The baby with red hair screamed--a boy hardly older than a year--as the man picked him up. The man had long, white-blond hair and cold Arctic blue eyes that his malicious grin refused to warm.
Madoc leered over Titania. A Titania whose hands were shackled in front of her in iron. "Do you dare deny me now?" The blonde man standing on the platform behind Madoc grinned and held the boy up higher. "Do you dare?" Madoc repeated.
The horse loomed over her again. That monstrous wooden device that had destroyed her city. But the hands that turned her roughly from it were not Agamemnon's, they were the Unseelie's that had held the baby earlier.
"The walls of Troy are burning down, burning down, burning down. The walls of Troy are burning down, my fair lady." He sang and she began to freeze.
She looked down. Ice had formed over her feet and now moved up her legs. She
looked back up at his malicious grin. But something else was hidden in his eyes,
a cold fear. Fear of her.
Sunset on a small island off the coast of Greece, 1998 A.D.
Cassandra awoke with a roar. Bits of stone skin scattered from her and landed on the floor of her balcony. More from habit than real thought, she cast a levitation spell with a few simple gestures, swept them up into the air, and scattered them on the gravel path below.
From this height, she could see past the thick forest to the rosy sea that was beginning to darken. Like so much of Greece, her island was really the top of a mountain in the sea. The temple she had found had been built against the east side of the hill, creating a respectable public front for the orgies that had probably occurred in the caves behind it. She had rebuilt the temple into a home, expanded the caves into extra rooms, carved a spiral staircase up into the mountain, found another cave with a mouth facing west, and built this balcony.
She left it and walked through her bedroom and down the stairs. I haven't had a vision that bad in years. But why now? I don't know that baby. And what importance could he hold for Titania and Madoc? The stairs left her in a hallway that extended back into the other rooms. She walked in the other direction, emerging in the main room through her hidden door.
She looked back at the illusion. The painted fresco of a group of gargoyles in flight was real and the doorway she had just walked through was real. The illusion was that the wall appeared solid. An absurd gesture, but if someone actually came to her island during the day and wanted to find the way up to the gargoyle on the balcony, they were not going to have an easy job.
A dryad was waiting for her, the only one on the island that talked to her. Most of the ones whom she had given sanctuary to ignored her, preferring to remain in their trees. But even this dryad never came into her house.
Her brown foot tapped the marble floor as if looking for a weakness to put a root through. The young, darkly tanned, female twisted as she gazed around the room. She turned to Cassandra, shaking her brown hair out of her green eyes. "You have a visitor. She was annoyed when she couldn't get in."
"I would have found her if she's still here. You didn't have to come tell me."
"I didn't think you should keep this visitor waiting. Also I wanted to know why she couldn't get in."
Cassandra smiled. "I built wards into this place. To keep uninvited guests from coming in. Like the spell that convinces the mortals that this island is haunted."
The dryad nodded once, tossing her brown hair again and revealing its green highlights. "You better come see her." Cassandra followed her onto the porch.
The woman stood on the gravel path with her back to the temple and gazed into the forest. She turned slowly, adjusting her gossamer skirt and clock, and letting her pink hair settle into place before speaking. "Hello Cassandra."
Cassandra's wings unfurled involuntarily, revealing their silver inner coloring. "Titania. This is unexpected."
"An unexpected pleasure?" Her eyebrow arched over a bright blue eye.
The gargoyle brought her back around her shoulders creating the illusion of a black cloak. "Just unexpected."
The dryad scampered off the porch and Titania smiled at her. "We missed you at the Gathering."
"My sisters and I are not Oberon's Children. What need do we have to heed his summons?" She disappeared into the forest.
Titania shook her head. "The mortal realm isn't safe for them."
"They're safe here. I own this island in the mortal realm. Why are you here, Titania? Surely, Lord Oberon didn't send his Queen to summon me to the Gathering? Not while he has those three Furies at his beck and call."
"Should we not discuss business inside?"
Cassandra sighed and stepped from in front of the door. "You may enter, Queen Titania."
"Thank you." She stepped onto the porch and stepped past the Doric columns and into the main room.
The main room was lit by a candle chandelier and a large fireplace. A long table was pushed against one long wall of the rectangular room. The fireplace was built in the center of the opposite wall with four chairs and a couple of end tables arranged in a conversational cozy in front of it. The chairs had high backs and wide seats, cushioned comfortably. Cassandra gestured for Titania to take a seat and the Queen of the Third Race did with her characteristic grace.
"What a lovely home you have." Titania's gaze traveled to all corners of the room as Cassandra prepared drinks. An obsidian full-length mirror was mounted on the same wall that the table was pushed against. Two tapestries of pegasus framed the fireplace. A life size Greek statue of a satyr occupied the corner down away from the fireplace. The wall opposite the outside door had a fresco painted on it--a group of gargoyles in flight on a full moon night.
"I've had a few centuries to perfect it." Cassandra handed a goblet of wine to Titania and sat in a chair almost facing her. Her tail slid between the seat and the back. "Now, my Queen, to what do I owe this visit?"
Titania sipped her wine. "It is not the Gathering. Though you have spent much time with us, my husband gave you and the other Halflings a choice between the mortal realm and Avalon. So many of you chose the mortal realm."
"Because the exile to Avalon will last only a few centuries before the entire court gets on each other's nerves and Oberon has to let his Children dally among mortals again to preserve their sanity. I can wait."
"Except the Rising of the Unseelie Court has begun."
Cassandra set her goblet on the end table closest to her. The vision. "Madoc wants you."
"You tell me nothing that I already did not know, Prophetess. But it is part of the reason I have come to see you."
"Don't tell me, I'll guess. You want your fortune told."
Titania shook her head and smiled. "What good would that do? I would not believe you. No, I have a favor to ask of you."
"You presume much, my Queen. Why should I perform a favor for you?"
"Because I can bring you to a clan that will accept you."
A clan. Acceptance. Perhaps love? This is Titania, remember? "As if I would trust any clan you would recommend." Cassandra crossed her arms.
Titania smiled her small smile that usually signaled she was planning something and aimed it at the silver-skinned gargoyle. "No one can bend this clan to their will. Not even myself. Besides, a child's life is in danger."
Cassandra's laugh was sharp and without mirth. "Since when do you care about children, Sacker of Troy?"
Her smile vanished. "I'm not that woman anymore. I have changed."
"Forgive my sarcasm, but I think I'll stop changing to stone at sunrise before you care for someone besides yourself."
"Are you the same as your were three thousand years ago? Everyone is capable of change, including me. For without it, life loses its joy, its purpose. Why do you think boredom comes so easily to us?"
"I'm not about to be one of your diversions, Titania. I played a part in one already. And I don't want to repeat the experience."
"This is not a diversion. It is serious. Will you turn your back on a child, a baby that does not yet understand his place in the scheme?"
Cassandra's eyes briefly flashed red. "First you try to bribe me, then you try to shame me into helping you. Stop using manipulation and just tell me what you want."
Titania's smile returned. "Sorry, old habits die hard. I want you to protect the child." She stood and stepped closer to the tapestry on her side of the fireplace.
"Doesn't this important child have protectors already?"
Titania moved from the tapestry to the statue. "I fear they will not be enough."
Cassandra watched her carefully. "Surely, you have a servant fit for the task? One whose loyalty is assured."
"I don't want someone loyal to me." She moved from the statue to the fresco. "I want someone who will be loyal to the child. And someone who will not turn to the Unseelie Court."
"You forgot to mention that Oberon isn't letting his Children off Avalon," Cassandra smirked.
Titania moved away from the fresco to the crystal and silverware laid out on the table. "That too is a factor. But the strongest factor is that I did you a horrific wrong. A wrong I would like to try to amend." She stopped in front of the obsidian mirror. She passed her hands in front of it and it glowed with a greenish light. Cassandra jumped to her feet. "It is a one-way portal now. If you decide to help me, come through it. Leave here close to dawn, there's a bit of a time difference. And wear a disguise." She smiled and stepped through the mirror.
Cassandra sighed, picked up her goblet, and drained it of the wine.
Typical of most of the Third Race, she thought wryly, staring at her
mirror. They can't just tell you what they want or need; they have to hide
behind half-truths, illusions, and magic. And mortals are just toys to be
discarded when the amusement is finished. That's the code Titania lives by. Why
should I trust her? She says she wants to make amends, but how can she possibly
make amends for what she has done?
The Royal Palace of Troy, 1184 B.C.
All is lost. The Greeks had entered the walls. Cassandra clutched the infant to her chest with one claw as she ran on the other three. The fools! Why didn't they believe me! I told them not to bring the horse into the city!
Worry about that later. Mourn Troy later. Follow Andromache's orders now. Get to the top of the Palace. Glide away and find shelter for Astyanax. Mourn Troy later. She rounded another corner of the hallway.
A naga blocked the path, filling the second-story hall with her massive snake body.
Cassandra reared back on her feet, digging her toe talons into the floor.
The naga leaned her head forward and smiled. Two arms began to grow out of her torso. "What have we here?" Cassandra stepped back. She clutched the infant tighter and he screamed. The human head of the naga leaned back and lifted toward the ceiling. "Agamemnon! I found the Prince!"
Someone ran around the corner of the hall behind Cassandra. She whirled around and faced the armored Greek. "Give me Hector's brat." He held out his sooty and bloody hand for the baby.
