Author's Note: I'm looking for Jenigoyle, if she's still out there somewhere. Your e-mail address has changed and this is the only way I know of to try and contact you.
98 - "Loose Threads"
"Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape."
- William S. Burroughs May 28th, 2002
A day later and nine hours worth of stone sleep wouldn't alleviate any of the emotional impact of last night.
But, just before the sun had gone down, one of the few people actually able to walk the halls during the day had spent most of it in front of the television, along with several containers of low-fat yogurt, half a can of Pringles, a few of Brooklyn's beers and the laptop she was allowed to keep (neutered against a possible escape attempt).
Every station, channel and newspaper were still obsessed with the recent mob war that'd made a notch in the proverbial headboard as the biggest Manhattan had ever experienced. It'd knocked down a couple of buildings and taken over a hundred and fifty lives, including three of the big shots; one, Katherine Juno in the unexpected collapse of her building (despite her body having yet to be found) and two and three, Lucian Barnes and Lei Zhu, killed in what was being touted as a massacre between respective gangs (according to the police, considering they didn't want the truth of a single outside killer to leak to the press).
Savannah St. Nicks wasn't too enthused to be stuck a mile above the city as every one of her potential Pulitzers were being snapped up by the new blood, especially those that didn't have the talent to match the high profile of the stories.
The new girl on channel four had already flubbed her lines halfway through. "Rookie." she muttered, and clicked through the channels until, coming upon WVRN and resident anchor Travis Marshall.
The obligatory groan aside, something seemed different.
She leaned in and brushed a dark lock away. "I don't goddamned believe it."
He'd gotten his hair dyed, hidden the gray. And that blue double-breasted was a new suit; the prima-donna had always favored something in the range of half her monthly salary.
Savannah ran the length of her incisors with her tongue, and only listened a few minutes worth of his report and the recycled account that didn't really offer any new insight into the gang war. "Damnit, you untalented hack! I could have your job right about now!"
"Is there a problem, miss St. Nicks?"
She whirled on the voice, now affixed to a form that'd swirled into existence on the end of a distant beam of light. "The watchdog."
"You yelled." Mother said evenly.
"Because I'm watching my career go down the tubes." Savannah pointed at the television screen. "And the only people I have to bitch to are you, the doc, that Hawkins kid, his nun mother, a thousand year old king and Mr. Upper-body Universe. And no one listens."
Something flickered through the hologram's features. "Upper-body...Universe?"
She flexed her arms and clarified, "Canmore."
"My apologies. I am not good at...small-talk. But I am also not concerned with your creature comforts, only the fact you stay alive and do not attempt another escape."
"Gee," Savannah groused, downing a chip, "thanks."
Sunset from the top of the Empire State Building was one of the few wonders she'd left that hadn't been spoiled by the range of her abilities, or the extraordinary length of her lifespan.
Somewhere about twelve hundred and fifty feet up, beneath the lightning rod and well above the observation deck, near the old iron blimp moorings, Titania and her grandson were welcoming a new night with ice cream and the best view in town. He didn't seem concerned his legs were dangling from the ledge and a four hundred meter plunge, only the chocolate melting over the edge of his cone.
Titania though, was probably enjoying the delicacy more than Alexander. It'd been a while since she'd indulged herself on anything that didn't have the properties of pixie dust or that strange, slightly hallucinogenic lichen that grew on Avalon, and considering she'd just gone toe to toe with a goddess, shattered a few continents, split into a few component parts, it was a respite well deserved. "Mint chocolate chip." she admired the chill in her hand. "I used to have constant cravings when I was pregnant with Fox. The human body is a strange concoction of desires and needs."
"Mm hmm." he answered, his attention having wandered.
She arched a brow. The small boy had been tight-lipped all night, and it wasn't due to the lack of sleep; a spell had taken care of that. "You have been quiet."
Wiping the chocolate from his mouth with a sleeve, Alexander turned around in her lap. "Did you kill a lot of people?"
Knocked for six by her grandson's candor, she should have at least expected the question. "Yes." she answered honestly, knowing he could probably tell a lie for the truth. "But they were not people."
"What were they? Like that girl?"
Titania nodded. "Yes. They were as powerful as we, but did not possess even a wisp of conscience. After many smaller skirmishes over thousands of years, a war was inevitable, and most of them did not survive."
"Because you killed them."
Again, she supposed his opinion of her was growing less and less with every question she wasn't able to evade. "They left us with no choice." Titania said softly.
"They wanted to either control all aspects of humanity, or destroy them."
"Why?" Alexander pressed.
"Power often corrupts, and power always changes ideals."
"Power makes you bad." his tone went down, low and nearly inaudible if his companion's senses weren't beyond the remarkable. "Like that girl. Like Sobek. Like my dad."
Titania took notice of the slip, intentional or not. Leaping into her foremost thoughts was the cry for help he'd made a few weeks ago, actually boring a hole through the layers of reality and opening a portal between Avalon and the rest of the world. "Alexander–"
"Why do I gots so much power?" he interrupted.
She watched as green sparks flew from the pores of his hands. He was making a tiny storm in his palms and enough energy to power the building on which they were perched. She was impressed by the level of control he'd possessed at his age; she'd have to remember to compliment the Puck. "Power is relative."
"There are many reasons, princeling. Genetics of course. Your human DNA is very...receptive to your abilities, as your father would attest. And power is nurtured in a proper environment. Your home, your family, it is a nexus that feeds you, experiences that educate you, creatures that love and protect you, and that is exactly why I wanted to keep you there."
He was running through it all in his mind. "But..." he started, his brow creased. "There's more."
"You are a vessel, child, for the gift of my power to grow." Titania brushed a few fiery locks from his forehead, to better meet downcast eyes that pinked against the last sliver of sun. "It would have been your mother's, but the seed I had planted withered and died."
"So I gots it."
"Indeed. If she was not able to make use of it, it was to be passed on. You realize you will be more powerful than you could ever possibly conceive of."
Looking back towards the horizon, he was relatively blasé. "Uh huh."
To which Titania's concerns were slightly lessened. He didn't seem to crave such power like his father; in fact, she could see how he felt his lineage was a burden, and more enjoyed the rare simplicity of an ice cream cone. She'd known halflings who'd self-destructed and crumbled under the weight of what their inherited fay blood had rolled in their favor, embracing lunacy and either turning themselves inside out or blowing themselves to bits. If he didn't stand the chance of mastering it, he'd be consumed.
She wasn't fond of that particular line of thought.
"So if I gots so much power," Alexander mused, which snapped the queen back to reality, "then why can't I help my mom?"
"Her condition's deteriorating. Rapidly. Tumors have dotted her brain and lungs, her lymphatic and renal systems are shutting down and she's tipping the scales at less than a hundred pounds. She's being eaten alive by whatever's riding around in her blood system."
Xanatos was the epitome of calm despite the whispered warnings of Dr. Pierce, the doctor reading through the ever-growing list of Fox's symptoms that would make anyone else weak in the knees. He was staring at his wife from across the room, and the shadows draped across her emaciated form only heightened the dramatic weight loss, enough to show her bones through her skin.
"I really don't know what else we can do, besides calling in a specialist." Pierce continued, following his employer's gaze.
"I've already told you, doctor," he was resolute, no less than steel, "no outsiders."
"Then your wife is going to die."
Whatever reaction the billionaire had on tap, it was waylaid by Fox's coughing fit. He rushed to her side, poured out a glass of ice water from the nearby decanter and held it to her lips. "It's all right, Fox, I'm here."
Bony fingers grasped for the cup, and Fox nearly got a face full when she tried too fast, too soon.
"Slowly," he whispered, "slowly."
She pushed his hand away and took a smoky breath; it was like trying to suck air through a sweatsock. "...I...won't be all right...until my son is back in my arms..." Fox wheezed.
"Well, that would depend on the competence of my associate." Xanatos responded, looking towards the man who'd remained on the sidelines out of respect. "Where is our son, Mr. Canmore?"
Jason wheeled a little closer. "Gone."
It was too simple an answer. "I will not accept that."
"You're going to have to for the time being." He turned towards the recently patched hole that Alexander had left when hitting mach one and nearly bleeding all the room of all its air. What was more impressive though, were the layers of steel, titanium, insulation and a few cutting edge alloys and composites that, unavailable to the general public and even the private sector, the boy had torn through like tin foil. "If he decides to stay hidden, he will, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"I am David Xanatos. There's nothing I can't do."
With a sigh, Jason acquiesced, "Brooklyn doesn't know where he's gone. The last time the clan saw him was just before he faced Juno's daughter."
"...so...he could be...hurt...or dead..." Fox winced.
"No." He knew different; he knew Alexander had already survived a fatal wound and it would take more than anything he'd yet seen to stop his son. "I refuse to believe that..." He couldn't finish; his hand started shaking, and it was all he could do to pull it away from the well-whetted gaze of the former hunter.
He needed another injection. But, as a sliver of rational thought somehow trickled through the pain, he knew the symptoms had come back too soon; it'd been just a few hours since the last.
"Your son is powerful, Fox," Pierce's voice could be heard in the background, "I doubt there's a lot that could actually hurt him."
"...you're...not a mother..."
Xanatos made a fist to stem the shakes until they calmed, or he'd tensed and overextended the muscle so much the arm had gone numb. A ruby dewdrop from where he pierced the palm with his fingernails proved the latter.
It was Jason who noticed first, considering the billionaire was about to burst the seams on a five thousand dollar suit. A dark droplet of something hit Dr. Pierce's compulsively clean hospital floor near the billionaire's feet. "Are you all right, Mr. Xanatos?"
By sheer will, it went away. He'd bought himself a half hour at the most before the shiver along his spine would return. "I'm fine." Xanatos answered quietly.
"Are you sure?"
"I said I'm fine!" He stood, primped his lapels and turned towards his majordomo. "Now go do your job, Mr. Canmore, and find my son."
With Jason as good as kicked out of Fox's private room and sent on his way like a good little soldier, Dr. Pierce decided to join him. His other patients, a coma-victim whose vitals hadn't changed in two months, a gargoyle who'd already threatened him with bodily harm and a detective to match, didn't quite require a nursemaid.
When they knew they were out of view and earshot of the two steel clansmen holding guard outside of the private suite (there was always the suspicion that Xanatos was recording through his pet automatons), Pierce suddenly spoke up. "You've noticed it too?"
"His hands?" Jason returned with a nod. "Yes."
