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Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

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"Merde..." Monique's dark eyes stared, reflecting the pillar of black light rising from the north.

Nick felt his heart drop to his boots. The way the top of that pillar was expanding into the clouds- "Below!" he ordered, catching Mendel as Godzilla seized the H.E.A.T. Seeker's hull. "Everyone below, now!"

Mass tangle of bodies; Nick shoved a violet wing out of his face, hearing the heavy clank as Monique bolted the door. He felt water rush past massive scales, felt the hull creak in a taloned grip as Godzilla raced for the open ocean. It couldn't be what it looked like. Please, let it not be what it looked like... Don't look back! he warned his charge. Dive when it comes!

Stubborn refusal. Godzilla would not leave him.

Then take the boat down with you! The hull might not hold. But he'd take that bet, over the shock wave he feared was coming.

"Harbor Authority, come in!" Elsie, on the radio. "This is the H.E.A.T. Seeker. Take cover! Unknown explosion sighted in Manhattan-"

Nick reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out warm gold. The dragon's eyes were ablaze with light. Colorless flames wreathed the brooch, coiling outward to wrap the whole of the hold.

A jolt flung them against the bulkheads; he sensed the desperate push, as Godzilla burrowed deep into harbor water.

No time to warn New York. Not even enough time to save themselves-

The world dissolved in flames.


 

"Five days ago we lost New York." Dr. Bradley Talmadge looked grim; tie loosened, stubble dusted around his beard. A pillar of black fire glowed on the laptop in front of him; the last few seconds of tape from Victor "Animal" Palotti's broadcast, before the City That Never Sleeps had gone off the air for good. "Shortly after that, Jersey and Connecticut. Now the Eastern Seaboard is gone. She's picking us off, people."

Nate Ramsey slammed down a phone. "That was NORAD," the balding NSA man said in disgust. "France's making more noise about dropping a bomb on the blackout while we still can. And Nova Scotia and Cuba just went bye-bye."

"Equal-opportunity death and destruction," Craig Donovan noted. "Not your average terrorist."

Frank Parker tilted his head. "And you're telling me nobody knows how she's doing it?"

Talmadge shook his head. "If it weren't for Dr. Chapman's broadcast, we wouldn't even know where to look."

Frank grimaced. Nobody'd heard a peep from H.E.A.T. since. Though from the scatter of rad readings they'd pulled through the static, Godzilla was still out there, chasing something through the tri-state area.

"But given that it's Manhattan, we pulled the satellite coverage before New York fell off the map." Andrew Owsley tapped a few keys, zeroing in on a several-block area on the island. Frame by frame, black fire began to rise from a complex of buildings. "Solstice Technologies," the young computer expert identified the area. "Genetics, robotics, bio-control - you name it, they're probably into it. Whatever blew up, it blew somewhere in here."

"Big place," Frank noted.

"And we don't have much time to narrow it down." Talmadge looked ready to bite through nails. "It would seem it takes the threat of nuclear bombardment for a few of our shadowy colleagues to turn loose of certain classified data." He rubbed at a headache. "Isaac said he might have a lead."

Black Ops, Frank thought. Why was he not surprised? "So what's this Demona want?"

"I would say, nothing less than the total destruction of the human race." Dr. Olga Vukavitch shuffled her notes. "She's driven by a great rage, Mr. Parker. The kind of rage that only comes from self-hate." She glanced at the door as two MIBs stalked through, dragging a manacled elderly man. Behind them stalked Dr. Isaac Mentnor, normally warm gaze gone chill and angry. "Isaac?"

"I'll tell you nothing," the manacled man sneered. His black silk suit was rumpled, neat creases broken by rough handling. Dark eyes flicked arrogantly about the room, weighing and dismissing each person in turn. "You're wasting your time. And mine." He rattled his chains. "Let me loose, and I'll see if I can salvage what's left of your career."

"I don't think so, Patrick," Isaac said softly. A nod from him, and the MIBs shoved Patrick into a chair. "You will answer me. The only question is whether you do so now, or after we order Dr. Vukavich to use some of her... more unpleasant substances on you."

"What, without the guts to do it yourself?" Cold brown eyes narrowed.

Mentnor checked his watch. "In three hours, Patrick, I will do so."

Frank let loose a silent whistle, trading glances with the rest of the table. The last time he'd seen Isaac this ticked off, some Black Ops idiot from FEMA had tried to wipe out the entire town of Dunwych.

The first hint of fear. "You wouldn't dare. I'd never survive it." The sneer recovered. "And you've never had the stomach for murder."

"Murder, no. Self-defense... I estimate Demona's forces will be here within another eighteen hours." Noting how that struck home, Isaac leaned closer. "Seirian Mailli. Where?"

"I don't know where that murdering bi-" Patrick cut off his words at the angry glitter in Olga's eyes. "I don't know where she is. It's the truth," he said flatly. "Don't you think I'd have her arrested if I did?"

"I know you'd try." Isaac straightened. "She's hunted you and yours for eighty-three years, Patrick. And now she knows you lied to her about Eurielle's child."

"Yes, that was rather helpful of you, Isaac." A glitter of pure malice in ancient eyes. "I wonder what she would've done if she knew about you?"

"If I'd any idea-" Isaac cut himself off. "New York, then."

A smile stretched Patrick's wrinkles, cruel and uncaring as a shark's maw. Frank shuddered inside, seeing eyes flat and cold as any psycho he'd taken down in the past two years. "Dead at last. Do you know, I was beginning to suspect she'd outlive me? Shot, stabbed, poisoned; witch didn't have the good taste to lie down and die-"

Isaac's glance flicked to the MIBs. "Hold him somewhere secure."

"You'll never win, Isaac!" Patrick called out as the anonymous suits hauled him away. "She's dead; she and all her bleeding-heart kind-"

"I trust there was a point to this?" Talmadge asked carefully.

Mentnor breathed out anger. Wiped his hands on a paper towel, as if he'd handled something foul. "Patrick Inire," he identified the now-vanished man. "We worked together once. Some decades later, he asked me for a favor." The elderly scientist shook his head. "Never grant an Inire a favor." Isaac paced slowly across the room. "You know there are... forces that science does not admit."

"Like your pet psychic project," Frank interrupted.

"Far less conventional than that, Frank." Mentnor drew to a halt. "The creature you have seen on Demona's broadcast is no creation of special effects. It is - she is - known to us. And has been, since the Second World War." A push of a button brought up a freeze-frame from the newscast; the incessant, mocking tape that had appeared throughout the world. A blue-skinned figure of nightmares loomed over the lens; wings spread, fangs gleaming, eyes aglow with ruby fires. Gold crowned her horns, and bloody, taloned fingers caressed a broken human body. "She is... a gargoyle."

Ramsey looked at him cross-eyed. "You're not going to tell us the Big Apple got wiped off the planet by a drainspout."

"Hardly." Mentnor's smile didn't reach his eyes. He fanned a folder across the table; Frank flipped through it, noting weird terms like hexapodal, diurnal petrihibernation, regenerative capabilities. "They're very few these days. We humans tend to destroy them while they sleep; as we have for thousands of years."

Olga sat up straight, finger poised over a sentence. "Another sentient species?"

"Genocide on a scale we can only imagine." The elderly scientist toyed with his sweater cuff. "Demona has sought revenge on us - on all of humankind - for a very long time." He met Parker's gaze. "I don't know how she's done it, Frank. But I can tell you how to find someone who can."

Frank put his folder down. "I hear a catch coming."

Isaac reached over the table, flipped the folder to a grainy surveillance photo of a white-haired woman. "Seirian Mailli," he identified the slim, elderly form. "Also known as Sarah Ann Mary. Wanted on twenty-one counts of murder in upstate New York, 1918. Unofficially decorated by the French for her work with the Maquis, 1946. Charged by the Germans... the details are not important." He nodded at the photo. "She is an expert in nonphysical phenomena - and now we know she will be in New York."

Donovan squinted at the file. "She's a hundred and seven, Isaac."

"And she could most likely kill you before you could draw a weapon. Don't underestimate her." Mentnor looked grave. "She has no reason to help us, and above all, you must not mention my name." Knuckles turned white as he gripped a chair back. "Inire never makes empty threats."

"Real sweetheart," Frank noted.

Olga shoved back her reading glasses. "So why will she help us?"

"Because we'll tell her part of the truth. You're there to save lives, Frank. One life in particular that Seirian cares for dearly." Another page flip; a photo of a young, brown-haired mouse of a scientist, that brought back memories of rainy broadcasts from New York, of a scaly monster broken and dying on the Brooklyn Bridge. "Dr. Niko Tatopoulos."


 

"Remember not to move the gain knob," Talmadge instructed as they headed for the Sphere. "Call us once you've started the feedback device. It's still experimental, and it may take some time to catch Ms. Mailli's attention."

"As far as plans go, Bradley, I want to say this is not one of my favorites," Frank pointed out. He rattled the steel casing. "Lady worked with French commandos, and you want to get her help with a headache the size of Manhattan?"

"So long as we get the Ghostbusters out of town, we have a fallback plan," Talmadge said briskly. "You're sure an air strike won't solve the problem?"

"Highly unlikely," Isaac folded his hands gravely. "Whatever objects Demona is using to manipulate these forces, they will be small, portable, and quite likely resistant to high explosives."

Ramsey snorted. "Yeah, but she's not."

"On the contrary, Ramsey. Historical records indicate Demona survived a direct strike in Germany," Mentnor said levelly. "We must be absolutely certain. Miss, and she'll only start her disaster somewhere else."

Frank gazed up at the blue-metal ball that would wipe away the last few, horrid days. For everyone but him. "Wish me luck."

"Luck is the last thing you need, Mr. Parker," Olga stated, stalking toward her console.

"Everyone's a critic." Frank strapped in, gripping the control stick as he prepared to fly the needles one more time.


 

"Arf! Arf! Arf!"

Pulling a pillow off her face, Demona snarled at shards of sunlight. Walls and shrubs isolated Destine Manor from human view. But for the past week one short-legged canine had assaulted her ears with every dawn.

"Arf! Grrr! Arf!"

Enough was enough. Yanking on a robe, Demona threw open the window nearest the beast. "Fulminos venite!"

Lightning struck, turning Dachshund fur to black char.

"Arf?" The beast shivered in its tracks. "Yipe yipe yipe!"

Watching it scamper back down the street, Demona blew smoke from one red-nailed finger.

Humming under her breath, the gargoyle in human form dove into her shower, scrubbing lime-scented foam into red locks. Hot running water, Demona thought, ducking under the spray. One of the humans' few worthwhile inventions.

Not enough to distract her from human failure. Delilah had escaped.

Fingers digging into soap, Demona snarled. How difficult could it be to seize one abomination? She'd armed them well. She'd had them trained in the proper means of capture. Thailog's creature should have been in her clutches before the night was out, pinioned and bleeding at her feet.

The blood of one of two races, and neither...

Necessary component in a spell she'd sought for ages; an enchantment that would allow her to wipe every human from the streets of Manhattan, and then the world. The ultimate aim of all her planning, all her hopes.

Thwarted by an overgrown lizard!

Almost thwarted, Demona reminded herself. Her backup team had managed to salvage pieces of asphalt from where Delilah had first been attacked. Sevarius should only need another day to isolate the blood.

I should have the creature herself-

Perhaps. But one way or another, she would be able to cast the spell tonight.

And she had put the time to good use. This spell required the most sensitive, most rare of components on the face of this planet. And beyond.

