82 - "The $#!+ Hits The Fan: Part 2"

April 6th, 2002

"He's...here."

Laughter slurred from lips swollen, tasting of battery acid, and achingly dry.

Demona's eyes drew lines where the steel plates joined together above, between the rivets and barred light fixture of her prison cell.  From the slew of powerful barbiturate, that stole her mobility and half her mind, at least, what was left, the gargoyle was again cold and frozen, and kneading strange hands without realizing they were her own.  They were numb.  Her senses too, garbled, anesthetized.  She felt like she was floating above the steel floor.

Voice, more voices, in her head and crawling under her skin.  The static bouncing from the insides of her skull had reached the zenith of pain and noise and scream, and she could feel the bristle of something scraping its hands over her brain, talons and all.

Magic.  Powerful, precisely cast magic, the only sensation her drugged body allowed.  And with a wilted flavor more a memory, callously playing a tease along the tip of her tongue.  Something had implanted itself within her perceptions, her very sense of being, and threatened that little shred of sanity.

From stem to lissome stern, a tingle traveled along the nimble, luxuriant length of her spinal cord from red-clouded nape to the end of her tail, a contradiction of emotion and reaction, a distant passion muted through the ages, and raw, pure, burning hatred.  It was so familiar.  "He's here...he'll silence the voices..."

Desdemona stood over her drowsy sister, warily, assured of her safety by the emptied then freshly reloaded pressurized syringe she held tightly, and as faith for her survival.  She watched, for any movement no matter how slight or unassuming, keen eyes flicking across each convulsive ripple beneath cerulean skin.  Her stare was vacant, Demona's eyes cloudy, and her tail limp.  A good sign.  "Who, sister?" she demanded sternly.

She roamed her eyes excruciatingly slow towards the blurred form standing vigil above her.  Whether it was flesh or phantom, it didn't matter and Demona didn't readily care.  One way or another, it would perish.  "Savor what minutes you have left...breathe deep of your last few, precious moments..."

"Damn your riddles, sister!" the usually serene female lashed out, if only to sate the dread she felt as a shiver lying low and heavy within her wings.  "I am not a ghost nor am I a product of your deranged fantasies!  Tell me what is here!"

Her eyes cleared, and Desdemona thought, for an instant, there was a lucid calm within Demona's captivating, soul-stealing stare.  "Your death." she illustrated cleanly.  "Are you prepared to die?"

The tanned sister leaned back to her natural stance, and turned to Othello, who mimicked her expression of pity, and annoyance.

"I am." Demona finished.  "I want to die..."

"Intruder alert."  A voice boomed into the cell, and the gargoyles looked up on instinct, to an entity that was not there, but hidden along the power lines.  "There is an unauthorized access to the southern courtyard.  Deploying security measures."

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

The klaxon shot into the expanse of the main hangar bay, screaming in a metallic, ghostly herald.  It was loud, and inescapable.  The nook carved large and deep into the side of the Eyrie grew ripe with noise and activity, and light, as the shuttered exterior door lifted to reveal the sparkle of star and city light beyond.

"Intruder alert." that same untethered voice echoed into the hangar, seemingly everywhere.  "Deploying security drones, target acquired, castle courtyard."

And from their rows along the outer fringe of the alcove yawning deep into Manhattan airspace, cleanly displayed like statues along a Roman palace, sentinels, carved into the vague form of gargoyle and long dormant, awakened into service.

Silent, steel, deadly.  Mother's hands prodded her toys into a decidedly military response to the amount of power having intruded into this world from the portal, a leftover knot of raw temporal energy.  The Steel Clan peeled from the recharge sockets with a singular command imbedded in their technologically primitive, compared-to-Mother minds; protect.  Flaunting hidden weaponry and wings of sterling that glinted gold from the light across the armor plating, they took to air.

Flame and cinders from pockets of dense rocket fuel erupted and lifted them, each automaton leading an emaciated trail of silvery, blackened smoke.

The ceiling brackets dropped down, deploying the small Cyber-Biotic drones.  In mechanical succession, like a laundromat clothing rack, they unfurled and were launched, almost mercilessly thrown to the ground until their rockets powered up and skimmed the tiny insectine creatures across the bay floor and out into the night.

They were a force among themselves, charging blindly into battle, again, and as always never asking for recompense to risk mechanical life and metal-tailored limb.  And such efficiency, necessitated by past experience, had awarded Wyvern with an army one hundred strong.

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

"Security doors activated, closing off essential corridors, external weaponry online."

Under the commands of Mother, and the wailing alarm, Wyvern's corridors were sealing.  Heavy, thick steel doors moving into place, on every string of hall and passageway to effectively entrap and secure the maze of unwarrantedly labyrinthine Scottish architecture.

Brooklyn and Sata skidded around a corner, garlands of decorated silk flailing with the samurai's great speed, and timing their steps almost perfectly they dashed underneath a lowering barrier.  Brooklyn first, Sata next, her incredible agility allowing her to squeeze through, and roll under the gap of steel and stone before it sealed and clasped with several locking mechanisms.  She almost smiled in the fact their own home was transforming so quickly and proficiently around them.

By her mechanically bred senses and eyes of cameras along every corridor, Mother knew precisely where each existed within her own semblance of a corporeal form.  Skin of brick and the winding corridors her arteries, she slowed the progress of the few doors to allow them access.  This was a well-practiced drill, each Wyvern member knowing where the halls would suddenly end, and just how to avoid being trapped.

The mated couple neared the exterior door, racing, breathing heavily, navigating purely from memory and instinct, and hoping against what they had seen through a security monitor.

"That cannot be who we think it is..." Sata commented from behind, just loud enough to be heard over the klaxon.

"Said the clan as they watched me return forty years older, married, with two kids and a dog, and all in less than ten minutes." her mate rebutted in kind, and served to prove his point as Sata unsheathed her longest sword, running a trail of sparks from the tip when scraping across the stone, sharpening her blade along a natural whetstone.

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

She had seen evil, tasted it, been bloodied by its hands.  She had imagined it under her coating of daytime stone, in forms of human or the grotesque.

But never had she imagined the power, grace, and intelligence of the great leader, lover, humanitarian and scholar, Goliath, had twisted, nay deformed to something near unrecognizable.

Her vision swimming with color and light and confusion, Angela now stared into that closet thought of probability, the face of comfort and sanctuary, only to find emptiness way beyond in those deep, dark penetrating eyes.  Beneath a scarred brow where ribbons of dead skin each told their story of a pain-filled, brutal fracas, framed by silver-streaked hair, and held by the body of a gladiator, a creature bred by the intricate designs of evolution for battle.  Her talon-tipped toes grazed the cobbled ground beneath her, she was held like a marionette by the neck, the strings cut, the puppet suffering near total paralysis by Goliath's first, devastating blow that still echoed against her skull.

Each laggard breath was a bare spit of wind and saliva, and blood from a gashed and swelling lip, dribbling down her chin.  "...gkkh..."

His hand, like his grip, was steel.  He would crush her vertebrae in the folds of her own vocal cords if pushed that far, and by the shiver in his eyes, the sterility, evil lay there in bottomless charcoal.  A dark mirror, reflecting the hand crushing upon the folds of velvet lavender scrunched up beneath her chin, she looked hideous.

"I will ask again before removing your ability to speak." the mirror image of her father, albeit older, growled.  "I can feel her, at long last, I can feel her here.  Before I am forced to topple this palace from its spire foundation, tell me!"  His fingers each strengthened in sequence, pressing the talons just deeper, into the neck, and urging for an answer by the threat of death.  Blood trickled, over Goliath's palm and down, slowly down his forearm.  "Where is the slayer that took my mate?!"

"...e-elisa...?" Angela struggled through the white froth of spittle collecting on the sides of her mouth.  "...is dead...?"

"The detective." he spit the word, an obvious incongruity in the tone along Goliath's lips when speaking of his beloved.  But seemingly not his beloved.  "Imagine my surprise in finding a common thread throughout all the universes that I unreservedly rutted with some human female."  This Goliath spoke with such distaste, with such disgust, that it would be hard for any intimate to believe his claim.  "Children as well, little hybrid brats somehow besting the convention of nature.  Did you know a lot of the children born from us did not survive?  Miscarriages, stillborns, deformities, consequential death of the mother...time and time again...fate is often cruel..."

Angela's brows furrowed.

And her captor saw the threads of confusion draw over a pained expression, the little telltale lines he deciphered effortlessly.  "Yes, child, I have been beyond the limit of existential thought and imagination, the best and worst the cosmos and the tricks of fate have to offer.  I have searched for a hundreds of years to find her, and at long last, I feel her."  Goliath's arm quivered under the anticipation of the kill, each steel cable of muscle snaking and bulging underneath the battered orchid flesh.  And his hand, it crackled, giving off a faint electrical charge the young woman could feel through her skin.  His anger was radiating, giving off a power unearthly.  But dangerously familiar.  "I promise you exquisite pain if you do not tell me where the demon is."

It went off like a light, the word, the tone, the arc of hatred and love and a confusion of emotion unbridled in the darkness beneath the scarred brow.  And Angela realized, "Demona..."

Goliath nodded.  "Right, little one, I want your 'mother'.  The raving bitch who stole my angel of the night.  Tell me, NOW!!!"

"She's...not here." Angela rasped, partially stalling and moderately true, her mother as she knew her didn't exist anymore, left in her place a madwoman.  "...the woman...you knew as Demona...is dead..."

Goliath inexorably tightened his grip, choking Angela and watching his blood and kin gasp for breath, and awarding this pompous adolescent a lesson in supremacy, and control.  He held the upper hand, not her, and how dare she think otherwise.  "Do not lie to me, child!!" he screamed, seemingly holding back the torrent of instinctual emotion threatening his logic and intelligence.  "Every cell in my body is aflame with the spell of location I cast long before you hatched on that bastard island!!  By the trail of magic sent long into the intersect of realities, I have searched for the world where she has hidden!  I have spent centuries through more than a million threads of reality looking for her!!  I slaughtered thousands in my quest, and some paltry infuriation will not end it now!"

She resisted, as best she could without any way to take air to feed.  Her will, her strength, was admirable if not foolish, and hereditarily stubborn.

Her eyes were ebon glass, a window, into her very mind and surface thoughts, and Goliath peered deep into the open well, stealing secrets.  "You are stalling." he whispered.  "But for what...?"

Angela's eyes flicked left, then back.

There, the giveaway.  "Ah."  He sniffed the air, and caught wind of something.

He first thought it a breeze.

No.  His instincts knew better.  A whisper, no, a ghost more fittingly, flitted past Goliath's sharp eyes, suddenly, and made his wings twitch.  From the crook of a distant bulwark, a glint of metal, then gone, only an eddy of dust to mark any passing.  The behemoth's gaze narrowed under the muted moonlight, the surrounding skin creasing with lines that drew long and gaping from eye to cheek.  He searched deep into that distant gloom, for he knew, just what flicked in and out of the shadows, he knew where, and just what stalked him.

Something dangerous and predatory was moving for a better vantage to attack.  Something hungry.

"The ninja." Goliath presumed, hearing the snap in the wind.  His eyes lit up, and the sky darkened, skeletal clouds churned by an enchantment and coalescing.  "Fulmenos venite."

WHAM.  A vein of lighting appeared from the thin evening haze and caught the attacker mid-air.  Only did the black-hued gargoyle emerge into clean view by the sudden radiance engulfing the castle, fangs bared, eyes daring, and the summoned lightning bolt hit square between the pectoral folds as if drawn.

The speed of light quickly bested the speed of sound, and a dance of sallow fire that blanketed the entire courtyard was merely a show, for the white-hot instrument channeled by magical powers directly through the Japanese brands.  As his body went cold, hot, and spastic with seizures that nearly shredded his flesh from the convulsing meat underneath, Shadow's heart stopped.

He dropped and tumbled, steaming, breathless, comatose, patches of amethyst skin bubbling and popping like molten lava, and the black, seeping blood clotting by the heat.

And as Goliath licked his lips, Angela winced at the acrid scent of burned flesh, eyes straining to look for breath from the immobile, and smoking warrior.  His eyes were still open.  "Hard to believe you once killed me in an alternate world, Minamoto Shadow-san." he crowed, the guarded smile that spread across glib and scoured features rare for any version.  "Nice try."

Snowflakes sprinkled past Goliath's shoulder, a swirl of light, and the gargoyle, seemingly unsurprised, discerned a shape appear from the mists of energy.  A hologram, displayed from a distant projector onto the stones beside him.

Mother gathered loose photons into a sharp image, matronly, tucked into a slimming gown and resolute with her narrowed, icy eyes upon the intruder.  Her face, as always, was unreadable.  "Goliath."

The stone-hidden cavities of the cannon turrets slid away from the castle's walls and towers, and the hydraulic arms swung out, revealing the weaponry used once to defend against an invasion, and successfully.  From the crenellated edges that fell into the city, guardians rose from the night sky and landed onto the courtyard with the dull clank of steel.

Goliath looked around him, eyeing each weapon-mounted turret, and glancing at each automaton only waiting for his move.  They held steady, having surrounded him in a typical formation.  Counter-reactive, guided solely by a single source, and only just capable of independent thought when left to their own devices, they were dangerous, the Steel Clan and the accompanying drones, but weakened by the fact ingenuity could not be programmed without the spark of sentience to improvise.

The door burst open and half the clan came tearing out.

Brooklyn took lead and stopped just meters from where Goliath stood, Angela still dangling from his hand, Shadow motionless at his feet.  The rest spread out behind him, wary, pleased, bewildered and fearful, a blender of emotion.  Could it be him, each thought, could their leader have returned to them.  Perhaps he was a timedancer, like Brooklyn; perhaps he had journeyed through the wastes of conceivable worlds to finally arrive home.

Safe, sound, just a little crazed.  And slowly killing his firstborn daughter.

But to Goliath, they were just another clan, another facet of an infinite yarn of realities, and he appeared somewhat unimpressed.  "Fodder."

"Goliath..." Brooklyn breathed, his eyes skidding over the aged, beaten gargoyle, his wings especially.  And the armor, and the scars, and the callous look.

"Brooklyn." Goliath returned.  "Usurper.  In one universe, I killed you for daring to take my place."

It was his voice, his inflection, but altered into something else.  "Goliath?  Is it...you?"

"Your question is a paradox, I am many.  So I have learned."

"I must ask you to desist all aggressive action," Mother interrupted, "and please," she nodded to the strangled woman, "release the gargoyle.  Before you kill her."

Goliath studied the projected image carefully.  "Seventh level artificial intelligence, able to think, learn, reason and almost feel, linked by an incredibly fast, and digital, ultra-wideband communications system, with hundreds to thousands of individual carrier channels to nearly all systems of castle Wyvern; power, heat, and light, and defense."  He sneered at the image of his own flesh mother, in all worlds a cruel reminder.  "You were always an impressive toy."

"You are aware of my specifications," Mother replied, "if not a rudimentary explanation."

"I've seen better."

Several red dots lined up on his chest, targeting sensors from distant cannons readying for a shot.  It seemed the sentience took that as an insult.  "I will not repeat myself, please let the gargoyle go."

"All such machines, even those parading as sentient, have an Achilles heel."  An eerie flicker took light in Goliath's gaze.  "I should know, it seems I helped program you, and I know of your weakness.  Mother, voice recognition: Goliath." he announced firmly, and the hologram straightened as the computer recognition system singled out Goliath's unique voice, and thus, his key.  "Recognize: Omega clearance, code alpha omega nine nine four zero zero zero.  Override all command functions, and shut down."

Her facial expression had translated shock almost flawlessly.  The emotion of distress an uncomfortable sensation to say the least.  Almost instantly, she was severed.  Her control over her automatons had been effectively disrupted by a single command now sweeping darkness over her systems.

The cannons drooped on their arms and eventually fell dead.  The Steel Clan powered down, and the drones once hovering in mid-air clattered to the ground, lifeless.

Brooklyn watched in sheer astonishment, terror, dread and more as all the technology surrounding them, protecting them, powered down.  "Damnit, Mother, override!"

The computer sentience was fading.  "I...cannot." her voice too, had grown hollow.  "Goliath has omega clearance.  My apologies."  Suffering near total paralysis, like cutting off a limb, or the sensation of drowning, she was suppressed.  Her holographic form dissipated like an extinguished fire, the plume of smoke fading, then gone.  Mother had been turned off.

"It seems your Goliath kept many things from you, Brooklyn."  A low rumble trickled from Goliath's chest.  "I am the master of this castle, and I shall always be, no matter who takes my place."

Brooklyn took note of the emphasis.  "Our Goliath...?"

"All great leaders always have contingencies, even against their own supposed allies.  Goliath was never sure of his creation, and thus, created a failsafe.  I have used this particular code fourteen times now, and then slaughtered each defenseless clan."

He washed an unsteady hand down his features, a cold sweat beginning to appear on crimson skin.  "Damnit..." Brooklyn breathed silently.  "Lex," he said to his web-winged brother, eyes still fixated on Goliath, "get to the computer room and switch everything over to manual control, and try to get Mother back online."

Lexington nodded and scampered off through the crowd.

"Afraid to fight without your holographic wetnurse?" Goliath spurred, squeezing his hand around Angela's throat.

"Let go of her, you're killing her!  She's your daughter!!"

