#118 - "Homecoming."
"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." - John Howard Payne
Ishimura, present day...
"I know I've been frustratingly cryptic, but it's for a purpose. It's just not the right time. It'll come soon, but not now."
"Begging your humble pardon, but how do you know?"
"Sister, let me tell you," Elisa grinned, moving salt and pepper strands from her brow, "time travel's funny that way."
Sora peered at the older woman and took a moment to re-examine the last twenty-four hours. When Elisa Maza suddenly strolled through the presumably empty garden's archway last night, catching Sora and Kai in a less than honorable position, it was the start of a story that any of the clan's historians would sell a kidney to be able to hear. They knew Elisa and Goliath had gone missing, they knew there was a remote chance of them ever returning and when seeing the human casually standing in front of them with a smirk on her face, they couldn't produce a sound resembling intelligible speech. Kai nearly popped his spine out of place as he struggled up while Sora slipped back into her rumpled kimono in record time.
"I'm sorry," Elisa smiled at them, "am I interrupting something?"
It took a moment for her presence to register. "Elisa..." Sora whispered. And it took a few more to realize their friend had aged since last they met, more than just a few years. As Elisa allowed them to regain a little bit of dignity and clean themselves up, she related a strange tale of time travel and then casually asked for a bite to eat.
And now, Sora still felt the flush to her cheeks at being caught like hatchlings with their hands on the rice cakes.
Elisa used her chopsticks to cleanly pick the little rolls from the plate and pop them into her mouth, savoring the fresh sushi. "Damn..." Takashi, Ishimura's chief cook, had outdone himself on the presentation of such a simple meal. "I'll have to compliment the chef when I get a moment."
"He'll appreciate the praise."
"He deserves it." she said earnestly. "I often have to get my sushi from some less than reputable takeout places in between yelling at my detectives."
Elisa held her jaw for a second, and closed her eyes. She swallowed the last bite in her mouth and whispered, "Damn. I have to stop leaking information."
"I can forget if you wish." Sora offered half-heartedly. "But I do not think the world will implode if I know you have been rightfully promoted."
"Just don't spread it around. At least until I send you an e-mail in about a decade."
"Elisa, will we–" She stopped, bit her lip and filled her mouth with a sip of tea.
Sora was frustratingly contrite, like all the Ishimura clan members. "I apologize for my indulgence."
"I think I owe you one," Elisa said between mouthfuls of her salmon-skin sushi, winking, "as long as it stays between us girls."
"I just want to know if...Kai and I..."
"Yes." Elisa nodded pointedly. "You will."
Despite her trying to keep her jaw muscles from involuntarily flexing, Sora couldn't smother the smile.
"Big fella's still virile." Elisa teased, knowing something about large, taciturn leader-types.
"Oh, you don't have to remind me."
"Cheeky little gargoyle..." she replied glibly. Elisa was about to say something else about their respective mates but was interrupted by a quiet warbling coming from her device she'd set on the side of the table. "Excuse me." She powered it up and looked at the screen.
Sora surreptitiously leaned to the side to get a better look, but couldn't decipher the three dimensional symbols her friend was studying.
"Well." Elisa said suddenly, scaring the gargoyle stiff. "I hate to eat and run, but..."
"You obviously have other plans."
She smiled at Sora's quick wit, and was appreciative she was allowing her so much leeway. Not everyone would take her word for it. "Why don't you finish your tea in the main courtyard?" she suggested. "And make sure Kai meets you there."
She raised an inquisitive brow. "Kai?"
Sora's eyes narrowed and she placed her cup back onto the table. "Am I still unable to ask why you want the two of us to share tea in the courtyard?"
"Yes, sorry. That one's off limits."
She nodded, tilting her head to the side. "Your word is enough, Elisa-chan, but I hope I am let in on the secret very soon."
Elisa's mouth flattened. As much as she played casual in the presence of her hosts, she had to admit there was a welling anxiety as the hours counted down. The memory was still fresh and she was about to see it from the outside in. "Oh, trust me, it's coming."
He felt her hand pull away and blindly searched for it with his own, out of fear she might've been just an old man's walking daydream. But her scent still lingered, too strong for her to have simply vanished. "Are you...?"
She could hear the worry in his voice. "I'm still here, Ryuunosuke."
He seemed placated, but judging by his fearful expression it was more relief than anything else. He let a breath loose and dropped his head in embarrassment. "Of course..."
"I'm sorry. I know you don't have much faith in my ability to remain with you."
"I suppose I am fortunate to be able to see you at all."
Demona sighed, "Such is our relationship. Such is my curse."
The old gargoyle lifted his head, as if he could see, pointing those hazy eyes towards his companion. "What kind of curse allows a mother to watch over her son all of his life?"
She'd seen this gargoyle less than a dozen times throughout his long life and was always impressed at such a receptive intelligence; she'd argue genetics, but the Ishimura clan had raised him well despite their stubborn cultural affinity for honor and the human race in general. It was one of the reasons she'd left so long ago, leaving behind so many unanswered questions and an unhatched egg in their rookery.
"You seem introspective." the old gargoyle interrupted her reverie. "You've often said you enjoyed your brief time here, perhaps you are reliving old memories."
She had to admit; even if his eyes had failed him her rookery son's senses were still sharp. She well remembered these lands even after two centuries, the serenity and the calm, but most of all the sense of safety within these walls. She was injured when first arriving here almost two hundred years ago, stumbling upon the long-rumored gargoyle clan in the midst of a human village. She'd meant to isolate herself from the breeding heat she knew would be coming, as she had done every twenty years since the tenth century, until running afoul of farmers who didn't appreciate the slaughter of a few farm animals for food during her seclusion until the heat passed. The Ishimura clan welcomed the lost, wounded gargoyle into their home, nursing her back to health. She was reticent to speak about her past and they didn't pry; the archetype of their over-courteous nature held firm and Demona was glad for it. She didn't feel the need to reveal centuries' worth of isolation and pain and a war waged against humanity. She knew she was under their scrutiny, as unobtrusive as it may have been but the discovery of another gargoyle allowed them to look past her silence, especially knowing there was another healthy female to complement an unmated male for the upcoming breeding season. Several of the warriors had chosen duty above a mate, bushido and fidelity over their own desires as a proper samurai should, but biology had decided otherwise as the breeding heat overtook everyone.
Despite her best intentions, Demona allowed herself the selfish pleasure of giving in after so many years of horrible, excruciating prolonged abstinence. And six months later, once the egg was laid Demona was gone, like a shadow obliterated by the sun. The human presence had ultimately driven her out. This clan's foolish pact with the traitorous little beings was too much to bear.
She'd often regretted not taking the egg with her, but she had to admit it was no safer with her than with this clan.
"It was a mating of...convenience." she said at length. "Nothing more. I simply added to the gene pool."
"Such a cold description of such a wonderful thing." the old gargoyle said warmly.
Demona turned. Like the bark of an old tree, his withered features had molded and spread into a smile. "Of course." It was her way of apologizing.
"Do you regret laying an egg in this clan?"
Never, but it was hard for her to admit that out loud. "I regret not seeing you more often than I should." she offered instead. "I always think I have so much time...it's so easy to forget I stand still while everyone turns to dust."
He rubbed the tips of his fingers across his palm and all the numerous, tiny lines carved in pale flesh. "Dust, yes." he said absently.
"I don't mean to remind you of your mortality, but it is a subject that weighs heavy on my heart."
"But you are quite...long-lived." he fumbled for the proper adjective.
"No, the spell that has kept me alive has been stolen from me." she admitted. "I am mortal."
"Hm." was all he tendered in response.
Demona was expecting something more; perhaps her son would offer some words of wisdom gleaned from a life of educational pursuits, but all he could do was grunt monosyllabically. "I expected more from you."
"I just told you I am despicably mortal and all you say is hm."
"Is being mortal so loathsome?" he asked. "For all the times you've visited me throughout my life, you've seemed so desolate, so weary, as if your very soul was wounded and the march of time only made it worse."
She wondered if he truly could tell a difference in her now and her last visit years ago. "And how do you feel about dying?"
He drew in a long breath and placed both hands on top of his cane. His expression was strangely serene. "I have made peace with the fact I will die. My life has been an extraordinary one, because I knew it would ultimately end one day."
"Do you think I have wasted mine?"
"You still have so much time, rookery mother, to live your life to its fullest–"
"Clichéd tripe." Demona spat.
But her son continued unabated. "True, but it is what you do with that short time that makes you truly immortal."
"Did bushido teach you that?"
"No," his voice was stern, "my clan did. And my mate."
She lowered her head in reverence. "A fine woman, I was sorry to hear of her passing."
He waved off the sympathy; it'd been years now. "We lived a good life together, with no regrets."
"Regrets..." she echoed, voice pensive, shoulders hunched. "I have plenty of regrets, multiple lifetimes' worth."
"Then if you are truly living your last, perhaps now is the time to set things right."
She stood there, mulling that over while her son inwardly celebrated his carefully chosen segue way. But unexpectedly, Demona reached out and grabbed his hand; he was appreciative of the gesture considering she wasn't used to outwardly showing much affection. But it seemed this particular gesture had a purpose beyond providing comfort, especially when she guided his hand to her stomach. "Tell me, child, how do I set this right?"
His brows rose; it was the familiar swell of impending motherhood. "You are...with egg?" he gasped. "But the breeding season..."
"This was an unplanned pregnancy, I assure you."
Ryuunosuke was still stunned. An expectant female outside of the breeding year was unheard of. "But how?"
"Sorcery." she growled under her breath. "Very powerful sorcery."
"I am sorry."
But Demona noticed the hint of a smile on his lips, making the last statement a little less sincere. "You do not look sorry."
Caught, he cleared his throat. His rookery mother was never much for impertinence. "Ah, well...another gargoyle. A cause for celebration, neh?"
"If you only knew the circumstances, child..."
"Are they similar to how I came into the world?" he made the uncomfortable comparison. "Perhaps you could tell me about these circumstances."
"It is a long story." she evaded swiftly.
She was hesitant, he could tell. He could hear the anxious rustle through her wings. More than a century and a half had taught him to tread carefully around a very tightly guarded private life, but Ryuunosuke had little time left. "Mother, please. I think you could at least bequeath me a story as important as this seems to be."
Demona relented with a sigh, "As you wish, child."
Kai was staring at her and Sora found it difficult to enjoy her tea with his eyes affixed to her every move.
Unable to stand it any longer she cleared her throat. "My love, you're staring and it is making me nervous."
He suddenly breathed in through his nose, shook his large head and rapped his knuckles on the aged wood of the table. "I am sorry, but I must admit I am...apprehensive."
Nimbly placing her cup back to the dead center of the saucer like a swordsman would sheathe his katana, Sora lifted her eyes to her mate. "Do you believe she would allow any harm to come to us?"
"If it were to fulfill some kind of prophecy...perhaps she has no choice but to let events unfold."
Sora didn't find that thought pleasant; Elisa was as honorable a human she had ever met. But she found herself unable to argue Kai's point.
"Elisa has come back through time to here," Kai mused aloud, "to this specific point and place. What is so distinctive about here and now?"
"We have to trust her." she offered simply.
Something rumbled through his throat and he leaned forward on his elbows, lacing his fingers. The tea his mate had lovingly brewed and poured for him was left untouched and slowly cooling. "It is not a question of trust, aisai, it is the mystery of it all...and the waiting."
"Is a virtue." he stepped on what he knew was going to be an admonishment. "Yes, I know. You do not need to quote the tenants of bushido to me, my love."
She winked at him over the rim of her cup.
Light reflected from her dark eyes and, as always, the world vanishing around him under the spell of his mate's alluring gaze, Kai thought how lovely she looked in the soft lamplight, until that light intensified and filled her gaze, spilling onto her pale mauve skin. They both turned to the source of the light; in the dead center of the courtyard a fire had appeared from thin air and it was spreading, surging almost, like a beating heart.
"Sora..." Kai implored, hoping she had a little more information about what was happening than he did.
But Sora had stood up, enthralled with the spectacle, so much so her cup hung off a single talon, the rest of her tea having emptied on the ground.
Before they could react beyond wide eyes and slack jaws the ball of fire erupted into a writhing, churning squall, causing a shockwave of hot wind to spread out in a concentric circle before revealing the source of the explosion as a small talisman hovering above the ground. The Ishimura clan knew that little gold and turquoise bauble intimately, its reputation one of that of a malicious thief. It didn't take long for the spectacle to fill most of the courtyard before shrinking and opening its center to prying eyes. Sucked into the ground as if they were alive, the flames peeled away to reveal someone in the middle of the squall.
The gate itself was shuddering and vibrating so intensely it was creating an audible hum. It shot back and forth erratically, bouncing off the ground and shooting up into the air as it sucked all the fire and power and light back into its gilded frame. As soon as it was sated, the phoenix gate was thrown across the courtyard, sliding across the ground before coming to rest. It released a thin plume of black smoke into the night sky and remained silent and still. Of those who managed to tear their eyes away from the spectacle in the middle of the courtyard to follow the gate's volatile path, no one dared approach it.
When the strange fire completely disappeared, leaving nothing else but a ring of blackened dirt, every Ishimuran gargoyle that'd watched their home erupt in something akin to a nuclear bomb thought they might find a badly burned corpse. As the figure was completely exposed, no one ever thought it would get up on all fours.
Leaning back on her knees, Elisa, the young Elisa, clutched her jutting stomach, lifted her head to the sky and screamed absolute bloody murder. It was a scream of terror, of pain, and it was so loud it filled the entire courtyard, obliterating any other sound.
Sora dropped the cup and let it shatter as she bolted for her friend. "Elisa!"
"Get the healers!" Kai nearly upended the entire table as he jumped to his feet and followed his mate. "ALL OF THEM!"