She stepped back from him. "No! He just a baby! An innocent! He doesn't know what is happening!"
The naga gripped Cassandra's arms with her newly formed hands and arms and wrapped the end of her snake body around Cassandra's legs. "Take the child."
Agamemnon pulled the screaming baby from Cassandra as she struggled against the naga's grip. "Spare him, my lord! Please I beg you! He could be your slave! He can grow up never knowing Troy! Please spare him!"
"I'm sorry. But princes learn about their pasts, even if they are raised in ignorance." With two quick steps, he crossed the hall to a window. He grabbed Astyanax by the ankle and swung him out into the night.
He brushed his empty hands together. "My thanks, Mighty Hera." He bowed to
Cassandra's island, 1998
"You're going to help her, aren't you?" The dryad crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the gargoyle sitting on the porch of the temple.
Cassandra squirmed under the gaze. "Yes," she admitted with a sigh. "To get this request after having a vision of a child in the hands on the Unseelie Court is no coincidence. I have to go."
"It's your life. Just be careful."
Cassandra smiled as she stood. "Believe me, I have no desire to see my life end now." The dryad didn't reply as Cassandra entered the temple.
She waved her hand above her head. The candles in the chandelier flickered
and went out, and the fire in the fireplace drew in on itself and grew cold. The
only light in the main room was the filtered moonlight streaming through the
doorway and the green glow of the mirror. Cassandra took a deep breath, clasped
her wings around her shoulders, and stepped through the obsidian.
Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park, Manhattan, 1998
The portal deposited Cassandra on a sidewalk of what seemed to be a tree-filled park. An Egyptian obelisk was on her left, protected from the public by a fence, and lit with electric floodlights. It stabbed into the dark blue night.
Only a few obelisks have ever left Egypt. She remembered watching the British set theirs up in London. But the Thames Embankment couldn't have changed this much in only a hundred and twenty years.
She heard footsteps running toward her. A man was running at a slow trot around the monument. Panic swelled in her throat and she swallowed it, raising a human facade over her form.
The man reached her and paused, continuing to run in place. He blinked and looked the young human woman with shoulder length black hair, blue eyes, and wearing blue jeans and a leather vest up and down. "I must have gargoyles on the brain. I thought you were one for minute there."
Cassandra smiled, "Must be the light."
The man shrugged and continued running down the path. Cassandra let out a deep sigh of relief.
"That was close." A woman stepped from the shadows of the nearby trees. She was middle-aged with long red-brown hair but without the change to grey that usually plagued humans at that age. She wore a skirt and blouse with a long jacket. "I told you to wear a disguise."
Cassandra shrugged. "He doesn't suspect anything."
"But I do." The male voice drifted down from the top of the obelisk. They both turned and looked up. A tall lean man with long white-blond hair and a face like a bird of prey perched on the monument. He was dressed in black boots decorated with chains, tight denim pants, and a black leather jacket. He jumped off and floated down to the ground in front of them.
Titania, still in her human facade, stepped back. "Loki!"
He bowed at his waist, never taking his eyes off them. "Imagine my surprise. Here was I, following orders--which is unusual at best--when a portal opens and out steps a gargoyle. Then the gargoyle uses magic to hide from the human. I was intrigued; I had to know what was going on. And how is my curiosity rewarded? Out of hiding comes the prize Madoc desires most of all. So come along, Titania, and win me some bonus points." With a smirk, he tossed a blue chain at her.
Cassandra pushed Titania aside and shattered the magical chain with her right claw. Titania stumbled and fell, landing roughly on her side.
Loki pulled the magic energy back into his hand. "How noble. But then, the largest character flaw of any gargoyle is their inability to stay out of other people's business."
Cassandra positioned herself between him and Titania. "Run, Titania!"
Titania's human form glowed green then vanished.
Loki shrugged. "Oh well, I still have the job I'm supposed to do. So it's just you and me now. Oh and by the way, you've let your disguise drop." He threw a bolt of energy.
She quickly deflected it with a magic shield. "I don't like fighting incognito. This gives me the advantage."
"Really?" He waved his hand. Her wings caught the gale and it tossed her back. "I've never found gargoyles much of a challenge before."
She placed a hand on the ground and pushed power through it. "I'm not an ordinary gargoyle." The grass under Loki shot up like vines and wrapped around his wrists and legs.
"Oh very clever." His tone was genial, but his expression was murderous as she stood up. "But I can be clever too. I remember who you are now."
Cassandra shook her black hair out of her eyes. "Do you?"
Loki grinned, revealing predatory teeth. "I'll make up a song right now to prove it. The walls of Troy are burning down, burning down, burning down. . . ."
The roar ripped out of her throat before she realized it was lurking there.
Her eyes blazed red and she leaped for him, claws outstretched.
A grove of trees close to Cleopatra's Needle, 1998
Angela broke off the kiss. "What was that?"
"The beating of my heart," Broadway answered as he stared into her face. The high-pitched gargoyle roar echoed. He blinked, "She sounds pissed."
Angela stood up. "We have to help her!"
Broadway sighed--eyeing the closed picnic hamper he had so carefully packed earlier--but he stood up. "It doesn't sound like Sata. Or Maggie. Or Sharon."
Her eyes narrowed with worry. "It must be Mother! Come on!" She plunged into the trees.
"It would be just like Demona to ruin a perfectly good date." But he ran
Cleopatra's Needle, 1998
She grabbed hold of him by his leather jacket and raised her hand to rake her talons across his face. The look of fear she expected did not appear, instead he continued grinning. What am I doing? He wants me to lose control. He wants me to become the monster!
The grass vines holding Loki began to crystallize, spreading from him to the ground.
I won't give in! I'm not a monster! The back of Cassandra's hand struck him across the face. The grass froze to the roots. He broke his left arm free and hit her upper torso, knocking her away.
She jumped up with another roar. This time the wind that caught her was icy cold--as if it had just blown off a glacier. It knocked her back to the ground.
"So that's the way you want to play." Loki stepped closer but remained out of reach, keeping her pinned to the ground with a wind that tore her breath away. "It's a pity. No one wants to take time with battles anymore."
Snow swirled from his outstretched hands. The cold holding her in place intensified. Ice formed over her skin. "No!" She struggled to move, only managing to shift under the wind and crack the ice. But new ice formed quickly.
Her heart was beginning to slow, losing the struggle with the cold. No! I want to live! But shapes beyond the snow flurry were growing dimmer.
Wanting to live and being able to are two completely different but related ideas, a voice answered her in her mind. A voice that sounded suspiciously like Puck's. But she couldn't argue with the logic of the statement.
The howl of the wind was dying down, but she couldn't see past the snow
storm. Deep inside, her anger kindled her will. I'm going to live! I will not
let this Unseelie kill me!
* * *
The gargoyle hatchling Cassandra held in her arms looked nothing like her--other than the silver skin and the black hair that was already falling into his large eyes. He was tiny, smaller than most hatchlings and his wings were webbed between his torso and his arms.
A human boy with red hair and somewhere in his young teen years stood beside her. "He looks like Lexington. What are you going to name him?"
"I don't know. As long as it isn't a street or from Homer, I'm open for suggestions."
"What about Lysander?"
"Lysander," she looked back down at the hatchling who giggled and tried to
grab her hair.
Cleopatra's Needle, 1998
Broadway and Angela broke through the trees and onto a surreal scene. A man with longish blond-white hair was shooting snow from his outstretched hands forming a snow pile. The tip of a gargoyle's wing poked out of the snow, but it was being quickly buried.
Angela recognized the fae sending the blizzard on the gargoyle and leaped with a growl.
Loki found himself on his back on the ground and staring into the face of a very angry female gargoyle. A very familiar female gargoyle. "Hello, Angie. Missed me?" He laughed. She growled and pushed his shoulders harder against the ground. He laughed harder and called up a gust of wind. It shot her into the sky and she tumbled down a few yards behind his head. "This night is just filled with bonus points." He jumped to his feet and strode to her.
Angela groaned and propped herself up on her forearm. Loki grabbed her ponytail and yanked her head back. "Come, my dear. I know a certain Queen who is dying to continue a certain conversation."
"Leave her alone!" Two arms wrapped around Loki, pinning the fae's arm to his sides, and lifted his feet off the ground.
He twisted his head and stared down at a very angry male gargoyle's face. "Is the whole clan in the Park tonight?" Broadway squeezed harder. Loki let go of Angela's hair. Her head fell back down on her arms. "I'm not getting paid for this." He vanished.
Broadway quickly knelt and picked up Angela. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." She took a deep breath. "He just knocked the wind out of me. What about the other gargoyle?"
He made sure she was standing on her own, then moved to the snow pile. Brushing it aside, he soon found a silver-skinned, female gargoyle with black hair a little shorter than shoulder length. She was still breathing but it was shallow. He picked her up out of the snow and ice in both of his arms. She felt like an ice sculpture. He turned back to Angela. "Is she one of your rookery sisters?"
"No," Angela shook her head. "I've never seen her before."
"We better get her back to the Castle. She's not getting any warmer."
Castle Wyvern, 1998
Lexington cocked his head to one side. His talons paused over the keyboard of his computer. Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements, he could hear someone shouting outside. "That sounds like Broadway."
Hudson turned from the television set. "'Eh, lad? What's that?"
"Broadway's calling for help." Lex jumped off his stool and galloped out of the living room on all fours.