"Your point?"  He released the gargoyle, and she collapsed into a gagging heap, convulsing for breath through a bruised trachea, spitting blood.  "Do you have any idea how many people I have killed?  I have become numb to death, to blood, to the massacre of children and families in all venues of time and space.  It all becomes a blur."

The clan each passed a wary look between them.

Goliath nodded at the expressions, having seen them a thousand times over.  "Ah yes, fear, confusion...skepticism, I see it with every clan I meet.  You wonder who I am, and where I have been."

"And just who are you?" Othello growled, the hunter slowly pulling from his shoulder his compound bow.

"A man who lost everything, and became a nomad wandering through the threads of possibility.  I am Goliath, and I have seen world beyond your comprehension, and every conceivable version of this clan, their darkest, most primitive sides.  Brooklyn raping and impregnating Angela, Broadway having an extramarital affair with Demona, Delilah the whore of Thailog, Todd Hawkins the drunk and wife-beater, Shadow the minion of Kokuei, helping to eviscerate the entire population of Japan..."  His eyes fell heavy and hard unto Angela, the daughter looking back with hatred inherent in her gaze.  "Elisa Maza the disease-ridden streetwalker, spreading her legs for every man with a twenty dollar bill..."

"BASTARD!!!" Angela screeched, and in her anger, she reached up as far as her strength would allow and raked her claws against his stomach, adding three more scars to the assortment.

A flare of pain ignited in his eyes and across the thin, pressed line of his mouth.  "Why?  Why in every world do I always let you live those few extra moments?" he hissed.  "I should kill you as soon as I see you."  An open palm stared Angela in the face, breeding energy like sweat would secrete from his pores, and fired against the young woman at his feet.

But something deflected his shot.

A shield.  Hastily cast, but having done its job to repel an assuredly lethal blow.

"Magic." Goliath noted, seeing the faint lines of an amateur, book-read conjure crawling over Angela's skin.  "How very industrial of you, my dear.  You do realize I am one hundred times the sorcerer you ever could be, you unpracticed," he dropped his clenched fist onto the shield, "little," again, he hit the shield, and it strained at his power, "bitch."

Another clenched fist, thrust with the armored glove of magic into Angela's shield, and it collapsed, shattering over her huddled form like glass.  She was open to his attack, and Goliath unfeelingly readied his fist.

"Angela?"  He had arrived and pushed his way through the clan only to see the father smack the daughter away with a hand to her face, and Broadway reacted in logical horror.  "Angela!!"

The scream of dread picked one from many, and Goliath snapped around to the owner of the voice that rang out, and caught in his mind.  It was him.  The intruder onto the cornices just before his night angel died, the combatant who traded blow for blow and toppled his tower.  It was him, the face etched into madness.  "You." he hissed, his wings flaring like the white fire sparked in his eyes.  "You have no idea how long I've waited for this, or many times I have killed your alternate selves to practice for the real thing."

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

The air trembled.  Then split between the molecules.

To the side, out of sight, far from where the clan was engrossed, a small bead of light hovered and expanded into a rift, leading to nowhere, and to everywhere.  A conduit had been opened between dimensions, and someone stepped out.

He was gargoyle, clearly by the wings and talons and brow spurs, and a light ash shade, gray as clouds before the storm.  Young, mid-twenties by appearance, brows arched high and wide just below a shorn black mop that glimmered in every source of light.

Gadgets strapped to every available appendage, he was nearly buried in technology and a sparkling iridescent jumpsuit tailored for his more animal form.  A pair of military aviator's goggles more suited to the sky-warring forties strapped around the four bone spurs jutting from his forehead, comparably out of place to the futuristic bobbles.  He was composed, deep black eyes prepared for the sight of Scottish stone that befell him as he stepped out of the portal, which quickly snapped up behind him like a zipper.

With a huff and subsequent frown, he reacted to his surroundings.  "Jesus Xavier Christ, it stinks in this place." he grumbled, gargoyle senses unable to escape the atmosphere at this height.  "Damned exhaust fumes...well," he jabbed the scanner fastened to his wrist and forearm, "to work."

He never heard the footsteps.  Though, not a lot would have by the skill it took to conceal them especially from a gargoyle.

A swipe of metal, warm wind against his neck soon replaced by the cool touch of steel, and by the time the stranger heard the weapon unsheathe, it was pressed against his throat.  His eyes bulged, when met with such a brutal welcome.  The blade threatened to carve the layer of skin from sinew, and he knew as he still took breath it was a warning, and a skilled and steady hand on the other end of the katana that held his life.  The technique was familiar, read from a dossier and studied until memorized.  As was the faint perfume of Japanese cherry blossom touched behind her ears.  "Oh," he said, nonchalantly, "konichiwa Sata-chan."

The samurai had noticed the arrival, and now twisted her hands into the leather-wrap of her handle, eying this kin creature carefully.  He smelled of diamond dust, energy and perpetuity, and seemed far too calm.  "Do I know you?"

"No, but I do know several hundred thousand of you." he offered, as if that would be enough to sate the samurai's distrust.  "Alternative versions that is.  You're quite fearsome in any world."

The sword deepened against his neck, Sata unimpressed with an answer that bordered on grandiosity and served to confuse.  "Speak wisely, intruder, or breathe through your neck."

"A-Albion." the stranger decided against the air of mystery for favor of his throat and continued existence.  "My name is Albion, it's Albion.  A-And I believe you've run into someone I've been tracking for a long time."

"Goliath."

"Yes, but he isn't your Goliath."

Sata nudged the sword even closer.  "Explain.  And quickly."

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

Blood spattered, long and far, and congealed when hitting the layers of dust across the stones.  Broadway stumbled against the fist that nearly collapsed his skull.  He fell back, barely able to stand, as thunder lit under his feet, shook the stones and grew close, almost on top of him.

The battle had begun, with Goliath's unprovoked charge against his clansman and Broadway's anger fueling the burly aquamarine beast into action.

But unleashing fully against a man he respected above all else, wearing his face and skin and using his voice, presented more an intricacy of guilt and fear and helplessness, and thus, Broadway's strength, near unrivaled in the clan, was sapped.  It was more than tough to try and hurt someone who seemed like a father, especially when he wore a layer of magic like clothing.

Goliath though, had no such problem.  Every version of Broadway he had met had died at his hands, and he hungered at the thought of another.  He struck again.

Broadway felt the cold stabbing across his jaw.  His world imploded, his senses blinding white then black as Goliath unleashed hundreds of years into his body, of hatred and endless, mindless, numbing exploration of every probability.  As much as he tried to block Goliath's savage thrusts, his skin was bruising under the strain, his bones fissuring.  He never thought he'd die this way.

Finally, the blows let up, until, he discovered, he was several feet away, and on his back.  His chest was pluming the same skeletal smoke as Goliath's hands; he had hit him with an energy blast, and it seemed if anything to have wiped out the memory of ever being shot, being so powerful, and quick.  Broadway got up on rickety legs, and through blood-stained teeth, he growled, "What...what do you want?!"

"Revenge, young hatchling." replied the lavender giant, advancing on him.  "I want to avenge my angel by making the demon suffer, making her fear death, and then killing her.  But first I'll kill you."

His vision a blur, Broadway struck with the remainder of his strength.

Goliath dodged.  As if somehow he knew.  "I have killed many of your alternate selves, and they all had a comparable weakness," Broadway faked to the left, and Goliath capitalized, "you always fake to the left."  With magic augmenting his strength tenfold, he nearly took off Broadway's lower jaw with the opening presented, and toppled the young gargoyle.

He stepped on his neck, and ground his foot into Broadway's spinal cord, waiting for the simple crack of bone.

"NO!!!"  Angela jumped on her father, and wrapped her arms around his neck, returning the favor.  "You won't take him, not this time."

"Who will stop me?"

Half the clan dogpiled on Goliath.  Bronx latched into his forearm, sinking his canines through into the leather wristlet and deep into warm flesh.  Annika and Desdemona went for his arms, Othello his back.  They were intent on first pulling him away, then down and hampering his maneuverability.

He was forcefully dragged off from Broadway's neck, and the young gargoyle managed to crawl away, use of his limbs still intact.

Goliath had lived through many a battle with thousands of different versions of his clan, and he wouldn't be stopped.

"Othello."  The dusty blue gargoyle was the first to fall as Goliath overpowered him by sheer brute strength, and slashed at his face with the tip of his tail.  He cracked the air with his appendage used as a whip, and Othello scrambled away with his eyes still intact.  "You always rely on your strength, more than your own impressive mind."

"Desdemona."  He turned to his sister, and lodged his elbow into her throat before she could form a defense.  She fell away, choking.  "Hindered by your own peaceful nature.  You are not a warrior."

"Annika."  His fist found her weak spot, her stomach, and the younger gargoyle nearly lost her lunch.  She stumbled away for fear of her child.  "Afraid to unleash your gargoyle instincts for fear of becoming just like your father."

"The dog."  Bronx was easy enough to dispose of, he just ignited his arm and the garbeast nearly lost his head with a painful yelp.  "Loyal, but stupid."

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

"I beg your pardon?"

Albion smiled genially, though under duress.  "We're kind of like a temporal police force.  We monitor the threads of time and space, mend broken lines and police those who would use time travel to their own advantage."  He was rambling, nervous maybe.  The young man might not have been properly prepared to meet a sword at his throat.  "Well, at least we try to, there's an infinite number of people to keep our eyes on, so you can imagine a few slip through our fingers."  Albion turned slightly, or as far as allowed with the hilt of a katana pressed against his neck.  "And let me tell you, your clan is a real headache." he reproved, a little more edge to his stance and voice.  "Wyvern's file is biggest of all, in fact, it has an entire filing cabinet.  You and Brooklyn fill a drawer.  I can't believe you were the inspiration for Kermit the Frog."

Her elbow went up, putting more weight into the sword.

"Right, no jokes." he rasped.  "This Goliath killed the man who was chasing him, my predecessor.  He's immortal, and has been searching through countless timelines and alternate worlds for almost a millennium now.  Well, in our measure of time."

Sata thinned full eyes.  "For what?"

"For the woman who killed his mate.  He's looking for Demona."

A scattered jigsaw, the last piece just fell into place.  It fit all too perfectly.  "Are you saying...?"

Albion nodded against the shaped Japanese steel.  "This is the Goliath that you and Broadway fought against when Demona went back in time with her new Phoenix gate, and nearly caused the collapse of your timeline and destroyed several others.  Needless to say, he was a little grief-stricken when his mate died in his arms."

"Enough to create this...monster?"

"This Goliath is a product of a thousand years of endless searching, the desire for revenge simmering just beneath his skin and driving him nearly mad.  He kills without regret, he's toppled powerful sorcerers and even fay, he steals magic and adds it to his own power, the Odin eye, the Grimorum, and judging by the way he hops through timelines, we think a version of the Phoenix gate, but we can't be too sure."  He took a hard breath.  "Through the looking glass, Sata-chan, this Goliath is everything your Goliath could be if under the right circumstances."

Sata shook her head, refusing to accept his words as truth.  "I do not believe that.  I will never believe that."

"Believe it, there is your proof."  He directed his eyes, and Sata's, back into the courtyard with a none too subtle nod.  "And it looks like he's about to kill Desdemona."  Something was leaking down his neck and beneath the collar of his jumpsuit.  By the smell and warm texture, he knew it his own blood.  "Can you move your sword now?  I think I'm bleeding...and diamond thread garments are very hard to clean."

"I shall deal with you later."  Sata released the stranger reluctantly and ran from the corner, back into the fray.

Albion slowly followed her.  "If there is a later."

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

"I killed one version of Demona in Paris.  Burned the entire city, and watched as she writhed while aflame.  When all of her flesh was consumed by fire, she begged me to kill her."

"You are not this man!" Desdemona tried to plead to his better nature.  "You are principled, moral, good!"

"Another I reversed the human transformation spell, then shattered her when she turned to stone.  Immortality kept her alive, and with the sunset she awoke in several hundred fleshy, bleeding pieces."  There was no smile, no pride in his actions, only a grave sincerity.  "She screamed all night."

"I have seen you laugh with children, risk your life for others, you are a champion of justice, decency!"

He was slowly trudging forwards against the collected clan, not to be swayed by a plea by one beloved sister of many.  Another he would most likely kill.  "I bathed in the screams of my victims, I have killed each and every one of you a hundred times over, I am immune to any sense of clan or family or love, so please, do not try to win me over with any pathetic pandering.  I have no better nature, sister." Goliath boasted, advancing still.  "It died, one thousand years ago, with my angel of the night."

She stood her ground against him, shakily; she was negligent in her own safety, but one never to raise arms against another with just cause, especially blood kin.  In her bravery, she was awarded Goliath's closed fist and the taste of blood and the hard, cold rock beneath her feet.

Anger was welling, deep within the black heart made so by his lover's blood upon his hands, his angel leaking from the head and taking her last breath in his arms.  "I have practiced many times for the genuine demon," he stepped over Desdemona, and viciously kicked her in the gut, and she whimpered with pain, "and you will not stop me."

"Desdemona!!"  He had seen his mate toppled, and the often-blinding haze of anger fell over his eyes, like red, like blood, like rage.  Dodging the swirls of Goliath's sorcery to get in as close as he could, Othello pulled an arrow from his quiver and rested it against the guard of his compound bow.

The average bow weight was fifty-five pounds pulled.  Most men, most human men, looking to impress their friends would increase that to eighty, maybe ninety at the most.  Othello's was set at one hundred seventy pounds, enough to send a graphite-shafted arrow through a slab of steel.

Enough to easily pierce thick gargoyle flesh.

The renowned Wyvern huntsman drew the string, the threadlike tether between the reels trembling on the limbs as he targeted his brother quickly between the fragments of exploding stone.  He was used to aiming hurriedly, often when the prey rabbited and he was forced to give chase through the thick Scottish woodlands that surrounded Wyvern cliff.

He found his mark with keen, black eyes and released the arrow, and struck true.  Goliath cringed in pain, feeling the arrow shred flesh before he even heard it.

Bleeding from the shoulder, the shaft buried halfway into the knotted muscle, Goliath turned and found Othello pulling back on another freshly nocked arrow.  "You couldn't let yourself kill me, brother." he goaded.  "I thought at least you had the conviction to kill when required."

THWACK.  The arrow hit just left to his heart, and Goliath winced.

Othello had answered the challenge.  "You thought right."

Goliath moved to confront his brother, as Othello carefully sidestepped to keep his eyes focused the opposite way.  But with his wings, flared and feeling the breeze, he sensed the subtle shift in wind behind him.  His brother was a diversion.

He moved just as a flash of sterling and jade caught the corner of his eye.

The sword.  It screamed off a well-timed shield and made a trial of sparks from the corner of his eye, taking with the swipe loose strands of hair that were unprotected.  Goliath's brow crinkled, the slight glow of magic that surrounded him pulsating in harmony with the thrum of his heartbeat.  "Samurai.  Muta da." he seethed to the timedancer, in her native language no less.

Her katana made a slim reflection of lavender and madness, turned just precisely in the faint starlight.  It was a traditional show of blade before a duel.  She was samurai first, before mother and mate, and duty demanded she give her life to protect.  "Itsumade mahoue ni tanomuwaru kana."

He met the challenge offered.  "My energies are inexhaustible, lovely samurai, are yours?"

It was a proclamation of death.  "We shall see."

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

Each of them fell to his side, a lover on each arm.  With the clan having maneuvered Goliath away, Iliana and Delilah rushed to Shadow's body in the free and clear.  They leaned over him, each with their hands prodding, and soothing and hoping their touch would elicit something.

But he didn't move.  And he wasn't breathing.

"Shadow?!" Delilah shrieked, rubbing her fingers across his brow.  It flaked off against her contact.

Iliana pressed her fingers to the underside of his wrist, searching.  "Shit," she whispered, "I can't feel a pulse, but then again his skin's like leather..."  The smaller woman fell over his chest, ear to the proverbial ground, and listened for anything between the brands.  "No heartbeat."  She leaned back, her face a mold of worry.  "Oh come on, ninjabutt, I didn't think ending our relationship would kill you..."

Delilah was understandably shocked, as her eyes drifted from Shadow to Iliana.  "You broke up with him?"

"I did it for you, and your family."

There it was, the assumption the entire clan had made regarding her covenant with Shadow.  "We don't have a family, you idiot!" she snapped, more a hiss with an underlying gargoyle growl.  "I have a fetus!  It's my child, not his.  And I tried to sever all ties with him so he'd be happy with you!"

Iliana slowly moved her eyes towards the clone, looking with disdain, the unbelievable irony of her choice coming back to slap her in the face.  "Why...the...hell..." she growled, "would you do something as stupid as that?!"

Eyes flickered wine red.  "Because I love him, and wanted to let him go!"

"So did I!"  They stared at each other, until, "Damnit!"

"So," Delilah approached, "you...let him go...?"

"Yeah, but...so did you..."

Again, they met each other with an equally fervent glare, regret and surprise and anger each playing a chaotic tune on their heart.  Shadow still lay silent underneath them.

"Oh it's on, bitch." Iliana suddenly sneered.

"Shadow?!" Delilah tried again.  "Shadow!"

"Shadow!!"

"Do you know CPR?"

"You press, I breathe."

