because dearie, you are in my world." Aleta plucked the bear from her frilled browcrest. "That'll teach you to call someone a 'what'."
"Uh, Aleta?" Sidney spoke again. "Isn't that the mayor over by CEO Mr. Harthesen. I seem to remember his honor calling you a disruptive influence on the youth of his fair city."
"He did! Did he?" Aleta's clothes changed to gladiatorial garb: a leather skirt and halter. "Let's see him go seven rounds with the digital diva."
She paused and quickly turned around. "Congratulations on becoming leader, Artus."
Suddenly Aleta dissolved into pixels. The tint disappeared as the glasses shut off and Sidney came into view again.
"You're a real ami, Artus." Sidney hefted the camera and collected his glasses. He tossed Artus a small multicolored disc.
"A memento for being on the show," Sidney explained.
The mnemonic disc was standard reimbursement for anyone appearing on the show. The disc caught the light from the room and displayed a holographic image of Artus, Gabriel, a frustrated Ophelia, and Aleta.
"Triassic Reject?" Ophelia asked, annoyed. "What does that mean?"
"I'll explain later, dearest." Gabriel gave her a kiss on the cheek to soothe her anger.
A quartet of gargoyles in Mesoamerican dress came up to Artus. The oldest and leader of the four was a bronze female with blue-green wingtips.
"Greetings and well wishes from the Mayan clan to you, Artus of the Manhattan Clan."
"I accept them graciously, and extend warm welcome to you, Merida, leader of the Mayan clan, and to your companions," Artus returned formally.
The leader of the Mayan clan reached out and grasped Artus' forearm in the age-old salute. A warm smile spread across her face. She turned to her young charges.
"Let me introduce you to your new warriors from our clan. This is Cocopetal."
Cocopetal was a young male. His wings were covered in dark brown feathers. His angular face had tufts of light brown feathers on either side and his tail was long and very thin, sporting black-brown plumage.
"This is Zia," Merida continued.
Zia was a young female, the gargoyle equivalent of fifteen. She wore a hand-spun shift and dress with an intricate pattern on the hem. She was a soft shade of citrine that stopped at her midnight black hair, pulled back in a ponytail.
"And this is Obsidian."
Obsidian carried his name well. He was jet black from tip to tail, tall and well muscled. A prominent browcrest marked his lineage back to Zaphiro and Obsidiana. Artus noticed the gleaming pendant that hung from his neck.
"You honor us by sending one of your pendant bearers. Please let me introduce you to the leaders of the Avalon clan: Gabriel and Ophelia."
"Avalon?" Zia spoke up. "I remember tales of that magical island. Our elders Turquesa and Jade journeyed there."
"Yes, we met them long ago," Ophelia replied.
Cocopetal, Zia and Obsidian were impressed, meeting living legends. Ophelia gestured them towards the drink bowl so she could tell them more about their elders' visit, while Merida, Gabriel and Artus conferred as leaders.
"Maybe time is finally catching up to me," Gabriel said lightly. "I'm starting to feel the younger generation coming up close on my tail."
"I'm part of that younger generation too, old one." Artus said jokingly.
"Listen to you two," Merida joined in. "If you both are old, I'm ancient."
The three leaders chuckled. Artus smiled and looked at Merida.
"How are things in the southern climes?" he asked.
"Splendid. The clan and the Green are thriving. We've just put another clutch of eggs in the rookery. If this keeps up will have to split the clan and start a new one."
"That is good news," Gabriel smiled broadly.
Merida face grew stern. "Artus, I would like to talk to you about these young ones. Treat them equally, especially Obsidian.
"Talk among the clan is that he will lead next. I have no doubts he'll make a fine warrior. He has a good soul, it's just..."
"You don't want him to have a swelled head about it." Gabriel nodded. "Been there myself, with a certain brown gargoyle who got too full of himself once."
"Leave off." Artus pushed his grinning friend. "In seriousness, Merida, I know exactly what you mean. I think put him with Polaris."
"Who is he?" Merida asked.
"That one over there." Artus pointed to dark blue male with a white star on his forehead. The gargoyle in question was talking intimately to the white, Asian female with brown wingspars.
"He's the son of our former leader, Orion, and is also expected to lead his home clan on New Olympus. Polaris has some growing up to do, too. Maybe they can learn from each other."
"I respect the wisdom of the clan leader," Merida said with a nod of her head. With a smile, she left to join her young charges listening to Ophelia.
"Is it my imagination or does every clan send you their leaders-in-training?"
"The clans hold Manhattan in high esteem," Artus shrugged, "and New York is still the best place to interact with humans on a everyday level."
Artus changed the subject, "So when are we going to see the Avalon contingent?"
"What? Having my daughter and my rookery sister doesn't count?" Gabriel joked.
He and Artus enjoyed another laugh as they strolled in a wide arc to the buffet table.
* * * * *
Angela tried the commlink again, no response. She grumbled in frustration, but didn't growl this time. A light touch on her arm caused Angela to turn around.
"Any luck?" an elderly Broadway asked.
"No. I can't locate her anywhere. How could she miss her brother's big day?"
"Gwenyvere has a wild streak," Broadway tried explaining, but it didn't sound convincing even to him. This wasn't like Solstice Night when their daughter popped in and out whenever she felt like it. This was her brother's confirmation. Not showing up was an insult. In some traditions, it was a silent challenge to the new leader authority. Broadway knew it wasn't that. Most likely, Gwenyvere was halfway around the world. She and Angela didn't do well in public or private settings. The Confirmation party was Angela's idea and Gwen made it very clear she'd have nothing to do with it.
Broadway let out a sigh. "I don't suppose you want to start over with another kid?"
"The last time you said that we wound up with Samson." Angela kissed him playfully. "If Gwenyvere chooses to not come, that's her choice."
"It's almost time for the ceremony. Coming?" Broadway offered his arm to his mate. Angela put too much effort into this party for it to be ruined by one errant daughter. They made their way to the dance floor in the courtyard joining other couples in the dance. The current dance number was a spicy Latin mambo done to courtly dance steps. While the beat pounded and the rhythm drove the heart, the dancers moved with controlled grace through shuffle-step, twirl, and shuffle-step again. The band ended to a round of applause as the mistress of ceremony, Serena Xanatos, took the podium. Serena looked the part of Lady of the Manor in her elegant blue dress with an open hourglass cut down the front. The dress hugged her statuesque figure, revealing marble-white skin in all the right places. Azure hair fell in waves over her shoulders, hiding her pointed ears.
"My friends," Serena began. "It has been my pleasure to know the previous leaders of the Manhattan Clan. This clan is an extraordinary one and its leaders are doubly so. Dearest friends and honored guests, I would like to introduce you the latest gargoyles to obtain this rank, Artus, leader of the Manhattan clan and his mate and Second-in-command, Persephone."
Cheers went up as the tall brown gargoyle stepped to the edge of the highest tower. Artus cut a trim figure in silver breastplate and shoulder guards. Persephone was similarly dressed in ornate gold armor.
Artus fingered one of her small spiraling horns. Trailing his fingers down the gentle curl of her horn, down the side of her face to the tip of her beaked mouth.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Always, my love," Persephone answered.
They both looked back to two other gargoyles, the former co-leaders of the clan, Calliope and her mate Orion. Calliope, a pale olive female with curly russet hair, smiled and urged them on. "Don't keep them waiting breathlessly, children."
Artus looked to his mate. She slipped her hand in his. Taking a deep breath, they both stepped off the tower. Rather than drop straight for the podium, they spiraled down to the dance floor, landing in the middle of the crowd. Cheers, pats on the back and vigorous arm pumping followed as everyone congratulated the couple. Broadway and Angela hung back at the edge of the crowd, watching with parental pride.
* * *
The first to notice the intruders was Polaris. He and the new female, Chandra, were off in a cornice trading kisses. He noticed her distraction and looked up, spotting the invaders. Knowing his duty, he sought out Orion. The blue-black soldier linked to the control room to check things out, ordering Polaris to tell Artus discreetly. By the time Polaris found their new leader, everyone was looking into the sky as a section of it turned deep green.
Golden flares began twirling their way across the green sky, leaving trails of sparklers in their path. The crowd grew as more exited the castle to see what was unfolding above. Orion left the small terminal niche, moving stealthily through the crowds joining Artus.
"The scanners aren't picking them up," he reported.
"Why not?" Artus continued staring up.
"If it has a sonic density greater than carbon, the whole Pyramid would have gone into lock-down. This is small and alive."
"Jumpers?" Persephone guessed. Orion grunted an affirmative.
"Take a patrol and let me know as soon as possible whether they are hostile," Artus ordered. Orion nodded and moved through the crowd. He picked out a green and gold male, Polaris, and his female companion. Chandra looked a little excited, following the old soldier into the castle.
Artus took the podium and was about to address the partygoers, when a round of laughter filtered through the crowd. Artus and Persephone looked up. Lasers emerged from the ports along the Pyramid's outer structure firing on a low setting. The light reflected off the sparklers and the green gas creating large holographic letters in the sky.
"CONGRATULATIONS ARTIE!" the sky read.
Artus brought the commlink to his lips. "Orion, I think I know who it is."
* * * * *
The halo jumpers had done their part. They opened their paragliders and were making their way to New Jersey. The leggy female waved them away.
"Some fun, Gwenyvere. See you later at the Dragon's Lair?"
"Count on it," the leggy woman replied through her headset. She'd join them for a round of drinks, but first...
Gwen shucked her glider and ripped off her outer jumpsuit. She wanted to stop by the Castle and wish her brother good luck... and see the look on her mother's face. She opened her wings and immediately felt pain. The young gargoyle had misjudged her descent speed. The rushing wind pulled her wings back as she fought to keep them open, but the pain was blinding. Her left wing buckled, throwing her into a pitching roll. Desperately, the injured gargoyle tried to recover as the whole world began spinning rapidly around her.
Gwen's right wing collapsed. She willed her wings to open, but continued to fall like a rock. In her spinning, she caught glimpse of a face, and then strong hands grabbed her. Her tumbling ceased, but not her rapid descent.