Goliath looked up from the book he was reading. "Angela?"
Hudson pulled himself out of the easy chair. "Let's hope not."
Lexington reached the battlements where they usually slept. He could see Broadway and Angela gliding over a neighboring rooftop, his rookery brother still bellowing. He was carrying someone in his arms.
"Lex! Lex!" Brooklyn was shouting up from the next set of battlements below the tower. "What's going on?"
"Broadway wants help." He shouted down as Goliath and Hudson joined him on the battlements.
"Angela's all right." Relief poured from Goliath's voice.
"Aye. But who's that he's carrying?"
Angela landed first and they back away, giving Broadway enough room. "We have to help her! Now!"
"She's freezing," Angela explained, "and she's barely breathing."
"Bring her inside quickly," Goliath ordered. "Lexington, get some blankets."
Lex ran to the bedroom closest to the gargoyles living room. He snatched the folded blanket off the end of the bed and opened the armoire. Two more blankets were folded inside. He grabbed them.
He met Fox, holding Alexander, and Owen in the hallway as he ran out with the blankets held over his head. "Lex, what's going on?" she asked as he scampered out of the way.
"Angela and Broadway found a hurt gargoyle."
Owen quickly followed the gargoyle, grabbing a blanket that Lex dropped. "One of the clones?"
"No, I've never seen her before."
"Her?" Fox jogged to follow, trying not to fall too far behind.
Brooklyn and Sata reached the living room at the same time they did. Goliath and Broadway had propped the unconscious gargoyle between them and were trying to rub heat into her arms. She had silver skin with black hair. Her wings were shaped like Brooklyn's and she was dressed in a tunic cut to resemble a toga. Owen gasped and Puck jumped to their side. "Put her on the couch! Quickly!"
Goliath glanced down at the fae and took the unconscious gargoyle into his arms. He laid her out on the couch and stepped back. Puck levitated to her side. "Now pay attention, Alexander. Lesson One in Magical First Aid." He set his hands on her stomach. "First, we have to raise her body temperature." A green glow surrounded her body. "If all goes well, we won't have to do CPR." Her chest began rising with deeper breaths. Puck removed his hands and the green glow faded away.
Angela rushed into the room through another door. "The bath is ready." She glanced down at the couch. "But I guess we don't need it."
Cassandra moaned and opened her eyes. Puck beamed down at her. "That's cutting it close. Any closer and we won't be celebrating your millennium birthdays anymore."
She took a day breath and sat up. She was sitting on a modern couch in a crowded room. Most of the bodies belong to gargoyles. A human woman holding a human baby stood in the doorway. And there was Puck. "What happened?"
A large aqua-blue gargoyle stepped forward. "We found you buried under a snow pile in Central Park."
A lavender female took hold of his arm. "It was an Unseelie making the snow."
"Madoc?" A small green gargoyle's eyes flamed white.
"No, but he was one of the ones who tried to get me to talk about Avalon."
"Titania called him Loki." The heads swiveled back to Cassandra.
"You and Titania were together in Central Park?" Puck's eyes gleamed. "What happened to carving her guts out and serving them to her on a silver platter?"
"She remarried Oberon." She rubbed the back of her neck and took another look around the room. Yes, the majority were gargoyles, mostly males of all ages with only two females. The lavender one that had spoken and a green one wearing a kimono standing near the door way. Then she looked back at Puck. "You keep saying Central Park. Am I in New York?"
"'Fraid so. What happened; the trees throw you off your island?" Cassandra buried half her face in her hands and began muttering in a foreign language. Puck tsked and shook his head. "Cass, there's a kid present. Besides my ancient Greek is rusty." Cassandra looked up again and Puck shrugged. "Well, if you're going to call Titania all those things, I want to make sure I know exactly what they are."
"It is obvious you and Puck know each other," the tall lavender male began diplomatically. "But the rest of us are not so fortunate."
"Where are my manners?" Puck flew from the couch and lazily circled the head of the gargoyle who had just spoken. He propped his elbows on a massive shoulder and rested his chin in his hands. "This big guy is Goliath, leader of the infamous Manhattan Clan."
Puck vanished and reappeared next to an older, red beaked male standing beside the green female and just inside a door into the room. "And this is Brooklyn, the second in-command and the Time Dancer." The gargoyle started and stared at Puck who smirked. "But he doesn't remember much about that. And his lovely wife, Sata. You'll have to meet their kids later."
Puck then swam through the air to float over the head of the oldest gargoyle present, a brown male with a gray beard. "And this is Hudson. Aye, like the river," the last said in a thick Scottish accent.
Hudson crossed his arms and stared after the fae as he flew across the room. "Are all these theatrics really necessary?"
"What can I say. I love putting on a show!" Puck spun around in the air and a spotlight from nowhere fell on the lavender female. "This is Angela, Goliath's only kid so far." The spotlight switched to the aqua-blue male holding her arm. "And this is Broadway, her one true love."
The spotlight shifted to a smaller green gargoyle with his wings webbed between his arms and his torso standing next to the door and a pile of blankets. "Lexington, the clan's technical support." The spotlight shifted to the human woman holding the baby. The woman had red hair and a strange birthmark around her right eye. It looked like the head of a fox or a wolf. The baby boy had a lighter shade of red hair. "And last but not least, Fox Xanatos, Titania's halfling daughter and David Xanatos's wife. And their son Alexander, my latest pupil."
Puck floated down from the ceiling and landed between the Manhattan Clan and Cassandra. "Everyone, Cassandra of Troy, my first pupil." He bowed deeply at the waist.
Only Alexander clapped and giggled. He was the baby from my vision. And Loki was in my vision too. Maybe Titania was serious. "I'm very pleased to meet you."
"Likewise." Goliath answered for the clan.
"And the answer we're all dying to know." Puck floated down and perched on the back of the couch. "Why have you and Titania kissed and made up?"
"We didn't kiss and make up. She just showed up on my doorstep wanting my help protecting a child, put a portal spell on my mirror which I followed and ended up here."
"You stepped through a portal that you didn't know where it ended?" Puck tsked, "I taught you better than that."
"You're right," Cassandra sighed.
"I am!" A book popped into existence next to Puck who grabbed it and thumbed through it. "I won my bet with Coyote. Too bad I can't collect."
"Bet? What bet?" She turned to him.
"That you would admit that I was right before you hit five thousand."
Cassandra opened her mouth to reply to Puck, but Fox interrupted first. "Wait a minute. My mother wanted you to protect a child and dropped you in the middle of Central Park where Loki tried to kill you? That doesn't make any sense." She shifted Alexander in her arms.
"Actually, Titania was there for five seconds before Loki decided to attack. I told her to leave, which she did rapidly."
"And the child she wanted you to protect?" Goliath asked.
"She didn't tell me. I guess it could be Alexander." Cassandra sighed and sat up straighter. "You'd think she would at least have the decency to come back to see if I'm still alive."
"When my mother plans something, I think decency is the last thing she thinks about." Fox's lips pressed together tightly.
I guess I'm not the only one Titania has problems relating to, Cassandra thought to herself.
Cass, you have no idea, Puck replied telepathically.
"But Alexander is already protected," Lexington commented. "None of us would let anyone hurt him."
"True," Puck grabbed hold of his chin, "but when Titania starts manipulating, she's hard to stop. Why didn't you just tell her "no"?"
"What happened the last time someone told Titania "no"? Besides, I had a vision that a child was in danger."
Puck snorted, "You're always having visions."
"And they usually come true, Trickster."
"That's right. I always forget that part."
"I don't know anything about visions or what my mother has planned but if Puck vouches for you, you may stay here for as long as you need to." Fox propped Alexander's drooping head on her shoulder.
"Oh, I vouch for her." Puck floated off the back of the couch and landed on the floor. "You can trust Cass not to turn us over to the Unseelie Court or any of the other baddies out there. Titania could have chosen worse." A puff of smoke surrounded Puck and Owen emerged from it. He held his arms out to Fox. "I'll put him to bed, Madame."
Puck? Cassandra raised her brow ridge as she asked the telepathic question.
His answer was also telepathic. We'll talk later.
Fox set Alexander in the crook of Owen's right arm. "Thank you, Owen. Cassandra, is there anything else you need?"
"Just something to eat and a day's sleep. Thank you for your hospitality."
Fox smiled, "Think nothing of it."
"Broadway, Angela, why don't you show Cassandra the kitchen," Goliath suggested. The two gargoyles agreed and led Cassandra out of the living room. Goliath turned back to Fox. "What will Xanatos say about this?"
"Probably that one more gargoyle around won't make a difference." Fox smirked at that thought, but grew serious. "And that one more gargoyle is better than my mother trying to kidnap Alexander and take him to Avalon. But what is your clan going to do? Is she going to join or what?"
"That depends on the discretion of the leader, lass," Hudson informed her as he sat back down in his easy chair.
"And on what she wants to do." Brooklyn put an arm around Sata. "She may have a clan of her own that she wants to get back to."
"Puck didn't mention a clan." Lexington picked the blankets off the floor and set them on the couch. "He said something about trees throwing her off her island."
"It can wait," Goliath decided, "for tomorrow night. It's close to dawn and
she has been through enough for one night."
* * *
She was back in Troy. The flames were leaping into the view of the windows of the hall that she remembered too well. But the naga that held her now was made of ice. And Loki, still dressed in his modern clothes, strode forward from the shadows.