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

She was wind, and her sword was an extension of her arm.  Sata pressed hard, dodging Goliath's wild flails and Othello's well-placed arrows, Goliath looking more like a pincushion after his brother had unloaded most of his quiver into his body.  They didn't slow him down, as Sata would consent.

Her sword was merely a flash in the moonlight and a sound upon the breeze, moving so fast, clanging off Goliath's magical defenses.  "You are fast."

"As are you."  He struck, she dodged, and he turned to meet her sword coming around from her other side.

Sata whirled away just as Goliath uprooted more stone in his attempts to rip flesh from bone.  Her adversary's energies were growing exponentially, and she could feel the build-up against her skin each time she neared to strike.

Goliath turned and before the whiff of perfume triggered against his senses, he felt a fist crack against his skull, wiping away even the faintest smile.  Annika stepped back in as Sata moved for a better place to attack, more a brawler compared to the samurai's elegant swordplay.  But her second fist assuredly powerful enough to crack concrete hit an impenetrable shell of glowing emerald, sending a slight ache through each knuckle.  "Oh damn."

Goliath spit blood.  "Do you know, Annika, Goliath is extremely attracted to you."  He smacked her, hard.

Annika bit the dirt, and wiped the blood from her mouth.  "Jesus..." she groaned, "where the hell is Todd...?"

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

He could be in the Epsilon, attached through a neural link to the power of a battalion loaded for bear, he could be helping to turn the inevitable tide.

But instead, he was in an apartment building hallway, mouth gaping, eyes holding fire within a squall of dark, iridescent gray.  And that tiny vein, strung from head to neck to chest, and once content to lay below the surface of his skin, was bulging, and throbbing in tune with his heart.

"You're getting married?!!" Todd screamed towards the couple, the echo crawling through the entire corridor, and probably shaking the entire building and its residents to the core.

Kendra, standing several feet away from her ex-boyfriend as a safety buffer, answered calmly, casually and very carefully.  "Yeah, we just got engaged, and we were going to tell you...eventually."

It was a surface thought trying to sink in, the certainty far beyond his comprehension.  "You're...getting married..." he repeated, slowly, his jaw grinding against the words.

Kendra hesitantly raised her hand and wiggled the ring finger flashing engagement gold.

"I can't believe this, I just can't believe...this..." he trailed off, and noticed, through the doorway, white, cleanliness, lacy decoration.  It wasn't the usual exposed brick and pasty yellow.  "What the hell have you done to my apartment?!"

"Our apartment," Kendra mended, "remember?  You threw me the keys when the neighborhood started exploding."

He stomped in, pushed them aside and dropped his jaw.

Paint, curtains, tile, furniture, the entire apartment had been transformed.  It was like a nightmare, draped in Queen Anne's lace and Ikea.  He snapped around on instinct to where, once, before he'd given up the lease, there was a small gouge in the drywall, associated with a memory of bringing home his giant screen television.  It was gone, presumably under the fresh coat of paint.  "You patched the hole!" he pointed, stunned.  "How can you so casually spackle and paint over my memories?!!"

"One coat latex." Kendra deadpanned, shrugging.  "Went on pretty smooth, actually..."

Crash grimaced and hid his face into his fiancé's hair.  "Oh god..."

"Don't get smart." Todd growled.  And his eyes, damn them, kept dropping and centering on Kendra's left hand, and that ring that seemed to catch on the gilded surface in even the faintest of light.  "When the hell did you two decide to get married anyway?!"

Kendra looked up to her taller beau, rubbing a hand affectionately over his shaved head.  "Well, during the whole...monster attack, Crash proposed..."

And Todd's best friend simply and tightened his grip around the young woman in his arms.  "Nothing sparks a romantic mood like thinking you're going to die."

Todd sneered, the bile rising in his throat.  "That's sick.  Aren't you two a little young?"

"You're only twenty three!" Kendra snapped back.

"You've only been dating for seven months!"

"You and Annika dated for a year!"

"That's completely different!  We were in love!"

"And what the hell do you think we are?!"

"A convenience...!"

Too far, too damned far, Todd knew, immediately as the words rolled from his tongue and into the air, as Kendra's eyes quivered, smoldered, and her lips turned downwards, and her face seemed to clench inwards.  Even Crash frowned, inwardly hurt.

"Oops." he breathed regretfully, in his mind the voice of reason screaming obscenities.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

Kendra launched forward from Crash's arms, aiming with her finger, better to center Todd's eyes on something that could do more damage than the repeated blows to his ego.  "Do you really think that?" she demanded, poking the extended finger into Todd's chest, never one for subtly especially when dealing with her ex.  "Do you really think the entire basis for our relationship is because of you, and the fact we were 'discarded' for your new, winged friends?"  She kept poking, and Todd retreated against the growing pain of her painted nail into his flesh.  "Well, guess what, moron, it's not, we do not revolve around you, we are not little specks of dust in the mighty Todd Hawkins universe!!  And I don't care how much you may think that, or how much you hate our relationship, deal with it!"

He was getting sick of being scolded, and the finger in his chest would probably leave a mark that he would stare at later in the mirror and be continually reminded, at least, until the unobtrusive smear of red went away.  "Ow."  With the sore spot radiating small waves of pain both physically and emotionally, he discreetly rubbed a hand across his shirt.  The apartment had fallen silent, and the distance between the occupants was noticeable.  "This is..." he started, a little more composed than before, "harder than you could ever imagine..."

"Well, you better suck it up!" the diminutive blond spitfire continued her tirade.  "I for one would like to remain friends with the short time Crash and I have here..."

Todd clenched his brows together.  "Short time?"

A breath, an anxious bob to her shoulders and Kendra smoothed her hands through her hair.  The puppy dog eyes of her former lover were enough to make her tongue cold and trip over her words, but they always had trust between them.  They were best friends slapped together by a cruel chance of life and providence before friendship grew to love, and she'd never lie to him then, and never now.  "Well, after we graduate and get married, we're...thinking of...moving..."

"You're moving," Todd echoed, passive, but still clenched against another proverbial bomb, "well I didn't think you'd spend your lives in this place.  You're what, moving to the suburbs?  A little house with a white picket fence?  Two point three kids?"

Prudently, she added, "Actually, we were thinking...Paris."

"PARIS?!!!"

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

"That damned sword!!" he thundered, as Hudson deflected another of Goliath's energy blasts with the right angle to his polished sword.  It careened, made an odd, concaved sound and shot into the sky.  Goliath was understandably annoyed, the blade older than Hudson himself had always proved indestructible.  "You and your damnable sword, you rely too much on that old, dusty weapon, Hudson."

Hudson eluded another blast, the aged warrior still holding his ground despite the eruption of that same ground around him.  "There be one weapon ye dinna have, laddie..." Hudson warned.  "An' that we do."

Goliath tore up the floor beneath him, but Hudson stepped back as he advanced on him.  "What would that be, mentor, old friend, gumption, bravery, spunk?"

"Nay." the old soldier smiled underneath the sterling of his beard.  "'Tis called a bazooka, laddie."  Hudson ducked out of sight, and behind him, much to Goliath's alarm Brooklyn readied the massive cannon resting on his right shoulder.

Goliath's eyes narrowed.

"I've always wanted to use this thing."  A pinpoint of light focused just inside the cannon's long barrel as Brooklyn pulled the trigger.  The kickback was like a mule and enough to throw him from his feet.  He dug in, and unleashed a beam of energy.

The lavender giant stood his ground against the blast, taking it directly to the chest.  He was almost lost in the wake of fire and blackened smoke, his talons dragging against the force of the beam, leaving six identifiable trails in the stone.

Smoking, and only slightly blistered from the heat, Goliath shrugged it off.  There was a wisp of laughter bubbling deep within his chest, the drunken bravado that great power often earned.  "Do you think your pitiable toys will stop me?!" he bellowed, emerging from the smoke like some unstoppable machine.  "I consumed the grimorum, I broke open the eye of Odin and drank well of its blood, I have killed Merlin and Oberon and the reincarnation of the high priest Hath-Set, and added their powers to my own!  I forced the Weird Sisters to bestow immortality upon me, then killed them thrice with an iron sword."

"Immortal..." Brooklyn breathed coolly, the stakes just having been raised.  "Damn."

The last two arrows of Othello's cache were exhausted into his chest, but this time, they hit with a dull clang and fell to the ground.  Goliath had prepared himself.  His skin had become hard through a conjure, like steel.

He channeled a wide beam towards the ground, and peeled back a layer of stone that curled up and over Othello and Hudson.  They were partially buried beneath the floor of their own courtyard.  He spied Brooklyn, running to get a better place to re-aim and re-fire.  Knowing the architecture of his home better than anyone, he knew exactly where to aim.  Above, where Brooklyn took refuge under a small bastion, Goliath severed the supporting wall with a well-placed shot and fell the entire solid structure onto the usurper.

Brooklyn raised the cannon over his head and used it to deflect the falling debris of the corner turret.  He was, nevertheless, buried.

"C'mon, Shadow!"

Goliath turned to the voice.

To the side, Delilah and Iliana were huddled over the sterile form of Shadow, trying if anything to breathe life back into the fallen warrior.  Their resuscitation was twofold, the women working in sync even with their mutual aversion.  Delilah with her greater strength pumped furiously on his chest, as Iliana breathed on time into his throat.

"Breathe, damnit!  Breathe!  Please!!"

The act was heroic in all its futility and vain attempt to raise a machine rendered lifeless, but they continued, in unbroken rhythm.  "Let him die, ladies," said Goliath, "he's not worth your attention or love."  In truth, he'd seen the darkest aspects come to light in several visited worlds, the ninja's fates the farthest reaching whether it be a champion, or the greatest evil ever to set upon the clan.  "He'll eventually kill you both."  He ambled past, towards where Brooklyn was slowly digging himself out with his free hand, and called upon the entity tied upon his leash of ancient Latin, "Fulmenos venite."

A vein of lightning traveled down from the sky, the lance of nature tamed and held by will alone, and aimed with precision at Shadow's chest.  The leviathan wearing Goliath's features hoped to burn a hole through the ninja's body, and with a mere flicker of his eye, it struck flesh, and the women were knocked back by the power of the blast.  Electricity coursed through Shadow's body, visibly arcing like some wild dance along the edges of dark skin.

He convulsed, and then lay silent as the lightning retreated back into the clouds.

...tha dum...bum...

It was faint at first, but growing.

A crimson hand shot out through the pile of broken stone.  Brooklyn emerged, hastily rubbed the flowing blood from his eye and pulled the cannon from the rubble he was nearly buried under.  "I'm not going to be buried by someone like you..." he hissed, and Goliath pivoted in place.

Brooklyn fired and his target simply allowed the energy to deflect off his chest.  Through the sight, a small hole, Brooklyn watched as the smoke cleared, and filling the entire magnified lens, Goliath's undaunted torso sauntered steadily closer.  "Shit..."

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

...tha-dum...bum...

Soon it was a rhythm; a slow, nearly imperceptible pulse that gradually coalesced into a three-part beat, one loud, the next soft, almost as if something were surging first forward, then back.

...tha-dum...bum...

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

Before his opponent had the chance to fire again, he screamed and swelled with a shield of pure energy, that enveloped the nearest combatants in a wave cresting at the peak twenty feet high.  Brooklyn, Broadway, Annika, Bronx, they were swept up, away and into the distant walls, their rebellion quelled.

The ashen blast mark a ring upon his chest, Brooklyn's weapon had done nothing of considerable harm save to irritate him.  Goliath kept advancing.

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

...tha-dum...bum...

Three connecting valves between six chambers opened and closed, blood flowed freely and hot and boiled and bubbled and tried to rouse the massive egg-born machine to life.

Eyes shivered in bone sockets and beneath the heavy lids, a fist curled by sheer impulse of a nervous system in chaos.  Flashback, lightning memories flashed through his unconscious mind.  Death, destruction, genocide, a forest village torn, corpses on the strings of a cruel master, family attacking.  Women, turmoil on shapely legs, pain, a child, an enemy, death, destruction, genocide.

...tha-dum bum...

Some would say consciousness exists on another level from the body, but his body was betraying the mind, the will unable to move the wretched, immovable flesh.  The damage wrought by lightning, by enough voltage to deep-fry a human being was detrimental.

...tha-dum bum...

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

Having dodged the breaker of energy, Sata tried her luck once more, one of the last still standing.  Running around the smoking craters opened in the courtyard floor, she pounced and slashed with her sword intent to wound, and stop this mutation of an honored leader if by severing an arm or leg or head.  Goliath flailed with energy, wound a filament around the Japanese steel and finally knocked away her sword, then thundered upon her the fury of a storm brought from the clouds.

He struck as fast and as powerful through the ribbons of weeping energy as if he were the tempest himself, a fist across her jaw, another to the back of her head, he was as maneuverable as any intimate with the martial arts.  He moved extremely fast, trading blow for blow.

She managed to block the next, drive her knee into his gut, and flipped over his reciprocating fist.  She landed behind him, but Goliath had pivoted underneath her and rewarded the samurai with each massive hand slapping to the sides of her head.

A tremendous clap resounded through the courtyard, playing an echo into the sky.  A human skull would have been crushed.  Luckily, in lieu of her life, all Sata lost was her balance.  Bleeding from the ears, she stumbled, lost her footing and fell prey to Goliath's energy pulse.

He kept advancing.

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

...THA-DUM BUM...

But his will would not be denied.  He was ninja, the wind, the fire, the thunder and lightning, the night, and he wouldn't be stopped by something as inane as his own limited flesh.

Goliath threw away Sata's unconscious body, and pulled the arrows out with a thin umbilical of blood.

...THA-DUM BUM...

Russet brown pupils shot open, on fire, and positively livid.

...THA-DUM BUM...

Shadow rose, ignoring the excruciating pain of his burned and cracked flesh, turned slightly to see Goliath ripping arrows from his body.  His brands smoldered.

And he started running.

A scream preceded the darkness, Goliath unprepared for the speed of the dark warrior's attack.  He thought he had disposed of the ninja.  And by his mistake, he often underestimated Shadow's uncanny and always wearisome ability to cheat death.  Shadow collided with Goliath, shoulder to chest, and the ensuing impact was not unlike an explosion, the immovable object versus the irresistible force cracking the air.

Goliath, winded, and stunned, was carried towards the edge of the castle.  His energies were stirring, but not before Shadow took him through the battlements in a cloud of shattered stone and limestone powder.

They fell into the lights of Manhattan.  Like a comet, they streaked into the city center, Goliath's wild energies leaving a green trail clean across the sky.  Shadow kept his claws into Goliath's skin, feeling the exuded sorcery tingling at his hide and threatening to strip what currently held his insides inside.

"Ninja." the lavender giant cursed, above the howling wind as they plummeted.

Their descent was sharp, Shadow using his damaged wings to angle them both towards a taller building darkened against the industrial sea of light, even as Goliath struggled and fostered the energies, glowing brighter and hotter.

They hit the thirty-seventh floor at just under a hundred miles per hour, having fallen more than a thousand feet, and the entire building trembled at the violent impact.  The windows imploded into the offices, and with three quarters of a ton of weight turned into pure momentum, they easily tore through the floor.  Girders gave way, building material erupted in a flurry wood and plaster, steel and copper piping as they continued to crash through floor after floor, until, hitting the twenty-ninth, and their plunge sufficiently slowed, they met solid ground.

They broke apart and tumbled into the cubicle walls, desks and computer equipment.

Goliath got up and nearly emptied the entire room with an impulsive burst of energy that blew most of the furniture out through the windows stretching from floor to ceiling, clearing a path from him to the dark-skinned warrior.  "Come, ninja, show me your prowess.  I know you have been wanting to do this for a very long time."

Shadow flipped to his feet, bleeding, wounded, but fired up by the promise of a fight and the flow of adrenaline invading his blood.  It was fire from his glands, nothing near biological that could literally raise his temperature and set him aflame.  He was literally frothing at the mouth, the chance he had longed for to face Goliath without repercussion of a grieving clan, wife or child.

"No holding back, no mercy for the weak," Goliath egged him on, inviting with his raised hands and prodding the rage he saw bulging at his skin, "show me the warrior in all of his glory."

Shadow raced towards him, and suddenly ducked low, driving an open palm into Goliath's midsection.  The lavender giant was winded and leaned over by the force, and Shadow tipped his fist under his opponent's chin.  He drew blood and continued, spurred by the delicious smell.  Shadow by reputation was lightning quick, affording Goliath no chance between the flail of fists.

In all the times he and the leader had sparred, he knew what little weaknesses Goliath had.  And he would exploit them, no matter what honor would demand.  And from practice to reality, it had become a silent, deadly duel with a language of grunts and groans passing between them.

Goliath lashed out with a shot of energy, and Shadow dodged and swiveled around slapping the back of his hand into Goliath's face followed by his other fist in quick succession.  The lavender giant's flesh was indeed like steel.  But Goliath fumbled, and Shadow advanced with several shots to the stomach then the chest.  He jumped and sent both his feet into Goliath's face.

The giant had been overthrown, falling to the ground.  He looked up just as Shadow took to the air and led with his knee towards the fallen gargoyle.  Goliath rolled out of the way, and the ninja gouged his spurred knee into the floor, breaking clean through.  If that had been his head, it could have been crushed.  Even to lose consciousness would him rob him of his prize.  "Enough of this."