"I'd chalk it up to stress, but I've never seen anything can rattle a man–especially that man–to the degree of minor convulsions."
"He's never trembled like that, at least not during my employ."
"Well..." Pierce shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it is stress. His wife is near death, his son is evolving exponentially, he and the clan aren't on the best terms of late..."
Thinking on it, Jason wasn't so sure. "No, there's...there's something else..." he whispered, digging through the recesses of his memory and while doing so, absentmindedly rubbed the back of his neck. "Something that's eating him up inside. I can see it in his eyes, and in his son's."
"Alex can see things no one else can–"
"Dr. Pierce." Jason suddenly caught his sleeve and, with the added weight of his chair, was an anchor in a sea of linoleum and stopped him dead in the middle of the hall.
"You could've just told me to stop." Pierce carped, checking the stitches on his old labcoat.
With the doctor's attention firmly rooted on him, Jason rotated a wheel until what looked like a dark smear rounded half the length of the tire and ended up on top. In a fortuitous moment when Xanatos wasn't aware (and watching his every move), he'd rolled over the drop of blood on his way out.
Pierce kneeled down to get a better look. The patch was fresh and oddly, slightly discolored. "His blood?"
"Analyze it." Jason said, handing the doctor a handkerchief. "I want to know what's inside of him, whether it's physical or emotional."
"Just a little peek."
The next sound out of her mouth was a cross between a growl and a vaguely consenting whine. "It's still day, they'll both be in their stone sleep." She bared teeth; bobbed her brows. If it were a security guard, she'd show a little cleavage. "I'll just crack the door a little."
But Mother was adamant. If there was anyone able to resist Savannah's oily charm, it was the machine that could master her emotions with the flick of a switch. "No."
Mother made the gesture with her right hand, indicating the leash with which she was intimately tied to the human. "Might I remind you...?"
Savannah looked down at the proximity bracelet clamped to her wrist; the reporter was already warned if she got within a hundred feet of Shadow's tower, she'd get a hundred volts. It wasn't a pleasant experience. "You won't let me near that tower will you?"
"I have already told you, that you are not allowed to go near there for the time being."
"Brooklyn's orders." she said, hoping it would end the conversation.
It did. For a while at least.
As Savannah strolled through the gardens of the inner ward, she'd had a ghost over her left shoulder ever since walking outside and into the burgundy wine sky. Every stone a different shade of tangerine by the time she'd reached the small patch of lawn, she'd slung her sandals from her fingers and took to the grass barefoot, staring at that tower that seemed so close. "Rumor is the ninja did something very, very naughty last night." she said off the cuff. "I heard his girlfriend was trapped inside the mansion where Barnes, Lei and forty five of their cronies were massacred."
Mother appeared suddenly in front, having switched projectors. "I am not privy to that information."
She clucked her tongue. "Well, I call that motive. He's always had a temper, hasn't he? Tried to kill me."
"I would call that just."
There was something in the tinny, disembodied pitch that seemed for a moment more human than machine, an octave above the limit of her programming. "Was that a joke?" Savannah insisted.
"Considering you broke into the castle with the intent to expose the clan and sprayed mace in Shadow's eyes–"
"He had it coming!"
"–I doubt anyone found it humorous." Mother finished.
She kicked a pinecone and sneered, evoking the adrenaline-steeped memory of being chased through the castle corridors and escaping by the skin of her neck, a steel door and a half-empty bottle of pepper spray, "You're telling me."
Willowy brows that alluded to Goliath's own heavy horns lifted, creased and framed an inquisitively dark gaze. Whatever was contained in the banks of hard-drives deep in the castle allowed a wealth of expressional range. "If it's any consolation, he's tried to kill Mr. Hawkins on several occasions."
"Yeah, but he deserves it." Savannah huffed. "I was just trying to find out the truth."
"To what end?"
Savannah eyed the projection, got the gist. This machine was as skilled in the fine art of dissection as she was. "Truth is its own end."
"Even if the truth brings exposure, and exposure brings death?"
"This clan is already exposed! To something even more dangerous than humanity itself."
Silent for a moment, Mother digested the response. Then, rhetorically, "What is more dangerous than humanity?"
She wasn't sure she could measure a few hundred or even a few thousand Guild members against the weight of six billion, and Savannah was always bad at math. She and the hologram shared a look, despite the eeriness of looking into eyes that weren't really there.
"It is nearly evening." Mother announced. "I believe you should move out of earshot."
The tower lingered in the coffee crux of her gaze before she turned away and shook off the nagging voice that, if not careful, would probably get her killed by any of the weaponry hung on the walls inside. "Fine."
The sun set and broke its hold.
Brooklyn and Shadow exploded from their shells, standing in the exact same place where they'd frozen this morning, a few feet away from tearing the other's throat out. As the haze of sleep cleared, a few remaining shards hitting stone as they tumbled down their bodies, they resumed the angry glare.
The last thing Brooklyn remembered before it all went granite and gray was calling the seven-foot killing machine, "You son of a bitch," watching him stand and hearing the sinew overlap beneath his hide.
But he wasn't dead yet, which prompted the question, "Did you kill them?"
A bit of muscle popped as Shadow flexed his newly animate form. "Yes." he answered.
If there was any sort of remorse, Brooklyn didn't see it. It was all dark, rippling skin and cold eyes. "Dragon...why?"
His goateed chin went up, mandibles grinding against something. "They would have killed Iliana." he rasped. "And perhaps a lot more if I hadn't done something."
Brooklyn still couldn't believe the composure; like ice. "There wasn't a little voice in your head that said no?" He opened his arms, shrugging his shoulders. "Don't murder fifty people?"
"I did what was necessary in the time I had, and I did what you did not have the balls to do! Take care of those who'd kill us or any other innocent victim without so much as a thought, so that they will never hurt anyone ever again."
"Like the Guild?"
There wasn't an immediate answer for that; Shadow bristled, but remained quiet as Brooklyn continued.
"Is that what you'd do? Slaughter misguided accountants and housewives? Half the Guild ranks are simple people who've been duped under the pretense of protecting their families against the lie of a common threat, just like the Quarrymen."
The creature slowly turned and caught his fractured reflection in a few swords and daggers hanging from the wall. A talon-tip traced a blade to its hilt, and another followed the leather-wrapped handle to a dried fleck of blood he'd missed. He wasn't quite sure if it was fresh or not, human or not. "If they wish to wage war against us, I will respond in kind."
"Even if all your enemies aren't guilty?"
"If they have anything to do with the Guild, they are guilty."
"There are some people who're probably never going to even see a gargoyle in the flesh, and were told only carefully constructed stories to mislead them into a blind loyalty. Are you going to kill people for mopping their floors?"
"A thousand years ago," Shadow peered over his shoulder, "did you not kill invaders, in spite of their level of culpability? Despite them being either the leaders or the fodder?"
The dull crack of axes, throaty screams, blood, salt and sweat fused, Brooklyn was thrown back to the last battle they'd fought in Scotland. "Vikings, yes, bloodthirsty, destructive monsters. But only as a last resort. And we didn't go and hunt them down to sake some sort of bloodlust–"
Shadow turned on his heel and if his entire body nearly peeling from its skin didn't unnerve the Wyvern leader, it could've been the chamber lighting up under the glow of his eyes. "Yes, you did!" the growl sparked fire over his tongue. "When your clan was massacred, when innocent lives were at stake you attacked their encampment! And I did the same when seeing a laser-guided sight at Iliana's forehead!"
This time, it was Brooklyn who'd found himself at a loss; the ninja's logic was slightly warped but it did present an uncomfortable parallel.
But his pause didn't impede Shadow from laying into him. "How much blood did you spill so long ago?"
"I was young, I didn't..."
"But you've killed." he forced, hoping to open an emotional scar long buried. "Throughout your life, through all those places and times, you can't tell me you've never taken a life."
"I didn't slaughter fifty people!" Brooklyn snapped back, knees up against the callused stone of the firepit. Only a few feet of cold embers separated them now.
"You didn't have bullets carving lines across your skin."
"You could have waited, or called us."
"Iliana didn't have the luxury of time!" Shadow fumed, and eventually leaned back, to where every contour but the tattoos on his chest disappeared. "I did what I had to, and I am growing tired of explaining that."
He'd cut off so abruptly Brooklyn had to consider the conversation officially over. And with the fact he'd nothing left to say, it pretty much was. He slowly turned for the doorway, feeling a knot in his stomach but stopped just before he stepped through. "If this was nothing but your bloodlust there'll be serious repercussions for this, Shadow," he whispered, "I promise you."
A breath in the darkness, the rustle of wings, Shadow did nothing but watch the door swing shut.
Waiting outside of the room the clan had been using as their roost, Savannah heard the first few, tiny cracks like standing on a lake that hadn't quite frozen over yet, the explosions, the pantherine screams and throaty roars and the last, successive chime of skin shards against the walls.
They were awake. Like clockwork.
And cue the door as it swung open; creatures of habit, they didn't like the cramped confines of a room that didn't even have a window. She heard the hinges creak before she felt the wind of iron-strapped oak slamming against the jamb where, about a second ago, she once stood.
A few of them barely got out of the room before Savannah had blocked their path, holding her index finger in her mouth and coyly flashing her fluoride whites. "So," she posed, "is Shadow going to jail?"
In between the frowns and a few indeterminable groans, the curtain of hair that always hung over the right side of her face obscured Delilah's concern to all but the reporter, who just happened to see and zero in like a laser beam.
She smiled at the clone's obvious, and futile attempt to vanish in the small crowd. "My apologies, sore subject, but inquiring minds want to know."
Broadway lumbered past her, brushing his wing strut up against the back of her head and whether it was intentional or by accident, Savannah decided to voice her complaint.
"Hey." she protested, and got nothing in return but a serious lack of respect.
"Shut up, St. Nicks," he grunted, saw Mother floating off to the side and was quick to command, "make sure she doesn't cause any trouble."
The clan broke up around her, intent to go their own separate ways down three corridors and all she could do was watch. It was Mother who'd stayed perfectly still (or her image, which the reporter had to constantly remind herself was nothing but a projection), remaining until everyone else had left. Savannah had noticed as well, that a few of them had walked right through her, or at the very least, parts of her. "Doesn't it make you a little angry to get ordered around all the time?"
The hologram was inexpressive, despite the warmth of its character model. "It is my purpose."