"You can't stop me, gargoyle. You don't even know how." He picked Alexander off the floor and started walking toward the nearest window.
"No!" Cassandra struggled against the ice. She couldn't move. "Leave him alone!"
"Still fighting like a mortal." Loki shook his head in mock-sorrow. "And you expect to win?"
"I won't let you hurt that child!"
Sunset at Castle Wyvern, 1998
She broke free with a roar and saw sky and stone. Troy was gone and the unexpected freedom upset her balance. She flailed her wings and arms trying to regain it. Two hands grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Maybe you should sleep inside." She looked down. It was the shorter green gargoyle from the group Puck had introduced her to last night.
She stepped off the roost with his help. "Lexington, right?"
"You can call me Lex. Was it a bad dream?" Her puzzlement must have shown in her expression because he continued. "That caused you to almost fall off the tower?"
"Oh. No, not a bad dream. Just a prophetic vision."
"Prophetic vision, right."
His skeptical tone slashed old wounds.
The Greeks have left, my child. We have nothing to fear from their gift to the Gods.
Demon! How dare you speak such lies! The Queen would never kill her husband!
Moonbeam, our hatchling will know us as well as the rest of the clan. And we will be parents to all the hatchlings in the rookery. Stop dwelling on morbid thoughts.
She sighed. I didn't ask for any of this. What twist of fate made me the voice that no one believes? Why didn't I just stay on my island?
The irritation must have shown on her face because he blushed. "I'm sorry. It's just I have never met anyone who has visions before."
She let the anger pass. It wasn't his fault he fell under her curse. "It's okay. I've never met anyone who lives in a castle on top of a skyscraper before either."
Goliath had already begun giving out patrol assignments when Lex and
Cassandra joined the rest of the clan. His expression when he looked at her was
one Cassandra was too familiar with.
Greece, 5 B.C.
Time alone with her mate. They sat on a large boulder on the beach uncovered by the low tide, with one eye on the romantically moon-lit sea and the other the cliff-side caverns inhabited by her mate's clan.
Cassandra sighed and pulled his dark-blue arms tighter around her. She was so tired of their suspicious glances, their muttered criticism of her human ways. No matter how hard she tried she would always be the freak her prince had brought home.
"The Leader's coming toward us," her prince murmured in her ear.
Cassandra looked up the beach and her heart beat faster. The tall red gargoyle with a black head crest like a soldier's helmet was striding on the sand still firm from the water. No one else is on the beach, so he has to be looking for us. The Leader's expression was grimly determined as well as annoyed. What did I do wrong now?
He stopped a few feet from the boulder. "My son, may I have a word with you?" Her mate squeezed her reassuringly as he stood up. He jumped off the boulder and used his wings to soften his landing on the sand.
She watched the dark-blue gargoyle clasp his wings around his shoulders again and join the Leader. They were almost the same height but the Leader's maturity added to his physical presence. My son, that's how all the elders address him. While I'm the barbarian or the Trojan. Tradition forbid using the human name I was given. It might give the hatchlings the wrong idea.
Her love conversed with the Leader in tones too low for her to hear. Finally, after an eternity of seconds, her prince motioned for her to join them. She did slowly, dreading to know what taboo she had disregarded this time. "My love, the Leader says you have been teaching one of the hatchlings magic."
That's what this is about? "Yes, I have. That hatchling has potential. He could be a very powerful sorcerer."
"Gargoyles don't practice magic." The Leader said brusquely as he glared at her. "Stop corrupting him."
"Anyone can do magic with the proper training--even a gargoyle," Cassandra replied coldly.
"A gargoyle protects. A true gargoyle is a warrior that fights with honor. Magic is just trickery, and no honorable warrior uses tricks to defeat his enemy." The Leader turned back to her mate. "Make sure she stops this corruption or I'll banish her."
"You can't banish what you do not claim." The Leader glared at her again and stalked down the beach.
"My love, my moonbeam, you must stop alienating the clan. Or they will never accept you."
"My love, they never will."
Castle Wyvern, 1998
The other gargoyles left for their tasks leaving Goliath and Cassandra alone on the battlements. "What are you going to do now?" he asked.
A good start. He still looks suspicious, though. "I guess that depends on you. Alexander is in danger and Titania wanted me to help protect him, but I'm not going to stay where I'm not welcome."
"Have we given you the impression that you're not?"
Cassandra sighed. "No, your clan has been very polite. Guarded, but polite. But if that's never going to change, I don't want to stay and make people uncomfortable."
Goliath frowned. "It sounds as if you have been in that position before. Did your clan disapprove of your magic?"
"I have never had a clan my entire life--all three thousand one hundred and sixty-four years of it." Goliath's brow ridge reached up as his eyes grew wide. "My father was one of Oberon's children. My mother was a gargoyle who left me as an egg with the priests of Apollo in Troy. The royal family and the priests raised me until fifty human years after I hatched, when Troy fell to the Greeks. I found my first mate about a thousand years after that. But his clan never accepted me. To them, I was a freak." Cassandra turned from the gargoyle who towered about a foot over her. She looked down at the busy streets below as the wind tossed her black hair and pushed a salty tear into her mouth. She wiped her cheek with her claw. "So yes, I have been in that position before. And consequently I have never looked for another clan since."
Goliath set a claw on her shoulder, but didn't try to turn her around. "Angela and her rookery brothers and sisters were raised by humans. And you can't be held accountable for what your parents were. I nor my clan would never turn you away for either of those reasons."
She took a deep breath and turned to look up at him. His sincerity was coupled with a small smile, the friendliest expression she had seen so far on his face. "It would be nice to spend some time with someone besides dryads for a while."
"Then, please feel free to stay with my clan." He gently pulled her toward a door into the castle. "Dryads?"
"Nymphs that live in trees. My island is full of them."
"They didn't take part in the Gathering?"
"They're nature spirits with enough sense to stay out of politics."
10:00 p.m. at Castle Wyvern, 1998
Goliath had given her a tour of the castle while telling her some of his clan's history. She hadn't met David Xanatos yet, but she had to admire the man's brazenness. One had to have plenty of it to move a castle all the way from Scotland to New York and turn it into a private residence on top of the tallest skyscraper in the city, all to see if a story was true. No wonder Puck was still hanging around here.
Hudson met them in the living room of the West Wing. "There you are, Goliath. I'm off to the Labyrinth. Time for another reading lesson."
"All right, old friend."
I still need to talk to Puck, she realized. Before she could ask Goliath where to find him, a young red female gargoyle with long black hair ran into the room. Must be Brooklyn's child. He's the only adult I've met with a beak like that.
"Hey, Goliath. Eliza's on the phone. She wants to talk to you." Goliath beamed, and rushed out of the room as fast as he could without looking like he was rushing. The girl turned to Cassandra. "Hello, I'm Ariana."
"Hello, I'm Cassandra."
"Yeah, Dad told us. Are you really from Troy? Troy with the Trojan Horse?"
"Yes. I even knew Helen."
"That's what I thought. Graeme thought Puck was just joking."
"My twin brother. He's somewhere around." Ariana glanced around the room as if expecting him to materialize. Then she turned back to Cassandra, "You weren't planning on watching TV, were you?"
"Actually, I need to talk to Puck. But I don't know where he is."
"He's probably in the nursery with Alex. Do you know where that is?"
Cassandra thought back over the tour Goliath had given her. "No."
"I'll show you." Cassandra tried hard to remember the maze of hallways Ariana led her through, and gave up by the time she left her by a door. "This is the nursery. Bye." She ran down the hall.
Cassandra sighed, "I think I'm going to need a map to get around this place," she muttered to herself. She opened the door quietly, "Puck?"
Fox was rocking Alexander in a chair designed specifically for it and was reading to him from a book. They both looked up as Cassandra poked her head inside. "I'm sorry. I was looking for Puck."
"David and Owen left this afternoon for a sudden business meeting in Washington." Fox smiled apologetically. "They'll be back for tomorrow night."
"Looks like reminiscing will have to wait." Cassandra sighed. "I guess I could go sight seeing. If I can find someone to show me the sights."
"I'm sure someone will be happy to."
The intercom mounted on the wall next to the door buzzed. "Mrs. Xanatos?"
Fox sighed, set down the book, and stood up, placing Alexander on her hip. She hit a button on the intercom. "Yes?"
"Sorry to disturb you, ma'am. But there's a cop on the main phone and he says it's an emergency."
"All right, I'll speak with him in a few minutes. Put him on hold please." Fox released the button and turned to Cassandra. "Do you mind keeping Alexander while I handle this?"
"No, I don't mind." Alexander eagerly reached out for her arms. "We'll finish reading the book."
"Yeah, da book," Alexander agreed.
The back of the rocking chair had slats wide enough apart to comfortable accommodate her tail. She had just found where Fox had left off when the door opened again. A green gargoyle Ariana's age with long black hair and Brooklyn's beak stuck his head inside. "Sorry, I'm looking for Uncle Lex. I thought he might be here with Alex."
"I haven't seen him since sunset," Cassandra replied. "You must be Graeme."
"That's me. Ari-san said she met you. Don't mean to be rude, but I have to find Uncle Lex or we'll never get Mom and Dad out of our hair tonight."
"Liberry," Alexander told him as he tried to turn the page of the book.
"Thanks, Alex. I'll check there next."
