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Sunsets release brought wakefulness with a burgeoning sense of responsibility, wholly different from the small tasks Alban had set himself over the decades. The gargoyles had held themselves apart for millennia. To put themselves forward as theyd done so precipitously the previous evening heralded an involvement with the world theyd never before had. For all that it had seemed right and necessary in the moment, it was only now that the enormity of his decisionand the fact that the others had indeed followed himbegan to sink in.

And yet nothing would convince him that he had chosen badly. Margrits horrifying experience aside, had the gargoyles not arrived when they did, many more of the Old Races might have died. For a people who regarded themselves as observers and recorders, they also had clear strengths as enforcers.

The idea sent a shock of bemusement through Alban. To move so quickly from passive to active participantsespecially in a world as changed as theirs was nowwell, that was what Margrit Knight had made of him, perhaps. It was what she would make of all the Old Races, given the chance. He wondered if that thought might cause her sleepless nights, and then humor caught him: the Old Races themselves gave her enough sleepless nights. Any changes she wrought, and their consequences, would have to haunt her daytime hours.

She was gone, her scent faded enough to say it had been some hours since shed slept in his rarely used cot. Regret slipped through him and fell away again: it was enough to let dawn and stone take him with Margrit at his side. She could and did live in a daylight world; to hope she would be there when he woke was too much. He, after all, would never be there when she woke.

A rap sounded at the door. Alban unfolded from his crouch, wings stretching, then disappearing as he changed to human form before saying, Come in.

For some reason it surprised him when Grace entered. Aside from Margrit, she was the most likely, but Alban had half-consciously expected Tony Pulcella.

Janx isnt understanding Margrits orders to leave this place to me now, Grace said without preamble. And Im talented, love, but I cant shoo a dragon from my doorstep. Maybe a word in his ear?

Doubt made Alban lift an eyebrow. Didnt I watch you face that dragon down only last night?

Youve mistaken me for Margrit, Grace said blithely. Maybe a bit of her spark carried over, thats all. And for all my boldness Im no good pushing him around, much less two of them and that vampire lass. Gives me the creeps, she does.

Ursula? I always thought she was the calmer of the two.

Aye, and its always the quiet ones to watch out for, now, isnt it? You saw what she did. Grace shuddered. Thought youd have taught them better, Stoneheart. Thought youd have taught them the laws that bind you all.

I would not have imagined them to be so careless with our lives, Alban murmured. But theyve lived apart from the Old Races since they were born. How constrained by our laws would you feel if you were they?

Not at all, but then, laws and Grace, weve never been on speaking terms. What will they do to them?

I have no idea, Alban admitted, but change has run rough over our world. Well find room and a way to make it work. After all, its hard to exile a pair whove never belonged, and I doubt their fathers will allow them to feel unwelcome.

Wicked interest glittered in Graces eyes. Fathers, indeed, and how does that work? Which of them was being cuckolded, and which was the cock, do you suppose? Or did they share a woman gracefully, mmm? Dont tell me their fair lady had them fooled. None of you have a weak nose for scent, and not even the nobility scrubbed clean often in that day and age.

Alban rumbled, I would never dream of asking, and Grace laughed aloud, clapping her hands like a pleased child.

No, and of course you wouldnt, solid, stolid, stone thing that you are. Well, and maybe Ill have a chance to ask myself, someday. But go on, Stoneheart. Grace sobered. Rid me of the dragon, will you? Hes only stalling anyway. Your Margrit laid it out for him clear enough, and Ive never seen one such as he tuck tail and turn that readily. What was the task? she asked, curiosity and caution turning her voice sharp. Whatd he set Margrit to do?

I dont know. It seemed Margrit did, but I wasnt privy to whatever favor he asked.

Ah. Curiosity lit Graces eyes before she waved him down the hall. Well, go on, then. Go find out, and then send him packing. The sooner these tunnels are my own again, the happier Ill be.

