Author's Note: First of all, since a recent upgrade to my computer I've lost my posting list. So if anyone didn't receive the new story message via e-mail, please let me know and I'll re-add you to the list. Secondly, it's with great pride I release this story, having hit triple digits. This is more than five years of writing and planning and typing and work, and to all the people who've been with me since the beginning and are either still with me or have moved on and lost touch, thank you for everything.
100 - "Windows"
"The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say."
- J. R. R. Tolkien
June 5th, 3547
They say the reward lies in the journey, not the destination.
I would agree if I were not dragging a pregnant mate and young child through fifteen hundred years of history. My journey is often rife with conflict and death, and yet, I am continually driven to fight for what I still have. Even after losing my firstborn, my position as leader, and even my very wings, I find resolve in the deepest corners or my soul. Especially when seeing Trinity curled up in her mother's arms.
Goliath had woken before his family.
Surprised his instinctual roar didn't wake them, he stepped from the pad that, as soon as he was outside of the metal slab embedded into the floor, cleaned away the shards of his skin rather effortlessly by vaporizing them (gargoyles were obviously treated with a little more respect fifteen hundred years in the future, when such amenities that distinctively catered to his species were available).
Elisa and Trinity were still asleep, his daughter curled in her mother's arms and piled so deep beneath the blankets that he could barely see past the intertwining pools of black hair. Not wanting to disturb them, he kneeled and gently peeled the comforter back just enough to get a good peek.
She must have been tired; his daughter was always the first up and lighting a trail behind her with energy to burn.
But with her recent trips into the air and above the sands, she'd spend most of her nights perfecting the art of gliding with two worried parents forced to watch from the rooftop. Goliath had been so proud, seeing her improve so rapidly and at such a young age.
He was about to reach for her, cocooned within her wings when she stirred and he abruptly pulled back, afraid he'd woken her.
Goliath knitted his ridges, wearing his bewilderment; somehow she'd known it was him. It must've been his scent.
Trinity turned over and pulled herself up onto her elbows, staring at her father. "Daddy." she said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
He smiled. Beamed, really. Every evening when he woke to that cherub face was like getting a shot of fuel in an empty tank. "Hello, Trinity."
Pulling his daughter from Elisa's arms and into his own, Goliath nestled her into his left shoulder and watched as she stretched her little duplicate wings. The sleep was fading, and the sparkle was returning to her eyes. "You slept well." he said.
"Do your wings hurt?"
He shrugged. "You've been gliding for weeks non-stop."
"Yeah!" Trinity chirped. "Can we go 'gain?"
"Hey..." came a muffled protest. The vaguely human-shaped lump starting moving beneath the covers, and a hand poked through the hills and furrows. Elisa was awake, if only slightly. "The rest of us are trying to sleep here."
"I'm sorry," Goliath had to bite back his amusement, "it's rare that I wake before you."
She groaned something, closed her eyes and the hand went limp on the end of her exposed arm.
Talons traced the length of her dangling fingers and they jumped to life. "Do wish to join us for breakfast?" Goliath asked.
Deliberation only took a minute. Elisa threw back the covers, rubbed her third-month belly and decided between hunger and lethargy quite quickly. "Fine."
Despite what still lingers between us and as angry as I am, I hope Brooklyn is acquitting himself well in my role. He is a fine leader in his own right, but I cannot help but wonder at what has transpired in my absence. Are they well? June 5th, 2002
In retrospect it was noble, albeit stupid.
But the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and his latest had backfired like a cannon. He just wanted to do something decent in between all the bloodshed and that too somehow turned out frighteningly horrible.
The second he'd heard about Savannah's kidnapping, the thought had stomped on a neuron or two and before anyone could say anything, comforting or otherwise, he'd stormed out of the room. The small group he'd later sent in to find out exactly what had happened found nothing but a broken door and an empty apartment. The reporter and her laptop were gone, amid rumors of men in black masks from several neighbors who were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the agents and survive.
And now, Brooklyn was as high as physically possible without actually leaving the ground. Atop Goliath's tower, in full view of anyone who may be watching from any number of the rooftops down below.
And that's where Katana found him, habitually brooding.
No stealth, no disguising her tracks, this was a samurai, mother and mate to the clan's leader in a bad mood and she took the stone steps two at a time, emerging at full steam. "Leaders do not run and sulk in corners."
Brooklyn turned on the voice and was nearly forced over the parapet by a stare that burned through his skull. She was right up on him, almost on his toes. "I'm not sulking," he clarified, "I'm brooding, there's a difference–"
"Not to my eyes." she cut him short. "Or to the rest of the clan. But their confidence in their leader is being shaken by the fact he keeps doubting himself. You do not have that luxury."
"I can't help it, especially when I'm trying so hard and yet, everything seems to be falling apart around us."
Katana leaned off slightly. "You took this role, by questionable means, because you thought it was right. And not every choice you make will be. But Savannah wanted out, and it was not wrong to release her."
"And because of that she was kidnapped."
"You made a decision, that is all."
"One that may have got her killed." he contended.
"Perhaps, but do you believe that decision was right?"
"I used to..." Brooklyn huffed, and turned back on the merlon.
Katana stood at his side, watching as a small breeze trickled through his mane. It probably would continue on somewhere, curling, twisting and darting deep into the city. "You have often led more by your heart than anything else." she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. There were sizable knots under his skin, churning. "But I find myself agreeing with you in this particular matter."
Curling his talons in disgust, he made six clean scores on the stone. "Damnit, Katana, I should have known. They came after everyone else even remotely associated with us."
"Yes, and the Guild often left the dead behind." she said. "There was no body this time."
"So maybe they decided she'd be more useful...alive..." He straightened out, his wings snapped and Brooklyn slowly rotated with wide eyes.
Katana cocked her head to an angle, countering with an odd look to his bewildered one.
"Both she and her computer were gone. The same one she kept her journals on."
"To the Guild, she possesses a small wealth of information–"
"That they can readily exploit." he finished darkly. "Shit. Maybe they should have killed her."
My thoughts often dwell on my eldest daughter. How she brought such a significant change into my life, and how she died so young. It is as if a part of me has died as well. Broadway. How will you cope?
She didn't know how many times she'd found solace in this small corner of the castle.
But keeping dust from settling on the furniture, remaking the beds, rearranging a few things on the shelves, lighting the fireplace, running a few videos on the television through the wedding, birthdays and hundreds of hours of Trinity from birth, it was everything she could do to hold on to the memory of her father and her extended family and keep it fresh in her mind, as if they'd never left.
As if they'd walk back into the room from a flash of fire and magic, no worse for wear.
Now, an hour after another compulsive bout of cleaning, Angela was (again) sitting on Trinity's bed and grasping her favorite stuffed toy in her folded arms. Absorbed in the scent and the ghosts that'd spilled out in elusive whispers, some so real she nearly turned her head to catch the owner, she almost didn't notice the one voice that was genuine.
Her head shot up, the world returning around her and turned her eyes toward the door. "Oh, Broadway, I didn't hear you come in."
He wandered in a little further. Every step was uncharacteristically hesitant, like the floor and everything around him was made of glass. "I'm sorry if I'm intruding, I know you don't like anyone coming in here."
"That's not true." she smiled, and beckoned to him with an outstretched hand. "This room has such an energy, it would do the others well to spend a little time here."
Nearing the edge of the bed, Broadway got a good look around the room attached to Goliath and Elisa's larger suite. It was immaculate, more than it ever was considering the owner and her habit of clutter and general disorganization she'd inherited from her mother. Painted stone walls to resemble a meadow and daytime sky, the large wooden toy-chest, shelves full and almost sagging under the weight of stuffed animals and other playthings from parents and relatives who'd enjoyed spoiling her, he knew why she loved spending so much time here. "You miss her, huh?"