It was Sora who'd reach Elisa first, allowing the woman to collapse in her arms. Tears were streaming down her face; for as long as she'd known this human, Sora had never seen her in such horrific distress.
"The baby...! The baby!" Elisa wailed.
Sora looked down towards Elisa's legs underneath the baby bump, seeing the material of her maternity jeans soaked in fluid. Her water had broken, but the flow was too heavy and the wrong color. Sora wasn't an expert on human pregnancy but she knew blood when she saw it. There was enough to seep through the denim and drip onto the ground underneath her; the acrid smell was overpowering. "Oh..." her voice stuttered. "Oh no..." She turned with wide eyes to Kai. "Something is very wrong."
He could see the human woman clutching at her stomach, the blood spreading through her clothes. "We need to move her inside, now!"
Ryuunosuke sighed, digesting his mother's story. He'd found the nearest curved-wood bench to make himself comfortable for Demona's tale of the last few months, the last few years, the last few decades and now, wide-eyed, was glad he was sitting down.
Demona was perched alongside him, wondering what his first response would be.
"Hm." he said, nodding his head.
That wasn't what she expected. "Again, you simply grunt. I wish you'd offer me something more than that."
"My apologies. It is just a lot to take in."
"Imagine living it." Demona said.
More nodding; Ryuunosuke clutched the top of his cane and heaved himself up to a standing position. "I can only offer you a single piece of advice, mother, do not waste this opportunity. Do not turn your back on your clan. And do not see this hatchling as a burden, but as a gift."
She knew he was going to say something like that; probably every gargoyle she'd speak to would say something like that and her son was no different. But his opinion mattered more than most. "You have no idea how much I want to see this hatchling survive, but the circumstances to its presence force me to feel otherwise."
"Damn the circumstances!" he barked suddenly, wings once perched across sloping shoulders inflating with his frustration. "This is a gargoyle! Are you that arrogant that you would not carry this egg to term?"
Demona was both surprised and impressed. "I've never heard you yell." she said. "And it is not arrogance, child, but a violation of my body and soul."
"A poor excuse. One you cling to in order to convince yourself of your false belief."
The dulled frustration had become stabbing anger, her son's words digging deep. "You know nothing of my pain!" Demona snarled.
But Ryuunosuke stood his ground without an ounce of fear. "We all carry our share of pain, but I would never run away from it like you are doing now."
They stared at one another for a moment before Demona turned her head away. "Perhaps..." she whispered. "Perhaps I shouldn't have come..."
His mouth fell open and his brows squared off.
Demona started backpedaling. "I have to go."
She looked up; he had his hand out, as if he was blindly searching for hers.
"I may not see you again." he said at length, knowing he was seconds away from being unable to stop her as she took to the air. "I...do not have much time left. If we are to be parted, do you truly want this argument to be our last words to each other?"
The inevitability in his withered tone was heartbreaking and it served to make her think twice about flying away. But she'd become sick of being haunted by ghosts, even now that she'd regained her sanity and her rookery son was a constant reminder of a life that seemed so far away. So much like Angela. "I...I so wish I could stay...but I am so tired."
"And you do not want your past continuously staring you in the face," he finished for her, "I understand."
Demona was struck by the similarity between her only two offspring, their shared sense of insight eerie. "You are one of few good things in my life, Ryuunosuke." she revealed. "And the fact one day you will be gone, that everything may be gone, including myself..."
She turned, readying her wings to catch the warm breeze she felt along the sensitive membranes. "I don't think it is possible, or appropriate."
"Maybe you should stay."
Both gargoyles reacted to the new voice, seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. It was hard to pinpoint the source but Demona darted her dark eyes around to try.
"Mother," her son said, "I don't believe we're alone."
"No we are not." Fearful she overstayed her welcome and was caught by one of the Ishimura clan, Demona's first instinct was to jump into the shadows to hide. But being upwind and catching the scent of the intruder on their conversation, she reacted with a sudden change in expression. That scent, that scent. Demona knew it intimately. "Of all the people to find me here..." it slid across the tongue, a little more callous than intended.
"You know this person?"
Demona slowly turned around to find a human woman down the path a ways, staring at her. That black hair swooped over her shoulders, that same cocky smile; all she was missing was the red jacket. She started walking towards the pair, lifting the hem of her borrowed kimono to better walk at a brisk pace. As the woman approached, Demona's practiced sneer faded to surprise; the human was older that she'd ever seen her. "Timedancer."
"Ha." Elisa couldn't help blurt out. It was the last thing she thought she'd hear from Demona. "Not quite. I didn't spend forty years swimming through the timestream like Brooklyn and Katana."
But Demona's black eyes were unwavering. "I don't know if you've noticed, detective, but you look a couple of decades older." And the human's aged incredibly well, she was loathe to admit. There was barely a crease in that paper-thin flesh.
"Because, Demona, I've come back in time."
The silver hairs were a dead giveaway. "For what purpose?"
"Something's about to happen," Elisa explained cryptically, "and I have to make sure it happens the way it's supposed to happen."
The sneer she elicited from the gargoyle was worth it, but Demona wasn't impressed. It seems how many years had passed for the woman it did nothing to curb that annoying sense of humor. "You enjoy being exasperating, don't you?"
"If you count being hard to kill exasperating, then yes."
"Why are you here? Now?"
Elisa rolled her head to the side and got a good look at the gargoyle now that she was within arm's length, especially the swollen stomach. "Following my instructions."
She growled in response.
"Mother," Ryuunosuke cut in, "who may I ask is your friend?"
"We are not friends." Demona corrected him. "At best we are associates."
"My name is Elisa Maza, Ryuunosuke-san." Elisa introduced herself to the older gargoyle and bowed, even though she knew he couldn't see it.
"How do you–"
"You'd be surprised what I've learned in twenty years, Demona. But I don't have time to reminisce."
"Then why are you–"
Again, Elisa cut her off at the throat. "Hold on..." She held up a hand and checked a small device pulled from the folds of her kimono. It burbled and chittered at her. "Almost there...a couple more seconds..."
Demona was about to scream something unrepeatable to children before her skin prickled and she suddenly lost the nerve. Something was near, something so powerful it strummed the molecules in the still night air like the strings on a guitar. And she was sure the sudden, inexplicable appearance of a future version of Elisa Maza wasn't a mere coincidence.
"You feel it, don't you?" Elisa smiled. "You've always had an affinity for magic, especially the powerful stuff."
The anger had mostly melted away, transmuting to concern. "What is happening?"
Light suddenly spilled out from Ishimura's main courtyard, through any entrance or window, reaching into the sky with its dancing, orange brilliance.
"What...?" Demona whispered, entranced by the familiar light.
Ryuunosuke didn't need functioning eyes to notice his mother's change in demeanor. "What is happening? What is–" He caught something on the air, the scent of fire. And the odd taste of burning metal, so sharp on his tongue. "Something is burning." he said fearfully.
"The courtyard is on fire." Demona tried to explain, but Elisa disputed it.
"No, it's not." she said, offering a soothing hand to the old gargoyle's shoulder.
"Are you blind?"
"Demona," Elisa turned with a sharp gaze, "that light is from something else, something very dangerous."
"And did you travel back in time to tell me that?" Demona spat back. She didn't like this woman talking down to her.
"Actually, yes." Elisa brightened. "In a sort."
A snarl was sent her way.
"Perhaps," Ryuunosuke interjected, before his mother took a swipe at the human, "you could explain, young one."
"Then I'll need to borrow your mother for a sec." Elisa begged Demona to follow with a curling finger. "Come with me, Demona."
Demona looked to her son and somehow he knew she was hesitating out of concern for his less than speedy gait.
"Go." he said promptly. "I will be all right."
She wavered before ultimately going after Elisa, who'd already started down the path. By the time she caught up to the aged detective, Elisa was standing by one of the entrances to the main courtyard. She and Demona both peeked around the arch, witness to the chaos causing the unearthly glow. They watched as the present-day Elisa appeared in the middle of the flames and they watched as she grabbed her visibly pregnant stomach and screamed in pain. Then all hell broke loose as the Ishimuran clan started bouncing off the walls, people rushing to Elisa's side, Kai yelling orders, some running off to find the healers.
She'd never heard this human scream like that before; it was surprisingly chilling. "It's you." Demona said quietly.
"Yup," Elisa nodded, transfixed by the scene unfolding in front of her, "nine months pregnant and in the worst pain of my life."
"What is happening?"
"The magic in your defective Phoenix gate is killing her and the baby."
Demona was stunned. The memories were vague and scattered before she went back in time to tenth century Wyvern and killed her past self, but she remembered vividly the process of crafting a new phoenix gate. Apparently her work was a little less than stellar.
"The original phoenix was bound to the gate by very powerful magic." Elisa explained. "You used the ashes of the original to create a new one, but it didn't quite take. The phoenix is now free..." She'd trailed off, staring at the commotion. It was odd seeing it from this point of view. It'd been twenty years but the memory came screaming back; Elisa could feel the phantom pain center in her stomach. "She's dying, Demona. Right in front of us."
"And is this why you've come back in time? To save her?"
"No. I'm not doing a damned thing."
Demona turned, sending a few red tendrils flying around the tiara. "Why?"
Her gaze narrowed at Elisa's pointed refusal and she returned her attention to the courtyard in time to see Kai scoop the woman off the ground, wrap her in a sheet and carry her into the temple.
The younger Elisa was taken to the temple's small infirmary and placed on an examination table; she never stopped screaming the entire way there. As Kai peeled off the sheet, he noticed how much blood had stained the material and shuddered.
The clan's primary healer had been waiting for them, called to the infirmary amidst the chaos of the phoenix gate suddenly appearing in the courtyard. An older tangerine-skinned female with slender, rising spurs approached the examination table and placed a strong hand over Elisa's forehead. The human was thrashing about on the table, as if someone was actively stabbing her in the stomach with a knife. And the amount of blood she'd already lost was alarming. "It is all right, Elisa," she whispered soothingly.
"Where are they?!" Elisa's first words at the new gargoyle were a terrified shriek.
"Goliath...and Trinity! Where are they?!"
Sora appeared on Elisa's other side, grasping her hand. "We don't know, Elisa." she admitted. "They did not arrive with you."
Every muscle in her jaw contorted from the pain, Elisa yelled through clenched teeth, "You have to find them! Please..."
As far as she understood the power of the phoenix gate, they could be anywhere. What she said next was an attempt to be as reassuring as possible, but Sora didn't believe her own words. "We will, we will do our best."
"Sora-chan, please help me remove her clothing." Kaede said sternly.
Sora nodded and helped Elisa strip, taking her jacket, shirt and the bloodied maternity pants.
"We'll need to prepare her a gown."
"Kaede, she obviously needs medication for the pain."
By the hesitation, the healer didn't agree, despite her patient's tortured spasms. "I am not sure of her medical history, Sora, and I do not want to guess, especially with the special nature of her pregnancy."
"...no..." Elisa managed through the pain. "Dr. Pierce was always hesitant to use drugs...with my first pregnancy..."
"But you are suffering, Elisa." Sora leaned in and whispered.
"...I won't risk the baby...not for anything..."
"Then we will use natural remedies to help you." Kaede offered. "Sora, please get the wheat bag and warm it in the microwave. The proper applications of heat and massage will lessen the pain."
But as Kaede looked over her patient her expression congealed. Her experience with humans was limited to a handful of bushido students who'd either sprained an ankle or broken a bone after a particularly bad fall. All she could do was compare her extensive knowledge of her own kind to this suffering female, starting with a rudimentary gynecological exam. Elisa wasn't dilating and was still bleeding profusely; by this time in the pregnancy she should be at least a few centimeters. She could feel the child under the taught skin, writhing under her hand.
Kai noticed the elder make faces as she prodded her patient, a telling sign she didn't like what she was seeing. "Kaede..."
The healer looked up and then shuffled towards him, allowing Sora to place the warmed wheat bag under Elisa's back. "She continues to bleed, Kai," Kaede said softly, "I think there is damage to her womb. She has barely begun to dilate, but I do not know enough about humans and their pregnancies to know if this is normal."
"We cannot just let her die." he implored.
"We may have no choice."
Kai sighed heavily, "Contact doctor Shinohara at the village hospital. Tell her we need her now."
Kaede nodded, oddly reserved, and quickly left the room.
Looking at the woman suffering on the hospital bed, Kai scowled. So intent he didn't notice Sora sidle up alongside of him until she wrapped herself around his forearm.
"I will not let her die." she whispered.
"We have not given up hope yet, my love."
Her expression blanched, it suddenly brightened at a particular thought. "Kai, we should speak with Elisa's older self. Surely this is why she is here."
He was already nodding in agreement. "Yes but if she were able to help, I believe she would be here by now."
"Then why is she here at all?"
"I do not know..."
Still at the entrance to the courtyard, Elisa leaned against the wall as if she was waiting for something else to explode. But Kai had ordered the courtyard emptied to reduce the risk of anyone else being snatched away, thus she was watching over an empty yard much to Demona's annoyance.
She was becoming irritated, her tail lashing behind her. She'd no idea why the detective had made her wait here without any kind of explanation and her patience was wearing dangerously thin. "Why are we not inside with your past self?"
"Because there's something you need to see first."
"Shh." Elisa pointed to the other side of the courtyard, where a door slid open and three gargoyles took a few tentative steps outside. "Look."
The clan's second in command Riko led the trio, with young, pale-skinned Sakura and the burly Takashi following behind. They were intent on their task but wary of their surroundings, as if they were expecting something to jump out of the shadows and attack them. Making a beeline for a far corner, they found the phoenix gate still in the exact same place where it'd landed.