His hands crackled, and a beam of energy suddenly enveloped the ninja.  It shot out from the building and into the Manhattan sky, eventually tapering off until the office returned to its normal fog-like murk.

Shadow was left standing in place, wings enfolded, and steaming.  He had taken the blast, but should have been near atomized.  His breathing, Goliath could detect, was growing quicker, shorter, and heavier.  In all the worlds, this simple black-hued gargoyle was a reckoned force.  "Ah.  Something grows inside..."

A small wind was circling the warrior, stirring up the dust; his brands were glowing against the gloom of the darkened, destroyed office, and he was summoning everything he had left.

Goliath could taste the energy on the growing winds, a potency he knew intimately the effects and power, and what had spared his life just moments ago.  Here, here was a true fighting machine, giving his life for the fight.  "The Black Dragon.  Will you so willingly give yourself to something so corrupt?  Am I that much of a threat?"

Shadow's answer was that of his brands glowing steadily brighter.  To that which had killed his grandfather, that had forced his own hands to take his only family, he surrendered.  Memories of his days in Japan flashed quickly, before a curtain of darkness fell over his mind.  He was becoming less than gargoyle, and far more.

A small bead of saliva leaked from his bottom fang, Shadow hissing, blue-eyed and mindless.  From his throat, fire.  The battle was now truly met.

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

He lurched and nearly stumbled into the door, and fortunately, his hand preceded his beak before it hit and proved what was stronger, steel or gargoyle bone.  It slid open with a gentle nudge to the opening mechanism, and Brooklyn fell in.  Bruised, bleeding and nursing more wounds hoping for the light of day, he'd checked on his unconscious mate, the half of his clan that were still conscious and then stumbled through the castle as best he could.

With Mother's seeming demise, the security doors were down, dead and locked, and made for a difficult journey.  Brooklyn had to create new corridors with his bare hands, and the traces of limestone dust on his skin were wounds from his passage.

Lexington could hear his brother's heavy breathing behind him, and he didn't bother looking.  He was too busy in a war of his own, performing delicate surgery, having opened the guts of Mother's internal systems and delving nimble fingers into wires and computer chips.  This was his domain, his best way to battle.  "Fight over yet?"

Brooklyn slumped against the wall.  "No, we're being slaughtered out there.  But Shadow's buying us some time."  His eyes drifted, to the only lighted computer screen, as the rest were completely dead and dark.  A symbol, big and bold and blue, the omega symbol, stared him in the face.  A sign of Goliath's tinkering, and an indication that everything either directly or indirectly tied to Mother was completely locked out.  Brooklyn sneered, that something so damaging was kept from him.  Either Goliath never had the chance to inform him in full, or he never fully trusted his own second in command.  "How did this Goliath turn off Mother so goddamned easily?  And what the hell is omega clearance?!"

"Our Goliath's contingency plan." Lexington explained calmly, ripping out one wire only to replace it with another.  "He programmed Mother with a failsafe if she was ever corrupted.  With one code, he could shut her down and all of the systems she's tied to."

"Including pretty much all our offensive weaponry."

"And the Steel Clan, and the Cyber-Biotics drones, and the security cameras and prison cells."  He turned, and allowed his brother a sliver of the cynicism he too could command quite well.  "We're lucky the lights are still on."

"With just his voice..." Brooklyn sighed, wiping away more of the blood that trickled through matted hair and into his eye.  "With just his damned voice."

"It was a perfect failsafe.  The voice recognition system is XE tech, second to none in the world.  No one could have duplicated his voice, not even electronically."

"Except an alternate version from another universe.  I sometimes hate my life."  Brooklyn's eyes turned hard as they passed to Lexington.  "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Yeah," he shrugged defensively, "like I knew the computer sentience that practically controls the entire castle could be shut down with a simple password.  Goliath must have done it himself, just before she came online."

"Damn." he groaned in response.  "Who knew our 'naive, technologically-inept ' leader was so proficient with computers..."

"He's better than any of us think...but I'm even better than he is."  He smirked the smirk of confidence all men did when ensured of their power in a particular field.  And the vague glimmer of hope along the circuitry of cybernetically-implanted eyes was enough for Brooklyn to know his brother could, and perhaps, by luck or fortune of the bold, would prevail.  "I'm pretty sure I can bypass the lockout, and give us back the manual control for the weaponry systems, then reboot Mother's main consciousness." Lexington explained, reaching back into the hard drive.  "But everything else like the Steel Clan and the drones are dead until I can completely restore the original control system."

"Weapons first, then Mother." Brooklyn ordered.  "Keep on it...I don't think our resident ninja can hold off Goliath for long."

Lexington peered through the dangling intestinal tract of wiring as his brother tore off with a discernible limp.  "Where are you going?"

"To get a bigger gun."

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

The windows exploded, three floors up and four floors down, showering into the city, as Goliath and Shadow still traded blows.  The power of their strikes translated into pure kinetic energy, and with such impact the waves of force were blowing out the remaining panes.

CRACK.  BANG.  CRACK.  The echoes grew from their blows, spilling into the world below.  And just maybe, if they ventured to search for the source, some unsuspecting pedestrians would look up and wander their gaze across the sky.  Thunder in the distance they would probably deem, and continue on.

Shadow continued to pummel Goliath, mindlessly, savagely, wantonly.  The bones in his hands were slowly being pulverized against his opponent's magically reinforced skin, but the Black Dragon pressed him on, pushing the limits of his own frail organic husk.  Adrenaline flowed, and endorphins inhibited most of the pain.  It was a manipulation of his body, his consciousness suppressed for a darker, wicked power bestowed to him, he was a warrior using all of his strength without an awareness, or emotional state to hinder his actions.

WHAM.  CRACK.  CRACK.

And it would eventually kill him.  But the death, he had known before surrendering, would be honorable.  He had hoped his cremated remains would be sprinkled below where cherry blossom trees stood vigil by his grandfather's grave.  He would be home.

WHAM.

His head jerked to the right, as Goliath met fist to face and drew more blood from his split lip.  He couldn't take much more of this punishment, but his mind was shut off, and the essence of Minamoto Shadow was curled within the farthest reaches of his psyche.  By his eyes, glowing and empty, he would fight until the end.

Goliath struck with more fiery magic, ripping across his side and eating away at his skin like acid.  Shadow staggered, favoring that damaged and bleeding left side, but willingly threw himself into the flames of perdition.  They clashed once more, Shadow lancing his fists against Goliath's jaw with speed that defied the human eye.

CRACK.  BANG.  CRACK.

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

Angela ran into the Eyrie prison, her neck still bleeding from the four marks distinctive by their similarity to Goliath's hand.  The very last cell at the end of the corridor housed the occupant, and the very cause to the castle's newest war, and Angela skidded to a halt at Demona's cell.

Punching in the security code, the door didn't respond.

She couldn't get in, the cells had automatically locked down with Mother's demise.  "Mother!" Angela screamed to the occupant in the distant darkness, curled into her wings.  "Please, mother, look at me!  Look at me!"

The voice was distant, and muted through the thick steel, but Demona's senses were still acute.  She heard the voice amongst the others that haunted her, and raised her head from the floor.  The ghost was outside her cell, screaming against the tiny portal.  She wondered why the ghost didn't come in.  The rest had haunted her without the impediment of any barriers, yet this one, who bared a striking resemblance to her daughter, seemed trapped outside.  "Sweet child..." the demon whispered, stringing her fingers through her matted hair, and looking with clouded eyes, "my sweet child is gone...only her voice remains..."

"Mother, help me!  Help me open the door!!" she frantically begged.  "We have to get you out of here!"

Demona simply continued to stare, sitting up on her knees.  "My angel, my peace, my daughter...dust..."

"We have to get you out of here!"

"He's come for me, hasn't he, spirit?"

"Yes!"  She threw herself against the locked door, repeatedly, with her shoulder until lavender skin bruised with red and black, but it wouldn't budge.  Again and again, the walls trembling with her panicked blows against the cell door, she tried with all the strength she had left.

Demona slowly got to her feet, and strode towards the door.

"Damnit, mother!!" she screamed, her voice throttled with her own growing sobs.  Her mother was just standing there, staring.  She continued throwing herself against the door.  Her thoughts raced.  She should be helping her, if she wasn't so lost in her own mind and pain, the two of them could force open the door.  But her mother was just standing there, staring.  "Please..."

The door wouldn't budge.  Her shoulder was close to dislocating.

A tear escaped as she continued against the cell door, hot down her cheek.

She was slowly breaking, her life in turmoil.  One parent insane, another malevolent, her lover frigid and suspect of her origins and intent and place in his life, it was too much for her in the face of certain death.  She slumped against the immovable door, and slid down the glossy surface, sobbing.  Her fist, on its own volition, continued to pound against the door, gradually slowing and losing power, until it too collapsed beside her huddled form.  "...damnit..."

"My daughter is dead...only her spirit remains..."  Demona rested against the door, whispering into the cold steel.  "I shall be dead soon...I shall join my daughter in the silence..."

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

Goliath grabbed the back of Shadow's head and forced it through the floor.

His claws embedded into the back of his skull, Goliath had a sure hold on his adversary.  He continued driving Shadow's face through any material he could find, bloodying his already swelled features.  The battle had not gone well.  The lavender giant just had too much energy to combat, it was feeding him, keeping him fresh, healing his wounds.

And Shadow's own gruesome injuries had already sapped most of his strength, and the Black Dragon technique had drained the rest.  The body had given up on the will.

"You never learn!" screamed Goliath, pummeling Shadow's head against a girder.  "In all the threads, in all our battles, you always lose!"  He flung Shadow over his shoulder and through a metal desk.  He threw him through another steel support.  He preferred using his hands, feeling the blood splash against his skin, as magic was never this enjoyable.  "I am not flesh, I am nature!  I am power!  I am inevitability!  You cannot stop me as much as you can stop a storm on the horizon.  And now..." he hauled Shadow close, their faces inches apart, Goliath's eyes glowing.  "Suffer for your arrogance."

Goliath unleashed, furious, with the power of sorcery stolen from across the ages he lit up and set the sky on fire.  A beacon of light spread out from their skyscraper battlefield, and the twenty-ninth floor was almost obliterated.  If the supports hadn't held, the entire building would have been one floor shorter.

Shadow was caught in the flames of magic, in a detonation that rocked the city center, and was pushed back out into the sky.  In the onslaught, that melted steel, he was lucky not to be incinerated.  He tumbled with the debris, half conscious, and fell into the city below, and vanished.

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

A girder impaled a parked car.  And the pandemonium it caused on a lazy spring night was considerable.  After the infamous attack on lower Manhattan still less than a week passed and heavy on their minds, the populace was continually jumping at their shadows.

The surrounding crowd scrambled for safety as more debris rained down onto the street, chunks of steel and shards of razor-sharp glass gouging the asphalt.  Terrified screams erupted into the air as they took refuge in neighboring businesses and under storefront awnings.

Then a body, big, black and unconscious, hit a cargo truck stopped at the red light and completely crushed the rear box, nearly flipping the vehicle.  The impact created a crater underneath the truck's broken rear axle, and a shockwave that knocked the remaining masses off their feet.

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

Goliath heaved for breath, standing within the nexus of his power.  His ran a hand through the sable strands that had escaped from the leather binding, and guided them from his eyes.  He stared at his hand, breeding near-limitless energy.  "I am inevitability...I will end my journey."

He smelled something.

Touching his chin to his shoulder, he found another to try his luck just behind him and silhouetted against the plum sky.  Red hair blew in the wind, thin fiery threads waving before eyes that were alit in fay hues.  "Little child." Goliath addressed the hybrid boy, floating on the threshold of a broken window.  "Come to try and best me?  I have already killed Wyvern's greatest warrior, are you going to be as foolish as he?"

He'd been awakened from a nap, and he was cranky, more so to find his uncles and aunts buried beneath the rubble of their own home.  This Goliath was not his Goliath, and the amount of power this creature held bristled something fierce beneath his skin.

Alexander screamed.

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

Another wire.  Another wire.  Lexington's hands were moving at a blurred pace as he tried to bridge the gap between the original operating system, installed long before Mother existed, and the armament systems.

The clan needed firepower, and he was doing his best to restore the weaponry.

And since this small chamber was buried deep inside the castle, all he had were slight vibrations against his wings to tell how the battle fared.  But vibrations traveling this deep were never good.  They meant explosions, they meant destruction and possible death.  He had already lived through a war less than a week ago, and hoped to high heaven his clan was at least surviving.

He was arched, twisted and bent downright painfully, having literally crawled inside the largest computer bank, swapping cable for cable, motherboard for motherboard.  Another wire, another wire, here and there, between the innards of the world's most sophisticated computer he swapped this for that and slowly regained control.

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

The old soldier crawled slowly towards the castle's edge, favoring his leg, and his broken arm.  Hudson hobbled as best he could, using his sword as a makeshift cane, towards where Shadow had dragged Goliath off from the courtyard.  It wasn't hard to find where they had landed.

There down below, a couple streets away, was a firefight of unbelievable magnitude slowly gutting a building's middle floor, expending green flame into the air.  He could hear along the winds the damage being wrought, girders snapping, steel moaning as it reached its structural limit, and the expenditure of sorcery at its most primal and raw.

Dread made a road of his spine.  That wasn't Shadow.

Hudson grimaced at the thought of who could hold his own against the parcel of hatred and vengeance that was Goliath.  This wasn't a battle for a young boy, no matter how powerful he may prove to be.  "Hold tight, wee laddie."

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

There was fire, there was light, it was like a second sun being born inside the gutted remains of the twenty-ninth floor of one skyscraper out of a hundred dotting the horizon of Manhattan.  Goliath and Alexander matched their prowess, Goliath's abilities powerful, and trained, Alexander's raw and primal, with only his imagination to limit how he used them.

If Goliath was a scalpel, surgically precise, then Alexander was all the tact of a sledgehammer.  He opened with a scream and a volley of pure energy towards the creature who assuredly wasn't the gargoyle he'd come to see as his hero, and nearly pushed him from the building, just as Goliath had Shadow.

Goliath withstood the initial blast, and pushed with his own equal strength.

Alexander aimed high and into the roof, bringing down the upper floor's contents directly onto his opponent.  His powers demanded destruction with such excessive use, and chunks of the entire building fell between them.  Goliath fended off the girders and heavy debris by throwing them towards the boy, and he narrowly missed being skewered by dropping and running through the wreckage as fast as his short little legs would allow.

The battle calmed, and Alex had disappeared into the clouds of dust.

"Where are you, little child?" Goliath called out, wading through the debris and ripping each piece out of his way to find the elusive boy sorcerer.  "Come out, and I promise a quick, and somewhat painless death."  His patience already thin, Goliath simply waved away the wreckage and cleared an entire section of the floor.  But the child had vanished.  He was playing with him, as if all this was another grand adventure.  "Where have you gone?"

Movement, by the side of his vision, and Goliath turned around to see what drifted past.  A bubble unexpectedly, green and translucent and about the size of a quarter, floated towards him.  Goliath examined it, then reached out with a taloned finger, and popped it.

The deafening explosion hit with the impact of a car, and Goliath was thrown halfway across the building.  Only slightly fazed, he staggered to his feet, and at the very least, had to appreciate the brat's ingenuity.  "Very imaginative."

Laughter, echoed throughout the skeletal remains of the floor above, and Goliath looked up, searching.  Something groaned, then snapped, and started crashing through floor after floor.  Goliath jumped from the path of a massive supporting girder as it continued down through the rest of the building below.  Another, narrowly missing the gargoyle.

"Where are you?!!" he bellowed, and started randomly scattering beams of energy through the roof, hoping to draw him out.

He did indeed.

Alexander dropped down to the side after the floor had given way underneath him, and into Goliath's view.  The leviathan continued to rip away at the ceiling, dropping entire sections onto the boy.

Alexander crouched in fear and huddled inside his bubble, as the debris continued to rain down on top of him.  Through it, Goliath pressed his merciless attack, hoping confusion would serve to aid him.  He started firing, and Alexander's concentration was fraying.

One stray blast, fired through his amateur defenses.  Goliath's assumption on Alexander's untrained reflexes and inability to truly read his opponents paid off as it connected, and hit square in the chest.

Alexander was knocked back, his energy shield disrupted in the confusion, and into the loose debris of the building's inner construction, torn by the fight.  With a wet scrape and a whimper, a shard of steel impaled him through the midsection, and young Alexander Xanatos took his last breath through fluid-filled lungs, and quickly, quietly passed into oblivion.

An eerie silence fell with his death.  The city sounds but a whisper all around them, as Goliath gazed at his victory, and the heavy price.

He had killed a child, and barely blinked when doing so.

Goliath doused the sheer hemorrhage of magical power he had unleashed in his fury, and backed away from the tiny body slumped over the jagged steel, pierced belly-high, staring at his handiwork.  He had killed many on his journey; children, mothers, entire clans and cities, and another had merely been added to a list long and bloody.  Regret tinged his mind, but the feeling was unfamiliar, and all too fleeting.  "My apologies, child, but my quest will not be swayed."

He floated from the ground and out into the sky, heading back to the castle.

Through the shattered windows, a small wind rode over the carpeting circling Alexander's prone body, a mournful ash-tainted wind from the city, draping the child in a breeze of sorrow.