"Bummer." Savannah remarked, and inspected the nails on her right hand. "Well, that's humanity for you, or whatever the gargoyle equivalent is. Looking down on the lesser creatures."
"I have been treated rather fairly."
"Oh, I'm sure most of the time yeah, unless they're angry, or not really thinking about how you might feel." She slanted an eyebrow towards her. "You...do feel right?"
"I do have the approximation of an emotional substance, yes."
"And how do you feel when they speak to you like you're a tool, no better than the vacuum?"
Mother had obvious trouble answering. "I..."
"Hold that thought." she cut off whatever response was coming and tore off down the hallway. She'd found a new target: Brooklyn, storming inside from Shadow's turret and leading trails of fire from his eyes. Anyone else would've gotten the general idea, but Savannah never seemed to have evolved that crucial sense of self-preservation if it meant digging up the truth. "Brooklyn. A word?"
If she hadn't been standing somewhat to his side, Brooklyn would've walked right over her. There was heat radiating from his skin, redder than usual. "Shut up, St. Nicks!" he'd snarled and stomped his way into the obscurity at the end of a hall.
"That's becoming a catch phrase." Savannah muttered, and caught her ghost breathing (metaphorically) down her neck. The hologram had flickered closer. "What are you looking at?"
"You." Mother answered, and overhead, a camera focused in. "I am wondering how one person can engender such hatred in civilized and sociable creatures."
She slumped against the wall, arms crossed. "It's a talent."
"Ach, what is this?"
Hudson bared his teeth at the tray in front of him, poking at the so-called cuisine with a fork. "Then feed it t' Bronx."
"Hey," Broadway leaned back in his chair, offended, "I made that."
"I want a steak."
He shook his head. "Not while you're recovering. Once doctor Pierce okays it, then you can go back to your regular eating habits, albeit strictly monitored."
"But what is this?"
"Raw cauliflower, asparagus and carrots, a salad with flax seed oil, and plain mashed potatoes with a smattering of spinach and sea kelp. Plus your pills as a chaser."
A sound made its way up Hudson's throat; whatever appetite he had or the mettle to suffer through the heaping pile of rabbit food quickly evaporated, as did the blood from his face. He half expected it to leap at him. "On second thought, it would probably kill th' poor beast."
"Eat." Broadway pushed the tray closer, wedging it against his stomach. "I'd say you're skin and bones but..." He patted the blanket-covered bulge, and warmed a growl from its center.
"I suppose I have you to thank for that."
The familiarity of his companion's tone forced Hudson to take another look. They may have been related by blood and genetics but tradition, and the very basis of their culture kept the small hatchling who'd reminded him of his dead mate for so long as the entire clan's to raise. The distance was easy at the time, but a millennium later, their numbers having dwindled to near zero, saying that it'd become difficult was an understatement. "So," he coughed, stirring the food on his plate, "where d'we go from here?"
Broadway raised a brow to the older gargoyle. "Go?"
"Things 'ave changed."
"Ye know I'm yuir father." Hudson urged. "Something's changed."
"Brooklyn, Lex and I have always considered you something like a father. It's not quite different."
"But their true fathers 're dead. Dust."
A hand went up. "Which is why I don't want to be singled out, not like Angela and Goliath. We are children of the clan."
Hudson languidly nodded, returning his eyes to the plate. "Aye."
"Unless you want to be..."
"No." he answered at breakneck speed, steamrolling Broadway's words before he even got to finish. "Nay, it'd be...awkward."
"Saving m' life."
A shrug. "To quote a well-used proverb, you would've done the same for me."
"I would've." Hudson stressed. "I would've gladly died for you."
His skin almost tinted at the sentiment, and Broadway's wings shifted.
But before one of the two broke down in tears, Hudson reached out and snatched his son's arm. The pressure on his wrist wasn't enough to bruise or break, but enough to get his attention. "Now," his tone changed, considerably, "before we get too blubbery, lad, there be a more important concern than m' life."
"Where's m' sword?"
He'd hoped this wouldn't come up until the older gargoyle was out of bed and out of danger of another infarction. "Uh," Broadway winced, pulling his wrist from its clamp, "we didn't find it."
Leaning forward so fast he nearly bucked the tray, Hudson's good eye held a glint of steel. "What!"
"Hudson, you impaled it through that kid and she flew off."
"So, it could be anywhere."
"Alexander's still missing," Broadway explained, "and he's probably the only one who knows where it is."
The bed groaned at his shifting weight; Hudson slithered deeper into the sheets and growled at nothing in particular. If being forced into the paper-thin gown and force fed vegetation plucked from the courtyard grounds wasn't humiliation enough, he'd lost to a girl. About seven or eight maybe, dark hair, dark eyes, she'd barely blinked at the sword being skewered through her intestines and exploited the weakness of his bad heart.
And now, the very thought of losing his faithful blade after almost eleven hundred years to someone who'd later find it somewhere and probably offer it on Ebay upped the low thrum in his chest a notch.
"Is he growling about his sword?"
Broadway and Hudson both turned on the voice to find, surprisingly, Maria at the hospital door.
There were only a few things that could enrapt the old soldier and expunge the thought of his beloved weapon from his mind so quickly and completely; Broadway saw the spark between their eyes and the room suddenly grew silent. He cleared his throat. "Wow...awkward."
Her discomfort finally climbed its way to the surface when she started fidgeting with her hands. "Broadway, could you...?"
"Leave you two alone? Yeah." he said, and started out.
Maria passed by him with little acknowledgement, considering she was as focused on Hudson as he was on her. She settled into the same chair Broadway had used, gave him the once over (thinking he'd look worse, but stone sleep had salved the wounds), and finally mustered the courage to say, "Hello."
"Maria." Hudson greeted neutrally.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here but...I couldn't get away."
"I understand. Yuir job is important."
There wasn't much venom on the tone, but it sure as hell wasn't honey either. "There's been a development in the mob case. In every mob case actually. I've been in meetings with the mayor, the D.A. and half the New York legal system for almost eighteen hours straight."
Hudson didn't answer; just kept watching at her.
"So," she muddled through, trying to deflect the fixed stare, "how are you feeling?"
"Ready t' get out of this bed." he answered.
She put a hand to the sheet, as if it could prevent him from getting up. "You've been through an ordeal."
Hudson harrumphed, "Are ye goin' t' coddle me as well?"
"You had a heart attack, and a building fall on you."
He waved it off. "'Twas a mild heart attack, an' a small building."
"You're lucky to be alive."
She couldn't believe it. Of all the pigheaded... Maria shot up from the chair and stormed herself a little circle on the linoleum. "You are the most stubborn man...!"
"An' yuir a nursemaid!" Hudson shouted from the bed.
She whirled on her heel, and a stray reflection swept her gaze; like lightning on a cloudy horizon. It'd been enough to send the men under her command and twice her size on their way without argument. "Do you have any idea how I felt when I heard what had happened?"
"I wouldna know. Ye've been closed off lately, more'n that Shadow."
"That's not fair!"
Hudson threw off the covers, and dropped his high-arched feet to the floor with a uniform thud that the police captain felt a few meters away. Even dressed in nothing but an oversized, paisley hospital gown, recovering from a heart attack and without his sword, he was an intimidating creature. "We've shared pleasure t'gether and more pain than I care t' admit, and as soon as yuir out of this castle ye turn colder than a highland winter."
"Now wait a damned minute..."
"I had a job to do, and any emotion would compromise my abilities and risk any more needless deaths. But that doesn't mean I never stopped–" She stopped, dead, bit her lip and prompted Hudson to chime in.
Recomposed, Maria continued in a tone that didn't quite match up to the earlier potency. "It doesn't mean I didn't stop caring for you." she whispered. "Hudson, I walked into an office full of whispers, rumors and people having thought me dead, and a city in absolute chaos. Faced with that I just...didn't know how to carry on our relationship in the world outside of this refuge, in my world."
"An' just what be our relationship?"
"More than friends." she stated matter of fact, and surprised herself by how easy it came out.
His tail twitched, which, unbeknownst to him, loosened the knot on his gown. "More?"
Maria proffered, "Lovers...?", watching deep lines and the old leather around his eyes for a reaction.
"Since that night, and that spell, yes. But I really don't know what else to call it. Boyfriend sounds so..."
"Childish." Hudson finished her thought, and further proved their compatibility. It was the irony of their rapport, considering they couldn't quite see it.
"Well, yes." She drew a breath and placed a hand on her heart. "I've never felt like this Hudson, not since Carlos died. I've never had such a deep emotional connection to someone for a long time."
"D' ye love me?"
The answer hung on her lip for a moment, before she forced it out and let it ignite on fresh, re-circulated oxygen. She was owning up to something relatively life-altering and wanted to make sure she herself believed what she was about to affirm. "I think I do."
"Then why d' ye persist in torturing us both!" he snapped, and even from his distance was able to blow a few delinquent hairs from her brow. "Dragon, woman, yuir kind be the most confusing, devious creature on this Earth! Yuir th' reason m' hair turned gray!"
As the gargoyle turned around, Maria couldn't help but notice the inadvertent view she was given. His thick skin hadn't yet registered the draft, or maybe it was the fact he was comfortably in the middle of his rant to notice his gown had fallen open. A hand covered her mouth. "Hudson."
"Women haven't changed in over a thousand years!"
"What!" he barked over his shoulder.
"I can see your ass."
Hudson swiveled around, noticed his backside was on display and caught the loose flaps with his claws. "Blasted...dress!"
She'd snickered through her sinuses before it exploded into a full-blown belly laugh, dangerous in the presence of a white-eyed, cantankerous warrior. But she couldn't help the release; it'd been a long time since she'd let loose. Maria simply walked forward and into his arms, and despite Hudson's embarrassment, he didn't offer any resistance. "I happen to like your ass," she breathed into the white of his beard, and the voice that'd remained so strong faltered, and choked, "and to think I almost lost it..."
He shushed her, draped her in old, tattered wings and held the shivers steady with his arms. "Dinna worry about that, lassie." he caressed the nape of her neck. "For now, let's just be."
The Eyrie cellblock was almost always empty, except that last cell at the end of the narrow, steel-lined corridor, where someone would often scream to her ghosts and relieve the itch under her skin by making fist-sized dents in the walls.
But, Broadway noticed as he drew near, it was eerily quiet in a hall that funneled echoes like the barrel of a shotgun.
Coming in to check in Angela, he found her near the jail's small control center, sitting on the floor with her back against her mother's cell and seemingly unperturbed considering some of the noises that, at some point, had muffled through the reinforced steel.
