The Burney Relief
Greg Bishansky

August 19th, 1997.

The sun had just set over the sprawling metropolis. Rush hour had begun. People were leaving their offices and returning to their homes, or going to dinner or a show. It was a typical night for New York City, even if its people had not learned less than a year ago that humans shared the island of Manhattan with gargoyles.

But behind a boarded-up storefront, on the upper-east side, a twenty-four-year-old Chinese-American woman in a green robe unloaded the clip of her automatic pistol, checked it and reloaded it. Satisfied, she turned her attention towards her companion. "Tonight's the night, Mary. You should be giddy."

Mary didn't respond; the thirty-three-year-old dirty blonde woman, sat way too comfortably nude in a beat up old armchair watching the same clip playing on the TV in an endless loop.

"Omnes conspecti, omnes auditi, in nocte usque ad saxum commutate, dum caelum ardeat."


"Give me just one second, Khulan." Mary rose from her chair, her hair wild and disheveled. Looking like this, and naked, she almost seemed more beast than human. She rummaged through a closet before putting on a pair of black jeans, a white tank top, and a black leather jacket. She found the clothing restricting, but it wasn't practical to run around Manhattan in naught but her skin.

"I'll have Raza bring the car around," Khulan said, noticing that, as usual, Mary couldn't take her eyes off the endless loop.

"Isn't she magnificent?" Mary asked as she watched the red-haired, blue-skinned gargoyle chant in Latin over and over.

"She's quite beautiful," Khulan replied. Part of her couldn't help but feel jealous. "I'd love to see her up close some time."

"Did I ever tell you about the time I saw her?"

"Yes, Mary." Khulan wanted to be annoyed, but she adored her lover's enthusiasm.

"You should have seen her." Mary practically beamed with delight. "She must have killed at least a hundred people that night."

"I'm sure it was breathtaking." Khulan repeated the same response she had given dozens of times already.

Mary picked up a book on her dresser, and studied the cover for at least a minute… it was one of the few things that could divert her attention from the endless loop of the red-headed gargoyle. She played the book down, and turned towards her lover. "Let's make her proud."

Mary was the first out the door, Khulan looked back at the book. She had lost count of how many times she'd seen Mary read it, and quote passages from it. Gilgamesh The Kingby Jeffrey MacClain Robbins.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Washington Square Park

Elisa sipped her cup of Nightstone's iced coffee, as she leaned against the hood of her car; not even trying to hide her disgust as the crowd applauded to every line that John Castaway spoke.

"Penny for your thoughts, partner?" Matt asked as he sidled up next to her.

"It's times like this where I understand why my dad spent thirty years as a chain smoker," Elisa muttered. "The things this maniac is saying."

"Isn't that your third cup of coffee tonight?" Matt asked, but Elisa just glared at him, and he changed the subject. "Yeah, Castaway's a maniac."

"And you are not alone!" Castaway screamed into the microphone, standing beside his podium were two hooded Quarrymen. "The monsters will not take your children in the night! We will help you protect your family!

"I know it was him, Matt," Elisa said as she chucked her empty Nightstone's cup into a nearby trash can. "He tried to kill Goliath and me that night."

"In the clock tower," Matt said. "I remember."

"And his muscle there had to be the two that attacked my apartment." Elisa was practically fuming now.

"They were wearing hoods, Elisa." Matt said. "Believe me, the moment one of them so much as jaywalks, I'll throw the book at them."

"The police can't help you," Castaway shouted, his tone softened. "This is not to denigrate the men and women of New York's finest. We thank them every day for the job they do, protecting us from all manner of criminality." Castaway sneaked a glance over in Elisa and Matt's direction. "But this Gargoyle Taskforce they put together is a farce. They spend more time watching me than searching for these beasts."

The crowd went wild and Matt, for a moment, thought he heard Elisa whisper something extremely inappropriate under her breath, but he smiled.

"Let's not blame Assistant District Attorney Yale," Castaway continued. "She tries her best to work for the people of this great city, but she has been handcuffed by the worst of New York's finest."

"One day we're going to handcuff you," Matt said before muttering a term just as dirty as what he'd just heard from Elisa.

"And so I ask you, I implore you," Castaway cried. "Bring your friends, bring your families, bring them all down to talk to us! To help us all help to improve our community. To improve our city!"

As Castaway continued to rile up the crowd, an explosion went off near the stage. Banquo and Fleance immedietly grabbed the Quarryman leader, and rushed him to safety. A second explosion went off in the crowd itself. Chaos erupted.

Elisa drew her gun, and Matt immediately reached into her car and grabbed his radio. "We need back-up! Two controlled explosives went off in Washington Square Park!"

Elisa narrowed her eyes. Amidst the chaos, she caught someone running, but unlike the other civilians, this one was different. He wasn't running out of fear, he was too controled. Moved with too much purpose. She immediately gave chase.

"Elisa?" Matt cried, then turned to the rest of the GTF. "Morgan, Travanti... see if anyone's hurt. Chung, Harris... bring Castaway over. I have a few questions for him."

Elisa continued to chase after the perp; as he tried to escape into the subway, she leapt onto him from behind, knocking him face first into the sidewalk. She reached into his pocket and pulled out a suspicious-looking device.

"Let me guess," she said. "The detonator."

"Go to hell, ya harpy," the perp snapped.

"You are under arrest," Elisa said as she cuffed his hands behind his back. "You have the right to remain silent..."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The 23rdPrecinct.

Matt and Captain Maria Chavez studied tapes from security cameras of the explosions and the civilians attempting to flee.

"Looks like Maza's perp wasn't alone." Chavez pointed to the screen. "I'm counting at least four more."

"Terrorists," Matt sighed. "That's the last thing we need."

Chavez and Matt exited her office and made their way to the interrogation room, where Elisa was in the middle of trying to extract answers. "Steve Collins," she said. "We know who you are, and what you did. Three people died tonight." She leaned in, getting into his face. "And unless you give me the names of your pals, and tell me where to find them, you're facing twenty-five to life at Rikers."

He just laughed. "Like I said earlier; go to hell, ya harpy. The boss will be releasing a tape soon enough."

"Maybe I should take over," Matt suggested. But Elisa just stepped outside of the interrogation room, bringing Matt with her. She shut the door behind him.

"Sorry, partner; but I make a better 'bad cop' than you do," she said.

"Hey, I play a bad cop just fine," Matt protested.

"You have too kind a face, Matt," she said as she began to make her way back in.

But Chavez stopped her. "I'll take over from here, Maza. You take the rest of the night off; and Bluestone..."

"I know, I know," Matt grumbled. "A mountain of paperwork."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Eyrie Building

"And that's how my night's been," Elisa grumbled as she sipped another cup of Nightstone's. "The Gargoyle Taskforce is now protecting John Castaway."

"At least you weren't hurt," Angela said as she gave Elisa a hug. "And at least more people weren't killed."

"Too bad Castaway didn't take some shrapnel," Broadway bellowed.

"It's starting," Lexington called. "Hudson, turn up the sound."

The clan piled into the TV room as Nightwatch began.

"This is Nightwatch, reporting from New York: Travis Marshall," the announcer said.

"Tonight, the Quarrymen have been victims of a terrorist bombing," Travis said from behind his desk. "Three people are dead, and fourteen others injured."

Travis sighed before continuing, "We here at Nightwatch and at WVRN send out thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and their friends.

"And, as an exclusive, we received an audio tape from the perpetrators of the attacks. The police have already received the same tape and are studying it at this very moment."

The screen changed from Travis to a dark blurry humanoid image, and the voice of a woman was heard: "We are the People United for Interspecies Rights. We regret tonight's loss of life, but we had to deliver a warning to the City of New York.