Angela hugged the toy even tighter. "She is my little sister."
"She was to all of us."
"Of course, I'm sorry. I don't mean to hog her."
"It's okay," he sighed, plucking a music box from a shelf and opening the lid to a melody he couldn't quite place, "I almost knew how it felt to have an actual, blood-related little brother or sister."
A quick breath rolled out through her open mouth. Angela had only now realized what he'd lost compared to the rest of them. "Oh," she said, pretty much all she could manage, "oh, Broadway, I'm so sorry."
Broadway snapped the lid shut, stealing the music from the room. "So am I."
"I keep forgetting."
"I never do. I keep going over it in my mind, if their baby had...survived, and wondering how close we would have been."
"You would have made a wonderful older brother." she assured him.
"Maybe...would've been good practice for being a father."
Delicate territory, Angela mused. "You think about that?"
"Of course," he shot a look over his shoulder, "there're so many kids popping up everywhere it shouldn't be hard to make one of our own...whenever your particular mating season comes along..."
"Another few years or so, I'll be sure to tell you." she answered, and watched the shudder through her mate's broad shoulders, realizing she'd heard him. "Are you afraid?"
"Not really. We'll have at least a good ten years to prepare."
Angela reached out, caught his hand and pulled him towards her. She seemed content in his warmth, and he joined her on the bed, wrapping his wings around them both.
I hope my clan, my sisters and brothers can at least find comfort in each other in their time of need.
The pop of the champagne cork was like a shotgun had gone off behind her.
And the hand that suddenly held her from jumping up in was just another surprise in a long line since being ushered into this suite.
Met with a table under candlelight and the best silverware in Xanatos' collection, Desdemona was led to her seat as her mate vanished behind her, just beyond the peripheral range of the candles' glow. Then, the blast of cork ricocheting from the walls knocked her from the little bit of fantasy and her champagne flute was filled to the brim just before the foam poured over.
"What is the occasion?"
"There is none." he rumbled.
"There doesn't always have to be a why."
Spontaneity wasn't always quite Othello's forte, but it only served to heighten her appreciation for the rare times when he'd break from the armor of a self-imposed sobriety. "Ah."
He poured himself a glass and placed the bottle back into the bucket of ice without realizing he'd faced the label in perfect view of Desdemona, and even with her limited knowledge of wines she knew it was a very good year (and she never knew him to boast).
Their eyes met from either side, hers dancing under every flicker, his depthless.
Her breath caught; what dark and delicious thoughts he must be thinking. But lost, in the moment and their contained sphere of existence, she was thrown back when thinking just how selfish this all seemed.
He noticed. "You are troubled."
Her talons around the delicate glass curves of her champagne glass, they unfurled and her hands dropped in front of her and into her lap. "This is no time to celebrate."
"Everyone is suffering so," Desdemona revealed, "and yet we indulge ourselves with champagne and," she lifted the silver cover off her plate, "crab."
She sighed; it'd been a while. She'd become an aficionado of seafood in the modern age, considering she was unable to simply climb down the Wyvern bluffs and scoop a few fish from the sea, or gather mussels and shellfish from between the rocks.
"So we are to stop living?" Othello asked.
"It...just seems selfish." she said. "Many of our clan are either dead, missing or wounded..."
"Yes," he agreed, "we have lost much, but I will not allow you to lose your spirit, or your smile."
She showed a spot of teeth, just breaking a small grin, but kept her eyes down.
"I wanted to give you something more than pain and death and I believe we are allowed, we are owed at the very least, this moment." Othello raised his glass, waiting, until at long last she did the same. "Now drink, eat and give yourself an hour at most to enjoy yourself. The world will wait."
Hope lives in others, strangers and strays and all clan in one way or another, no matter how annoying they may be.
"I don't know, it seems a little mushy."
"So don't poke at it."
"I can't help it," Todd smiled, "I like it."
The low-octave growl somehow trickled down through her chest and into her expanding belly, and danced along the fingerprints of her husband's prodding digits. "Dr. Pierce said the egg might not be as hard-shelled as most gargoyle eggs." Annika explained, grabbing his wrist. "So stop poking at our child or he or she may end up brain-damaged, or more than what the already damaged Hawkins DNA may force upon them."
Todd leaned back and rubbed his arm where a hand had nearly pulverized the joint. "As of right now, our kid's about the size of a plum. I'd have to poke you pretty damned hard to do any considerable damage."
"Well, just rub," she warned him with a simple, suggestive flick of her eyelashes, "don't poke."
"All right." he muttered and returned his hand to her stomach, albeit hesitantly in seeing her eyes follow it all the way down to the exposed flesh. "Better?"
"Would thou desire this humble servant to clip and polish his fingernails as well?"
"Don't get cute." she growled, and raised her head, searching out their reclusive companion that'd stayed relatively silent since joining them. "Did your husband have a tendency to do this, Rose?" Annika asked her mother-in-law.
"Hmm?" From the armchair where Rose had settled, she was snapped out of whatever deep memory she'd lost herself and lifted her chin from her knuckles. "Oh, yes, he was always touching my stomach, especially in the third trimester."
"Well," she sighed, "it's a good thing gargoyles don't have third trimesters."
"What the hell is a trimester?" Todd asked, tracing a few lines down where the belly button should have been.
"Haven't you been reading the baby book?"
He shot up. "Uh, most of it," then, defensively, his eyebrows clenched, "I've been a little distracted lately."
But before Annika could readily offer a response that might strip the paint off a house, she was cut off at the tongue by what should have been her greatest ally.
"Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like?" Rose had mused.
Todd turned to look at her. "What?"
"If the accident had never happened."
His gaze narrowed as his brain worked something over up in the deepest, dustiest recesses, until he shook himself from the reflection and answered, "Not since recently." he said. "It's hard to dwell on a past you don't remember, and I wouldn't trade my wife and friends for the world."
"Are you sure?"
"No reason. I was just...wondering, I suppose." Rose seemed to dismiss it quickly and all too easily, as if frightened at the stare she'd got in return. "Would we have been happy? Content?"
Todd looked back at Annika's slightly swollen stomach. "I'd like to believe so."
"So would I...all four of us."
New clans and new allies and a new hope for the future of my race. Perhaps we shall see fruitful mating seasons after all.
Her skin shimmered as it always did, turning from emerald to blue and back again depending on the angle of light. But this time a little bit of red had seeped into the mix, flushed from the glide and centered in her cheeks.
It wasn't the best time to sneak out under the ramparts and ride the Eyrie's surface halfway down the entire length, then veer off and sneak out into the surrounding buildings but she and Lexington needed to get out and on their own for a little cat and mouse. He'd almost caught her a few times, considering he knew the territory a little better but she would've completely evaded him if it weren't for the cellphone ringing from her belt.
It rung, she was distracted and Lexington came from out of nowhere.
Whoever was on the other line got nothing but a grunt, a squeal and the whistle of wind as the couple hurtled a few stories towards the ground before Rain was able to right herself and put the phone to her ear.
"What!" she snapped, twisting on one arm and wing to wobble around a corner.
"...Hey, little sis..."
The voice was almost obscured but Rain knew her rookery brother well. "Lahey?"
"...Yeah. Having fun?..."
She skimmed an entire floor's worth of windows with the severe imbalance of only having one membrane catching air. At least it wasn't Thrash. Or Ares. "I was, until you phoned."
"...Pardon me, but I thought I'd check in..."
Rain noticed Lexington's reflection in the glass right behind her; apparently he wasn't about to give up. "Bad timing. I'll talk to you later."
