Home is a Dark Place, Part 5
Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
* * * * *
"What did Matt say?" Elisa blinked. She looked up having temporarily forgotten Broadway as she attempted to reconnect with her partner.
"It seems reports of the good doctor's death have been somewhat exaggerated," the detective reported. "Sevarius is alive."
* * * * *
"Points for originality, Ptah," Brooklyn muttered as he watched from the shadows. "You say you hear a noise. I say where. You throw a rock and when I turn to look, you bash me on the head. You could claim that someone else did it, except I saw you palm the chunk of concrete off that restaurant rooftop. So now that I've conveniently let you escape, what are you really up to?"
He peered through the tiny space of clearing that opened onto a baseball diamond. Ptah was fifteen yards away near the home side bleachers. The elder gargoyle seemed both resolute and agitated, as if he'd come to some major but dangerous decision.
Brooklyn watched as Ptah pulled a cell phone from his belt pouch and pressed buttons. When Ptah turned his back he inched several yards closer, being careful to remain upwind.
Ptah shot a furtive glance over his shoulder and began to speak rapidly.
Brooklyn craned closer and wished for a directional microphone, but after several seconds he decided he didn't need it. Ptah was unused to the nuances of the cell phone and his voice carried.
"Van Winkle," he said dropping all of his usual flowery mannerisms." It is no use. The clan has closed itself against me. They will not willingly surrender the egg."
Brooklyn's lip curled. "Pay dirt." A noise distracted him. He sniffed. Human. He scanned the park. Behind him on the bridle path that looped the playing field was a gray-suited jogger out for a late run. He returned his attention to Ptah.
"I have tried all means," Ptah was saying. "I have tried reason. I have tried emotional appeal. I have petitioned based on honor and tradition. Nothing works."
Another silence. Ptah's hood flared in reaction to Van Winkle.
When he replied his voice was sad, resigned. "I understand. Yes, it will be tonight."
Ptah fell silent listening to the reply. The steady footfalls of the jogger grew closer. There was motion to his left and Brooklyn looked over his shoulder and frowned. "Not now!" he protested as three young toughs broke cover.
The jogger froze as the three muggers circled. He threw up his hands. "I haven't got anything." His voice quavered with nerves. "If I did, it'd be yours."
"No duh," said the obvious leader of the trio. "But we're just gonna check for ourselves."
The other two toughs moved in and Brooklyn sighed. The second thug made a grab for the jogger's hands and pinned them behind his back. The third was preparing to move in when Brooklyn made his play. "You don't want to do that, boys."
The leader sneered as his compatriots continued to frisk the jogger. "You lied," said the third as he extracted a money clip from their victim's pocket. From his voice he couldn't have been more than twenty.
"It's just my I.D. and some cab fare for, you know, emergencies!"
"Well what do you call this?" asked the second thief, archly.
"Come on, boys," the leader said. "We have places to be."
"You got that right," Brooklyn snarled. He kept his gun racked on his back. With the jogger already in hostage position he didn't want to escalate the situation any more than he had to. He stood tall and flared his wings and hoped physical intimidation would help him turn the trick.
"Oh! The big bad gargoyle wants to play," the third said in mock horror.
"Yeah, well he can play with this." Before Brooklyn could react the leader of the gang pulled a gun and fired several times in rapid succession.
Bad call. The sound was soft, unremarkable really. Kid must have used a silencer, Brooklyn thought to himself as a spot on his thigh and a second high on his wing began to burn. He dove forward and grabbed the jogger away from the muggers. His momentum pushed them into the trees on the other side of the path, and they tumbled into an ungraceful heap at the foot of an oak as the thieves took off laughing.
The jogger scrambled out from under him and knelt at his side. "You're hurt."
The human's voice seemed far off as Brooklyn's body began to react. He glanced at his right wing. The shot had left a neat hole that stung like the devil. His chest hurt, but he couldn't find the source. He shifted his gaze to his left leg and touched gingerly at the back of his thigh. The bullet had gone through and through and the wound was bleeding freely. If he didn't stop that quick he'd pass out. "Yeah. Give me a minute. Spare bandana?" the gargoyle asked as he pressed a palm against his leg.
The jogger gave him a blank look and then fumbled in his sweat suit pockets. He pulled out a faded blue and white square of cloth and handed it to Brooklyn. "I should call someone. The paramedics." Before he could protest the jogger had sprinted away.
Brooklyn bound his leg and then stood, finding his legs shaky but usable. He palmed the communicator at his wrist, but got nothing but static for his effort. Either it was broken or he was in one of those persistent dead spots that seemed to pocket the city. It didn't matter which, he was cut off from the clan. "Ptah," he remembered at last. But when he limped his way back to the baseball diamond, the old gargoyle was gone.
"Way to go, Brook old buddy, conked on the coconut and shot in the same night. Maybe you need a vacation." He looked down at his leg. The bandage was soaking through, but it seemed the bullet had passed through muscle and missed the important veins and arteries. He'd live. The echo of a siren began to scream in the distance. He perked up for a second and then realized he didn't have time to wait. With a grimace and a silent apology to his would be benefactors he began to climb the nearest tree for the glide back to the castle.
* * * * *
"Elisa. Elisa come in. Over."
The knot in the detective's stomach tightened as the radio receiver hanging from her neck squawked at last. She had spent thirty long minutes feigning nonchalance in front of the television waiting for Lexington's call while suspicion gnawed away at her gut like a pack of hungry rats.
The detective bolted from the couch out of the television room while Broadway looked on with curiosity. Bronx, with Cagney curled on his back, lifted his head at her sudden movement, but soon joined the cat back in slumber. Elisa stepped around the lounging pets. As she stepped into the common room she slipped the headset from her neck and into proper position. "I'm here, Lex. What did you find? Over."
The hiss and crackle of static gave way to the high-pitched rasp of the cybernetically enhanced gargoyle. "You were right. The house is locked up tight. The lights are on but no one's home and there's a package from an art supply house sitting here on the front porch, addressed to Andrea. The tag says it was delivered the day before yesterday. Over."
Elisa frowned at the unwelcome news. "I was afraid of this."
"Afraid of what, my Elisa?" Goliath entered with Hudson in tow. There was a disgruntled meow as Cagney was displaced and Bronx trotted out to greet the clan elder. Elisa ignored the pets and drew Goliath aside as Hudson went to the stove and put on the kettle.
"Elisa? What do you want us to do?" Delilah queried. "Over."
"Sorry," she replied quickly. "Return to base. Hurry. Over and out."
"Is something the matter?" Goliath frowned with concern as Elisa pushed the headset away from her mouth and tugged him down the hallway towards his office. She waited until they were both inside and then closed the door.
"Goliath we have a problem," Elisa said softly. "Maybe more than one. Matt called in a little while ago." She told him about the storm-interrupted conversation and then waited for her mate's reaction. On the whole, he took it quietly.
Goliath scowled. "I thought you said the Illuminati confirmed the doctor's demise."
Elisa shrugged. "Yeah, well it turns out even they can make mistakes. Our eyewitness was Danny, the halfling. He can tell you about it himself in an hour or so. Matt said they were nearly airborne right before we were cut off."
Goliath sat behind his desk, shuffling idly at a stack of Angela's press clippings. "I cannot say that I am surprised by the news. Sevarius seems to have an uncanny ability to remain unscathed. You are convinced that he is behind Angela's kidnapping?"
Elisa nodded and closed her eyes briefly. "And that brings us to the problem." She took a deep breath, wishing there was some other solution that made sense to her. "I'm not sure you rescued the right gargoyle from that New Jersey warehouse."
Goliath looked up at his raven-haired mate and wondered how she had arrived at such a strange conclusion. "You did not see Angela when she was recovered, Elisa. If you had, you would not make such a statement."
Elisa shrugged, running her hands through her hair in a frustrated exclamation. "Maybe I am wrong, but something's not right. Angela told Lexington and Delilah that she was spending the rest of tonight and tomorrow with Andrea. But Matt told me that Jeannie has been trying to get a hold of Andrea for several days. When I asked Lex to swing by the manor and check, he reported the place was locked up tight. And before you ask, she's not answering her radio either."
"Why would Angela lie?"
"I don't know. Unless, like I said, it's not Angela. Think about it, Goliath," Elisa exclaimed. "In a way, it's the perfect way to throw us off the track. What if the reason we can't find the fake Angela is because she's right under our noses?"
"For what purpose?"
"I can't answer that," Elisa said frankly. "I've tried. The only thing I can come up with is Angela has more access then the rest of you. She can slip in and out of the castle and Demona's operations too. If someone were looking to steal secrets, there isn't a better burglar than a high-profile gargoyle that no one is willing to prosecute."
Goliath picked up a clipping of Angela taken at the art museum unveiling. She looked so proud. So happy. She was his daughter. His. How could he have been fooled not once but twice by an impostor? And if he had, if they all had, did that mean that Angela was still the captive of the mad geneticist or worse? "No, Elisa, you must be mistaken. Angela was injured badly by her captors. I doubt even Sevarius would subject one of his own agents to such brutality, even to garner sympathy."
"But it would work, wouldn't it?" Elisa persisted. "Who would dare question her? And if her behavior was a little off, it would be chalked up to the head injuries. Look, Goliath, I'm a cop, or at least I was -" She smiled ruefully, and her mate frowned in return. "- and I'm supposed to go by facts, not feelings. But something doesn't feel right here." She shook her head. "I wish I could put my finger on it, but I can't get over the feeling that Angela is still in trouble."
Goliath sighed ponderously. There was another explanation. It was possible that Elisa in her desperation for closure of the frustrating case was grasping at straws. Angela could have a perfectly reasonable explanation for both her radio silence and the deception about her whereabouts. "What do you propose we do?" he asked after a long pause.
"First we need to find her," Elisa said promptly. "Then we need to test her. Find out who she really is."
Goliath nodded. "That seems a reasonable course of action."
Elisa repositioned her headset, preparing to recall the rest of the clan. "We should tell the others. The clone used Lexington once to try and get information. It's possible that she might try again."
"Agreed." Goliath replied as he rose from his chair. Perhaps there was a way out of this that would satisfy Elisa and prove that she was mistaken in her supposition. Perhaps if he distracted her long enough, Bluestone would bring fresh information that would alleviate her suspicions and give her a new trail follow. He only needed a little time. "But not that way. We do not want to alert Angela to your suspicions. We will notify the others as they come in."
Elisa gave her mate a doubtful look then pursed her lips. "You're humoring me," she said flatly. "I don't believe it."
"Elisa. I -"
"No," she replied, her voice rising sharply. "It's true. You don't believe me."
Goliath crossed to Elisa's side and attempted to put an arm around her shoulders. She ducked away from the embrace, refusing to be placated. The gargoyle stepped back, allowing Elisa space to pace angrily instead. "I believe you are worried about the clone still being on the loose. I believe that you have grasped a hold of this notion of a double substitution and it makes sense to you in a way that it doesn't to me. I believe," he said, his voice quiet despite his upset, "that you will not be assuaged of your doubt until you prove to yourself Angela is not an impostor. I am willing to let that happen, but I will not alarm the rest of the clan in the process."
The phone buzzed. Goliath growled at the interruption. He swept the receiver up in one massive hand and put it to his ear without breaking eye contact with his frustrated mate. "Yes."
"Goliath. This is Fox. I need to talk to Elisa. Is she there?"
"Just a moment." He held out the receiver. "It's for you."
Elisa snagged the phone away from her mate, unwilling to touch him even accidentally. "Hello?"
Fox wrapped her dressing gown more tightly around her. She'd decided to take a quick nap prior to getting ready for a late business meeting and she'd had the strangest dream yet. There was such urgency behind it she felt she had to do something. Lacking any good ideas, she had picked up the phone. She drew a deep breath and feigned her normal casual tone. "Elisa, it's Fox. I know this is going to come out of the blue, but I just had the weirdest dream and it's not the first, if you know what I mean. I've been having them every time I go to sleep. Daytime, nighttime, it doesn't really seem to matter lately. I really just need to know: are you still having weird dreams?"
Elisa's hand spasmed and she nearly dropped the receiver. She turned her back to Goliath and inched toward the wall as she replied softly, "What kind of dreams?"
"Oh, you know the kind," Fox replied. She attempted to keep her voice light, but there was no masking the agitation. "You. Me. Angela. Dungeons. Chains. Fun. Games. Kind of like before, but there's more of an edge to them. You know, like there's some kind of hidden meaning, but someone forgot to send the decoder ring."
"It's not just me." Elisa took a deep breath. "I knew there was something strange going on. Do you get the feeling that Angela is in some kind of trouble?"
Fox paused. Considered. "Yeah, she does seem to be the damsel in distress in most of these scenarios. Do you suppose it's just an aftereffect of her kidnapping? Maybe I should work some counseling into her schedule."
Elisa shook her head. "Maybe. But maybe there's something more to it. I think Angela is trying to contact us."
"Elisa," Goliath rumbled disapprovingly.
Fox shivered inexplicably. "What do you mean? If Angela wants to talk to either of us, all she has to do is open her mouth."
"I don't think so, Fox." If Goliath wouldn't believe her then maybe the lady of the castle would, Elisa thought desperately. "I think Angela is still a captive somewhere. I think somehow the clone has taken her place again."
"Elisa, that's enough." Goliath reached for the phone and tried to take it from Elisa's hands. They wrestled for the instrument and after several fierce seconds Goliath won. "Fox, Elisa is not well. I'm afraid that the strain of the last several days has finally taken its toll."
"Goliath, I'm not mental!"
Fox shook off the overwhelming sense of worry that had plagued her. She had been working way too hard lately and with all the recent upsets around the castle, she was on edge and overreacting. Maybe it was time to take David and Alex away for a few days out of town and really relax. "It sounds like I called at a bad time. Look. Tell Elisa to forget it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a dream is just too much pizza before bedtime. Is there anything you need?"
Goliath eyed his impassioned mate. Perhaps this wasn't the easiest outlet, but she had been clearly disturbed by recent events and she needed some way to vent her emotions. He would ride out this storm with her. "No, we will manage. Thank you." He hung up the phone.
Elisa gave him a savage look and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Goliath sighed. He took half a minute to marshal his own agitation and followed. There was no telling where Elisa's sudden conviction would take her next. It was a short walk. She was in the common room facing off with Broadway. Lexington and Delilah stood to one side, evidently having just delivered their findings in person to the burly gargoyle. He was shaking his head in denial as Hudson looked on with concern.
"Elisa, you're wrong about this." Broadway looked as frustrated as Goliath felt and Elisa had only been out of sight for a matter of a minute.
"Then where is she?" Elisa demanded. "Why isn't she with Andrea?"
"I don't know. Maybe they decided to work someplace else. Doesn't Andrea still have a studio someplace?"
"Then why would she tell you she's been at Destine Manor?"
"I don't know. Why are you giving me the third degree?" Broadway said harshly. "You tell me that my mate isn't who she says she is, and somehow it's my fault for not knowing?"
"We know she's a good actress," Elisa said, trying to placate. "We've all been taken in."
"No one's that good," Broadway said with finality.
"Hey, we heard yelling," Graeme said as he, Arianna and Sata, followed by Nudnik, entered from the courtyard. "What's all the hubbub?"
"The hubbub," Broadway replied, "is your Auntie Elisa has gone off the deep end."
"Broadway!" protested several voices as Lexington, Delilah, Goliath and Sata expressed their dismay at once.
"Lad, that's no way tae talk," Hudson admonished.
"Children, perhaps you should go and meditate in the arboretum," Sata said. "I will be along in a little while."
Neither of the younger gargoyles protested as they threaded their way through the angry adults and out of the room, the beasts in tow.
"Now, Broadway, would ya care to explain your harsh words," the elder said.
Broadway opened his mouth for another angry tirade, but before he could speak Brooklyn said weakly from the doorway, "A little help here?"
All eyes turned toward the tired and bloody gargoyle. Sata rushed to her mate's side and assisted him to the bench. She gently prodded the neat hole in his wing, and waited impatiently as Delilah fetched the first aid kit from the storage cabinet.
"How did this happen?" Goliath demanded as the others assessed the Second's injuries.
Brooklyn closed his eyes for a minute, glad to be home. The wing had held during the short glide from Central Park, but the pain from the gunshot thigh had been fierce, even for a gargoyle. "I was in the park. There was a mugging. When I tried to break it up, one of the little punks got trigger-happy." He shrugged. "Just another night in the Big Apple." He closed his eyes again as antiseptic was applied to wing. "Hey, that reminds me, has anybody seen Ptah?"
There was a general murmur of negatives as Sata indicated that her mate needed to stand. "We must get him to the infirmary." Off the others looks of concern she added, "He will heal with treatment and rest. Goliath-sama and Broadway, I will require your assistance getting him there."
Brooklyn allowed the others to link their arms around him and provide support as he shakily regained his feet.
"This isn't over, Goliath," Elisa said as they followed Sata out of the common room.
Goliath paused and turned. "Yes," her mate and leader pronounced. "For now it is."
* * *
Elisa stood with her arms folded over her chest, fuming, as Goliath made his pronouncement. "How dare he?" she asked, forgetting that she was not alone in the room.
"He dares, lass, because he's leader and those are his decisions to make," Hudson replied gently. "Now why don't ya sit down, you're gonna overexcite yourself."
Lexington and Delilah nodded in general agreement. "I will make tea," Delilah stated as she went to fill the kettle.
"I will not sit down," Elisa said, continuing to vent her frustration. "And I don't want tea. We know that we have an impostor running loose. We know that Angela is in danger."
"Yeah, but we don't know where either one of them are," reminded Lexington.
"And, we have no proof this is the false Angela," added Delilah. "You must have more proof."
"You're right," Elisa admitted, as the logical portion of her brain finally made itself heard. "We need a plan."
"You know -" Lexington's wide, lamp-like eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "- when Angela comes back, we could put a tracer on her. It wouldn't answer any of our questions about where she's been tonight, but at least we could keep an eye on her until this thing is resolved. "
"But what if she doesn't come back?" Elisa countered. "It's a good start but we need to do more." She did sit down at last, leaning against the central table and masking her face with her hands. "All right. Set up the bug." She dropped her hands. "Hey. Why didn't I think of that? There's no way you could make it a radio transmitter, could you?"
"I don't follow," Lexington said. "You mean like a one way receiver?" He shook his head. "I don't think so, not for the kind of range we need in a tracking device. But I'll talk to Owen and find out."
He started to exit and as Delilah turned to follow he shook his head at his mate. She nodded and returned to the kitchen counter, putting together a tea tray despite Elisa's earlier protest.
"Lexington was in a hurry," Matt commented as he entered with Jeannie and a teenage boy Elisa felt she should recognize in tow. "Is something going on?"
"That depends on who you ask, laddie," Hudson replied.
Matt gave the old gargoyle a quizzical look before turning his attention to his partner. "Was that a yes or a no?"
"Brooklyn was shot and taken to the infirmary," Delilah clarified bluntly. "Sata said his injury was serious but not life threatening. Before that, we caught Angela in a lie. She is supposed to be at Destine Manor but she's not. Goliath and Elisa disagree as to what this means. Elisa thinks Angela is still a captive and false-Angela is still among us. Goliath believes she is wrong." Oblivious to the sharp looks rendered by Elisa and Hudson, Delilah offered the new arrivals a place at the table and a cup of tea.
As they awkwardly took their places Matt asked, "Elisa, how are you holding up?"
"I'm hanging in there, even if that is the minority opinion." She sat up straighter and pushed her hair back away from her face. "So this is Danny?"
The teenager had hung back away from the others and still stood leaning against the doorway. He took a nervous step forward. "Uh, yeah. Hi. You tried to help me out at the bus station. I heard you got hurt pretty bad. I'm sorry about that."
Though her memories were a trifle hazy, Elisa nodded as she got a distinct memory of the kid, panicked out of his mind, engaged in an energy battle with an enraged Angela clone. "It wasn't one of my better nights," she said at last. Delilah set a steaming teacup down at her elbow, which Elisa ignored as she returned her attention to her partner. "So what did you find out in Cleveland?"
"That's really Danny's story," Matt replied.
Elisa regarded the boy. His elfin ears and shaggy sandy hair gave him a disarmingly innocent demeanor, but his eyes had seen much and they were already hardened. "Okay, so pull up a chair or a wall, whatever makes you happy, and tell us what you saw."
Danny nodded. He tugged at the edge of his tee-shirt and snuck a quick look at Jeannie for approval. The petite woman nodded back at him and gave him a quirk of a smile. "It's okay, Danny, they want to help us."
"All right. It's like this. Ever since we've been in Cleveland, Jeannie goes out every morning early." He gave the former djinn another look as if seeking permission. She gave him another nod and he continued. "Jeannie's different, she's not a halfling like me. She's a djinn. We call 'em genies." No one seemed overly surprised. "Jeannie's people were exiled a long time ago. That's how they all ended up in bottles granting wishes. She's trying to find them so they can go home."
"What does this have to do with Sevarius?" Elisa said impatiently.