"John Castaway and the Quarrymen are committing crimes against nature, against the beautiful species of gargoyles. A species that the people of New York should feel blessed has decided to grace them with their presence. The one, true alpha-predator."

The gargoyles scowled when they heard that, and listened at the tape continued.

"We call upon the Quarrymen to disband, and for John Castaway to turn himself over to us for judgement. Until these demands are met, PUIR vows that this only the beginning. You have no idea what's coming next."

The tape came to an end, and the camera returned to Travis.

"Well..." he said. "Joining me in the studio is John Castaway."

"Happy to be here, Travis," Castaway said as the camera panned to him. "Although I wish the circumstances were more pleasant."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Gramercy Park

Demona allowed herself a small chuckle as Travis Marshall's interview with John Castaway aired. She hit mute on her remote control, sat back in her tall, throne-like chair, and thumbed through a very old copy of Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinnewritten in the original Gaelic.

She picked up her cell phone and dialed. After a three rings, her contact answered. "Ms. Destine?"

"I have a job for you."

"How much, where, and what?" the gruff-sounding human asked.

"Fifty thousand dollars if you and your team can acquire an artifact for me from the collection of a rather reclusive Gerald FitzGerald in Huntington, Long Island."

"Piece of cake," the human replied.

"It had better be," Demona snapped. "Or you will find out that I don't always treat my employees with compassion." She ended the call, stood up and exited her fifth-floor study, heading down the stairs, with her book in hand.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Eyrie Building

Elisa and the gargoyles continued to watch in an angry silence as Travis Marshall's interview with John Castaway continued.

"I do not want to see any more innocent people hurt," Castaway sighed. "The Quarrymen are here to help good citizens protect their families and communities."

"And what will you do if the attacks continue, Mr. Castaway?" Travis asked.

"I considered disbanding the Quarrymen;" he confessed. "I even considered turning myself over to these people. I would like to at least talk to them. But the police urged me not to give in to the demands of terrorists. So instead, I plan to host a series of charities to help the victims of this monstrous attack."

"Turn it off," Goliath said. Hudson complied and the clan stood in silence.

"I'll start," Lex said. "Do we have to help the Quarrymen?"

"Yes," Brooklyn replied. "We do."

"I don't like it, either," Goliath said. "But we cannot let innocents be harmed; even if they insist on listening to Castaway."

"Then what are your orders?" Katana asked.

"Tomorrow night," said Goliath, "we will patrol areas with known Quarrymen activity. I want us to keep an eye on them and watch for signs of trouble."

"But if the Quarrymen spot us..." Broadway began.

"Goliath is right," Angela said cutting him off. "If we want to build a better world, we need to show the humans who we are and why they shouldn't fear us."

"Yeah," Broadway said as he placed a hand on his mate's shoulder. "You're right. As always."

"We will discuss this more at sunset," Goliath said, as he left the TV room and encouraged Elisa to follow him.

After a few minutes, the two of them made it to the library, and Goliath asked "Are you all right?"

"Everyone keeps asking me that," she said as she finished her coffee. "I'm fine."

"You seem disconcerted." Goliath stroked her hair. "You know that you can always talk to me."

Elisa sighed. "Before work I went down to the Labyrinth. I thought I'd check up on Derek, see my nephew, and maybe even listen to one of that goth girl's stories."

"What happened?" Goliath asked, although he suspected.

"Derek adores being a father; we were talking about family. And then he asked me when I am going to finally meet the right man." She walked away from Goliath and sat down in one of the chairs. "I told him that he already knows I did. One thing led to another and..."

"I see," Goliath said as he sat down beside her. "Talon has never approved of us."

"So I get to work already in a bad mood, and then I'm told that I'm going to a Quarryman rally, and then..."

Goliath stroked her hair, and then she reached up and kissed him. "I never wanted to come between you and your family," he said.

"Derek is going to have to get over it," she said.

"What if he does not?" Goliath asked, more concerned for her well being than their relationship.

Elisa sighed, but otherwise didn't answer.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

August 20th, 1997

"I hate to be a whiner," Broadway said as he soared through the air, holding Angela's hand. Brooklyn and Katana glided ahead of them. "But I hate that we've got to be the ones to protect the Quarrymen."

"We took an oath," Brooklyn called back. "To protect everyone who lives here. Human and gargoyle alike. Trust me, I don't like it either."

"If we truly want to build bridges with the humans, we need to be better than their worst," Angela agreed. "No matter how difficult it is."

"There!" Katana pointed down towards a street corner where a group of three Quarrymen had a table set up and were passing out pamphets, trying to sign up more recruits.

"So now what?" Broadway asked as they came to a landing on a rooftop overlooking the Quarrymen.

"We stay up here and keep an eye out for our crazy fanclub," Brooklyn ordered.

"Just our luck," Broadway said. "We finally find a group of humans that like us, and they're crazy."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Labyrinth

Goliath sighed as the doors to the Labyrinth opened before him. He should be out on patrol, especially with these terrorists threatening the city. But Elisa had been in so much pain after her argument with her brother that he felt he had to reach out.

"Good to see you again," Al said as he greeted Goliath. "Here to see Boss-Cat?"

"Yes," Goliath rumbled. "I need to speak with Talon at once."

"Follow me," Al replied as he led him through the Labyrinth. They passed by Claw and Thug, who were playing basketball with some of the kids dwelling in the Labyrinth. The clones were off in another corner, and it looked like Delilah was teaching them how to read. She looked over at Goliath, and as Goliath looked back, she looked away.

"Excuse me," a feminine voice said. Goliath looked down to his side and saw the storyteller walking next to him. "Goliath, right?"

"Yes," he said as they continued to follow Al. "And your name is..."

"Shari," she answered before he could finish asking. "I've been meaning to ask for some time to hear your story some day."

"Not now, kid," Al cut in. "He's got business."

"Perhaps another time," Goliath answered. Shari smiled and headed off.

"She's a good kid," Al said. "A little too inquisitive sometimes."

"It is all right," Goliath said.

Finally, as they entered Talon and Maggie's private chambers, they heard crying. Maggie was in the corner leaning over a crib. She looked back and waved at Goliath. He returned the wave.

Talon got up and came over. "Good to see you, Goliath." He greeted the big gargoyle with a handshake. "What can I do for you?"

"I am here to talk to you," Goliath said. "Elisa told me that you two argued last night. It left her very upset."

"Look, Goliath," Talon answered, "it's nothing personal. I like you. You're a good guy. But I'm just trying to look out for my big sister."

"I know that you both love each other," Goliath said. Talon gestured for Goliath to sit, but the gargoyle remained standing. "Just as I love her."

"I know you do, Goliath," Talon sighed. "But it's not just me. Dad's not comfortable with your relationship, either. And Mom is forcing herself to be. We all like you, but we just want what's best for her."

"That is up to her, not any of you," Goliath responded.

"She's a human, and you're a..."

"And what difference does that make?" Maggie had just cut in, and Talon groaned. He'd been afraid of this. "Before the mutation I was white, and you were African and Native American. Would we have been a mistake, then? Were your own parents a mistake?"

"That's different," Talon insisted. "My parents are human. We were... are human!"

"Perhaps I should go," Goliath said awkwardly as he slowly backed away towards the door. Talon glared at him, the look in his eyes clearly translating to 'you owe me big time for this.'

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Brooklyn watched the road behind him with his one eye like a hawk, Katana ever at his side. After a couple of hours, Broadway and Angela seemed to talk amongst themselves more as young lovers often did. But Brooklyn only smiled, remembering those days with Katana. Katana was thinking the same thing as she lightly squeezed Brooklyn's hand. But the mood was soon broken, as Brooklyn stood up, alert.