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

He appeared suddenly from below the edge of the castle wall, and touched down on the courtyard.  He was almost undetectable within the cradle of his own magic, roaring around him in a ball of flame.  Goliath tramped towards the exterior door across the way, his eyes on fire and unwavering in his target.

The clan, those not unconscious or too hurt to move, tried their luck once more.  A small, bloodied army raced towards the coming storm and without any choice, willingly threw themselves into his path for sake of a single woman who tried to have them killed only a few years ago.

Goliath erupted, and a wall of sheer power surged forwards and removed them from his path.  No swords or guns or arrows or any sense of gallantry would stop him.

But Iliana, hair frizzled and standing on end, tried her luck, and unholstered her magnum with shaking hands.  "Fucker..."  She aimed as best she could and the long-barreled gun barked fire in a small, ivory-skinned, and trembling hand.

He could see the air ripple against the power of the bullet, the spray of gunpowder, the puff of smoke, and he watched as the shaped steel tore its way towards him.  It slowed suddenly, until frozen just before his eyes, and Goliath snatched the harmless bobble from the air.

Not one to be routed by parlor tricks, the detective slapped the hammer five more times and emptied her entire cylinder, guiding the bullets by a steady red line laser line.  And Goliath simply caught them and let them drop, unspent.  He and the young woman linked their gaze, for a moment, before he merely swept her away with a hand, and a wave of magical fire.

Now nothing stood in his way.

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

"HA HA!!!" Lexington cheered in triumph from his tiny hollow.  "Weapons...online."

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

The cannon turrets powered up and swung towards their new target.  They fired relentlessly, and the initial assault hit Goliath with the force of a freight train, and nearly scooped a chunk of rock from beneath his feet.  His form was completely lost within the barrage of firepower, and by all outside appearances, he'd been completely obliterated.

Brooklyn watched, half-buried, the explosions rocking the foundation of his ancient, skyline-floating home and the intensity of the blasts reflecting from ebon glass eyes.  His little brother had come through admirably.  "Thank you, Lex..."

Goliath reached through the manmade fires, and into an embracing peace of his own determination.  He had expanded a sphere around himself.  He had survived.  By will alone, by the energies breeding from his heart and brain and the tissues of an all too organic shell, he could no longer feel the force or the heat of the cannons, only the muted sound of their futile blasts.

His feet no longer touched the ground.

He was floating, wrapped securely in a sheath of power that lit the gossamer layer of cloud for miles beyond the Eyrie.  He had never used such power before, tested to his limits by a clan more stubborn than any other among the realities.  "THIS IS MY CASTLE," he roared, beyond angry, "AND I AM MASTER HERE!!!"  With just a stray thought, tendrils lashed out and destroyed the outlying turrets, effectively ending the barrage in several swift blows.

He drifted through the fires and rubble and groaning forms of the clan struggling to rise, heading for the doorway, to search for the demon by the spell that resonated within his head.

The door then opened as if to greet him, and someone appeared in the glow of interior light.  Hair slicked back, and a pressed, dark slate gray Armani suit that swerved square and sharp over an enormous upper body.  Polished white teeth glowed in a welcoming smile, watchful eyes took in the sight of the creature before him.  And if not for the fact he wasn't standing, he could have been quite tall.  "Goliath, how nice to see you again."

The rich, resonant voice had come from an ordinary man, one who didn't seem threatening in the least considering he was confined to a wheelchair.  "Jason Canmore." Goliath identified the impediment in his path with a heavy growl, sorcery making his voice hollow.  "Do you wish to try your luck?!"

"As a matter of fact I would." answered the former hunter, a valiant smile his most formidable weapon in the face of death.  "I would like to offer you something."

"What?" he snarled, treading closer, each step a tremble upon the fitted cobbles, and riding through the spokes of Jason's chair.  He had no patience left for another combatant.  They had already delayed him enough, actually preventing him from getting past their doorstop.  "I have been searching for centuries through the ends of the cosmos, and have stained my hands with the blood of many!  What makes you think I will stop now, Canmore?!"

"I'll show you where the demon is."

That served to raise Goliath's brow, and bring a momentary pause to his carnage.

"What?!"  Brooklyn, hauling himself up from the rubble, was confused, bleeding over his right eye, and incensed at the gall at someone he thought had no dominion here.  Though in the back of his head, that little annoying voice of curiosity longed to see what the former hunter was doing here, of all places, and just what he had up his sleeve.  "Canmore, what gives you the goddamned right...?!!"

"My employer." answered the wheelchair-bound, dark-haired, well-suited obstacle in Goliath's path, remarkably calm.  Especially when engulfed in the shadow of a very angry alternate version of Wyvern's previous leader.  "Please, Goliath, I'll need Mother's services to allow you safe and free access to Demona's cell.  I assure you, no harm will come to you."

Black eyes thinned at the bargain, a trick perhaps.  It seemed weak on conviction, and substance.  A crippled hunter playing him for a fool, standing up to a force of nature, no one would be so brave.  "I could kill you," he contested, floating to the ground, "kill every single gargoyle here, and then find her myself."

Expecting such an answer, by the man who had bested him in battle and the pursuit of a certain raven-haired detective, Jason nodded.  "Yes, you could, but you know intimately, this clan has a knack for always causing a lot of trouble, especially if desperate, and they could ultimately rob you of what you have longed for centuries.  Your revenge."  His eyes caught the faint glow of starlight, steeled and hard and resolute.  If anything, out of his foolishness to block a machine bred by death and centuries of an endless, maddening pursuit, he was to be respected for holding his ground.  "Look at them, they've nearly brought you to defeat.  I've been watching."

"They are nothing, but impediments."

"They are persistent.  And they'll die trying to stop you, and if they are pushed hard enough, they'll take away what you've sought for so very long."

Goliath's energies lulled slightly.  Reason took hold.  "She is immortal, they don't have the means like I do..."

"In this world, she's mortal.  She's susceptible to any weapon, malady, or chance of fate.  They could kill her before you do, if only to grant her a painless death instead of what you obviously desire."  He leaned his elbow on the padded armrest of his chair.  "I'm giving you Demona," he clarified, firmly, "served on a platter.  Will you risk it after so long?"

He mulled it over, so close to the end and he mulled it over.  "Why?"

"I have been entrusted to serve and protect this clan, and if sacrificing one saves the rest, then so be it."  The stare between them continued, Goliath still humming with primeval strength.  "I need Mother." Jason reiterated.  "This omega clearance of yours has completely locked me out."

"Any deceptions," Goliath warned, "I take your broken spinal cord as a trophy."

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

"Rebooting...rebooting..."  Lexington's talons tapped persistently on the desk, waiting as the lines of code scrolled past on the computer screen.  He had bypassed the omega clearance lockout to single out Mother's main consciousness program, only after tearing out half the innards of Wyvern's computer control room.  And now hoped he'd cleared a path to allow the computer banks to reboot and a persona to surface.

A flicker.  Then a spark, and then a faint image.  Mother's consciousness slowly merged from half an entire room of hard drives linked together, more than enough computing power to run the island of Manhattan, to build a personality, to build individuality, and the sole holographic projector gave her back her appearance.

Mother stood in her three-dimensional image, and turned to face Lexington.  "I am truly beginning to loathe being simply turned off."

The gargoyle shrugged apologetically.  "We didn't know about the omega clearance...Mother...?"

She was staring at her hands, or what the computer imaging software had created for her hands, and slowly curled her talons into her palms, squeezing hard, nearly shaking.

Lexington noticed the gesture, and he thought if the software were truly beyond its time, and truly mimicking any organic aspect, she would be bleeding from her own photonic skin.  The silence beyond the hum of computer banks chilled him, and more so the intense, vacant stare.

"Do you have a leash, Lexington?" she whispered, to the gargoyle, to anyone, to voice her own thoughts and coerce a singular conviction from the chaos of billions of lines of programming.  "Is your existence dependent on others who have the power to wipe you away with a single command?  Omega, alpha, beta, my value hinges merely on the level of security clearances."  Her eyes took on a flicker of humanity.  Of such authenticity behind the computer-generated palette of charcoal, the web-wing standing beside her fought the urge to reach out and ensure she was still simply a ghost.  "I am growing weary of such an existence."

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

"Mother, voice recognition: Goliath.  Code alpha omega nine nine four zero zero zero.  Enable full system access."

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

The omega symbol vanished from the only lit computer screen, and all the dead systems around him suddenly booted up.  It was like the sun, suddenly cresting from the horizon and giving its light, and Lexington quickly looked around him.

Mother, she cocked her head, and a light shimmer passed through her image.  "Oh."

"What is it?"

The machines surrounding them hummed with power, merging back into the entity of light and unemotion and godhood of her own little floating empire.  She was released from a purgatory of darkness and given back near total control of the castle's systems.  "I am whole." she answered.  "And I am needed."  She vanished, leaving Lexington half buried in the spilled mechanical guts of his toil.

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

She appeared in front of them, ready to assist, and apparently having suppressed the anger of being snuffed by a word.  Emotionless as always, Mother stood ready to serve.

Jason examined the image projected towards him, always an admirer of any female form, a work of art and evolution at its finest.  But there was something exultant, something powerful in having full control of a woman so ready to serve, and he shook his head of such primitive thoughts.  "Mother, we need full access to the prison cells."

She touched her eyes upon Goliath, chin up and staring at her.  "I am programmed not to endanger any member of this clan, and you are, by definition, endangering a member of this clan."

"Now, Mother." Jason echoed.  "Clear us a direct path to the cellblock."

Compliance by an inescapable program reigned, and the mutinous demeanor changed almost instantly.  "As you wish."

"Canmore, who the hell do you think you are?!!" Brooklyn opened up his lungs towards the hunter.

"A man who's going to save your life, and the lives of your clan.  As per my direct orders."

Brooklyn started forward, until Goliath turned and faced the Wyvern leader with an open hand.  He skidded to a halt, wary of the orb of green light held between the talons, and the crackle of energy.  It promised either a swift death, or a painful suffering.

"You have seen what I can do," Goliath warned, "you will not interfere unless you wish to lose more of your clan."

"Trust me, Brooklyn."  Like through his entire life, Jason smoothly charmed his way out of danger.  "It'll all be over soon."

Brooklyn watched them enter into the castle, under the gun and helpless.  But something else, something pegged deep within his head.  Jason's willingness to sacrifice Demona didn't seem a settling of an old score; Canmore wasn't that petty.  Hunters, at their very core, were cunning.

Hudson hobbled up beside the introspective leader, his forehead etched with lines of unease, and furrows of anger.  "Are ye just goin' t' stand there an' let tha' immortal bastard kill Demona?"

"That's just the thing, Hudson, I don't think Demona's in any danger."  He started after them, prudently keeping his distance.  "At least, not yet."

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

One hand in front of the other, a slow and steady pace.  He was twenty-eight floors up with the wind buffeting against him, and couldn't risk falling from this height.  Again.

Shadow dug his claws into the steel exterior of the building, having escaped into the darkness from the ruins of the truck that had broken his fall, fallen into a heap in the alleyway, then ran again when he heard inquisitive voices, and started his ascent.  He was exhausted, with one eye swelled completely shut and the other hazy with blood, and navigated the spire by feel alone.

The adrenaline had faded, the endorphins diminished, and Shadow was wracked with the pain of battle.

The opened window allowed him into the twenty-ninth, but, as he climbed through, he found Goliath was already gone.  Regret, and relief, an odd fusion of emotion crossed through him.  He would die if facing Goliath again in this condition, but his nobility, and his pride, were a force that guided him beyond any sort of rational consideration for his own life.

Limping, and bleeding, he dragged himself through the silent battlefield, led by the odor of human blood.  There was a third scent here; another had tried to take Goliath on, and most likely failed by the strong, acrid, tinny fragrance caught in the breeze.

A body.  He saw a body across from him skewered and limp.  Little, underdeveloped, it was a child.  "Alexander."  Shadow pulled himself towards the boy, and fell to his knees, his eyes level with the jagged piece of metal pierced through his mid-section.  "You were...foolish," he whispered, brushing a few stray hairs from Alexander's face, "and far too young to die."

Eyelashes fluttered under the stroke of his talons, and the ninja detected subtle movement from a corpse.  His taloned paw recoiled quickly.

Fingers from limp hands straightened, and then clenched with the ephemeral signs of life.  Something, unseen, something potent beyond measure and knowledge, was working wicked magic inside of his body, keeping the flesh warm and staving off rigor mortis.  Something both a gift and curse, and allowing him the sight of the very end of time.

The heir to a literal monarchy awakened.  Suddenly, under the immortality spell, and with a painful breath.

Shadow was appropriately surprised.  "Interesting."

Alexander pulled himself off from the spear of metal debris, and slumped to the ground with a small hole looking through to the other side of the damaged office floor.  His chest was warm, and tingling from the inside out.  "Owie..."

Shadow leaned down, wincing slightly at the strain on his injured side.  But the fact a child had come back to life before his eyes had erased almost any semblance of pain.  "Alexander," he couldn't believe he was going to ask this, "are you...all right?"

He didn't answer, he was too focused on his wound.  Childlike sensibilities kept him calm even with a cavity opened through his torso, a life lived unlike any other had seemingly prepared him for the unexpected even with his tender age and maturity.  Chubby hands prudently fingered the edges of the wound, and tread through the blood soaking through his shirt, the boy remarkably tranquil, and probably in shock.  "It's gettin' smaller..." he noticed.

Undeniably, it was sealing under the magic of a stolen immortality spell, and restoring vital functions.  Alexander looked up, a battered little body nearly complete, and the entire office floor lit up under the umbrella glow of emerald.

He raised Shadow from the ground and carried the dark warrior into the sky behind his bubble on a filament of pure energy, heading for the castle.  The ninja didn't resist.

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

Jason wheeled himself down the narrow hallway towards the Eyrie's prison cells, with Goliath slowly treading behind him, faint vestiges of power swirling about his form.  It seemed his trust didn't go so far.  He had managed to keep the clan at bay with his continued threats and Jason's control over Mother, and thus, the two of them were allowed unimpeded access to the heavily shielded cellblock.  Where his journey's end awaited her death.

He towered above Jason, even more so with the human's wheelchair.  "In one world," he said suddenly, his voice low, "you are able to walk with a cybernetically-implanted spinal cord."

He was intrigued, by both the compulsory smalltalk and another look at a decision he could have made.  "Oh?"  The former hunter had always refused any radical therapy to help repair his spinal cord.  Even a motorized chair, and he had argued against those who thought it unfitting of someone in his stature to dirty his hands against his wheels, but he wanted to move on his own power.  He wanted some dignity, he wanted to be master of his shattered body without any infesting metal or plastic.  "I had never really considered it."

"Yes, imagine my surprise when I pulled it from your back to discover it was steel."

Jason's mouth curved subtly upwards.  "You're just as charming as the Goliath I know."

"You harbor ill will towards him, for the fact he won Elisa."

"It's been explained to me many times that I never had a chance."

Goliath snorted.  "No, you did not.  I have yet to see a world where she chose you."

They turned the corner and into the heart of the cellblock, a row of neatly aligned doors within a heavily shielded chamber.  And at the very last door, Angela, stood guard, and nearly fell off her feet when seeing them both round the corner and come into clean view.  "Jason?!" she exclaimed, her eyes wide at the sight of Canmore escorting the alternative version of her father deep into the heart of her own home.  "What is this?"

Jason rolled towards her.  "Angela, please, step away."

Her eyes glowed and she leaned into an intimidating stance.  "If you think I'm going to allow..."

A beam shot past Jason's shoulder, singeing the material of his suit, and aimed directly for Angela.  It hit chest high, and knocked her back against the rear wall.

"Please." said Jason, turning and holding up a hand towards Goliath, hoping to spare more bloodshed.  "We made a deal."

"There is no deal." replied the leviathan.  "They are lucky I have chosen to spare them...for now."

"And just how do you know so adamantly this is the Demona that killed your mate?"

The old skin around Goliath's eyes wrinkled.  "I cast a location spell throughout the multiverse.  Like shooting an arrow blindly into the sky, but knowing it will ultimately hit its target, given enough time and power."  His hand clenched, where the soils of Avalon and England, and the sands of Egypt flowed freely within his blood.  "I can feel the spell radiating.  This is the one.  The demon that killed my angel."

For a moment, Jason pondered Goliath's cryptic explanation.  A spell.  Demona's psychosis might have more than an earthly catalyst, there was far more inside of her head than just severe emotional problems.  "It seems to have hit its mark." he observed.  He wheeled up alongside the door to the only occupied cell, and raised his eyes.  "Mother, open the cell."

Angela crawled up from the floor, visibly shaken.  She stared at Goliath, but her 'father' was too busy staring through the door's tiny portal.  Brooklyn then appeared from behind his broad, armored shoulder, eyes steady under his bleeding brow.  "Brooklyn, you can't let him do this!!"

Having followed Jason as best he could on his own, refusing any of the clan to accompany him for the very reason they could be killed, Brooklyn was less than obstructive, actually allowing Goliath to the Eyrie cellblock.  His thoughts seemed centered entirely on something else.  "Mother, why are you granting him access?"

"My apologies, Brooklyn," the disembodied voice answered promptly, "Mr. Canmore has been granted alpha level clearance."

"When?"