Demona ducked her head under hot water. Winter had best not be lying about that alloy.

Cameron Winter claimed the shard of metal had been salvaged from a ship not of this world. All he wanted in return was a few weeks of Dr. Sevarius'... services.

Cheap enough. But there were ways to test his claim.

Sliding soap between five slender toes, Demona calculated the most efficient ways to inspect the alloy. She would be thorough. If Winter had lied to her, he was dead.

Of course, if he had told the truth... he would be dead anyway.

A cruel smile tugged at red lips. What is it those human greeting cards say? Every day is a gift?

She would have her revenge. It would only take a little more time.

And if the gargoyles had sought the aid of their human detective, they'd find only a false trail. All her hunters had once worked for Xanatos... and given their past history, Goliath would look no deeper.

The doorbell caterwauled.

Snarling, Demona pulled on a light green robe. "Yes?" she growled into the intercom.

"Package for you, ma'am."

Emerald eyes gleamed. Could it be?

Particle beam rifle in reach, she opened the door.

The brown-uniformed human held out a box and a clipboard. "Sign here, please."

Poison Quill, Used and Rare Book Search, read the label. "Yes!" Demona scratched out the signature of Dominique Destine, seized the precious package. "Now go - while you still can."

Shrugging, the man got back into his truck.

Demona barely heard him pull away, slicing open cardboard with an obsidian knife. Polished iron gleamed silver-bright, chaining leathery covers together. Bubble wrap popped and crackled, and she eased Aimerigot's ancient tome out onto her desk.

Savoring her new spellbook, Demona chuckled. "It's amazing what you can find on the Internet."


 

Blue metal shimmered into here and now, gouging a hole in neat-clipped turf. Smoke rose from the gleaming sphere, shrouding the orange-suited form that tumbled out onto the grass. A seagull took off, abandoning half-eaten hash browns in favor of getting the heck away from this uncanny thing that'd materialized in the middle of its morning meal.

Frank pulled off his helmet, wiping away the last traces of blood from his eyes. Tossing the helmet into the Sphere, he tugged out his launch bag. Just the essentials; civvies, gun, cell phone, Mentnor's little toy-

A small, white object hurtled through the air, striking hard and painful on his knee. "Fore!" came the high-toned shout.

Parker eyed the dimpled ball. "A golf course. All of New York to land on, and I wind up on the links." Pulling on his shoes, he deliberately kicked the offending ball into a sandtrap.

Limping a little, he made it into the trees and dialed Never-Never Land.

"Conundrum."

"Frank!" Talmadge sounded sleepily surprised. Two hours earlier at NNL; barely morning, unless you were Hooter Owsley. "Where are you?"

"Queens, I think." Frank spied a sign. "Black Paw Links. Listen, I need you to send Olga and Donovan-"

"They'll be on the next plane out."

"Make it a fast one. We've got about fifteen hours before New York fries." He pulled the feedback device out, noting the hand-printed arrow taped to the "on" switch. "Tell Isaac I'm turning on his little call-a-psychic gizmo to reel in Seirian Mailli."

There was the click that meant Bradley'd put it on speaker. "Seirian Mailli?" Isaac sounded aghast. "Good Lord, Frank. Was there no other way?"

"You said we needed an expert on nonphysical stuff." Frank flipped the toggle switch, listening to the quiet hum as circuits engaged. "The name Demona ring any bells?"

"Carillons." The elderly scientist sighed grimly. "What happened?"

Frank snorted. "That's the problem, Isaac. We don't know. But if we don't stop it, Demona's going to blow Solstice Technologies and New York off the map. And she won't stop there."

"She wouldn't." He could almost see the shake of a white-haired head. "Not if she's finally found a way to take her revenge on humankind."

"Humankind?" Olga asked. "She's an alien?"

"No, a gargoyle." Something pricked at combat-trained nerves. "Listen, we've got to get the Ghostbusters out of town. Something about a backup plan-" He whirled, hand dropping to his gun.

"I wouldn't." Soft. But nonetheless deadly.

Crossbow bolt. Lethal as any gun at this range. Staring down the shaft, Frank raised his hands. "Seirian Mailli?"

Soft white hair cascaded over a gray cloak, blending with shadows and sunlight. A thick walking stick was thrust through a loop on her belt, top a knob of knotted iron. A clear gaze weighed him and the feedback device, green and angry as the sea. "Odd." Her accent was almost British, not quite American. "I'd never have taken you for one of Isaac's cohorts."

Frank's gut knotted. Barely any trail behind her, which in this brush meant she'd had time to pick her way over the last few feet...

Meaning she'd heard every word of his phone call.

You must not mention my name, Mentnor had said.

Dammit, Isaac! You said dangerous. You didn't say she could give a ninja stealth lessons!

Seirian's finger rested easily on the trigger. "Tell me, Frank. Why should you live?"


 

"So is this the best idea I ever had, or what?" Randy grinned. One hand splayed across a Manhattan phone book, index finger resting on a conspicuous red-and-white ad.

"Or what," the rest of H.E.A.T. said as one.

"Have you completely lost what's left of your mind?" Mendel added, putting his soldering iron aside. "They're the only people in New York who have worse lawsuits than we do!"

"Ooooh, harsh." The hacker shook his head. "C'mon, Dr. C. He's your cousin. And they're supposed to be the guys who know about these things."

"Second cousin," Mendel said firmly. Brown eyes sighted down the circuit board, checking for any unsoldered elements. "Like that's my fault?"

"They are the experts in the field." Nick set the iron hunt cup down with a clink. "Such as it is."

"Sounds like someone got up on the wrong side of the lair this morning." Elsie squinted in concentration, underlining another sentence. A recent issue of Science lay open in front of her, pencil scribbles marking important points and facts H.E.A.T. knew were just plain wrong in an article about carnivorous dinosaurs.

The mutation biologist scowled at meteoric iron. Telemetry from Godzilla's lair was quiet, a minor reverberation that echoed the soft presence of a snoring lizard in his mind. "I. Do not. Believe. In magic."

"He won't even clap when Tinkerbell needs him," Randy whispered, deliberately loud.

Nick ignored him. "And I don't like the idea of you carrying that cup alone."

The paleontologist shrugged, studying a graph. "So I bring the kids. Relax, Nick. It's daylight."

As if that made a difference. Nick shredded the remnants of a sugar packet. "I should go with you."

"That would be unwise." Monique stirred a whisper of cream into her coffee. "They attract publicity."

"Like we don't?" Randy rolled his eyes at the monster photos conspicuously tacked to the world map on the wall.

Monique arched a dark brow. "We do not carry equipment capable of identifying psychics and mages at thirty meters."

"Oh." The hacker grinned weakly. "Sorry, jefe. I just thought... I mean, we already sent them the tape."

Nick waved it off, looking over the harbor. Quiet out there. For now. "They might get something out of the footage we couldn't. And will'owisps showing up under Manhattan doesn't imply there's anything strange about us." He skewed a glance Monique's way. "Thirty meters?"

"So the Eiffel Tower tests indicated." The French agent studied dark liquid. Deadman's Reach, the paper bag of coffee beans read. No one else in the building had dared try it. "In the years since, it is likely they have increased the range."

"Psychics and mages?" Elsie tangled a finger in red locks. "You mean..."

"We are all at risk of detection. Oui." The French agent sipped her coffee. "Exposure to Godzilla - exposure to this facility - ensures that."

Mendel blanched. "Ah... should we be worried about that?"

A hint of amusement curved dark lips. "Research indicates no harmful effects." Amusement deepened. "Aside from a tendency to attract unusual events."

Elsie flipped a page, starring another paragraph. "Meaning we won't even notice."

"Exactement."

"But if they pick him up. Nick could pass as just some guy who lives on a nexus?" Randy brightened.

"At close range, no." Monique closed the book. "Were it a matter of simple empathy, then yes. But it is not."

"Just be careful." Nick laid his hand next to Elsie's. "We still don't know why the Weird Sisters wanted it." Or why Fihr Tremayne had sent the cup in the first place.

Slim fingers touched his. "Hey, this is us, right?"

Right, Nick thought, watching from the roof as the three drove off toward a certain Manhattan firehall. Mendel, Randy, and Elsie. Half of H.E.A.T. Mutations and aliens beware.

"They are trained, and cautious." Monique, slipping out of the shadows.

"Yeah."

"Oberon's Children prefer to operate by night."

Nick drummed his fingers on the rail. "Uh-hunh."

"They will contact us if they encounter difficulty."

The mutation biologist glanced up. "You have a bad feeling about this?"

A heartbeat's hesitation. "Oui."

Nick blinked. A straight answer out of Monique. Funny; he didn't think it was a blue moon. "How bad?"

The French agent scowled, heading for the door. "If you require my assistance, I will be checking the charge on the particle beam rifles."

Oh. That bad.


 

"So." The crossbow never wavered, but Seirian's finger rested a hair lighter on the trigger. "You come bearing weapons of my clan's enemies, in order to save one of mine."

Weapons? You said headache, Isaac, Frank thought. Then again... what was that little dial marked "gain"? With Mentnor's handwritten warning not to touch it unless absolutely necessary. "I know it sounds weird. But in about..." He caught a glimpse of his watch. "Fourteen hours, thirty-two minutes, New York's going to go up in flames. Including your nephew." Great-nephew, whatever. Isaac's fragmentary family tree lingered in the back of his mind; shreds of information on people that had avoided the public eye for centuries. "I don't know what your problem is with Isaac, but he said you were an expert on... whatever Demona's going to use to do it."

"Frank?" came over the phone. Talmadge.

"I'm a little busy right now..."

Seirian beckoned him closer. "Isaac." It wasn't a question.

"Oh, dear God." Frank heard a chair scrape back, Isaac's voice closer to the speaker. "How did you-"

"Your little toy's rather noisy when it drops out of the sky, Mentnor. You might want to work on that." He'd walked into deep-freezes less chilly. "You did my clan great harm once. Why should I believe you want to help us now?"

"Because we're the good guys?" Frank tried.

Seirian snorted.

Right. He wouldn't have believed that line either. Not just some old grandmother, Frank, the chrononaut reminded himself. She snuck up on you, and that's not easy. Century-old or not, green eyes were clear; there wasn't anything wrong with her aim.

He knew eyes. She'd shoot him, if she had to.

He didn't think she wanted to shoot him. He wasn't who she was angry at. But he was working with Isaac, and from her cut-glass tones, she had one monster of a grudge against Isaac.

The elderly scientist sighed. "I could say Inire deceived me. But the responsibility was mine." Isaac's voice softened. "Eight million innocent people, Mailli. And more, if Demona has her way. If you won't help me... Agent Parker knows nothing about Inire."

"I know he's a jerk," Frank shrugged. "Believe me, lady. From what I saw, this Inire guy would love it if you took out Isaac."

Chill green eyes considered that. "And what's to stop me from taking my kin and leaving your city to its fate?"

"Now, wait a minute-"

"Nothing," Isaac said flatly. "But Tatopoulos would never leave innocent lives at risk. There's too much of his mother in him." A soft snap, as of a hand plucking loose threads from a sweater cuff. "Do what you must. But time is running out."

The crossbow lowered.

Frank breathed a shade easier. "Okay, so have Donovan and Olga call me when they get in to the airport. We're-" he caught Seirian's frosty glance, amended his words. "I'm heading toward Solstice Technologies. That's where it starts." He hung up.