"I've got you, girl." Orion said gruffly.
"Oh no!" She moaned. "Now I'm going to get it. Mother is never going to let me hear the end of this."
Orion grumbled, "Assuming we survive."
The blue-black gargoyle opened his wings wide to slow them both, but they had already passed into the Pyramid arcology. The two gargoyles dropped past the massive angled struts that were dozens of meters thick.
"No good!" Orion grunted, failing to pull them out of the dive. He and Gwenyvere were falling too fast. "Hang on!"
Gwen didn't know what he was doing, but they didn't have a lot of time. They passed Midlevel, the Pyramid's commercial and shopping district, dropping past the large five-story windows in two eyeblinks. Gwen barely registered the shops and markets inside before gray ferrocrete raced past her eyes.
Panic rose up in her when they tumbled away from the gray-black of the Utility level. There were only forty stories left, before they hit the ground. Still plummeting, Gwen began struggling. She wouldn't let someone else get hurt for her.
Orion pinched her arms hard. "Hold tight, girl," he hissed.
"It's too late," she wailed, just before they splashed down.
They both went into the water - cold, blackness reaching out to claim them both. Orion's grip never loosened on Gwen as he pushed her up to the surface. Gwen gasped out loud and she looked around. They had splashed down in the old Reservoir in the Park.
Orion floated up to the surface. His wings hanging at an odd angle. Gwenyvere swam over to help him. Suddenly, bright lights fell on her and the blue-black gargoyle. An ambulance hovered low to pick them out of the lake.
* * * * *
Dr. Camilla Abrahms entered the waiting room and was immediately besieged by gargoyles with a thousand questions. She called for order and got it.
"Orion is fine. He has a mild concussion and we had to pop his wing back into place. Gwenyvere is bruised and has a nasty case of windburn. We had to set her wings, too, but a day's sleep will heal them both. They can see family, but only briefly. I want them getting some rest before dawn."
* * *
Gwenyvere looked at the old soldier sleeping in the bed next to him. She wanted to say thank you, but felt ashamed to say so. If it weren't for her, he wouldn't be laid up now. 'Thank you' and 'I am sorry' didn't seem adequate.
"If you're going to stare, kindly do it to the other wall," Orion said in a deep voice. His eyes hadn't opened, but he knew what was going on around him, 'soldier sense' he called it.
Gwen rolled over and winced. Her wings were still tender from windburn and stress. Dr. Abrahms said she was lucky. The winds could have wrenched her wings partially out of her sockets (more painful than a complete dislocation) or snapped the spars connecting the membrane. Gwenyvere grimaced. She didn't feel lucky. As the door opened, she felt her luck worsening.
Angela and Broadway rushed in and nearly buried her with their embraces. Calliope entered close on their heels, walking to Orion's bed. Gwen's mother hugged her fiercely. Gwenyvere felt wetness on her neck. Her mother was crying. Looking up, Gwen saw her father's eyes tear up as well. Gwen felt lousy with guilt.
"What were you doing?" Angela asked. She pulled herself away to look at her daughter.
"I just wanted to surprise, Artus," Gwen answered lamely.
"You could have been killed," Broadway said sternly, but gently.
"I had it under control," Gwen replied sourly.
"You call this under control." Angela gestured to the hospital room.
Gwen was about to say more when Artus knocked on the door.
"The doctor said they should get some rest." That was his tactful way of saying 'Now is not the time to argue!'
"But she is my child," Angela started to protest.
"And you'll have time to talk to her tomorrow night. For now, she and Orion need rest."
Calliope wordlessly patted Orion's arm and left. Reluctantly, Angela and Broadway joined Persephone in the waiting room. Gwenyvere let out a sigh.
"Thanks for saving me from a 'mom' lecture." Gwen smiled up at her brother.
"Don't thank me, yet." Artus pulled up a chair and looked sternly at his sister.
"Uh-oh, I'm in for a 'big brother' lecture instead."
"Not tonight." Artus's face remained stern. "You are a grown woman. It is up to the clan leader to decide what punishment fits, not Mom and Dad."
Gwenyvere flopped her head back on her pillow. Artus patted her hand and stood up.
"As a brother, I want you to rest and recover. And I fondly hope that you won't pull another stunt like this. As a leader, I want you rested as well, and report to my office when you get home. I'll have a proper punishment picked out by then."
Artus left and no one else came in. Gwen let out a sigh. She didn't know which she preferred. Punishment by her parents who treated her like a hatchling or punishment by her brother who wouldn't pull punches?
"Punishment from your parents." Orion answered her unspoken question. "Loving parents like yours would lessen the blow. As long as you learned your lesson, they'd be satisfied. Punishment by the leader is necessarily harsh."
"Was that the way it was between you and Polaris?" Gwen asked. "Did you punish as a parent or as a leader?"
Orion merely grunted and pulled the covers tighter around him. Gwenyvere settled deeper in her pillow, called for the lights to dim and stared at the ceiling.
"Congratulations on becoming leader, brother," Gwen whispered to the dark.
* * * * *
Queen Florence Island, February 1992
A spark of phoenix fire blossomed into a large sphere. It flared out depositing two gargoyles on a snowy hillside. Brooklyn looked around, gauging their surroundings when a stifled moan came from Sata. Brooklyn was at her side.
"You okay?" he asked.
Sata nodded. "I will be fine."
"Here," Brooklyn cleared snow off a log, "sit down."
It hadn't escaped Sata's notice how anxious he'd become. Sata grunted as she sat on the hard surface. It was only slightly better than standing and only slightly warmer than the snowy ground.
"Can I get you anything?" Brooklyn asked.
"Thank you, my love. I'm fine," Sata replied, spotting his goofy grin. A familiar sight over the past months, a mixture of pride, awe, and amazement.
Sata muttered as he turned for another look around, "Proud of what you did to me."
"Hmm?" Brooklyn asked.
"I was thinking of Yoshi, if it is a boy, and Kun if it is a girl. To honor my brother and sister," Sata changed the subject.
Brooklyn looked at her puzzled. "Name for the child," Sata explained. Brooklyn looked a little uncomfortable for a moment.
"You have another choice of names in mind?" The green gargoyle asked.
"Not exactly," Brooklyn hesitated. "The thing is I haven't thought of names at all. Before the rest of us woke up in New York, we didn't have names or parent ties. We were all children of the clan."
Sata started to say something, but a sound of people drew their attention.
"Hey, Nick! Are you out here?"
"Yeah, I thought I heard something," a young man shouted back, surprisingly close to the two gargoyles. Brooklyn and Sata crouched low in the brush. The boy was in his late teens, straight, black hair, and wearing thick winter coat and corduroy jeans.
"Give a blood-curdling scream, if it's a wendigo." Nick's friend farther down the slope teased.
"Very funny," Nick grumbled. In a lower voice, he muttered, "I can't believe I'm traipsing all over this island for a bunch of scraggly roots. I'll be glad when June comes around. College and co-ed dorms here I come."
"Come on, Nick. Let's find those roots Grandmother wants and get out of the cold."
"Yeah, okay." Nick made his way down the frost-slick trail. When he vanished down the trail, Brooklyn and Sata emerged.
"You think we should follow?" Brooklyn asked.
"You don't want our children to be named?" Sata asked, still on the previous subject.
"What? No, it's just I hadn't thought about it. Names are nice, but a bit unnecessary." Brooklyn smiled as he rubbed his mate's browridge with his knuckles. "I mean no matter what name you had, I'd love you just the same."
Sata flashed a smile back. "Deftly handled, my love."
"Hey," he kissed her, "it's part of my charm."
Before he could follow that kiss with others, the Phoenix Gate stirred. Sata's face gained a pained expression as the ball of flame engulfed them and whisked them away.
* * * * *
New York City, 2158
"Patrol duty!" Gwenyvere shouted.
"Double shifts, for two weeks!" Artus sat behind his desk in what Gwen's dramatic sense called his 'pronounce judgement' pose.
"Can't I just pay a fine or something and get on with my life?" Gwenyvere complained. She hated patrols. They were so boring.
"You don't seem to understand. Your stunt was reckless and dangerous."
"And working my wings off is going to teach me this lesson?" Gwen said in a sarcastic tone.
"Something like that," Artus sat back in his chair.
Gwenyvere was about to argue further, when her mind hit upon an idea. 'Patrol means getting out of the castle, away from the stuffies like Mom and Dad.'
Gwenyvere hung her head low. "Compliance," she said in a defeated tone.
Artus cocked his head at her change of heart. "Very good. You start tonight. Take Sector 167."
The shapely female gargoyle turned to leave with the barest glimpse of a smile on her face.
"Oh and one more thing." Artus watched his sister go. "I'm pairing you with Samson. I think you'll find him by the south tower."
Gwen tensed up before letting out a disgusted sound. She stomped out of the office furiously. Artus smiled in a brotherly fashion.
* * *
"Okay hatchlings, I'll show you how it's done?" D'artagnan shouted to the other gargoyle boys. He slipped his goggles over his cowled head and snapped open his airfoil. The green lens of the goggles revealed the thermal air currents swirling around the Eyrie Pyramid arcology, allowing Samson and the boys to indulge in the sport of cloud-surfing.
D'artagnan took a deep breath before jumping over the castle walls and executed a helicopter spin into an updraft. He twirled upwards over the heads of the onlookers, then kicked out of the spin, gliding on a downdraft along one of the Pyramid struts. A few pendulum swings and an inverted climb later, the blue and red gargoyle sped through the makeshift air slalom course of utility balloons. The young daredevil was ready for the finale. He had the single hand plant down and was preparing to wave to his friends as he passed, when he spotted Gwenyvere approaching the rest of the boys. D'artagnan couldn't stop staring at her- tall and curvaceous, she was as distracting as anything,. The winds took advantage of his inattention, blowing the airfoil out from under him.
D'artagnan tumbled end over end, but managed to recover before slamming into the castle wall. He pulled himself up over the parapets just as Gwenyvere finished speaking to Samson.
