81 - "The $#!+ Hits The Fan: Part 1"

The sky is deep, the sky is dark.

The light of stars is so damn dark.

When I look up, I fill with fear.

If all we have is what lies here, this lonely world,

this troubled place, then cold dead stars and empty space...

Well, I see no reason to persevere,

no reason to laugh or shed a tear,

no reason to sleep or ever to wake,

no promises to keep, and none to make.

And so at night I still raise my eyes to study

the clear but mysterious skies that arch above us, as cold as stone.

Are you there, God?  Are we alone?

                                                                        - The Book Of Counted Sorrows

April 6th, 2002

Came the night, spectacularly.

The light of day reduced to a line, swirling red and deliciously tangerine.

Dramatically lingering on that distant contour, the pinpointed bulge of sun grew ever faint.  Saw-toothed over an imperial cityscape, the horizon bled far too easily into the twilight, losing by way of consumption a piece of that grandeur held so highly over any other metropolis.  The transition from day to night was as always accepted, celebrated and marveled, and even feared, for whom beyond the gods, and the fay that would trick humanity with such a pretense, could control the rise and fall of sun and moon.

But as the curtain of gossamer, starlit dusk fell upon them, the rescue workers, still drudging through the damaged neighborhoods, were forced to rely on the massive spotlights towering overhead that did their best to impede the weight of darkness on such a landscape distending far beyond their limited sight.

On the edge of where the sidewalk used to be on 8th Avenue, now part of a massive, almost laughable-if-seen footprint, a chasm opened to rubble.

The Hole.

An abyss that stretched inconceivably long into the distance, and appropriately named, in the middle of the island city that stood out by the glare of penetrating, artificial light.  And it screamed.  In agony, and desecration, an irritable child with a bleeding knee, it screamed to any peering through the makeshift fences cordoning off the damage.  To any returning to their offices high above, who would look down from one of the many surrounding spires of glass and steel, and grimace accordingly.

A few landmarks had been thankfully spared destruction, escaping the rampage with a thin layer of dust, superficial exterior wounds and a few broken windows.  Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, the New York Public Library and the Port Authority bus terminal, and still standing haggardly, filthily, proudly amongst a littered mantle of twisted steel, the Empire State Building.

Macy's though, had not been so fortunate.

But from this tragedy came something grand.  And quite unexpected.

Hope had been salvaged, from the spectators cheering the few remaining survivors still being pulled from the rubble.  From simple civil servants becoming heroes riding atop their chariots of ladder and hose and blaring siren through the assembled masses, they drew ovations along every crowded street.  From the commitment of allied countries, and nations once at war dedicating without question resources to aid the stricken city, pride overwhelmed them, and gave strength to the searchers, and to the populace.

The lifeblood of the city entity, business had resumed, outside of the yellow and black striped security blockades framing an entire chunk of downtown Manhattan people went on their way, some trying to avoid their wandering, inquisitive eyes to the spectacle that was devastation on a scale beyond their belief.  The ginger grain of brick, the unremarkable beige of storefronts, the sterling and chrome of steel interspersed, all gleamed a ferocious splash of brilliance against the streetlight when reemerging from the heavy smear of soot.

As if completely reformed from stratum to sky, the borough of Manhattan surrounding the Hole shed from a crust of debris and ash a new self, strong and adamant.

New York was a grand old lady, having weathered centuries of evolution and wearing such lines of age proudly.  And though wounded, she persevered even as new, small wars took place amongst the littered ground, between surviving vendors, crime syndicates grabbing for premier opportunities between the ruin and rubble, and one in particular, playing out on television with a prize of fortune in household viewership.

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

It was a field day for the newsmen, for every television station and newspaper, and with so many facets of this disaster to focus on, they milked the victor in the ratings for all its worth, flooding every channel.  Reporters continued to scramble through the work crews and cranes and lumbering dumptrucks, slipping between the resistant military guards by way of the commotion and distraction, and squeezing every last bit of information from every source.

Policemen, Search and Rescue, NYC Sanitation, any willing to share the spotlight drew a reporter towards them as would a moth find a flame.  Of those that fell into the camera's steely glare, some would answer with calm, almost clinical objectivity, purposely numbing themselves to the horror illuminated for even planes passing overhead.

And others, they would reap the limelight and use to the fullest extent their fifteen minutes of fame.

"Yeah, I was there," exclaimed a loud aspirant out of a literal thousand, having to raise his voice over the roar of the trucks passing behind in the camera's eyesight, "I owned a store that got stepped on!"  A fat man, balding, and still wearing his smock, pointed angrily above him.  "I was doin' inventory and then a huge foot came down through the roof.  One of those fucking things stepped on my fucking store...!"  Only now did he realize just how far his voice would reach through a tangled umbilical leading towards a parked van, and eased slightly for sake of his audience.  No self-respecting shopkeeper would scare off business by strutting such behavior to any potential customers.  "I can swear on TV right?"

Travis Marshall, entrenched since the night the creatures were released into the city to wreak and raze, simply nodded.  For a week five days too long, the reporter had spent all of his waking life here among the work crews, in the soil and debris, and a microphone having cramped his hand into a claw from so long of a grasp.  His lidded eyes had long since dulled of any color, the man with the Presbyterian features tiring and rife with fatigue, and getting tetchy.

His cameraman stood behind as if chained to his arm, the bulky machine atop his right shoulder recording all that fell into view, the wide-angle lens reflecting chaos in a convexed image.

"Speak your mind, sir," Marshall encouraged, the broad smile supporting the full right of free speech, "we'll just edit it later."

"Oh good.  Like I was saying..."  He made the point to direct his hand back into the Hole, a backdrop of ashen clouds where any of the distant, shadowed skeletons hanging like tattered masts of some sunken galleon, could be the remnants of his store.  "My store is a fucking pancake because of those big...blue...fucking...things!"

"They weren't things, you idiot!" yelled a rebuttal from the crowd, feminine, a woman's panther snarl lifting above the billow of vocal sound.

"I'm sorry what?"

"They were clearly modeled after Egyptian gods."  She stepped into the periphery of the shot, aiding in the cameraman's hunt for the intruding voice.  A patrician inconsistency placed against the urban garb of the shopkeeper, she was dressed sharply in silk that shimmered almost diaphanously against the spotlights.  Lace and glittery flounce, she seemed out of place for the surroundings of rubble and winds of dust that hemorrhaged soot with each intemperate gust.  "I should know, I'm a professor of ancient cultures at the..."

"Ah shut it, lady!"  The camera swung back to the shopkeeper, his English grated and slurred by an old world accent heartened to make this language its own.  "All I saw was a huge fucking foot crush my store!  And my insurance company doesn't cover act of Egyptian god!"

"How dare you!"

"It must be nice to live safely in a white-dominated, suburban neighborhood, where the monsters are kept out by a set of tall, iron gates."

Hope had been salvaged indeed, but unity was a much more demanding faculty.  Especially from New Yorkers.

Mouth agape, the woman buried beneath the expensive designer wear tightened behind a surgeoned, collagen-enhanced mouth.  "Why would you interview this pompous refugee from a country no one can pronounce?" she attacked Marshall.  "Out of the thousands of experts surrounding you, you had to chose him?!"

"Because unlike those experts, I was there!" the shopkeeper shot back.  "I was inside when those things destroyed everything!  And how the hell would you know how the rest of us have suffered?!  Of how we're stuffed into hotels and shelters until we can find ourselves a home?!"

A shouting match ensued between two distinct sides, infectious and rousing the crowd into a frenzy of rumor and gossip, tempers near the edge.

"I'm sleeping in an old church!"

"I lost a brother in there and someone's going to pay for it!"

"This is a sign of the end!!"

Accusations made from fear were strewn this way and that, and a few were merely outbursts hinging on madness.  Of such devastating loss of home and commerce and life, anger ruled thought and voice and action; where one was sound, many were irrational, and that proved ultimately dangerous.  Especially with the appeal of a camera to make an ass of one's self.

"Is Egypt invading us?!  Maybe we should nuke them!!"

"Egypt?  Nukes?!  I think we're getting a little sidetracked." Marshall interjected between the wild allegations thrown about the crowd, but was swept away as they closed in.  "Wait...!  Sir!  Ma'am!  Please!"  And in the middle of a throng more like a tumultuous sea, the seasoned reporter tried to calm with more questions, but quickly lost control, drowning.  "Hey, let go of me!  That's Italian!"

The cameraman however, ensured he captured it all, being mayhem always guaranteed full attention on the air.  And his master tumbling in the surf of human bodies, it was a sight more pleasant than the excruciatingly draining footage of ground zero.

"Damnit, Phil, are you taping this?!"

As the camera flicked back and forth filling the digital tape with fantastic footage, a smile responded for the cameraman.

"I saw it too!  I saw them!"  It was coming from behind the crowd, another voice somehow singled out against the roar.  It seemed the media circus was attracting madmen from all corners of the disaster area to better play within the attention paid.  "During the attacks!  It was a gargoyle!"

The word hung in the air and skipped through the audience by way of groans and contemptuous whispers.  It seemed that inconspicuous little word was a burden, more a pest Manhattanites had yet to rid from their vocabulary even after so long an absence from the public consciousness.  Curiosity was contagious, and the tide of livid, human-bred racket soon snuffed out from front to back, and grew faint even into the outlying background.

The camera followed to the voice having breached the crowd, scanning, scanning until it found a notch within the wall.  A black uniform appeared through, a policeman, eyes exceedingly wild for a protector of the city.

"A gargoyle?" Marshall echoed, enduring the associated memory as it quickly flooded back, even an infamous on air battle between a respected medieval scholar and an over-ambitious district attorney.  He straightened his vest nearly torn apart by clawing hands, and begrudgingly awarded him the microphone, and his prospects to live or die by the ratings a troubled cop would harvest.  "Gargoyles, if they exist, are rumored to be almost human-sized, not massive, near-translucent, indestructible killing machines."

"Well I saw one, two of them, when we were clearing out the last of the civilians!  They were beating the living crap out of each other!"

Another cop, obviously by the uniform, followed, and obviously, attempting to keep his friend from putting an unneeded stain on the reputation of the New York police department.  "I told you to let it go, Sullivan."

The man turned to his partner.  "It was a gargoyle, Murphy!  A goddamned gargoyle!!  You saw it plain as day, just as I did!"  And then back to the reporter.  "They're real!!"  His voice was raging, hollowed to a scream that bordered on severe emotional problems, but little did a disbelieving audience know his outbursts were dangerously truthful.  "One purple..." his face contorted as he relived the battle in the streets between Goliath and Sobek, "and one without skin."

Trying to make sense of a fanatic somehow wearing, if not having stolen, a police uniform, Marshall continued, "They were fighting?"

"They were throwing cars!  At each other!  And I was close enough to smell the blood!  It's probably still out there on the streets!"

"Whatever it was, the purple one saved our asses." his partner argued in between the ranting, and sanely.  "Even though it looked like it just had its arms ripped off."

Marshall, despite his better judgment to open up an old story that ultimately proved unsubstantiated, tendered the microphone to the partner, and perhaps something would yield unexpectedly.  "Do you care to comment on the existence of gargoyles, officer?"

"No."  Grabbing underneath the rim of the wide-angle lens with his palm, he dislodged it and the accompanying spotlight and nearly toppled the cameraman with the shift in balance and weight.  "I'm not going to compound the lunacy in this city.  I think it's time to heal, instead of chasing after phantoms, don't you, Mr. Marshall?  If gargoyles really were out there in between whatever tore that apart," he nodded towards the devastation, "at least one was brave enough to save human lives."  He pushed his partner away with a firm grasp to his arm and collar, herding, even pulling the resistant policeman through the crowd and away from where he could further endanger his pension.  "All right, pal, let's get some strong coffee into you."

"Damn it, Murphy!"  Even from the distance, his wild claims were heard, Marshall shaking his head and wondering what to believe anymore.  "It was a gargoyle, I tell you!"

"Decaf, definitely.  Come on, pal."

"A real, live, friggin' gargoyle!  That detective called him Goliath!!"

"Let it go, Sullivan!"

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

Above the chaos, unwearyingly, Wyvern waited out the sun's descent.

Patience would yield a crack, a hairline fissure appearing on smooth slate.

Another, and another, each following up the cradle of granite skin, and branching into an intricate web of fissures reaching to encompass the entire trembling statue, of a creature cast in cold stone.  Then came a scream, from within the shards, heavy and hollow and animalistic, and an outward explosion of stone shrapnel would herald the awakening.  The clan erupted from their sleep, the fusion of their cries loud and pealing against each other in a cacophony, swelling upwards until only held only by the ceiling, the fitted cobbles trembling.

Elsewhere, beyond the wisps of smoke still pluming from the wreckage, the palace shook upon its foundation with the catlike mewls of waking clan, growing into howls more like thunder had rested against the courtyard.  They were indeed a storm.

Deep within the confines of the castle the gargoyles had roosted since the Guild attack, for the turrets would award too enticing and effortless of a target.  A single shot from the sky in retaliation for the Guild's loss would be too easy, and thus, by command of their new leader, clan Wyvern awoke under a roof of stone, denied the stars.

The others were disoriented at first, suspicious eyes roaming bewilderedly the snarl of line between fitted stone.

With no wind to assure them of their environs, and without the comforting taste of ozone wafting across their lips, no matter how tainted by human settlement, confusion shuttered in their gaze for a moment fleeting before they realized they were staring straight into a buttress of Wyvern.  A collective sigh from each, and a grumble or two passed through the group shedding the last of their daylight skin, the granite shards drizzling to the ground with a chime all too similar to gentle summer rain.

It was uncomfortable, most thought, and cruel to cage a species of the wind to a room without even a single window.

To see that last shred of daylight dissolve against the horizon, and feel against their rejuvenated, purified skin the last vestiges of pre-twilight warmth would be their only chance to live as humans did.  They missed the sky, its beauty and nurture, and a clan of more than twenty nearly stepped over each other in such close quarters.

Standing unaccompanied, Brooklyn settled the heavy leather of his wings to broad shoulders, one armored, and simply observed.

His depthless eyes eerily luminous in the weak light, he eyed his brood each wanting to their own path and presumable agenda, at least to leave this room, but they remained, lingering, perhaps awaiting their orders.  They all knew the significance of the upcoming ceremony, and without the routine of their patrols, that stability within the chaos of their own lives, they were lost with what to do in the short amount of time before the service save to fight amongst themselves.

Hudson bristled, shaking auburn pinions free from the remaining stone skin, the scars of battle a tattered edge running from strut to thin strut, and that had never sewn back up even under the healing of the sun.  He rubbed old shoulders, where the infancy of arthritic pain nestled deep within the knotted muscle.  "I dinna like this," he muttered first, his thick brogue denouncing of their surroundings, "it be unnatural not t' have th' wind against my wings."

"It is a precaution, mentor." rumbled Othello, cleaning the snow-white drifts of hair slung across his shoulders of the smaller pieces of rubble.  "That I cannot help to agree with.  To flaunt our stone selves in broad daylight would prove too tempting to anyone wishing to destroy us."  The lines framing a narrow face were never more visible than now.  The hunter was fraying.  "Too many have tried, and I tire of it."

"Tis a tradition proved older than I, laddie." the elder growled back, standing to the taller, and more belligerent warrior, his heart young and sustaining an aging form.  "Gargoyles dinna hide, we look on 'r province, and we embrace th' sun."

"The Guild will not wait until darkness next time.  And I am sure captain Chavez would not enjoy piecing her dead consort back together."  His boldness surprised everyone intimate with the relationship between mentor and student, Othello never one for speaking to an honored elder with such ruthlessness.  "She has already lost a child," he cut even farther, perhaps unwittingly of just how deep upon a vulnerable bone he would strike, "should she lose her lover?"

That struck fire.

Desdemona slipped in between the males as Hudson stepped up, to presumably argue further by tongue or sword, spurred by even the mention of his son, dead before the chance to live.  But the proximity of his talons to the handle prodding from his belt necessitated her intrusion, before mere words could escalate into something physical.  "Enough."  She turned and glared towards her mate, black become fire as her eyes denoted clearly her frustration.  "From both of you."  She pushed Othello away with her hands braced to his chest plate.  "Calm yourselves, before Mother senses dangerous levels of testosterone."

"I always thought it was reckless to show ourselves off like that," Annika mumbled sourly, fending off the glare from Hudson and a slight of nausea in her belly, "the holographic statues will provide a much better target than the rest of us.  I'd rather a collection of light direct any fire than my clan."

"Annika-chan, you know barely a sliver of our way of life," Sata minded, not coarsely as would a mother, but sharply as would a friend, "we are creatures of habit and guard, and this Guild has robbed us by way of threat and even fear the right to look out upon what we consider our home, and our protectorate."  She sighed, placing a hand to Annika's shoulder.  "Though I do agree with you.  To wake to a bullet would ruin an otherwise good night."

Become half of gleaming gold from the layer of dark, brittle granite, Lexington shed from his remaining pieces, cybernetic systems restoring optics and muscle control from a daytime dormancy.  "It's been five days." he wagered whilst blinking large eyes, his implants refocusing from such a length in an inoperative state, diagnostic information scrolling past his vision.  "You'd think if the Guild wanted to finish the job, they'd simply fire everything they had at us."

A massive presence lumbered past, dwarfing the smaller web-wing in a shadow cast by his rookery brother.  "Laughably, those psychos consider themselves protectors, and would never risk dropping several hundred tons of stone and steel onto the buildings beneath us." construed Broadway, accurate but for one fact.

"Uhm, didn't they fire a missile at us?"

"Fired just as they were losing the battle, and in the midst of that pesky threat of the end of our timeline." Broadway's young voice tinged with cynicism beyond his years.  "One of the pilots probably got spooked when his skin started to fade away."

"It was a desperation tactic," came a stony growl from the side, Shadow intimate with the ways of combat, "most likely unsanctioned."

"They were methodical, surgical, and every murder they committed they were particular not to hurt any innocents." Brooklyn cut through, his voice steady.  "And now they're regrouping from their losses, and in all probability recruiting from the streets the soldiers they lost."

"Yeah, I bet the offer of shelter, work and a common enemy to kill will prove very effective to the masses who lost their homes."  From a furtive, pain-filled glance against Angela, Broadway turned his attentions back toward Brooklyn.  "They'll be coming back."

He swore those features held something more against the angled lines, but were curbed discreetly.  "Yes, they will." spoke the leader softly, but strongly, his rise to prominence not without dissent, but he took to the chore as best he could.  And of the eyes that had directed towards him, from the corner a pair not unlike the darkest obsidian gemstone had seemed to glare brightest, and most aggressively of all.  Sata stared hard, and interestedly.  "And I won't lose any more of you to recklessness.  As our enemies evolve into greater, more deadly threats, we are forced to evolve as well.  Thus, the small sacrifice of waking with the sunset had to be made."