She finished reading the thin, nonsensical book without any more interruptions. Fox still wasn't back and Alexander was still wide awake. "What to do now, Alexander? You want to read another book?"
"Dat one." He pointed to the bookshelf. A book pulled itself off the shelf and fell to the floor.
"Puck's not wasting anytime is he." She levitated the book to her hands. "If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Suess. You really like his books."
"Yeah," he answered, laying his head in the crook of her arm.
The nursery door opened before she reached the halfway point. Lex stuck his head in. "Oh good, you got him."
Cassandra looked down. Alexander was almost asleep. She levitated him to his baby bed and spread the blanket over him as she walked to the door. Lex hit the room's light switch, plunging the room into darkness and automatically turning on a night light. "Is something wrong?" She asked as they stepped into the hall.
"Fox ran out of the castle, saying that Xanatos had been in accident. I just wanted to make sure Alex was okay."
Cassandra frowned. Something was nagging her memory, but it wasn't helping her remember. "Who's left here?"
"You, me, the twins, the dogs, and Alex. The couples are out on dates and Hudson went down to the Labyrinth. Patrol was quiet tonight." Lex smiled at her worried expression. "Don't worry. The worse that can happen is Bronx and Nudnik decide to tear a room up or the twins break the TV. We can handle that."
Cassandra frowned but followed him back to the living area.
Midnight at Castle Wyvern, 1998
Ariana had claimed the television set while Graeme and Lex played a game on the computer. Bronx, the large gargbeast of the clan, had wandered off somewhere and Nudnik, the gargbeast pup, laid in Ariana's lap. Cassandra gave up trying to understand why the two human law enforcement agents were chasing a monster through a city's sewers on the program Ariana was watching and picked up a book that had been left on an end table near the couch.
She was about a chapter into it when Lex spoke up. "That's odd. Turn the sound off, Ariana." She hit a button on the remote control. The show continued to play silently. "It sounds like metal on metal." Lex's large eyes grew puzzled. "From outside."
"Maybe someone left something on," Graeme suggested.
"Better check it out." Lex slid off his stool and headed out the door.
Cassandra turned to the twins. "I don't hear anything."
The twins exchanged glances. "Uncle Lex is," Ariana began.
"Special," Graeme finished.
"You better come see this!" Lex shouted down the hallway. The three gargoyles and the garg-pup quickly joined him at a window facing the courtyard. "Do you see what I see?"
Cassandra peered over Ariana's head as the twins crowded up to the window. The walls of the courtyard were bathed in fire. Rubble filled the corners. Men dressed in leather armor chased each other with swords and spears. And in the center, a wooden horse as tall as the castle's walls presided over the chaos. "No! It can't be!"
"Well, I guess we can rule out you being responsible." Graeme grabbed hold of his stomach as his sister elbowed him in his side.
A roaring growl echoed through the halls. "That sounds like Bronx." Lex jumped away from the window and landed in the center of the hall on all fours, galloping away.
Cassandra quickly followed him, dimly aware that the twins were following her. Bronx's growls, barks, and howls grew louder. They found him in the hallway outside the nursery, dodging icy bolts thrown by Loki. "Loki!" Cassandra felt anger surge through her and knew her eyes were blazing red.
Loki looked up. "Damn, not you again!"
Lex launched himself with a roar. He landed on Loki's chest and knocked the Unseelie to the floor.
Two Greek soldiers entered the hall. "Kill the monsters!"
"And we stayed home because it's safer." Graeme launched himself at a soldier.
"Next time the rest of the clan gets to stay home for the Trojan War reenactment." Ariana quipped as she followed her brother.
Cassandra leaped over an ice patch on the floor and landed next to the nursery door. She wrenched it open.
Alexander was standing in his baby bed, gripping the railing in his fists, his face red and tear-streaked. "Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!"
She ran to the bed and lifted him out of it, and cradled him to her chest. "It's all right, Alexander. Ssh. It'll be all right. I won't let that vision come true."
Lex cried out and was thrown into the nursery. Loki stepped inside, pulling off what was left of his leather jacket. "Between you and that mutt, I'm going to need a brand-new wardrobe!" Lex groaned in response. Loki turned to Cassandra. "The brat, now. And you might live through this."
"If you want this child, you have to fight me."
"Been there, done that, and I won, remember?" Bronx crept through the doorway. He opened his mouth wide and charged, slamming teeth first into Loki's backside. The Unseelie howled and vanished.
The twins rushed into the nursery followed by Nudnik--still chewing on a forearm gauntlet. "More soldiers are coming," Graeme said as he slammed the door shut and slammed his back against it.
"Uncle Lex! Are you okay?" Ariana rushed to the fallen gargoyle's side.
Cassandra joined her as she rolled Lex over. Bronx whined and licked the olive-green gargoyle's face. Lex moaned and pulled his hand up in protest. "Stop it, Bronx. I'm okay."
Cassandra handed Alexander to Ariana and helped Lex to his feet. "Are you injured?"
"Just a little dazed. That was Loki, huh?"
"Can we compare notes later?" The door shook under Graeme. "We gotta get out
of here now!"
Midnight at the 23rd Precinct Station, 1998
"What do you mean, no one called me? I have witnesses, Detective!"
Matt Bluestone sighed. The last thing he wanted to deal with this night was this angry redhead. "Mrs. Xanatos, I checked. No one from this station contacted you. And we haven't heard anything about an accident in Washington D.C. Did Xanatos leave a number where he could be reached?"
"Owen always carries a cellular."
Matt picked up the phone on his desk and dialed the number that she rattled off. Owen Burnett answered, "Owen Burnett speaking."
"Mr. Burnett, this is Detective Bluestone...."
Fox snatched the receiver out of Matt's hand. "Owen? Is David all right? David, thank God. A policeman called the castle and said you had been in a helicopter accident. Well, that's what Detective Bluestone said. Alexander? I left him with Lex. No, I think everyone else took the night off. Damn, I should have seen that! I'm going back home." She slammed the receiver into its cradle and stormed from Matt's desk.
Matt jumped up and followed her, grabbing his trench coat on the way. "If the Captain asks, I'm taking Mrs. Xanatos home." He told another police officer as he rushed past.
Fox was shouting directions at the chauffeur who held the limousine's back door open for her. Matt dived in after her and the man slammed the door shut. He sat up and straightened his coat. "Do you mind telling me what's going on?"
"If you were going to kidnap a child, when would you do it?" Fox asked, drumming her fingers on an armrest as the limousine slid into traffic.
"When the child was vulnerable, why?"
"How vulnerable does this sound? Dad and his personal assistant out of town, the majority of the gargoyle clan are out on dates, Mom is lured out of the castle, and the only people standing between you and a defenseless baby is the smallest gargoyle of the clan, two nine-year-old gargoyles, two gargbeasts, and a new gargoyle who is completely unfamiliar with the castle."
"Point made. Can we get there any faster?"
Castle Wyvern, 1998
"The windows are wide enough, Graeme-kun." Ariana set Alexander on Bronx's back and bounded to the window. Flames danced outside. "This is just one big illusion--like the courtyard."
Cassandra grabbed Alexander before he slid off the gargbeast's back. "Ariana, no!"
The warning came too late. Ariana reached out and grabbed hold of the window's handle to push it open. She screeched and yanked the claw/hand back, cradling it against her chest. "It burned me!"
Lex galloped to her and examined her hand.
"Illusions can be just as lethal as a weapon," Cassandra explained. "We're fighting a war as far as Loki's concerned. And he will make it as dangerous as possible."
Lex finished examining the damage. "Your hand's okay. But we'll wrap it just to make sure." He ripped a sheet in Alexander's baby bed and used it for the bandage.
Graeme dug his toe talons into the floor. "Could someone come up with a plan? I think they found a battering ram!"
"Climb the wall! Above the door," Lex ordered.
"Hold onto me, Alexander." The boy dutifully wrapped his arms around Cassandra's neck as she leaped onto the wall. Ariana and the gargbeast were next up. Lex whipped his tail around Graeme's arm and yanked him up. The young gargoyle sunk his talons into the wall and started climbing.
The door gave way and four Greek soldiers fell into the room. Evidently, they had used all their shoulders in place of a battering ram. As they were picking themselves off the floor and each other, Lex shouted. "Let go!" Five gargoyles released their grips and fell to the floor, landing on the soldiers in the path.
"Dey're not waking up," Alexander observed.
"I think you're right." Cassandra slowly backed down the wall. She gripped the top of the door frame with one hand, Alexander with the other, and swung her body out the door, landing in the hall. Lex and the others followed. "Loki wants Alexander. We have to get him out of here."
"The main hallway is this way," Lex pointed down the hall. "We can use the elevators to get to another floor and get to the battlements from there."
"Sounds like a plan." Ariana grabbed a fallen spear and twirled it experimentally. "It's not my bo but it'll do."
Bronx barked and started running down the hall Lex had pointed out. Nudnik barked and followed. "Hey!" Graeme chased after them. "Wait for us!"
"Does Bronx know the way?" Cassandra asked Lex as they ran.
"As well as the rest of us."
"Where's Mommy?" Alexander asked, almost whispering it into Cassandra's ear.
"I don't know. But I'm sure she's coming back."
Limousine stuck in a traffic jam in Manhattan, 1998
Fox was about to completely lose what control over her temper she had left, Matt realized. Her fingernails were already leaving dents in the wood of the armrest that she drummed her fingers against. "Lex is smart." Her glare switched from the traffic outside the window to him. "The first thing he'll do is get Alexander out of there. He's almost adopted the kid anyway."