"I'm getting to that," Danny replied. "It's like this. Jeannie lost most of her powers, but she still has enough to do the seeking spell, the problem is it's kind of touchy. The conditions have to be just right. The first time she tried it she went to Lake Erie and nearly fried herself. So after a couple of days of recuperating she tried again, this time with a much smaller body of water. There's this park in town. They call it the Mall. It's green, but nothing like Central Park. Much smaller, but then again everything in Cleveland is."
"Anyway, so in the Mall they have this fountain and it's got a big brass statue in the middle of a girl standing on a globe reaching for the sky. Jeannie thinks it's perfect. So she gets out her candles and feathers and stuff and starts chanting. Well, after a while I get bored, and go for a walk. That's when I see him. Dr. Frankenstein himself." Danny paused and took a breath. "He's got his head down and he's moving like he's in a big hurry. So I take a quick look around, 'cause my first thought is wherever the Doc is, Candy and the rest of her crew are sure to follow. But he's alone. So I decide to see what he's up to."
"Go on, Danny, you're doing fine," Matt said.
The boy toyed with the tip of his ear for a second. "Right, well here's where I screwed up. I had some change in my pocket. Not much, but enough to open the newspaper rack. I grabbed a stack of papers so it looked like I had a reason to be hanging around the park. Jeannie's taught me this glamour so I can kind of alter my looks - nothing fancy, I can't do much more than make my ears normal, but it's enough so I don't get hassled in public. I get close as I can. Dr. Freakazoid is on his cell phone setting up a limo ride to the airport. He still doesn't see me, I'm just part of the crowd. Then this guy with a towel on his head and an expensive suit comes up and buys a paper from me and heads over towards your guy. They start talking. But before I can get more than a comment about the weather, this big old flatfoot grabs me by the scruff of the neck and hauls me in." Danny shrugged. "That's pretty much it."
"Nothing about why he was there or what they were up to?" Elisa queried.
"Nah, sorry. I couldn't get close enough, and I didn't have time before the cop grabbed me anyway. All I can tell you is that he was very insistent that the limo get him to the airport in time for his flight. He said he had unfinished business he had to get back to. That's all."
"So Angela goes missing and Sevarius is in a hurry, "Elisa said, thoughtfully. "It sounds like something's about to break."
"Yeah, but what, Elisa?" Matt asked. "I put the local police to work tracing Sevarius as soon as Danny told me what he'd seen. They've got a good sketch artist and they circulated the picture to the cab companies, limo services and airport reservation desks. Special Agent Fraser on this end is doing the same. Sevarius is part of the official investigation now. Maybe you should just sit back and let us take things from here."
"That's fine, Matt," Elisa said as she got up from the bench. "Just suppose they catch Sevarius. What do you suppose will happen to Angela? Officially, she's not missing. So if they find a gargoyle locked up in his lab, do you suppose that they'll just let her go? You've got the Feds involved in this. How do you know they won't lock her up in some government research lab and throw away the key?"
Delilah and Hudson shared a worried glance as Matt opened his mouth to rebut his partner's argument. He shut it knowing she was right. There were still those who argued vehemently that gargoyles needed to be studied further for everyone's safety before they were granted any protections under the law.
"Somehow we've got to find Sevarius and Angela and get there first," Elisa concluded. "But the question remains: how?"
* * * * *
Angela howled in agony as another powerful shock coursed through her body, the current forcing her spine to arch painfully as the muscles contracted. Eyes burning red, she dropped to her knees, straining against the chains that bound her as electricity tingled over her skin.
Jezebella counted three blinks of the little yellow light on Angela's collar before she removed her thumb from the corresponding yellow button on the remote. "This is getting boring," she said, her tail lashing with agitation. Jezebella stooped down as Angela slumped back onto her haunches and seized the joining chain of the captive gargoyle's manacles, shaking her roughly. "Don't you agree, sister?"
Angela bared her fangs and pulled away, eyes blazing anew. "Impostor!" she hissed. "Stop calling me sister!"
"Silly fool." Jezebella shoved Angela back against the cell wall and drew herself upright. "You're too damned stubborn for your own good, Angie." She held up the remote again and thumbed a red button. "It's going to be the death of you yet."
Angela winced, bracing herself for another painful jolt, but this time no shock came. Instead, she simply heard a soft click and the leather strap about her neck began to constrict. Angela's eyes went wide with sudden fright. She made to cry out, but all that escaped her lips was a ragged gasp as the collar cinched steadily tighter, strangling her. She gazed up at the clone in stunned shock, but Jezebella only grinned wickedly, returning a look that chilled Angela to the marrow.
"How do you like it, sister?" she taunted. "Who's the weak one now, hmm, Angie?"
By the dragon, what is she talking about? Angela tried to raise her hands to her throat as reflex demanded, but the shackles stopped her short. Unable to gain relief, she fell forward onto all fours, struggling fitfully to suck in air as the pressure increased. She's insane… trying to kill me! Angela closed her eyes and fought to control the rising panic, but nothing her mother had taught her had fully readied her to face a moment like this. The pain only grew as the seconds ticked by. Before long, her lungs were burning with need and tears were rolling freely down her cheeks. Hurts too much… can't… breathe! Angela felt lightheaded. She tasted salt water.
"Ready to cooperate yet, dear sister?" Jezebella's tone was cool and casual, and Angela blinked her eyelids open as a taloned hand cupped her chin. The clone's face was inches from her own, the pale light from beyond the cell bars reflecting in her dark eyes. Jezebella stared at her intently, waiting for an answer, her expression a strange mixture of disgust and pity.
Angela's lungs were on fire, the pain nearly unbearable yet horribly familiar. She was drowning, suffocating, but this time there was no icy, watery embrace to numb her to the awful sensation as there had been at Loch Ness. Nor was there anyone around who could dive in and save her. She was alone, and her survival now hinged entirely on winning Jezebella's mercy. A fresh wave of tears flooded her eyes as Angela summoned all the strength she could muster. Surrendering what little was left of her pride, she nodded fiercely to the affirmative.
Jezebella removed her hand from Angela's chin and rose, a broad, toothy smile spreading across her face. At long last her stubbornly spiteful sister was admitting defeat. It was a momentous occasion, and Jezebella wanted to savor the special moment for all it was worth. She reveled in her triumph, unable to resist drawing out her twin's suffering for a few seconds longer. "Are you sure, Angie?" she asked mockingly. "Speak up."
The bound gargoyle's eyes flashed crimson with anger and desperation. "Yes," she mouthed soundlessly, nodding again with frantic eagerness, "please!" The exaggerated motions brought additional discomfort as the stiff leather collar dug cruelly into her already tender skin. She grimaced in pain, a pleading look dancing in her sunken, tear-rimmed eyes.
Jezebella chuckled wickedly. "That's what I thought." She lifted the remote then paused, regarding the distressed female carefully for a silent moment longer before tapping the red button a second time.
Another soft click and the collar loosened, abruptly releasing its terrifying stranglehold on her neck. Angela gasped out stale air and sucked in breath greedily, chest heaving against the chains encircling her. As the fire in her lungs subsided, she collapsed the to floor, panting and coughing. Jezebella was watching, but Angela didn't care. She closed her eyes, ignoring the clone for the moment and focusing instead on taking the deep, slow breaths necessary to keep herself from hyperventilating.
She has a strong will, but you've humbled her. She knows you're in charge now. Jezebella lingered just inside the barred cell door, smiling smugly as she waited for her sister to catch her breath. And all it took was pushing this one little button, she mused, examining the remote she still held in her talons. It was almost too easy, actually. Jezebella's smile dimmed as she contemplated just how simple it would have been to stand there and allow Angela to be choked into unconsciousness. Just a half minute more might have put her into a coma. A full minute might have spelled her death. But so what? the angry voice in her head argued. She left you to die the same way. It would be poetic justice! Jezebella shook her head. No! the more rational half of her conscience protested. You're better than that, Jezebella! You're better than her! And besides, you still need her help, remember?
"Yes," Jezebella whispered. "You're right. I need her alive." She paused, considering her options, and slipped the tiny remote into her belt pouch. You've got her mate. You've got her egg. That's all the leverage you need. "Yes," she whispered again. "I have leverage."
A few yards away, Angela slowly pulled herself back into a sitting position. She had recovered her breath, but her bruised neck throbbed under the collar in time with her heartbeat. As she perked up her ears, though, and noticed that Jezebella was muttering under her breath, she set aside any worry over how badly injured she might be. For now, she reminded herself that she was lucky to simply still be alive. Angela pulled her feet in beneath her, taking care not to let the chains jangle on the concrete as she eyed the clone warily and tried to make out what she was saying.
"I can make her tell me everything. She'll do anything to save her precious egg."
Angela's insides twisted. My egg! She bowed her head and squeezed her eyes closed, concealing the red glow that flashed in them from Jezebella's notice. In her strangled panic, she'd nearly forgotten that her unborn hatchling was in just as much danger in Jezebella's hands as she herself was. Angela struggled to keep listening. Jezebella was speaking in low tones, pausing and replying to comments that evidently only she could hear. She's talking to herself, Angela realized. By the dragon, she really is mental!
Angela sank back against the wall, suddenly chilled by the thought that Jezebella's bizarre delusions of a past they supposedly shared might be the result of more than just some twisted programming authored by Anton Sevarius. Jezebella had seemed unstable from the get-go, but if she was genuinely turning psychotic then there was no telling how dangerous she could eventually become. Just one small push in the wrong direction could set her off again. Angela swallowed hard, suddenly wishing she hadn't reacted as violently as she had when Jezebella had intruded into the cell fifteen minutes earlier.
"You're still keeping secrets from me!" Jezebella had begun the conversation without preamble, rousing Angela from her meditative state with the enraged accusation and a sharp slap to the face. Angela had recoiled from the blow, Elisa's needlework slipping from her talons as the rude interruption shattered her focus, but Jezebella was too impatient to wait for Angela to get her bearings. The clone grabbed her double by her chains, hauling her to her feet and slamming her against the iron bars. "I want answers, sister," she spat. "Now!"
Angela's head spun dizzily as the fragile threads of her magic unraveled. She was still reeling as she angrily bit back, "No! I'm through answering your insane questions!" A sharp backhanded slap left her tasting blood. Angela's eyes went red as she tensed, pressing Jezebella away. "Damn you! Leave me alone!"
"Fine," Jezebella had said, hurling her toward the opposite wall. "I can see you want to do this the hard way, Angie." Angela grunted as her shoulder impacted the concrete, but she barely had time to stagger back. A split-second later, the first shock had sent her convulsing in agony.
"You must understand, sister, I don't want you dead."
Angela blinked back to the present and looked up to find Jezebella standing over her once more. Thankfully, her hands were now empty, the tiny remote control no longer anywhere to be seen. That alone emboldened Angela somewhat, but thinking twice this time she held tongue, returning only a questioning gaze and keeping the retort of, "You could have fooled me," to herself.
It was unnecessary for Angela to voice the words. Jezebella seemed to read them in her eyes. The clone smiled casually. "Oh, don't get me wrong, Angela. I do want to see you to suffer as I have suffered, and in time you may come to wish you were dead. For right now, though, I'm inclined to be kind as long as you remember your place and do as you're told."
"And why should I believe you?" Angela asked, finally daring to speak.
Jezebella shrugged. "Because you have no other choice. Unless, of course, you enjoy being tortured… or you want to see your egg shipped off to Egypt.
"No!" Angela replied. A bit too quickly she realized belatedly by the smirk that played across Jezebella's lips. Play along, Angela. It's your best chance to regain control of the situation. The internal voice took on a tone oddly reminiscent of her mother's voice. Look for weaknesses and ways to gain her trust, and don't do or say anything to tick her off again. Falling back on her training, Angela forced her emotions to the side and attempted to project a calm demeanor. "No, Jezebella, I don't want that," she said. She kept her voice level and drooped her head submissively, hoping the gesture would placate the clone.
"So you will do as I say and answer my questions?"
Angela gritted her teeth and thought of her egg. "Yes."
"Prove it to me, sister." Jezebella extended her leg, placing a taloned foot before the kneeling gargoyle. "Kiss it, Angie. Kiss it and swear on the life of your egg that you'll be a good girl from now on."
Angela looked up at the clone in utter shock. Surely she was joking! But no such luck; the look on Jezebella's face was cold and deathly serious. Angela hesitated. Saying 'no' wasn't even an option. She couldn't back down now and risk sending the already agitated clone into another rage. But still, something told her not to give in so easily, without making Jezebella concede something, too. "If I do this," Angela asked quietly, "will you promise to keep my egg safe?"
Jezebella raised a brow ridge at the bold request. "I will," she said at length.
The chained female drew a calming breath. "Then I promise," she said slowly, "on the life of my unborn hatchling, I will do as you ask."
By the dragon, she's actually doing it! The wicked smile on Jezebella's face spread from ear to ear as Angela gently placed her lips to the arch of her foot. The silly fool really will do anything for her precious egg! Jezebella resettled her wings, giving a self-satisfied smirk as Angela sat back on her haunches and resumed a submissive, eyes averted posture. "Good girl, Angela," she intoned imperiously. "You finally are learning."
Angela nodded. "Yes, sister. I am." She kept her eyes on the floor, all the better to conceal the worry that played over her features as she wondered if she was doing the right thing. Jezebella had been appeased for now, but how long would it last?
"So now that we gotten that settled -" Jezebella lifted Angela's chin with her tail, forcing her twin sister to meet her eyes. "- let's have a nice little chat, shall we? Just between us girls."
* * *
"All right, Anton, I'm here." Dr. Lilith Ling strode into the room, scowling. "What do you need to show me that's so terribly important that it couldn't possibly wait until I was done in the lab?"
Dr. Sevarius sat with his back to the door, watching the security camera feed from Angela's basement cell two floors below. He did not turn to acknowledge Ling, nor did his eyes leave the screen. "We seem to have a problem downstairs, doctor."
Ling's frown deepened as she spotted the image on the black and white monitor. "Jezebella," she muttered. "For goodness sakes, Anton, this is the second time she's been down there in three nights. Angela isn't supposed to have visitors. I thought you'd made certain that she understood that." Ling gave an exasperated sigh. "This casual disregard she has for my work is becoming intolerable. I can't very well begin to study the effects of long-term social deprivation on gargoyles if Jezebella keeps traipsing down there for midnight chats, now can I?"
"No," Sevarius replied, "but that little side project is not the issue I'm most concerned about at the moment." He touched a button on the arm of his chair and a time-stamped recording of the security feed from a few minutes before replaced the live image on the video screen.
Ling crossed her arms and reluctantly quieted as she watched the playback. As Jezebella tormented Angela with the shock collar, she raised an eyebrow but showed little other outward emotion. When the captive gargoyle fell to her knees, however, gasping desperately for breath with eyes bulging as the collar slowly choked her, Ling's hand trailed up to her own neck in empathy. The dark-haired woman swallowed hard and cleared her throat. "Ah. I see."
"Do you now?" Sevarius pushed another button that ended the brief prerecorded show and turned around in his chair. "Tell me, Lilith," he said. "How is it, do you suppose, that Miss Jezebella got her talons on one of these?" He reached into the breast pocket of his lab coat and held up the small remote to Angela's collar. "There are only two, after all, and I have mine right here."
Worry flashed in Ling's brown eyes and her hands went instantly to her pockets. Keys. Pen. Loose change. Parking claim ticket. Breath mints. Her expression grew more perplexed the deeper she dug. Her remote was missing!
Sevarius read the panicked confusion in the behaviorist's eyes and scowled. "That's what I thought."
Ling glared a back at him with a withering gaze. "I had it on me when I arrived tonight," she protested. She withdrew her hands and thought quietly for a moment. "I stepped out to use the restroom about an hour ago. I left my lab coat on the back of my chair. Jezebella must have come in and stolen it while I was gone." The woman thought a moment more. "That's the only explanation that makes sense. Serves me right. I did program her to be a thief."
"Yes," Sevarius replied. "Of course, you were also supposed to reprogram her so that she would not find our lovely guest such a distraction to her work." He gave another glance at the security monitor, eyeing the image of Jezebella standing proud and haughty over a cowed Angela.
Ling's eyes narrowed. "I could have removed all of Jezebella's memories of her 'sister,' but that would have made it more difficult to switch them without tipping off the gargoyle clan that something wasn't right." She shrugged. "Without doing a total memory wipe, Jezebella was bound to get curious eventually. My guess is that she decided her 'twin' knew something that could help her further her mission."
"And to convince Miss Angela to cooperate, she also decided it was necessary to apply merciless and repeated torture?"
Ling ignored the man's sarcasm, shrugging again. "You and I both know how stubborn that girl can be. Jezebella is programmed to be many things, but patient is not one of them. If Angela tried to play the same games with Jezebella that she did with us, then that's her mistake. She got exactly what was coming to her."
"Perhaps." Sevarius didn't sound convinced. Jezebella had come within seconds of killing Angela, and that was the aspect he found most troubling. While the girl had not been able to supply him with useful information about Sector 13, she still had intrinsic value both as a research subject and as insurance in the event anything went wrong.
"Still, I can bring her back into the lab and give her a follow-up treatment if you think it's necessary," Ling offered. "A refresher session would only take a few hours. Of course, if you can spare her for a whole night, I could make her forget about her 'twin sister' entirely." Ling pondered the possibilities. "She could go back to believing she really is Angela, secretly working for us as mole."
Sevarius considered the idea for only a moment. "No. We're running out of time." He rose from his chair, his expression taking a determined set. "Continue with your preparations for treating the halflings. I will take care of getting Jezebella back on track."
Ling nodded and a moment later she was gone. As the door closed behind her, Sevarius frowned thoughtfully. He had not lied, as time was indeed running short. He had reviewed the files that Jezebella and Candy had brought him from Nightstone, but he still did not have all of the technical information he needed to replicate the neural interface Ms. Destine's scientists had created. Luckily, though, his last-minute decision to fly to Cleveland and meet with the Sheik over brunch had borne fruit in the form of a possible back-up plan. The man was interested in securing the sole rights to his services, and the sum of money being offered if he would forsake his other bidders was substantial. He hadn't given the wealthy Arab a final answer, though. If he could make his delivery date, the potential was still there to make quite a sizable profit without tying himself down to a single employer.
"I can give her one more night," he mused, making up his mind at last. He would have a little talk with Jezebella and give her a final chance to come through with the goods from Nightstone. And if she failed, he would cut his losses and accept the man's offer.
* * *
"I keep telling you, Jezebella, I don't know how the spell works. It's been years since the last time she used it, and Mother doesn't share the secrets of her magic with me." Angela fixed her clone with what she hoped appeared to be a sincere, honest gaze. "You'll have to ask Demona. Tell her you want to accompany her to the office again. She's always after me to take more interest in her work. I'm sure she'd be thrilled."
Jezebella stroked at the braided end of her ponytail, chewing her lip as she considered Angela's reply. The human Angela Brigitte Destine was but an illusion made possible by her mother's sorcery. The explanation seemed reasonable enough, but it was too bad it wouldn't help solve her current problem. It might be days or even weeks more before Dominique Destine returned from Paris. The virus-tainted letters Anton had sent through the mail had sickened much of her staff, and the sudden lack of manpower had forced Demona to travel overseas.
It was ironic, really. Anton's plan to draw Demona away and make it easier for her to get inside Nightstone had actually made it just that much more complicated. Still, a guided tour of the building might be well worth the wait, Jezebella mused. And she could hardly see fit to pass on what sounded like a sure-fire way to ingratiate herself with Demona, either. "You really think so?" she asked.
Angela nodded. "Yes. Mother would love it if you were to ask." She watched the clone carefully, trying to gauge her reaction, but Jezebella was proving to be a very difficult person to read. Her mood had already changed dramatically from what it initially had been only a half hour earlier. In minutes, she had gone from enraged bordering on murderous to contemplative and almost friendly. As Jezebella made queries into what Angela knew about the photos she had found in Demona's office, however, the vivid memory of nearly being choked to death kept Angela alert and wary.
She was choosing her words carefully, doing her best to appear cooperative and not cause any further unbalance to Jezebella's apparently fragile mental state. That was the tricky part, Angela had realized, for that same lingering threat of instability that made being in close confines with Jezebella so frightening was also the clone's biggest weakness. If she could supply her false twin with just enough of the truth to make her start asking odd questions back home, perhaps she would become frustrated enough for her temper to manifest in front of Demona or the clan. If Angela could set things up to make that happen, the chances of the others recognizing Jezebella as an impostor and coming in search of her might increase significantly.
"I think I might enjoy it, as well," Jezebella commented. "I'll have to keep that in mind for when Mother gets back from her business trip."
Demona was away on business? When had that happened? Angela's growing hopes of rescue sank at the news. "When will she be back?" she asked.
Jezebella's eyes narrowed. "What does it matter to you? It's not like you're going to be there to welcome her home." The clone crossed her arms, scowling down her nose at the kneeling female. "Remember your place, sister, and your promise."
"I'm sorry," Angela stammered. She bowed her head, quickly feigning contrition. "Forgive me, sister." Inwardly, she growled. Damn it, what did I say wrong?
"I'm the one who's asking the questions here," Jezebella warned. "I ask and you answer. It's quite a simple concept."