Passing the door's eye-level window, a bit of movement near the back slowed his pace. Having destroyed any light source, Demona made her home in the dark and within the tattered remains of the bed, mattress and blankets, constructed into a makeshift nest in the far corner. What struck him though (he'd been watching her rant and rave for the past two months and thus, the novelty had eventually worn off) was the slight bulge to her stomach.
Her pregnancy was progressing, despite the fact she wasn't all there.
"How is Hudson?" Angela asked from her spot on the floor.
"Ornery." Broadway said.
"Then he must be getting better." She smiled, and raised her chin towards him, noticing both the faraway look and, for the first time, a few similarities she'd never discerned before. "How does it feel?"
"I can't believe I didn't put it together sooner. Hudson is your father."
"Yeah well, if you'd seen his mate–"
"Your mother?" she interjected.
Nodding while reminiscing, he continued, "...it would've been pretty easy to figure it out."CLANG!
The entire cellblock shivered at the sudden thump from the inside of the door.
Broadway understandably reacted, "Whoa!" and threw himself across the hallway.
Fist still against the small, shatter/bulletproof window, Demona had made her presence known by trying (again) to break her way free. A ghost in several shades of vermilion, eyes bleeding red and dousing the entire darkened cell, her hand unfurled, squealed talons down the glass and she eventually withdrew back to her corner after giving her son-in-law a glare that lit every nerve ending along his spine.
He could've sworn she'd done that to keep him on his toes, and by the show of fangs in the darkness he knew she was cackling. "Damnit..."
"Yes, she's in a snit tonight." Angela stood up, and calmly explained her mother's demeanor. "It must be the pregnancy."
"Most likely. Having a sudden pregnancy forced on you must be hard on the body."
He took a few steps out of view of the window, which surprisingly hadn't yet cracked under the pressure of repeated strikes. "She's been doing that a lot."
"The only weakness she can discern in the entire cell. She may be semi-psychotic, but she's still Demona." She flicked a few long lashes towards her mate; there wasn't a lot that could rattle four hundred and fifty pounds wrapped in warm, aquamarine flesh. "You're not afraid she could get out...are you?"
"Maybe I'll get Lex to take another look at that window." Broadway rubbed his neck. "Make sure it can take the pounding."
He turned and immediately noticed the tongue on her incisors and the glint off auburn eyes, but what really struck him was the paraphernalia surrounding her: books, parchments, a computer open to a Latin text. She was reading up, and he decided to change the subject. "Is everything ready?"
"I hope so." she sighed.
"Are you ready?"
"I hope so." Angela repeated, only softer. "If this doesn't work, I could very well be giving her the magical equivalent of a lobotomy. Una isn't able to make the trip, at least not for a while and every day we waste could bring the alternate Goliath closer and closer."
Broadway inched back to the cell's occupant, currently hissing to more of her hallucinations and obsessively remaking the nest of shredded furniture. "And giving her a lobotomy would be worse...how?"
She joined him in his scrutiny. "I don't find that funny."
"It wasn't supposed to be."
"I know. But, do you want to what's really funny?"
"What?" Broadway asked, wary.
"We have to do the spell at Nightstone."
He pinched the bridge of his nose between his talons, and muttered into the palm, "Oh no." The sheer minutiae in getting Demona from one corporate citadel to another without incident filled him with a nascent sense of dread. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." Angela confirmed his fear. "What I need is neither here nor at her manor. I've already made arrangements with Nightstone to make a pick-up this morning."
"What?" Broadway turned his head so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash. "Today?"
"No time like the present, I suppose."
"Actually, Angela, this isn't really the right time..."
Purposely ignoring him, she started collecting her papers and books and walked past, a budding smirk the last thing he saw. "We have to get to Nightstone before sunrise. I hope you kept your suit."
"Angela!" Broadway called after her. "Angela! Hey, I am the second in command...!"
Alexander noticed a fish had appeared just below him, down in the murk. It'd been nipping at his soles as he totted along beside Titania's wider, frictionless gait and probably thought the light skitter on the surface of the river was a meal.
But, considering he and his grandmother were walking along the surface of the Hudson, the instinct was justified.
They'd floated down from the Empire State building and, with the queen under a simple Glamour, strolled a few blocks along Broadway, crossed Times Square and followed West 42nd until meeting the shore. She'd taken ten steps out, turned and beckoned with an outstretched hand to the boy who'd waited at the water's edge. To annul gravity and fly was one thing, to trust the river would keep him up and on its rippling veneer was another; he'd shaken his head and refused.
Titania's smile widened. Despite his power, he was still a boy. She plucked him (and the sword he was intent to drag behind him) up and towards her, before gently settling him to the water's white crests.
It had taken him only a moment to master the trick, test the shifting surface and hurry towards his grandmother, who'd already started off without him. They somehow moved effortlessly through the shipping lanes and despite the number of craft on the water, none of them seemed to come close.
Now, distracted, Alexander stopped, sidestepped and watched as the striped bass followed him until he scared it off with a stray blast.
He looked up and found she'd moved on without him. "Oh..." he said. "Wait up!"
Blessed with infinite patience, Titania didn't find it too taxing to watch her grandson make up the distance. "You must not be so easily distracted, child."
"Sorry, I...saw a fish."
"What would your mother say?" He dropped his eyes, and immediately the queen was contrite as she felt the stab of pain that shot through him. She kneeled and cupped his face, lifted it, and found his eyes so green and mesmerizing it was difficult not to become lost in the meadows of his gaze. "I am sorry, Alexander. Your mother was why I first came."
"Why can't I help her?" he implored. "How come I'm not strong 'nuff?"
"You are strong, never forget that. But power is not brute strength, it is a better understanding of yourself, your limitations and the world around you."
A brow quirked; he wasn't yet ready to make the distinction. "But..."
"You are frustrated," Titania read the helplessness of his expression, "in that all of your abilities are ineffectual. But no matter how powerful you may be, at times, and often the gravest of times, there is nothing you can ever do."
Her chest contracted. Odd. It was the same with every stray and purposed thought concerning Halcyon. "I was unable to save your grandfather, but I do not think he would have wanted me to do so."
"He was obstinate, and human." And perhaps, Titania had often mused, hoping his death would shake the queen from her pedestal high above the human race.
Alexander's gaze wandered, down, left and down some more before centering on Hudson's sword. "Mom told me he was sick."
"And now mom's sick like him."
"It is not hereditary."
"Her...herditarry?" he stumbled over the word.
It wouldn't have been befitting a queen to let a laugh into the open so she merely smiled; her grandson was a contradiction in maturity, a child one moment and then perceptive beyond his species the next. "His disease. It will not be passed down to your mother."
"I know, it wasn't, she was–" he'd managed a small noise before biting back his lip.
"Nothin'." Alexander deflected.
"Why are you so hesitant to tell me what is wrong with her?"
Titania continued to press, "Alexander, you must."
It took a while, but, quietly, tenaciously, it was dragged from him. "There's somethin' in her."
"Something in her?" she parroted. "Was she made sick deliberately?"
Sobek's warning rolled through his brain, cutting off the synapses to his speech center. Bone plates, exposed musculature, the mutated gargoyle living deep in the structural hollow of his home was a constant whisper at the back of his skull.
Titania could sense the apprehension; see a shape and glowing gold eyes in his mind. The child knew something that he either didn't want known or was forced to keep silent. "Alexander–"
"I think my dad knows what's wrong..."
She rose, and a wind met sea. A perfectly concentric wave started from her heels and surged outwards from where she stood. "Then, my child," Titania declared with chilling absoluteness, "I think it is time I brought you home. Let us have a talk with your father."
"Okay, Charlie! Bring 'er in nice and slow."
She hadn't yet taken her eyes off the steel box, from the freight elevator to the XE loading bay and perched on the forks of the forklift. She'd warned everyone who would eventually make contact with the crate, channeling the former CEO of Nightstone with eerie precision if only to get her point across that the utmost care had to be taken with the payload.
As with most of the cargo they handled for two of the biggest conglomerates in the U.S., no information was given about the contents and no questions were ever asked, and thus only Angela knew what was really strapped inside.
She'd dragged Broadway back to Nightstone and the little magic hard drive that transmuted gargoyle flesh to human and vice versa, then returned in force at the break of dawn for their package all neatly boxed up and waiting (Othello's injuries, claw marks and such when going in to sedate his relatively feral sister, would heal with the sun).
The forklift rumbled over to the back end of the delivery truck, and lowered the crate with a bit of a bang.
Angela cringed; she couldn't imagine the ride was any kind of smooth for her mother currently chained up inside. But at least she was unconscious.
"We should have waited until nightfall..." Broadway said from behind, fiddling with his neckline. Becoming human wasn't so bad the second time; it was being forced into the clothing that often looked better than it fit.
"I've waited long enough." she answered, allowing herself to blink as a few men buckled down the crate for the ride back. "Besides, transporting her as a human rather than a gargoyle is infinitely safer. And the more sedative we are forced to pump into her, the more we risk the baby."
"Well, let's just hope she doesn't shake off those tranquilizers and wake up. That's all we need is everyone to discover we're transporting the semi-psychotic former CEO."
She gritted her teeth, strange having no discernible fangs. "Yes, I'm sure miss Cartier would frown on that. We have to make sure that absolutely no one knows about this, it could seriously harm the confidence mother has built here."
"Not to mention your stock options." he joked. "Speaking of which, how did you explain the fact you're doing business with your biggest rival?"
"Part of the old partnership with the experimental armor Todd often takes on joyrides."
"Okay, Mrs. Destine-Maza," the foreman called out, "we're all loaded and ready to go."
"Thank you for your haste, gentlemen." she replied, surprising her employees with a smile and stepping around the door of the limousine Broadway had opened for her. "We'll meet you there."
Alexander had expected to appear somewhere in his home, maybe his bedroom, the castle, or most likely the infirmary where his mother slowly decayed.
But, after snatching them from the surface of the Hudson in a teleportation spell much smoother than his own, Titania had dropped them both to the mammoth building's side. Alexander looked around; it was a small access lane leading around to the rear, and his grandmother seemed intent on something before her, circumspectly moving towards the stone and steel base.
"How come we're still outside?" he asked, watching as traffic raced past the boulevard beyond.
She'd stopped a meter from the foundation, arm outstretched, fingers splayed, and touching that something he couldn't see. "I sense an energy, child. Something is blocking me from seeing inside."