"Look alive, guys!" Brooklyn said as six humans in ski-masks exited a van, each carrying baseball bats and at least two of them carrying holstered hand-guns.

Like gasoline meeting fire, a fight immediately broke out between the two groups, the Quarrymen leaving their hammers on the ground and trying to defend themselves with their fists.

"Remove their hoods and string them up," the leader of the ski-masked humans ordered. "Or burn their hoods with their heads still in them. Makes no difference to me."

The gargoyles dove off of the rooftop and landed in the middle of the streetfight. "Party's over," Broadway bellowed.

Angela's eyes glowed and she growled at both sides.

"Finally," one of the Quarrymen yelled. He grabbed one of the hammers and charged it up. The other Quarrymen followed his lead. "We can ice a few monsters and if those masked-freaks try anything, it's now self-defense."

Brooklyn grabbed the Quarryman by his shirt and tossed him aside, disarming him in the process and bending the handle of his hammer in half. "I guess self-awareness isn't your strong suit."

"Perhaps this wasn't the best idea," another Quarryman said, a short, plump woman by the look and sound of her. "I need to get back to my kids."

As the gargoyles continued to growl, the Quarrymen fled. But the masked humans didn't. After a moment, their leader started clapping, but the gargoyles looked upon her with suspicion.

She quickly removed her mask. "My name is Mary," she said. "I'm the leader of the People United for Interspecies Rights."

"Yeah," Brooklyn responded. "We heard you on Nightwatch last night."

She casually began walking up to them, as one might approach an old friend. "Then you know we're here to help. To eradicate the Quarrymen. To eradicate any that would harm you."

"Listen to us," Angela pleaded. "You can't keep hurting people."

"You've already killed three people, Mary." Brooklyn took a step closer to her. She took a few steps back. "You and your little scout troop need to disband and go home. You're only going to make things worse, not better."

Mary paused for a moment, stunned. Then she smiled and said, "Oh, you poor things. Have humans really beaten a species as majestic as yours into this kind of submission?"

"What did you just say?" Katana growled.

"That's the spirit!" Mary cried out with approval.

Suddenly, Lexington's voice spoke over the communicator. "Brooklyn, come in!"

Brooklyn grabbed the comm. "Guess who we just ran into."

"The Quarryman brownstone was just bombed!" Lexington cried out.

"You're quite welcome," Mary said as her lips cracked into a ghoulish smile. "Scatter!" she shouted as she and the other masked humans fled back into the shadows of the night.

"We need to catch them!" Brooklyn cried, but it soon became clear that they had escaped. He growled in frustration. "Come on, let's get back to the castle."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The 23rdPrecinct

"And she said her name was Mary?" Elisa asked as she put down her cup of Nightstone's Coffee and spoke into her phone.

"That's what she called herself," Brooklyn replied. "Though the way she said it, she didn't think of it as hers. It might be an alias or she could just be nuts. I'm not taking bets."

Elisa called Matt to her desk and told him what Brooklyn had told her; after about an hour of digging, they came across a file.

"Mary Bishop," Elisa read. "Kicked out of Greenpeace three years ago for being too extreme. Wanted in connection with eighteen murders and five acts of environmental terrorism."

"We have archived video," Matt said as he placed a tape into a VCR. They watched for a few minutes as a small group of terrorists blew up a construction site in the Amazon. A woman could be heard shouting orders. "That voices matches the one on the tape Nightwatch aired last night."

"Looks like we have a name and face," Elisa said. "Let's tell Captain Chavez and let's get her picture on every city block in all five boroughs."

"Jersey, too," Matt suggested.

"No need to be vindictive, Matt." Elisa joked.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

August 21st, 1997

By early morning, the fire had long since been put out. The brownstone was salvagable. John Castaway stood outside the danger zone answering Officers Morgan and Travanti's questions. Crowds of people had gathered, and the police were patting down every single one of them.

Travis Marshall stood on the street, in front of a cameraman, speaking rather grimly into the microphone. "And thankfully there were no serious injuries," he reported. "Whether this was only meant to be another warning from PUIR, whose leader the police had hours ago identified as Mary Bishop as their leader, or something more serious, is impossible to guess, at least in this reporter's opinion.

"This has been Travis Marshall, live. Stay safe New York."

"And cut," the cameraman said.

"I'm headed back to my place to get some sleep," Travis told the crew. "I recommend you all do the same. It's been a long night."

As Travis walked south a couple of blocks, hoping to catch a cab, the world went black for him as a sack was tossed over his head and he was forced into the back of a van.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

That night, Travis sat behind his desk in Nightwatch's studios; the makeup department had tried their best to minimize how haggard he looked after his ordeal today. He was ready; he was determined. The announcer had just finished; now it was his turn.

"Today, I was blindfolded and taken to PUIR's headquarters for an exclusive one-on-one conversation with their leader. Once it was done, they edited the tape and released me." He nodded to his producer off camera and the live broadcast of Travis changed to a recording made hours earlier of Travis sitting in a folding chair across from a disheveled, dirty-blonde woman in her early-thirties wearing an open leather jacket, a white tanktop, and dirty jeans. She was also clearly barefoot.

"Good morning, Mr. Marshall," the woman said. "I am sorry that we must have our first conversation like this."

"I go where the story is, Miss..."

"Mary Bishop," she replied. "With the police pasting my name and face all over the place, there is no point in hiding any more. Besides, I want to be up front with the people of New York."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Eyrie Building

"That's her." Angela pointed at the TV as the rest of the clan gathered around.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

"And what are you hoping to accomplish with all of this, Ms. Bishop?"

"I only have three demands. Simple demands, too. First, the Quarrymen disband. Second, John Castaway turns himself over to us for crimes against nature. And third." She smiled, and Travis tried not to look chilled to the bone. "Human beings abandon Manhattan, entirely."

"That's quite a list," Travis said. "But Ms. Bishop, New York City is one of the world's most important cities. The effect your demand would have on the global economy could be devastating."

"If humans don't want to leave, that's up to them," Mary replied. "But those that stay must disarm and resign themselves to their place in the food-chain."

"Would you care to elaborate?"

"I would be happy to." Mary leaned in closer. "Gargoyles are the apex predator. I know this, I have seen this. Those that stay would no longer beat down these majestic animals and would know that they would be their prey."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Goliath growled in disgust. Angela looked appalled. Katana seethed in angry silence.

"This is what she thinks we want!" Broadway cried out.

"This lass is out of her mind!" Hudson bellowed as he tore the armrest on his lounge chair.

"Forget prison," Elisa said. "She needs a rubber room in Bellevue."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Gramercy Park

Demona sat in her security room, Travis Marshall's interview with Mary Bishop playing on a small TV on the corner. She rolled her eyes in a mixture of disgust and amusement as this foolish human continued to talk.

She turned her attention away from the TV as a van pulled up just outside her property, and the driver hit the intercom.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Diarmuid sent me," the thief she had commissioned earlier answered.

Demona hit the button opening the gate and watched as the van pulled up to her doorstep. She quickly grabbed an envelope full of cash and approached the front door, dropping it through a slot. "Take your money and go while you still can."

She waited about two minutes. Once the van was gone and the gate closed, she opened her front door to find a six-foot crate waiting for her. She smiled with sinister intent and brought it inside.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Nightstone Unlimited

"Human girl crazy," Brentwood said as he watched Travis Marshall's broadcast.

"Crazy, yes;" Thailog agreed. Then he chuckled malevolently. "Just look at her. She makes Shari look corporate-genic."