"It won't be starting for several hours yet," the elderly woman said, switching off Isaac's device. Lines eased around her eyes, and she breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Annoying little gadget."

"Sorry about that. So you believe me?" Frank gingerly took the feedback device, stuffed it into his launch bag. "Why won't it start yet?"

"I believe Mentnor wouldn't lie about eight million lives. Just one." She holstered her crossbow on her belt, freeing her walking stick. "Demona's a gargoyle, Agent Parker. They sleep by day."

Diurnal whatever-it-was. Right.

"Even if she's obtained some charm to free her from stone sleep, it would rob her of rest as well." Seirian cast her gaze up to the sunlit sky. "To chant a spell of such destructive power, while short of sleep... she hasn't survived all these centuries by being that much of a fool."

Spell? As in magic? Frank shook his head. He'd saved D.C. with the help of a young lady who could pull visions out of a nuclear key. Why not magic? "Listen, I've got to get the Ghostbusters out of town. They're our backup plan-"

A slim hand touched his.

Quicksilver and light; a rush of curiosity and caution, subtle as the play of moonlight on the sea. For a second he could only blink, caught in a net of gossamer emotion. "What the heck was that?"

"Nothing you need worry about, Agent Parker." Green eyes raked him; warm now. "So. You are telling the truth."

"Yeah, I-" Frank shook off the lingering weirdness. "Who are you calling?"

"Someone who can help." Seirian finished punching in a number on a phone of her own. "Phillipe? C'est moi, Seirian. Ecoute; j'ai une difficulte tres bizarre."

"How did you get this number?"

Seirian chuckled, surprisingly youthful. "Really, Phillipe. Allow an old woman her amusements."

A rueful laugh. "Only you, cherie." Someone leaned back in a creaky chair. "What is it you need?"

"A bit of misdirection, old friend..."


 

"Ghostbusters? Uh-huh. Mist. Bleeding walls. Gotcha. Anything else?" The redheaded secretary skewered a glance at the lab phone. "Raining Jello cubes?"

Minty toothpaste still tingling on his tongue, Peter Venkman leaned near the scorch mark from Egon's latest explosion, watching his colleagues watch their newest tape. Janine Melnitz was taking notes and eyeing the screen at the same time, short chocolate skirt glittering gold as she angled for a better look. Winston Zeddemore shifted in his chair, spare parts from Ecto-1 bubbling off rust in a beaker of cola at his right, dark hands flexing as he gauged angles of attack on blue jelly. Ray Stantz stared wide-eyed, barely flinching when Janine waved cocoa in his freckled face. A stuffed bear snoozed on his lab counter, curled next to a soldering iron. And Egon Spengler was ignoring entrancing and entranced redheads alike, one blond brow so high it nearly brushed the improbable curl of his hair.

Looked like Egon'd finally found something more interesting than Mycologia. Peter jerked a thumb toward the pulsing jellies on the TV. "You two brains stuck on the Nature channel?"

"Actually, no." Egon paused the tape. "Apparently, Ray's cousin thought we might find this of some interest."

"This is just neat!" Ray ogled the glowing blue hydrozoid on the screen. "Real, live will'owisps!"

"Your cousin?" The psychologist couldn't resist a smirk. "You mean the guy who fainted dead away when Slimer crashed your family reunion?"

"He'd had a rough week," Ray defended him.

"Gotta admit, Slimer's not the first thing you want to see after dinner," Winston pointed out. "Guy chases mutations for a living. Cut him some slack."

Egon frowned. "Whether or not Dr. Craven's worldview can tolerate the notion of spectral entities, Peter, his scientific perspective is sound. His work on remote sensing in hostile environments is quite applicable."

Award-winning accolades, as far as Spengler was concerned. Peter raised a brown brow. "You guys actually use that?"

"Inside the containment unit." Ray grinned. "Well, we had to adapt it..."

"Considerably." Dr. Spengler shoved red glasses up. "The physical laws in effect in the containment environment differ markedly from those affecting the so-called 'real world'."

"But we caught one Class Six megaspectre making a break for it before there was even a breach."

Always a good thing. "So roll the tape."

"I believe that would be unwise." Egon bent a blue glance on the wide-eyed occultist. "Apparently the creature's entrancing properties are quite intact. Even on a recording."

"Had to wave hot cocoa under his nose three times before he woke up," Janine shrugged, hanging up.

Spots of red dotted Ray's cheeks.

"So how'd your cousin get this?" Winston hit fast-forward, pointed out struggling forms backlit by flashes of green and white. A dark-haired woman, teeth bared in a feral snarl as she blew will'owisps into seared gel; a flash of white labcoat past the lens. "Doesn't look like it caught him."

"I don't think it could." Ray pulled maps of Staten Island off the shelf; a regular street plan, overlaid by a red-and-blue-traced transparency.

Egon pulled the cassette out, watching the lighted arms of his PKE meter flash as he moved it across black plastic. "Frequencies would seem to indicate effects of a magical entity, but one not spectral in nature." A blond brow arched. "Given the lingering emanations, the cassette's primary exposure has been to high levels of psychic energy."

"That's what I mean!" Ray tapped the map. "Take a look at that!"

Peter looked at them askance. He knew a ley line map when he saw one; Ray updated the New York ones whenever he and Egon could grab a few hours worth of computer time. But there were colors on this map he hadn't seen. "Someone want to fill me in?" He pointed toward a knot of lines on the tip of Staten Island. "Nexus, right?"

Janine popped her gum, eyeing the blue-and-red swirl. "Thought you guys marked those in red." She jerked a thumb at the floor. "Like this place."

"The firehall stands on a small magical nexus, yes," Egon agreed. "Thus enabling our containment unit to work in a fashion unfeasible elsewhere. Morvan Pier, however, is a locus of pure psychokinetic energy, unalloyed with otherdimensional harmonics."

The psychologist rolled his eyes. "This is Earth, Spengs. English?"

"H.E.A.T.'s on a psychic nexus," Ray translated. "Wow, if we could get a telekinetic in there..."

"I highly doubt the current occupants would sanction such experiments." Egon looked mildly amused. "Dr. Tatopoulos prefers not to have flying objects near Godzilla."

Winston glanced up from the dark woman's cold ferocity. "Didn't know you were into mutations, m' man."

"Given that such creatures violate square-cube laws and conservation of energy on a general basis, I thought it wise to be prepared."

"I don't know, Egon," Ray said thoughtfully. "We can't just assume they use PKE. Look at the fossil record. Nobody's found anything the size of Godzilla yet, but there was one plesiosaur that got over eighty feet long. Talk about Jaws!"

"Ray, we do not find hundred-foot cicadas in the fossil record."

Peter raised dark brows at Winston, who gave a mock sigh. Obviously this one had been going on for a while. "Please tell me you guys didn't sign up to bust Godzilla."

"Oh, no!" Ray looked hurt. "We wouldn't do that."

"The creature is apparently nonhostile unless provoked," Egon agreed. "Quite preferable to most other reported mutations." A thoughtful frown drew blond brows down. "The literature on possible effects from exposure to a psychic nexus is sparse..."

"You're gonna get a chance to check it out." Janine seized the firepole as a knock echoed up from below. "That oughta be them now." Skirt flying, she dropped out of sight.

"Them?" Peter eyed the other three. "All right, what'd I miss?"

"Mendel called." Ray was bouncing in place, eager to grab the pole and drop down himself. "He's bringing something for us to check out!"

Uh-oh. "Ah, Ray. Isn't this the guy who said he'd rather be left in a nest of giant ants than come near the spud again?"

"That's the man," Winston nodded dubiously.

"Hey, a guy can change his mind," Ray said defensively.

Not without a hundred-foot marshmallow man on the front porch. "What kind of something?" Visions of skeleton-raising statues and mind-stealing tapestries danced through Peter's head.

Egon tuned his PKE meter, brow lifted at the gentle beeps. "Apparently, a psychically charged something."

The meter's rhythm increased as footsteps climbed the stairs. An all-too-familiar chortle echoed off the walls, followed by a shrill shriek. "Get it away, get it away!"

"Aww..."

"Think you hurt its feelings, Doc."

"You want to shake hands with an overgrown slime blob? Be my guest." Mendel Craven dashed up the last few steps, dodging a green spook by inches. "Shoo! Go away! I don't have anything!"

Slimer pouted. "Peter!" Green arms spread wide.

"Clean shirt, spud," the psychologist threatened. "Unless you want the wrong end of a neutrona wand..."

The ghost stuck out an impressive tongue. "Nyah."

"Well, that just hit a nine on the disgusting scale." A bony redhead glanced around the lab, followed close by a tall young man in dreadlocks whose gaze lit up in a way that boded ill for Egon's computer. "Dr. Elsie Chapman," she identified herself. "You know Mendel... and Randy came along for the ride."

"Hey, Ghostbusters Central." Randy ogled the scorch marks. "Flush!"

"Don't touch anything," Elsie warned.

"Mendel! Hi!" Ray smiled at all and sundry, offering a hand his cousin shook tentatively. "Great to see you! Where is it?"

"What is it?" Peter asked pointedly. "Ma'am," he smiled charmingly at the redhead. The green-eyed glare he got in return could've ignited newsprint. Ouch. Taken.

"Something the Weird Sisters sent giant squids after," Dr. Chapman said levelly.

Ray tugged Culbert's Reckon off the shelf. "Faeries in New York." He flipped pages to a pen-and-ink sketch of three cold-eyed, almost identical women. "How'd you know who they were?"

The three glanced at each other; Randy shrugged. "Friend of ours ID'd them."

Gingerly, Mendel set a paper-wrapped object on the counter. "It has anomalous magnetic readings and a high iridium content. We think it's meteoric."

"Or was, before someone took a cold chisel to it," Elsie added as wrappings fell away from a sculpted fox head.

Egon shoved red glasses up. "Hmm." He glanced at Ray.

"This could take a while," the redhead admitted, rustling old pages. "A lot of sources don't sort out enchanted objects from psychically charged ones."

"Really?" Hiding behind the other two, Mendel looked paler than Egon after a long winter.

"Though the fact that it was created from cold iron should narrow the possible candidates considerably," Egon added.

"Right," Elsie said doubtfully.

"What's really neat is that the Three Weird Sisters wanted it," Ray enthused. "Oberon's Children are kind of the occultist's Sasquatch. I mean, you hardly ever see one. This is just so cool!"

"Okay." Randy held his hands in a time-out T. "Don't know about the doc, but you suspend my disbelief any more, it's gonna look like the Brooklyn Bridge."

"After the first Godzilla got through," Elsie muttered, hustling her colleagues toward the stairs. "You guys... do what you do best. We'll be in touch."


 

"Winter!" Dr. Anton Sevarius set down a bottle of something bubbling red, circled his lab bench with a smirk. "To what do I owe this pleasure?

Cameron Winter smiled. Now, here was a scientist only a businessman could truly appreciate. The geneticist might be amoral, avaricious, and thoroughly untrustworthy - but he was brilliant. "Just looking for some good news after the family meeting." Waving off security, Winter shrugged. "You know how it is.

"Fortunately, no," the geneticist smirked. "I doubt the world could stand two of my brilliance."

Brilliant, maybe. But Winter was beginning to see why the lovely Dominique Destine was willing to loan Anton out for a few weeks. The man was annoying.

Such a mysterious woman. Hard, ruthless, and never available after the sun went down. She was... intriguing.