"...Where are you?..."
"Uh, just off the Empire State building, above Broadway and heading back to the castle. Now if you'll excuse me..."
"...Hey, come on. I haven't seen you for weeks..."
"I know, but...Lex! Lex"
"Listen," she managed between giggling, "I-I'll have to call you back. I'm it."
She was growing more distracted, taking into account the arms that'd wrapped around her waist, steering her just past the Eyrie and towards the pastures of Central Park. "You know...it."
"...You know, you're becoming more American all the time..."
"Oh frig off, Lahey!" She closed the phone, strung it back on her waist and opened her arms, hot on Lexington's tail.
They are emerging from every possible corner of the world at an alarming rate, and rebuilding a society not seen for thousands of years.
"...Oh frig off, Lahey!..."
The line went dead and the midnight-hued gargoyle jerked away from the cellphone. He snorted and gave his wings a shake, flipping and snapping the little contraption's lid shut. "Well, pardon me."
"Do not bother your sister, Lahey."
He turned, seeing a ghostly silhouette at the end of one of the Grotto's many corridors. "Aurora, I didn't–"
"Enough." the second commanded, the echo greater when funneled through the rocky passageway. "You and Thrash tease her far too much."
He shrugged, offering the only answer he could, "It's fun."
Aurora stepped closer. "Why?"
"Because she's luckier than the rest of us, I suppose."
"Because she's in New York, or...?"
The most subtle variations in expression were lost on black skin, playing through a range that the older gargoyle just barely noticed, but he didn't answer. It wasn't hard for her to guess just how her young charge and the rest of the younger rookery generation felt.
He sighed, but it came out riding a growl, "Because she found someone."
"So," she mused, "you're jealous."
He swung his head away, crossed his arms and harrumphed; the typical teenage response, but Aurora knew she'd guessed right.
"Rain got lucky, and so will you."
"Oh yeah?" he barked. "How?"
"There are more clans than we ever imagined. The states, Japan, London, Brazil, Russia, China, Korea...there is someone out there for you. I promise you that."
"When de Second promises you somet'ing, gamin," a new voice rung out, "you best believe she's speaking true." He lumbered into the light; first the striking blue like the Hudson Bay mid-morning, and then, with more definition, the scars upon scars that seemed to cover him head to talon.
"Magellan." Lahey breathed, unclenching.
Five hundred pounds of French-Canadian blocked the entire hall, his mandibles locked and up against his upper lip, looking none too impressed. "Oui. Heard de commotion."
His hand moved and Lahey took note of where. It was a simple enough gesture, but one known through the clan.
Magellan's great bulk was intimidating enough, but when his right hand moved to the handle of that massive, double-sided axe hanging from his belt, all the hatchlings knew to lay off. "Take off, young one, go'n play with your kin and be 'nnoying somewhere else."
"Uh yeah," Lahey slinked off through what little room there was left between the gargoyle and the rock wall, dark skin parting somewhere around the mouth to show a nervous smile, "sure, no problem, 'Gellan."
"Sapriste," the elder grumbled, "dat boy is jus' like de rest."
"Yes," Aurora nodded, "lonely."
He cocked a notched brow. "Don' believe your own words?"
She was forlorn in her unbroken stare into the wildly colored stratum in the wall. "I just pray he and the rest of our children will find what they desire."
Even former enemies have changed their ways. They've become champions in their own right, despite a few questionable methods and despite the fact they're never too far from the darkness that had once claimed them.
Darkness had swallowed up the room. Light, and even sound, all but stars and breath and the embers of a fire long died.
David Xanatos held to his son like a mirage, as if he'd vanish from his arms. After so many weeks of mistrust and secrets, everything was now out in the open as he'd spilled his guts to his six-year-old heir before he ripped open the side of the Eyrie. So much weight to dump on his shoulders, but with the hourglass about to drop the last few grains of sand through he'd needed his son to completely understand.
And surprisingly, his anger had quickly evaporated (whereas his father expected he'd need several thousand dollars worth of building repair in the wake of his revelation). Perhaps he wasn't quite old enough to carry a grudge for that long.
"So I'm gonna live forever?"
It was the first thing spoken in an hour.
But Xanatos didn't answer outright. What could he say to a child that would readily explain having to watch everyone he loved wither and die and the world around change without him. "Maybe. If we can't break the link to Sobek. But..." he elaborated. "Think about what you could be able to accomplish."
"I don' wanna live forever." Alexander protested.
"Civilizations will rise and fall, technology will advance beyond your wildest expectations, the human and gargoyle races will progress and evolve and you'll be witness to it all. You can protect them."
"But ev'ryone's gonna die. Like mommy–"
"Your mother is not going to die." Xanatos breathed sharply, and felt his son flinch at the tone. He didn't want to risk widening that gap he'd just closed and thus, swiftly apologized, "I'm sorry, Alex, but I don't want you speaking like that. I've made the best preparations I could to prevent that from happening. And I need you for that."
Alexander turned around in his father's arms, and his eyes glowed without any source of light to reflect. "Me?"
"Yes," he nodded, "you're the key, the lynchpin."
"T' beating Sobek?"
"But what're you gonna do?"
David Xanatos got a look that belied everything he'd been through. He leaned in, and put a finger to his lips. "Plan A."
They've suffered for their sins, fought for their souls in spite of the pain that comes from turning to the light.
The machines, she was told, were meant to extend what little life their newest guest had left. She dare not touch them and had to shoo a few of her eggs away from the blinking, beeping lights and switches that seemed to draw them in like moths to a flame.
But despite the devices that'd accompanied the bedridden woman to Avalon and all the claims of their capabilities, she'd decided on a more conventional way to offer aid.
Fox woke to a cool cloth on her forehead, and princess Katherine smiling down on her. It was disorienting at first, until her mind was able to quickly fit all the pieces together and recognize the arches of stone, the cast-iron torches and the elderly woman dressed in hand-woven robes and a gold ringlet above her brow. "...katherine..." she wheezed.
Avalon; Fox had woken to many an exotic local, and she'd wondered why this particular island out of time and reach proved so disorienting. Maybe it was the fact the patterns of the fitted stones seemed to keep changing every time she opened her eyes. Feeling the weight, a bony hand reached up for the cloth.
"I dinna pretend t' understand yuir machines," Katherine explained, "but at the very least I can offer ye comfort."
Pride would've had her refusing to be coddled, but with her strength dwindling Fox allowed her nurse to dab the perspiration from her brow. "...it's...appreciated..."
She pulled the cloth away and wrung it out in a pot of cool water straight from the ponds and fountains in the courtyard. A tingle went through her fingers; all her life spent on this island, the water had never dirtied or turned anything but crystal clear and she'd insisted it must have been touched by faerie magic. It was a novelty that had eventually worn off, surprises that'd become commonplace in a world where beings could change themselves at whim and the sky never darkened against the clouds of a coming storm.
But turning around, Katherine nearly dropped the cloth in seeing Titania standing on the opposite side of the bed. No sound, the queen must have just appeared as she always did.
"If you would allow us a moment, princess." she said, cleanly, her eyes upon her daughter and nothing else.
Katherine stood and bowed. "Of course." As she rounded the bedside, she deposited the cloth into the faerie's hand, and unapologetically so.
Titania was deceptively surprised, and all that changed in her cold and puckered expression was an arc to her brow. No one had ever dared to be so familiar with her.
"It helps her to feel comfortable." Katherine explained, and walked off.
She lowered into an empty chair, and looked at the cloth dripping water from the edges of her palm. She'd been a mother a few times over and expected the human thought her alien to the concept. But Titania had never resorted to something as ineffectual as a wet cloth when Fox was sick as a child; a little flick of something when Halcyon had left the room and a moment later the fever would break.