Sakura looked at the gate with a mix of disdain and fear. Entire legends had sprung up around the phoenix gate, permeating the clan's history as stories told to hatchlings disguised as warnings not to touch anything strange they might get their little hands on. And Sakura had carried that story into adulthood. "We do not know enough about this...thing." she hissed. "We should leave it."
But Riko was adamant, taking a few deliberate steps forward. "Hundreds of years ago the gate stole our ancestress from her home. If we leave it, it could take Elisa again along with any member of this clan as it sees fit."
"And who will volunteer to dispose of it?"
"If it protects any of our clan, I will."
"Riko–" she tried but was immediately shot down.
The younger female bristled. "I am not a hatchling, and you are not expendable."
The Second continued slowly towards the gate, seemingly powerless and deceptively unimpressive. "The yokai will not harm anyone else."
"Riko." Takashi bellowed, halting his Second in her tracks. He'd been silent until now. "What if the gate is needed to find Goliath-sama?"
She turned and looked over her shoulder. The determination etched in stone features softened. "I cannot risk any of our clan." she decided.
"So one must be sacrificed to save the many. I do not think Elisa would understand that."
Takashi had always been the quiet one, usually content to spend his time in the kitchen, and when he did choose to voice his opinion his words often carried a gravitas unlike any other. But Riko was stubbornly intent. "Then I will take it far away. Far from where anyone else could ever find it." But as she reached for the gate, she noticed her hand was trembling and cursed herself for allowing that ingrained fear to affect her so much. Talon-tips less than a few inches away, whatever plan she had to conceal the gate was obliterated when she took an explosion to the face.
The gate flared up and engulfed Riko; she was knocked back and sent into a roll across the ground.
The fire rose up and coalesced into a familiar shape of a massive bird. The phoenix extended its wings, every individual feather a churning, orange spear of light. Its head thrashed around, deafening screams vomited from its great beak. It was angry and screaming at anyone underneath, so loud the ground shivered.
The small group of gargoyles staggered back, Sakura so engrossed she tripped over her own tail and ended up on her backside.
"Oh boy," Elisa whispered from where she was watching, "that thing looks pissed."
But Demona didn't appreciate the humor. She was watching as her creation threw a tantrum and screamed at the world around it.
Light was welling up at the center of its breast, the ground underneath steaming from the intense heat. It had expanded, filling the entire sky and raising the ambient temperature to the point of boiling. The gargoyles below did their best to scramble away to keep from getting scorched. The phoenix screeched and turned white hot, releasing a burst of light that nearly blinded anyone that happened to be looking in the wrong direction.
When the light died away, as the clan members blinked away the spots, they found the courtyard empty and the great bird gone. Though a few tables and chairs and small statues were upended, everything was as it seemed before the gate exploded.
"It's gone..." Sakura breathed.
Riko got up and cradled her burned hand, blackened to the forearm. "Good riddance." she grimaced.
"But what of Elisa's mate?" Takashi minded. "And her hatchling?"
"I..." she stumbled, but knew there was nothing she could do but take care of her own. "We need to make sure it did not take anyone with it. I want every clan member accounted for before sunrise."
"Did it take anyone else?"
Elisa had already turned away from the courtyard, casually smoothing the wrinkles in her kimono. "No. It's flown off somewhere, trying to find what it's been searching for from the beginning."
Demona was genuinely curious. "And what is that?"
But there wasn't an answer to her question, as Elisa started walking away.
Demona, incensed and clenching her fists at her sides, had no choice but to follow.
New York, Eyrie building
He figured he'd got three hours of sleep in the last twenty-four; the couch in his office was comfortable enough but his mind kept spinning when all he wanted was to close his eyes and let the world fade away for a while. Jason rubbed his eyes and returned them to the pair of television screens he'd had on for days now. The news reports were recycling the same thing, antsy journalists surrounding police headquarters and constant speculation between insipid anchors and so-called experts about the attack, the arrests, the upcoming trial and of course, the gargoyles themselves. There was a palpable tension in the city but at least it afforded him a break.
At least until the phone rang.
Jason had to force a smile at the timing but was surprised at the location of the incoming call. It was a number reserved for the allied clans, a special emergency line that would instantly connect one clan to the other. He'd already spoken with Ares of the Ottawa clan and figured the others had been watching the news reports flooding out of the states and had a few concerns. He picked up the receiver and answered, "Jason Canmore."
The voice was distinctive. "Kai. I'm not surprised. I have t' assume you've been keeping up with current events."
"Yes, we have." he answered composedly. "Is Goliath's clan still under arrest?"
"Half th' clan is still in police custody, and hopefully they'll be released due t' lack of evidence and a deal cut by an FBI agent. But that doesn't mean th' prosecution for this trial isn't digging deep into everyone's personal lives."
He sighed, "This kind of exposure was...inevitable, I suppose. I just hope everything can be resolved peacefully."
"You and me both." Jason was acutely aware of the impatient tone; from what little he dealt with the Japanese leader, he was always perfectly measured, in speech and composure. "Is this th' only reason you've contacted us?"
A pause followed, as if the gargoyle was hesitating. "We had someone appear in our courtyard less than an hour ago." he said, deciding on the direct approach. "It is Elisa."
His throat dropped into his stomach. "Good god..."
As Jason regained his bearings, Kai continued, "She arrived in a ball of fire."
"Th' phoenix gate..." Canmore mused aloud.
"How long has she been gone?"
In any other circumstance the question would've sounded strange. "I do not think long, but she immediately went into labor."
Jason did some quick math in his head, gears grinding enough to cause a migraine. From the timeline they were able to put together, if Elisa was about to give birth to her second child, she was only gone seven months; a far cry from Brooklyn's four decades.
"Canmore-san, there is something very wrong. She is bleeding and in great pain."
He half remembered a warning from Katana after Goliath and Elisa first vanished and how she suffered through a difficult pregnancy with the twins. Nashville and Tachi were close to death after their hatching and suffered for years afterwards from the effects the phoenix gate had on their physiology. "Can ye help her?"
"Our healers are tending to her but I do not think they can help. We've called for a doctor from the village. Hopefully she may know more."
"Do yuir best, Kai. I'm sending help right away. What about Goliath? Is he there?"
Another pause. "He and Trinity...are not here. I have several of our clan searching the surrounding lands and they will continue to do so until sunrise, but..."
But they could be anywhere, Jason thought to himself. "I understand, Kai. Thank you. If anything changes with Elisa's condition, please call me immediately."
"Of course. Please be assured we will do anything in our power to help her in the meantime."
"I know." Jason hung up the phone and was instantly struck by the stillness of his office. An anxious energy translating into knuckles rapping on the surface of his desk, the celebration of Elisa's return was met with silence; he had no one to tell. There was no one to cheer with, to hug, to laugh at something finally going right. The clan was in stone sleep, Todd and Macbeth had gone to the hospital and Xanatos had sequestered himself in his office as was the custom the last few months, but he figured his first phone call should be to the man who knew more about interspecies pregnancies than anyone else on the planet.
Wherever the sound was coming from, it was buried in unfiled paperwork.
Pierce's head rolled around on his desk, sticking to some of those same papers as he slowly roused and reality congealed around him, the bright light of morning bringing everything into painful, white-hot focus. "...what...?"
The phone kept ringing.
He lifted up and searched the mess in front of him, using his hand to dig through the pile until uncovering the phone. There was a red light blinking near Jason Canmore's private line. "Hullo...?"
The doctor reacted to the sharp voice. He grimaced and tried to concentrate. "Ah...yeah..."
"Are ye awake?"
"I don't have time for banter, Pierce, Elisa's in Japan and from what they describe, she and her baby could be in serious distress."
"She's in labor and bleeding heavily."
If there was anything beyond a strong cup of coffee to get the blood flowing, it was the sudden revelation of Elisa's return and suffering. Pierce shot up, eyes wide. "Details, now." he demanded. "How much blood? What's her blood pressure? Glucose level?"
"I don't know." Jason put a stop to the questions going off like a string of firecrackers. "This may be beyond their clan's abilities to diagnose."
Pierce leaned back in his chair, looking through the door into the main infirmary and seeing the frozen stone statues of the clan surrounding Broadway's hospital bed. "And what are you planning to do?"
"I've already got our fastest plane being prepped. I suggest ye pack whatever ye need t' help Elisa."
He was already nodding and preparing a mental list. "I'll get Trishia on the line. I'll need her help."
"Tell her t' be quick."
She'd been on autopilot so long that when the end of the knitting needle almost pierced the skin of her palm Diane suddenly snapped back to reality and realized how long it'd been since she started. It was already late afternoon. Putting her hand to her mouth, she watched as Peter silently prepared dinner in the kitchen. She could see a few pots steaming on the stove and knew, just like her, he was trying to busy himself to get his mind off the fact they'd been put under the microscope.
It'd taken her a while to finally feel relaxed in her own home, but she'd kept the blinds drawn; for some reason she felt like she was being watched. She'd already lived in fear once in her lifetime and didn't appreciate experiencing that feeling again. Every car Diane heard outside she couldn't help stop whatever she was doing until it passed the house.
She lifted out of her chair and wandered into the kitchen, watching her husband bound back and forth between all the pots and pans he had going at once. "Are you expecting anyone else tonight?"
Peter stopped and took a moment to actually see how much food he was preparing. "Well," he admitted, "at least we'll have plenty of leftovers."
Forcing a thin smile, Diane shrugged. "I guess we're both preoccupied."
"Yeah." He noticed the pot of potatoes about to boil over so he grabbed a spoon and stirred the water until the froth settled. "I just hate waiting. I hate wondering who'll knock on our door next and what else we'll be forced to lie about."
"We both know the reason behind it."
He nodded, engrossed in his cooking. "Ends justify the means, I know."
"You know, we should get Derek and Maggie over here." she suggested, spirits lifting at the mere mention. "We've definitely got enough food and I think they deserve a break, from both the shelter and the baby."
"Sounds good, give them a call will you?"
"Maybe we should call Beth too..."
The smile abruptly dropped and he looked at his wife. "We both know what she'll say."
"She's a stubborn girl, but if we offer her an olive branch..." Diane was hopeful.
Peter started nodding again. "Call her. Tell her to come for dinner. Tell her I'm making my world famous succotash."
She swung around the corner and plucked the phone from the cradle. But before she could dial, it started ringing.
"Did you change the ringer?" Peter asked.
"That's not this phone." The ring was unfamiliar. It wasn't until a few more quiet burbles that Diane remembered the ringtone she'd chosen for the Xanatos Enterprises issued cellphone. She hurried out of the kitchen, into the living room and grabbed the little phone from where she'd left it. The caller I.D. was blanked out, but there were only a few people who knew she even had this phone let alone knew the number. "Hello?"
"Jason?" Diane was surprised he'd risk phoning her, considering a couple of big suits had pounded on her door just half a day earlier. "I appreciate your warning earlier, but I don't think we should risk talking to each other right now."
"I know, but I just received a call from Japan." he explained and couldn't help but pause before dropping the bombshell. "Elisa is there."
Her heart jumped. "What?"
Seeing her reaction, Peter turned down the burners, left the cooking behind and walked out of the kitchen towards his wife. It looked like her legs were about to give out on her.
Her eyes went up to her husband, glistening and haunted. "Is she all right? How..." Suddenly, she thought of Brooklyn and his forty years of timedancing. Her daughter could be older than she was. "H-how long has she been gone...?"
"I don't know, but Kai didn't describe an old woman."
"Thank god for small miracles..." she whispered, putting a hand over her heart.
"Diane, she's gone into labor," Jason continued, heaping on the bad news, "but there's something very wrong."
"What?! What is it, what's wrong?!"
"We don't know, but it might have something t' do with th' phoenix gate. The Ishimura clan doesn't know what's wrong with her but she's in a lot of pain...and there's a lot of bleeding."
Diane put a hand to her mouth to smother the choked sob. "Oh god..."
"Diane..." Peter whispered. "What is it?"
"E-Elisa...Elisa's in Japan." she told her husband, who reacted just as she did, like a punch to the gut. She refocused back on the little phone pressed against her ear. "What are you planning to do to help our daughter, Mr. Canmore?"
"A high-speed jet is being scrambled as we speak with Dr. Pierce readying t' board. I thought...I thought you'd want t' be on it."
There was only one answer Diane Maza would ever give. If asked to crawl across broken glass for one of her children she wouldn't hesitate in the slightest. "Of course we'll be there."
"I need you t' be sure, Diane."
"It's Elisa." she hissed into the receiver.
And there was a pause on the other end. Jason was sure she thought, because of the rift with her daughter, he was questioning her love for her oldest child. "I know, but we're under th' scrutiny of th' FBI."
Diane looked at Peter. Through the sliver of the hanging curtains, any of those parked cars along the length of the street could be watching their bungalow right now, but she couldn't tell if that was just a lingering sense of paranoia she'd lived with ever since Elisa brought a gargoyle home for dinner.
"You could be under surveillance right now." Jason voiced that very concern. "And if yui're going t' be part of an official investigation, it may not look too good t' suddenly disappear right after being questioned."
"I know, but I will not live in fear in my own home, especially when my daughter is in trouble."
"So yuir decision's already made."
Before Diane could throw her husband into the family jalopy, Jason had a laundry list of specific instructions. "Listen t' me." he said firmly. "Don't pack any bags, don't rush, don't speed, just act as if yui're going t' th' market. And don't go directly t' th' Eyrie. I'll have a car waiting on th' third floor of th' parking garage near th' old west entrance t' th' Labyrinth. It'll take you th' rest of th' way."
"We'll be there. We're leaving right away." She snapped the little phone shut and almost steamrolled through Peter before he physically restrained her to get some information.
"Diane...?" he asked imploringly. There were a few details severely lacking.
"There's a plane waiting," she explained curtly, "and we're going to be on it."
Peter Maza didn't argue. He turned the stove off, got his keys, wallet and jacket and within five minutes he and his wife were out the door.