His family didn't approve of his interest. Winters didn't associate with unknowns; he'd had that rammed through his skull after Audrey Timmonds had ignored him.

But then, anyone who ran a multi-million dollar corporation was hardly an unknown.

Serious competition, Winter thought. Intelligent, lovely, and rich. The family would hate her... but they could never ignore her.

Getting closer to Ms. Destine was well worth one of the precious Leviathan samples he'd managed to obtain. Having the use of Anton's skills was a bonus.

Granted, Dominique was a little odd. Take the list of items she'd bartered for from him; scales of a sea monster, metal from beyond the stars, flames born of lightning's strike. It sounded like some fairytale witch's potion.

But if the redheaded beauty could help him permanently ruin Nicky's day... well, that made her just about perfect. "Godzilla's immune system?

"For an overgrown iguana, it puts lab rats to shame," the geneticist mused. "Isolated cell samples can't really give you a good look at the immune response. But between those and the results from your chameleon..." He flipped through a few pages of graphs. "See for yourself."

Winter took the graphs; winced. No result blared from the top of each, with smaller notes on just what events had led to the cells slicing and dicing his specialized viruses like so much confetti. "This is not what I wanted to see."

"I never fake my lab results." Sevarius laid a hand on the counter. "I'm afraid it's quite clear. The beast has an immune response that puts our sluggish systems to shame. Any virus which could make a dent would probably wipe out half the planet in the bargain."

No profit in that. "Back to square one," Winter murmured.

The geneticist started filing away the graphs. "Still, it was a nice break from artificial cell organelles."

Winter studied the two-liter bottle of violet liquid stored on the shelf. "Mitochondrial mimics?"

"All the foreign DNA you could want, wrapped up in one neat package. A cell couldn't even realize it'd been invaded." Anton tapped the glass. "Theoretical research, unfortunately."

Winter cast him a sidelong glance. "It sounds like it would be the perfect mutagen."

"Oh, yes," Sevarius curled a lip. "If you could get it into a subject's cells in the first place." The gray-streaked head shook. "Even if you destroyed your subject's immune system, it's far too fragile to invade a living creature. You'd have to get it from your vial to the inside of the target cells, without passing through any membranes on the way. It can't be done."

Maybe not yet. "Dominique's project." The project he was going to have a little talk with her about, and none of this nonsense about not being available after dark. Nightstone was a powerful corporation, but nowhere near Solstice.

"She has her little whims." Sevarius chuckled.

Cameron crossed his arms. "And how is my other pet project coming?"

"Rather well, given that you don't want a pet." The scientist's lips pursed in a frown as he lifted a sample box from the shelf. "Nor do I. Cloning is fun the first time, work the second. I'd really rather not try for three."

Winter leaned against a counter. The familiar sharpness of rubbing alcohol rose from freshly-scrubbed benches; the burnt-sugar-and-earth scent of a cooling autoclave prickled his nose. A stirring rod rattled quietly in a glass beaker, and a hot water bath sloshed, incubating flasks of experimental bacteria. "I thought cloning was what we were after here?"

"Nothing that simple," Anton shrugged. "Although it did require DNA extraction and duplication." He opened the case, taking out numbered vials of shards. "I found a way to retrieve the chromosomes from the solidified matrix. Technically this is cast-off tissue, after all. And I already knew what I was looking for in the Manhattan lot." A devilish smile. "I won't ask where you got the other samples."

"Good." Manhattan lot? Winter wondered. What he had were stonelike fragments smuggled in from Guatemala; supposedly remnants of a nest of mutations that exhibited inhuman speed, strength, and healing abilities. All potentially quite profitable, if you could isolate the relevant genes. "And?"

The geneticist tapped a second water bath. "Toasty warm. Mmm." Turning a knob, he started a rack of test tubes sloshing. "You should have your first batch for analysis sometime tonight."

"Why do I get the strangest feeling I should have had them sooner," Cameron mused, eyeing the red liquid.

Catching his glance, the geneticist casually moved the bottle to another shelf. "A rush job. Ms. Destine is still my primary employer." An offhand shrug. "When something unexpected comes up, she calls for the best."

"Our agreement was, the items she requested for three weeks of your time," Cameron reminded him. "Your uninterrupted time." A hand waved it off. "But you're right. It's not your responsibility." A thin smile. "I'll take this up with Ms. Destine myself."

"Good luck." The door closed and sealed, and Anton sniffed. "You'll need it."


 

"Oooh! I feel good," Matt Bluestone sang along with the radio, prancing about his ironing board as he creased a suit. "I knew that I would..."

Elisa Maza regarded her blissful partner from the doorway. Boxers. Undershirt. Socks. And not a stitch of dignity to be seen.

"I feel nice, like sugar and spice..."

Not a bad dancer. Good slide there, shoulder-lifts in time with the trumpets, overall attractive flexing of muscles. Small wonder squadroom gossip had her sneaking off for less-than-professional meetings with Matt whenever the two of them dropped out of sight.

Better that than who I'm really seeing, I guess. Racial integration didn't quite cover seven-foot-plus purple winged types.

"So good, so good; I got to move-"

"You know, if Goliath saw you doing that, they'd find pieces of you in five zip codes."

"Aaahh!" Matt hid behind a closet door. "Elisa!" Some color came back into his face. "You couldn't knock?"

Elisa rattled the front door key. "I did."

Pale blue eyes peered out from behind the slotted panel. "Like he has any room to talk. Do you mind?"

"And don't think I haven't heard from my dad about that." But she turned around, listening to the soft swears of a guy dressing in a hurry. "I'm not the one dating the clan leader's daughter."

"It wasn't a date!"

Uh-hunh. Sure. "Movies?"

"One movie. One." A comb yanked through red hair. "And it got broken up by a giant squid!"

"Goth club?" Elisa pointed out.

Shoes hit the floor. "She wanted to go dancing."

Nice try. "The Trio looking for you - and not in a good way?"

"Oh, man." A tie rustled under a collar. "I don't even want to think about that..."

Elisa turned around, serious. Hudson had taken her aside the other night, as clan elder - and the only one in the clan who didn't have a direct personal stake in the matter. "Matt. Brooklyn's the clan second."

Mutiny in blue eyes. "So?"

"So be careful, partner." Maza put her hands on her hips. "Right now, Angela's the only female gargoyle in the clan. And she's going to be alone, with me, for at least three days while the rest of the clan's chasing gargoyle rumors in Arizona. Without even my parents in town. If the Trio thinks you're after her-" She shook her head.

"What, they'll catch me in a dark alley?" Matt jerked the knot in his tie into place. "Look. We're friends. If they can't handle that, they need to grow up."

"No argument there." Elisa gave him a wry smile as they walked down to the Fairlane. "Just keep out of punching range, okay?"

Matt snorted. "Guys who can claw through sheet steel? Do I look like an idiot?"

Unlocking the driver's door, Elisa chuckled.

"Hey, wait a minute..."

At the station, Matt barely paused by his desk before heading toward a certain janitor's closet. "And where do you think you're going?" Elisa asked.

A faint flush appeared on his face. "Ah... to leave a note." Matt waved. "Back in a few."

"Now there's a guy who just fell hard," Morgan noted, leaning near her desk. "Who is she?"

"Friend of my Mom's," Elisa evaded. Not really a lie; Angela and Diane had gotten along well, ever since they'd met in Nigeria. "He took her to a movie a few nights ago. They're just friends."

"That's what he thinks-" Morgan stopped, mouth open. Stared past her. "Oh, man. You'll never believe what just walked in."

"What-" Elisa turned, hearing a subtle hush fall over the station.

A slight man stood in the doorway, framed in a hint of afternoon sun. Dark hair fell almost to his brown collar, and a visitor's pass was clipped absently on the neck of his olive-green t-shirt. Hiking boots were quiet on old linoleum; a trick most officers Elisa knew hadn't mastered. Blue eyes casually swept the room, noting each and every exit.

"Oh, man," Morgan muttered. "If he's here on business, I'm out of here."

Morgan's current partner drew near; a redheaded rookie by the name of Gallaher. "Is that who I think it is?"

Morgan nodded. "Dr. Niko Tat- Tato-"

"Tatopoulos," Elisa supplied. Staten Island didn't seem to have a problem with the name; but then, they had him on their beat.

"The guy that works with Godzilla?" Gallaher's freckles stood out as he paled. "Funny. He doesn't look crazy..."

"I'm looking for Detective Maza?"

Almost as one, the room turned its collective gaze on her.

Morgan leaned close. "You know," he said in a low tone, "Somehow I thought he'd be taller."

Elisa sighed. "Dr. Tatopoulos," she said briskly, striding forward to offer a hand. "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

Nick shook it firmly. "Your partner said you had a few more questions about the other night." The dark head tilted. "Frankly, I have a few of my own."

"Such as?" Way too much time around Goliath, Elisa thought.

A brown brow arched up. "Detective, someone tried to shoot me and one of my team. I'd like to know why." He gazed at her steadily. "And if they'll be back."

Hearing the whispers intensify, Elisa grabbed her jacket. "Have you had lunch?"

"Lunch?" He glanced pointedly at the clock.

"Or... whatever time it is." Working with gargoyles, you tended to get a skewed clock.

Nick shrugged, evidently just as aware of the myriad listening ears. "Lunch sounds good."

She scribbled a note for Matt, stuck it to his screen. "Great. I know where you can get the best hot dogs in Central Park."

Nick winced. "Ahh... how about pizza?"

Cop's intuition pricked up. "What's wrong with hot dogs?"

"Detective," Tatopoulos began as they walked out the door, "Have you ever been attacked by a hot dog cart?"


 

"Thanks for trying, Hooter." Frank hung up, swearing under his breath.

"No luck?" Donovan asked, dark cap pulled low.

"Seems gargoyles don't show up on the regular databases," the chrononaut grumbled. "Isaac's trying to pull details loose from somebody so classified Bradley's never heard of him."

Olga shook her head. "How long will that take?"

"Too long." A shadow in gray and green, Seirian stepped into view. "I'd suggest evacuating New York, but she'd simply let it loose in the refugee camp."

"Olga, Donovan, Ms. Seirian Mailli." Frank waved Craig's hand away from his gun. Not that he didn't sympathize. How the heck had Seirian snuck up on him twice?

"Let what loose?" Olga asked. Her gaze rested doubtfully on Frank. "Mr. Parker said something about a spell-"

A quiet nod. "Magic is rare, but on occasion, quite potent." The elderly woman gazed out at the sunset. "She'll be rising soon."

Donovan looked grim. "And all we know is she'll be at Solstice Technologies just before eleven."

"For some time before then, I should imagine." A slight smile crossed Seirian's face. "Magics that deadly usually take some time to prepare."

"Usually?" Frank groaned. "Terrific. Now all we have to do is get through enough security for Fort Knox, find one room in one building in a whole complex of high-tech idiots, and stop an insane gargoyle from conquering the world."

The smile grew stronger. "Don't worry, young man. We'll have a distraction."


 

"Are you sure this is safe?" Angela peered down the path. No one was in sight, but gargoyle ears could hear the first murmur of Elisa's voice.

"To trust a stranger is never safe." Goliath gestured toward the waterfall. "But here I have a path of retreat, the ground is neutral for us both... and he is but one human, alone, and unarmed." A rumbling sigh. "I doubt we could arrange safer circumstances."

Angela gripped his forearm. "I'll keep lookout." The young gargoyle disappeared into the forest.