"You didn't see what Cassandra looked like after she had tangled with Loki. She almost died."
"Are you sure it's Loki?"
She nodded. "It makes sense, but it could be any of the Unseelie Court. Which makes it worse that Lex is there. He's a little obsessional in getting revenge."
A smile drifted to Matt's lip despite the circumstances. "I think that's a major character trait of any gargoyle."
"Yes, but Lex lets it get past his good judgment. Especially when dealing with people who betrayed him. You should have seen the way he went after the Pack. It made it too easy to trap him." She stared back out the window. "Too bad we don't have a gargoyle right now."
Matt frowned and looked down. A car phone was sitting on the seat next to him. He picked it up. "Does this thing work?"
Fox turned back to him. "Of course, but who are we supposed to call?"
"Tonight was Eliza's night off." He dialed the number of her apartment.
"Wanna take bets on who she's spending it with?"
Castle Wyvern, 1998
Bronx suddenly veered, stopping in the middle of the hall, and blocked it with his massive body. Both of the twins ran into his side and fell to the floor, landing on their tails. "What's the big idea?" Graeme demanded as he stood.
"Yeah, Bronx. The main hall's right around the corner."
The gargbeast cocked his head and whined at their scolding, but quickly blocked their attempts to get past him. Nudnik also whined and backed away.
"Something's wrong." Lex patted Bronx's head as he moved around him. "Stay here." He crept up to the corner that blocked their view of the main hall and peered around it. He turned back and returned to the group, his eyes wide open with shock. "Bronx is right," he stated in a shaky voice that grew more normal the longer he used it. "We can't go that way."
We're trapped. I've come halfway around the world to prevent Loki from kidnapping Alexander and it hasn't done a bit of good! Alexander looked up at her with his bright, blue eyes. There has to be another way out. There's always another way out. "What a fool am I!" The other gargoyles turned to her and she realized with chagrin that had been said aloud. "Is there a mirror close by? One large enough for us to fit through?"
They continued to stare at her in confusion. Finally Ariana answered. "There's a human bathroom down the hall, the way we came. It has a full-length mirror."
"Perfect." Ariana led the way and Cassandra continued, lecturing herself as much as Alexander. "For us halflings, there are always two options in a situation--the mundane way or the magical way."
Ariana pushed open the door and revealed a wooden paneled room. The full-length mirror, a sheet of flat glass without a frame, hung on the same wall as the marble-topped counter with a built-in sink. Another door led out of this room. "How's this?"
"This will do perfectly." Cassandra passed Alexander to Lex and stood in front of the mirror. "Where would be a safe place to go? Preferably one that also has a mirror."
Graeme shrugged as he bent down to pick up Nudnik. "Didn't Uncle Goliath go to Aunt Eliza's?"
"Yeah, he did," Ariana looked doubtfully at Cassandra and the mirror. "But I don't see how we're going to get there from here."
"Have some patience." A small but strong wind blew into the room from the mirror, whipping Cassandra's black hair and toga back as she stood before it. Slowly, a green glow began to surround the flat glass and intensified until it was brighter than the real lights of the room.
Cassandra began to chant.
Clear way to Eliza's is what's needed.
Glass and silver used to reflect,
Now form the path we expect!"
The bright green light exploded, filling the room with green. Bronx brayed in surprise; Nudnik yelped and tried to burrow under Graeme's shirt; and everyone but Cassandra and Alexander shielded their eyes. "That took nicely," she said after the green light had receded. "Must be a few ley lines floating through this castle."
"Is that it?" Graeme asked as he turned his head back to the still glowing mirror. "I was expecting something bigger."
Cassandra scowled at the young green gargoyle. "Just for that crack, you can be the first one through."
"Uncle Lex," he protested.
"No, Cassandra is right." He passed Alexander to Ariana. "You two need to get Alexander out of here and get Goliath. Bronx and I will protect the castle."
Graeme sighed. "This is bogus." He tightened his grip on Nudnik and stepped into the mirror. The glass rippled as he passed.
"Be careful, Uncle Lex." Ariana hugged Alexander closer to her and followed her brother.
"How crazy are you?" Cassandra knew Lex had turned to her but she continued to stare at the mirror. "Loki can tear you apart."
"You don't have to stay."
"And be accused of cowardice instead of good sense yet again? Besides that trickster tried to kill me. Do you think I'm going to let him get away with that? Not to mention this whole inaccurate reenactment."
Suddenly the door swung open and a spear hurled into the room. Lex dodged and it hit the mirror. Cassandra pulled a wing in front of her and shield her face from the flying glass. Bronx growled and jumped onto the Greek soldier. Soldier and gargbeast went down to the floor where the soldier puffed into smoke.
Lex picked himself off the floor. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Cassandra examined the black back of her wing. Just a couple of scratches, nothing serious. "But leaving through this mirror is a moot point now."
"Did the twins get through?"
"Of course they did. Despite all his antics, I did have the best magic teacher in Oberon's Court."
"Okay, okay," Lex held up his hands apologetically. "I'm not trying to bad mouth your skills. If they got through, all we have to do is keep Loki from completely wreaking the castle."
A piercing human scream rolled down the hall and cut off quickly with a
gasping gurgle as it reached them. Cassandra looked down at Lex. "Ever heard of
something called a hopeless cause?"
Eliza's Apartment, 1998
Eliza sighed softly with content. A night off, a candle-lit dinner, romantic music playing in the background; practically normal. She smiled at her dinner partner. Goliath smiled back. Well, as normal as she wanted her life to be. "This is nice. I wish we could have it more often."
"Dinner together?" He waved a hand casually at the dishes on the table.
"No, I mean a quiet night to ourselves. With no one trying to kills us, no crime, nothing unexpected happening."
A loud crash echoed from the dark recesses of her apartment.
"You were saying?" Goliath raised his brow ridge.
She ignored his sarcasm and stood up at the table, peering into the darkened living room. "Cagney?"
The cat lifted its head and meowed from the couch.
"If it wasn't Cagney...." Eliza let the statement finish itself silently. Goliath stood up, looking warily into the shadows where the crash had come from.
"Get off! I can't breathe!"
"I can't get off! I'm stuck!"
"That sounds like the twins. And Alexander," Goliath followed Eliza as she marched toward the source of the muffled voices.
"But how did they get into my bathroom?" She opened the door.
Everyone was in her tub. Graeme was sprawled in it like he was about to take a bath. Nudnik kept trying to scramble out but would slip and land on his master's face. Ariana sat on her brother's chest, her legs dangling over the side, held in place by a spear that had gotten wedged diagonally across the tub. Alexander sat in between Graeme's legs, still crying for his mother. The twin gargoyles looked up at the door with sheepish expressions reminiscent of Brooklyn. "Hi, Aunt Eliza. Uncle Goliath," they chorused.
Goliath sighed and slipped his massive form into the bathroom. He picked up Alexander and passed him to Eliza. Then he grabbed the spear and pulled it free. He back out of the bathroom and left the twins to follow.
Eliza turned on the living room lights and continued to the dinning table. Alexander had stopped crying, but still looked miserable and sleepy. She blew out the candles. "So much for a quiet dinner."
The candles relit. She looked down at Alexander. He looked a little less miserable. "Did you do that?" she asked. He nodded and yawned. "Great, a budding pyromaniac. Leave them off this time." She blew again. The candles remained unlit.
She turned back to the living room. Goliath was sitting on the couch and the twins were facing him. Cagney took one look at the garg-pup in Graeme's arms, hissed, and ran for the bedroom. Nudnik squirmed but Graeme didn't let go. "Now," Goliath began, once he saw Eliza was joining them. "What's going on?"
"The castle's under attack!" Graeme said first.
"Cassandra sent us through the mirror to get help!" Ariana added.
"Loki's redoing the Trojan War."
"Not the whole thing. Just the part with the horse."
"Why is Loki attacking the castle?" Goliath asked quickly.
"He wants Alexander."
"That's why Cassandra sent us through the mirror with him." Ariana repeated.
Eliza passed Alexander to her. He went willingly, too tired to protest. "Who's left at the castle?" She asked as she pulled her locked gun box out.
"Uncle Lex and Bronx. And Cassandra," Graeme added as an after thought.
"Eliza, call the Labyrinth. Tell Hudson to meet us at the castle." She pulled the phone toward her as he addressed the twins. "You two stay here and protect Alexander."
Maggie answered the phone and promised to relay the message to Hudson. Almost as soon as she hung up, it rung again. "Hello?"
"Eliza, great!" She had never heard Matt's voice sound so relieved. "Is Goliath there?"
"Something's going on at the castle. Fox thinks the Unseelie Court maybe trying to kidnap Alexander."
"Alexander's at my apartment. With the twins. And they say the castle's under attack. Where are you?"
"In Fox's limo in the middle of a traffic jam. Wait no, the traffic jam's breaking up. Yes, I'll fix the tickets! Will you just go! Eliza, we'll meet you at the castle."
"Fine." Eliza hung up the phone. Goliath was waiting for her at the sliding glass door of her balcony. "Matt and Fox are on their way back to the castle."
"Then we should hurry."
She ran to his outstretched arms.
Castle Wyvern, 1998
Cassandra followed Lex and Bronx through the halls of the castle. Lex's plan was absurdly simple--find Loki and keep him occupied until help arrived. She felt it ranked with Napoleon's absurdly simple plan--just take over Europe.