Angela kept her head down and her mouth shut. It would be better to wait until the clone addressed her with a new question before speaking again, she decided, rather than risk provoking her further. After a long moment of silence, though, she hazarded a quick glance up. She found Jezebella pacing the narrow width of the cell, her tail twitching in agitation. And though it was hard to tell in the dim light, she appeared to be muttering to herself yet again.
Abruptly, the clone turned, catching Angela looking before she could drop her gaze back to her lap. Jezebella stilled, her eyes taking on a predatory cast that sent an arctic chill trickling down the edges of Angela's bound wings. "Tell me, sister," she said at last. "Tell me about you and Fox."
"Me and Fox?" Angela blinked, genuinely confused. "Okay," she began slowly. "What do you want to know about us?"
"Don't play dumb with me, Angie." Jezebella moved a step closer and eyeballed her twin disdainfully. "I know you two have been doing a whole lot more together than just rehearsing for your silly little TV appearances and magazine interviews. The way Fox was looking at me the other night gave it all away."
Angela shifted uncomfortably in her chains. "Surely you're not implying that Fox and I…" She left the sentence uncompleted as her double's lips curled into a leering smirk.
"Oh, please. Spare me the 'but I'm a good girl' act, sister. I of all people know you better than that by now. Under that sugary sweet exterior, you're a nasty, naughty little slut." Off Angela's shocked expression, she went on. "You can't fool me, Angie. Deep down, I know you've got a wild side just like mine. You're just too embarrassed to admit it." Jezebella shrugged. "It's not like it surprises me. Fox is quite a hottie for a human. Living together under the same turrets… all that pent-up curiosity… I suppose it was probably bound to happen eventually." She smirked. "Like mother, like daughters, no?"
Where is she coming up with this stuff? Angela shook her head in protest. "No, Jezebella. It's not like that. You must have just misunderstood -"
"I understand everything perfectly, sister!" she hissed back. "Stupid bitch, don't even try to lie to me! You and Fox have been sneaking around behind your mates' backs, screwing each other senseless every chance you get. Why else would she be lurking around my perch, waiting for me to wake up just so she can get all warm and flushed telling me about a dream she's had about you?"
Angela gaped in shock, a bizarre image of the redheaded woman, collared and gagged, flickering briefly before her mind's eye. "Fox had a dream about me?"
"Oh yes," Jezebella replied. "She said that it had reminded her of the last time the two of you were together." Jezebella crossed her arms and cocked her head to one side, looking mildly annoyed. "I didn't get to hear the details. That big lump you call your mate came along, damn him, and once she saw him, Fox couldn't get out of there fast enough."
Angela ceased listening as Jezebella continued to rant. Her thoughts were in a whirl. She'd spent the previous night in a deep trance, focusing every ounce of her magic on trying to contact Elisa. By the time stone sleep had finally claimed her, she had been utterly exhausted, and peaceful meditation had given way to a restless daytime slumber filled with strange dreams. Angela closed her eyes, struggling to pull the scattered, nonsensical images back to the surface. A gray cat in a crooked red and white striped hat. Herself in chains and collar, locked in a tiny upright cage. Elisa, inexplicably attired in a skimpy maid's uniform, freeing her. The last clear image was the oddly irreconcilable one of Fox standing before her, bound and gagged, green eyes wide and pleading.
Angela blinked again and shook her head. If she had dreamt of Elisa and Fox, and Fox had also dreamt of her, could that mean the three of them were again sharing dreams as they had once before? "She said that it had reminded her of the last time…" Jezebella's words repeated in her head, sending a shiver down the apprentice sorceress's back. Angela had blended magic and meditation in a desperate attempt to reach out to Elisa on the astral plane. In her haste, she hadn't even considered the possibility that her efforts might have the side effect of reawakening the link Maeve's spell had forged between them. Restoring the old triad had not been her goal, yet now it seemed she'd succeeded in making Fox party to the dreams, as well.
"The biggest problem, of course, is the awkward situation your dalliances have created for me. Secret trysts with the Mistress of Castle Wyvern were not something I'd anticipated having to deal with. I'm almost positive Fox expects them to continue, but I'm a very busy girl right now." The clone smiled. "I've only got so much time and energy to spare, sister, and Broadway wants my attention, too. I'm sure you can see my dilemma."
Angela's eyes narrowed as the clone's meaning sunk in. She's baiting you again, Angela. Don't fall for it. Think! There's always a Plan B, remember? The bound female bowed her head, staring once more at her chained hands as she mustered her best poker face. She had a new idea, and if it worked, Jezebella would be revealed as the fraud she was before sunset, undone by her own delusions and a little reverse psychology.
At least, Angela hoped so. Drawing a final deep breath, she lifted her head, fixing her double with a darkly defiant gaze. "You can have your fun with Broadway, sister," she intoned, "but you keep your filthy talons off of Fox. She is mine!"
* * * * *
Later That Night
Candy stood quietly just beyond the glow of the force field emitters, watching the chained gargoyle who knelt motionless near the back of the small cell. Her pointed ears twitched as the floor creaked overhead. Furtively, she checked over her shoulder, but the hallway behind her was still dark and empty. Candy frowned. Enhanced halfling senses were a curse sometimes. She was already jumpy, and every little noise the old building made was making it worse.
She wasn't supposed to be down here. No one was. Sevarius had told her so days ago. Angela was to have no visitors, and the detention area was off-limits at night. That evidently hadn't stopped Jezebella, though. It hadn't been more than a few hours since Candy had overheard the good doctor angrily berating his adopted gargoyle daughter for violating the prohibition and wasting her time on Angela when she should be working on her mission. Jezebella had not taken the correction well. She had done nearly as much shouting as Sevarius before finally storming out. "I'll make her see how serious I am," she had said. "You just wait, doctor. You'll see!"
Candy really wasn't quite sure what Jezebella had been talking about, but that in and of itself had become something of a theme lately. The girl was upset with her sister, that much was apparent. The reasons why, though, had never been clearly explained to her. Originally, she hadn't cared. Preparing the chains and a special cell for Angela had been a pleasure unto itself, and no other reward beyond knowing that she'd be doing her part to make the annoying little she-demon miserable had been necessary. Now, however, Jezebella's wild mood swings were really starting to scare her. If she was going to keep working with her, she wanted some answers. Even if she had to get them from Angela.
The halfling woman crept closer, peering through the cell bars. Angela still had not moved. In fact, she almost appeared to be in a trance. She was resting on her haunches, ankles crossed and palms pressed together as if in prayer, clasping a small piece of fabric. Her head was partially bowed and her eyes were closed, and her face was expressionless, her mouth a thin line. Candy felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle as she drew nearer. There was a strange energy present in the air, but it wasn't just that of the force field. She sensed magic. Mortal magic.
"Oh my god… she's a sorceress!" Candy's eyes went wide with the whispered realization. But what was the girl doing? Was she casting a spell? She edged closer, curiosity overcoming hesitation. As she concentrated, she could almost see the shimmering aura of magic that surrounded the bound gargoyle, but she was helpless to divine its purpose. It didn't seem threatening, but after a moment Candy decided she didn't want to take any chances.
"Hey, gargoyle!" she yelled. Her shrill voice shattered the fragile silence. "Wake up!"
She was surprised when, rather than startle to alertness, Angela simply opened her eyes. For a long moment, the gargoyle just stared at her, the same calm, non-telling look upon her face. "What do you want?" she said at last. Her tone was so icy it sent a chill through the air. "Have you come to beat on me, too?"
Candy found herself momentarily speechless. "No," she answered after a pause. A dozen witty retorts strangely evaporated as the girl stared at her with those dark, emotionless eyes. "I just wanted to ask you some questions. About your sister," she added.
Angela rose gracefully to her feet, disturbing hardly a link of the heavy chains that fettered her wrists and ankles. "You mean Jezebella," she replied. "This will be simple, then. She's not my sister."
Candy recoiled slightly, uncertain that she'd heard right. "What?"
"Jezebella is not my sister. She's a clone." Angela shook her head sadly at the blonde woman's shocked expression. "That's okay," she said, shrugging as much as the chains allowed, "I really didn't expect you to believe me, either."
"No, gargoyle, wait." Candy reached over to the control panel on the wall, pressing the button to turn off the force field before the constant background hum became totally intolerable to her sensitive ears. The invisible barrier gone, she closed the final gap and moved to within inches of the bars. "I came here because I wanted to hear your side of the story."
Angela eyed the blonde halfling skeptically. The last time she'd been face to face with this woman had been in battle, and she'd made her hatred of gargoyles quite clear. So why now was she suddenly interested in talking? Was it just a trap to set her up for another round of cruel tortures?
"Look, gargoyle, are you gonna tell me what you know about Jezebella or not? I don't have all night to stand here. Sevarius will have my ass if he catches me talking to you." She gave a quick glance up and over her shoulder at the security camera. The good thing about Angela's habit of not moving around much in her cell was that it made faking the feed with a looped recording relatively easy. Still, she didn't want to press her luck any more than necessary with such a low-tech cat burglar's trick.
The woman's anxious behavior was enough to convince Angela that Candy was not here to play games. "Okay," she said. "I'll talk to you, but I'm not really sure I can offer much insight. I'd never even met Jezebella until the night I was brought here..."
Candy listened quietly for several minutes as Angela related what little she professed to know, but what the woman heard only left her shaking her head in bewilderment. "Wait, hold on. What you're saying doesn't make any sense."
"It's the truth," Angela insisted. "Regardless of what she's told you, Jezebella was never a member of my clan, and she is not my twin, either. Fraternal twins are almost unheard of among gargoyles, but identical twins… I'm sorry, it just never happens."
"So all of her memories of you are just a big lie?" Candy asked incredulously.
Angela sighed in frustration. "Yes. That's what I've been trying to explain. I don't even know what Jezebella believes I have done to her. I wish I did, because at least then I could understand why she hates me so. But whatever it is that she's got in her head about me, none of it ever really happened."
Candy raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Yeah, right. She just dreamed up that tired old sob story of being betrayed by her bitch of a sister all on her own, just to win my sympathy."
The sarcasm earned Candy a dark glower from the caged gargoyle. "Aren't you paying attention? She's a clone. Sevarius and that woman who's working with him, they programmed all of Jezebella's memories. She believes only what they want her to believe. They told me…" Angela hesitated and paled slightly, uncertain whether to share her next thought.
The same sense of disquiet that Candy had felt while watching Ling work on Jezebella the night of her return gnawed once more at her gut. "What?" she prompted.
Angela drew a shaky breath and lay her hands on the cell bars, pulling herself close as she lowered her voice. "They told me they could make her do anything they wanted, and that soon they would be able to do the same to anyone else… including me."
Candy regarded the captive female carefully. Despite her chains and nudity, the girl had so far carried herself with a quiet dignity that Candy might have been tempted to admire had Angela been human and not gargoyle. Now, however, the creature's composure seemed ready to shatter. Candy edged away a tiny bit as the gargoyle curled her taloned fingers around the narrow bars that separated the two of them. Iron bars, she couldn't help thinking. The kind that she dared not touch herself with an ungloved hand.
"Please," Angela begged. "You have to help me. I know what I've told you comes as a shock, but I swear on my life it's the truth. Jezebella is becoming more dangerous every night. We both know it. You wouldn't have come to speak to me if you didn't see it, too."
"Yeah, she's a real Jeckyl and Hyde lately," Candy replied. She edged back further, crossing her arms as a barrier against the gargoyle reaching out and possibly touching her. "So what? Even if everything you say is true, it changes nothing for me." The retort felt hollow even as it left her lips, but it was the worried look in her eyes that betrayed her as she locked gazes with the girl.
"Are you sure?" The question was already echoing in Candy's head as Angela gave it voice. "Sevarius has been using Jezebella all along. Can you really be sure now that he isn't just using you, too?"
Candy made a face but did not reply. The more she thought about it, the more she was starting to wonder if the girl was right. It made her feel angry and sick all at the same time.
"Please, I'm begging you. I fear for my clan and my egg in the rookery. I have to keep Jezebella away from them."
Candy eyed Angela disdainfully. "Why the hell should I care about your clan?" she snapped back. "Bad enough you winged freaks are reproducing. Fuck that, gargoyle. I've got my own people to worry about."
She started to turn away but was forced to halt as something snakelike looped about her ankle and held her fast. Candy looked down to find Angela's tail coiled about her leg. The halfling's eyes flashed green as she turned her glare upward, but the desperate, pleading look on Angela's face, looking so much like Jezebella's expression had on the night she'd returned wearing the handcuffs, stopped her short of going into a rage.
"Please! If you'll help me, I promise that I'll help you and your friends. I know it hasn't been easy for any of you these past few years, but if you will trust me… give me a chance… maybe somehow I can find a cure, or at least a safe place for you all to stay until one is found."
"A safe place?" Candy parroted. "You mean like Sector 13? No thanks, gargoyle." She kicked her leg free of Angela's tail and reached for the force field control. The energy barrier sprang back up just a split second behind Angela's fortuitously quick withdrawal of the appendage back to her own side of the bars. "I'm insulted. You actually think I'm stupid enough to let you out of a cage just so I can end up in one?"
Angela released the bars and growled. "No," she protested, "that's not what I meant. Please, you must believe me. I would never turn you over to Xanatos to be locked up in stasis or used as a soldier." Angela trembled, recalling the stories Danny had told her of his training. The teenager had been certain he was being groomed to eventually become some kind of super spy, and she was determined not to see that happen to any more halflings if she could have anything to say about it. She had to get home first, though. "There are others who have the power to help," she added. Her thoughts swung desperately to the Lady Titania. Perhaps if she made a plea to the Seelie Queen on the halflings' behalf, they might be afforded refuge on Avalon, where neither Xanatos nor Sevarius could reach them. "I'm willing to try if you'll only help me escape!"
Halflings used as soldiers? Candy frowned, blocking out the sound of the gargoyle's continued pleadings as she reconsidered everything that had happened in the two weeks since Jezebella had infiltrated the Eyrie Building. Why was Sevarius currently in need of a neural interface from Nightstone when before he had wanted to liberate the halflings from Sector 13? Why was he still delaying on beginning the treatment that would restore her and the others to fully human if it was ready to go like he had said it was? And what was Dr. Lilith Ling's part in all this besides playing nursemaid to Jezebella?
"…they programmed all of Jezebella's memories." Angela's words came back to her as she pondered Sevarius's true motives. "They told me they could make her do anything they wanted, and that soon they would be able to do the same to anyone else…"
Candy shivered. Suddenly, she wasn't so sure that what Sevarius was planning for her and the others was as benevolent as he was making it out to be. There was a way to find out, of course, but it was risky. Riskier, even, than what she was doing right now by visiting the prisoner. She could sneak into Sevarius's office later on, after he went to bed, and find out what was really going on. Maybe she could even find out what had precipitated the doctor's sudden decision to take an early-morning trip to Cleveland.
Thinking about it again only added to Candy's confusion. She had been dropping off the files she and Jez had appropriated from Nightstone when she had overheard him making the last-minute travel plans. It had struck her as odd then, and it still did now. What could be so important that Sevarius would waste over six hours flying all the way to Ohio and back and when he was already grumbling about being pressed for time? The halfling woman shook her head, sparing only the briefest glance back at the imprisoned gargoyle as she turned to go. If Freakazoid's already working on Plan D or E, she mused, maybe it's high time I started making a Plan B of my own.
"Wait! Please?" Angela quieted, but stood staring into the darkness beyond her cell long after the woman had left. Blinking away a tear, she gave a small sigh. Though she had figured all along that making an emotional appeal to the female halfling stood only a remote chance of working, it still hurt to accept the reality of another setback. After taking a moment more to regain her composure, Angela settled herself back onto the floor and recovered the scrap of embroidery from where she had left it. She would resume her meditation, and she would continue to pray that her earlier performance would prove enough to be Jezebella's undoing. But no matter what happened, she resolved as she closed her eyes, she would not give up hope.
* * * * *
"Insolent bitch!" Jezebella removed her belt and shed her sister's hated tunic, hurling the garments to the floor. With an angry growl, she strode to the massive oak cabinet and flung the doors open. "How dare she tell me what I can and cannot have!" she seethed. "I'll show her once and for all that everything she once called her own now belongs to me. Everything!"
Jezebella's nostrils flared as she perused the limited selection of clothing in Angela's wardrobe. Sevarius had interrupted her conversation with her sister only seconds after Angela had turned catty. He had led her away and taken from her the remote that she had borrowed from Ling's jacket pocket, prevented her from delivering any more lessons with the shock collar. It was no matter, though. There were other ways Angela could be taught and tormented. Dawn was still hours away. She still had plenty of time to make good on the threat and lay claim to the one remaining thing that Angela valued nearly as much as her egg.
"Fox will like this one," she decided. Pushing aside the outfit she had kept from the Blush magazine shoot, Jezebella instead selected a flowing gown made of a nearly translucent baby blue satin. A minute later found her before the mirror, smoothing the soft material into place over her hips. Turning slightly to the side, she smiled, admiring the way the garment's bodice hid nothing at all when the light hit it at just the right angle. "Oh yes," she mused, "this will do nicely." Jezebella undid the bands holding her ponytail in place and shook her head, freeing her long sable tresses and smiling all the more as they cascaded wildly over her shoulders. She paused only long enough to adjust the placement of the decorative hair clip over her right ear before her fanged grin became predatory. "Perfect," she whispered.
In a short while, Angela's secret playmate would become hers. And afterwards, she would return with the woman's scent upon her and prove to her sister conclusively that there was nothing she possessed that was beyond her reach. Jezebella chuckled softly at the thought as she turned to go. "Time to go catch me a pet Fox, Angie," she whispered.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Residential Wing
"Welcome home, Mrs. Xanatos. How was your evening?"
Fox stepped out of the elevator, sparing a small smile for the omnipresent majordomo. "Tiring," she replied. She handed off her wrap to the blond man and shrugged the thin gold chain strap of her handbag from her shoulder. "The next time the Foundation needs a replacement speaker on a half a day's notice, Owen, remind me to say 'no.'"
"Of course, Mrs. Xanatos."
Fox slipped off her heels as she checked her watch. "I'm guessing David and Alex aren't back yet. The show we were going to see only ended twenty minutes ago." She frowned, still annoyed how the long-anticipated family night she'd been planning had been ruined by the unexpected call from Preston Vogel. The Xanatos-Renard Foundation was co-hosting an event with the Women's Business League, and they had suddenly found themselves short one keynote speaker. It was too late to get anyone else, and after much hard consideration she had grudgingly accepted the assignment. So instead of spending a relaxing evening with her husband and her son, she had spent two long hours trading chit-chat and phony smiles with a roomful of businesswomen that she hardly knew.
How did my life become so complicated so fast, she wondered as she bent to pick up her shoes. Between tending to her duties on the boards of Cyberbiotics, the Foundation, and P.I.T., she'd had enough trouble finding time for herself and her family. Now she was trying to manage Angela and Broadway's growing media careers, as well. How much longer would it be before she would be unable to spare even a half hour to sit with her son and listen to him giggle his way through Fox in Socks?
"I'll be in the master suite." Fox's voice was distant, and she barely noticed Owen's nod of acknowledgement as she rose and moved off. David had shared her frustration over the change of plans, but they had agreed immediately that rather than disappoint their son, one of them should still take Alex to see the show he'd been looking forward to. At first, David had even offered to be the one to speak at the dinner so that she could accompany Alex. Unfortunately, the Women's Business League had been insistent in wanting a female speaker.
"Hmm. I suppose I could shave and let my hair down," he had mused, a smirk on his face as he stroked thoughtfully at his goatee.
The semi-serious look on his face had been enough to make her smile back. "I'd take you up on that offer, David," she had replied teasingly, "except I don't think I have anything in my closet that would fit you."
The recalled moment of humor brought a small smile to Fox's face. David had gone on to promise her that not only would he explain her absence to Alex so that he'd understand, he would also make the ruined evening up to her later. Fox shifted her shoes to the same hand as her purse as she arrived at the door to their bedroom and reached for the latch. She still wasn't sure what he'd meant by that last part, but she suspected that if she knew her husband, she was probably going to enjoy finding out.
Fox's eyes widened in surprise as she entered the room. The lights were already on but dimmed, and a fire crackled in the stone hearth on the long interior wall opposite the bed. The warm orange glow from the flames danced upon the walls, and the pleasant scent of burning wood filled the air. It put Fox in mind of midwinter, and her smile grew as she crossed to the nearby dressing table to deposit her purse. She glanced to the window, nearly expecting to see snow falling beyond the glass, but the drapes had been drawn shut for privacy. As if there was any great risk of voyeurs at one hundred plus stories in the air. Fox quirked an eyebrow in contemplation. "Well, other than the kind with wings," she mused softly.
The auburn-haired woman turned to the mirror over the dressing table. David must have arranged for this nice little scene to be in place when she returned, she concluded, and she couldn't help but feel a bit excited at speculating what else her husband had planned. She examined her reflection, suddenly wondering if she should change out of her businesslike attire and slip into something more fitting with the romantic mood. Fox reached up and removed the pins from her hair, freeing it from the loose bun she had pulled it back in earlier. She was shaking her head, restyling her long tresses with her fingers as a motion behind her, reflected in the mirror, caught her eye. Fox grinned and turned around, expecting to see David.
