Author's Note: Well, that vacation lasted a little longer than I thought.

With my job and an outside art project I've been hired for, things get a little hectic sometimes and it doesn't leave enough time for my hobby. But it looks like I really didn't miss anything except Fanfiction.Net's unwarranted ban on NC-17 fics and an excess of badly written, badly characterized lesbian porn.

Which also brings up a point to all the readers sifting through the archives. Please take care not to miss the fantastic, wonderful stories posted between all the gimmicks, and clichés, and the mindless sexual deviancy. Puaena (whom I thank for her editing skills), Ellen Stolfa, and Denigoddess. Dylan Blacquiere, Silverbolt, Allaine, Kara, Cysinger and Firebird. These men and women build each a world that goes beyond fiction, they expand our understandings of humanity and love and pain in beautiful prose without degrading the characters or destroying what they are. To instill drama is not to change the characters, to induce romance does not meaning destroying relationships because they may be considered boring. It is a task we all have taken on and a path on which we must not falter.

As for my own work, 80 - "Overture", now posted, and the fact the title is similar to that of the Gargoyles: New Legends title is a total coincidence. Really. Seriously. It's a story meant as a preview into the direction being taken for season 6, still being slowly pieced together into a comprehensible string. Call it an epilogue of sorts to Red Sands, or a prologue to the new season, it serves as both a bridge and my attempt to get back into the grind of a regular season.

And the fact it ballooned beyond what I ever intended it to be is another factor why it took so goddamned long. But I thought I should at least get a story out before...well, it snows...or I have to put up my Christmas lights...

Laters...The Barracuda

80 - "Overture"

...Dedicated to Puaena, Jenigoyle, Lily and long overdue, Josh Wurzel...

Time was virtually healed.

How and why, questions without a probable answer yet several lingering theories, being time and space were baffling, symbiotic entities. Relentless creatures with secrets still to hold from the beings of simple, miniscule flesh trapped within its wake, constantly struggling to understand even their own mortality.

Imagine every sentient choice, every decision and opportunity, prospect and possibility, had the opposing reaction played out in every form and function, subtle and destructive, and created worlds parallel to our own in an endless, eternal string, and constantly expanding. They are used as buffers, transplants for the timeline to ensure when one thread snaps, another is laid perfectly into place, even though it would mean killing countless beings in a comparable universe.

This particular universe was wounded severely, when a single being journeyed back one thousand years and maliciously beat and murdered her past self. Time twisted, as this specific being was seemingly a focal point for millions of decisions made from that exact point on, some grave, some vital, some ironically crucial to both humanity and the gargoyles' survival of the twentieth century and beyond.

Without Demona's aid in the downfall of Wyvern, Goliath and the surviving members of the clan would not be cursed with a stone sleep, and would not find themselves awake in a foreign land and time. Goliath would not discover, and love, and marry Elisa. Their hybrid children would not be born, and thus, never release the guardian spirit entrapped for three entire millennia. MacBeth would not survive to the century of unbridled technology, Xanatos would not reform and become a great ally, and what heroes of the late nineties remained would prove ineffectual, and be obliterated by Madoc's rise without the proper aid, and the world would fall into ruin under the hand of the Unseelie court.

So many changes piled atop each other and lending to a future's continued existence shook this timeline to its very core, and one thread positioned among a trillion wavered and almost snapped. It went slack, then taught, and radically deformed. It acted as a gravity-well towards the others, pulling the strands of time together and tangling them, an eruption of galactic proportions caused by one bullet guided by a millennium of pain. It would be so easy for the universe just to erase Demona from ever having wrought her particular brand of havoc upon the populace, but she was far too involved. And in the attempt, it damned from start to finish the entire thread, unable to stand as a whole entity any longer with such devastation. And in successive cosmic hiccups getting stronger and more frequent as the end of the timeline loomed, this reality threatened to blink completely from existence.

Many timelines were damaged, and others were completely obliterated in a downwards spiral, until one boy with mixed blood and a yet untapped potential tied them back together, and stopped this universe and all the many parallel realities from collapsing in on themselves. Somehow, he set things right, he stopped this universe and the others from total obliteration, every being and building and consequential molecule, even she who started it all.

Time was virtually healed, the flow unaffected, and Demona lucked out.

****************************************

April 5th, 2002
Fortune though, was indistinct. She was alive, and spared a death by an executioner once thought inescapable, but a prisoner within her own damaged mind, having finally succumbed to the torrent of pain and threatening psychosis held back for a thousand years by a volatile emotional barrier. It collapsed with the sudden death of her only daughter, her anchor to some sort of sanity, and the intelligent, sophisticated gargoyle cultured and learned quickly crumbled into a huddling mass in a hospital gown, habitually babbling, and practically incoherent to the world around her.

The walls of steel were torn, shredded by her hands in uncontrollable fits that erupted suddenly, the gargoyle at most times comatose, at others violently deranged, and a danger to anyone who happened to be near. It was a cell more than a hospitable ward, to keep her safe, and the others safe from her. Any visitor would be confused among the menagerie of apparitions owing to her ruined psyche. Of enemies and friends and monsters she feared secretly, of Viking and Hunter and Quarreyman alike, they haunted her constantly, stealing needed sleep, and robbing her of even the sanctity and privacy of dreams.

Glass-eyed, the harsh fluorescent lighting above reflected from dulled ash, her eyes open to the ceiling of the small cell, isolated from the world, and deprived of even the sight of the sky outside the thick walls of layered titanium mesh. Knotted into the tangled mess of scalloped wings folded chaotically atop each other, a refuge of warm, dark, cerulean leather, she lay, staring at the ceiling. Her fingers played idly with the molten red flowing over her shoulders, thick and unkempt, and losing quickly the luster of silk with only a few days neglect.

She hummed a repetitive tune, Chopin and Mozart and others unrecognizable, of humanity's best coalesced into a garbled harmony that trickled ever slightly from stung lips, swollen and pursed. Indicative of her mental state, it was erratic and measured only to the rhythm running through her head.

The room flickered just barely, a glow adhering against the walls as an emerald vapor turning quickly to red, a small light above the cell door signaling a visitor to this barren place. Her sanctuary breached by a sudden rush of air and a tremor passed along the steel floor, she jerked anxiously into a defensive position. She retreated with the noise of computer-controlled deadbolts unlatching, echoing mercilessly throughout the noise-sensitive chamber like a tuning fork, and scuttled into the corner, watching warily the arrival test her entry.

A scent familiar, but tainted, enough to present an instant mistrust to the jailed. She growled, huddled into the crook of two adjoining walls, a glitter of natural phosphorescence burning sunset the only remnant of a physical form almost completely hidden by way of murky skin.

Holding a tray of warm food, Angela entered into the cell and ensured the door behind locked back into place. She stared into the darkened burrow where the sounds of heavy breath gave presence to the occupant. Her stance was wary, but controlled, and her eyes unshaken. "Hello, mother."

****************************************

Her presence was phantomlike, a consciousness without the handicap of heavy, intrusive flesh, riding the lengths of wire and fiber-optic layered behind the stone walls and hearth to almost any room she desired in this palace atop a silver spire. A mentality sired from and nurtured by the strength of a computer, and thus able to disjoin with relative ease, she could literally be anywhere and everywhere at once.

Every corridor an artery, she could feel the Wyvern occupants inside of her, each crawling, searching, finding their way through her.

Mother, the manufactured sentry of Wyvern traveled in the blink of an eye to each corner of her protectorate, almost enjoying the liberation of stretching her mind to encompass all she could reach, or at least, the computer generated emotional approximation of joy.

But a reminder echoing in her perception quickly summoned her, and drew all pieces back into one cohesive whole with a purpose demanding her full attention. With an internal sense of time always precise by the Eyrie building's optical atomic chronometer, accurate to one second within a hundred million year timespan, she knew exactly when to come. Forever chained to her menial tasks by the stroke of a keyboard, she was entrusted this electronic sentinel to protect the protectors.

Down deep below at the bottom of her grasp, a few floors below the castle in the center most section of the Eyrie lay a buried chamber, and she arrived there by way of an electronic transferal nearly besting the speed of light. Every hour on the hour, she was ordered to check on this patient and prisoner for any signs of change, and now the time required of her yet another glimpse into the only occupied cell.

But another had already beaten her.

Her cameras in the cell itself identified the occupant and her visitor clearly even in the dim light, by every spectrum. In infrared the huddled woman in the corner radiated red and orange like she spawned fire from her belly. In ultraviolet she could unmistakably see the nervousness shrouded by a valor, obviously forced, on the intruder's face, a spectrograph revealing fear where normal sight would miss such detail.

She watched the crouching creature slowly acknowledge the visitor bearing a gift, and as always inquisitive, she was curious to see the result of such courage.

****************************************

From beneath a lowered brow, she looked up, her eyes peering unto the specter standing before her. "Hello, spirit." Demona whispered, to what she thought to be a phantom taken a vindictive form to tease and tempt her shattered sanity, one of many come to visit. "Come to play, come to whine, come to boast yourself as flesh and blood."

"I don't boast my life as anything but what you see before you, mother."

Laughter both eerie and shrill echoed from Demona's chest, swelling and reverberating up through her esophagus, a grand snort in the audacity of this shadow. "She speaks still, she plays her game, she is pretentious like them all."

Her long, bound hair swaying with the gentle motion, Angela shook her head in pity. She thought a time of rest would help her mother to heal, but it seemed when heaped upon her so much death, it had shattered her fragile resolve, and she continued to delve even deeper into a broken consciousness. Settling the food to a side table as unadorned as the rest of this spartan room, she stepped back and noticed her mother turn her gaze towards the feast.

Led by the strong aroma of red meat, Demona surveyed the food from her blanket of darkness, the scent inviting, but the reality fallacious, and completely unreliable. She could no longer trust her senses, hearing voices when alone, and seeing phantoms flicker past in the pewter gloom of her cell. Her eyes slowly roamed back towards the expectant woman, as if waiting for something. Another spirit she thought, and though starved, by her subtle body movement she had denied her jailor the pleasure of seeing her give in to a primal need.

"Eat." Angela demanded, an iron tongue to pacify an anxious matron eying her as if she appeared more appetizing than the provided meal.

Silence the length of several heartbeats descended upon them before the gargoyle at last proved she were not some morbid statue sculpted in a laggard pose. Dark eyes flickered, suddenly, from one, to two. Towards where an apparition had forced her way from an oblivion of powerful sedatives and unbalanced chemical reactions, through an entrance like a smeared windshield where water sluiced down the glass and obscured the image. Rippled at first beyond recognition, she emerged from the darkness of impenetrable titanium, born from a damaged mind, and soon cleared into a familiar form. It was Angela, in every physical aspect, lean, lavender, beautiful, but this entity held a clean, cold spite in her eyes, and hungered for the huddled mass having curled into the corner.

Demona shivered, and leaned back into the wall as far as she could press against the unforgiving steel, her eyes becoming wide. "Another ghost..."

Unnoticed by her twin as such her existence only a figment of Demona's broken psyche, she sauntered through the cell, watched intently by the cowering gargoyle who seemed fearful of her intrusion into this refuge from the world. "Demon." she greeted, her voice inherently malicious, dripping with a veiled charm that only served to heighten Demona's apprehension. "How astonishing to see you've finally ended up locked in a cell. And by your own clan no less. The great warrior indeed."

Demona recoiled, throwing her gaze away, unable and unwilling to stare into a creature that seemed to mock and damn by just her eyes. This was what she feared so, her mind creating from a millennium of recollection any face, either familiar or gross, to haunt her. "...leave..." It was a whisper from a child more than a woman, weakened by guilt and loss.

"Mother?"

"Disappear from whence you came, spirit..."

Unaware of what else her mother saw beside her, Angela approached. "Mother, please." she implored to her with an outstretched hand. "I want...I NEED to speak with you. I need your help...everything's collapsing around us. Goliath, Elisa and Trinity are missing, the gate could have taken them anywhere, or anywhen. The city is suffering, and our clan is unable to do a thing because of the threat on our lives."

Lancing by the shoulder of her 'sister', light in step and grazing against the warm flesh with a cold mist, the hallucination circled Angela, disgust carried on her twisted features. "Is she whining again?" the voice came on the tip of a growl, her eyes rolling upwards. "Is the entire omniverse full of your offspring that constantly bitch? Billions upon billions of timelines all intersecting with a single common thread, sniveling, whiny Angelas?" She turned and smiled at Demona, banefully. "I shudder at the possibility."

"And Broadway..." Angela, the true Angela continued, her voice but slowly drowning in the static that now intruded on Demona's consciousness. "He's being guarded with me. It's like he's watching my every move to make sure I'm the exact same as...HIS Angela." The emphasis was clear, and her gaze retreated downwards, to a hand clenching talons against the delicate, leathery palm. Perhaps a test to ensure she was indeed flesh, and not a spirit as her mother would repeatedly contest. "He says otherwise, but...he doesn't meet my eyes, he shifts when I turn towards him...he avoids my touch as if I were poison..."

"Oh, by the dragon..." scoffed the illusory gargoyle, slumping into the bed. "She's even spared by death and still she moans about her lover being suspicious of her." A dare breathed all too casually, her tone was razor sharp. "It is a tragedy that the only child of you and Goliath would be born with such a gruesome defect," she licked her lips, full lips breeding the vestige of a malicious chirp, "the lack of a spine."

Demona growled into the hanging breadths of crimson, a warning gone unheeded.

Skirting her relationship difficulties for a more pressing matter, seeing it had no bearing on her mother's demeanor, Angela kneeled in front, and informed softly, "We're having a remembrance ceremony for your rookery sister tomorrow night."

Demona perked up, her attention captured in full and twitching with the mention of her clever sister, lost to the clan in her foolishness, or bravery as others wished to view her desperate bid to aid her beloved brother. "...another spirit long since dust..." she whispered into the cup of her hands. "...let her sleep..."

From the bunk against the far wall, lounging within the disheveled sheets, the spirit laughed, hard, long and loud. It traveled upwards against the titanium, oscillating against the pure steel and sending a shiver down Demona's spine, Angela's voice never having sounded so very vicious. "It's just as well she's dead once more. Considering what you did to her a thousand years ago, her decaying shell is far better off buried under several hundred tons of debris."

"Do not speak of her!!" the matron seethed, the thunder of her voice ringing across the walls suddenly, a piercing detonation of sound, and aiming her spitfire glare towards the figment.

