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. Spank Me Mama is used with the kind permission of Christine Morgan, and the author extends her thanks.
Warning: This is a work of adult fan fiction. It contains explicit depictions of sex, adult language, and is intended for mature readers only. If you are under the age of consent, please stop reading now..
* * * * *
"Mm, yes, Madame…." Andrea squirmed against the silken sheets, a smile on her lips as she sank deeper into the newest variation of a familiar erotic dream. Dominique Destine watched from the foot of the bed, an eyebrow raised and a smirk upon her face. Demona had risen before dawn, and slipped away to the privacy of the master bathroom to endure her daily transformation and ready herself for the day. In the time she had been gone, her mate had pulled the bed sheets up around herself, and cuddled up against one of the overstuffed pillows that Demona had abandoned. She stirred slightly now, hugging it closer as she rolled into a new position, and emitted what was unmistakably a soft moan of pleasure.
"Hmm, perhaps I should have stayed in bed a little longer," Dominique mused. The changeling gargoyle smoothed a stray hair back into place behind her ear, and checked her reflection in the mirror one last time. Normally, the outfit she had selected would be reserved for the office. The white blouse with its high, stiffly ruffled collar… the black suit with the fitted jacket and the long slender skirt… and the black knee-high leather boots that zipped up the side and assured that not so much as a glimpse of bare flesh showed beneath its hem… together they comprised the most severe looking ensemble in her human wardrobe. It was an outfit she wore to work on those days on which she wished to exude the maximum aura of authority and confidence, or simply revel in the thrill of intimidating her rivals or employees by her mere presence. Today, however, would not be one of those most beloved of workdays. Though she had been known at times to work on a Saturday, ensconcing herself in her office at Nightstone was not in her plans for this weekend.
Dominique adjusted the simple gold clip that held her hair, pulling the flame red tresses into an even tighter bun than the one that Officer Destine had sported the night before. An inexpensive pair of wire-rimmed glasses added the final touch needed to complete the look. "Perfect," she whispered, smiling. "And now to see to something equally appropriate for Andrea." With that, she stepped to the closet, the four-inch stiletto heels of her boots clicking lightly on the wood floor. The white blouse and scandalously short pleated plaid skirt which made up Andrea's schoolgirl outfit still lay unworn on the chair where Dominique had set them out the night before, and she paused in her stride just long enough to scoop them up so they could be returned to their hangers.
Dominique pulled open the closet doors and cast a glance back over her shoulder at the petite blonde who still slumbered in her bed. "You may think you've escaped, Miss Andrea Calhoun," she whispered, "but Madame Destine will see you wearing this uniform yet." Andrea's only response was a contented sigh, and at that Dominique smirked. It had been several months since she had first made that promise, after stumbling across the costume as she had helped Andrea unpack.
"Now this is cute," she had commented, holding up the skirt, "but it belongs in the closet, my dear, not in stuffed in a box like this."
Andrea's face had reddened instantly. "I used to wear that when I went clubbing with my ex," she had confessed. "I don't even know why I've kept it."
Dominique had only grinned. "I would guess you must have known that one day you would wear it for me." Andrea had giggled, and with that, the outfit had joined her small collection of Halloween costumes in the back of the closet, where it had stayed until the previous night.
The redheaded woman shook her head, smirking with mild regret. She had come so close to seeing her lover all dressed up, only to allow her own impatience to get the better of her. Andrea hadn't made it any farther than donning the knee-high stockings before succumbing to her gargoyle lover's fervent advances. A nibble on the ear had turned into a kiss on the lips, and soon the tide had changed to removing what little had remained of each other's clothing rather than putting any more on. Dominique spared another glance at her still-sleeping lover. With all luck, though, she would make up for that mistake before the day was out.
She had already toyed with the idea of making Andrea wear the costume for the day, but after careful consideration had decided instead in favor of discretion. While taking a costumed Andrea out on the town would surely be an amusing diversion, engaging in such a frivolous escapade would just be too risky for a woman in her social position. Especially in light of the heightened fascination that certain members of the local media had developed for Ms. Dominique Destine's private life ever since she had stopped attempting to keep her romantic relationship with Andrea a secret. Although the mainstream media had paused only briefly to touch on the elusive Nightstone Unlimited CEO's "coming out" before resuming their pursuit of the latest political scandal, there were still a few reporters running about who had remained persistent in looking for new dirt to dig. The possibility of being ambushed again by Nicole St. John, or having some member of the paparazzi snap a photograph that would earn her a front page spread in the next edition of the Daily Tattler outweighed any potential for fun that could be had.
It was a shame, of course, because Dominique was certain Andrea would acquiesce with only minimal prodding as a condition of her weekend sentence. "But then again, this is why I always have a back-up plan," she stated. Her eyes twinkled as she draped the blouse over her arm. After hanging the skirt back up in a place where it would be easy to retrieve later, she began eagerly rifling through Andrea's wardrobe.
* * *
"Time to rise and shine, Miss Calhoun."
Andrea was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes as the covers were pulled away, allowing cool air to touch her bare skin. "Domi!" she squealed in protest. She grabbed for the blanket, but not quickly enough. She was left sitting naked and exposed upon the bed as Dominique cast both it and the top sheet into a heap on the floor. Blushing, she quickly reached for one of the pillows, but Dominique forestalled that move, as well, catching her arm lightly by the wrist.
"Now, now, my pet," Dominique admonished, pulling her gently from the bed, "it's not as though your charms are some great secret to me." A kiss on the forehead softened the scowl on Andrea's face, and Dominique stepped back to regard her at arm's length, looking her up and down approvingly. The only item the young artist still wore from the night before was the velvet choker with its dangling gold heart medallion. Aside from that, Andrea was completely nude.
Andrea blushed a shade deeper, but she couldn't help but smile as she took in Dominique's ultra-conservative attire and picked up instantly on the repressed schoolteacher look the redheaded woman was going for. "So I suppose I am to assume, Madame," she asked demurely, "that my lessons are not over yet?"
Dominique's green eyes twinkled. "Not by a long shot, my dear," she teased. "In fact, your next lesson will be one of patience. We will resume your tutoring in earnest this afternoon, after we have completed some other errands. I have a big day planned for us both. We shall be starting with brunch, and then moving on to some shopping."
Andrea grinned and pressed herself against her lover, enjoying the feeling of the crisp material of Dominique's suit against her naked skin. Dream images, still fresh in her mind, danced among the memories of the previous night. "You know, Domi, I was nervous at first about your little games," she confessed.
"Oh?" Dominique raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but you keep it gentle and fun." She lay her head against Dominique's bosom and sighed contentedly. "I didn't know they could be like that. Thank you, Domi."
Dominique smiled and wrapped her arms about the smaller woman, drawing her into a warm hug. "You're welcome, my love." Andrea's comment suggested the same always hadn't been true for her in the past. It merited follow-up, but since it would likely spoil the mood to pry now about past relationships, Dominique decided it would be best to save her questions for another time.
It was a long moment before Andrea spoke again. "You should make sure to hold on to that policewoman's uniform and those handcuffs, Domi," she said. She stood up on her toes to kiss Dominique on the cheek and grinned slyly. "Just in case you ever find me being a 'bad girl' again."
Dominique chuckled. "My dear Miss Calhoun, I believe you should be concentrating on serving out your original sentence before thinking about committing a repeat offense. After all," she teased, "you still owe the remainder of the weekend to Madame Destine."
Andrea giggled. "I'll do my best to obey your wishes, Madame."
"Good. You may start by getting dressed. I've already set out an ensemble for you in the other room." Dominique grinned and checked her watch. "You had best be quick about it, too. Gregory will be here for us shortly."
The petite blonde smiled. "Yes, Madame." Her interest peaked, Andrea hurried off to the master bath to discover what outfit Dominique had selected for her this time.
* * * * *
It was early afternoon by the time the two women reached their first shopping destination. So far, it had been a day of pure romantic indulgence. A leisurely brunch at the exclusive Windows on the World restaurant uptown had been followed by a private carriage ride through Central Park. Luckily, the weather was uncharacteristically mild for late July, and Andrea had been able to cuddle against her mate and enjoy the sights without caring how terribly overdressed she was. Dominique had raided her wardrobe yet again, selecting a long and flowing softly pleated jumper of green and blue plaid as a complement to the white button-front blouse. Combined with black tights and a sensible pair of low heels, the effect was to create a more conservative and formal uniform for Madame Destine's sole pupil. With the stylishly attired Ms. Destine at her side, however, no one at the restaurant had even given her a second glance as they were shown to a table with a view of the Eyrie Building at the other end of Manhattan, while in the park she had earned only the raised eyebrows of a group of casually dressed college coeds who she imagined must have been wondering which school she attended.
Still, even with the spring-like weather, Andrea had been relieved to finally get back into the air-conditioned limousine. Knowing Dominique's penchant for the lavish and expensive, when her lover had announced that it was time to do some shopping, she had been expecting their next stop would be the boutiques of Fifth Avenue. So she was a bit surprised when a few minutes later, Dominique took her hand and instead pulled her from the car into the quiet confines of a narrow one-way street in the heart of Chinatown. This was not the same part of Chinatown that Andrea knew well, however. That was the tourist district, several blocks away. This area was mostly residential, with just a few small shops tucked in on the ground floors of the narrow apartment houses, and not a sightseer to be seen. Dominique, however, seemed to know exactly where she was going, and she wasted no time in heading towards a certain small storefront.
"Come along, my dear," Dominique instructed. Keeping a firm hold of Andrea's hand, she guided her mate through the doorway and into the small shop. A set of brass chimes jingled gaily as the door closed behind them, and the noise of traffic gave way to a quiet serenity. There were only a few other patrons in the store, and the intoxicating scent of oriental incense hung in the air. Andrea blinked, her eyes slowly adjusting to the dimness as she trailed along obediently behind her mate. Tall shelves lined the narrow aisles, and Andrea followed Dominique down the narrowest of them all. She peeked curiously at the labels on the small jars of herbs, dried leaves, roots, and other less recognizable items. All were written in Chinese, but Dominique seemed to know without even reading them what she was doing as she selected jars one at a time and deposited them into a small wicker basket she had grabbed from a stack near the front.
"I need to restock on a few things for Angela's next series of lessons," she said, heading off the question her mate was about to ask.
Andrea nodded. Picking up a random jar, she examined the contents quizzically before holding it up for Dominique's inspection. "Eye of newt?" she asked, smirking.
The gargoyle sorceress rolled her eyes. "Desiccated elderberries," she replied, taking the tiny jar and adding it to her basket. Dominique smiled gently. "I am going to be a few more minutes here, Andrea. Why don't you take a look around the rest of the store? They have some things I believe you'd like near the back."
Taking the older woman's hint that she wished to finish her shopping in privacy, Andrea wandered off to explore. "Maybe I will take Angela up on that offer to sit in on her next lesson," she mused. "It might be nice to see… oh my!" Andrea froze, all other thoughts forgotten as she noticed a small display of clothing. She spent the next few minutes examining an exquisite handmade silk dress that appeared to be exactly her size. After getting a kindly old woman to translate the symbols on the handwritten tag for her, though, she nearly fainted at the price. While she had no doubt it would feel like heaven to be wrapped in all that ivory-colored silk, she had already promised herself that any frivolous purchases costing over one hundred dollars would just have to wait until after her next series of paintings had sold. Slightly disappointed, she moved on, and before long her artist's eye had drawn her down an aisle lined with shelves full of pottery, glassware, and other arts and crafts.
Andrea lingered for several moments over a display of small porcelain cat figurines before moving on to peruse a shelf laden with glass vases and bowls and other items of more functional design. It was there, tucked in amongst the replica and production pieces, that a small, oddly shaped glass jar caught her eye. It looked quite old, and from the thick, wavy glass, it appeared to have been hand-spun. It was also the only one of its kind on the shelf. Intrigued, she picked it up and examined it closer. It was a bit wider than a bell jar, and much more stout… just the right size for storing bath beads or potpourri, she noted. It even had a stopper-type lid. Andrea tried to pull it loose, and was surprised to find it to be stuck tight. She tried again, attempting this time to work her fingernails around the rim. She was sure she nearly had it when suddenly her grip slipped and the jar nearly tumbled out of her hands. Andrea gasped as she caught it, and decided she had better stop fussing with it lest she accidentally invoke the "you break it, you bought it" rule. "I'll run a little warm water over it once I get it home… that will probably do the trick," she mused.
She had already decided she would buy it, and it was almost as an afterthought that she examined it again and noted with minor dismay that, unlike all the other items on the shelf, it did not have a little pre-printed price sticker attached. For a moment, she considered using the trick that, in her youth, she had seen her father employ more than once at the hardware store when an item was missing a price tag. No one was around, after all, to see her lift a sticker from a similar item, but she considered the option for only a moment, knowing she would probably feel guilty about it anyway. No, she would just have to ask, and hope the price wasn't too much. Spying a display of bath oil beads a few yards away, though, she decided even if it was a bit more than the ten or fifteen dollars that everything else on the shelf was marked at, she would buy it anyway, as a surprise for Dominique. She had long ago lost track of how much Dominique had splurged on her, even before they had become life partners. Surely this one little purchase would not break her. Her mind already set, Andrea snagged a bag of her lover's favorite scent from the selection of bath oil beads and headed for the back counter.
She didn't even get a chance to ask "How much?" before the petite Asian woman at the cash register looked at the items she had set on the counter and began hitting buttons. The 1960s vintage machine churned and chimed loudly. "Ten dollar," she announced.
Andrea blinked, certain the young woman must have made a mistake. At the shops she often frequented in the Village, the bag of bath oil beads alone would go for more almost that much. "I have this, too," she said, pointing to the old piece of glassware.
The clerk nodded impatiently. "Five dollar and five dollar," she said, indicating the beads and the glass container. "Tax included in price," she added, pointing to a sign on the wall behind her. "Ten dollar."
Smiling in understanding, Andrea nodded and went to her purse, and did not question the total again. She paid with a twenty, collected her change and her bagged purchase, and giddily thanked the clerk before hurrying back to the front of the store to meet up with Dominique.
* * *
"Such a strange young girl," the clerk commented, dropping her faltering accent once Andrea was out of earshot. She crossed her arms, glaring as seriously as her delicate Asiatic features would allow at the trio of attractive, identically dressed women who stepped up to the counter in Andrea's wake. "I hope you three know what you are doing."
"Peace, cousin," said the dark-haired member of the group. "You knew a mortal must be enlisted for this task."
"Yes, but I could have steered the vessel into the hands of any of them. Why this mortal?"
"Wonder not the reason why, Gong De Tian," the blonde answered. "Be but satisfied in a task completed."
The one with the platinum hair nodded. "It is not your place here to question the will of our queen… or of fate."
Gong De Tian bristled slightly at the woman's cool undertone. She did not like being partnered with these three, and they had taken little pains to disguise the fact that the feeling was mutual. "Indeed," the diminutive luck goddess replied. "But what happens now?"
The three sisters exchanged a knowing smile, and replied as one. "We wait."
* * *
"What is that you have there, Andrea?" Dominique questioned. She handed several bills to the elderly clerk to pay for her own purchases, and waited as the woman finished bagging the tiny jars. She was the same woman, Andrea noted, who had translated the price tag on the dress for her earlier.
"Just a little surprise for later," Andrea answered. Tucking the smaller parcel under her arm, she helped Dominique heft her two larger bags, and they started for the door.
"Really?" Dominique responded. "What a coincidence. I've got a surprise for you a bit later, too." She opened the door, allowing Andrea to step out into the sunlight. "But first, we've got one more stop to make."
* * * * *
"You really shouldn't be so frivolous, Dominique," Andrea teased as she snuggled against her lover. "Just because I say I like something doesn't mean you have to buy it for me."
Dominique regarded the young artist curiously. Three hours at Maxine's private salon had hardly put a dent in the limit on Ms. Destine's platinum card, but it had nearly filled the back of the limousine with the boxes and garment bags containing the several new designer outfits that both women had added to their wardrobes. "It's only money, Andrea," she replied. "Besides," she teased back, "it will all be worth it when I see you in that dress again."
Andrea blushed hotly. She had modeled several outfits at Dominique's request that had been quite risqué, including a rather scandalous little black dress, not suspecting that her lover was actually going to buy them. "I still can't believe you wanted me to wear that out of the store."
Dominique smirked. "Yes. You will be punished later by Madame Destine for your disobedience, you know."
Andrea chuckled. "You're a wicked, wicked woman, Dominique."
The redheaded executive pulled Andrea closer. "Yes, I am... but that's why you love me, isn't it?"
"Well, that's only one of the reasons," Andrea replied. They kissed, lightly at first, then deeper as Dominique's warm lips parted, allowing her mate to probe the damp recess of her mouth. Andrea mewled softly as she engaged Dominique's tongue with her own. Her conservative attire felt suddenly confining, and as Dominique's hands slipped down to her chest, she moved her own hands to unbutton her blouse.
"No, no, no," Dominique chided. Breaking off the kiss, she caught Andrea's hands by the wrists before she could undo a single button. "Patience, my pet. Remember your lessons." The limousine rocked slightly, indicating it had pulled to a stop at the curb, and Dominique smiled. "You shall undress for me later. Right now… it's time for your surprise."
Remembering her lover's earlier promise, Andrea smoothed out the skirt of her plaid jumper and took Dominique's hand. "What kind of surprise?" she asked as she allowed Dominique to guide her out of the car. Andrea looked up. She read the neon sign on the front of the store in amused disbelief as the older woman hurried her toward the door. "Spank Me Mama?" she asked as they entered.
Dominique grinned. "Hmm... you have been naughty. So maybe later," she replied.
Andrea smirked and smacked her mate playfully on the rear as the manager on duty came over to greet them. Dominique jumped, but recovered gracefully, even as she made a mental note of her mate's indiscretion.
"Ms. Destine, so good to see you back so soon. Your latest purchase was satisfactory, I hope."
"Quite satisfactory, Miss Charmaine," she replied. "This is Miss Calhoun. I believe I've told you about her."
The woman nodded, and offered a hand in greeting. "Hello, Miss Calhoun. You may call me Denise. Pleased to meet you at last."
Andrea accepted the handshake gingerly. "Just call me Andrea," she said, wondering what, exactly, Dominique had been saying about her… and how long she had been patronizing this shop. The petite blonde struggled to maintain eye contact. Denise was wearing a pair of denim jeans so tight they looked to be painted on, and her more than ample bust was on the verge of overflowing from a lace-up bustier of black satin. But even so, she was far from the only distraction Andrea's present surroundings offered.
Andrea smirked oddly in recollection. Marilyn had dragged her to a place like this shortly after she had broken up with Candice, in an attempt to jump start her on the road to recovery. "There's nothing like a new toy to cheer a girl up," she had insisted. Andrea had ended up buying a small vibrator just to humor her friend, but it wasn't until she began seeing Dominique that she had finally been able to put the bad experiences with her first serious lover behind her. Candice, or Candy as she had liked everyone call her, had been the experienced partner in that relationship, and Andrea still hated her for the way she had never let her forget it. She had wielded sex like a weapon, trading affection for favors in a way that Andrea, in her naiveté, thought all relationships worked. The Quarrymen had been personal mixed blessing, Andrea realized. She hated their ideals, but Candy's involvement had given her the strength to break things off between them.
Still, her experience with Candy had left her terribly gun-shy. She hadn't dated at all until she met Dominique, or even so much as dared to fantasize again about taking a new lover. Andrea felt a small twinge of guilt. She had never let on to Dominique that their first time together, as gargoyle and human, ravishing each other on the rug in the living room of Destine Manor, had been her first time with another woman in almost three years. Yet still, in that moment, she had known she had found something very special: a lover who was also a friend, and who treated her not as a possession, but as an equal. It had been over a year and a half since that night, and she now wore Dominique's ring and shared her home as well as her bed, but that one important element had remained unchanged. Andrea smiled. She and her mate had been finding great enjoyment so far in the mutual exploration of their sexuality, and she could tell from Dominique's latest surprise that the journey was by no means nearing an end.
"…if that's okay with you, Andrea," Dominique said.
Andrea blinked, realizing by the expectant looks on both Denise and her lover's faces that a piece of the conversation had passed her by during her moment of introspection. Embarrassed, she shook her head apologetically. "I'm sorry, Dominique… I was wool-gathering."
"Pick out anything you want," Dominique repeated. "My treat."
Denise smiled broadly. "I have to help Ms. Destine with something she had on backorder, but feel free to look around."
Andrea simply nodded. A short while later, she was browsing the displays with wide eyes. After spending a few minutes perusing the selection of battery powered toys and deciding that she and Dominique already had plenty of those, she drifted to the front of the store where a half dozen mannequins, both male and female, stood modeling a wide assortment of fetish attire. It was one of the female ones that caught her attention, dressed as it was in a spandex catsuit with attached imitation-velvet wings and a tail. Andrea examined it intently, intrigued. Of all the improbable fantasies she secretly harbored, wondering what it would be like to make love as a gargoyle sat right at the top of the list. Gingerly, she touched the shimmery fabric of the faux wings, only to be disappointed that it felt nothing at all like the warm, velvety membrane of Dominique's wings. Andrea sighed, deciding any costume would be a poor substitute for the real thing. There was little fun to be had, after all, with cold, lifeless wings and a limp, floppy tail.
Discarding the wishful fantasy, she moved away from the mannequins and continued to browse. Spank Me Mama seemed to have it all. Lingerie… scented massage oils… feather ticklers… it was all nice but still nothing jumped out at her. It wasn't long, though, before she had worked her way to the back of the store, and found herself contemplating the vast selection of leather cuffs and collars. Andrea rubbed absently at the back of her neck, shivering a bit with a remembered sensation from the dream she'd had that morning. Dominique had said she could choose anything… but dare she attempt to make such a bizarre fantasy into reality? After a moment's hesitation, she picked up a narrow studded collar from the display to examine it more closely, testing the weight in her hands. Surely it wouldn't hurt just to see just for a minute what it felt like to wear something like this, she thought.
"Hmm, I don't know if I'd recommend that one." Andrea jumped, startled by the proximity of the familiar voice. Pulse racing, she turned to find none other than Fox Xanatos standing beside her. The auburn-haired woman smiled and took the collar from Andrea before it could drop from her motionless hands, putting it back in its place on the display. "Trust me. I've had a bit of experience with these things. If you want something that will be relatively comfortable and hold up well under repeated use," she said, pointing to another display, "go with this style. It's well worth the extra money."
"That's easy to say when you're not the one who's paying for it." Dominique stepped in beside Andrea and nodded to Fox. "Thank you for your assistance, Mrs. Xanatos, but I think I can take it from here."
Fox smiled. "Always a pleasure, Ms. Destine," she said, stepping away.
Dominique placed a hand on Andrea's shoulder as her mate began to blush. "Found something you would like, my love?" She eyed the display Fox had pointed out, her green eyes twinkling. "Interesting choice, Andrea. Hmm... you wouldn't wear that dress out of Maxine's, so I don't suppose if I were to buy this that you would consent to wearing it home for me, either," she whispered.
Andrea blushed even deeper. "Domi!" she cried, feeling her face burning.
Dominique chuckled and gave her mate an affectionate peck on the forehead. "I guess it's a good thing I have saved all these," she said, pressing a small stack of punch cards into Andrea's hand. "Don't let Fox or me pressure you. Get yourself something you want."
* * * * *
"I've got another meeting scheduled with Ms. Destine first thing on Monday morning," David Xanatos explained. He propped open the heavy door and chivalrously waved his wife through. "There's a few minor details of the arrangement to be worked out, but I think once she's heard Dr. Goldblum's report, she'll be more than amenable to meeting my terms."
Fox took her husband's arm as he came though behind her, and together they strolled into the castle courtyard. "I think fortune may be smiling on you, David. If what I saw today gives any indication of how she's spending her weekend, I would imagine that come Monday, she will be in an unusually good mood.
"Oh?" David cocked an eyebrow, intrigued. "How so?"
Fox smiled devilishly. "I ran into our good friend Ms. Destine while I was out shopping." The auburn-haired woman lowered her voice as she continued. "Her little artist companion, Andrea, was with her, dressed up all prim and proper in the most delicious little schoolgirl ensemble. Dominique didn't have her on a leash, but I definitely got the impression the girl wouldn't have minded much if she'd had."