"Sorry gents, but duty calls. I'm flying patrol," Samson announced as he tightened the purple mask around his head.
The other boys were still staring at Gwenyvere wearing a short red skirt with slits that went all the way up to the hips and a halter that gave a triangular cut of her midriff. Samson spoke again, but only received nods from his companions.
"Turn off the droolers, boys. I'm here for my little brother," Gwen ordered.
The other three looked at Samson enviously. Not only did he get to go on patrol, but with the cutest female in the clan.
"Will you need any assistance?" D'artagnan asked hopefully.
"No, thank you," Gwen said tersely. "One tail-biter is more than enough."
"Well, you're in a good mood," Samson commented as they walked down the steps to the bailey. "They must have clamped down on you good."
"Let's just get going," Gwen replied.
* * *
Gwen hated patrols with a passion. She saw it as pointless busywork. It was an endless, pointless cycle and she had better things to do with her time.
"You should have seen Artus on Aleta last night," Samson tried to make conversation. "It was hilarious."
"I'll catch it on Rewind," Gwen said. Her mood was still sour. Sector 167 was notoriously quiet, mostly hydro- and aeroponics. Gwen wanted out of patrol duty badly, but Samson would tattle it if she skipped out. The only way he wouldn't was if...
"Come on, brother. Let's head Downtown."
* * *
Gwenyvere and Samson avoided the transport-jammed flight paths on their descent to Downtown. 'Downtown' was underneath the heavy industrial machines and power plants that kept things running 'Cloudside'.
"Now remember our deal?" Gwen looked back to see Samson close by.
"Yeah," Samson said with annoyance, "I'm not an idiot. Stick close to the Villages."
They glided silently through the submerged avenues near Wall Street. The streets had an eerie canyon feel.
"It's strange," Gwenyvere thought aloud.
"What is, sis?"
"Every time I come down here, it reminds me how much time has passed. Like that building," Gwen pointed to a skyscraper with a spiral top, "It was just completed before the...when we left for Avalon. Now it's considered a historical monument."
They glided past the Babel Tower, at this level, the ferrocrete gray also had green moss and white-gray birds droppings on it. Gwen didn't think about those nights much anymore, the night of the Quake and after. Sometimes, if she stared into the fire or heard the Eyrie Tower groan in a strong wind, she found herself back in that terror. All she remembered with clarity were the colors: reds, oranges and blacks. She never could enjoy Halloween after that. In her mind, she pressed the fast forward button and skipped to the greens and blues of Avalon, she'd frowned and pressed fast forward again to the present.
"Wake up Gwen-chan!" Samson tapped her shoulder.
Gwenyvere blinked once then looked to her brother. Samson pointed to the group of lights in a clearing, marking the largest of the Greenwich Villages. Samson eagerly dove for the ground. Gwen followed.
* * * * *
The Greenwich villages were outposts to Manhattan National Park, run by the Algonquin tribes. Most of the island's interior was park, with buildings and the pyramid's base struts along the perimeter. The Algonquins choose a simple way of life, but they defended it fiercely. Gangs like the Rogues, Crats, Dregs, or Chryslers steered cleared of the park.
Gwen and Samson stopped at the headman's office to check in. He was a bit surprised to see two youngsters on patrol down here, but tactfully said nothing. Gwen skimmed the activity report, noting the low activity, nodded and thanked the headman for his help. Stepping out onto the porch, Gwen looked to Samson.
"Well, I got things to do," Gwen said with a flip of her dark hair. "Keep to the Villages and stay out of trouble."
"You know me," Samson smiled far too innocently.
Gwen made a face. "Stay out of trouble anyway."
Samson shrugged indifferently and climbed the ladder to a gliding platform, then took off in a lazy every-widening circle to patrol the village. Gwen kept to the ground, walking to the outskirts.
* * * * *
There was a knock on the door. "What!" A woman in her eleventh decade opened the door to an aquamarine female gargoyle.
"Uh, excuse me, but I was looking for Autumn Dur..."
"Gwenyvere? Is that you?"
The old woman's face cracked into a wide smile. "Gwenyvere it is you! Come on in!"
"I can scarcely believe it." Autumn looked Gwenyvere over. "I knew gargoyles aged slowly, but you look barely out of your forties."
The old woman ushered Gwen to a sitting room and served her a cup of coffee.
"That's Avalon for you." Gwen sat back with a cup of coffee. She looked over at Autumn. Before she left, they were both biologically in their late teens. Three Avalonian years later, Gwen had changed so little, and Autumn had changed so much.
"Avalon? You mean that mythical island in King Arthur?"
"You've heard of it?"
Autumn nodded. "My great-grandson is deeply into Arthurian legend. There's a picture of him over there."
Gwenyvere went over to the mantle. There was a holographic picture of Autumn's entire family. It was a large family, more than fifty people crowded in close to get in frame. Gwenyvere looked at each son, grandson, daughter and great-granddaughter. In the center of it all was Autumn and her husband. She looked blissfully happy. Gwenyvere lowered her head.
"Is everything alright, Winnie?" Autumn asked.
"You remember, Fall?" Gwen asked with fondness.
"I maybe old, but I'm not daft. I remember how much you hated nicknames, but you let me call you that."
"To make up for the Farren boys calling you Fall, I figured if we both had nicknames they wouldn't bother us."
"Oh," Autumn smiled again. "You were always a sweet one."
Gwen smiled too. Autumn tilted her head to one side. Gwenyvere could still see the young girl, in that familiar pose.
"So why did you stop by?" Autumn asked.
"Well, since I got back I tried looking up everyone. Julie is on a suborbital and the rest are otherwise 'unobtainable'."
"You mean dead," Autumn spoke frankly. "You don't have to pussyfoot around the fact."
"Don't be Winnie. But you've been back for years, why haven't you stopped by sooner?"
"I don't know. I guess I didn't know what I'd say."
"Well, you're here now. Let's talk!"
* * * * *
Samson couldn't understand his sister. Why turn down an evening 'defending the night'? When Samson was younger, he loved hearing his father tell stories of all the foes he fought, the Pack, the Quarrymen, and the Unseelie. He, like his mates Strato and D'artagnan, couldn't wait to be warrior initiated, when they'd be taken seriously and fly patrols every night.
Samson made a wide arc that took him close to darkened section of 'Downtown'. Samson grinned impishly. A gargoyle's purpose was to protect. He really should be patrolling there. Those people needed protection and it would be great to tell D'artagnan and the others how he braved Downtown on his own. Samson swung on his pinion and gliding into the concrete canyons of old Manhattan.
* * *
A figure ran down the barren streets. Her pursuers were close behind. She gave up the stealth of the alleyways for the open, boulevards. Her eyes searched for anything that could be of help, a sewer grate, a ley line, anything.
Black clad figures stepped out in front of her. A quick look back showed that escape route was closed as more figures closed around her in a tightening circle. The woman stopped suddenly, her hat slipping off. Blonde hair with dyed purple streaks tumbled out. She pulled a handheld laser gun, ready to fire. The figures didn't stop. She fired a couple of beams, but they were useless against concealed body armor. She fired again, but was out of charge. The woman glared at the weapon before tossing it aside.
"All right," she growled, "I guess I'll have to take you all down by hand."
Her eyes glowed faintly as she crouched into a fighting stance. A shrill roar ripped through the air. One of the ten shadowy figures looked around. The rest kept a trained eye on their quarry, not giving her any opportunity to flee. Samson plowed into three of the figures, tackling them and rolled up to crouch beside the woman.
"Need a hand?" Samson asked.
"Sure thing, gargoyle," the woman replied.
The remaining figures converged on the two. The battle that ensued was a desperate one. The woman was a skilled fighter, trading kicks and blows. She laid out three more of her black clad assailants. Samson was less skilled. Halfway through his second attacker, he knew he was in over his head. He wrestled with a wiry man. The man slipped under Samson's bear hug hold, but lost his black cowl in the process.
The attacker had a square-jaw, dirt blonde hair, and hard brown eyes. Samson's night vision picked out something sparkling, a necklace with a symbol of floating eye atop a pyramid. Samson spun around, decking the guy with his tail.
Samson turned around to see who was next. The last quartet of assailants fell to the ground in a heap. The woman remained standing, wiping her hands off in an exaggerated motion like she had just taken out the garbage. She looked at Samson, taking in the youthful, purple gargoyle.
"Well, if that doesn't beat all," the woman laughed, "saved by a gargoyle."
"Hey, it happens," Samson replied, not knowing what she meant by that comment. "The name is Samson."
"Fairborn, Clarissa Fairborn," she replied evenly, then started to head down the street.
"Wait a nano!" Samson called after her. "Is there anything I can do for you? These guys didn't hurt you did they?"
"Nah, never laid a glove on me," Clarissa shook her head. "Look, thanks for the assist, but I'd rather be elsewhere when these gombas come to."
Samson nodded understanding. Clarissa only got a few steps before she slapped her neck.
"What the..." She pulled out a dart. Samson ran to her and he also felt the pinprick of a dart. This one hit right between the wings where he couldn't reach. He felt the effects of the tranquilizer immediately. The world became dark and faded. He tried keeping his eyes focused on Clarissa, but her shape became fuzzy, then all went black. A loud thump alerted Samson that she'd fallen unconscious. Soon Samson was out too. The sound of approaching footsteps filled his ears.
* * * * *
Seville, Spain, 1987
The echoing ringing of a church bell overhead drowned the crackling of the Phoenix fire out. The knell quieted down to a silent strumming. Brooklyn spun around and caught Sata as she dropped to her knees.
"Sata? What's wrong?"
"I'm fine," she growled. "It's just cramps."
"Again? They are coming more and more frequently," Brooklyn observed.
"Sorry to inconvenience you," she spat out, dripping with sarcasm.
Brooklyn let the comment go. His mate had grown more irritable lately, but he chalked it up to her pregnancy. He helped her to sit down, taking in their new surroundings. The belltower had a feel of home. The catwalks and bells reminded Brooklyn of the clocktower. He knew they weren't home. There was no clock face or massive gears and, looking out the tower, he could see a vast city of cathedrals stretched out before him with none of New York's usual skyscrapers.