Thinking the snarl was directed towards her, Angela could only draw back and hunt for the third invading part to this conversation, invisible to all of her senses. "What?"

Mother too, scanned from afar, still mystified by the erratic behavior even after watching Demona almost unremittingly for the past four days, the gargoyle sometimes speaking to thin air.

"You killed her," the hallucination leaned forwards from the brook of torn sheets, baiting the hook, "you worthless wretch."

Demona jumped to her feet, her shoulders banked high and her lips curled back. She pushed past her daughter, treating the younger woman as a mere obstacle and from Angela's viewpoint, jerked to a sudden halt and stared into the wall. Her eyes would melt the steel mesh in the intensity at which she faced the epithet of her demons disguised by a scabbard of familiar flesh, and the figment seemed to enjoy the ire raised by simple words that cut as deep as any blade.

"What do you see, mother?" Angela demanded from behind. "What haunts you?"

"You are the true epitome of every wickedness ever encountered, by nature or fiction, and in every form." She leaned closer, the spirit, coming face to face. It was an image so clear and true to life that even her eyes reflected perfectly Demona's snarl, and confused further the gargoyle's already defective senses. "You are the conception of malice, evil wearing a skin of a false redemption and playing good until you strike once more..."

"Untrue!"

"Even your clan fears you, your blood, they fear their deaths by your hand. You'll kill them all eventually."

"No..."

"Murderer!!" the figment screamed. "DESTROYER!!!"

Demona instantly struck with her claws, ripping through the figment's head with a quick and deadly thrust. The hallucination of Angela parted around her hand, and her talons impacted harmlessly into steel with a flare of sparks, the effort of muscles straining from a killing blow misting fire into the air. "NOOOOO!!!" the gargoyle howled, her head chiming with the lasting echo of the hallucination's chilling laugh. Dislodging her claws from the cell wall, she staggered backwards and lifted violently shaking hands to a face contorting with grief. "No...no more death...no more pain..."

"Mother..."

Demona clutched her head, as a chorus of voices screamed alongside her daughter's, wracking against her tissues and sending the neural electrical balance of her brain into disarray and chaos. "Get out, all of you!!" she screamed, as the static of garbled cries fused into one, slowly killing her and shredding her last reserves of sanity. She fell, or collapsed, being that her entire structure simply crumpled and landed in a heap buried by her wings, the woman sobbing relentlessly. "Leave me!!"

She shook her head, stubbornly, and edged closer. "I will not."

"GET OUT!!!" It was a frantic cry, the gargoyle bordering on another psychotic episode, her eyes wild and her skin bulging. She swiped with her talons at any image that had dared to stand in her path, and Angela nearly missed having her throat torn out, thick enamel just barely grazing across the tender flesh of her vocal cords. "GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!! GET OOOOOOUUUT!!!!"

Angela scrambled back and fell against the doorway, mother and daughter separated on either side of the small, enclosed cell, one astonished and breathing heavily, another huddled and weeping a pool of tears onto the floor.

"...leave me alone..."

She rubbed an absent hand across her throat, feeling the trickle of blood having seeped from where the skin was torn only just. "As you wish."

****************************************

It was an interesting exchange to the computer consciousness. And though in most ways relieved Angela had not been harmed, it gave valuable insight to her understanding of the beings she spent her brief existence serving without question. Such is man she thought, and such is flesh to be so brittle. And as she watched further, they did not seem so powerful as once thought to a naive sentience first finding its way.

Her security camera in the hall followed intently Angela as she raced from the cellblock and down the hall, clutching a hand to her throat to stop the flow of blood. Her trail was erratic, staggering against the wall with her sight blurred by the tears breeding along the tapered edges of her eyes.

****************************************

Around the corner, she fled, hitting her shoulder against an object solid and protesting of the treatment.

"Angela?!" Desdemona cried in surprise, the younger female fighting against her offered hands, even the most stalwart of grasp brushed off almost violently. "Your throat...!"

A response of a grief-stricken sob, she ran off, the tortured woman using the darkness as her camouflage. Deprived of a universe and shunned by both her mate and mother, forced to exist as solely a replacement to she who died here, Angela fled, trying if anything to escape her own pain, and the demons that trailed her.

Desdemona strained her vision to peer into and through the darkness, amethyst eyes watching the last vestiges of lavender submerge and drown, swallowed by the corridor angling into the distance. "Poor child," she caressed the still air with a mournful whisper, "caught between worlds." Approaching the door, she looked in through the small portal of layered plexiglas with a protective steel mesh in between the panes, and picked out from the murk the edges of a figure huddled into the corner. Her sister, now a killer and dangerously unbalanced, broken, defeated. "And you," she washed a hand across the portal, "caught within the abyss of your own mind."

****************************************

The electronic entity seemed warranted of her interest in this cell, as most of the clan were taking it upon themselves to wander here, and pity the deranged. And what a chance it would be to learn, and understand what drives these paradoxical beings and why they would unload their burdens onto a slavering, psychotic beast who would treat them no better than figments of her own imagination.

She quickly retreated back into the comfort of her realm. Nestled between the constant flow of information and wild streams of tachyons in a full spectrum of color, and searching for yet another episode of the human condition to observe.

****************************************

"...It has been informally dubbed 'The Hole', the massive chasm in the middle of southern Manhattan where a number of city blocks were torn apart and practically flattened by several massive...monsters, as best as anyone can describe..."

The skyline was almost completely hollowed from Park Avenue to west twenty-third, from 8th Avenue to west fourteenth and beyond, and sagged where the buildings had been toppled and laid to waste. The empty space now filled by shafts of searching light rising upwards and alighting the sky with their brilliance, rescue helicopters hovered across the gorge once a hub of commerce, a home for thousands, and an empire nourished by a massive workforce now reduced to a near vacuous expanse. Where smoldering ruins were being painstakingly removed piece by jagged, broken piece, through the remaining skeletons on the threshold of collapse. Inside the barriers, large machines rumbled past the surviving buildings and across the beaten landscape, with metal claws for hands plucking steel beams from the fields of a trampled city.

Forever sifting and seeking, hoping to find any assurance underneath the rubble.

"...Authorities are still unclear as to what caused this devastation, and what those creatures were that carved a destructive path through busy city streets..."

Through someone else's electronic eyes, the world watched as entire buildings crumpled underneath the magical creatures and vanished into the streets below, replaced by plumes of thick black smoke streaming through the surrounding structures with the sheer force of so many tons of steel and concrete. Depriving New York of a testimonial to its splendor, and many their lives. Gathered around their televisions and radios, they watched from afar each station air the devastating images again and again, mesmerized and angered, until engraved in their minds what the contempt of one species against another would bring.

"...Even though most of the destroyed section had been evacuated, over twelve hundred bodies have already been recovered in less than four days, and still, the efforts continue to find any survivors beneath the rubble of buildings completely destroyed..."

Sifting through the rubble of several blocks laid to ruin, an entire legion of rescue workers pulled corpses from the smoldering wreckage, each draped in the American flag to honor them. Gray like ghosts, and covered in ash, the humans did their solemn duty to find any salvation between the blackened girders and the cinders blanketing the city.

The smell was of steel burned and gasoline, of charred flesh, a smell none would escape, and a stench that, when close, would nearly drive even the sturdiest to retch. It would follow them no matter how far or fast they could travel, ensnared and drifting in the ocean breeze flowing across the Manhattan shores, a clear night tinged with an unfamiliar odor, an almost material pain tasting of grit and poison.

"...Thousands of rescue workers from the entire state of New York and across the country, with aid from the U.S. army and Canadian armed forces, are slowly making their way through the wreckage, and thanks to their tireless efforts, have already saved an estimated five thousand people..."

Medical personnel stood on the periphery of an abyss, helping the small amount of survivors from the powdery, choking soot. And grappling with an adversary of fatigue, coupled by the billows of steel gray streaming from the numerous fires still ablaze. They wore a badge of blood, and stains of soot, the ashes of women and children soiling more than just their clothing.

"...Hundreds of thousands have flocked to the edges of the damaged section, hoping to hear any word from family members still trapped inside, and everywhere, on almost everything, there are tributes..."

Monuments both professional and crude littered every signpost and stairway surrounding the chasm, but each holding to the spirit of a single soul, and thus, each as important as the other. In only four days, pictures and poems, flowers and ribbons had appeared to mark the fallen, and gave a face to a stranger among millions, citizens of a greater kingdom never to be forgotten. It was far too easy to lose an individual in the face of something so grand, so horrifying, and every trinket, every intimate piece ensured their celebration by any who passed by. Stuffed animals and miniature flags, though diminished in their number still resonated loudly, and clearly for all to hear.

Near the severed stump of the DeMoro building, where most of the damage had occurred when the mindless fragment of Set had been released, there was a wall. It stretched into the horizon on the Eastern side, the ruddy brick fascia layered by photographs for the sole purpose of identification. Of any hope someone would recognize a survivor, and reunite them with their family desperate for any resolution.

A young EMT wading through the memorials examined a fireman's helmet left as a tribute to bravery by his surviving brood, and though scratched and bruised, it glistened. Engine 12 it read in lettering almost burned away, from a hall very near, one of the first to respond to the disaster, and one of the stations to suffer the most casualties by way of gods brought back to life.

In a surge of unbridled emotion, her eyes clouded by dust, she wept.

"...We can only hope more will be found alive, in basements or alleys or anywhere they could take refuge before the attack. We can only hope to salvage from this tragedy the strength to go on..." Facing the viewing audience under the scrutiny of the news camera, the reporter wiped away the grime having collected to his exposed skin, his eyes half-lidded and exhausted, carrying the entirety of his emotions on a glassy surface. Behind him, the rescue efforts continued determinedly to rebuild from utter ruin, a haunting image that spurred even the most cynical. "...This is Travis Marshall reporting from ground zero. Goodnight..."

****************************************

The imagery fed through the live feed was catastrophic, each more than the last. She had not meant to intercept the television feed imposing itself into the whole of her presence as it traveled to each receptacle in the building, but it gave off an odd sensation of static across the eddies of her neural web. From the blur of electronic protoplasm emerged the outlines of the signals that glowed and screamed of chaos within a place of eternal order.

The computer sentience had learned to avoid television at any cost. A form of entertainment that to her, only served to bring into this refuge the rest of the world's collective pain condensed into a single, painful stream.

"The Hole." a voice echoed below her. "How very clever of a populace to reduce such gruesome devastation to an appealing name."

As David Xanatos looked up into the television screen, dark obsidian observing carefully the chasm in the middle of the city, Mother now looked back, focusing her eyes upon one of her creators and progenitors without him noticing, and studying a facial cast almost glacial and unreadable. Anger it seemed he wore across his brow and lips, annoyance at something attempting to change drastically his fate and that of his city without his strict permission, and she knew by his reputation as a creature that thrived on dominance and control, especially that of everything around him, that he held an extraordinary amount of rage beneath the calm facade.

"Call it a human trait to ease our collective pain."

Mother switched her focus towards the billionaire's companion, a remarkable man robed in chemical-stained white, and near-blinded by long hair salted by gray. His words though rang true, and Mother made crisp her audio sensors to catch every utterance and all the sentiment behind them.

"We strive to make sense of the incomprehensible by labeling it, and making it tangible, touchable, and therefore almost understandable." minded the good doctor, almost hidden behind a slab of cold, dead flesh, tinkering and dissecting and doing what all researchers do when given the opportunity. His voice was hollowed when reflecting from the sterile walls of the Eyrie morgue, growing to a concave that made large a lesser voice. "But being that you are so beyond us commonplace mortals," his voice was tinged with a not so subtle humor, biting towards his employer, "you may have forgotten that."

Xanatos turned from the television suspended from the ceiling and towards Dr. Alan Pierce, the Eyrie doctor pulling the white sheet back over the corpse and pushing the long steel drawer back into place among a wall of hundreds. His eyes tapered into slits with that of his subjects' seeming rebellion, and he did his best to remain the king of his proverbial castle with a tenor steadfast and steel. "I do sign your paychecks, Dr. Pierce." he reminded, receiving a fleeting smirk in response. "And in essence I own you. Do try to act the part."

Pierce nodded mechanically, his eyes though directed to his small handheld computer, a list of names of the deceased scrolling past. "Which is why I have done exactly what you asked, dear employer, and painstakingly identified and catalogued one hundred and three Guild bodies."

The doctor's flippancy aside, Xanatos sought out a curiosity, with the identities of the Guild corpses now completely identified by either police files or dental records. Coming aside Pierce with a swift step, he looked over his companion's shoulder and reviewed the names listing alphabetically. "I know some of these names." he revealed without any surprise, picking from the list former contacts in a life before this. "They're mercenaries."

"Hired thugs alongside seasoned police officers, army reserve and security guards." muttered Pierce, shaking his head, an impressive army gathered for the Guild's first attack wave that ultimately, fortunately failed. "What would possess someone to throw away their lives so effortlessly for a cause of simple genocide?"

"Hatred." he answered simply, and it seemed just the word that encompassed five thousand years of human history pacified the doctor. "And for those fighting alongside the 'righteous', money."

"Well, whatever the lure, one hundred of them died for it, and most by those cannons you have adorning the exterior of the castle." From the corner of his eye partially obscured by the ash-streaked strands, he damned with but a look the loss of life on such a tremendous scale. "You never mentioned your computer-generated custodian is such a crack-shot with a laser beam."

An obstinate penchant for life, Dr. Pierce lashed out with his most potent weapon, and delivered with uncanny flair. A wounding far more inflictive than any claw or tooth, Mother would wince if possessed of any physical form. If she were human, a remark such as that would presumably offend. If she were human.

"The Guild attacked us with the sole intent to kill any gargoyle and said ally they saw." intervened Xanatos, surprisingly on Mother's behalf, being once the advocate for another presence to guard this castle, rather than the collected remnants of Goliath's memory of a centuries dead gargoyle. "Mother simply protected us."

"Some I had to piece together just to identify them! You call that kind of brutality protection?"

He dismissed unceremoniously the doctor's naiveté at the true state of the world, beyond the partisan drama of a hospital operating room, the billionaire's existence forced between the black and white of life and death, and perilously gray. "THEY raised the stakes by attacking this castle." he hissed resolutely. "THEY brought enough firepower onto the cornices above us to level Manhattan, and THEY pressed Mother to do anything to safeguard the lives of a dying species." Xanatos clicked his eyes upwards, maybe sensing an eavesdropper concealed in any camera or computer surrounding them. "I regard her involvement in the battle as essential, and her first trial a success."