But whatever was eating through her daughter was beyond anything she'd ever seen.
"...hello, mother..." Fox managed.
"Fox. Are you comfortable?"
"...as comfortable as possible...when dying..."
"Speak no more of that. You shall not die."
Fox's interest was sufficiently piqued, though it seemed a better opportunity to get a good shot in rather than hearing of a possible cure. "...oh?" she said. "...you have a spell? An enchantment?"
"No," Titania answered solemnly, "I do not."
She let out a fatalistic, wheezing laugh. "...so the mighty Titania...is at a loss..."
"Stop turning this into a competition." her mother hissed. "The very fact there is nothing I can do to rid you of this disease pains me more than you could imagine. I knew I would be forced to watch as you eventually age and die, but I did not think it would be this sudden."
Her hand clenched on withered flesh, radiating warmth through Fox's body. "I promise you, I shall do whatever I must to save you. And I'm sure your husband is doing the same."
"...you don't...get it, do you?..." Fox shook her head, wondering how one of the most powerful beings walking the planet's surface could be so naive. "...David only sent me here...to delay the inevitable...and remove a vital piece from...the board..."
"Why would he not...!"
"...save me?" Fox finished her thought. "...he can't...someone has him by the throat..."
"Alexander..." Titania whispered, the gentle warmth now a fire at the back of her gaze. "Is he being used as a pawn?"
"...probably...Alex is our most...valuable possession..."
"So you were poisoned deliberately."
"...yes, though David...maintains otherwise..."
The queen took to her feet so quickly Fox thought she was going to launch like a rocket through the castle's ceiling. But instead she looked intent to wear a groove in the cobbles beneath her feet as she paced relentlessly; so much energy to spare and not an outlet in sight. "He keeps secrets, that one..."
"...if David...is backed against the wall...he becomes more dangerous...than you could imagine..."
She spun around in a rare flash of anger that tore through her features, disrupting thousands of years of practiced poise. "Will he win at the cost of your life?"
"...If he saves Alexander..." Fox answered. "...then my life...means nothing..."
Titania moved back towards the bed (no footsteps), and grasped her daughter's hand. "Your life means everything, to me."
And often, on their path to redemption, they'll stumble.
She half-expected the sleeping woman to suddenly leap up with her eyes blazing, having played possum and putting all her weight and half her sanity against the door and the tiny window.
But since the spell had been cast, Demona had slept. There were periodical bouts of near-consciousness but nothing resembling the desired effect. But to the watcher through the porthole, she didn't quite care as long as the package inside somewhere between the ovaries was brought to term and safely.
According to Dr. Pierce and the most recent sonogram (made easy due in part to Demona's comatose state), the baby was only slightly bigger than her fist, but it was healthy. And Delilah wondered just how long it would stay that way.
But she didn't get past that particular thought when sensing a change in scent against the sterility of the Eyrie's cellblock.
Footsteps, heavy but with a small stride and the whine of leather.
Delilah looked over her shoulder to see Iliana behind her. "She's...been quiet." she said plainly. "And besides, what do you care?"
"I care for that kid in her stomach."
"Because it has a part of our respective ex-boyfriend?"
"Because I'm not a sadistic bitch." Iliana defended, sensing the hostility. "I know how important that baby is to you," she snorted, and threw a few fingers to her brow, "and frankly I don't even know why I came down here."
She started off and Delilah was willing to let her go, until, for some weird reason, it popped out. "Because you miss him."
Her boots squealed on the floor. Iliana stopped.
"We all do, in one way or another." she continued, drawing her talons on the steel plating of the cell. "I always felt safe when he was around, like nothing would ever happen to me or the ones I love because he was there, in his tower or constantly training..."
"He'll come back." Iliana whispered.
"Are you sure?"
"This is his home."
Delilah quickly countered, "Japan is his home. This was where he stayed to find out more about his race and himself."
Iliana's elapsed turnaround time was less than a second; she shot back towards the clone and Delilah almost thought she wasn't going to stop until laying footprints down her back and right to the end of her tail. "No, I don't believe that."
"Believe what you want," she answered humbly, "but he's gone."
"Then maybe someone should go get him back."
And sometimes, they fall. All heroes in one way or another, either they are lost to us...
The voice was there, skirting the edges of her concentration.
She was pulled from her reverie as a warm bowl of soup invaded her senses, held with a slightly shaking hand in front of her. Sophie, the old woman with noticeably older eyes who'd led a ragtag band of homeless from New York to what they'd hoped would be a better life.
"I's tomato." she said, in her particular drawl. "Re'l good too."
She'd never been able to quite nail the accent; it was almost a blend of several and an inflection all her own, often muffled through a tattered scarf. "Thank you." the sister answered, taking the bowl and feeling the heat through her clawed fingers. One hundred and sixty five degrees Fahrenheit, give or take half a degree.
The details of why she knew that was something she'd learned to live with, but what frustrated her the most was that, though her body could discern its own temperature, heart rate, pulse and almost anything else, almost every memory was lost somewhere in the supercomputer of her brain. It was frustrating more often than not, to be faced with that void and have the fractured dreams be the only clue to who she was and who she may have left behind.
"I's gonna get cold." Sophie warned the tangerine-hued gargoyle.
The sister smiled, and stirred the foggy red broth absentmindedly. "Thank you, Sophie."
"An' here," the other hand swung into view, closed into a fist, "I stole ya somes extra."
She cupped her palm and the old woman dropped a few more saltines than the regular allowance. "Ah. You are very kind."
"Jus' none be tellin', hm?"
"I won't." the sister smiled back at her savior, the woman who cared enough to pull a nude and frightened urban legend from a snowy lane. "But you should not waste such extravagance on me. The children need it more."
Sophie looked back over her shoulder, where a small group of children played in between their meals. "Theys gettin' enough. Grow'n like weeds."
"But is this the proper environment for them?"
"No, i's not. But we's got a roof, walls," Sophie looked through the nearest window, a great front casement with the glass still intact, "an' a good view."
The sister too, stared through the spider-web cracks and onto the grassy fields surrounding this particular condemned building. "But children need more, they deserve more."
"Yessen," she answered between mouthfuls, "they do. And we're all tryin' t' find thems better, tha's why we left. N'York was in much too much troubah t' handle all of us."
"Surely, one of the shelters there could have–"
"No, they'd done packed up. 'Sides, we's take care of'r own."
She returned to the bowl in her hands. The soup had already dropped a few degrees. "Yes, clans often do..."
"So's eat." Sophie urged, grazing her knuckles the length of a coiled horn and walked away.
Alone on her crate the sister stared into the liquid, not quite hungry and not quite on the same cognitive level as her adopted family. Every waking moment she often spent in the abyss of her mind, trying to uncover the memories she'd lost since the battle in Manhattan, only fragments of which she'd recovered. Incomplete faces, distant voices, the puzzle was frustratingly incomplete.
Rubbing a few talons over the indentation in her brow, pushing against her brain, she wondered why her miraculous new body wasn't able to repair the damage as quickly as it did everything else.
The dent had pushed out a few millimeters in the last few months, releasing a little bit more of her past, but that was about it and the normally gentle young woman was feeling the strain of that missing piece and had already made a few gouges against brick walls and stone in her frustration.
The sister brushed it off as the steam and aroma did a number on her nostrils. Her stomach rumbled.
But just as she was about to grab for the spoon, pain shot through her skull and waylaid her hunger.
She dropped the bowl and grabbed her head on both sides before it threatened to split open. She wanted to scream but the sound wasn't there, like blowing air through deflated lungs and the throbbing centered in her frontal lobe was garbling whatever message her brain was trying to send.
