Fusion

The Eyrie Building. July 3rd, 1999.

Summer was in full swing. People were out and about; the City That Never Sleeps was keeping true to its reputation. Human life pulsed on the streets of Manhattan and gargoyles soared across the sky.

Lexington and Staghart entered their makeshift office. While the white-furred stag thumbed through his collection of manuals, Lex opened his laptop and checked his e-mail.

"Anything interesting, luv?" Amp asked.

"The usual," Lex replied. "Chain letters. A Nigerian Prince needing financial aid. An article about some ancient whip being dug up in Italy. The latest page of Blue Mug Productions."

"I'm always up for that last one," Amp said, with a grin.

"And," Lex paused, then clicked on an unopened e-mail. "Hey, what's this?"

"What's what?" Amp asked, as he came over and looked over his mate's shoulder. "Goldencup Bakery?"

"They're a government research lab," Lex said. His eyes began to bug out. "And they want to buy my anti-virus program for..."

"That's a lot of zeroes, luv," Amp said, before proudly patting Lex on the back.

"I wouldn't even know what to do with all that," Lex said, as he slowly backed away from the laptop.

"Figure it out later," Amp said. "Right now, just do it."

Lex considered the possibilities and then smiled. "All right, I will!"

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

October 5th, 1999

Clad in his crimson Steel Clan armor, David Xanatos rocketed through the night sky. It didn't take long for him to reach his destination, the Goldencup Bakery Building.

Xanatos decelerated. Using his stabilizers, he came to a graceful landing. His razor-sharp wings retracted and he made his way towards the locked entrance. A cable emerged from his left arm and attached to the electronic lock, quickly disarming the alarm and unlocking the door. He entered and made his way down the flight of stairs, he turned and headed through the hallway towards the laboratory.

"Let's see what Uncle Sam is cooking up," he mused. He released the cable once more, and hooked it into the main terminals. Within his helmet, specs appeared on screen for military-grade weapons, vehicles, and buildings.

Suddenly the images cut off, and an alarm echoed throughout the building. Xanatos pulled back from the terminal just in time to see half a dozen guards getting into position, training their guns on him.

"Open fire!" the security chief shouted. It wasn't even a fraction of a second before his subordinates did exactly that.

Xanatos unsheathed his wings and powered up his rockets. Quickly accelerating to his top speed, he buzzed over them, then fired his arm-mounted particle beam at the wall. The wall exploded, creating a hole just large enough for him to fly through.

He flew south, over the Hudson Bay. Then he doubled back and headed north up the Hudson River. Circling over uptown Manhattan, he made his way south, towards the Eyrie Building.

Xanatos came to a landing on one of the building's helipads below the castle. Owen Burnett was there to greet him.

"I assume there were complications?" Owen asked, noticing the bullets embedded in the armor, as well as the scorch marks.

"Indeed," Xanatos said, removing his helmet. "I thought we were prepared for Uncle Sam's virus, considering we spent years dissecting it."

"Something new?" Owen asked.

"Perhaps," Xanatos replied as a monitor on his armor's left arm popped up. A readout of his armor's modem appeared, and he studied it intently. "Fascinating," he said.

"I recognize the programming," Owen said, observing the monitor.

"Lexington's been busy," Xanatos mused. He raised an eyebrow as he continued to study the screen. "Have him and Staghart tracked during their patrols," he ordered.

"Very good, sir," Owen answered. "For how long?"

"For the foreseeable future," Xanatos replied. He then headed into the building, towards the elevator.

"And what about Mr. Hale?" he asked. "Has he produced any results?"

"I have read his progress report, sir," Owen answered. "His efforts to locate another sorcerer have turned up another charlatan."

"Pity," Xanatos said. "I don't suppose Demona would consider doing me a favor for old time's sake."

"I highly doubt it, sir," Owen replied. Xanatos merely smirked at the thought of Owen taking his joke seriously.

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

January 21st, 2000

Angela and Broadway soared across the sky, as they slowly made their way to lower Manhattan. Passing over Packmedia Studios building, they proceeded a few more blocks before alighting on the roof of a building that was covered with dozens of gargoyle statues.

"Pretty neat," Broadway said, as he took in the statuary.

"It is rather lovely," Angela said, then eyed a pair of statues sculpted to hold hands. "I can see why he chose this place."

Broadway made his way towards a doorway, and held it open for Angela. She entered and proceeded down the flight of stairs. He followed.

They came out of the stairwell into a large room that appeared to take up most of the building's interior. Staghart was setting a crate down. He perked up when he noticed Broadway and Angela's arrival.

"They're here, luv," he said.

Lex looked up from his laptop. "Hey! What do you think of the place?"

"Those statues on the roof are awesome," Broadway said.