He furrowed his brow. "But there's always energy outside."
"You must learn to discern the difference between electricity, aura and," she slid her hand closer and as if it burned, swiftly pulled away, "a very powerful incantation."
He came up by her legs. "I didn't feel anything."
"Think of it in terms of...a spider-web, my child." Titania explained. "If I attempt to pass through it, no doubt whomever cast the spell will know exactly who has breached the field. And I am surprised you cannot sense it."
The slightest ripple would alert whoever erected this shield (Xanatos, the first, accusing thought raced through her mind) and she didn't yet want to reveal herself, especially if someone went to all the trouble. "Perhaps you can bring your father to me, child."
"Okay." he said.
"And use that new trick you have learned."
Alexander blinked away, and it took a few seconds before he returned the same way, but this time with a passenger who seemed a little disoriented at his new surroundings.
Xanatos stumbled. The abrupt change in setting and the air pressure, enough to make his ears pop considering he was about two thousand feet in the air half a second ago (and the fact he was disassembled and reconstructed atom by atom), nearly made him lose his lunch, but he steadied himself before the penne Portobello hit the concrete.
He found his son at his knees when his vision cleared. "Alexander, what–"
His reaction was garroted. A wind had preceded a hand that seized him around the throat and nearly crushed his esophagus in a grip like steel.
Titania had grabbed him and nearly put his skull through the foundation of his fortress, holding him a good foot from the ground. The Glamour peeled away to reveal the queen in all her wrath. "You will tell me why my grandson is frightened his mother is dying." she demanded.
Even with his throat half closed, Xanatos glibly managed, "So good to see you again, Titania."
Her eyes boiled. "I have had a very trying few days, David, and I shall warn you only once not to test my patience when it comes to my daughter and grandson."
Xanatos looked down at Alexander, the boy slightly guilty, but still defiant. He'd no idea his grandmother would react so violently. "So Alexander told you?"
"You cannot blame a six-year-old for being frightened."
"I suppose not."
"Now," she got back to the point at hand, "tell me why your son sought me out?"
"If you could be so kind as to release me..."
Her hand unclenched and he dropped to his feet.
Soothing his fingers around his throat, Xanatos fixed his collar, tightened the Windsor knot and straightened his appearance. No one should be unkempt in the presence of royalty, after all. "Thank you."
Titania moved closer, but the billionaire didn't flinch. "What is wrong with Fox? And why does your spire have an enchantment about its walls to prevent me from seeing inside?"
"You know, I never thought it could block senses as...acute as yours."
"You play with fire."
"I am doing what I must."
"Only a desperate man would veil himself under such a powerful incantation."
"Please, before you continue to jump to the wrong conclusion or threaten me with any kind of grotesque bodily harm that only a being of your stature could think up, you'd do well to shut up and listen." Before the queen could take offense at the manner of her treatment, he would surprise her by revealing what she'd never expect. "I want you to take Fox to Avalon."
Broadway didn't like waiting.
The sun sky high and progressively sliding down between the shadowed towers, it'd taken most of the day to transport Demona's crate through morning traffic to Nightstone, get her unloaded and up to her former office and, before releasing her from the bindings and moving her into the inner sanctum, he'd slipped her another hypodermic of barbiturates while Angela prepared.
He'd chained a heavily drugged, slightly groggy human Demona to the floor in a circle of burning candles and a large alchemic symbol poured out with salt, careful not to smudge the powdered lines, and left his mate alone to her work ("It will be hazardous." she'd warned and shooed him from the room despite his objection).
Thus, he'd busied himself in the office, waiting for any word and finally resigned himself to leaning up against the wall while the color around him ran the spectrum from yellow to red.
Through the steel about a foot thick, he'd heard chanting, a few lines he'd figured as Latin, silence, more silence and then, when he thought it'd been over for an hour, saw a flash of light so intense it actually seeped through the cracks of a supposedly sealed door. A tremor followed, rattling through the soles of his shoes.
Broadway stepped back a foot and thinned his gaze at the entrance. "Was that it?"
Great shudders ran the length of the door, the hydraulic locks unbolting, and the first thing out was a thin wisp of smoke. Angela followed, a little disheveled (her long mane having escaped the braid, her suit a little singed) and blinking to help restore her sight. It looked as if a train had ran through the room and she was the track. "Ouch."
"Perhaps...we should have waited until nightfall." she sighed.
Broadway reached for her, allowed her to settle her weight on his ample frame. She did, nearly collapsing into him. "You all right?"
Angela blew the steam from her hands, and flexed her knuckles that'd gone white from duress. The energies she'd channeled had made her hair stand on end, and her mother (back when she was a little more rational) was mystified why Angela didn't have the knack or need to practice magic. "I will be."
"So," Broadway started massaging her hands, "did it...?"
"Work? We won't know until, well, mother starts acting..."
"A little less insane?"
"Yes." she nodded. "Hopefully we've broken the leash to the alternate Goliath, and with any luck it will allow her mind to heal."
Broadway craned his neck to get a glimpse of Demona still in chains, and face down on the floor. She was unconscious, drooling and, he could've sworn, smoldering. The ring of salt had charred and turned black, and the candles had liquefied into pools of wax. "She still has a long way to go." he said quietly, smoothing her hair. "I know what it's like to watch someone you love die."
He felt Angela nod in his embrace and she gently pushed away from him, lurching her way to the desk. She wasn't used to high heels or the lack of a tail for balance, especially when the feeling was still returning to her numbed lower half.
Broadway let the silence between them linger for a bit, until he worked up the courage for what he was about to say. "There's...something else we haven't taken care of yet."
"The other Angela's body."
Angela's features contorted in an odd way; the very mention of the woman she'd 'replaced' in this universe was always a sore subject and stiffed her upper lip. "Oh." she said, and knew her fingernails were curling into the red cedar of Demona's massive desk, but didn't seem to care. "I almost forgot about...her."
"I didn't really know what to do with you, her, it–" He closed his eyes, rethought, reworded. "Her."
"I'd hope a proper burial." she turned and answered.
"Do you want her cremated?"
The grisly conversational swerve aside, Angela didn't get why she was getting the choice. "Why are you asking me?"
"Because it's you." He winced. "Or a version of."
"I really don't think we can bury her outside of the castle where she could be found, and it would be...uncomfortable to have her body anywhere inside."
"A wind ceremony?"
"Maybe...I don't know..."
"With everything that's happened, I don't know if this clan could take another funeral." Offering a fluid if not helpless semi-shrug, she moved back towards him. "Besides, this is between you and me."
"All right." he nodded, and took her hand, pulled her close, and buried his lips in her hair (it still had that slightly singed aroma). "Come on. We need to get Demona prepped and back to the castle. Brooklyn's holding that meeting that I tried to tell you about..."
She must have been tired.
Having spent the day collapsed and comatose beside Hudson's stone form, Maria realized she'd gotten a full nine hours uninterrupted when the bed shook, and she opened her eyes to a hail of shrapnel as the gargoyle burst to life.
A gleam off something had turned his head, bared his teeth, "Ahhh," and as the captain lowered the hand that'd deflected a few stone pieces, followed his eager gaze. On the small bedside table, his sword lay untouched and intact.
He'd grabbed it, knotted his hand around its handle and inspected the edge. It was clean.
"How the hell...?" she remembered saying, but shook it off. Things just seemed to happen in this castle.
And despite his earlier bluster, Hudson had fallen asleep less than a half hour later, content as all medieval warriors were with his blade and woman by his side.
Ten minutes passed before Maria's arm went numb; she'd been leaning on her elbow just watching the gentle rhythm of his breathing, until all the blood had drained from her forearm.
Picking a few stray pieces of carapace he'd missed from his hair, she trailed her fingertips along the base of his horns and left him to sate the craving for caffeine.
Hitting the castle level, she was surprised to find a familiar aroma wafting through the halls, getting stronger as she approached the kitchen and hit the checkered tile. There, on the counter, the percolator was already up to half a pot; she was drawn towards it, nose to the vapor trail and grabbed one of the coffee cups without even seeing the slogan "World's Greatest Detective" slapped across the side.
She swigged, sighed, and the world around her slowly melted from the ceiling down.
"I noticed you spent the day."
With a kick to the eardrums, reality returned and Maria quickly turned on the voice. Brooklyn. The Wyvern leader had probably been sitting at the table the entire time.
"Thought you might want a cup." he said. "It's Elisa's favorite blend."
The mug suddenly weighed heavier in her hands. She knew how the loss of Goliath and Elisa had affected the clan, like someone had poisoned the water supply, and it was probably therapeutic to recreate an old ritual that had fallen to the wayside in her absence. "It's very good." Maria whispered through the steam.
"She always said so."
Every clack of her heel as she started towards him was a sourceless, disembodied sound. "May I ask you something?"
"What the hell happened in that house?"
She was direct; he'd admired that about her, and could do no less than return the favor. "Shadow happened."
Her mouth gaping in a kind of rictus of startled alarm, Maria could barely gasp the name. "Shadow?"
"He decided to dispense his own kind of justice."
Though the idea (as disturbing as it was) that it might've been a gargoyle, the fact Brooklyn so casually confirmed every uncertainty and fear she'd had nearly made her drop the cup. The about-face from civilian to cop was instant, no more evident than in the faint lines tightening about her eyes and Maria stamped the bottom of the mug into the table.
Brooklyn felt the vibration through the marble, and saw little brown waves slosh over the side of the ceramic. "He said they were about to kill Iliana."
"And that gives him the right to slaughter almost fifty people!"
He didn't–couldn't–meet her gaze.
Maria threw up her hands, exasperated. "Jesus Christ almighty, I don't believe this. What do you intend to do?"
"I don't know yet."
"You have to do something."
"Like what?" Brooklyn fired back, catching Maria in the proverbial headlights. "Counsel him? Imprison him? Exile? Despite how guilty he may or may not be, we need Shadow, especially now."
"You need a murderer?"
"That particular fact is up for debate."
She was a little skeptical. "Really."
"We don't know what happened in that house, or what he had to face to get Iliana out of there before Lei shot her."
"He was really going to...?"
"Between the eyes, yes," Brooklyn confirmed, "at least according to Shadow."
She remembered scrubbing her hands through several layers of skin after getting out of Lei's manor. There wasn't a spot she couldn't touch or step without at least lifting a bit of blood, and Maria hadn't arrived back at the twenty-third unmarked. The smell had stuck for a while, at least until the shower half a day later. "I know exactly what happened." she said low, the memory still fresh and sticky. "Even if Forensics still doesn't believe it. If you could have seen what he did to those men and women...you might think different."