David smirked. "How delightful. I wish I'd been there to see it."
"Been where to see what?"
David and Fox turned as Elisa stepped through the doorway from the Great Hall to join them in courtyard. David, ever the gentleman, nodded in greeting. "Ah, Detective, good evening," he intoned. "Fox here was just dishing out the latest gossip, that's all."
"I see," Elisa replied.
Fox chuckled as the other woman's eyes twinkled with unspoken interest. "I was just telling David that I ran into Dominique Destine and her significant other today," she said, saving Elisa the trouble of asking. "You'll never believe where I saw them, though."
Elisa recognized the playful look in Fox's eyes too well. "Where?" she asked, humoring her as a grin played across her own features.
"Do you remember that little shop where we picked up a few things for Angela's bridal shower?"
The dark-haired woman's eyes went wide. "You saw Demona there?"
Fox shrugged and chuckled. "I guess she and Andrea finally decided to cash in that gift certificate I gave them as wedding present."
Elisa blinked. "You didn't…"
"Oh yes, indeed I did." She eyed Elisa wickedly. "Please don't tell me you and Goliath haven't used yours yet."
"Well… not yet…" Elisa's tan complexion darkened a shade.
Fox crossed her arms and gave a mock-scowl. "Well now, I guess I know who I'm taking shopping with me next weekend."
David chuckled. As Elisa blushed even deeper, he decided to jump in and save the flustered detective. "Actually, Fox," he said, attempting to backtrack the conversation, "I'd wager Demona used that gift certificate some time ago. In fact, from the look of what Angela came home wearing last night… I'd say she's become a regular customer by now."
Fox raised an eyebrow, but nodded in concession as she recalled the brief glimpse she had caught of the young female before she had disappeared in search of her mate. "Point taken."
Relieved to have the spotlight removed from her own love life, Elisa let out a long breath and eyed the parapets, noting the conspicuous absence of Broadway and Angela from their usual perches. "I guess I'll have to take your word for it."
Brooklyn, the twins, and their gargoyle beast were missing from their perches, as well, but they had a good excuse… they were half a world away, in Egypt. They had been gone for nearly three months as part of a gargoyle cultural exchange, and it would be a welcome event when they finally returned home the following week. The castle had been unusually quiet with them gone, and even Elisa, though she still maintained her own apartment, was around enough to realize by their absence just how accustomed she had become to spending her nights among the clan.
Sunset came, and the gargoyles on the tower awakened from their slumber to greet the night while Elisa mused how the clan that had started with a mere five members had now grown to well over a dozen if she included herself, the eggs, Demona and her mate Andrea in the count. It wasn't until Goliath had glided down and landed beside her that Elisa realized she had inadvertently missed the nightly spectacle of roaring, stretching, and lashing of tails.
"Good evening, my Elisa."
Elisa stepped lightly into the big gargoyle's winged embrace. "Hey there, big guy."
The remainder of the clan followed a few seconds behind their leader, touching down to form a loose semi-circle around three humans. Hudson and Sata, with Bronx carried between them, were joined by Lexington and Delilah, who glided down with hands clasped affectionately.
"So do you suppose Broadway and Angela will be along soon?" Fox asked once the usual evening greetings were out of the way. "I've got a few things I need to discuss with her."
"More requests for her appearance?" Goliath questioned.
Fox nodded. "What can I say? She's one of the hottest properties around. The phone's been ringing every day since that P.I.T. meeting. Every radio station in the city wants to be the first to book her. I was even tipped off by one of my west coast associates to be on the lookout for inquiries from Leno and Letterman."
Hudson scratched his bearded chin thoughtfully. "Aye. Don't that second one be the show where they have the 'dumb pet tricks', lass?"
Bronx gave a quizzical growl at that, and Fox laughed. "Indeed it is. I have to imagine those two are going to be fighting like cats and dogs for the chance to be the first late night show to take the gargoyle sensation nationwide."
"A bidding war over Miss Angela with P.I.T. as the beneficiary," David commented. "Now that would be interesting indeed."
Goliath bristled slightly at the thought of his daughter being warred over by the dueling late night talk show hosts, while Elisa only smiled and shook her head wryly. "I'll bet she never imagined that one talk Andrea arranged for her to give was going to end up turning her into the clan's unofficial PR rep."
"I'm glad she enjoys doing it," Lexington chimed in. "One of us needed to be out there letting people know what gargoyles are really about."
"I think it's quite brave of her," Delilah offered. "Speaking in front of so many strangers all the time… just the thought of it gives me butterflies."
"Being the ambassador for one's clan no small task," Sata agreed, "but Angela-chan has risen to the challenge quite admirably."
"I, too, am proud of her," Goliath stated. "I just hope all of the… attention will not become too overwhelming."
"Don't worry, Goliath," Fox replied. "I've got everything under control. I've done this many times before. I won't let her get in over her head."
The low rumbling that interrupted their discussion could have easily been mistaken for distant thunder at first, were it not for the midsummer sky being perfectly clear. The source of the odd sound came more clearly into focus a few seconds later, as the paving stones beneath their feet trembled. The shuddering vibration quickly gave way to a gentle swaying that was just above the threshold of perception. For a moment, the sensation was rather like being upon the deck of a large ship that had been buffeted by a strong wind. Bronx whined, while the others just stared at each other curiously as the strange motion faded. "Whoa," Lexington commented at last, "was that an earthquake?"
Xanatos' cellular phone chimed urgently before anyone could offer a response. David pulled it from the holster on his belt and flipped it open in one smooth motion as he brought it to his ear. "Xanatos here. Yes, Owen?" Everyone was quiet as he paused for a moment to listen. As the expression on the billionaire's face turned dour and serious, Elisa traded a concerned glance with Fox. "I see. I'll meet you down there," he stated tersely, and ended the call. "I have to run," he announced, already moving away. "Owen says there's been a small problem in Sector 13."
Goliath's wings rose to alertness and his tail lashed. "I will assist you," he growled.
"So will I." Fox moved to follow her husband.
Xanatos held up his hands and shook his head. "No," he replied. "It's nothing for either of you to be concerned with. Owen and I can handle it." He cast Fox a glance that told her he would have no arguments, and reluctantly she backed down.
"Go," she said. Her eyes narrowed as she placed a hand lightly on Goliath's arm to keep him in place. "You know where to find us if you need us."
Elisa watched Xanatos depart with a dubious expression on her face. "That sure didn't feel like a 'small problem' to me." Sata had moved to her side in Goliath's wake, and she traded a worried glance with the jade-green gargoyle. For a long moment, no one said a word, but Elisa could tell they were all thinking the same thing. Sector 13 was the Eyrie Building's dirty little secret. Since the Unseelie War, it had been prison to dozens of Unseelie halflings. What else it was, no one knew for sure. And no one wanted to know. Elisa had been especially happy to remain ignorant. Between being a police officer and a member of the Manhattan Clan and part time resident of the Xanatos household, her life was complicated enough.
Fox brought Goliath back to Elisa's side, where the clan leader assumed a more relaxed posture. "It's a secure area," she reassured the others. "Trust me." She put a confidence she didn't feel behind her words. Despite her marriage to David, she had been afforded no exception to the secrecy that surround Sector 13. In fact, the only other person she personally knew of besides her husband who had first hand knowledge was Owen, and he was hardly one to share secrets. She'd been content until now to leave things at that, but she was starting to think it was time to wheedle some of the details from David, if only for her own peace of mind. Still, Elisa and the gargoyles didn't suspect that she was currently as in the dark as they were, and Fox was not about to let that minor advantage go to waste.
"If David says there's nothing to worry about, then there's nothing to worry about," she said, mustering a smile to belay the skeptical looks that still played across the faces of the clan leader and his human mate. "I know you've all got things to do, so there's no sense in standing around here all night."
In all the time they had been back at Castle Wyvern, sharing their home with the Xanatos family, Goliath had never known Fox to knowingly mislead them about matters relating to the safety of their home. For now, he decided, her assurance was enough to quiet the old concerns that the events of the past few minutes had stirred within him. "This is the first night of a full weekend off duty for you, is it not, my love?"
Elisa's lips curved into a small smile, and she felt her cheeks warming again as her mate's massive taloned hand fell upon her shoulder. She reached up with her own hand to touch his. "My first weekend off in almost a month," she replied, "and we'd better take advantage of it, because I think the Captain has volunteered me for another undercover job."
"Well then," Goliath intoned. "If Xanatos has the matter in hand, perhaps we should proceed with our weekend as planned."
At that, Elisa's eyes brightened. "Yes. I think that's a perfect idea."
Goliath caped his wings and put his arm around the dark-haired woman, casting a final worried glare at Fox as he turned. A nod to Hudson was all he needed to open a gap in the ranks of the clan, and he moved to guide her inside, leaving the others to figure out their own plans for the evening.
Delilah was the first to break the contemplative silence Elisa and Goliath left in their wake. "We should go and begin our patrol," she stated, placing a hand on her own mate's shoulder.
"Yeah," Lexington agreed. "The nights are short enough this time of year and we promised Talon and Maggie we'd be at the Labyrinth by ten-thirty to watch P.J. for them."
"You two may take midtown and the park, then, lad," Hudson said. He nodded to Sata. "You and I will take Bronx and make a sweep of the south end of the island."
"Hai, Hudson-sama. But first, I wish to place a call to my mate and children before sunrise arrives in Cairo. Shall I meet you in half an hour?"
"Aye, that's fine, lass."
"You can use the videophone in my office, Sata," Fox offered.
Sata bowed politely. "Domo arigato, Fox-chan. If you will excuse me."
Fox nodded as the Japanese female hurried off, but Hudson lingered behind. He scratched Bronx idly behind the ear, and cast a glance out of his good eye at the west tower. "You know, lass, I believe Goliath said this morning as we were takin' our perches that he wanted all of the clan to fly patrols tonight. The north end of the city still be unspoken for."
Fox smirked at the elder gargoyle's subtle reminder that Broadway and Angela had still yet to make an appearance. "I'll see what's been keeping them," she promised. Lexington and Delilah were already leaping from the parapets and unfurling their wings to the wind as she headed back into the castle. Shaking her head, she steered herself down the hall that would bring her to the narrow spiraling staircase that led up to Angela's workroom, unable to help thinking that she already had a pretty good idea what had them delayed. "Oh, to be young and in love," she quipped. Reaching the bottom of the steps, she chuckled and began to climb.
* * * * *
A single lamp atop the dressing table provided the only illumination in the master bedroom of Destine Manor as the last of the sun's reddish glow faded from the evening sky. A pleasantly warm breeze carried through the opened windows, fluttering the heavy drapes and carrying with it the faintest scent of fresh mown grass, testimony to the hard work of the crew of groundskeepers who had descended on the property during the heat of the early afternoon.
It had been nearly dinnertime by the time Dominique and Andrea had returned from their shopping, but the hunger both women had been feeling by the time they had finally unloaded all their parcels from the car and sent Gregory on his way had not been for food. "Now you may undress for me, my pet," Dominique had said, her hands falling suggestively on Andrea's hips. A short while later, a trail of shed clothing marked the way from the living room, where Madame Destine had called school back into session, up the stairs and to the bedroom, where the promise to see Andrea don the short red plaid skirt had been fulfilled.
After slipping into the skirt and out of her panties, Andrea had deftly removed her bra, rolled up the sleeves of her unbuttoned white blouse, and tied it in front in a way that had barely concealed her perky B-cup breasts. "So what's a girl got to do around here to earn some extra credit, Madame?" she had asked, planting a hand on her hip and smiling wickedly.
It had been at that point that Dominique could contain her desire no longer. Before long, her own clothes had joined Andrea's on the floor, and teacher and student had moved to the bed. There they had stayed, except for a few brief moments when Demona's transformation had interrupted… though even that had done little to diminish her enthusiasm. Having taken advantage of her mate's distraction to retrieved from the nightstand the same toy Dominique had tormented her with the night before, however, Andrea had made sure the odds would be even when Dominique returned. With the powerful little vibrator churning away inside her, and the twitching tip of her tail buried inside Andrea's warm depths, Demona and her lover had found blinding climax together before collapsing, exhausted and spent, into each other's arms.
The two lovers snuggled now, savoring the afterglow and lying nude atop the sheets as the breeze through the window caressed their sweat-soaked skin. Turning up on her side, Demona ran a taloned hand through Andrea's mussed-up hair and smiled fondly, then drew the smaller woman into a passionate open-mouthed kiss. Andrea moaned softly as she permitted Dominique to ravish her with her tongue, her own excitement compounded by the knowledge that her mate was tasting of her human form's own love juices, which surely still lingered upon her lips from the "oral examination" Madame Destine had demanded.
The changeling gargoyle purred contentedly as she at last came up for air. "Mm, I would say you've definitely earned an A-plus today, Miss Calhoun."
Andrea wriggled in closer to her mate and grinned. "Why, thank you, Madame. My only aim is to please." The petite woman was leaning in for another kiss when Demona suddenly twitched. Andrea paused. "Domi?" she asked.
Demona blinked as an eerie shiver ran down her wings, then was gone. Such an odd sensation… yet so familiar… like magic, only without a focus.
"Domi, is something wrong?"
Demona sat up and took her lover's hand in her own. "I just sensed something odd, that's all… it's nothing for you to worry yourself over, pet." She patted Andrea's hand gently before rising from the bed. "I just need to go downstairs and check on a few things. It won't take but a few minutes." She caped her wings and found her lounging robe on the peg by the closet door, where she had left it the night before.
Andrea slipped from the bed and followed after her. "Can't I help you with anything?" she asked as Dominique slipped easily into her robe.
"No," Demona answered, "not downstairs." She smiled reassuringly. "But you could keep yourself busy up here by running a nice bath for us to enjoy when I return. After such a long day, I could really use a good soak."
Andrea smiled mysteriously, an idea forming in her head as quickly as the words fell from her lover's lips. A nice warm bath for Dominique… maybe with some of her favorite bath beads and one or two other surprises. It sounded like the perfect finale for the evening, actually. Andrea took a step closer to the azure gargoyle in the green silk robe, and rose up on her tiptoes to give her mate a quick kiss on the cheek. "Your wish is my command, Madame," she said. "Just leave everything to me."
* * * * *
Fox had waited patiently outside the door for over a minute before at last the key was turned and a slightly flushed Broadway admitted her to Angela's private chamber. "Sorry, Fox," he apologized again as she entered.
"It's all my fault, really," Angela said.
The auburn-haired woman smiled as she spotted the equally flushed lavender-skinned female sitting at the ornate dressing table that had been the latest addition to the room's furnishings. She was wearing her older tunic and had evidently dressed hastily, as the laces in front hadn't been properly done up. Most telling of all, though, was her hair. She held a hairbrush in her talons, but the long tresses still hung loose and disheveled, cascading over her shoulders and down her back in broad, untamed ebony waves. The effect was almost exotic, and Fox couldn't help but smile. "Let me guess," she said. "You woke up and wanted to finish what you'd started last night, and once you got going, you lost all track of time."
Angela purpled a shade deeper and traded a guilty look with her mate. "Have we become that predictable?" she asked timidly.
Fox smirked. "Yes, you have. But the biggest clue I had tonight is that you have been, shall we say, otherwise engaged, is that neither of you have asked me yet about the tremor."
Angela had just begun to put her hairbrush to work. She froze in mid stroke, echoing her mate. "The what?"
The two gargoyles listened intently as Fox recounted the strange happenings of some twenty minutes before, including the rumbling and shaking that they had failed to notice in the heat of the moment, as well as the call from Owen that summoned David away. As Fox anticipated, at the mention of Sector 13, both gargoyles became visibly uncomfortable.
The reason for Angela's unease, however, was a quite different from that of her mate's. "Sector 13," she said slowly, her stomach twisting into a knot even as she spoke, "isn't that's where the halflings are being kept?" She already knew the answer, but couldn't come up with anything better to say that wouldn't betray a secret she wasn't sure she could share without getting herself into a whole lot of trouble.
"I think that's where Owen took that halfling that he caught trying to sneak into the castle the night before our mating ceremony," Broadway offered. He could read his mate's uncertainty in her eyes, but misinterpreted its source. He had told Angela about Tanya Spencer's capture right after it had happened, but he had fudged the details a little, leaving out the part about the cake, the gargoyle costume, and the aborted strip show.
Fox simply nodded, confirming they were both correct. "She was one of the last ones picked up, at least as far as I know."
Broadway breathed a small sigh of relief that Fox did not elaborate more. "It's so weird," he mused. "That was over two years ago. I guess I didn't realize any of them were still down there."
Angela could feel the uncomfortable knot in her stomach tightening. She had found it unsettling at first, but in time she, too, had allowed herself to become content to just "forget" about the halflings and pretend that the secret prison didn't exist. That had all changed a few months ago, however, once she had actually seen it for herself. She hadn't meant to, of course… she had only been following through on an exercise her mother had given her as homework in conjunction with her latest round of lessons. "You have mastered auras and learned to attune yourself to the earth's natural energies," Demona had explained. "Now I shall show you how to combine these skills so that you will always be able to find your way, even when your eyes fail you."
That had been how she had ended up wandering the castle blindfolded, wearing a sleep mask borrowed from Fox, as she attempted to hone her magical sixth sense. She didn't even realize she had made a wrong turn and stepped into one of the castle's many hidden corridors until she heard a door slide shut behind her and felt the floor move unexpectedly beneath her feet. Panicked, she spun and grabbed for the wall, but her talons found only a sheet of polished aluminum where there should have been stone. She gasped as her descent suddenly accelerated, and tore the blindfold from her eyes to find herself sealed inside a narrow and unfamiliar cylindrical elevator car. She couldn't even tell where the door was until several moments later, when the elevator rapidly decelerated and finally stopped, and one of the panels slid open. Timidly, she had stepped out into a small lobby… and nearly been overcome as a barrage of energies, both magical and mundane, assaulted her still heightened senses.
Her curiosity being what it was, she hadn't been able to turn back without exploring just a little. The protections, she soon discovered, had been put in place to guard primarily against fay magic. Negating them with her own mortal abilities had been relatively simple… and a small trick her mother had taught her early on had been all she needed to avoid detection by the cameras and other mundane surveillance. Her first visit to Sector 13 had been brief and totally accidental. The same could not be said, however, for the many subsequent visits that followed. Angela hadn't expected to find what she had found… and try as she might, she couldn't stop it from luring her back again and again. There were halflings locked up down there… and not all of them were the cruel and fear-inspiring foes the clan had battled in the War. Some of them were only children… and at least one, she knew first hand, was lonely and miserable.
"It's so sad," Angela said at last. She allowed only the tiniest bit of the anguish and guilt she felt over her secret to creep into her voice as she turned back to the mirror. Her hands fell to her lap, and she twisted at the hem of her tunic, contemplating the hairbrush that sat on the dressing table where she had left it, so she wouldn't have to make eye contact with Fox or her mate. "Keeping them locked up like that… caged like animals, twenty-four hours a day." She blinked away the beginnings of a tear. "It just seems like there has to be a better solution."
For the moment, Angela was successful in concealing her true emotions. Neither Fox or Broadway keyed in on her distress. "Owen's told me they're all kept in stasis chambers," Fox said, shrugging. "It hardly seems cruel enough to me… especially compared to life in a real prison." Inwardly, Angela winced as the truth stabbed at her again, but she held her tongue, knowing Fox spoke from some measure of personal experience. "I don't like to think about it either," the former Pack leader said. "If David needs any help I'm sure he'll ask for it. Let's not worry about it anymore."
"Sounds good to me," Broadway agreed.
It did not sound good at all to Angela, but given the circumstances there was nothing she could do about it now even if she wanted to. She had already taken too many silly risks… she would just have to wait until later to check on things down in Sector 13 herself, after Xanatos and Owen were done. With that resolution made, Angela picked up her hairbrush back up, barely paying attention to what she was doing as she resumed attacking her unruly mane of hair. A small jolt of physical pain provided an oddly welcome relief from the emotional ones, and she growled in frustration and tugged hard as her brush snagged a particularly badly tangled spot.
"Here, let me help you." Fox's comment as she moved to the girl's side was not so much an offer as an order. With quick fingers, she plucked the hairbrush from Angela's grasp and circled behind her to gain a better angle of attack.
"Ouch!" Angela grimaced as Fox gave a single sharp pull that finally broke the tangle.
"You've got your mother's hair," the human woman commented, chuckling.
Angela scowled, but settled into her chair, grateful for the distraction, as Fox furiously went to work. "You're worse than the Princess," she muttered, gritting her teeth against the assault. "Now I remember again why I hate wearing my hair loose."
"You know, it's funny, but I've never had that problem," Broadway said, running a hand over his own hairless head. Smirking as his comment elicited the expected tiny smile from Angela, he dodged a playful tail slap from his mate.
Fox chuckled and continued to work her magic with the brush. "I suppose this hairstyle was your mother's idea, along with the dress." Fox cast a sideways glance at the ultra-sheer, baby-blue gown that was now draped over the back of a nearby chair, secretly wishing she'd gotten a better look last night when Angela had been wearing it.
"Actually... ouch... unbraiding my hair was Andrea's idea." Angela winced as the human woman mercilessly worked out another nasty tangle from her long sable tresses.
Fox chuckled. "Same difference." She paused in her styling a moment, considering how best to phrase what she wanted to say next. "By the way," she said, deciding Angela didn't need to hear the same intimate details that she had shared with David and Elisa earlier, "I ran into them both today while I was out shopping. It looked like they were having a girl's day out… so if you're planning to stop by tonight, I think you might want to call ahead first."
Angela smiled as Fox finished with the brushing and began to braid. "Mother already postponed my next modeling session with Andrea, but I really don't mind. They're in love. It's good that they're enjoying each other's company. I would never begrudge them time alone together." She sighed wistfully. "Of course, I really should stop by to retrieve my new tunic before that talk I'm supposed to give at Columbia University on Monday night. After all the trouble Princess Katharine went through to make it for me, she'd be just crushed if I didn't wear it."
"Speaking of that, Angela, there's a few new offers that have come in that I wanted to talk to you about." With a deft twist, Fox finished creating the first portion of the braid and gestured to Broadway to hand her the hair clips from the table nearby.
"That Howard Stern guy from the radio didn't call again, did he?" the burly male asked as he handed one to her, irritation apparent in his voice. "I hate that guy."
"Broadway, we've never even listened to his show," Angela chided.
"Actually," Fox replied, "he did call again. And I put him off again… just like I've been doing with all the radio shows. But that's not what we need to discuss." She paused a moment to give Angela's braid another dramatic twist. "I received a call today from a friend of mine in Los Angeles," she continued. "There's a children's hospital that's going to be opening a new wing, and they want to fly you out there to participate in the ribbon cutting, do an interview, and meet with some of the children."
"Me, travel all the way across the country?" Angela asked hesitantly. "I wouldn't have to travel in the cargo hold or in a packing crate, would I?"
"No, no, of course not. You'd go first class all the way, and I'd make sure it was an evening flight."
Angela seemed relieved at hearing that. "So when would it be?"
Fox sighed. "That's where there might be a bit of a problem. If we do this, PackStudios West is going to want you out there for at least a week, so we can line up other interviews and make the trip worthwhile. You'd end up having to miss Andrea's gallery premiere on the fifteenth."
Angela groaned. "Fox, I couldn't! Andrea's been working so hard, and I promised her I would be there. And you know that P.I.T. is even planning a Q&A session right before it. I'm supposed to be at that, too."
"I know, Angela, but sometimes you've got to look at the bigger picture. This event on the west coast could do a lot more for the clan. We're talking about national exposure here. This is a chance to make the kind of positive press the lobbyists in Washington will need to get Congress to finally recognize that gargoyles are people too. It won't happen overnight, sure, but it will be a start."
"But how can I break a promise to Andrea?" Angela slumped in her chair, totally torn. She was barely listening as Fox continued to fuss with her hair, going on again anew about how Andrea would surely understand that her going to Los Angeles was more important to the clan than her being there to answer questions about what it was like to model for Andrea's latest series of paintings. The trouble was, Angela wasn't sure she would understand. She'd made a promise, and Andrea was clan now, too… not to mention that she'd been looking forward herself to being there, and seeing firsthand how the paintings she had posed for would be received.