"Yeah," Lex replied. "Amp and I were checking out buildings for lease, and then we found this place. It used to be a photographer's studio."

"We took one look at the rooftop and it was just meant to be," Amp added.

"I can see why," Broadway said. "Also, a great place to settle down for the day if we're caught away from home at sunrise."

"That was the idea," Lex said. "The truck is out back. There's still a lot more to be brought in."

Angela nodded as she and Broadway stepped out back, into the truck and began to carry in the rest of the boxes. Once they had finished, they helped assemble the furniture and equipment. Two hours had passed, but things were slowly coming together.

"Hey, Angela?" Lex called. "You haven't said a word since you got here. Are you okay?"

Angela looked up and sighed. "I don't like that you're keeping all this from Goliath."

"You know I love and respect Goliath, but he's too old fashioned," Lex argued. "He doesn't think we have need of money, and even though I'm not doing this for money, the moment he hears the word 'business', he's going to think of Xanatos and Thailog first, and he'll blow up."

"Lying to him will just make it worse," Angela said. She then turned towards Staghart and scowled. "And I cannot believe you're enabling this."

"Don't look at me," Amp protested. "I agree with you. I told him he should tell Goliath. I'd rather make Goliath understand than just hide this from him."

"Look, I'll tell him when I'm ready," Lex cried. "But give me time, please. Let me wait until I have something really worthwhile to show him. I want to convince him with a win, please."

"All right," Angela said. "I'm still not happy about this, but it's not my secret to tell."

"Well, what are you cooking up?" Broadway asked.

"It's kind of a secret," Lex replied.

"You're already asking us to keep one big secret," Broadway said. "Come on!"

"Just tell them, luv," Staghart said, placing a comforting hand on his mate's shoulder.

"Oh, okay," Lex said. He pulled a spiraled notebook from a desk and opened it up, showing some design specs. "I don't have a name for it yet, but it will be a fusion of a cell phone and a personal computer. Just think, all that information at your fingertips, and you'll be able to clip it to your belt."

"It would certainly beat these crude earpieces we wear on patrol," Amp said.

"This is just the first model," Lex explained. "But in a few years, we might even be able to use it to wirelessly access the Internet from just about anywhere."

"It would revolutionize communications," Amp said, sounding giddy and excited.

"That sounds great," Broadway bellowed happily.

"Very exciting," Angela agreed. "As long as you tell Goliath about it."

"As soon as I have a few working prototypes," Lex said. "I promise."

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

Up on the rooftop, Xanatos landed, wearing his Steel Clan exo-frame. He watched the gargoyles work through the skylight; thanks to his armor's audio capabilities, he was able to hear every word.

He removed a small bugging device from his armor's left gauntlet then set it against the glass pane and the brick. The color of the device shifted, to match that of the brick. Satisfied, he activated his rockets and flew back towards the Eyrie Building.

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

New Paltz, NY. April 18th, 2000.

A gruff-looking man wearing fatigues and a beige cap stood on a hilltop, watching a hawk through a pair of binoculars. He smirked at the sight of it diving down and snatching a squirrel in its talons, before rising back into the air. But his concentration was broken by the arrival of another man.

"Xanatos is paying you to find him a wizard, Hale," the second man said as he strode over. "Not to go bird watching."

"Xanatos doesn't rule every moment of my life, Bruno," Hale replied.

"For what he's been paying you these last few years, he damn well does," Bruno growled. "From my point of view, he's burning money. Five years and no results."

"Why Bruno, I didn't know you were suddenly a believer?" Hale said, with a satisfied grin.

"I'm not," Bruno said, as he leaned against a rock. "But the boss is, that's what matters."

"You've seen gargoyles and the Loch Ness Monster," Hale said, then caught himself. "Sorry, 'Loch Ness Monsters'. Plural."

"They're all flesh and blood," Bruno said. "I can see 'em, I can touch 'em."

"And the werewolf that attacked the Eyrie Building back in 1995?" Hale asked, as he went back to staring through his binoculars.

"Probably one of Sevarius's freakjobs," Bruno said, tiring of this conversation. "Those are as real as the money Xanatos has been paying you."

"Well, would you look at that," Hale said, as a large bird landed on a rock about a hundred feet away. "That's a Eurasian Eagle-Owl."

"A what?" Bruno asked, feigning interest.

"A Eurasian Eagle-Owl," Hale replied. "One of the largest species on Earth. But they're not native to this region. Or this continent."

"Whatever," Bruno said, before he yawned.

"There's a bird sanctuary not too far from here," Hale said, as he observed the bird, then noticed a silver band around its left talon. "Yeah, it must be an escapee, perhaps," he paused as the owl took off, flying towards them.

The owl passed just overhead, knocking Bruno's cap to the ground. It then circled around and flew over them once more, this time dropping an envelope to the ground. Hale bent over, and gasped as he picked it up.