Eyes narrowed, Goliath considered Elisa's note. True, it held the details they'd discussed; a face-to-face meeting with this very unusual human. But they'd meant to arrange that some time later, after the clan had returned from Arizona.

Yet Tatopoulos was here. And Talon had asked him to intercede; Delilah refused to stay in the Labyrinth, slipping out night after night to visit Staten Island. A fact which annoyed the mutate leader to no end, though Diane seemed to approve of the human's... team.

A human idea, that; groups without clan ties. When gargoyle clans had been more numerous, youths of different clans might band together. But that had been long in the past, even in Princess Katherine's time.

Still. From what Lexington could discover over the Internet, H.E.A.T. seemed as tightly bound as Elisa's precinct. True, they sometimes ignored human laws; an incident on Long Island bore witness, when the team had destroyed the lab of one Dr. Jonathon Insley. But the courts had declined to prosecute, when presented with the evidence of just what monstrosities the geneticist had created.

A rare instance of human sanity, Goliath thought. Yet... he remains free. As Sevarius did, despite Elisa's best efforts within human law.

Human ways are not our ways, the gargoyle knew. But H.E.A.T. protected, much as his own clan did. They acted to save lives, not to take them.

So he would approach this human as he would a fellow clan leader; on neutral territory, with one of his clan known to both of them to act as intermediary.

And hope for the best.

"-So your mother chased me out of my lab." Crunching a last bit of pizza crust, Tatopoulos wiped his hands on a sauce-smeared napkin.

Elisa laughed. "You're kidding."

Nick shook his head. "She told me if I didn't get out of there and find something to eat that wasn't canned, freeze-dried, or ready-mix, she'd show Randy how to cook huevos rancheros." Humor lit blue eyes. "I didn't feel that brave."

That was Elisa's mother, true enough.

"Let me guess." Dark eyes creased in an impish smile. "He burns water?"

"Nooo," Nick drew out, tossing the napkin into a battered trash can. "But I've seen what he can do to eggs." A wince. "I'd rather take my chances with a hot dog."

It was good to see Elisa laugh. Sometimes Goliath worried that her secrets kept her apart from other humans; kept her from sharing the pain and joy of her life. His heart ached, remembering how she'd wept in the darkness after Derek became Talon, unable to tell her parents the truth because it might put his clan at risk.

Perhaps he could never lift the need for secrets from her. His clan was too few, their need for concealment too perilously great. But if Tatopoulos was trustworthy...

Then perhaps the weight would lighten. And perhaps, just perhaps, there would be no more tears in the darkness.

"So why are we here, Detective?"

"Doctor?" Elisa appeared innocent.

The scientist stopped, casting a glance around the secluded clearing. "I doubt you came here just for the scenery."

A quiet nod. "There's someone I'd like you to meet." Framed by the waterfall, Elisa cast a glance into the brush that concealed him. "Goliath, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos. Dr. Tatopoulos, Goliath."

Wings spread, the clan leader pushed branches aside, and watched the human blanch. But Tatopoulos did not retreat, even when Goliath stepped within easy striking range.

Brave, Goliath concluded, caping his wings. And... curious. There was wonder amidst the fear, tempered by wary caution. Blue eyes flickered to the stream, the rocks, the forest about them, calculating every possible escape route. And then returned to him, studying him with the same wise wonder he'd once seen in the Magus.

"Hello," Nick ventured.

He'd heard what Elisa and the others could tell him about this man. Time to learn for himself. "Why did you help a creature before your own kind?"

A chestnut brow lifted. "I didn't." The man's gaze went to Elisa, found only crossed arms and cool wariness. "We had a seriously injured creature and a group of armed trespassers. I sent two of my people down to check on the helicopter. If they'd found someone in danger... then we probably would have done something different." He met Goliath's gaze squarely. "H.E.A.T.'s a research team. We can handle dangerous mutations. That's our job. But I wasn't about to put my people or the people in the helicopter at risk by trying to take them into custody."

My people. As a gargoyle would say, my clan.

"Are you... related to Delilah?" Nick asked warily.

"She is not of my clan." That was true enough. "But Elisa's family cares for her. I would not see her come to harm."

Nick glanced between them. "Diane said she was created by a geneticist."

"From the blood of one of my kind. Yes," Goliath nodded. Something in him still shuddered at the thought. That Thailog would combine one he had loved, with one he held as close as a rookery sister... it was a wonder Elisa accepted the poor creature. Surely Demona would slay her, had she ever the chance.

"She told you that?" Elisa pounced.

Nick held up a warding hand. "We were already looking at her genetic profile. S.O.P., when something falls out of the sky on top of us." The fleeting grin vanished. "Your mother wanted us to look for anything out of place. She's been worried that Sevarius might have left some sort of... genetic booby trap."

"A flaw, in his own creation?" Goliath snarled.

"We haven't found anything," Nick said frankly. "But it'll take time to be sure." The dark head shook. "One of your kind. There's more of you than Angela? What are you?"

"You humans call us gargoyles," the clan leader stated. "And we are... few."

"It's a long story," Elisa stepped in. "But they came here from Scotland." A smile crinkled her eyes. "Like the Loch Ness Monster."

Nick groaned. "I am never going to live that one down."

"But they're real." Angela stepped out of the woods. "We saw them, too."

"Angela," Goliath warned.

"He's a good person." Fangs glinted in her smile. "And I like the way they write."

Nick glanced at the detective. "We kind of... borrowed one of your files for a few minutes," Elisa shrugged.

The biologist looked them over, obviously connecting wings, roof, and the one time the detectives had been near his files. "So what does your clan want from me?"

"Only what you would wish for your team, were humans few and gargoyles many." Goliath offered a taloned hand. "A chance for friendship."

Nick's grip was not the strongest he'd felt from a human. But blue eyes were clear and fearless as Elisa's had been, that long-ago night atop Castle Wyvem.

Not trusting. Not yet. But there was the chance for trust. And perhaps-

Elisa's phone rang. "Hang on. Maza," she sighed into the receiver.

Another trill; Nick dug his own phone out. "Tatopoulos. What?"

"A pigeon?" Elisa said in disbelief. "Partner, you've got to be kidding."

"Where?" Nick said, facing the other way.

"Central Park?" the detective continued.

"Ah, Randy... I'm in Central Park..."

Static hissed from both phones; Elisa yanked hers away with a wince. "What gives?"

"Electromagnetic interference." The biologist was holding his own phone at arm's length, head cocked as if listening to the raucous static. "Strong and close." Eyes narrowed, he took out a small device that clicked quietly.

Elisa tucked her phone into a pocket. "You may be the only guy in Manhattan that carries his own Geiger counter."

"Scintillation counter, technically," Nick said absently. He shook his head. "Either it's not close, or it's not radioactive."

Angela turned to Elisa. "What's not close?"

The detective stepped back, arms crossed. "Come on, Nick. You don't think there's a mutated pigeon in Central Park?"

"Homing pigeons sense magnetic fields. That's how they navigate when they can't see the sun." Eyes on the sky, the biologist started down the path. "They ought to be coming in from the south end."

"Who?" Goliath demanded. Annoying; the man had the same manner as Elisa, when some crime had suddenly come to her attention. All else had fallen aside, even matters of kin or clan.

"My team," came the distracted answer. Hiking boots jerked to a halt. "Ah, you'd better stick together when you leave," Nick noted, turning back towards them. "Doves usually prefer fruit, but most mutations are omnivorous. Depending on how large it is, one gargoyle alone might seem like prey."

Elisa unzipped her jacket. "What about one human?"

The biologist gave her a dry smile. "This is my job, Detective."

"And you don't have to do it alone." Elisa held out a hand. "Look. This is my precinct, and my watch. If Matt can't reach me by phone, he's going to come running." She glanced toward the gargoyles.

And he'd likely bring the rest of the clan. Goliath nodded slightly. "We will be near."

Nick stood fast. "It could be dangerous."

The clan leader lifted one brow ridge. "Gargoyles protect."

"This is our city, too," Angela added, spreading her wings. "We can help."

Nick sighed. "Then I'd better get to my team first." He cast them a wry grin. "Monique doesn't miss."


 

"He wants what?" Demona snarled into her phone. Her red suit-dress hung on a hook as she donned the ivory deerskin top of a true gargoyle. Her employees knew better than to ask why she had such garb in the office.

"A meeting. Tonight." She could hear Sevarius pacing the lab, tapping against glass.

"Impossible," she said flatly.

"He won't release any of my work until you do. And I don't think I can sneak your project out."

The gargoyle growled.

"Speaking of, are you sure these are what you want? If you just want to wipe out humans, I could always bioengineer you a good plague. I've explained the limitations-"

"The limitations are precisely why I want it." Her ancient gaze regarded Sevarius' report. "Humans and gargoyles are genetically close. Your research shows that. Any virus you developed might mutate as it crossed the globe." Fangs gleamed. "I don't take foolish risks."

A briefcase snapped shut. "So what are you planning, exactly?" Sevarius inquired.

A full lip curled. "Be off Manhattan by tomorrow night. Or you'll find out."

"How could I refuse such a generous offer." She could almost see his thin, cruel smile. "I take it you plan to make an unscheduled withdrawal."

Talon tapping against her teeth, Demona considered that option. But... Winter had been useful. And might still be, if he survived the night. "He'll see me. At midnight." When human minds were slow, and most easily fooled. And Goliath's clan should be well away, mired in their watch over petty human lives.

A cough of surprise. "Might I ask how you plan to pull that off?"

"That's none of your concern." Smirking, Demona hung up. Her new spellbook held magics of illusion as well. Tedious to prepare, and nowhere near as long-lasting as the Grimorum's wards... but they would work. Long enough to put one human in his place.

And the binding magic she needed to chant over Sevarius' work could only be cast in the small hours of the night, when the walls between the world grew thin.

I will not be delayed! the gargoyle growled. Humanity will pay for what they have done to our kind!

Anton's lab would be as good a place as any to cast the spell.

The beginning of the end, Elisa Maza. Your death starts tonight!


 

Nick shielded his eyes from the rotor wash as the H.E.A.T. copter powered down. "What've we got, people?"

Randy helped Mendel guide Nigel onto the path, while Elsie nodded at a shivering blond in a gray sweatsuit and a police-issue blanket. "Jogger swears he nearly got carried off by the world's biggest rock dove," the paleontologist said dryly.

"It seems he has the feathers to prove it," Monique stated, tranq gun in hand. "And the local radio reception has suddenly become - how do you say - so much dead air?"

"Oh, Dispatch is going to love that," Detective Maza muttered. "Matt! Let's see that evidence bag..."

"Let's just hope it steers clear of La Guardia." Nick motioned H.E.A.T. into a huddle while Maza chased feathers. "Quick briefing, people. If you see something humanoid you don't recognize, don't fire on it first. Hudson and Angela aren't the only ones."

"Cool!" Randy breathed.

"Like Talon?" Mendel said apprehensively, pulling a grocery bag of stale bread out of the copter.

"Oooh, not cool," the hacker muttered, punching keys on his laptop. "So not cool."

"A nest?" Monique's dark eyes narrowed. A duffel bag clinked as her foot brushed past. Battery packs were clipped on one side, awaiting hookup to the fine wire mesh within.

"I didn't see any more like Talon." Nick flicked a glance toward the detective, noted the heated conversation she was having with Detective Bluestone. "And the word they used was 'clan'."

"So they're intelligent, they form related groups, and they use human cultural terms to describe themselves," Elsie summed up. "Any idea how long they've been here?"