Amusement washed through him. Where do you come by your command, Grace? Even I find myself inclined to leap before realizing Ive been given an order.

Born to it, love, and youre not meant to notice. Gargoyles, she said with a sniff. You pay too much attention. Ill be glad to have the lot of you gone from my territory, so I will, and yes, that means you, too, Alban Korund. Ive had enough trouble from the Old Races. My kids and I need our peace.

So you havent set your cap for Eldred? Alban asked, still amused, and Grace mimed adjusting one.

Not at all. Theres a fine man out there for Gr'ainne Ui Mh'aille, and Ill capture his heart when the time comes. Now go on, Alban, she said again. Protect me and mine. Thats what youre here for.

Tariq had shown an iota more subtlety than Margrit had expected, and had waited until hed left Rebeccas office on foot before dissipating. Margrit had stared at where hed been, wondering why discretion mattered now, when hed materialized in front of Rebecca, but had restrained from casting the question into the apparently empty hallway. Hed spared her life and given his word against further attempts, but where she would have trusted Janx or even Daisani on that promise, she was reluctant to test the djinn.

When she was certain he was gone, shed turned back to her mothers office, about to enter and offersolace, or penance. In the end, both had seemed somehow arrogant, and shed walked away, then begun to run once shed left the building.

Within minutes shed brought herself to one of the handful of entrances to Graces under-city haunts that shed finally learned in the past few days. That, at least, was one good thing that had come of the exhausting week, though that it qualified as one good thing filled her with rue.

She was more confident of finding her way to the central hub where the trial had been held than Janxs off-the-path lair, but she risked trying to pick her way through the tunnels to the latter. Wisdom dictated otherwise, but Grace had an uncanny knack for finding her when she was lost, and Margrit trusted that even more than she trusted Janxs or Daisanis word. She breathed, Oh, what a tangled web we weave, as she worked her way deeper into the underground system, and was oddly unsurprised when, minutes later, Graces voice echoed the second half of the couplet back at her.

When first we practice to deceive. Where do you think youre going, Margrit? Grace came out of the shadows, ethereal as always. More than usual, even, as slightly detached from the world as shed been when Margrit had first awakened in the docking garage.

Margrit stopped, not quite looking at her and half expecting that shed fade away, nothing more than an illusion. To Janxs place. Or I hoped I was. Its funny. Her voice sounded hollow and light to her own ears.

Getting lost finding the dragonlords chambers is funny?

Do you think I was dead? The question felt like a non sequitur even to Margrit, thoughts and speech not quite in tandem with one another.

Grace, at the corner of Margrits vision, looked startled. Near enough to it, love. Why?

Because youve looked different since I came back. Margrit risked a full-on glance at the blonde, then shuttered her gaze away again, watching Grace all but shimmer in her peripheral vision. Because I keep thinking, only not really thinking, because when I think, it gets cloudy. I just have this idea down in the back of my brain. About how you always turn up places faster than you should be able to. About how sometimes in that fight I was sure Id hit you but it kind of shivered off. About how you got Alban out of those chains, and how you got through my locked front door.

Margrit blinked hard and turned her full attention to Grace. And about why a modern-day folk hero would name herself after a centuries-old pirate and brigand. Youre human, arent you. But youre notalive. And the only reason I can see it is because I died myself.

Its been a long time since anyones seen Grace so clearly. The tall vigilante disappeared from sight as she spoke, not in the coalescing manner that djinn did, but simply gone, blinking out and leaving her voice to linger. It came again from behind Margrit, light and amused and traced with approval. Grace has her secrets. Grace has her ways.

Margrit spun around, heartbeat high with excitement and confusion. What areAre you a ghost? How?

Grace spread long fingers in a move both dismissive and accepting. Cursed, love. Making up for old sins, I told you that once and again. Grace OMalley spilled a fair lot of blood in her day, and some of it should have stayed in the veins it fell from. What will you do, now that you have the truth of me?

Feeling stupid with astonishment, Margrit blurted, Can I help?