The envelope was blank, except for 'John Hale' written across it in cursive. Bruno looked over his shoulder, and rolled his eyes. "You set that up, didn't you?"

"Can't say I did," Hale replied. "Funny, it wasn't carrying that envelope when I was watching it."

"Whatever," Bruno grunted. "I'm headed back into the city."

"I'm sorry, Bruno," Hale said as he opened the envelope, finding a business card with a ten digit number written across it. "But you can tell Xanatos that I've found exactly what he is looking for."

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

The Eyrie Building.

Owen entered Xanatos's office, carrying a manila envelope in his good hand.

"Mr. Hale just delivered this," he said, as he set it down on Xanatos's desk. "He claims he has located a sorceress."

"In a minute, Owen," Xanatos said. On his computer monitor, a black and white video played of Lexington and Staghart tinkering in their new laboratory. "Lexington is making progress," he said.

"It would appear so," Owen agreed. "I assume you are already formulating a plan."

"Whether Goliath understands or agrees with what Lex is up to or not, he'll rally to protect him from any theft I attempt." Xanatos steepled his fingers together. "This is going to require brute force."

Xanatos turned away from his monitor and clicked his remote control. The television on his wall flickered to life, and footage of the Pack's defeats began playing on a loop.

"Even with their upgrades, the Pack just can't compete with Goliath's clan," Xanatos mused. "And with King Arthur and the Redemption Squad out there as well, I'll need my own trump cards."

"The Pack have already been upgraded with technology that doesn't officially exist," Owen said. "How do you plan to go forward?"

The video on the screen shifted to the Manhattan Clan battling Wolf, Jackal, and Hyena in Times Square just after Brooklyn returned from forty years of TimeDancing. Xanatos watched as Brooklyn unleashed his new weapons on the Pack, and smiled. "I would enjoy getting a hold of weapons that actually don't exist yet."

He opened a drawer and removed an object wrapped in silk. Placing it on his desk, he uncovered it, revealing the Coyote Diamond. "Brooklyn's weapons would make fine additions to Coyote's next upgrades."

"And perhaps for Jackal and Hyena as well," Fox said, as she entered the office, and sauntered around the desk, taking her place at her husband's side.

"Pardon me," she added. "But Alex is eagerly awaiting his next magic lesson."

"Understood," Owen said. He nodded at Xanatos and took his leave.

After the door shut, Fox sat on her husband's lap. "You should sit in, some time," Fox suggested. "It's fascinating."

"It's helped you pick up a few tricks," Xanatos replied.

"Imagine if we had built magic into the Pack," Fox mused, then laughed. "I supposed we'd have had to battle Evil Magic Ninjas."

Xanatos's lips curved into a malicious smirk at the thought. He reached for the envelope that Owen had left on his desk, opened it, and removed the card with the phone number, along with Hale's report. He studied it for several minutes, then reached for his phone.

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

The studio apartment was lavish. It was one large room that contained everything its denizen needed. A kitchen with food ingredients as well as jars full of things that a visitor couldn't identify. A king-sized bed off in the corner, and a television hanging over the fireplace. Everything was minimalistic, but what was present was top of the line, the best of the best.

Most unusual, at least for the visiting masseur, were the branches and perches hanging from the wall near an open window. Perched on several of them were what appeared to be stuffed hawks, falcons, and other raptors. At least he hoped they were stuffed.

The masseur put it out of his mind as he continued rubbing the back of the raven-haired woman lying face down on his massage table. If she felt pleasure, she didn't betray it as she remained silent. The only sounds in the apartment came from the fireplace and the open window.

Breaking that silence, the phone began to ring. Its custom ring tone sounded like the shrill chwirk of a bald eagle.

The raven-haired woman reached for the phone and held it to her head. "I've been waiting for your call," she said... her English-accented voice sounding almost like a purr. "If you'll pardon me for but a minute."

She got up off the table, and donned a purple silk robe. "Steffan, this is business," she said. "Your money is on the counter." She sauntered over towards a white leather couch in front of the fireplace, and sat down, allowing herself to sink into it.

Steffan folded up his massage table, then made his way to the counter and retrieved five hundred dollars in cash. He briefly stared into the eyes of one of the stuffed hawks, then abruptly stepped away as it turned to stare back at him, and flared its wings.

The raven haired woman gestured towards the door, and it opened under its own power as Steffan took his leave. With another wave of her hand, it closed.

"Forgive me, Mr. Xanatos," she said. "I'm afraid I had to dismiss a visitor."

"It's no trouble, Ms...?"

"Lafayette," she answered.

"Well, Ms. Lafayette," he said. "My employee filled me in on the details. Either that was a very well trained owl, or you're exactly what I've been looking for."