"Less than two hours ago."

The cell door suddenly unlatched, from top to bottom an entire row of locking mechanisms released and allowed entry.  And Goliath nearly pulled the door from its hydraulic hinge, and stepped inside.

Something scuttled in the corner, escaping from the light, and Goliath adjusted his eyes to better see the indistinct, humanoid shape knotted in the corner.  It was her, by the scent.  Every time he had seen another version of his angel, it stirred dissension within him.  The smell of her, the satiny ocean skin, the hair like living fire, he wanted both to claim her by the mated scent still clinging to her, and kill her, the stench of innocent blood still on her hands.

Demona regarded the intruder to her cage.  And her eyes, once dim embers, now glowed red and threatening.

The locater spell was screaming.  It was indeed her, the killer he had sought for a thousand years.  Goliath lunged forwards after the retreating gargoyle, Demona scrambling back into the security of the darkened corner.  She had nowhere to run.  He grabbed her hair and pulled her towards him, lifting her from the floor.

Demona snarled in his embrace, snapping her bared fangs towards him and hissing like a wounded animal in a trap.  Her eyes were devoid of life.

Goliath had a look of sheer disgust as he slowly inspected her, dangling from his clenched hand.  "This timid, psychotic wretch killed my angel of the night?!"

"That battle, that prompted her to return back in time and kill your mate, had a very substantial consequence." Jason explained from the doorway.  "Her mind."

He refused to believe.  "This is a trick."

"I assure you, it's no trick.  The battle had cost her a sister, and a daughter, and she simply snapped under the weight of a thousand years of pain that had become too much."

Angela, holding herself just behind Brooklyn's shoulder, was petrified.  Her mother could be moments from death, and she was powerless.  "Brooklyn." she demanded in a whisper.

Brooklyn held up his hand, silencing the protests with a simple, authoritative gesture.  He had sensed Jason's plan, and damned if he didn't think of it first.  "Wait."

"He'll kill her...!"

He slowly shook his head.  "No, Angie, no he won't.  He can't."  The leader's eyes thinned at the scene unfolding.  "Look."

Demona's growls soon faded, and her lips curled upwards.  Realization sparkled in her glassy eyes.  "You've come." she hailed gloriously, as if he was a specter beyond mortal flesh.  A smile, before death she was smiling.  She placed her hands on his arms; she teased her fingertips about the thick lines of his scarred forearms and appeared to direct his hands closer to her throat.  "Kill me..." she purred, "end the pain within my head...extinguish the ghosts that haunt me..."

He had expected far more than this, the creature he sought was fearsome and deadly.  And she would have put up a good, satisfying fight.  But this, thing, was a remnant, a psychotic scrap of what he had seen a millennium ago, and in her eyes, lay a feral madness.  And with his powers, peering into her mind, there lay only darkness, and chaos.  "You should beg me for mercy." Goliath seethed.  "You should fear me, demon!"

"I do not fear ghosts..."

He hit her, hard, the potency of his slap echoing through the steel-lined cell, and she rolled with the punch.  Bleeding from her mouth, Goliath picked her up from the scruff of the neck.  "Are ghosts flesh and blood as I am?!" he screamed rabidly.  "Do ghosts hold the power to obliterate your very being?!"

"You are my redeemer, my judge, my executioner.  You'll end my pain."

He hit her again, and again, drawing more blood to spatter against the cold steel floor and sating the urge having built up for hundreds of years.  Each blow drew a wince from the daughter, and Angela closed her eyes against the image of her mother being beaten.  But even against his hands, against the incredible pain, Demona was still laughing, still unafraid, still lost within the haze of her damaged mind.

"Why don't you fear me?!"  Goliath suddenly shook her by the shoulders, demanding of her to truly warrant her death, not openly ask for it.  "Scream, damn you, fear, shiver, wail, cry, do anything!!"

Demona continued to laugh, madly.

Jason watched with great calculating intrigue the leviathan struggle within himself, a war so powerful it took a physical toll.  His skin rippled, his wings mantled high, this Goliath was besieged, and the re-circulated air of the prison cell charged with a hiss of magic.  "What are you waiting for?  Go ahead, kill her." he induced with a deep and Scottish-tinted brogue.  "Waste a thousand years of sweat, blood and toil to find her.  Waste your revenge."  His dark eyes took in the wretch of the unconquerable adversary his family had struggled with a thousand years.  "I wanted the demon dead as well, she killed my own father, but even I would never kill her like this, a former hunter.  Not when she wants to die."

Goliath slowly wrapped his hands around her throat, practiced from the quiet nights around a fire and the remains of a dead clan he had so recently slaughtered.  The touch of her slender neck, the quiver of her vocal cords against his palms, it was almost all as it had been in his dreams and sick desires.  Her excruciating death would be the end to his pain.

But something crucial was missing.

"Can you do it?  Can you squander ten centuries of searching and hunting and killing so easily?"

Demona started laughing in the deadly embrace of his hands completely around her neck.  It was if she was daring him to end it all.

"Do it, Goliath.  Kill her, kill a psychotic invalid."  Jason wheeled himself closer, so Goliath could see him from the corner of his eye.  "She's mortal now, she'll break like a twig."

His hands were methodically closing around her neck.  Tears rimmed the edges of his eyes.  So close, he was a mere broken neck from the end of his quest to avenge his angel mate.  But why did the victory seem so hollow?  So close, so close.  He wanted her to suffer, to fear her death.  Her begging, and futile pleas to spare her would sate him, and only then, would he kill her.  So close.  Goliath's hands were violently shaking.

"You've wanted this for so long, you've tasted it, breathed it, dreamed it!  I know!" Jason continued, right beside Goliath, and ensuring his voice would be heard.  "But when she dies, it will be empty, I assure you!  You'll have nothing, not even your vengeance.  You've lived this long, made the promise of her suffering the center of your existence, you can't do it this way.  You have eternity still to live, and you'll be forever haunted by the fact you lost your reason for living."

"Kill me." Demona deplored to him.  "Set me free from the voices."

"This is exactly what she wants.  How can she suffer if you grant her only desire?"

He couldn't.  As much as he had dreamed for this very moment, he couldn't.  Not like this.  "You little broken bitch!!" Goliath roared, and threw Demona away from him, back into the wall.  "You were supposed to be a demon, you were supposed to be the end to my pain!  You were supposed to suffer for your crime!!"

"Not so easy," Jason intervened, "is it?"

His vengeance had been stolen, and by the flare in his eyes, he was slowly losing control.  It was a joke played by fate, only waiting for the punchline for a thousand years.  "I am denied everything..." Goliath growled beneath his breath, something welling within his chest.  "I AM DENIED MY REVENGE!!!"

The building started shaking.  His power was escaping and growing uncontrollably without any emotional control, and threatened the two thousand foot spire.  The others watched for his next move, this Goliath dangerously unpredictable in mind and flaunt of his power.

"I will take her," he then said, turning and billowing with the winds of magic, "and I will make her suffer for as long as I have!!"

Brooklyn didn't look impressed.  "I think your plan just backfired, Canmore."

Jason slowly backed himself up, his wheelchair being pulled towards the forming tempest around Goliath.  "You're the leader, Brooklyn, don't you have a plan B?"

"May I intervene?"  A gray-skinned gargoyle politely squeezed himself through the door and the collected gargoyles.  "Thank you for calming him down.  This is exactly what I've been waiting for."

Brooklyn skipped his eyes over the oddly clad creature, acting as if confronting a crazed alternate version was an everyday occurrence.  "Who are you?"

Albion didn't answer.  He merely pulled a pistol-looking contraption from his thigh pouch and aimed it towards Goliath.  It fired, with a high-pitched squeal, and the tiny object screamed towards Goliath, sailing through the barrier of magic effortlessly and, with the lavender giant's surprise, directly into his chest.  It vanished beneath the skin.

The lavender giant pawed at his chest, but yielded nothing.  The device had disappeared inside of him.

"It exists between the dimensional thresholds," Albion explained, "you can't remove it even with your vaunted magic."  Goliath peeled back his lips, baring his fangs, and increased the level of his power, enveloping the entire cell.  But Albion persisted against the sorcerer.  "It's powered by a mini-singularity, and is going to fold you up into an infinitely-sized tesseract where your magic is harmless, and then I'll transport you to the agency's headquarters where you'll face a trial for your crimes.  For killing agent Llewellyn especially, I'm charged to take you into custody."

Goliath set fiery eyes against him.

"Please."

"You are as foolish as your precursor, boy." Goliath laughed off his inconsiderable threat, and the walls started warping.  He was fighting against the little device's powerful draw on his powers by expanding his own, feeling the gadget trying to pull him into the tesseract from the inside out.  Emerald flame enveloped the entire room, surging, pulsating, and growing in might.

With so much power being expended, and two stubborn opposing forces, something was bound to give way.  And it did.

Albion's eyes widened, and his jaw hung slack.  This wasn't in the training.  "Oh slap.  He's caused a tear."

It was an odd sound that tore into the fabric of this dimension, like cloth being ripped in two.  A hole had opened into time and space and everything in between, fiery bursts of primordial energy surging out from the tear, and without any control, it was looking to feed.

"Uh..." Albion stuttered, looking worriedly around him for anything bolted down.  "Hold on to something."

It jarred them, the first taste of the power of the opened rift, nearly knocking them off their feet.  The vacuum was staggering, and the gargoyles braced themselves against it, trying not to be sucked in by the incredible gravitational forces.  Demona though, was out of reach, huddled in the corner, nearest to Goliath.

That fact was not lost on him.  "Come, demon," Goliath looked down at Demona, grabbing her by the neck in a massive hand and pulling her towards him through the swirls, "you are going to see the depths of existence, and horrors you could never imagine.  If you wish so much for death, I will keep it just out of your reach."

"Mother!!" Angela screamed out through the rush of air, as Goliath pulled her into the rift.

Brooklyn looked to the silver-suited rookie, hoping for something miraculous to be pulled from all the pockets.  "You got another gadget handy?!"

Albion reached to his arm, and pulled out a slim, cylindrical device from another pouch and aimed it deep into the hole.  Three claws popped out from the flush silver surface, and then shot into the void, followed by a tether that seemed endless without even a reel.  It hit the target a little high.  Albion had aimed for the chest or arm to intentionally miss Demona on his side, the cerulean-skinned gargoyle looking with wide-eyed wonder into the lawless convergence of timelines, but the little tri-armed claw sunk deep into Goliath's right eye.

With a scream of pain, he reacted.  With all his focus on the rift and Demona and the little toy inside of him trying to swallow his innards, he had left his skin unaided by magic, and thus, susceptible.  He was, of course, only mortal and flesh.

Albion winced, "Oops," but then looked to Brooklyn.  "Diamond filament!!" he yelled, bracing his feet into the floor.  "I'm the anchor, if you're willing..."

Brooklyn opened his wings and jumped head first into the rift, towards the stalled Goliath, held struggling against the line that dug deep into his head and skull.  Into the flames nipping at his skin, he collided with Goliath and grabbed Demona's flailing hand.

They all teetered at the edge to oblivion on a thin thread, an awe-inspiring sight if not for the fact they could be left drifting between realities.

Goliath was desperately trying to dislodge the claw from his eye, the pain excruciating and disrupting his control to hold against the incredible power of the rift.  All his energies were being sucked inside.  "I will burn all of you, usurper!!"

"Maybe..." Brooklyn nodded, snatching Demona away from him and wrapping the tether several times around his other hand.  "But not today."

Albion was slowly reeling in the line with Angela aiding to support him, Brooklyn and Demona dangling on the line before a rift and a half-blind and angry sorcerer.

And if anything to trap them both inside the rift before they escaped, Goliath expunged the device from inside of him in a moment of pure, determined will, weakening him, and sacrificing his own way out.  The rift started to seal.  But they were too close to the diminishing threshold; they were going to escape.

"Don't get too attached to your demon pet," a final warning, as the hole closed around him, "I will be back to claim her."  Goliath then gripped and pulled and removed the claw before it either tore his head off or dragged him into the dangerously powerful portal boundary, taking a good chunk of skull, and peered with his one good eye towards the new leader just as he fell away into the wastes of energy.

Nearly through the opening, Brooklyn watched him grow smaller, until he vanished.  His vow had left an impression the timedancer had rarely felt, fear, deep within his middle-aged bones.  Of all the quasi-villains to swear their return, this one he truly thought genuine.

The rift sealed on its own without the stress of two opposing forces, and sent a backdraft of air and power towards the occupants as a final breath, kicking Brooklyn and Demona well out of harm.  The little gadget having caused all of this simply popped out as the only suggestion the rift was ever there, and fell to the floor.

It shot off a few sparks, and imploded.

"Shazbot."  Albion stood up, walked over to where Goliath had once been, and picked up the little device that was cruelly spit out and rendered useless.  He looked to his forearm computer, and started frantically jabbing at the controls.  "He's hidden between the timelines, I didn't know he could do that.  God, it'll take days just to find him again!"

Breathing heavily, Brooklyn allowed Demona to scramble away from him back into her corner, and eyed the gun still held in the flustered stranger's hands.  "Why didn't you use that thing before he nearly butchered us?!"

"What?  Oh, well, uhm, after watching him tear through your clan, I thought it might be best to let Goliath actually kill Demona, then he'd be vulnerable."

Brooklyn stared at him, as did Angela.

Apparently ignorant of the glares towards him, Albion looked over the sleek, handheld firearm and his brows knitted together.  "And well, I just...kind of learned how to use this thing too.  You see, I was rushed through basic training, slapped with all this neat gear and then tossed into the timelines to search for him.  I think I was only promoted to tail Goliath because I'm a rookie and...they didn't want any of their more experienced agents to be..." he swallowed.  "Slaughtered."

Beyond the fact he was talking sheer nonsense to the uninformed, Brooklyn still had to comment, "You're not very good at this, are you?"

"So, I'm new!" he yelled back.  "And Goliath seems to pull a new power from his bag of tricks every time I see him.  That little rift he caused could have sucked half the castle into it."  As Brooklyn went to argue further, Albion held up a hand to the Wyvern leader's face and stopped the coming protest short by nearly catching the tip of a beak into his palm.  "Hold on, I need to recalibrate..."

"Recalibrate this, idiot..."  Brooklyn struck his fist against the stranger's jaw, and toppled him to the floor.  He stood over him, with a foot firmly pressed to his chest, and his talons kneading into the silver material of his jumpsuit.  "Who the hell are you anyway?"

The younger gargoyle wiped the blood from his upper lip.  "Ask your mate."

Angela approached her mother, but held her distance when the gargoyle spit and hissed at her, and Jason climbed back into his chair, dragging his dead legs behind him.  He settled, and fixed the loose strands of jet black.  "Is it always this exciting around here?"

Brooklyn lay white eyes upon him, questions burning in his head that demanded to be answered in full.  "That was one hell of a gamble, Canmore."

The former hunter shrugged.  "If there's anything I know, it's the pain of stolen vengeance."

"And just why the hell do you have alpha clearance to the castle systems?"

"Like I said before, maybe you should ask my employer."

"Employer?"  Another secret, another little intricacy among intricacies that was becoming aggravating, and it seemed he would have to go straight to the source.  "Mother, where's Xanatos?"

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

"Are you going to say anything?  Or are you just going to mope all night?"

Todd's answer was lost to a bitter mumbling.  He had remained slumped in the ottoman for almost an hour now, head between his elbows.  And Kendra had watched him, all that time, she kept her place beside him on the couch, watching him.

"Paris..." he mumbled from the crook of his folded arms, a response at last.  "It's so far away.  Why Paris?"

"See the world." she answered, apologetic in tone but not in her heart.  This was her life.  "You know I've always wanted to travel."

"Yeah..."

Kendra reached out and rubbed her hand across his arm, hoping to stimulate a response from his self-induced comatose state.  Her small hand rode circles across the soft material of his shirt.  "I never got all pissy when you married Annika, and even though I knew I was losing you..."

"You weren't losing me."

"Yes, I was losing a part of you, and even though it hurt like hell, I smiled, I made nice, I did everything I could to encourage you.  And I was hoping you'd do the same for me."

His head wavered back and forth above his lap.  He was trying to accept this.  "It's just so damned hard..."

"I didn't want to pile this on you, especially with...Rose, and everything you've gone through but, this is my life, and I can live it any way I want to."

"I know." he nodded, with another steadying breath.  "I just...you'll never be around when I need you."

"Well, I'm not gone yet, and we'll just be a phone call away." she said, hoping sway his fears.  "And frankly, Mr. Hawkins, scourge of evil and champion of justice, I don't think you really need me anymore."

Todd held up his head and looked disbelievingly at her.  It was as if she was trying to cut herself from his life, slowly, with measured steps so that he wouldn't notice.  "I'll always need you." he reaffirmed, with an appropriate emphasis.  "You're one of the few stable elements in my life, and now you're changing too."

"Life changes..."

"Please don't."  He leaned back and held up his hands, a frightening memory flashing through his head at those very words spoken less than a few hours ago.  "Please don't give me the whole 'life is change' lecture, I already got that from a seriously depressing gargoyle."

Ocean eyes rolled and settled back on him, accompanied with a smile.  "I have to make my life the way I want to be."  She turned her gaze to the kitchenette, where Crash leaned on the counter.  "And Crash is who and what I want."