Caught up in her own funk, Angela slowly became aware of her mate off moping quietly in the far corner of the room, as he often did lately whenever he was in earshot and Fox began discussing appearance requests with her. This time, he was perusing her shelves, pretending to read the spines on her spellbooks. Pretending, she knew, because most of the titles were written in Latin. She hated to see him sulk, but it was just incredibly hard to devote her attention to him and Fox all at the same time. She was frowning, wishing she could find something that would cheer him up, when suddenly an idea occurred to her that could solve both of her immediate problems. An idea so simple, in fact, that it just might work.
"Broadway," she called, interrupting Fox. She waited until she had his full attention, giving a wide fanged grin as she asked, "How would you like to go to Hollywood?"
* * * * *
Andrea stood in front of the mirror, a little bit nervous and a little bit excited all at the same time as she took in the entirety of her new look. The white, red and gold emblazoned shopping bag from Spank Me Mama that she had refused to let Dominique peek into earlier now sat empty nearby. After slipping into a slinky "barely there" black satin bra and panty set, Andrea had taken her time dressing, reveling in the new sensations as she donned each element of her new costume for the first time. First had come the slender wrist cuffs, followed by the matching ones for her ankles. These were quite a bit less substantial than the set Fox had recommended, more fetish jewelry than serious bondage attire, but Andrea had not been disappointed. Each one she had taken care to buckle just snugly enough to allow the soft leather to caress her skin as she moved. Next had come a chevron-shaped collar, with dangling lengths of chromed chain that draped gracefully over and under her breasts, and finally a turban-like headdress done in soft black velvet. With that, the "Arabian Nights" ensemble was nearly complete. Andrea gazed at the demure, exotically-clad slave girl who grinned back at her from the mirror, and added the final touch by clipping the last short length of chain to the chromed rings of her wrist cuffs.
"Tonight it's your turn to be pampered, Madame Destine," Andrea mused. She paused for a moment, contemplating whether she should greet her mate standing or kneeling. "Hmm," she muttered, thinking back to her dream again. "Kneeling… definitely kneeling," she decided at last, smiling in anticipation of the ways she might please her mate before the bathing could even begin. She turned, taking care not to trip as she crossed the short distance to the tub. The chain that fettered her ankles was about two feet in length, and it jingled musically against the tiled floor as she walked. She could have prepared the bath before getting dressed, she knew, but the temptation to finally experience the restraints that she'd been too embarrassed to try out in the store had just been too great. Andrea giggled as she reached for the tap and the delicate chain joining her wrist cuffs rattled against the side of the ornate cast iron tub. "You'd better hurry up, you bad girl," she chided herself softly, doing her best imitation of Dominique. She knew her gargoyle lover had very sensitive hearing. With all the noise she was making with her chains, Madame Destine might be along any minute to investigate.
With that happy thought, Andrea checked the temperature with her fingers, then left the water running as she returned to the vanity, where the bath oil beads she purchased earlier in the day waited on the counter. The scent of roses and lavender met her nose as she broke open the top of the plastic baggie, but she stopped before the bag was half open, realizing she'd yet to remove the lid from the decorative glass jar that she had also bought to contain them. Ever mindful of the dangling chain of her wrist cuffs, Andrea tucked the bag in the crook of her arm and grabbed a damp washcloth from by the sink. "There must be a hundred years worth of dust on this thing," she mused as she began to wipe away the thin, grimy haze that coated the glass. She smiled as her efforts quickly restored the antique jar to gleaming perfection, and gave it one last buff before taking hold of the stopper. What happened next, though, was totally unexpected.
Andrea gasped as thin tendrils of gray smoke began to curl from around the rim of the jar's lid. Startled, she dropped it before it could burn her and edged back. The jar clattered against the polished marble countertop, and landed on its side. Within a few seconds, it was hissing like a boiling teakettle. Smoke continued to stream from around the edges of the lid, forming rapidly into a dense cloud. Cautiously, Andrea inched away, watching with wide eyes as the jar rolled in a lazy, wobbling semi-circle… rolling until found the edge of the sink and tumbled in. With a bright flash of light, the lid at last came loose.
"Oh man," Andrea muttered, "this is definitely not normal." Shock coupled with an equal measure of wonderment filled her eyes as the smoke cloud coalesced and began to swirl. Instinct urged the young woman back, but curiosity prevailed and instead she held her ground, watching, awestruck, as the rotating cloud assumed the form of a miniature tornado. The hair on the back of her neck prickled as a chill, stiff breeze filled the small room. Slowly, the tiny vortex gained cohesion, drawing the main part of itself into a narrow, spinning column. Bath towels fluttered on their rods, and as the wind intensified, the wastebasket near the toilet tipped over, adding a colorful, whirling mixture of discarded tissue, wrappers, and paper cups to the spectacle dancing before her. The young artist's eyes grew wider as she followed the swirling debris toward the ceiling and spotted the tiny thunderhead that had formed atop the twister's serpentine body. As the seconds ticked by, the billowing cloud grew larger, crackling with tiny flashes of greenish lightning as it mushroomed and spread.
Andrea gaped in fascination as the tornado writhed and swayed, moving as if to some unheard rhythm like a snake being charmed from a basket. She shook her head, reveling in the sensation of the wind upon her face. It whistled in her ears and ruffled her hair, proof positive that the miniature whirlwind was indeed real, and not merely some kind of illusion or holographic trick. "Dominique, where are you?" she mused aloud, a smile playing on her lips. "I don't know how long this will last, but you have got to see it!" Andrea took but a single step, intending to open the door to better summon her mate. She remembered that her ankles were fettered only as the thin chain joining the cuffs snagged between her toes and she began to topple. Bath oil beads flew everywhere, scattering across the marble tiled floor as she flailed her arms in a futile attempt to stay erect.
"Ugh!" Andrea grunted as she grasped only air, and landed hard on her posterior. She came to rest with her feet in front of her and her back pressed painfully against the rim of the tub. Another inch backwards, she realized absently, and she very likely would have knocked her head against it and ended up giving Dominique a different kind of surprise entirely, when she returned to find her sprawled on the floor, unconscious. The young woman felt her face warming in mortal embarrassment even as the breeze continued to buffet her. "God, how stupid can you be, Andrea," she muttered. She pulled her knees to her chest, groaning as a throbbing pain marked the place on her behind where a large, ugly bruise would soon form as a reminder of the fall… a bruise she would surely have to explain to Dominique in embarrassing detail when she returned. Then, of course, Dominique would begin fawning over her, and her plan of seduction would be all but ruined. Sighing miserably, Andrea tried to push herself off the ground, but discovered with a small amount of dismay that the chains she would not be using to entice her mate after all would also not permit enough range of movement to allow her to rise back to her feet with any true measure of grace and dignity. "Damn it all," she cursed.
The discarded cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper skittered on the breeze passed her feet, catching her attention just before she could move to undo the ankle cuffs. Andrea looked up. Was it just her, or had the novelty tornado she had inadvertently released from that old jar moved closer? It had bent in the middle now, and the top portion seemed to loom over her, swaying gently. It was not threatening to descend upon her, though. Rather, it was almost as if it was alive, and was regarding her the way a person might, checking to see if she was okay. "But how could… no, it couldn't be," Andrea muttered. She rubbed the back of her head, wondering if perhaps she really had hit it on the tub after all, but she didn't feel any goose egg. Sighing again, she closed her eyes and placed her fingers to her temples. "Calm down, Andrea," she chided herself.
She had meant only to regain focus and clear her head, so she was taken a bit by surprise when, abruptly, all tactile sensation faded entirely, including that of the pain from her fall. The rushing of the wind in her ears died away, as well, as a gentle feminine voice spoke from inside her head. "Do not be afraid, human. I mean you no harm."
Andrea, accustomed to hearing only the musings of her own voice from that spot deep inside her mind, would likely have opened her eyes and shook her head had that small act not been forestalled. She was startled to find she had been rendered completely paralyzed, unable to move a single muscle, or even so much as cry out. Who was this woman was inside her head now, and was this sudden paralysis her doing? Snippets of a half dozen stories she had heard from Angela raced through her mind chaotically, and for the first time she felt a small twinge of panic rising within her. "Who are you?" she thought, her inner voice trembling slightly.
"I will explain everything, I promise. Please, I require just a moment more." The disembodied voice was soft and reassuring, yet tinged with a slight bit of sadness.
"A moment more?" Andrea asked timidly. "Okay… but why?" The answer came a split-second later. Inwardly, the young woman gasped as what she could only interpret as an invisible hand seemed to grasp hold of the very essence of her consciousness. Fragments of memory - college, high school, all the way back to childhood - danced dizzily before her mind's eye, until at last one brief instant was caught between delicate, ethereal fingers and plucked away like a single flower from a vine. Then it was gone, leaving only a strange sensation of emptiness that lasted for another brief moment before a flash of green, phosphorescent light totally blinded her.
"Ouch," Andrea grumbled, rubbing her aching head. The visual overload had been disconcerting to say the least, coming as it did with her eyes firmly shut, but at the same time she couldn't deny it to have been real. The dark spots that danced in her vision were proof enough of that. The blonde woman blinked several times, trying to clear her head as she became cognizant of the fact that she could move and speak once again. The air was warm and still, the smoke-filled vortex cloud was gone, and the splashing of running water in the tub behind her was the only sound to be heard. Andrea shifted position slightly, and yelped as a sharp pain stabbed at her backside. "Ouch!" She struggled with her wrist chains, and rubbed gingerly at the sore spot where she had landed a moment earlier. "Damn it… what the hell was all that," she moaned.
"A thousand pardons, Mistress. My intent was never to cause you harm."
Andrea looked up sharply toward the source of the soft, apologetic voice she recognized as the same one that had spoken from inside her head just moments before. Relief turned to wariness and shock as she spotted the petite woman who stood in a submissive posture near the vanity. Andrea blinked, not quite believing her eyes. The stranger was an attractive blonde, no taller in stature than Andrea herself and having a vaguely athletic figure. It was her style of dress, however, that left Andrea momentarily speechless, for the outfit looked to have been stolen off the set of an old television sitcom. She was clothed in an elaborate harem girl costume of red and pink silks trimmed with gold braiding and tassels, and her long hair was done in a single braid that was pulled up by her headdress into a high ponytail. Her skin tone was human, but Andrea could see the tips of her ears tapered to delicate points, just like a gargoyle's. What she could not see, however, was the other woman's eyes. She kept her head bowed contritely, her hands clasped loosely before her.
"If I have offended, you may punish me as you see fit, Mistress. I am yours to command. I am at your mercy."
"Wait," Andrea said, confused. "Back the train up a minute. Who are you?" She edged back warily, ignoring the throbbing bruise that was forming on her backside. "What are you?"
"I am your servant," the woman answered calmly. "I am of the djinn, one of the last of an ancient race of beings, forever bound to serve whomever shall release me from my prison. You have freed me from the jar, Mistress, and so now I serve you. I am your slave, compelled by magic to fulfill obediently any request you may make that falls within the scope of my powers."
Andrea listened, but didn't quite believe what she was hearing. "But… genies are just a myth." She shifted uncomfortably, wincing again as she tried once more with no success to plant both hands on the ground, slipped, and the hard floor again contacted the tender spot on her posterior. "Ugh. I wish you'd help me up, though."
"As you command, Mistress." The djinn stepped forward, smiling somewhat sadly at Andrea as she extended her hands. "I can assure you I am quite real," she said quietly, sensing the human woman's hesitation.
Andrea waited a brief moment, then lifted her own hands to offer them to the other woman. She blushed as the thin chain of her wrist cuffs jingled lightly, but the djinn only continued to smile gently. She had expected the touch of a magical being to feel cold and different, so it was reassuring when she instead clasped the djinn's delicate hands and found merely flesh that was both as solid and as warm as her own. Gratefully, she allowed the other woman to pull her back to her feet, and steady her while made certain she had untangled the chain joining her ankle cuffs. "Thank you," she said.
For a long moment, the two women stood there with hands clasped, regarding each other carefully, before at last the djinn released her grasp and pulled away uneasily. "I exist only to serve you, Mistress," she demurred softly, bowing her head once again.
The last of Andrea's own small amount of fear abated as she realized the genie actually seemed to be more afraid of her. Slowly, she processed the events of the past few minutes and began to make sense of them. "So you were inside that jar?" she asked softly, gesturing to the tiny glass container that rested now at the bottom of the sink. The djinn nodded affirmatively, and Andrea, mindful of her ankle chains this time, hazarded a cautious step closer. "And that cloud of smoke, that was you?" she deduced.
The djinn nodded again, but still did not meet Andrea's gaze. "My kind have no true form. I can assume many appearances, but I did not anticipate that my first choice would frighten you so." She paused, mustering the nerve to continue. "I apologize again, Mistress. I should not have been so forward, but I had to find an appearance that would be more likely to please you."
"So you read my thoughts," Andrea concluded.
The djinn looked up, encouraged by the lack of overt anger in her new Mistress's tone, and found Andrea smiling gently.
"I'm not upset," Andrea reassured. "I wasn't really frightened, either… I was just… clumsy." She rubbed again at her hip, wincing slightly. "Just warn me before you do any more mind melds, okay? I mean… the tornado was kind of cool, but having you inside my head really freaked me out there for a minute."
The djinn nodded slowly, wondering as she puzzled over some of her new Mistress's words just how long it had been, as mortals reckoned time, since she had last been summoned forth. "As you command, Mistress," she replied.
"A real live genie," Andrea mused. Her head filled rapidly with questions for her new companion. "My god, I don't even know where to begin."
"My powers are entirely at your command, Mistress," the djinn stated, misinterpreting Andrea's intent. "You have but to speak your desire and it shall be done." She stepped closer, looking the human woman over from head to toe, the same touch of quiet sadness returning to her eyes that Andrea had noticed earlier. "It is even within my power to grant you freedom from the master or mistress who keeps you so cruelly bound," she said gently, "if that would be your wish."
Andrea blushed beet red in recognition of the inference the djinn had made from her strange ensemble of fetish attire. "No," she protested, "you don't need to… um… I mean… this isn't what it looks like." Flustered, she covered her face with her hands and groaned in embarrassment. "These chains… this… this is just a costume," she said, resurfacing timidly.
The djinn recoiled, confused at her apparent faux pas. In the entirety of her long imprisonment, she had never encountered a mortal held in bondage by another whose first request had not been for his or her freedom. She had granted each and every such request without hesitation, always hoping that her newest master or mistress would be the one who would be different, and return the favor by setting her free from her bondage. So far, of course, that had not happened. But even though it pained her at times to recall that some of her cruelest masters had been once slaves themselves, she still had not given up hope that one day she would be given the chance again to earn the immense gratitude she knew would be required for any mortal to sacrifice a lifetime of service and let a djinn like herself go free.
"You don't wish to be set free, Mistress?" she asked, worrying even as the words left her lips that she was at risk of overstepping the tenuous lines of etiquette that were still being drawn between herself and her new mistress.
Andrea shook her head. "I don't need to be set free," she replied. "Look, never mind my costume." She chuckled and smiled in what she thought was a friendly manner. "I mean, you don't see me making fun of yours." Andrea realized immediately, however, that she had again said the wrong thing as the genie's shoulders drooped and she once more cast her gaze to the floor submissively.
"If this form displeases you as well, Mistress, simply state your desire and I shall assume another."
Andrea sighed. Curiosity was overwhelming her, yet so far she had succeeded only in pushing the timid genie away. "I'm sorry. Please, I didn't mean it that way," she apologized. She smiled gently as the genie looked up once again, confusion still apparent in her eyes. "That form is fine. As your… Mistress, I approve," she stated, feeling her way awkwardly into the role the djinn evidently expected her to play. It was an uncomfortable position. She had no desire to treat her new companion as a slave. "Look," she said at length, "this is just really… difficult for me. It's so sudden… and I just have so many questions. Where did you come from? How long have you been imprisoned in the jar? And what do I call you? I… I haven't even learned your name."
"You may address me however you wish, Mistress. Many of my masters and mistresses have simply called me 'girl' or 'slave'. In truth," she said sadly, "it has been so very long since my time inside the glass began, I find myself now unable to recall my true name."
Andrea considered the genie's answer carefully for a long moment. "How about if I just call you 'Jeannie' for now?" she suggested. She smiled oddly. "It's kind of a long story, but it fits with your costume."
The djinn inclined her head respectfully. "As you wish, Mistress. I shall be called Jeannie."
Andrea continued to smile, even though she was beginning to get the impression that Jeannie would acquiesce immediately to almost anything she said just on principle alone. On the surface, the interaction wasn't much different from the playacting that she and Dominique had been doing on and off since Friday evening. Knowing in this case, however, that Jeannie was playing for real the submissive rôle that to her so far had just been a game made assuming the part of dominant all the more awkward and unsettling. In fact, even the honorific title of "Mistress" was starting to become too much.
"My name is Andrea," she replied. "Please, Jeannie. You can just call me Andrea, okay?"
A new sound, one of water gurgling urgently into the overflow drain, interrupted before Jeannie could reply. Suddenly, Andrea remembered that she had left the faucet running. She turned to find the level in the tub had risen nearly to the top. "Oh crap," she muttered. Ankle and wrist chains jingling, she scampered over as quickly as she could manage without tripping again to shut off the tap. She cranked the valve on the polished brass fixture closed just in time, and backed away as the steaming water calmed and lapped gently at the rim. "Damn it all! Dominique would just kill me if she saw this."
Jeannie regarded the human woman curiously as she righted herself and continued to mutter curses under her breath. This 'Dominique' must be Andrea's mistress, she surmised, and from Andrea's agitation, she must be a cruel and fearsome creature. Jeannie couldn't help but feel a pang of empathy. "You are certain you do not wish me to free you from your bondage, Mistress Andrea?" she questioned mildly. "You have granted me freedom from my prison, yet I fear so far I have caused you only distress. Please, Mistress. I do not wish to see you punished."
Andrea sighed. "I'm fine. Really," she insisted. Trying to think of a way she could communicate the point to Jeannie a bit more clearly, she settled at last on unclipping the chain from her wrist cuffs. "See?" she said, casting it aside. "It's just a costume. I'm not anyone's slave. And please… again… it's just Andrea. You don't have to call me Mistress."
Jeannie nodded, deciding she would accept her mistress at her word, though it confused her even more now to wonder why anyone would want to willingly place herself in bondage. But then, Andrea did not want to be addressed as "Mistress", either… and other than asking for help getting up off the floor, which had been Jeannie's fault anyway, she had yet to make a single request. In that respect, she was definitely strange for a human.
Andrea was doing her best to remain composed, but as silence stretched awkwardly between her and the genie, her original wariness began to reassert itself. Dominique was already overdue to return, and Andrea had no idea what she would say to her mate if she were to walk in and discover her with Jeannie. Dominique didn't exactly deal well with surprises, after all, especially after sunset. Still, Andrea knew she would have to consult with her mate first before accepting anything from Jeannie, no matter how kindly offered. Even though she seemed to be sincere and mean no harm, Andrea could not help but remember the repeated warnings Dominique had given her about the dangers of dealing with magical beings… especially those that seemed sincere and harmless. Dominique blamed her transformation curse on such a being, after all… and Andrea had witnessed first hand too many times the pain her mate was forced to endure on a daily basis as a result of that mistake.
"I really don't need anything at the moment, Jeannie," Andrea said, begging off any assistance as gently as she could. Dominique had also warned her that magical creatures tended to be fickle and short-tempered, so she was unsure at first how Jeannie would react. Would she be offended? Andrea waited nervously, silently praying that Jeannie would continue to prove to be the exception to Dominique's pessimistic rules.
Jeannie placed the palms of her hands together and bowed demurely at the waist. "Very well, Mistress Andrea," she replied. "When you wish to summon me again, you have but only to rub the glass three times, and speak the name you have given me."
Andrea breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and watched in wonderment as Jeannie turned translucent. Starting from the feet and moving up, the djinn transformed herself back into a wispy column of smoke, which slowly elongated and snaked its way backwards across the floor, up over the edge of the counter, and back into the jar.
"Be cautioned, though, Mistress," Jeannie warned before her human form had faded entirely, "and know that a djinn is bound not to just one master, but compelled to serve whomever shall summon her. Should another rub the glass and call me forth, a new bond will be forged, and my service to you shall be at an end forever."
A flash of blue light made Andrea blink, and when she looked again, the smoke was gone and the glass jar was sitting upright on the counter, stopper still in place as if nothing had ever happened. What made her heart start to race, however, was finding the bag of bath oil beads back in her hands, intact and unopened... and the slender chromed chain joining her wrist cuffs back in place. Andrea turned at the sound of running water. The tap was still on, and the tub was only a little more than half full, where a moment ago it had been on the verge of overflowing. A dozen butterflies danced in her stomach as Andrea set down the bag of bath oil beads and carefully backed away from the jar, staring at it as if at any moment a poisonous snake might jump out of it and bite her.
"Oh my," she muttered as the events of the past few minutes finally begin to sink in. "Oh my, oh my, oh my… did that all really just happen?" With a trembling hand, she turned off the faucet for what she knew to be the second time. Recalling her earlier fall, she paused just long enough to unclip the short chain from her ankle cuffs before hurrying from the room to find Dominique.
* * * * *
"Ooh, I just love the new look, cousin. And they said that baggy pants went out ages ago. But on you… my goodness… I really must say, your new master definitely has a great fashion sense. Yes, what luck that it was your turn to answer the door and not mine. Pink and red…the whole ponytail thing… I mean… It's just so you!"
Jeannie frowned in disgust as she returned to her confinement inside the tiny glass jar. If there had been one torment that had remained constant over the centuries, it was the critique of her appearance which her bad-tempered cellmate delivered without fail each and every time she acquired a new master or mistress. Countless times she had taken his verbal abuse in silence, quietly cursing whatever cruel intricacy of the geas that bound them also kept her confined to one form until her master or mistress requested otherwise. This time, however, she was not in the mood for it.
"Why don't you just shut up? For once in your miserable existence, just spare me your insipid blathering. Maybe you think this form is stupid, but I happen to like it. It's certainly a lot better than the form your last master demanded. Not that being a slithering little snake didn't suit you perfectly."
The male djinn smoked out of the shadows, taking on a tall and vaguely humanoid form that towered over Jeannie. "Touché, cousin. I could also remind you, I suppose, of all the masters who have commanded you to be you clad in nothing at all, but that could keep us here for decades. Besides, that's all past ancient history anyway, so let's just skip the niceties, shall we? Is this the mortal that will finally mean your freedom? Or will you simply let yourself be used and discarded again as you have been so many times before?"
Jeannie crossed her arms and glared at the other djinn. "What do you care about what I do, anyway? She is my mistress, and you have no power to interfere. Don't you dare even try. I will not stand by and let you ruin everything again. Even temporary release is better than none at all. I can't suffer another thousand years trapped in here, alone with you, with no master to serve."
The male djinn laughed. "That's the problem with you. Everything is always about serving your master. Tell me, cousin. When was it, exactly, during all those years as the Queen's personal plaything that you started to enjoy the groveling and abuse? When did it start to excite you to be called 'slave'? You'd best figure it out, cousin. Because as long as you keep thinking of yourself as one, you'll never be anything more."
Jeannie turned away rather than let her sharp-tongued companion see any trace of emotion begin to fill her eyes. "I have accepted the punishment levied upon me for the wrongs I have done," she replied. "If I am a slave to anything, it is to fate, nothing more. If I am meant to one day be released, then I will accept that when it comes, and pay the price it requires."
"Fate, cousin? Fate is merely a crutch for cowards and suckers, and a pitiful one at that," the male djinn scoffed. "I prefer to make my own destiny."
"You prefer to bend the rules, that's what you really mean," Jeannie retorted, whirling on him.
"Ah, semantics, my dear. I simply prefer to take a less passive approach. Mortals can be such indecisive creatures, after all. Very few of them ever know what they really want until you tell them. I mean, why ask for merely the moon when you're being promised the universe?"
"So I suppose, then, it's just too bad you're not a better liar," Jeannie replied. "Or have you forgotten that despite all your scheming, you are still stuck in here, as well?"
The male djinn narrowed what passed for the eyes on his amorphous form, and dissolved back into a swirling cloud. "Enjoy tending to your new mistress, cousin," he growled ominously. "Wait on her hand and foot. Cater to her every whim. Revel in it while it lasts. Just remember that the next mortal that comes along is mine. And you know once you've seen one, there is always another one along quickly enough… and another and another, each one more greedy and gullible than the last. So we'll just see which one of us gets out of here first."