"I actually do care about my appearance, Mr. Thailog." Shari kneeled beside him and studied the woman on the screen. "This woman doesn't look like she cares about anything, not even herself."

Thailog pondered her words for a moment. "Get me Sevarius."

Shari pulled out her phone and dialed, then handed it to Thailog.

"I think I have a job for you, Anton." He smiled like a cat playing with a live mouse.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The explosion rocked Grand Central Station, as the members of PUIR fled on foot. Mary was the only one not to bother with any kind of mask.

"This wasn't a Quarryman rally," Khulan said with concern as she ran at Mary's side.

"We need to heat things up a little," Mary answered with a grin. "Let this city know that nobody is safe."

Khulan didn't verbally respond; she just kept running as the police began to give chase.

"Scatter," Mary ordered. "We'll meet at the rendezvous..."

Her command was broken as something grabbed her from the air, and flew off, holding her in its powerful arms.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Nightstone Unlimited

Thailog finally let Mary go as they landed on the rooftop of his corporate headquarters. "My apologies, Ms. Bishop," he said. "But I thought it was time we met, and you're not exactly in the phone book."

Mary looked Thailog up and down and was awestruck at the sight of this gigantic, magnificent, armored gargoyle. "I..." she couldn't find the words.

Thailog laughed. "While you locate your voice, follow me." He led her inside the building and down the stairs. "And welcome to Nightstone Unlimited."

"The coffee chain?" She actually sounded surprised. "I think I'm going to start requiring PUIR to buy your coffee exclusively."

They soon entered in a laboratory. Mary gasped as she took it all in. Tubes and tubes full of sleeping gargoyles, fed only by breathing masks. She spotted a smaller, purple gargoyle and a creepy-looking human wearing a labcoat.

"Mary Bishop," Thailog said. "Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Brentwood; and to Dr. Anton Sevarius."

"Charmed, my dear," Sevarius said.

"A pleasure to meet you," Mary said. She didn't get nervous often, but she was rarely ever in situations like this. "Both of you." She tried to ignore the scientist.

"Now tell me, Mary, why us? Why gargoyles?" Thailog asked.

"Did you watch my interview?" she asked.

"Yes, you said that you had seen us behave as the 'ultimate apex predator'," he replied. "That had piqued my curiosity since most of the gargoyles in this city tend towards the... passive."

"I know," she sighed out of pity. "I met a few last night. They seemed more concerned with actually protecting Quarrymen over helping me to help them. They must have been badly beaten down to become that docile."

"We adapt to survive as best we can," Thailog rumbled as he placed a friendly hand on her back. "I chose to beat the humans at their own game."

"I once saw a gargoyle who stood up to them," Mary said and smiled as a pleasant memory began to overtake her. "It was almost two years ago, I just arrived in Manhattan after sinking a fishing boat in the Caribbean. But everyone was a statue; you know," she added. "The Lost Nights."

"I'm afraid that I was asleep those nights," Thailog replied.

"While making my way down town, I heard the sounds of laughter," Mary said. "Of blaster fire. Of explosions. I ducked into an alley and watched as a female gargoyle with red hair slowly strutted by, shattering statues with her mace, shooting others with a particle beam cannon, and laughing as she did it."

"You must have been terrified," Thailog said.

"I was," she admitted. "But I was also confused. I hid in that alley all night, then at sunrise the statues disappeared and the city was alive again, but no one remembered anything." She paused and smiled. "But I did. She used magic of some kind, didn't she? She tilted the playing field away from humans towards her kind. It was breathtaking."

Thailog's lips sneered into a cruel smile. "Her name is Demona, and we happen to be very close."

"Tell her that I love her work," Mary said.

"How would you like to tell her yourself?" Thailog asked. "But she despises humans, so I'm afraid you can't meet her looking like that."

"I would far rather prefer to be like you," Mary said solemnly.

"That can be arranged," Thailog responded.

"Really?" She actually sounded hopeful. Desperate, even.

"Doctor, I give you the floor." Thailog took a step backwards as Sevarius took center stage.

"I don't know if you've ever heard of me, but some call me the world's greatest geneticist," Sevarius said with a grin. "They would be right. I specialize in all matter of genetic engineering - from customized carrier viruses to organismal cloning to... somatic mutation."

"Mutation?" Mary breathed. "Can you...?"

"Yes, I have mutated humans with DNA from mammals, reptiles, actinopterygians, malacostracans, and many others."

As Sevarius spoke, a video started playing on the monitor behind him, depicting his previous Mutates in quick succession. Talon, Fang, Wolf, Thug, even Benny and Erin. Mary watched, completely enraptured at the possibilities.

"But I have yet to mutate a human with gargate DNA." Sevarius pulled a vial out from a pocket. "Here I have a freshly prepared sample, donated by a lovely young gargoyle named Angela while we cruised around the most famous loch in Scotland."

"Do you truly want this?" Thailog asked. "Once you say 'yes', there might not be any coming back."

"You had me at want," Mary said. She then removed her jacket and presented her bare arm. "Inject me."

"I was hoping you'd say that." Sevarius attached the vial to a needle and then swabbed her arm with rubbing alcohol before injecting the mutagen into her. "There may be some momentary discomfort."

Thailog smiled and exited the lab, to be greeted by Shari. "She said 'yes', didn't she?"

"Without hesitation," Thailog replied. "You were right. She doesn't care about her own well-being."

He laughed maniacally. "And now we wait."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Eyrie Building

"Grand Central Station!" Elisa shouted as she stormed into the Great Hall. "PUIR just hit Grand Central Station!"

"Why?" Angela asked. "Were the Quarrymen holding a demonstration there tonight?"

"No." Elisa glowered. "They weren't."

Goliath growled and his eyes blazed white. "This madness must end!"

"Pure madness," Brooklyn said. Katana elbowed him in the gut, annoyed by the really bad pun. "But at least they've sacrificed any moral high ground they claimed to have had."

"I'm more concerned about what's next." Elisa scowled. "Bishop is stepping up her game. And we need to be ready."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Nightstone Unlimited, August 22nd, 1997

Sevarius looked through the east window, watching as the first rays of morning appeared over the horizon. He then looked back at Mary whose transformation was almost complete.

As the sun rose, she turned to stone. "I actually did it," he said with a grin. "Not that I doubted myself.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The sun set. Thailog erupted from his stone skin, and quickly made his way to the laboratory. He entered the lab, grinning at the sound of Mary screaming in pain. He approached Sevarius and asked "And how is our guinea pig?"

"See for yourself." Sevarius led him deeper into the lab. Sprawled out on the floor was no longer a human woman, but something else entirely, surrounded by shards and fragments of stone skin. Her Caucasian skin had darkened to a rich shade of blue. Her dirty-blonde hair was now black. Her fingers were replaced by talons, her feet were now haunched, a tail had grown out, and a pair of massive wings had exploded out of her back. A pair of horns grew outward from her brow. "Lovely if I do say so, myself."

"I was expecting her to resemble my 'dear' sister," Thailog said as he stared, fascinated by the sight of her.

"Possibly the features of a genetic ancestor were dominant in the mutation... or simply the mixing of the DNA sequences produced unexpected phenotypic variation," Sevarius opined as he continued to observe her. "Gargate DNA is truly a wonder to study."

"And did she turn to stone?" Thailog asked.

"Indeed," Sevarius said with another grin. "Like clockwork. The mutagen is a success."

"Mary," Thailog called out. "Can you hear me?"

Mary stood straight up and flexed every muscle in her body before tearing off what tatters and rags remained of her clothing. "Mirror," she demanded. "Now!"

"Brentwood," Thailog called. "Bring our guest a mirror."