Everything afterward went at warp speed as Canmore put together a rescue operation with a timeline like a noose around his neck; if he wasn't fast enough Elisa could die.
By the time the Mazas arrived at the Eyrie, Jason was already helping coordinate the massive amount of equipment being loaded into the plane, with doctor Pierce and his sometime assistant doctor Weathers doing the brunt of the lifting up and down the plane's stairs. There was urgency in their work, which led to a small amount of bickering between the two doctors as they argued over what apparatus was needed most and tried to avoid the other on the narrow stairway.
Even over the hum of the jet's engines, Diane Maza's voice filled the hangar. Jason turned a single wheel to whirl around and smiled at the sight. The entire Maza family was roaring towards him, Diane, Peter, Beth, Derek and Maggie, with baby April perched into the crook of her arm. "Diane."
"Is the plane ready?"
"Almost, th' doctors are loading it with every piece of equipment they can think of." Turning back to the group in front of him, he was struck for a moment by the fact they were all together in a single room. "I'm glad t' see th' Maza family as one cohesive whole."
If he only knew; there was still some animosity between family members but at least they all had something to concentrate on rather than resume an old and painful argument. "We're not whole yet." she said purposely.
Derek charged forward and stopped short near Jason's wheelchair. Though human, he was still an intimidating sight with the familiar Maza scowl. "Is there any more information on my sister?"
"Still th' same."
"And Goliath, and Trinity?"
He shook his head. Diane reacted mutely, closing her eyes and trying not to imagine the worst places in the world where a toddler could appear by herself.
"How many people know Elisa's back?" Beth asked, purposely holding herself apart from her parents, a gesture that didn't go unnoticed.
"I've contacted Maria and Iliana at th' twenty-third," Jason replied quickly, hoping to calm the crowd that had formed a semi-circle around him, "but Macbeth and Mr. Hawkins are at th' hospital and th' clan's frozen in stone."
"Maybe it's best we limit the number of people we tell." Peter suggested.
"I agree. Now, th' plane's almost ready t' go. Are ye sure ye want t' do this?"
"We wouldn't be here if we weren't sure."
"I understand, but yui're all persons of interest, especially if secrets are being leaked about Elisa and her personal life." He set his jaw, washing his eyes amongst the gathered Maza family. Their determination to go flying to Elisa's rescue without considering all the tiny details might hang the lot of them. "I know for a fact that all of ye have had FBI agents showing up at yuir respective doors."
Derek and Maggie shared a glance; a couple of agents had shown up at the shelter they were running early this morning, trying to look exceptionally imposing and asking uncomfortable questions.
"It doesn't matter," Peter decided to speak for his family, "if Elisa is out there somewhere and in danger, we're going."
They nodded and Jason decided not to press the issue; the innate Maza stubbornness was at full force. "This is our fastest jet." he cocked his head to the vehicle behind him. "It should make th' trip in a little over 6 hours."
But one of the most sophisticated corporate jets with three of the fastest, most powerful jet engines on the planet wasn't good enough. "Isn't there anyone in the castle that can't just wiggle their nose and zap us there?" Beth said impatiently.
This was the second time someone in the clan had wanted Alexander Xanatos to become suddenly proficient with a teleportation spell. "Not if ye want t' end up getting turned inside out." he said grimly. "I can't make Alexander do something he's not ready for. His magic is raw and undefined, especially without Puck t' properly guide him. Right now, we're going t' rely on proven technology."
"Then when can we leave?"
"As soon as ye board."
Halfway across the world the rising sun streaked across the tree-tops; the clan had taken their positions when they felt that split second warmth before darkness entombed them.
Ishimura had become a place of sun and shadows, and the humans went about their work raking the ground and smothering the flames in the lamps. A class of martial arts students gathered in the courtyard under the watchful eye of the sleeping clan; their teacher bowed and they started their practice.
The older Elisa turned and watched as Demona completed her transformation to human and stretched to stifle the pain of her sore muscles. The pregnant stomach looked more pronounced in her human form and Demona caught her staring.
Demona tugged on her tunic dress and grazed a hand over the familiar bump. "I don't suppose you'll tell me what will happen to the hatchling I am forced to carry?"
She shook her head unapologetically. "No. But I do know for a fact what you tried to do to get rid of it."
Her expression split between equal amounts of embarrassment and frustration. "Young Alexander made sure it is protected, so you needn't worry."
"I'm not worried for the kid, Demona, I'm only worried that you would try to remove an unborn gargoyle without knowing the consequences."
"I did not choose this! I was burdened with this choice against my will by a child!"
"Is it that," Elisa shot back, eyes level, "or is it the fact that child is half Delilah's?"
Demona's gargoyle genetics showed through soft human features, her sneer deepening to the bone. "I've made my peace with the clone."
"Right...so much so you can't even say her name."
She suppressed a shudder and changed the subject lest the entire conversation, one-sided as it was, devolve into a fistfight with the detective. "If you're going to scold me, then I won't bother. But I demand you tell me why you're here and what I have to do with it!"
And as if it was that easy. "All right." Elisa nodded. "You're going to help her."
"I am not a doctor."
"Well, Pierce isn't here. And when he does get here, he won't be able to help her. And she doesn't need a doctor as much as she needs a sorcerer."
"And you believe I am the only one capable of aiding her?"
"There's no one else even remotely qualified to handle this in a five thousand mile radius, perhaps at all, except you."
Demona just sneered.
Elisa knew the sun had already risen; it was damn near instinct now. Sora was almost in tears knowing she'd have to leave her bedside and she was fearful of what she'd find when she awoke half a day later. Sora had only whispered one thing, "Be strong, Elisa." and left with her mate to take their place outside on the arches and pagoda roofs.
As the gargoyles filtered from the room, a few young humans came to take their place. Obviously students of bushido, they milled around the hospital, helping with blood pressure and anything else Elisa needed, even if it was just a hand to squeeze as she clenched her teeth through another contraction. But one of the humans to enter the infirmary was a familiar one. Elisa recognized the man, and the uniform. It was as clean and freshly pressed as usual; not a single crease. He stood at the foot of her bed, quietly waiting for her to notice as if he was nervous about intruding on her personal space. "Hello Hiroshi..."
He bowed slightly, the cold cast of his face brightened by a genuine smile. The constable had great respect for this woman. "It is good to see you again, detective, though I wish the circumstances were different."
"...you and me both..."
"Elisa, this is doctor Shinohara." He turned and directed an open hand to a very attractive, very well-kept woman. "She is from the village's hospital. She often helps with the clan if there is any medical emergency beyond the healers' knowledge."
The doctor bowed, her stethoscope swaying with the subtle movement. "Detective."
"Before sunrise, Kai was able to make contact with the human allies in your clan. A doctor Pierce is on his way, but he is still a few hours away." She and Hiroshi purposely left out all that had happened in Manhattan; they'd decided Elisa needed to concentrate on herself right now. "I will do everything in my power to ensure you are still here to see him."
She nodded. Elisa was slightly reassured with the knowledge her clan knew she was here and Pierce was flying to her rescue, but as another contraction ripped through her she hoped there'd be something of her and the baby left to help when Pierce arrived.
Having skimmed just above the canopy, the plane angled towards the clearing near Ishimura used as an airstrip for the village. It lined up, vanished in between the trees and hit the asphalt with a puff of smoke coughed up from the rear tires. The plane maneuvered to a stop and before the engines could even power down the door emerged from the seamless fuselage, swung down and the stairway folded out and to the ground with a hard, dusty thud.
Pierce poked his head out, squinted against the noonday sun, quickly roved his eyes across the Japanese landscape and struggled down the stairs with a few bags over both shoulders.
The only one to greet the party an older man stood in front of him, stern but approachable. He bowed as they disembarked. "I am constable Hiroshi, welcome to Ishimura."
Pierce was the first to speak. "Constable. Please don't think me rude but there's a patient I need to see right away."
"Yes, I'll escort you to the temple." The constable looked past the doctor at the couple racing down the plane stairs behind him. Something about their skin color was familiar. "And them?"
His eyes widened slightly. "Of course. Come with me."
All they had to do was follow the screams.
Elisa's voice echoed through the temple corridors, coming in intermittent spurts and spurring her parents to chase down the sound of their oldest daughter suffering somewhere in a maze of paper walls. It was all Hiroshi could do to keep up and halfway there he'd found himself trailing the Mazas as they closed in on the terrified wailing.
"To your right." Hiroshi said to them from behind and Diane swerved around the corner and into the first door she saw.
Stopping short at the threshold, her eyes were immediately drawn across the room. All the commotion that had filled the entire temple was all coming from a single source; Elisa was thrashing under the sheet of an elevated bed, flanked on either side by a couple of the Ishimura clan's human allies, a young girl holding her hand and an older woman in a doctor's coat, checking her blood pressure.
"Elisa." Diane breathed.
It was loud enough for Elisa to hear and she turned at the voice. "Mom..."
She raced towards her daughter, practically pushing everyone else out of the way. "Oh god, Elisa!" Diane threw her arms around her daughter and put her against her chest, squeezing to the point of breaking the skin, like she would evaporate if she didn't hold on tight enough. "Elisa."
Peter followed his wife to the bedside and drank in the sight of his firstborn drenched in sweat and wearing an expression of pure pain. He cradled the back of her head with a strong hand to quietly announce his presence.
Elisa pulled back from her mother and immediately grabbed his wrist; she left behind a faint smear of blood. "Dad..." she managed, her voice a wet gurgle.
"It's okay, Elisa, we're here, we're with you."
She saw her brother and sister crowding around the bed. Maggie poked her head around her husband's shoulder, smiling at her sister-in-law. "Hey guys..."
"Glad to see you're finished hopping around the universe, sis." Beth whispered.
"I hope so..." she admitted. The thought of whether or not the gate was finished with her or her family had been pushed into the background due to hip-shredding pain. If it was going to take her again, if it was going to steal her away from her home, she hoped at least she could leave behind the baby.
Using a wet cloth to wipe Elisa's forehead, Diane brushed away the strands glued to her skin. "It's going to be all right, Elisa."
But she started shaking her head; the pain was saying otherwise. Ever since appearing in the middle of the Ishimura temple's courtyard, it felt as if the contractions were tearing her in half. "Mom...Trinity...and Goliath...they're gone..."
"We know, Elisa. Jason told us on the way over." she leaned in and whispered.
"I don't know where they are..."
"We'll find them, Elisa, I promise you. We will find them. But right now we need to take care of you and the baby."
Before she could say anything else, a commotion at the doorway stole her attention. Pierce and Weathers stumbled inside with crates and cases full of medical equipment banging against the doorframe and any furniture unfortunate enough to be in the way.
Pierce dropped the cases to the floor, took a breath and spotted Elisa on the bed. "Hello Elisa."
"Pierce..." she breathed a sigh of relief. "Hi doctor."
"Well, here we are again."
Elisa grabbed for him as he got near, snatching a piece of his worn labcoat he never seemed to take off. "Something's wrong, Pierce, the baby, she's..."
Elisa forced a smile through the pain deforming her jaw; in fact, it was the thought of seeing that girl Goliath spoke so fondly about that kept her going. "Long story...there's something very wrong, the pain was getting worse every trip through the phoenix gate...and now..."
He immediately had the sheet off, lifted up her gown and grimly noticed she was still bleeding from between the legs. He started prodding around her stomach, feeling for the baby; from what he could discern the baby had shifted position lower in the womb. "The baby's turned...that's good..." Something rolled under his palm and immediately Elisa reacted with a scream muted through clenched teeth, jerking like she was just electrocuted. "Oh boy."
Diane let her daughter collapse into her arms as the spasm quieted, Elisa mewling in pain. She could feel her nails clench through the fabric and into her skin. "Doctor, what's wrong with her?"
His brows screwed together; the doctor was making his thinking face. "I don't know yet, but it could be a uterine rupture. This is exactly what I was afraid of when she was pregnant for the first time, especially with a baby that is covered in extra appendages and sharp spikes." He whirled on his heel and caught his partner, doctor Weathers. "Trishia, get everything set up. I need to do a sonogram. I need to know what the hell's going on inside there and we need to control the bleeding."
She nodded distractedly; there was something about the way she was staring at Elisa. "Right..."
"Elisa, I know you've been through a hell of a time but I need to know what exactly you've been through in the last...ah..." He stalled and prompted her for an answer.
"Seven months, give or take..." Elisa wheezed.
"I don't know where you've been or if you've had access to decent medical care..."
"Didn't...have much..." she gritted through a contraction. "Except for an ultrasound...fifteen hundred years in the future..."
He digested that quickly and continued. "All right, anything else?"
She shook her head. "Just...tried to take care of myself...eating rabbit food..."
He smiled at her. Her last pregnancy and the specially restricted diet was a point of contention between them, especially for a cop bursting at the seams with hormones who lived on cheap take-out. "Okay. You just hang in there, Elisa, and we'll do everything we can to help your baby."
She nodded and turned on her side, curling back into the embrace of her mother.
He stood there, leaning on the bed and watching his patient writhe in agony. There was nothing worse than having decades of education and experience and being reduced to watching helplessly his patient suffer. Looking up, he noticed the Ishimura doctor having retreated to the other side of the infirmary to allow her patient time with her family. Nearing her, she noticed him approach and bowed to greet him. "Uh, konichiwa?"
Straight black hair, indeterminate age, professional demeanor, she smiled thinly. "It is good to meet you, doctor."
"Likewise. I wish I could be a little less direct, but Elisa's condition is serious."
"And worsening, I'm afraid." She kept her voice low. "She is still bleeding. Her skin is clammy, blood pressure low and dropping and she is suffering from chest pains."
Pierce smoothed a hand over his mouth. "Uterine rupture." he said through his fingers. He didn't like where all the symptoms were heading.