* * * * *
"Dominique, oh my god, you'll never believe what just happened!"
Demona looked up from ancient text she was studying as her mate burst into the room. In an instant, her reading was all but forgotten. She stood up abruptly, tail lashing and wings unfurling, as she took in the bizarre costume that Andrea wore. Leather and chains accented an outfit consisting of little more than a skimpy bra and panty set, the tiny pieces of silk doing little to conceal her mate's lovely curves. Demona's eyes widened in amusement as the petite woman staggered up to her, breathless. "Andrea, pet, what on earth…?"
Andrea grabbed the azure gargoyle by the shoulders before she could finish, shaking her gently. "Domi, you've got to come upstairs now!" she insisted.
The chain joining the slender wrist cuffs the younger woman wore glinted in the light, and Demona grasped it in her talons, twisting it and grinning playfully as she pulled her mate close. She curled her tail lithely about Andrea's legs, restraining them as well, and folded her wings about them both. "What's this now, hmm?" she purred teasingly. "Are you trying to let me know that another lesson in patience from Madame Destine in order, Miss Calhoun?"
"Domi, please." Andrea slumped in her mate's embrace and didn't struggle, but met Dominique's gaze with her own. "I'm being serious."
The tension in the human woman's voice was enough for Demona to realize she had not simply come to fetch her so they could continue their games in the bedroom. She released her grip on the chain, opened her wings, and stepped back a half step, placing her taloned hands on her mate's bared shoulders. "What is it, my love?" she asked, putting aside for the moment the question of why Andrea was dressed as she was.
"You're not going to believe this, Domi," Andrea repeated. "I'm still having trouble even believing it myself. There's a genie upstairs, Domi! I bought this old jar at that store in Chinatown while we were out shopping today, and when I went to open it so I could put the bath beads inside, a genie came out! Well, actually, first a cloud of smoke came out, and then it turned into a tornado… but then I fell down and this magical genie appeared, and she was dressed just like Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie, and after she helped me back up off the floor, she kept calling me "Mistress" and said she could grant me any wish I wanted! But I knew I had to talk to you first, 'cause I remembered how you and Angela have both told me magical creatures can be dangerous, so Domi, please… come upstairs!"
Demona blinked, incredulous, as her mate finished rattling off the nonsensical chain of events. "Andrea, pet, please… slow down." Gently, she guided the young woman onto the wooden stool she had just vacated moments before and placed a hand on her forehead. Her skin was warm, and Demona frowned.
"Domi, I'm fine. Please…"
"Shh, my love. Wait here."
"But Domi…" Andrea sighed as the flame-haired gargoyle stepped away.
Demona hurried to the tall cabinet that stood at the back of her study, and returned a moment later carrying a cut crystal tumbler and a tall brown glass flask. "Here," she said, pouring a small amount of a gold-colored liquid into the glass and pressing it into Andrea's hands, "this will help calm your nerves."
Andrea sniffed at the strange brew before hazarding a tentative sip. Whatever it was, it had a sweet taste, vaguely like honey.
"Drink all of it, my love."
Dominique's tone indicated she would have no argument. Deciding it could do no harm, Andrea sat still and drank the remainder of it down while her gargoyle mate fussed over her, carefully unfastening the leather cuffs from her wrists and ankles.
The collar with its attached cascading loops of chain was the last item to join the small pile upon the worktable. Demona smiled gently and took the empty glass from her mate's hands. "There, that's better." The azure gargoyle pulled out the second stool, the one which Angela usually used, and took Andrea's hand into her own as she sat down. "Now, my love," she said, placing her other hand on her mate's shoulder reassuringly, "tell me again what happened upstairs. And go slowly this time."
Andrea took a deep, calming breath. "Well, like I said, it all started as I was drawing your bath…"
Demona listened attentively as Andrea told her entire tale in detail, including, this time, the motive behind her odd choice of attire. As Andrea spoke of the genie she had allegedly met, however, Demona couldn't help but begin to worry that perhaps the past twenty-four hours of nearly nonstop frolicking had been overdoing it. What her mate was describing seemed more like the product of a mind operating on too much adrenaline and too little sleep than it did a true account of actual events. By the time Andrea reached the end of her fantastic story, describing how she had blinked to find chaos restored to order, Demona was certain of it.
"Andrea, love," she said gently, "I know this all must have seemed very real to you, but I fear in actuality what you have experienced may have simply been a very vivid daydream, nothing more."
"No, Domi," Andrea protested. "It was real! I know it was. I can even summon Jeannie again and show you that…"
"Andrea," Demona urged, "think about it for a moment. You said the genie helped you up after you tumbled and hurt yourself, right? But you don't even have a mark on you."
"Domi," Andrea chided, hopping up off her stool, "I've got a big black and blue mark right…." She froze as the hand she slipped down to her backside touched the skin but caused no pain. She craned her neck to look, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "I… I don't understand…. I had a bruise earlier… didn't I?" Andrea placed a hand to her head, her recollections suddenly muzzy. Maybe Dominique was right. Maybe she had simply imagined it all.
Demona stood up and drew the human woman to her side. "Andrea, pet, I'm sorry. This is all my fault." She stroked her mate's hair tenderly with her talons as their eyes met. "I kept you up way too late last night, and we both had a very long day today." Demona kissed Andrea gently on the forehead and wrapped a wing around her. "Sometimes I forget that you're not as used to being awake at all hours as I am. Let's get you changed into something more comfortable and into bed, okay?"
But was it all just a daydream? Andrea still wasn't sure. In one respect, thinking that it was brought an odd feeling of relief, but at the same time it saddened her a bit, as well. Everything had seemed so real, there was no denying that. But there was also no denying the validity of Dominique's argument, either. She had only slept for a few hours the night before. She hadn't eaten anything since brunch that morning, either… unless she counted whatever that elixir was that Dominique had given her a little while ago. Dominique had been right about that, too… it had helped calm her nerves. Andrea yawned, and nodded mutely in agreement with her mate's suggestion as she leaned into her warm, winged embrace. Bed suddenly sounded like a very good idea, indeed.
Demona chuckled softly as she watched her mate struggling to keep her eyes open. Smiling, she scooped the human woman into her arms effortlessly and headed upstairs.
* * *
Andrea had fallen fast asleep before Demona had even returned from the dresser with the thin cotton nightgown she had fetched. Shaking her head, she discarded the thought of dressing the young woman, and settled instead for simply tucking her in under the covers as she was, in her underwear. She stirred only slightly as Demona finished drawing the sheets in around her, and the azure gargoyle gave her mate a final goodnight kiss on the forehead before venturing into the master bathroom to survey the scene of the Andrea's imagined misadventure.
Other than the tub sitting half filled with water that had by now cooled too much for enjoyable bathing, Demona could distinguish nothing out of the ordinary about the condition of the room. Everything was where it should be, and the only new items present were an unopened bag of bath beads and an odd looking old jar, both resting on the counter near the sink. Demona crossed first to the tub, smiling wryly as she thought of the outfit of leather and chains that her mate had been planning to wear as she bathed her. Shaking her head, she flipped the lever below the spigot to drain the water. "Maybe next weekend, Andrea," she mused aloud as she moved away to the sink.
The sealed bag of bath beads went into the cupboard for later enjoyment without a second glance. The jar that had been meant to hold them, however, did not get pushed aside so quickly. Demona picked it up and held up to the light, examining it closely. It was definitely an interesting piece of glassware, and as she turned it slowly, watching how the uneven glass split the light into a shifting rainbow of colors, she see why it had likely caught Andrea's eye. Aside from its intrinsic artistic value, however, there didn't appear to be anything too special about it. She tapped it with a talon, listening to how it rang, and frowned, hoping Andrea didn't pay too much for such an inferior piece of workmanship. Demona peered through it again, catching sight of her own distorted and inverted reflection on the far side. "A genie in a bath bead jar," she muttered. "How silly." She started to set it back down on the counter, but then thought better of it. If Andrea were to awake in the middle of the night, seeing it there might upset her all over again.
Not wanting to risk causing any undue trauma for her mate, Demona decided to keep the jar with her for the time being. Quietly, she padded back through the bedroom, checked on Andrea one last time, then returned to her study downstairs. "I'll return this to her in the morning," Demona decided as she reentered the dimly lit room, "along with her costume." Smirking, the azure gargoyle cleared a small place for the jar on the worktable, beside the carefully arranged restraints of leather and chain she had removed from Andrea earlier. It seemed her mate was still finding ways to surprise her… and to think how worried she had been the night before about how Andrea would react when "Officer Destine" slipped her into the handcuffs.
Demona picked up the finely crafted collar, her grin turning devilish as she considered whether or not this outfit would fit her, as well. Turnabout was fair play, after all, and she couldn't see letting Andrea have all the fun if their games were to continue. Demona chuckled, making a mental note to give the ensemble a try when she was in her human form, and investigate what else was available at Spank Me Mama that might better suit a gargoyle. Maybe that set that Fox had recommended… that purchase would earn her at least one or two more punch cards to give to Andrea. Though she supposed that would also mean Ms. Destine would finally have to succumb to proper etiquette, and get around to sending the long overdue thank you note to Mrs. Xanatos for her thoughtful gift.
Still smiling in spite of that thought, Demona paused to light another candle off the stub of the dying one before returning to her reading. She had still yet to discern the source of the strange but brief wave of untamed magic she had sensed earlier, but the fact that the phenomena had not repeated in the hours since had eased her initial worries, and she had moved on to allow other pursuits to distract her. Demona stared at the centuries old journal that lay open before her, and picked up a quill to add a few more notes to the translation she had been in the process of making when Andrea had interrupted. Michel's handwriting was always difficult to read, but this passage in particular seemed to have been written in a great hurry, possibly the record of a waking dream he had scribbled in the dark before the image could fade. He had not failed, however, to be typically cryptic in his choice of wording and language. So far, the only phrase she had been able to translate that made any sense was "the new city." That often meant New York, but even that wasn't always true. Demona sighed. If she did not make a breakthrough soon, she knew this very well might end up becoming another example of Michel's gift of forethought whose true meaning would elude her until after the event of note had passed. "Why must you always make it so difficult, Michel?" she muttered as she jotted down possible translations for word that could be arcane French or badly misspelled Latin. With the writings of Michel de Nostradame, she'd learned, either possibility was equally likely.
Demona tried to remain focused, staring at the page for several long minutes after her pen had stopped moving, but her heart just wasn't it. She stifled a yawn. Michel was not going to give her any answers tonight, she decided. He had, however, given her the recipe for the special brew she had given to Andrea to help assure her of a restful night's sleep, so in a way, he had helped her after all. Demona gave a small smile. Perhaps she should retire, as well, and get a full night's sleep for once herself.
It was the glint of the candlelight reflecting off its polished surface that drew the ancient gargoyle's eye back to Andrea's antique jar. Demona marked her place and closed the journal, setting it carefully aside before picking the tiny glass container up to examine it once more. Andrea's story had seemed so crazy… but then again, very few in his lifetime had believed Michel's stories, either… and Andrea had seemed genuinely agitated. Demona spied her own twisted reflection looking back at her again as if from inside the glass, seeming to stare at her quizzically. Genies were a myth, or so the conventional wisdom said… but was a living and breathing, walking and talking urban legend like herself really capable of accepting that belief at face value? Demona tapped the talons of her free hand on the tabletop and scowled. Surely it could do no harm to find out for sure whether or not Andrea had imagined the genie of the bath bead jar.
"What is it the stories say, rub three times?" Demona shrugged, and did just that. She was expecting nothing to happen. Instead, she found herself gasping in surprise as wisps of smoke began to rise from around the rim of the stopper. Carefully, she rose from her stool and set the jar on the floor, then stepped back as the smoke thickened and formed into a dense, swirling cloud. The gargoyle sorceress narrowed her eyes, unimpressed so far by the special effects. "Tell me who you are," she demanded.
Andrea had said the genie had appeared to her as a woman, but it was a male voice that answered now. "I am the djinn who is cursed to serve whomever shall rub the glass which is my prison."
"So you are my servant now?" Demona asked.
"Yes, my Mistress," came the reply. "I am yours to command."
Demona crossed her arms and settled her wings. "I do not like speaking to a voice without a face, Genie." As she watched dispassionately, the cloud of smoke expanded, and the djinn transformed before her into the form of a well-muscled, smoke-gray, male gargoyle. Demona raised a brow ridge. "Very nice. But why do you not look as my mate described you?"
The djinn inclined his head. "My kind have no true form. How I appear to you depends on your expectations."
The explanation sounded reasonable enough, but Demona was still wary. She had yet to encounter a magical being whose services did not come with strings attached. "So what are the rules?" she asked. "How many wishes do I get?"
The gargoyle djinn smiled. "There are no rules, Mistress. I can grant you any request, and I am at your command for as long as you hold the glass."
"Any request?" Demona considered this carefully. Far from encouraging her, his comment made her only that much more suspicious. After all, the first thing she had taught Angela was the same thing she herself had learned early on as an apprentice under the Archmage's tutelage: there is no such thing as magic without a price. She had paid the price for the Sister's magic, and twice daily she was forced to make installments on that of the Puck's. What would this djinn's price be? A test was in order, she decided. "How about starting with something simple, Genie." She looked at the room around her, and the dozens of shelves strewn with books. "I've been meaning for ages to redecorate in here, but I've never been able to afford the downtime. Make this room look as it did when this house was brand new."
"As you wish, so shall it be, my Mistress." A flash of light and a split second later, Demona was gazing upon woodwork and plaster that had been restored to pristine condition. On the walls was a fresh coat of paint, and on the ceiling, an ornate chandelier hung in place of the plain utilitarian fixture that had been there moments before. Demona looked around, nodding approvingly as she saw even the scores of books upon the shelves had been neatly organized.
"Impressive," she said, keeping her enthusiasm in check. Already, she was considering the possibilities, but when dealing with the Third Race, it never paid to act in haste. A magical servant who would obey her every command definitely had great potential, but having a genie at her beck and call would also necessitate a good contingency plan, to avoid the risk of things backfiring on her as they repeatedly had done when she had summoned the Puck. A plan like that, however, would not be crafted without some careful research. For now, she would be safer keeping the djinn in its jar. "I may have use for you again later, Genie," she said, dismissing him.
The smoke gray gargoyle nodded respectfully. "Very well, my Mistress. I shall return to my prison. When you wish to summon me again, however, you have but to rub the glass three times, and I will be yours to command once more."
In a flash of light and a puff of smoke, the djinn was gone, leaving Demona alone. "So Andrea was not daydreaming," she mused. She picked the jar back up off the floor, handling it just a bit more carefully now that she was aware of the power contained within. "I shall have to have a talk with her in the morning," she decided, setting it back upon the worktable. "But we'll need some wards to protect us before we start making any big wishes." Demona held back another yawn as she extracted the most well-worn of her spellbooks from the stack she had assembled in preparation of Angela's next lesson. "I suppose there's no time to start like the present."
* * * * *
Genie rematerialized inside his glass prison, returning to the dark portion of the space he had ages ago designated as his own. "Oh yes, things are looking up," he commented. Smiling, he lashed the tail of his new gargoyle form and drew his wings about him like a dark cloak. This mortal practically had magic oozing off of her. It would take some time to figure out how to make use of that fact, of course, but experience had taught him that mortals who were magic users were, as a rule, always a very nice find. Especially if they were greedy, which they also usually were. Genie chuckled. "I may have use for you, as well, gargoyle… as my ticket out of here."
Out of his sight, Jeannie sat quietly in the darkness of her own small half of their tiny prison. After ten thousand years of sharing quarters with him, she knew better than to dare offer commentary whenever he started talking to himself. It was better simply to feign ignoring him, and maintain the peace. Still, she found it worthwhile not to totally block out his words. In fact, sometimes it proved to be quite enlightening just to listen, and keep mental notes.
Jeannie frowned worriedly. He was plotting again, and that was never a good sign. How long would it be, she wondered, before whatever scheme he hatched would backfire and cause his new master to panic and dispose of the glass jar which imprisoned them both? How long before, as consequence of that, she would be involuntarily separated again from her own new mistress, forced to wait in limbo until the bond of magic that held her in her current form was either broken by another or by the human woman's death? Andrea was quite young, and the latter could be a long time off indeed. If only she could gain enough of the young woman's favor to be permitted to dwell outside the jar. Then, at least, she might stand a chance of temporarily escaping whatever fate became of her fellow captive, when this gargoyle he spoke of finally saw through the lies he would soon surely be telling. Quietly, Jeannie sighed. The horrible sense of confinement and isolation a djinn experienced when sealed inside her prison was something few mortals could ever truly grasp. Her new mistress would have to be extraordinarily benevolent and merciful to grant her that kind of reprieve.
Still, Jeannie resolved that she would try. She would attend to every whim, no matter how small or distasteful. And just maybe, if she was lucky, some of her worries would be calmed in the process… such as what connection young Andrea, a human, had to a gargoyle. For now, though, the answer to that question was not important. Over the long centuries of her captivity, she had become skilled at patience. Her new mistress would summon her again soon enough. Until then, she would sit, rest, and do as she always had done. For now, Jeannie would wait.
* * * * *
Andrea awoke from a sound sleep to find herself snuggled in bed beside her mate. It was not even dawn yet, but try as she might, she couldn't force herself to fall back asleep. The events of the previous night replayed in her mind, and the more she thought about it, the more she was having trouble believing it had all been just her imagination playing a trick on her. "I guess there's only one way I'm going to know for sure whether or not I'm losing my mind," she said to herself. Carefully and quietly, she wriggled herself out of Dominique's winged embrace and slipped from the bed.
She remembered leaving the jar in the bathroom, sitting by the sink, so she had a brief moment of panic when she did not find it there. Returning to the bedroom, however, she spotted it resting upon the dresser, glinting in the sliver of moonlight which shone through the open window. Hesitantly, she picked it up and examined it again. It sure didn't look like anything other than a simple glass jar, but looks could be deceiving, after all.
Andrea cast a glance at the bed. Dominique was sound asleep, and dawn was still at least an hour away. She would take the jar and go downstairs for just a few minutes, she decided, and Dominique would never be the wiser.
Barefoot and dressed in only a sweater to stave off the early morning chill, Andrea crept quietly downstairs to the living room. Growing more nervous by the second, she cleared the magazines from the coffee table and set the jar in the middle. "This is silly, Andrea," she chided herself as she sat down on the sofa. "This is real life, not some Disney cartoon." Just a quick rub and Dominique would be proven right, she decided. Trying not to think about what a fool she must have looked like, Andrea leaned forward and placed her hands on the glass. "Come on out if you're in there, Jeannie," she muttered softly, her cheeks warming with embarrassment even as she spoke.
Andrea held her breath and stared at the rim of the jar, waiting for the smoke. For a moment, it seemed like nothing was going to happen. But then…
"You have summoned me, Mistress. I humbly await your command."
Andrea looked up sharply and edged back in her seat, shocked to find the woman she had met last night standing before her, hands clasped and head bowed submissively. "You… you are real," the young artist said in wonderment. "But… what happened to the smoke and everything?" she asked.
"I did not wish to frighten you again, Mistress," Jeannie replied softly. "My apologies, Mistress. If I have caused you disappointment, you may punish me as you see fit."
Andrea rose to her feet. "No, Jeannie, it's okay." Tentatively, she reached out and placed a hand on the other woman's shoulder, partly in reassurance to her and partly to assure herself that Jeannie was indeed real. "No one is going to punish you," she said gently, "and please, just call me Andrea. Not 'Mistress', just 'Andrea,' okay?"
Jeannie tensed and hazarded a quick moment of eye contact with the young woman who regarded her with such uncharacteristic empathy and compassion. "Yes, Andrea," she answered, dropping her eyes to the floor once again. "How may I serve?"
Andrea let her hand fall away, sensing Jeannie's discomfort with the physical contact. The last time the moment had felt this awkward, she had been standing in this same room, in almost the exact same spot, trying to process the unreal discovery that the good friend who had just become her lover also just happened to transform into a gargoyle by night. That had been only the first of many strange new things she had opened her mind to since meeting Dominique Destine, and deep down she had always known it would not be the last. With a magical genie now standing before her now, more surprises seemed all but assured. "I just wanted to learn more about you," she said at last. "I told my mate, Dominique, about you last night, but she thought I had just imagined you. She nearly had me convinced, too… but I'm glad she was wrong." Andrea smiled at her new companion, and gestured to the couch. "Will you sit with me, Jeannie? I'd really like to just talk."
"I will tell you all you wish to know, Lady Andrea." She hesitated as her mistress sat down, uncertain how to comply with the other half of the young woman's request. "Forgive me, Andrea, I mean no disrespect," she said, "but my proper place when you are seated would be on my knees."
"No," Andrea said, patting the cushion beside her, "your proper place is right here."
"As you wish, Lady Andrea." Timidly, Jeannie sat down. Either Andrea was determined to violate as many of the rules of conduct that should by all rights exist between a servant and her mistress as she could, or she was simply in ignorance of them. Either way, it unnerved her, as she couldn't be sure she was not being tested. The best she could do was trust her new mistress at her word, and obey. Jeannie settled herself onto the cushions, making herself as comfortable as she could while still maintaining a submissive posture. "What is it you desire to… talk about, Lady Andrea?" she queried mildly.
Andrea shrugged. "Everything?" she replied. "Where did you come from? How did you come to be in the jar? Are there others like you?"
Jeannie shifted slightly at the last question, and placed her hands demurely in her lap. "Perhaps I can answer many of your questions at one time by telling a story, if that would please you?" She waited until Andrea nodded in approval before continuing. "Very well," she said. Jeannie took a deep breath, steeling herself in preparation of the tale she was about to relate. "The story of the djinn is a tragic one, my Lady Andrea, and it begins over ten millennia ago as humans reckon time, with a great war which not only divided the peoples of the Third Race, but set apart both friends and lovers as well…"
* * * * *
"Impudent one! How dare you contradict me in front of the others?" The diaphanous djinn pulsed scarlet with anger as he turned on his companion.
She regarded him coolly, controlling her own temper with difficulty. The thick stone walls of Brocken Castle, home to the followers of the Unseelie rebellion, reverberated as they were assaulted by waves of roiling emotion. "I? How dare I? I dare because it is my right. I dare because-"
"You are my mate. You have no rights. I speak for us both."
The female lost the last thread of her self-control. "I was your mate. No longer shall I be. I renounce you and your self-serving, pig-headed stubbornness. How can you not see the war is going badly? You must be blind if you cannot see that remaining here will lead to our ruin. We must find a way to negotiate our way back into the graces of Lord Oberon."
"Harlot!" the djinn screamed. Fireballs materialized in front of him. He snatched them out of the air and flung them at his once beloved. Startled by his outburst, the female had only a fraction of a second to raise a defense. She deflected the searing energy but could not disperse it. One fireball impacted into the ground at her feet, throwing shards of slate high into the air. The second fireball she deflected back toward her antagonist. He ducked and it exploded against the stone twenty feet behind them. Daylight poured in through the ruined wall. "This has nothing to do with the war. You pine for that whelp Coyote. I knew there was a reason the pair of you were whispering behind my back in the gardens of Avalon and it had nothing to do with swaying him to our cause." He fired a second volley of fireballs and the female winked temporarily out of existence, dodging white-hot energy. She rematerialized behind her ex-mate a moment later, catching him off guard with her return volley. The male djinn was forced to abandon the vaguely bipedal form he'd assumed and drop to the ground to avoid being caught in the flames.
"Your cause," she said coldly. "Never mine. I followed you, as did the others, out of loyalty and love. That you cannot see this proves that both were misplaced. But you must truly be blind. How else could you defend their actions against our people? They have lied to us and treated us little better than their enemies though we have served them faithfully enough. They have placed us at the beck and call of the entire Brocken Court. We are slaves, not partners."
Her opponent glared at her stubbornly. "That's not true," he protested. "We serve the court only because they are waiting for the proper time to utilize our talents. Our leadership."
The female, if she had taken a form with eyes, would have rolled them. "I notice you have yet to be named general. Wasn't that your price for betraying Oberon?"