Nick shrugged. "Probably longer than Delilah. Goliath - the large male Maza took me to meet - said she was created from one of their kind."

"And of course, you wish us not to fire upon them." Monique rolled her eyes.

"I said, don't shoot first," the biologist clarified. "If they're intelligent, they can choose to be as dangerous as any human."

"But Talon's the only one who's tried to fry us," Mendel pointed out. Short fingers tapped keys on his handheld computer, tracking electromagnetic emissions.

"The gargoyles couldn't fry us if they wanted to," Elsie stated, passing Nick his field pack. "I ran the fur Monique grabbed; not even close. We're dealing with two different types of creatures-"

"Heads up, compadres." Randy nodded towards the woman getting out of a blue-and-white. "Company."

"Captain Chavez," the tall woman in the blue suit-dress identified herself. Bluestone and Maza fell in behind her, while uniforms held off the gathering crowd. "You want to tell me what's scrambling every radio in my precinct, Doctors?"

"We're working on it, Captain." Nick turned to his team. "Mendel? Elsie?"

"So light a thing, upon which rest such weighty hopes," Nigel's vocal circuits reported, sucking the bit of down into a sample chamber.

"One of these days, I'm going to microwave your Shakespeare CD," Mendel grumbled.

"You have to find it first." Randy grinned.

Chavez stared. "Detective?" Her tone was an accusation.

"Just give them a chance, Captain." Bluestone rested his hands in his trenchcoat pockets. "They're only half as crazy as they look."

Monique hmphed. "This from the man who raided my coffee." Dark eyes raked him. "Several times."

"It was good," Matt defended himself.

"But of course." Dark brows flicked up. "It was French."

Elsie bent an iridescent feather in gloved hands, green eyes squinting in suspicion. She sighted down the quill as an archer would an arrow shaft, tapped the broken end where the growing tip had been left in the mutation's skin. "Nick? Does anything look odd about this keratin deposition to you?"

Gloves on, Nick took the plume. "Hmm."

"Ahh, is that safe?" Matt wanted to know.

Mendel shrugged. "Nigel's programmed to alert on known toxins."

"If it were hazardous, we would see a reaction in the witness by now," Monique added.

Maza glared daggers. "You mean that man could be sick. Or dying."

"C'est possible." The French agent scanned the darkening park.

"Are you saying my officers may have been handling hazardous material?" Chavez' gaze turned flinty.

"Whoa, whoa, time out!" Randy formed a T with two hands, getting between cops and the team. "Look. Frenchie tends to look on the dark side, okay? You gotta get used to it." He pointed to his laptop screen, where Nigel's readouts were starting to scroll. "Hang around these guys enough, you start to get a feel for these things. I don't see any spikes in the danger zones."

"Mass spectrometer and chemical analysis," Mendel clarified, zooming on various small spikes. "No heavy atomic weights. Neutral pH." A few more keystrokes. "No chemical formulas that would indicate neurotoxicity or any other known toxicity."

"Looks like plain old keratinaceous compounds," Elsie observed, leaning over his shoulder. She glanced back. "Basically, it's bird down."

"So, your guy's just fine," the hacker summed up.

"Ah-choo!" Mendel smeared a tissue. "Id's a pidgeon, all ride," he sniffled.

Randy spread empty hands. "Unless he's allergic to feathers."

Chavez blinked. Glanced accusingly at her detectives.

"They take some getting used to," Elisa admitted.

Nick tapped the feather barbs, listening to the subtle, metallic ring. "No heavy metals in the down?"

"Not in the down, no." The paleontologist shoved back a strand of crimson. "Let me get a piece of that."

Nick fanned the feather through the air, listening to it hum in the wind. "If the flight feathers are similar in composition, how did it get off the ground?"

Elsie shrugged, shears snipping. "Positive thinking?"

Randy waved a hand in the biologist's face. "Jefe? You want to translate for the rest of us?"

Nick poked a finger between two vanes, separating the right side of the feather down to the quill. "Ordinary feathers have barbs that interlock to form a flat surface. If wind or an impact separates the vanes, the bird can just zip them back together." He slipped the parted vanes between pressing fingers. "But listen." Barbs clinked back together, a subtle cascade of tinny notes.

"Metal feathers?" Monique raised dark brows.

"High iron content," Mendel reported. "Seems to be preferentially deposited in the leading edge."

"Granted, this is a chest feather," Elsie told the captain. "But flight feathers usually aren't that different in structure." She tapped the iridescent plume. "Whatever grew this needs a high-iron diet if it wants to have enough energy to get off the ground."

"I don't care what it eats, as long as it's not people." Chavez stepped into Nick's personal space. "They say you're the expert on handling mutations, Doctor. But frankly, your team has a reputation that makes demolition experts weep with envy."

True. Too true. Most of the time H.E.A.T. didn't even notice anymore; after a while, you expected buildings to crumble around you. You learned how to run when the ground was shaking, how to hotwire a truck in the middle of catastrophe, how to find the most stable point in an unstable world.

Intruder? Sleepy, but rousing fast.

There was stability. Don't know yet, Nick replied, relaxing in the sudden warmth. It was safety, protection; pure, uncomplicated love-of-parent. With that humming in the background, he could face down a horde of captains. We'll look for it.

Curiosity. Come?

Central Park, Nick projected the location, the buildings, the crowds of people swarming the streets on a Manhattan evening. Let us look first. "So what do you suggest, Captain?"

Chavez glanced at her two oddest detectives. "I'm not going to make this an order."

Matt's eyes widened. "You want us-" he waved a hand in his partner's vicinity, "To go with them." He pointed at H.E.A.T.

"Radios are out," the captain stated. "If this ends up as a cross-town chase, they're going to need badges to clear the way." A grim smile. "And you two are good at fielding the weird ones."

Elisa nodded. "We'll handle it. Captain."

Matt gulped. "We will?"

Nick held up a hand. "Two things. Detectives. First, don't shoot unless you have to. Pigeons are diurnal; if we can find it roosting, we may be able to capture it."

"And second?" Maza asked.

Monique handed the tranq gun to Elsie, pulled a particle beam rifle from the copter's lockbox. "If we say move... move."


 

"Stay clear, lads." Hudson fingered his swordhilt, watching H.E.A.T. fan out into the park. "They've a great deal of practice, and that Monique lass is a warrior born."

Brooklyn poked his beak over the edge of their rooftop. "No way to get Elisa or Matt's radio up?"

Lex shook his head. "Too much interference."

Bronx sniffed the wind, paws up on the rail around the roof. Looking down, he whined.

"Easy, boy," Hudson comforted the gargoyle beast. "Elisa's not one to rush into harm's way." He glanced up at the sound of wings. "Goliath! And how did ye find young Nick?"

"A very... unusual human." The clan leader caped his wings, Angela landing beside him. "But his intentions seem honest." He cast a glance about the clan. "We will watch them."

"We're not going to meet them?" Angela stepped forward. "He already knows about me."

"But not of the rest of the clan," Goliath said sharply. A rumbling sigh. "Better to trust too slowly than too swift. Elisa is not easily fooled... yet it has happened."

Broadway squinted down at the park, where the yellow robot was wheeling down the bike trail. "Hey... are those bread crumbs?"

Talons gripping the rail, Brooklyn chuckled. "Matt did say it was a pigeon."

"So... they mean t' lure it out, then." Hudson's good eye narrowed. "Ah. There."

A galvanized steel garbage can rolled into view, semicircular hole gouged in its side. Tatopoulos held up a halting hand, motioned toward Monique and Elsie.

"Looks like some kind of... electronic net." Lex frowned, watching the two women unroll glinting metal. "If that's the positive end, and the network's wired that way..." Yellow-green talons snapped. "It's a Faraday cage!"

"A who what?" Brooklyn scratched a brow ridge.

Lex leaned perilously far over the rail, eyes bright. "You use it to protect computers from solar flares. Take a wire mesh, trickle an electrical current through it, and it blocks electromagnetic emissions. They made it into a net." Randy clipped batteries to coppery leads, while Mendel used a remote to slowly guide the robot toward the garbage can. Back by Nick, the detectives held pistol and revolver at the ready. "Don't tangle with it, guys. It's got enough voltage to put Bronx out cold."

Broadway whistled. "These guys are serious."

"Aye, lad. I've seen a many of young Audrey Timmonds' reports." Hudson gripped Bronx' neck, watching the humans hold their ground. Bread crumbs drifted on the wind. "What a clan could take by force, they must battle with skill and guile."

Goliath tapped a talon on steel. "What of Godzilla?"

The gray mane shook. "A dragon's a chancy ally. They'll not want to summon it; not here, not amidst so many fragile walls."

"He's not really a dragon," Lex pointed out. Tail twitching, he glanced up from the tense silence below. "He's a mutation. Some kind of... radioactive lizard."

Hudson raised a brow ridge. "Sure of that, are you?" A shrewd gaze weighed the scientists below. "I saw the lad, that night on the Brooklyn Bridge. Saw the grief on him, the... loss." The elder gargoyle shook his head. "I've not seen that on a human since Wyvern Hill."

Metal rattled. Something large pushed at the underbrush, rustled like tinfoil under the trees.

Nick's hand was up. Wait, was clear in his stance, even from their rooftop perch. Not yet.

A soft cooing echoed on the wind; as of a covey of doves, all murmuring in unison. An eye gleamed red in the night, higher than Goliath was tall.

Three fingers dropped. Get ready.

A dark beak pecked at torn crusts, tossed them down an iridescent throat. The red eye swiveled, taking in the still plateau of shadows. Monstrous toes gouged the ground as the mutation weighed food against possible danger.

"What are they waiting for?" Brooklyn breathed. "It's almost on top of them!"

Goliath's hand held him back. "Steady, lad."

"They're human, and that net's no bit of lace." Hudson nodded at the tense group. "They canna throw it; not far. The creature must come t' them."

Head bobbing, the gigantic pigeon rustled its way down the bread trail. Fifteen feet. Ten.

Mendel suddenly buried his face in his sleeve. Next to him, Elsie cast a panicked glance at Nick.

The biologist's lips set in a grim line, but his finger twitched slowly back and forth. Wait. Wait...

"Ah-choo!"

Screeching, the pigeon flung steel-edged wings wide, scattering H.E.A.T. like bowling pins. The net was already in the air, settling over the creature's neck - but now only two people held the anchor ropes.

Not enough.

Shrieking, the mutation battered its way into the sky, ignoring the frantic pair dangling from its neck.

"Aaahhh!"

"Mendel, you are so toast!"

"Back to the chopper!" Nick ordered, leading the way.

"They're leaving?" Lex hopped onto the rail, watching the pigeon jink over the sky. Mendel and Randy clung to braided nylon, narrowly missing each other as the bird bobbed and banked. "Those are their friends!"

"And they've no wings t' reach 'em with." Hudson picked up Bronx. "Come on, lads. We're needed."

Catching updrafts, the clan closed the distance with the weaving mutation. "One bird, coming down," Brooklyn stated, eyes narrowed.

"Be careful!" Angela soared upwards. "This isn't like the Steel Clan!"

"It's a pigeon," Brooklyn shrugged as the trio closed in. "How tough can it - hey!"

Screeching, the pigeon did a swift wing over, doubling on its own trail. Lex dodged left. Broadway dodged right.

Brooklyn... didn't.

Smack.

Groaning, the red gargoyle fell out of the sky.