After a few minutes, Brentwood wheeled in a full-length mirror, and Mary stared into it, turning and studying every angle of her new body.

"I think the good doctor has outdone himself," Thailog spoke with pride. "What about you?

After another moment, Mary started laughing and then began to recite a poem. "Then Ishtar the sweet-voiced Queen of Heaven cried out like a woman in travail: 'Alas the days of old are turned to dust because I commanded evil; why did I command this evil in the council of all the gods? I commanded wars to destroy the people, but are they not my people, for I brought them forth? Now like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean.' The great gods of heaven and of hell wept, they covered their mouths."

"Well read, I see," Thailog said with a smile. "You continue to impress me, Mary."

"Ishtar," she snapped. "Call me Ishtar, now. 'Mary Bishop' no longer exists."

"I am an artist," Sevarius said before chuckling. "Now, give me some time and I can prepare a proper wardrobe for you."

"No." Ishtar cut him off. "I don't think that will be necessary." She continued to stare into the mirror at her new form. "This is perfection."

"You do your namesake proud," Thailog said with chuckle.

"I must share this gift with others," Ishtar said with a smile. Then she turned to Sevarius, a wicked grin crossing her face. "Doctor, you mentioned carrier viruses earlier, didn't you?"

"I did, my dear." Sevarius was already seeing lots of dollar signs in his head.

"Would a carrier virus carrying gargate mutagen be possible?" she asked.

"Of course it's possible," Sevarius replied. "It is also very costly."

"Money is no object," Ishtar declared. "Just name your price and I will meet it. I want to share this gift with others. Lots of others."

"While Sevarius works out the fine details," Thailog said as he took Ishtar's hand in his own larger one, "perhaps I should teach you how to glide as well as other ways you can make use of this fine body."

Ishtar smiled mischievously. "Lead the way."

Sevarius watched them go, then returned to his bench. "To work."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Quarryman Brownstone

John Castaway stood before the assembled members of the press, and spoke. "My heart goes out to all the victims of this mad woman. Not just my Quarrymen, but the good citizens whose greatest crime was wanting to go home after a day's work."

"Will you be disbanding the Quarrymen?" a reporter asked.

"No, after many conferences and conversations, we've decided that we will be holding a charity rally at the Delacourte Theater. The money we raise will go to help the victims of these terrorists; and hopefully we'll be able to pay for the damages to Grand Central Station."

Castaway straightened himself out, and looked directly into the various cameras. "We need to come together and send a message saying that we will not be intimidated."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Across the street, Elisa and Matt leaned against Elisa's car, watching Castaway take questions.

"Protect and serve," Matt said. "Sometimes I hate this job."

Elisa sipped her cup of Nightstone's Coffee, and scowled. "As soon as we catch these cretins, we'll be able to get back to nailing this jerk to the wall."

"If only there was some kind of organization that wanted to help our nighttime pals," Matt mused. "Except, you know, sane."

"I'd organize it myself if Internal Affairs wouldn't drop the hammer on me for conflicts of interest." Elisa finished her coffee and dropped the cup in the nearest trash recepticle.

"You'll do them more good in the GTF, anyway," Matt said. "Also, partner, I know it's been a double shift... but you need to lay off the caffiene."

Elisa playfully flipped him the bird. "Shift's almost over, anyway."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

"Where is she?" Khulan was now genuinely distressed.

"Maybe the cops grabbed her," Cecily suggested.

"They couldn't have," Raza countered. "It would be all over the news right now."

"If we don't hear from her by morning, then you need to take control of PUIR," Miko stated.

"I am more than prepared to do that," Khulan answered. "But PUIR was supposed to be our thing. Not my thing."

"And it will continue to be ours," a voice called from the doorway.

Khulan smiled and looked over. Her smile soon faded and was replaced with a look of trepidation. She had heard Mary's voice, but standing in front of her was... "A gargoyle? Mary, is that you?"

The Mutate-gargoyle strutted over and drew Khulan into a tight hug, before planting a kiss on her lips. After several seconds of wrestling tongues, the mutate released her, and Khulan gasped for air.

"Ishtar," she corrected. "My name is Ishtar, now."

Khulan looked the nude Mutate up and down. Miko, Cecily, and Raza quickly began to flank her, but Khulan raised her hand, signaling them to stop. "What happened to you?"

"We have the gargoyles' blessing," Ishtar declared. "More than that, we have the means to do this to change others."

"I don't want to change," Khulan said, beginning to get nervous.

"And you don't have to," Ishtar cupped Khulan's cheek. "I don't intend to force this on anyone that has already proven their enlightenment. In fact," she added. "I think I have the perfect target in mind for the next change."

"All right," Khulan said with a nod. She then dared herself to ask "And how do we change others?"

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

That night, Goliath soared over the city, Elisa firmly held in his arms. No matter how many times she looked down at the city below her, from this height, it was always magical. She never missed a moment to appreciate it, even while wearing an earpiece and scanning for signs of terrorist activity.

"Hey, partner," Matt spoke through the earpiece. "We just got word, an armored car is being hit on Canal Street right now. And get this..."

"PUIR?" Elisa asked.

"Don't know," Matt said. "But the leader is a gargoyle!"

"What?" Elisa cried. "We're on our way."

"Where?" Goliath asked.

"Canal Street," Elisa said urgently. "A gargoyle is knocking over an armored car."

As they soared south, Elisa went through a quick list of suspects. If this was Demona or Thailog, then they must really be low on cash. She had hope it wasn't one of the clones, but who knows what Delilah had picked up from Thailog, even if they were no longer an item.

Within less than two minutes, they arrived at their destination and came to a landing. "Stop where you are," Elisa yelled as she pulled her out her gun.

Goliath reared up and roared, then gasped as the gargoyle in question turned towards him and smiled. "Who are you?" It wasn't so much a question as a demand.

"You must be Goliath," she said as she motioned towards her henchmen to flee. "I am Ishtar." She smiled. "Catch me if you can!" She leapt onto the nearest wall and began to scale it.

Goliath pursued her as Elisa grabbed onto his back and they followed Ishtar up the side of the building. Before reaching the top, Ishtar leapt into the air, catching a wind current, and soared off. Goliath and Elisa followed her lead and pursued her.

"Does she even know what she's doing?" Elisa asked. "Look at her, it's like she's just learned how to glide." They were able to quickly catch up, as Ishtar landed on a rooftop and ducked behind a chimney.

Goliath and Elisa landed, and separated, each pursuing her around opposite sides of the chimney. But as Elisa drew her gun again, Ishtar pounced on her.

"You human scum," Ishtar growled as she flared her talons... but Goliath was fast as he pulled Ishtar off of Elisa and threw her against the brick chimney.

"Are you all right?" Goliath asked as he helped Elisa to her feet. She quickly hugged him, and then they turned towards Ishtar.

"We need not be enemies," Goliath said. "Who are you and where did you come from?"

"I already told you my name." She looked Goliath up and down and licked her lips. "Tell me, Goliath, are you seeing anyone?"

"What?" Goliath was nonplussed.

"Yes, he is," Elisa yelled, then couldn't believe she'd even bothered responding to the question.

"Who?" Ishtar quickly picked up on it. "You?"

"That's none of your business," Elisa said, scowling. "And why are we talking about this? You just robbed an armored car!"

"It must be difficult for you," Ishtar said. "Does your family accept it? Your friends? Can you even have children together? How do you manage?"

Elisa was inwardly fuming, but Goliath wanted to hear her out. "We manage," he said. "Do you have a clan? You need not steal from the humans to survive; we can help you."

Ishtar smirked; the wheels began turning in her head. "Or maybe I can help you."