"Why don't you rest here. I'll see if I can scare up some dinner."
Sata nodded wordlessly, sucking in a breath as the cramps subsided. Brooklyn stayed by her side. He could not leave her in pain.
"I thought you said you were going?" Sata asked harshly.
"I will. When you are okay."
Sata took a deep breath and the tight lines drawn across her face lessened. "Thank you for your patience, my love. But it's been a while since we've eaten. Food would be of best help now."
Brooklyn gave her a peck on the cheek and headed down the steps of the belltower. He'd been in enough cathedrals to get a general layout of this one.
"Now if I'm right the kitchen should be right... here." Brooklyn turned the corner and came upon an occupied funeral parlor. Brooklyn first scrambled back to be hidden, but on a second glance, there was only one person in the room next to the casket. Brooklyn peeked into the room.
"I should say my good-byes, but I can't." The girl, in her mid-late teens, spoke to the casket. She had dark black hair and lithe figure. Homesickness tugged at him as he thought of Elisa.
"You did so much for me, saw me as I could be, treated me as someone special. I wish I could tell you how important that was. How much that changed me? You know I finally read 'Don Quixote'. I can see much of him in you. I guess that would make me Dulcinea. Fitting."
The woman fell silent. Brooklyn moved on to find food for his expecting mate and not to intrude on the girl's private moment. He found the kitchen not far from the parlor. Finding a refrigerator and a microwave raised his hopes. They were probably close to their time. For a while he'd been toying with the idea that if they were close enough to their time, he'd chuck the Gate and wait out those few years. But a voice in his head, sounding very much like Sata reminded him of his duty to guard the Gate. He took two sodas, some bread and luncheon meat and backtracked through the Cathedral. He heard the woman speak in a strong clear voice as he approached the parlor.
"May you live in your dreams and know you have earned this lady's favor. Sleep well my lord." The girl left the parlor and headed down the hallway where Brooklyn himself was heading. She didn't see him. Her hands wiping tears from her eyes. Brooklyn waited for her to disappear down the hall before he hurried up to the belltower.
Sata eagerly ate the sandwiches and both sodas.
"Hey!" Brooklyn exclaimed when he picked up the empty soda can.
"I apologize, but I was terribly thirsty," Sata explained. Brooklyn shrugged and ate his sandwich.
Sata gave a relieved sigh.
"Same here," Brooklyn smiled, then his face dropped. "Time to go. At least, we got a chance to eat."
Sata looked pained as the Phoenix flame engulfed them and carried them off.
* * * * *
New York, 2158
Gwenyvere made a wide sweep of the villages, but didn't see Samson. She did a quick locator check with her TDT. He was back at the castle. Gwen shrugged and caught the Tower updraft to the castle. Talking with Autumn had been great, but difficult. Ninety years was a wide gulf to span. Autumn had lived a lifetime while Gwenyvere was still a youth.
"Thanks a lot, mom," Gwen grumbled bitterly. "Never listens to anything I have to say any way."
Gwenyvere floated over the castle walls and landed into the courtyard. Immediately, finding herself in the middle of a parental inquisitions.
"Where have you been?" Broadway demanded.
"What were you doing, taking Samson Downtown?" Angela shouted.
"Why couldn't we contact you?" Persephone asked.
Samson and Artus looked at each other. Artus shrugged and waded in to rescue their sister.
"What! What's going on!" Gwen replied, before Artus called a halt to Angela and Broadway's questioning.
"I'll handle this!" He told his parents sternly. Both elders were stunned by their son's boldness, but remembered he was leader now. Artus pulled Gwenyvere off to the side.
"We've had a situation," Artus informed Gwenyvere. "Samson tried rescuing a woman from some thugs Downtown. He was tranquilized and the woman abducted. Now the questions to you: Where were you when this was happening? What were you two doing Downtown when your patrols shouldn't have taken you below Midlevel? And why were you out of comm range?"
Artus spoke in his soft 'don't-mess-with-me' voice. Gwenyvere knew she was in trouble. She spoke plainly to her older brother, relating her visit to Autumn and the understanding between her and Samson that he wasn't supposed to leave the Villages. Angela and Broadway both wore their disapproving look, so Gwen kept her eyes focused on Artus. When she finished, Artus peered at her and Samson.
"I want you two to spend the day in the rookery. You've both displayed a hatchling's judgement tonight, may as well be treated as such."
Gwenyvere looked aghast. Her own brother was sending her to the rookery! Artus saw the shock in her eyes but continued staring hard at her. Gwen opened her mouth to protest.
"Do I need to drag you down there myself?" Artus' severe voice cut her off. Gwen didn't argue. She turned and left. She passed her parents on the way to the Great Hall. The stares they gave her made it all the more galling. She stomped into the Great Hall, following Samson.
"That's it?" Angela looked to Artus. "Send her to the rookery, and that's all? She could have gotten herself and Samson killed."
"I know," Artus turned around, "but I'm not going to punish anyone when I'm angry, and neither will you. This is clan business. I will handle it."
Angela was about to say more, but Broadway put a hand on her shoulder, giving her a meaningful look. Angela relented and nodded. They both went up to the castle wall to talk and calm down. Artus rubbed the bridge of his nose as he sat on a bench in the courtyard.
"What about the kidnapping?" Persephone asked.
Artus nodded. "I'll dispatch a patrol. Persephone? Could you talk to her?"
"I was already on my way." Artus's mate gave him a smile and an affectionate squeeze of his shoulders.
* * *
Persephone entered the Great Hall. She saw Samson descend the stairwell down to the rookery, but Gwenyvere was nowhere to be seen. Persephone considered where she could have gone, and then she looked up. High in the oak rafters of the Great Hall, Gwen perched in a brooding fashion. Persephone climbed the wall, joining her.
"What do you want, Phony?" Gwen asked spitefully. She knew Persephone hated nicknames as much as she did. The pink and gray second-in-command frowned, but didn't address the jibe.
"Do you understand why you are being punished?"
"Because my self-righteous brother and his rookery-robbing mate think it's a hoot!" Gwen said sarcastically.
"That's enough!" Persephone snapped at her. Persephone was like her mate, soft spoken except when really angered.
"Why don't you try thinking about someone other than yourself for a moment or two," Persephone continued. "Suppose those thugs were carrying particle rifles instead of tranq darts. Or what if they were Chiselers. How would you feel finding Samson the next evening without wings or horribly disfigured? We patrol in pairs for safety. If you don't look out for him, he's put in jeopardy. Just as you are in jeopardy when he isn't looking out for you. Do you understand?"
"Compliance," Gwen said in the apathetic tone adolescents master to irritate elders. Even though she wanted to irritate 'Phony', the pink and gray female made sense. They'd all seen some of the Chiselers' victims. She knew better, but did they have to rub it in?
"Better get on with my punishment." Gwen jumped from the rafters, landing just before the stairwell. Persephone joined her.
"Think about what you did, Gwenyvere. Mistakes are to be learned from and avoided in the future."
Gwenyvere didn't say anything, just walked down to the rookery.
* * * * *
Brooklyn helped Sata as her latest spasm of dry heaves passed. After a few gulping breaths of air, she sat up.
"Feeling better?" Brooklyn asked.
"Slightly." Sata got up and ambled to the river. Brooklyn tried to help his egg-heavy mate, but she waved off his assistance.
"I will be fine," she stated. Kneeling to the river, she took several sips of water.
"I'm not afraid to admit this is scaring me." Brooklyn knelt beside her. "Every night it gets worse, from cramps to nausea to this. I wish we were back home."
"Would that help?" Sata asked. "None in your clan are healers and this ailment is unlike any my clan has encountered."
"I don't think it is an ailment. It might have something to do with your pregnancy. All I know is, I'm scared I might lose you."
Sata smiled back and touched his cheek tenderly. "You couldn't if you tried."
Sounds of talking brought the two gargoyles attention back to the present. "What's that you're grousing about now, Rory?" a woman's voice with an Irish lilt could be heard through the forest.
"It's Fergus," a man's voice replied.
"The one that skipped school?"
"Yeah, and started stealing stuff with his big brother."
"So that's his business," the female replied. "You're not thinking of ratting him out."
"No, it's just... did you see the car he was driving. Here I am studying all hours, busting my tail, thinking it's making a difference. And here is Fergus, king of the world. Makes you wonder what's the point?"
"Well, why don't we take a crack at it?" the woman suggested. "I mean if Fergus can clip stuff, why not us?"
Brooklyn felt the stirring of the Gate. "Jalepena! Sata, love, it's time to go."
Sata huddled close to him just as the phoenix flame engulfed them and whisked them off.
"What was that?" Rory shouted. Both he and Molly rushed to where the light came from, but saw nothing.
"Maybe some swamp gas alighted," Molly ventured, looking very nervous. "Let's get out of here, Rory."
"What's wrong, Moll? Afraid the Banshees might wail your name?"
"Like that's likely as anything?" Molly laughed it off.
* * * * *
New York, 2158
"Any luck?" Artus asked a group of gargoyles landing in the courtyard. The leader, an older female known as Scrivener, shook her head.
"We searched the location Samson was attacked, but found only these." The magenta female held up a clear silicate bag containing a couple darts.
"The tranq-darts Samson mentioned." Artus nodded. "Well, at least his story can be verified. Tao?"
The young red and black gargoyle glided down from the battlements. He gave a curt nod, expressing his willingness to help.
"Your bio states that you are an expert in forensics."
"A masters from the Lycee de Saigon," Tao volunteered.
Artus nodded again. "See what you can find from this evidence." He handed the bag to the young male. Tao entered the Great Hall and labs underneath.
Artus turned to Persephone, "See that everyone gets the revised patrol roster. I want teams of three patrolling Downtown, just in case our abductors feel bold enough to try again."
"Off to see the police?" Persephone guessed.
"You know me too well."
Persephone smiled, her voice taking on a throaty quality. "It's my power over you."