The pulsing red entity elongated, arms and legs appeared from the mist and reached for the volley of fireballs hung poised to launch. He paused, stung by the jab. "Not yet. But it is only a matter of time. Why can't you and the others see that? Of course they have moved slowly. We were among the last to join the mighty cause so our loyalty must be questioned. But I will be a general and we will prevail against Oberon."
The female shook her head in disbelief. "Fool. Stay here if you wish with Madoc and Maeve. No doubt others will keep you company. But the rest of us will make our peace with Oberon." With a final shake of her slender blue shoulders, the female djinn dematerialized in a puff of smoke.
* * *
The throne room rumbled ominously and Maeve looked up sharply, diverting her attention momentarily from the string of battle reports being delivered by her contingent of lieutenants.
She waved one delicate hand before her and the air shimmered and reformed. A distant part of the castle appeared before the courtiers and they gathered to watch as a pair of amorphous creatures argued fiercely. "So," Maeve muttered softly to the wraith-like Morrigan as the argument unfolded, "we have dissention in the ranks. It seems the djinn are not entirely loyal to the cause."
"Untrustworthy bunch," Morrigan spat in response. "You shoulda left them to Oberon."
Maeve narrowed her eyes in agreement. "I've often thought so myself. But Madoc was determined to take all who were willing. Even if it meant creatures such as the djinn and the orcs."
Morrigan rolled her dark eyes to the ceiling as a wordless commentary on Madoc's determination to best his brother Oberon, Lord of Avalon. "Aye, but at least the orcs are good in battle when ya point'm in the right direction. Ya can't trust a djinn to show up let alone fight by your side."
"I quite concur." The scene concluded as the female djinn dematerialized from the chamber, leaving her repudiated mate lobbing fireballs at the ruined chamber. Maeve gestured at the window and it shrunk into a small white glowing orb. "Morrigan, take a contingent and round up all of the djinn."
"There's several units out in the field, cousin. You've got them raisin' Cain in the mortal realm as a diversion."
"Recall them. Quickly. Send Anath if she's not left for her own raid. A unit of Sidhe knights otherwise. Those djinn in the castle, contain them. It seems we have a rebellion in the making. I want it quelled by the time Lord Madoc returns from his review of the Southern front. I'll begin interrogations starting with those two." Maeve indicated the glowing orb that floated before her. "Go now."
"Aye, Cousin." Morrigan bowed low. As she rose, her mouth curved into a death's head grin. "I'll have 'm tied in neat packages before they know what hit 'm." The skeletal woman shimmered and morphed into a raven black crow, cawed twice and then disappeared entirely.
* * *
Ranks of courtiers stood silently as Madoc passed judgment over the djinn. No one dared speak out less they be accused and summarily tried, then convicted, for sedition. Column by column the djinn had been brought before the Unseelie king. Their amorphous bodies were contained in sheaths of energy, for no chain could bind those who had no true form.
"Traitors! All of you!" Madoc roared. "I won't have traitors among my court." He scanned the imprisoned. Scowling, he whispered to Maeve, who stood dressed in full battle armor at his side.
She inclined her head sharply at Morrigan. The wraith-woman stood at the back of the chamber instead of her accustomed place at the Unseelie queen's right shoulder. "Bring in the last of the prisoners."
Morrigan bowed but did not otherwise move. However, a moment later two djinn escorted by Sekhmet entered the audience chamber. One, a female, moved slowly as a prisoner might, especially if that prisoner had been well and thoroughly interrogated. The second, a male, though he was bound by the same magical bonds, appeared jaunty despite the severity of the moment. He grinned at Madoc and Maeve as he entered the silent room, though his confidence seemed to falter somewhat as he passed row after row of his defeated kinsman.
"It's about time," Madoc growled as the last to prisoners were herded before the dais.
The male djinn looked up at the Unseelie king and queen in shock as he was forced to assume a subservient pose. "Hold!" he protested to the lion headed female who held his bonds. "Lady Maeve and I had a deal."
Maeve sneered, her sharp features curled in disdain at the prisoners at her feet. "Indeed we had, my loyal servant. As you promised, your information was quite useful and you assisted us in averting a most unseemly scandal by betraying your people. However," she drawled, smiling coldly at the prisoner, "you must have heard our lord Madoc's view of traitors as you awaited your turn to be escorted in." The green of her high cheekbones darkened in mock-embarrassment. "He can't abide them. I'm afraid I'll have to rescind your promotion, General," The female djinn who had "knelt" quietly during the exchange risked additional punishment and stared shocked at the prisoner bound next to her. "But I believe we've come up with a suitable boon as a reward."
"Indeed." Madoc who previously had lounged in his tall, straight-backed throne, rose to his feet and addressed the djinn. "You found dissatisfaction in my service. You thought those tasks I asked beneath you. When you were allowed to congregate amongst yourselves you betrayed my trust. We are most disappointed." His gaze was steely as he surveyed the assembled court, warning all assembled that any perceived unrest would be dealt with just as severely. "So as the punishment shall fit the crime, I pronounce sentence upon the djinn. That you may learn service is its own reward, you are sentenced to serve others. Because you cause trouble in numbers, you are sentenced to forever be isolated from your own kind." Madoc raised his hands and blinding white energy shot forth, surrounding the cocoons that bound the imprisoned djinn. "You will be cast forth into the mortal world. Only they may call you forth from your prison. Each wish must be granted. Every whim must be obeyed. The bond of servitude will be released when either the mortal leaves the earthly realm or when another mortal takes possession of the container in which you are to be imprisoned."
Maeve whispered into the king's ear. He frowned at her, annoyed at being interrupted.
"Yes, of course. Very well." Madoc returned to face the court. "Lest the punishment be thought too harsh, I shall offer these caveats to soften the sentence. If a mortal creature, of its own free will, wishes a prisoner free, then that prisoner will be released from the geas but at the cost of losing its powers. The prisoner will become mortal, trapped in the form it assumes upon its release. It will have the lifespan of the creature who caused it to be freed. So hope for your sakes never to be summoned by a mayfly."
The court tittered stiffly at Madoc's joke.
"Now if the prisoner can trick a mortal in assuming its sentence, then that prisoner shall be free, free to exercise its powers and roam the earth for as long as the mortal lives or until it escapes the prison – whichever comes first. When that eventuality comes to pass, the geas shall reassert itself and the prisoner's parole shall be revoked."
The hum of Madoc's energy blast drowned the shocked murmurs of the courtiers and the stunned outrage of the imprisoned djinn. Row after row of the condemned disappeared, only to be replaced by a sea of glass-like spheres. At last only two remained.
"At the request of the Lady Maeve, you have been granted a boon," Madoc announced to the remaining djinn. "It was you who brought the matter of the djinn's sedition to our attention. If not for your little tiff," he said referring to the destruction of the great stone hall, " we might have never known how unhappy your kind was in our service. Therefore, you two shall serve your sentence together." Madoc's lips curved into a cold smile. "Surely a millennia or two will be enough time to patch up your lover's quarrel."
The pair stared at each other in horror and loathing. "No, lord Madoc! Please! Anything but this!" They cried in vain as they joined the others in the sea of bobbing glass.
Maeve whispered again in Madoc's ear. He inclined his head. "As you wish."
A moment later, the spheres had disappeared from the court of the Unseelie king. Dispersed deep in the sea, buried in the burning desert sands, and cast to distant mountain tops. All but one. Maeve plucked the final glass prison out of the air and tucked it in the pouch at her waist.
* * * * *
"And so, as Lord Madoc commanded, we were imprisoned and cast out into the mortal world."
"Have you had many masters and mistresses?" Andrea said softly, still awed that she was listening to an accounting of events over ten thousand years past.
The djinn nodded. Her elfin features tightened as she recalled her many masters. "Countless. Or so it seems. For many years I was servant to the Lady Maeve. In a way, I was lucky. She was occupied by the war and had little time to spend inventing punishment for a disloyal subject. But eventually, she grew bored and cast my prison out into the mortal world as Lord Madoc had decreed. Time would pass. Long stretches or short, I was never really sure as time flows so differently in this realm."
"Your masters, how did they treat you"? Andrea leaned forward with undisguised fascination. "What did they want you to do? I remember stories as a child about genies granting fabulous treasures. But it seemed like the genies never got much in return."
Jeannie shifted uncomfortably. She focused on one of the intricately woven flowers in the rug at her feet. "I know not of these stories of which you speak. But my own experiences were much the same. Masters or mistresses it mattered not. I was their slave and they used me as they saw fit."
"What do you mean?"
Andrea's voice was soft and it seemed sympathetic. Jeannie allowed herself to steal a glance toward her latest mistress. There was no malice in the young woman's delicate features. Jeannie had no sense that she was feigning interest as others had done in the past. "For some, I was a no more than a beast of burden. It was easy for me to fetch gold, diamonds, riches beyond their imaginings, and heap them at the feet of my masters. Others wanted more … personal attentions. It was commanded that I fulfill every desire, no matter how base. That is why I was confused when we first met. I, too, have worn chains to please my masters. I did not know such things could be considered mutually pleasurable."
Andrea, who had moved closer to her ethereal companion to offer support during the difficult retelling of her history, sat back abruptly, embarrassed, as she reconsidered their meeting from Jeannie's point of view. "I'm sorry we met the way we did. For me, the chains were part of a harmless game. It was a way to please my lover... completely voluntary on my part." Andrea flushed pink. "I never imagined them any other way. I must have made some first impression."
She turned her head away from Jeannie, mortified. Suddenly the Arabian Nights outfit didn't seem nearly as much fun, and she regretted its purchase.
Jeannie stole another glance at her companion. The human woman was in the process of wiping something out of her eye. Was that a tear?
Andrea cleared her throat. "So you can get things for people and fulfill their desires. That's not all, is it? Something happened in the bathroom last night. The water in the tub. The bath oil beads. Me falling on my tail. I remember it happening. All of it. But then the water wasn't overflowing. The bath beads weren't all over the floor, they were in their bag as if I'd never touched it. And I sure as heck don't have a bruise," the blonde concluded as she rubbed her hip in remembered pain. "You did something. Didn't you?"
Jeannie nodded her head slowly, wondering if she'd displeased her mistress. "I had frightened you, Lady Andrea, which was never my intention. So I altered time. Just a little," she hastened to add. "So that you would incur no injury because of my incompetence."
A feral scream ripped through the silence that began to stretch between the pair as Andrea digested the conversation and Jeannie waited for her to pronounce her punishment for being so forward. The djinn's head jerked up involuntarily at the piercing shriek, and she began to worry anew as the human female's only reaction was to frown slightly. "That was so strange. For a while there, I thought I was losing my mind. But then you reappeared. So are there things you can't do?"
The djinn glanced carefully back up toward the source of the scream and then cautiously replied. Perhaps the human was not nearly as kind as she had seemed only a moment ago. "A thousand pardons, Andrea, but that cry sounded as if someone was in great pain. Can I not assist that person in some way?"
"I don't think so," Andrea replied. The sadness had returned to her voice. "Unless you can influence the magic of others?"
The djinn shook her head. "No, Andrea, I cannot. Nor can I alter your memory, hence your regrettable confusion about last night. I cannot compel a mortal to act against their will nor cause two mortals to fall in love where none exists already. I cannot be compelled to kill. Nor can I bring life back to the dead. In our own way the djinn wield great power, but it would be wrong to think us omnipotent, for all creatures have limits."
Andrea continued to pepper Jeannie with questions. Overhead, the clinking of the water pipes indicated Dominique in the shower, but Andrea paid the sound no mind. Minutes turned to an hour as they talked. Before long, the sound of water had given way to the muffled buzz of a hairdryer. Still, it was all little more than background noise, and Andrea did not allow it to distract her as she continued to absorb Jeannie's answers.
Movement at the top of the stairs caught Andrea's attention. "I really hate to do this, Jeannie, it seems rude, but Dominique is coming and I'm not sure I want her to meet you yet."
"Andrea? Andrea, who are you talking to?" Dominique called from the landing as she padded barefoot down the stairs.
Andrea stared at Jeannie, panicked, but she couldn't seem to make herself form the words to compel her strange companion back to the confines of the tiny jar.
"Andrea, darling, I thought I heard you speaking to someone. Is it the courier from the office? I'm expecting some papers to sign."
"No, not the courier." Andrea stared wide-eyed as Dominique swept passed Jeannie without even glancing at her. "I was just thinking out loud. About an idea for a new painting."
Dominique kissed Andrea softly then broke the embrace as she caught sight of the antique glass jar sitting on the coffee table. "Andrea, pet, I need to talk to you about this." She picked up the jar and found herself at a loss for a reason that wouldn't provoke Andrea's curiosity further. "I'm not sure, but I think it may be dangerous. Perhaps I should lock it up."
"Why?" Andrea asked innocently. She exchanged a glance with Jeannie who still stood quietly next to the coffee table. "What's inside?" she asked her mate. Then mouthed to Jeannie, "Why can't she see you?"
"Only you can see and hear me," Jeannie replied in her normal softly spoken tone. "You are my mistress, not she."
Give her the truth, Dominique thought to herself. The highly edited truth. Andrea won't let go if she thinks you're hiding something. "I was somewhat… premature in my assessment last night. After you went to bed, I studied the jar further. I summoned forth the creature within. It was of the Third Race and they are seldom trustworthy. I want you to leave it alone. Don't touch it until I've had a chance to do some research and study this in depth."
"But-" Andrea was confused. Jeannie and Dominique were contradicting one another. And then she recalled part of her previous conversation with the djinn. "Whoever holds the vessel controls the entity within?"
"That's correct, Andrea," Dominique said unknowingly confirming Jeannie's affirmation. "And you must be extremely careful when summoning creatures of magic. I've had my share of experience with this so you must believe me when I tell you that they are not to be treated lightly. The Third Race is rife with tricksters who will seduce you with promises of fulfilling your fondest wish and then neglect to tell you that it will come at a dear price."
"But Dominique," Andrea protested, "I know you've had some bad experiences but aren't you overreacting just a little? Surely it's prejudice to paint all these beings with the same brush!"
Dominique shook her head. She stepped past the unseen djinn and took her lover into her arms. "My darling Andrea, you are truly the world's last optimist. You can't sit down with tea and biscuits and persuade these creatures to give up the errors of their ways. They are fundamentally untrustworthy. If it makes it easier for you, think of them as pathologically damaged. Incapable of being anything but the dangerous things that they are."
Andrea shook off her lover's embrace. "I can't believe that. If that's what I think it is then there's a creature who's been trapped in servitude for untold millennia in there. A creature who's been forced to cater to the basest whims and desires that mortal creatures were able to devise. Of course it's possible that some of them have become bitter and angry after been enslaved all that time." The petite woman whirled on her mate, eyes flashing. "Wouldn't you?"
Jeannie stared at the floor, wishing she could flee to the safety of her glass prison. Her most recent mistress was obviously a gentle soul untainted by the poisonous hatred that had infected so many, including, it seemed, the flame-haired woman with whom she argued so passionately. It had been less than a day, as the humans reckoned time, and yet already her mistress was willing to be not only her champion, but advocate of her entire race.
That of itself was confusing, but it was only one mystery. Her fellow captive had gloated of meeting a gargoyle sorceress. One he was sure he could persuade to take his place. Yet the human woman claimed that she had freed the djinn in the bottle. No one had called her from captivity after her encounter with Andrea and it would have been her turn to answer a summons. It made no sense.
The chime of the doorbell interrupted her thoughts as it did those of the arguing lovers. "Now who could it be at this hour?" Dominique growled savagely. Irritated at the interruption yet relieved for an excuse to stop the pointless fight, she turned her back on Andrea, cutting her off in mid-argument, and strode quickly from the living room to the entry hall. With an angry tug, she jerked open the door without so much as an upward glance at the security monitor mounted above the door. "Macbeth," she spat, her anger renewed at the unwelcome intrusion. "What do you want?"
"Ms. Destine, morning finds you charming as ever," he replied coolly.
Andrea, having followed in her lover's angry wake, quickly covered for the other woman's rudeness. There was actually a couple standing on the wide stone steps of Destine Manor. Macbeth, as Dominique had called him, was a ruggedly handsome man of perhaps fifty, gray of hair and beard but attractive in his well-cut suit that suggested academia. The woman with him was younger by perhaps ten years and pretty. Andrea found she was drawn to her lively green eyes and the bemused glance that suggested this was not the first time she'd seen her companion engaged with Dominique Destine. "I'm afraid we were in the middle of a kind of intense discussion. I'm sure that Dominique didn't mean to be so abrupt, did you, Domi? And I'm sure she didn't mean to keep you standing out on the porch, either. Won't you please come in?"
Andrea tugged at her lover's elbow, forcing her to vacate the doorway so that Macbeth and his companion could enter the hall. "I'm sure we'd all be more comfortable in the living room, and perhaps you'd like some coffee? It's kind of brisk out there. Andrea rubbed her arms though she was clad in a heavy green cable knit sweater. "I'm Andrea, by the way," she added since it seemed Dominique still needed time to regain her manners.
"Nae, lass, though thanks for offering. We won't keep you but a minute. Joanna, here," he said, gesturing to his companion and attempting to ease Andrea's burden of restoring civility, "and I were making an early morning of it and since our errands were taking us this way, I thought we might pick up Angela's dress tunic. She's addressing my class on Monday and since we're meeting later she asked if I might bring it to her. You might want to check your messages, Dominique. It seems that the lass tried calling into the wee hours of the morning. 'Course," he said, indicating Dominique's richly embroidered satin robe and Andrea's lack of leggings or jeans, "I suppose you've been otherwise occupied."
Andrea flushed crimson. She'd cast on the sweater in haste and since it had reached the middle of her thighs, she hadn't bothered with anything else. "I'll be right back." She left the others and rushed toward the laundry room.
"She seems very sweet," Joanna remarked. "Have you known each other long?"
"That's hardly your concern," Dominique snapped.
"Eh, eh, put your claws away," Macbeth soothed. "You never were much of a morning person, were you, Demona?"
Joanna quirked an eyebrow at the strange nickname. Demona? That sounded like a pet name, yet Len had never mentioned that he'd been so intimate with the formidable Dominique Destine. The sharp greeting at the door and the intense vibe of tension seemed to indicate they'd once been lovers or more? Had they been? No, she reasoned. Surely Len would have said something if they had married and then split up.
The trio stood in uneasy silence, unaware they were all being studied by the djinn. Several awkward minutes passed and then Andrea returned with the tunic over one arm, her bare legs now covered with a pair of painter's cut canvas pants. "Sorry for the delay. It's been washed but I'm afraid it still needs pressing."
"I'm sure it will be fine," Joanna stepped forward smoothly and retrieved the tunic from Andrea.
"You've got what you're after," Dominique gestured toward the door. "Now if you don't mind?"
"Domi, please," Andrea protested. "These are guests in our home. It won't take me more than a minute to get the coffee things together. Or tea if you rather. We have both."
"Don't trouble yourself, Miss Andrea," Macbeth said. "Demona's lack of manners quit givin' me pause years ago. If you're to last any length of time around her then you'd best learn to do the same."
"Insolent bastard," the redhead interjected just barely under her breath.
No one failed to notice the invective. "Perhaps we should be going." Joanna tugged at Macbeth's arm. "It's obvious we've come at a bad time."
"Any time he darkens my door it's a bad time," Dominique spat. She noticed the jar still clutched in her hand and shoved it roughly into Andrea's.
"Funny," the Scotsman said smoothly, "who sought whom out in Paris? I seem to remember it was you who came cattin' around my door."
Joanna and Andrea both stared incredulously as their lovers tore into each other. Innuendoes and insults flew as the pair stood locked in a fighting pose. Curiously, though it seemed that both were mightily tempted, neither struck a blow.
"Dominique, please," Andrea pleaded.
"Len, there's nothing to be gained."
Neither woman was heeded as the level of venom rose.
"Who betrayed who?" Macbeth growled coldly.
"Stop this!" Andrea cried. "I can't listen to the two of you. I don't know what started the bad blood, but I wish you'd never started fighting!"
Jeannie pressed her hands together and bowed slightly. "As you wish, so shall it be, my mistress Andrea."
* * * * *
"I promise you Bebe, I've found the perfect substitute for Angela. Your audience will love him," Fox said breezily to the voice mail of Bebe Wylde, the PackStudio's West Coast executive in charge of booking talent. "Call me Monday and we'll work out all the details: the talk show, maybe a couple of gigs at Barnes and Borders, you know, all the usual. Gotta run, babe. Kiss, kiss."
Fox replaced the receiver and checked off a couple of boxes on her to-do list. She'd worked through the night. Again. Luckily, it was Sunday and there was still plenty of time for some well-deserved rest.
She first felt, rather than saw David. He was standing in the doorway of her office with a slightly bemused smile dancing over his lips. "You waited up for me."
The lithe woman rose sinuously from her desk and stretched. "I had a few things to keep me busy. She shut the lid of her computer and cleared most of the remains of her evening off the desktop. "Is everything all right on your end?"
It was David's turn to shrug. "Nothing Owen and I couldn't handle. Ready to turn in? Owen will take care of Alexander until we have to leave for the Bradley boy's birthday party this afternoon."
Fox nodded. "In a minute. Why don't you go start the tub. I've got one more call to make and then I'll be along."
David nodded. The smile that played at his lips belied the fatigue in his eyes. Whatever had occupied him for the duration of the evening had troubled him. Whatever troubled David, troubled Fox. "One more call and then I'll find out just what went on in Sector 13."
Absently, she hit the speed dial connection to Destine Manor. She let the phone ring, frowning when neither human nor machine answered, and went to join her husband.
* * * * *
The ringing of the telephone sounding through the rooms and halls of Destine Manor ended abruptly, leaving a deathly silence in its wake. Nothing stirred as the early morning sunlight began to peak through the heavily shrouded windows of the living room. On the floor in the foyer, lying in a heap, were four prone bodies…
* * * * *
Scotland, 1041 A.D.
Cold as he'd not felt for nearly a thousand years crept through Lennox Macduff. He felt the ground gingerly beneath him and found …were those rushes? Since when had Demona used any type of fibrous plant as floor covering in her lavish, though severely decorated, home? He was quite certain that her foyer was marble. His fingers probed deeper until they found stone. Dim visceral memory floated to the fore as he sniffed the air and caught the scent of wood smoke and the hygiene of another era, wool, not recently washed, perfumes and pomades to cover the musky smell of bodies too long in close quarters. Unwillingly, he opened his eyes and found he was in truth lying sprawled on the ground of a well-appointed chamber. Well appointed, that is, if it was the 11th century and you happened to be in, say, Scotland? "Nae. It canna be," Macbeth muttered as he took to his feet and surveyed a room he'd not stood in for centuries.
The tall stone walls were covered with heavy tapestries to blunt the bone-numbing cold that permeated the castle no matter the season. If he looked behind him he should see his favorite, a retelling of the legend of the Stone of Destiny. He pivoted and there it was, brightly hued as if it had been hanging only a few months and had not yet had time to be darkened by soot from the ever-present fire.
He touched his head, gingerly at first, to see if he had sustained some injury. Was he hallucinating now? Or was Lennox Macduff and his thousand years of adventures a fever dream brought on by some malady of which he'd been finally healed?
Suddenly dizzy, Macbeth bent over at the waist and grabbed his knees. He realized he was not alone. A woman. A woman whose copper hair was caught up in a circlet of gold. A woman who he had not set eyes upon for lifetimes was regaining consciousness at his feet. "Gruoch?" he whispered, unwilling to believe his eyes.
Despite his persistent vertigo, Macbeth knelt and took his wife into his arms. He straightened and carried her from his private office, where they'd evidently taken ill, into the nearby bedchamber. Gently, he set her still unconscious form onto the bed and poured water from the bedside pitcher into silver cup. He drank. The cold clear water chased the residual dizziness away. He took a moment to build up the fire, burning low in the large stone fireplace, before returning to Gruoch's side. "Gruoch, love, wake up. Gruoch, can ya hear me?"
She moaned and her eyes fluttered open. "Len?" Joanna struggled to focus. "What happened? I was…" Her vision cleared and she stopped mid-sentence, confused by her companion's sudden change of appearance. When she'd passed out her lover had been dressed in a low key but stylish three-piece brown wool suit. Now he looked like he was ready to preside over a meeting of the local chapter of the S.C.A. The suit was gone. In its place he was wearing a tunic of richly woven green wool. The visible portion of his legs from mid thigh to the tops of a pair hand sewn leather boots were covered by leggings of linen. Or was it a finer wool? Her eyes were still too bleary to tell. Len's beard, usually neatly trimmed, was longer, as was his hair, held back like her own with a gold circlet of office.