"I didn't see actually."
"It was a bloodbath." Maria offered for him, but didn't think she could properly construct the image through a simple explanation. Maybe she'd show him the photos. "I can't even imagine the lengths he had to go to, to kill so many people."
Brooklyn tried to reason, "Maria..."
But she cut him off. "Brooklyn, listen. I know I don't have any right to direct or even influence your decision–"
"You're damned right you don't."
It unnerved the captain, his voice boiling over and going from urbane to growl in a split second. She'd been a little tense since the safehouse, but the smoke from the gargoyle's molars proved he'd been stretched a little too far himself. "This is exactly why I didn't want you involved. You can sometimes make a bigger mess."
He'd settled a little before answering, "We had no choice."
"But Shadow did."
"We don't know that."
This was turning into a circular argument, especially when both sides were on the fence themselves. "When monsters want to stomp out the city, that's your job. But humans, that's supposed to be our jurisdiction. And now I have to live with the knowledge of who killed those men and women, falsify reports, seal evidence and testify to a killer that will go forever unknown."
"Because you realize what's at stake."
"Yes, more than you could ever imagine. But you've mingled worlds, Brooklyn. Nudged our particular universes dangerously close and despite the fact you've probably once again saved the planet, we now have one of your clan with blood on his hands."
He tried in vain to convince himself, "It's not quite innocent blood," but it came out just as hollow as he'd believed.
"It doesn't matter!" Maria shouted.
"No," Brooklyn said self-deprecatingly, "not really I suppose."
"Something must be done."
"Like what?" he repeated.
"I don't know!" His voice lacked the steam to get halfway between them, and it died to a hiss. His brows made an A beneath the mane and his fists, they clenched, shook and eventually released, brick red gone bone white from the pressure. "I don't know what to do. I'm not Goliath..."
And with the admission, Maria was allowed a little peak into what it was like to be him for the last few months. But it seemed his sense of guilt (or whatever it was) was blinding him to what needed to be done. "And what would he do in this instance?"
Brooklyn didn't answer right away; in fact he wasn't able to answer at all. He merely stood and turned for the exit, hunting for another means to vent. "If you'll excuse me, Maria..."
They all knew why they were being inauspiciously herded into a room most of them never really spent any time in, all except a few fleeting looks through the crack of a door rarely open.
A low ceiling preventing any echo, no windows, a sealed air duct, soundproofed door.
Shadow had good ears, and this was a subject they didn't want him to hear.
A table had been set up; a heavy slab of wood with a crimped grain that ran its length, and looking as if it had taken half the clan to carry it in and drop it ominously dead center in the middle of the chamber. A thousand years ago it'd served as large storage and now, a conference room with a dismal appearance that would lead anyone to think the discussions held here were a little more than serious.
The clan silently took to the benches on either side while Brooklyn seated himself in the only chair at the head of the table.
Silence lingered. He was either letting them stew or he didn't quite know how to start. Talons tapped the grain; Brooklyn's eyes were making a bead straight through and into nothing. "We've, ah...got a problem." he started, testing the waters.
Glances were made, and fingertips drew imaginary shapes in the wood; thoughts raced but no one spoke up. A few had been horrified to learn what had happened (and couldn't escape the smell of blood Shadow had tracked onto the courtyard), a few were ambivalent and maybe somewhere within the small group there was even an advocate for his actions.
"Nothing? Not a thing?"
"I take it this is about Shadow?" Broadway was the first to speak.
"What exactly are we supposed to do?" Todd shrugged his shoulders, and sunk back into his seat. "That's...what he's like."
Brooklyn was nonplussed, considering the expression. "Oh really? Have a beer, kill fifty people, watch the game?"
"Weren't they the bad guys?"
He'd already realized the irony he had turned a hundred and eighty degrees and was arguing in Maria's place, but continued nonetheless, "A poor excuse, that's been used far too many times."
"No one seemed to complain when he took care of the Pack," then Todd added silently, "or the Guild."
"Because they posed an immediate threat."
"And Barnes and Lei did not?" Othello rumbled.
"They could've killed every single cop they came across." Broadway jumped in. "And continued to wage their war through the city until they were at the top of a pile of more dead bodies. Goliath recognized that the Pack would've hunted us down one by one until we were extinct, and he made his decision to let Shadow be reflect that. What would you have done?"
Brooklyn merely moved his eyes. "It wasn't my decision then."
"But it is now."
He clenched his fist hard enough to take a good chunk out of the table. "Damnit, we need him. And he's soon going to be a father."
"It is Delilah's child," Katana minded, "and they have already agreed that it is her responsibility."
"And it isn't like there's a shortage of people to help her." Lexington piped up.
"It will be a child of the clan."
Brooklyn waved them both off, "Regardless..." which earned him a glare from his mate.
"Then what's the problem?"
He stood up so fast his chair was thrown back and onto the floor. "The problem is he killed fifty people and I can't do a damned thing about it!"
The growl ricocheted from the walls a few times with nowhere to go, until it eventually died away and Brooklyn was forced under the weight of a collective stare. He blew a bit of steam from his nostrils and continued.
"I don't know what happened, how it happened or whether or not he went out of his way to slaughter them! And I can't do anything that would be just to any side."
"Then this meeting doesn't have a purpose." Broadway concluded. "We need him, he stays. Or are you just using us to vent your own uncertainties?"
Almost burning a trail on the air, Brooklyn's eyes met his Second's. "I called this meeting to get input, because I'm at a loss." he explained, and behind the carefully measured self-control, anger simmered. "Because I'm trying to keep a sense of order within the chaos and give Shadow the benefit of all my doubts."
Desdemona cleared her throat. "We all agree his actions were..."
"Warranted." Othello presumed to answer for her.
"Horrific." she amended. "But, perhaps...necessary."
Angela cocked a brow-ridge. "Killing? Killing should never be a viable option."
Othello's tenor was as deadpan as his grimace, stone-cut and dusty blue. "It is sometimes. In the most desperate of times. And I believe now qualifies."
"They didn't have to die. They would have been arrested."
"After the inevitable firefight."
"A lot of cops, including Iliana, Maria and Morgan could have been killed and who knows how long they'd actually stay behind bars?" Broadway offered. "How long must we live in fear? How long must this entire city live in fear?"
Angela placed her arm on his shoulder. It was light, but warm, and enough to be noticed. "And how many murders does it take for us to realize we're supposed to be the good guys?"
One thing about his mate; she was often able to get right to the point, even if said point was used as ammunition against him. Broadway was repentant, thought back on his arguments and sighed, "I really don't know anymore..."
"And are good guys never supposed to kill?" Todd put forth.
Brooklyn didn't notice the question as much as the undertone in which it'd been asked, and considering Todd had been a little moody lately he was quick to jump on him. "Only as the last possible alternative." he answered sternly. "Not in anger, or vengeance."
"We still don't know that Shadow did."
"No, we don't. But..." he faltered, and rubbed his forehead. "I can't live in this gray area anymore. I can't preach on the evils of some things and let others slide."
"So what do we do?" Broadway quickly asked.
"It has to stop."
The voice was so much like Elisa's, everyone took notice and a few nearly forgot the detective was any number of miles and years away from them.
It was Delilah, from the corner end of the table and with a little bit of fire to her tone that no one saw coming. "The killing, the destruction. It can't continue anymore." Her eyes had swung into view, and whether it was natural phosphorescence or a glint of light, they glowed (and unnerved a few at the table). "And we can't be the cause of it."
She stood up and it exploded, "I have seen enough death in my lifetime! Watched as too many of my friends and family were destroyed, lost in a fireball or withered away to dust! And if this is the way we help people, than I don't want any part of it." She turned tail and charged out, leading with a slender hand attached to a slender arm that nearly tore the door off its hinges.
If Annika's stunned expression didn't say it all... "Wow..."
"She summed it up nicely." Angela said.
"Yes, she did." nodded Brooklyn. "This meeting is adjourned."
"What?" It was Todd again, but this time without much of the earlier tact. "What the hell was the point then? I think there's a few people out there who deserve to have their balls handed to them and particularly by Shadow..."
Brooklyn promptly got up, walked over and before he could react, grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. The human was pulled from his seat. "Hawkins, if you ever, ever casually take a life without a good goddamned rock-solid reason, or even make mention about it, I'm going to strangle you with your own intestinal tract."
"Urrkk..." Todd choked out. "That's...easy for you to say..."
"Killing is and will always be the last resort." Shoving him back down, Brooklyn started around the table towards the door. "And I think we're going to have a little talk later about death and its consequences. You've been bitchy lately."
Fixing the neckline that'd been stretched out of whack, Todd noticed his wife's smirk on the edge of his peripheral vision; a bit of chutzpah on pastel rose. He crossed his arms, faced the other way and sulked. "Fine."
"You still haven't answered my question." Broadway hoped to catch him before he took off. "What exactly are you–are we going to do?"
Brooklyn glared at him, neither mad nor gracious. "Walk with me."
"I still don't see why we weren't allowed in." Tachi muttered, leaning against the wall. Having seen Delilah of all people nearly put a fist in between the iron-strapped timbers of the door, and then plow a line in the floor from hall to hall, her curiosity of just what the hell was going on inside had been piqued.
"Yeah," her brother agreed, "I mean, we were allowed to vote when dad, uhm..."
"Voted against Goliath?" she suggested.
"Yeah. Or what I like to call the 'unpleasantness'."
"Think mom's still mad at him?"
"Isn't mom always a little mad at him?" Nashville had his ear pressed against the stone, searching through what little vibrations he felt coming off the crosswall next to the meeting room for any discernible gossip, and Tachi would've warned her twin of the fist she saw flying into view if it wasn't for the fact he had it coming.
"Gah!" He jumped away when a sharp clap rattled through the stone.
It was Rain, having struck the wall. "I think when it involves murder," she said, "your dad's a little wary of letting you be so close to the subject."
Nashville wrung out his ear with a finger. "We don't know if it was murder. It could've been self defense."
"And that's what they're deciding."
"It'd better have been self-defense..." Tachi groused.
"Uh oh," Nashville pulled himself up, "look what else has come for the lowdown."
She must have smelled blood in the water; Savannah appeared from around a corner and seeing the small cluster of gargoyles outside a door that'd always been closed, headed straight towards them. "Aw." she directed towards Rain when in earshot. "Left outside with the kiddies?"