They ran around the corner of the hall. A group of sixteen Greek soldiers was in the middle of an impromptu planning session. They looked up as the gargoyles skidded to a stop. "Kill them!" the General shouted.
Cassandra blinked. Yes, it was Loki. He had just added a plumed helmet to his outfit.
She roared and leaped. A soldier stepped between her and Loki. Her momentum brought them both crashing to the floor, with her on top. He tried to push her off. She swiped her talons across his throat.
Another soldier approached from behind. Her tail lashed out and wrapped around his knees. One jerk and he fell backwards. She rolled off the body and glanced quickly at the surrounding battle.
Bronx's method of attack was to grab the closest body part to his teeth and shake. He didn't let go until it came apart and even managed to dodge the blows aimed for him. Lex leaped off the wall and wrapped himself around the head of a soldier--effectively blinding him. Another soldier rushed to his comrade's aid. His sword raked across the olive-green back.
"No!" Cassandra grabbed that soldier's arm and spun him into the wall. "You're not killing anyone else! I won't allow it!" She grabbed the discarded sword and hurled herself into the thick of the soldiers, howling a battle cry. Flesh and bone gave way. Metal clashed against metal. A spear whizzed by her, cutting her arm before embedding into a wall. Within seconds, her sword met no resistance.
She looked around quickly. There wasn't anyone left in the group of soldiers they were fighting. She had mortally wounded the last five. The bronze sword was ruined, dented and pitted beyond repair. She dropped it.
A small group of soldiers rushed past, heading into a side hallway. In between them, an old human man in armor begged. "You've taken my sons. Spare my wife and daughters. Please! As men of honor, please spare their lives!"
"Priam?" Cassandra began to run after them. "Priam!"
Something collided with her. She fell to the floor. Bronx growled over her.
"Cassandra! No!" Lex grabbed her shoulders as she tried to get back up.
"They're going to kill him! I have to save him! Don't you understand?" She pulled away, only to find Lex in front of her helping Bronx block the path.
"Can't you see the spears? It's a trap!" Lex grabbed her shoulders again and shook them. "Look!"
Cassandra blinked and looked up. The hall the soldiers had went down shifted into a large alcove with twenty spears pointing from the wall in a grid. She shut her eyes and bowed her head. "I thought I could save him. But it's not real. I can't make a difference. Just like before." The tears were hot as they ran down her cheeks. I can't break down now. Mourn Troy later. Now you have to survive. But the tears continued streaming from her eyes.
Lex pulled her into a hug. "I know how you feel. I know." He stroked her black hair.
It had been a long time since anyone tried to comfort her this way. Too long. But she couldn't let his words pass by without challenge. "How? How can you know how I feel?"
"If Loki was reenacting the Viking Massacre, you and Bronx would probably be keeping me from running into my death." He released his hold to let her stand.
She did, slowly. Everything felt a little shaky. "Viking Massacre?"
"Another story for another time. I think Loki headed for the courtyard. Ready?"
"Just a scratch. It'll heal with stone sleep. Ready?"
She took a deep breath. "Ready."
The ground floor of the Eerie Tower, 1998
The limousine skidded to a stop outside the Eerie Tower and Fox was up the steps before the driver had put it in park. She grabbed the door handle and yanked her hand back with a yelp. "It's hot! It burned me!" she shouted to Matt.
He paused in the center of the steps. "The guard on duty?"
She peered in the glass doors. "None of them are there. We have three at night usually, and one is supposed to stay at the desk at all times." She turned back to the street. "Harris!"
The young man still standing next to the limousine gulped. "Yes, ma'am?"
"I want you to drive the car through the doors."
He gaped at her. "Mrs. Xanatos! I can't do that!"
"Fine, I'll do it myself." She ran down the steps and around the front of the car. She pulled Harris out of the way and climbed into the driver's seat.
Matt ran down the steps and yanked open the passenger's side door to the front seat. "Do you know what you're doing?"
"In or out, Detective." She put the car in gear.
Matt climbed into the seat and yanked on his safety belt. "Look, I know you're worried about your son."
"I'm not worried." The limousine slid across the street, lining up perfectly with the doors. "I'm mad." Fox shifted into drive.
"Fox," Matt said slowly. The car shot forward. "Fox." He covered his face with his arms and shouted through them. "Fox!" The limousine crashed through the glass doors. An air bag exploded in his face. He felt the car stop and the air bag deflated. He looked around.
The limousine was parked in the center of the lobby. Glass littered the floor. Matt weakly climbed out of the car. It had retained very little damage aside from its paint job. Fox was marching for the elevators. He jogged to catch up with her. "You and Eliza must have taken the same driving course."
She ignored the jibe and watched the numbers of the floors they passed light up. "I can't believe all three of them left their post."
"Maybe Loki did something to them. Something was wrong with the doors."
Fox didn't answer. Matt sighed and turned back to the elevator doors. They slid back to reveal the first floor of the castle. Fox started out first, setting a pace that Matt--despite his lanky legs--found hard to keep up with. And it didn't even look like she was exerting herself.
They made it through the small hall that held the elevators and into the Main Hall. Fox stopped so suddenly, Matt caught himself looking for skid marks on the floor. He quickly looked up.
Three torture wheels had been set up between the entrance to the elevators and the large doors of the Hall. And on each wheel was a man, still wearing their Xanacorp uniforms. Matt stepped around Fox to the first one and touched his limp wrist. He was officially dead with no trace of a pulse. Not that there was much doubt with the broken limpness of their limbs or the contortions frozen onto their faces. But Matt checked for a pulse on each one. "Good God, who are we dealing with here?"
Fox didn't answer. Matt turned around. She was gone, and he hadn't even heard her. But he did hear the sounds of battle, metal clanging on metal, dimly echoing through the thick walls. And that sounded like it was coming from the courtyard.
Matt sighed and pulled out his gun. It was going to be one of those nights.
Castle Wyvern, 1998
They reached a door to an outside walkway and stairs without any trouble. Cassandra paused for a second to look into the courtyard. Greek and Trojan soldiers fought under the impartial gaze of the wooden horse. She looked up at its face and resisted the urge to leap up and rip it to shreds. All that would accomplish is to just give me splinters. She looked down again.
Loki was leaning against the base of the horse, watching the action with a bored fascination. He was still wearing the Greek helmet, but had replaced his leather jacket.
"There he is." Lex climbed on top of the low wall of the walkway.
"Lex, no!" He launched himself off before she could stop him. And he had aimed himself straight for Loki.
Loki smirked and sidestepped the gargoyle missile. Lex extended his talons and landed on the horse. He flexed his muscles and threw himself at Loki again.
The trickster waved at the gargoyle. Suddenly Lex was tumbling through the air. He landed in a group of Greek soldiers. They quickly surrounded him.
Bronx barked and rushed down the nearest stairs. Cassandra climbed on top of the wall and dived off, keeping her wings close to her body.
The piercing battle cry made a few of the soldiers look up. She unfurled her wings and pulled her body upright, kicking two soldiers in their chins.
Another soldier rushed at her, his sword extended. She sidestepped the hand-held lance and grabbed his shoulders as he ran past. His sword entered the gut of one of his comrades.
Bronx used himself as a cannonball and succeeded in knocking the rest of the soldiers away from Lex.
She helped him to his feet. He had gained a few more cuts, but nothing that wouldn't heal at sunrise. Her upper right arm throbbed where the spear had nicked it. Sunrise, how far away is it?
"Really, you two are something." Loki strutted toward them, his boots crunching gravel and metal. "Shouldn't the local populace being fleeing in terror by now? Hmm, Cassie?"
"I wouldn't worry about it too much." Cassandra replied as her body shifted into a fighting stance between Loki and Lex. "Your show hasn't exactly been historically accurate."
He stopped a few feet away from them. "Yes, well, one has to work with what one has." A statuesque woman with long brown hair and wearing form-fitting leather armor ran past yelling a battle cry. She was followed by another woman with red hair who wore a short skirt and a matching top and carried a staff. Loki glanced at their progress and turned back to the gargoyles. "But I have no idea where they came from."
"Leave while you still can, Loki." Cassandra curled her talons and held them ready to slash.
"You never answered my question. Why are you still here?"
Lex limped forward to stand side-by-side with Cassandra. "A gargoyle protects."
"Unto death? Thank my lucky stars I'm not a gargoyle!" His icy blue eyes quickly glanced around the courtyard without turning his head, as if looking for confirmation. "The whelps are missing, so you must have gotten them to safety. Too bad you didn't think of yourselves." He gestured with his hand.
Cassandra blinked as her black hair flew into her eyes. She brushed it away impatiently. He's using the weather again! "Lex, the wind!"
The wind's force increased and surrounded the three gargoyles. Cassandra crouched and drove her talons into the stone floor. Lex glanced over at her and tried to do the same, but the wind caught him first.
She tried to grab hold of him with a variation of a levitation spell, but the wind shifted and sent Lex spinning out of reach. She grimaced and tried to pull up a shield against the wind. Loki countered what little protection she could summon with faster wind.
Bronx yelped and leaped up, aiming to knock Lex out of the whirlwind. Loki gestured and Bronx missed. The wind caught the gargbeast and he howled.