"Whoa!" Randy grabbed for a passing tail, wrapping his left arm solidly in the rope. The bird lurched to the left, flapping furiously against the added weight. "Geez Louise," the hacker grunted, "You weigh a ton!"

"Randy!" Unbalanced, the net slid up over the mutation, pulling the roboticist up in range of grasping claws. Mendel sneezed furiously, swinging to the side as metallic talons raked at his shoulders. Tearing eyes widened, taking in skyscrapers heading their way. "Oh, no..."

Wings folded, Goliath dove under them. "Let go!"

The net lurched. "Catch!" Randy gasped, letting leathery skin slip from his fingers.

Shaking off the blow, Brooklyn yelped as he fell into the wind.

"It is no robot," the clan leader stated, snatching his second in command from a water tower's threatening embrace. "It has a mind, and a will to survive. Guard yourselves!"

"-liath," Angela's radio crackled, static fading in and out. "Coming-"

Rotor wash tore the wind. The helicopter door slid open, and Nick leaned out, chestnut strands flying around his face. "Hang on!"

Randy was shaking the sting out of one strained wrist. "No problemo, jefe."

Feet dangling, Mendel shot the copter a disgusted look. "Like we're going to do anything else?"

Monique sheared off as they dodged another office building, dove closer when it looked as if the pigeon meant to head downtown. The helicopter slammed on a spotlight, causing the bird to pull up short at bright reflections in window glass. Dipping and veering, the dark woman wove a dangerous dance around the mutation, herding the screeching bird higher above the city.

"Nick!" Mendel yelped. "I think what we want is down?!"

"Not enough room to maneuver!" the biologist called back. "We checked the map; these roofs aren't rated for a helicopter landing. If we force you down on them-"

One razored talon sliced at a labcoat; the roboticist kicked and spun, dodging a slash of beak. "I could be in a well-funded, temperature-controlled government lab, tinkering with Nigel..."

Randy grabbed for another anchor rope. "Come on, Dr. C. No mutants? No G-man? No life-threatening, race the clock, do or die?" The hacker shook his head. "You'd keel over in a week."

"Hah!" Mendel flipped his blond pony tail back, grabbed his rope with both feet. "Some of the people on this team may be adrenaline junkies-"

Soaring above, Angela shook her head. "They sound almost as bad as the guys." She dodged the backwash, cupping hands to her mouth. "How can we help?"

Nick's head ducked back into the copter, reappeared with a familiar darkhaired detective. "We're going to try to head it east," Goliath's radio crackled to life. Elisa peered over the city, judging distances as the wind snatched her hair. "If we can get it near the Harlem River, we'll have room to force it down."

The clan leader nodded. "Well enough." He gestured to the trio. "Fan out, and stay clear of the wash. Angela! Cover us from above. Such birds are accustomed to falcons; giant or no, a stoop should rattle it. Hudson, with me."

"We don't sound like that," Lex said indignantly. He traded glances with Broadway as they soared into position. "Do we?"


 

So much for a boring evening in the lab, Elsie thought, firing a careful burst of green energy. The pigeon shied east again - but the jolt sent Mendel lurching downward. She drew a breath, tapped her head mike. "Anybody got a plan?"

"We're here," Nick calculated frantically, drawing a finger across the map Elisa held against the wind.

"Next block, Harlem River," the detective stated. "Roofs still aren't strong enough-"

"We're out of time." Nick leaned toward the cockpit. "Pick a spot."

"That park," Monique declared, banking the copter. "We will have no better chance."

"Oh man, not my apartment..." Matt groaned from the copilot's seat.

"Deal with it, partner." Maza turned their way. "So what's the plan?"

Nick picked up the tranq rifle. "Anything to contraindicate?"

"Not on the bioassay," Elsie assured him. There were limits to what they could determine from just the feathers, but Nick knew that as well as she did.

The tranquilizer might be toxic. But Mendel and Randy couldn't hold on much longer.

"We get above it, we tranq it, we force it down," Nick explained to the detectives.

"And hope there's nobody under it when we do," Elsie added.

"That's a plan?" Matt choked.

"Yes." Harness on, Nick leaned out the door.

Elsie covered him from the side, listening to the familiar thwack as Nick pulled the trigger. Ordinary tranquilizer darts could be stopped by thick clothing. H.E.A.T. used ammunition that would pierce steel... meaning it would affect mutations, if you could hit a thin patch of skin.

Nick had a knack for it. They weren't sure if it was intuition, bleed-over from Godzilla, general biological knowledge, or some combination of the three. Whatever the reason, Nick could usually find a creature's weak points; and when it came to firing from a moving helicopter, even Monique wasn't much better.

"This could take a minute to kick in," Nick told the cops, lining up another shot. "Masses about a quarter-ton..." Thwack. "Extra iron in the system will probably bind a certain percentage..." Thwack.

"How does he know how much to use?" Matt called back, while his partner gave low orders on her radio.

"Take the average dose for the probable base species and multiply by the mass increase," the paleontologist said frankly, hearing the mutation shriek. "Minus a certain percent for average neural conductivity, plus a certain percent for variable toxin resistance..."

"You guess?"

Darn. He really was a detective. Even Major Hicks hadn't figured it out that fast.

Thwack. "Can your friends grab those ropes?" Slipping the safety on, Nick gestured towards Randy's side of the net. Wingbeats were slowing, but the razored beak still slashed at a flapping labcoat.

Maza nodded. "They're coming."

"Then let's take this bird down." With one last look at the approaching trees, Nick leaped.

Dammit, Nick!

Gloved hands caught a rope on Mendel's side. The mutation biologist curled and twisted, taking a blow meant for Mendel's hands on his harness.

Elsie shoved her heart back down her throat. "Down, now!"

Monique had already angled the wash, blowing the wind out of the pigeon's wings. Bright-colored forms swooped out of the sky, seizing nylon in taloned grips. Three different wing forms, the paleontologist noted automatically. In one species?

"Incroyable," Monique breathed. One hand flicking over the console, she used the copter's engines to tug the bird down.

"They're something else," Maza smiled, eyes on one large, purple form. Her glance flicked to a dangling biologist. "But they have wings."

Elsie kept her hand on the winch control. A foot of slack one way or the other and Nick's rope might have a fatal intersection with the rotor blades. "Nick knows what he's doing." Usually.

A surreptitious glance at the Harlem River caught a familiar, double ridge of knife-edged scales. The paleontologist breathed a sigh of relief. Thank you.

Nick tried to keep his giant charge clear of the city. But when the biologist started chasing mutations, Godzilla was never far behind.

Elsie'd take the property damage, any day.

Feet and wings hit the grass like a roll of thunder. Nick fit a springloaded stake through one knotted loop, slammed it into the ground to anchor the net. Mendel rolled shakily aside as Bronx grabbed the rope he'd clung to. Hudson leaned against the next rope over, fighting the thrashing wing as the mutation slumped into boneless sleep.

"Yee-ha!" Randy cheered. "One down, on the ground!"

The web-winged gargoyle poked a cautious talon at the net. "I bet we could set one of these up."

The red one shrugged. "Why would you want to?"

"Three words, tough guy. Puck and Oberon."

Nick unclipped his rope, holding it while the rotors slowed. "Mendel? You all right?"

"I think I strained every muscle in my body," the roboticist groaned, sitting up. Horrified eyes regarded the shredded labcoat. "Aaaah!"

"Easy." Nick peeled back torn cotton. His face eased into a relieved smile. "Just a few scratches."

"More tetanus shots," Mendel moaned.

Randy rounded the netted bird, dodging multicolored wings. "Yo, Doc. Didn't you have one of those last month?"

Ducking under the rotors, Elsie brought out the first aid kit. Off to the side she saw Detective Maza head for the large purple gargoyle. Wearing a radio, Dr. Chapman noticed. So that's who she was talking to. Goliath? Name sure fits. "Trust me, Mendel. The last thing you want is to develop an allergic response to the shots."

Craven sighed. Sniffled. "Aah- aa-"

Elsie shoved a tissue in his face.

"Danks."

Nick, Monique, me. Dr. Chapman ticked off the armed people on her team. Not sure Mendel could aim right now. Randy's been working with Monique, he should be okay. She didn't think this would turn ugly. But she could feel the team drawing together, poised and waiting. H.E.A.T. hadn't made it this far by taking things at face value.

Nick glanced around the gathering crowd. "Everyone else okay?"

A red one with a beak rubbed the side of his head. "Outside of a headache the size of the World Trade Center, yeah."

Angela shook her head. Related to Goliath? Elsie wondered. They're the only two with similar coloring. If that meant anything in this species. It might not. "I tried to warn you." She stepped forward, clawed toes flexing on the grass. "Hi."

"Nice to see you again," the paleontologist ventured, taking the offered hand. Skin feels different than Delilah's, she noted. A little more leathery. But soft. Of course, shock could affect a lot of things. She hadn't had as much time to check Delilah over as she wanted. "That's Mendel; you already know Randy and Nick..."

The biologist was halfway under the net, checking the pigeon's pulse and respiration as Monique made sure every stake was solid. "Looks okay," he reported, carefully teasing out each dart. "We should check again in five minutes, see if we need any antagonist."

"Or deliver another dose," the French agent said matter-of-factly.

Nick suppressed a sigh. "Neutralize, remember? I'd say it's neutralized." Foam tipping the darts, he clambered out.

"For now."

Nick glanced around. "Mind introducing us. Detectives?"

"I fear 'twill have t' wait, lad." Hudson pointed toward the sky, where news helicopters beat their way through the night. "Ye've drawn a bit of attention."

"Busted," the green one muttered.

"Travis Marshall?" Elisa cocked an eyebrow at her partner.

Matt shaded his eyes, peering up at the choppers. "That's WVRN, all right. And - WIDF?"

"Audrey." Nick buried his face in his hands.

Elsie winced. Nick was over the blonde reporter; she knew that. But Timmonds still knew him well enough to slide questions under his skin like bamboo slivers.

"We will meet another night," Goliath declared, wings cloaked. "Elisa will tell you where."

Dropping to all fours, the gargoyles disappeared into the shadows.

Randy let out a low whistle. "Okay, compadres." The hacker stared at settling branches. "Even by our standards, that was bizarre."

"Welcome to our world," Matt grinned. He cast a nervous glance at the wire-covered pigeon. "Ah, do you do this a lot?"

Randy scratched his dreadlocks. "Do what?"

"Improvise mechanical solutions to biological problems?" Mendel guessed.

"Oh," Randy nodded. "Track down giant, man-eating monsters?"

Elsie eyed Nick. "Dangle out of helicopters?"

The biologist fought a smile. "Only three so far."

"The answer to your question would appear to be - yes," Monique noted. "I will keep watch." She stalked toward the helicopter.

"Monique doesn't like publicity," Nick explained, taking the pigeon's pulse again as the news crews started touching down.

Mendel flipped open his cell phone as Elsie moved in with the iodine. "Major? Yes, I'm sorry, we do know what time it is. Ouch!" The roboticist shot her a dirty look. "It's not that big, but it does need electrical containment..."

You could hear the groan across the clearing. "Tatopoulos!"


 

Shrouded in illusion, Demona tapped a talon as Sevarius emerged from the shadows. "Is it done?"

"Oh, yes." The geneticist opened a lab cabinet, unwrapping charcoal-gray foam.

Clear glass glinted under the fluorescents, violet liquid almost black in the dim light. "How are you doing that, by the way?" He smirked at the counter. "No human fingernail leaves that kind of dent."