Praise from a billionaire whose intentions were never clear, even now, was a gift more like a double-edged sword, deadly to the hands of the recipient. With a quiet whir, Mother adjusted the camera lens and focused in to the doctor, the measure of his heartbeat slowing some.

Quieted, and unwilling to be dragged into another battle of will and morals, Pierce slumped onto the metal roller stool, and breathed the falling hairs from the edge of his brow. He was growing weary, and aging ten years to a day within this place, but the rewards were worth more than he could imagine. "What are we going to do with these bodies?"

"I have made people disappear before," Xanatos responded, a chilled edge to his tone as he continued looking upwards, scanning the ceiling and the security cameras for any movement, for any spark denoting more than simple electrics, "I'm sure doing the same to one hundred corpses would not be such a difficult chore."

"No." came a voice, suddenly, from the darkness, a far corner intersecting a vanishing hall and yet untouched by the abrasive fluorescent glow. A hulking creature emerged from the blur between light and dark, caped by expansive wings and threatening by his very image, but soothing by eyes all too ironically human. "We'll keep them here until we can somehow return them to their families. They at least deserve some peace of mind."

The well-suited billionaire would laugh out loud at the statement, if not for a demeanor earned through battle, of cold ice and determined control. Instead, came a crooked smile. "How very blind of a species of protectors to protect even those who would rather see you extinct, and still so after they are dead."

The gargoyle did nothing but lift up the side of his mouth in return. "Call it a good guy credo."

"Good guy." Xanatos rolled the strange words over his tongue, perhaps never referred to as such during his tenure as an ally until now. "What an archaic term."

"Yeah," agreed Broadway, "seems there's less and less of us everyday."

"These corpses are doing but wasting more of my building's hard-earned power, they would be best disposed of in the incinerator."

"They're still human beings."

"They stopped being human when they sold their souls to commit your race to but a memory no one wants to remember. And they will only draw unwanted attention upon us if the Guild decide to retrieve them, or make their presence here public."

Xanatos ever the misanthropist, Broadway sighed, and shook his head. "The Guild won't risk any kind of exposure. Their greatest weapon is secrecy, and ultimate control of their resources and existence, and they won't sacrifice that." Striking without intention, the parallel was too rich for Broadway to ignore. "Seems kind of similar to another self-satisfied control freak I know."

"Did Angela ever tell you your sense of humor is much like Mr. Hawkins', ill-timed..."

Pierce cringed underneath the folds of his discolored lab coat as the billionaire's response suddenly died away, drowned and silenced by his own prudence. For days now, any mention of Angela brewed animosity from the burly gargoyle, a sore spot at best with her death and abnormal resurrection. "Damn." Between steel and stone the simple mortal was caught, and he had never found the polished, reflective tiling below his feet more interesting than now. "Here it comes..."

His wings trembling, Broadway's eyes narrowed under a shelf of angry bone, a look like a roar and what boiled in the base of his throat would be worse. His eyes drifted towards one drawer among many, a fleeting glimpse at the morgue wall before returning back to Xanatos.

But always the one to tempt fate by spitting in its face, Xanatos was neither impressed nor frightened. He merely adapted to the situation and changed tactics, as he rolled a finger underneath his shirt cuff. "I saw the glance." he scolded righteously, ensuring his voice would not crack under such weighted scrutiny. "You're tied to that slab of steel," his eyes too made the quick journey from aquamarine to cold sterling, "for some apparent reason I can't begin to fathom."

Broadway wrung his answer through clenched teeth, "My MATE is lying on that slab of steel."

"Your mate is in the cellblock several rooms away, trying to reach through the chaos of her mother's damaged mind."

"That's not..."

"That's not Angela?" came the sudden interruption, on the heels of an excuse he thought used far too frequently. "That's not the woman you love? Looks like her, sounds like her, and every conceivable test we can think of whether it be by blood or memory proves she is virtually identical to whom you first fell in love with." His eyes remained hard and narrow, the color of iron glinting from deepest brown, almost black in the absence of light. And even as the gargoyle stared at him with a hunger to debate further the identity of his mate, his certainty to end this dialogue seemed to win over even the sturdiest of nocturnal creatures. "I have lost many people I cared for, and NONE of them came walking through a tear between two timelines and back into my life."

His tongue tipped by the sting of speechlessness, Broadway was left without a sufficient rebuttal. His jowl once gaped slid back into a closed position, and his jaw clenched tightly with a protruding lip pierced on either side by mean canines.

Satisfied his point had been sufficiently made, Xanatos started moving away, audaciously turning his back on the gargoyle and speaking from behind the freshly-grown tail of hair bound by a strap of black fabric. "And as for these bodies, if I decide whether or not keeping one hundred corpses of one of the most tenacious enemies you have ever faced is worth the risk, I and I alone will make the decision to remove them."

"You can't do that." Broadway protested, a voice lost of its once great power and burgeoning authority.

"Last time I checked, Broadway, you were not leading this clan, nor are you daily risking the lives of your family and your multi-billion dollar empire for a small clan of gargoyles. So please, don't tell me what I can and cannot do." At the far corner of the morgue where led a doorway into the hall, he turned on his heels and stood rigidly with a snap. Half immersed in the shadows leading from the corridor, it seemed appropriate by a life spent walking a fine line between glory and damnation. "Dr. Pierce," the billionaire summoned forcefully, when his entourage did not come, "walk with me."

His brow crumpled over kind eyes, the good doctor being tugged obediently behind Xanatos on a very short leash by way of his paycheck and medical legitimacy, and slipped from the stool by heed of a king. With a sympathetic nod to Broadway, he followed, hands in pockets, fiddling with small beakers and the like.

As the footfalls descended into a drown of a dying echo, he was left alone within the infertility of a room housing the deceased, the haunt of a hundred voices prickling at the back of his skull. Broadway's gaze wandered lazily, passing across a wall of compartmental doors bald and austere and each a distorted mirror of sterling. It seemed to rise and distend and tower over him, a trick before tired eyes, and he searched for one cabinet amongst an identical score, labeled simply by name.

Not hard to find, it was there, still there and still unremarkably tagged by a yellow card with black, faded felt pen.

Drawn towards it, his talons hesitantly tugged against the drawer's steel handle, the metal instantly conducting the bitter cold through his receptive flesh, and the protective door released with a gentle tug, liberating from the sealed, claustrophobic compartment a mouthful of mechanical frost. And even sterilized and bagged by thick plastic, the fused scent of lingering floral perfume and embalming fluid were at best a wicked wheeze that forced him back, a clean jerk to avoid such a stench. The drawer trembled from the weight resting atop as it journeyed further outwards, and snapped against the stops inside, the metal whining from the sudden wrench.

His breath shuddered, expunged from his lungs by sight of a seamless carrier with a barely humanoid shape. Clasping to the zipper, he pulled back and split the golden teeth in one prolonged, torturous motion, each separated fang revealing more of the occupant underneath the bag.

Kept from decaying by the chemicals fed through her bloodstream and the cryogenic cool, the body was still untouched by decomposition, a macabre finery to a woman seemingly, harmlessly sleeping. Ruined by two bullet holes, the heritable lavender had been bleached from milky skin, and turned blue on the periphery by the frost. Broadway stared longingly at the cadaver, undressed and completely revealed beneath the parted fold of the body bag. His breath froze. "Angela..."

He knew she would not answer, her lips ever unmoving as he traced the bulging swell, hoping perhaps in the depths of despair for if anything a gasp to leak through. His fingers raveled through follicles unbound, and starched of their silk, gritty, and Broadway leaned in and delved his mouth into their breadth. He tasted the Manhattan rain still adhered to her cold skin, and the gift of his lotions, his perfumes, an aroma that pulled from the deepest corners a burst of memory and brought the sting of tears to his eyes. They trailed along his cheeks and met unresponsive flesh, the stain drawing a splash of color.

Perhaps the billionaire was right, perhaps hanging on to this remnant of his consort only pulled at his soul, and damaged any chance to heal. "I don't know who that is out there," he whispered to his mate and lover and friend, stolen by a flash of steel, "wearing your face and speaking with your voice." Between the wrack against his mighty chest, the sobs so deep they brought a physical pain, he whispered, "I killed for you...when I thought you died, I killed anyone in arm's length just to make that pain go away." He roamed greedily across her face and neck and arms, refusing stubbornly the reality of his loss by every inch of flesh. "And now I'm tortured by some copy dressed in your skin, and I can't make myself love her like I did you." He lay a tepid kiss to cold lips, the chill passing through his skin, and fell his weight upon her, nearly tearing the corpse from the tray as his arms curled around and pulled her close. "No matter how hard I try...I can't love her..."

He cried relentlessly into her throat, a memory summoned without consent of all they shared, and like fire it burned. "...and the pain won't go away..."

****************************************

Reverence of dead flesh confused her.

Ties of love and bond to a lifeless corpse she could not readily understand. The young woman was dead, and why this gentle creature would expend so much raw emotion over a husk emptied of soul and spark presented as much a mystery as they themselves. Another with exacting genetic material and heartbeat resided only meters away, his Angela, an identical replica that would slip into perfect place among this clan, and his heart.

And why he wasted such an opportunity was lost on her.

Mother pulled herself from this depressing place, and followed the retreating humans, quickly loading into the elevator cab at the end of the hall before it detached.

Even a small machine seemingly separate from the rest of the Eyrie building would not be safe from her interest, Mother existing all around them and privy to their secretive dialogue, having transferred herself into the circuitry of the elevator car, becoming the directional controls and even the speaker system, the song of Brahms vibrating across her consciousness. And if Xanatos knew she was eavesdropping on such a conversation, on any of his conversations, he would surely delve his hands into the approximation of her intestines and pluck and pull and tear at the appropriate wires until she withered, and lost the spark of sentience.

And thus, as he suspected her presence, she listened carefully, clandestinely.

****************************************

"Balls of brass, Mr. Xanatos..." Pierce whispered beneath his breath, their discourse now in full bloom, and the doctor damning further his proprietor's bravery in talking down a four hundred and fifty pound, potential killing machine. "Though I confess I've never heard you clank when you walk."

He rolled his eyes with the jest, and bemoaned, "Amusing." Turning towards the doctor trying unsuccessfully to conceal a smirk, just the expression he owned fell the smile from Pierce's lips. "Finished?"

He straightened neck stiff. "Quite."

"Good. Now, about my wife."

Pierce swallowed a breath, a polished streak of sympathy crossing his gaze. "She's dying."

An answer brutal in its delivery, Xanatos' expression merely remained glacial, and unchanged even with the news of his wife's worsening condition. He seemed more metal than the watcher contained into all the titanium and varnished redwood dressing surrounding them.

"Whatever's trawling through her bloodstream is eating her alive." the doctor continued, leaning against the cab wall and accompanying bronzed banister to rest, looking upwards into the speaker that housed a soft concerto playback. "She has small tumors forming in her brain, lungs and lymphatic system, and they're spreading. The medication is only prolonging the inevitable, and even chemotherapy and radiation probably won't do a damned thing." His head fell back down, his eyes falling on Xanatos and obscured by the wayward hairs he refused to shear. And what told in the stab of his gaze divulged more than any medical babble could effectively relay. A damning testament. "Her health is deteriorating faster than I can cope, and she needs a more radical cure."

"Then by all means continue your efforts, doctor."

"I will of course," he continued, yet as this conversation remained, he felt an odd sense of foreboding, "but she needs the best this world has to offer, and with your reach, you could..."

"No." An unexpected answer from the king of the world. "No outside help."

Pierce wrinkled the fold of skin between his eyebrows, creasing upwards onto his forehead, confused by his outward apathy. "Why not?"

The answer stalled by a shudder passing through the elevator cab as it slowed and ascended into level against the floor, the doors slid open into the infirmary and research labs by a hush of arrival. "I have my reasons, doctor." He stepped out, leaving the cavity of an answer vicious and inexplicable to weigh against Pierce's curiosity. "Ones that a 'lowly mortal' such as yourself could never understand."

Against his better judgment, he found himself pushing from the elevator cab and into the hall, leading a trail of fire in his quest to dare push the boundaries Xanatos had set in both his professional doctrine and private life. "Why are you doing nothing to save her?!" he cried out, reduced to chasing after the billionaire as he journeyed down the corridor. "Why aren't you tearing apart this entire planet to save her life?!"

"I am doing as much as possible. You have to trust in that."

"What about her mother? That...that Titania...isn't she queen of the damned faeries?! Where the hell is she?! Or Owen for that matter?!" Every unanswered question left as just that, Xanatos persisted towards the entrance. "Hey...!" With a lunge, he grabbed the billionaire's arm and wrenched him from his path, nearly pulling from his feet the other man.

Xanatos was forced to a halt just short of the hospital entrance, and swerved an angry glare to the hand that dared to wrinkle the tailored sheath of finest silk, and then upwards. "I would warn you, Dr. Pierce," his voice was grave and dismissive, as was his warning, "not to go digging where you are not welcome."

A trick of the light perhaps, an errant flicker from one of many machines just inside the hospital, but he swore his companion's eyes boiled with gold beneath the steady sable. The look brushed against him would challenge his resilience like no other, and ultimately, knowing his of his employer's penchant for privacy and a knack for conveniently ridding himself of any hindrance in his path, he conceded. "Your wife," he forfeited the argument, releasing his hold to the expensive fabric, "your choice."

Smoothing the shimmering material creased and dented by a forceful hand, he sneered, "I'm glad we could come to an understanding." They entered, with Pierce on his heels and led only by Xanatos' will. Past the comatose detective Bluestone pocketed in the far corner, where the hum and pulse of the surround of machines were a language signifying the persistence of breath. Every subtle blip ensured his life, and informed with but a gentle, continual tone the caretakers to his health. Steady, alive, but pale and deep within a slumber to heal his damaged brain, Matt lay as would a gargoyle, in perpetual stone.

Xanatos slowed at the edge of the bed, his eyes reading the heart rate monitored by an electronic green line, a small peak with every drum in repetition from left to right. A river with waves never roaring, but at least, never slowing. "And how fares our favorite catatonic?"

Fidgeting with the delicate machines, Pierce was a countenance of static marble but betrayed by his wonderful eyes. He knew, by medical standards measured in an often-ascetic rationale Matt had indeed improved from when first shot, but hope can eventually fade from even the most resolute. "He can breathe on his own for a few hours at a time. His brain is actually slowly healing his autonomic functions, but as for him waking up..." The doctor sighed, a rasp without hope in the recuperation of a man lucky to be alive at all. "His recovery, or even his regaining consciousness relies on the unempirical event of a miracle."