Artus kissed her soundly on the lips, returning her tease. "That's mine over you."
Artus took the Pyramid's transit system to Enforcer headquarters. Ten minutes later the Transit's doors slid open to a bustling precinct room. Enforcers and criminals moved about in a dizzying bustle. Most of the criminals were from Downtown attempting to hack, slash and burn their way through vital sections of the pyramid.
"Who was 'sneaking into heaven' this time?" Artus asked a passing enforcer.
"The Crats and the Dregs. They spliced into four industrial generators, siphoning enough power to run 3 blocks Downtown. It set the hydroponics levels back a couple months work and nearly ruined this season's harvest," The officer answered.
Artus took the stairs to the much quieter bureaucratic level. As soon as he stepped through the glass partition, everyone got up and started clapping. Artus was initially confused until someone played the Aleta theme. The tan gargoyle blushed a visible shade of brown-red, encouraging the officers to make a bigger deal adding whistles and tongue rolls to the applause.
"So tell us, Artus. Is she as real in there as they say?" one officer shouted over the clapping.
"What did Persephone say of your little tryst?" a female gargoyle officer asked.
"You know what they say," her partner, a tall man with green-black hair added, "once you've had sims..."
"Is this an Enforcement office or a quilting circle?" a voice bellowed through the bullpen. The officers gave a quick glance to the captain, before returning to their work.
"Artus! In my office! Now!" Captain Saddiq bellowed again. Artus followed the boisterous man into his office.
When Artus closed the door, the captain turned around and smiled, singing the Aleta theme song. Artus smiled in spite of himself. "Don't make me hurt you, Hector," the brown gargoyle said in a mock growl.
"Sorry, Artus, I couldn't resist. My kids saw you on Aleta. Now, I'm a hero with them, because I know someone who's met Aleta."
"You should get them to read a book," Artus grumbled.
"If you'd tell Scrivener to finish her latest novel, I'd be happy to oblige."
"I'll see what I can do." Artus nodded, taking a seat on the couch.
"So what news do you have for me, Leader of the Manhattan clan?"
"Well, I have the data on our newest recruits." Artus used the keypad in the couch's armrest to code into his office and boost the data to Hector's screen.
The Enforcer captain looked it over. "Looks like we have enough for a complete class."
"Maguire's Law 101," Artus said conversationally.
"Necessary if you want to 'defend the night' in my protectorate." Hector sent a copy of the forms to Artus's digital assistant. The assistant filled out all the forms, sent them to the necessary departments and gave Hector and Artus a confirmation beep when the paperwork was done.
"Until they've been cleared, none of the newcomers should go on patrol or get involved in any police work."
"There maybe be a problem with that."
Hector raised an eyebrow.
"Last night, a patroller tried to stop an abduction."
"Where?" Hector asked.
"Downtown," Artus answered.
"Do you know who?"
Artus shook his head, "No. I've got some people on it. One of my new recruits, Tao from the Cathay clan, is doing forensics. Is that going to be a problem?"
Hector leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands against his lips. "I don't think it should be. As long as he follows police procedures and reports his findings directly to us, he should be okay. He might even be doing us a favor. I don't have the time or manpower to chase down every crime Downtown. You have the go-ahead."
"Thanks." Artus got up and shook Hector's hand.
* * * * *
Scrivener found Tao in the forensics lab. It was nearly dawn and she had to make sure everyone was at his or her perch. Scrivener volunteered for the duty so she could get a good look at the new recruits. Clan traditions called for each elder to take an apprentice. It was her turn again to take a young warrior under her wing. She had met Zia, their nameless sister, Chandra, Obsidian and Cocopetal, but Tao remained in the Labs.
"Rookery brother? Are you down here?"
"Yes," Tao answered.
"Dawn nears. It is time to rest," Scrivener spoke, as she made her way around the support columns and computing stacks.
"I need to finish."
"Dawn makes no exceptions," Scrivener replied, finding the red and black male in front of a multi-scanner device.
"The leader gave me a task and I must complete it."
"Your devotion is commendable, but turning stone here isn't the way to show it.
The computer console began playing an old jazz hit. Tao pecked out a series of commands, the music stopped, but he screen came alive with readings.
"Found something?" Scrivener asked.
"Possibly." Tao refocused the scanners. "The tip of the dart had a lot of cells. I managed to extract some DNA from them and ran it through the database."
The computer console whirred and gave a shout of 'Eureka'. "What?" Tao frowned and tapped out a few commands. "This is strange."
"I'm getting a record for this genetic profile, multiple records in fact. The oldest one is from 2064."
"The Great Quake," Scrivener said flatly. "Genetic tagging. It went into universal use after the Quake. I was on the archiving team that implemented it."
"This doesn't make sense," Tao shook his head, his thin beard shaking along with it. "If this is a gene record from the Great Quake, that means the person Samson helped was over 94 years old, but Samson described her as more in her twenties."
"It will have to wait. We must go to our perches." Scrivener insisted. Tao nodded understanding and saved his work to continue the following evening.
* * * * *
French Countryside, 1250 AD
The phoenix flame extinguished, leaving its two travelers in a new locale. Brooklyn stared at Sata, ready to help her through whatever trouble she might have. "You okay?" Brooklyn asked.
"Yes." Sata stood up and took a deep breath, "Yes, I feel fine."
Brooklyn sighed in relief. "That's good. For a while there I was worried. I guess it must have been a bug or something. What's wrong?"
Sata just took a step and winced in pain. Her abdomen felt sore, but not as before. This felt different, like it was a dead weight within her.
"Sata? What is it?" Brooklyn was at her side immediately.
"I can't feel...!" Sata said panic rising in her voice.
"Can't feel what?"
"Our child! I can't feel our child! It's like she's d..." Fear painted Sata's face. She couldn't say it, couldn't articulate what she feared the worst, but Brooklyn understood just the same.
He pulled her into a hug as sobs threatened to wrack her body. Brooklyn patted her hair, whispering that it was "All right." He was trying to keep himself from crying, but failing. Before he could shed one tear, dawn broke through the trees. The two gargoyles turned to stone, a figure of grief and despair.
* * *
A trio rode down from the vales. It was a good day for hawking, not a cloud in the sky. They rode into a clearing when the young page spotted the statues. The other two in the hunting party, both noblemen, approached them on foot.
"What do you think, Sir Duval?" the first nobleman, a burly man with a gruff voice asked.
"Gargoyles most likely," Sir Duval replied. "Look at the expression of pain and sorrow on their faces. This isn't chiseled stone."
"Here boy!" the burly nobleman called. The page came running up to them.
"Take the horses to the other end of the clearing and keep track of our hawk. Understand!"
The page nodded understanding and left to do his bidding. When they were alone, both the nobles spoke in secretive tones.
"Do you think it's the Demon? I've heard tell she terrorized another village, killing three men, two of them little more than boys."
"Our reports all point to the fact that she operates alone. This is a mated pair." Duval indicated the way they held each other in their collective grief.
"What should we do with them?" Duval's companion asked. Duval was pondering that himself when he saw something in the male gargoyle's stone claw. It was stone itself, but unmistakably the Phoenix Gate.
"For now, nothing. While the sun is up, they aren't going anywhere. Let's return to the chateau and this afternoon, you will ride back here and watch them. Don't be seen, just observe them."
The burly nobleman bowed and revealed the ring underneath his hawker's glove. Duval revealed the chain pendant that bore the same floating eye pyramid as the nobleman's ring. A sign that this was Illuminati business.
"I will do as you ask, lord. One question: you seem to know something. Would you share it with me?"
"Knowledge is a precious commodity. I would be poor indeed if I gave it away. However, I can tell you not to be surprised if these two vanish in a ball of flame. Come. Let us return."
* * * * *
The sun slowly slipped below the western horizon and the familiar crunching sound of stone proceeded two gargoyle roars. Brooklyn looked to her mate. Her sobs didn't begin anew, instead a look of intense relief washed over her.
"I can feel our child again." Joy brought tears to her eyes. Brooklyn remained knelt in front of Sata and hugged her tightly. All Sata could do was return his embrace. She heard him whisper into her hair.
"Too close. That was too close."
Neither noticed the burly huntsman in the forest, or the Phoenix Gate stir and carry them off. When they were gone, the nobleman stood up and left to report to his master.
* * * * *
New York City, 2158
The Manhattan clan's roars were quickly drowned out by the entire bustle in and around the Eyrie pyramid. The evening transports jammed the skyways for the fourth night in a row.
"Looks like some banjalo thought he was a stunt pilot," Polaris commented on the diverted flight paths and the emergency vehicles moving to intercept. He cast his eyes over to his new rookery sister, flashing a charming smile that got a shy reaction from the white/brown female.
"Do you mind saving some girls for us?" Obsidian grumbled.
"I've got to extend a warm welcome to our new brothers and sisters."
"Funny, I don't remember receiving that warm a welcome." Obsidian folded his arms around his chest glaring at the blue gargoyle with a white star on his forehead.
"Oh, you'll do fine." Polaris absently patted the black gargoyle on his shoulders. "Right, now, I think our rookery sister could use some Manhattan hospitality."
The rest of the clan pursued their private concerns. Patrols started taking flight across the arcology and down to the lower levels. Samson gathered the other boys around him as he related last night's adventure, while Gwenyvere went to Artus' office to receive punishment.
* * *
"These are your findings?" Artus looked over the report from Tao. The report was on a holographic display panel. It showed a full body image of the abductee and all her vital information.
"I know it doesn't make sense, but this Clarissa Fairborn is over 94 years old and looking remarkably well preserved for her age."
Artus and Persephone looked over the genetic profile. Broadway, Angela and the other elder gargoyles looked over the rest of the report. Broadway and Angela shared a look between them.
Tao stood tall to hide his nervousness. He felt like he was presenting his thesis all over again. "The age difference isn't the only anomaly. I detected alterations in the base pair groups, here and here."
"Thank you," Artus said, cutting him off. "I think we can work with what you have so far. The profile tells her statistics and who she is. We should be able to get a good description for the Enforcers."