The faint whisper of information she was able to access dulled for a moment. She wasn't aware of any autonomic function as she had been so acutely in the past, a white noise severing the link with her own body and just as she skated a few talons over the dent in her forehead, she felt it quiver and swell, filling out flush with the rest of her head.
"Oh." she said, the pain subsiding as quickly as it'd knifed through her. "I'm fixed."
...or lost to themselves, struggling with their own demons.
The sky was a tiffany red.
Restless winds wound about him, as though his arrival and very presence had stirred something deep within the island and the surrounding forests were unnaturally silent, still and hauntingly empty.
The cherry trees were shedding their blossoms, and he could barely see a foot in front of him the breeze was so thick with petals. It was so jarringly different from the years spent in Manhattan he'd forgotten the simple beauty supplanted by the human proclivity to reach as high as possible with their steel towers.
He held a hand out from his cloak and felt the faded blooms roll through his fingers. A distant memory, probably displaced by fresher, bloodier experiences, had rolled back into place at the forefront of his thoughts. Every year like clockwork the trees would bloom and shed and cover everything within reach of the northernmost winds, and nothing had changed.
A roseate blanket stretched as far as his keen eyes could see.
Shadow kneeled down and wiped the pile having built up on his grandfather's grave, cleaning the handmade marker down to the etched symbols. He wore no emotion on what little face was showing beneath the wide brim, the darkness his hide was coated in, like tar, similar to what lay inside.
He didn't know if he was walking a new path or simply running away. He didn't know whether killing those people was protection or murder and he didn't know why he fancied spilling blood. All he knew was the warmth that spread from the center out and the delicious loss of control and responsibility, hanging his soul out on a hook where it wouldn't be needed.
He didn't even remember half their faces.
All he knew before it all went hazy was Iliana with a gun to her head and fifty hungry humans wishing war on the city with semi-automatics in each hand. That was justification enough, he supposed; indistinct and unresolved feelings and the flimsy pretext of protection.
But maybe he just liked to kill.
Shadow pulled his hand from the rough stone and almost instantly, the spot he'd cleared started filling with cherry blossoms. So much red; it was ironic and unsettling all at the same time.
He stood up, and looked back at the modest little cabin that'd been his home for years, just down the slope from the single grave. Age and disrepair were taking its toll. Moss and vines had climbed the sides, grown and snaked through the window shutters and pieces of wood and plaster from the crumbling exterior had made small piles on the ground. The remnants of a bird's nest could be seen on the chimney's leaning stack, slowly being eroded by the winds. Give it a few more decades and it would probably collapse and rot, returning the hut a humble and unassuming monk had built with his bare hands to the earth from whence it came.
He didn't give it another thought. His memories would suffice, and he wasn't a carpenter. Why waste continually restoring something when time was against him and he had no inclination to live there?
Smoothing the wrinkles from his cloak, Shadow straightened the fan hat (modified for his ridges) and its chinstrap, hefted his satchel and continued on his way. It was at least a good night's travel into the heart of the Nagano forests and his true home.
Love and faith are powerful bedfellows; they can even bring those we love back from the dead.
" I do not know, Kai-sama,>" he tapped the side of his nose, " perhaps so much time together has lessened your appreciation for her scent. It's become so commonplace you cannot discern it from the air.>"
He gave his great chest a heave as the chef starting laughing, turned the other way and trudged down the hall. All night, he was given the same response but with a wink he'd apparently earned since mating with Sora, and trying to track her down was becoming both difficult and a little embarrassing.
If he wasn't so secure in what he shared with her, he might have been uncomfortable with the leers and knowing smirks.
Resigned to the hunt, he thought to prove Takashi and the rest wrong. Sora's scent was strong; he could smell it even now, as if it'd crept through the corridors to find him.
Leading by his nose, he skulked off into an often-uninhabited area of the temple, especially at this time of night. Through one dark hall and onto the next, a veritable maze of hardwood slats until, he caught what was the best indication of any life.
The wall-screen was letting a bit of dancing light out from the room around the corner, suffused through each square in the frame and Kai thought it was the best place to start. He slipped a few talons into the seam between the shoji and slowly pulled back.
He only needed a sliver between the doors to get a good look.
Only half-covered by a loosely hanging silk kimono patterned after the night sky, a mating gift from a few of the elders skilled with a needle and thread, Sora was kneeled at a small table with a long-handled brush between her fingers.
A few candles were already halfway through their length, burning and burning brightly, and enough to throw a muted glow to all four corners of the room. She was radiant, soft mauve alive and glistening as she worked the brush and birthed art from black ink.
Like velvet, he'd always felt the need to touch and prove to himself it was actually living flesh. And she really didn't mind, considering what it often led to.
But what struck him most in such an intimate, secluded place was her scent (ironically, considering the previous conversation). It had changed. She was marked, by him, and he was disturbed at the conception and an instinct forged through thousands of years of evolution that he owned her. They were and had always been equals, in life and in death (she'd already cleaned the floor with him once in a one on one contest, ending it with a well-placed sai that slipped through the ribs and into the heart).
He more favored equality, but deep in the male ego he was a little proud she'd chosen him above all.
Kai slipped in, slid the door closed and treaded as lightly as possible with his well-proportioned girth until coming up behind her and watching from over her shoulder.
It must have been a few minutes before she gave him any notice. " Kai.>"
He pulled his eyes from the ever-growing complexity of her picture, impressed at her skill.
" You have found me.>"
" Indeed.>" he answered. " And I have been looking for almost an hour.>"
" When inspiration strikes, you must take advantage.>"
" And what has struck you tonight?>"
A hand reached back, languidly gesturing for him to come closer with a few fingers and he did so, mesmerized.
He stooped and Sora felt the great weight shudder through the hardwood flooring as he kneeled behind her and put his knees to the ground (sensing the thump, she'd quickly lifted from the paper). Kai perused the illustration as his mate filled in a few of the details with a smaller, finer brush; a demon of some sort, with eyes like fire and tattoos on his chest. He only had to imagine a glowing tangerine where she'd left white. " Ah.>" he said simply. " Shadow-san.>"
Ever since the night before last, there were rumors running rampant through the Inshimuran guard that the ninja had stole through the forest just outside the walls on his way home. Since being warned he might show up, Shadow was mistaken as every animal that wandered close until, sick of the false alarms, one lucky gargoyle had seen a streak of orange in the woods.
It was running faster than any creature he knew of, and then, abruptly stopped. As he rose on the rampart and tried to get a better look, it flashed a pair of eyes between the tree trunks and continued on until fading into the darkness.
" He is on a quest, I believe.>" Sora breathed, adding a little more detail to the brows, sharpening them.
" Brooklyn explained what had happened in New York.>"
" He kills without thought.>"
He touched her bare shoulder with his mouth. " Or to protect.>"
Sora placed the brush into her cleaning pot, swished and swirled until most of the ink had come off and leaned back into his embrace. " I truly hope so. I have been touched by the same darkness, tainted by the same pain.>"
His hand found hers, squeezed it, and they interlaced their fingers. " You came back.>"
Sora turned slightly, caressing the scar on her lover's chest, the bond and umbilical between them where he'd given her a piece of his soul. " I had help.>" she whispered. " And I pray he does as well.>"
They sustain us, through hell and back. Keep us fueled at the very limit of our patience and strength, and when we think we are at our end, they manage to spark something deep down we did not know we even possessed.
She felt the tremors through her prison first, and somewhere in the back of her mind she was grateful at least her normal senses still worked, considering the steel ring in which she was trapped and the magical damper around this entire room had dulled everything else.