"Both, Mr. Xanatos," she said. "And I've been aware of your search for a sorcerer for some time. Did you not once work with another?"

"We've had a falling out," Xanatos replied.

"I have no interest in turning the populace of New York to stone, Mr. Xanatos," she said, her lips curling into a smile. "I know a spell from the Grimorum Arcanorum when I hear one."

"I'm intrigued," Xanatos said. "My calendar is clear on May 20th.. Perhaps we could meet and discuss my business proposal in detail?"

"I will need some time to prepare," she said. "Tell me, what do you have in mind?"

As Ms. Lafayette continued her conversation, a red-tailed hawk took flight out the window. Moments later, two eagles landed, sitting on their perches as their host continued to speak with her new business associate.

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

Hong Kong, May 6th.

The bank was surrounded by over a dozen police cars and trucks, and dozens upon dozens of police officers in riot gear, guns trained on the rooftop. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. They didn't wait long.

A man appeared on the rooftop, wearing brown tights with black stripes, and a black cowl that resembled some kind of carnivorous beast. In his left arm, he held a shorter man as a hostage. In his right, a gun pointed at his prisoner's face.

"Congratulations, Hong Kong!" he shouted. He scanned the crowd and grinned as he spotted the news vans. He made sure he looked directly into each of the cameras. "You have been graced by the presence of the Tazmanian Tiger!"

"All right," the mutate criminal called Wolf said as he exited the building. "You've had your time in the spotlight. I say we take the money and get out of here, now!"

"Wolf's right," Jackal said as he also emerged, followed by Hyena. "It's been fun, but I'd like us to just split our take and go our separate ways."

"All right, mates," Taz said as he backed away from the ledge. "I got to be on TV with three of my favorite stars. A good night if I say so."

"Ooh, a fanboy," Hyena said, then laughed. "I guess that explains the pooches."

The cloned thylacines, Benjamin and Natasha, ran out of the doorway towards the master. He tossed his hostage towards Wolf, kneeled down, and stroked their fur.

"Loved watching The Pack before those Yanks pulled you off the air," he said. "Fox was always my favorite."

"Fox is overrated," Hyena chortled in disgust.

"If you say so," Taz muttered. "How about you and your brother blow us a path out of here!"

"I thought you'd never ask," Jackal said. He motioned for Hyena to follow him towards the edge of the roof. Then both of them raised their forearm particle beam blasters and started firing on the search lights and police vehicles, Hyena's cackle echoing through the sky.

Wolf made his way over to the edge and nodded approvingly. "All right," he bellowed. "Grab your sacks of cash and let's get out of here."

Suddenly, a spot light shined down from above them. The whir of a helicopter was deafening. The Tazmanian Tiger and the three members of the Pack looked up at the sight of a gigantic, two-rotored black helicopter hovering about twenty feet above them. Along its hull, in white, the name Redemption V was visible.

A door along the side opened, and Dingo leapt out, guns blazing. "Long time no see, mates!"

Behind Dingo, Fang and Yama emerged, spreading their wings. They soared down, landing at the criminals' flanks.

"Well, if it ain't our old pal," Hyena cackled. "Brought your goody-two-shoes buddies to get sliced up, again?"

"Hey, hey!" Fang cried. "Nothing goody-two-shoes about us!"

"Forget the banter!" Wolf growled as he pounced at Fang, pinning the cat-like Mutate to the floor.

Jackal unsheathed his claws and leapt towards Yama, quickly joined by Hyena. Yama drew his swords and parried their strikes. But the cyborg twins kept up their attack, slowly pushing the tengu warrior back.

As Dingo raised his weapon, Tazmanian Tiger watched and grinned, before lunging towards Wolf and grabbing his hostage once again. "Benjamin, Natasha, attack!" he said. The thylacines growled and leaped into the fray, both of them pouncing on Dingo.

The Tazmanian Tiger's grin of triumph morphed into a gasp of shock as a cable shot down, lassoing around his hostage, and lifted the man up into the air in time for Hunter to come to a landing between the two Australians.

"What have we here?" Hunter said, her lips contorting into a wicked grin.

"You just made a big mistake, sheila!" Taz yelled as he fired at Hunter. She leaped aside, narrowly avoiding the blast, and darted around him.

Wolf lifted Fang off the floor by the throat, and flexed his own claws. "You know, wolves do eat cats."

"And cougars eat wolves!" Fang shouted as he released a burst of electricity into his quarry. Wolf cried out in pain and rage, but Fang turned up the juice and didn't relent until Wolf collapsed into a furred heap.

Yama fell to the floor, and Hyena cackled. "I've got this, brother," she said. "Why don't you go chop Dingo up?"

"Good idea, sis," he said. "No reason to let Taz's mutts have all the fun."