"Is this why ye be haltin' th' patrols as well?" Hudson asked from the side, an impression of criticism supposed to be vague, but the gruffness of his accent awarded no soft tones or veiled disapproval.

Fastidiously looping strands into place that had fallen loose when she awakened back into place by way of her decorated stick-pins, Sata ventured to answer for her mate.  "He knows his duty as leader is to protect us more than anyone else," almond eyes tapered by heredity passed fleetingly from wife to husband, a glimmer of uncertainty and a surprise her mate would speak with another's stern, engaging voice, "even from our own imprudence."

Hudson coughed, "I though yuir mate be th' proactive one."

Brooklyn simply crossed his arms from Sata's denigration, veiled in the secretive tones of a courted female only supporting a mate in higher stature than herself.  Prevalent, the uneasiness between them.  But as well the devotion, visibly, and the ability to play against each other's darkest sides with no fear to insult or offend.  Almost.

"He does not wish us divided and far from where we can call for help," she continued, "lest we fall prey to whatever beast or monster or human that lurks beyond the safety of the ramparts, and awaits their revenge."

Oh but she did bite, and bite hard, Brooklyn falling prey to sarcasm delivered in the flair as only she could, but terrifyingly honest.  He the master of the quip had come under fire by his own practiced weapon, and though always prudent to pay heed to his better half, he did not appreciate the milking of the audience.  "Is this going somewhere?" he charged, his voice kept level even through the frustration of keeping a splintered and headstrong clan together.  "Your little performance?"

"I just think you sound much more like Goliath than you are ever willing to admit.  It almost sounds as if he speaks through you.  Has his argument of remaining hidden at last seeped through that thick skull?"  She noticed features aged but holding the polished veneer of youth tighten and narrow, his beaked jaw setting into place.  "Do you now at last see both sides of an argument that holds our lives in the balance?"

This woman, that teemed with passion, now tried his patience.  "I have always seen each side, I just believed my side was stronger."

"Uh-oh..." breathed Lexington, knowing enough of that look that passed between the timedancers.

"Yes, stubborn that you are."  Sata stepped in close, to ensure only he would hear what would fall from red, red lips turned upwards in a vixenish grin, and grazing against his ear.  "Your leadership abilities stem from Goliath." she intoned, her council seemingly a scorn as if she was speaking to one of their unruly twins.

Brooklyn held to the argument on the tip of his tongue to dutifully listen.  He was leader, and could afford no thoughtlessness.

"It is not a bad thing to be like him or think like him, or have such loyalty to his clan that he would do anything to safeguard their lives and futures.  Though you may thought him wrong before, what do you see now?"

"What are you implying?"

"I do not presume to imply, leader," she expounded, gray-black taking on a darker hue, "merely add my thoughts."

His anger was mounting under his mate's not so gentle prodding, like a talon had snuck under his armor and dug into soft, pliant flesh.  "Like yours, Sata, every instinct screams within me to help this city." he hissed, his attempt to keep this conversation between them failing, his resentment at being judged so harshly leaking from their circle.  "But even when I step out to the battlements, there are eyes upon me, because our every move is being watched.  I'm doing only what I think is right, like I've done my entire life, including when serving under Goliath."

"How ironic you now echo Goliath's very words and thoughts."

"He had no reason to lock us up!  I do, proven by the casualties having run through that hospital and a death of one of our own."

"Goliath feared the prospect of battle.  You fear the confirmed reality."  She made sure, this time, he would not mistake her tone as cynicism, for it was taking on more a sharper edge.  Like her sword, it was deadly when unsheathed.  "I apologize but I must be blind to the difference you deem so insubstantial."

Rolling over his tongue and through fanged teeth, Brooklyn growled angrily.  "You're pushing."

Remarkably, his warning fashioned a smile.  "My apologies.  Am I out of line?  Is there going to be another mutiny?"

"I was second and now I am leader!" he exploded, abruptly, but Sata held her ground.  "If you wish to contradict that fact, you are more than welcome to try!"  He brushed her aside and moved towards the gathered clan, yelling against them, and his outburst would disgorge flame.  "Any of you!" he screamed to the rest, eyes blazing white hot as a dare welcoming any opponent.  He was ready and damn them to try.  "If anyone here doesn't think I belong in command, spit it out!  You wish to oppose me, GO RIGHT AHEAD!!!"

Thoughts raced, teeth clenched, but no one stepped forth.

Some cast wary glances to others, Broadway for instance, who had openly opposed Brooklyn's insurrection now more than a month ago and a memory quickly fading in lieu of what had come.  But, they ultimately remained silent, his twin children especially.  There would be no challenges, no seditions or displays of prowess to usurp the rightful leader from his place, not this time, and especially not now.

They all knew they needed him, right where he was.

Their silence had answered for him, and satisfied his fear of an organized revolt to his lead.  "Good."  His chest still heaving, he eased the waves of breath, and tipped a talon down the length of his beak.  Almost a wordless boast, he half-smirked towards Sata, then realized the height of his conceit and the danger to raise the ire of a samurai and a wife.  It swiftly fell away.  "We will still live our lives, just a hell of a lot more carefully.  And tonight, we mourn our sister."  He turned from the room and headed down the hallway, into the darkness, but not without leaving behind a final order, "You've all got an hour."

The clan parted ways, obediently, and mutely.

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

Stifling a yawn into the cup of her palm, Iliana Starr lurched out onto the courtyard, half asleep and walking by yearning into the blessedly clear but dark, dark night, needing to roam further than the confines of the castle.  Just having awakened herself, she maintained by a riled expression for those to keep their distance.  A stark contrast against bone-pale flesh, thin, burgundy brows had settled irritably, the lack of sleep by a strange bed and strange room taking its toll.

At least it was quiet here, up above the world.  The machines aiding the restoration had been stowed far below, reprieved from their duties for the night, and with their absence brought an odd serenity to the entire quad.

Only the winds made noise, made music, where airstreams would gale cleanly and strum through the comb of turrets and towers, creating from Wyvern's structure an instrument.  The breeze entangled cool, lissome hands into her shoulder-length bob and carried the dry scent of fire, unmistakable by its pungent, autumn fragrance and direction.  She followed, with an inquisitive gaze towards where the southern-facing courtyard battlement, laden with the holographic representations of the stone-sleeping clan, fell off into an ocean of artificial light.

Under the watchful eye of a computer consciousness, Othello had prepared a small stone pit for the ceremony, the stoic warrior crouching before the light of the blaze and almost entranced with intense eyes mirroring the small inferno, but visibly pensive and deep-rooted in his thoughts.  Hair and skin turned to a rich bronze, and unmoving, he appeared a statue molded of that same metal, until his arm suddenly jabbed forwards into the pit.  He coaxed with a metal poker the small flame within to a fire, that clawed at its confines and tried to wrest the instrument by singeing his hands.

And she wondered at the significance.

Another gargoyle custom among many new to her, this species was wondrous and surprising in every new secret she unearthed, with traditions seemingly steeped in legend, older than her own race.  They slept in stone and had children by egg, they were sometimes more animal than man, and frequently more human than the whole of humanity, and still with every night, the young rookie detective turned to the light a new side.  And though trapped here by circumstance, by her unique association, she at least enjoyed the company.

She understood now, just why Elisa felt so content here.

But damn her self-interest, she thought.  Less than an hour from a funeral for one of their own, her attentions had turned solely to her own comfort.  But her life was beyond these embrasures, beyond the walls the others hoped would hide her from a very dangerous, and xenophobic adversary, and justly, she wanted out.

She found herself drawn almost magically towards the unassuming beauty of the little fire, and the warmth against the April wind whipping across the stones.  She shored her leather jacket closer, bracing her small form against the whistling gusts, and slowly approached.

Othello never moved, never once acknowledged the human now warming her hands against a sacred flame.  "I know your question, detective," he rumbled, deep and sensual and alluring, and as always perfunctory, "before you ask."

"Then what's the answer?"

"Fire signifies life."  He poked again into the middle of the makeshift pit, and sent a flurry of cinders to rise within the wispy stream of smoke.  Iliana retreated slightly as the fire barked, watching the embers frolic and try to snip at her hands.  "But a spark when born, a life fleeting, then the light is extinguished, cruelly, and all too quickly.  Her death...was unfair.  It should have been a soldier willing to die, not a scholar."

"Your sister was...young, wasn't she?"

"Dead twice now before her time, and both by her own brethren."  A chuckle escaped thin lips, not a sound to be associated with the cobalt-skinned creature that rarely ever displayed any such outward joy.  "It is almost amusing how much I am beginning to fear my own kind more than I ever could humanity."

"Yeah, me too.  Only something we fear more than our own selves serves to unite us."

"Under the banner of the Quarreymen, Phoenix Rising, and the Guild."  He at last turned his head, and nodded to the smaller woman, coming just barely to his chest when he stood erect.  Strength and honor had proliferated in the most unlikely of places he mused, a diminutive, woman warrior much like his rookery brother's human mate.  But something else, clear by the glass clouding across her eyes, nagged within her.  "Your eyes betray you, lady Starr."

"Windows to the soul." she whispered, and arched an eyebrow, perfectly framing the emerald depths painted by the flame.  "And what do they say?"

"You are restless, and wish to leave."

"You're damned right I want to leave!"  It echoed farther than she intended, her voice scattering against the ancient structures in a concentric ring, and thus, she cowed back between the raised lapels of her jacket and censured herself.

"Hrm."  Sour lips let slip a muffled growl.  "Your words are wasted on me."  Othello smiled a toothy smile and pressed his chin into his right shoulder.  He gazed beyond his wing strut, to the furthest crook, and a tower silhouetted against a starry indigo.  "Perhaps you should tell him that."

Iliana followed where she knew he was looking, and sighed.  Isolated in the farthest corner of Wyvern's outer battlement and fronted by a wide staircase tapering towards the door, a distant, familiar turret sat alone.  Where housed a warrior obstinate by his privacy, a flicker of shadow against light through the lone window teased beyond her reach.  "I plan to."

A determined look appeared in her eyes, and she stole away wordlessly.  Walking a trodden path taken many times before, she traversed quickly the courtyard, through the construction, beyond the guarded portal that had recently burped a breath of energy but nonetheless stayed mindfully restful, and scaled the low-rising staircase.  Until met with a barrier of scarred oak strapped with iron, and skirted by an arch of stone, she paused and thought and strengthened her resolve.

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

She slammed the door behind, announcing her arrival with a bang and a supplementary shudder.  It resonated in this tiny, lit chamber, rolling around the curved wall.

Yet the occupant did not move, or even flutter an eyelid as the ground shivered, as if accustomed to her particular brand of racket.  He knew her by her entrance and scent, and thus remained absolutely still.

She started wandering, then pacing as the crouching gargoyle still took no notice.

Her form willowy and lithe, in just a few minutes of anxious marching she had become greater by a shadow trailing every anxious move across the rounded buttress, a companion similar in shape and echoing every erratic gesture.  Her pace fretful, the leather-sheathed detective circled the interior edge of the small turret, the flickers of a central fire bathing the entire chamber in a warm and placid ruby glow.  The stone walls adorned by the curved steel of weapons lethal and ancient by the measure of dynasties, not yet an inch left uncovered, they mirrored her journey as if broken shards from a larger whole.

And her glare evident in every reflection, she was angry, and cramped.  She became a huff, an angry spit of wind that grumbled thunder and twinkled lighting in the emerald of her eyes, persistently circling and making dizzy any who would watch.

And the creature sitting idle before the fire, his concentration starting to break by her disquiet, grew uneasy with her seeming inability to hold the fire she wielded beneath the barrier of alabaster skin.  Sitting cross-legged and in the drapery of long hair left unbound and free to drift in the eddies stirred by her pace, he rumbled deep within his chest, again sensing her passage behind him as the air skimmed against his caped wings.  His brow, tattooed by glowing orange ink and spurred by tall, tapered spears of angled bone, flickered, infuriated.  "Please," the ninja whispered impatiently, "be still."

"I can't."

"Why do you pace?  And ruin my thoughts?"

Iliana drew to a halt, directly across the fire, as if a rope had been lassoed around her neck.  "Because I feel trapped."  Through the burn of wood and incense making a crackle and a heady scent in the rise of flame, her eyes seemed to blister just as brightly.  A reflection perhaps, or the spark of infuriation.  "Because I'm as much a prisoner here as St. John."

Resenting she felt her presence here as misery, he met her growl with an equal, if not argumentative push of breath.  "You are officially dead.  And thus, you are safer that way."

"I can't live my entire life as a ghost."

"They will know you are alive and..."

"I don't care!"  She slipped around against the stone enclosure, so close as to tease the lap of flame by taste of her flesh, and stopped just in front of Shadow.  "Let them come and let them try again!" she snapped, a fury let loose by her confinement and ensuing tension.

And the foil to her anger merely rose an introspective brow, allowing her the chance to vent and enjoying the shimmy to her small body the anger filtered through her lungs produced.

"Facing a quick death by a gunshot or another bomb is better than facing a prolonged suffering wasting away to a memory.  I'm sick of being trapped inside this castle while the city goes to hell all around us!"  She raised her clenched fists, shaking loose the anxiety, the strain and pressure of idly watching the damage wrought to her home through the encumbrance of a television screen.  Her small body yearned big for freedom and reprisal.  "Looting, robberies, anarchy!  A massive hole in downtown!"

"You are being foolish." he interrupted calmly, but sternly.  "And less than a month ago you were near to tears cradled in my arms, expressing your fear."

"I got over it."

"It seems so."

"Damnit, Shadow, I'm a cop, and my city needs me!"  It silenced for the chance to breathe, a slow, seedy whistle through lips parched by a scream.  Her chest heaved, and her eyelashes fluttered, and Iliana relinquished.  "And so does poppa."

That seemed to garner a chuckle from the ninja, out of place on lips eternally pulled into a frown.  "Your father seems not to need anyone."

"Granted, but..."

"But," he decided on a new choice of words for her, no matter what she would prefer instead, "your life depends on your vanishing from the public eye."

"I'm not some pet you can keep chained to your bed and pacify with sex, ninjabutt!" she lashed out, anger pulling emotions deeply buried and translating them without a thought to the consequence.  A consequence rimmed with talons and razor steel.  "I have a life and a job and a purpose I decided on long before I met you."

He swallowed the infancy of a growl, and thought her tenacious, a contradiction not unlike himself.  Often stubborn as a spring downpour would deny the summer heat, but as gentle, she refused to live her life cordoned by any rule.  But he was ninja.  Adaptable as the ocean, but unbreakable, and unwilling to be pushed even by the woman who braved the burden of emotional disarray to share his heart.

Shadow uncurled his legs and swelled, and rose under the increasing apprehension of Iliana's gaze, that widened proportionally as he rose.  To a full height of seven feet, four inches, second only to Goliath in stature of the Wyvern clan, he neared the turret's high ceiling, his wings flaring to their full expansion.  An extended talon neared.  "You chose to dig beneath the surface of Elisa's private life." growled the shinobi, glowering with tapered, russet eyes become orange against the backdrop of flame.  "You chose to break into this castle, you chose to scale the elevator shaft, and then thoughtlessly attack Demona of all people!"

Iliana simply shrugged under the memory, even going so far as to smile proudly.  This one was a spitfire.

"You could have walked away without a care, but you did not.  You chose this existence and all that comes with!"

"I don't want to be stuck here anymore."

"I do not care about what you want!" said the gargoyle, and yelled the lover.  "I care for your life!!  And the fact you would so easily discard that gift when others fight and claw and scrape their way through only proves your immaturity!"

"You callin' me immature?"  It surfaced on the crown of her growl.  It, being the trace of a long discarded Brooklyn accent, and never more prevalent than now, frustration whittled away at her toil to remove the inflection during her days at the academy.  "Says the man who wanted one night to make sure my carpet matched my drapes!"

"How dare you...!"  He stopped mid-sentence, and drew back with a twitch to his neck, brow and eyes, something glaring.  "You have an accent."

As if he had slapped her, she reacted with wide eyes, and a nervous gesture to her hands.  "I do not."

"I have never truly noticed it before."  White teeth set against his dark skin outlined a smile, glinting fangs, and smug.  "It is beginning to assert itself."

"I don't gotta accent, all right!"  It appeared once again, Iliana having no control over the strum of her chord.  "Damnit!!" she bristled, turning around and concealing the frustration playing across tensed lips.  Since joining the force years ago, she had tried her best to remove all suggestion of her origin, if only just an inner city twang, seemingly a link from the life she wanted to escape.  Her father and his small business, his want for her future confined to a tiny brick storefront, one against many blending into obscurity among the urban boulevard where she grew up.  "Fine." she yielded quietly, coming out from her thoughts and throwing out her hands towards him.  "I have an accent.  I thought I buried it but it often comes back to haunt me."  Her stare narrowed, a fine, pinpointed stream towards him.  "Especially when I get mad."

He dared, "Then one wonders why it doesn't surface more often."

And in response, she angled her hips and crossed her arms against her chest in a sole angry motion.  Sweet lips would wisely hem a foul blaspheme, held by the tip of a pucker stained dark wine.  And her eyes, blazing, creased along with the surrounding skin, and Shadow immediately took the hint, from the sight of her tongue crossing the rim of her teeth beneath tensed lips.

He knew that look.  Drawn onto blunted human features it was a remarkable imitation of his own when entrenched in battle, readying for the kill.

And from the glare burrowing deeper into his flesh than even the branded script, an acidic phosphorous having seared and scrawled a simple, cryptic message in a foreign language across his chest, he knew to relent.  He curled his wrists and outwardly splayed his fingers in a gesture apologizing, a ripple from one brow to another.  He bowed in respect.  "My apologies," the wind carried a disconsolate whisper, "I shall no more make mention of your speech impediment."

She clucked her tongue, remaining stubbornly tied by her arms crossed defiantly.  His demeanor had changed throughout their entire conversation tonight, and his attempt to conceal whatever lurked beneath dark skin led the detective to detect a crack in the wall, of both muscle and sentiment.  The entire week following the Guild attack, he seemed retrospective, aloof, more than usual.  "You know," she started, a change in approach, "when a stoic, reclusive, completely humorless creature starts cracking jokes, it means there's something bothering him."

"And what makes you think something is bothering me?"

"I'm paid to observe any characteristic, whether it be body language or sudden shifts in attitude, that would imply something eating away at a suspect.  Whether it's guilt, or something far," she pecked a finger into his chest, fearless of repercussion by a literal bomb with a short fuse, "far deeper."