Infiniti managed to raise her head just enough to put the slowly intensifying sound to a figure and face, no matter how grotesque. He was over eight feet tall, his skin long decayed leaving only the slick red musculature and bony plates forming an organic armor, but what struck her most were his eyes. Sunken deep within the sockets of his skull plate, they were empty.
"It always fills me with so much delight to see you hung like a dog." the creature growled, mocking her.
"...I assure you..." she whispered. "...it shall not be...for long..."
Sobek stomped up towards her until face to face, less than an inch and a full row of teeth apart. She was barely able to pull away the ring had her so tight, but he clamped a hand around her throat and wrenched her even closer. His breath tasted of dry heat, his tongue was long and felt serrated, enough to make her wince when it licked up her left cheek. "Such power, such heart." he hissed. "Even deadened by magics and drugs, trapped by technology, less than a half of what you used to be, you fight."
"...until...my last breath..." Infiniti mumbled through her mangled jaw, compressed by bone-covered fingers. If she was able, she would've burned that arm to a stump just underneath his shoulder.
Sobek released, leaving welts on pale, pale skin and slowly rotated his head towards his other guest, strapped to a gurney.
The gargoyle's contained wrath loosened and withered, turning to panic as it always did when her captor would turn his attention off of her and onto the Puck.
Owen Burnett, blood full of iron machines and wracked by high-fever dreams, couldn't contain the Glamour that held one persona over another, swapping back and forth between human and fay while babbling in his near-comatose state.
With a parting smirk, the mutant made his way towards the former majordomo.
And as much as Infiniti wanted to scream out in protest, she didn't, lest Sobek use her fear to his advantage and do something hideous in order to torture her more than he'd already done.
He circled Owen, watching as the man was further lost in his own dementia. "I find myself wondering who I should eat first, this frail thing or you, my dear." he said. "But you must be preserved for a little while yet, and I've never eaten a fay before."
"...don't touch him..."
Sobek perked up. "What was that?"
"Don't," she repeated, an unusual hum coming from the ring around her as it sucked three times the amount of electricity, "TOUCH HIM!"
The room shook, a few panels blew off the gleaming loop that once covered vital circuitry, but it held, at the cost of a power surge that could've powered Manhattan for an hour.
Infiniti slumped like a dead puppet, breathing heavily and Sobek was impressed at her show of power despite the leash of several technologies and arcane enchantments entwined together.
"Keep your fire, guardian, it shall soon be put to good use."
But often it is not enough. Good people have still died because of their intimate knowledge of our species...
Another night, another negative response on the EEG.
Despite he still breathing through a tube, Dr. Pierce's last remaining patient in the Eyrie infirmary was in all aspects a corpse. As he checked Matt Bluestone's vital signs, he didn't notice any discernible difference between this particular diagnosis and the rest he'd been taking for the last two months.
The detective was effectively brain-dead, but no one in the clan could bring themselves to pull the plug. And of course, there was the entire moral conflict in contacting his family; either they would be put at risk if word got out he was still, in pure technical terms, alive, or be forced to give up their son and brother after just having him given back.
By his own medical expertise (he never liked to throw around just how good he really was) and several dozen consultations with his colleagues, he knew Matt would probably never wake up again.
And he suspected the clan did as well, but asking them to lose another friend would be like telling them to take a hacksaw to one of their arms. So, he made a few more of his compulsory notes, clicked his pen and shoved it back in the pocket of his lucky labcoat.
Then stood with his clipboard held in front of him and watched Matt's lungs mechanically inflate every few seconds.
"...Why do you keep him alive?..."
He didn't know what to be surprised at first, her intrusion from out of nowhere or her callousness. "That's pretty damned cold-blooded." he responded to the disembodied voice. "He's a human being and a good friend to the clan."
Her holographic form swirled to life like a snow globe after a good hard shake. But every voxel was organized and had a place, building line and lavender from the feet up. "I did not mean offense–"
Pierce quickly nodded an apology; he'd jumped in too fast. "I know."
"–but his electroencephalogram has not changed since he was admitted."
"He is effectively brain-dead and has been for two months. Do you believe he will one day wake up? Especially without any permanent, and incapacitating damage?"
He couldn't argue with the logic of a machine, especially considering he'd come to the very same conclusion weeks ago. "I don't know." he sighed grimly. "But if there's a chance of his survival, the clan will take it."
"Is that blind optimism?"
He shrugged, "I suppose. It's a human thing."
"Gargoyles are not human." she pointed out.
"Sorry, I use human in a more general term."
"To describe living, breathing creatures."
There was a moment of stillness and what the doctor would describe as an inner conflict playing out between a billion lines of code, and then, she'd throw him for a loop. "Do you believe that I am alive?"
He took a breath. "Yes."
"Why?" She tilted her head. "I do not breathe, ingest, reproduce..."
"You think," he said, gesturing with his hands on every syllable, "you feel to a certain extent, you're aware of your own consciousness. If we're going on a technicality, then you do squeak through."
Mother then asked, "Do I have a soul?"
Pierce got another look at her, or at least, the image used to disguise the fact she was nothing more than circuit boards and hundreds of feet of wiring. She seemed genuinely interested in what he thought. "I can't answer that." he said, and started towards his office. "Only you can."
She digested the cryptic remark, left alone to dwell on something she'd never known and was perhaps never meant to. Her apparitional image drifted towards Matt's body, reached out and traced her talons down the side of his face. She couldn't feel him of course; there was no physical connection between her and a body built of light, and her fingers merely phased through him, the image breaking up on contact.
Pulling back, the projector killed the holographic beam and Mother bled away.
Matt's lungs were re-inflated, and the mechanical rhythm continued unendingly.
...and while others question their role in this world...
The steel walls of his bunker, however uninviting and often claustrophobic, were at least a good conduit to ring Mozart from their surfaces at high volume. Like a tuning fork, the music resonated against the welded plates so much so as to create the ambience of an auditorium, or one of the great halls he'd frequented before time and the progress of man wiped most of them from history.
Macbeth took pleasure in the little things nowadays, and considering most of his music collection had survived his mansion's bombing it was enough to celebrate with Szechwan take-out and a tall bottle of brown he'd "borrowed" from Wyvern's stores.
At least for tonight.
But he was a little less than certain with what to do with himself now, besides spending his time on the rim of a glass. He couldn't rebuild his castle, he'd only become a target again and considering Lennox Macduff had been officially declared dead more than a month ago his teaching days were over.
The first woman he was interested in since the last, and a few among less than many for a man who'd lived a thousand years, had a husband suddenly rise from the grave and thus, put a damper on any future relationship.
So perhaps it was time to move on.
He'd reflected on different aliases; the fire had obliterated the list of names a few hundred years old that he hadn't yet transferred to a more modern form, but he still remembered a few he liked. But as he neared what would finally be the end of his own existence (he wondered what taking his last breath would actually feel like), the need for another name and another life seemed pointless.
Perhaps it was time to reclaim his birthright.
...more still suffer.
She could feel the dried blood on her upper lip, and was nearly in the mindset to chew the flakes from her skin for any kind of nourishment.
They hadn't let her eat for days, giving her just enough water to survive long enough to be tortured. It was like something out of a movie, hanging from chains in a small, windowless room and a sadistic bunch of men who'd swap every so often after pumping her for information and delivering whatever perverse torments they could dream up.
Savannah St. Nicks had gone from prisoner to freedom to prisoner again all in a single week, and right about now she was inclined to think that her stay at Wyvern wasn't so bad after all. Big bed, three square meals, and the gargoyles she'd wanted to expose didn't actually feel the need to beat her within an inch of her life.
Still in her panties and t-shirt, the latter torn and soaked in blood, she was like a piece of meat in a butcher's shop window.