"Perhaps. But I did not want to operate without knowing for sure, or without any surgical aid, especially due to the child's unique nature. Her blood pressure is far too low for an epidural and I am hesitant to even start her on an analgesic."
A hint of a smile appeared. "Welcome to my world." he remarked.
Shinohara took a fortifying breath, struggling to get the right words in order. "And she has told me that...magic is involved," she said, quasi-incredulously, "and that magic could be causing the problem."
Pierce just nodded. This was old hat to him by now. "Yeah..."
"I must admit...I am out of my element."
"Well, we'll approach this like any other regular non-magic medical crisis. You're about to get a crash course on human-gargoyle hybrids, if you're willing."
Shinohara smiled pleasantly. "Bushido demands it."
"All right. First thing we need to do is get a good look inside her stomach. Check the baby and any surrounding damage."
And as if on cue, Trishia cut in. "Portable ultrasound's ready to go."
"We could also use blood donors." Shinohara added. "Elisa has lost a lot of blood. I assume there are compatible donors among her family?"
"Okay," Pierce rotated on the spot and clapped his hands, "I'm going to need blood donors and quick."
Peter reared up. "Derek, Beth and I are all compatible."
"Then let's get you hooked up." His voice suddenly lost an octave, speaking to a select audience. The less Elisa heard the better. "I don't know how much more blood Elisa may lose, especially if we can't get her bleeding under control. If it's a uterine rupture, she'll need surgery right away and that may include a cesarean section."
"How will this affect the baby?" Beth was quick to ask.
"If it's an incomplete rupture, there's a very good chance both mother and child will come out of this unscathed, but if it's a complete rupture..." He trailed off. Everyone in earshot knew exactly what could happen. Elisa could die, along with the baby. She may already be hemorrhaging internally and the fetus could be starved for oxygen.
Peter Maza's face didn't break. "Then I suggest you do everything in your power, doctor, to make sure that doesn't happen."
"You mean I should get my ass in there and earn my big Xanatos Enterprises paycheck?"
He nodded sternly, eyes sharp as tempered steel.
"Doctor Shinohara will get the three of you set-up as donors. I'm going to attend to your daughter."
Police Headquarters, New York
Plied with fresh coffee from a vendor across the street, the prosecution team for Brooklyn's trial was able to start their morning with a bit of rocket fuel in their proverbial tanks. As federal prosecutor Gabriel Logan plowed through his large double cream, he directed traffic amongst his team members, setting them to different tasks, all except Margot Yale who already had a full head of steam on her part of the trial.
Sitting at the end of the room's table, she'd been in an insufferably good mood for the last day despite getting less than six hours worth of sleep. She even tipped the delivery man when he slid her mocha latte into view. He figured her singular mission to expose, try and lock up the gargoyles was better than any amount of caffeine.
A soft rap at the door preceded a pair of FBI agents as they slinked into the room, the same pair who'd been sent to question the Maza family and their associates. "Miss Yale?"
She lifted her eyes. "Yes?"
They found her near the window, basking in the morning sun as she poured over several open files at once. "It seems your hunch was correct."
Smiling, she rested her chin on her hand. "Really..."
"The Mazas were observed leaving their home mid-afternoon. They haven't returned since."
Logan pulled his attention away from his own work. "I wasn't aware we had them under surveillance."
One agent cleared his throat while the other looked nervously to his partner. "We were acting under orders from A.D.A. Yale."
He caught Margot in his peripheral vision; she didn't appear apologetic in the slightest. "I see."
"We also had a few questions for their son and his wife, who also seemed to have disappeared."
"And," Margot cut in, "their youngest daughter as well I presume. The entire Maza family has suddenly left New York. Quite telling, don't you think, Mr. Logan?"
"Or it could be a coincidence." Logan tried to keep everyone on the ground before accusations were recklessly thrown around. "Where did they say their daughter was? Kara Digi, in the heart of Africa? Maybe they all flew there to be present when her child is born."
Margot moved to speak, but held it, swallowed and recomposed herself. Her associate was being admirably unbiased, but it was starting to blind him. He just couldn't see where all the threads were leading. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are being incredibly myopic."
Logan looked up from his files. "Really?"
"The entire family of a suspect leaves the country within hours of being questioned. I'm just wondering how this isn't indicative of guilt. Or association with a guilty party."
"You seem particularly interested in detective Maza, Margot, rather than the gargoyle we have in custody and are trying to build a case against." He closed the file folder, stood up and threw it to the desk. "I hope you're not biased against anyone in this case, I would hate to have you removed."
"I'm here because of my track record, an incredibly successful track record."
"You're right, but your capability notwithstanding I won't have you using this case as a witch hunt."
"Protecting the people of this city is not a witch hunt, especially after the fifty gang members were killed by severe blunt force trauma and lacerations that looked remarkably like gargoyle talons. And of course," Margot immediately grabbed the picture of Goliath and Elisa, "you can't ignore this."
He nodded, but only slightly; the woman seemed absolutely fixated on this photograph. "Yes, your theory that detective Maza is married to a gargoyle."
"A theory that has been confirmed by several sources."
He repressed the smile he felt brimming; in her little quest to expose everyone and anything related to the gargoyles, Margot's determination to blindly consider Canmore reliable was painfully obvious except to her. "Jon Canmore can't be considered a reliable source." Logan argued. "Now, yes we have a picture, yes we have witnesses–"
"Her husband has never actually been seen," Margot was still on the attack, "except by her closest friends, his paper trail begins and ends at Xanatos Enterprises, every single piece of information available on the man only appeared in the late nineties."
"As I was saying, that gets us to the questioning stage but it doesn't automatically condemn anyone. I am not going to waste any time clutching at straws, Margot. I cannot convict anyone on the hearsay of a convicted terrorist with mental health issues. And in this particular instance we have to ask ourselves a simple question, is being married to a gargoyle against the law?"
She opened her mouth but silence fell.
"I didn't think so." He was only slightly patronizing, enjoying the sight of Margot unable to form a response. "Now, if this gargoyle is guilty and detective Maza is associating with him, then we can prosecute her. But I don't happen to see that gargoyle amongst the rest, do you? Besides, the FBI has cut all but the red one a deal in exchange for their freedom."
"You and the deputy director can override that agent's authority, can you not?"
"If we have undeniable proof."
"Then let's go get it." She got up and with that same head of steam now supercharged with caffeine, stormed out of the room. "Our public defender had her time with that reporter with the ridiculous name. Now it's our turn."
Bellevue Hospital, New York
The fact their eyes were the same color was lost on him at the moment. Todd Hawkins never expected his father to open his eyes at the exact moment he happened to arrive.
Just as the Maza family was reunited half a world away, the Hawkins family was brought back together as well, whether it was fate or sheer dumb luck. But father and son were now staring at each other with dead eyes and the matriarch was worried they would try to kill each other.
Rose Hawkins slowly maneuvered herself closer to her son, just in case he decided to leap onto the bed and start choking the life out of her husband. Truthfully, she had no idea what he'd do next.
Joseph's eyes lingered on his son, so long in fact those surrounding him didn't know if he was completely lucid or not. He eventually lowered his eyes to find his daughter having held court by his left hand and his wife standing behind her wheelchair. There was someone lingering at the doorway, but he couldn't see him, just a shock of silver hair. "...hrggh..." he tried to speak, but was impeded by a tube going down his throat. With the hand that wasn't cuffed to the bed's rail, he grabbed the ventilator's tubes and started to yank before anyone could physically stop him or even protest.
"Dad...!" Sarah tried, but she could only watch as the endotrachial and nasogastric tubes were pulled out from his mouth and nose.
"Jesus..." Todd muttered.
Joseph took a few labored breaths, each stronger than the next; he was actually forcing his lungs to work through sheer willpower.
"Here." Sarah immediately grabbed for the pitcher of water, poured him a glass and gently held it to his mouth. "Drink slowly."
He took in a bit of water and then waved his daughter off. "...thank you..."
"Well, I guess your brain isn't damaged." Todd seethed, standing behind his sister. "That's too bad. I was looking forward to seeing you fed by a helper monkey and crapping in a diaper."
His thin, parched lips formed a crooked smile. "...good to see you too, boy..."
Todd lurched forward but Rose hooked a hand around his arm, keeping him in place.
"Enough." she said calmly.
"No," Joseph egged him on as the strength returned to his voice, "let the boy go, Rose...let's see if he has the guts to put a pillow over my face..."
Todd's lips had peeled back. "I'd take great pleasure in seeing you flail helplessly."
"Enough!" she snapped, and put herself in front of her son. If he was adamant in muffling his father's bluster with a pillow, he'd have to go through her. "Both of you, enough. Please." Rose felt the snort of breath on her shoulder as Todd spit hot air and turned away, pacing to expend the anxious energy.
But Joseph had already turned his attention to his daughter. "Hello, Sarah." he smiled.
"Hi." she whispered and grabbed his hand. He squeezed her delicate fingers. "I'm glad you're awake."
"Where am I?"
"Under heavy guard." Todd added. "Seems the secret's out, dad. They know you're the leader of the Guild."
He seemed to absorb that tidbit quickly. "And what happened to them?"
"Are you serious?"
"What little survived decided to take hostages and start a small war in Times Square," Rose interrupted, hoping to offer a more calm explanation than her son, "forcing the clan to come to them. A firefight ensued, costing almost a dozen innocent lives. Some of the Guild, at least those who weren't killed, escaped and the clan was taken into police custody."
This time, Joseph took a while longer to digest the information. The bile in Rose's voice was obvious, the disappointment in her forest-green gaze sharp like a knife.
"Do you hear that?!" Todd leaned in, barking. "Huh?! Your little zealots shot up Times Square and killed a bunch of innocent people! More innocent people!"
"If we couldn't ever rid ourselves of the beasts, then exposing them as dangerous to the general populace was the next best thing."
"And eleven people had to die because of it. But you know what's ironic about all of this? The gargoyles saved your worthless life! They pulled you out of the bunker at the risk of their own lives!"
"After setting bombs." he argued back. "How many people did they kill?"
"You turned it into a war, not them. You offered them a simple choice, war or extinction. And look how many people have suffered for it. You should be so proud."
Joseph would've answered back with something incredibly clever or profound until he noticed his daughter crying into his hand.
Todd too noticed his sister collapse in tears and it was the only thing that put a halt to the outburst. He stopped, backed away and rubbed a hand down his face. It was the same old argument all over again.
"What's to be done with me?" Joseph asked, stroking Sarah's hair.
"I assume you'll be placed under arrest for your part in the Guild." Rose answered calmly. "But I don't know if they have any evidence to convict you."
"Now you know why we all wore masks. Anonymity is power."
"Or it's cowardice."
His eyes thinned. "Touché."
"But your anonymity is gone, Joseph, you've been exposed to the world and you'll pay for your crimes."
"And if there's any shred of humanity left in you you'll accept that punishment."
"It seems I have no choice." He hinted at a smile and tested the strength of the handcuffs that locked him to the bed. "You don't believe I'm human anymore, Rose?"
She shook her head and answered without reservation, "No."
"And what kind of human aligns themselves with creatures who'd rather exterminate us using magic and super-viruses?"
"I'm not getting into a philosophical debate with you, Joseph." Rose muttered.
"But it's all about philosophy, Rose, how we both view the world," his eyes fell on his daughter, "and what lengths we'd go to protect those we love."
"Congratulations," Todd muscled back into the conversation, "I'm sure Hitler said something like that before he exterminated six million people."
And Joseph volleyed right back without missing a beat. "You've become such a strong young man, son, it's a pity you wasted your potential knocking up a gargoyle."
Todd immediately lunged at his father and even Rose couldn't hold him back, despite her best efforts. He pushed her away, cocked a fist and aimed for that arrogant smirk until someone grabbed his wrist from behind and held it like a vice.
Macbeth had intervened just in time. "It's not worth it..." he said quietly.
"Ah," Joseph reacted to the new addition in the room, watching this steel-haired Scotsman strain against his son's rage taken physical form, "professor MacDuff I presume, or is it just Macbeth now? I thought you were dead."
He ushered Todd away with a strong hand, helped Rose steady herself and then got a good, close look at the leader of the Guild and the man who ordered his death and the destruction of his home. "Yuir little cronies were sloppy, but I suppose when ye have t' hire thugs and mercenaries t' do yuir dirty work sometimes ye don't get th' most reliable employees. Or do ye still maintain they were followers of yuir just cause?"
The smile faded from his lips. He couldn't fool an immortal king. "I needed to fill the ranks with whoever I could find, whether they believed or not–"
"And yuir little soldiers got away from you, aye." he presumed, and judging by the man's expression he'd presumed right. "Yuir son's right, ye should be so proud of all they've accomplished. All th' death they've caused."
This time, Joseph didn't have a retort on hand. Even his daughter couldn't meet his eyes; she of course was a witness to what'd happened while he was comatose and apparently it was enough to make her conviction falter. "Well, then, I suppose there's nothing left to say. I assume once word spreads that I've woken up, I'll be carted off to prison."
Macbeth turned his head, seeing the guard on the courtesy phone halfway down the corridor. He was already telling his superiors the prisoner was awake. "Aye, it shouldn't be long now."
It didn't take long to get the equipment set up, Pierce having transported what seemed like half the Eyrie infirmary but even in that short time Elisa's condition continued to deteriorate. Diane's administrations had at least calmed her daughter enough to keep her still for an ultrasound, but her body still tensed through the bolts of pain, her fingers digging into the bed's padded surface or her mother's skin.
Elisa's exposed stomach was coated in the clear gel but as Pierce roamed the ultrasound wand across the expanse of flesh he was having trouble getting a clear image. "Come on..." he whispered. But no matter where he put the wand the image on the monitor wouldn't clear. "Is this thing calibrated properly?"