"That's not all." Tao switched to another file on the holographic display. "I asked my rookery sister, Cloud from Stone, to run a search based on each of these characteristics. No patterns emerged until she ran a fractal algorithm using the genetic profile."
The display presented a holographic world and a timeline marked from the beginning of the decade onward. Spots lit up on the globe with each abduction as the timeline progressed. More than a hundred abductions pulsated around the world, by the time the world reached 2158.
"Over the past eight years, there have been abductions like this all over the world. Connections between them all seem to be this anomaly. I ran a background check, most of them were gene-tagged before the 2060's, when tagging became mandatory."
"I must thank our new rookery sister." Artus looked over the report. "You've given us a lot of information to digest. Thanks for such a thorough report."
Tao nodded and left Artus's office. The elders, Broadway, Angela, Calliope, Orion, Scrivener and their nameless green and gold brother, looked at the evidence.
"Who could live for all that time?" Scrivener asked.
"Aside from us, two types of people," Artus stroked his beard, "Oberon's children and halflings."
Artus tapped in another command.
"I don't think any of Oberon's children could be captured so easily," Angela commented, "and Serena would have told us something."
"Assuming Oberon or Titania told her," Broadway added.
The computer beeped to get their attention. Two-third of the abducted names turned bright green, Clarissa Fairborn's name was one of them.
"Sevarius's unique gene marker. Most of these are Unseelie halflings." Artus concluded.
"What are you three talking about?" the green and gold gargoyle asked.
Artus took a deep breath. "It's a difficult story to tell. Suffice it to say halflings are a hybrid race of humans and the third race. They are long lived and often possess immense power. A number of them were engineered in the late twentieth century, ones like Ms. Fairborn."
"So the question becomes: who could capture halflings so easily, and why?" Calliope asked.
"Those are the questions that need answering," Artus nodded grimly.
* * *
"It's not fair," Gwenyvere mumbled. "Samson gets away with murder, but I'm stuck paying the duty."
Finally, the door swung open and the clan elders left. They moved busily on their way. Most seemed disturbed. Angela barely glanced her way.
"Come in, Gwenyvere," Artus' voice ordered her into the office. Gwen hesitated for a moment, then stepped in.
Artus' office was deceptively old fashioned. The only furnishings were the desk in front of the huge bay windows, a floor lamp, and the wall of monitors on the adjacent wall. During the years since their return, Samson and Gwen made up stories that the spirit of Xanatos haunted this room and had possessed their brother. That's why he kept the office in the old style. The thought lightened Gwen's spirit as she came to stand before her brother.
Artus steepled his fingers in a thoughtful pose. "I thought that patrol would reacquaint you with responsibility, but after last night, I'm not sure. Until I say otherwise, I'm putting you with Security."
Artus cut her off with a glare. "If you want to be treated as an adult, you must act like it. That means doing what is expected of you. If we can't count on you, then you are of no use to the clan. Report to the watch commander!"
"Don't I get to have a say in this?" Gwen protested.
"Did I give the impression that this was a discussion?" Artus asked. "Your actions endangered another. Until you can act in a better fashion, I'm keeping you close to the Castle."
Artus turned around in his chair. The discussion was over. Gwen lowered her head, then looked up with an angry glare in her eyes.
"You'll make a really great leader," she said with all the sarcasm she could put into her voice, before stalking out of the room.
Persephone entered the room from the hidden hallway.
"Don't you think you were kind of hard on her?" she asked.
"She disobeyed orders and put her partner in danger. Tell me where that type of behavior would be tolerated?"
"But she's your sister!"
"And that excuses her behavior? Would you be in the 'spare-the-rod' category, if the Chiselers had found Samson? She's a grown woman, it's time she acts like it."
Persephone nodded. "She needs to grow up, yes. But she also needs to know she is loved. Maturity doesn't mean much if you don't think you're loved."
Artus sat quietly for a moment. "I'll see what I can do."
Persephone nodded quietly.
* * * * *
Gwenyvere sulked as she walked the empty hallways of the Eyrie building. She had just checked in with Control.
"Nothing but a glorified nightwatchwoman," she grumbled after she signed off.
The Castle and the upper levels of the Eyrie Tower were strictly residential. The hallways were empty. Everyone was either down at Amusements, or elsewhere on Midlevel. People rarely stayed home at nights, there was too much to do to just stay put. A few teenagers passed her on their way to Midlevel.
"Hurry up Tam!" one of them shouted down the hallway. "We don't want to miss the Terpsichore performance!"
A small boy with long black hair braided in the back came running up to them. "I'm coming. Besides, Terpsichore is always five minutes late to her performance. We'll make it in time."
The group waited for the Transit to arrive and piled in, heading for Amusements. Gwenyvere frowned. She knew Terpsichore was in town, for the Confirmation, but Gwen didn't know she giving a performance. And she was going to miss it.
"Unjust!" Gwen shouted to the empty corridor. She continued her patrol, coming to another Transit tube. She tried calling it down, but her TDT gave a muted beep, indicating an improper command.
The watch commander or Artus had probably restricted her access to the upper levels of the Tower. Gwen let out a growl of frustration as she continued her boring patrol. Every Transit tube she came to she tried, and each time she got the same response, the 'access denied' beep. All the Pyramid's functions; communication, transportation, data operations, even getting a hot bowl of soup from the kitchens were routed through an individual's TDT. It kept track of everyone and everything, but a young mind is a most resourceful one. Circumventing technology was one of Gwen's specialties.
Gwen hurried through her patrols, reporting in at regular intervals. She swept through the remaining residential floors, before entering the executive floors below. With a devious glint, she ducked into one of the suites.
In a few minutes, she bridged all the data breaks set up to discourage what she was doing. Several carefully placed commands later, she set up a technoshade, a ghost signal of her TDT, running her patrol route. It was also programmed to report back at the assigned times. Upstairs in Security Command, they registered Gwenyvere's going about her route and report back that "All is well".
She exited the windowless suite in search of an open window to glide down to Midlevel and Terpsichore's ballet. Part of her worried about ducking out of her duties, but she ignored it. Artus intentionally sent her here, because it was boring, just like patrol sector 167. Besides, who could break into the Pyramid with its defense grid, intrusion counter-measures and enough cameras to start a broadcast station? No one would miss her for an hour or two. And Terpsichore's performances were rare enough that you didn't miss it because of something so inconvenient as punishment.
Gwenyvere turned the corner, heading to the windowed offices at the end, when she saw light pouring out of an opened office doorway. Shadows flickered past the rectangle of light. Gwen hesitated for a moment, then relaxed. She was on patrol. She was supposed to be here. If a middle manager is working late, fine. She'd just go down the hall or maybe a floor down and take off from there. She strode confidently down the corridor, looking into the doorway and stopped in shock.
Three black clad figures looked up at her.
"You said the patrol was down the hall," one of the figures growled.
"According to the system, she's supposed to be," the second one responded.
"Argue about it later! Take her!"
As soon as they said, 'Take her!' Gwen slipped into a battle stance, confident she could take them. She was fully aware that a gargoyle was at least twice the match for any human. Both pulled long, serrated, clear knives, and sprang on her. Gwen stepped back through the doorway. It gave her an advantage, forcing them to come at her one at a time. She threw a punch at the first one and he stumbled back into the second attacker. Before they tumbled over in a heap, the third attacker threw his knife, grazing Gwenyvere's arm and piercing her wing behind. Gwen gave a cry of pain.
She tapped her TDT to contact backup. "Gwenyvere to Control: Need Back Up!"
All she got was static, then her voice spoke over the channel, "This is Gwenyvere reporting all's clear on this level." The bored tone of her recording came back to haunt her. The technoshade she created was inadvertently cutting her off from help.
Two of the hooded figures tackled her to the ground. She struggled to get up, trying to shake bodies off of herself. She heard a soft hiss and felt a pinprick on her calf.
"I'm not that kinda girl," she said, looking down on the guy clutching her leg, before giving a high kick that flung him across the hallway.
"Enough of this," one assailant growled, pulling a particle gun and firing. The beam cut a lock off Gwen's hair.
"That's a warning. I don't have to miss."
Gwen understood and started to raise her hands, when they suddenly felt like heavy lead weights. Before she could react, the sedative took affect. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed to the ground.
"Why did you do that?" the figure that was on Gwen's leg demanded from the shooter.
"We don't have time to fool around with a gargoyle."
The legman gave an exasperated sigh. "That particle pulse will tip off security. We've got to go!"
"What about her?" Another of the figures looked at the unconscious Gwenyvere.
"Leave her," the shooter replied. "I'm not carrying around a useless gargoyle."
The other figure gave Gwenyvere a vicious kick in the ribs as they departed. Gwen felt the kick and heard their words as they departed. Darkness soon followed as she slipped into unconsciousness. They were gone without a trace in the minute it took security guards to arrive.
* * * * *
Gwen came to in stages. First, she became aware of sounds; the shuffle of many feet running about, orders being barked out, the beeps and tones of computer responses and the soft ping of medical monitoring equipment. Next, she became aware of herself; she was lying on her back. She opened her eyes and winced at the bright lights shining down on her. Her eyes adjusted as she struggled with the last fogginess of the sedative.
She was in a medical bay in the castle. Her last memories were still in a haze, but she remembered fighting and then falling down. Gwen tried to sit up and winced in pain. Her chest hurt.
"I don't understand it," the deep bass of the watch commander voice came down the hall. "We are still getting Gwenyvere's signal, calling in reports every half-hour."
"Could it be a technoshade?" Gwen could hear Artus's voice about the same distance and closing.
"In my system? You think these intruders implanted this program to cover their break-in?"
"Most likely," Artus replied. "Right now, I want to check on Gwenyvere. Continue on high alert. I want to know who tried to break into our home, and why."
Gwen immediately closed her eyes. Artus came in to see a sleeping Gwenyvere. He took a seat by the bed and placed his hand on her forehead. Gwen's eyes fluttered open.