Rain set herself into as much a threatening stance as her five-foot frame could manage. "I'm not officially part of this clan, so it's none of my business." Then, a grin to match Savannah's. "And none of yours either."
"Is it a crime to be curious?"
"No, breaking and entering is a crime. Isn't that why you're still here? Because it's definitely not your charming attitude."
Savannah would've thought by this point, she was immune to the general attitude of the clan towards her. But she and the Ontarian hadn't yet had that much contact since she'd been here; there were a lot more interesting gargoyles in the castle to irritate. "Are all Canadians this annoying?"
"Are all reporters?" Rain replied.
"Cool," Nashville beamed, "chick-fight."
"Listen, sweetie," Savannah was as falsely genteel as possible, "I'll try not to use such big words so your teeny, un-evolved, backwoods brain can keep up, but if I'm going to be stuck here, I might as well make the best of it and do my job."
"This is an obviously private matter for the clan. Can't you just butt out?"
"I wouldn't be a very good reporter if I did." She flicked a few russet strands and shot a flirty look to Nashville, who nearly melted under the smirk. "Mind if I share the wall, handsome?"
"You know," Rain blocked Savannah's way, "as much as I believe those weak human ears couldn't pick up anything even remotely exploitable, the meeting is private. Now, do us all a favor and frig off."
"Oooh..." Tachi slid through her fangs, watching as Savannah sneered.
"What did you just say?"
With a high growl, it was about to get a little messy before the clan started filing out of the room and spoiled the fight.
Rain's eyes lost the blood haze and she turned towards the door, picking a familiar shape from between the rank and file. "Lex?"
He plodded towards her. "You know what we haven't done in a while?"
She shrugged, "I guess, we've been a little preoccupied with all the se–"
Lexington yanked on her arm. "Come on."
"So?" Savannah could barely hold in her excitement. "Jail, banishment, a spanking? What does Shadow get?"
It fell on Broadway for the usual retort. "Shut up, St. Nicks."
"Damnit," she spit at his retreating form, "stop saying that!"
Savannah didn't quite expect him to stop, pivot and, while actually acknowledging her presence, curl his upper lip so far up it nearly peeled from his skull. "Then stop constantly picking at our open wounds!" he barked. "Don't you think we've suffered enough!"
"And I haven't? I've been imprisoned, held against my will and cut off from the rest of the world."
"And now you know exactly how it feels to be one of us!"
By the look on her face (the last thing Broadway saw as he turned and tramped down the corridor), something must have punched a hole in the thick layer of obstinacy. Savannah waited until the rest of the clan had separated, wormed her gaze into the empty meeting room and eventually followed the same path Brooklyn and Broadway had, albeit a little less enthused.
He thought he had a few minutes at best to practice what he was going to say to someone hung with weaponry and living on the end of an already short fuse. Brooklyn was leading Broadway towards Shadow's tower, with a small entourage behind whether they'd asked for it or not.
Iliana, who'd refused to be left out of her ex's sentence (whatever it was going to be) and Katana, mostly curious and, given the way she held to the hilt of her sword, somewhat concerned she might be needed. And naturally, Savannah was rooted in the courtyard with a good view to catch all the carnage, but enough distance to keep her skin on lest the ninja didn't take well whatever punishment he was going to get.
"Speech ready?" Broadway asked.
Brooklyn licked his chops. "I hope so."
"Think he's going to be angry?"
"He's already angry." As he climbed the steps and traveled the eastside battlement wall, below a two thousand foot drop, he could've sworn he'd saw a flash of white against the stone.
Getting closer, he did.
He slowed, risking a collision with his larger brother that had to stop short. But considering he'd found Delilah sitting (crumpled, more descriptively) at the base of the turret and staring vacantly into the city, Broadway swallowed the instinctive grunt. "Delilah, what is it?"
"He's gone." came a cryptic reply.
"What?" He'd barely noticed the paper in her hand before he felt something elbow its way through multi-colored hide.
Iliana had barged her way to the front. "What do you mean he's gone?" She snatched the note and started reading.
"Gone?" Brooklyn echoed, looking to Delilah for confirmation.
She could only manage a nod, considering her head felt like it weighed a few hundred pounds.
Having quickly skimmed the cursive script, Iliana crumpled the note. "Fuck! The bastard split!" she snarled, and turned, and hissed, and lay a bit of oversized boot leather to the door. It swung open under the punt and she stormed inside, only to find the tower had been almost completely cleaned out. "Everything's gone..."
The rookie detective never heard Delilah get to her feet and skulk up behind, her training under Katana paying off. "Not everything." she said, and shot a finger over Iliana's shoulder.
On the far wall, amidst empty hooks and clasps there hung two slim blades gleaming against the thin shaft of light let in through the open door. Against all the old-fashioned artillery that'd graced the walls of what she'd once christened the 'temple of doom', Iliana had never noticed those: the sai recovered from the ruins of his clan's village.
The sai he'd meant for Delilah's child.
She uncrossed one leg and threw the other over her knee.
Fingers entwined, Titania had been left waiting for hours in an enclosed back lot to the Eyrie building, and a patience that'd been forged through several millennia was wearing perilously thin. Her son-in-law wasn't willing to share after dropping the bombshell of wanting Fox to come home to Avalon, but in his fluent, persuasive manner, with his hands in his pockets, he'd simply told her to trust him.
And the nod from Alexander as he followed his father inside was enough to sate her for the time being.
She so cared for her princeling she'd waited out the day and part of the night until her temper had risen to her throat.
If her Goliath's clan and own blood kin hadn't made their home at the top of the Eyrie, she would've strummed its length and let it shake, better to illustrate her earlier threat of uprooting the entire building from the pavement. With every hour that passed, the sun having well dissolved into the horizon, her anger had considerably swelled and still, the queen of Avalon was made to pass the time like a commoner.
She shot up and started to pace the cement in a very human tendency, every so often growing near to the field and testing herself not to cross it and tear whatever secret David Xanatos was hiding from the inside out.
Two hours after sunset, the barrier over the Eyrie shimmered; she felt it like dust over the tips of her fingers and whirled on an opening service entrance. A gurney was being wheeled towards her with Xanatos behind, steering the bed onto the pavement as Alexander rode shotgun beside the blanketed body.
Her heart fell when seeing the skeletal form of her daughter; for a moment, before she'd registered a heartbeat, she almost thought the billionaire had rolled a corpse out into the parking lot. How she could have let this come to pass was beyond her. "By the sands..." she gasped. "What has happened to her?"
"She's been poisoned." Xanatos explained calmly, checking the instruments and I.V.s attached to the hospital bed. "That's all I can tell you."
"She is near death and you cannot tell me?" Somewhere in the distance, thunder cracked the sky. The queen was seriously displeased. "How could you have hidden this from me?"
"You'd be surprised."
"At your resources? Or your overwhelming deceit?"
He wore it well over thin lips. "Both, actually."
"Right now," he intruded, "time is her worst enemy. And if you wish to keep pontificating or throwing blame as the sands slip through Fox's hourglass, that is your choice."
Titania snatched his arm and for the second time, he was made acutely aware of her strength; a bruise would probably emerge there later, in the vague shape of a hand. She could snap it if she so desired. "There is a sickness inside of you as well." she noticed, flesh to flesh.
She was dissecting him, tearing through every layer that made him human until she'd come upon his slowly rotting core. "Probably my soul." he whispered.
"You cannot fool a scientist." Titania warned with the slightest hint of a smile. "Your pupils are dilated, your skin pale, and you are trembling."
"You've never trembled, not even when holding your son for the first time or facing a legion of invaders to your castle."
He tried to pull away, but was unequivocally trapped until Titania decided otherwise. "Your concern is misdirected. Fox needs the care of Avalon."
He was released at Fox's voice, and leaned over her bed. Her cage. "Time stands still there." he said, smiling down on her between the clusters of machinery. "And it gives you a better chance."
"...at escaping my fate?..." she answered.
"You've already tested your fate, remember? Jumping from the castle. And if you can survive that, you can survive this."
"...I got...lucky last time. Canadians..."
He shared her wheezing laughter. "And maybe you'll get lucky once more. I can think of no better physician than your mother, and the queen of Avalon."
Titania stood over her, and was hesitant to make contact lest she break her. "Fox."
Her daughter's skin was cold to the touch. Something alien had invaded her blood and body, and it sent a chill up her bones. "I am sorry I was not here for you." she whispered, sensing withered hands surrounding her own. "But that shall change. It's time to come home."
"...I am home..." Fox protested, feeling Alexander's weight shift. "...And I don't much want...to leave..."
"Your husband speaks the truth. There is a darkness about you."
Her mother had just agreed with her husband; that probably meant it was serious. But having shriveled like a prune and periodically coughed up a palmful of blood would lead anyone with even the strongest will to crack a little, to panic and cry in their sleep. And perhaps concede her stubbornness. "...I hope it's...warm there..."
"It always is, and forever shall be."
"I'll be in touch." Xanatos assured her, and kissed her brow. "You fight, for as long as you have to and I promise, everything will soon be all right."
He nodded. "I'll take care of him."
"...that's not what...I meant..." She grabbed his lapel, pulled him close with what little strength remained. "...he sees something...that no one else does. I wonder...if it isn't the fact that...someone has you under their foot..."
There was a moment where he actually reeled, thrown off balance until realizing he'd underestimated her own impressive intelligence, thinking it too would've succumbed to her illness and slowly dull.
Fox showed her fangs, proved there was still animal in her. "...my eyes still see, David..." she rasped. "...don't sell your soul...I'm not worth it..."
"You are worth everything."
"No. Alex is. Our immortality...is our son...and I will die for him..."
It was then he leaned in and ensured she would understand if by only seeing what burned through his gaze. "No one will die. Fight, and wait, and we'll see each other again soon." Xanatos stepped back and gestured to Titania; it was time for them to leave. He'd already risked too much.
"I shall be watching." Titania forewarned him, and as Fox waved to her son, a storm of dust and mist surrounded them both, exploding, rising in a spiraled plume until it ripped down the center and dispersed leaving a vacuum in its place. They were gone.
Alexander started back in, before he felt a hand on his shoulder. His father. He'd kneeled behind him and forced him around, but nothing could make him look the man in the eyes.
"How you must hate me." he said evenly.