"Hello, Fox." Jezebella emerged from behind the canopy bed's lavish draping. Smiling prettily, she eyed the human woman who she had been quietly watching for the past minute from her place of cover in the shadows. With her hair let down, Fox looked positively radiant, clad as she was in an off-white silk blouse and short black skirt, with understated pearls adorning her ears. No wonder Angela couldn't resist, Jezebella thought, already finding herself anxious to run her talons through that wild mane of auburn hair. "Welcome home," she purred. "I've been waiting for you."
"Angela?" Fox blinked in disbelief, but the lavender gargoyle did not vanish like a daydream. She merely nodded, her fanged smile turning seductive as she moved a bit further into the light. Fox's green eyes grew large and round as Angela planted a four-fingered hand on her hip and posed enticingly. The girl's sable locks cascaded over her shoulders in broad, luscious waves, and she was wearing the same lovely gown that Fox had seen her return from Demona's in almost a month before. Only now, with the light striking at just the right angle, she looked impossibly more delicious in it than Fox had ever imagined she would.
Jezebella trailed a hand up her belly and over her bosom, thrusting her chest forward to give the human woman an eyeful of the hardened, dark purple peaks of her nipples that from her vantage point were clearly visible through the sheer, silky fabric. Fox seemed at a loss for words, and that fact only served to bolster her confidence and her growing sense of arousal. This was going to be her biggest conquest yet, and she wasn't ashamed in the least to discover that it was actually turning her on a lot more than she had expected. The sooner she made Fox hers, she mused, the better. Jezebella batted her eyes and ducked her head demurely. "I've been thinking about what you said the other night, Fox," she said. "I couldn't stop thinking about it, really. It's been too long since 'last time', don't you think?"
Fox stared at the young female, incredulous. "Last time?" she murmured, uncertainty heavy in her voice. Her head was spinning, and she blinked her eyes again trying to be sure this wasn't just another fantastical dream. Yes, she still secretly harbored fantasies about Angela, but that was all they were: fantasies. She knew nothing would ever come of it. Not after what had happened the one time the two of them had accidentally found themselves in bed together for real. They'd been able to overcome that disastrous encounter, knowing that Maeve's dark magic had precipitated it as much as any of their own subconscious desires had. In fact, their relationship had grown stronger for it. They were mutual mentors. Trusted friends. Sisters, even, in the gargoyle sense of the word. But any chance of them ever becoming something more intimate than that - it just was unthinkable.
So why, then, was Angela now standing in her bedroom, wantonly displaying her charms and coming on to her like a streetwalker? Doing things she knew Angela would never, ever do? Had her nighttime dreams become waking ones? Fox smoothed her skirt, discreetly pinching herself as her fingers brushed along the hem. The sharp pain chased away any lingering doubt. She wasn't dreaming, and that left only one explanation. A chill ran down Fox's back at the realization. Elisa was right. This gargoyle standing before her wasn't the real Angela.
"Yes," Jezebella said, "last time." She resettled her wings and brought herself a step closer to the human woman. Cocking her head to the side, she smiled devilishly as she curled her tail around and took the tapered end of it into her hands. "You remember how much fun we had," she said, gently stroking her talons along the tip of the serpentine appendage, "don't you, Fox?"
Fox cleared her throat. This is too unreal, she thought, but I can't just stand here. This is the clone. She knows where Angela is. I have to do something! Her mind spun feverishly. She could attack the impostor, but there was no telling how skilled a fighter the girl might be. And it had been years since the last time she had gone one-one-one, hand-to-hand with a gargoyle. No, too risky, she mused, it'd be better just to play along until I can surprise her or summon help. There was a panic button on the bedside stand that would trigger a silent alarm. If she could get to it, she knew Owen would be there to investigate within seconds. Then they could subdue the clone together, and make her confess the location of the real Angela.
Yes, she decided, that would be her plan. Fox put on a coy smile. "Oh yes," she replied, "I remember." Her mind set, she stepped forward, closing the final distance between herself and Angela's double. Fox accepted the hand the girl offered and gazed into her eyes. She looked so much like Angela, it was nearly impossible to make any physical distinction beyond the uncharacteristic hunger that burned behind those dark orbs. That look of lust betrayed her now, but she had successfully fooled them all for weeks. She's an extraordinarily good actress, Fox admitted, but I bet I can be a better one. Her grin turned sly as she squeezed the clone's hand. "So what do you say, Angela? Shall we make some new memories tonight?"
Jezebella's heart skipped a beat. Yes! This is it! her inner voice shouted happily. Poor Angie's just going to die when she hears what you've done now! She smiled and nodded eagerly. "Let's do it," she breathed.
Fox offered no resistance as the girl turned and led her toward the bed. "Mm," she commented appreciatively as she took in the view from the rear, "that dress does look yummy on you. But then, I knew it would the moment I saw it in the store."
Jezebella turned again as they reached the side of the bed. "I like it much better than that ratty old tunic." She grinned and licked her lips. "I just hope I can find a way to fully express my gratitude for your having gifted me with something so nice."
Fox kept smiling, letting not a hint of anything show in her expression that would tell the clone she had just failed the final test. "I'm sure you'll do just fine, my dear." She squeezed the girl's hand again and sat down beside her on the edge of the mattress, deftly maneuvering into the place nearest the headboard so as to put herself within arm's reach of the nightstand.
Jezebella placed a hand on Fox's shoulder and drew herself close to her new playmate. Sniffing the air, she inhaled of the human woman's pleasant, perfumed scent, coupled with that of her own arousal. Soon their bodies and their scents would become one, and she would take the latter back to her imprisoned sister as proof positive of her conquest. Then Angela would finally see that her reign at Castle Wyvern was over, and her sister's had begun. Giddy with the thrill of her imminent triumph, Jezebella leaned forward and pulled Fox in for a kiss.
Their lips met. Fox kept the pressure light and teasing as she maneuvered herself within reach of the nightstand. She stroked at the impostor's hair and wings, letting her hands travel so that her motions might seem natural. She reached for one of several superfluous pillows as if to move it away, hoping to get to the blackjack concealed in the headboard as she leaned back, but the amorous gargoyle misunderstood her intentions, pushed her down against the bolster and deepened the kiss.
Fox fought the impulse to tighten her jaw and instead tilted her head back to allow the stranger access to her mouth. As the kiss intensified she kept her eyes open, studying her opponent. There was a feral energy about the clone that gave her pause. She abandoned several avenues of attack as the clone pinned her to the bed and began to tug at her clothing for better access.
Fox pushed her playfully away. "Naughty girl. What have I taught you about patience?" The clone opened her eyes and gave her a curious look. "You know I like to take it slowly when we have the time."
"And do we have time?" the clone asked as she began her amorous advance again.
"Well," Fox replied seductively, "there's never really enough time, is there, Angie?" She batted at the hand tugging at the buttons of her blouse. "See, there you go again, too impatient. I think Mama Fox is going to have to teach her naughty girl a lesson." She grabbed the gargoyle by the shoulders and pushed her down on the bed, reversing their earlier position. "Would you like that, baby? Shall I get out the cuffs and my special paddle? I'll tie you up," Fox said she trailed a fingertip down the side of clone's face and let it travel over the curve of her breasts and further down towards her belly. Underneath her the clone was starting to breath more rapidly as if she were enjoying the submissive posture. Fox smiled. Maybe she could get to the panic button yet. "And I'll spank you until your skin turns that delightful shade of lavender blue that gets me all hot and bothered. Then, just maybe, I'll take the gag out of your mouth."
The clone's eyes went wide. "Gag?" She began to buck and struggle and there was a definite glint of panic in her large dark eyes. "No! No, please! I don't want to play that game. Please, Fox. Can't we -"
Fox grinned down at the clone as she reached for the alarm. "Can't we what? Make love all slow and tender?"
The clone nodded hopefully, and began to stroke her tail against the soles of Fox's feet. Distracted by the soft tickling motion, Fox turned her head.
The clone used her moment of inattention to wiggle out of her submissive position. "Not so fast," Fox whispered as she struggled to regain her advantage. The pair tussled on the bed, the clone attempting to maintain her façade of playful seduction as waves of panic rode over her.
"Please, Fox," she said. "Just this time, won't you be gentle?"
Fox pinned the clone, pushing her full weight on her as she pressed one forearm against the girl's windpipe. "I don't think so."
The gargoyle's eyes went wide as the pressure against her carotid artery increased. "No!" she cried and bucked Fox away as claustrophobia threatened to overwhelm her.
She knew. By the dragon, somehow Fox knew. What had she said? What had she done? She hadn't beaten enough information out of her cursed sister that was for certain. But somehow she had given herself away, and the human woman had figured out that Jezebella wasn't her lover. Fox was reaching for the bedside table trying to get at the lamp. She wasn't playing at seduction anymore; the human was fighting for real.
Jezebella yanked at Fox's arm and pulled her away from the nightstand. She hissed in anger and landed a blow to the human's temple. The redhead dropped away, hanging partially off the bed, and ceased to struggle.
Jezebella collapsed onto the floor next to the unconscious human, pulled her legs close against her chest, and began to rock. What should she do? What should she do? She had failed. And more importantly, Angela had won. Somehow her bitch of a sister had tripped her up again. She should have told her that the human liked to play bondage games. Of course, Jezebella had already figured out that Angela's candy-sweet demeanor was a facade, but how could she have known that her cursed sister made up for her life of lies by letting Fox tie her up and punish her?
The crushing wave of panic receded, replaced by cold, calm anger. Jezebella rose to her feet. "Well if dear, sweet, Angela wants to be punished, I'll be happy to oblige." And she knew just the perfect way. If she couldn't have Angela's life at the castle, then neither would Angela's heir. She turned on her heel, without another thought for her sister's bedmate, and went to find Ptah.
* * * * *
Home, Jezebella thought bitterly, was supposed to be a place of happiness and warmth. A place where one was surrounded by family and friends, not forced to compete for love and acceptance. Not for Jezebella, though. Never for Jezebella. Home was a dark place filled with failures and accusations and hate. No. She would never return home. Never again roost on the stones of the ancients at Castle Wyvern. "No," she whispered as she looked down upon the dirty, nondescript warehouse district where Sevarius was currently hiding. "This is my home now."
But, she thought as she smiled savagely, Wyvern will never be home to Angela's brat either. No, Ptah promised that he would take the egg away. To her tear-stained face he had promised that it would have a good home far, far from the city lights of Manhattan. Where exactly the new rookery was Jezebella didn't care. The deal was done. When they made the discovery and figured out what had happened, the others could protest to the Egyptian clan until the moon fell from the sky, but they would be told that Angela had given the egg freely with proper reverence and the deal could not be unmade.
It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough.
Now her work would truly begin. Wherever the clan was, she would be, crossing their paths and their purpose with a vengeance.
Vengeance. She liked the sound of that word.
"Vengeance shall be mine!" Jezebella promised as she touched down in front of Sevarius's lair.
"Melodramatic much?" Candy drawled in response. The halfling lounged against the warehouse doorway drinking a soda. "I mean come on, every comic book villain uses that line."
Jezebella glared daggers. "I didn't ask for your opinion. In fact, I didn't ask you for anything. Now get out of my way. I need to have a chat with my dear, sweet sister."
"Uh, uh," Candy corrected. "Doc says the gargoyle is off limits." She held out a hand and gripped Jezebella by the shoulder. "Especially to you."
The clone shoved her away. The soda can went flying as Candy, caught unawares by the sudden attack, spun down the alleyway, barely catching herself before she smashed against the brick wall. "What Sevarius wants is none of my concern. I have a score to settle and I want to settle it now." Eyes glowing hotly red, Jezebella went inside.
"Oh, this can't be good." Candy stared after Jezebella for a second and then as much as it twisted her gut, she went after her. Clearly, there was no way Angela was going to survive another encounter with her sister, clone, "Uh, whatever." The revelations of the evening made her head hurt and the more she found out about Sevarius's plans the more she realized she needed Angela in one piece. It was galling, but unavoidable. "Sorry, Jez," she muttered as she went to alert the doctor.
* * *
"Fox, please, help me!"
"Angela?" Fox blinked and rubbed at her head, turning in the direction of the voice. She gasped as she spotted the girl. Angela stood a few feet away, naked and chained, a prisoner behind thick iron bars. Fox dropped her gaze to the large key ring she held clenched in her hands, blinking again as she realized she was dressed not in her own clothes, but the khaki uniform of a prison guard. The costume was authentic right down to the cap on her head and the baton at her hip, but why was she wearing it at all? She looked back up at the caged gargoyle, meeting Angela's pleading eyes, and suddenly confusion turned to clarity. "Hold on, Angela," she said as she stepped to the cell door. "I'm here to get you out." She fumbled with the myriad of keys as the girl looked on, her tail twitching nervously.
"Hurry, Fox," Angela said, desperation filling her voice, "we're running out of time. We have to stop her before it's too late."
"I'm going as fast as I can," Fox growled in reply. She shoved a random key into the lock and gave it a twist. Miraculously, it was the right one. "Yes!" she hissed as the lock clacked and the door swung free. Fox threw it open and reached inside the cell, grabbing the equally surprised gargoyle and pulling her close. Angela's chains jangled as she staggered into the relieved woman's embrace. "Oh my god, you poor thing," Fox muttered. She stroked at Angela's hair, surreptitiously pushing the long sable locks aside to examine the lock on the heavy collar encircling her neck.
Angela tried to return the warm hug, but the shackles at her wrists forestalled her. After a long moment, she shook her head and gently pushed the human woman back. "Please, Fox, we must hurry."
Fox found a tissue in the pocket of her slacks and used it to dab softly at the tears trickling from the bound gargoyle's eyes. "Can you walk in these?" she asked, indicating the restraints.
Angela sniffled and nodded. "Not well, but I think I can manage."
"Then come on," Fox said. She took Angela's arm to steady her. "Let's get you out of here." She urged the girl forward. "Let's go home." They had only made it a half a step when Angela suddenly doubled over in agony. The bound gargoyle screamed and slipped from Fox's grip, collapsing to her knees as the redhead looked on in shock. "Angela, what's wrong?" Fox cried.
They were the last words Angela heard Fox say. "No!" she howled miserably as the dream world shattered from around her. "I was so close! Not now! Please!"
"Nap time's over, sister!" Jezebella hissed. She touched the shock prod to her Angela's skin again, pressing it this time into the small of her back, right above the base of her tail. She grinned in malicious satisfaction as the sparks danced over the hyper-sensitive flesh, eliciting another banshee-like screech of pain from her kneeling sibling.
Angela's eyes were blazing red as the lids flew open and reality returned. She had arched back in reflex to the shock, and now she was being grabbed cruelly by the hair. Angela gasped in fright as the glow in her eyes faded and she met her double's cold, murderous gaze.
"It's time for another lesson, Angie," Jezebella intoned darkly. Curling her talons into her twin's tangled locks, she twisted her head back and dragged her halfway to her feet, then changed her mind and hurled her into the wall with a furious, animalistic roar. Angela grunted and collapsed once more to the ground, the impact knocking the wind from her lungs. "You'd better pay attention to this one, slut!" Jezebella growled as she primed the shock prod again. "It may be your last!"
* * *
Candy jogged down the hallway and found Sevarius in his office. The scientist was seated at his desk, a stack of data disks at his elbow. "What?" he said abruptly. "I thought I was quite clear that I didn't want to be disturbed."
"Yeah, well, sorry about that," Candy said without the least hint of contrition. "But I thought you might want to know that your science project has a major mad on. She was headed for the dungeon and I don't think she was going to play twenty questions."
"My… Jezebella?" Sevarius flipped a switch and the monitoring system came to life. Jezebella had found a shock stick and was brandishing it with fury as she screamed in pantomime at Angela. "Oh dear. This is most unacceptable."
He rose from his desk and in his agitation failed to shut down the computer. Candy lingered behind as he shouted for Ling and restraints. Down the hallway, she heard Jake shout back that Ling had already gone home, but the voices faded into the background as the stack of disks on the desk caught her attention. She took a peek at them and found them unlabeled, but the file, still waiting to be transferred, made her blanch further than her normal ghostly pale. 'Behavioral Control of Genetically Modified Humans'. "Behavioral control my ass," Candy muttered.
"Candace, your presence will be required," Sevarius shouted from the hallway.
"Yeah, right behind you," she shouted back. "I was just looking for another shock prod." She gave one more savage look at the geneticist's desk, grabbed the prod off its hanger on the wall, and jogged out to follow him.
They made it downstairs in moments, picking up Jake and Skeeve, an overly pretty looking halfling in his middle twenties who claimed to have been a fashion model before the war, but not soon enough to protect Angela from the enraged Jezebella.
No longer possessing the electronic key code to the cell, she had compensated by tearing the wiring out of the wall and pushing the bars aside with brute strength. Angela cowered in the corner and the smell of burnt flesh suggested that the shock prod had been set to maximum strength and used more than once against the hapless prisoner.
"That will be enough, Jezebella," Sevarius said calmly as he approached.
"No, Doctor, it's not enough," his creation screamed. "It's never enough. Angela is the perfect daughter. Angela is the perfect mate. Angela sneaks and cheats and lies and then makes it all up by having herself punished for pleasure. Even when she's bad she gets something out of it! What does Jezebella get? All I want is love. All I want is my rightful place. But no, does anybody care about Jezebella? Does anybody even acknowledge I'm alive?"
"I care," Sevarius said as he inched closer, wary of the lethal weapon clutched in Jezebella's talons. "You're my special girl. You're my pride and joy. You are perfect just as you are."
Candy watched, conscious of Jake and Skeeve fanned in blocking positions behind her as the shock prod wavered slightly and tears began to pour in earnest down Jezebella's pale lavender cheeks. She took a hesitant step away from Angela and towards Sevarius.
"That's right, my girl," Sevarius crooned. "Come to Daddy."
Another step. Sevarius had Jezebella's full attention. Candy raised a hand and fired an energy bolt. Jezebella screamed as she realized yet another betrayal and collapsed against the stones of the floor.
Sevarius gave Jezebella a disappointed look. "Back to the drawing board," he sighed. "Candy, put her in restraints." He glanced at Angela. "Secure the other one too. Then bring Jezebella to the medical lab."
"Where do you want me to put this one?" She gestured in Angela's direction.
"Do what you will. I'm tired of this place." Sevarius nodded as if confirming something to himself. "Yes, a change of scenery is in order."
"Where are we heading for next?"
Sevarius looked up at Candy as if he'd already forgotten her presence. "Hmm? Oh, well leave that to me." He began to move rapidly down the hallway. "Hurry up now. We haven't any time to waste."
Candy's lip curled as she followed the doctor's retreat down the hallway then she glanced at Jake. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Every halfling for himself?"
"Yeah. Skeeve, pass the word, quietly. We're bugging out." Candy hefted Jezebella over her shoulder and indicated to Jake that he should do the same with Angela. "Let's move."
* * *
"23rd Precinct. Fraser talking." The F.B.I agent picked up a pencil and notepad. "Yeah, I'm on the task force for the medical lab break-ins. How can I help you?"
Sevarius leaned back in his chair, his packed briefcase lying on the desk before him. So many details to deal with, not the least of which was a fall guy - or was that gal, in this case - to cover his crimes. "Yes, I have it on good authority that the person behind the thefts you're looking for is Dr. Lilith Ling. It seems she's funding some rather controversial research of her own through the theft and sale of biomedical equipment. Quite a dangerous individual, really, doesn't seem to know when man should leave nature alone."
Ling. Well this was a surprise, a nice hot tip to confirm their circumstantial case. "I see, sir, and how do you know this?"
Sevarius sighed dramatically. "She tricked me. Yes, I'll admit I fell for her web of lies. I helped her. But that's not the important thing. I have it on good authority she's leaving town. If you hurry you may still be able to catch her."
The caller rattled off an address that Fraser recognized as Ling's Manhattan apartment and hung up. Good. The case needed closure. It was time to move. Fraser started to get up from the desk and his cell phone vibrated against his leg. He raised an eyebrow, retrieved the device and flipped it open. "Yes?"
Fraser smiled as his caller relayed a terse message. It looked like it was going to be a very productive evening indeed.
* * * * *
"Fox! Come on, Fox! Wake up!" David Xanatos knelt at his wife's side, rubbing her wrists and slapping lightly at her cheeks. She had been out cold, slumped across the bed when he'd entered the room, Alex holding one hand the other cradling a bulky bouquet of red roses.
Now the roses lay forgotten on the floor and from the monitoring system, now set on audible, he could hear Alex asking Owen what was wrong with mama. He wanted that answer too. Who had struck Fox, leaving a purpling bruise blossoming on her temple, and why wouldn't she wake up?
Fox groaned and stirred but seemed no closer to consciousness. David gave her a worried look and hurried to the bathroom for cold water and a cloth. When he returned to the bedside moments later, Fox began to thrash, not as his overwrought mind first surmised in seizure, but as if she were caught in the depths of a particularly vivid dream. He placed the washcloth against her forehead and massaged more forcefully at her wrists. "Come on, Fox. Come back to me."
"David?" Emerald green eyes, unfocused and confused, looked up at him. "What happened?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that," he replied, as casually as if they were discussing the morning stock reports. "It looks like you had some kind of party in here."