Shadow remained stagnant in the accusation, his wings though sweeping in and behind his legs.  His face fell, any smile obliterated by the shadows clinging from beneath his rutted, crumpled brow.  "There is nothing wrong, besides of course your suicidal wish to freely, thoughtlessly announce yourself to the Guild."

His spurred tail twitched, ever slightly, Iliana catching each and every discernible furrow driving through the dark, leathery flesh.  "I've watched you for five days, you've almost developed a bi-polar disorder."

He snorted contemptuously, a dual rush of air from his nostrils.  "You are mistaken."

She stepped up in leather boots rising to just below her knees, awarding a small stature a few inches of height with the thick, rubber Cuban soles.  "We've been through this before, you hiding something.  Now what the hell is wrong with you?!" she snapped, and then softened.  "I mean...more than the usual..."

Shadow regarded this small thing spewing fire with interest, and thin, impassive eyes.  He released a pent up breath, and slowly descended, back down to the stone hearth warmed by the fire, crossing his legs, folding his wings and resuming his pose and meditation.  "You do not wish to know."

Annoyance passed through her expression, and the tight set of her chin.  "Of course, be even more closed with me.  Don't tell me what's bothering you or what's eating at you or how many more children you've fathered for ex-girlfriends..."  She regretted, as soon as it touched to the fire-warmed air, the momentary burst of anger fused with her particular brand of sarcasm, as Shadow's already angered features contorted unpleasantly.  Under the incessant heavy glare of the seated gargoyle, she conceded, "Okay, fine."  Coming around his shoulder she fell behind him, plunging her hands into the suede that rained ivory against a starless sky, his mane layered against his sprawling backside and begging for her touch.  Gladly, she took hold and collected the hairs into the funnel between her palms, she a sculptor molding with pliable, liquid light.

His head yanked back by Iliana's unannounced grasp to his hair, he bobbed his brow and exclaimed, loudly, severely, "What are you...?!"

"Hold still.  You're not going to a funeral looking like a ski-hill."  Her beau pacified only just, she looped a grouping of strands around nimble fingers, braiding the long, silky hairs together into the gargoyle's trademark tail.  She could feel his growl travel across every strand, oscillating by what rumbled deep within his chest.  As others would fear the cautionary mewl, she merely brushed it off, intrepid, and used to any such bluster.  "Something's been eating at you all week.  Is it about the men and women you had to kill during the attack?"

"No," indifferently, he challenged her conception, proved by a stealthy and hungry show of fang, "I enjoyed killing every Guild I could lay my hands upon."

Halted in her task, Iliana forced a nervous smile in his candor, though, somehow expecting such an answer.  "Maybe I shouldn't have pressed..."  She continued, skillfully weaving the strands into a tight-fitting braid, already halfway through the entire length of hair.  So white, and glinting by firelight to make a brew of translucence and bronze that contrasted against porcelain skin, she nearly became lost in the fields of silk she tamed, and her thoughts.  "It's been hard on everyone here," she voiced her own apprehension, comparable amongst the entire Wyvern population, thick and almost discernibly suspended in the air, "losing so much, and so many.  The damage to the city, the loss of Elisa and Goliath..."

Shadow sighed, and before his conscience ate a hole through his cranial plate, he confessed suddenly, "I saw my daughter."

Her hands impulsively clenched against the gathered diamond filaments, twisting the cable of hair between two small hands, seemingly harmless, convincingly menacing.  "I'm sorry what?"

He stared forwards between the bobbing peaks of flame, both centering, and preparing himself.  "During the battle, through the folds between time, a young girl appeared through a portal, and called out to me."  He could feel the unfinished braid pulling ever tighter against his scalp, a dangerous situation.  But honor would urge him to continue even against the threat of losing the drifts of hair grown since but a hatchling.  "She called me father."

Despite the absurdity of any such an occurrence, she just had to know.  "And just who did she look like?"

He paused, sensing her breaths jabbing against the sensitive flesh between his wings.  "Me."

"Nice dodge." she applauded his elusion to spare her feelings, always the hero, ever the escapist.  "This girl wouldn't happen to have a passing resemblance to Delilah would she?"

"I...did not notice..." he deflected.  "The...the image passed too quickly."

She nodded sadly.  "I bet."  There was despondency on her tone, but a shard of relief he was at last beginning to accept what pulled him between two hearts.  He had strived to make peace with all who were fortunate enough to share what little he allowed of his emotions, but such a compromise was beginning to strain the warrior, and hurt the woman who wanted desperately all of him, and be damned this stubborn, ancient doctrine.

She finished the braid in silence, the hiss of flame and the loud, lively crackle of wood a welcome diversion within the awkward pause between them.  Fitting the end of the hair with a tie of leather, she successfully kept the obstinate hairs from releasing from their bind.  "Done."  She watched as the gargoyle grabbed the braid from between his wings and right from her hands, dragging the tail across his shoulder, and inspecting her handiwork.

"Thank you." he whispered, allowing it to fall back against the folds of sinew crisscrossing his back, and falling silent.

And jealous, she too leaned into him, embracing the heat exuded from his thick flesh, and pondered a choice.

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

He was nearly finished.

With a twist of his wrist and the accompanying precision screwdriver, the manacle powered to life, and joined the possessor to an entity not entirely flesh, but inescapable even outside the confines of castle Wyvern.  And unlike the unruly tangle that complicated the innards, the components embedded upon the surface gleamed modestly against the tarnished golden casing.  The delicate etching of glowing micro-circuitry was carved into the metal alloy in the flair of the Romanesque, and a design mean for purpose, but holding the simple inevitability of elegance.  An extraordinary work of precision art, it was an intricate maze of charge planes that promised pain with the slightest misconduct.

And come the sigh, the bearer of this trinket locked forever back into an unusual imprisonment, realized the true weight of the proximity bracelet.

Lexington closed the compartment and sealed the electronics from ever prying fingers, satisfied in its strength to hold its own even with the catastrophic failure of Mother's computer mainframe.  A small device, autonomous, even when met with the obliteration of its dominant.  "A power source completely independent from the castle, a GPS locater beacon tracked by a dozen orbiting satellites, a casing of gilded titanium alloy," the splendor of his creation gleamed from the circuitry of his eyes, "it's a thing of beauty."

"There are laws against this." muttered the wearer, a walking scowl in a tight-fitting sweater.  "The Geneva Convention being the most prominent."

Lexington met his cybernetic eyes to his captor's, a reflective curl from the metallic pupils against the harsh lighting.  "You think you're being treated unfairly?"

Nicole St. John deepened into her glower, staring at the bracelet that confined her, stole her freedom and made her existence a self-described living hell.  "I'm a prisoner."

"You're a pain." he mended, stowing the small tool back into the cavity in his forearm, a metallic chamber housing a menagerie of implements to either build or dismantle.  "Who lives in a suite better than half the hotels in this city, and gets free run of her prison."

"Keep comfy the prisoner and soon she forgets she's held under house arrest?" she surmised.  "Nice try, tiny."

Lexington leaned back on his stool, a tall, metal chair with a padded seat where duct tape and skateboard stickers sealed the open gashes and bulging foam.  Hunched, and his talontips pressed together, he stared her down, until she grew uncomfortable under the scrutiny.  "If we let you go, what would be the first thing you would do?"

"Tell the world." she announced unashamedly, staring back so intensely she glimpsed deep within the minute filaments of circuitry shaping the iris that allowed the cyborg to see.  "And win myself a Pulitzer with the biggest expose of all time.  One intrepid reporter's discovery of a new sentient species having lived alongside humanity for millions of years."  The prospect of such fame took light in her own eyes, her smile ravenous, and she superciliously brushed aside the lock of dappled blond from her shoulder.  "You know, they'd probably name you after me."

Outlying eyes glinted lilac-red.  Her face a remarkable duplicate of her human mother, it contorted, Delilah unable to hold back any longer.  Wringing wayward strands from her tiara-bent brow, she deepened into her scowl.  "Please remind me why we got stuck with her tonight?"

Lexington sighed, "Broadway and Angela aren't...up to it..."

The clone, watching the reporter carefully from a distance, nodded in understanding.  Here for the only reason as to guard the reporter and ensure the bracelet was repaired and operational, she waited impatiently for this bothersome duty to be finished.  "Lucky us." she muttered, turning away and amusing herself with the half-constructed machines cluttering Lexington's brightly lit work area, his small room claimed from the castle's many a haven for unfinished contraptions.

"Why does everyone act like I'm such a chore?" Nicole's shrill whine was more an insectine irritation than a human voice.

"Because you are." Lexington offered, stealing from Delilah's mouth an exact reply.

"Oh, and like you're great company."

The web-wing leaned forward, slim brows lowering over large eyes, and though expressive, almost genial, the wicked arch to his mouth proved otherwise.  "Listen," he warned, his voice straining against each word to ensure they would sufficiently make his point, "I been busy every single night piecing this place back together, Mother's circuitry, half of the computer room, every loose wire and circuit, including why the external shield was disabled and still doesn't work.  I've been existing on nothing but coffee and Coke and an unhealthy intake of caffeine."  A nearing, pointing, accusing finger focused the reporter's ever widening eyes together, so close in fact she had to move her head back to avoid being speared by the talon.  "So please, for your health and my sanity, don't push your luck any further."

"I'm a reporter, we're paid to push, to prod and to annoy."

Delilah huffed, more a disgruntled harrumph than anything else, "I thought all the time you've spent here would have changed your mind at least a little..."

"It did."  Nicole turned to the intruder into this conversation, and stared at her levelly with a young face wearing an old frown.  "I once actually considered defending you creatures.  But now I'm forced to look out into the city and see a chunk of it completely scooped out."  It was her turn to accuse, a practiced talent from a woman exuding belligerence from her very pores.  "Because of you."

"Because of Sobek!" Delilah screamed back, pushing from the wall and nearing.

"Because of you!" she disputed, the fact of an existing backbone exceedingly close to being tested, as the snow-winged female slowly advanced.  "And your little private wars that keep spilling into the human world, my world!!"

"This is our world too...long before humans even stood erect..."

"And look what you've delivered upon it, do you even watch the news?"

With Lexington fearful to intercept between a war of feminine will, word, and expression, such became his role to settle back and simply watch as Delilah's face creased, and her lips, bulbous and red, peeled to reveal anxious, grinding fang.  "I know where you're going with this, St. John," the clone smoldered, with an emergent wit and perception more like her mothers, "and you had better not be insinuating...!"

"Twelve hundred people!!"  A bitter reminder, even without the constant news reports, and Nicole casually and all too easily used such overwhelming sorrow as fuel, potent enough to greatly influence her argument.  "And all because one psychotic gargoyle decided to wreak his particular brand of villainy on an unsuspecting and innocent populace!!"

"It wasn't our fault!"  It seemed just the provocation of Nicole's eyes coaxed from Delilah her anger, like all the clan before her.  "We protect, every night we risk our lives for this populace who'd rather see us either dead, chained or caged!"

"Yeah, I'm sure breaking up a few muggings is going to make up for over a thousand deaths, and still counting.  I'm sure that little bit of futile gallantry eases your conscience when you turn to stone overlooking a city with a hole in its center!!"  There was pain evident in her growl, surprisingly, a born and bred New Yorker sharing a part of her city's wound.  Shaken, her vocal chords trembled with the exigencies of release, as did her hands, and she slipped them underneath her arms, crossing them against her chest.  "Every human being out there is in danger because the games you play with their fates have very high stakes.  And I'm afraid for them."

"All you're afraid of is missing the scoop." Lexington eventually managed a word in edgewise, a low, resentful mutter.

"Well, yes!"  Shameless, thy name was St. John, and as always she lived up to the brand she had earned early in her career.  "The crime rate's rise by twenty percent, the sudden disappearance of Nightstone Unlimited's CEO, and now, Marshall's digging up rumblings of gargoyles again, oh, and not to mention the huge hole in downtown Manhattan because of an attack by fifty foot tall creatures!"

"And if it wasn't for Goliath, Sobek's creatures could have, and would have done much worse." Delilah continued, her eyes pinning Nicole to the stool.  "Goliath got himself maimed and almost killed to safeguard the people of this city.  He and Alex single-handedly saved millions of lives."  She leaned in close, and a gaze so deeply brunette would spark a glimmer of wisdom beyond her true age, but the frustration would be more striking, taking presence as a warm, arresting flicker.  "Including yours.  How's that for futile gallantry?"

The newshound breathed but a brooded huff in place of her usual voluble quarrel, left to hiss and shrivel into nothingness through a tautened maw, lips scrunched just beneath the tip of her nose.  Silence fell heavy between them, tempers reaching to just beneath their limit but held, mercifully, by a collective round of soothing breaths.  Delilah caped her wings and took solace in the warmth, and Lexington awaited between them the inevitability that would, true to form, shatter the tenuous peace.

Then, faithful to her provocative nature.  "I wonder what Goliath looks like without his wings?" Nicole mused, and whether callously or thoughtfully, it did not matter.  "Maybe...almost human..."

Delilah, the adoptive daughter, lunged towards her, and would have connected with claws hungry for the reporter's flesh if not for Lexington's immediate response.  He jumped from his stool and braced against the clone, swerving her from Nicole, the woman shrieking in fear and scrambling back against the workbench, several unfinished mechanical pieces falling to the floor and exploding into shrapnel of wires and copper screws.

"Delilah, don't...!"  The smaller web-wing tried with all his strength to hold back a blood-tied fusion of Demona's might and Elisa's will, clutching against her chest with his arms curled around her waist, and his feet braced on a severe angle against the stone.  His face a misshapen sculpt of concentration, he gritted his teeth and summoned all the enhanced strength to hold back a force unto herself, like trying to cage a squirm of lightning between his fingers.  "Trust me, she's not worth it!"

"Yes she is!" her snarl boomed within the muddled environs of this tiny room, Delilah swiping wildly, and aimlessly, hoping for any sort of contact.  "I'm going to kill her!"

"Hey, cut me some slack!" yelled the reporter, desperate to save her own skin while she edged into a corner, nearly tripping over discarded equipment in her congested path.  "I saved Goliath's little brat!"

"You're lucky you decided to play hero!"  Barely a talon's length away, Delilah bathed the escaping reporter in red as phosphoric flame spewed from her eyes.

Lexington, small but as always tenacious, and every strand of muscle and cybernetic sinew flexing, he held against her as she yelled a tirade, roared an invective and liberated four days worth of unexpressed fury.

"The glaring fact you stayed with my baby sister is the only thing that doesn't put you right beside Demona in the cellblock!"  She dwindled against the smaller gargoyle's grasp, and eventually faltered, and stepped back, relenting and breathing heavily.  "Now shut up," she growled irrevocably, "and be glad that we've actually treated you with more respect than you deserve!"  More like a ghost, she slipped away from the small room with a snap of trailing hair, and left Lexington to slump back onto his stool and censure the reporter with a reproachful stare.

Nicole sneered, rubbing a hand across her turtleneck, "What's her problem?"

"She hates you."

"Ah."

Lexington hopped from the stool and onto the ground, readying to follow Delilah, his internal chronometer telling of the imminence of the funeral service.

Nicole gripped to the cool sheen of the gold bracelet, grimaced, and tested its grasp.  Secured, as if it had taken hold with sharp teeth burrowing into her skin, it would not budge no matter how much strength she could muster.  The etched surface reflected the retreating gargoyle, and Nicole looked up quickly, so much so, the locks of gold flew about the sides of her face.  "Am I invited?" she asked hopefully, adding to her fortune with a smile rehearsed many times over for the camera.

Halted at the door, Lexington answered, "No.  Stay in the castle."

"And if I don't?"

"Mother will shoot you."

"Ah."

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

She was there, working, as always, using the small lamp suspended by its jointed arm over her hospital bed.  To better guide her hands through the litter of documents she had built as a fortress around herself, as Maria Chavez closed one folder and moved on to another in unblinking succession.  She had done her best to turn this hospital in the headquarters of a rich man into a makeshift office, to surround herself with the comfort of her work.

Inwardly she was aggrieved.  Outwardly, that masquerade of composure and grace was beginning to crack from the pressure of holding it for so long, treacherously close to collapse if she were to falter even for a second in such a guise.

The hard shell she had formed around herself had performed admirably in the past to conceal her pain, and her envy of those working underneath her going home every night to their families, while she remained the only light on her floor, dreading that empty apartment suite, with only moonlit picture frames and the croon of her CD player to keep her company.  Perhaps a glass of chilled red wine in hand, to ease the transition into a slumber that very nearly always turned fitful.

But truthfully, absurdly she would deem, she had come to fear more the darkness that had seemed to surround her.  She loathed what lurked beyond the periphery of shadow that had draped itself across her life.

Even this infirmary that had promised sanctuary had darkened to an indistinguishable chamber full of wraithlike sound and restless creatures both human and not.  They would whisper and scuttle, and scuff the linoleum, never resting for any sort of peace.  They would infest her dreams, brandishing a mask and gun and threaten her very sanity.

But her work, thank god for her work, filling the vacuum of spouse and family, with a backload from her absence from the precinct enough to provisionally seize a wandering concentration, and even blind her to a far-flung glint.

A glint across contemplative eyes that proved another presence hovering just outside of her human-dull senses, its breathing steady, and vigilant not to expose.

Black had never shown so brightly as Hudson's charcoal gaze upon this woman alighted by what seemed to him an angelic glow, though not heavenly; synthetic by a light bulb, but all the same.  And by famine of the womanly form, he studied her intently, speculatively, and each gesture from beyond the reach of light he could discern, even by the subtle variations of expression and a slight wince when she reached too far for a folder, she was hurting both inside and out.  A futile attempt, he reflected, to hide herself in that world of law, and enforcement, and a hierarchical construct that rose so high and sometimes lost sight of true justice when trying to serve all aspects of a divided humanity.

A quintessential creature of method and regulation, he admired that.  But she too had a mutinous side hidden deep within, often allowing two certain detectives to enforce the law by very unorthodox means if only to better their results.  And that little spark, which often grew into defiance, served to further isolate her without her even knowing.

No more, the elder growled stubbornly within his mind.  He would force her from that armor if he had to wrest with all the remaining strength left in this battered, highland-born husk.

The rustle of his wings startled her, and Maria gasped as it stepped from the shadows.  Her first impulse by threadbare nerves was to scream, until recognition of a familiar shape would soon soothe the compulsion readying at the back of her throat.  "Hudson..." she breathed relief on a stammer as the hulking shape would define by the lamplight, almost a laugh in her foolishness to think this man would be a threat.  "For a moment, I-I almost thought..."  She looked away, embarrassed, her fear having taken hold and displayed very publicly.