Jackal stalked towards Dingo, grinning at the sight of his former comrade, pinned down by the thylacines. "You know, I think I'd prefer roasted meat over chopped, tonight," he said as his hand retracted, and a flamethrower emerged.

As Jackal took aim, the world around him went dark as Matrix emerged from the helicopter and completely enveloped the cyborg.

Still holding Jackal contained, Matrix extended himself towards Dingo, and restrained the thylacines, muzzling them both. "We had observed and predicted a 23.67% chance of your survival, Dingo."

"Yeah," Dingo muttered. "Thanks." He stood up and brushed the drool of the thylacines off his suit.

"Brother!" Hyena cried as she turned away. Seeing the opening he needed, Yama struck, severing Hyena's cybernetic hands.

Tazmanian Tiger was the last one standing as he fired blast after blast at Hunter, always narrowly missing. "You ruined my big night, you twat!"

Hunter's grin was replaced by a scowl as she tossed her own boomerang at the Tiger, knocking his weapon from his hand. As he stared at his hand in shock, she ran over, kneeing him in the groin. As he keeled forward, she reared back and then punched him in the throat, knocking him to the floor.

Taz looked up at her, a mixture of fear and contempt in his eyes. Her grin returned, and she pressed her gun to his leg. "Next time you talk to me like that, I'll empty my clip into your kneecap. And I'm told that's a very painful place to get shot."

Hunter surveyed the scene, and grinned. Tazmanian Tiger was down and the Pack was subdued. "Good work, boys. And Matrix."

Matrix released Jackal, or rather most of Jackal. His cybernetic limbs were gone, consumed by the mass of nanites. Only the thylacines remained restrained.

Hunter pressed a button on her belt and the Redemption V descended about fifteen feet. One by one, the Redemption Squad boarded, save Hunter. She released the hostage from the line, before boarding herself. Finally, the helicopter took off.

Not long after, a dozen police in riot gear stormed the rooftop, and surrounded the downed criminals.

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

May 7th, 2000.

They were defeated. Broken. And now being led out of the armored car and up the stairs into the plane, shackled and manacled.

The Tazmanian Tiger looked at the ground as he ascended the staircase, his hands cuffed behind his back. Wolf followed, titanium manacles covering his hands, and a steel muzzle covering his face. Next up was Hyena, shackled to a hand truck as most of her servos had been deactivated. Behind her, the limbless Jackal, being wheeled in strapped to a gurney. Finally, the cloned thylacines. Caged and being wheeled up, to be used as 'evidence' in a larger case.

They were being extradited. The first stop was Sydney, Australia; where Taz would be taken into custody. Then, for the Pack, New York City, where they would be returned to their prison cells. Locked away from society at large.

A shame for society that there were other uses for them.

As the plane prepared for take off, a particle beam fired at the landing gear, disabling it. The plane shook as something large and heavy landed on top of it. A laser cut the roof of the plane open.

The Interpol officers gasped at the sight of the ten foot tall, bipedal robot, tearing open the roof as if it were tinfoil. They opened fire on the automaton, but it raised its right arm and fired its vertigo beam at them. The guards' weapons slipped from their hands as each of them fell to the ground, shivering messes.

"Well, hello handsome," said Hyena, grinning.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Wolf growled, behind his muzzle.

"Just making an omelet, Wolf," Coyote 6.0 quipped. "Your guards would be the broken eggs."

"Unless you're offering me new limbs, I'm not interested," Jackal sneered.

"You're awfully demanding for a quadriplegic in police custody," the half-Xanatos robotic skull on the video screen said, with a smirk that did his creator justice. "But if you'll come with me, I'm promising upgrades all around."

"Music to my ears," Hyena said. In response, Coyote fired his cutting beam at the hand-truck, releasing her. A cable then shot out from him and into a port on her leg. Moments later, her limbs were functional.

"All right, I'm in, too." Wolf said, as Coyote cut open his manacles.

"Hey!" Taz cried. "What about me?"

"You're not on the manifest," Coyote said.

"Oh yes he is," Wolf growled as he snapped off Taz's cuffs. "This bastard owes us money, and he's not worming his way out that easily."

Taz ran towards the guard, stole his keys and then released his thylacines from their cages.

"But how are we going to get out of here?" Jackal said, glaring at Coyote.

"You still have little faith," Coyote said as the eyes atop his frame glowed red. Moments later, the teal-colored Pack hovercraft zoomed through the air and came to a stop, hovering above them.

The ramp lowered, and Wolf wheeled the gurney carrying Jackal aboard, followed by Hyena. The Tazmanian Tiger hesitated for a moment, then followed. His pets trotted right behind him.

As sirens announced the arrival of more police, Coyote smirked, then entered the airship himself. The engines roared to life as the ship took off, flying into the sky.