"Party." Fox struggled to sit up and placed a hand to her battered temple. "Not quite a - Oh god. The clone was here."
David frowned and his eyes narrowed. "What clone?"
She tried to get off the bed but David held her in place. "Angela's clone. I've got to tell Elisa she was right. The others need to know."
David leaned over to the nightstand and hit an intercom switch. "Owen."
"Yes, Mr. Xanatos."
"We have an intruder alert. Please notify Goliath and the others that their services will be required. And if anybody sees Angela, she's to be treated as hostile. That's all."
"Very good, sir."
Eyes dark with concern, David returned his attention to his wife. "Can you stand?" She nodded and he offered his hand. The pair rose off the bed, Fox leaning ever so slightly on David until she found her balance.
When they arrived in the gargoyles' common room several minutes later, they found most of the clan assembled. Brooklyn, the Egyptian gargoyle Ptah and, of course, Angela were missing. To David's jaundiced eye it looked as if there had been an argument in progress that had ended without resolution. Broadway sat alone with his arms crossed over his broad chest, while Elisa talked quietly with Matt, the recently liberated Danny and his keeper. Goliath stood apart, an undecipherable look on his craggy features. All eyes turned to Fox as they entered.
"We have a problem," David announced. "Angela's clone was in the castle and attacked Fox."
There was a general murmur of surprise and a dark look from Broadway. "It doesn't mean anything," he stated flatly. "It doesn't mean that Angela has been replaced. It just means the clone snuck back in the castle."
"Would you care to explain that, Broadway?" David said.
Broadway stood, his posture stiff and angry. "Yeah. Elisa thinks that we didn't rescue Angela the first time. That the clone took her place and we rescued her instead. I say that's a lot of baloney."
"I'm sorry, Broadway," Fox said gently. "Elisa's right. I think that Angela, the real Angela is still a hostage somewhere. She's been trying to reach us through our dreams."
Elisa looked up, interested. "What changed your mind?"
Fox shrugged. "Have you ever had a dream while you were unconscious?" Elisa shook her head as did Matt. The gargoyles looked puzzled at the question. "Well, neither have I. And yet, while I was knocked out, I felt like I was with Angela. She was in a cell. I was dressed as her guard and was trying to break her out. I almost had the location too, then something happened and the connection was broken."
"I don't get it," Broadway protested. "If Angela was getting into dreams, why didn't she come to me? She's my lifemate. I'd be the one she'd try to contact."
"Angela was using magic," Fox replied. "I felt it this time. I think somehow she reactivated the link that Maeve forged between the three of us to try and make contact, but it wasn't enough."
"Dark magic," Jeannie spoke for the first time. "You were under the spell of the Lady Maeve?"
"Yeah." Elisa looked uncomfortable. "Long story short, she was trying to create a distraction on Avalon so that she could escape. Fox and Angela cast a spell opening a door to the Island at the same time and the three of us were caught in the crossfire." Elisa went quiet for a minute, mulling things over. "I don't like it, but it fits." She looked up at Fox. "Do you think you could trace the magic back to Angela?"
Fox touched a finger to the ear of her namesake tattoo. "I don't know. I should be able to, but I don't have that kind of training yet."
That caught Danny's interest. "You a witch or something?" He gave her a hard stare. "Hey, wait a minute."
Fox gave the boy a depreciative smile. "Halfling. True halfling," she drawled. "I was raised a mortal with all the limitations."
"The Puck," Jeannie said. The words caught in her throat as she looked quickly up at Fox and then dipped her eyes back to the table. "He serves you?"
"Strictly speaking," David interjected, "he serves us both. Unfortunately, Oberon has put a geas on him and he can only use his magic to train and protect Alex."
Jeannie looked faint and Matt gently braced her shoulder as she absorbed the implication of David's cryptic statement. Fox was highborn indeed. "So he may not intercede in tracing your missing clanmate?"
David shook his head.
"Then I offer my services," Jeannie raised her hands to her chest, pressed them together, and inclined her head in a formal bow. "I have not much magic to offer, but perhaps together we can find your missing Angela."
* * *
"You're sure about this," Matt said as Jeannie settled herself on the grass of the arboretum across from Fox and Elisa. In the center of their circle was a plain silver bowl, about three inches high and twelve inches around, filled with water. The three women joined hands and the elfin woman nodded.
"Yes. The magic of Avalon lingers in this place." She smiled shyly at Fox. "And the Lady Fox needs a conduit to focus her energy. I can use the magic to boost my own abilities and provide that conduit. Don't worry, Matt, we'll be fine."
The detective gave her a doubtful look. Danny, standing at his side, yawned. It had been a long day and looked to be an even longer night and Matt found he felt kind of sorry for the teenager. "All right. But I'm sticking around to keep an eye on you three just in case. Goliath and Mr. X. are standing by to move out if you get anything." His phone chirped and Matt scowled. "Bluestone." He listened for a moment and raised his fingertips, massaging his temple as if he suddenly had a headache. "Now? No. Yeah. I'll be there. Don't leave without me." He snapped the phone shut. "Change of plans. That was Fraser. They finally got permission to move on Lilith Ling. Danny will keep an eye on you three." He gave the boy a stern look. "Won't you, Danny."
"Yeah, sure." The kid grinned. "I mean come on, all this time I was down in the basement, Old Stone Face was telling me that if I buckled down, my magic could be used to help people and now I get a real, live demonstration from a witch, an ex-genie, a real halfling and a cop. What more could I ask for? Go on," he said off of Matt's skeptical look. "I'll take good care of them."
Elisa looked at her two companions and started to get up. "I should go."
Matt shook his head. "No, you should stay. Angela needs you and if you show up at the raid the Captain will just make things rough for you later. Don't worry, Elisa."
A frustrated scowl marred Elisa's mouth for a moment before she resettled herself next to Fox and Jeannie. "Keep in touch."
Matt nodded as he dropped the phone back in his pants pocket and headed out of the arboretum.
Elisa watched as her partner retreated out of the lush green sanctuary then returned her attention to the others. "Okay, let's get this show on the road. It's getting late and who knows if this seeking spell will work on a stone gargoyle."
"Right," said Fox as the three women joined hands again. "Jeannie."
The former djinn took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The others did the same. "Find a quiet place in your mind and see the silver dish before you," she directed. "Visualize it not as a bowl of water but as a great emptiness that isn't truly empty. It's filled to brimming with the life forces of millions. They're shining like stars in the night sky, interconnected with tiny threads of energy to those they know and love."
Danny watched, his fatigue gradually fading as he listened to Jeannie's softly hypnotic voice. He felt his eyes flutter shut as he followed her instructions and found that he could see the web of purple and pink and green life energy bristling off the three women in the arboretum that spiraled out joining and connecting with others until the quiet place in his mind's eye was brighter and more vivid then the Fourth of July fireworks display on Coney Island.
"Now, let the great web fade to the background," Jeannie instructed. "And find each other's aura. Find Elisa. Find Fox. Find me. Bind yourselves together so that our energies become one. Good. I feel you both. And I feel the tendrils of Maeve, encircling you. Don't be afraid. Accept the dark energy. It cannot hurt you any longer."
Though Danny's eyes were closed he could see the outlines of two women arch as though shocked as the tainted fay magic enveloped them. A third, moderating force, embraced them both. That must be Jeannie he realized absently as the pair relaxed.
"You are two legs of a triangle," Jeannie said. "Visual it." And in Danny's head he could see a V shape bright green and purple flare into existence. "But the triangle is incomplete. Somewhere out there is the third point in your triad. Find it. Follow the dark energy until you are one."
A third energy point began to radiate more strongly in the life energy blanket that surrounded them all.
"I feel her," Fox said. "I feel Angela. But I can't get a sense of place. I can't tell where she is."
"That's all right," Jeannie soothed. "Concentrate on bringing her into the triad. Awake the magic within her and she will tell us."
* * * * *
"Turn here," Candy ordered. Angela was pressed against the wall as the van cornered sharply, but her seat belt kept her in place as the vehicle hurtled over what felt like a speed bump. Angela wasn't sure how long they had been driving, but as lucidity returned, she was able to gather that they were still on the surface streets. She'd been only semi-conscious as she was carried from the cell, the fiery pain still burning on her belly and back. The pain had since faded to a dull throbbing, but her head was still reeling from the cruel torture Jezebella had administered with her shock prod. Vaguely, she could remember having heard Candy say something about "bugging out," and panic setting in as she was tossed momentarily onto a bed, saw Candy and her partner quickly stuffing clothes into a bag, and realized they meant to take her with them. Weakly, she had squirmed and struggled as the woman pulled her to her feet, but her protests only earned her a hard slap and an angry glare.
"Damn it, I don't have time for this bullshit," Candy had complained, shoving her into Jake's grasp. "Hold her still," the halfling ordered. A drawer was yanked open outside of Angela's line of sight and, for the second time that night, she was grabbed painfully by the hair. Angela screamed. A split-second later, she stopped as Candy pressed something large and round between her teeth, forcing her jaw to open wide. Angela growled in renewed protest as she tasted old rubber and felt the leather straps being tightened around her chin and cheeks, but the only sound that made it past the gag was a soft moan. Eyes burning and nostrils flaring, Angela stared at Candy defiantly as the halfling reappeared from behind her.
Candy listened to the muffled sounds and returned a smirk of perverse satisfaction. "Just relax, gargoyle. This is all for your own good."
Angela's jaw ached as she bit into the gag, but the abuse she had suffered at Jezebella's hands had left her with little strength remaining to struggle. As a cloth sack was suddenly tugged down over her eyes, however, plunging her into pitch black darkness, she found the energy to shake her head and give an inaudible, mewling cry of "No!"
Candy clenched her fingernails into Angela's arm as Jake cinched down the drawstring of the black hood that now covered her head. "Shut up, damn you!" she ordered. "We're getting the hell out of here and you're coming along whether you like it or not, so just keep quiet unless you really want to piss me off." She tightened her vice-like grip on Angela's arm, shaking her for emphasis as green swirls of magic trickled from her hand over the lavender skin. "Trust me bitch, you won't like me when I'm angry."
Angela had gone along quietly after that. Once she'd been belted into her seat, she'd even given in to the urge to close her eyes and quietly sob beneath the hood. She didn't have a clue where she was to begin with, so paying attention to the ride seemed of little importance anyway. Without knowing where she was starting from, it would be impossible to deduce where they were taking her. Worriedly, she wondered what plans her halfling captors had for her. Would her clan ever be able to find her now? Angela's stomach knotted as she realized the small piece of needlework that had been her only link to her friends was now gone. It had slipped from her talons when Jezebella had attacked her and fallen to the floor of the tiny prison cell. It was probably still there, lost and out of reach, just as she feared she now was.
Without warning, the van lurched to a stop. A moment later, cool air struck Angela in the face as the stifling black hood was unceremoniously yanked from her head. Jolted from her musings of misery, she blinked her eyes and glared at the short-haired blonde she found standing in front of her. A low growl threatened to spill forth form deep in her throat, but as she spied the shock prod hanging at Candy's hip, she trembled and forced herself to suppress it by biting down hard on her gag. Angela grimaced. The hard rubber ball tasted awful, and the added pressure only caused her distended jaw to ache all the more painfully.
Candy sighed and rolled her eyes. "If I take that off, will you behave yourself?" she asked. She waited for Angela's eager nod of agreement before reaching for the buckles. "Then hold still," she stated, "and no biting," she added quickly. "I didn't do this for kicks, you know, I only did it 'cause I needed to make sure you stayed quiet." With a quick movement of her fingers, the gag's straps fell slack and she carefully extracted the large red ball from the gargoyle's fanged mouth.
Angela swallowed a mouthful of saliva and coughed. "Thank you," she managed after a moment.
Candy made a disgusted face and tossed the gag aside. "I wouldn't have had to do that if you didn't have such a big mouth, gargoyle," she said. "Your whining could have easily blown everything for us if Sevarius had spotted us leaving."
"I still don't get it. Why did we have to risk our butts to bring that along, anyway?" Jake asked from the front of the van. Angela and Candy both looked up as he threw the column shift into 'park' and turned in his seat to glare disdainfully at the chained gargoyle. "I mean, what are you gonna do with it, Candy, keep it as a pet? It's not like a gargoyle's any use to us. Especially one wearing a collar that's liable to lead Dr. Frank-n-furter right to us."
"Don't worry about that, Jake." Candy didn't even break eye contact with her fellow halfling as she laid her hand on the gargoyle's neck. Angela froze. An eerie chill ran down her back as the arcane energies danced over her skin. A soft click made her cringe in expectation of pain, but then suddenly the thick band of leather fell away. "As you can see, I've got it taken care of," the woman said flatly.
Jake made a face. "Ooh, you and your magic fingers. I'm so impressed." He regarded the gargoyle carefully, misreading the look of profound relief that played across Angela's face at being free of the horrible collar. "Keep going, Candy. I think you're getting her excited."
Candy's eyes narrowed and flickered faintly green. She shoved the collar into Jake's hand and grabbed him by the lapels of his brown leather jacket, pulling him from his seat. "I've had a really bad night, Jake," she intoned, staring him dead in the eyes. "Do me a favor, will you? Take this damn thing, find some place to dump it, and shut your fucking mouth!"
Angela looked on in numb shock as Candy opened the sliding side door and kicked Jake out of the van. The halfling woman slammed the door shut and took a single deep breath before turning her attention back to the gargoyle. For a long moment, the two just stared at each other. Finally, Angela dared to be the one to break the silence. "Have I been kidnapped again?" she asked quietly.
Candy gave a soft chuckle. "I suppose you could say that," she replied. "Funny, though. I was thinking you'd see getting away from those psychos as a positive thing."
"Maybe I could if I wasn't still in chains." Angela tugged at her shackles for emphasis, but the gesture only earned her another roll of the eyes from the female halfling.
"You're such a drama queen. Just like Jez. Guess it must run in the family, huh?"
Angela growled at the mention of the clone. "I already told you, she's not -"
"I know," Candy interjected, "she's not your sister." Her eyes went distant, as if it pained her to continue, yet she went on. "You were right," she muttered. "About Jez. About Sevarius. About everything. It was all lies." She sighed angrily. "All lies, and I fell for it. I thought he actually gave a damn about us." She turned a harsh glare toward Angela. "What a wonderful joke on me, huh? He said he had a cure. I was supposed to be made human again by now. Instead, it turns out there really is no damned cure and to him I'm just another 'expendable asset.'" Her hands clenched into fists as she continued to fume. "Well, you know what, gargoyle? I've got news for him. I'm not going to be played like that again. I deserve better than that. We all do. We're not lab rats that he can just experiment on for kicks, and I'm sure as hell not going to hang around to be turned into a mindless soldier and sold off as slave labor!"
Quietly, Angela absorbed the incensed halfling's comments, slowly beginning to understand what was truly going on. Just as she'd suspected, it seemed that Xanatos wasn't the only person looking for a way to profit off the spoils of the Unseelie War. She couldn't fault Candy for her reaction. "You're running away," she said hesitantly. "Leaving Sevarius, I mean."
"Damn straight, gargoyle." Candy's expression was hard and grim. "I'm doing what I should have been doing all along - looking out for me and mine. Fuck Sevarius, fuck Ling, and fuck that damned sister of yours or whatever the hell she is, too. They can all kiss my ass."
Angela nodded. The woman was venting, and Angela figured it was better to encourage her to do so with words rather than fists. Still, she was worried about where she fit into Candy's new plan, if she indeed had one. "It sounds like you made the right decision," she said. "I'm sorry you've been treated so poorly."
Candy scowled. "Don't be sorry for me, gargoyle. I don't need your sympathy, and I don't want your pity."
Angela's eyes narrowed at the rebuke. "Then what do you want from me?"
"I want you to tell me if that offer you made still stands."
"Offer? What offer?" Angela's tone marked her confusion as genuine. It had been a long and arduous night, and she was still struggling to mentally recover from the painful wake-up call Jezebella had delivered with the shock prod.
Candy sat down on the bench seat opposite the gargoyle, putting herself eye to eye with the girl. "You told me if I would help you escape, you would find a way to help us." Her voice was uncharacteristically controlled, especially in light of her agitation just moments before. Angela's expression brightened in recollection, and for Candy the unspoken acknowledgment was enough to prompt her to go on. "I've already saved your ass twice tonight, gargoyle. I didn't have to bring the cavalry running to stop Jezebella from having her fun, and I didn't have to bring you along with me, either. So as far as I'm concerned, you already owe me big time."
A chill came over Angela as she considered the woman's words. "You're right," she admitted. "You probably saved my life." Her voice was nearly a whisper.
Candy eyed the captive gargoyle carefully. "So you'll keep your word if I turn you loose?"
Angela nodded. "Of course." She looked back up, meeting the woman's eyes with an earnest gaze. "I owe you, and I want to help you. Let me get home and I promise, anything I can do, I will do it."
Try as she might, Candy could sense no duplicity or deception in the girl's plaintive plea. She still wasn't sure she should trust the gargoyle, but all of her other options were gone. She wanted to be human again, and keeping even the smallest bit of hope alive was better than having nothing at all. "You swear on your life, gargoyle?"
"On my life, and on my egg's." Angela lifted her chin resolutely. "I swear it."
"Then I suppose we have a deal." Candy rose and approached the chained gargoyle.
Angela remained still as the woman undid her seat belt. "Once I know something, I'll need a way to get in touch with you," she said.
"Yeah, well I'm kinda in between residences right now." Candy paused, considering the matter for a moment. "When you have something for me," she decided, "you run a personal ad in the Sunday Times. Address it to 'The Lost Boys,' include a phone number, and sign it with your middle name. I'll take it from there."
"My middle name?" Angela questioned, even as she committed the instructions to memory.
"Don't insult my intelligence by pretending you don't know what I'm talking about. I've learned a lot of interesting things about Miss Angela Brigitte Destine over the past few weeks. And I should warn you, I won't hesitate to use what I know to my advantage if you cross me."
Angela's tail twitched beneath her in irritation. How many other secrets of hers had the clone discovered and shared? Angela regarded Candy carefully. While she could understand the reasons behind the woman's paranoia, she still didn't appreciate being threatened. "I've already promised to do all I can," she stated. "I want to help you, but you have to give me time." Angela sighed. "Like it or not, Candy, you're just going to have to trust me."
For a long moment, silence reigned. "All right," Candy replied. "I'll give you until Christmas to contact me with progress. Fair enough, gargoyle?"
Angela nodded. "Yes." Four months to come up with a solution. In truth, it barely seemed like enough time, but from the halfling's tense posture she sensed that now wasn't the time to argue the point.
"Christmas, then." Candy dug into her jeans pocket and produced a set of padlock keys. "I just want you to understand one last thing, monster," she said, jingling them in front of Angela's face. "This doesn't mean that I like you, and it doesn't change how I feel about gargoyles, either. Am I clear on that?"
Angela lifted her manacled hands and allowed the pointed-eared woman to grasp them. "Crystal," she replied.
"Good." Candy curled her fingers about the gargoyle's wrists, and her eyes flashed a brilliant green. Angela didn't even have a chance to gasp as the sudden rush of magical energy enveloped her. Her eyelids fluttered closed, unconsciousness claiming her instantly. The halfling woman smirked as the girl slumped limply against the backrest. "Sweet dreams, Angela," she muttered. Candy knelt down and went to work, quickly matching the keys to their locks and unfastening the sturdy shackles and chains. "Trust a gargoyle to help us," she muttered as she tugged the chain from around the girl's slim waist. "I must be nuts." She took hold of Angela's wrists again, contemplating the sharp talons as she unlocked the steel cuffs. "I'm still not crazy enough to give you a chance to get those claws into me, though." Candy piled the discarded restraints on the floor and pulled a worn blanket from under the seat, using it to wrap the nude girl in a tight cocoon before laying her down across the bench. Angela would have to struggle a little to free herself when she awakened, but Candy supposed she could manage.
Candy moved to the front passenger seat and pulled a lightweight backpack from the floor onto her lap. As she unzipped the back pocket and withdrew her portable phone, the driver's side door opened and Jake quietly climbed back in to the van. He eyed his partner warily, then cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the motionless gargoyle lying bundled up on the back seat. "Did you -"
"No, I didn't," Candy snapped. "She's not dead, she's napping." She tossed a piece of paper to him on which was scrawled an address. "Just shut up and drive. That's where we're going once we've unloaded the girl. But circle around the block first. There's an alley back the way we came, near the rail yard." She, too, glanced back at the unconscious Angela. "The sooner we can ditch her the better."
"Jesus, now I'm a taxi service for gargoyles," Jake grumped. He turned the key and engine purred back to life. "Why can't we just dump her right here?" he asked as he put the van in gear.
"Because I said so," Candy replied distractedly. She shuffled through the collection of dog-eared scraps of paper that littered the bottom of her knapsack until she at last found the one with the phone number she needed.
Jake stomped the gas and made a sharp U-turn, clipping the curb as pulled back into the lane. As the van accelerated down the darkened street, he hazarded another glance over at his passenger. "What are you doing now?" he asked as she stabbed at the buttons on the small flip-phone. "Calling ahead to let the rest of those freaks know we're letting her go?"