"We all be a little jumpy." he strived to ease that discomfort, never one to associate cowardice with this woman, even if she did.  "Considerin'..."  Up close, he eyed the folders positioned around her as would a moat enclose a fortress, an obvious attempt to keep any intruder at bay.  "Ye've been working hard.  Our friend Morgan seems t' enjoy th' torture of overburdenin' you when ye should be healin'."

"I asked Morgan to send these to me." she corrected, coming off a little more frigid than intended.  "I don't like being out of the loop when the city is being overrun by insanity, and my precinct run by provisional incompetents.  Besides, my paperwork is piling up."

She lied well, and would have fooled another in his place, but not well enough to a trained listener and the man whose heart she held.  "Aye." he relinquished, though incredulously.  "Paperwork."

"I feel better," she presumed, coldly, and mechanically, "if that's why you're here."  In a nervous gesture as Hudson stared on with disbelief in his eyes, she raked tapered fingers through tendrils of hair bound loosely in behind.  A faint, intrusive gray had pockmarked between the strands of dark sable in the last few years, probably by reason of a rebellious clutch of underlings running rampant through the precinct, and she took no effort to hide them.  "The pain's gone away."

Again, by her tone and the jump in her breath discernable to heightened senses, she lied.  But he would not presume to punish.  "Tis not th' pain in yuir stomach I be worried about."

"I said I'm fine."

Hudson snatched talon first to her hand and clamped down, forcefully, but mindfully on a delicate human appendage, effectively halting her from delving back under the comfort of her work.  "Maria."  It was strong, her name on a Scottish hilt, riding the wave of a growl through his chest, and determined, not to be denied or shaken off by a police report from a large pile near half done.  Her very name from his lips flamed both passion and vulnerability through her, the proud captain intimidated by this man that continued to dare push beyond her very private and very personal boundaries.

But that little annoyance of a voice, nagging in the back her skull would say yes, oh gloriously yes to any help he would give.  She had no choice but to listen, if not at least give the sage advice she knew to be coming a chance.

She stared at the massive, four-fingered paw gently enclosing her entire hand, the thundering beat of a heart translated through the pulse of his velvety, caramel flesh.  She knew he would not release, until, she closed the folder and relented.  She did so to spare an argument, methodically placing the papers neatly back into the manila.  "Alright, fine.  I hurt." she confessed, the hand so tightly holding against her own relaxed, but staying its hold.  And she was glad for the warmth, and the attention paid to her.  "I hurt."  Her other hand lay against her breastbone, prodding against the cavity will a dampened thump.  "There's a dull ache in my chest, and every time I pull off my shirt to change, I see that tiny red line drawn over my stomach, and I hurt."

"Yuir supposed t' hurt."  He stepped closer, edging his great bulk against the bed's steel railing folded unobtrusively down.  "'Tis called being human.  Ye've been through more than any should have t' suffer."

"When does it stop?"

A brow went up, reflectively, and wonderingly.  No, even by his protective nature, he still could not spare her a harsh truth, for a woman having lived a sorrowful life such as his would not appreciate the coddling.  "It ne'er does." he whispered.  "Th' pain lessens over time, but it never goes away.  It becomes more a part of us, an' a guide on th' journey towards our inevitable end."  Underneath the bristle of sterling, there came a toothy grin between the lines of age.  "You know this, ye've lived through worse."

"Carlos."

"Aye."

"I got over losing my husband ten years ago...but how do you face the loss of a child?"

Pain flickered against thoughtful obsidian, Hudson never having quite prepared himself for the loss he had suffered, or the pain he would endure in private moments away from prying eyes.  He never thought it would leave such a hole, or a mark against weathered, stone-cut features.  "As best ye can." he managed, his voice grated by way of Maria's damnably potent gaze washing across him, perhaps wanting for something more than cold fact.  And as the marvel of small, spidery human fingers intertwined between thick claws, he nearly lost the urge to continue.  "An' by leanin' on th' shoulders of those who care for you."

"As best I can?" she echoed glibly.  "I'm a nervous wreck, jumping at shadows and sounds in the dark."  An anxious look past his wing into the blurred fringe where light fought for dominance told of her apprehension.  A place where her control, her governance and status meant nothing, yes, she did fear it.  "I can't live like this, I can't live dreading what lies beyond the darkness."

Frustrated, he growled in response, "Be damned th' shadows!  Ye canna fear livin' yiur life."

"I don't have a life, I have merely an existence.  I work, then go home to an empty apartment and sleep in an empty bed."  The light reflected liquid from deep forest green, the beginning of tears threatening to fall.  She closed her eyes to impede them.  "Do you know I still curl to one side?  It's a king-sized bed and I huddle to the side, like I'm afraid to take it all.  For ten years now..."

Hudson sighed, as she compounded new pain with the old, piling a weight atop her chest she could not readily hold.  "You canna hide from the world, no matter how much ye want to."

"This world delivered upon me death, and loss, and a scar that will never completely heal."  She tugged unconsciously at the sheets, wanting to draw them closer, but stayed lest she spill her precious documents.  "I don't want anything to do with it anymore."

"So yuill go back, to that desolate existence, fill out yuir forms and type on that blasted computer beastie," Maria had to choke a smile at the medieval gargoyle's repugnance to computers, "an' sooner 'r later, just fade away.  Become a whisper along th' halls of th' precinct house."

The contempt in his voice had come through clean, and hurt as much as if he unsheathed his sword and ran her clean through.  "I can't lose anything more." she croaked.  "Without completely losing my soul."

"Then depend on me, Maria." he demanded, pleaded, wanted so much for her to rediscover that power.  "Use me as that strength.  T' keep you from losing anymore.  I willna falter in my task of protectin' you, and you willna lose me."

"I once depended on a man and that exact same promise, and it was broken, and he died too."

She had stabbed back with ferocity that matched any gargoyle dame, and Hudson recovered by releasing a drawn breath.  "I know that all too well."

"Then you know that I can't rely on anyone, Hudson, without risking getting hurt again."

A burly laugh exploded into the quiet, his shoulders heaving with each guffaw.  It was eerily similar, this entire conversation and circumstance, replayed in perfect detail a thousand years ago when he had lost his own mate to a Viking raid.  He too had wanted to hide, and condemn the rest of the world from the safety inside his wings.  "Of course..."  It clicked.  He got it.  He knew exactly how she felt and how the solace of the one, constant entity in her life, her duty, was keeping her sane, and only just.  "Of course."

He shoved off from the bed, and turned and turned again, throwing glances her way and wearing a peculiar if not mean-spirited smile, turned positively callous in the muted light from where he stood.

Maria regarded his movement.  "What?"

He may regret this, he thought, he may regret opening further the wound he tried to heal.  But he took the plunge into hostile territory and hoped for the best.  "Ye are truly beaten." he announced grimly, the timbre of a gruff voice razor-sharp.  "Th' Guild not only took yuir son, but yuir spirit as well.  Well, pity th' fallen."

The glimmer of the captaincy came to light in her eyes as kindling taking spark to a flame.  Her lips pouted, her features grinding and Hudson had long hoped to see that strength once more.  "That's not fair." she hissed.  "That's not goddamned fair."

Hudson rushed back in, spurred by the fire he saw so briefly flicker.  "Life be rarely fair!  An' ye dinna seem th' type to cower, an' hide, an' surrender."

"What should I do then?  Go half-cocked with dreams of revenge?!" she yelled back, no longer the bed-ridden, but the superior taking hold of the reigns from behind her precinct desk.  "Isn't that the gargoyle way?"

"Nay, lassie."

"An eye for an eye, the glorious battle-cry of the lesser creature than man.  How evolved of you."

"Nay, lassie, an' ye know better than that." he admonished, trying to govern his own anger as he had released intentionally a pressure valve.  Between them lay breath and a stubbornly linked gaze, charcoal drowning in depthless forest jade, until Hudson spoke, "Th' young lad lyin' on that cold metal bed below best be someone's son, an' I killed him."  He squeezed his fists in front of him, shaking by the conflict of passion surging through him.  "I wanted all o' them dead, jus' like him.  Dead!!  But...I took tha' child just as th' Guild took one from me.  From us.  An' I don't feel good, 'r satisfied 'r contented in my revenge..."  He turned soft eyes to Maria.  "I feel as empty as you."

"You have no idea how empty I feel."

"I grieved for th' boy too, lass, I still be grievin' t' this day, and dinna ye dare denounce my pain for yuirs.  But I still draw breath, my clan," he cupped her cheek with a callused pad, fingers, running beneath her chin, "an' th' woman I love.  That be reason enough t' fight."

Bravo, she reflected, for never had the strong captain been a victim of reverse psychology so blatant.  He had played her, and his performance had yielded a stunning result, the want for dependence to this man.  She covered the back of his hand, and felt with long nails the protrusion of bony knuckles and the rut of lines engraved by battle harsh and unforgiving.  "Life is risk, huh?"

"Ye canna waver under th' boot of th' Guild, they defeat ye by first crushin' yuir spirit, and ye beat them by livin'."

As her head shook in denial, the long strands she had missed dragged from shoulder to shoulder.  "I'm not sure if I even know how to do that anymore."

"As th' world changes around us, we be changin' too.  So we learn.  All over again."

A full bleed of tears had fallen against her wishes, trailing slowly down and sweeping underneath her jaw.  She was embarrassed if not grateful.  "Hudson of Wyvern, I think I love you."

Talons having rent steel would now gently slide across the taper of her eyes, snagging the little beads of liquid with the bare tips, and wiping them away.  He offered his shoulder as she leaned into him, searching for that warmth.  "Aye."  His wings closed contentedly around her, trapping heat like a thick blanket.  "I will protect ye, Maria Chavez, by my sword an' last breath."

"I know." she murmured, a nearly inaudible trace of voice liberated into his tunic.  "And the fact I forget that...sometimes scares me."

Guiding hands through her hair, his talons roved along the slight wave that tumbled loose from their confines, and littered fully around her shoulders, and tickled into the plunging neckline of her bedclothes.  "An' remember," he whispered, nicking the silvery quill of beard against her cheek, loosening from stiff lips an upward curve, "a few good things be home in th' dark."  She purred with gentle laughter.  "Come lassie, it be almost time.  Honor me, join us."

"Aye."  Maria, though a proud woman, allowed without argument the gargoyle to pull away her covers and with his strong hands lift her from the bed.  Just a short journey, one she enjoyed when leaned against his chest, he carried her to an awaiting wheelchair left to the side, and delicately slipped her form into the leather seat.

A blanket would provide shelter from the exterior winds, and Hudson a strong emotional stanchion.  She was home with this man, this creature, an old soul, she was complete.

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

They were gathering.

Under a swaddle of gleaming stars of a night slowly aging back into day, from all corners the clan appeared into the courtyard, and assembled for the service.  The castle spotlights that arced upwards into the sky had been dimmed appropriately, allowing the stars and a full, crater-mottled moon to provide sufficient light.

A few large, dual-barreled cannons had been left outside their camouflaged hollows against the buttresses, silent and still and primed on long hydraulic arms.  Steel Clan guardsmen slowly walked the higher battlements, in tandem with the Cyber-Biotics drones circling the castle.  Cameras and infrared scanners searched the endless nighttime sky, beyond the scattered clouds and through the wastes of the heavens, and between the spires below, for any hint of danger no matter how slight.

Any amount of defense, perhaps overcautious, would not be spared.

Mother, as best as her preoccupied faculties would allow, was on full alert.  Her holographic form stood watch from the side, impassive as always, and curious to see this ceremony only recognized from a simple programmed description.  Of all the exhaustive information files on gargoyle custom, a simple narrative no matter how detailed would never amount to authenticity.

She wanted to see firsthand, just how these organic creatures faced death.

The fire Othello had nurtured had grown considerably, to an inferno, breeding a rise of smoke spiraling into the sky, the translucent, ghostly plume glittered with sparks.  Playful, pretty orange cinders dancing along the winds, it served as a focal point, a single light in the sea of darkness that drew the gargoyles towards it.

Solemn, they formed a ring around the fire-crowned stone pit, a menagerie of skin color all turned a swimming gold, the flames licking the russet hue of a dying sun against them.  Desdemona entwined around her taller lover's arm, grasping with all of her strength, Hudson behind Maria's wheelchair with his hands draped reassuringly to her shoulders, Bronx and Nudnik on each spoked wheel, then Todd and Annika, Lexington, Sata, Graeme and Ariana too.  Shadow stood with Iliana, and across from them Delilah, then Broadway, and further away, Angela.

Brooklyn took the middle, and behind him a backdrop of light and spire and horn and commotion framed his broad-shouldered profile.  He looked over his assembled brood, and wondered of the sun and their slumber.  If this wonderful tone and color would spread upon them on daybreak stone, they indeed appeared majestic, regal.  They were not monsters.  "She was our sister." he began, strongly, his voice crisp, sharp and rising over any background noise.

He drew them quickly.  The clan took notice almost immediately, and if anything beyond a collective blend of jealousy, insolence or anger and suppression, they at least admired his speaking voice.  That quality held by every leader to capture and enrapture their audience, and that which led faithful followers into battle and death.

"She was our sister, our kin, our blood, our family," it trembled early in, his voice, bereavement maybe, or the nervousness of public speaking with such a matter demanding nothing but perfection, "and she is gone."

Broadway, from beneath his brow, cornered the form of Angela in a wistful gaze highlighted by the flames, his black eyes gleaming, by woe and grief and charcoal fleck.  Surreptitious, he watched; torn, his mind and acceptance of this stranger; screaming, his heart, and as she rubbed trembling hands to her bared arms, the undeniable urge to comfort her nearly tore him in two.

She had felt that concentration upon her, searing, and sought it out.

They linked for a moment, and he darted his head away.

"She died once, a thousand years ago, in the massacre that took almost all of our clan.  And by sheer fortune and magic and fate, she was resurrected...only to die again."

Desdemona huddled into the crook of Othello's arm, trickling from her eyes to his forearm.  His wings lifted from his shoulders, mantled, dropped and swallowed them both whole in a war-beaten scabbard of dusty cobalt blue.  He gave warmth and support, a little thing the hunter reasoned, out of anything to take away her pain, if not to willingly die for her.

"She was curious, inventive, intelligent, and wasn't one for sticking out from the crowd.  She would hide herself away and build her gadgets and explore the human machines that fascinated her, and enchanted her.  I was a young hatchling, and she of an elder generation, and I looked upon her skills as some sort of magic."

The twins took solace in their mother's presence, Graeme standing strong and stilted, and Ariana up against her mother's hip.  She was taller now, like her brother and nearly came to Sata's chin, and echoed her mother's well-bred pedigree in the lean stance and burgeoning swell of an adolescent body.  A talon crafted of jade reached to swiftly catch a tear the young girl had yet to notice, and broken from her reverie, she turned inwards to Sata's tendered shoulder.

For the time being, mother and daughter had put their now and future squabbles to rest.

"We lived in an age of barbarism and warriors and bloody violence, and many times, her abilities, and her knowledge of human constructs and machinery were considered to some a waste.  But we knew better.  She strived to make our lives easier, and to further our understanding of the world around us that was constantly evolving.  She didn't want us left behind..."  His speech, as strong as it was, had ebbed, the leader garroted by his own words and sense of grandeur.

It moved to Othello, who released his mate and stepped up wordlessly, solemnly, his duty well understood.  He warmed his hands against the flame, each tendril hungry for the offer of flesh so unwisely close to its confines.  It snapped, but he held.  "We use this flame as a beacon."

From his beltpouch, a powder, a pinch taken by his nimble claws and sifting from his clenched fist, stirring the entity of fire that opened its flame-toothed maw for a coming meal.  His hand tipped over, and before the breeze would catch and carry the powder away, it dropped deep into the bowels of his well-tended blaze.  It seemed an enchantment by commonplace means that trickled through his fingers, as the fire leapt and grew to an inferno of beauty, sired by the powerful chemical agent.  A column rose and lifted the clan's communal gaze against the black sky, the spring mists of cloud reflecting brilliant color.  "We guide her with this light on the journey she is taking, beyond our understanding, a change, and merely a metamorphosis from flesh to energy."  It volleyed upon them little bits of fire and harmless spark freed from the swirling pillar, a glitter that harmlessly popped with contact to skin or stone.  "She is safe, and in a place where she feels no pain or loss or anger.  She is with our clan, and everyone we loved that has passed on before.  She is with the dragon, and protected."

Through the maelstrom, Delilah had watched with great interest the couple across from her with their distraction.  Shadow, so massive, and Iliana clutched to his side where she seemed even smaller against the gargoyle breaking seven feet.  The human was listless, stroking her hand across his stomach of taut, jutting abdominals constricting into a vale that disappeared beneath his belt and loincloth.  She seemed to enjoy the intimacy of his black, gray-rimmed hide, she seemed, by appearance, to take assurance of just his presence at her side.

Shadow then, fortuitously, lowered his eyes, and found chocolate through the rain of ember.  Delilah found unexpectedly a longing, a dependency, that flicker of failing so adamantly denied by a proud, stalwart stance.  The former lovers stared at each other, drizzled by cinders, until Iliana dropped her head and fell her eyes in between the gargoyles.  Delilah quickly snapped down, safely into the folds of hair sweeping in on her features like a curtain.

An ache crept between her wings, and centered within her chest.

And Iliana knew she had just interrupted that determined little spark that refused to extinguish.

The fire died down, having completely consumed the flammable powder.  It was sated, and resigned to spend the remainder of a fleeting existence in its modest pit.  "Fire burns within all of us." Brooklyn took over, waving a hand through the flames that now seemed sluggish to bite and loath to feeding.  "Our clan, and our new additions, we're all kindred spirits that shine just as brightly.  We carry on her memory through all of us, and our children."

Todd rubbed his hands over Annika's stomach, and her breath skipped, eyes gone slightly wide and trembling, making waves in an ocean blue.  Her toned abdomen rippled with the shudder of breath.  She wondered of his knowledge, the gargoyle still yet to tell her mate they were expecting for fear it would only add to what he himself piled atop himself.  But by the casual caress, he seemed oblivious to her early pregnancy, her stomach still without the telling bulge of egg or child, and roamed his hands higher, settling around her wing-caped shoulders.

A breath once held in fear released as a sigh of relief, and she silently cursed her apprehension.  She would tell him soon enough, it just needed to be well, well thought out.

"Stories will be told of her time and bravery, she will live by our lips and hearts, and so, I ask you not to grieve, or cry, or mourn her death, but to celebrate her life, and her spirit."  Brooklyn's eyes wet with a sheen of crystal city light, but refusing to shed a tear in front of an observant audience, he met brow to cheek as far as they would reach to obscure any sight.  "She was our sister.  And she will be missed."  He lifted to the clan.  "Ladies and gentlemen the service is ended.  With no body, there will be no burial as per tradition."  He waved them off, informally.  "The night is yours."