"You know it is, Alan." Trishia remarked.
He made a face; one of frustration. He already had a short amount of time to figure out what was wrong before he sharpened his scalpel and cut into his patient and this particular piece of equipment, supposedly the best in the world, was acting up. "Come on, you little piece of..." The screen was flickering slightly, the image fuzzy and indistinct. After several minutes of trying to pinpoint a picture, the baby suddenly appeared. "Gotcha." He could make out the limbs, the wings, the tiny tail and it was still moving; it was alive and strong and had indeed dropped in position closer to the birth canal. "Hello, you."
"Amazing..." Shinohara whispered, staring at the image.
Suddenly, a contraction rippled through Elisa and she screamed. Already intermittently fuzzy, the sonogram monitor flickered and filled with static.
Pierce tried to adjust the wand over Elisa's stomach but couldn't get a picture. "What the hell...?"
Another contraction hit and Elisa reacted in pain. And again, the monitor whitewashed, flickered and whatever picture he was able to get shrunk to a tiny white dot. Something inside the machine popped and burped a bit of gray smoke from the vents.
"Jesus..." He pulled back, holding the useless wand. "Was it just me or did the machine go screwy in time with her contractions?"
"Magic." Trishia guessed out loud. She didn't spend a lot of time around the clan but had been introduced to some bizarre concepts in her tenure as Pierce's associate and writing partner. "I suppose."
Another spasm ripped through Elisa; it was enough to shake the bed.
Diane grabbed her daughter. "You have to do something." she half-screamed at Pierce.
"You're right," he nodded, "we can't wait any longer. Trish, let's prep for surgery. We're doing a laparotomy and possibly a cesarean."
But Shinohara seemed nonplussed and in typical Japanese fashion, was keeping it unvoiced. She was still trying to adjust to Pierce's unorthodox and sometimes abbreviated style of medicine.
"You're scowling, doctor Shinohara." Pierce noticed. He always noticed. He had a unique ability to act completely oblivious yet somehow absorb the tiniest details.
"Perhaps we should take her to the village hospital. The facility there is not as modern as most city hospitals but it's larger and better suited for such a procedure."
"Too far. Too late." Pierce shot her down. "We need to open her now and see what's wrong. I've already waited too long..."
She swallowed her concern and nodded. Hearing Elisa scream through her contractions was enough to wipe out any hesitation due to lack of space or familiar equipment. "She'll need anesthetic."
"Yeah. I'm hesitant to use any but we have no choice. The pain would be unbearable and we can't have Elisa thrashing around on the operating table."
The older Elisa was pensive, distracted, as if she knew exactly what was happening in the operating room right now. Of course, she'd already lived through it and couldn't help but feel the memories washing over her. "At this point, the sonogram machine almost caught on fire." she whispered. "There's so much residual magic tearing through my body it's actually causing the equipment to break down."
She and Demona were in one of the smaller gardens far from the hub of activity, assured they wouldn't be disturbed. Elisa was sitting at the small tea table while Demona slowly paced a few yards away.
"Pierce has decided to cut me open and see what's going on."
"And exactly what is going on?"
"I'm dying." she answered succinctly. "And so is my baby." Her eyes were boring through the wall of the temple, as if she could see through the layers of wood and oil and paint and paper. "And it's incredible that it's happening just a few walls away. That's time travel for you..."
"Yes, time travel. An inevitable, unbreakable line. If you're here now, then why do you fear your past self will die?"
Looking back twenty years hence, Elisa could almost appreciate how clever Demona really was. It was unfortunate she used that nimble intelligence to try and kill her numerous times. "You're right. But, of course, maybe I survived...and the baby didn't?" she offered. "All because no one could help me."
"And you would blame this on me?"
Elisa was quick on her feet and spitting fire at the gargoyle. "It's your fault this happened, it's your fault she's dying and if you don't do anything, it will be your fault she and her baby dies! But you can do something, Demona, you can fix what you've wrought."
Uncharacteristically quiet, Demona simply raised her chin to the detective's tirade.
"This is it!" Elisa continued. "Right here, right now, this is it!"
New York, just after sunset
He supposed he should feel guilty at not letting his son know Elisa had returned, but all he needed was the boy to go flying off to find her or teleport himself and the Mazas halfway across the world. He didn't care how much power Alexander had, without the proper guidance they could end up anywhere. Doctor Pierce had been dispatched with tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment and fuel costs, along with the entire Maza family and he figured his part had ended.
He wasn't heartless; Elisa's miraculous and sudden return somehow set the universe right. There was a hole in the clan and they were suffering for it.
But there was a hole in his family as well, and right now David Xanatos needed his son with him. Here, beside him, a tangible reminder of everything he was fighting for.
The Guild battle, the clan's arrest, the trials, the questions, the accusations, it was becoming a distraction from what needed to be done to save his wife and son. He'd returned from the shipyard knowing the sunken stones recovered on the bottom of the ocean were safely in his possession and now the leverage was slowly tilting back in his favor. No more feeling helpless, no more time spent under the clawed foot of a madman, this was the first time in months he'd felt he had an advantage.
Looking at his son, Alexander was sitting quietly on the large Corinthian leather loveseat fiddling with one of his portable video games. He hadn't said much all day but, of course, their relationship had been strained lately and father and son didn't have too many conversations beyond a smattering of small-talk. He was surprised Alexander hadn't sensed Elisa's arrival; perhaps the spell he'd been cursed with had something to do with it. Like a compass over an iron ore deposit, his proximity to whom he shared this spell with overrode everything else.
But he noticed the boy stop his game and place it to the side, wringing his hands. "Alexander, what's wrong?"
He shrugged. "I dunno...I feel tingly..."
If he was any other child it could be easily dismissed but even the smallest of Alexander's sensations were often precursors to something outside the realm of ordinary human perception. "Tingly?" he echoed.
"Uh huh." He looked up with those big green eyes. "My skin feels funny an' I'm kinda hot."
"Maybe you'd like to go back to your room for a while, or perhaps the castle." Alexander shook his head and he was surprised his son wanted to stay with him. But every honed instinct he had was telling him something was off-kilter. The train of thought derailed, a little light caught his attention, blinking under the edge of his desk. He felt a chill, his breathing changed; someone was using his private elevator and ascending towards the office. He didn't notice the sun slip beneath the horizon despite the sheer size of his office window. "Alexander, I think perhaps you should go to your room."
The private door to his office was torn from its track, a single blood-and-bone arm reducing a metal door to tinfoil. Sobek burst into the office, his hulking, skinless form scraping the doorframe. He straightened to his full eight foot height, emerged from the shadowed corner and stomped towards Xanatos.
Xanatos was ice, Alexander was wide-eyed. Always whispering in the back of his mind, the monster in his closet had appeared again. His father gently ushered the boy behind him and straightened his cuffs. "That door was expensive, Sobek."
"Where are the stones, human?!" Sobek bellowed, spittle leaking through his yellowed fangs.
"I have no idea. I have damn near every ship in my fleet criss-crossing the ocean but to no avail."
All it took was a few long strides to reach the human in record time and Sobek grabbed Xanatos by the neck. "I know one of your ships came to port." he hissed.
But Sobek didn't believe him, evident by his hand crushing his windpipe and cutting off his oxygen. "You think I don't know exactly what you're doing?! You think you could deceive me?! I know that ship offloaded a large amount of cargo! The stones, Xanatos! WHERE ARE THE STONES?!"
"Leave him alone!"
A burst of hot green light separated them, Sobek thrown back into a heap at the other end of the office.
Surrounded by a thin crackle of energy, Alexander stood between his father and the beast. One little hand was pointed at the gargoyle and the other rubbed a sore spot on his chest, Sobek's pain translated through his body by the stolen magic spell.
Sobek shook his head to clear the cobwebs, the distorted mass of spikes on his brow wagging back and forth. His face split into a smile at seeing the tiny sorcerer wedge himself between his hands and Xanatos' neck. "Boy."
It felt like the entire building was trembling on its foundation. Alexander was bathed in light, feet an inch off the ground.
"Remember the spell that binds us." Sobek growled. "Linked eternally. My pain is your pain."
"I don't care! Leave him alone!"
"Alexander." Xanatos had recovered enough to reprimand his son. "Stop."
Alexander turned back to Sobek and lowered his hand, dropping to the ground. The gargoyle simply bared his grotesque teeth at him.
"I told you not to leave your little chamber." Xanatos warned Sobek. "Suddenly showing up in my office will make things difficult for the both of us."
"I do not care for your secrecy. I know you have the stones. Where are they?!"
"Your single-mindedness is becoming tiresome, and I'm spending a lot of money on this pointless endeavor."
Sick of the human's pontificating, Sobek raised his right hand, deliberately and dramatically held it there for a moment before gouging his claws into the side of his face. Alexander instantly screamed in pain as the gargoyle raked his talons through the meat. Every piece of furniture and statuary in the room moved and scuttled from its place, and the large window with the vista of Manhattan beyond rattled in its pane.
Xanatos turned on his heel to see his young son clutching his face as tears rolled down his cheeks. "Stop it! Enough!"
Sobek pulled his claws from his face with a wet slurp. "I promise your son exquisite pain until you relinquish what I've sought for so long." he turned the warning back on the human. "Every second of every day, I will commit acts of such unspeakable torture I'll drive the little brat insane. I don't think your wife would approve."
He hit a sore spot and Xanatos couldn't help the break in the perfectly practiced facade.
Sobek caught the ripple through the human's features. "By the way, how is your wife? Is she enjoying Avalon?"
He decided not to act surprised at how Sobek knew where Fox was; this monster had been living in the heart of his home for so long, privy to his secrets . Apparently his reach was long, considering Sobek knew about the stones even with his every attempt to conceal their offloading and transport only a few hours ago. Holding his son to his chest, Xanatos was defiant. "She's still alive, despite your efforts."
"The slow march of time on that fairy island will only prolong her suffering. But I hold the key to her salvation, if you're smart enough to take it."
"And how am I to know you'll hold up your end of the bargain?"
He smiled and the red, slick meat and exoskeletal plates spread to reveal his fangs. "My word is my bond."
Xanatos shook his head and smirked. The creature was trying to sell snake oil to a man who'd negotiated billion dollar deals with entire countries. "You have no bond, Sobek, you're merely a thug with leverage and you've decided to exploit it."
The smile dropped. "You have little choice. A mate withered and turned to dust, an immortal son who'll never be free of the pain I will cause him, how much will you sacrifice to stand alone?"
"You have no idea."
Sobek smirked as best he could without skin. "Such toothless bravado."
Extending a fist, Alexander readied for a fight; the room grew a little warmer.
"I've waited so long, sacrificed so much..." The massive gargoyle started advancing on the father son pair, flexing his hands and ready to snap human bone if need be. "And nothing in this world or the next will prevent me what I've sought for so long."
Brave words that were about to be interrupted by something brighter than the sun and just as hot. The massive exterior window burst from the outside in, spraying shards through the office like little glass darts. Alexander reacted instinctively, shielding himself and his father from the shrapnel while Sobek used what little was left of his tattered wing membranes to deflect as much as he could. Before anyone could figure out who threw the grenade through the window the phoenix forced itself inside, screaming at the occupants. Its mere presence burned loose paper, charred wood trim and melted the carpet fibers and only Alexander's magical barrier protected his father from the intense heat. Everyone staggered back, staring at the giant, flaming bird that had invited itself into David Xanatos' private sanctum.
Its head darted back and forth, as if it was trying to match a scent to its owner. But once it laid its yellow eyes on the young boy, it craned its neck towards him and let out a low, lingering hiss.
"Xanatos!" Sobek yelled. "What is this?!"
But Xanatos could care less about Sobek's anger or confusion; the phoenix was eying his son like a New York strip loin. "Alexander!"
Sobek charged forwards, intent to regain control over the chaos; he didn't care if Ra himself dropped from the heavens to rampage through the city, nothing would stop him when he was so close. He swiped at the bird with a giant hand but just got a handful of fire for the effort. The phoenix screeched, whirled around and spread its wings. A ball of energy equivalent to what the entire Eyrie building generated in a day hit the gargoyle full force in the chest, nearly knocking his ribcage through his spine. Sobek impacted against the back wall and slumped to the ground, smoking and unconscious.
Alexander doubled over, sharing Sobek's pain.
"Alexander!" his father cried out, but the phoenix swept him away with a flaming wing.
It reared up, grabbed the boy in a clawed foot and flew out the window.
And unless he wanted to jump to his death from two thousand feet, Xanatos couldn't do a thing but watch them fade into the skyline.
A few miles out Alexander recovered enough to rip through the talons with pure emerald magic; the entire limb was blown off and the phoenix screamed in pain. It banked away and went into a spiral, the stump where its leg used to be nothing but a black, smoking hollow.
Alexander tried to find his bearing as he fell through the sky, the Manhattan backdrop spinning and making him dizzy. He clenched and halted himself in mid-air, rotated right side up and caught his breath. But the phoenix did a u-turn, restored its missing leg and roared towards the young boy. Alexander barely had time to react before the phoenix caught him; they tangled, fought, expunged enough energy to light the hemisphere and sailed away into the distance.
She had eyes everywhere and all the sophisticated software humming through the bank of hard drives made sure she was able to properly manage and process it all without melting down.
Every security camera feed, every computer database, every change in temperature in every room in the castle; as per her main function, Mother watched it all as the constant flow of information was routed through her processors. And as the sun set it seemed like just another day, all until a massive flaming bird exploded from the underside of the castle and flew off into the night sky.