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

The Eyrie Building, May 9th.

"And though nobody was killed, the Pack and their accomplice, remain at large," the anchorman said as he turned towards the camera. "This has been Nightwatch. Sleep well."

Hudson clicked off the TV and reclined back in his chair. "That's all we need to be worrying about."

Lexington sat on the sofa, eyes blazing. "I hope they show their ugly faces back here."

"Now, now, luv," Amp said, placing an arm around his mate. "You have better things to be focusing that energy on."

Goliath stood stoically in the center of the room, nodded, then left.

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

May 20th.

"Coyote 6.0 performed admirably," Xanatos said, as he reviewed the specs on his monitor. "But I think there's room for improvement. "

He turned away from his monitor, and swiveled his chair towards Ms. Lafayette. The raven haired woman sat on the edge of his desk. She was dressed in a stylish green blouse, a loose black skirt, a pair of sandals, and a belt with a buckle shaped like a barn owl's face. In her right hand, she held the Coyote Diamond.

"And this stone helps your robot think?" she asked.

"Coyote's mental processes are light-based," Xanatos explained. "The faster he thinks, the faster he can react, and make decisions."

"Then Coyote will be the centerpiece of your new Pack," she said. She continued to examine the diamond. Her green eyes briefly glowed, as did the diamond. But in the blink of an eye, the glows faded. "Up until now, Mr. Xanatos, you haven't even come close to unlocking the robot's potential."

The door to the office opened and Fox strode in, dressed in a pair of black jeans and a low cut red blouse, a leather bound book in hand. She took a seat opposite her husband and smiled. "Our guests are getting comfortable."

"Excellent," Xanatos said. "Oh, Fox, this is Ms. Lafayette. Ms. Lafayette, this is my wife, Fox."

Fox stood back up and shook the woman's hand, then gave her outfit a once over. "Sangral Fashions?" she asked. "I own a few of their line."

"You have impeccable taste, Mrs..."

"Just Fox," she said, as she sat back down.

Ms. Lafayette eyed the book in Fox's hand. "Jean Paul Sartre," she said. "I was always partial to Albert Camus."

Fox raised an eyebrow then changed the subject. "David tells me you're taking point on my old pals' next upgrades."

"I believe the components I need are available to us," Ms. Lafayette said, as she continued to look into the Coyote Diamond. "Your husband tells me you possess the key ingredient for Hyena's upgrade."

"Oh he does, does he?" Fox asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It's just LaVonne," Xanatos said, his lips curling into a smirk.

Fox sauntered around his desk, and sat on his lap. "Tell me, Ms. Lafayette, will it be painful?"

"For both of them," Ms. Lafayette replied.

Fox leaned over, and she and her husband shared a passionate kiss, all while Ms. Lafayette continued to study the diamond.

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

Izanami-no-Mikoto, refitted oil tanker owned by Xanatos Enterprises, anchored five miles off the East Coast. May 21st.

The Tazmanian Tiger paced back and forth in his 'hospital room', the empty dinner plate resting on his mattress. He had been confined to this room for two weeks, demanding to see Xanatos. But the billionaire never showed.

Taz sighed and sat down on the mattress. As he was about to recline, he heard the clanging sound of a lock being released. The door slowly opened, and Owen Burnett stepped inside.

"Who are you?" Taz cried. "Where's Xanatos?!"

"Mr. Xanatos is rather busy," Owen said. "But he is impressed by your cloned thylacines. Is he correct to assume that they are the work of Dr. Sevarius?"

"Indeed," Taz said. He then stood back up. "If he's so impressed, then why won't he meet with me?"

"Mr. Xanatos is not sure what to do with you," Owen replied. He stared down at Taz as if he were an insect.

"He doesn't want to meet me, fine!" Taz said. "But I want to be a part of the new Pack."

Owen merely raised an eyebrow.

"It's obvious," Taz said. "He's reassembling the Pack and I want in."

Owen cleared his throat before he spoke. "Mr. Xanatos does not consider you to be a part of the Pack. He created the Pack. He put it together. You are not a part of that design."

Taz gritted his teeth in anger as he considered his next words. "You need a new Fox," he said, with a grin.

"I beg your pardon?" Owen replied.

"That tin can is great for herding your little dogs. But can it think on its feet?" Taz asked. "Can it improvise? Can it do anything without a bloody order?"

Owen continued to listen, uninterested in the conversation.

"So where does that leave you when you need someone to give that order?" Taz asked. "The mutt, the psychopath, or the sociopath?"

"That would be," Owen said, but Taz immedietely cut him off.

"Or maybe... me?" Taz took a step closer to the majordomo. "Hey! I get it. I can toe the line. Play 'follow the leader' when the Tin Can barks. Only opening my muzzle when he doesn't know what to do."