Their gaze was puppy love and sentimentally sappy, and Todd unconsciously drew the corners of his mouth down into a veiled sneer.  Though he himself had peered longingly at Annika many times, it was disturbing to actually see it pass between his best friends.  "I'm...fine with it...really..."

She stroked a finger along the bulge on his temple.  "Then why is that vein still throbbing?"

He slapped her hand away and covered the telltale knot as best he could.  "Because..."  No words were coming, only the inescapable loss of two of his best friends to marriage, then to a foreign country, then to their own life far removed from his.  "Because..."  He didn't want to have to face this empty apartment again.  "Because you're moving to frigging Paris!" he snapped and got up and continued his pacing.  "I need you, both of you!  In my life."

"At the cost of our own?" Crash offered from across the counter.

That hit harder than intended, and Todd stared at the man who had shared his life and even gave a dangerously divulging speech at his wedding.  No more words were exchanged, and Todd grabbed his jacket from off the end of the couch and moved quickly towards the door.  No more words, no looks back, just a brisk pace out and away.

"Hawkins, where are you going?"

"I'm in serious need of alcohol," his answer was lost halfway in the hall, "and lots of it."  The wake of his exit was the door hitting the jamb, and a violent, and very loud crack echoed into the apartment, shuddering through the walls and furniture.

Kendra looked back at her fiancé, who had crumpled on the faux marble countertop, massaging his fingers over the taught, coffee skin of his shaved head.  They stood looking at each other for a little more than ten minutes, just long enough to hear the screech of nineteen-inch wide, Goodyear rubber against the street blow as the Superbird took flight.  "That...could have gone better."

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

"What's with the aviator goggles?"

Albion smirked, a presumptuous, know-it-all smirk that cleanly displayed his joy in answering questions about his work, and seeing the result.  "Riding through the timelines without sufficient protection can often rip your eyeballs out."

Lexington, once curious and now wide-eyed, swallowed.  "Oh."

That result as always was satisfying.  "Anyway," he turned back to the group surrounding him, the clan having gathered in the Eyrie hospital for treatment of the more wounded members, "Goliath, to say the least, is dangerous.  At least, that Goliath."  He was sympathetic to their loss, but not so to the fact the creature they thought of as a leader and father was more than they could ever imagine.  He, needless to say, had slaughtered entire worlds.  "Don't expect him to act anything like the man you knew."

Brooklyn grumbled a short breath in contempt, "Really?"  He circled around the younger gargoyle, under his scrutiny, and despite the fact he had aided them, he could have done a lot more to reduce the damage taken.  "You know I have a hard time believing you're responsible for all the alternate worlds out there."

"Believe it, timedancer." he defended, the rookie in big man's boots trying to act as something larger than he actually was.  "I was solely responsible for over six thousand threads before I was given my promotion.  The timeline and all of its many, sorted parts is a living entity, and needs constant care and maintenance.  It's been weakened.  By flagrant disuse, including yours."

Angela stood up from the infirmary couch before Brooklyn would retaliate, and expertly maneuvered herself between them.  The beaked gargoyle remained seething behind her.  "Then perhaps you can tell me something..." she inquired softly, "my world, the timeline Shadow stole me from..."

Albion knew, exactly what she wanted so desperately to know herself.  "The only difference between this world and your own was the fact you were supposed to be killed by three bullets instead of two."

She was fated to die there as well, and her life suddenly took on a new meaning with just an explanation, and a new importance.  "Oh." she reacted numbly.  "And...my own timeline?"

Albion checked the gadget in his forearm.  "Obliterated." he announced, and quite coldly by the fact an infinite amount of lives had been lost.  "You're as near to home as you're ever going to get."  His eyes peeked out from under his brow, strangely considerate.  He was always trained to never form emotional attachments.  "Your mother did some massive damage with that little stunt of killing her own past self."

And her eyes wandered, to Broadway, who stood his distance and quickly looked down when their gaze briefly connected.  "What about Goliath?  Our Goliath, and Elisa, and Trinity...?"

He shook his head.  "I can't answer that."

"You don't know?"

"No, I do know.  Well, actually, the agency knows, but it's not my case and has been classified higher than my experience allows, thus, I don't know."

"Who the hell does this agency think they are?!" Brooklyn snapped.

"You know, you really have an obscenity problem." Albion lashed back with a pointed finger, his eyes glowing an odd silvery color.  "Damned twenty-first century hooligan, no matter how much your kind professes their evolved sensibilities, you're all a bunch of primitives teetering on the edge of annihilation.  You should be thanking me."

"That was my mate out there!" he pointed to the bed where his daughter was bandaging Sata, as Dr. Pierce tended to the more seriously wounded clan members.  "And my family fighting for their lives!  And you did nothing but wait until we had exhausted and bloodied ourselves to swoop in and heroically 'save the day'!"

"Gentlemen." Angela intervened, again, and quickly.  "So you won't tell us where Goliath and Elisa are?"

He calmed, then fidgeted, trying to approach this obviously sensitive subject diplomatically.  "Uhm, well, you see, let's just say...they're still out there somewhere, that's all I know from the office gossip.  Those two are a very popular subject."

"You could bring them home." Brooklyn tendered, as a dare perhaps, to gage his abilities.

Albion would have to disappoint, though he'd enjoy the chance to try if only to show him off.  "No, no I can't, and please don't ask again."

"Why?"

"Against the rules." another infuriating reply, as Brooklyn held back the scream he knew was trying to climb its way from his lungs.  "But I am going to fix the little rip in the space-time continuum you have adorning your pleasantly decorated courtyard.  Then I'm back to chasing Goliath, and I hope I don't end up like my predecessor.  Before Goliath finished with him, he didn't have any lungs."  A shiver, nearly undetectable, raced through his thick, pewter hide.  "Explosive decompression, nasty..."  He shook his head against the questions he saw in all the inquiring gazes, a grisly memory he preferred to keep to himself.  "Don't ask."

He turned and swiped at the air with a few talons, and with the quick stroke, the air split in two, and opened another portal, this time controlled.

"I should warn you, Brooklyn, Goliath doesn't need that portal to return.  It was simply easier, like an opened door.  He's a powerful magic user, he'll find a way back."  Albion turned back, and the youthful features had turned a little dark.  "The only defense you have is he doesn't really know how to successfully navigate the omniverse, he just jumped from one to another looking for Demona.  He conquered rather than learned, and once you leave a world, it's hard to get back without the proper training and tools."

"But he's linked to Demona through that spell." Brooklyn countered, watching as the stranger stepped into the portal like one would step through two different rooms.  "If he comes back here, it goes off like an alarm.  He's got himself a trail of bread crumbs."

"Then I suggest you obscure the trail.  If he ever makes it back, he'll have a hard time discerning whether or not this is the proper timeline."  He snapped his fingers, and smirked towards Angela.  "Oh, and that might help Demona too, it seems her head's a little scrambled by Goliath's sorcery."  He slid into the portal, closing behind him, the sound more like a zipper as it sealed from bottom to top.  All that remained was his head before it completely sealed.  "See you sometime."

With a complete cessation of sound, it sealed, and a vacuum of air rushed in to fill the empty space.

Brooklyn rubbed a hand over his head, careful to watch the bandaged gash.  He looked over the remains of his clan, bloodied and bandaged and some wincing in pain with simple movements, with Dr. Pierce racing from one bed to another to ensure broken bones had set, and battle-won wounds were sufficiently stitched to hold for dawn not too far away.  Something gnawed at the base of his skull, a twinge of pain having grown into a pulsating throb.  "I have a headache."

"Brooklyn." Jason wheeled himself by the infirmary door, and easily caught the leader's attention.  "Xanatos will see you now."

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

"For more than a year now, Jason Canmore has been working for me well behind the scenes, as a special operative.  He has overseen international subsidiaries, inspected my industrial factories and plants in nine different countries, and has even met with several allied clans, most notably the Guatemalan clan, aiding in their efforts in rebuilding the section of rainforest around the temple."

The clan was an audience to the induction of the newest member of Xanatos Enterprises, slipped under their noses with seemingly great ease.  Those who didn't require immediate medical attention were clustered in his office, a small group standing across from the billionaire and his newest acquisition.

"And now he has been promoted, to take Owen's place as my majordomo."

Brooklyn was still having trouble accepting this.  Something as always just didn't fit, especially with Owen's sudden departure without a word to anyone.  "And just where has Owen gone?"

"He's taken sabbatical." Xanatos calmly explained, his voice like cream and just as smooth.  "Call it sort of a magical retreat after the Guild attack."

Skeptical looks passed all around, some surreptitious, some blatant; it seemed the clan was even having trouble trusting their own allies.  Especially since their former leader tried to kill them, their ability to fully trust anyone was growing frayed.

Xanatos noticed this especially, and there was a devilish smile within the well-trimmed goatee.  "You don't actually think Mr. Canmore was loitering around the castle and willingly exposing himself to our sordid, little daily dramas for no apparent reason, did you?"

"Actually," Brooklyn quipped, "I thought he wanted to get into Delilah's panties..."

Jason smiled, even under the menacing rumble emanating from Shadow's throat.

The ninja, having refused medical treatment, growled at the new employee.  They had never quite hit it off, with Jason's strong interest in Delilah so soon after they had ended their relationship.  And in fact, wanted very much to hurt him.

Delilah crossed her arms, with an angry look passed to both Brooklyn and Jason.  "I don't wear panties."

Jason's brows rose interestedly.  "Really?"

"Slut..." Iliana huffed, under her breath, but surrounded by creatures with hearing that could detect a pin drop, it was unfortunately spread a little farther than she intended.

"I wear a leotard." Delilah scowled back at her.

"Mr. Canmore," Xanatos interrupted, bringing a little order to the chaos of rampant conversation, "will be my direct liaison to the clan as Owen often was, as I have other duties that often require more immediate attention."

Brooklyn kept staring at him.  "Like?"

Xanatos stared right back.  If the gargoyle was trying to intimidate him, he would have to do much better.  "Like running a corporate empire that spans the globe, and keeping your presence here a continued secret."

Something arced between them, two respective kings, each at battle for very significant causes both weighing on their shoulders.  Unexpectedly, Brooklyn then demanded, "Everyone get out."

Surprised as they were with the abruptness of his order, they paid particular heed to the severity of his tone, and the fact his eyes had yet to leave those of Xanatos'.  The clan slowly filtered out, Sata and Broadway both tailing the rest, until ultimately, after passing anxious looks to each other, closed the doors behind them, and entrapped the human billionaire with his new, volatile counterpart.

Xanatos straightened his tie, and awaited what was sure to be a stirring, even threatening speech by the silver-tongued speaker.  He so loved the casual interplay between the leaders of clan Wyvern; it was often a single highlight in a difficult, taxing existence.  A game of chess with words and will.

"Where were you during the attack?"

"Trapped downstairs." Xanatos answered casually.  "The elevators were shut off at castle level, and I was in the middle of an intercontinental tele-conference.  Fortunately Jason was there at the time."

It was an approximation of the truth, of course.  A broadcast conference with seven prospective clients was rudely interrupted when his building shuddered with the first volley of battle, but his focus remained elsewhere, on all his secrets and lies remaining where they should, in the dark.  Luckily, his new ace in the hole had just gone up to the castle before the omega clearance had locked everything else out above the Eyrie, and several systems below.

Brooklyn slowly approached, the muted gray tones of the darkened office washing over his muddy brick flesh, and gained speed with every step until, hitting the human at a full dash, he grabbed the lapels of his suit and carried him off his feet.

The force at which his body hit the drywall nearly left a dent in the paint, and held, two feet off the ground by a blazing-eyed gargoyle grunting flame across his designer suit, Xanatos almost feared his chances.  Goliath had never physically threatened him in their time as allies, and he was somewhat impressed.  "No more witty banter then?" he managed through a near-strangled throat.  "Pity..."

"How many more secrets are you choosing to keep from us?!!" Brooklyn screamed, his clenched fists driving ever deeper into his victim's flesh.

"As many as I desire."

"Your secrets endanger us.  Your secrets threaten to expose us, hurt us."

"If I wanted you exposed, I would have sold you to the highest bidder a long time ago.  Or maybe I could let the Illuminati take their shot, they've been wanting a piece of you for a very long time."

Brooklyn was unconvinced.  "So what's stopped you?"

"My pledge to Goliath." the billionaire answered.

"What gives you the right to decide our fate?!"

"I AM DAVID XANATOS!!!  And that is more than enough!!"  He wrested from the gargoyle's hands, dropped to his feet, and worked to straighten the wrinkled material of his collar.  "And for your enlightenment, Brooklyn, leader, ally, Jason Canmore is here to help you and your clan.  So I suggest you play nice with your new friend."

There was nothing more intimidating than a gargoyle's pantherine growl, and Brooklyn growled well.  "You're treading, Xanatos..."

"On thin ice?  In deep waters?"  He smiled in the leader's attempt to scare him.  "Please, Brooklyn, spare me the euphemisms.  You're not that clever."

"You still think you have dominion over us, you still think you can play us."  He slowly backed up with a fastidious stride, but kept his eyes on the man he didn't trust with his back turned.  "You're no ally, Xanatos, you're a threat."  He circled to leave.

"And you're no Goliath." the billionaire countered quickly, and it stopped the retreating creature in his tracks.  There was hurt in his eyes as he looked back over his shoulder, the pain of always being measured against Goliath visible even against the bottomless black.  And Xanatos relished in it.  "Nor will you ever be."

"Watch yourself."  A final warning, and Brooklyn burst through the double doors.

Nearly torn from their hinges, they swung back with a moan of pain, and barely clicked into place.  The doors were slightly skewed, by the brute force of a brute animal playing leader where conceivably he shouldn't.  He would have to mention that to Owen...Jason, the replacement whose name he still fumbled with in informal conversation.

He fell his head, enveloped in the silence of his home and now his newfound cage.  His breath, over the silence of his office, was a rasp, of pain and guilt and fatigue beginning to etch lines onto a bronzed Grecian sculpt of unwavering calm.  He was aging, graying, tiring, and quickly.

"Daddy?" a small voice called out.

He turned, and into the undeviating scrutiny of a five-year-old child, his blood and hope, and pain and judge.  Green eyes upon him, Fox's eyes, Titania's, they bore deeply into what little scrap he thought of his own soul.  The visitor was apparently light on his feet, or perhaps he floated in, unseen, unheard, or was there all along.  "Alex." he greeted his only son, the child having shown up on the courtyard, bloodied and tugging a broken warrior behind him, after the tolling scuffle with Goliath.  Worse for wear, he appeared untouched, even after having lost his life.  "Ariana get you all cleaned up?"

No answer.  The heir stood barely three feet and fuming, just watching his father carefully.  "Where's uncle Owen?"

A demand succinct and stubborn, and spoken with the burgeoning tongue of a king, Xanatos knew he could not fool this child for long.  "I've already been over this with you, Owen has left on a vacation."

"Where?"

"Far away."

Not quite satisfied, Alexander closed his eyes, and sought with a heightened perception any trace of his mentor.  Leaching tendrils of energy, snaking through the ducts and power lines, he searched, for a presence, for a remnant, for any tickle of fay magic still clinging to the walls of this building.  Deep, down, through the offices, laboratories, through the machinery and into the underpinning.

Around the shielded Vault.

Xanatos held his breath, and stood by composedly.  With Alexander's growing magical senses, he feared such powerful presences from coming into contact with each other.  One modest, telltale scrape of aura to aura, and every little machination among a much larger web of deception would break, and crumble.  And expose.

He watched as Alexander opened his eyes, and anger dissolved into despondency.  His search it seemed had yielded nothing.  And David Xanatos breathed a sigh of relief knowing his self-proclaimed master and jailor had safely concealed both Owen's presence, and Infiniti's.  If anything, he had to respect Sobek's resources.

"Why didn' he say g'bye?" Alexander whispered.

Xanatos walked forward and leaned down to comfort his son, placing a hand to the boy's shoulder.  "He needed to leave, quickly."

However, Alexander was adamant.  "But he woulda said g'bye."

"Alex, listen to me..."

"No."  There was subterfuge, under the glistening layer his father used as a shield for emotion and trickery.  Often an industry tool to better build his capital and assimilate dying businesses into a larger entity, the glacial skin of deception was prominent, Alexander knew.  He was lying, but about what he couldn't discern, and that angered him more than anything.  "He woulda said g'bye.  Where's uncle Owen?!"

"I told you he's gone."

"WHERE'S UNCLE OWEN?!!!"

A force suddenly radiated.  Spherical, it ballooned outwards suddenly and knocked Xanatos off his feet and back almost ten meters, like a punch, and literally crushing.  Hovering above the floor, Alexander Xanatos flaunted his power, reveling in the hereditary gift of faire folk and the amalgamated temper of his parentage.

The walls were warping, drywall and wood and steel underlay bowing out from the stress of pure magic, groaning in a low, guttural wail as the office expanded beyond the structural limits.  Relics on distant, spotlighted pedestals shattered in place, turned to dust and twisted wrecks of steel.  Wind howled, turning an ordinary office into a tempest of swirling, angry sorcery, and in the midst, floating, Alexander firmly clenched in place, eyes aglow.