Alarms started going off in every system, fire, security, motion detectors; it was jarring enough for Mother to focus her concentration while forgetting about everything else. The security camera in Xanatos' office had been turned off and dismantled by his order some months ago, so she didn't have an immediate eye into where all the alarms were screaming. Whatever had burst out of the Eyrie's side had vanished and what little footage she had where an exterior camera had happened to be pointing was replayed several times over. Something alive, covered in flames, far too large for anything resembling a human being. But as she studied the footage further, zooming in and filtering the images through different spectrums, she caught the unmistakable emerald glow of Alexander Xanatos in mid-flight.
Programs were conflicting; her orders never to enter Xanatos' office unless summoned were in severe disagreement with her orders to safeguard everyone in the castle and the Eyrie building. Despite Xanatos's strange and dismissive behavior the past few months, she couldn't ignore a possible threat and quickly sent her avatar towards his office.
Within minutes Mother's physical form slithered underneath the locked office doors and metamorphosed into her familiar gargoyle form. "Mr. Xanatos." she announced her presence. "Is there a problem?"
He turned and instead of reprimanding her for barging into his office, simply looked at her incredulously. The massive window had been reduced to a pile of broken shards and part of his office had been either melted or scorched by the intense heat. "Mother." he said calmly. "There's been an incident."
"Yes. I approximate the damage to be in excess of thirty-thousand dollars. I will inform Mr. Canmore to begin repairs right away."
"No." His voice nearly rose to a shout. "This will be kept between us right now. Is that understood?"
His word, his voice print, was part of an unquestionable command program. "Of course." Her head turned around on a swivel like an owl before her body followed suit. Sobek was unconscious on the floor in a heap. She felt the oddly-pleasant reaction of surprise at seeing him here before it quickly transmuted to concern. "Sobek."
Xanatos remained quiet, watching as the multi-million dollar computer program's avatar processed the sensations of astonishment and confusion.
"Did Sobek cause the damage in order to breach the building? Did he create the being I recorded leaving the premises? Did he–"
"Never mind that." he cut her off. "Mother, grab him and follow me." Xanatos quickly whirled around, heading for the far door in the corner of his office, a private entrance and exit for his use only.
"As you wish." She complied and wrapped tendrils around his extremities, holding him up like some disfigured, eight foot puppet, carrying Sobek's limp form across the office and through the wrecked door. She decided against inquiring about the damage and what caused it, more interested in what looked like an elevator cab at the end of this dark corridor and the fact it wasn't on any building plan or schematic.
The elevator trembled and started descending and Mother was acutely aware she'd been cut off from her computer hard drives and the rest of the Eyrie. Calculating the speed and distance traveled, she realized they were entering a black spot on the Eyrie building schematics. "I am unaware of this particular section of the Eyrie building. It does not appear on the plans."
"No, it doesn't. Call it a panic room. The best, most secure room on the planet."
The elevator door opened to a large chamber with steel-lined walls. Xanatos' money bin, filled with the treasures he never displayed publicly, sealed in drawers and safes and meticulously catalogued. It was a new sensation, seeing something for the first time without knowing every rivet and panel and Mother filled her eyes with every inch of this sterile place, including a massive structure in the middle of the chamber.
A two-story steel ring was erected and stood twenty feet high, an unearthly gleaming from between the steel seams. And strung up in the middle like Da Vinci's Vitruvian man, a gargoyle hung from her shackled limbs.
Not one to outwardly emote, Mother's expression widened at the sight. She'd only seen recorded footage of this particular gargoyle, shown to her in order to allow her access to the castle if she ever appeared again.
"He called her the key to everything." Xanatos echoed an earlier conversation, approaching the ring. "I know now she's just an experiment from some multi-dimensional agency and not some gargoyle deity, but I can't ignore the power she possesses." He punched in a code on the security panel and with the last keystroke, the entire ring shuddered and powered down, the gargoyle attached inside convulsing and gurgling through a labored gulp of air. Pressured hydraulic clamps hissed as they detached one by one and the shackles holding each of Infiniti's limbs unlocked. She slumped towards the ground and oozed into Xanatos' waiting arms. She seemed so light, so frail, despite the nuclear bomb's worth of power sealed inside. "I'm sorry..." he whispered. Turning, he eyed Mother resolutely. "Put Sobek in that thing. And be quick, this could be my only chance."
Without hesitation, she hoisted the massive gargoyle up with the slightest of ease, tendrils sprouting more tendrils to maneuver his limbs into the shackles. Once locked up, Xanatos powered up the ring. The eerie light returned to the colossal machine and the locks closed, effectively trapping Sobek inside.
Xanatos stared at him, hung like a slab of raw meat and barely spent a moment thinking about the consequences before continuing with his ploy. "Mother, I need his blood."
Programmed to follow his orders now matter how bizarre or ethically-challenged, she still had to take a moment to confirm his instructions. "His blood?"
"Do it," Xanatos snapped, "before he regains consciousness. I don't have time for your questions or your emotional infancy."
The fingers on her right hand extended and metamorphosed into syringes and quickly verifying Pierce's detailed files on gargoyle anatomy, she injected all four of them into his jugular and both median cubital veins in his arms. "How much blood do you require, Mr. Xanatos?"
"A few pints will do."
She nodded; more tendrils slithered out from her side, forming clear containers where the blood pooled. It was an odd, lime-tinged sludge that didn't resemble anything biological; more like toxic waste. The conflicting magicks that had transformed him on the outside had done the same to his insides.
Xanatos watched as the glass-like containers filled to full. This was the first chance he'd ever had the chance to take any piece from Sobek, the gargoyle always watching in his little cell deep inside the Eyrie.
"I have extracted one point four seven liters of blood, Mr. Xanatos." Mother reported casually.
"Detach yourself from him."
The syringes were tugged from his flesh and resumed the form of her slender fingers.
"And if you would be so kind as to relieve me of my burden..." He hefted the limp gargoyle in his arms to sight.
More tendrils emerged from her midsection to form a slab on which her new undisputed master laid the prone form of Infiniti, almost reverently, to the silver surface. She shifted and moaned, but remained unconscious. "She is alive, but her heartbeat is weak and her pulse is erratic."
"That machine she was strapped into was draining every ounce of energy from her body."
"Why is she here?" Mother asked and before Xanatos could even think of a good lie, she rattled off a few more questions. "Does she have anything to do with Sobek's presence here? Are you involved in some sort of pact with Sobek? Are you–"
"Mother," Xanatos cut her off, "access code Xanatos, security access level Omega."
Her body stiffened. "I..." A new program quickly overrode every command structure deemed unessential, including all the emotional content her A.I. had allowed her to develop. Her head cocked avian-like and she seemed to drain of any humanity.
"You didn't think I wouldn't have safeguards in place for a sophisticated artificial intelligence with the power of the Matrix, did you?" He smirked that million dollar smirk. "I own you, and you are an asset I intend to fully exploit whenever I deem fit."
Mother nodded coldly.
"Good. As much as you're programmed to obey me, your growing emotional presence could betray any confidence you have promised to me. My personal access level has some interesting additions I made, including complete obedience to whatever I say and protected memory that no one can access. Now, come along."
She nodded again, expression still vacant. She followed behind him, perfectly matching his gait.
"I've taken the stones to a secure location." he explained, safe in the knowledge that Mother was incapable of betraying anything she'd learn. "Obviously Sobek has no idea where they are or he wouldn't have barged into my office. Now, we've got precious little time to get this blood analyzed. This is what Fox is dying from, a mixture of magic that's apparently stumped even the residents of Avalon."
They reached the elevator at the end of the hall and entered the cab.
"We need to put as much distance as possible between us and Sobek. When he wakes up he's going to be angry and I have no idea what control he has over the computer systems in the Vault. There's a team of bio-geneticists waiting at the Cyber-Biotics building. Now, I need you to look a little less conspicuous."
Within moments, Mother's skin rippled and blurred and in her place stood a human woman in a business suit and dress with a lab coat, carrying a tray of samples and pushing a hospital bed with a patient covered by a sheet.
"Better." Xanatos remarked as the elevator doors closed. "Much better."
Eyrie infirmary, New York
The infirmary echoed with the screams of waking gargoyles, growls ringing off the walls. The part of the clan that was left behind woke to relative quiet, the Eyrie's self-contained hospital eerily still and calm.
The first thing Annika did was look around, swiveling on the spot to see if her husband was anywhere in sight. But he was MIA. "Where does that man go all the time...?"
Broadway on the other hand was surprised Pierce wasn't here to poke and prod at his leg, but he was glad for it. The strength was returning and the surgical scar had almost faded completely. Using the cane left on the bedside stand, he tested his leg with a slow gait, padding around his hospital bed.
Watching the young gargoyle try out his repaired extremity, Hudson was curious, "How's th' leg?"
"Better." Broadway smiled. There was nothing worse than being confined to a bed.
"So, what now?"
He stopped, looked up at his expectant clan and sighed; the weight of leadership just dropped back down on his shoulders. "I guess we wait. With the deal agent Sykes worked out, hopefully they'll let the rest go."
Annika crossed her arms. "I hope you're not holding your breath..."
He shared her sarcasm. "You mean it's hard to believe every law enforcement agency in the city would just let a group of gargoyles vanish back into Manhattan? Yeah, I know, but we've been surprised before."
"So we just wait while half the clan is held against their will and Brooklyn is unfairly tried for a crime he didn't commit?"
"He's doing what a leader should, lass," Hudson minded her, "protecting his clan."
"Still doesn't make it right." Rain added.
He nodded and clawed a hand through his beard. "Aye, but it's th' best choice right now and Brooklyn knows that."
"So we leave them there," Tachi worked her way into the conversation, "and just wait."
"Yes," Broadway said firmly, "unless something drastic happens. We can't throw more fuel on the fire."
And, coincidentally, just as that last line trickled from Broadway's mouth, the entire building shuddered and the shockwave rippled through every beam and every strut, including the walls of the infirmary. The clan felt it through their wings.
Broadway almost toppled over and had to balance himself on his cane. "What the hell was that?!"
Nashville and Tachi ran to the nearest window and were quick enough to catch the tail end of the phoenix and Alexander making fireworks over the city. They exchanged a bit of firepower and flew off out of sight. "Holy crap..." Nashville whispered.
Tachi wrenched around, skin drained of color. "I think that was Alex...and the phoenix."
Broadway hobbled to the window but he was only able to catch a bit of orange and green light fading into the distance. "What's happening...?"
"It looked like they were fighting and then they just flew away."
If it wasn't one thing... "The phoenix..." Broadway whispered, rubbing his head and as the shock wore off it suddenly clicked. "If the phoenix is here–"
"Then maybe Goliath and Elisa have come back!" Nashville blurted. And just like that the mood in the room brightened, everyone standing a little taller.
"We gotta find them, Broadway! The phoenix gate brought dad back to almost the exact spot where it took him, maybe it did the same for Goliath and Elisa!"
But Broadway grabbed him by the scruff of the neck before he could scurry off. "Hold on! We just felt the building shake and Alex flew off fighting a giant fiery bird. No one's going anywhere until we know exactly what's happening." He looked up at the ceiling. "Mother?" he called but received no response. "Mother." Again, nothing. "What's going on...?"
"She's not answering." Jason wheeled in, offering the answer. His timing as always was impeccable. "I've been trying for th' last few minutes but it seems her attention has been diverted elsewhere, on orders that supersede mine. Th' higher functions of her A.I. program have been disabled."
"I don't know but I just checked on Xanatos' office. He's gone, th' window's been shattered and half th' office has been charred like an overdone steak."
Somewhere behind the crowd Hudson growled, "Th' man's been keeping secrets, and it looks like all his secrets are explodin' in his face."
Jason leaned to the side to see the old soldier and his telling expression. The gargoyle looked exactly how he felt. "I agree, but we have other concerns right now."
Reacting with a jolt, Annika had to wonder, "What could be more important than a giant fiery bird exploding out of the side of the Eyrie and flying off with Alexander?"
"Elisa's in Japan, and she may be dying."
"Okay, ladies, we're going to perform a laparotomy and most likely a cesarean section. The baby's heartbeat is still strong but it's been showing a dangerous amount of variation in the last hour. It may be in distress."
Dressed head to toe in surgical garb, doctor Pierce's contemporaries simply nodded.
"Her blood pressure's still falling, she's becoming anemic due to loss of blood and I can't even imagine the pain she's in. Okay, Shinohara, we have several bags of donor blood thanks to the Mazas. I want it ready to go as soon as I ask for it."
Her eyes the only part visible under the mask and head-dressing, they were still and unwavering. "Yes, doctor."
"Okay, Trish, you ready?"
Trishia nodded. "Now or never, Alan."
Pierce looked down at his patient; for the first time tonight Elisa was able to rest semi-peacefully under general anesthetic. They had to be careful with the amount she was administered in case it had an adverse effect on the baby; it was something he'd feared since her first pregnancy, swimming in uncharted waters. Her distended stomach slathered in the antibacterial solution near the incision site, Pierce pressed the scalpel to the mark he'd drawn on Elisa's stomach and started with a lower transverse incision. "Here we go." His hand was steady as a rock as he slowly cut around the swell but as the blood started pooling in a line just behind the scalpel, it reflected the bright infirmary light with an odd color. Lighter, almost glowing; Pierce stopped as he noticed the blood wasn't right.
"Alan, what is–"
Fire erupted from the incision and flared outward, catching Pierce on the hand. "Augh...!" he yelped, pulling his hand away and dropping what was left of the scalpel.
Suddenly the heart-rate monitor fritzed and burst from the inside out, followed by the pulse oximeter machine, belching fire into the air. A couple of bulbs from the overhead lamp popped and showered the small group with tiny, hot flickers of light.
"Doctor!" Shinohara shouted.