Surprise filtered over Graces expression, and her white-blond hair and pale skin lit with a glow, as though a veil had been taken down from Margrits vision. A stronger feeling of foolishness rose in her, tightening her chest: it seemed impossible that the inhuman woman before her ever could have been mistaken for someone ordinary. Not unless you can give me the kiss of angels, Margrit Knight. Ive searched for it for four centuries and found nothing yet, and I think youll take it right if I say I dont think itll be from your lips. The thought is kind, though, and more than I might have expected. What will you do?

Grace has her secrets, Margrit echoed. None of them know?

Theres a reason I wont cross the likes of Janx or Daisani. They know Ive been around a long time, but I mightve drunk of a vampires blood, or I might be born of some illicit union like the one that fathered those two girls. Its better not to ask, sometimes. Its better not to know. And I stay in the shadows most often, doing my work and staying out of their way.

But you havent. Youve been helping and interfering all over the place the last few months.

Grace flashed a smile. Its not often that a gargoyle and a lawyer walk into my tunnels, love. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling, said, That ought to start a joke, then looked back at Margrit, smile fading to something gentle and wry. And I suppose that for all the years, Im still only human at heart. Curiosity gets the best of us every time.

Who cursed you? What happens if you find the kiss of angels? What is the kiss of angels?

A witch, Margrit, and dont say what I see in your eyes. There are gargoyles and ghosts and dragons, my girl, so dont say there are no witches. I dont know, she said easily, for once offering a straight answer. If I knew, maybe Id have found it long ago. And perhaps if I do find it, I leave this world behind. Ive haunted it long enough that I wouldnt mind. What, she asked for the third time, will you do?

The gargoyles are going to want to know how you freed Alban, but until they come asking, Ill Margrit turned her palms up, and with the gesture finally understood the reticence that had stayed Albans tongue, had stayed all the Old Races when shed asked them about their peoples or others. Alban had said more than once that some stories werent his to tell, and for the first time, sympathy and comprehension settled in Margrits bones. Ill keep your secret, Grace, and send them to you for the answers.

Grace bowed her head, the gesture of thanks taking some of the glow away, so that when she looked up again, her brown eyes were little more than ordinary. Margrit could still see a subtle aura of wrongness around Grace, but it was something her eyes could forgive as a trick of the light, if she let them.

A great deal of the world shed been thrust into was a matter of letting, and being, and accepting, all in ways that rubbed uncomfortably against her skin. But the art of compromise was one lawyers were supposed to be good at, and, watching Grace almost fading into the shadows again, the letting it be seemed one Margrit could live with. Can you show me the way to Janxs room before you go?

Pah, Grace said, suddenly cheerful. Ill have to, wont I, or Ill be listening to you crash around in the dark all night. This way, lawyer. Lets go. She tilted her head and struck off down a tunnel, leaving Margrit to catch up.

Familiar voices warned her that theyd found their way, but as she drew breath to thank Grace, the vigilante shrugged and disappeared. Margrits jaw flapped before she pulled it up into a smile and shook her head at the theatrics she was becoming accustomed to.

Janx, somewhere in the near distance, was speaking with his usual insufferable self-satisfaction. Margrits smile turned to a grin as she recognized his tale of the tapestries that softened the walls of his chamber. She wondered what stories had taken father and daughter and sister through the remaining night and all of the day, if he was only just now telling them of the tapestries and the windows that had been made in their likeness.

The last of the arachne made the tapestries, he was saying. The youngest, as it happened. There were only ever three, and fate turned its hand against crone and mother.

There couldnt possibly be only three, Kate said tartly. They mustve had parents.

Janx made a sound remarkably like a snorting dragon, though from the depth and clarity of his voice it was clear he was in his human form. If you know so much, you tell the tale.

Kates muttered, Ow suggested an elbow in the ribs, and Margrits grin broadened.