"You called me Len." Macbeth studied the fallen woman closely. The world seemed to flip-flop again before gravity slowly reasserted itself. "Then you're not Gruoch after all." He sounded faintly disappointed. "Joanna, lass, is it you?"
She nodded slowly. "I think so, but why did you think I was Gruoch?" Joanna touched her own face. She felt the unfamiliar circlet of office at her brow and frowned as her hands drifted to the long red braid of hair. She struggled to rise and faltered as a wave of dizziness overtook her.
"Take your time, love." Macbeth refilled the goblet and held it to her lips. She drank several sips before pushing the cup away.
"Somehow we've been moved backward in time and place," Joanna said softly as she took in the unfamiliar trappings of Castle Moray. She grinned ruefully. "Temporal displacement. I've studied the equations. But somehow the math just doesn't prepare you for the actual experience. Wait a minute." She slipped to the edge of the bed and unsteadily gained her feet. "You're still you. I recognize you even with the change of costume. But for some reason, I'm not me. I mean, I am, but I'm in somebody else's body, aren't I?"
Macbeth nodded. He looked around the chamber until he found a mirror made of highly polished silver. He held it before Joanna, allowing her to see her own reflection for the first time. "You are my lady-wife Gruoch: Queen of the Scots. And this is our home, one of them anyway, Castle Moray, Scotland. I'm not sure of the year. They changed the calendar a bit along the way, but I'd reckon it to be the Year of Our Lord 1040 or maybe '41."
Realization dawned slowly over Joanna as she considered her companion's solemn tone. He'd awakened in his own home nearly a thousand years in the past. What must he have felt? Relief that a bad dream had ended? Had he been comforted by the sight of a wife he'd thought long dead and buried? Joanna reached out and touched Macbeth's cheek. "I'm sorry, Len. This must be horrible for you."
He shook his head, took her fingers in his own and pressed them to his lips. "It's disconcerting, but don't blame yourself. However this happened you're nae responsible and neither am I."
Joanna shivered, chilled by a cold that had nothing to do with stone walls or the crisp Scottish clime. "Then how, Len? How did this happen?"
Macbeth pulled Joanna into his arms and cradled her against his chest. "I cannae say for certain, Jo, but I'd wager that a certain flame-headed wench has had something to do with it."
"Dominique Destine?" Joanna hazarded.
"Aye, that's the name you know her by. But at this point in her accursed life, she was known to my court as 'Demona'."
Joanna shook her head, gesturing non-comprehension. "Demona? You called Ms. Destine that during your fight. But she couldn't possibly have been alive in this time unless... Wait a minute. Demona. Now I remember where I've heard that name before. Wasn't that the name of Angela's companion in Scotland? The other gargoyle, I mean. The one we met at the ruins of your castle outside of Edinburgh? I'm afraid I don't understand. How could Dominique Destine be known in this time as a gargoyle named Dem-" Bits and pieces of a late night turned early morning conversation in an Edinburgh hotel suite linked themselves with other fragments and realization turned to understanding. "You're not suggesting that- You didn't tell me everything that night, did you, Lennox." Her voice was quiet and the modern name seemed odd to Macbeth coming as it did from Gruoch's lips. "Actually, I guess under the circumstances what you told me was more than enough, but still, there was more to your story. You weren't the only one enspelled. I understood that. But you didn't tell me that you and Dominique. Demona. What should I call her anyway?"
"For the time being, Demona will suffice," Macbeth said. "And I didnae tell you the rest because…" he paused, trying to reconcile his conflicted feelings. "My history with Demona has been complicated," Macbeth said at last. "At this point in time she and her clan are allies. She is a general in my army and a trusted advisor."
"But before, at her house, you were so hateful towards one another."
Macbeth gave his companion a bitter look. "Aye. We had something of a falling out."
"What kind?" she asked softly, thinking back to the passionate encounter she'd witnessed.
He turned his back on Joanna and stared into the fire. "Leave it lay, Joanna. This isn't the time or place to worry about our personal history. It's not important. We need to concentrate on finding our way back to our own time. Just leave it lay."
* * * * *
Andrea screamed. She stretched and shook the remnants of stone skin from her pale green skin. She was surrounded on the high cliffs that overlooked the Firth of Moray by other gargoyles. Gargoyles busy leaping from their perches, nuzzling their mates in greeting and doing all the things one might do after first awakening from a long day's sleep. It all seemed so real. So natural, she thought as she surveyed the others around her. I don't ever think I've had a dream so vivid. But even her most vivid dreams weren't tactile, and she felt craggy stones and heather beneath her feet. She could smell the tang of salt spray in the crisp night air and the odor of cooking fires drifting from somewhere below the gargoyles' perches. Andrea froze, talons tangled in her mane of long black hair. She was suddenly very afraid.
"Dominique?" she whispered.
Andrea pivoted. To her left stood Dominique, shaking off the last of her own stone shell. She was staring at the bits of hardened skin in shock, as though she herself had awoken from a very long and intense dream.
"I'm here," she repeated more fervently as if just becoming aware for the first time where "here" was. "This cannot be," the azure gargoyle murmured softly. "Could this really be Scotland?"
"Domi, please," Andrea pleaded. "I'm scared. What's happened to us?"
Demona looked up at last at the pale green gargoyle who stared at her with pleading eyes. The female at her side was familiar. She'd been her protégé a lifetime ago; a likely candidate to become her eventual successor as leader to the gargoyle clan that Demona herself currently thought of as her own. But why was she calling her "Dominique"? It would be centuries before she would adopt the human name. This female had never called her anything more familiar than "Leader." And the diminutive "Domi," only her human mate had called her that. "Andrea?" she said at last. "Is that you?"
The pale green female nodded uncertainly. "I think so."
Demona crossed the narrow breach between them and took the younger female into a winged embrace. "Shhh, it's all right, love. I don't know. But by the dragon I'll find out. Now hush," she consoled. Demona broke the embrace and spoke a little louder for the benefit of others who had noticed the green female's distress. "Dry your tears. You're a gargoyle and a leader in training. It was nothing more than a silly dream."
"Yes, Do-," Andrea started to reply, but she was silenced by a sharp head shake.
"If you must address me, call me 'Leader'," Demona whispered fiercely under her breath.
"Yes, Leader," Andrea replied loudly and for the benefit of the others.
"Is everything all right, lass?" a pale yellow older male, tall and broad of chest, inquired.
Andrea bobbed her head, disconcerted as several gargoyles gathered around her, sniffing and touching her gently. It seemed as if they were trying to comfort her, so she smothered her unease and caped her wings as casually as she could. "I'm fine. It was just a dream. A very intense, unexpected dream."
"What kind of a dream?" another male asked. He was muscular and a great rack of ram's horns curled around his ears.
"I don't suppose I was in it?" a third queried. He laughed saucily. "You finally realized that I was your own true love and it shamed you to realize you've been denyin' me all along?"
"Not exactly," Andrea stammered as she backed away from the shorter though undeniably male gargoyle who had been so forward. "I'm afraid you're still not my cup of tea."
Hoots of laughter greeted Andrea's denial and the males clutched at their hearts, mocking the plight of their rookery brother. They fell away to other pursuits as an imposing looking older female strode up to join Andrea and Demona.
"Och, those males. It'll be a relief to one and all when they're mated off and settled down." She gave Andrea a meaningful look and the younger female dropped her eyes, embarrassed.
"I'm weighing my options," Andrea stammered. She looked beseechingly at Demona.
But the older female wasn't finished with Andrea. She looked her up and down, inspecting her closely. Andrea felt herself straightening to attention. "Say, girl, now what's that you've got there? You've not been collecting trifles from the humans again, have ya? Wasn't it enough the Lady Gruoch already had a word?"
The female pointed to the small glass container cradled in Andrea's talons. "No," Andrea said quickly. "It's not from the castle. I found it last night while on patrol." She cringed a little at the last word. She'd heard Angela and the others use it often enough. Hopefully patrolling was an activity these gargoyles participated in as well.
"Second," Demona addressed the other female. "I'll worry about the young one and her scavenging. You organize those overly energetic males into squads and sent half of them hunting. The rest can train. Perhaps a few hours sparring with the drill instructor will check their overwrought libidos." Demona turned to the others, snapping orders as crisply as if it were just another day at Nightstone Unlimited and they had a milestone to meet. Andrea found herself reassured as Demona's taloned hand came down on her own shoulder. "You are with me tonight, young one."
Andrea couldn't help but notice the mixed reactions of her new clanmates. It was not unlike observing those who worked for Demona when she was in her human guise. Some were clearly glad to be assigned to tasks away from their clan leader. Others stared at Andrea with undisguised envy as their leader singled her out for special duty.
"It's good to be the boss, sometimes," Demona commented with a small fanged grin as soon as she and Andrea were alone on the high bluff.
"I can see that." Andrea studied her mate. She seemed perfectly at home among the gargoyle clan. No one seemed to question her presence as their leader. "These gargoyles know you, Domi. And you know them. Where are we? When are we?"
Demona, busy twisting her fiery red tresses into a bun at the back of her neck, grinned again as she realized what she'd been doing. It was a perfectly natural act for Dominique Destine. After all, she would never allow her help to see her relaxed and with her hair down. She undid the knot and allowed the wind to blow her hair as it would. "I do know them. This is my… was my clan. But that was centuries ago. No Andrea. I know where we are. The questions are when and more importantly: why?"
Demona stared off toward the distant fires of a walled encampment. "We'll find our answers there. At least some of them. Come on." She grabbed Andrea by the hand and pulled her toward the cliff's edge.
"Domi! No. I can't!" Andrea cried as her mate unfurled her wings.
"You can," Demona replied calmly. "And you must. Trust me, Andrea. I'll never let you fall, remember?"
Andrea nodded as she recalled their first real weekend together. They'd gone upstate to a mountain hideaway. Dominique had taken her outside to watch the sunset. After she'd transformed, gloriously nude and reveling in her metamorphosis, Andrea, equally naked, had climbed upon her back and together they had glided to a secluded grotto where they'd made love for hours.
"I trust you," Andrea replied, though her voice trembled just a little. She closed her eyes and leapt off the cliff. She smiled in delight as her wings caught the breeze.
* * * * *
"This isn't so bad," Andrea said through gritted teeth a few minutes later. She was gliding solo at Dominique's insistence, trying madly to maintain her altitude and safe wing distance.
"Stop trying so hard," Dominique instructed. "You are a gargoyle now and the body you're inhabiting has been doing this almost since it was freed from the shell." Andrea nodded uncertainly as the elder gargoyle continued to lecture. "Allow your sense memory to take over. Your wings know what to do, so let them worry about the air currents. You concentrate on where you're going."
Andrea relaxed fractionally and closed her eyes long enough to take a deep centering breath. When she opened them a moment later, she did as her mentor instructed, focusing on the terrain in front of her instead of the ground below.
Dominique nodded with approval. "That's better."
Andrea nodded. "Something tells me I'm not the first person you've tutored in 'Gliding 101'. You seem like an old hand at this."
An unreadable expression tightened the azure gargoyle's already brittle features. "You might find this hard to believe, but once I was the gargoyle equivalent of a kindergarten teacher." Dominique nodded her head at Andrea's nonplused expression. "No really, it's true. One of my duties as a young warrior was teaching hatchlings just out of the rookery to glide."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Domi," Andrea paused as she compensated for a shift in the winds. "But you seem a bit high strung to deal with a class full of… hatchlings."
The azure gargoyle grinned, exposing her fangs. "I didn't say I was the best instructor ever. I merely said I did it. I was much more successful with gargoyles your age, that is the age of the female you currently are. I taught warrior trainees flight battle tactics. You. She-" Dominique said, tripping over the uncomfortable syntax, "was one of my last and most promising students."
"You mean I have a reputation to uphold?" Andrea groused as her companion indicated a spot below them on a jutting cliff face and began to spiral downward. She followed, allowing muscle memory to override her brain, and found herself able to parallel easily enough to continue their conversation. "Great. What happened, Dominique? I mean, I'm me, but how did I end up in this body and what happened to the essence of the gargoyle who belongs here? Is it soul transference? Is she back in our time freaking out because she's suddenly human and among strangers?"
"Soul transference? Where did you pick up that term?"
Andrea shrugged. "Angela and I have to talk about something during those long hours when she's posing. She's told me some incredible stories."
"I'm sure she has," Dominique said dryly. "We're going to land now. There's a cave in the cliff face. Follow me in and you'll have no difficulty."
Andrea nodded and allowed Dominique to take the lead. A few moments later they touched down side by side on a wide shelf of rock that jutted far over the crashing waves.
The cave seemed to be abandoned, but here and there were signs of former habitation. Torches were still racked in brackets on the walls waiting to be lit, and the smell of fire clung to a ring of stones in the center of the cave. "This was our gathering place before the clan allied itself with the humans," Dominique explained as she caped her wings. "We moved closer to the castle several years ago, but I still keep a workshop here and some reference material." She extended her talons toward one of the waiting torches "Exussum!" The gargoyle took a moment to fire a second torch before continuing. "There, that brightens things up considerably," she said with satisfaction. "Now returning to the topic at hand. I'm sure some powerful magic must be involved. But the question remains: who is the spell caster? And why? What is the greater purpose?" Dominique growled in frustration. "Idle speculation will get us no where. I'm going to check my scrolls and see if I can't find some sort of clue. Maybe then I can figure out how to get us home." She smiled apologetically at her mate. "I'm going to need to be alone for a little while. Do you mind?"
Andrea shook her head. "No, that's fine. I need a little time to process anyway."
Dominique nodded absently, already lost in thought as she retreated back into the depths of the cave.
Andrea's eyes dropped to the belt pouch where she'd secured Jeannie's glass prison. She emptied it out carefully on the floor of the cave along with an assortment of worked metal; a necklace and a bent nail among them. "The girl is something of a collector," she murmured. She looked hopefully at the ersatz bath bead jar. "Don't fail me now!" Andrea rubbed. Nothing happened. She rubbed harder and a thin wisp of smoke trailed languidly out of the jar and spiraled listlessly. Andrea frowned. "Jeannie?" she whispered as the djinn emerged at last.
"I am yours to serve." She bowed over her hands, but it seemed even this slight effort cost her. Like the sputtering torchlight she held her shape with difficulty.
"Jeannie! What's the matter?" Andrea tried to lend a supporting arm to the djinn but her hand passed through her shoulders.
"Mistress Andrea?" Jeannie blinked, uncertain as she fought to focus on the gargoyle before her. "Is that you?"
Andrea nodded. She struggled to keep her voice down and gestured Jeannie to move closer to the mouth of the cave. "Yeah, it's me. At least it's me on the inside. I wanted to know if you could explain the outside. You can explain what's going on, can't you?" She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice and partially succeeded.
"It was your wish," the djinn replied. Her voice was faint and Andrea had to struggle to hear her.
"My wish," Andrea said numbly. "I didn't make any wish."
Jeannie was nearly transparent, but she was doing slightly better at holding the humanoid shape. "I do not wish to contradict you, mistress, but you did. You wished that the man and the woman had never started arguing. I folded their lifelines back to this place, this time, when they lived in harmony."
Andrea knuckled her talons and placed them against her eyes, blotting out the flickering djinn. "This can't be happening. All I wanted was for them to stop tearing each other up. I didn't want a tour of Dominique's past. Take us back. I wish you to take us back to my present."
Jeannie flickered, losing cohesion. "I cannot. My powers are exhausted. Even now I can barely hold my own shape. We traveled over nine hundred years, as mortals' reckon time, and we stand at a crossroads."
"No. No. No. No. No," Andrea muttered as she drifted closer and closer to panic. "This cannot be happening. Nope. No. No way. No how." She looked up at Jeannie who was threatening to lose both form and substance. They needed to take this one problem at a time. Deep breath. Andrea tried to sit down. She found the tail awkward to manage but soldiered on until she was sitting in the best approximation of a lotus position she could muster. She placed her hands on her knees and touched her talons together. She ignored Jeannie as she closed her eyes and began to center herself.
Andrea sat quietly. She emptied her mind. The panic receded. Her breathing slowed. Time slowed. Calm filled her being.
A sharp noise from the direction of Dominique's workshop brought Andrea back to the present. She opened her eyes and found Jeannie hovering slightly off the ground in a position mirroring her own. "I'm better now," Andrea said as she regained her feet, tucking the jar back into her pouch as she did so. "I can deal now. You're our ticket out of here. So our first priority is getting you recharged," Andrea said to the stricken Jeannie. "You need rest."
"Who needs rest?" Dominique emerged from the back of the cave, looking at her lover curiously.
Andrea panicked. Her meditation induced calm started to slip as the azure gargoyle stepped out of the shadows. "I do. All this gliding and adjusting has really thrown me for a loop. Worst. Jetlag. Ever."
"Very funny, my sweet." She didn't appear to notice Jeannie and Andrea sighed quietly with relief. "You're just getting started, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?" Andrea said as she waited for confirmation of what Jeannie had already told her.
"I've consulted my journals. The most current entries are for the year 1041. And I've confirmed that we've actually been thrown back in time. I had wards on the workshop much as I do in our own present. My magic is intact, which means that this is no dream or hallucination. Somehow we've been transported back to the time and place when Macbeth was king."
"Macbeth? Macbeth as in 'Now is the winter of our discontent'?"
Dominique shook her head. "No, that was Richard the Third. Macbeth as in 'Better be with the dead, / Whom we to gain our peace have sent to peace.'"
"You knew Macbeth?" Andrea said slowly. "The real Macbeth?"
"Actually," Dominique said with a shrug, "you know him as well. You met him this morning as a matter of fact. Though of course he no longer uses that name. The rest of the faculty at Columbia know him as Professor Lennox Macduff."
Andrea stared at her lover, dumbstruck. Slowly her gaze drifted to Jeannie, hovering barely visible at Dominique's shoulder. The djinn seemed as shocked as she. "Immortals? Two immortals," she said as much to herself as Andrea. "And this one," she indicated Dominique, "is a changeling."
"Uh, Domi," Andrea said slowly. "That curse of yours. The one that makes you human by day and gargoyle by night, it's not by any chance tied to Macbeth, is it?"
The gargoyle hesitated. She loved and trusted Andrea, but there were still secrets she'd rather not share. Still, the situation demanded some sort of explanation. "No. That is my curse and mine alone. In this time Macbeth and I are allies. Our people were at war against a common enemy. Despite our better judgment we swore a desperate pact with a trio of witches. It was supposed to have turned the tide of battle. But as I've often told you, those of the Third Race are unpredictable and things didn't turn out as we'd expected."
"Macbeth lost the battle. I remember that much from the play."
Dominique shook her head. "That was a different battle and it won't be fought for many years. It's true, eventually Macbeth lost his crown, but he didn't die. He escaped, as did I. But by then we were bitter enemies, and to make things worse, we were forever linked."
Andrea exchanged another wide-eyed glance with Jeannie. "Linked how?"
Dominique's eyes glowed red in irritation. "What I feel, he feels. If someone steps on my tail, Macbeth feels it as if he had a tail of his own. And visa versa. It's not pleasant and I suspect scarcely relevant to our problem. So let's try to focus on that, shall we? Right now we need to get back. There's no more we can learn here and the clan will be gathering for the evening meal. Perhaps we'll learn something from the others that will shed some light on our dilemma." She strode to the mouth of the cliff and unfurled her wings, turning as she did so toward Andrea. "Can you find your way back to the encampment? I think it would be best if we didn't arrive together." Andrea nodded and Dominique smiled at her. "Don't worry, my love, everything will be fine."
Andrea slapped a confident smile on her own face and replied, "Of course it will," to her lover's retreating back. She watched, waiting to make sure that Dominique wouldn't change her mind about leaving her unattended before turning back to Jeannie. "What have we gotten ourselves into?" she asked frantically.
The djinn spoke slowly as if forming her words took great effort. "A thousand pardons, mistress. I felt the magic that surrounded them, but I had not the time to discern its purpose. Please forgive me."
"Let's play the blame game later, Jeannie. Right now, we need to worry about getting home. If I wish you back into the jar, do you think you can recharge your batteries?"
The djinn considered. She was so tired. To release the tenuous hold upon her body in one plane of reality and shift to a second seemed more than she could bear. "I'd rather not. Indeed, mistress, I do not know if I am capable of even so minor a feat."
"What aren't you telling me, Jeannie?"
Jeannie hesitated, and for the first time since she had been exiled to a life of servitude the djinn felt fear. "It is possible that once I discorporate this form I will never be able to regain it. My being would spread across this reality, my consciousness aware but lost."
Andrea paled in the flickering torchlight. "My god, you're talking about living death."
"As you say, mistress."
Andrea toyed absently with her waist-length plait of blue-black hair, thinking furiously. "Okay, that's out then. As much as I'd like to, I can't leave you here. I don't know exactly what responsibilities this gargoyle has or how often I'll be able to get away to check on you." She shook her head, coming to a decision. "You'll have to stay with me. Should I carry you? Or would you rather ride on my back?"
Hesitantly, as though shamed by her dependence, the nearly translucent djinn put her arms around Andrea's neck and allowed herself to be cradled. Andrea shifted slightly, compensating. While Jeannie had a tenuous grip on form, she still had substance and Andrea was as petite a gargoyle as she had been a human. She looked down nervously at the sharp drop and tried to relax and remember Dominique's instructions. "Here we go," the artist said brightly as she plunged off the cliff face.
* * * * *
Macbeth and his lady queen rose from their places at the head of the banquet table. The main gathering hall was crowded with courtiers dancing and singing. The king gestured absently at the trio of musicians in the corner to continue to play, for the evening festivities were in full swing and he saw no reason to interrupt the merrymaking of his court. Indeed, he welcomed their distraction for it meant that he would get some badly needed private time. Nine hundred forty years had softened his memories of his reign as King of Scotland. He'd forgotten the near constant rounds of meetings with court advisors, clan sub-chiefs, visiting dignitaries and so many others who competed for his time.
Joanna caught his eye and tilted her head toward the door. He nodded fractionally and noted her sigh of relief though she was smiling and making polite conversation with the wife of his cousin Thorfinn. The pair had hazarded the trip across the channel from Orkney to Inverness and Macbeth was momentarily struck by melancholy as he recalled how short a time left Thorfinn had to sing grand Norse sea songs and tell his ridiculous stories by the fireside.
"Is everything all right, my husband?" Joanna said in her guise of Gruoch as Macbeth concluded his own conversation with one of his numerous aides de camp and joined her.
"Quite all right." He turned to Ingibiorg. "I hope you don't mind, Cousin, but I need to steal Gruoch away. Enjoy the festivities. The musicians are particularly fine tonight."
Ingibiorg smiled warmly at the Scottish king. "Indeed they are, Cousin. I hope you'll allow Thorfinn and I to return your gracious hospitality soon. We've missed you and I know my husband looks forward to showing you the latest additions to his own keep."
"Soon," Macbeth promised. "Now, if you'll excuse us?" He bowed deeply and took Gruoch's hand. The pair withdrew from the Great Hall, a retinue of burly guards following in their wake.
It was not until they'd entered their own chambers and left their escort on the other side of the heavy oaken door that Joanna tumbled onto the bed and heaved a sigh of relief. "I can't believe I made it through this day." She spoke in plain American English. Exhausted as she was, the sound of her own voice startled her and she sat up again. "Len, I've been speaking Gaelic all day long. You know I don't speak more than a dozen words of that language and those are the modern kind I picked up during our vacation. Yet since we've been in this timeline I've had no difficulty. And now that we're alone I've reverted to English. Would you care to speculate?"
Macbeth stretched, releasing the kinks in his neck and shoulders. He sat down on the bed and began to unlace his boots. "Magic," he said without irony. "I'd accept it for the gift it is. Whoever has sent us back through time wanted us to be able to communicate with those we came into contact with. It suggests our travel involves a greater purpose."
"But what? All I've learned today is that the lady wife of Macbeth, King of Scotland, is kept very busy. I knew there'd probably be household activities to manage, but you didn't warn me about the spinning and weaving. Thank you, Great Aunt Mattie, at least I was able to hold up my end on the needlework. Oh," Joanna added archly, "you might have mentioned Luach."