Wordlessly, they divided.

Desdemona in tears, Othello guided her away.

Todd roamed to the castle battlement where fell below the grand sight of damaged, lower Manhattan, and perched himself on a rising merlon, his legs bowed together and anchored within the arrow loop.  Annika came up behind, stood over him a moment, and then grasped hands with a gentle touch to each side of his head.  She lowered her lips into the spikes of gelled, sable hair and kissed the thorny crown, whispered something into his ear, watched the leaden smile rise then fall, and moved towards the interior door.

Sata would join her mate, but he too had already slipped into the darkness offered by the expansive courtyard, where any of the several doors offered an escape, and thus, she took her children inside.

Angela seemed lost in where to go, and thus she settled at the far fountain edge, the great pool of gemstone water with a cherub statue, a faerie seemingly dancing atop the glasslike surface.  The fountain mechanism had been turned off for the ceremony, and the water appeared so unmoving and still as ice, she dabbed a few talons into its depths to test the illusion of immobility.  Ripples bloomed from her touch, her reflection breaking with the gentle, moon-sapphire strides.

Broadway stood, behind her, watching her, trailing his eyes to her body, her movements, each subtle and refined, and testing that scent so close, but tainted.  Was she the same he had come to covet, his validation was not without a lingering doubt, even with her exacting appearance and voice and elegance in every delicate, inconsequential gesture.

She knew his strong musk so intimately that his presence obtruded even without the evidence of sight.  "You don't have to be afraid of me." she said, chin on her reclining arm, and by the mirror of his face in the slowly breaking tides of water, he reacted with a startle.  "I'm not a ghost, or a monster or a clone or anything you can convince yourself of."

"Angela...this is...harder than you can imagine..."

She turned around and faced him, looking eye to eye, her features desperate.  "Actually, it's very simple, Broadway." she admonished, unable to keep the anger, and denial of her very existence from creeping unto her voice.  "You are my mate.  And you treat me as if I don't exist."

"Perhaps you don't," he whispered quietly, "and I'm just going insane like your mother.  Seeing dead people come back to life..."  Angela's face instantly collapsed, and she turned away almost too quickly.  He had not meant to hurt her, but his refusal had indeed hurt struck a greater pain than the most powerful of his blows.  "Damn." he swore, under his breath, and slowly retreated.

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

Shadow trawled the corridors searching for Iliana, having escaped from him quickly.  Another skill, this one not as favored.

"...Shadow..." a command seemingly come from nowhere halted him in his place, the ninja mindful of a voice ethereal and with no discernible direction.  Its resonance against the walls hid any source.

"Mother?"

"Delilah has requested your presence in doctor Pierce's laboratory."

He scanned the ceiling, the arch of stone and the recessed belt of fluorescent lighting and chrome fixtures leading wherever a hall would angle.  He thinned his eyes, and slowly maneuvered his way towards the elevators, circumspect of being led by an unseen leash.  "What does she wish of me?"

A slight pause, disconcerting to the gargoyle, for with no features to read, any intention could only be discerned through an emotionless tone.  And that often proved futile.

"She did not specify."

Shadow increased his pace, growling all the way.

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

The computer sentient had led him here beneath the castle, and into the Eyrie infirmary, where, mercifully, the residency was slowly dwindling.  Now down to two.

He was led by his nose, by the scent permeating throughout all the others and the suspension of medication, antiseptics and gauze in the air.  Shadow drifted past a comatose Matt Bluestone, opposed by a sedated Rose Hawkins on the other side, to the far side of the infirmary, and an unembellished door, bald against the hospital's dressings of remedial care, wires, machines, tubes, and a rhythm of life translated through an electronic tune.

He pushed against it, prudently, carefully, and entered inside.

It was chaos, he was met with mayhem paralleled to the damage far below the castle.  Beakers and tubes and shelves bowing and nearing collapse with the weight of medical journals and thick, thick volumes, Dr. Pierce's laboratory unsettled even the ninja.  Xanatos had made every technological advance available to the good doctor, and the unsung healer of the clan had near flawlessly mingled established medical techniques with the paramount of ultramodern equipment.  The only side effect being his inability to keep such a delicate fusion from cluttering his personal workspace.

Perhaps he enjoyed the mess, the stimulation of sensory overload.

A desk to the side, where papers piled high, even above the computer's hard drive tower, and beside that, cylinders with a strange glowing liquid, and occupants of dark indeterminate shapes.  Several scanners, charts and diagrams lined the walls, and interspersed, white dry erase boards scrawled with a language he thought, at first, was English.  Numbers, equations, medical terms, he knew no human freely spoke this dialect.

Shadow was impressed, by human feat.  The epithet of medicinal knowledge, contained to an undersized chamber ready to burst.  And why they would kill each other when having accomplished so much had always mystified him.

He scanned, further, with discerning, sharp-edged eyes, and in the far corner, between an electron microscope and a holographic ultrasound monitor, his caller.  Delilah.

She was fawning, as usual, over the cloning tube.  And the little unseen cluster of cells inside, curled to an artificial endometrial layer based on Delilah's own DNA, and with each day, growing into something more.  She often held vigil here, by this massive steel thing slightly slanted back into the wall and towering above her, housing her dreams and his blood.  The monitor attached showed a steady stream of vitals as best the equipment could discern from the developing fetus, the only window to the innards of an intricate machine.

The spurred precipice of cartilage lowered over brown, concerted eyes.  A quiet moment, an opportunity and he took the chance to observe her, hair and caped wings snow white, and glinting sharply and saintly from the simple endowment of fluorescent light.  Her tail swung slowly over a toned backside, the slip of her tunic disappearing underneath the cuff where the appendage joined to the tailbone.  It seemed alive, curling consciously around a lean ankle, and sniffing its way with the tip.

It led his eyes, a hypnotic dance.

His meditation as a healing Iliana slept in her hospital bed was intermittently spent staring at her, watching and wondering and trying if anything to keep silent that little, irksome voice in his head, that chided him for not having the strength to keep this angel.

Shadow's lips took a sudden, atypical turn, upwards, into a faint smile.  She will make a good mother, he reflected, as he knew her skills and heart were more than capable for this incredible task to be undertaken.  Better suited than he, assuredly.  Better than most in this clan, and in the world surrounding them.

His footfalls as always silent, his presence near disguised from Delilah's keen hybrid senses, he had made it as close as a meter he guessed.  He thought it wise to announce himself lest he frighten her.  His shell, dark and spurred and close to grazing the roof, did indeed prove startling.  "And how fares your fetus?"

His scent had carried before his graveled voice.  To one intimate with the aroma of leather and steel, the ninja could not readily hide.  "My daughter," she corrected, eyes still upon the tube and hope upon her voice, "is doing just fine."

He lightened by the word, the simple word, the reality he thought would have no bearing of his acceptance to remain but a distant bystander as his child grew before his eyes.  A sudden flash, a bright light streaking through his mind had awarded a single thought and image of a moment torn from time during a bloody, costly battle.  The girl calling from the portal, his features melded with another.  Pieces were falling into place.  "A girl?"

Delilah smiled and muffled her laughter into the polished steel casing of the cloning tube.  "I hope." she admitted, sheepishly.  "We'll be able to determine the sex soon."

He reciprocated, in seeing against the reflection in sterling and just from the edge of her falling hair her lips so red and curled.  The impulse to reach out for her guided his hand before he was aware, until she turned and by a lightning-quick reflex, he threw the arm back to his side.  He straightened, spine stiff and imperial.  He went to lean casually against the countertop, until placing his talons against a pile of books balanced all too precariously.  It spilled to the floor, landing in a heap, and he looked disheveled, especially under Delilah's scrutiny.  "Hrm...are you...are you all right?"

Smalltalk was never his forte, and she knew that well.  He seemed nervous, more tactful, she noticed, like he was constantly walking on eggshells around her, and delicious, the tables turned.  "I miss her, Goliath's sister." she said, softly in Elisa's voice.  "I liked her.  We were alike in so many ways, lost in a new world, and sometimes naive."  A cool sigh, and she looked back at the cloning tube.  "We're surrounded by so much death," her talons lightly scored the steel surface, a muted squeal when hard enamel came into contact with the dulled silver casing, "and through it all, this little miracle is still growing strong.  In Thailog's birthplace no doubt."

"It has a remarkable heritage." the ninja appended.  "And is blood with a clan of prominence and strength."

Delilah turned, and used several lithe fingers to pull from her face the thicket of icicle strands that always managed to fall into across her right brow.  And when exposed to the light, those eyes would sparkle gloriously.  "And tenacity."

"Speaking of tenacity," Shadow continued, incited from changing the subject from something delicate, and sore, "I hear you nearly killed St. John."

Pride, bickered with the indignity of lowering herself to a baser instinct, played a remarkable, if not a similar discord on her face.  Her brows slanted from one to another, her lips pulled to beneath her nose, and Delilah winced.  "Nearly." she admitted, mischief a mechanism to put an ascendant curve to her lips.  "Lexington stopped me."

A disgruntled rumble quivered inside and across his wide chest.  "Pity."

They shared a small, awkward laugh, which eventually trailed off into an even more awkward silence.

And there was that pensive gaze once more, burning upon her, Delilah noticing his eyes unsheathe from the steel layer he so capably protected himself with.  Warmth exuded from brunette, if only for a select few.  A warmth that was no longer hers.  "Let go of me."

Confused, he raised a ridge and answered, connotations of sarcasm light but noticeable within his Japanese accent, "I was not aware I was holding you."

Every glance she knew they had exchanged throughout the funeral procession had lasting implications, the young clone not immune to his gaze that would melt her, charge her, envelop her, making legs wobble and her heart push against her ribcage.  She knew the conflict just by looking at him, so very mindful of his desire to please both at the cost of his own personal peace.  "You're holding to me, Shadow," she clarified, defensibly, "and that is just as dangerous."

"You assume much."

"Then why do you continue to haunt me with just your gaze?  Why do you torture me every time you look at me?"

He huffed.  "You are seeing things that are not there."

"I see a lot of things..."  She crossed her arms under her breast, rubbing each hand slowly to the bicep.  She was vulnerable more to the cold than others, due to the thinned gargoyle blood running her veins, but this was not temperature that warranted the nervous gesture.  "We're over, you just have to accept that if you ever want to move on.  We both do."  This was the reason she had called him, to make worse the pain she felt at his absence in her bedchambers by cutting him loose.  If only she could manage the words.  "I'm...I'm trying as hard as I can to let you go, because dwelling in the memories of what we had is slowly tearing me apart.  Jason Canmore offered me kindness, and all I could do between the consideration and flowers was compare him to you.  Every male is now intrinsically compared to you, I take them apart bit by bit and associate them, personality, appearance, demeanor, it's become too analytical.  I can't keep doing that, especially when I'm soon going to be a mother."

He crossed his arms against his chest, puffed out and heaving by a heavy inhale, his posture stiffening, his mood dimming.  Especially by the mention of Canmore, the wheelchair-bound charmer.  "I have moved on, as painful as it was.  To allow you the entitlement to your own free life."

"Unh-uh."  She shook her head, unsatisfied with the answer, the tone used and the unwieldy shift in his body weight from one foot to another.  "You are so bad at lying.  It goes against everything your grandfather taught you, and as a result, you're lousy at it."  She cocked her head, and tilted it to an angle.  Her hair followed suit, each ivory thread sluicing from one side to the other and falling across her shoulder.  "Especially to me."

How presumptuous this little thing, the ninja's wings flaring against the clone's chocolate eyes brimming with cinder and pluck.  The proof of his ability to tell untruths had in fact helped to ruin their relationship, and he quelled the angered burst readying itself on his mind and tongue for a more civilized reply.  "Trust me, Delilah," his voice was grave, pained, "I have kept many things from you.  Things you are not meant to know."

"Your right brow twitches."  She touched a hand above her right eye, and slid a few talons down the slope towards the swell of her cheek, through the vapor of hair.  "When you lie."

Shadow instantly pulled his hand to his brow, and then realized by the touch of a smile on her lips, that she may be joking, and was definitely playing with him.  "Hrm."  His arms re-crossed.  "I only wanted to spare you further pain.  My life...is not without bloodshed and sorrow."

"Maybe it was partly my fault, for not being more accepting of who you are."  She advanced, filling her gaze with the majesty of a fighter.  "Of what you are.  Ninja, a warrior, honorable but lethal.  Not a killer, but someone who must kill to save."  She neared, unhurried, her hair swaying against each deliberate step, and Shadow's senses flooded with scent and the taste so delectable against the stale air.  "You're strong, serene at times, fiery at others, and even a little vulnerable."

"Vulnerable?"

"Maybe a little."

"That is almost insulting."

"I know.  The ninja cannot have a weakness, can he?  Even a crack in his armor, lest his enemies use that to their advantage."

She knew him so well.  "It shames me, that I once thought you were naive, but you understand more than I ever could imagine."  He though darkened, in his eyes, and expression.  "But are still oblivious to what I have done," his entire face seemed to clench, and seize up towards his thin eyes penetrating from the darkness of his features, "and what I am ultimately capable of."

She halted, her neck craned to reach those eyes at his shadowed peak.  "Iliana doesn't seem to mind."  Delilah turned away.  "You two seem very well-suited.  Very well-suited..."

"Yes...I suppose we do.  My predilection to kill still bothers you."  A statement more than a question.

"Killing always bothers me.  And at least on some level, it should bother you."

As it dragged on, the purpose of this conversation, his reason for being called away from his lover had still eluded him.  "Is this what you called me here for?" he charged.  "To further compound the anguish of losing you?  And find myself under some sort of trial?"

Delilah smiled weakly.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to judge your life.  I just needed to find some clarification to my own.  Everything's changing so much."

Shadow reached a hand into the inviting silk of hair, one talon lifting the curtain of lucent mane from her eye.  "It is existence, Delilah, it is a constant transformation, and we are often left trying to catch up."

"Let me go." she reiterated, her eyes so bottomless and pleading they nearly spoke for her.  "Move on, and catch up.  I want you to be happy.  With her."

"I am.  But she..."

"Will content you," she finished for him, cutting off Shadow's protest, by purpose or mistake the larger gargoyle could not discern, "and complete you.  Like I wasn't able to."

The conversation seemed to end with Delilah's pronounced lull, and Shadow did not argue further.  She wanted this, she wanted closure, desperate to put behind her the ache of loss.  "As you wish."

Intent to leave, and with Shadow's girth still partly blocking the door, she squeezed past him, molded to the bulging contour of torso and chiseled muscle steel to the touch, her hair swathing against his skin like a tease of satin.  "Be happy." she whispered into his great chest, her breath balmy and tickling across his brands.  She then slipped out, quickly and inaudibly, having learned such a skill from a former lover.

"Happy." he echoed, grimly, left in the laboratory and staring at that tube.

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

The ninja prowled among the more fitting, middle-aged vista of winding castle stone.  Troubled, he returned to the cloud-perched fortress to find the other he had allowed into his heart.

The tall doors made but a creak as they opened into the depository, the labyrinthine columns and sills of books upon books, growing more obscure as they faded into the darkness beyond.  The library, massive and encompassing a very large section of Wyvern, was warm, and inviting to any weary traveler, an entanglement of heating ducts and vents worked in an overlooked, almost obligatory sense to heat the chamber.  But a mammoth fire, showcased by a sculpted marble mantelpiece nearly six feet high and doubly wide, served to do so much more than provide ineffiecient heat alongside its modern counterparts of the furnaces.

It furnished the room with a cordiality often lost to modern conveniences, to complete the picture of medieval statesmanship, and hold dearly to another time past.  Even if it did employ a contemporary gas system.

Shadow easily found her in front of the flames, keen eyes excessive to see that small silhouette basking within the fiery glow.  Her jacket discarded, her form lay open to his gaze under a formfitting polyester top, each metallic woven strand glinting in the firelight.  It nearly sparkled.

He waded further towards the soft chaise lounge separating them, navy by his recollection, the colors of the room muted to a dim gray by the encompassing brilliance of the fire.  He caught wind of her, her fragrance pushed by the heated air towards him and imprinting among the entire library, and quelling a restless soul.  As much grief as she caused him, as much as she often made the little hairs stand up on his neck, she was comfort encased in fire and a leather jacket one size too large.

Why he sought her out so quickly was no mystery.  Perhaps he was here to fully commit, and put all doubt to rest.  "Here you are." Shadow announced himself from his camouflage into the darkness.  "I was looking for you."

She still minded the flames.  "Yeah, I know."

Despondency rode high in her usual spirited tone, Shadow's senses not without the ability to distinguish the usual sardonic traces from untainted grief.  "Is there something wrong?"

Iliana turned, first half way, one eye just barely peaking from behind her shoulder-length bob, and then completed the circle with a smooth wave of her shoulders.  She peered at him, looking with intent to decipher fire-lit features.  A smile then strengthened the portent.  "Shadow, I love you, and we're breaking up."

Bang.  Iliana had fired her bullet and the sufferer reacted with the just amount of surprise and pain as a projectile shaped from steel and shredding his insides.  His brow rising, snapping, to his hairline, his mouth slack and revealing fang, Shadow was nonetheless bewildered.  "I'm sorry what?"

"Sudden, I know.  But I've been feeling this way for the last couple of weeks."

The words came difficult, understandably, the ninja virtually paralyzed in place.  "But...why...why?"

"Didn't you ever watch Speed?"

He growled, "What?"

She sighed, "A movie, mom.  Relationships based on emotionally-charged experiences rarely ever work out.  Sage, that Keanu."  She tromped forwards and fell knee first onto the chesterfield, leaning against the scooped back.  "This was a doomed relationship from the start, and I'm not going to drag it on any longer.  I could see every glance that passed between both you and Delilah during the funeral."

"We were across from each other," he explained, very rationally, but gritting his teeth against the frustration, "we could not help but to look."

"You love her, but you feel more comfortable with me.  I'm more a friend than a lover, and I'll always be."

Why all small women had such tremendous heart was becoming both a mystery, and an annoyance.  "You presume dangerously." he snarled into the quiet.  "Successful lovers are always friends first.  That bond before any such commitment serves to build something greater."

"Then what do you see?" she insisted, open eyes pleading for an answer.  "What's in our future?  Marriage?  Kids?"  That last word rolled off her tongue deliberately, their incompatibility in conception no secret, and one of many deterrents she deemed far more costly than he.  "We are not Goliath and Elisa."

Shadow seemed validated.  "Thank the dragon.  I will never feel comfortable when compared to them, they have something no other coupling ever will."

Iliana nodded fervently, a sparkle of wit gleaming so brightly, and eagerly.  "Yes, a man totally committed to one woman."