"Hey." Gwen took a deep breath and winced again. "What happened?"
"Intruders broke in at the executive level on your patrol route. They managed to tranquilize you, but then left. I was hoping you could fill in the rest."
Gwenyvere propped herself up with pillows. "Intruders?" Her face screwed up in pain.
"Take it easy, you have a couple bruised ribs." Artus settled her into a comfortable position. "We guess you stopped them before they got too far. You did a good job, sis."
"Thanks," Gwen mumbled, fixing a weak smile on her face. 'Should I tell him the whole truth?' she wondered.
"Right now we are dealing with a memento left by our 'guests', a technoshade designed to impersonate your patrol and check-ins."
"Leader Artus?" A young female gargoyle entered the room.
Gwen didn't recognize the citrine female with black hair. Judging by her accent and Mesoamerican dress, Gwen assumed this was one of the new additions to the clan. 'I hope they aren't all this young?' Gwen thought.
"Yes, Zia. What is it?"
Zia cleared her throat. "I ran a diagnostic on the system. The technoshade is most intractable. I can't break it out of its loop, not without shutting down the computers to the residential and executive levels."
"That's a risky move." Artus cupped his hand to his chin. "It will leave those levels vulnerable. They've been compromised once. I don't want to do it again."
"Terpsichore," Gwen muttered miserably.
"Try Terpsichore," Gwen said in a louder voice. Zia gave Artus a questioning look, but the tan gargoyle nodded. Zia punched the code into her remote.
"The technoshade is dead," Zia said with some amazement.
Artus stared at Gwenyvere. "If that's all, Zia, perhaps you can update the watch commander on that situation."
"Yes, leader," Zia quickly departed. Artus and Gwenyvere were alone.
"So, are you going to tell me what's going on or should I take a guess?"
"I created the technoshade. I was going to break out and get down to Terpsichore's performance, but I ran into those banjalos first."
Artus remained silent. Gwen continued, "But I stopped the intruders. That's what's important."
"You got lucky and think your duty is done? You really don't understand what it means to protect, do you?" Artus said in a disapproving tone.
Gwen's eyes glowed bright red. "Only that nothing I can do is ever good enough for you!"
"Is that what you think? You've never needed my approval. You've always had it," Artus said in his deadly quiet voice. "But you treat this like some big game, when people's lives are at stake. Lives it is your duty to protect."
"And who signed me up for that duty!" Gwen demanded. "What? You're going to tell me that 'Gargoyles protect'. Well, I certainly wasn't present when that decision was made. I didn't have a say in that. Not like I have much say in anything around here."
"Act like an adult and you will."
"You mean adult like you?" Gwen shot back. "Self-righteous and boring?"
"Don't make me separate you two," Broadway's voice interrupted the argument. Both siblings stopped to look up at Broadway and Angela in the doorway.
"Artus, I think you are needed outside," Angela spoke to her son.
"It can wait."
"No, it can't," Angela said as tactfully as possible. "I'd like to speak to my daughter alone."
Artus held up his hands in an exasperated gesture and left. Broadway followed, but didn't go beyond the doorway. Once in the corridor, Artus sought out the investigation team to see what they had uncovered.
"Well, you've been less than gracious to your brother," Angela said, turning her head to Gwenyvere.
"Here we go..." Gwenyvere set herself up for another mom speech.
"No speech this time," Angela patted her daughter's hand. "I'm just glad you're alright. Those intruders could have killed you. Why didn't you have any back up?"
Gwen shifted in her bed. "Well...um...That is... They never knew I was in trouble."
"Why?" Broadway asked.
Gwen sighed. "I made up a program to simulate my patrol, to cover for me as I went to Midlevel. It locked out my comm signal."
"I see. And this is what you and Artus were arguing about?" Angela asked. Gwen nodded.
"And you think you are in the right?" Her mother continued.
"Well, no, but it's not like he should boss me around like that."
"He's the leader. I believe that is the part of job description," Broadway added.
"I knew you'd take his side."
"And what side is that?" Angela asked. "The side that wants to make sure you're safe. The side that still loves you no matter what you do."
"...the side that likes to disrupt my life, takes me from my friends for ninety years and plops me back here and says 'you'll find lots of friends'. The side that constantly treats me like a hatchling."
"I think we'd better go then." Angela got up with a weary sigh. Gwen looked distressed for a moment, then a scowl replaced that look.
Broadway looked back at his daughter. "I'd like to talk to her for moment."
Angela nodded and left the room. Broadway looked at his daughter then took a seat next to her. She maintained her scowl. She was mad at her parents and was going to stay mad.
"Dawn's not far away. You keep scowling, it's going to freeze like that."
Gwen's eyes lightened a bit, but her face remained angry. "Ha, ha. Very funny."
"You know we care about you?" It was more a statement than a question.
"Yes, I guess."
"Well, I don't guess. I know I love you. So does your mother, and so do Samson and Artus."
Gwen gave a snort of disbelief.
"It's true," Broadway continued. "Why do you think they come down hard on you? You don't do that for someone you don't care about. My heart stopped when I heard you were involved in this break-in."
Gwen looked up at her father, a clear expression on her face.
"That's all we want for you: to be safe."
"And treat me like a kid," Gwen muttered.
"It may seem like that at times."
"Try all the time."
Broadway shook his head, "but it hasn't escaped our notice what a lovely young woman you've become, or that you have a mind and will of your own. You get that from your mother."
Gwen's frown deepened. She didn't want like being connected with her mother right now. Broadway gently cupped her chin. "You want to be treated with respect. That's a fair request, but you have to put something in the transaction too. Think about it."
Broadway kissed her forehead and let her rest. She stared up at the ceiling for a long time. It seemed fair, but what are they giving up for her? Her mother wanted it both ways, for her to be mature when she needed someone to do grunt work, but thinks she's too young and too wild to sip venom in Soccorro or go sharking in Puerto Rico. Though, a small voice had to admit she did those things mainly to irritate her mother. Maybe, she should consider her father's words.
"I will, father," Gwen whispered.
* * * * *
Artus was in his office communicating with the Enforcers and security when Cocopetal came in. The brown gargoyle had a bright expression on his face. His tail feathers stood up in a proud arc.
"I've found something!" Cocopetal turned around and clicked on the nearest holoscreen emitter. It showed an empty corridor.
"This is from the security cameras watching the executive levels. It shows this empty room because our intruders shunted the signal through a filter and feedback loop..."
"So basically, they put up a picture of an empty hallway so no one would be the wiser."
The Mayan gargoyle nodded. "But the cameras are still getting images, and still stores them to a small data buffer inside the camera. I was able to get the last few seconds before the invaders pulled out."
Cocopetal clicked the screen again and the image of the three men running through the suite, out the window, and onto a hover transport.
Artus was replaying it for a fourth time when Samson came into the room.
"Hey, Mom wants you to talk to you about Gwenyvere... Wow! Deja-vu!"
Artus pulled his head away from the screen. "This means something to you?"
Samson nodded. "These look like the guys that tranqed me and grabbed the lady. They were our visitors?"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"I did. Clad in black, from head to toe. It's not descriptive, but it's accurate."
"Why would kidnappers want to break into the Executive levels?" Cocopetal asked.
"Maybe they wanted to kidnap someone," Samson answered.
"Yes." Artus stroked his beard again. "And I think I know who."
* * *
The new and former leaders of the clan, Artus, Persephone, Calliope and Orion, greeted Alexander and Serena Xanatos as they entered Artus's office.
"I heard you had some excitement earlier tonight," Alexander said in a calm, casual tone.
"I don't call a breach near the castle 'excitement'," Orion replied gruffly.
"We think that this is more than just someone 'sneaking into heaven'." Artus offered the two a seat.
Serena took a chair. Alex remained standing. Artus showed them the brief seconds of the intruders' escape and their on-going investigation for the missing person Downtown. When all the evidence was presented, Alex looked none the wiser.
"You implied there was a connection?"
"The person Downtown, was more than 100 years old but looked in her twenties. That implies a halfling or a member of the Third race. These same kidnappers broke in a section below the residences, where it wouldn't take much effort to get to you two."
"So you think these kidnappers are after Alex or myself?" Serena asked.
"It's a strong connection," Artus replied.
Alex didn't look worried. "Well, this should be interesting."
"Interesting?" Calliope asked in disbelief. "We don't know why these banjalos are after you or what they have in mind once they get you, and you think this is interesting?"
"First, they have to get past all the castle's defenses, then past security, a whole clan of gargoyles and then they have to deal with me and my wife. How far do you think they'd get?"
Orion grumbled to himself. Something about laissez-faire attitudes and stupid human arrogance, but his mate, Calliope, put a hand on his shoulder. Alex continued to face Artus.
"As leader of the clan, I trust your decision in regards to security, but there really is no need for additional measures. They tried to break in and failed. They'll fail again."
"I think you should take this threat more seriously," Artus reiterated.
"Believe me I am, but I haven't lasted this long, running and hiding from every danger that might be out there." Xanatos got up to leave, and his wife followed.
"He does have a point. We're both skilled in magic. Anyone who tries to take us will find themselves in the vegetable or mineral category before they can think twice." Serena twirled her fingers and a little wisp of magic sparkled at their tips.
When they departed both old and new leaders looked to each other.
"How do you want to handle this?" Orion asked Artus.
"For now, all we have is a strong hunch and possible leads. Let's follow up on them. If we've got a case, we'll give it to the Enforcers."
Calliope and Orion both harrumphed. Artus shook his head. "They may be overworked and understaffed, but the Enforcers are still the authority here. We'll keep vigilant, keep at high alert, and run drills for the next three days."
Artus looked to Persephone. "It'll give us a chance to integrate the newcomers with veteran patrols, even if they can only look. Get them used to the work."
"Good use of the situation," Calliope nodded in approval.
Artus smiled, "Thanks."
* * * * *
Alex left his wife on the pretense of finishing up some business. When he was in his own office, he pulled the security camera data. With maximum resolution he examined every centimeter of the scene.