The immortal gargoyle snarled, seizing her prize. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Anton." Laying a green gym bag on the countertop, she began taking out her spell components. A rustle of silk-wrapped items; the quiet rap of a plastic test tube, containing the amber fluid of bio-engineered plasmids carrying genes for sea snake venom. Amusing; the humans themselves had created the key tool she would use to destroy them.

The iron chain of her spellbook rattled against tile glaze. "If I'm disturbed, it will be your neck."

"No one comes in my lab who isn't ordered to." Sevarius tapped his fingertips together. "You'd think they didn't like me."

She didn't even dignify that with a reply. "A knife forged of metals from beyond the stars," Demona murmured, taking out the thin gray blade. "A cup carved from a sea monster's scales, to hold the blood of one of two races and neither." She held out a hand.

Gray-touched brows were level with cruel caution. But Anton took in the hint of red glowing from human eyes and handed the vial of Delilah's blood over. "I never knew you cooked gourmet."

"A fire born of lightning's strike, to burn in a pyre of serpent bone." She nursed the tiny, oil-fed flame to a bright glow, set it amidst slivered vertebrae. White splinters caught fire in a burst of green, letting off heat far beyond a mortal flame.

Swiping a burner stand, Demona set the blood-filled cup over green flame. "Seawater touched by the moon's first rise, and dust of a forgotten grave." She stirred them in with the knife. "When it boils, speak the words."

Brushing off sweat, Sevarius stepped back. "That shouldn't take long."

"You'd be surprised." Ignoring the heat, Demona kept up her patient rhythm. "Death should take time."


 

"I didn't think Angela would agree to the boat," Matt said in an undertone, watching the young gargoyle catch up with the H.E.A.T. Seeker. By this time the clan and the older Mazas should be on a plane out of LaGuardia, heading west to Arizona.

"You can get a good updraft off the bay. And it's safer than the waterfront at night. At least for humans." Elisa watched the lights of Manhattan fade in the distance as they drifted past Brooklyn's docks. Not far away, Mendel rolled up the sleeves on a fresh labcoat, fussing over his battered robot. "Besides, do you think we could've gotten Dr. Craven ten feet off the ground tonight?"

Matt chuckled, pulling his trenchcoat tight against the breeze. "Don't know whether the guy's skittish, or the only one of them with a sense of self-preservation."

Elisa gripped the rail as Angela touched down. "You want to talk skittish?" She jerked her head toward the biologist at the helm. "I've never seen anybody dodge reporters so fast."

Matt eyed the smaller man. "You wonder what he's hiding."

"Besides a few gargoyles?"

Bluestone crossed his arms. "Everybody hides something, partner." A hand touched his suit lapel, as if fingering a hidden pin. "And it doesn't always have wings."

Elisa arched a delicate brow. "And I suppose you want to know what."

"Hey, I'm a cop. I'm supposed to be nosy."

Elisa drew her shoulders up, jaw set. "Let's go be civil, first."

Stepping in, Elisa introduced Angela to the team. Good thing we moved the meet here, the detective thought, watching H.E.A.T. visibly wrestle with the idea of mythological creatures who'd been trapped under a mage's curse for a thousand years. And she hadn't even mentioned Avalon. The clan's used to magic; waking up in Manhattan shook them, but it didn't turn their world upside-down.

But Nick's team were scientists, first and foremost. Mention enchantments, and their whole world-view had to shift.

Like mine did, Elisa thought, smiling at the memory of that explosive night at the Eyrie Building. But I was on my turf.

As the boat was Nick's; she could see that, in the way he matched each move to the pitch of the deck. The kind of unconscious grace that only came with pacing his ship in every kind of weather, at speed or a dead stop. "Umm..." The biologist cast a desperate glance her way. "Spell?"

Angela frowned. "You don't believe us?"

Elsie chuckled. "You're talking to the guy who didn't believe in the Loch Ness monster until it almost sank a sub." The redhead cast Nick a wry smile. "With him in it."

"So I was wrong that time." Nick spread empty hands. "But magic..."

Mendel shrugged, Nigel blinking beside his shoulder. "We know some individuals can manipulate the world in a nonphysical fashion."

"Oui," Monique agreed, standing in the helmroom door. "Telepathy, telekinesis, empathy; these we have seen."

Matt started. "You have?"

"Long story," Randy replied. "Short version - if you ever see guys with glowing eyes, break out the track shoes."

"Not to mention the dynamite." Elsie shivered.

Nick covered her hand with his. "It's okay," he said softly. "It's over." A subtle turn placed him between her and the detectives. "It's still a far step from floating guns to turning people to stone for a thousand years."

Soothing, protecting, and changing the subject, Elisa thought, impressed. Whatever it was, Dr. Chapman must've been caught up in it.

And it must have put the team in serious danger, if those flinches were any indication. A cop added Nick's glance and Monique's silence, and didn't like the conclusion. It could happen again, Elisa knew. They know it and she knows it.

"Magic isn't that common," Angela shrugged. "It's... not always a good thing."

"You didn't know it was Puck," Elisa pointed out.

"And the way he bounces around, we won't know the next time, either," Matt pointed out. "You say he worked for Demona once. I'm not looking forward to a sequel."

"Puck?" Randy brightened. "As in, Midsummer Night's Dream?"

"The one and only." Elisa shook her head. "Oberon, Titania; we've met more than I want to count."

"Faeries." Nick stepped back, rubbing his head. "Excuse me." He headed for the empty prow.

Angela frowned. "What's wrong with him?"

"Nick doesn't have a high tolerance for the unusual," Mendel said, checking that the chocks under Nigel's wheels were solid.

"You're talking about a guy who chases monsters," Elisa pointed out.

"Oui." Monique frowned at the solitary figure facing into the wind. "Yet Dr. Tatopoulos investigates the world as it is. He has no love of the - how do you say, lunatic fringe?"

"He even used to throw the horoscopes out," Randy shrugged, fiddling with his laptop. "Just give him a while."

Nice act, guys, Elisa thought, listening to her partner and Angela quiz H.E.A.T. about the Loch Ness monsters they'd met. But you're worried about him. Why?

Was it more than just a headache? She hadn't seen any signs of a concussion. And she doubted the man who'd been so careful of his team's health would ignore his own.

"Hello." Randy was frowning at his screen. Static hissed from the speaker. "Something gnarly in the local EM."

"Ah, guys?" Mendel looked a bit pale, pointing out toward Manhattan. "Is it just me, or did that come up really fast?"

Angela's gaze narrowed, taking in gathering clouds in a once-clear sky. Lightning flashed in the distance, thunder reaching them a few breaths later. "That's not normal for New York." She pressed a hand to her lips. "Could it be Mother?"

Monique ducked out of the helmroom, dark lips set. "The instruments still function. But they waver."

Nick stalked by the detectives, heading below. "Tell us if it starts heading this way. Randy, Elsie, with me."

"What are they doing?" Matt asked.

"Opening the arms locker." Mendel pried his fingers off the rail, started tying Nigel down. "They ran into something like that before."

"It is not the same." Monique lowered a nightscope. "Instrument readings remain stable."

"Great," the roboticist muttered. "One lab break-in's enough for a lifetime."


 

Green and scarlet light entwined about Demona's tome, weaving snakes of sparks through the lab air. The gargoyle sorceress was lost in her work, magic humming in her blood. Three intricate spells. Three great works, that - combined - should wreak her vengeance on New York, and the world.

"Niwlen gafael hwn lle, cylchfan." Demona wiped a drop of sweat from her brow ridge before it could drop into her brew. Mist grip this place, round about.

Silver light shimmered up, mist that spread and whispered through the walls.

"Ah, Winter! Yes, I know she's early. No, now is not really a good time..."

"What is she doing? She's set off every IR monitor in the building, and somebody's broken through Security-"

Winter and Sevarius. And some amount of guards spreading through the lab. Not important.


 

"Running out of time, Frank," Donovan grunted, throttling another guard unconscious.

"I know, I know." Frank waved a few more guards out of the way with his pistol. Not nearly as much security as he'd expected. Whatever distraction Seirian'd come up with, it was a doozy. "That's it, guys. Be smart."

"We must be getting close," Olga noted, cinching down plastic restraints on the latest set of guards.

"Yeah. Seirian, where'd you-"

Thwack!

"Yow!" A hapless black-haired guard stumbled out of a corridor alcove, sub-machine gun clattering from numb fingers.

"Hmph!" Hefting her iron-knobbed walking stick, Seirian prodded the young man forward. "Amateur."

Frank grinned. Some grandmother. "Ever thought about adopting?"


 

"Griffwn beiddgar, fy Dialwres bod." Demona blew gently into the bubbling brew. Gryphon bold, my Avenger be.

Golden balls of light lifted from the brew like so many fireflies, swarming past the shouting guards. A man shrieked as a golden sphere shot through him, clawing at his own skin as he staggered back into shelves of chemicals.

"You fools; you can't let those mix! Get back-"

Flames, licking up toward the ceiling with a black cloud of chemical smoke. But no matter. Her potion was at full, rolling boil. All that remained were the mimics - and the poison.

She opened the jar of mitochondrial mimics, poured in the burbling brew. Violet light blazed, bright as lava. A spell first chanted when the pharaohs cast down Nubia rolled from her throat. "In Sekhmet, dej medew: Neb nid mes-en garugoyrue-"

"There!" An old woman's shout, raging with fury. "Demona, stop!"

"Neb mes keni, kheper neb ka en jet er ib-"

A man's snarl. "Hell with this."

Pain. White fire through her heart. A bullet, Demona realized, feeling Death reach out to claim her. Again.

But there was still enough time. Just enough.

Talons tipped an amber test tube. "Men ta ket imy... en-khet sem..."

Caterwaul of rage. Something dark and cylindrical hurtled through the air, jarring sea snake plasmids from weakening fingers. Bunsen burner, the gargoyle thought crazily. My revenge!

"My samples!" Sevarius lunged toward a teetering box.

Too late.

Glass vials cascaded into the violet brew. Guatemala 27X, one label flashed before Demona's fading gaze.

"Oh, no."

Violet exploded.


 

"Merde..." Dark eyes stared, reflecting the pillar of violet light rising from the north.

Nick felt his heart drop to his boots. The way the top of that pillar was expanding into the clouds- "Below!" he ordered, catching Mendel as Godzilla seized the H.E.A.T. Seeker's hull. "Everyone below, now!"

Mass tangle of bodies; Nick shoved a violet wing out of his face, hearing the heavy clank as Monique bolted the door. He felt water rush past massive scales, felt the hull creak in a taloned grip as Godzilla raced for the open ocean. It couldn't be what it looked like. Please, let it not be what it looked like... Don't look back! he warned his charge. Dive when it comes!

Stubborn refusal. Godzilla would not leave him.

Then take the boat down with you! The hull might not hold. But he'd take that bet, over the shock wave he feared was coming.

"Harbor Authority, come in!" Elsie, on the radio. "This is the H.E.A.T. Seeker. Take cover! Unknown explosion sighted in Manhattan-"

Nick reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out warm gold. The dragon's eyes were ablaze with light. Colorless flames wreathed the brooch, coiling outward to wrap the whole of the hold.

A jolt flung them against the bulkheads; he sensed the desperate push, as Godzilla burrowed deep into harbor water.

No time to warn New York. Maybe not even enough time to save themselves-

The world dissolved in violet flame.