Candy shot him a withering look. "No," she replied calmly, placing the phone to her ear. "I'm just doing a little something to repay the Doc for his kindness."
* * *
Fraser had just slung his coat over his arm when the phone rang again. He checked his watch before snagging the receiver. "23rd Precinct. Fraser here." The F.B.I agent slid back into his chair, grabbing for a notepad. "Yes, that's right. That would be me. How can I help you, ma'am?" His eyes widened as the female caller spoke. "Anton Sevarius?" he asked. "And you're sure about that name?"
Candy settled back into her seat and gave a small smile. "Quite sure," she replied. "And if you hurry, you can still catch him before he leaves town."
Fraser hurriedly scribbled the address the woman rattled off. "And may I ask how you know this, ma'am?"
"Let's just say I'm a disgruntled former employee," Candy quipped. She quirked her lip as the man on the other end of the line asked for her name and number. "Just tell the good doctor when you see him that Candace says 'hello.' He'll know who I am."
Fraser blinked as the line clicked and went dead. "Hello?" He listened to the silence a moment longer before racking the receiver. Quickly, he tore the page with the notes he had just written from the pad and shoved it into his pants pocket beside his cell phone. He couldn't believe his luck. It had been less than twelve hours since he had learned that Anton Sevarius was still alive, and now he knew exactly where to find him. Fraser checked his watch again. The task force was getting ready to move out, but he had a meeting to make first. He had to relay this latest news to his superiors immediately, but that phone call could be just as easily made from a cab. Without another moment's hesitation, Fraser hurried from the bullpen.
* * * * *
"Ow!" Elisa cried. "Did you feel that?" She resisted the urge to break the circle of clasped hands and massage at her cheek. "It felt like my face hit cement. Hard."
Standing at sentry, Danny opened his eyes. The three women were sitting motionless in a circle on the grass of the arboretum. His halfling-enhanced senses could still see their auras, but now he was aware of their physical demeanors as well. Elisa looked startled, Mrs. Xanatos, the one Jeannie called Lady Fox, had a glassy faraway expression, but his traveling companion was smiling as though delighted by an unforeseen turn of events.
"You have no magic of your own, yet you are sharing Angela's physical experiences. This is unexpected but fortuitous. Open yourself to the pain, Elisa," she said earnestly. "Feel what Angela feels. Through you we shall find her."
Elisa swallowed. She trusted Jeannie, but did she dare open herself so fully to another's consciousness? "How?"
"Just relax. Lady Fox and I will do the rest."
* * *
It was cold in the alley. Not chill, but the sun seldom reached the recesses where Angela sprawled, one cheek resting on a pile of broken bricks. A curious rat sniffed at the strange purplish creature that had invaded its space. A tentative nibble found the thing's hide to be tough and unpalatable. It washed its paws, considering whether to summon its brethren. Sometimes when they tore beneath the wrapper toothsome bits could be found, but a squeak from the other side of the alley promised easier pickings. With a final twitch of its ears the rat scampered away, leaving the gargoyle in peace.
"Angela, where are you?"
Voices were calling her. It seemed they were very far off but their tone was insistent. Urgent even.
Angela wanted to ignore them. She was so tired. There was so much pain. It was much easier to lie in the dark away from the world and let it spin on without her. Yes, let her be among the disembodied here in the void. It was peaceful. Let the spinning globe and the little twinkling lights tend to themselves for a while.
"I can't do this, she's fighting me."
"You can," another voice said. "You must."
Another entered her realm. Angela ignored it, basking in her bubble of tranquillity. The new presence offered no threat, so she let it be. Live and let live was her motto.
"Angela," the voice said.
Funny, she thought absently. It knows my name.
"Come on, Angela. It's Elisa. I've come to take you home. But I need your help."
Home. Wasn't this home, this dark quiet place? No, she considered, as the world below spun slowly on, perhaps not. Home was full of noise and bustle and others, so many others. They needed her. Elisa needed her. Angela had been taught from an egg to always obey the call of duty. Reluctantly she replied. "What do you want me to do?"
"Let me in. I need to see where you are."
Angela chuckled gently at the notion. "What is there to see, Elisa? We are here. I like it here, it's nice."
It wasn't possible for disembodied life energy to scowl, but Elisa felt like doing it anyway. "Not here, Ang. Down there, in the real world. I need to find you down there. It's important."
"Oh." There was a pause. Of a moment or an hour, it was unclear. "Very well."
The other energy that was Elisa enveloped her. It was nice too, Angela decided, warm and comforting. But there was an insistent edge to it that was less nice. She felt herself drawn downward toward the lazy spinning globe. Down to the light. Down to the world hard and cold.
In the alley, Angela lifted her head and looked around. She heard voices, saw a street name painted on the wall and smiled. With a sigh she pillowed her head once more on the bricks and passed out.
* * * * *
"So much to do, so little time," Sevarius murmured as he shoved a rack of promising lab samples into a padded cooler. "Let see, briefcase all packed, data dumped to the backup site…" He looked at Jezabella reclining unconscious and shackled on a stainless steel exam table. "Nothing remains but you, my dear."
He picked up a brown glass bottle with a vivid purple label and a large syringe. His hands were steady as he filled the barrel with viscous pink barbiturate solution. "Just a little prick and then all of your troubles will be over, Jessie," Anton said softly.
Her pulse throbbed strongly under his fingertips as he rolled off the vein and prepared to insert the needle. The tip slid under her skin with surprising ease, but as Anton drew back on the plunger and a spot of bright red blood contaminated the liquid his hand began to tremble as if it belonged to a palsied old man. "Here, now, Anton old chap," he counseled. "Buck up. No point in getting sentimental now."
He blinked a tear from his eye with a bemused quirk of his lips and shook his head. Anton Sevarius, Scientist, Greatest Geneticist of Them All, did not get weepy like a little schoolgirl over failed experiments.
She had been quite the accomplishment, he thought with a smile of genuine pride, a perfect physical reproduction of the original source genome, clever and easy to train. Jezebella had been a brilliant sneak thief, a talented actress, and she had been remarkably successful in fooling the residents of the Eyrie Building. He had become rather fond of her and, he realized sadly, he would miss her. Curse Ling and her shoddy programming. There would never be another one precisely like Jezebella.
Sevarius withdrew the needle from Jezebella's arm. "Come, my girl, Daddy's going to take you on a little trip." He dropped the syringe on the counter and hit the "Call" button on the P.A. system. "Candy, I need you in the lab. Now."
He waited, using the time to check the refrigerators and sample racks one more time for anything he might have overlooked. After several minutes had passed he hit the button again. "Candy, I said I need you in the lab now."
"I'm afraid there's no one by that name here, Doctor," said a voice from the doorway.
Sevarius looked up in surprise. Three men in long dark gray trench coats and business suits, their eyes obscured by reflective glasses, had infiltrated his sanctum sanctorum. "Who are you?" he demanded, offended to his core. "This is private property."
"Isn't the quest for knowledge really a public concern, Doctor Sevarius?" said the leader of the trio. The other two took up subsidiary positions flanking the person Anton presumed to be their leader. All three were of medium height and stocky and Sevarius realized he'd have a difficult time picking them out of a crowd. "But to answer your question in rather broad terms, we represent your new employers. You'll find the working conditions pleasant, and we offer a most generous package of employee benefits." Nothing overt changed about his demeanor but Anton felt a chill as the fellow concluded, "As long as you keep us happy."
The spokesman quirked his head and one of his associates produced a syringe of his own.
"Now, chaps," Anton said holding a placating hand up. "I'm sure that's not really necessary. I'm a quiet, mild-mannered sort of fellow. No need for untoward measures."
"Sorry, Doctor," the spokesman replied. The other two hadn't said a word during the entire encounter and Sevarius was starting to wonder if they could speak at all. "Standard procedure."
The two suited men advanced. Anton made a grab for the syringe of barbiturate solution. He brandished it before him. "I really must insist."
Enforcer One exchanged a glance with Enforcer Two and restrained Sevarius without a struggle. The pink solution filled syringe dropped to the floor with a bounce and rolled under the counter as his partner pushed up the sleeve of his lab coat and injected Anton. "This is very rude," Sevarius slurred as his chin slumped toward his chest.
"Take him to the van," the leader ordered.
Enforcer Two pointed at the lab table and the still bound and unconscious Jezebella. "What about this one?"
"Take her as well. Omega Section is interested in gargoyles."
More suited men appeared. "Clean house, gentlemen," the leader ordered. "Quickly. We have one more stop tonight. Van Winkle has informed me that the doctor has a partner and he's en route to pick her up.
* * * * *
Look, Doc. It's nothing personal," Brooklyn said as he struggled to his feet. "But I hate hospitals."
Dr. Danvers gave him a sympathetic look. "Don't we all?" she said archly. "No one likes to be poked and prodded and kept up all night by beeping machines, but we should keep an eye on you at least until morning. You lost a lot of blood from that thigh wound. We don't want you passing out and injuring yourself further."
"Point taken. But I feel fine." To prove his point the big red gargoyle patted his head and rubbed his stomach at the same time. "See? I have perfect motor coordination." He fumbled the maneuver after a couple of iterations. "Well," he amended, "near perfect, anyway."
Shelley Danvers made a note on his chart and recalled the one threat that might keep her patient confined to bed. His mate, the kimono clad and fiercely protective green gargoyle, had tried to stare the emergency doctor down for control of Brooklyn's treatment. She had only deferred under orders from Goliath. "I'm releasing you on your own recognizance. Shall I call Sata to come and help you back to your perch?
Brooklyn looked momentarily cowed. "Let's just keep this our little secret, shall we? I'm sure Sata is busy with something. She always is. And the leg is good as new. Really."
"Your funeral," the doctor replied. "Stay off that wing until tomorrow. The glue should hold as long as it's not subjected to any real stress."
"Right. No long glides. I think I can manage that." Brooklyn sketched a salute, bowing as he touched to fingers to his temple." Good night, Doc. And thanks again." He exited the sterile white medical wing and headed for the lift to the castle's main living quarters. Once he'd explained his discharge to Sata, maybe he'd spend the rest of the evening watching a movie with the kids. No, he amended, movies with the twins tended to evolve into full contact sport and he was, despite his claims to the contrary, both sore and tired. "Maybe I'll try and catch up with my reading."
There was no sign of his clanmates as he entered the common area. Brooklyn's beak wrinkled in curiosity, but he let the minor mystery go as he picked up Jeffery Robbins latest sword and sorcery fantasy. At least that was how it was billed. In truth, Hudson had collaborated with the noted author to tell some of the stories of the clan's early days.
He settled into an armchair and found he couldn't get comfortable. Picking up the book and a cushion, he headed outside to enjoy the warm summer evening. The temperature had moderated a little, settling in the mid eighties. The steady breeze made it seem even cooler. Brooklyn settled against the wall and began to read.
He only had managed ten pages or so. The book opened with a prelude involving a treasure chest containing not gold, but ancient scrolls. The writing was vivid and it was with reluctance that Brooklyn raised his eyes from the page at the sound of another gargoyle on the wing.
Ptah. And from the looks of it, he was ready to hit the road. The Egyptian elder had a cloth bundle tied to his back and a second that hung close to his chest. "Curious." Brooklyn put down his book. "Ptah was traveling a lot lighter when he arrived. I wonder if those are souvenirs for the folks back home." The gargoyle shook his shaggy head. "Nah. And Owen would never forgive us if he's taken off with the good candlesticks."
With a grunt and a groan, Brooklyn clambered to his feet. His thigh had stiffened in the short time he'd been on the ground and the area around the bullet torn wing wasn't much better. Both wounds throbbed in time with his pulse, but he ignored them as he dove off the castle wall and vectored a pursuit course that kept Ptah just barely in visual range.
They glided across the city for several minutes. Brooklyn frowned. The old gargoyle's path was taking them neither towards the island's perimeter and its docks, nor the airport. He seemed to be headed towards the city's financial district. When they crossed Wall Street, Ptah reset his wings and descended sharply towards a rooftop.
Cautiously, Brooklyn closed, banking around a slightly shorter building to land on a window washer's platform tied off a story below. He listened carefully. He heard nothing to suggest that Ptah had realized he'd been tailed and carefully began to climb the short distance to the roof.
"Better late than never, Ptah, but you came through," a voice said from the shadows.
"Fortune has smiled on me, Van Winkle," the Egyptian replied. His voice was smooth and supercilious, containing none of the craven, pleading tones it had held the last time Brooklyn had eavesdropped. Had that only been a few hours ago? What could have -
"Oh no," Brooklyn whispered. "The egg. Ptah said he would do something tonight."
There was movement on the rooftop above him. Brooklyn inched closer and pulled himself over the short brick wall that enclosed the roof and ducked behind a series of fan housings. Ptah was undoing the bundle tied at his chest. "You must keep it warm and safe."
"Don't worry, Ptah," the voice said. "We've done this before."
"Yeah, well you're not gonna do it again," Brooklyn stepped out from behind his cover and charged the human. He went down in a tumble but in the process kicked savagely at Brooklyn. He landed a lucky shot and pain blossomed anew as the neoprene sole contacted with gunshot flesh. The gargoyle roared and went down.
Blood flowed freshly down his leg as he rose, but Brooklyn found his feet. "Give me the egg, Ptah."
Ptah stared at Van Winkle. The human appeared to be unconscious. Perhaps he could walk away from this after all. He had been foolish to side with the Unseelie. But perhaps even Senen would have forgiven him had he explained that minions of Sekhmet had courted him above all others. They had promised that the goddess herself had been prepared to welcome them all to sit at her feet as it had been in days long past. How was he to know that even gods could lie?
How was he to know that what Lord Garlon had really meant was that the Unseelie would enthrall the warriors swayed to their cause, turning them into mindless automatons to use against their foes? That for the gargoyles of the Oasis Clan, there would be no return to the glory of the old days, only death?
He had learned their true plan too late, and it had cost his most valiant fighters. Those hand-picked recruits he had swayed against Senen, his honor guard who Ptah had chosen to wait at his feet as he served the goddess.
A saving grace really, there had been no one to tell the tale when the Unseelie lost ignobly and were driven from the desert. Or so he thought.
Then came the message placed in a pouch around his neck while he slept. The message marked with a pyramid and all-seeing eye.
The Illuminati knew all.
The Illuminati wanted a favor.
At first he had ignored the missives.
The Illuminati were displeased. One night, he had woken far from his daytime perch. During his slumber they had moved him far into the desert and left him on the edge of a precipice, high above a valley of jagged rocks. The warning was subtle and obvious. They controlled his life and his death.
The next time they summoned, Ptah answered their call. Why they wanted this first child of the Manhattan clan out of its rookery he did not know. He did not want to know. He just got on the plane and went to America.
But now, perhaps he had an out. Van Winkle was injured and Brooklyn advancing. He wavered. Should he help the Illuminati or hand over the egg to the Second?
Or maybe he should let fate decide.
Ptah tossed the egg high in the air and dove off the bank building.
"NO!" Brooklyn screamed and was joined by the protest of the man just regaining consciousness behind him. He leapt forward putting his full weight on his injured leg. It buckled and he stumbled. The egg, on its downward arc, fell passed the edge of the building and began its descent to the street far below.
Dizzy and in pain, blood flowing freely down his thigh, Brooklyn leapt after the egg, pulling his wings in tight as he fought to intercept.
He gained by increments, first a few feet and then a few more. The egg held its stubborn lead, staying inches beyond the gargoyle's grasp.
Brooklyn hurtled downward and a large green object loomed into view. Down below near the pavement an awning overhung the street. He tore his eyes away as his talons brushed against the egg.
He had nothing to spur himself on but regret. He should have acted sooner. He should have confided his doubts to Goliath or at the very least to Sata.
Anger augmented his adrenaline and gave him the push he needed. Brooklyn cupped the egg in his hands as the overhang rushed up to meet him.
It was too late to pull out. Too late to do anything but pray. Brooklyn clutched the egg close against his chest and curled into a ball. He hit canvas shoulder first and rolled.
The fabric tore but held under his weight. He slid the length of the awning and at the last second one hand shot out and grabbed the edge.
His shoulder screamed in pain as the socket tried to separate under the strain of his weight. He dropped the last twenty feet to the pavement and landed in a heap, the egg still clutched protectively against his chestplate. "Sata's gonna kill me," the gargoyle muttered. He tried to stand and didn't do such a good job. His injured leg buckled under his weight.
"Hey buddy, you okay?"
Brooklyn looked up. A police squad car had pulled to the curb and a pair of uniformed officers was getting out, caps in hand. They looked vaguely familiar and it took the gargoyle a minute to place them. "I've had better nights," he admitted.
"Donovan," said the younger of the two patrolmen. "We know this guy. He helped with that convenience store robbery last week. You remember, bunch of teenagers held up that Korean couple."
"Sure," his partner replied. "You really did us a favor pinning those punks in that alley until we could get backup."
The gargoyle shrugged and found that if he concentrated the cops faces didn't really spin, just faded in and out of focus. "I just happened to be in the neighborhood and you looked like you could use a hand. It was nothing."
"Yeah, well nothing or not," the younger one said as he held out his hand to Brooklyn, "we appreciated the assist. Whoa!" Despite being a lean and muscular two hundred and five pounds, the cop staggered as the gargoyle lost his footing. "Hey Sarge, how about an assist."
"Sure, Marquez." The sergeant opened the squad car door and helped Brooklyn into the back. "Come on, you look like you need to go to the hospital. You're bleeding on the upholstery." He turned to his partner. "Pete, the first aid kit," he bellowed. When he turned back to Brooklyn he finally noticed the gargoyle had something wrapped in the blanket cradled against his chest. "Hey, what's this you've got here?"
Snap out of it or into it. He couldn't decide which as he chided himself. "Precious cargo," Brooklyn managed. "No hospital," he added. "But I could use a lift. Say, the Eyrie Building?" The two cops looked at one another. "What?"
"That's out of our district," Marquez replied. "But we're about due to go off shift. I guess it couldn't hurt to be a couple of minutes late getting back to the precinct."
Brooklyn slumped against the seat cushion. "Thanks, fellas." He barely noticed as Marquez slid into the seat next to him and opened the first aid kit as Donovan pulled away from the curb.
* * * * *
"I'm innocent, I tell you! Innocent!" Lilith Ling shouted as Matt Bluestone slipped handcuffs over the smooth cotton knit cuffs of her running suit and snapped them shut. Dressed as she was in the frivolously embroidered leisure clothes with a pair of reading glasses around her neck, she seemed to be an unlikely flight risk. He wondered why the informant seemed to think she was planning on pulling out suddenly. "It was all Anton Sevarius's idea. His lab. His plan! What do I know about cloning?" Matt began to read her Miranda Rights as he led her out of her plush park-side townhouse and down the steps towards a waiting patrol car.
They were halfway down the walkway when an unmarked black sedan skidded to the curb. Out jumped Special Agent Fraser looking somewhat rumpled. "Hey Bluestone, glad you could make it." He hustled out of the car and smiled as he joined Matt and the prisoner.
Matt glanced up at the sound of the familiar voice and then took a closer look at his temporary partner. Though he'd made obvious efforts to repair the damage, his suit was dusty and flecked with dirt and he was sporting the beginning of a bruise on his cheek. "What happened to you?"
"Hmmm?" Fraser replied, distracted. He was scanning the contingent of uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives waiting to begin the search of Ling's residence. He spotted a dark-haired neatly turned out young man in a plain black suit. "Hey, Mendoza. Over here," he shouted. "Oh, nothing," he replied as the officer in question nodded and began to hurry towards them. He returned his attention to Matt and Ling. "Just a little misunderstanding. No permanent harm done." He rubbed his hands together briskly, wincing as he noticed a skinned spot on his palm. "This will certainly salvage my night."
Matt quirked a smile back. "Yeah, closing a case certainly can do that." His brow knitted as he asked quietly, "Any word on Sevarius?"
Fraser shook his head. "I thought we'd run him to ground but he flew the coop." He glanced at Ling. "We got one of our birds. All we need is for her to sing about where they're keeping the stuff and we can write this puppy up. We'll keep looking for her partner."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Ling protested as Mendoza joined the group. "I tell you I'm innocent."
Fraser nodded at Mendoza. "Of course you are. Agent Mendoza, if you'd be so kind as to take Dr. Ling in charge." A guilty look clouded his features momentarily. "Matt, I hate to do this to you, but my superiors have stepped in. We're taking over the case."
Profound irritation at the high-handed government approach stymied Matt from replying for a moment, and then he blew out a deep breath and held up his hands. "Fine. Be my guest. I've got places I'd rather be tonight anyway." He watched as Mendoza loaded Lilith Ling into Fraser's car and more dark suited men and women started to pull up and get out of similar black sedans. There was grumbling as they flashed badges. Matt shook his head as one of the other detectives started to protest loudly. "Don't fight the feds," he advised as he held out his hand to Fraser. "It's been fun."
Fraser shook his hand. "Yeah, we should do it again sometime."
"Sometime," Matt agreed as he left Fraser directing the search of Lilith Ling's townhouse. He whistled for a uniformed officer from his own division and hitched a ride back to the station to make his report.
* * * * *
"They've got her, Fox. Thank god. Where did you find her, Goliath?"
"There, in the alley, just as you said."