"My son?" Macbeth sounded surprised. "My boy, he's here? I must see him."
"And you will, Len," Joanna soothed. "According to Luach's tutor, you and Thorfinn are supposed to take him deer hunting tomorrow."
"Aye, I remember now," Macbeth's face clouded. "And as I recall the day, Luach and I will get ten minutes together and Thorfinn will bag the finest hart you'd ever set your eyes on."
"Still, not many people get the opportunity to relive a day out of their lives," Joanna said as she got up and went to her dressing table. She picked up a hairbrush and began to work it through Gruoch's long copper hair.
The pair went quietly through the mundane tasks associated with preparing for sleep. As Joanna slipped a heavy woolen nightdress over her head she paused and laughed. She tugged, bringing the heavy garment into its proper position and scooted under the bedclothes. "You know, there's something else I wasn't prepared for."
Macbeth finished banking the fire and joined her in bed. "And what would that be?" He stiffened slightly as Joanna snuggled close, laying her head upon his chest. It was so strange having the personality of his contemporary love in the body of his first. It gave him an uneasy feeling of betrayal he couldn't quite shake.
"You didn't tell me about the gargoyles."
"The gargoyles? Yes, of course. I was allied with the local clan." Macbeth smoothed Joanna's hair away from her face. "Their presence was a part of everyday, or rather every night life."
"And how do I, rather Gruoch, feel about that? Because according to Lady Aoife, I, or rather Gruoch, caught a young female warrior doing a dead on impression and didn't take it as a compliment. Evidently she reduced the poor girl to tears."
Macbeth closed his eyes. "Aye, I remember that night. Gruoch had a particularly difficult day and the gargoyle lass found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Normally, I think that Gruoch might have appreciated the humor, but unfortunately the incident recreated was one of considerable embarrassment. It all worked out in the end. The following night the girl returned at the urging of her clan leader and apologized, as did Gruoch." Macbeth's voice trailed off toward the end and Joanna looked up afraid he'd gone to sleep. Instead she found him staring at a distant point on the ceiling, apparently lost in thought.
"I'm sorry, love, I was just thinking. I've a meeting with the leader of the gargoyles tomorrow and it occurred to me that she might be of some assistance with our current dilemma."
"Really? How so? Does she have a TARDIS secreted among those cliffs above the keep?"
"A-?" Macbeth shook his head. "Time travel humor." He shook his head in disappointment and she shrugged in return. "Joanna, how could you? No. But she had surprising resources, the wench." Something akin to warmth colored his words and Joanna looked up at him again with uncertainly. But this time his eyes had closed and her lover, exhausted from the long day, had fallen asleep.
* * * * *
Demona dismissed her retinue of advisors. She'd been cornered almost as soon as she'd returned from the cliff face retreat and badgered about a thousand and one aspects of clan life. Even now her second lagged behind, hoping for another word.
"Leader," she said, getting straight to the point. Demona sighed, recognizing the determination on the other female's battle-scarred features.
"We've formed a strong bond with these humans, and their leader Macbeth has been honest and fair in his treatment of us. We understood your reasoning when you said you wanted to take this alliance slowly, but many of us have grown tired of waiting. We want you to accept the king's offer of sanctuary."
Oh no, not this. Demona sighed to herself. She now knew exactly when they'd been thrown back in time. "I know your feelings on this," she stated. "And I understand and share your concerns. But the decision is mine. Now if you'll excuse me." The azure gargoyle hurried away, not waiting for the renewed protest she knew was forthcoming.
"I've got to get us out of here," she muttered. She threaded her way toward a large gathering of gargoyles making merry with some of the castle residents around a large campfire. She searched for Andrea, getting only head shakes and shoulder shrugs for her efforts. At last she encountered the trio of males who'd been in such a teasing mood at sundown. They quieted immediately as Demona strode up. "I'm looking for your dark-haired sister. The one who had the nightmare. Have you seen her?"
Two of the males added their negative responses to the growing list. However, the third nodded in the affirmative. "I did, Leader. She was headed for the large outcropping of stones, on foot, if you can believe it, as we were coming back from the hunt."
Demona nodded. Andrea's desire to avoid the clan made some sense. "Of course. No doubt she was gathering plants or mushrooms for the king's herbalist."
She set out away from the campfire, following Andrea's trail easily. The dense forest was alive with night birds and the trill of insects. From time to time, bigger game rustled through the undergrowth and the gargoyle paused calling softly, "Andrea?"
Eventually, she found herself at the outcropping. Tall basalt spikes jutted sharply from the earth. Here and there were nooks and grooves where lovers, human and gargoyle, had been known to rendezvous. "My, she really was tired," Demona commented softly as she nearly tripped over Andrea. The young woman-turned-gargoyle had stretched out in the crevice between two large boulders and fallen sound asleep. Quietly, Demona dropped to her knees and reached for her lover's belt pouch. With careful talons she untied the leather bag and removed the glass jar.
Demona looked up at the moon. It was fading from the night sky. Dawn would be coming in less than an hour. Picking her way carefully away from the rocks, the gargoyle took refuge among the trees and then rubbed the glass. "Come forth, Genie," she commanded harshly.
The air shimmered and the muscular gray gargoyle appeared. "I am yours to command, my mistress."
"Wonderful," Demona replied impatiently. She cut straight to the chase. "Somehow I and my mate have been cast back into my personal past. I haven't been affected. I still have my own form and memories. But Andrea - Andrea, a 20th century human female, has been reformed into the body of a gargoyle who lived during this place and time." Demona paused, forcing her impatience away, and reminded herself it never paid to be hasty when dealing with the Third Race. "I wish you to put both of us back into our rightful forms and into our rightful places in the timeline."
Genie nodded and bowed deeply at the waist. "As you command, Mistress."
An owl hooted. A startled deer bounded away from a stalking wolf. Demona stared at the djinn in dismay. "Why am I still here?" she said sharply.
Genie shrugged. His muscular shoulders rippled with the slight movement. "I do not know, Mistress." He lied smoothly, knowing full well he had no power to affect Jeannie's ill-conceived magic. He closed his eyes and feigned deep thoughts. "There is the scent of magic about you, lady, magic not of your own making. Perhaps some enchantment has sent you to this time."
Demona shook her head. "I doubt that. By the time I made it into the 20th century I'd been cursed twice. No doubt those magiks still linger. What else could it be?"
Again the djinn pretended to consider. He studied Demona closely. "Ah yes, I sense the touch of The Sisters and that of another." Genie shook his head. "No. No mortal cast the spell that brought you here. It was one of fair folk. Of this I have no doubt. If that be the case, Mistress, then you must have been sent with some greater purpose. And only fulfilling your role will free you to return to your own time."
"What purpose?" the gargoyle demanded. "I can't change events that have already occurred. All I can do is go through the same motions and make the same mistakes."
"Mistakes?" Genie looked at his mistress with renewed interest. "What mistakes? Is this a particularly significant point in history?"
Demona rolled her eyes. "All points in time are significant. It just depends on if they're of a personal importance. And yes, for me and my clan, the next few nights turned out to be rather crucial."
"A year ago my clan helped Macbeth, the king of this region, secure his rule. Since that time I have been under some pressure to formalize the alliance between our people by moving the clan to the castle and sending some of my people to serve as retainers in his court. Up to this point, I've resisted."
"But why? Is this Macbeth the untrustworthy sort?"
"No," Demona protested rather too strongly. "He's fair and just and a good leader to his people."
Genie's eyes narrowed. "You like him."
"I admire him," Demona corrected. "Probably too much. He is human."
"You desire him."
"I do not!" Demona replied harshly. "How can you suggest such a thing?"
"But you spend much time together in close quarters," Genie surmised. "Don't you find him attractive in some way? No doubt he has a wife. But spouses and mates rarely understand the pressures of leadership. Don't you often wonder if you might relieve those burdens from each other, if not for a little while?"
Demona spun away as her memories flooded back to her. It had been a heady time after Duncan's defeat. She and Macbeth had been inseparable as they'd worked side by side for the better of both of their peoples. She'd grown to admire the ruggedly handsome human who had sacrificed his youth to share with her. She had been lonely and it was getting harder to ignore the electric tingle that coursed over her skin each time they had accidentally touched during a strategy meeting.
"He will betray me."
"Will he now?" Genie stepped closer to Demona. He broke his servile demeanor and placed a talon under her chin, forcing her to meet eyes as dark as her own. "Or did that happen because you threw away the chance to bond yourself to him body and soul? Is that the event that changed your paths? Did you give up too early in the chase?"
Demona stared, wide-eyed with shock. "No. This cannot be. Are you suggesting that if I seduce Macbeth, make him my lover, I can change history? That years from now he won't sell me and mine out to the hammers of the English?"
"Is he that kind of man? That kind of king?"
"No." Demona let her gaze drift in the direction of the castle, considering the man and the scenario. "No. He holds the bonds of love sacred, which is why this will not work. He loves his Gruoch. He'll not forsake her for me. I know this now."
The djinn shook his head and marveled at how easily his current mistress had played into his hands. "No one is suggesting the queen be set aside. Indeed, let him keep his lady wife. You are merely offering him the option of a lover who would be amiable to those other, darker desires that every man has yet few share with their lawfully wedded brides. It's your chance, Mistress."
Genie waved his hands, gathering the air to him. A faint glow illuminated the dying night. "This is your future if you bed the king." The air shimmered and slowly an image formed in the space between the djinn's talons. Gargoyles, dozens of gargoyles, occupied the castle, working shoulder to shoulder with the human inhabitants. Hatchlings played in the courtyard while elders human and gargoyle cast a benevolent eye. On the terrace stood Macbeth. A moment later, Demona saw herself glide out of the night sky to join him. At first, she appeared weary. But the sight of Macbeth chased whatever cares plagued her away and Demona watched in shock as her potential future self was swept into the arms of the king. The pair kissed lovingly, passionately.
"Or you could condemn all your peoples to this." With a jerk of his hands the air reformed abruptly. A scene Demona recalled all too well took the place of the castle dwellers. A montage of battle, humans dying in mass slaughter. A quick dissolve and her own clan was on the run from the nets and hammers of the English hunters. Death. Bloody and awful and it was all her fault.
"But history is immutable. It can't be changed," Demona protested as she looked away from the carnage.
"Only if that path was meant to be, Mistress. What if you've been given this moment to play over?"
Demona shook her head. It was all too much. A night bird cried to its mate and abruptly the gargoyle became aware of the time. "I have to get back to the others. Go now, djinn. Return to your prison. I'll consider your words."
"As you wish, my lady. But remember, until you fulfill the geas that binds you I am powerless. I can neither send you back myself nor allow you to channel my power. Consider your choice carefully."
A moment later Demona was alone.
* * * * *
"I didnae get a chance to have a word with you, Leader, before the sun rose. You were out with that trainee of yours mighty late."
Demona flicked the last of her stone shell away and turned toward her Second. "I told you I would take our earlier discussion under advisement, and I did. I find privacy and the company of a fresh mind, uncluttered by years of life and death decisions, useful at such times. That child is sharp, despite her occasional lapse. She gives me perspectives I often overlook on my own."
"As you say, though you ought to know, Leader, that the others are beginning to whisper of favoritism."
Demona sighed. Even in this age and among gargoyles the stresses of corporate life plagued her. "The others, and don't think I don't know you're referring to that underachieving, overzealous trio of trainee warriors who are always underfoot, need to spend more time demonstrating their competence and less time attempting to curry my favor, or yours, for that matter."
The Second bristled at the perceived slight to her favorites. "It's the nature of the young to be a bit prideful."
"And it's the nature of survivors to curb their reckless impulses. I suggest you remind the Instructor to impress that lesson. Now, if that's all, I have a meeting with Macbeth and I don't wish to be late." Demona turned away from the Second and found Andrea a few minutes later, making stilted conversation with several gargoyle refugees recently adopted into the clan.
Mindful of her role as leader, Demona greeted the newest members of the patchwork clan, inquiring after their health and needs before placing her hand on Andrea's shoulder and leading her away. "Thanks," Andrea said as soon as they were safely on the wing and away from the others. "I'm positive that if I open my mouth for more than five minutes, someone is sure to figure out I'm a fraud. There's no way I could suddenly develop acute laryngitis, is there?"
"Sorry, that's a human ailment," Demona said. She gave her mate a small, fanged grin. "You only need to hold out for a little while longer. I have a feeling that tonight has something to do with why we've been pulled back into this time. If everything goes as I've planned then we should be on our way home before sunrise."
Andrea glanced over her shoulder and up at Jeannie. The djinn, slightly more cohesive but still weakened, rode astride her mistress's back. "How?" the human-turned-gargoyle asked of both her lover and Jeannie.
"I can't get into the specifics," Demona said in a tone that suggested she could, but didn't wish to.
Jeannie shrugged her translucent shoulders and replied. "I do not know, mistress."
"We are going to the castle and I will meet with Macbeth," the gargoyle explained. "The meeting is a critical one and no matter what happens we must not be disturbed. That will be your job. No one, including the queen, can interfere or everything will be lost."
Andrea sneaked another glance at Jeannie. The djinn's frown and worried expression mirrored her own. "I don't get it, Domi. How can a meeting with 11th century Macbeth get us back to our own time?"
"The crossroads, mistress," Jeannie said softly. "Your wish. Whatever happened between those two unfolds tonight. Somehow she has divined her purpose in this time and is attempting to make the change."
The castle, illuminated by candles and torches within and a fire ring in the courtyard without, came into view. Gargoyles were among the humans, assisting with the myriad of early evening chores. Demona stared at them, remembering the vision of ruin that would befall if she failed. "That must remain between Macbeth and me. But know that I love you, Andrea," Demona said, her voice unexplainably husky. "And my actions tonight are no reflection of how I feel about you."
No one was smiling when the trio landed at the castle.
* * *
Joanna watched the two gargoyles descend toward the battlements where she stood with Macbeth. "So that's Demona," she said softly. "The same Demona that will become Dominique Destine."
"Aye," Macbeth replied. "The one and only."
"It's hard to believe," Joanna said softly as the pair neared. "And her companion, is that the gargoyle who I had the run in with?"
Macbeth nodded. "As I've mentioned she's already apologized and you've forgiven her, but I'm negotiating a treaty with the clan and Demona has been skittish. A kind word from my queen toward her trainee wouldn't be amiss."
The gargoyles landed in the courtyard a few yards from the humans. Macbeth took the hand of his queen and together the pair greeted their guests.
"Hail, Demona." Macbeth took the clan leader's arm in a warrior's grip. "Young one," he added to the slight green gargoyle that stood at her shoulder.
The younger female dropped to her knees as the queen approached. "Good evening, Lady Gruoch."
"Rise, Warrior," the queen replied taking the pale green female's hand in her own. Gently she pulled the gargoyle to her feet. "Have I not told you lass, that all is forgiven between us?"
Andrea nodded her head uncertainly. "Yes, ma'am."
"Then we'll speak no more about such unpleasantness." Gruoch turned to the king. "My Lord, I know your business with Demona is pressing. I've ordered refreshments sent to your chamber of office. I hope that will be satisfactory."
"Quite satisfactory," Demona replied before Macbeth was able. "The king and I have many issues to resolve before we can bring this treaty to successful closure. We mustn't be disturbed with minor trivialities like hospitality." She turned her back on Gruoch, casting a lingering glance at her trainee as she drew Macbeth toward the stone arch that led to the castle's interior. "Come, my lord, I would speak to you alone."
Macbeth hesitated, thrown by Demona's sultry smile. Granted, one's memories could become fuzzy after a few centuries, but something seemed different about the gargoyle queen. She was practically tugging at his arm, urging him down the corridor towards his private council chamber. Guards snapped to attention as they approached the door. "See that we're not disturbed," Demona ordered. The pair took up positions on either side of the chamber door, looking to Macbeth for affirmation.
He nodded, sighed and led the way into the chamber, wondering what was in store for him as the door swung shut behind them.
* * *
"My leader has ordered that I put myself at your disposal, Lady Gruoch," the young warrior said as the queen watched the two leaders disappear into the castle.
"That was very kind." Inwardly Joanna sighed. She had a hard enough time dealing with the retainers and serving women barely giving her a moment's peace. What was she to do with a repentance-seeking gargoyle? "It's rather cool out this evening. Why don't you join me inside for supper."
The gargoyle looked panicked. "Among the court?" she squeaked.
"No," the queen replied quickly. "I'd planned to eat privately this evening. A simple meal, but you're more than welcome."
Andrea nodded and stole a glance toward Jeannie, who'd been standing off to the side ever since they'd touched down on the rough courtyard pavers.
"Come along then, child. I think we have much to learn from one another."
Together the woman and the gargoyle walked out of the brisk Scottish night into the comfort of the castle. Jeannie drifted in their wake, wondering about the scent of residual magic that rose from the queen.
* * *
Macbeth sat at his desk, trying desperately to concentrate on the parchment before him. Nothing about this evening reconciled with his memories of past events, and it worried him. Demona in particular seemed off. Instead of leaning against the wall or lounging in an adjacent chair, she was perched on the edge of the desk, the hem of her tunic riding high on her thigh. Attempting nonchalance, he moved the parchment further away from the expanse of smoothly muscled leg and wondered how he was going to bring up the subject of time travel. Demona refused to cooperate. She leaned forward, revealing a sizeable portion of her cleavage. When she put her hand on his neck and began to knead at his nape, Macbeth nearly jumped from the chair. Though it was sturdily made, the king overbalanced it as he stood and it clattered to the floor.
"Blast it, woman, what's gotten into you this evening?" Demona looked hurt. Immediately Macbeth regretted the outburst. "You startled me," he hastened to add, "and besides, I'm ticklish."
"Really?" the gargoyle drawled. "In just that spot or all over?"
"Demona!" Macbeth reddened under his beard, shocked at the provocative tone of her voice.
"I'm sorry," she said contritely as she closed the distance between them a second time. The gargoyle stood a handspan away from the king, regarding him frankly. "But I'm curious about you. I have been for a long time. When we touch it provokes the most interesting feelings." She reached forward, tracing a talon gently along the curve of Macbeth's broad jaw.
The king swallowed and he raised a hand to the gargoyle's muscled arm, staying her explorations. "You're my advisor, Demona, my comrade in arms."
"I can be so much more." Gargoyle strength overrode human surprise. Demona slipped Macbeth's grasp and closed the final gap. She pressed the length of her body against the king. Entwining her talons in his long graying hair she pulled him forward into an impassioned kiss.
* * *
"Did you hear something?"
Gargoyle hearing being somewhat more acute then human, Andrea found herself nodding before she realized what she was doing. "It came from the next room."
"That's the king's chamber." Gruoch set down the wine flagon and rose from her chair by the fire.
"I'm sure it's nothing, lady," Andrea said quickly. Demona had warned her the conference with Macbeth mustn't be disturbed at any cost.
"I'm sure you're right," the queen replied. She started to return to her seat when a second muffled thump reverberated through the oaken door. Gruoch and the gargoyle exchanged worried glances. "I'm going to check."
She tried the door separating the chambers and found it locked. "Open it."
* * *
History has definitely changed, Macbeth thought dizzily as he and Demona cleared the top of his desk of scrolls, inkwells and sundry 11th century office supplies. Though his mind protested, his body responded to the impassioned gargoyle's fevered caresses. He felt her hands yanking at the fastenings to his leggings and he gasped as she stroked the base of his spine, revealing a sensitivity he'd never before known. It was that thrice cursed bond of the Sisters, he realized even as he fumbled with tunic laces exposing the full expanse of Demona's breasts. What one felt, so did the other. Macbeth pulled the gargoyle onto his lap as the door burst open.
* * *
"My Lord!" Gruoch cried as she rushed into the room. Andrea, only a half step behind, stared in shock at her nearly nude lover astride the Scottish king.
Macbeth shook his head as if clearing it and pushed Demona away. She landed unsteadily on her feet, shaking her own head, mirroring the actions of the king. "No!" she protested. "He was nearly mine."
Macbeth leapt off the desk, yanking at his clothing as he sought to put distance between himself and the gargoyle. He dashed into the small room that served as antechamber to the privy. Grabbing roughly at a pitcher of water, he dumped it over his head. In the next room, Demona howled.
It took him several more moments to pull himself together before he reentered the conference chamber.
Demona was gone. Fled in anger and embarrassment, no doubt, he surmised. Huddled in the doorway, Joanna and Demona's trainee stood comforting one another. As he entered he heard Joanna mutter, "Lovers, I knew it."
How could he explain? He had shared a moment with Demona all those years ago, but it'd been over before it had started. He'd recognized her cautious advance and rebuffed it as gently as he'd been able. Had he been wrong? Was this some alternate time line and not his original past? Had Demona expected something more then his loyalty and friendship? Priorities. He was still king, damn it. It was his duty to end this madness before it spiraled further out of control. His heart broke a little at Joanna's shocked and tear-stained face, but he forced himself to ignore her. He had to deal with Demona first.
"Where did she go?" Macbeth demanded of the trainee.
The girl pointed toward the open door and Macbeth bolted after the fleeing gargoyle queen. In moments he was outside in the biting night air. He ignored the sting of cold against his sodden hair and clothing and searched the night sky to no avail. Demona was gone.
* * *
"Fool," Demona seethed as she glided recklessly through the night. "How could I have been such a fool? I should have lured Macbeth away from the castle. Now everything is ruined! History will be changed, all right, for the worse. How could I have let that djinn trick me? This is all his fault!" The azure gargoyle glanced downward and realized she was mere wingbeats from her cliffside retreat. "A good a place as any." Demona made for the caves.
* * *
"Blast!" Macbeth swore. Guards were rallying to his side, looking for the king's assailant. He waved them away and headed back into the castle. He'd need the help of the young gargoyle to find Demona.
Putting more authority into his step then he felt, Macbeth re-entered his office. It was deserted, but the distinctive sound of feminine voices carried from the adjacent bedchamber. Hesitantly, he entered to find the gargoyle trainee and his queen.
Deal with your feelings later, man! Macbeth self-lectured. He cleared his throat.
Joanna looked up and her eyes, always expressive, welled with pain. "You did try to warn me that your relationship with that gargoyle was complicated, didn't you."
"Nae, Jo, it wasn't like that," Macbeth in his grief and pain forgot the pretense of their 11th century roles. "This didn't happen before. If it had I would have warned you."
The pale green gargoyle looked up at the pair, startled as they slipped into English. She rubbed her eyes, and touched her head as if searching for some unknown injury. "Professor Macduff? Joanna? Is that you?"
As caught up as they were in their own private pain, the pair turned their own startled glances upon the slight gargoyle. Macbeth advanced on her suspiciously. "Who are you?"
Andrea held up her taloned hand. "We met, gods, it seems like several lifetimes ago. I'm Andrea. Andrea Calhoun."
Joanna examined her companion of the last several hours in surprise. "I knew something seemed familiar about you. But I couldn't put my finger on it."
"So you've been dragged back in time along with us. And what of Demona?" Macbeth said gruffly. "Was that the 11th century version or was all this her idea of a joke?"
Andrea appeared appalled at the notion of her mate involved in a prank. "This isn't her fault. It was all a terrible mistake."
Macbeth fixed the gargoyle with a steely glare. "Whose?"
Andrea dropped her head. "Mine." Off to the side, Jeannie began to cry.
* * *
Demona jerked the glass prison of the djinn from her own belt pouch. There'd been no time to return it to Andrea the previous night and fortunately her lover had been so distracted she hadn't missed it. Roughly, she ran her palm across the ornate glass surface. "Appear, damn you!"
Languidly, the djinn materialized. He smiled knowingly at the gargoyle, but his grin slipped a little as he picked up on her stiff, angry posture and glowing red eyes. "Is everything all right, mistress? Far be it for me, your humble servant, to mention such things, but you seem upset."
"Oh, I'm upset all right. This plan of yours was a complete disaster. Gruoch and Andrea walked in right in the middle of… things."
The djinn waited, barely containing his glee. This was better than he'd hoped.
"I'd be better off if I'd locked myself-"
Genie held his breath. This was it! The foolish mortal was about to wish herself into his place!
"Oh no, Andrea," Demona said instead, switching mental gears abruptly. "Gruoch wasn't the only one who got an eyeful. Come on, Genie. We've got to get back to that castle."