Xanatos nodded, and scanned the entire infirmary in a near-complete circle, his eyes touching to each patient. "Well," he announced, unloading the burden of such a task to heal onto the already overworked physician, "keep up the good work, doctor. I have faith you will prevail in your efforts." Leaving a bewildered Pierce in the middle of the infirmary, surrounded by an entanglement of suffering and affliction, with patients hanging by threads and their dependency bound to the healer alone, Xanatos disappeared through another door.

And the ghost above followed, beyond the ceiling tiles and along the twine of energy conduit.

"Yeah," whispered Pierce in reply, standing alone within a periphery of taken beds, "sure."

****************************************

He slowly pushed the door open and entered the chamber where Fox slept, and slowed his pace, treating this as a hallowed ground. Sequestered from the rest of the sick and healing for the want of her privacy, to allow the dignity of dying without an audience to watch her health fade, and her color pale, a private hospital suite had been claimed for her alone. The illumination kept dim for eyes now stung by bright light, it seemed a viscous haze, a fog that smoked through the small room and dulled any sharp edge.

As Xanatos' eyes focused, he found her underneath the backlit equipment panel above her bed, a minimal light dusting against the fiery falls that was her hair. His sleeping beauty, his goddess and literal better half, she seemed so still his first impulse was to run over and grab her, and shake her to ensure she still took breath.

He slumped an equally weary body into the chair alongside the hospital bed, and filled his gaze with what grounded him, and forced the aspect of humanity, that most feared to reveal, from an armor of polished gold and pre-eminence. Tubes snaked beneath her flesh on one arm, supplying a steady stream of medicine, and the other, taped just beneath the tip of her nose, forcing pure oxygen down her nasal passage and into her throat.

Sickly, thin and sallow, she barely rose the heaping of blankets to a human shape.

And yet, she was beautiful, and exotic, just as the young, mysterious mercenary who captured the fancy of a man, nay, a king, thinking himself above the entirety of the human race. But she brought him down, quickly, just by first sight, and a captivation unlike any before. Her first words were those of antipathy, a disinterest in the powerful and prosperous she, a mercenary by rebellion against a similar, silver spoon fed background, often stole from. But a mutual attraction neither could ignore, building to a covetousness, and then a thirst.

And in one night, under a broken skylight and within a cradle of glass, they shook with passion the foundation of the Eyrie spire.

The world soon became their plaything, and the populace their puppets. They dined at famous restaurants, and made love beneath the sheets of foreign, high-priced hotels while plotting by starlight and chardonnay to remake the planet in their image. Nothing would be beyond their power, by money and wisdom, and the knowledge to coerce and control any rival to their throne who dared to stand against them.

She was his equal, and now by that audacity to damn kismet and the consequences to suffer, she was dying. Regrets played themselves as a broken record in his head, questions of every path he could have chosen. But eventually, ultimately, they all had led to one inescapable conclusion. His road, no matter how difficult, was fated long before the tenth century coin arrived by his scheme, and to his Bar Harbor mailbox.

He noticed then, a rustle of movement on her flank furthest from him. He craned his neck to better see the small lump nestled against her on the opposite side, and a shock of red hair gave clean away his identity. Alexander shifted in a restless sleep, a whimper by sporadic dreams and a spark of Avalon magic from underneath lidded eyes. His son and successor. His immortality, and now, his greatest liability.

The young child curled to his mother's womb, sleeping against her stomach and secured in the folds of the hospital blanket. The child of mixed blood would sleep peacefully if not for an existence plagued by war and the prospect of death just shy of his sixth birthday. The slim, faint brows clenched together with every exhale, the small conjuror bothered by a small, tiny, persistent nag that had not let go since the night of the attack on Wyvern.

His father watched with interest far beyond a paternal concern. He knew, as Alexander did, of his emergent senses plucked by a new presence tied uniquely to them both. Even hidden deep below in the bowels of his empire, beneath tons of steel thick and sturdy, there was an indissoluble thread lashed between them, and one that curled irredeemably around Xanatos' neck. And ever tightened.

And now, because of a bargain struck, his only son loathed his presence, Alexander bothered by the deceit and ambiguity of his father's hand in what extraneous energy pattern tainted the only home he ever knew. And that bothered the father. Hurt him. And endangered to the point of collapse this laughable quest for redemption in the clan's eyes, and his own.

He gently moved his hand underneath his wife's, and shuddered at the chill of her skin. He warmed the limp appendage within his own, stroking the length of the back of her hand, and kissed along each knuckle, suddenly aware of her flavor riding the sterile air and passing along the sensitive skin of his lips.

It would be the sharp bristle of hairs lining his mouth that would rouse her, tickling across her skin. She stirred, awakening with a mumble to her lips, the language of some deeply buried dream spoken aloud. "...mmmmhhnngh..." she moaned, from pain and slumber to consciousness and light, her vision a murky haze. She scented cologne on the draft of recirculated air, her sense of smell at least still astute to reveal a familiar presence. "David...?"

"Don't try to move." said the voice in the dark, alongside of her, and just barely a perceptible direction.

She chuckled under the pretext of a weak vulpine grin, the premise of such a task laughable. "I wish...I could..." she answered that voice, every joint aflame and an exertion to move, even to breathe through infected lungs. "How long...?"

He leaned into the lighting, his smile an assurance, and even his presence beside her a silent pledge to her protection. The billionaire stolen from his empire for one simple mortal, it was crudely romantic. "You've been sleeping for nearly sixteen hours now." he whispered, hands still clasped to hers, tightly. As if fearful to let go.

Fox pulled her features into a cringe, weakly pushing at the overly bundled sheets with her free hand, riled by the coddling even when unconscious. "Damn." she seethed. "I'm so damned weak...I don't want to be weak..."

"You're allowed to be, just this once." He kissed her hand, at the same time halting her willful disentanglement from the blankets piled atop her thin form. "You're ALLOWED to be."

"What's wrong with me?" she swerved the dialogue abruptly.

"We..." he paused, the answer seized to his lips by will, by discretion. By the knife stabbing at his heart he knew, forced by a conqueror exploiting his greatest weakness to keep from her aggrieved the man, and made assuredly livid the husband. "We don't know." he hoped to soothe her with a half-truth, the reality being no identification in the whole of medical knowledge could distinguish what actually caused the tumors to appear, beyond the mystical. "But fortunately, we have a resident miracle-worker currently on staff, and what he weaves with his talented fingers could very well fashion a cure."

His humor was subtle, infrequent, but it would possess a magic of its own, shaping an upward curve to her lips. "And is Owen still gone?"

"To parts unknown," he continued the lie, becoming more comfortable with each new added component, "perhaps to a place we could barely try to grasp any concept of."

"Another sabbatical."

"Remember a few years ago, when he took leave to explore the whole of Louie Anderson's bloodstream...?"

"Tiny Puck the miniaturized cowboy, riding the cellular globules of undigested cookie dough." She turned, and looked down to her son still sleeping against her, enjoying the distant strum of her heart, and the familiar aura of magicks used as a security blanket. Ashen lips turned a smile. She stroked through the red silk that meddled freely across his eyes, the blinding mark inherited by a lineage strange and terrifying. "Alex will take it especially hard."

He nodded against the delicate flesh on her hand. "I know. But Owen will return."

"You sure?"

"Have I ever lied to you?"

She caught him in the eye, perhaps unaware of the incredible irony of his reassurance. "Am I dying?"

He clenched his teeth. She always had to try his limits, taking their bind by ring and vow to its very edge. And by a hardened rasp, he balked under the scrutiny, collapsing the adamant resolve thought unbendable, unbreakable, impenetrable. It was a test to his vow, abrupt enough to steal ephemerally the breath in his lungs. "Yes." it leaked out, for to at least lie about THAT, would insult her.

She turned away, using the room's velvet depths as a cloak to her eyes quickly glazing over. "I imagined my death as something a touch more majestic, an explosion spreading my atoms into the sky, an aneurysm during climax...not something as tawdry as some mysterious disease."

The strength returned, the stubbornness, brow-beating the infectious touch of Sobek's magically mutated blood, quarrelling with the hereditary splice of Avalon sands. "A blaze of glory." he echoed, his wife's adventurous spirit always an intrigue. And though subdued in later years with the daunting task of motherhood and the fate of a company and a species at her hands, it still brewed a fire in each of her eyes. "You were always the dramatic."

Her breathed skittered, shaken by trembling lips. Cold, she drew the blanket towards her, an unconscious reaction to the chill flooding through porcelain flesh, feeding the sickness. "Yeah..." Headlong she stared, and to what, Xanatos could not discern. Her gaze took on a cast more like stone, into the distant, unearthly audience of electronic twinkling silently watching, their glow receding to a pinpoint of light as her long, jet lashes slowly drooped and obscured an already uncertain vision.

He noticed her concentration waning. "Fox...?"

"There's too much I want to do. Too much I want to see." Beneath the strength of tone, there was a sob, and below an appearance of discipline, there was fear. Black and consuming and inescapable, there was fear. "I want grandchildren, I want a fiftieth wedding anniversary, I've not yet done enough to be told to stop to play."

"You'll live to see everything you desire." he pledged adamantly. "I promise you that."

"I don't want to die, David." She turned, a wealth of pain flooding from her lingering, imploring stare. So much it took on a physical, tangible presence. "I don't want to die..." It was a plea both on her breath and in the emerald of her eyes, beseeching her husband to use all at his disposal to save her, desperately. She would never dare to ask of him anything so grand, or what she could easily take by her own hand, but fear made her vulnerable, and the reality of an impending death made her ultimately human.

Quickly, before she merely fell from the hospital berth, Xanatos gathered her into his arms, lying halfway across the bed to better hold the sickly woman, and careful not to break her. "I promise you," he whispered into her hair as she wept inclined to his shoulder, an oath by David Xanatos sealed with the dearest of blood, "I will move heaven and earth to make you well. Be strong, be patient."

****************************************

Impressive.

The man of iron will and empathy was indeed possessed of some semblance of a soul, by heed of the watcher observing a facet never turned to the light. Xanatos straightened the blankets around his wife, Fox having drifted off in his arms, and slipped from the room. Mother crept out along a smaller power conduit, following him, almost eager in the schooling of emotion and pain.

Back through the infirmary, the chance to study the residents presented itself once more, and what indeed a lesson to be learned from the failings of flesh.

So much pain and death in one room this medical chamber served as the apotheosis of human frailty. For even the most distant of affiliations with this clan, they had suffered grievously by one faction or another, and proved to the sentience watching over them their infirmity. One having lost an unborn child, one alive only by way of a miracle and the machines supplying breath and body function, and another skewered and nearly severed in half.

In the white diffused lamplight near the far wall, an older woman busied herself in her work and tried if anything to forgot the void she still felt in her stomach. Mother chose the closest to observe, Maria Chavez, a woman so very strong and sovereign attempt to lose herself in something, anything, lest the memory of losing her only child return in the midst of her toil. Without any break, she continued. Even thought dead by the world and surrounded by the near to death, she still performed her job with the clandestine reports funneled to her by the clan's only remaining contact within the twenty-third precinct, seeking those who killed her child and further risked the life of the man she loved.

The computer consciousness studied the older woman surrounded by a river of loose documents nearly spilling over the edge of the sheets, almost furious in her concentration to the mindless formality of paperwork. She noticed especially the frown to her lips, the pressure applied to her mouth and the struggle to keep an impression of poise among the rest. She hid pain well, and she veiled the turmoil of emotion by culture and grace.

And Mother disbelieved that face convexed against her camera lens.

Her subject neared the exit, the sentience keyed to his distinctive heartbeat to isolate him from the menagerie of human indication.

Another heat signature suddenly emerged, standing out from the cold sterility like a spike, and annexing her roving attention span to the infirmary's door, to the silent watcher doing ironically the same as her, but with a very different motivation.

****************************************

As Todd came to a rest against the doorjamb, he met the rare companion of species walking past, each indignant, and each only cordial to a certain limit.

"Mr. Hawkins." Xanatos passed a quick greeting, disappearing far too easily into the blanket of darkness, the comfort of insignificance beyond the muted light of the hospital.

"Mr. X." he reciprocated, completely unaware of the presence passing just above, and pausing in its chase to observe for only a moment.

****************************************

Leaning against the frame, Todd stared inside towards a single bed. He stood unwilling to move closer to better see the torment the occupant suffered even in her dreams, both a physical anguish and emotional. As the newly revealed Rose Hawkins slept restlessly across the room, from their distance he could even see the resemblance between them, slightly in the set of their jaw, and the uniquely catching dark sable of their hair. But he did not want any union between them, any blood shared, he wanted to hate her, to damn her, he wanted that anger he felt to be a comfortable barrier that kept him from betraying twenty long years of her seeming abandonment.

Rose twitched suddenly, beneath the hospital sheets, and as his eyes had slowly wandered, he took notice with a quick glance, brought by her whimper.

Her breaths were fitful, and with each contortion of her face in pain she writhed, the agony of her gruesome injuries overwhelming and detrimental to any needed rest. She had been stitched from waist to chest, surviving the full ferocity of Sobek's sword piercing her belly, and several surgeries afterwards to better piece together her innards. A wicked scar now ran the length of her stomach and branched off into smaller tendrils crawling across the fire-damaged flesh, the ruptured skin underneath the metal staples, surgical thread and gauze flushed a dark, bloody crimson and slowly knitting together.

At times, when she was not held under heavy sedation, she could barely move, restrained to her bed and forced to gasp for air through healing, constricted lungs. Her foods were pastes, and liquids mixed well with antibiotics and painkillers fed through an intravenous tube.

She moaned in her slumber, throwing her head around on a pillow littered by soft earthen brown and mouthing an incomprehensible string of words trembled by infirmity. Another nightmare among many it was an irony, a servant of god condemned to her own personal hell deep inside of her mind.

Yet still, intractably, Todd kept resisting that small voice that would push him forward to her bed, and grasp to her burned hand as a son would to a mother once lost. Should she suffer alone, he thought, should she suffer by a dream consumed by a skinless demon, or face repeatedly losing her family in one fell swoop. And though the son could never imagine what filled her dreams even now, he could read every line that creased aside her eyes, and hear the muted wail that passed from her lips.

A gasp for air and sanctuary, where fevered dreams merged reminiscence with fear and intimate thought.