Pierce covered Elisa from the sparks and debris filling the infirmary. Several more pieces of equipment shorted out forcing everyone to shield their eyes until a convulsion in the air itself exploded outwards knocking Pierce away and Shinohara on her back. But doctor Weathers was staring at Elisa, standing in the midst of electronic equipment bursting at the seams and throwing sparks across the room. "Trishia!"
The spell was broken and Trishia tore her gaze away. She slinked back out of harm's way and removed her mask.
Elisa went into spasm, opened her eyes and arched her back so severely she lifted off the operating table. She collapsed and continued her wailing, clutching her stomach. The anesthetic once numbing her body and keeping her sedate had been burned from her blood.
As Pierce pulled the melted glove from his hand, Trishia grabbed the small fire extinguisher from the corner and started dousing the equipment before the entire room went up.
"What happened to the anesthetic?" Shinohara asked.
Pierce removed his mask and started shaking his head. Almost every piece of equipment that was either hooked to Elisa or there to aid them in the surgery was ruined. He looked at his scalpel abandoned on the floor; the high-tensile stainless steel instrument had melted into a nub of blackened metal. "I don't know. I don't know what to do...this is far beyond medical now."
"...pierce..." a small voice called out for him. It was Elisa; she was awake.
He quickly went to her side, leaning over. She was shivering, sweating and her eyes were wide; the incision he'd made had vanished, leaving only a smear of blood. "I'm here."
"...what's...happening to me...?"
"I don't know." he admitted. "I'm sorry, I have no idea. We tried to operate but everything just...exploded. Something inside of you is preventing us from helping you."
The phoenix gate, Elisa thought. "...can I just...give birth normally...?"
"You're not dilating, Elisa. I think whatever you went through has screwed up all the natural processes in your body."
"...the baby..." she pleaded, tears spilling to the sheets.
Pierce stroked her stomach and immediately Elisa grabbed his hand, squeezing hard. "I know. I'll think of something, Elisa, we'll try to induce labor."
"Please...don't let anything happen to the baby...if you have to let me die to save the baby..."
He quickly grabbed the back of her neck and forced her close, hugging tightly. There was no way he was going to let her sacrifice herself. "No, no. We'll find a way."
"We'll find a way, he said," the older Elisa chuckled, "but as good and as intelligent and as tenacious as that man is, he'll run out of ideas soon. They all will."
"And you believe I am the key to her survival?"
Her eyes flicked up and she tapped a finger to her chest. "Remember? From the future."
"Then tell me," Demona growled at her, "instead of playing these ridiculous games."
"Demona, not only are you the only sorcerer around here and the only one who knows exactly what to do but when you saved me with the bloodstone after the Unseelie war years ago, it made a connection between the two of us. You offered up a part of your soul, your very lifeforce, in order to save my own. Trust me when I say this, you are the only one who can save my life."
Shocked the detective would speak so earnestly in front of her, Demona allowed the consideration of listening quietly.
"But it's not just me, Demona," Elisa continued, "it's my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who hasn't even taken her first breath yet. She's suffering, she's dying. Please help my daughter, Demona."
A sigh of resignation and then, "I don't think you are aware of the consequences if I help her."
Elisa stood up and rearranged the folds of her kimono. "Oh I'm well aware." she said decisively. "I know the target you'll paint on your back if you're going to do what I know you have no choice but to do."
She snorted and quickly looked away.
"And I would be scared too."
"It is not fear–"
"Of course it isn't."
"And when he finds me, and when he kills me, what will happen to the hatchling I am carrying?"
Elisa closed her eyes and pursed her lips, making clucking sounds with her tongue as thoughts brewed; Demona's apprehension was understandable and warranted. Once she did what needed to be done, it would be like sending up a flare to anyone who may be looking for her. Elisa knew there was a storm coming, with Demona as the focal point. "Trust in your clan."
Back in her hospital bed and surrounded by her family, Elisa was resting as comfortably as possible while still suffering through contractions, some powerful enough to bring her to tears. Maggie had left with April to feed her and put her down, while Derek and Beth sat together on a couple of chairs to the side, the baby sister leaning against her big brother's shoulder.
They knew the surgery had failed and now they were forced to wait there as the doctors tried their best to find another way to induce labor. Pierce, Weathers and Shinohara kept batting ideas back and forth, exhausting every bit of medical knowledge and experience the three of them could think up but the man the Mazas knew as the miracle worker was fresh out of miracles; Pierce was running low on ideas in how to help Elisa. The magic inside of her was hampering every technique he had, burning away any drug before it could do anything to even help Elisa with the pain.
Hooked to the donor blood via an I.V., she was still bleeding. The baby's heartbeat was growing dangerously erratic, and slowing. There was an unspoken inevitability surrounding the infirmary, as if they were simply waiting for the end to come.
With her husband on the other side Diane was sitting beside Elisa's bed, stroking her hand and humming old childhood songs she used to sing her children to sleep.
Diane turned; Elisa's voice sounded so small. "Elisa?"
Her face was contorted and her breathing was sharp and shallow. "I need you...to do something..."
"...obviously Pierce can't help..." she continued. "...and I won't let my baby die..."
"There's still time." Diane said; she didn't like where this was heading.
"No...no time..." A hand drifted across the big belly. "...I can feel her..."
"Have faith in the doctors, Elisa, please just hang on."
"If I have to, I'll cut her out myself..."
"No." Diane hissed, surprised Elisa would even consider that. "I'd never allow that."
But Elisa's arm shot out and grabbed her mother by the wrist. "I'm not kidding..."
"I'll strap you to this bed before we would let you cut yourself open."
Elisa grunted as she suffered through another wave of pain, translated through her hand; Diane winced at the pressure put on her wrist. "...mom, please..."
Diane covered her mouth with her free hand, trying to keep herself from breaking.
"I need you to take care of Trinity...if Goliath doesn't return..." Elisa pleaded.
"Promise me. Both of you...you'll find her...and take care of her..."
"We promise, Elisa," Peter answered for his wife, "we won't stop searching until we bring her home."
Releasing from her mother, she gritted her teeth against a scream from the stab of pain that shot through her body like a bolt of lightning but couldn't hold it in. Everyone was on their feet at the terrifying sound that erupted from their sister, daughter and patient.
"Please, doctor," Diane begged, "you have to do something."
But Pierce looked utterly helpless, shaking his head. "Nothing's helping. If I can't operate..." He didn't finish.
Diane simply buried her face in Elisa's hair, feeling Peter's strong hands caress her shoulders.
"All I can do right now is make her comfortable."
But Elisa shook her head and fought her way out of her mother's embrace. "...please..." she begged. "...get the baby out...please..."
"That would be premature."
Every pair of eyes shot up towards the new voice. Demona was standing at the door to the infirmary; in her human guise, but still intimidating.
Having stood guard at the edge of the room, Hiroshi reacted mutely but tellingly. That blood red hair. Memories began to swirl. "You..."
"Yes," Demona responded before knowing what the officer was going to say, "me."
"What are you doing here?"
"I was visiting someone very special to me, until the detective decided to spoil it with her screaming."
Hiroshi's face immediately tightened. If this woman was who he thought she was, he knew her from the reputation only, but there were stories of a mysterious visitor centuries ago with hair like blood, who mated with one of the clan's warriors and left behind an egg. Her appearance here and now seemed to validate that story, as incredible as it seemed.
Diane was wary and she tightened her grip on her daughter's hand while the rest of her family ran interference by instinctively moving themselves between Elisa and the newcomer.
Elisa peered at Demona over the hump of flesh; the last time she saw her Demona had been less than amicable despite all the progress she'd made. And the last thing she knew before being stolen away by the phoenix gate was that Demona had nearly caused the end of existence itself by killing her past self. And now she was standing hipshot at the foot of her bed, watching her suffer. "...demona..."
"...what are you...doing here...?"
"I'm going to save your life, human."
New York, downtown Manhattan
"Looks fine inside, Karen."
She watched as her partner waved his flashlight over the pane of the drugstore's front window, peering into the interior. "Well, it's a big place. Whoever tripped the alarm could be hiding anywhere inside."
"Funny thing is," he said, looking at her, "only the interior motion detectors were tripped and none of the doors or windows."
She smiled. "Maybe it's a rat."
"That's one big rat." he muttered.
"Let's go inside, Williams."
He nodded and grabbed for the radio receiver strapped to his vest. "This is unit six one five, we're at the store and don't see any problems outside. We're going to check it out."
"Roger, unit six one five." the radio crackled back. "Be careful. There were reports of a fire of some sort in your area just a little while ago."
"You got it."
"Let's try the back door." officer Karen told her partner and the two cops stalked around the side of the building into the alley, coming across the side door. What they found was a few square meters of charred pavement and brick wall, including part of the dumpster nearby, as if someone had lit a fire and let it burn itself out. "Holy..."
"Look." officer Williams pointed to the door, half charred and half falling from its hinges. "No wonder the alarm never went off. The contact points were melted together."
"But the door's half gone."
Williams shrugged. "Whatever did this burned hot and quick, but," he nodded to the hole where the bottom half of the door used to be, "it left a good point of entry."
Karen pulled her gun from its holster and switched the safety off. "Let's go. I'll take point." She kicked in the rest of the door and it broke off in pieces, clattering to the floor inside. The officers moved through the storage area and satisfied it was clear, moved into the store proper. The aisles were perfectly clean and kept until they got to the candy aisle; there were a few wrappers littering the linoleum. "Williams." she said, alerting her partner. "I think our intruder has a sweet tooth."
Something flapped back and forth and both the officers whirled around to try and find what made the sound. The little saloon door on the circular service desk rocked back and forth until it settled on its hinges.
With a few hand signals they split up, approaching the desk from different angles. As her partner came in from the rear, Karen ducked low and sidled up against the counter, peering through the crack of the door. The interior space was empty but there was a cubbyhole near the floor covered with a curtain, big and deep enough to hold a small human being. Creeping towards the cupboard, she could hear bumping and rustling behind the layer of fabric. "Okay, we've got you surrounded! Come out now and make it easy on yourself!"
The rustling stopped; whoever was inside froze, maybe hoping that if they stayed quiet enough they wouldn't be caught.
"I know you're in there." Karen called out. "Now, you can either come out on your own, or I'm going to have to drag you out of there."
Again, nothing, not a sound.
"I guess it's option B."
Knowing her partner was positioned on the other side of the desk the officer fired up her flashlight, grabbed the curtain, quickly pulled it to the side and flooded the cubbyhole with light. Something got caught in the beam and covered its eyes with a soft whimper. It was a child, with long black hair and bronze skin; her clothes were rumpled and stained with what looked like chocolate. Obviously the girl had helped herself to a literal smorgasbord of candy. "It's okay, sweetie, it's okay..." the officer tried to assure her, lowering her gun.
But she wouldn't listen; she seemed scared out of her wits. Her big brown eyes were wide and she was still trying to do everything to keep her distance.
"Listen to me, sweetie, I promise I won't hurt you."
The girl was still trying to escape but she'd backed up against the back of the cupboard with nowhere to go.
"Can you tell me your name?" Karen asked.
"Sweetie, please tell me."
"...my mommy..." she girl squeaked. "My mommy said...not t' tell..."
"I bet she did." the policewoman nodded. "But I'm not a stranger, I'm a police officer. My name is Karen, okay? Karen." She hooked a thumb under the badge attached to the left side of her vest and angled it so the girl could see. "See?"
The girl nodded; obviously she'd seen a badge before.
"See, I'm not a stranger anymore, we're friends now. My name is Karen. What's your name?"
There was still a glint of mistrust in the girl's eyes, and she turned away. Obviously she didn't want to reveal her name; obviously she was warned against it.
"It's okay, sweetie, you don't have to tell me anything." she conceded to the girl's palpable fear. "But I can't leave you here alone. I want to help you, I want to take you home."
She jerked up at the mere mention. "Home...?"
"That's right." She reached out her hand. "Home."
Staring at that outstretched arm, the girl considered the offer but didn't move.
But she shook her head and refused, "Nuh."
Karen sighed. "I don't want to have to pull you out of there, sweetie."
"No!" she screamed and the officer swore the girl's eyes glowed against the light.
"Fine." she said. "I'm really sorry."
Suddenly, the cheap balsa wood panel behind her was torn away and Williams grabbed the girl from behind.
"Nooo!" she screamed. "Lemme go!"
"It's okay, honey, it's okay!" the cop tried to soothe her, but she was fighting tooth and nail to get free. "Jesus, she's strong...!"
Karen came around and tried to help her partner against a toddler with superhuman strength. She noticed the girl was leaving little cuts everywhere with a set of overly-sharp fingernails. "Calm down, sweetie, calm down!"
"Hold her, Williams!"
"I'm trying...!" he grunted, any exposed skin getting torn up. He was wrestling with a child, trying to grab a hold of her arms as his partner tried to soothe her by stroking her long black hair. "Damnit, Stone, help me out here!"
Karen grabbed her arms as her partner hugged the child around her waist but she kept struggling, so much so she started to squirm from her coat. With one swift motion, her coat was pulled off and much to the pair's surprise a pair of wings suddenly unfurled. Everyone went still, including the girl.
Officer Karen stared at the little girl and her wings now revealed to the world. Now free from their confines, they trembled and stretched and proved they weren't just strapped on. "Oh god..."
"She's a gargoyle." her partner whispered. "She has to be."
The girl had finally relented, expression close to breaking. The sugar high was wearing off. "Don' hurt me..." she whispered.
"Oh, sweetie, no...we won't hurt you..."
Tears were budding. "I want my mom."
Karen nodded and stroked the girl's cheek. Now that she was able to get up good and close, she spotted the little spurs above each eyebrow that were once obscured by the mane. And she swore she saw something fidgeting at the back of the girl's pants. A tail?
Officer Williams was still holding the girl against his chest; she'd calmed down slightly but it might've been the sheer terror of her exposure. "What do we do?"
"We have no choice. We take her in."