Cassandra felt the stone slip through her talons as the wind dragged her up. Loki laughed as she tried to maintain a grip on something solid. The last crack her talons were wedged into gave way and she tumbled into the whirlwind.
Bronx came into her view first, just as Loki yanked him out of the whirlwind. The wind twisted her away but she heard his groan over the shriek of the wind.
She tried to pull her wings in. A gale of wind shifted and she felt the right one wrench in the wrong direction. The cry of pain tore loose as Lex swung into reach.
He reached for her. She stretched and just brushed his talons before the wind pulled him away.
The wind carried her around again and pushed her up higher. She saw Bronx lying in a crumpled heap next to a wall. Lex was pinned against another one with two spears under each arm and through his wings.
The wind suddenly died and Cassandra began falling. She twisted to stare at the ground rushing up and spread her good wing to slow the progress. Air caught in her dislocated wing as well and she bit down on her bottom lip to keep from screaming. A levitation spell, quickly!
She blocked out the pain enough to concentrate. The spell halted the fall enough to let her catch herself and land on her hands and knees. She spat blood that ran from her lip out of her mouth. I'm alive! Alive, alive, alive!
The heavy foot thuds of boots ran toward her. Before she could glance in their direction, a vicious kick hit the side of her midsection, flipping her over. She screamed as she landed roughly on her dislocated wing.
Loki stood above her with a spear in each hand and a malicious grin spreading across his face. "I never had a bug collection!" He slammed the spears through each of her wings, close to her shoulders.
She screamed again and it kept her from blacking out, somehow. Another spear appeared in Loki's right hand. "Say hello to the Trojans." He lifted it above his head.
A gunshot echoed in the courtyard and Loki jerked back, grabbing the shoulder that had been hit. Cassandra twisted her head to see a tall, red-haired human man standing behind where she lay. He held a gun ready to shoot again. "Back away from the gargoyle."
Loki had recovered but his face was twisted, older and more inhuman. He glanced down at her and then the man. "She's not even your species!"
Rocket engines whined and Fox landed next to Loki but out of his physical reach. She was wearing a blue mechanical suit vaguely resembling a gargoyle body. "No, but she's my guest. And you're trespassing."
"Oh, I am? Why don't you call the police?"
"She already did." The man took a step forward.
"Wonderful," Loki snarled. "Two for the price of one." He snapped his fingers.
The wooden horse creaked. It threw its head back and cried out silently to the night sky. Legs sprouted from its solid base and pulled away from the wheels. One hoof kicked Fox and she flew over Cassandra and into the arms of the man. They both fell unconscious to the ground.
Loki turned back to Cassandra. "Where were we? Oh now, I remember." He conjured up another spear and took a slow step toward her.
Two ways out of a situation. If one doesn't work, the other almost always will. Puck was lecturing again. He only used that tone of voice when she was doing something really stupid.
I need a weapon but they're all out of reach. Loki stood over her now, savoring the moment. All the weapons are out of the reach of my hands.
She grasped all the weapons she could hold in a levitation spell--including the two in her wings.
Loki sniggered as she shut her eyes. "Don't worry; I'll make it quick."
"So will I." Her eyes flew open as the spears through the air.
Loki's scream continued despite being lanced through a human's vital organs. Cassandra raised herself on her elbows and began to scoot away from him.
He took a deep breath and changed into an insubstantial form. The spears and swords dropped through him and clattered to the floor. He wafted away from them and rematerialized. "You're being difficult."
Cassandra gazed past him and smiled. "And you're outnumbered."
Loki turned to see Goliath, Hudson, and a black-haired human woman Goliath carried landed behind him. "All right, all right, all right! You win! You all win!" A snowstorm flurry formed at his feet. It moved up his body as he folded his arms across his chest and tapped his foot impatiently. As soon as the snow covered him, the wind driving it died and it fell softly to the ground. Loki was gone.
Cassandra sighed and fell back, landing on her left side. "We won." She shut
her eyes and fell into blissful unconsciousness.
2:45 a.m. at Castle Wyvern, 1998
Eliza sighed in relief as she holstered her gun. The Trojan Horse, the soldiers, and most of the visible damage had vanished along with Loki.
"Lexington!" Goliath and Hudson rushed to the wall of the courtyard. She could see him pinned to it with two spears underneath his arms. And he wasn't moving.
Goliath held him up as Hudson eased the spears out of the wall and Lex's wings. Then he gently laid the olive-green gargoyle on the ground as he examined him. "Is he?" she dared to ask.
"Stone sleep will heal him. He's already coming to."
She couldn't hear Lexington, but Hudson beamed at him. "I'll check on her, lad." He stood up and walked toward another gargoyle, hidden from Lex by Goliath's broad back. "Lass, could ye give me a hand here?" She hurried to her.
Her skin was silver and her facial features looked more human than gargoyle. Her brow ridge was less pronounced and she was missing horns. Her hair was black and also the shortest Eliza had seen on a female gargoyle. Her wings were shaped like Brooklyn's, including the claw-like tips. She looked between Lex and Goliath's ages. "The mysterious Cassandra?"
Hudson nodded as he examined her injuries. "Her right wing's dislocated. You're gonna have to hold her up, lass."
Eliza followed Hudson's instructions and propped the limp gargoyle where he could reach the wing joint. She was breathing, that was a good sign.
He sighed, "This is the part I hate." He gritted his teeth and expertly pushed it back into place.
The scream that tore from Cassandra's bloody mouth landed squarely in Eliza's ear. As the ringing subsided, she could hear Hudson's voice. "It's all right, lass. It's over; it's fixed. It's all right."
"If you would allow me." Owen knelt next to them, took Cassandra's arm, and inserted a syringe. "Just a sedative."
Cassandra looked up at Owen. Her eyelids were already starting to drop. "This was her idea of doing me a favor?"
Owen almost smiled. "Sleep now, Cass. You'll feel better tomorrow night." Her eyelids closed.
"When did you get here?" Eliza asked suspiciously as Hudson helped ease the gargoyle off of her.
"Just a few moments ago. Once I ascertained Master Alexander's safety, I had
to use more mundane methods of travel." He stood up and began to walk toward Fox
and Matt. "Oh, the twins said to tell you that they were going to fix the damage
Sunset at Castle Wyvern, 1998
Cassandra awoke with a roar and sat up. Stone fragments were scattered across the bed she was laying on. Bed? What happened?
"Feeling better?" Fox was leaning against the doorway to the bedroom. A dark bruise marred her forehead above her right eye.
Cassandra slid off the bed and flexed her wings. "Yes. What happened? Why did I sleep here?"
"Owen gave you a sedative that kept you under until sunrise. No lasting side effects?"
"I don't think so. What happened to the man you landed on? The one that shot Loki."
"Detective Bluestone?" Fox sounded a little surprised. "Earned a few bruised ribs and a day off work, that's all. The castle's a little messy, I got one hell of a bump on the head, but things could have been a lot worse. If you're ready, Goliath said he wanted to see you."
Cassandra took a deep breath, scooped up the stone fragments in a levitation spell, and dumped them in the room's trash can. "I guess so."
Fox smiled, "I'll show you the way."
The Tower of Castle Wyvern, 1998
Fox paused at the stairs that lead to the roof of the tower. "I don't think Goliath has anything bad in store for you."
Cassandra tried to smile, but her lips didn't feel like they were working right. She took a deep breath and headed up the stairs.
The entire Manhattan Clan was assembled, waiting for her appearance. Lex was grinning and in one piece, and Bronx looked fine as well.
She looked up at Goliath. He was smiling. "If there was anything to prove to us, you have proven it. We would like to be your first gargoyle clan. Join us."
He means it. He really means it. They all mean it. She remembered what
Titania had said, this clan would accept her. And they had. "I would be
The Nursery of Castle Wyvern, 1998
Owen finished snapping the fasteners of the pajamas around Alexander's legs. "Ready for a snack, Master Alexander?"
"One moment, please. I want to see my grandson."
Owen turned with Alexander in his left arm. Titania stood between them and the door, holding her arms out for Alexander. "Of course, your Highness." He handed Alexander to her with a slight bow. "Should I tell Fox you are here?"
She took Alexander from him. "I'm not here to see Fox. Just Alexander and his tutor."
"As you wish." Puck raised his head. "So did everything work out to your satisfaction, or did we forget something?"
Titania arched an eyebrow as she carried Alexander to the rocking chair and sat down in it with him on her lap. "Are you upset? Cassandra has a clan and you two are reunited. I thought you would be pleased."
"She could have been killed last night."
"You always did worry too much about here."
"Why? Why decided to be her fairy godmother now?" Puck insisted as he levitated to the side of the rocking chair.
Titania sighed, "I wronged her. And I wish to make up for it."
"Not good enough, my Queen. Your motives are never that selfless."
"Tread lightly, Puck. Or I'll find a new tutor for Alexander."
Puck's angry face broke out in a delighted grin. "Oh goodie, a logic game. Let me see, Cass has always wanted vengeance for what you wrought on Troy. After three thousand years of not caring what the little gargoyle halfling thought, Queen Titania decides it's time to become friends. And since the Queen never does anything without motivation, something has happened to make Cassandra's dream of vengeance an actual threat. Ergo, you're doing all this because you're afraid of her!"
Titania sighed and passed Alexander back to Puck. She stood and started to walk toward the new nursery door. "No, I'm not afraid of Cassandra. I'm afraid of what she could become." She disappeared in a flash of green light.