Fire lit in his toned belly, his bottom lip protruding against his canines.  This spitfire had always dared to push and urge herself on.  "I have already profusely apologized for not telling you of my consent to give Delilah her child, but is it not fair throwing that back into my face!" he yelled, then appended, "Repeatedly.  I have given everything of myself to you...!"

"Except your soul!"  Iliana's empty hands were out in front of her, fingers curled inwardly, as if a material depiction of what she could not have.  "Your mind, your body, your heart.  Women are selfish creatures, Shadow, we need validation our lovers have completely devoted themselves to us."  She jumped to her feet, a booted foot on each overstuffed couch cushion, and using the extra height to nearly look her lover straight and evenly in the eye.  "Your soul, ninjabutt, that's what I want the most, and it seems to belong to one woman alone."

"Is this because of what I saw through the portal?"

Hands idly played with the strands of fire-truck red, glinting tomato from the fire.  "A child between you and Delilah fully grown, and calling you father?"  The Brooklyn accent then reared itself with a vengeance.  "Gee, ya think?  If that does indeed happen, I can't live my life with such a reminder of what you two could have, and can have, and should have."

An eerie parallel was beginning to present itself, Shadow suddenly reminded by the conversation held previous.  "Delilah and I are over," he insisted, even if, back, way back in his head, he was partly lying to himself, like every wedged male, "from her own mouth no less, why can't you see that?"

"Please don't insult me." she snapped, detective-like, her interrogation voice full-fledged.  A wicked arc played on her thinly plucked eyebrows, her eyes boring into him.  "You're lying.  Right now.  You're lying to me and to yourself."

He was beginning to doubt himself, with so many thinking his honesty had fatal cracks, and he shot a hand to his brow just in case.  It had not moved, nor trembled, nor given this woman any outward sign.  "For a long time, I have searched...for someone to fill the hollow in my soul.  My relationship with Delilah was...conflicted."  He reached for her, and glided smooth enamel talons across her porcelain skin.  "With you, it is so much easier."

She jerked away, lost in the addictive sensation and losing her focus.  She did not want to be swayed.  "That's the problem.  Love isn't easy, it's not supposed to be."  "You seem to cling to me as a crutch, as a safety net."

Shadow snorted irreverently, "Some safety net."  Seeing the little Irish-Russian cross her arms and scowl, he proceeded cautiously.  "You're right," he said, "I use you as my security, my shelter, my well-being, and I suppose you deem that selfish to hinge such a large part of my feelings on one singular woman."  His hands would trace the scars emblazed onto his wide chest, not just ancient Japanese symbols but a way of existence.  War, peace, life, death, he was forever caught in between.  "I have led a life of horror compared to most, and even with all of my doubts, all of my uncertainties and qualms and fears about having a relationship with you...!"  It had rose, unintentionally, and he calmed the fire he breathed from belly to jaw to still library air.  "I still let you in."

"Oh how gracious of you."

"I have not regretted that decision once, Iliana."

"Well, I'm sorry to say, you will tonight, and the fact I have to hurt you..."  She trembled, and snuck a hand to catch the little wet trail running down her cheek.  She hoped the darkness would have obscured the debility, but knew Shadow's eyes captured everything.  "You know, as much as this hurts to do, I almost feel a sense of relief.  That it's over, that you'll stop lying to yourself, that you'll quit tearing yourself in two."

"So you harm me only to help me." he deduced, his voice cracking.  "How foolish, and yet how very fitting."

"I want you to be happy.  With her."

The parallel was uncanny, if not maliciously cruel, and the amethyst creature nearly threw up his last meal.  The back of his throat tasted of bile, and he swallowed, subsequently losing the power of his voice to keep from spilling regurgitated food across the woman he was trying to convince.  "If you only knew what happened..."  It trailed off, and he paused.  "Delilah she..."  He paused again, near desperate to form any words, any defense that would keep her from walking out on his life, their life.  "What if I am more contented with you?"

Iliana shook her head.  "God, you really are clingy, aren't you?"

Against ivory skin, sapphire glowed hot.  "I am not clingy," he disputed, "I am merely trying to get through your thick head..."

"Shadow!" she yelled and put a stop to his voice.  He froze, and so deeply in her eyes there lay a plea in foreboding emerald.  "Shadow.  Let me do this without you making it worse.  This already hurts enough."

"I will not be so quickly torn from your life like a bandage just for the reason you think I am in love with another!"

"But you are, Shadow," she reach up and ran a finger along the tall brow spurs tapering to a sharp point, a reassuring, and more importantly, convincing touch, "and I know you don't realize it, but I see it with every sideways glance, every twitch that runs through your tail, and every time you two are in the same room with each other."  Her breath shuddered.  "I just can't compete with that."

She could not be right, he reflected, he was a creature of honor, and he would never disgrace her by being unfaithful even by random thoughts, surfacing without warning.  "I admit, there are feelings."

"No, there's fire." she said conclusively.  "And a past, and now blood of a child that binds you two together.  I'm not mad because you decided to be the donor, in fact, it only proves just how honorable you really are.  But I feel like an intruder into a budding family, even though we have great sex."

His eyes creased, nearly disappearing under the heavy brow.  Only with the fire's illuminative touch against deep russet brown, did they appear as thin, injured slits.  "You were never an intruder.  Never."

"Ever since I laid my eyes on you, I've wanted you.  And when I finally got you," she closed her eyes, and lowered herself, "it was a victory all too bittersweet."

He watched as she tumbled from the couch, her posture identifiably slouched, and grabbed her jacket.  The worn leather slipped easily over her lean build, the rookie detective taking comfort in the bruised leather, dulled of the sheen she apparently did nothing to save.  She angled past the couch, and beyond Shadow's reach.  "Iliana..."

Without looking, without being entranced by those eyes, she answered from over her shoulder as she made the journey towards the doors.  "It's over...it has to be..."  Her stride was quick, to escape before the familiar rustle of leather and wing, and she made it all the way into the corridor until caught.

Molten dusk ripped through the library, swift, silent as if hunting, and Iliana would never hear his approach.  Not even the clink of weaponry, or talon against stone, just the wind.

A black hand grabbed her shoulder, Shadow careful in his strength to hold, securely, but not to harm.  The sheer power stopped her instantly.  "Iliana, please..." the whisper slinked beneath the strands onto her neck.  "Don't do this."

She could feel him pressed up against her, his stomach rolling with every breath, his heartbeat nearly exploding from his flesh.  His hands held urgently, and for a second, just a second, she weakened, but held firm.

"I need you."

"No you don't, at least not as a lover, and that's why I'm not going to pretend you do."  She turned, and met the brands, the swerves that fashioned the delicate script deliberate, strong, and graceful.  Between the black pectoral folds, she tended a kiss.  She stung his flesh with hot tears, lingered a moment in the warmth, then took her leave gracefully.  She would stand tall, and only then, somewhere out of sight, would she crumple, and bawl.  "See you around, ninjabutt."

He watched by the doors until she slipped out of sight.  "Goodbye."  Doubly stunned, his life drastically changed in less than an hour, something boiled.

The corridor exploded on both ends, a scream made from anger shaking the cobbles in their puzzle-like pattern, releasing dust from between the lines from the power blown form his lungs.  Fire raged, channeled into a raw grind of muscle as he swung around and drove his fist through the sturdy stone wall.  A cloud of powder erupted from the hole, and several stones fell out as he slowly withdrew his fist, still clenched, still shaking.

He rested, forehead against the cool granite, and dry heaving.  "I believe I am going to vomit..."

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

The exterior door thrust open, nearly thrown from heavy, iron hinges.

He staggered out almost blindly, and as the sharp April winds swept against him, he suddenly realized he had wandered all the way outside.  In a daze, Shadow had traveled half the length of the castle, walking unsighted and completely oblivious.  Whether it was it a comrade he had nearly sent into a wall without noticing, or one expensive decoration of many adorning the corridors now laying in scattered pieces, he did not know.

He was numbed to perception, and only the cool gusts that raised the pores on thick skin could snap him back into focus.  A leather-bound palm scraped across his brow and eyes, in hopes to rouse him lest he fall over the edge of a castle battlement in such a stupor.  "Women..." he groused, still partly in shock from a cruel turn of events in an everlastingly ruinous personal life.  "Women!"  It boiled in the pit of his stomach, and crept along the insides of his lungs, fire against his esophagus, molten fury along his tongue, and erupted, "WOMEN!!!"

Hearing the remnants of his panther scream splinter and fade into the atmosphere, he tromped onwards with a heavy stride, closing the door behind.

The stars kissed along his skin with milky sapphire white, flint become mottled yellow as he walked well into the open.  His eyes wandered, slowly across the crenellation, the dark, medieval edge separating stone from boundless plum sky, until they settled on an ambiguous shape on the upper level of the courtyard by Goliath's tower, facing into the moon-streaked Atlantic.  A human shape.

Shadow groaned when discerning the identity.  "Hawkins."

Underneath his breath he grumbled, conceivably an obscenity, mumbled in Japanese and lost to the animalistic tremor plucking across his vocal cords.  For he had wanted to brood here, the view from this angle thought unsurpassed by the clan, just underneath Goliath's tower facing southerly where ocean met land and near to where the ascending sun warmed them both, but another had beaten him.

His legs dangling over the side, Todd sat on the finial slate, lost in his thoughts and the Manhattan light reflecting against his eyes.

He resisted at first, thinking how perilous to his temper to compound the pain of loss with, reliably, the trigger to his temper and the human's abrasive sense of humor, and of course, the fact he sometimes could not readily stand him.  Despondency won out, the lack of energy or desire to find another rampart guiding him.

The ground nearly shook even with purposely placed footfalls, a tremor of such weight against the stones they could not help but to shift even in their tight-fitting pattern.  A rustle, of leather and the chink of gold chains from his weapon holsters, a sweep of darkness almost alive, and Shadow had come to rest alongside the human.  "Mr. Hawkins."

"Shadow." greeted Todd sedately, the city seemingly so appealing he never veered even slightly his gaze.  "I take it that was you screaming?"

"Yes."

"Thought so."  He blew a breath into the fresh air, and decided not yet to pry.  "Nice service."

The gargoyle slowly nodded his head.  "It honored her.  I can only hope I am awarded so well."

"I liked her, and she didn't even have a name."

"A better place sustains her spirit now."  The young man beside him still did not turn from what enthralled him, and though he may regret it, he just had to know.  "What are you so interested in?"

"You know," he mused, soberly, but in his particular idiom; the tones of the ever sanguine, "I've always wanted to hock a loogie off this place, but I'm afraid I'd kill someone."

Shadow peered down.  Through the gossamer skin of collected cloud and fog adhering to the building's exterior, eyes of an evening-bred creature reached considerably more than two thousand feet to see the boulevard where the entrance and grand foyer of Xanatos Enterprises opened onto, reduced by the darkness and height to a streak of yellow and blurred red.  "Perhaps." he muttered.  "Though I myself would not enjoy dying from one of your wildly-aimed spittle droppings."

Depressing, demeaning, and as always dismissive, it seemed the ninja's usual tone when responding to this specific human out of all he knew contained something more.  And Todd would not have noticed anything out of the usual if not the noticeably darker undertones.  He was more sullen than normal, his face shadowed and near impossible to read.  "If we just didn't have a funeral for a friend, I'd swear you were moping.  What the hell is wrong with you?  For a guy who has two of the hottest chicks I know chasing after him, you're pretty damned morose."

His wings shuddered, in tune with the churn of his emotions.  "It seems," he sighed, resentfully, bitterly, "not any longer."

Todd widened his eyes.  "She dumped you?"

He had not meant to blurt that fact out so blatantly, but misery loved company, and men sympathy.  "They..." he hesitated, "both did."

Laughter disrupted the maritime gales scented by ash and damp by the sea, exploding, and extending as it skipped across the skeletal haze gathered near where the Eyrie joined to Wyvern.  Unbelievably he was laughing, cackling, even with his own share of pain.  And he knew his reaction would presumably risk his health, his body and his very life, but the twist of fate was far too delicious.  In between the gulps of breath, he managed, "They...both dumped you?!"

A dirty look from Shadow, a curled lip, teeth gnashed, a knotted brow and jewel-toned eyes aflame by indigo and city saffron, served to shut him up.  "You would make both a rather large puddle on the street below, Hawkins," the shinobi seethed, the nearer fist clenching and cracking each knuckle in eerie succession, "and a very large impact crater."

Using the palm of his hand to try and suppress the snickering still winnowing through the fingers, Todd shook his head, unbelieving.  "Oh man...good thing I married the first gargoyle I met." he muttered teasingly, now thankful for the angel having fallen from the sky.  "Well, that's what you get when you try to spread yourself too thin."

"What about Demona?"

The giggling ceased.

And Todd snapped around with a pointed finger, edging dangerously close to Shadow's face, his most potent weapon to counter the sticks and knifes hidden and sheathed in holsters strapped to the larger being's frame.  "Cheap shot, man."  His brows snarled over ice gray eyes, and the young human seemed unconcerned that the creature crouched next to him would fit any description of a very large, very dangerous, short-tempered killing machine.  "She's my friend and nothing more!"

Shadow could hear the uncertainty almost dripping from Todd's outspoken denial.  And though adamant, he knew somewhere deep in the human's heart, there was love for another besides his wife.  "Every time you lay eyes upon her, I can hear the rush of testosterone flowing through arteries choked by phosphoric acid and fast-food grease."

Derisively, Todd did not really argue the accusation, obvious by the shrug passing through his shoulders.  "Well, that's true with every woman.  And Demona isn't fair, she wears less than a lingerie model and exudes sex from her pores."  He rubbed his hand around his throat, the bruises suffered from Demona's own hands still there, faint, but there and still painful to the touch.  "She's my friend and nothing more...considering she tried to kill me yesterday..."  The recollection resurfaced, as he traced the slowly disappearing mark of feminine fingers having wanted his death and come so close.  "What the hell happened anyway?"

"You nearly died."  A bare hint of a jackal smile, Shadow had won from this painful night at least a small shred of pleasure.  "And unfortunately I missed it."

"I meant with you, jackass."

Back to him, it seemed the conversation would turn, and he found the subject painful.  "I do not wish to discuss it!  Especially with you."

"Yes, you do." he countered.  "Like women in the bathroom, men too have the inescapable need to find sympathy with their buddies, usually in the dankest, seediest bar in town.  And you'd better before you use that anger on someone who doesn't deserve it.  Like me for instance."

His shoulders slanted from one to the other, and he peered by the side of the razor spur erupting from his upper arm.  "No."

"Come on."

"No."

"I'll play the sensitive card.  We can hug, share our feelings..."

Why, why and why, were the foremost thoughts rampant through his head, why would he want to reveal to this aggravating human above all else.  "You truly want to know, Mr. Hawkins?!" he grunted.  His hands were trembling from what flamed through his arteries, and he knew it best to release it soon, and what better a target.  "It seems they each wanted to 'set me free', as it were, so I could be happy with the other woman!  Are you satisfied now?!"

Todd's mouth dropped, ovaled, and hung loose.

"Yes, perhaps you'd like to do a little dance and celebrate my misery!"

"Wow," Todd said, amazed, "talk about your all-time backfires.  That's actually kind of pathetic, man."  His eyes thinned.  "You're not going to cry, are you?  I don't think I could take that."

And Shadow responded, though as pained as it was to agree with the human sitting next to him, by a rush of breath, "I would not give you such ammunition."

The conversation soon lulled, a not so amiable hush falling between them, where in place would fall the city commotion rising so high to even touch upon the palace amongst the clouds.  Breath from two, noise from one and a half million more, it turned to static more like ocean waves caressing the sides of Wyvern.

Then, as assuredly as he would take air, Todd urged further, toying with something volatile, "So, what are you going to do?"  His face was one of expectancy, prompting with a raised eyebrow, and waiting for an answer.  "Try to win them back?"

His sarcasm was not appreciated.  "In less than twenty minutes, they both cut me from their lives.  There is nothing to win back."

"What about Delilah?  Maybe Iliana saw something you didn't, and gave you an opening."

A peculiar if not descriptively weird expression rippled across dark features.  And Shadow again cringed at the subject.  "That..." he started, stumbling over the words that could entirely express the war within him, "is a very delicate area."

"She's having your baby."  He paused, and rethought the statement.  "Kind of..."

The boy presumed much.  "As I have repeatedly reminded this clan," he looked contemptibly over his spurred shoulder, "I merely donated my sperm...!"

"Ugh."  Todd grimaced, at the depiction, certainly unintended, that an artist's prolific imagination would construct.  "Please," he swallowed, feigning nausea, "I could do without a mental picture of any fluids you expunge."

Exasperation fueled the growl of breath.  "As I was saying before your idiocy so disrespectfully interrupted," he growled, "I simply allowed her the chance to have her own child.  It is mine in only the most basic sense and technical of terms."

Todd nodded in agreement.  "Yeah, it's a hell of a lot easier to marry Mr. right palm and consummate the marriage in a little paper cup."

Sapphire flashed angrily into the night, and from the corner of his glowing eyes he caught Todd smothering unsuccessfully the leer.  So many ways to kill the human flashed through his mind.  Until, menacingly, and far less treacherous to his place in the clan lest he follow a baser instinct and push him from the parapet, he counseled, "You are pushing, Hawkins."

"Do you still love her?"

He had continued prodding, but served to throw off the larger creature and any angered, physical response by catching him in the proverbial headlights.  A question asked with a difficult answer, Shadow balked, blinked, and lost what response he could gather into a cough, then, lingered.  "Delilah?"  Her name spoken at last sent a hot stab through his chest, the word associated with so full a palate of sensual memory almost overwhelming.  "I will always love her." he confessed.  "No matter how hard I try not to.  But she seemed adamant in pushing me away.  She kept telling me to let her go."

"And Iliana?"

Another pause, another impasse aching bone-deep, the shinobi stalling.  Enough of his privacy had been spilled already.

Todd expectantly raised his eyebrows and readied his stance, waiting, either for the answer, or an angered swipe against his head.

A twinge knifed deep within his chest, twisting, clenching, wounding.  And Shadow now realized just how much it would hurt not having her within the embrace of his arms, the touch, the smell, the tactile sensations her nails would carve along his skin, expertly whittling between the furrows of muscle.  She had a unique skill.  "I loved her." he released.  "I truly loved her...though I don't know if it was how she so desperately wanted."  It was painful to say the least, and he wondered why he was so easily spilling his guts.  "I suppose Iliana was right, she was someone I just felt comfortable with.  But I...need her, I need her..."

Another pause, Shadow's stare become pinpointed and gravely narrow.  "If only as just a friend."