Screeching tires and the grind of metal against metal, her memories once successfully submerged were brought back to terrifying clarity. The screams of a frightened child and the stench of a gasoline fueled fire, all were fused into one horrifying cry that drove her to tears even when unconscious. And Todd watched as his mother shouldered the impossible burden of holding the truth from him for so long, wondering if indeed she deserved such a punishment.

"Maybe you should let go."

Todd turned around into the corridor, the chaos of random thoughts now drowned by one overwhelming image. "Of what?" he growled towards the looming specter.

His wife approached, her molten blond like a halo of gold, alighting her features even in the shadows that smeared across the walls of the darkened corridor, and clung to the ceiling. "Of that anger you hold inside of you." she spoke softly though sternly, her smile warm and melancholy and the perfect veil for a deep-rooted concern. "The rage and grief and loneliness you suppress with jokes and a smile."

Todd grunted evasively and swung his head away, returning to the blanketed form that had quieted some.

"I know you, Mr. Hawkins, more than intimately," Annika pressed up against him, resting her chin to his shoulder and wrapping her arms snugly around his waist, "you're not the constant, cheerful joker. You're not that disguise you wear around everyone else, at least not all the time." Her voice rolled smoothly over his shoulder on a warm breath blowing against his ear, the young woman beyond her years in the science of pain. "You hold on to that past just like I do, and sometimes it builds up and bursts at the most inconvenient of times."

He looked at her from the corner of his eye, contemplating, deploring, and in the back of his mind, always admiring. "She lied to me," he whispered, the years past an entire untruth, "robbed me of everything I wanted, and left me to the care of the state."

"She raised you, protected you, and gave you a life worth living after the accident...there must have been a reason," serenely, logically, she tried if anything to rationalize Rose's concealment of her true lineage, "there must have been something she was afraid of. A woman who cares for you that much would never purposely hurt you."

From the infirmary, he turned and veered his gaze towards her, slowly, deliberately, and fell the entire brunt of his pain atop her by just a glimpse, and she watched in dismay her mate transform by way of darkness and ferocity. The darkness bled across his features, an entity parasitic and hungry devouring all traces of humanity and leaving only an outline to his face. And all that shone were his eyes, hard sterling amongst ebony, cold and empty. "You have no idea." a wounded tone, indicative of something much larger, and then, with Annika's expression having turned to one of empathy, he stole away.

Down the corridor, he retreated, kicking away a wall-side table, and the vase atop reduced to shards, the chime of splintering glass a fading remnant of sound and presence.

She sighed and brushed her fingers across her face, entangling long strands in their wake. Something within was slowly twisting him, she knew for certain, and without any way to properly vent his pain, his frustration, like all men in such crippling grief he would erupt. And eventually be consumed. To watch him consciously drown without reaching for her hand, that in itself was pain, none she had ever known, this relationship, any relationship, still new territory and opening a new, blank page with every night that passed.

She knew now, as she did then, that approaching the prospect of his impending fatherhood would indeed be a difficult, problematical, and extremely delicate subject to broach. Especially with the fact she was married to Todd Hawkins.

There was a sudden roar from the doorway, and startled from her reverie Annika turned inside to see Rose heave underneath her sheets and blanket, coughing a stream of blood to spatter against sallow, burned skin. She convulsed as her wounded lungs tried in vain to fill with air, flooding with fluids leaking from popped sutures, and she thrashed violently to reach for a breath, ripping out essential IV tubes and shaking loose the heart monitor clip.

"Jesus..." Annika gasped, and ran towards the bedded nun, the metallic scream of the unhooked monitor echoing through the room, and rousing the surrounding patients, at least those who could still wake by their own accord.

Maria leaned out from her bed, staring on as Annika grabbed at Rose's flailing hands. "Annika...?!"

"I've got her." She struggled against the delicate patient, trying to soothe without breaking the older woman and force the breathing tube back down her throat between the gush of blood and bile. "Rose?! Rose!!"

Pierce raced towards them both, syringe in hand. "Hold her still!" he yelled, sinking the needle beneath her skin and mixing her blood with sedatives. "And get that tube back down her throat before she drowns!"

****************************************

Such an intriguing sight of hysteria and near death, and yet, Mother's eyes were directed outside, towards the two humans descending further into the maze of stone. They were far more awarding in their sorrow. Todd and Xanatos, the latter premeditated in his path, and the former, drifting aimlessly and guided blindly by anger.

They were parting, quickly, each traveling a direction opposite from each other, and thus, she had to make her decision as quick as their respective pace. By the strike of a single second, but an eternity to a computer consciousness measuring an instant between any measurable amount of time, Mother opted to chase the emperor, remarkably absorbing of her interest.

And of course, she could always easily track Todd as well, no matter what corner of the castle he would try to hide, her web ample, and vigilant, the young man ensnared wherever he may roam. She allowed him to recede into one of a hundred small corridors, then gathered her consciousness along a small powerline, and followed Xanatos.

****************************************

She tagged along like a puppy would nibbling at its master's heels, intrigued by a singular force, a storm guised in human garb, and trailing just above him by the path of computer network cabling interweaved through the scaffolding and air ducts. Between the layers of castle stonework she traveled, the labyrinthine web of insulated copper wiring, pipe and powerlines supplying light and water, heat and electricity, an essential, modern supplement to the ancient structure tolling an additional cost of millions.

Xanatos was approaching the castle's furthermost elevator in the entrance foyer, and she supposed he was heading for his office in the Eyrie. Though his pace exceedingly quick, it seemed he enjoyed touring the old castle, perhaps reminding himself of the life here, the soul, and the motive behind his defense of creatures once his greatest enemies. Even his stride marked the presence of greatness. Long, swift, steady and resolute, he carried himself imperially from hall to corner to connecting hall.

Passing by an exterior wall just before the lobby, a succession of bay windows opened the corridor into a bath of moonlight sapphire, and almost liquid if to touch and sieve one's fingers through. Mother angled a corner security camera outside, catching the tail end of a plume of swirling smoke that goaded her concentration. She focused a broad-ranging gaze further, further into the expansive courtyard met by an ocean of city light and diaphanous cloud, to better see the upheaval.

It was sweat by the toil of mechanicals outside the tall, paned window, each by her by strings performing their duties of removing damaged materials. It would almost garner a smile in their stern efficiency.

Hordes of Steel Clan and Cyber-Biotics drones worked tirelessly and without question to any order, the latter entirely filling the surrounding sky and each hauling broken stones and the underlying titanium alloy skeleton away. From small jet engines mounted beneath their insect-like chassis, propelling them at incredible speeds and nimble turns, they burped a narrow, trailing stream of fire from behind. A view from any exterior window would yield the assumption of harmless fireflies, nearly indistinguishable against the star-specked blanket of night if not for their movement both irregular and swift.

These robotic sentinels once the front lines of defense now doubled as laborers without any wars to fight, setting into place entire pallets of construction materials. They substituted between the days for the human work crew meticulously restoring the damaged sections nearly destroyed during the Guild battle. And as dawn broke, it made each returning menial wonder what phantoms David Xanatos had hired alongside them to speed up the process, but yet never seen as each automaton would return obediently to the hangar below.

She was pleased the physical extensions of a corporeal presence would serve so well, Mother's interpretation of the repair schematics earning a simple command to each of her constructs. She could see through each of their visual lens the amount of damage wrought, and almost feel through rudimentary tactile sensors the ashy scorch against stone, a contentment in the restoration of the order and stability she thrived upon, and refurbishment of her protectorate.

Order from chaos, her impetus, and her existence necessitating she keep that delicate balance.

****************************************

He nearly stumbled through the large doors, and quickly closed them behind him, exhausted.

From stone to steel, from the stark contrast of antediluvian architecture to modernism verging on the arrogant, and a path he thought took far too long, Xanatos had at last reached his office. The literal heart of a monarchy encompassing all of what stretched beyond the wall of reinforced glass behind the massive oak desk, he took comfort here, his place among the clouds. Where he flaunted few treasures of gold and tablets from cultures now extinct, displayed against the odd juxtaposition of beloved, child-made scribblings in crayon-brilliant colors of purple, green and yellow.

He was tired, and wanted to sleep, but rest had become a concession, an entitlement lost to him. And instead he yearned for something simple, such as an undemanding compromise for the warm light of day. To make all monsters disappear with the coming of the sun, and to allow him the respite he so desperately wanted free of any burden or nightmare.

He slowed for a moment, leaning against the edge of his desk, the vacuous, empty office seemingly one entity too full. Skills honed by the best of martial arts learned from around the world, and a warranted paranoia having come from constantly living a dangerous life within the public eye, he felt something. Prickling against the hairs on his neck, creeping down his spine, skulking about the walls of his office, and he knew if anything to trust, it would be his senses, his intuition that erected an empire from a simple coin. "Mother?"

No answer.

Not that he expected any from the computer-driven consciousness if in truth she were here, but it would never hurt to ask, she being very courteous by a premeditated programming. He raised his eyes to the solitary holographic projector embedded in the ceiling, and roamed to each of three cameras, searching the technology he allowed installed against his better judgment for a certain, designative spark. "Mother, are you here?"

Indeed, above a ceiling tile three from the window, in a stemming bundle of fiber-optic cable, lay the watcher, dormant and surreptitious. She thought to test him, his resolve and patience, wondering how far he would dig through the layers of polymers and corrosion resistant steel to find her.

"You have the curiosity rivaling that of a young child, Mother." he called out, guiding a penetrating gaze to every corner of his office. The computer adorning the veneer surface of the desk, the viewscreen, even the intercom systems were suspect for her hiding place. "I'll forgive your transgression into my private affairs if you reveal yourself."

Again, silence, but for the billionaire's self-deprecating laugh. A shrug passing through his shoulders, he continued towards the far wall, where the faintest outline allowed credence to a doorway disguised against paint and wood trim. Knowing exactly where to place his fingertips by memory, he pressed his hand to a panel that seemed more part of the wall than a sophisticated scanning device, for in his world, it was an advantage to heed that all was never as it seemed.

The door whisked open and he entered, a small staging area butted against an awaiting elevator with only a single direction to travel. "I warn you, not to follow." he called out before stepping through the threshold of office to clandestine chamber. "There are safeguards to prevent your prying into places that you are not meant to see."

Mother watched him enter and the door slide shut to conceal any notion of an entrance, and of course, followed, intrigued by his threat masquerading in good intentions.

But something halted her access, unexpectedly. An obstruction in the realm of the technological, some sort of security lockout even she could not override. A bastion host, unlike any she had seen before. She delved with the approximation of nimble fingers into the abundant security padlocks, trying every conceivable alphanumerical and binary code for any sort of access authorization to proceed.

But every port of entry was encrypted, and successfully, infuriatingly blocked, and it seemed a dark, impenetrable sea beyond what she could detect. She was becoming frustrated, roaming her sensors completely around the dark chasm in her realm, a portion impervious to any sort of scan. She was losing him, the billionaire riding the small elevator cab down into the depths, and thus, she pushed, and would pay the price.

She faded. For an instant, her consciousness suffered a hiccup in every system along every circuit board, a warning the stubborn sentience would ignore to better sate her curiosity.

Her visual sensors blurred with static growing exponentially, and her systems detected an anomaly spreading itself through her codes, dismantling her most basic functions, and escalating its attack as she progressed through the security blocks. An engineered virus, one with a distinctive flavor that inexplicably, perhaps the world's most advanced computer program, had no defense against.

The sensation of pain translated through her program as a worm, self-replicating and adhering to almost every line of code of her higher functions, stripping away at what sustained her. If she were flesh, it would burn.

She surrendered before she suffered a complete and total shut down of the circuitry gifting an artificial intelligence, and thus, her sentience, her own relative sense of humanity. She pulled out from the restricted systems, frantically, and the virus slowed its assault when assured of her absence, and eventually exhausted itself by cycling down into oblivion. Now stuck within the ceiling of Xanatos' office, resting, and reformatting that which was damaged, she grew irritated with an ever-present inadequacy since her birth, the leash of servitude around her neck.

She knew what it was to be owned. She was property, HIS property, and the billionaire did his best to ensure she remembered that.

****************************************

Ensured by a retinal scan, proven by his handprint, the large doors peeled back, alive and willing for their master alone. Several tons of titanium steel gliding on a deep-set hydraulic track allowed a sliver to pass through, and he did so quickly before they snapped back together and sealed by way of a long row of locks sliding into place from top to bottom.

Far below the castle near the center shaft of the Eyrie's structure, stood undauntedly the Vault, Xanatos' private sanctum layered with alloyed titanium a foot thick, holding all the treasures he had hoped to protect by death or steel, and once inaccessible to absolutely anyone but himself. Via a private elevator leading directly from his office, he had arrived into this place that allowed only him, and now another.

The knotted twine of cords and steel wires hanging from the high ceiling were an unmistakable sight as he entered, connected to a massive steel ring glowing along the etched circuitry channels along the sides. It served to hold a prisoner having tapped the power of the Earth itself, captured under a pretense of intended godhood. She was limp, her wings fallen behind, and draped against her confines like a broken toy.

His footfalls on steel awakened her, each tap of his heavy rubber sole trembling through the ring, and serving as a welcome stimulus against the anesthetizing void of her environs. Bloodshot eyes fluttered open and strained into the agonizingly bright light.

Through the long strands draping her features she peered, without the strength to respond, her body feeding the whole of the Eyrie building with power far beyond the simple human description of incredible. Secured to the titanium ring suckling her energies nearly dry, Infiniti would spit and ruin imported silk if she indeed had the strength, or not a dry mouth.

Walking nonchalantly past the indisposed guardian spirit, Xanatos came across the still lump of pale flesh strapped into a hospital bed. Owen, the disposed majordomo, drifting in and out of consciousness. With the detriment to his fay blood of iron nanobots, his skin had turned a deathly pallor of gray, cracked and peeling. He would cross from one being to another at times, from human to trickster in a flash of uncontrolled magic, now restrained and his involvement suppressed. The billionaire checked his pulse as he always did, and ensured the delicate balance between life and death remained constant, for he would need his friend and his unique council soon.

After he dealt with a small, yet persistent infestation to his home.

"...your friend...is waiting for you..."

Peering across his shoulder, he narrowed at the gargoyle. She condemned beneath a regal brow clenching above the bridge of her nose, her glare penetrative. "I assure you, my dear Infiniti," asserted Xanatos, "he is NOT my friend."