The silence was deafening. Finally Owen spoke. "I will speak with Mr. Xanatos."

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

Wolf looked up from his leg of lamb as the door opened and Ms. Lafayette entered.

"About time," he growled.

"Tell me," she said. "Do you want power?"

"Lady, I wouldn't be here otherwise," he replied.

She briefly stepped out of the room, then re-entered carrying a large black pelt, and placed it on a table.

"What's this?" he asked.

"Put it on," she ordered.

Wolf hesitated, then slowly grabbed it and quickly donned it.

"So, I have a furry shawl," he sneered. "Now what?"

Ms. Lafayette strode up to him, placed her hand on the pelt and began to chant.

"Lupus ad gerunt potentia. Nocte sub illuni inseratur tota lunae inluminabit te!"

She removed her hand, and Wolf keeled over in pain, as the pelt began to glow.

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

Ms. Lafayette strode down the hallway, then turned towards a doorway, unlocked it, and entered.

"Well, well," Jackal said, getting to his feet. "What do we have here?"

"Your future, perhaps," she replied.

"Not that I'm ungrateful for the new arms and legs," Jackal said. "But Xanatos has yet to make my time here worthwhile."

"Tell me," she said. "Does what little of your remaining humanity mean anything to you?"

"Not at all," Jackal spat. "I've felt true power, and there was nothing human about it."

"I see," Ms. Lafayette said as she raised her right hand, and placed it on his metal chest. "And there is still a trace of that power."

"What are you saying?" Jackal asked.

Ms. Lafayette smirked, and her eyes began to glow green as she started to chant.

"The jackal wishes to bring others death,
Let him wield this power til his final breath."

"What are you doing?" Jackal said, as he backed away.

Ms. Lafayette's hair began to rise as the green glow in her eyes engulfed her body. She leaned forward and the energy blasted from her eyes, surrounding him.

Jackal cried out in pain as he felt the change begin.

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

"So where's my upgrade?" Hyena demanded as she followed Ms. Lafayette down the hallway.

The raven-haired woman remained silent, as they approached a steel door at the far end of the passage.

"Tell me," Ms. Lafayette began. "Does your life hold any meaning to you?"

"I don't care," Hyena sneered. "Just upgrade me!"

Ms. Lafayette smiled as she opened the door. She ushered Hyena to enter first, then followed her into a blank white room. Blinding light seared every square inch of the interior, except for a rectangular depression in the corner that held a thin layer of earth.

Upon that thin layer of earth sat a very pale young woman, who didn't even bother to look up at her visitors. She just sat there, hugging her knees. Under her breath, she sang "Someday my prince will come. Someday we'll meet again. And away to his castle we'll go... to be happy forever I know..."

"What the hell is this?" Hyena asked. "Who's her prince?"

"Vlad Dracula," Ms. Lafayette said. Hyena just gawked at the pale young woman, not noticing as Ms. Lafayette slowly drew a dagger. "But that is of no concern to you, my scavenger."

The door slammed shut.

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

The Tazmanian Tiger sat on his bed in silence as his cell door opened again, and Ms. Lafayette stepped inside. "I have spoken with Mr. Xanatos," she said. "He has agreed to allow you to join the team on a probationary status. But there are a few rules that you'll have to obey."

"Thank you, Ms..."

"Lafayette," she replied. "So tell me, what kind of upgrade would interest you?"

"None," Taz replied. "No offense to the others, but I still want to be able to get a date on Saturday night." He grinned. "Perhaps with you, even."

"I do not think so," Ms. Lafayette said, shaking her head. "But you may walk with me."

Ms. Lafayette exited the "hospital room", followed by by Taz, with Owen trailing them. After a few moments, they entered another room. The thylacines were loose, eating the cow meat tossed on the floor in front of them.

"Would you be interested in upgrading them?" she asked.

"I think I would," Taz replied.

"I think we can work something out that would link you with them, and allow you to continue your weekend activities," she said.

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

August 2nd, 2000.

"Okay," Lexington said as he counted the cash in the thick envelope. "That's five thousand."

"Thank you, Lexington," Shari said as she accepted the envelope. Behind her, Delilah merely nodded.

"We'll be able to buy food and medicine," Al said, as he shook Lex's hand."

"You have no idea how many people you've just helped," Shari said, as she shook Staghart's hand.

"It's our pleasure," Amp said. "What's the point in accumulating wealth if you don't give back to those who truly need it?"

"How did you get rich?" Delilah asked, finally breaking her silence. She looked around the laboratory in wonder. "I haven't seen equipment like this since I left Thailog."

"By working on a few patents," Lex replied. He noticed that Delilah still appeared skeptical. "Look, we're nothing like Thailog."

"I know that," Delilah replied. "He would never give to charity unless it helped his image or if it would give him leverage."