Her senses dulled from the torture and lack of food, she almost didn't notice the door opening. It'd been a few hours since the last 'session' and she'd drifted off periodically in the interim, losing track of how many hours had actually passed.
It was only two this time.
The bleach blond, or 'scar-brow' as she'd come to know him, the only two definitive features that singled him from the rank and file. But she did her best to widen swollen eyes when seeing what walked in behind. The suit and mask were identical, but this one was different; he carried himself far above the rest by his posture alone and how his subordinate seemed to treat him. Reverence.
Long, dark hair streaked from the temple in shades of gray. Familiar in a way, but the line between reality and figment was blurring lately and she couldn't trust what she was seeing.
"...are you...th' boss?..." she spit.
Mr. Black nodded from his place in the corner, but whatever expression he may have held was hidden under that damned mask. "Yes."
"...then I wanta...complain about th' service..." Savannah continued. "...terr'ble..."
"You are an extraordinary woman, miss St. Nicks, I thought it would be easy to break you, but you've resisted us up until now. Of course, torture has never been our forte, we often like to pass a much swifter judgment."
White took a swing at her, cracked her across the mouth and would've broken her jaw if they didn't need it intact. She swayed on her chains, until a hand shot out and grabbed her by the hair, steadying her.
"Agent White will bruise flesh, draw blood, and make you scream until you tell us what we want to know."
"...I dunno anythin'..." she pleaded. "...nothin' you could use..."
Another fist. This one caught her on the temple. Like a church bell had gone off in her head, her skull was ringing.
"You lived with them for two months, miss St. Nicks," Black pursued, "surely you have more intimate details."
"...I wuz...a pris'ner...they di'n' trus' me..."
"You lie." White accused. His voice held so much more contempt than his leader.
He held something up to her face. It crackled and gave off a light that, in her battered state, she would've considered quite pretty if the heat she felt near her cheek didn't set off an alarm somewhere in her deep-set sense of paranoia.
Jabbing the little implement into her ribs, her entire body went stiff under the electrical current simultaneously contracting every muscle. To him, a few seconds at best guess, but to her it was an eternity, and it wasn't until she'd nearly bit through her tongue and screamed did he let off.
Savannah coughed, and sucked for breath.
"I'm growing impatient." White hissed, brandishing the taser.
"And I don't want to have to do this," Black added from the side, "but I have no choice. You're alive for one reason only, the information you've packed away in your head that isn't in your illuminating but superficial report."
"...di'n wan' them hurt..."
Black was drawn forward from the shadows. The gray turned sterling under the light. "So you do have a conscience after all."
"...no'really..." she smiled, hard to do with a fat lip. "...dead gargo'ls don' make good in'erviews..."
"Of course, you didn't want your audience frightened or angry, just interested in the next part of your story. Agent White, you are excused."
The gaunt man whirled on his leader. "What?"
Even obscured through the mask, the lifeless stare was enough to get the point across. "Leave." Black repeated. No one in the organization had ever heard him give his orders twice and a third time was inconceivable.
Agent White had no other choice but to agree, stiffly crick his neck and hiss, "As you wish," and slam the door on his way out.
"Now," he returned his attention to the reporter dangling on her chains, "there's something else I want to know about, something our surveillance is unable to catch. The Hawkins boy..."
Through great effort, Savannah lifted her head to look at him. She couldn't help her curiosity, especially with the fact he'd just singled one from many, and someone human nonetheless. "...whut about him?"
"He's still there I take it."
His son didn't heed his warning. Perhaps Todd thought he'd sway him from his chosen path. "And his mother?"
She thinned her gaze. "What?"
"His mother, Rose," he said vehemently, "is she still in the castle?"
Black grabbed her by the hair, ripping a few strands out by the roots and yanked her head back with such force he nearly broke her neck. "Answer me! Is she still there!"
"Yes!" she cried out, on the verge of tears.
He released her and Savannah's head went limp, rolling from one shoulder to the other. "The longer your usefulness continues," he warned her, and left her to hang, "the longer you'll stay alive."
Whether through association by a relationship, by mere curiosity, or by family.
She wasn't as skilled on the piano as her father, but she felt her playing had heart.
And it often drowned the little voice in the back of her mind, telling her what was happening around her was wrong, ultimately destructive and self-defeating. But what was a sick young girl to do?
Sarah Hawkins would've considered herself a princess to a kingdom if the analogy didn't make her even more physically ill than she already was. Her father and his crusade, his knights in black armor, waging a holy war on innocent creatures that were made a target by a particular few of their species. From her studies, it was paralleling the bloodier half of human history and for the last few years she'd placated herself with comfortable lies.
But every new lie with every new death or kidnapping or attack was wearing thin. And there were none to justify killing the very family her father had lost and ordered young, impressionable men and women to murder hundreds in their names.
The song ended and the last note reverberated through the oxygen-rich air. She was tired; she'd been away from her bed too long.
Sarah lifted her frail body from the bench seat and padded slowly to the bed just a few meters away, settling in for another sleepless night.
Life is an ever-changing, ever-evolving creature of habit and unpredictability. There are wonders we can never expect and never see coming.
It was quiet. Mercifully.
After all the paperwork, the trials, the meetings and depositions with over a hundred and twelve arrests since being hand-delivered the goldmine of evidence against the Triads, Maria Chavez found the best way to unwind was in the powerful tan arms of a dark age warrior.
Her blouse untucked, her heels kicked off, she'd practically melted into his embrace.
His suggestion had led them to the small, corner room he'd made his own and the armchair well worn into his shape.
They were settled in for a bit of peace in between the recent chaos, when the serenity was about to be torn in two like the subway rolled through the outside hall. But this train had eight legs and left a trail of drool behind.
Fu-Dog suddenly tore into the room with Bronx hot on his heels, upending the ottoman from under Hudson's feet.
"Good god!" Maria was able to climb higher on his frame, clutching around his neck in her haste to avoid having her bottom half amputated from the thighs down. As his air was cut off, Maria struggled to hold on as the gargoyle beasts circled their chair in an unending chase. The smaller beast had a sizable chunk of half-cooked meat hanging from his jaw, and Bronx apparently wanted a piece as well.
"Heel!" Maria tried desperately, the chair wobbling violently. "Heel!"
"...gacckkghghh..." Hudson managed, and as the chair rocked back and forth two legs at a time and the woman atop him tried to maintain her balance, his throat constricted even further. "...maria..."
Nashville and Tachi ran in and each jumped for a different beast. Nashville was able to grab Fu-Dog's hind legs and drag him to a stop, all before a shadow fell on him and the realization dawned that his sister might not be able to stop the oncoming freight train by herself.
With Tachi hanging on by her talons, Bronx wasn't able to stop in time before smothering the young gargoyle beneath him and all four of them rolled into the chair, finally toppling the couple who tried so desperately to stay afloat in the sea of rabid dog.
Maria felt the recliner going over, despite her best efforts. "Oh god..."
It collapsed like a ton of bricks, and when the dust cleared, there was nothing left but a large moaning heap of body parts.
Hudson coughed, his color returning. "What are the blasted mutts doin'!" he roared.
Tachi grabbed the piece of meat that'd dropped out of reach. It wasn't even near edible anymore. "Eating our dinner." she answered.
"Then who's up for take-out?" Maria said, leaning on Hudson's shoulder. "My treat."
Perhaps there are a few more surprises yet.
It was a typical evening at the Mazas.
As typical as humanly possible considering the circumstances. Beth had begrudgingly agreed to come for dinner, if only to see Maggie and her niece, but bad blood still hung between her and her parents and older brother over what had happened with Elisa and a certain winged offspring.