"Help us with what?" Goliath asked. He motioned for Elisa to lower her weapon, and she complied.

"You'll see." Ishtar stood up and walked over to the ledge. "See you soon." She took off to the air and glided off, headed north.

"I can't believe we just let her go," Elisa sighed as she leaned against Goliath.

"We need to know who she is and where she came from before we can condemn her," Goliath said as he took Elisa into his arms and stroked her hair. "There are so few of us left."

"I know," Elisa said. "But something about her just isn't right."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Long Island

Sevarius pulled into his driveway and turned off his car's ignition. He stepped out of the vehicle, briefcase in hand. "Home sweet home," he said. Still seeing dollar signs in his head, he looked the property up and down. "I always did want a swimming pool."

"Do what I ask, human, and perhaps you will survive long enough to be able to afford one." Sevarius looked up as Demona leapt off the rooftop carrying a long, wooden crate. She came to a graceful landing in front of him and stood up.

"Long time no see, Demona," Sevarius said with a smile. "And what can I do for you this time? Your requests are never light on drama." He quickly ushered her inside.

She placed the crate on a work bench and opened it up. Sevarius looked inside. "It's a tusk?" he noted. "A very large tusk. It doesn't look like an elephant's."

"It's not," Demona snapped. "I want you to bring this beast back to life."

"If sufficient DNA remains extant, I can certainly do as you wish." Sevarius grinned as he continued to look the tusk up and down, and quickly identified it. "I never heard of a boar growing this large."

"When will it be ready, human?" Demona demanded.

"If I begin now, probably three months," he answered. "Maybe four. It's impossible to say if I don't know what I'm dealing with."

"I'll tell you all you need to know." She grabbed his head and turned it to look him directly in the eyes. "And not any more than that."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Central Park, August 25th, 1997

Castaway stood on the stage of the Delacore Theater, watching every move as lights were being set up and sound systems were being checked.

"Move, move," he said. "We must be ready by tonight."

"Excuse me, Mr. Castaway." A bespectacled blonde woman approached him with a clipboard. "The talent is beginning to arrive."

"Thank you, Sarah," he said as he watched several musicians begin unloading their van. "Tell them they can begin setting up right away."

Unbeknownst to them, a Quarryman skulked beneath the stage. He approached the main support structure directly beneath Castaway's podium and then removed a device from his bag. He attached it to the podium and activated it. Then he spoke into a cell phone. "This is Raza," he said. "Tell Khulan the package has been delivered."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Elisa's loft.

Elisa exited the shower and finished drying her hair. As she looked herself over in the mirror she paused to consider what Ishtar had asked the other night. How would she and Goliath manage? This wasn't just about whether her family did and did not approve. What about the future? What about affection beyond kissing? She continued looking herself over and, for the first time in years, her eyes didn't wander to the large scar on her chest.

"It is what it is," Elisa said to herself as she exited her bathroom and began to dress. Bra, panties, socks, jeans, a black t-shirt, and then her usual red jacket.

"Okay, Cagney," she said as she stroked her cat's fur while coming out of her bedroom. "As soon as Goliath gets here, I'm out."

As she approached the lockbox where she kept her gun, Cagney started hissing at the window. Elisa turned and spotted Ishtar coming in through the window.

"Don't worry, Elisa." She smiled menacingly. "I'm here to help."

Before she could react, Ishtar leapt at her, and restrained her with one arm, while the other covered her face with a handkerchief covered in chloroform and waited a few seconds until Elisa passed out.

Ishtar lifted Elisa into her arms, and then leapt back through the window and off the ledge, carrying the detective north.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Fifteen minutes later, Goliath came to a landing outside Elisa's loft. He entered through the window and Cagney immediately rubbed up against his foot and purred affectionately. Goliath kneeled down and rubbed the cat's fur before standing back up.

"Elisa?" he called. There was no response. It was then that Goliath noticed the lockbox where she kept her gun. Still closed. Still locked. His eyes glowed, and he growled "Demona," under his breath.

"Goliath," Broadway's voice came came in over the communicator. "The rally is about to start. Do you have Elisa?"

"No," he said. "She is missing."

"What are we going to do?" Broadway asked. "Matt thinks that PUIR is going to hit this place with something big."

Goliath sighed for a moment. "Elisa would want us to protect the city," he said. "But we will find her." He then climbed back out the window and began gliding towards Central Park.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Belvedere Castle

"Wakey, wakey, Elisa," Ishtar cooed as she splashed water into Elisa's face.

Elisa lightly moaned as the world came back to her. The first thing she noticed was Ishtar's blue face staring into hers. The second was that her arms were handcuffed behind her back, very tightly.

"Where am I?" Elisa asked.

"Why, you have a balcony seat for the big show." Ishtar pointed across Turtle Pond towards the Delacorte Theater. "I'm about to give the Quarrymen a night they will never forget."

Elisa gasped. "You can't do this, Ishtar," she tried. "Goliath and I don't like the Quarrymen any more than you do, but there are still innocent people down there. You can't kill them just to get to Castaway. And you can't kill Castaway. We'll bring him to justice eventually."

"You misunderstand, Elisa, I'm not killing anyone." Ishtar laughed. "But justice? You betcha."

Elisa raised an eyebrow. "Who are you?"

"I used to be Mary Bishop," she declared. "Before your friend Thailog gave me a gift."

"Oh god," Elisa said under her breath. "Sevarius mutated you, didn't he?"

"You mean he fixed me," Ishtar declared. "He brought forth my true self. And I plan to bring forth yours!

"Dr. Sevarius whipped up a carrier virus with the same mutating agent that fixed me." She laughed. "It's under Castaway's podium as we speak, and in just a few more minutes..."

"You can't be serious," Elisa cried. "You have no right."

"You should be thanking me." Ishtar strode forward. "I saw the way you and Goliath looked at each other. I know you're in love. We're within the blast radius of my bomb. And I am honored to be the one to remove all of your obstacles."

"No," Elisa declared. She slowly stood up and looked Ishtar right in the eye. "Goliath and I don't want your kind of help." All she saw in Ishtar's eyes was a failure to comprehend. "We're already happy as we are."

"You have no idea what you're missing, Elisa," Ishtar said. Her voice began to crack, but she quickly regained her resolve. "And after the time I spent with Thailog; trust me... you couldn't physically handle Goliath. No human could."

"I'm sorry that you're so unhappy with yourself, Mary." Elisa said, taking on a softer and kinder tone. "I don't know where you came from, I don't know what kind of upbringing you had; I don't know what kind of friends you surrounded yourself with."

Elisa slowly walked towards her. "Not being who you are will never make anyone happy, even if it's for someone you love beyond measure. Goliath can't be a human; I can't be a gargoyle. Our identities are part of who we are, and we wouldn't want each other to be anyone else."

She smiled as she watched Ishtar pause, her insecurities threatening to bubble to the surface. "Mary, please," Elisa implored. "Uncuff me. Call off your posse, and we'll get rid of that bomb together. After that, I have some friends who were also Sevarius' victims; they'll take you in, give you support, a family."

"I don't think so," Ishtar growled, regaining her resolve. "It's like ripping off a band-aid, Elisa. You'll be happier when it's over. And you'll love stone-sleep; I never felt so rested."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Delacorte Theater

Castaway took the podium. "And so far we have raised over three-hundred-thousand dollars." He said with a smile. "Impressive, but for our beautiful city, I think we can do better."

"Mr. Castaway!" Fleance shouted, pointing at the sky. "Gargoyles!"

Castaway looked above him and smirked, before shouting into the mic. "You see, these monsters even threaten a charity drive. But we'll show them. Everyone get to safety while we protect you."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

"Take cover, guys," Brooklyn ordered, as the Quarrymen assembled and started firing at them in the air.