"Friends are just as important as lovers." Todd then proclaimed, in his own way.  "Because only true friends let you complain to them about your lover."  Shadow slowly craned his neck and looked back at him, confused in the fact an almost intelligent statement would come from such a man.  Todd nodded in self-satisfaction, rather impressed with himself.  "Ann Landers."  The stare against him intensified.  "I...fell asleep on a newspaper."

Shadow grunted a fiery shot of breath through his teeth, a streak of eddying mists that caught the breeze.  "Lovers are demanding, relationships are difficult, my life is bedlam, and I believe I am getting nauseous."  His proud head bowed, as did his wings, and he did indeed look tired.  And sick.  "I cannot deal with this..."

Todd shrugged, wincing if but for his friend.  "Single life.  I once thought it would be less of a hassle, then a gargoyle dropped onto my hood." he said, sagely.  "You know, living with two ex-girlfriends is going to be tough, not to mention slightly dangerous."

Beneath the heavy, horned brow, a spark shot into the night.  Of sapphire, impatience and umbrage.  He was becoming irritated with the dissection of his personal life, and the muscle tightly bunched beneath his skin rippled, and flexed, nearly exploding the leather scabbards as they expanded.  "Enough." he growled, endingly.  "Perhaps we should speak of the women in your life."

Immediately, he did not appreciate the sudden shift in conversation, and his brow lowered into place, icy gray melting into fire.  He knew what would come.  "Oh Christ," he griped, "not you too."

"It is common knowledge you are unwilling to see your mother.  Has she even awakened yet?"

Another pause, Todd resisting wordlessly as best he could, until, "Not really."  It popped out.  "She drifts in and out of consciousness, and Pierce is keeping her sedated...until the pain becomes a little more bearable."

"She is in pain, and her son hides away.  How honorable."

He was prodding now, the ninja, returning the favor delivered upon him.  And just like his wife, Todd would push him away with strong, treacherous words.  "And you said I was pushing?  You know, I wish everyone would just back off."

"I do not presume to know the pain you obviously feel about her keeping such a secret from you, nor will I preach full acceptance..."

"Exactly!  You don't know the pain I feel, and you won't preach any After-School Special shit to me because you don't know and I probably won't listen anyway!"

Shadow made an odd noise from his throat.  He had never heard such anguish from him, Todd having built himself the reputation as the joker, the man who drifted through a life of relative ease with a damnable smile.  The facade was breaking.  "You have a rare chance," he said calmly, surprisingly, "to grasp a piece of your life you once thought lost forever."

"The very large piece she herself took away."

He knew pain, this warrior, he knew the look and taste and feel, and he could detect it very clearly on Todd's infuriated response.  This boy was angry.  "I suspect, for a reason." he consented.  "Do you appreciate, Mr. Hawkins, you are one of a small few of this clan that still has his mother?"

The consideration was, in its entirety, a painful realization of his grief versus his mother's, his mother's own past he knew nothing about, and obtrusively lancing through his mind.  Guilt, and the memories of his caretaker kept him silent for a moment, the machinations of thought stirring in his mind.  But stubborn, he played true to life and the self-destructive human posture, "Your point?"

"At the very least, give her a chance to explain."

"Give me one good fucking reason why I should."

A massive, clawed hand grabbed his shirt collar, and Todd, for the first time, feared falling from the cornices as Shadow yanked him from the safety of his perch and pulled him close.  "She is your mother, you spoiled, petulant brat!" he blew hot wind past Todd's wide-eyed face, the human's hands clenched to Shadow's forearm.  The anger seething threatened to burst and narrow upon this singular human, who would surely not survive the unleashed fury of a proud man discarded.  "And that, is reason enough!!  You whine of family and little trivial things most of us would kill for!!  I have just been practically thrown away by the two women I love dearly, and you are blessed enough to be married and find your mother, so quit your whimpering and deal with it!!"

He could feel no ground beneath him, and Todd screamed, "Jesus, man...!!"

The weight of realization hit him, Todd hanging off the castle edge with only his own strength holding the human from certain, painful, ghastly death, and Shadow relented.  He threw him back, Todd clambering to the undersized merlon and his roost, beneath him the sheer drop of over two thousand feet an incentive to cling for dear life.

Breathing heavily, and fixing the stretched collar of his shirt, he waited out his body's need for air before biting back.  His hands fell back to his sides.  "Jerk..."

"Idiot." he snarled back, the gargoyles eyes suddenly dropping.

Another pause, five minutes long, then ten, gargoyle and man each trading glances and inaudible abuse.

But Shadow noticed something, odd.  One look, then a second to make sure, centering on Todd's hand stroking across his thigh.  The recognition drew a groan from his throat. "Mr. Hawkins," he warned, "you do realize...you are petting a rubber penis."

"What?"  Todd turned around to his right hand, having absentmindedly lay across the small creature cuddling to his denim-covered thigh.  Shock raced across his features, alarm, to find the phallic-shaped leftover from an unplanned bachelorette party rubbing against him.  "WHAT THE FUCK?!!!"

Once content to be petted and fulfill its simple programming for the warm, craving touch of human, the pleasure accessory perked up, and found Todd's features transform quickly from surprise to anger to a predatory snarl.

"C'mere!!"  Todd frantically tried to grab at it, and without much success.

It squirmed rabidly and slipped from his hands, the satiny latex coating meant for easier fulfillment now a deterrent to Todd getting a firm grasp.  Like a seditious bar of soap, it popped out from his fists and hit the stones running as fast as its dragging testicles would allow.  The young man, become a hunter of a bizarre prey, fell from the finial and smothered to the ground below hoping to catch it before it had the chance to flee.  "Umph...damn...c'mere...!"  But the advanced technology from the Cyber-Biotics labs had bestowed upon the dildo a speed like a cheetah, and a feral nature to match.  It tore off.

"I'll get you, you little pecker!!" he yelled after the retreating phallus, standing up only to see it disappear deep into the shadows trailed by a banner of dust through the construction.  "I'll get you!!"

Even suffered a grand defeat by the hand of two women, the ninja incredibly managed a light chuckle, escaping from his lips.  "I am impressed." he chortled, looking from across his broad shoulder, and peering darkly into the far corner where the small, latex beast had effectively vanished.  "It survived."

"Yeah," Todd muttered, holding a clenched fist, a silent warning lest the phallus reappear, "we would have done a hell of a lot better during the attack with the incredible bionic dildo protecting the castle."  He swept the flecks of dust and debris from his clothing and started wandering off.

"Where are you going?" Shadow asked.

"Out."

"And where is out?"

"A friend's." he made plain.  "If there's anything that won't change on me, its her."

"Change is part of life." Shadow reaffirmed.  "Evolution.  You must accept it."  The unintended irony of his statement was more a tangible blow, and he fell his head, almost laughing to himself.  "We must accept it..."

From the back of his riotously styled hair, Todd countered, "Fuck off, mom."

He would kill him.  Shadow, on any other day would not have allowed him to insult so brazenly or prod so excruciatingly into his carefully guarded privacy.  If not for his own misery that would undoubtedly take all the fun from wringing the life from the human's frail, pink little shell, Shadow, against his nature, allowed Todd to walk away without incident or further argument.  Pain made them bedfellows.

He would kill him later.

And so he was left alone to further brood crouched upon the embrasure.  He rubbed his hands across a despondent mug, and blinked back the creep of tears.  "Women..."  With little recourse from what fate had befallen him, Shadow did what all men in his position would do, and sulked.

Then vomited.

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

"He's coming..."

Back and forth, she paced, and bounced from the walls enclosing her within a pen made of steel.  Something was stirring her into a frenzy, the gargoyle dressed in tattered rags once a hospital gown and clawing at the sterling bulwarks that would not shred by touch as easily as the delusions still haunting her.  Her madness was taking hold.

Something was invading her mind, and permeating all of her senses both natural and supernatural.  It itched beneath her skin, and in her dementia she nearly tore from her bones the intrusive, cerulean covering that denied her an elusive comfort.  It would drive her insane if she were not already there.

Demona paced, back and forth.

"Through the layers of infinity..."  In the confusion of hallucinates and images flickering in and out of her stricken vision, the jumbled clutter of voices each peeling back the layers of her mind, something else became a stronger, singular portent that screamed inside of her skull.  She felt her head close to bursting from her shoulders, and every so often the impulse to tear it from her neck would be hard to ignore.  "He's coming."

Enfolded within her mate's embrace, his thick arms staunch and near to crushing her, Desdemona gazed absorbedly, her view reduced to a reinforced portal to gaze at her sister and once beloved confidant, now raving.  Seemingly in pain, and she, the watcher, unable to effect any help.  "You should have been there, sister," a tear traced the ridge of high cheekbone, and slipped from the grasp of her talon; she tasted saline, "to mourn her.  She admired you, and your strength."

Demona reacted to the voice filtered through the intercom with a slight pause in her unbroken stride and a nose raised high to try the air.  But the deluge of whispers, taunts and cries of the dead and figments, obliterated her sister's reach.  She continued pacing.

"She is truly mad." rumbled her mate, a dark, punitive gaze holding pity for a brethren he had both fought alongside with and engaged as an enemy, lethal and out for his blood.  And the contradiction between each aspect played within him a similar, destructive war to either condemn or commiserate.  He followed her every erratic movement, eyes intent to observe this creature become more a wretch than an elegant sorceress who practiced finesse as well and formidably as her magicks.  Such a waste, his lips almost formed the whisper.  "Why are we here, beloved?  And why do you squander your words on her?" said Othello, his throaty deprecation vibrating through the strands of bound gold, where suffused his warm breath between each gilded filament.  Her nape, caramel soft and colored, and sloping into lean shoulders holding her distinctively split wings, would goosebump at its hypersensitive touch.  "She is far too gone."

"Perhaps...she can hear me..." she challenged her mate's troubling affinity for pessimism, melodiously, and quietly as her throat was raw.  "And I will not abandon her as I once did when she was in pain.  I will not lose another sister."

Othello consented by the nod of his head against her mane, immersed in the spoor of woodland pine, ozone and stardust, and stood his watch by her side.

"He is coming." Demona growled into the hollows of her hands.  "Riding the threads between worlds...centuries mad and vengeful...my once lover, and now my judge..."

Desdemona gathered her brows.  "Her demeanor has changed in the last day." she remarked, the sudden alteration of Demona's behavior patent to say the least.  "She seems assiduously centered on whatever she deems is..."

"Coming?" Othello finished.  "I have noticed."  Any hint of humor was discernible in his brogue, as unaccustomed as it was for him to banter or joke and as a result, the unexercised talent stood out against the burly, accentuated tenor.

"You all know!!" her scream to an audience created from the depths of her ancient consciousness echoed sharply into the cell, the gargoyle matron staggering on rickety feet, and clasping to the sides of her head.  Something was taking its toll, an adversary of energy crackling with neural electricity across the surface of her tortured cerebrum.  Her arteries just beneath her skin bulged, and pulsated in tune with her heart.  "You all know he is coming to find me!!"  Her talons laced through emaciated locks of hair once fire now a dulled ember, and edged along the crown of tapered spurs holding the approach of red from blue.  "I can feel him, he's inside of me..."  She seemed to struggle, a mental war affecting a physical injury.  "...he's coming..."

It came, from the base of her throat, a shriek, a petrifying wail that trembled against the heavy steel of the cell door.  Demona screamed bloody murder, and ran the length of her contorted features with her talons, drawing lines of blood through the sea of shadowed indigo.

Othello consequently grimaced, loosening his hold to his adored.  "By the dragon..."  Demona's talons were dripping with her blood, and her face, it became a sluice of viscous fluid, a mask of crimson that stole a tapered countenance and left only her eyes.  "She needs to be sedated, before she tears from her skull her own face."

"Who, my sister?" Desdemona demanded, before her sibling would disfigure herself by lunacy.  As Othello prepared another pressurized syringe, she stepped up to the cell window with each hand on either side of the steel cold against her skin, and pled with a husky tone.  "Who is coming?!"

"He is..."  A well-aimed fist rattled the cage.  Demona pounded her clenched and bloodied hand to the portal, scaring her sister back into Othello's arms and leaving a disfigured imprint of blood to smear across the reinforced plexiglass.  Maliciously grinning, and seeming to peer between her invasive hallucinations directly at the couple, Demona reiterated, chillingly, "My destroyer."

Awash in her own blood, licking it from her lips and talontips, her laughter would reverberate, and swell, and send a chill down each their spines.

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

The chair was big.

Comfortable when losing oneself in a veritable sea of tanned, treated, Corinthian rawhide, but big nonetheless.

The cushioned, sectioned-leather concave that cradled him was designed and hollowed for a being twice his stature and width, and the irony of a smaller-sized man trying to fit in a much larger chair was a tender parallel not lost to Brooklyn and his wry sense of humor.  He felt as if a child lost in his imagination, and pretending to be something he was not.  If the fact of trying to succeed against Goliath's imposing presence that practically clung to the walls of his home were not so painful, he just might laugh.

Even completely absent, Goliath had managed to manifest himself everywhere and in everything, and seemed not to let go.  Personal belongings, and memories whispered fondly along the lips of loved ones especially, it was constant.

Brooklyn leaned against the high-backed throne of the preceding leader, and stared blankly at the umbilical of computer screens hanging from the ceiling amidst near total darkness, enveloped by the hum and drone of technology, the literal heart of Wyvern's systems the computer room where the now missing leader would often work in seclusion.  Readouts, reports, analytical data, he absorbed everything at his disposal with eager eyes hungrily skimming across the lines of text.  Xanatos, Mother, the Guild, the castle, the city in despair, he wanted every aspect, every curve and hollow and fragment, every little scrap of information.  He would not look foolish or uninformed in front of them.

A small chime warranted his attention, and before the sudden recollection would force a reaction, the entrance behind him slid open.

He had forgotten to lock the door.

Light intruded, near painfully to eyes at ease in the darkness.  Illumination shot through the room, in broken shafts bursting from around the protection of the chair, as did a sweet, lingering musk.  Silk and sword polish, and florae too, she was a menagerie of scent and a welcome intrusion if he did not fear another scolding.  But at least it would be in private, away from the others, where, unless he had accidentally opened the castle intercom system, he could no longer lose face in front of his clan.  He sunk deeper into the chair.

A silhouette stood guard at the doorsill, respecting Brooklyn's need for privacy, but still daring to intrude into his thoughts and toil.  "Your speech was...inspiring."

"I could do no less." he answered.  "And I wouldn't for any other of this clan."

The shadow bristled, the whistle of silk massaging against the folds.  "You disappeared quickly from the courtyard."

"So did everyone else."

"There seems to be a frightening tendency growing more prevalent among this clan, for when in pain, all run and hide in seclusion in the farthest corners of this castle."

"Big castle, plenty of places to get lost."

The samurai crept inside, allowing the door to slide along its track and back into place.  With a hiss, light had perished and darkness once again reigned.  "And feel sorry for themselves," Sata nodded as she answered, "yes.  We should be gathered still, celebrating your kin, but even the leader is alone, and sulking."

He was not a child, damn her.  He was not one of their twins that broke a rule of curfew.  "Here to tell me off again, Sata?"

Her eyes would narrow in the darkness, her husband bullying, and using that frontage as a perfect shield.  "No.  I have simply come to see how you are."

Brooklyn calmed with his mate's ever serene voice, that seemed to curl around the leather garrison separating them and across his white-stroked nape.  But with her, their relationship, it was a constant struggle for dominancy by wit, discipline or cynicism, and he kept his guard.  "I'm fine." he whispered, a lie, told with some skill but far too deliberate in the attempt, which only served to further expound the truth.

"No, you are not."

"I yelled at them, aisai!" he then burst.  "My clan, my best friends, my family, and I treated them as either children or rivals to my leadership."

Sata neared the high back of the centered throne in an abyss of technology that, to the time-displaced samurai, swallowed her and still made her uneasy, no matter how long she had spent among machines hundreds of years beyond twenty-first century humanity's best.  Creatures of indeterminate shape hanging from the ceiling, crawling across the walls, and awaiting prey within the dark.  Her katana felt heavy, her instincts tingling; the feeling of being watched was predominant to a swordswoman often living by the handle of her blade.  "Perhaps," her voice glided as did her hands across the cool, glossed leather, "but they need that discipline, that authority you wield so well.  They need your voice to guide them through this."  Her wings rustled, the sound loud and conspicuous in the near silence of the sealed chamber, and disproving the suspicion of not a gargoyle but an apparition.  She was indeed flesh, and hot, quarrelsome blood.  "I would not follow a leader whose voice was frail or convictions weak."

His beak crooked left, slightly.  Did she insinuate, the subtle prodding, did she blame, the subtle tone.  "Do you think my convictions weak?"

"Only your position." came that disembodied voice from behind the chair.  "It seems...precarious for the stature of a leader."

"If I pull the reigns any tighter, I might face a mutiny myself."

She shook her head, smiling, the flitter of an ephemeral chuckle lost into the chamber, a ghostly sound among the ghostly beasts of steel and silicon.  "No, no one left has the self-assurance and sheer gall to try and grasp leadership for themselves." she replied.  "For the most part, only you and Goliath had differing opinions that brewed a war for control without even your noticing, and your ego would not allow a submission."

"Goliath had an ego almost as big as mine." Brooklyn jumped to defend himself.

"Kept well in check." she cut back.  "You wear your ego like a cape, or a peacock its plumage."

His defense was met, and felled.  Skidding along his tongue and deflecting from his teeth, the growl passed through several octaves before released through his mouth.  As always, she was right, but at least not always he argued within his thoughts, to salve his ego.  She could see what he often refused to.  "I didn't take from Goliath his position because of jealousy, or pride, or a superiority complex,"  "I acted in the best interests of my clan."

"Like Goliath did, in every decision he made."  "Like I said, you are more like him than you'll ever know, and would do well to heed his prudence in a world becoming increasingly dangerous to our kind."

"You think I'm a giant hypocrite."

"I do not think that."

"You think I'm switching my campaign only to make myself look good in the clan's eyes."

"I do not think that." she echoed, more forcefully.  "But perhaps you do.  And that is the problem."

Brooklyn wheezed, as if releasing all the pent-up emotional infirmity, and rubbed his hands over old, tired, wizened eyes, from age or staring too long at the computers screens in near darkness.  They indeed hurt.  "I didn't want to become leader this way."

"I know."  She appeared to his right, her movement feline and grace, a dancer with each minimal stride, and a hand trailing a single talon that drew a line from chair back to arm to his thigh.  Sata cast a long leg over his lap and climbed into the large chair with her mate, straddling his stomach and facing him.  Facing him with night eyes flecked by the starry reflection of the computer monitors surrounding them.  "I know." she nodded, grasping with strong, chilled, feminine hands to just underneath his jaw.