But with her sister missing it had been nice (for lack of a batter description), if not slightly awkward, to reconnect with her family. Dinner and the bare amount of gracious conversation had passed, dessert had come with Diane overcompensating and drinks followed in the living room with April Maza the centerpiece of attention and thankfully, allowing the night to go by without much incident.
But when Derek had taken her to be changed, that comfort had all but vanished and silence fell on the room like a shroud.
Peter had noticed Beth's inability to look him in the eye all evening, and how she directed most of the banter towards her sister-in-law; he could only imagine what she thought of him. "I miss her." he said.
Thumb rubbing a squeal into her near-empty glass, Beth supposed it was his way of reaching out. But the anger she'd let simmer for months hadn't a proper vent until now. "We all do. But I suspect a few more than others."
"That's not fair, young lady," Diane jumped in, "and you know it. Elisa is our daughter, and every night she's gone only serves to compound the pain we feel in losing her."
"And what about Trinity?"
That got him square in the chest, and Peter was almost inclined to look down for a footprint on his shirt. Any rebuttal was caught between his teeth and a sore spot concerning his granddaughter. "I...love her." Peter forced.
"Had to think about that, huh?"
He sighed, stroking back a few strands of gray, "It...wasn't easy, Beth, knowing what that little girl represented and what danger she could bring to this family. You know about the recent murders, you know the hell the clan has gone through, and I can't even imagine what I would do if our ties with the gargoyles were revealed."
She was obstinate, but dropped her eyes to the remnants of her drink swirling at the bottom of the glass. "We'd manage."
"What if this Guild found out about her?" Peter posed, leaning forward and clasping his hands in front of his mouth. "What do you think they'd do?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do. You've spent more time at the castle than we have. Matt is still in a coma, his girlfriend Sirena is dead, detective Starr and that Macbeth were almost killed and Maria had to have her baby cut out of her!"
"Is that why you didn't accept her?" Beth accused.
"That's why I feared her!" he roared back, and even his youngest was shocked at the tone. But despite the bluster, it soon degenerated into a breathless revelation. "I accepted her, but I also feared her because she's tangible proof, damnit, she's a real, living, breathing threat that could get my entire family killed!"
The lights flickered. Not so much to think there was a problem but considering every light, lamp and appliance in the house dimmed at the same exact moment, it was just enough to get everyone's attention as a precursor to the howl of pain that followed.
A flash of something had funneled down the hallway, and Diane nearly spit out her coffee in seeing her son thrown from the room and tumbling against the opposite wall.WHAM!
He slid to the floor in a boneless heap, nearly putting a dent in the drywall. "Ouch..."
He hadn't felt that particular sensation for a long time, of a full electrical current flowing through his flesh and bones and leaping from his fingertips. But this time it'd been cleanly reversed, shot back at full force and it hit with the momentum of a truck.
It was Maggie. He didn't even notice the circle of family surrounding him, so much was the stupor clouding his brain.
His wife reached towards his head, the smooth surface giving off a waft of steam. "Good god, Derek, what happened!"
"She...she zapped me."
Everyone turned to look inside the room and, presumably, where he'd left the baby. April was still on her changing table with a diaper half attached, and giggling. Someone in the small crowd thought they saw a chubby fist give off a spark, but shook it off.
As Maggie rushed towards her daughter, Derek was helped to his feet. He was warm around the arms, where the voltage had centered, not to mention as pale as a corpse.
"She zapped you?" Peter echoed.
Derek clenched his hands as the feeling slowly returned. "Yeah."
"You think it's inherited?" Beth asked slyly.
She shrugged, "Well, you used to be able to jumpstart a car on a cold winter's morning yourself, maybe that spell didn't quite rid your bodies of everything mutant."
"No." Maggie was standing in the middle of the room, holding April in her arms. Her thumb was rubbing the infant's palm, her lips on her child's temple and the soft wisps of hair. "No," she said, "no, she's normal, perfectly normal."
Beth patted out the last of steam from her brother's head. "This," she contended, "isn't normal."
Derek could only offer a weak shrug of his shoulders. "It's possible...I suppose..."
"No, Derek..." Maggie protested.
"Maggie, there's no other explanation."
She practically collapsed in on herself, the picture of a woman gone to war with something that couldn't quite be fought with bare hands, and hugged April tighter. "Oh god, won't we ever be free of that damned curse?"
But whatever the situation, we shall persevere. Whatever threat or twist of fate is thrown against us, we will survive it and strengthen our resolve. We must, or fade into nothingness.
Elisa burped into the funnel of a closed fist, and then breathed, "Whooo...blueberries."
Goliath, who walked alongside, was impressed at the stack she'd polished off at breakfast. His mate had been favoring waffles lately, another craving that'd been fulfilled with a machine that could create any yearning she had, no matter how bizarre. He was just about to mention the speed at which she'd finished her meal but decided against it, merely smiling and allowing her to open the door and let their daughter in first.
But as soon as he stepped through, something caught him by the ears, similar to when he'd fly too high and they would pop from the pressure change.
There was a hum in the room that he couldn't quite put his finger on, and as his family settled in, Goliath started pacing slowly. The room was warmer on one side, the far wall, and he turned his head toward their bed, or more specifically, the bedside table.
He didn't answer his wife, just continued staring. But if it wasn't Elisa's voice that would snap him from the daze, it would be the sound of metal being pulled from its natural shape.
The Mazas whirled on a hand that'd forced the door from its lock. Dark skin, gold stripes; Isis was impatient enough they thought she was going to completely tear the door from the hydraulic track. As it was she stood at the threshold, lips curled up, fangs mashed, her wings mantled wide. She was hunting.
"I feel something." she said cryptically, as if it was explanation enough.
She sniffed around, until it became obvious what was powerful enough to give off waves of energy that sent a shiver down her spine from across half the complex. "The gate!"
Goliath quickly reached for the nightstand drawer and pulled it open, only to get a short burst of flame over his shoulder; if he'd been a moment slower, he would've got it in the face. He lunged out of the way and sent his fist into the table, obliterating every bit of material from around a very restless and fire-spewing phoenix gate.
It fell to the ground amidst the shrapnel, bounced and rolled on the edges, searing the carpet with every corner that made contact with the floor.
"Jesus..." Elisa hissed and scooped Trinity into her arms. "Goliath!"
His eyes were filled with flame, mesmerized.
"It's been activated!" Isis hollered from behind.
"How...?" Goliath whispered. "We haven't touched it in weeks, and it has been dead even longer."
"There's more to this thing than simple technology. It's alive!"
The gate exploded around its gilded edges, forming a near-perfect circle of fire mid-air and pulling everything that wasn't tied down towards it.
"ELISA!" Goliath's desperate wail was almost completely drowned out by the roar of a hole opening in the fabric of reality. He could barely see his wife and daughter from across the tendrils of lapping flame, but took a few first degree burns in order to get to them. "Hold on!"
"Jesus!" Elisa screamed, allowing the gargoyle to completely envelop her and Trinity both in his arms. "What should we do! Let it take us...!"
Or remain trapped in this time period, Goliath mirrored her thought with one of his own. But seeing the a few larger pieces of furniture being sucked up into the vortex and swallowed, he supposed they would quickly run out of what little options they already had. "I don't think we have much choice!"
"Goliath!" Isis was drawing near as best she could, a strange glow off her arm. "It's drawing energy!"
"Can we stop it!"
"I don't think so...it wants you!"
He turned to his wife; her eyes were liquid and searching amidst the chaos. No words were said as they felt themselves being drawn into the gaping mouth of the gate's portal.
There was a massive burst of flame, blinding, and then, darkness.
I can only imagine the journey, and where we will go from here.