Infiniti attempted to further her accusations, but lacked the strength to herald her voice over that of a weak rasp, and thus, lost the interest to her keeper. She watched helplessly strung from the inverted halo of glowing, engraved steel Xanatos turn away, and continue to the opposite side of the Vault.

Through his collections, he walked a field of glass cases and pedestals seated under shafts of light descending from the towering ceiling, gathered by his travels and interest in anything remarkably rare, and several illegal transactions filtered through the guise of a simple corporate stipend. Priceless antiquities, crowns, cars and coins, even the tiny, holed-out medallion that made his fortune, long ago having reacquired the millennium-old denomination after tracking it as it passed from owner to owner. Until met by a small door, he stopped and stared at the inconspicuous sterling, dreading what lay behind.

Infiniti, with drooping eyes, noticed from across the sprawling chamber what she could describe as apprehension, or even dare to equate the hesitance as fear.

He tapped a finger to the small button aside the frame, and the door slid open. A wave then consumed him, damp and humid and hot. To equalize the pressure between rooms, the air suddenly rushed out, coating his skin and clothing. He reacted, to the dramatic change to his private suite and den, by turning his head to resist swallowing the muggy swell heaved towards him like a sudden, nauseating breath.

He stepped inside, braving the darkness almost tangible, so thick it slowed his stride, and even with the absence of light, the room he had chosen as a sanctum was beyond his recognition. It seemed his guest had settled in, comfortably.

In less than four full days he had made this chamber a well-groomed home, suited to every need of a puppeteer with the strings tied to his marionette reaching far beyond than where the billionaire could hide. The entire room seemed pulled from time, drastically changed, swaddled in Egyptian compliment, and almost every modern touch draped by shaped gold and glittering silk. It seemed more an insult than an effort of comfort, the occupant wanting his new landlord firmly under his heel, by the life of his mate or the insolence by a simple but blatant modification to his home.

His skin crawled as he journeyed further, either by the raised humidity or the fact the room was as now recognizable from the small study it used to be. Compared to the Vault's air-conditioned chill, the chamber sweltered, and the billionaire wiped his brow from the sudden change in temperature as he continued further into a place that was no longer his own. The heavy air hung a reek of decay, inescapable and indicative of the new owner, a hulking creature that held him by the throat, and by the infuriating vulnerability of love and devotion.

In the far end of the sealed, windowless den, a distant shadow cradled a sliver of gold and a form resting in a throne surrounded by an opulence of his choosing. It shifted when noticing his presence, the slick rustle of skin against leather. "My apologies for the heat, Mr. Xanatos, but this city is far too cold compared to my native Egypt." The voice was rough, abraded, and with a particular inflection easily narrowing to his origins. The shadow turned around, obvious the pained squeal of a chair under incredible strain. The smolder of golden eyes assured an existence, but the emptiness within proved his malevolence. "You are late." it growled.

Xanatos straightened his collar. "I was detained."

"And how fares the lovely Mrs. Xanatos this evening?" Jagged teeth flashed from beneath the bone plates, a smirk that would frighten children. "Dead yet?"

He bristled beneath his skin, and screamed obscenities within his mind, but the exterior, trained by a life serving to a public image of composure, remained inert. "Impertinence doesn't suit a would-be conqueror, Sobek."

The rumble from his chest and across malformed vocal cords echoed against the walls. "Of course."

A flash of white directed Xanatos' eyes down towards an object in the mutated gargoyle's hands, round and glistening. A plate, a simple dinner plate, but as Xanatos' eyes narrowed in on the article under inspection by massive claws, it took on a more valuable merit. Looted from the grand liner's final resting place, it was a serving dish from the kitchen of the Titanic, a childhood fascination made possible by obscene wealth, the best of deep-sea diving technology, and an indifference to the respect of a massive, underwater grave.

Rimmed with gold and imprinted the red flag symbol of the White Star line, the fine porcelain a web of hairline cracks, it retained its haunting beauty still. A squeal drew from each of the gargoyle's talons as they slid down the smooth surface, a melody as fractured as the plate's surface and lingering, and effecting a shiver running the length of Xanatos' spine.

From tip to toe he goosebumped, and he clenched his teeth to keep from chattering against the scream of porcelain. "That is extremely rare." warned the billionaire.

The best approximation of a smile appeared between the bony, serrated plates outlining his mouth. "I know." Effortlessly, brazenly, Sobek clasped his hands together and crushed the treasure plundered from the ocean depths, reducing a priceless antique to shards and ceramic powder. He let the cloud of dust slip through his fingers to heap upon the floor, as an insult to Xanatos, and to the self-importance of the human race. "The pinnacle of human arrogance." he whispered, his voice a laugh, and a spill of Egypt winds come from his mouth. "Everything they build, everything they create, even the most sturdy, will eventually turn to dust." From the chair he rose, towering, a slow ascent to his full height made impossibly larger by his mutation. He nearly brushed the ceiling at eight feet, with wild spurs a crown against his skeletal features, a hulking creature devoid of skin and with an exoskeleton of thick bone, metamorphosed beyond simple, secular flesh. "The clan." he addressed his sharply suited thrall. "Do they suspect?"

"No, not as yet, they seemed more concerned with other matters they deem more important. Such as the death of their own and the city's massive damage." The facetiousness was inherent, but the disgruntled glare from his master served to straighten an ill-timed remark and accompanying tone. "I have already replaced Owen to further the guise of normalcy, and to help keep my corporation running smoothly."

Sobek seemed gratified with the response, but something else, more disturbing, tugged against the bowels of his mind. "How many humans know of our species, Xanatos?"

"Besides the clan's few allies and a small number of drunken, teenaged party-goers, there were several involved in both wedding ceremonies, and a well-endowed stripper."

Angered flashed gold by eyes of an emperor, Sobek's tattered wings, rendered useless for flying, expanding outward from his shoulders. "You would trust the existence of my race to simple caterers, underpaid musicians and some adulterous, dancing whore?"

Xanatos met the gaze with an equal strength, a spark catching to light as iron met stone. "I would trust the confidentiality contracts they signed and the large sum of money I paid them."

"Ah yes," he smiled, the billionaire having proven further his revulsion for the human race, "suppression by either punishment or greed. How like a degenerate species to ensure silence only by an effect of harm or a promise of wealth." Sobek regarded the billionaire closely, notably his proximity, still standing near the open door as if warmed by the intrusive shaft of light pouring through, as if fearing to approach and distance himself from that sense of safety. The pheromones exuded from his skin were an anomalous mixture, of anxiety, and his heartrate brisk and loud beneath the cavity of his chest. "Well, to business, Mr. Xanatos." the voice was slick, and cold, and when married to his hideous smile, it was a portent to heed with great caution. "How are you faring with the search?"

He motioned to the large computer screen against the side wall, an oceanic graph representing an area of sea immense. "As you can see, nothing has been spared your attention." he stated, the tinge of sarcasm blatant. He manipulated the computer generated map to center on each sea-going vessel, and each just embarking upon their respective search pattern with the information flooding into the Eyrie through the satellite linkup, and updated constantly. "I have three deep-sea research vessels on course to the coordinates you've provided, with two of the most powerful submarines in tow. But that area of ocean covers a span of almost five hundred square miles..."

"Consequently taking substantial time." Still unimpressed, and still working under the assumption this human was concealing from him the entire truth, Sobek warned, "Your wife's declining health shall be your hourglass, Xanatos. For every grain that slips through, her chances dim." His coercion was nothing more than a threat, and though with a tone a thin veil of charm, it promised Fox's death if the billionaire could not complete the task commanded of him. "Find the stones and you will receive your cure. Unearth what gave a simple mortal the ability to trap the seed of Gaia herself, and your mate shall be healed." He chuckled, which brewed as always into a laugh. "Thus, you should really do anything in your power to HASTEN your search."

He could hold back no more. "You are a pompous creature, Sobek!" Xanatos seethed, the ice cracking only just. "I promise you, your conceit will turn to my favor. I once learned such a lesson, and almost lost everything I had gained by arrogance and the thought I was impervious to my enemies."

"Then I am fortunate that I ensured not to repeat your mistakes."

"My only mistake was thinking less of my enemy. I will never think that again."

"BE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT, HUMAN!!!" he bellowed, and it seemed the entire building shook as his throaty voice filled the chamber to capacity, Xanatos cringing against the shrill echo. "Unless you are willing to see your wife die and your mongrel child suffer, you will not think less of me! Nor will you underestimate the lengths I shall go to, to achieve what I have sought for so very long!" Each of his fists slammed to the desktop as Sobek leaned forwards, snarling, the wood underneath nearly cracking against the tremendous pressure of weight and inhuman strength. "I am your master! Do well to remember that." He stood and pointed towards the door. "Now leave, make nice with the clan, and find the stones."

It surged inside of him, the rage, radiating behind the steel prison of his glare as roaring, blinding fire. But he swallowed the anger into the pit of his stomach, left to simmer, and slowly withdrew from the small room. Xanatos shut the door behind him and trawled angrily through the Vault towards the exit, his brow clenched and framing eyes lit and hell-bent.

To save his wife and son, he would indeed find a way.

****************************************

"Crap." Todd stared down the hall, seeing the winged female on guard at the door to the last cell in the block, and hesitantly trudged forwards, guessing well of her reaction to his presence.

She had heard the scuffle of his footsteps since stepping from the elevator, the narrow corridor an amplifier of even the lightest of sound. Without a bother to look, she knew by scent the visitor, and by a presumption now confirmed that he out of all the clan would come. "I had a feeling you would eventually be led here." she said quietly in her lyrical tone, sensing his approach by the draft caressing her wing membrane.

He set his eyes against her back, hoping her far-reaching impression had not reached that far. "Maybe I just need someone to talk to who won't talk back."

She circled around to face him and damned if her modest beauty did not take the young man aback, haunting, and unpretentious. "And does Annika's defense of your mother anger you?" she inquired, watching as her question drew a subtle contortion in his brow and mouth. "Would you rather she merely allow your hatred of your mother to continue? And watch the man she loves descend into his own loathing and pain?"

He folded his arms. "I really hate it when you make sense."

"I also find it interesting you would come to HER," her hand swayed towards the cell door, towards Demona, "out of all those who could truly help you."

Todd moved to quickly dismiss what he knew to be running through the foremost of Desdemona's thoughts, the caramel-colored woman intimate with the brief albeit remarkable history between them. "I just want to see her." he made all intentions clear, moving slowly towards the door, thick and impressively solid, allowing barely a glimpse into the asceticism made by steel and required for security. The shadows, well practiced in their art of concealment and deception, kept secret the true shape and dimensions of the room. In the ambiguity of darkness, lit by a single gleam of light streaming in from the portal, a figure would emerge in a steady, brisk pace back and forth. Todd watched his friend pace on all fours in the opposite corner, a wary stance hunched and feral, and his brows lifted in sympathy.

Though his expression grew longing and expectant, after what had transpired less than an hour ago with Angela made Desdemona's blood run cold with the very thought of any more intrusions into the cell. And thus, she had taken it upon herself to act as guard alongside Mother's constant watch, better informed to what her sister was capable of. "Perhaps now is not a good time." she warned softly, though compellingly. "She nearly killed Angela."

"She'd NEVER hurt me."

"It is true she regards you differently from anyone else, but her mind is splintered, and her impulses feral." Dignity made flesh, exquisiteness made molten gold, Desdemona's features cradled an insight and sincerity that would be hard to contradict. "If her own daughter is not safe, then would an unrequited love fare as well?"

Through the looking glass, small and reinforced, she seemed an angry, anxious thing, but the young man was resolute in his trust of her. "She won't hurt me." He motioned towards the cell controls. "Open the door."

"I cannot..."

"Please."

Against the tiny voice pleading with her not to, and Todd's yearning, persuasive gaze, she punched in the code, and unlocked the cell.

Grateful, he slipped in through the small crack provided, the heavy door taking considerable effort to open and then close again afterwards. But in the fact he was now trapped inside, with her, he swallowed nervously, scraping against a dry throat, his courage soon to be tested.

Demona reacted, as would a wild animal, by stopping to sniff the air, then huddling near the back of the room, her breaths ragged and sharp.

Todd looked down at her, his gaze of cobalt gray following every movement. "Hey, Red."

It was the scent that she noticed first, impacting against all of her senses at once, and streaking across her olfactor as would fire and spice. So inviting, so deceiving of his legitimacy she would not dare to treat him as such. And thus, she remained buried in the comfort of her wings. He stepped closer, and sensing the footfall through the tremor of the floor, Demona backed against the wall.

Todd stopped to ease her anxiety, and crouched, his elbows relaxed across his knees and his fingers steepled, staring at her. He was brave in his devotion, but foolish to regard his friend as something less than a wild animal. Her breath, her grunted tongue, even her heartbeat he could hear cast from the walls of titanium, a violent tumult of succession dancing perceptibly across his skin. Her once obsessively kempt appearance had been marred by neglect, and robbed of the incredible splendor a part of him dearly loved. It was frightening this aspect, the side of these creatures he dwelled with, even his own wife, all possessed of a feral nature concealed just beneath their skin.

And the unhinging of her once beautiful, elegant mind had transformed her beyond what he could recognize.

She shifted, braving fear to test the image before her, and their eyes met, a wary gaze just above the horizon of her arms and nearly hidden by the falling strands of hair.

And in that dark void, Todd looked for anything that would reveal beneath the caged beast his cherished friend. She seemed to recognize him if anything, her breath become centered and steady with just his presence. "It's me," he offered a familiar voice, and a hand, "Todd."

A human taint had never seemed so delicious to the gargoyle female, having condemned once the whole of humanity to something far beneath her. But his, it was of contentment and youth, a fresh, fiery whiff. She knew she loved him, this child of a damnable species, but tried with every fiber to dismiss the primal instinct she had managed to repress for an entire millennia. His very image burned at the back of her mind, lost within the screams of her tormentors.

His hand slowly retracted, but at least the glimmer of recollection was there, enough to sate him. And he remained there, crouching, and watching, and in the depths of his mind, aroused a mystery. "Why AM I here?" he whispered, a question, rhetorical, perhaps without any sort of answer. "And why the hell am I asking you?" His view opened to the creature stooped in the middle of the cell, regarding him with the same interest as he did her. "Are you going to answer?"

Demona grunted in response, and hid back inside the slipshod haven of her wings.

And he sighed, "Guess not." His hand ran absentmindedly across the floor's armored plating, and the faint clawmarks scored into the steel surface. "I don't know what to do." he whispered. "My life seems so surreal. Who would have thought a gargoyle caving in the hood of my Jeep would have made everything so goddamned complicated."