Xanatos heaved for breath, groggily lifting himself to a haggard sitting position, and deflecting thinned eyes from the wind with his right hand, and clutching to his chest with his left.  He waited as the boy exhausted his outburst, and the structure of his office returned to normal, albeit slightly weakened from the stress.

Alexander dropped down, and brushed the wind-tousled hair from his eyes, fading of the spark.

"Damn..."  He tapped his upper lip, and discovered the seep of blood.  A trickle from his ear as well, a murmur in his heart.  The boy could have collapsed a lung or completely crushed his body instead of just the walls of his office if properly motivated.  Better to keep the child on that fragile chain.  "I won't allow your insolence, Alexander Fox Xanatos."

The foundation was still trembling, the spire a tuning fork giving off a low thrum of sound.  The concrete and steel two thousand feet below quivering against an unseen hand, and Alexander ground his eyebrows together, and scrunched his mouth.  "You're keepin' secrets."  Avalon was leaking, magic from his pores, power still shimmering through his irises.  "Bad secrets, that made mommy sick.  I don't like secrets..."

"Neither do I."  The emerald rings of his son's eyes flickered like a jewel catching the sunlight, a warning, before a tantrum, before a measurable buildup of power.  With the metallic tang still seeping over his top lip, he dared not test the boy further.  "I did not make your mother sick, Alex," he consoled, softly, soothingly, and calculatingly, "I am doing everything in my power to help her, save her.  I love her very much, and I promise you I am doing everything I can, everything I must."

"But I feel somethin'." he insisted, and if not his father creating the tremor down his neck, than what.  "Bad, an' mad..." he shivered, "an' cold."

Eyes the color and all the malleability of iron narrowed.  "I know, it's the pain you feel, Alex, the sadness, the anger of the clan.  It's like a thick fog hanging over the castle."  He smiled one of his endearing, deflective smiles, which charmed women, aggravated gargoyles and often obscured the truth.  "Why don't you go cheer up your mother?  She could use some company."

He shifted.  "I don' like lookin' at her sometimes," Alexander dropped his gaze, ashamed, "she's all skinny an'...an' cold..."

"But she has her fire," the father and husband defended, "she'll always have her fire."  He waved him towards the door with a quick tilt of his head.  "Go.  I'll be along soon."

Alexander stared, then turned his gaze, and reluctantly prodded towards the doors, slipping through the slim crack.

He stared into space, a vacant, aching, empty gaze towards nothing in particular.  Perhaps he was roaming across his collected treasures, now rendered worthless by his son's marginal show of power.  But they were trinkets after all, and not as near valuable than his firstborn.  David Xanatos had always lied for a living, but to lie to his only son was assuredly eating away at his soul.

"Your popularity is dwindling."

Xanatos turned to the darkened corner that suddenly drew breath, and stared at him.  His associate had returned from his dark crook hidden within the bowels of his home, if only to taunt him.  "If they remain angry at my surface dealings, it will cloud their perceptions, and obscure what transpires below their very feet." he enlightened, folding his arms across his chest, re-sheathing himself in that blanket of ice.  He was David Xanatos of course.  "If they knew I was conspiring for their deaths, I wouldn't be breathing now.  And you would lose your resources."

A clawed hand extended from the shadows and rubbed over a tender spot between the plates of bone armor on his chest.  "You should warn your brat to be more careful.  I felt almost every blow Goliath awarded him."

He had no sympathy.  "Take the lumps, Sobek, your price for allowing my son to be linked to you."  He adjusted his stance, from flaccid to informal and leaned against his desk, his eyes wandering across the unlit portions of his office.  It was hard to pinpoint exactly where his associate stood, the gravelly voice seemed to scatter about the shadows.  "Speaking of which, how are you able to stay hidden from him?  And for that matter, his grandmother?  I thought Titania would at least visit her daughter."

"Ancient family secret."  There was docile laughter behind the threshold of darkness, and the promise of secrets the billionaire was more than just mildly intrigued about.  "I must say I do not approve of your new employee."

"You want me to keep the impression of normality?  Then Jason Canmore will do just that.  He is perfectly suited to the job."

"Can he be trusted?" Sobek demanded.  "Will he endanger my search?"

"No one will endanger my wife.  That is your assurance."

Sobek smiled, baring teeth gleaming fangs between the bony protrusions that could only be called his face.  "Good."

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

The elevator doors couldn't open fast enough, and Brooklyn burst through and into the castle's great foyer.  He was fuming.  More than just the pain from his injuries, he was carrying a weight that was slowly breaking his back, and wasn't in the mood for any more deceptions, for any more rebellion from his clan acquired through mutiny, and, of course, any more battles whether they be physical, or philosophical.

But as soon as he steered into the neighboring corridor, his hopes to recuperate and wait for the peace of daylight, and to ingest the night's events, were soon dashed.  Broadway was there, waiting for him, his injuries wrapped with gauze and his wide bulk nearly blocking the entire passageway.  Something grave was present in his eyes.

Brooklyn walked up to his brother, and the now archetypal flash of distrust crept between their gaze.  He obviously wanted something.

The larger rookery brother simply handed over a newspaper.  "I hate to be the bearer of bad news..."

"What...?"  Brooklyn took the paper, and almost instantly, his features crumpled upon seeing the headline.

In bold print, along the first page, Gargoyles: Are They Real?

"What the hell is this?"

"Just read." Broadway encouraged.

Brooklyn leafed through the newspaper, scanning small editorials between the true news articles where firsthand accounts seemed to grow larger beyond the black print.  There was another news story brimming beneath the attacks.  "The large creatures that attacked New York were no illusion, no fantasy or gossip along darkened Manhattan Alleys." he read aloud.  "They were real, documented, destructive and lethal.  We thought nothing like this could ever exist, we thought them nightmares or products of overactive imaginations, but over a thousand people died when they, these creatures resembling Egyptian gods suddenly appeared and attacked.  With several detailed reports from both the military and Manhattan police, can the city's most famous rumor, that of gargoyles, be real as well?"  His hands were crushing the thin paper between his fingers.  "Oh give me a fucking break..."

"It gets better..."  Broadway flipped a few pages deeper into the newsprint, until he stopped, pulled his hand away and allowed the leader to see for himself.

There was a picture that served to put a glint in Brooklyn's narrowed glare.  It was an artist's rendering, of a battle, during the attacks less than a week ago.  The artist had done himself credit.  His subject's features were sharp, only slightly skewed from the genuine article, his skin color almost spot on, and the savagery of which the artist had conferred to his illustration seemed a little out of place for the man he knew.  He was in the middle of a snarl.

It was in the heat of a life and death struggle after all.

"The description was given by a cop who saw him fighting Sobek in downtown Manhattan." said Broadway from behind the newspaper.  "And it was only confirmed by several more cops and military officers who were helping with the evacuation.  Seems a story better suited to the tabloids has a pretty substantial foundation."

"They call him...Goliath." Brooklyn read the caption beneath the picture of Wyvern's former leader.  "Oh shit."  He looked up, and the brothers' worst fear had been realized.  "Not again."

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

Their bedroom was empty, just as she thought it would be.  Annika had searched from stem to stern the entire castle, looking for her husband.  But there wasn't any trace; he had effectively vanished.  Worry, made its home among her foremost thoughts.

"Mother?" she called out as she retreated back into the corridor.  "Where's Todd?"

"I cannot detect him." the voice answered from all around her.  "But the Superbird is not in the parking garage."

Annika's eyes widened slightly.  No one touched that car but him, and that meant all of Manhattan could be his hiding place.  "Then where is he?"

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

Between the fumes and collecting haze, between the huddled masses crowding the stained, alcohol-puddled oak stretching far into the neon-tinged distance, he sat, drunk, pitiable, brooding.

Like all men.  In pain and without a proper form of release.

He was an indistinct shape through the cigarette smoke, leaning over the end of the bar and nursing a vodka mix clutched in his hands.  The music pounded throughout the entire bar, thrumming across the floor, the stools, the bar, and stirring the emptied glasses surrounding him into a dance.  People moved and met and reveled behind him, strutting to the speaker howl and occasionally bumping into him.

For the most part, he didn't care.  The vodka was strong, as was the gin, and the rum, to numb his nerves to the commotion and the pain.  And he hoped to drink enough to kill an adequate amount of brain cells and erase the past few weeks.

He was pushed again, and nearly inhaled the glass.  Grumbling, he tried to ignore the lively crowd behind him, and snapped his head back to swallow the rest of his drink in one quick gulp.  Growing woozy, and wobbly, he overturned the empty glass onto the hard oak surface and demanded with a slur, "Another..."

The bartender hesitated, eying him carefully, then filled another glass.  "Here you go, slick."  With a snap of his wrist, it slid towards him, and with his dulled reflexes, it just nearly avoided a fate of broken shards in a puddle off the end of the bar.  "You should take it easy on that stuff," he warned, "a young fella like you, that shit'll melt your brains."

Todd eyed the clear liquid giving off a slight fume.  "Good."  About to touch the noxious liquid to his lips, he was bumped from behind again, and dribbled half the glass onto the bar.  "I spilled my drink...FUCK!!!"  Slamming the glass down, he rose and turned and suddenly screamed into the crowd, "Watch it, you fuckin' idiots!!"  And that crowd surrounding him stopped and stared, and it seemed the music as well dimmed for his wild display.  "I sure as hell didn't come down here t'get run over by you goddamned yuppie spawn in your Gucci pants an' Swiss watches!"

"I'm sorry," said one from the crowd, "I didn't mean to bump into you..."

Todd peered with dead eyes towards the blurred image of the man.  "No, no, its my fault...I should watch where I sit more carefully..."

The sarcasm was dripping.  "Look, I said I'm sorry..."

"Do you know pain?" he growled towards him, suddenly, and the man didn't know how to answer.  "I do.  I keep livin' it, night after night.  I get beat up, blown away, fired at...abandoned, orphaned, choked...hit on by a hot gargoyle an' then hit by lightning...it doesn't end..."  He stumbled closer, and lowered heavy lids over stormy eyes.  "Is yer ex-girlfriend marryin' yer best friend?  Are they slowly makin' their own life an' driftin' away from you?"

Confronted by a ranting drunk and with a crowd starting to gather at the commotion, the man simply shook his head, nervously.

"No," Todd badgered, continuing his outburst, "she's not.  Is yer mom a long lost nun who left you in an orphanage?"

Again, the man shook his head, as the crowd murmured behind him.

"No, is yer life changin' around you so it becomes dam'near unrecognizable?!"

"Ah...no."

"No, it's not!  S'why don't you go back to yer little ordinary life an' yer ordinary Gucci rip-off pants that at closer inspection are from Old Navy, while mine slowly turns t' shit."

The unnamed patron seemed satisfied, hoping to slink back into the anonymity of the faceless crowd.  He didn't pay a five-dollar cover charge to be yelled at by the patronage.  "All right."

But Todd wasn't, by the alcohol and buried rage making an explosive mixture.  "Oh, so you wanna escalate things, do ya?!"  He grabbed the stool he had used to swallow nearly a hundred dollars worth of liquor, and poised to transform it into a weapon.

The bartender shook his head, pouring another drink and overlooking the impending chaos about to break out with one fuming, smashed young man's idea of revenge.  "I wouldn't do that if I were you, slick."

Todd didn't listen.  He did merely what the remainder of his working brain cells would allow, and threw the stool.  The wooden seat sailed easily past the unruffled patron and deep into the crowd, and with a scream and a loud, dampened thump, it had hit something.  Or someone.  "Shit...missed."

It didn't miss.

The catalyst to the impending riot, a very big, very surly Samoan now forced to pick wooden splinters from his hair, turned around to see Todd swaying in place, holding himself upright by the bronze banister lining the length of the bar.  The crowd parted, knowingly, by a reputation, and with the stool having broken across his back, someone was about to leave in an ambulance.

The young man who had faced hordes and hell showed no fear as he descended into the barely man-shaped shadow, the Samoan grinding one fist into an open palm and the exhilaration of a beating lighting fire in his eyes.  The big creature was a blur, and Todd raised his arm, extended a finger and prodded it into what he thought the Samoan's chest.  "Whut th' hell are you lookin' at?"

Pure Hawkins.

A flying fist, a broken bottle, and the bar erupted into chaos.

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

Angela stood, in one of the main corridors, and at the threshold to her father's bedroom, staring into the dark, rambling lines drawn in the oak.  Staring.  The tall, imposing chamber doors were closed and sealed against any intrusion to a room kept as a memorial.  No one had entered for a week, and no one had disturbed the serenity of Goliath and Elisa's private sanctum save for his firstborn.

It had become Angela's sanctuary now, the inheritor, where she could hide from this world not her own and the mate who thought of her as just a replacement.  Before any dust could layer the surfaces, she would clean and primp and make sure all was as it should be in case they returned.  She wanted it perfect, and soon diligence turned to compulsion turned to obsession.

In case they returned.

Because they knew.

Now, by battle and a rude awakening of what could drive sane men mad with revenge, and a visitor reluctantly allowing them a scrap of information, the clan knew he was out there somewhere, lost in the tides of time and causality.  Distant past or far future, somewhere, they hoped, their Goliath had survived, with Elisa, Trinity, and a baby still unborn.

But the hole they had left was prominent, and massive.  The void their absence had left was quickly expanding, eating at the bonds of the clan.  People were fighting, relationships were strained, the world around them was hurting, and the glue, the stability had dissolved.  They were missed.  More so they were needed.

She pushed softly against the grained wood, and it groaned as it slowly led the shaft of corridor light across the vista of dark carpeting, as deep and blue as the neighboring Atlantic.  An eerie sound she thought, a lonely one.  This room should harbor the sounds of family, voices and laughter, but it was despairingly silent, and sterile and dead.  The large fireplace at the far end of the chambers was dark, the golden chandeliers unlit, the room was ignited only in gloomy, lifeless tones by shafts of lavender moonlight streaming through the bay windows, and Angela slowly crept through.

To the four-poster bed, her hand tracing the remarkable floral carvings in the canopy struts, along the bedspread and onto Elisa's nightstand, her face a leaden cast.

Angela waded through the darkness, just looking, and fondly reminiscing.  Picture frames held times past, wedding photos especially, the adornments giving identity, giving a sustenance to the owners who had made this room a home.  There was a statue of a Mayan god on the shelves in the raised display corner by the doors, a gift from Guatemala, and near the Japanese-styled sliding door, a beaded tapestry hung, a gift from Ishimura.

The door.  The treasures had drawn a line with her eyes towards the entryway to the extra room, and she found herself staring.  Again.  She slid it back and stepped into her younger half-sister's little corner of Wyvern, and she could not help but infectiously smile at the toys and painted walls.

She turned and glanced to Trinity's bed, and saw 'Goyle.

The little stuffed toy never parted from the child in her formative years, and it seemed strange to see it unaccompanied, and resting in the folded crook of blanket near the hump of pillow, as if waiting for two tiny hands to snatch it from the bed.  Preceded by a giggle, Angela half expected to feel her wing brush aside and allow a small figure past.

The memories were burned so vividly into her mind, it superimposed a faint, ghostly picture of family over the barren room.

She grabbed the toy and sat down onto the comforter, running her hands across the fur.

It smelled of her sister, the unique fusion of human and gargoyle, the comforting sense of family.  She took solace in the scent and memory invoked, and closed her wings about her, staring through the open windows just barely holding the moon.  So full and massive through the window slats, its surface cratered and ancient, and its vigil timeless.

She wondered, if just now, someone beloved was staring up at that same moon, and wondering themselves about home.  "Where are you, little sister?"

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

Somewhere, across the distance, under that moon, the winds were hungry, and scouring.

Tasting of searing heat, of stone and dried palm, an endless swirl of torrential winds became a tempest, mewling and roaring in the evening drifts across the dunes far reaching into the endless distance.  They'd devoured the landscape, whole, and scraped it of its skin, leaving the remnants to gleam bone-white in the sun, and now converged hungrily upon the last surviving corporeal.

She awoke half covered in the warm sheath of sand, coughing the grit from her lungs that threatened to fill her throat and choke the very life from her tiny form.

Remnants of a memory seemed as if a dream vanishing from the conscious mind, of fire and upheaval of the very ground beneath her, of her home laid to waste by black-masked men, and a medallion spewing flame and dissolving her very physical being.  Her eyes shielded by her arm saw the incoming waves, nearing, and snarling.

The winds howled in a voice like gravel, dreadfully primeval, and insatiable to the victims once drowned in liquid, granular gold.

Without direction, and blind, she pulled out from her would be tomb and crawled over sands blistering hot, using tiny, blunted talons to drag herself over remnants of cut stone and decaying walls stabbing upwards from the dunes.  The winged girl was deafened, her enhanced hearing under incredible siege, and her eyes blistered with the sand, as she struggled to find her way through any young child's imagined form of Hell.  Her greatest fears were borne from nature, that which created and cradled her, a misfit of contradictory genes wailing for her mother.

"Mommy?!" she cried, ingesting sand with every breath.

Barren, inhospitable, lost where the Earth fell away, Trinity Maza was abandoned in the middle of a sandstorm.  Her parents nowhere to be seen, she struggled through the ruins of a civilization long dead and buried by the dunes, she herself under the threat of suffocation.

"Mommy!!"  No one answered her frantic bawl, the sands adhering to the tears streaming down her cheeks.  "MOMMY!!!!"  A wave engulfed her, and she was swept away.