"I know our clans have had their differences," Lex said. "But..."

"Your help is appreciated," Delilah said. "The people of the Labyrinth mean a lot to me."

"I'm glad," Lex said. "Oh, and if you could please not tell Talon where it came from, I would really appreciate that."

"Why?" Delilah asked.

"Because I haven't told Goliath about this enterprise yet," Lex said. "I'm waiting for the right time."

"Oh, kid," Al said. "Don't keep this from him for too long. Besides, Talon is going to wonder where we got five thousand in cash."

"I'll tell him a story," Shari said. She grinned and shook Lex and Amp's hands again. "Thank you."

Amp escorted them to the back door, held it open as they exited, watched as they entered the open manhole, then closed the door behind him. "And now back to the fun," he said.

"You read my mind," Lex said, as he unlocked a cabinet and pulled out a hand-held device. "Ready for the test drive?"

"Hatched ready, luv," Amp said as he reached into the cabinet and pulled out an identical device.

"Okay," Lex said as he slid the top half of the phone up, revealing a keyboard. He typed the word 'HI' into it, then clicked 'Send'.

Amp looked at his phone's screen and waited. After about five minutes, it vibrated, and the message was received. "Finally here, luv," Amp said as he hit 'Reply' and typed in a message of his own before hitting 'Send'.

Another few minutes passed, and Lex's phone vibrated. The little gargoyle opened the message and then burst out laughing. "You're terrible," he said, as he caught his breath.

"But the LexPhones work," Amp said, sitting down next to his mate and wrapping a wing around him.

"Yeah, but it shouldn't take five minutes to receive a message," Lex said. "There are still some kinks to work out."

"Then let's get to work," Amp said.

"Wait," Lex called. "Did you look at the logo?"

Amp turned his LexPhone over and grinned. Printed on the back was the silhouette of a white stag. "Oh, luv, you really shouldn't have."

"Hey, better your silhouette than mine," Lex replied. Lex then began to dissemble his prototype, while Amp turned on a stereo. A CD was already inside and started playing, blasting Wreck 55's first and, so far, only album.

So many strangers on the street.
Yeah, nearly everyone you meet.
Can't relate, can't translate, can't create
A connection. No.

Easier to keep your distance.
Tread the path of least resistance.
Don't engage, keep to your cage, stay offstage
For protection.

Then everything changes.
She's there. Life rearranges.
Winged angel from above...
Helped me find the Will... the Will to love...
The Will to love... The Will to love...

As they basked in their work and each other, neither one of them noticed the beeping of their communicator left on top of the coffee table.

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

The Eyrie Building

"They aren't answering," Goliath said with an angry snarl. He turned towards the entire clan, minus Lexington and Staghart, gathered in the courtyard.

"We can't wait any longer," Elisa shook her head.

"Big deal!" Broadway bellowed. "So Jackal says that the Pack is throwing another reunion on Fifth Avenue. Nothing we can't handle."

Katana stepped forward, her hands clutching the hilt of her blade. "They were not the threat that I was told of when last we met."

"No," Goliath rumbled. "But in Hong Kong, they were joined by a new human and rescued from custody by Coyote."

"Which means..." Angela began.

"Another one of Xanatos's games," Goliath growled.

"I grow weary of them, brother," Coldstone declared, as he stepped forward. "Why don't we finally behead the snake?"

"And then an investigation into the murder of one of the world's most powerful men drives you all into the heart of a city that will be hunting you, and I won't be able to protect you." Elisa said, then sighed. "No one here despises Xanatos as much as I do, but we're in no position to strike at him directly."

"For our own safety," Coldfire said, sidling up beside her mate, "we will need to dance to his tune."

"Xanatos knows we will not allow his minions to wreak havoc upon our protectorate." Goliath unfurled his wings, and stared out over the metropolis below. "Despite what he might believe, this is not his city!"

"Then let's show him, again, that we can beat back whatever he might throw at us!" Brooklyn cried, to the cheers of his kin.

Goliath lifted Elisa into his arms, and the Manhattan Clan soared off into the Manhattan skies, heroically but cautiously towards whatever might be waiting for them.

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

Xanatos sat back in his chair, and grinned as he watched Goliath lead his clan away from the castle, while his new ally observed the scene from the center of the office.

"Your gargoyle has quite the martyr complex," Ms. Lafayette said.

"No matter how much time passes, he's always ready to assume the worst in me," Xanatos said as he steepled his fingertips.

"Tricksters are often confused with Satan," she replied, as she lifted her glass of Merlot and took a sip.

Xanatos ignored her and tapped a button on his speakerphone. "Coyote, they're on their way."

"Now the fun begins," Coyote replied, his robotic voice emanated from the speakerphone and echoed throughout his creator's office.

To Be Continued...