The swell of her torso bulging out to his face and only held in check by two layers of thin silk and flexible cloth, straining it seemed, he stared to the breastbone between the foldover neckline plummeting into a shadowed cleft.  His breath stuttered, his mouth dry.  Then, by sheer force alone, up the lines of a slender neck, lips so contrastingly red against jade, and eyes that read his soul.  "Damnit," he spit, quietly, "I hate it when you're right..."

Her eyes twinkled disbelief.  Her ears must have betrayed her.  "I'm sorry?"

She was playing with him, and enjoying it far too much.  "I said...you were absolutely right.  And so was Goliath."  The admission hurt, deeply, Brooklyn so proud and stalwart to any professions of fallacy, the young spirit within the twenty-year-older husk sitting huffily in a corner.  His brow lowered, nearly hiding his eyes from Sata's continuous stare, and he thought her a frustration with the ability not to blink.  "He knew the inevitable," he continued, "he knew exactly what would happen, and my little bid for power was absolutely meaningless.  It only served to drive a wedge between the clan and divide us when we needed to be whole."

He understood, at last.

Sata restrained from what threatened to creep upon her features; gratification, but not conceit, and recompensed the stubborn man with her lips curling upwards and nibbling against his beak.  "You care too much, too passionately, but that does not mean you were wrong."  His head would move away, and she clenched her talons into his face, not to pierce skin but to hold his attention by swinging it back to meet her glare.  "Now, you are exactly in Goliath's position, and must do exactly what he would have.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself, change your stubborn attitude, lead with confidence, and protect this clan."

"You..." it trailed off, the purpose behind any words completely evaporating.  "You would do well as my second."

Dangerous territory, and Sata started shaking her head.  "No I would not, and you know that."  She could only imagine the damage between them if thrust into that position, the battle waged for manipulation of the strings.  "I must keep myself distant in this aspect.  Marriage and profession habitually do not mix well.  It breeds...disruption."  With the tiny circles she stroked with her thumbs into the mastoid muscle beneath his ears, tensed, knotted, almost near to snapping in two, she drew a particular power over him, and made him susceptible and non-argumentative to her words.  "You know exactly who would serve you best as second in command."

He knew, without the gentle nudge of voice, look or coercion by massage or precisely exposed body part, exactly whom she was speaking about.  And it drew an indignant sigh.  "Even if he doesn't want the job?"

"He'll want it." the samurai confirmed.  "Just be your usual," she neared, "demanding," she pecked, "devious self."  She full-fledged kissed him, hard, and impassioned and suckling any remaining quarrel from the leader.

Brooklyn seized, and grunted in pain.  "Your scabbard," he whimpered, "is digging into my groin.  Do you have to carry that thing everywhere you go?"

"Hush."  Sata readjusted, but just as she lowered, the room illumined, suddenly, from one to two to a million tiny little flurries of loose, swirling energy somehow amassed in a vaporous cloud suspended above the floor.  As Brooklyn and Sata broke their kiss, they watched as the snowflake voxels drew together under the holographic projector to instantaneously form a familiar contour.  From shards of computer-driven photons came lavender and lily and dark, raven hair streaked with silver-gray.

Mother had intruded.  And a bemused expression matched with what she had observed.  "My apologies," the sentient infringed, with a smirk and raised brow, "am I interrupting?"

"We're really going to have to work on your etiquette." Brooklyn muttered, annoyed, as Sata awkwardly pulled the loose strands of hair from her brow and straightened, presenting herself as best she could reclining on her mate.  "What do you want, Mother?"

"I believe we are going to have a visitor."

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

This hallway, this poorly lit hallway thirsting for a fresh coat of paint was home to him, no matter how much he wanted to associate the endless, stony corridors of Wyvern with that singular, sometimes painful word.  From the lights and the art deco trim, it was consoling like an old friend welcoming him back.

Todd emerged from the single elevator and onto the tenth and highest floor of his old apartment complex somewhere in the midst of lower Manhattan, a short drive from the Eyrie and several blocks outside the devastation of the Hole.  Each step was a remembrance, the exuberance of freedom for a seventeen year old finally on his own still fresh with each muffled creak of the floorboards beneath the new carpeting.  He had come here searching for a woman who had shared his life long before any other besides his mother, and he knew, he knew for certain she would always be there.

At least she would never change.

Passing several doors of neighbors he had known since he moved in years ago, he smiled.  Just after the elevator and stairs lived Gus and Marty, a middle-aged gay couple that often argued loudly, and reconciled even louder.  The memory vibrantly fresh by way of thin walls produced an involuntary shudder, Todd chuckling despite the nights spent hidden underneath the soundproof shelter of his pillows.

The sexy single mother with a penchant for flirting, the Vietnam veteran, with the always-entertaining party trick of his removable legs, and the fitness instructor just across the hall.  Though male, he always had plenty of ice.

They had become a community if not a justification for suburban living, and despite the eccentricities of his neighbors, he loved it, he absolutely cherished it.  He had soaked in what Manhattan on his own dollar had to offer, and never would he have given up such a bachelor life if not for a woman falling from the sky, and crushing the hood of his Jeep.

A shower of tempered glass and a subsequent firefight and his life had changed, for the better, yes, and every so often, for worse.  Not that he would tell Annika that.

Coming to the end of the corridor, he reached the door once his own, hesitated for some apparent reason, then rapped softly.

He now knew why he hesitated as he remained for an answer.  To knock on his own door was surreal, to wait for the new occupants to answer as he stood outside more like a stranger disturbed him more than he was ever willing to admit.  He noticed too, the door had been painted, repaired and smoothed from the once rough, and stained surface.  Another change he did not like.  "That stain was a memory." he muttered under his breath, staring at the impeccably blemish-free, ivory surface.

The security chain unlatched, and the knob slowly turned without the customary squeak used mostly as his best security device, now oiled no doubt, and the door swung open to reveal his ex-girlfriend.  They stared at each other for a split second, until she greeted the visitor with a wide smile, Kendra's full gaze as always enthralling.  Blue eyed blonds, a fetish imaginably, but a weakness to say the least.

"Todd..." she breathed, almost a gasp, as if a surprise.

He persuaded a lopsided grin.  "Hey, Kendra."

The small woman unexpectedly, and hungrily jumped from the threshold, throwing her arms around his neck.  "Umph!"  Kendra though light, the sudden weight clutched to his frame nearly sent Todd off kilter against the corridor's opposite wall.  He dropped her before he choked, and somehow failed to see the imminent joy played across a young face, about to be released.  "I know this is unannounced, but," he started, "I need to talk..."

He would never finish, as Kendra flashed a full, bright, ocean gaze and screamed exultantly, "CRASH AND I ARE GETTING MARRIED!!!"

Silence followed.  Nail-biting silence.

Save for a distant siren somewhere in the city beyond the tall, paned windows of the studio apartment, and a slip of breath from Crash, the young man coming to the door and standing behind his newly announced fiancé, everything fell completely, deathly, terrifyingly still.

Kendra realized the severity of her revelation, and backed slowly into Crash's chest, each with wide eyes watching their friend act more like a lit fuse, the spark dangerously close to setting off.  They wondered, apprehensively, if the man standing there in shock with a dangling jaw would at least wet his eyes with a blink.

Then, he blinked, and they flinched.

He expended a sharp breath drawn painfully from his lungs, and they cringed.

Without even the courtesy of a warning, the bomb had dropped, and his features exploded.  The little vein, running from hairline to temple and even joining to the growing bulge against his neck, pulsed, thrummed, and throbbed, as his stare intensified, his brow deforming angrily, and crushing the little fold of skin above his nose.  As both Crash and Kendra waited out his response, they watched a discernible shiver rise and pass through his arms and hands, until they clenched to arrest the shudder by sheer, indomitable will.

Todd growled, eyes near to glowing if he were a gargoyle, "I'm sorry what?!"

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

Perched vulture-like over the castle cornices, and crouched with wings mantled in an intimidating cloak that spurred every which way with unruly bone spurs, Shadow stared petulantly into the city.  And pouting.  Still queasy, and feeling sorry for himself as any creature of the proud male species, he brooded, which outwardly truly implied no change to his demeanor.

A warrior had been defeated not once but twice on a very personal battlefield, that, he, still the learner of the oddity that was the female genus, slim and lithe and problematical, could not readily master as easily as a sword or longbow.  He had accepted defeat near wordlessly from each a respective mate, and wondered if it was for the best.

He wiped away the vile taste still upon his lips with the back of his hand, and steadied his breathing.

With his thoughts turned so deeply inward, he would almost miss the invasion against his senses of something upon the air, an almost electrical current, so weak as to nearly circumvent detection beyond a highly honed awareness.  It pricked along his skin, and drew faint lines like the delicate caress of fingers down the dark membranes.  He almost thought it a tease of memory, a reminiscence of touch from a lover now despairingly absent.

He smiled in the remembrance, of red hair and white, of little hollows on a lithe, supple form discovered with his talons.  He was purring.

He snorted, suddenly brought back to reality.

Then wrinkled his nose, and slowly turned his head inwards to where the sensation only grew stronger.  Dust was stirring, licking across the courtyard floor, pushed by some invisible energy force.  The ninja stood up, tall, and sniffed the tides of wind, an underlying scent proving a superfluous energy pattern.  Mordant and raw.

His brow lowered over slim, chestnut eyes, and his chest would resonate.

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

"What do you mean a visitor?" Brooklyn responded curtly to Mother's vague statement, the fold of skin between his horns clenching.

The hologram padded softly towards them, the unsettling absence of the telltale talon scrape against the stone floor but a lesser musing to her peculiar expression.  Haughty, and near emotionless.  "I failed to report several fluctuations of the portal last night, being they were insignificant, and soon decreased and settled."

Brooklyn would have jumped from his chair if not for Sata straddling his lap, and looking just as intently at the photonic being as her mate.  "I told you to warn me..."

"If the portal burped, yes, I do recall with great accuracy your rudimentary phrasing.  But I did not think it a threat worth mentioning...until now."  The suspended throng of computer monitors each powered by Mother's command, and each displaying a different angle of the portal by way of the security cameras.

Brooklyn leaned forwards, with Sata readjusting her seat upon his lap to angle and look as well, both seeing the energy portal roaring a breath of fire.  "Jesus..."

"Energy readings have just spiked by five hundred percent." Mother reported coldly, her supercilious gaze turning slowly towards the newly appointed leader.  "There is an underlying pulse through the audible static of the energy released, a rhythm that is identifiable with an organic heartbeat.  I believe something has been trying to breach our universe by way of the portal, and has succeeded."

"I'm sorry what?"

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

She lay sedated, curled into the scalloped scrunch of her wings.

In her cell, in the cavity of orchid leather, Demona cackled, a chilled, muffled crow.  The agony in her head was throbbing, and the gargoyle was bleeding from her ears.  Adrenaline fueled the warren of arteries bulging to the surface, the euphoria of pain, something proved real and all too physical.  Her dead eyes flashed open, wide and wild.  "He's here."

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

She stirred the fountain waters still, watching the picture of a dead woman ripple and break in the lap of waves against the smoothed granite basin.

Angela lounged across the fountain fringe molded into as comfortable a bench seat made from concrete would allow, her wings buckled and draped across both her and the gray-colored slate.  Her eyes hard-edged by Demona's blood, but radiant by Goliath's compassion, they were intent to stare at the reflection all night if need be, as the constellations slowly dragged across the heavens, and evening ripened into day.

She wondered if by chance her own world was out there among the endless strings of alternate timelines, similar to this existence in all aspects but one very important piece, her lover and mate.

Here, he feared her.  Perhaps going so far as to hate her, for daring to take a dead lover's place and intrude a heart damaged of grief, battle, loss and resurrection, she could not tell for certain.

But he had refused to even touch her, that much was sure, for any look into his eyes before he quickly turned away would reveal anguish so brightly illuminated against a tarn of black.  The young lovers would often spend their time in each other's presence, Angela curled to his chest as he skimmed his talons along her skin and guided probing, searching, and playful fingers to every crevice her svelte form would award an explorative nature.  Her bare shoulders and the flare of her thigh and graceful hock, he would not be content until he made contact with all of her from sable tip to graceful toe, his strong hands feeling across her skin leaving trails of shuddering fire.

He would smile that big goofy grin, more like a child when hearing her giggle, then erupt into laughter as he poked at places he knew to be overly sensitive.

Now, he seemed as lifeless as that corpse in the Eyrie morgue she had so often stared upon.  She seemed faint, and ethereal, more a memory wafting through the halls as a weak scent that brought to flicker in the mind an even weaker muse of times long past.  "I am not a ghost..."

The waters licked suddenly at her hand, rousing her with the touch of cold liquid crystal freckled by the reflection of diamond stars.  They were shaking, and lapped against the edges nearly spilling over.  Then as suddenly as they had angered, they calmed, strangely.  Angela lifted herself quickly, having felt the tremble through the entire fountain structure.

The ground shuddered once more, growing in intensity.  Using her wings to detect the distortions rippling through the air, she guided a wide gape towards the inevitable draw to any eye, the rip in space and time left by a small boy with incomprehensible power.

The portal, an indirect repercussion of Demona's tampering in things she should not, was churning.  It freed fire by intention into the calm night air and against the two Steel Clan guards caught in the wake, standing in the path to foolishly but bravely to fulfill their programming.  The portal erupted outwards, and heaved, a torrent of sapphire flame engulfing them, reducing their gargoyle-like shells to blackened, melted stumps dripping from steel endoskeletons.

Their armor sheared from its rivets, quickly and against any such boasts by their prideful designers, they exploded under the tremendous heat.

Angela stared as if spellbound, slowly ambling forwards through the rain of shrapnel grazing hot against unprotected skin.

The flames were dying, slowly receding back into the portal that seemed to be stabilizing itself on the burden of self-preservation.  But something had remained behind as the azure tendrils ebbed and calmed, and extinguished, content to merely frisk about the edges of the circular rift.  Betwixt the litter of broken automatons, and upon the courtyard floor charred and smoldering, a figure huddled, kneeling within the protective sheath of a thick, leathery substance.

Wings, the young female guessed, as they bobbled to life and slowly unfurled, still breeding wafts of smoke.  How simple flesh could survive such damaging high temperature proved a frivolity lost to her wonder and broad-eyed examination.  Under the guarded scrutiny of depthless sable, the figure took on a familiar shape under the darkness of the shawl-like wings.

"It can't be..." said Angela, for by stature and stance and sheer dimension, it could only be one creature.

Goliath.

Battle-weary, and hardened by way of a glower the gargoyle could never have duplicated even on his worst day, and barren eyes that sunk beneath the clenched brow of bone scarred deeply across the right side.  The ravages of time having at last caught up, he looked as if he had lived long through a war, and lost.

And his wings.

He had wings, majestic, massive, lavender, and the membranes torn along the edge and near black, consuming any light disappearing into the folds.  Dark scars ran the length of his hide, only partially concealed underneath the thin plates of armor equally damaged and held together by buckled leather straps.  His hair, considerably longer and streaked along both temples from root to point by moonlit sterling, was tied in back and reached even against the bindings to brush against his tail.

He looked around, the hurtful pangs of recognition flaring through a resonant gaze.  It seemed as if he had not seen this place for years, and the changes wrought by human hands were perhaps, surprisingly, expected.  This place, this place, where he lost all, it made shudder his wings and curled his lips.  "No matter how many times I see this damnable technology infesting my home," he vexed aloud, voicing thought in a low, grated tone, "it still serves to irritate me."

From the distance, Angela stared upon what appeared the return of her father, miraculous in its ease and timing.  Though underneath the almost modern implements of war, he was nearly identical.  From the distance.  "Father."

The howl of rocket boosters filled the air and turned a calm night into a tempest, as two more Steel Clan guards rushed towards the intruder to the castle cornices.  They tore past her on either side, her mane once bound nearly torn from the straps as it flailed in the turbulent, smoky wake.  She would scream to them orders to stop if her voice would reach.

They met him, with armaments readied, the gargoyle moving into a defensive stature with dark eyes studying the mechanical creatures touching lightly to the stones.  His wings groomed for battle, banking low just above his shoulders as Goliath lowered himself.

But the sentinels were confused, their simple orders to apprehend any that did not fit the security files now a contradiction.  To them, by sight and sound and a near perfect match, he was Goliath, and warranted their uncertainty in his fate.

Their indecision, albeit momentary, would swiftly lead to death.

"You should not have hesitated."  Goliath threw himself easily between them with seven hundred pounds of unleashed fury pushing his hands at each of their heads, brandished talons swiping clean through in a shower of sparks.  Their headless bodies trembled slightly and then toppled, clattering to the ground, still squirming with the residue of power running through the cybernetics.

The intruder had sensed a threat, and thus eliminated that threat efficiently, and observably lethal.  He seemed to revel in the kill by the grin materializing on his lips.  "In any world, these constructs are useless."  The smile grew bigger, a large foot pressing down on a head and completely crushing it, smearing the remains under the thick, hardened cushion.  "But always fun to destroy."  Mercy was apparently lost on this creature.

Angela increased her pace, the promise of sanctuary in her father's arms enough to spur her advance.  "Father!" her joyous cry drew his attention as she neared.  "You've come back!  Where's Elis..."

Blood took the place of her question, as he swept the backside of his hand hard across her cheek, displacing the young female several feet back from the sheer power channeled from broad shoulder to overly muscled forearm and into his taloned paw.  Its impact was nothing short of devastating, and like steel, it felt as tough and had struck with unrestrained ferocity.  The slap from skin to skin echoed into the battlements, and scattered amongst the sky.

Angela staggered in a white haze of pain.  She tasted copper, the metallic tang flowing across her tongue and hot down her split lip and chin.  Her head screamed, an incessant chime ringing inside of her skull and ruining any sense of balance.  She crumpled upon her knees, falling into a heap.

Goliath's shadow loomed against the weak light, growing, encroaching, and Angela struggled to retreat, her vision too blurred and her senses too scrambled to effect any quick movements before the lavender giant was upon her.

Fingers curled around her throat, the base of his palm against her vocal cords, and he wrenched her close.

His eyes would flick and roam against this child that borrowed features from both he and a lover dead before her time.  Her brow and face, and the disobedient strands of hair he thought would better suit a fiery red, it was a subtle, no, a damnably flagrant reminder of his angel, seen many times through the endless thread of alternate dimensions.  At the bottom of a six-chambered heart, brew partiality, almost benevolence in ending another life, and his grasp would falter only for a moment.

He shook his head, to clear such needless, emotional reflection.

His quest was everything, consuming little, random thoughts that struck through his head and threatened to sway his focus, and Goliath squeezed his fist against Angela's larynx, depriving her of breath.  "Tell me, little child," he growled menacingly, just before he would snap her neck, "where is the creature that killed my mate?"

To be continued...