"I can't believe they just left her there. It's okay now, Ang. I'm here. You're safe now."
Voices. So many voices surrounding her. Elisa. Father. Broadway. A small part of her wanted to answer back, but the other part of her that didn't was stronger. No, it argued, to speak she would have to wake up. If she woke up, the pain would return, and she didn't want that. Not now. Not again.
"Come on, Ang, wake up. Talk to me."
"Angela, it's me. It's Elisa. Can you hear me?"
"It is no use, my Elisa. She has been non-responsive since we arrived."
The voices took an insistent tone now. Oh, why couldn't they just leave her be? Surely no harm could come of letting her sleep a little longer. Strong arms cradled her and a hand gently stroked the back of her head. It felt so nice to be held like that, so warm and secure. Angela reveled in the sensation, sighing as she recalled the last time in her life she had felt so thoroughly comforted. She'd been but a hatchling in a young Princess Kathryn's arms, frightened by the thunder from a midsummer storm. If she tried, she could almost hear the human woman's kind voice. "Och, there now, my Egg. 'Tis only the rain. It cannae hurt ye." Angela murmured contentedly and snuggled against the arms that held her, drawing herself deeper into the memory. Away from the voices. Away from the pain.
Fox brushed past Goliath, giving him a reassuring glance as she took command of the scene. The clan leader yielded his place at Broadway's side and stepped back, placing an arm around Elisa. The auburn-haired mistress of Castle Wyvern looked uncharacteristically disheveled. She hadn't bothered to change out of the clothes she had arrived home in, only rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and twisted her hair up in a loose bun. Several stray strands had since slipped free and now fluttered about her face, yet still she exuded a sense of quiet authority as she examined the unconscious female bundled in Broadway's arms.
A dark bruise colored Angela's left cheek, and Fox winced in empathy as she placed a hand on the gargoyle's forehead. She concentrated for a moment, focusing as Owen had taught her. Angela's aura was unsteady and weak, and the taint of dark magic lingered about her. The woman frowned. Even to her unskilled senses, it was obvious that Angela's injuries were more extensive than just the single nasty bump Elisa had felt earlier. "She's gone into shock," Fox pronounced. Placing a hand on Broadway's arm, she directed him toward the back of the recovery van where Owen already waited. "Let's get her loaded up," she ordered, forcing herself to keep her own emotions in check. "Quickly. David has Dr. Danvers standing by back at the Eyrie to receive her."
"I'm riding along this time," the burly gargoyle stated. He eyeballed Owen hard, daring the blond man to offer objection as he carefully deposited his mate on the gurney. "I'm not letting her out of my sight again. Not until I know the imposter's been found."
Angela twitched restlessly as she slipped from Broadway's arms, struggling against the threadbare blanket wrapped about her. "No," she muttered quietly, "don't leave me." She spoke as if from the depths of a dream, and her eyes were still closed as Broadway steadied her and tugged the blanket back, allowing her to free her arms.
"Shh. I'm right here, babe. And I'm not going anywhere." The big blue gargoyle trailed his talons lightly over Angela's brow. She quieted almost immediately at his touch, the faintest trace of a smile coming to her lips.
Owen looked to Fox for approval, then nodded and stepped aside. "As you say," he said, making room for the woman as she drew a second blanket over the injured gargoyle.
Elisa exchanged glances with Goliath. Concern was etched in his craggy features, and she could tell it was by willpower alone that he hung back, allowing the others to tend to his daughter. Fox had taken Angela's hand and was now checking her pulse, while Broadway continued to stroke her hair and coo soft words of encouragement. "She'll be okay, big guy." Elisa managed a reassuring smile for her mate before looking away again.
Her eyes focused in briefly on the street name painted on the brickwork. Her clanmates had covered the distance faster by air than she and Fox had been able to on the ground. They had located the alley first, and they had found Angela right where she had told them she would be found. There had been no possibility of mistaking the location. For a few brief seconds, she had been inside Angela's head, looking out on the world through Angela's own eyes. Her consciousness in Angela's body - just thinking back on it gave her chills. Strangely, though, it did nothing to assuage the sudden uncertainty she felt.
The dark-haired woman's gaze traveled to Jeannie. The former djinn and her halfling charge lingered on the sidelines, looking on but not daring to intrude. Jeannie had offered nary a word to break the silence during the van ride across the river. Now, however, she stepped forward, instantly seeming to sense Elisa's concern. It was as if the moment their eyes met, everything she was thinking was communicated without a single word being spoken. Jeannie nodded, and Elisa moved from Goliath's embrace to join her at Angela's side.
Though it seemed almost insane to think that Angela's abductors would try the same cruel trick again, Elisa knew the question plaguing her was one that needed to be answered. For Angela's sake, they simply couldn't risk making another mistake. As she watched Broadway gently fawning over the unconscious female, though, she stopped herself short of blurting out her fears and instead laid a hand on Fox's arm. As the other woman turned to her, Elisa dropped her voice to a whisper. "Fox, are we sure she's the real Angela?"
Fox blinked and stared at Elisa for a long moment. "Yes," she replied at last, "I'm positive." She glanced back at Angela and reached out to squeeze the girl's hand. "Auras are unique, and I'd recognize hers anywhere."
Elisa looked to Jeannie for confirmation. "Lady Fox speaks the truth, Elisa," the petite woman said.
"It's her," Fox reaffirmed, keeping her voice low. "She's just… I don't know, it's like she's not quite all there."
"What do you mean?" Elisa asked.
"I'm not sure." Fox frowned worriedly. "It's almost like a part of her is still out there somewhere -" She gestured upward. "- and it doesn't want to come back."
"She was fighting me earlier," Elisa said. "Could she still be doing it now?"
"It is possible," Jeannie offered. The former djinn's expression turned contemplative as the other two women looked to her. "If the trauma she has suffered is great, her consciousness may be reluctant to fully return from the astral realm."
"Then maybe we need to help her," Fox decided. "Here, Elisa." Fox pressed Angela's hand into Elisa's, and gestured for Jeannie to join them as she quickly circled around the foot of the gurney and took Angela's other hand into her own.
Another glance passed between Elisa and Jeannie, and in an instant they understood. They had found Angela's physical body, but their help was still needed to bring her wandering consciousness home. Mirroring Fox's actions, Elisa squeezed her gargoyle stepdaughter's talons in her left hand and held out her right to accept Jeannie's.
"Close your eyes now," Jeannie instructed calmly, "and focus just as before."
Angela stirred slightly as she was brought reluctantly into the circle. "No," she muttered miserably, eyes still closed, "just let me sleep." Broadway looked up, becoming cognizant of the others as the apparent source of his injured mate's distress. Fox, Elisa, and Jeannie stood still, hands linked and eyes closed in a meditative trance. He glanced at the silently watching Owen, then turned his attention back to Angela.
"Don't fight it, Angela," he said softly, stoking her hair once again. "Come back to us. Please."
"What are they doing?" Goliath's words carried the undertone of an impatient growl. "She is injured. They should be taking her back to the castle." He made to step forward but found his path suddenly blocked by the teenage halfling.
"No, don't! They're trying to help her." Danny gave a quick glance back over his shoulder and pulled himself to his full height. "Jeannie knows what she's doing. Please. If you interrupt, you can only make things worse."
Goliath glanced over the head of the impudent teenager at the trio of women surrounding his daughter. Hands clasped, eyes closed, only the one called Jeannie speaking softly as she guided the others back to the astral plane. He took a step backwards and forced himself to take a deep breath. Danny seemed to relax visibly as well, though he took up a sentry's pose at the door to the van, forcing Goliath to wait helplessly alone as the trio slipped into a deeper trance.
High above her body, neither here nor there, Angela stirred. Someone was calling her name again. Funny, she had thought this a peaceful place. Nothing but the dark and her memories to keep her company if she wanted them. But there was that insistent voice again.
"Angela. Come on, I know you're out there."
Yes, she was 'out there' she thought absently. She was also on Avalon enjoying the days of her halcyon youth. Given a choice between staying in either place and returning to the world below she'd opt to stay firmly where she was, floating on the endless void, enjoying idyllic scenes of nights past. There wasn't anything wrong with that. Was there?
"Fox, help me. She's being stubborn."
"After what she's been through, Elisa, can you blame her?"
So it was Elisa who had been calling her again. She thought the voice was familiar. And now Fox had come to visit too. My, it was turning into quite the party, but Angela didn't want to entertain callers, she wanted to rest and remember happier times. Surely her visitors would understand.
"Go away, Elisa. I know you mean well, but I'm happy here."
"See what I mean?" the voice echoed archly out of the void.
"Angela, it's Fox," said the second voice firmly. "Fun is fun, but you need to come back to earth now."
"No. I don't want to."
"Life sucks that way, Ang. But there's a whole bunch of people down there who are waiting for you."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"No, Angela. Not those people," Elisa said, catching on to Fox's plan. "Those people are all gone. Broadway's down there and he's worried sick. You need to come back for him. You need to come back for Goliath. They need you."
"Broadway," Angela said dreamily and then her voice turned sad. "He didn't miss me. He didn't know I'd been replaced."
"He was tricked," Fox said quickly. "We were all tricked. Don't hold that against him."
"Even us," Elisa replied. "We're sorry, Angela. We're all so sorry. Please forgive us and come home."
"What about your egg?" Elisa said. "You sent us all those dreams. It seemed to me you were worried about it. Don't you want to see for yourself that it's safe?"
"I can do that from here," Angela replied, her tone petulant. She giggled. "See? There it is. All safe. But why is Brooklyn in the rookery?"
"Can't help you there," Fox said. "Come back to your body. We'll go back to the castle and find out."
More silence. In the void it stretched in black ribbons.
Down through the blackness, three disembodied spirits hurtled away from the astral plane towards their physical shells below. On earth, in the deserted street, the seekers and the seeked gasped as their astral selves rejoined with their bodies.
"What a rush," Fox said as she shook her head. Across from her, and still holding Jeannie's hand, Elisa was blinking, looking discomfited as if she were trying to reconcile where she was with where she had been. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that," she muttered. "Angela?"
On the gurney Angela was stirring. "Where am I?"
"You're back with us, babe," Broadway replied, his voice heavy with relief. "You're safe."
Outside the circle, there was movement. Elisa looked up to see Sata, the twins behind her, reporting to Goliath. She glanced down at Angela. Her eyes were closed, she was breathing regularly, and there was nothing else she could do for the moment except get out of the way so that others could do their work. "Good to have you back," she murmured, giving Angela's talons a final squeeze before Owen slid the gurney into the van. Elisa stepped away. "What's going on?" she asked as the recovery vehicle pulled smoothly out of the alley.
"The children were exploring the adjoining buildings," Sata said. "They have come upon the remains of a laboratory recently abandoned. "I believe you should see."
Elisa nodded, trying to center herself. The otherworldly feeling had not abated and she felt that
a part of her was still floating out of her body, watching as she followed Graeme into the tired brick building. Goliath noticed her dreamy gait and asked concerned, "Are you all right?"
She nodded again as she surveyed the room with overly heightened senses. "There's been a whole lot of people through here recently, not all of them entirely human." They moved deeper into the warehouse. It had been subdivided much as the facility they'd raided before. Living quarters, offices and laboratories all abandoned. Boxes of equipment lay half-packed in one corner of a large multipurpose space. "This is it," she said softly. "Sevarius and Ling's lab." Elisa pulled out her cell phone and dialed. "Yeah. Tell the biomedical theft task force I have a tip for them. They can find the main lab and the missing equipment if they hurry." She rattled off an address and snapped the phone shut before the dispatcher could reply. "Come on, get everyone out of here and let's find ourselves a ringside seat," she said to Goliath.
"Why?" he questioned even as he relayed the order to withdraw.
"We found Angela," Elisa said as she stepped out into the waning night. "And that's important for us. But the cop in me wanted to close this case. Matt and the others on the task force got Ling. Maybe they'll get lucky and get Sevarius too. I just wanted to do my part." The squall of sirens began to build in the distance as the Jersey cops moved in to secure the scene.
Elisa grabbed the rungs of a rusty fire escape and yanked on the ladder. Without waiting for Goliath she began to climb upwards. He nodded and followed, watching as his clanmates, already on the wing, headed back towards the castle.
Together they knelt side by side, watching as the dark street flared alive with red and blue lights, as men and women piled out of cars and vans pulling on latex gloves and moved swiftly into the building side arms drawn. When the first shouts of success echoed up to the rooftop, Elisa smiled grimly and indicated to Goliath that they could go home at last.
* * * * *
Sata peered into the rookery and spotted her mate at the far side of the room, dozing in one of the two sturdy wingback chairs that, along with a small side table, made up the room's only furnishings. It had been Fox who had suggested that she might find him here after Dr. Danvers had informed her that she had not seen him since releasing him from the infirmary. How Fox had known where he was, however, was a question that still remained unanswered. She had appeared utterly spent as she leaned against husband, waiting for the elevator that would take them back up to the castle. Sata had already watched from afar as Xanatos fought an uphill battle to convince his exhausted wife to leave Angela's care to Dr. Danvers and return to their quarters for a shower and rest. After being told she should try seeking Brooklyn in the rookery, Sata hadn't wished to trouble the human woman further.
Sata laid a hand on his shoulder and the brick-red gargoyle opened his eyes. Blinking, he looked up at her. "Sata, hello. I didn't hear you come in." He grabbed the arm of the chair to push himself to a more upright position and winced as every muscle in his body ached in protest. "Sorry," he added through gritted teeth. "Guess I must have dozed off for a minute there." His eyes flicked briefly to the eggs. One, two, three of them, all resting snugly in their nest boxes, nestled safely upon small mounds of fresh straw.
Sata followed his gaze curiously, unable to help noticing how his attention lingered on Angela's egg a moment longer than it did the other two. "Is everything all right, my love?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah." Brooklyn rose unsteadily to his feet and took the arm his mate offered. "Everything's fine." He looked at the eggs again. "It's all just as it should be."
"I see." Sata's brow ridge crept up skeptically as she examined the bandage on his thigh. The wrappings of gauze and tape looked to have been freshly changed, and not professionally so. "So why is it, Brooklyn-san, that you are not still in the infirmary where I left you?" she asked.
Brooklyn shrugged. "It's quieter here," he replied cryptically. "Besides, you know me, Sata. I hate hospitals." He placed his uninjured wing around his mate's shoulders and drew her closer, but Sata continued to stare at him quizzically for a moment longer before deciding she could wait until some other night to wring the truth from him.
"Sunrise is not far off," she commented instead. "Do you suppose you can put your dislike for hospitals aside long enough to accompany me and our children in visiting Angela-chan downstairs?"
A look of alarm flashed in the former Timedancer's eyes. "Angela's in the infirmary? What happened? Is she okay?"
"She is safe now. And it is a long story." Sata smiled gently and urged her mate to walk. "I'll tell it to you on the way."
* * *
"Okay, everyone. Visiting hours are over." Dr. Shelley Danvers clapped her hands to get the attention of the nearly dozen humans and gargoyles who crowded her medical bay. "Sunrise is in fifteen minutes, Ms. Angela needs her rest, and day shift does not need a statue gallery in here." She stood to the side, crossing her arms as the final round of good-byes and get-wells were bestowed upon her latest patient, and watched as the crowd began to file out. "I want to see you for a follow-up right after sunset, mister," she commented as Brooklyn and his mate moved past her, herding their children toward the door.
"I will see that he keeps the appointment, doctor," Sata replied, speaking before he could, "even if I must drag him down here myself."
"This is why I love her," Brooklyn quipped.
Dr. Danvers put a hand to her mouth, stifling a chuckle as she noticed the gargoyle couple's twins trading glances and rolling their eyes. Behind the happy family trailed the web-winged gargoyle and his white-haired mate, then the gray-bearded elder gargoyle, who she noted with no small degree of surprise had somehow managed to pry Broadway from Angela's bedside. "Dinnae worry, lad. The lass is in good hands," Hudson was saying. He clapped a large taloned hand consolingly on the big blue gargoyle's shoulder as Broadway gave a last glance back at his mate. Angela lay reclined in her hospital bed, eyes closed and a peaceful look upon her face as she gave in at last to exhaustion and painkillers.
"She's going to be fine, Broadway," Dr. Danvers felt obliged to offer as he passed by. She gave a confident smile. "I promise. Come back tonight. You'll see."
"I'll be here," he replied. "You can count on it."
The woman nodded, waiting for the petite blonde and the sandy-haired teenage boy whose names she still had not caught to exit before turning her attention to Angela's last pair of visitors. Detective Elisa Maza stood beside the muscular leader of the gargoyle clan, clasping one of his massive hands in hers as she gave the same reassurances to him that Hudson had just given Broadway. "You heard the doctor earlier. She's going to be fine, Goliath," she said as they approached.
"Maybe even back on her feet by tonight," Dr. Danvers interjected. "She's pretty lucky, really. If she were human, I might have some concerns, but none of her injuries are severe enough that I can't see a good day of stone sleep putting her right again."
Elisa gave a wry smile. "You know, it's too bad we can't find a way to bottle that gargoyle speed-healing thing."
Dr. Danvers chuckled. "What, and put folks like me out of business?" She smiled and shook her head. "Seriously, though, detective. You've been up all night. I know it was with good reason, but I still want you to promise me you'll take care of yourself and get some rest today. You've been making good progress, and I don't want to see you relapse and end up in one of these beds again."
"Neither do I, my Elisa," Goliath intoned.
The dark-haired woman looked up at her mate then back at the doctor, giving a resigned sigh. "Okay, I promise," she said, raising her right hand. "Scout's honor." She turned her gaze back to Goliath. "After the night we've had, I feel like I could use a nice long nap anyway."
Dr. Danvers watched them go, a quizzical smile on her face. When she had interviewed with Dr. Goldblum for a possible promotion to this job, she had been told only that it would entail interacting with an extremely varied patient base. Although she'd had her suspicions from the get-go as to what that meant, she had not been told that she would be working with gargoyles until she was formerly offered the position. She had accepted it immediately, never expecting what other surprises might lay in store along the way. "A human and a gargoyle together," she mused aloud, still smiling as she turned her attention to the dozing lavender-skinned female who was currently in her care. "You know, I'm tempted to say that now I've seen everything," she commented as she disconnected the girl's I.V. in preparation for sunrise, "but tomorrow night I'd probably just be proven wrong again."
* * *
"Please wait inside. Mrs. Xanatos will be with you shortly." The inexpressive tone of Owen's voice hinted at nothing, and Jeannie couldn't help being a bit unnerved by it as the enigmatic majordomo ushered her into an office.
"Yes, sir," she replied. The door closed behind her a moment later, and Jeannie frowned curiously. It was still hard to believe that beneath the dourly serious, wooden exterior of Owen Burnett lurked the often manic and free-spirited Puck. What strange set of circumstances must have occurred, she wondered, to bring the right hand and chief jester of the Seelie Court into the service of mortals? And beyond that, what dire offense had he committed to earn such a harsh punishment from Lord Oberon?
To have one's powers all but taken away… to be placed under a geas and permitted to use them only under a specific, narrow range of conditions. Jeannie shuddered in empathy. At least the terms of her long imprisonment had included an out, even if winning it had taken over ten millennia and the price of freedom had been her powers in exchange for a mortal life. Had Oberon been as generous with the Puck, or was his sentence to be eternal and wholly at the Seelie Lord's whim?
After a few more seconds of thought, Jeannie decided that perhaps it would be best to not allow herself to dwell on such unpleasant musings. She was mortal now, she reminded herself. The affairs of Court were no longer any of her concern. No, the only things that mattered now were Danny and her quest.
As she contemplated the latter, Jeannie found herself drawn to the large window which formed nearly the entire back wall of the well-furnished office. The eastern sky was brightening, and before her lay the Manhattan cityscape, glimmering in the ruddy light of the imminent dawn. Jeannie gazed out upon it in quiet amazement, her eyes drifting over the vast jungle of concrete and steel and focusing in at last upon the two slender towers standing far in the distance. They dominated the skyline as the only buildings that came anywhere close to being level with her current vantage point, and Jeannie smiled in recollection. Lady Andrea had taken her to see them during her first trip beyond the grounds of Destine Manor. They had waited in a long line and rode the crowded elevators to get all the way to the observation deck at the top. Once there, Lady Andrea had made her close her eyes before taking her by the hand and leading her to one of the tall, narrow windows.
"Okay, Jeannie," Lady Andrea said mildly. "You can look now." Obediently, Jeannie opened her eyes, and instantly she gasped at the sight spread out before her beyond the thin pane of glass. "This is New York City, Jeannie," the artist had declared. "Pretty cool, huh?"
Speechless with awe, Jeannie had been able to do little more than slowly nod as her former Mistress began pointing out buildings and telling her their names. Not that she could remember any of them now, she thought, a bit chagrined. In marveling at the vastness of the city, most of what Lady Andrea had said had gone right over her head. Had all cities become like this one, she had wondered, and how else had the world changed since the last time she had been free to explore it?
The trip to Cleveland had provided her with answers to some of her questions, but it had also raised new fears. Despite all that Lady Andrea had attempted to teach her, there was much about life as a human woman in the twenty-first century that Jeannie still did not understand. She was thankful she had Danny with her. He, at least, was familiar with the way the modern world worked, even if he was young and at times a bit jaded.