"Don't those idiots realize we're trying to help them?" Lex growled.

"If they knew that, they wouldn't be Quarrymen to begin with," Broadway yelled.

"Take 'em out," Brooklyn cried. "But gently. And keep an eye out for PUIR. They've got to be around here somewhere."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Belvedere Castle

Elisa struggled against her cuffs as Ishtar watched before turning her back and basking in the view of the battle over Delacorte Theater. "Don't worry," she said. "I've been assured the mutagen won't affect your friends."

"Mary," Elisa said. "Let me go. We need to put a stop this."

"It will stop as soon as Castaway and his hooded maniacs are sporting wings and tails."

Elisa heard the familar sound of wings flapping directly overhead; backup was finally here. But her heart sank when the gargoyle that came to a landing between her and Ishtar turned out to be the last gargoyle she wanted to see, especially tonight.

Demona came to a swift and graceful landing and stood up, staring at Ishtar, then looking over at the battle between the Manhattan Clan and the Quarrymen, then smiled, satisfied at the sight of the cuffed Elisa.

"I should have known you'd show up, Demona!" Elisa yelled. "Were you also in on the grand Ishtar experiment?"

"What experiment?" Demona asked. "I came here to watch two groups of human fools kill each other." She studied Ishtar's form. "But this is... unexpected."

"You're Demona," Ishtar spoke as if she was meeting a childhood hero for the first time. "You're the only gargoyle who isn't afraid to stand up to human filth."

"I know who I am," Demona growled. "Who are you?"

"I'm the leader of the People United for Interspecies Rights," she said. "You must have heard about me on the news. I'm the one attacking the Quarrymen."

"I've heard their leader was human." Demona said as she raised a brow behind her tiara. "But this is interesting." She turned back to Elisa and smirked at the sight of her predicament. "And you brought me Elisa Maza as a gift."

"More than that." Ishtar beamed, tears of happiness beginning to stream down her face. "I underwent this change to be like you, to follow your example."

"What change?" Anger seeped into Demona's voice. Elisa recognized this change in moods.

"Ishtar," Elisa whispered, using her chosen name for the first time since discovering the truth. Then she mouthed the word "Lie", hoping that Mary would get the message.

"I was a human, but your friend Thailog changed me into this," she declared, swelling with pride. "He brought forth my true self."

Demona stared at her in shock, then turned back towards Elisa. "I will be with you in a moment, Detective," she said, as she began advancing on Ishtar. "This won't take long."

"Are you pleased with -" But before Ishtar could finish, Demona brutally struck her across the face, knocking her to the ground.

Before the Mutate could stand, Demona stomped a foot on her back. "You dare mock my kind, human!" Demona growled, then dug her talons into the base of one of Ishtar's wings.

Elisa watched in horror as Demona tore Ishtar's right wing out, Ishtar crying out in pain and agony. She looked away as Demona ripped out the left wing.

"Why?" Ishtar cried, but Demona didn't answer. Ishtar screamed in agony again as she felt Demona's talons dig into her tail. Then everything was a white-hot blur as Demona ripped the tail out as well, and tossed it aside.

Elisa forced herself to look back at the carnage unfolding before her, as Demona lifted the now-wingless and tailess Ishtar to her feet, and leaned her against the rampart. "That's enough," Elisa cried out.

"No, Detective," Demona snarled as she looked into Ishtar's eyes. She then grabbed both of the mutate's horns and after a few seconds, tore them from her forehead. "I can't allow this human to possess what doesn't belong to her."

Ishtar was shivering in pain and fear, gasping for air in short bursts as Demona stroked her blue skin. "There aren't any humans in possession of skin this lovely." Her eyes burned red. "Perhaps I should flay you." Elisa winced in horror at the thought, while Ishtar barely appeared to be conscious anymore. "How cozy, a human who would be one of us and Elisa Maza," she smiled. "I think this will be a good night."

The familiar roar of Goliath filled the air, drawing Demona's attention. She looked up to see him gliding over to them, fast. "Consider this a reprieve, human," Demona snarled, before throwing Ishtar's broken body over the rampart, where it quickly landed with a cracking thud on the jagged rocks below.

Demona rushed toward Elisa and pulled her off the ground by her hair, as Goliath came in for a landing.

"Let her go!" he commanded. Demona smiled, then shoved Elisa violently towards Goliath, who managed to gently catch her in his arms.

"I've already had a fortuitous evening." Demona smiled viciously, before taking off into the air and heading south. Her banshee-like battle cry echoed in the night.

"Are you all right?" Goliath asked as he snapped the cuffs off.

"I'll explain later," Elisa picked up Ishtar's discarded cell phone. "There's a bomb beneath the stage, under Castaway's podium!"

Goliath understood and took off, back across the pond towards the theater. Elisa ran down the stairs and out of the castle.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Brooklyn dodged blow after blow from Castaway, managing to avoid the human's electrified hammer, but Castaway managed a sweeping kick and then brushed the hammer against Brooklyn's skin, causing the one-eyed gargoyle to cry out.

But Castaway was knocked to the ground, hard, breaking his right arm as Goliath landed in front of him and helped Brooklyn to his feet. "Demons," Castaway muttered under his breath, a little Scottish brogue briefly slipping.

"There's a bomb under the stage," Goliath said to Brooklyn. "Directly beneath the podium."

"Understood," said Brooklyn before calling out, "Lex, with me!"

Brooklyn and Lexington swiftly made their way beneath the stage and soon found the device where Goliath said it was. "Is this some kind of biological weapon?" Brooklyn asked as he looked it over.

"Who cares?" Lex cried. "It's about to go off."

Brooklyn swallowed nervously as he saw the clock ticking down.

5... 4...

"There's no time!" he yelled.

2... 1... 0

Brooklyn and Lex braced themselves. But nothing happened. No explosion. Nothing. After a few seconds they relaxed.

"Wait," Lex said. "Was that thing a dud?"

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Elisa climbed down the jagged rocks between the pond and the castle, and gasped at what remained of Ishtar. Her body was contorted in ways that would make a sentient rag doll wince.

"Ishtar," she said as she rushed to the Mutate's side. "Talk to me! Stay with me!"

"What... did I... do wrong?" Ishtar asked, struggling with each word.

"I've already called in an ambulance," Elisa reassured her. "Just stay with me, you're going to be fine."

"I only wanted..." Ishtar whispered. "I... don't know..."

"Keep breathing," Elisa urged her. "Stay with me, Ishtar!"

"Mary..." the Mutate corrected her just before she stopped breathing.

"No," Elisa whispered. She attempted to perform CPR, but to no avail. It was too late. She was gone.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Delacorte Theater

A paramedic ushered Castaway towards a waiting ambulance, his arm already in a make-shift cast, while other paramedics took care of the rest of the Quarrymen and attendees.

"Hey, John," Matt Bluestone yelled as he approached the Quarryman leader. "I want to talk to you about those weapons you were firing into the sky."

"Check the security tapes, Detective," Castaway said with a smile. "We were clearly under attack by those monsters."

"Let him be, Detective." Margot Yale snapped as she appeared next to him. The Assistant D.A. then pulled Matt away, by the arm, roughly. "Hasn't Mr. Castaway been through enough tonight?"

"Not really," Matt answered.

"Besides," Margot added, "I made sure that the Quarrymen have all the weapons permits they need to properly defend themselves from these beasts."