Janx, satisfied, continued, As it happens, youre presumably correct, and in retrospect, I wonder if they werent chimeras, as well. Ive no idea what race mothered them, if thats the case, but perhaps the crones age was honestly come by.

Harpies, Ursula said distantly. I think if the sisters of fate were born of man and the Old Races, that their mothers must have been harpies. We should ask Alban.

Im beginning to doubt the gargoyle histories are as complete as weve all believed, Janx said. It seems a number of important details have been left out. You, for example.

But you made sure we wouldnt be forgotten, Kate pointed out. Alban kept your secret about our mother, but he knew we existed. If hed died, the memories wouldve gone back into the histories. Wed have never been forgotten the way the selkies let themselves be. Or maybe the way the arachne chose to be.

Silence swept out of the room, tickling Margrit with its depth. Janx and Daisani had perhaps known of Sarahs pregnancy, but not her survival; the secret Alban had kept, as far as theyd known, was that theyd loved a mortal woman, and told her about the Old Races, an exiling offense in and of itself. The half-blood childrenchimeras, Janx had just called themwere a more complex confidence than that.

But the dragonlord let it go, as Margrit imagined he might. Perhaps. But I was trying to tell you about the tapestries, he said petulantly.

Kate put on a patient childs tone: Yes, Father.

Margrit could all but hear Janx twitch. Im not sure I can become accustomed to that name. It sets firesnaps against my skin each time you say it.

Fatherfatherfatherfatherfather, Kate chanted, and Janx laughed over the sound of Ursulas impatient sigh.

What about the windows? Who made the windows?

Janx, with all the nonchalance in the world, said, The newspapers say theyre Tiffany originals.

This is where you get it from, Ursula muttered, and Kates laughter broke, an alto echo of Janxs tenor. You wouldnt have brought them up if they were Tiffany windows, Ursula went on accusingly.

Margrits eyebrows lifted in surprise as Janx made a smug confession: I made them.

Oh, well, all right, he said half a moment later. Not by myself. Tariq and I, actually. And his voice darkened as he mentioned the djinn. Over a century past, now. Desert sand to liquid glass, shaped by wind and dragonfire. Things were different, then.

We remember, Ursula said dryly.

Margrit could imagine Janx refocusing on her, surprise coming into his voice. I suppose you would, although youd remember different things than I.

So would we all. Albans voice broke in, coming from the other direction, beyond the curve Margrit stood behind. She startled, not expecting him, then smiled and leaned against the wall to listen a moment longer. Shed never had a chance to listen to the Old Races talk apparently unobserved, and had gained one insight already: Janx was far more willing to tell secrets to his chimera daughter than to the fully human Margrit. It was a soft disappointment, one she could expect and accept, but it reminded her again that she wasnt truly part of their world. That there might yet be time to escape, if she wished.

Janx, Alban went on in a rumble. Ive been sent to ask why youre not packing your bags.

Because Margrit wouldnt expect me to leave these hallowed halls until she has accomplished the task Ive set her, Janx said easily, then lifted his voice: Would you, my dear?

Guilt spasmed Margrits skin and ended in a sheepish laugh as she crept around the corner to peer into Janxs chambers. The dragonlord was draped across his chaise lounge, indolent and clearly terribly pleased with himself. The twins were curled up in armchairs, both of them peeking back at Margrit as if they were children rather than hundreds of years her elders. Alban stood just within the doorway, wry humor curving his mouth. Im afraid youre less sneaky than you thought.

I wasnt trying to be, Margrit protested. I just stopped to listen. I forgot you could smell me.

And hear your breathing, Kate offered.

And your heartbeat, Ursula finished.

Margrit put a hand over her face. Remind me of my inadequacies, why dont you.

Hardly. Janx unwound from his couch and came to stand before her at his full height, a gambit that would have been more imposing had Alban, slightly taller and considerably broader, not been a few feet away. Margrit crooked a smile at the dragonlord, whose expression was mixed with challenge and curiosity. Have you set the wheels in motion already, my dear? I would so dearly love to admire your alacrity.