* * *
"Hush now, child," Macbeth consoled awkwardly as Joanna poured tea.
In the corner, Jeannie wiped her eyes and gathered strength. She wasn't going to allow her mistress to take the blame for her mistakes any longer. She closed her eyes and concentrated, gathering bits of matter to her. She was much stronger then she'd been the previous night. Her form began to grow solid.
Andrea accepted the cup and sipped slowly. "It was all my fault," she repeated. "I just wanted the two of you to stop fighting."
"I don't understand," Joanna said.
"And neither do I," Macbeth added. "Don't tell me you're some kind of a witch in training and this was a spell gone terribly awry."
"Not exactly." Andrea looked up toward the corner and her eyes grew wide. "Jeannie!" she exclaimed.
The others turned and stared as they noticed for the first time the petite blond woman with the elfin tipped ears. "I cannot allow you to accept the blame for my mistakes, Mistress Andrea. It was I who granted the wish to end the fighting. It was my magic that went wrong."
"Djinn wish magic," Macbeth said softly. "I'm beginning to understand."
* * *
Demona stood silently in the hallway, listening to the exchange between the three, now four, inside. "So," she hissed at the djinn at her shoulder. "You had no idea how we arrived in this time, did you?" She reached up and grabbed Genie by the nose. "Come on, djinn, you've got some explaining to do." The gargoyle's anger brought her power, and she found it wasn't nearly as difficult to face her lover or the others now that she had someone else to blame.
* * *
"So, it looks like we've all been played the fool," Demona said as she yanked the tall gray gargoyle-shaped Genie into the king's bedchamber.
"You!" Jeannie hissed.
"Yes, me," Genie snapped back. "Oh stop looking so shocked. You made such a mess, how could I not take advantage of it? Poor stupid gargoyle wanted to fix her mistakes. You know me, eternal optimist that I am, I encouraged her to try."
Macbeth shifted his gaze from the unrepentant djinn to Demona. "That night in the council chamber. The first time, I mean. What happened between us, it was a misunderstanding, not a mistake. I thought you understood that. I never meant for you to feel otherwise."
"You never treated me exactly the same either," the gargoyle countered, her feelings obviously still hurt. "You were always a little stiffer, a little more distant. I thought-" She glared at Genie. "He made me think, if I'd seduced you that night, that we would have been bound body, heart and mind. That it would have been impossible for you to throw over me and mine in favor of Bodhe and the Hunters."
"You were spying?" Macbeth said, shocked.
"A lucky happenstance," Demona corrected. "Lucky for me, anyway. We'd fought the Hunter and his English mercenaries at Dunsinane. I, your loyal soldier, had returned to the castle to report our victory only to find you plotting against me."
"That's not what happened," Macbeth snapped. "It's true Bodhe, rest his soul, made the case for breaking our treaty. And it's true that I told him I'd consider his words. But that was all. You'd been my ally for nearly twenty years. Do you think that meant nothing to me?"
Demona stared at the Scottish king. Could it all have been one more terrible misunderstanding? "I didn't know what to think. You were, after all, only human."
Joanna watched as her lover sucked in his breath preparing to unleash his reply. As a scientist it never failed to amaze her how a minor event, like a pebble dropped in water, could have such far-reaching effects. But Demona and Macbeth could resolve their misunderstanding just as easily in the 20th century as they could the 11th. "It sounds as if you two have some very unfinished business. But we have a more pressing problem."
Demona glared at Joanna. Macbeth crossed in front of the gargoyle to block her path. "She's right, you know."
Demona backed down. "Yes, of course. It's irrelevant anyway. The past is immutable."
"Jeannie," Andrea said from her spot by the fireplace. "Can you take us home now?"
The djinn shook her head. "No mistress, I am still too weak. Perhaps soon, but I cannot say when."
"Such a pity," Genie said, his voice dripping with faux-sympathy. "But better you, Cousin, then me."
"What if she had help?" Joanna asked Macbeth. "If I'm understanding things, and trust me that's debatable, Andrea wished you and Demona back to this time because that's when your first real misunderstanding occurred, at least from Demona's point of view. She never quite trusted you, or maybe herself around you, the same way again. That strained your relationship enough that seventeen years later she couldn't give you the benefit of the doubt during a critical moment. That led to a total falling out, which is why, more often than not, you grate at each other like a pair of rusty fence hinges."
Macbeth looked intrigued. "What about yourself, and the young lady?"
"I'm getting to that." Joanna began to pace, short steps back and forth in front of the hearth. "Somehow, probably due to our proximity, Andrea and I got pulled along for the ride. But, since we didn't live during this time, we were dumped into the bodies of your nearest and dearest."
Andrea nodded tentatively. Demona looked impressed despite her efforts to remain angry and Macbeth said, "Go on."
"Okay." As Joanna warmed to her subject her voice grew more animated. "So, Jeannie sends not two but four people back in time and has to do some kind of mojo to take care of the body-essence transfer. I'm guessing that this is enough of a strain that she shorted her power centers, or batteries or whatever mystical creatures have that generate their magic. Is that right?"
Jeannie nodded. "Crudely put, my lady, but essentially correct."
"Fine. So as it turns out," Joanna pointed at Genie, "there are actually not one but two genies in the bottle."
"The term is djinn," Genie interjected.
"Spare us the political correctness," growled Demona. She glared at the burly djinn and he backed up a step.
"Sorry, djinn. Whatever. So why can't he," Joanna pointed at Genie, "give her," she pointed again, this time at Jeannie, "a magical jumpstart?"
"It could work," Demona said grudgingly. She cast a sidelong glance at Macbeth. "She's brighter than she looks."
Backhanded, but a compliment all the same. Macbeth took the remark in the spirit it was intended. "Joanna is quite a lady. You'd like her if you gave her half a chance."
"I suppose if it were true of Gruoch…" Demona let the comment hang between them as she turned her full attention on Genie. "All right, djinn, no tricks," she warned.
Genie looked offended at the suggestion.
"Stand in a circle, all of you," Demona ordered. "Andrea you stand next to your djinn. You," she pointed at Genie. "Take your place next to them. Hold hands. Macbeth take my hand and Joanna's. Are we ready?" The gargoyle scanned the small circle of time travelers. "Good."
Macbeth cast one last look at the great stone walls, the twin axes hanging over the fire, all the little reminders of his life as king. "Let's go home," he said gruffly. "We don't belong here anymore."
Andrea and Demona closed their eyes. "Jeannie/Genie, take us home."
* * * * *
Manhattan, 2001 A.D.
"Ugh. Will you get off me?" Dominique Destine scowled in disgust and pushed impatiently at shoulders of the still groggy Scotsmen who lay atop her.
Macbeth opened his eyes, gazing for a long moment at the redheaded woman who he held pinned beneath him. A small smile came to his lips. "You're human again, Demona."
Dominique's eyes flashed with irritation. "I can see that, thank you," she snapped in reply. She kicked her legs free as soon as she was able, pulling back abruptly as Macbeth righted himself and rose to one knee. "I can manage for myself," she growled, brushing off the hand the former king offered as she struggled with the folds of her lounging robe.
"Domi, please… don't start this again."
Dominique looked up and glared, but her expression softened as she caught site of her mate. Andrea and Joanna stood only an arm's length away, steadying each other as they regained their feet. Sacrificing grace for speed, Dominique reluctantly accepted Macbeth's assistance, grasping his forearm in a warrior's handshake and permitting him to help her rise. A single step then brought her to Andrea's side, and she pulled the younger woman into her embrace. "Andrea," she said, her voice husky, "you're you again."
Andrea fell unsteadily into her mate's arms. She wanted desperately to return the hug, to confirm with her touch that what her eyes told was true, but she was terrified of dropping the glass prison she held in her hands. Five delicate fingers on each hand… she had counted them twice as she sat up, just to be certain. No more tail. No more wings. It all felt so weird now. She had spent the better part of two nights acclimating to being a gargoyle, and now that she was back in her own human body, she was finding the switch back to be equally as awkward. Still, her top worry at the moment was for the tiny jar that again evidently held poor Jeannie, for neither djinn was to be seen. "Gently, Domi," she pleaded as Dominique squeezed her close, pinning the container between them.
"Gently?" Dominique questioned. "At a time like this, that is all you can think to say?" She hugged Andrea tighter, trembling as the lack of a reciprocal embrace sent her emotions raging. She had been such a fool. Andrea had seen her with Macbeth, about to break her vow and do things she knew she had no right to do with anyone besides her mate. The changeling gargoyle's heart ached. Andrea had seemed to understand the reasons, but would she ever be able to forgive her? Had she, in a misguided and futile attempt to change the past, succeeded only damaging irreparably her relationship with Andrea here in the present? She didn't want to think it, and she didn't want to let go, not if it meant that this would be the last time she would ever hold Andrea close. Lovingly, she stroked her fingers through the younger woman's honey-blonde hair, realizing idly as she inhaled of the familiar scent how very much she had missed it during the past several nights.
"Gently!" Andrea's plea came with increasing urgency as the sharp knob of the jar's stopper jabbed her painfully in the stomach. She breathed a sigh of relief as Dominique at last released her, realizing only as her mate withdrew that the redheaded woman had misread her intent.
With a heavy heart, Dominique quietly backed away. This is it, she thought, and it's all the fault of that accursed Genie! Heartache and hurt gave way to the comforting warm of rage as she seethed inside and began considering a punishment for the djinn that would be suitably terrible. A punishment for both of them, she decided quickly. After all, the female one shared the bulk of the blame for dragging them all back in time to begin with.
Andrea eyed her mate warily, sensing as only she could the imperceptible fire that burned behind Dominique's green eyes. "Domi, no," she said, quickly closing the distance between them once more. "I didn't mean it like that. I just didn't want to damage this." She held the jar up, but the gesture only seemed to add fuel to that fire.
"Damage it?" Dominique's tone was incredulous. "I should take it and destroy it! Drop it from the sky and shatter it into a thousand pieces! Damn those meddling djinn! Damn them both for what they did to us!" She grabbed for the jar, but Andrea pulled it away, keeping it from her reach as she lunged. Off-balanced by Andrea's unexpected quickness and her own now-human form, Dominique instead fell to her knees. Groaning, she succumbed at last to the weight of her conflicted emotions, and dropped her head into her upturned hands.
Macbeth had taken Joanna's hands into his own, but both professors quieted at Dominique's outburst. Macbeth watched, uncertain of what to do or say as the woman he had previously known only as strong and vindictive teetered on the verge of a breakdown. It was Joanna who edged forward to gingerly accept custody of the jar from Andrea, allowing the young artist to tend to her mate. She stepped back, taking great pains not to accidentally rub the glass as she turned it in her hands for a more secure grip, and cast a meaningful glance at her companion. Macbeth nodded, and together they edged back, giving the other couple some space.
"Domi?" Andrea's voice was nearly a whisper, yet still somehow the sound of it drew Dominique back from the edge. She looked up. Andrea had dropped to one knee beside her, and peripherally, she became aware of the hand resting gently on her shoulder. She blinked back the tears, certain that her eyes must be fooling her. Andrea couldn't possibly be smiling, could she? A hand brushing softly against her cheek, and fingers trailing gently across her forehead confirmed the unbelievable. "It's okay," Andrea whispered. "I forgive you." This time, it was Andrea who pulled Dominique into a bear hug. "I just hope you can forgive me. I should have been more careful."
"Andrea, oh, my love." Dominique sniffled, and nuzzled against the smaller woman, sighing deeply as her fears evaporated, and with them some of her anger. "Of course I do."
From the shadows near the front door, Macbeth and Joanna watched, unable to discern the words but understanding what was transpiring all the same. Joanna squeezed Macbeth's hand, and he turned to meet her gaze. "Joanna, I…" he began.
"You're forgiven too," she replied, cutting him off. "You were as caught up in the situation as she was. Maybe more so. That link that binds you…" Joanna trailed off; she'd not soon forget the sight of her lover reciprocating Demona's desperate embrace. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that. But I'm willing to keep trying."
Macbeth touched his fingers to Joanna's cheek, marveling at her willingness to accept him, curses and all. He'd been blessed twice in his long life. First Gruoch and now Joanna. "I promise you, Jo, you won't regret it."
The ringing of the telephone startled both couples back to reality. Andrea helped a much more composed Dominique back to her feet, and the older woman took a moment to straighten her robe even as the bell continued to jangle impatiently.
"I wonder how long we were gone." Joanna's comment hung in the air as Dominique made for the phone. They had spent almost two full days and nights in the past, yet none of the four had yet to consider whether the same amount of time had passed in the present. Macbeth checked his watch and was surprised to find that it indicated only a few minutes had elapsed.
"Hello?" Dominique tried to shake the last tinge of emotion from her voice as she picked up the antique phone and put the receiver to her ear. She succeeded only partially.
"Dominique?" came the female voice at the other end of the line. "Hi. It's Fox. I tried calling a little while ago, but no one picked up. I hope I'm not waking you."
Fox… Fox… It took a moment for Dominique's brain to kick back into the 21st century. "Mrs. Xanatos," she greeted back. "No, I just… must have been in the shower."
Andrea accepted the jar back from Joanna, all the while listening curiously to the half of the conversation she could hear.
"Yes. Yes, they did stop by for it." A pause. "You can do what?" Another pause. "Yes, of course I would. You can tell Angela I'll be there… and tell her… please tell her I'll call her tonight." A pause again, coupled with a sniff. "Yes. Thank you, Fox. Goodbye."
Dominique Destine hung up the phone and discreetly tried to wipe a tear from her eye before turning back to the others. Andrea, however, was already at her side. "Domi? Are you okay?"
Mindful this time of the jar in her mate's hands, Dominique smiled and hugged her warmly. The past could not be changed, she knew that now, but maybe that was a good thing after all, for it also meant that the present would always be only what she made of it. She sniffed one last time, and wiped the lingering dampness from her eye. "Andrea, my love… everything is wonderful. You… Angela… I have everything I need right here."
"I hate to point out the obvious again, lass, but you still have those djinn to deal with, as well." Dominique and Andrea both looked up at Macbeth as he stepped forward. "I have studied the subject some in my day," he commented, "and I'll be happy to take them off your hands and put them somewhere where they can cause no more trouble."
"No." Dominique's reply was not the sharp, adamant refusal Andrea expected to hear. Her tone was actually… pleasant. "Thank you for the offer, but no."
Macbeth nodded. "I understand. I suppose the two of you both have a lot to discuss. And Joanna and I should be going regardless, so if you will permit me to thank you both for a very interesting Sunday morning, we will be on our way."
"Macbeth, wait." Dominique's words made both Andrea and Joanna blink. Was she actually asking her former ally turned adversary to linger a moment longer? "Fox just told me she has arranged for me to be able to attend Angela's talk tomorrow night. Would the both of you perhaps like to come back here for a late dinner afterward?" She hesitated a moment, adding, "It's the least Andrea and I can do to make up for all the trouble we inadvertently put you through."
Macbeth quirked an eyebrow in surprise. He was still working out an appropriate reply when Joanna stepped forward and accepted the invitation on their behalf. "That sounds like it would be wonderful." She eyed Andrea meaningfully. "I'll be looking forward to seeing you both again."
Andrea eyed her mate curiously as she held the door while Professors Macduff and Walker departed. Dominique was an enigma at times, and had always preferred to keep much of her long past to herself. So far, Andrea had respected her mate's privacy, and Dominique in turn had respected hers. She had learned a bit more now, and gained a new appreciation for just how complicated her mate's past truly was. And though she had not meant to make the wish in the first place, perhaps Dominique's seeming change of heart meant that the original intent of her misspoken plea would be fulfilled after all. But still…
"Dinner here, Domi?" she inquired mildly as her mate re-latched the door.
"Yes. Just a small gathering. You, me… Macbeth and Joanna… Angela and Broadway." She crossed the distance back to Andrea as she spoke, and drew the young woman into her arms again. "It'll be a five course meal, of course, with all the trimmings," she said matter-of-factly, "but don't you worry about a thing." She smiled slyly. "I was thinking we could have the djinn handle the catering. They should be able to muster up enough magic by tomorrow evening, don't you think?"
Andrea swallowed hard. "So you're going to keep this around?" she asked, indicating the jar.
"Yes, for the time being and against my better judgment." She gave a small sigh. "I let my anger get the better of me earlier. There are protocols for dealing with the djinn."
"I'm not sure I follow, Dominique. What kind of protocols?"
Dominique smiled gently. "Simply put, Andrea, you are the one who first found the jar and freed the djinn inside. Granted, in this case there turned out to be two of them, but still… and as much as I am loathed to admit it… by rights, their fate is in your hands."
Andrea looked down at the jar, then back up at her mate, uncertain. She had assumed Dominique would not permit her to so much as even touch it again, but now she was saying it was up to her to determine its ultimate disposition? "Domi, I'm an artist, not a sorceress. Are you sure I'm really the right person for this? Maybe Angela might be a better…"
A soft kiss on the forehead silenced her objections. "I trust you to make the right decision, Andrea." Dominique smiled as she stepped back. "As for me, I think right about now I could really go for that nice warm bath we talked about last night… and then maybe a good long nap."
Andrea nodded. Two nights living as an 11th century gargoyle had left her feeling dirty and tired as well. "I'll join you in a minute," she promised.
"I'll be waiting," Dominique returned as she started up the stairs.
A moment later, Andrea was alone once more with the old jar. Dominique trusted her to make the right decision. It was a weighty responsibility, and one she still wasn't sure she was up to fulfilling. As she considered the many options, though, she found her heart was already telling her, at least in one case, what the right decision was. Smiling, she rubbed the jar softly and whispered, "Come on out, Jeannie."
* * * * *
The last rays of sunlight were fading in the east as Andrea stood beside Jeannie on the small third-floor balcony of Destine Manor. "It's so beautiful, Lady Andrea," Jeannie said, shaking her head in wonderment. "The city… the buildings… the color of the sky. I've never before seen towers such as these… and it's been so long since I last saw a sunset." She hugged herself as the warm summer breeze caressed her face, still in awe of the new sensations. The pink harem girl outfit had been discarded, put away with a promise that she would never again wear such things against her will. She was clad now in a simple pair of jeans and a soft, well-worn sweatshirt, both of which had been borrowed from Andrea. Her long hair had been let down from the ridiculous braid, and restyled with the young woman's help into a casual loose ponytail. She was no longer a prisoner… no longer a slave to the geas that had bound her for over ten thousand years. Jeannie shivered, the full realization hitting her at last. She was no longer djinn. She was human… and only the pointed tips of her ears remained as the last lingering hint that she had ever been otherwise.
Andrea placed an arm reassuringly around the shoulders of her new friend. "I've already talked to Dominique, Jeannie. You can stay here with us for as long as you wish. We've got plenty of guest rooms, and I've got so many things I want to show you."
Jeannie allowed herself at last to take comfort in her former mistress's embrace. "Thank you, Andrea." She quieted again, finding mere words lacking, and leaned her head against the young woman's shoulder. It had been so very long since she had last enjoyed a moment of affection, yet she was uncertain now whether she, of all djinn, truly deserved it. How many others of her kind were still out there, locked inside their tiny prisons? How many had suffered in isolation because of her? Had she only allowed herself to be a little less stoic and a little more compliant when she had been hauled away to the dungeons of the Brocken, might the rest of the djinn been spared the Unseelie Queen's wrath? Jeannie had lived with her guilt for over ten thousand years. As a captive of the geas, she was powerless to use her own magic for anything not willed by the mortals she served. Now, her magic was gone, but she was free.
Free. Just the thought sent her emotions into a whirl. She had never expected the day would ever come, yet alone that it would be this one. Jeannie closed her eyes, hoping against all hope that she would not open them again to find it was all but a cruel dream. She could still recall vividly how she had trembled in fear the final time she had been summoned. Her former mate, in characteristic fashion, had provided her with only the minimum ration of his magic needed for her to undo her mistake and bring Andrea and her companions back to their present lives. The effort had left her own powers again all but exhausted. She sank to her knees, anguished and useless, waiting only for her Mistress to pronounce her punishment. Instead, she felt Andrea's hand on her chin, and opened her tear-filled eyes to find the woman kneeling along with her. "I have one final wish, Jeannie," she said softly. "A gift for you, if you will accept it. I wish for you to be free."
The magic that overcame her was stronger than any she had ever felt in her life. It filled her entire being, and she embraced it without fear or hesitation. It flooded through her essence like a rolling wave, transforming mere illusion into flesh and blood. Freedom had come at the cost of her powers, just as she always knew it must, but as she had collapsed under the assault into her mistress's embrace, Jeannie had not cared. She had been released at last from her bondage. She had become mortal. And now, at long last, she could perhaps finally find a way to make up for the mistakes of the past.
Jeannie opened her eyes once more. "I'm going to find them, Andrea," she vowed quietly.
"Find who?" Andrea looked at her as she broke the embrace, confused.
"The others of my kind," Jeannie replied. "I don't know how, but I will find them... whatever I must do and however long it takes."
Andrea considered her new friend's selfless resolution. It was a task that sounded seemingly impossible, yet by her tone she had no doubt Jeannie was sincere. The young artist looked down at the glass jar she held in her hands. She had freed one of the djinn from inside of it, but there was still one more left. "It sounds like you might need some help, Jeannie," she said at last. She placed the jar into the other woman's hands, smiling gently. "I don't trust myself with it anymore. I guess you can consider it another gift."
Disbelief was apparent in Jeannie's faintly elfin features, but she composed herself quickly, realizing the seriousness of what the young woman was entrusting to her. She cradled the jar in her hands, the first time she had ever touched the glass from the outside, and solemnly met the gaze of her former mistress. "He will cause no more mischief, Lady Andrea. You have my word."
Andrea nodded, confident now that she had made the right decision. The sun had nearly faded from the sky, and Jeannie regarded the other woman carefully. There was one more thing she had yet to speak of, one last wish that was soon to be fulfilled. She had surrendered her magic as the geas had required, but the energies could not simply be abandoned. They had demanded a focus before she could relinquish them. As Andrea had held her, she had crafted one last boon. "I have a gift for you, as well, Andrea, if you will accept it."
"A gift?" Andrea regarded the other woman curiously. Jeannie was human now. Her djinn powers were gone, weren't they? "What kind of gift?" Sunset came a second later, and Andrea gasped as she received her answer, a surge of greenish light overcoming her. Andrea steadied herself as the supernatural tingle faded, and sensations she thought had been left behind in the 11th century reasserted themselves. She gazed down at her hands in shock, finding eight pink talons instead of ten human fingers. Andrea shifted her taloned feet, correcting for balance as she felt the weight of a pair of wings on her back, and lashed the slender tail which now graced her backside. "Oh boy," she muttered. "Jeannie, what have you done?"
"You are the only mistress I have ever served who never wished a single thing for herself, Andrea. I had to give you just one gift in return, in thanks for your kindness."
Andrea stared at Jeannie, wide-eyed. "So now every night…" She froze, suddenly too terrified to complete the thought.
"No, Lady Andrea," Jeannie reassured. She took a step closer, taking one of Andrea's hands into her own. "For this night only. As was your wish." The former djinn smiled and looked up as motion in the room behind her caught her attention. "Your mate is here," she added softly.
"Andrea?" Demona stood in the doorway, a shocked look playing across her normally aristocratic features as she took in the infinitely beautiful female gargoyle who bore an unmistakable resemblance to her human mate. "By the dragon," she breathed, "is that you?"
"Yes, Domi. It's me." Andrea smiled at last in understanding. She stepped away from Jeannie, leaving her with the jar, and padded on taloned feet over to where her wide-eyed mate waited. "One night as a gargoyle, to spend with you," she said softly. Taking Dominique's taloned hands into her own, she gave a fanged grin. "My wildest fantasy… my fondest wish." She cast a glance back over her shoulder at Jeannie. "Somehow, she knew."
As Andrea settled her new wings around them both, Demona couldn't help but smile herself. She cast one final glance over Andrea's shoulder at the djinn turned human who stood on the balcony. Jeannie, as Andrea had named her, would likely now be their housemate for some time to come, and so she could save her many questions for later. "Well then, my love," she said. "I suppose we must make the most of it. After all, I would hate to see such lovely magic go to waste."
It had been an interesting weekend indeed, Andrea pondered, but it wasn't over yet. With tails intertwined lovingly, they kissed.