"It's an impressive view, isn't it?"
The proximity of the voice made Jeannie jump. Startled from her thoughts, she turned abruptly expecting to find Fox standing beside her. Instead, she was surprised to find herself face to face with a middle-aged woman she had never seen before. The stranger was attractive, with emerald eyes and straight brown hair that came past her shoulders. She was clad in a sleeveless green dress with a draped belt of triple gold chain, and about her neck she wore a single strand of pearls and a round medallion on a matching double chain. "Yes, it is," Jeannie replied after a moment.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," the woman said. She gave a friendly smile and offered her hand. "I'm Anastasia," she said, "Fox's mother. I'm guessing you must be Jeannie."
Jeannie raised an eyebrow, curious, and made to return the handshake. "Yes, I am," she replied, wondering what Fox had said about her. As she touched Anastasia's hand, the hairs on the back of her neck inexplicably stood. Not wanting to appear rude, however, Jeannie did her best to shrug off the odd feeling and muster an amiable smile of her own. "It is nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Anastasia replied. "Though actually, now that I think about it, I believe we've met before." Her eyes twinkled, her smile taking on a mysterious quirk as the younger woman stared at her questioningly.
Jeannie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Lady Anastasia, but you must be mistaken. I-" Her voice faded to a whisper as the woman's piercing green eyes met her own. Anastasia was still clasping her hand, but she could not bring herself to pull away.
Anastasia spoke again, her tone gentle. "It was a long time ago and we were both very different people then. Don't you remember, my child?"
That voice. Suddenly its sound was so familiar. But… it just couldn't be… could it? Jeannie wanted to edge back, but the woman's gaze held her transfixed. Fay blood flowed in Lady Fox's veins, she knew that. But could her mother really be… "Queen Titania?"
The smile Anastasia gave in reply confirmed the unbelievable before she even spoke. "Yes, my child?"
Wide-eyed, Jeannie jumped back, her hands flying to her mouth as she gasped in shock. "Oh no, my Queen, I'm so sorry!" she stammered. She fell to her knees, bowing her head contritely and pressing her palms together beneath her chin. "A thousand pardons, milady. Please forgive me. I did not know it was you!" Jeannie squeezed her eyes closed and forced herself not to tremble as she wondered at the motive for Queen Titania's visit. Had she done something wrong in tapping fay powers that she as a mortal no longer had a right to harness? Was she about to receive a reprimand from the Seelie Queen and be punished for her actions? Or had the Queen traveled here merely for the purpose of paying her halfling daughter a visit?
Delicate hands fell lightly on her shoulders. "You are forgiven, my child," Titania said. "Arise now, Daughter of Avalon. I know you are confused, but you need not be afraid." Jeannie opened her eyes, a questioning look coming to her face as she accepted the woman's hands into her own. Queen Titania had dropped the human guise of Anastasia and reverted to her true form, but the same gentle smile still graced her lips. "You are wondering why I have sought you out," the regally attired fay stated as Jeannie regained her feet.
Titania's tone seemed far from threatening, and Jeannie dared to reply, "Yes, my queen." The former djinn dropped her eyes once more. "What is it that you wish of me?"
Titania chuckled and the musical sound, coupled with the touch of a hand to Jeannie's chin, was enough to make the timid young woman meet her gaze once more. "I have come only to deliver a message, my child. Your great quest is at an end. Lord Oberon has set in motion the return of the djinn to Avalon."
It took a second for what Titania had just said to sink in, and as it did, Jeannie's eyes went wide. Lord Oberon could do that? She had thought the dark magic woven in tandem by Lord Madoc and Lady Maeve was too potent to be undone by another, even one as powerful as Lord Oberon. "But… but how is that possible, my queen?" she found herself asking in disbelief.
The green-skinned woman chuckled again. "You made it possible, my child."
"My queen?" Jeannie shook her head. "I'm sorry… I do not understand."
"You are the first djinn to earn pardon by a mortal's hand since the fall of the Unseelie Court," Titania explained, "the first djinn to be wished free in over a thousand years. You did not know it at the time, my child, but when your Mistress released you, the geas that bound your people was fatally weakened." She paused, noting Jeannie's continued look of non-comprehension. "Perhaps it is best if I start from the beginning."
Jeannie nodded, and Titania began the tale anew. "Soon after the Unseelie Court was finally vanquished, Lord Oberon became persuaded that the time had come to work for peace and reunite the fay. We decreed that we would let the past be forgiven, and we began our own quest to bring the prodigals home to Avalon. Our most trusted servants we dispatched to the mortal realm to begin the search for Avalon's lost children. Among those who we sought out, Jeannie, were your people, the djinn."
Slowly, Jeannie nodded in understanding. "You wanted to bring us home," she said, "but we were being held captive by dark magic."
"Yes," Titania replied, "and so our hands were tied until a mortal wished one of you free. With Lord Madoc dead and the Lady Maeve imprisoned, I had suspected that the energies that would be expended in the transformation would not be replenished. All we needed to do was wait for that moment and seize it." Titania paused, making sure she had Jeannie's complete attention. "My suspicions were proven correct. Like an egg, the web of dark magic cracked from within, and we found the opening we needed to bend the spell that could not be broken." Titania grinned and with her hand brushed the strands of blonde hair away from one of Jeannie's ears. "What I did not anticipate, though," she said, tracing along the pointed tip with a slim finger, "was that this would happen."
Jeannie shivered in sudden panic. "My queen?"
"You were transformed, my child," Titania stated, "but not entirely. I can still feel Avalon's magic within you. It is weak, yes, but it is there." She let her hand fall away and smiled fondly. "You've known it yourself all along. You've used it to guide you in your quest. You've used it to help you care for the boy. And you've used it tonight to assist my daughter and Detective Maza." Titania stepped back, her smile turning mysterious again as she pressed her hands together and a green glow enveloped her. When it faded, Anastasia stood in her place once more. "Given time, my child," she added, "you may yet regain that which is your birthright."
Jeannie opened her mouth to speak, but the door opened before she could utter a word. Fox entered the office, an equally mysterious smile coming to her lips as she spotted the two women standing near the window. "I'm not interrupting, am I?" she asked.
The sun had just broken over the horizon but Fox looked ready for bed, dressed in slippers and a flowing black silk lounging robe. Jeannie simply stared, and it was Anastasia who answered, "No, Fox. Jeannie and I were just saying our farewells."
"Alexander will be up soon." Fox stepped into Anastasia's embrace and stifled a yawn. "You're welcome to stay and visit."
"I would like that. It's been a while since I've seen my grandson." Anastasia smiled and regarded her daughter at arm's length. "You've had a long night, Fox. You should get some rest."
Fox smirked. "David just said the same thing. And I will, mother. Just as soon as I've made sure everyone upstairs is taken care of." She turned to Jeannie, staved off another yawn, and gave a rueful grin. "It seems to get more crowded around here every day."
"What are your plans now? Will you be staying here at the castle?"
It took a moment for Jeannie to realize Anastasia's questions were directed at her. "I -" She paused, suddenly realizing that the news Queen Titania had revealed to her just moments before changed everything. "I don't know," she said quietly. She looked to Fox.
"We've got plenty of guest rooms, Jeannie. All you have to do is ask." Fox put an arm around the smaller woman and began guiding her toward the door. "I think you might want to talk it over with Danny, though, before you make any permanent decisions."
Jeannie nodded. Lady Fox made a good point. Given Danny's recent experiences, she wasn't sure he would want to take up residence again at the Eyrie Building.
"Goodbye, my child," Anastasia called after them as they exited, "and good luck."
Jeannie turned to look back over her shoulder, but by the time she did, the brown-haired woman in the green dress was gone. The former djinn blinked, suddenly struck by the surreal feeling that perhaps she had imagined the whole thing. Fox said nothing more, and Jeannie did not speak, either, until the elevator doors closed a few minutes later. "Is it true, Lady Fox," she asked, "what Queen Titania said? She is your mother?"
Fox leaned tiredly against the wall as the car ascended. "Yes. It's true," she said, smirking. "I'm a fairy princess."
The grin that played across the auburn-haired woman's face was contagious, and Jeannie couldn't help but giggle. She blushed as she caught herself. "I'm sorry, Lady Fox," she said, "I do not mean to pry. It just took me by surprise, that's all."
Fox chuckled. "You were surprised? Imagine what is was like for me. I didn't find out who she really was until my son was born."
Something in the exhausted woman's tone told Jeannie that the story behind the wry comment was a long one that she did not have time to inquire after now. Though it intrigued her, she let it be, and a few seconds later the elevator doors slid open to reveal the castle's Great Hall.
With sunrise come and past, the gathered ranks had thinned considerably since Jeannie had left them. Off to one side, Elisa and Xanatos stood talking to Matt, who with his coat still on looked to have just arrived. Nearby, Danny sat waiting on a low stone bench, his and Jeannie's duffel bags at his feet. As the two women exited the elevator, the halfling teen got up and hurried to Jeannie's side.
"I was getting worried about you. Burnett wouldn't tell me where he'd taken you."
"It's okay, Danny." Jeannie hugged the boy and watched out of the corner of her eye as Fox moved off to join her husband. "Lady Fox just had someone she wanted me to meet." She smiled. "I'll tell you all about it later, okay?"
"Sure, Jeannie." Danny nodded and glanced back down at their bags on the floor. "So what's next for us, anyway?" He looked over as the others began to approach. "Cleveland was a nice place to visit and all, but I don't think I wanna go back and live there."
"Why not stay here, in New York?" Xanatos suggested. He eyed Jeannie contemplatively and traded a glance with his wife. She yawned and smiled back tolerantly, and David gamely forged ahead. "I have it on good authority that you've suddenly found yourself with a lot of free time. I believe I might be able to find a position for a woman of your unique talents if you were to decide to stay."
Danny edged closer to Jeannie, and she could feel the growing tension radiating off the young halfling. "I appreciate your kind offer, Mr. Xanatos," Jeannie demurred, "but I really do need some time to consider my options, and I do not wish to impose upon your household."
Fox tugged at her husband's arm and gave him a look that said "I told you so," and that was enough to get the billionaire to relent. "Perfectly understandable," he replied. "It's been a long and, shall we say, interesting night. You need to sleep on it." He smiled and looked at his wife, patting the slim hand that rested on his forearm. "We could all use some rest," he said as they moved off. "If you decide you're interested, you know where to reach us."
Matt exchanged a curious look with his partner. Elisa brushed the hair back from her eyes and stared after the couple for a moment before saying, "I really need to get some shut-eye, too. Doctor's orders." She smiled at Jeannie and Danny. "Don't go running off so fast this time, you two," she teased. "Angela's at least going to want a chance to say thanks, you know." Jeannie nodded, and Elisa turned Matt. "I'll catch up with you later, okay? You can tell me the whole story about Ling again, 'cause I'm sure after ten hours in bed, I won't remember half of it."
"Sure thing," Matt said as Elisa stepped away. "And you can tell me all about how you managed to track down Angela, now that you've given me the Cliff's Notes."
"I will," Elisa promised. She gave a last tired smile back at her soon-to-be former partner before breaking into a light jog. A short distance later, she caught up with the lord and lady of the castle as they turned down the hall leading to the residential wing. "So," she drawled facetiously as she fell into step beside Fox, "do you suppose there's any positions available here for a woman of my unique talents?"
David regarded Elisa pensively, while Fox chuckled and put her arm around the dark-haired woman's shoulders, pulling her close. "Don't worry, Elisa. With all of your skills, I'm sure I can dream up something if I try."
* * *
The awkward silence seemed to stretch out for several long minutes as Elisa's departure left human, halfling, and former djinn standing alone in the Great Hall. "So what was that 'lots of free time' comment all about?" Matt asked Jeannie at last. "I thought you were on a quest or something."
"I was," Jeannie replied softly, still amazed at her unexpected audience with Queen Titania, "but my journey has taken another strange turn and I find myself at loose ends."
Matt eyed the slight woman carefully, and Danny greeted the news with a raised eyebrow. "So no more frying yourself by the side of a lake looking for the bottled masses?" Danny quipped.
"Bottled masses. That's funny, kid," Matt said as his exhausted brain finally translated the pun.
The play on words meant nothing to Jeannie, but she nodded. "Others have taken on my charge."
Jeannie offered nothing further, and Matt found himself trading a questioning look with the teenage boy. "Well, it's late," the detective said at last. "I should get you two home."
"Home?" Danny said. "Good one, Bluestone. In case you've forgotten, we're sort of lacking in that department."
"Danny," Jeannie corrected gently. "Don't be rude." She smiled at Matt. "If you could help us find a motel." The uncomfortable look associated with tight funds briefly pinched at her eyes. "We'll be fine."
Matt shook his head. "No, I meant home. My home. With me. You can stay in my spare room and Danny can have the couch. It's nothing fancy, but it's quiet and you can stay as long as you like. There's some paperwork that Danny and I need to clear up -" The teenager rolled his eyes but otherwise held his tongue. "- but once that's taken care of I've got some time off coming. Maybe -"
Danny couldn't stand it any longer. His sarcasm circuits were overloading as he watched the two adults give each other awkward but hopeful glances then look quickly any place but at each other. Bluestone didn't seem so bad, really, and Jeannie was going to need someone beside himself to keep an eye on her. He pressed his hands together, dropped to one knee and looked beseechingly up at the pair. "Oh please, Jeannie, may we? There's no place I'd rather spend the next couple of nights than on Detective Bluestone's lumpy couch."
"It's a very generous offer -"
"Good," Matt said as he picked up their duffels and handed them off to Danny. "Then it's all settled."
Danny was humming the theme to The Brady Bunch as the elevator doors opened to take them downstairs.
* * * * *
It was half an hour before shift change, and the bullpen was quiet. At several desks detectives sat typing up their reports, and over in the corner an elderly women was sitting painfully upright kneading at a handkerchief as a uniformed officer handed her a glass of water. Even after she was gone, life would go on. Elisa crossed the bullpen, quickly nodding at those detectives who acknowledged her. If they wondered what she was doing there so early, no one asked. She knocked on Captain Chavez's door and entered. "Thank you for seeing me," she said as Chavez racked her telephone and waved her in.
"Have a seat, Elisa," The captain's voice was noncommittal. "You look like you're feeling better."
Good, Elisa thought. Be angry. Be disappointed. Make this easy. "Yeah, the doctors say I'm fine. Well enough, at any rate, to do this." She withdrew an envelope from her jacket pocket and thrust it across the desk. "I thought I'd save the department some trouble. Here's my letter of resignation."
Chavez took the envelope without comment and opened it. She read it over. In her mind's eye Elisa could see the strong lines of her handwriting and the words written in black ink: "To My Departmental Superiors. Effectively immediately, I, Detective Elisa Maza do hereby tender my resignation for personal reasons and the good of the department." It had only taken three drafts to write the short note in a steady hand.
"Very noble of you, detective," Chavez commented as she set the letter down on the desk.
"Under the circumstances, I thought it best," Elisa replied stiffly. "Now if there's nothing else, I'll go clean out my desk and locker."
She rose to go and made it out of the chair and nearly to the door when the captain's voice stilled her. "I didn't say we were through, detective."
Elisa took the last step and her hand fell to the doorknob. She looked back at her former boss and steeled herself for the inevitable torrent that was sure to be forthcoming. Matt, when she'd finally pried the story from him, said the captain had been pretty burned up and that had been secondhand fallout. "I didn't think there was anything more to say."
Chastened like a schoolgirl, Elisa sat and folded her hands in her lap.
"It's true, I wasn't happy about the way I discovered your relationship with the gargoyle clan's leader," Chavez admitted.
"His name," Elisa said softly but with pride, "is Goliath."
"I was disappointed," Chavez continued. "I thought I was your friend as well as your mentor and Captain. You didn't give me the opportunity -"
"The opportunity to what?" Elisa said hotly. "Bring me up on charges yourself? Matt told me you threatened an inquiry against us both."
"I was only stating what the likely departmental reaction would be when certain deputy commissioners found out," Chavez replied, barely controlling her own temper. "If you had come to me and told me the truth I could have -"
"Helped us fill out the Domestic Partner paperwork?" Elisa spat, glad to finally release the awful tension that had been building since she'd resolved to quit her job. "Got Goliath assigned as the beneficiary on my pension plan?"
"Well, no," Chavez admitted. "I don't think the department is ready for that. But I could have done this." She opened a file drawer adjacent to her desk, pulled out a manila folder and handed it to Elisa.
"Open it and find out."
Elisa studied the folder for a moment and then flipped it open. Inside were several sheets of departmental stationary with the personnel department's logo at the top. "Liaison Officer to the Gargoyle Clan of Manhattan." She looked up in non-comprehension. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"No joke," Chavez replied. "I've been working on this for months, ever since I figured out that you seemed to be the one the gargoyles would turn to. It's different from the Gargoyle Task Force. Their job was to pacify the masses that the clan wasn't a threat. Your job, should you decide to accept it, will be to help integrate their activities with that of the department, to legitimatize their role so that we can end the cries of 'vigilante justice'. What do you think?"
Elisa quickly read the rest of the document. Same pay, no mention of reassignment, just the additional duty of liaison officer. "No inquiry," she said, dumbfounded. "No departmental review board? No Internal Affairs?"
"No, just a legitimate reason to keep doing what you're already doing; helping the clan integrate itself as useful members of society."
Elisa looked up, still unable to believe the sudden turn of events. "And what about my relationship with Goliath?"
Chavez sighed and gave her an uneasy look. "I'm going to ask you to continue to be discreet about that. Society is changing and becoming more accepting, but I'm not sure that it or this department is officially ready for interspecies relationships." She paused for a moment and then added, "Of course, if you were to escort him to some event, say the Mayoral Ball, somebody would have to dance with him, just to break the ice."
Elisa smiled. It wasn't perfect, but the Captain had opened a door and all she had to do was step through it. "What's the catch?"
Chavez frowned. "Have you always been this suspicious?" She opened another drawer and this time removed Elisa's service revolver and badge and placed them on the desk. She picked up Elisa's letter of resignation and tore it in half, and then put the halves through the paper shredder next to her desk. "You can have tonight off, but starting next week I want you back on shift. Is that understood?"
Elisa nodded numbly. "Yes, Captain."
"Good, now get out of my office. Some people still have work to do."
"Why?" Elisa managed. Her legs were shaky with relief and she found herself unable to move from the chair."
"Why?" Chavez replied, looking up from the shift calendar where she was printing Elisa's name back on the roster. "Because this city never sleeps. Or haven't you heard?"
Elisa shook her head. "No. I mean why are you doing all this? Why are you helping us?"
Captain Chavez put down her pen. "Elisa, how much garbage have you taken to be one of the guys?" Elisa shrugged. Sure, she'd been hazed, all cops were, it was part and parcel of joining the blue fraternity. Some of the pranks weren't so fun, that was true. The ones she was forced to endure with a smile and a dismissive laugh sent the message that some people didn't welcome her as part of their brotherhood. "I went through it too. When I started out there weren't many women in the force, especially women of color."
Chavez nodded with a wry purse of her lips. "Yeah, Elisa, pretty rough. These days, we'd like to believe it's better. We talk a lot about tolerance. We have classes in sensitivity training. Still, you'd think that those of use who have experienced prejudice would be sensitive to it and not inflict it on others." Chavez drew a deep breath and let it out. She continued, her voice soft. "I reacted badly when I found out about you and Goliath. My reaction was racist, pure and simple. I'm sorry."
"You were caught off guard," Elisa supplied.
"That's no excuse," Chavez said firmly. "But let that be a warning to you. You never know who is going to react poorly." She looked away, still ashamed at her admission. "By not accepting your resignation, I'm making a stand. You're a good cop, Elisa. That's all that should matter to this department. Your personal life is none of our business."
"But what about all that stuff about interfering with investigations?"
Chavez met her eyes. "Did you ever, in the course of protecting Goliath or his clan, interfere in a police investigation to the extent that it damaged a case?"
Elisa thought back. She'd skated the line once or twice, and balking about talking to Angela had brought her dangerously close, but she'd never crossed it. "No."
"And I don't believe you ever will," Chavez said firmly. "You value your job too highly to put your personal motivations ahead of it. You continue to do your job, and I'll shield you as best I can from the politics. Do we have a deal?"
Elisa nodded, a sense of relief slowly washing over her. "Yeah, Captain, we have a deal."
"Good, now get going. I wasn't kidding about some of us needing to get to work."
Elisa rose. "Thanks Captain," she said as she exited. She made it as far as her desk before her knees collapsed.
She sat in the creaky metal chair with the ripped plastic padding digging at her thigh and surveyed the squad room. It had gotten busier during her talk with the captain. More of the detectives from her watch had filtered in and were talking in small knots and clusters with the day shift crew about the usual things: cases, the weather, a softball game one of the guys had organized between the shifts that was supposed to take place that weekend.
"Hey, Maza, I know you're still on the DL, but you're gonna come and cheer us on, aren't you?" Williams asked.
Elisa looked up at the new girl in the squad, at the other officers, at the suspects and the victims. This was her place. "Yeah, I wouldn't miss it for the world." She was home.
* * * * *