Im not here to talk about that.

Janxs lips thinned and he turned to Alban. Shes gotten very bold, hasnt she. I dont think we frighten her anymore.

Ive been dead, Margrit muttered. You cant trump that.

An excellent point. Good humor restored, Janx fluttered an extravagant bow and gestured Margrit toward seating. Alban, looking dour at not having been invited himself, followed, then shot Margrit a sly wink as he took over the lounge Janx had abandoned. Grinning, she settled down against him and deliberately pulled his arm over her shoulder to snuggle comfortably before looking up to see Janxs mercurial features gone duck-lipped with exasperation.

Forgive me, Alban said with enormous innocence. The other chairs are less well suited to my build.

I am losing all control. Janx pulled another chair up to the chess table and flung himself in it with the abandon of a tantrum-throwing two-year-old.

Margrit, unable to stop herself, applauded in the same lazy fashion shed seen him do in the past. Janx, knowing himself out-played, laughed and spread his hands in defeat. Very well. What are you here to discuss, Margrit Knight, if not my oldest rivals downfall?

Alban shifted behind Margrit, the tiny motion somehow conveying dismay. Janxs smile lit up. Oh, you didnt know. Really, Alban, you might have guessed. I could hardly let Detective Pulcella go for anything less. By the end of his speech, his smile had fallen away, leaving reptilian coolness in his jade eyes.

I might have, Alban murmured, and yet I hadnt. Must it go like this, Janx?

It always has. An unexpected flash of injury darkened his gaze. And Eliseo, this time, has taken it upon himself to stand on honor, and not let certain unfortunate events be forgotten.

Thats not his fault. Margrit was surprised to hear her own voice, as though Alban and Janx had been carrying on a conversation and she, like the twins, had been left to listen in silence a long time. OrOh, well, it doesnt matter. Youre going to be furious either way. Might as well leave it alone. She set her teeth together deliberately, trying to stop talking.

Janx, eyebrows elevated as high as they could reach, said, You cant possibly expect me to let that go now, Margrit.

Exasperated with herself, Margrit sighed. No, I cant. The djinn made a deal with Daisani, Janx. I dont know when. After the quorum. It had to be after the quorum, maybe when Malik died. That gave them something in common, she concluded aloud. They both wanted answers so they could exact revenge.

Your point, my dear. Im sure you have one.

Margrit shook off her musings. The point is they were never going to settle for sharing your territory with the selkies. Daisani agreed to support them. Thats the deal that makes him unable to back down over Maliks death. Though Tariqs part in helping Daisanis financial empire crumble would probably provide the vampire with the excuse he needed to renege on that matter. Margrit bit her tongue, not wanting to complicate matters any more than she already had.

Hurt so astonished it hadnt yet become rage filled Janxs voice. Eliseo made a deal with Tariq to gut my empire? Why?

Margrit shook her head. Youd have to

Because it means he wins, Ursula interrupted thoughtfully. Neither of you are kidding yourselves, right? You know youre going to have to leave New York soon anyway, because the modern world will notice you sooner rather than later, after this much time. So if youve both got to go, then what greater win could my father have than to set up your replacement? To fill the vacuum your absence inevitably creates? Thats game, set and match to him, and it leaves you floundering like a fool.

Palpable anger rippled Janxs skin, contorting his features. There is only so much ignominy I will take gracefully, Margrit Knight. There is only so much humiliation I will stand. I have lost my territory to conniving djinn and cowardly selkies. I am sent from my new quarters at the whim of a human. I will not watch Eliseo Daisani gather the spoils and mock me with them before he exits this mortal scene. Tell me you have a plan, Margrit. Tell me you will fulfill my favor.

I can do better than that. Margrit took a deep breath, thinking of her mother working alone in an office building. Ive set it up so you can hand the keys to his kingdom to the selkies.

CHAPTER 32 | Hands of Flame | CHAPTER 34