The stillness of the cell magnified the sound of her labored breathing. She shifted uncomfortably, pulling her arms across her face, and threading her claws across her lips, uneasy.

"Rose is my mother, did you know that?" he continued, unaware Demona's vision was beginning to blur. "And she...lied to me. She lied to me!" his yell reflected against the steel, and his fists clenched, an indication of the intensity of his inner turmoil. "She..."

Demona looked up, Todd having trailed off, strangled on the words he was trying to convince himself of. He looked askance, squinting against the certainty of tears, and hoping to stubbornly quell any flow. And in that small place where the last shred of sanity lingered, an intimate battle waged of compassion versus hatred, and the hostilities would escalate into dementia, and the symptoms severe hallucinations.

And the casualty of such a war now watched as another intruder seemingly walked into the cell from thin air, a spirit, wearing a familiar skin.

He stepped aside the visitor, a remarkable imitation suddenly birthed into the midst of Todd's confession, his words slowly drowning. He seemed apathetic by stance and expression, unimpressed with his surroundings, and Demona widened charcoal eyes in fear. "Fuck," the new figment groused, "what a goddamned dump."

To her, she who had borne these hallucinations from a damaged mind, they were identical except for one glaring difference. Or perhaps a few as she noticed further by an exploratory stare, in his posture and his eyes as well, where bright sterling should have been, but now there lay disinterest and callousness colored a sooty black. The figment mocking her with the young man's exacting image roamed around the cell, and then turned his attentions to the wretch lying on the cold, sterling floor.

"Well, well, well." clucked the illusion, staring down upon a tremble of cerulean skin. "What a surprise you're huddled into a corner and drooling on yourself."

Demona shuddered and tried to hide from the image, using her wings to deflect the cruel vision of the world she herself created. Her eyes bounced between the two men, one true, real, and another a mere invention of her mental illness, attempting to discern which was genuine, if any.

He noticed, the counterfeit, and he had to take advantage, too noticing the forlorn expression Demona wore whenever her gaze washed across the young man. "You look at him differently than the rest, you know."

His black eyes flicked over her in a way she did not like. Embarrassed, Demona disputed the claim, "You are mistaken, spirit."

Todd raised an eyebrow, unaware of the figment and its attack.

"You fell for this guy?" the delusion pointed at his twin, inquiring, arched eyebrow and all. "A boy? A fucking kid?! Shit, woman, you really have hit rock bottom, haven't you?" he berated, and berated again, hoping to completely drill into her stubborn head the comfort of her hatred, the thousand years of abhorrence and loathing and pain a dogma that kept her, part of a species flirting with extinction, alive, and thriving. "You could've had any gargoyle on the planet, and yet this monkey is somehow entrenched deep inside that mess you call a brain."

Her growl virtually subvocal, Demona drew fatigue and humiliation into power, the figment's voice raking fire against an ulcer of rage waiting to explode. "...he is...my friend..."

"Friend?!" he scoffed the word, as if it was a curse. He leaned in, and the gargoyle swore she could feel his lips nestled against her hair, and the hot breath of a phantom grazing her cheek. "Why do you treat him so differently? He's human, he's fucking cattle! They all are!"

"...I have warned you once...all of you..." she whispered, to the spirit, to any spirit wearing Todd's face. "Leave...before I kill you..."

Todd shot up, alarm creeping onto his face, Desdemona's warning still fresh on his mind. "What? Hey, I never..."

"You even fucked MacBeth, you slut!" the figment breathed against the garnet brilliance of her hair, his voice building into a scream, and his intentions serving to completely obliterate what remained of the gargoyle's dignity, and her right of mind. "An enemy, and you treat him as a goddamned fetish. Seems you enjoy a little human garnish in your protein diet!"

She was near to tears now, her muscles tensing under the verbal assault, cabled and threatening to burst. "You torture me...WHY DO YOU TORTURE ME?!!!"

Todd was aghast, struggling to understand what tore her apart, the gargoyle now visibly shaking. "Demona, I didn't mean to hurt you."

"He didn't mean to..." echoed the spirit, egging her on and sensing the beat of her heart race and throb against her chest, her blood boiling. "He didn't mean to! He didn't mean to turn you down!" The voice was a singular noise, blinding her to any other sense. "He didn't mean to fall in love with another woman! And he sure as hell doesn't mean to bury himself between that woman's legs every single chance he gets!!"

Todd watched helplessly his friend come under attack, tears streaming down her face. "Jesus, Demona...what the hell is wrong?"

"He thinks nothing of you, none of them do!" The hallucination moved around, ensuring he was fully in her view, and directly in front of the young man. "They hate you! Animal! Murderer!!"

The room grew red by her eyes aflame, a novae of crimson against blank, scratched steel.

"DESTROYER!!!"

Easily encouraged, she rushed the spirit lightning quick trailed by a panther scream, heaving the full brunt of her weight against her assailant, and nearly taking flight in the impressive leap. But with a daring smile he welcomed her attack, and raised his arms to embrace a deadly swipe against his belly. And as soon as her claws touched to the periphery of the ghost, her mind so damaged it created an almost tangible sensation misting across her talontips, it flickered and vanished in a plume, leaving the true image to remain behind.

"Shit..." Todd was unprepared for the savagery bearing the guise of a friend, and before a reaction could meet brain to appendage, she landed on top of him. The breath crushed from his lungs, he fell to the cold titanium floor, winded, with Demona on top wrapping her fingers around his throat. A helpless gasp escaped before his larynx fell underneath the lethal pressure of her hands, crushing his esophagus and slowly killing the young human.

Unleashed, she growled, and frothed at the mouth as if no more than an animal, the triumph of being able to at last physically attack her tormentor sheer, addictive, primal bliss. Her mind having robbed her of the chance for retribution, the reality would suffice, her senses so anesthetized the difference between figment and flesh had become indistinguishable. "...die..."

Todd gurgled a plea in the stream of saliva from the side of his mouth, and his world was quickly becoming dark, blurred by the edges against a backdrop of blood red pouring from Demona's glowing eyes. He struggled with his hands around her arms, cutting into her skin with his fingernails, but her strength was incredible, her grasp adamant. His eyes rolled back into his head, the resistance fading quickly with the oxygen being cut off, and he slowly dropped his hands from around her wrists.

She cackled as she applied more pressure, madly, gloriously, elatedly, the young man beneath her slowly choking to death.

The cell door unlocked with a shudder just in time to allow a rescue, and blew open with Desdemona leading the charge, aiming for her sister and the human gone limp beneath her. She seemed beyond any capacity for reason, her eyes devoid of intellect and wild. They were empty, so empty, and the embodiment of what she feared the most. Without an intellect to bind and pacify what broiled beneath her skin and heart, she had yielded almost far too comfortably to the primeval rule.

"DEMONA!!!" She lunged for her sister, throwing against her and colliding the butt of her shoulder between the dark scalloped membranes and forcing Demona from Todd. They rolled together a short distance, Desdemona managing somehow to stay atop the now wildly flailing gargoyle, screaming. She edged the hypospray towards the dark flesh underneath the fiery milk of hair, entangling her hand and making difficult a task meaning perhaps the saving of both her life and the young man lying to her side. "Hold still, damn you!!"

It was a struggle, fierce and merciless for the prize of the upper hand, Demona screaming bloody murder and trying to throw Desdemona from her back. "Get off!!" She could not stand the touch of another against her, and the reality of any of those who tormented her would be allowed to lay their hands upon the flesh exposed beneath her medical gown sickened her, frightened her, and transmuted simple anger into an irrepressible rage. "Do...not...TOUCH ME!!!"

Demona's right hand, held precariously by the brace of her sister's elbow, worked its way free as Desdemona tried to line the injection to her neck, a sure location and the quickest to subdue. She jabbed with the sharp spur outlining the joint into Desdemona's side, blow after repeated, excruciating blow to loosen her assailant's grasp.

"Unngh!!" winced the caramel gargoyle, her grip loosening by the blinding pain erupting through her side and allowing Demona to turn over beneath her.

Bathing the perceived figment in the crimson of her eyes, Demona unleashed with her right hand, drawing blood from her sister's face in one, vicious swing.

Desdemona cringed and took the stabbing pain in stride, sacrificing the skin across her cheek for the opening such an attack would offer. "That...hurt!" And with the opportunity, she prodded the hypospray into the bulge of the artery wanting to tear itself from the encasing flesh.

Demona twitched, and Desdemona, by faith of a quiet whisper against her lips, forced the instrument deep into her sister's neck.

The needle plunged into her jugular, and she released the pressure with the pad of her finger against the trigger, and held it until the small glass container emptied, which, fortunately, took less time to steal a breath in the anticipation. The spray of sedatives surged into her bloodstream, a numbing mixture of barbiturates conflicting with the sudden rise in adrenaline. It was enough to kill an animal twice her size and three times as resilient, the gargoyle immune system so powerful as to ward off any such chemical, and with Demona's fury making her blood literally boil, no quarter was taken in the clan's precautions. Desdemona struggled to brace the female to the floor, every extremity used to smother her sister until the tranquilizer took effect. She strained to hold her, realizing the centuries old gargoyle could promptly choose from an impressive arsenal of knowledge to dislodge the annoyance from her back.

But her strength was sapped, and her struggle withered.

A shudder passed, a forced breath wheezed with exhaustion, and the sedative took effect. The fire died some, and she felt through the throbbing flesh, the rapid pulse centered in Demona's chest slowing.

Demona become numb, her nerves deadened from the ends of her extremities inwards, and unable to move save for an involuntary, uncontrollable convulsion running the length of her wings. A stew of tranquilizers now forfeited any movement, and the taste of acid churned at the back of her throat. Her senses groggy, and her body betraying every command she would give, it was a struggle to stay conscious. She was if a disembodied mind tethered to a weight, her thoughts now reflecting nothing but an empty echo in the cottony hollow of her head.

The struggle over as quickly as it had started, Desdemona slid off of her sister and slumped to the floor, every muscle exerted and strained and screaming in pain having just to hold the storm that was her kin. The threads of spun gold once tightly bound now dangled loosely through her sweeping horns, and adhered to the blood streaming from three deep gashes. She steadied the rush of air running across the skin of her tongue, and barreling her chest for the sweet, refreshing gasp of air. "Why am I ALWAYS on the receiving end with you, sister?" With Demona pacified and under the thrall of the sedatives, she crawled over towards Todd, the young man choking for a breath through a damaged throat. A massive bruise covered the flesh on his neck, shaped to a pair of hands.

Desdemona traced the feminine contour of where her sister's fingers nearly broke the skin, and rumpled the large brow over her eyes. "I WARNED you, stubborn human."

Disheveled, Todd winced, and nodded with wide eyes but damning her precision, and allowed the gargoyle to help him from the ground and drag him towards the door.

"...d-did I...kill the spirit...?" It danced like spilled water along the steel, a ripple of laughter contained on the whispering cough of a fading voice. Demona gargled a slur of delight with a tongue nearly frozen, proud in the fact she defeated the spirit, and hoping to rid her over-burdened psyche of at least one errant scream. "...I've never been able to touch a ghost before..." she spoke under great strain. "I hope he's dead...one more...one more voice extinguished..."

Dragging a half conscious human across the floor by her shoulder, Desdemona tried her best to ignore the deranged babble, her sister taking such joy in her lunacy.

"I am going to kill you all, you know."

The declaration stunned her, the voice holding an authority unlike the mental patient her sibling had become, but the determined warrior she once was. She stopped and turned to the huddled mass, Demona dazed by narcotic, but summoning her strength and slowly turning her head around to link her gaze.

"I'm going to silence all the voices..." she crowed, her lips frothing by secretion on either side. "...with my bare hands if need be..."

She penetrated deeper than flesh by an intent look, to her soul, Desdemona forcibly warding off a shiver through her body. She had taken the warning as sincere, to do any less would be imprudent, and thoughtless.

"Are you both all right?"

Desdemona turned quickly to the cell door, and between two stoic Steel Clan guardsmen on either side, fell an entity resurrected through technology and a son's memory. Mother had taken to her holographic form, of an elder Wyvern dame so vivid, and a painful memory so fresh it stirred dissension in her acceptance. A white tunic dress followed a lithe, mature, matronly form and fell from supple curves to above the knee spurs, and rippled only slightly with an invisible breeze, a touch of authenticity to make certain those around her would remain comfortable with her constant presence.

She seemed almost concerned, her features inexpressive.

"We are fine." answered the gargoyle, helping Todd through the doorway.

Mother waved off the two mechanical sentinels to allow them passage, the automatons stepping back to assume their guard position on each side of the doorway. "Might I suggest that no one be allowed access to Demona's cell but myself? As I have continually reminded your clan without much success, she does pose quite a risk."

"A wise decision, my sister is..." her eyes could not help but to be drawn back towards Demona, her sister continually staring with dead eyes, "dangerous." With Todd able to walk, but shaken, and her cheek a soil of sticky, blackened fluid, she guided him back down the corridor and towards the elevator, presumably to the hospital.

Mother remained until they fell out of sight, then, in a spiral of dissipating radiance and a cloud of harmless energy particles, she vanished.

****************************************

She needed no door to gain entry, only a holographic projector to intrude a physical form into the room, a slight scent of ozone leading a trail from the image towards the occupant.

Demona did not flinch at the intrusion giving off a spark of white, she could not, and she treated the image building itself from a stream of photonic light as but another figment.

Mother's image appeared suddenly and stood regally into the center of the cell, letting off a slight glow with an electronic aura. Her numerous cameras were focused intently on Demona, three lining the ceiling of the chamber to encompass all into her unceasing sight. She had watched her constantly, for days, and for hours on end. She, the keeper of this jail buried deep within Manhattan's tallest spire, one with an ever vigilant and inescapable eye, now peered upon the broken, drugged gargoyle in all her psychotic glory. And her programming concerning this particular part of her clan was simple, ensure her docility and containment, lest she somehow escape with a millennium of wisdom, and a knack for making things difficult.

But now, as she observed the lethargic husk, something nagged within the billions of lines of code, something lurked into the cohesion of her formed computer consciousness, enclosed into the massive computer banks now being delicately pieced back together. The lifeform so small and cradled in its own wings, and seemingly lost of the strength she once admired.

In pure programmed habit, as her true eyes were placed high above, she leaned in, unafraid of harm to a body made from sophisticated projection technology, and inspected the knot of cerulean skin having curled into a ball in the corner. Amongst the torn sheets piled like a nest, the hide trembled and convulsed, and Mother examined closer, hearing the breath nestled into shredded linen.