"Iceblades..." Alexander commented as he focused on the clear, serrated, long knives the invaders wielded- a mixture of water and other chemicals meant to leave no trace, genetic or otherwise, of the wielder. "Definitely not the weapon of choice of street toughs."
The way the three-man team moved with practiced aplomb denoted professionalism. "Only someone with money could hire or train a team like this.
"Who has the means, motive and money?" Alex sat back in chair. An idea struck him. "Focus on the neck of the attackers."
The computer complied giving three images. Two were black from the fabric of their cowls. One had a trace of gold. It took several minutes of focusing and readjusting until he saw a tiny medallion of gold. The image was blurry, but a pyramid with a floating eye was unmistakable.
"The Illuminati," Alone in the semi-dark control room, no one could see Alexander's calm, laissez-faire demeanor slip into a mask of worry.
* * * * *
A ball of phoenix fire erupted and quickly burned itself out leaving the weary timedancers in the middle of a forest. Brooklyn looked around to get their bearings.
"It looks like we're in the clear, for now," the red gargoyle commented. He turned around just as Sata collapsed. He quickly grabbed her, then gently laid her on the ground.
"Sata? Sata? Stay with me?" Brooklyn felt her forehead and was surprised at how chilled it felt. He tried to rouse her, and still got no response. He checked her breathing. It was shallow. He searched for a pulse. At first he couldn't find one. Panic started to seize him, when he found it, terribly weak, almost a flutter.
"You have to find help!" he told himself.
"But I can't leave you like this," he argued back. It was a tough choice, but if he didn't make it, Sata could die.
Brooklyn kissed Sata's browridge. "Please, hang on until I bring help," he said in a whisper, almost a prayer, then he climbed a tree and glided through the treetops.
The rational part of him brought up the unpleasant truths. They could be anywhere at any time. And if it he did find someone, they might not be able to help. But Brooklyn couldn't worry about that. He had to save his mate.
He could see an orange glow through the trees. It could be a fire or lights. He hoped it was a settlement and not a brushfire. As he came closer to the glow, he saw several campfires and long houses made of wood. It all looked primitive. Brooklyn's heart sank. They had danced to some time in the past. He was so deep in despair, he didn't spot a tree bough until he crashed his wing into it. He went down in a brick red heap, right in the middle of the settlement.
The people there jumped in surprise. Women hurried the children inside, while the men went to see what was going on. By their fire was a brick-red creature with snow-white hair and he appeared to be sobbing. The young men of the village walked up to the creature.
Brooklyn heard them approach, but did not care. Sata was dying and there wasn't a thing he could do to stop it.
"Sata. Oh, Sata! I'm sorry."
"Hey, friend. Is something the matter?"
Brooklyn glared at the men, with glowing eyes. "Yes, there's something the matter. My mate lies dying, and I can't save her. I thought I could find help, but I guess you don't know what a gargoyle is, let alone how to heal one?"
The other men remained silent, either from shock or fear, Brooklyn couldn't tell. The leader took another step closer. "Where is your mate, gargoyle?"
Brooklyn nodded in the direction he came. The young man took out what looked like a storystick. It was a baton-length stick with animals carved along the shaft. At the top was an owl. The leader tapped its beak.
"Med-evac. This is the Hunter's Point group. We need a pick up, home in on our signal."
Brooklyn looked up surprised. His surprise deepened when the stick replied. "Med-evac confirmed. ETA, five minutes."
The leader looked to Brooklyn. "Lead the way."
* * *
A dozen questions swirled in Brooklyn's mind, but he mentally shoved them all aside focusing on Sata. He ran hard through the forest, retracing his flight from the ground. At last, they came to the jade green gargoyle.
Brooklyn's heart stopped when he feared the worst. The Algonquin leader and two of his comrades followed Brooklyn to his green companion.
"Halmond take a look at her," the leader ordered. The smallest of the three men, knelt besides Sata and examined her vitals.
"Breathing's shallow. Heartbeat is hard to find." Halmond opened one of Sata's eyes and checked her pupil response. "She's in shock."
Suddenly, the small clearing of trees was flooded with light as an ambulance lowered through the trees towards them.
* * *
Brooklyn held on to Sata's hand as the medics moved around his mate, trying to stabilize her. Brooklyn was only partially aware of other things going on around him. He didn't register that they were lifting up off the ground, or look out the window to see the trees fall away and reveal massive buildings climbing overhead, or the driver calling on some radio device.
"Med-evac 3, leaving Manhattan National, vectoring for X/R. Prep for female gargoyle."
The medical personnel in the back took over, spouting vitals and medical jargon to a speakerphone on the wall. Brooklyn didn't notice nor care. He just wanted Sata to be well.
* * *
The ambulance glided into the reception bay. Medical staff was waiting as the rear bay doors opened.
"Tell me what you've got," Dr. Abrahms shouted, as the injured gargoyle was rolled out.
"We've got a female gargoyle, in her fifties, far along pregnancy. We've got unsteady heart rhythms and no conscious responses. Symptoms of shock from a massive trauma."
"Cause of trauma?" Camilla asked as they maneuvered the gurney to an ER.
"Unknown," the paramedic reported. "There's no physical distress on the body, though there is an anomalous EM body signature."
"You called in two gargoyles?" Camilla asked as she moved with skilled ease from one task to another.
"Yes, the other is a red male, her mate. About mid to late fifties. Same EM signature, no evidence of shock or distress."
"He sees his mate dying and you call that no distress?" Camilla said in a stern tone. The paramedic didn't respond. He had already let the gurney go and turned around on his way out. As he exited the emergency room, he ran into the 'distressed' mate.
"Where is she? Is she all right?"
"Dr. Abrahms is taking care of her. She's in good hands," he said, taking a moment to reassure Brooklyn.
A staccato beep got the paramedics attention. "Ben! Where are you?"
"I'm helping calm a patient."
"Well get your rusty, dusty in gear. We've got another call. Looks like the Chryslers sliced through a transformer and it exploded. They're calling in all the Evac teams."
"On my way." The paramedic slid his commlink back down in his sleeve. He gave Brooklyn a 'you-understand' look, and took off.
Brooklyn let the paramedic go, watching the medical team work on Sata through the open door.
"Sir?" A nurse came to Brooklyn. "You're going to have to wait outside."
Brooklyn didn't even register the nurse until the man tapped him on the shoulder and directly showed him to the waiting room. Brooklyn sat with other anxious faces. Each set of eyes glued to the ER doors, hoping and dreading for a doctor to come out with news.
Several minutes, a painful eternity, passed before Brooklyn noticed the man sitting down next to him on his right. Brooklyn's mind was in a holding pattern. He didn't want to think about the possibilities, but thought about them anyway, trying to figure out what had happened, why Sata was dying, and what he could have done to change it.
"You don't need to worry," the young man next to him spoke. "Abrahms is a great doctor."
Brooklyn looked up at him. There was something slightly familiar about the voice, as if he had heard it a long time ago. He was trying to recall where he heard such a warm, mellow voice. The man sat back in his chair, unfazed by the lack of response from his red friend.
"I know what you're going through. You're feeling bewildered and frightened. Your chest feels so tight you can barely breathe, and each moment is an eternity."
"You don't know the half of it," Brooklyn mumbled.
"You might be surprised."
Brooklyn looked up. This guy's voice sounded really familiar. He was tall and middle age. He couldn't guess what this stranger's age. He could have been anywhere between thirties and fifties. He had shoulder-length fire red hair and striking blue eyes.
"You've been here before?" Brooklyn asked.
The man nodded his head solemnly. "I lost my first wife. I remember all the feelings: the fear, the worry, and the singularity."
The stranger kept staring straight ahead. "Existing in the moment. You can't think about the past and you are too afraid of what the future may hold. Until that doctor comes through those doors, you're stuck in the moment."
"Of course, I wouldn't worry if I were you, Brooklyn. The Manhattan clan has always been inordinately charmed."
Brooklyn looked sharply at the stranger. "How did you know my name?"
The man looked up, giving Brooklyn more than a profile look. He got a full glance at the fox's head tattoo over his right eye. At first, it didn't register, but then recognition colored his face. The stranger flashed that patented Xanatos smile and left no doubt in Brooklyn's mind.
"Call me Alex." The man offered his hand.
"The one and only. Of course, I'm surprised you'd recognize me. I was only a toddler when you last saw me."
Shocking as this revelation was, it didn't distract Brooklyn when Dr. Abrahms came through the door.
Brooklyn and Alex both stood up. "Well, doctor?" Alex prompted.
"Your mate is stable."
Brooklyn nearly collapsed from relief. Alex smiled and gave him a punch in the arm. "Told you she'd be all right."
"She's resting right now. Dawn should do the rest. You can see her." Dr. Abrahms pointed the way. Brooklyn bolted through the doors down to his mate. Alexander drew a little closer to confer with her.
"Thanks for calling me," Alex smiled.
"When they brought in a gargoyle, I naturally called the castle, but why did you want to come personally?"
"Oh, it's a trait I picked up from my teacher. He could never resist a surprise."
"Well, some surprises aren't always pleasant." Dr. Abrahms looked at her medical pad.
"What's wrong with her?"
"At the moment, nothing. Her body is recovering from some severe trauma. We've detected fading energy signatures, but I don't know if they are the cause or the symptom of whatever she's been through."
"Do your best doc," Alex nodded. "I have every confidence in your ability. If you'll excuse me."
Alex started towards the hallway. He looked down the passage where Brooklyn had gone. "Welcome to the future, Brooklyn."
Xanatos smiled as he imagined what the others' expressions would be. He had to call Serena. Alex picked an alcove, out of the way and relatively quiet. He opened a commlink to the castle, just as a gurney trundled by. Before Alex could get the first syllable out, he felt a pinprick and a soft hiss. Alex looked around, but immediately blacked out.
The hospital orderlies quickly and smoothly caught Alexander and put him on the gurney bed. They covered Alex with a blanket, and slipped him down the hallway to join the tide of patients coming in with the next wave of ambulances. In moments, Alexander Xanatos was gone.
* * * * *
To be continued...