"Of course you did." Matt rolled his eyes as he turned and went to check on the rest of the Taskforce.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Travis Marshall held his microphone and concluded his report. "...though the event itself was hopelessly disrupted, a canister was recovered. Police are examining it now, but our sources are informing us that it appeared to be empty. Two members of PUIR who appeared at the Quarrymen rally were apprehended, save one... Mary Bishop."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Nightstone Unlimited

A van pulled into the skyscraper's garage, where Thailog waited. A short, stocky man in an overcoat exited the driver's seat and nodded at Thailog.

"Thirty-six," Thailog said.

"Thirty-two," Agent Martin Hacker replied. "Special delivery from the Gargoyle Taskforce."

Hacker opened the back of the van and Thailog reached in and wheeled out a stretcher, a white sheet covering a body. "One Mutate-gargoyle gift-wrapped. I hope you don't mind that I neglected a bow."

Thailog smiled and pulled back the sheet, then grimaced slightly at what remained. "Thank you, Hacker. The Illuminati will receive Sevarius' notes after the dissection."

"That's not necessary," Hacker said. "We trust in Nightstone Unlimited's good work."

After Hacker left, Thailog wheeled the stretcher back to Sevarius's lab, where Anton got up from his work bench and greeted him.

"Pity," Sevarius said as he looked at the blood-stained white sheet. "She was quite lovely."

"And a very entertaining diversion." Thailog grinned. "But now that we know that your mutagenic formula is compatible with gargoyle DNA, I predict that there is plenty of fun on the horizon."

"Indeed, my boy," said Sevarius with a chuckle. "And where is that girl-servant of yours? I have not seen her all night."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

The Hotel Cabal

Shari casually approached the run down hotel; it wasn't her first time here, or her second, or her tenth. She removed her key from the pocket of her jeans, not caring which number was stamped on the keychain; that did not matter. What did matter was the key allowed her to traverse the hotel without setting off any of the Hotel Cabal's death traps.

She took the elevator to the top floor, and as the doors opened, she heard it. The sound of someone playing the piano from a suite at the end of the hall. Shari recognized the tune as Chopin's Prelude in C-Minor, to be exact. She smiled as she strolled down the hallway before she came to the door and knocked.

The door opened and a large African-American man in a three-piece suit answered. "My mistress is expecting you," he said.

"Thank you, Aaron," Shari replied as she wiped her shoes off on the door mat and made her way into the living room.

Sitting behind the grand piano was a female gargoyle with gray skin and long black hair, wearing a green silk Persian dress trimmed with gold and a headdress of pearls, gold and one emerald. The gargoyle continued to play for about another minute before the song ended, then stood up and turned to face Shari.

"Nine," Shari said as she flashed her pendant bearing the symbol of the Illuminati Society.

"Four," Tamora replied. Formalities now concluded, the gargoyle smiled and embraced Shari in a tight hug, which Shari eagerly returned. "How are you, my dearest friend?"

"Mr. Thailog keeps my nights busy," she said with a grin. "And the children in the Labyrinth makes sure my days are never boring."

"I'm sure they love your stories," Tamora said with a smile as she signaled Aaron to approach with a tray bearing a bottle of Merlot and two wine glasses.

"Nightstone Unlimited has recovered Ishtar's body," Shari reported as she accepted the glass and took a sip. "Thanks in no small part to Agent Hacker."

"And Castaway's point will have been made." Tamora sipped her wine. "The Quarrymen will grow stronger."

"Goliath's clan was seen saving lives." Shari put the glass down. "A boon to PUIR, I'm sure."

"The Illuminati is installing a new leader as we speak. We chose the Chung girl."

"And Tenzin is okay with this?" Shari asked. "She has no love for him or anyone else in her family."

"It was his suggestion." Tamora took another sip of her wine. "He knows how to keep her in line; she just doesn't realize it."

Shari raised her glass, and casually said: "To our little society."

"Enough shop talk." Tamora finished her drink. "Before dawn, you must regale me with another of your tales."

"Mr. Thailog can afford to spare me for one night," Shari said with a laugh. "But only if you play the piano for me."

Tamora smiled, "An equitable trade."

Shari placed her glass back on Aaron's tray, sat up, and began. "The story is told - though who can say if it be true-"

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Khulan Chung stared into the mirror, donning her make-up. She sighed as she remembered that Mary was the reason she had switched to cruelty-free cosmetics to begin with. Mary had never touched make-up to begin with, but she had always assured Khulan that she was beautiful, with or without it.

As she felt the tears begin to flow, she heard a knock on the door. "Yes?"

Cecily, Raza, and Miko entered. Khulan quickly regained control of herself. These three might have been her life-long companions, but not to the point where she would ever allow herself to look this vulnerable in front of them.

"The meeting is about to start," Cecily said as she placed a hand on Khulan's shoulder, then hugged her. "We know what she meant to you, but PUIR needs to move on."

"This is a new day for our organization," Khulan said. "No matter how Mary and I felt about eachother, I didn't often agree with her methods. Tomorrow, a new PUIR will emerge."

Miko smiled with approval. "Then let's go tell the rank and file that."

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Elisa's loft.

Goliath sat on the sofa, Elisa cuddled in his arms.

"In her own twisted way she thought she was helping us," Elisa said.

"I can only hope that she finally found peace," Goliath whispered. Then he paused before asking. "You said she was concerned about whether we could handle physical intimacy?"

"Well," she said. At first she tried not to sound awkward. But then she remembered that this was Goliath; she never needed to sound awkard with him. "I'm sure we'll figure it all out."

Goliath smiled. "Indeed."

"Goliath," she said before kissing his brow. "I've been thinking."

He smiled and held her closer.

"Why don't we finally make it official?"

"What do you mean? A..." he stressed the word; "wedding?"

Elisa laughed. "No. Well, kind of. Besides, I don't think a tux is your style."

Goliath allowed himself to laugh at the thought of himself in such an outfit. "What do you have in mind?"

"A, well, for lack of a better term, a committment ceremony?" she said. "We stand in front of the clan, my family, our friends. We exchange vows, and then we celebrate."

"It sounds lovely," he said. "But we don't need them to celebrate our love."

"It's not just for us, Goliath," she said. "It's for all of us. A chance to have all of our loved ones together in one place."

"I would love that." He pulled her into a long kiss. "Almost as much as I love you."

"I love you, too, Goliath."

"What about your family?" he asked.

"Well, I knew for a while that was a bridge I'd have to cross some time," she said.

"We'll cross it together," he said. The two then sat in silence, each taking comfort from the other as the sun began to rise.

Never The End

Featuring the voice talents of:

Thom Adcox-Hernandez – Lexington, Brentwood
Ed Asner - Hudson
Brigitte Bako – Angela
Michael Bell – Martin Hacker
Jeff Bennet – Brooklyn
Rocky Carrol - Talon
Scott Cleverdon – John Castaway
Tim Curry – Anton Sevarius
Keith David – Goliath, Thailog
Bill Fagerbakke - Broadway
Zehra Fazal – Shari
Saychelle Gabriel - Cecily
Charles Hallahan – Travis Marshall
Kelly Hu – Khulan Chung
Alaina Huffman – Ishtar/Mary Bishop
Stana Katic - Tamora the Goth
Andrew Kishino - Raza
Cricket Leigh - Miko
Ming Na – Katana
Ron Perlman - Al
Salli Richardson – Elisa Maza, Sarah Browne
Marina Sirtis – Demona, Margot Yale
Kath Soucie – Maggie the Cat
Rachel Ticotin – Maria Chavez
Tom Wilson – Matt Bluestone

Acknowledgements: Special Thanks to Lucas McClain for help with Sevarius's techno-jargon. And stay tuned, because there's no way I'm not going to write about Goliath and Elisa's commitment ceremony. And just what is Demona up to with that tusk? We'll find out soon.