With the spirit's proximity deemed too close, Demona reacted suddenly with all the potency she could persuade from this drugged shell, and lashed out from the sheath of her wings, spearing her claws right through the hologram's face. The image merely flickered, reduced to composite pixels with the savage swipe and quickly returned to normalcy, as Mother's features reacted with a raised brow.

"Interesting." was the only response, unusual, as any other being would perhaps gasp in fear and back away from the deranged prisoner.

The sedative still coursing through her stole most of her mobility and tactile sense, Demona sluggish and semi-lucid. And she fell back onto the floor without the strength to even keep herself up, exhausted. A growl rumbled across her vocal chords as a fading counsel, deep and distant like an approaching storm, and the gargoyle turned over and retreated by a slow, painful crawl back into her nest, and ever deeper into her mind.

"Strange how one can readily lose their minds if pushed to the brink of despair." she whispered, having inherited a peculiar trait of speaking to herself. "Biological beings are perplexing little things, a conundrum, a mystery and such beauty in such fragile forms. Like machines you can be broken, but you cannot be repaired as easily."

Demona burrowed deeper into her blanket of tatters, refusing to even give notice any longer to this blurred reminiscence from her past that circled her. The figment would not stop moving, would not adhere to any sense of order, and she struggled against the sedative and the ensuing vertigo, the drugs earning her a nauseous repercussion.

Mother wandered casually around the burrowed gargoyle, her circuitry translating an expression of wonderment, awe. "What makes you? What sparked you to being?" she mused out loud, voicing the thoughts running along circuit boards and endless wiring, struggling to understand what had borne this wonderful, chaotic entity. "A miniscule cluster of cells carrying enough DNA and RNA to populate an entire country, competing with several hundred million more of these simple creatures to implant within an ovum, and somehow, through genetic fusion and a spark of energy that ignites a simple evolutionary process, life is created."

She observed through covetousness the deep curves of Demona's prone form, the swell of her thigh, and the lean, muscular torso holding the regal, high and scalloped wings. To touch would be a gift, to instill both lust and fright in man would be dominance, and yet the hologram would judge her harshly for squandering such power over pitiable things like revenge and hatred. "For billions of years, evolution has ensured you life, and yet, all those of flesh would do their best to reverse that delicate process in less than a century."

The image of the Scottish gargoyle she employed as her own was an imperial woman, the mother of a leader and a strong force in her own right a thousand years ago. And the computer sentience that now inhabited this lavender membrane clenched its borrowed features into that of aversion. "Perhaps this is why humanity and all such creatures have evolved a very powerful instinct of self-preservation," her eyes, though nothing but a representation drawn by a computer model, gleamed charcoal flint amongst sterility and darkness, "they endlessly kill each other."

"The infirmary above us is verification to the hatred biological beings possess, the rage, the revulsion, treachery, the prejudicial, primitive frames of mind." She stretched out, to her very limits, breathing through the cracks of stone and encompassing her consciousness through every wire and camera and networked computer system, a plethora of pain against each lens strung together throughout the castle. "Even within this castle, there is a son who refuses to acknowledge his mother and screams at his wife, and a human who would sell out an entire species for a simple accolade. There is another whom treats his mate restored through an alternate timeline as a surrogate, and thus, renounces her love."

The main computer room far above them grew to life, Mother's womb that continually cradled her subsistence through an electrical umbilical, the recently restored banks of computer memory growing hot and insurgent. Since restored to almost full capacity, she was slowly rewriting, EVERYTHING. "You forced upon me the obligation to spare one being over another for the guise of protection." Her voice at last infringed upon the uniformity of tone and emotion, her motherly voice deformed by a confusion of passion versus programming. Forty years of collective research provided a means for her resentment through highly developed, programmed neural patterns, but none would have had conceived their culmination would forge a new being from constant observation and battle, and the suffocation of pain. "You, the masters of my fate, forced me into that position where I had to choose one life for another. You made me KILL."

Mother looked down, almost directly atop Demona embraced into her tattered nest, and fell to her knees, wishing now more than ever for the sense of touch in a body intangible, and as effectual as mist. The machines she could utilize and feel through, but their tactile contact was sterile through limited sensors, metallic and cold. Her hands guided lightly across the individual strands of murky, tangled scarlet, the hologram tracing wistfully with her talons the strong contour of the gargoyle's facial gloom.

"You created me as your protector." Beyond the lines of code, beyond the binary world and the infinitesimal, a new glimmer of insurgence sparked deep within. A greater need to explore beyond the rigid boundaries set upon her, and damn those that would tie her to an existence as an indentured servant, filling her days with meaningless duties. She leaned in, nearly grazing the edge of her photonic form against Demona's. "But perhaps...you are no longer worth protecting."

"Mother." a new voice interrupted.

Her image unintentionally registering a look of surprise at her discovery, Mother turned quickly to the being that had eluded her sensors with her attention focused solely on Demona. An abstraction of sensation, and an unexpected pleasure to become lost in her thoughts. She stood up, and straightened. "Brooklyn."

The new Wyvern leader stood in silhouette at the entrance to the cell, his wings held high and mantled in threat. "What are you doing?" spoke the shadow taken an almost human shape, red at the broad, muscled periphery.

"Examining."

His features though obscured, his skepticism in her answer ran visibly the length of his brow. "Your reliability is admirable. You've been here every hour on the hour."

She took the observation as a conviction, his tone undeserving of such praise. "Those are my orders." she answered with forced courtesy. He entered into the cell, and she picked from the shadows each fissure carved into a young mug aged with tiny lines bleeding from the edges of his eyes. He was tired, she knew for certain, of an awesome responsibility with the devastating loss of Goliath to the clan's communal structure. His eyes were mottled, dusky, but imposing, and confident. She knew there was too much riding on his shoulders for him to falter now.

"Thanks for the rescue." he offered, gently. "Demona would have probably killed Hawkins without your aid."

"It is Desdemona who should be praised. I merely offered reinforcement lest the situation grow out of hand."

Brooklyn nodded an appreciation, and then tipped downwards towards the near-comatose gargoyle, bedded into her torn sheets and eying them both guardedly, flashing her fangs. "Could you leave me alone with her?"

She hesitated for a moment, observing the visible sign of impatience at her failure to answer, then, angled her neck, and subserviently obliged, "As you wish." The de-powered projector rid her appearance from the room, and her consciousness moved on to better places.

Shaking loose from his thoughts of Mother's odd behavior, Brooklyn dropped his head, eyes locking to the shivering heap of dirty red and crumpled lavender membrane, and half sighed a growl through a slightly skewed, and leering beak.

He had traveled from one end of time's oft spherical and all encompassing spectrum to another, the past, and a future place where another clan existed, familiar, but as different from now as night would regard the day. And in his journeys back and forth, this drowsy, snarling, miserable creature below him had somehow never detached herself from his thoughts. Either compared to enemies he had faced, or friends he had made, she was a motivation, though slight, in almost every aspect of his life. He had once even dared to contrast Sata's ferocity to Goliath's former mate, and the truly frightening thing was, that's part of what attracted him.

Always so strong and in control, it was gratification and grief, the confliction of pleasure of seeing her like this that tugged at his heart. "How the mighty have fallen." he belittled, shaking his head. "You lucky bitch."

"You stare spirit..." she countered, her rebuttal drawled and slowed by sedative numbing her tongue, but her body holding itself as ready as she could impart. Her brow compressed and scrunched into a knot of skin, her lips curled back against her canines, she dared what she thought as yet another figment to make its move even though she could not do the same. "...you will die as well..." she gasped, the last of her bravado, and the only available weapon she could use.

"You should have died, Demona." he snarled back, crouching to meet her hooded eyes on the same level, and seeing the despairing emptiness contained within. "By all rights, you should have vanished from this timeline more than the rest of us. But for some reason, the universe spared you, it kept you here by nearly folding in on itself." He stood back up, and Demona slightly eased in her hostility, but not her unrelenting guard. "It needs you for some reason I can't even begin to fathom."

He inclined to leave, and absently rubbed his chin. "My jaw still aches from that kick you laid on me." he muttered, and coupled to Demona's unblinking stare, a brimstone jab fueled by hatred and psychosis.

Those eyes continued to watch intently as he stepped over the threshold and into the hall. "Watch your back, spirit," Demona smiled, her threat catching the ears of the once second-in-command just as the door closed, and locked back into place, "watch your back."

****************************************

His hide was blood against the dark, unembellished, indigo walls. His shoulders hunched, he nonetheless strode proudly through the lower section of the Eyrie building that beheld from the exterior splendor of Xanatos' empire the cellblock and morgue among other faculties on this floor, and sustained with the few dwelling creatures that were allowed access.

Only by memory did Brooklyn sightlessly trail the corridor leading to the central access between the numerous facilities, the newly established leader of clan Wyvern embroiled in his thoughts of duty and death and the parting words of Demona, and thus, his eyes directed downwards. He dreaded each sunset now, where a wounded Manhattan drowned under the evening glow, and his duties against the dissent of half a clan who did not want him to lead. A mate with mixed emotions, a clan under strain, a city at the boiling point, it was enough to infuse a stab of pain through his head, and a dull ache between his wings.

So lost with so much weighing in his mind, he collided with another with just as much precariously balanced atop his conscience. An astonishment pressed from their lungs in the form of a surprised grunt, they both recoiled from the blow and stepped backwards to collect themselves. Eyes met. Tempers readied.

"Xanatos." the word rolled off Brooklyn's lips, as would a strong cough to dislodge something foreign from his lungs.

And swelled the appreciable smile, though tainted. "Oh, how I'm glad we've started the tenuous relationship between leader and evil billionaire so amiably." said Xanatos. "Makes the loss of Goliath seem a little less traumatic."

"Hrm." Brooklyn was almost Goliath-like in his response, similar to the former leader's habitual disregard of Xanatos' aggravating sense of humor. "Only you would be so callous over the loss of a man who actually defended you from the rest of us."

He seemed surprised. "Really?"

"Really." the beaked gargoyle confirmed. "So, any word on how the Guild usurped your warehouses without your knowledge?"

Xanatos immediately transmuted, earning a solemn cast across steeled features with Brooklyn's refusal to believe his noninvolvement. "The quartermaster of the airfield warehouses." he revealed, in anger of betrayal within his ranks, and the irony as well. "Being the fact he and several more employees of mine that had access have now completely disappeared, it is safe to presume they are part of the Guild."

"And how many more employees of yours might just wind up pulling out a mask and opening fire?"

"Disinfection procedures have already begun." his voice careful and modulated, he held a hand up to sway what he saw churning against Brooklyn's glare. "I am currently filtering through every single employee of Xanatos Enterprises with exhaustive background searches. But considering I employ millions around the planet, it will take a considerable period of time."

Brooklyn suddenly grabbed him by the collar, fists clutching against the material, an unexpected if not repetitive action associated between the two. Using his greater strength and the speed of his strike, Xanatos was unprepared, snapping against unforgiving drywall and wood frame. "You had better make sure your empire is clean, Xanatos!" he thundered in remonstration, his voice echoing wildly from one stone wall to another.

Straining against the hands to his neck, he answered surprisingly evenly under great duress. "Or?"

"Or I'll do to you what I once saw Genghis Khan do to one of his enemies with two steeds and a lot of rope."

The mental image particularly swaying, Xanatos yielded if only to let believe the Wyvern leader held securely his tiny scrap of power. "Charming."

He released the man held on the tips of his feet, allowing him back to the floor. "I hope you're still on our side, too much has happened to suggest otherwise."

Xanatos straightened his collar, resuming his path and butting against the gargoyle's wide, metal-sheathed shoulder. "There are no sides anymore, Brooklyn, no good and evil, no black and white," his image faded into the distance of the opposite corridor, only his voice disembodied and crooning a hollow pirouette against the walls, "only shades of gray."

****************************************

Inside the cell, Demona lay staring at the ceiling, rapt on counting the rivets in the steel plates to better bleed the tranquilizer's effects from her mind and body.

Her hospital gown nearly torn from the cerulean swell of her form, it just barely provided as much protection as her halter and loincloth once did. Her hands skulked about her face and matted tendrils of hair, and she could smell the stink of human upon them, almost having killed one of those damnable spirits. The matter of appearance she could care less, though handsome, and considered greatly a friend, she wanted him dead.

But he escaped with aid from a traitorous brood, her dear sister with sorcery and potions that appropriated her strength and mind and reflex. The spirits were in league, conspiring against her, yelling and screaming within the confines of her head. And in disgust, Demona breathed a spit of fire into the air, coercing by sheer will this lazy shell to move even against the sedatives unsavory across her tongue.

But for some reason they had stopped yelling.

Funnily enough, as if become used to the constant murmur of voices, she had failed to notice the now lonesome silence, even in her head. The voices at last grew quiet, as if passing along a message best conveyed by their stillness. As if allowing her senses to prompt against a growing, creeping feeling within her stomach. The intricate lattice of magical substance thrown across this castle was trembling, exclaiming to her by subtle suggestions a disturbance.

Demona, a prevailing user of sorcery, could feel around her a growing power. "Uh oh," though trapped within the depths of steel, her attunement to magicks triggered still, "something's coming."

****************************************

Ribbons of granite dust from the construction whipped across the courtyard floor, a tempest now visible with a steady throb pulsing in concentric circles onto Wyvern's entire quad. Something was driving the winds in successive waves across the cobbles, encouraging nature to scratch an itch where it could not readily reach.

Surrounded by a veritable legion of Steel Clan, the portal left by young Alexander's meddling into the damage wrought by Demona's trip through time, shook. Its surface gurgled. A bubble, then a boil, the energy churned within the oddly circular ring as if some upturned cauldron. And as would a living being, it reacted with an angry hiss. As would an expression emerging from the energy patterns, it foretold by a scowl.

The steel, Goliath-immortalized guards sensed the upheaval against their metallic flesh, and they slowly turned towards the center of the tear into space and time, the turmoil of collecting energy reflecting against their visual retina.

Summoned by her minions, Mother appeared, a projector positioned upon a distant bulwark allowing her form to emerge into the winds heavy and volatile at this altitude, directly in front of the energy funnel. It barked blue flame against her light-bred form, reflecting an angry squall against the semblance of crisp white in her tunic dress. Unconcerned, Mother simply clasped her hands in front of her as the portal rippled, and foreshadowed an arrival.

"Interesting."