"Sobek made her sick," Alexander seethed, "Sobek is in the building and you're lettin' him do all the bad things he wants!"
"And I'm going to tell you why."
Even with the large crater in the middle of the city, Manhattan sparkled with light and the nightlife.
It was brightest near the financial district, and behind the castle Central Park was glowing lime and white. There was a ring of spotlights still around the Hole's periphery as construction continued nonstop, and he thought the coming warmth of summer would've made the smell of burned wood and charred steel worse.
But he barely got a whiff on the gales that made the loop around Goliath's tower. The stench was slowly going away, he brooded, and the city was beginning to get its nerve back, despite the recent gang war.
Humans could grasp the reality of other humans killing each other. It was nature and natural, the way of the world; but when the monsters came out and started either swooping between their buildings or knocking them over, it introduced something new into the middle of their bottled and imagined utopia like dropping a bomb.
So absorbed with his own thoughts Brooklyn didn't notice the scent. She was capable at masking her footsteps enough that he would've never heard her anyways, and as he forced himself back to the world around him, the fragrance on the air was Katana's.
She moved so fluidly he didn't think she was even making contact with the ground beneath her, and eventually came to stand a few feet away, the picture of elegance. "You stomped away without so much as a word." she said.
He huffed, "Sorry."
Brooklyn turned and laid his head back down to his arms folded over the finial. "Yep. Note says he's gone home."
"Nagano." he clarified. "Short and sweet, but he basically said he's out of here."
Katana joined him at the edge. "I am surprised. To leave, especially now."
"He didn't owe us anything." Brooklyn mumbled. "He fought with us and nearly got himself killed a few times, he earned his keep."
"I thought honor would demand more. He knows what we face."
"And he could be back tomorrow."
"Or not at all." she argued, and gave him an once-over in deep-set onyx. Her mate had been in a daze ever since learning Shadow had left, with all the spirit of a deflated balloon.
"Regardless," he maintained at length, "we'll still defend our home and our clan."
"To the death."
Brooklyn gestured limply, "If need be."
"And that is what frightens me."
"I thought a warrior didn't fear anything."
"A mother does." her tone, as always, was sharp, but as much as she might've tried Katana couldn't conceal the concern for their children. "And our best warrior has run away."
"Shadow's got bigger demons than all of us."
Katana's wings rustled about the folds of dyed silk. As always silent in everything she did, it'd meant the placid veneer had split a little, letting her resentment seep like a bad leak. "Larger than the Guild? They have been quiet for too long."
"Yes, they have." he agreed, though lifelessly. That particular fact had never been in dispute. "But Shadow leaving hasn't made me forget that. It just means we're one soldier short."
"It seems," she mused aloud, "that we've been losing a lot lately."
His head went down; his eyes, they sort of wandered aimlessly until hitting the stones beneath his feet. "Yeah."
"There's got to be some kind of line we can't cross." he interrupted. "But everyday we find more and more excuses to step further over that line."
"Because with what we are faced. Would I kill to defend my children, you, or any of this clan? Yes." A red spark went off somewhere deep. "I would not hesitate."
He straightened to his full height, and whether it provided any kind of psychological advantage Katana didn't show it. "Would you kill for vengeance?"
"I do not know." she answered honestly. "But I have been tempted. We all have been tempted in some point of our lives."
"I've killed. I've taken lives, but only as–"
"The last resort." she finished for him, slightly terse. "So you've said. But what you must realize is the desperation we are faced with. It has gone far beyond living out our most basic instincts to protect, we are at war, with the Guild, with Sobek, with any human with a gun, and sometimes the choices we must make will not be easy and may not fall into such an easy perception of black or white."
Brooklyn snarled, waving a hand into the city, "I won't become like them!"
"We may have to," Katana leaned in, and the couple came face-to-face, "to defend our clan."
"Which is why I don't think I can do this anymore, Katana."
She hooked a talon under his beak, lifting his head. "You must."
What swam in the depths of her gaze would've been enough for any man, but not this time, and not in the position he'd found himself. "No, I'm...not fit to lead this clan."
He'd angled his shoulder, brushed past her and headed for the stairwell recessed into stone. And she'd watched him the entire way, until the wisps of white hair had vanished beneath the ground. "Then we are damned."
He'd knocked on her door.
Already, Savannah was surprised that someone, especially Brooklyn, had been polite enough to respect the privacy of her plush little cell. He'd come in, told her to grab everything she had on her and follow him. The tone wasn't rude or particularly courteous, just dead flat.
Whether or not it'd provide the chance for more dirt (if the bombshell of Shadow disappearing wasn't enough for the night), she'd trailed behind until coming upon the castle's great hall and the pair of elevator doors. Brooklyn came to a stop alongside the closest.
"What?" she purred on top of a suspicious grin. "Is this another punishment? And aren't you going to say 'Shut up, St. Nicks'?"
A talon hit the elevator button, and the doors slid open. "Go." he said. "Go back where you belong. Go back to your own world."
Mostly, the clan made it a rule to either scream at her or ignore her until she lost interest. This was something new. "Is this a joke?"
With a sort of sedate, half-lidded expression, Brooklyn shook his head. "No. I can't keep you here anymore without reminding myself that holding you against your will is wrong. We're supposed to be the good guys."
"And that's it. No warnings, threats, pleas..."
"Nope." he reassured her. "The security guard downstairs will give you everything you had on you when you first broke in here, including the little white lie we told to keep everyone from actively searching for you."
Savannah tested the distance between her and the open cab, every inch an eye on the gargoyle as he simply stood there and let her in. She crossed the threshold, sniffed around and before the doors had a chance to close, slapped a hand over the sill.
"You don't trust me?" Brooklyn grinned.
"Seems a little out of character."
"Not really. Good guy, remember?"
She held up the laptop. "I'm going to write this story."
He shot a quick breath and crossed his arms. "Maybe, maybe not, but I'm hoping you'll keep in mind the innocent people at the risk of your ambition; my family and friends, children, the very lifeblood of a dying species. Perhaps that withered little speck you call a conscience will tell you different."
"If you're asking me that, again, then maybe you're not so sure yourself."
"Because it doesn't make any goddamned sense." Savannah needled, still waiting for the bubble to burst and blow up in her face.
But Brooklyn held to his conviction. "I've offered you your freedom, and the Savannah I knew a few months ago would've shimmied down the Eyrie's side to get out of here. Hell, you already had your chance to escape during the Guild attack, but didn't take it."
"Because–" it flared up, and she sheathed her claws when realizing the bait, "I would have left two innocent children all alone."
"And we're not innocent...?"
Savannah was, unthinkably, silent, and the gargoyle could see the gears grinding through every tensing muscle in her expression.
"Think about that." Brooklyn hit the button and the doors closed on the stunned reporter.
She half expected the elevator to come screeching to a halt midway through the trip and have it all be one big joke at her expense.
Getting out of her prison was supposed to be as hard or harder as getting in was (and that, she mused, took moxie, a long-shot and a big chunk of cash from her savings to pay off the XE employee). But it wasn't Brooklyn's sudden decision to let her go that gnawed somewhere deep in every instinct she'd honed as a reporter, or being released back into the grind of the world after months of captivity, or even learning what little secret that had perfectly explained her disappearance, it was the fact she'd already had reservations about writing her story and she wasn't even on the ground yet.
Exposing the clan to most of humanity, and creating an enemy that she was sure they couldn't fight.
Savannah let her head fall back and rest against the elevator's wall. But looking up, she found a small camera lens staring her in the face. She moved, it moved, and focused in. "Are you still there?"
"...Yes..." Mother answered through the cab's speakers, cutting off the music in favor of her voice. The bracelet that'd been clamped to her wrist for months suddenly powered down and unlatched, falling to the floor with a dull clank. "...You are now untethered..."
Rubbing her wrist, she kicked the trinket and thought it might give off one last spark. "Feels weird..."
She shrugged. "I suppose."
"...Good luck, miss St. Nicks..." Mother said. "...We may not speak again, and I have enjoyed your company..."
It wasn't quite the finality that surprised her, it was the genuine warmth with which the computer program spoke. "You did?" Savannah responded.
"...You have offered a unique insight into the human species. I have learned much..."
She snorted, thinking she wasn't exactly the best archetype for her race. "Really?"
"...Yes, your penchant for lying, cheating, skulking and agitating the clan has been fascinating to watch..."
"...The clan has always tried their best to commend humanity even when most have endeavored to either kill or destroy them in the past. I have been privileged to observe what I believe to be the best and perhaps the worst of your species in one setting..."
Savannah bent down, grabbed the proximity bracelet and shook it vehemently towards the tiny glass lens. "You know, now that the shackles have come off, I can finally tell you what I think of you without fear of getting electrocuted!"
"...Please do..." Mother encouraged.
"For a ramshackle collection of computer chips, you're a real bi–!"Ding.
She'd barely registered the elevator slowing to its gradual stop while screaming at the bodiless voice. The doors opened to the gleaming floor of the lobby like some sort of Eden, complete with a security guard that'd had heard the commotion from the second floor down and Savannah was enthralled for a moment before the reality hit her.
She grabbed her laptop and tore into the foyer before the doors had the chance to close.
"...Goodbye, miss St. Nicks..."
She was nearly hit by a taxi when wandering a little too far onto the asphalt. She'd screamed an obscenity or two, choked back the urge to throw whatever she had on her at the retreating checkered cab and finally, feeling the wad of gum under her shoe, laughed at the absurdity of it all.
Savannah was home.
Bad drivers, dark alleys, a general revulsion of each other when forced into such close quarters; she'd never felt so good when stepping out of Xanatos Enterprise and back onto Manhattan streets. "About goddamned time."
Hitting the first hot dog vendor she could find to celebrate (which was parked across the street), she'd gotten a couple footlongs and one for the wino who'd just happened by. Wiping a bit of relish from her lip, she strained to see the castle a third of a mile up under its own faint illumination.
Though haunting and still as altogether mysterious as the day she'd first laid eyes on it, it'd never seemed so small.
Her recovered duffel bag suddenly weighed on her right shoulder, holding the laptop and three months worth of journal entries saved on the hard drive. She had enough material and privileged information to at least impress her editor and make envious the rest of the hacks currently on the air, get a story whipped together within half a day and, once, she'd hoped it would lead into a more detailed investigation than two hapless and easily defeated FBI agents.
But now, Savannah found herself hesitant and she didn't like that.
She needed to get back to her apartment. She needed a shower and had a decision to make.