103 - "A Little Taste Of War"
"Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself."
- Francis Meehan
It was all as it should have been. At least according to Todd Hawkins.
His family had gathered around their dinner table (the big oak with the extra leaves, in the dining room, since this was a special occasion), engaged in lively conversation that bordered on the sickeningly cloying. The entire room was filled with the aromas of a full spread with trimmings, and outside, a bit of fresh snow had dusted the neighborhood.
Todd, dressed rather smartly in a mock neck and sports jacket and hair slicked down to a manageable style, followed his family in semi-circular stare. He and his good Christian, and pregnant, wife, Annika, had one side of the table whilst his younger sister had the other, home for Thanksgiving break from an Ivy League school (top ten percentile her father often boasted). She was healthy and full of life, and as exasperating as any other younger sister would be.
His mother was still tidying the cloth napkins and everything else on her best linen tablecloth, ensuring the evening was perfect down to the last fine detail.
He smiled at her and she responded in kind, brushing away a lock of hair from her porcelain complexion. He'd wondered for a moment why he thought she looked different, but didn't reflect any further on the subject.
At the head of the table, his father took the throne. He was beginning to gray in the tradition of the Hawkins men, and had on his favorite sweater. At his wife's request, his pipe had been stowed in the kitchen with a promise to light it up only after they'd finished their dessert. He was eying the turkey, strangely, laid out in front of him like some ancient sacrifice which just happened to have been basted every half hour and roasted to a golden brown.
In fact, Todd mused, there seemed to be way too much food on the table; his mother must have gone a little overboard. But how many times was her family under the same roof, now that her children had grown and moved out to make a life for themselves.
"You look a little pensive, son." Joseph Hawkins suddenly broke the air.
"Nothing," Todd was startled out of it, "I'm just glad to be together with my family...dad."
"Can we eat now?" Sarah asked impatiently, already in possession of the bowl of yams.
"Not until the traditional Hawkins carving of the turkey." her father answered. "But perhaps this year, you should carve the turkey, son."
Todd turned, proud his father would ask, and found himself staring into a black formless mask, Joseph inexplicably wearing it over his features. "Dad?"
From electric carving knife to a ruthlessly long-barreled handgun, Joseph slapped a full cartridge in and offered it to his firstborn. "Now, remember, you'll make a mess if you don't aim right."
"What...?" Todd whispered.
"To shoot the creatures with." Joseph explained, nodding to Annika.
Rose was a little worried. After all, her son had never killed anyone before. "Maybe he's too young, Joseph." she said.
"Nonsense," he blithely waved her off, "he's old enough to understand what kind of creatures he's been associating with. They're monsters."
"But I love her." Todd explained, staring at that weapon. "And we're going to have a baby."
"Yes, I suppose you do." Mr. Black yielded and pulled his hand back, swinging the gun around towards Annika. A small red dot appeared between her horns. "I'm truly very sorry, my dear, I'm sure you would have had a beautiful demon."
June 11th, 2002
Bullets shredded the ground, snaking towards their feet and claws like something was eating away at the asphalt from underneath.
"MOVE!" Brooklyn ordered, and rather unnecessarily so considering they all scattered.
Todd was torn rather forcefully from his fantasy and where he was standing (and where a string of shells made a line on the road) and practically hurled towards the hovercraft by a blue hand, or green maybe; he couldn't tell in the bedlam. The added weight of his sister threw him off balance and he almost kissed sheet metal before turning his shoulder into the fuselage, preventing Sarah from getting her head caved in and taking the bruise and near-dislocated joint with a grunt compressed through his teeth.
She didn't wake up; whatever his father had drugged her with was powerful enough to keep her unconscious.
One of the Apaches ducked in, close enough to give a few of the taller gargoyles a trim with its blades and roared off, making the tight circle for another pass. Its partner simply hovered in place, tilted downwards and slowly rotating with every barrel blazing, aiming for anything that moved. At least, anything with wings.
Huddled against the side of the hovercraft, near Macbeth's body no less, quickly become a reminder of his own frail mortality and that of his sister's, Todd was as far against the fuselage as he could manage, hem and hawing between the hatch leading inside or an alleyway between the warehouses about fifteen meters away.
Another pass, another burst. The clan was dodging as best they could in such an open area as the helicopters crisscrossed above, staying barely one step ahead of the hail of bullets and to the far left side, his father watched it all through that damned mask.
He'd even the nerve to simply rest his arms behind his back, a casual observer to the slaughter. Whether the glacial expression he wore underneath was a mask itself, he'd never know.
"YOU BASTARD!" Todd screamed. "You're gonna kill her!"
Nothing. Not even a twitch of his partially covered brow. Mr. Black was as still as the great dark beast parked behind him.
"Fuck..." he breathed, weighing his options again. He didn't know how fast he could run with the extra weight of another human being in his arms, and that alley looked about a mile away under the current circumstance. He could take refuge inside the downed hovercraft, but a missile could simply reduce it to a melted puddle of molten steel, with him as the chewy center. "It's either get blown to bits or get shot in the back making a run for it," Todd snarled aloud, "great."
His thoughts were rudely interrupted when another body ducked and rolled beside him, hitting the hovercraft with a well-intentioned thud.
"Oh..." Desdemona groaned, rubbing her sweat-slicked brow. She opened her half-lidded eyes and found the human staring back. "Mr. Hawkins."
She smeared through the blood on her arm, and stretched a wing against the bullet hole through the caramel membrane. "No, but I will live. We must get you out of here."
"No shit, but where?"
"Into the warehouses. There is cover in between."
Todd was incredulous, almost to the point of being rude but his patience was stretched to the limit. "If I move, I'll get mowed down. If you already didn't notice, I have a bit of extra baggage."
Desdemona reached out and dragged a few talons over what little of the girl's features was uncovered to the elements. She understood his reluctance, but had already considered his cargo. "We'll need, ah...cover fire, I believe it is called." she said, and flicked her eyes out and towards Macbeth's body. "Macbeth, if you please..."
The corpse opened its eyes, and sat up, groaning and rubbing his chest where he'd taken the bullet.
If having a couple of Boeing's finest attack helicopters trying to kill him wasn't enough, seeing a dead man shrug off a fatal wounding was a little much to take. "Jesus fucking Christ!" was Todd's flustered response. "I thought you were–"
"Dead?" Macbeth opened one of his jacket lapels and plucked a chunk of spent steel from his body armor, thoroughly mushroomed against the breastplate. "Nay. Being mortal makes you paranoid, and you won't get rid of me that easily."
"I should've known." Todd looked at Desdemona. "How the hell did you know he was still alive?"
She ran the length of her left ear with a talon. "His heart was still beating."
"And why did you feel the need to keep this from me!"
But she didn't believe she had the time to answer with the number of bullets flying through the air, some ricocheting from the hovercraft's painted surface. "We need a distraction." she told Macbeth.
He stood up and raised his gaze to the sky, and with the helicopters firing myopically at the gargoyles, had the chance to pick out his targets. "Done." he said. "Get th' boy out of here."
Todd's protest was drowned out by several sustained bursts of laser fire, when the Scotsman fired off a few rounds at the helicopters. His weapons made a bit of a dent compared to the only long range weapon in the clan's defense, a few of Othello's arrows sticking out from the underbellies of the aircraft.
"Come." Desdemona grabbed Todd by the arm and led him towards that alleyway that'd looked just too far to risk before.
Todd threw a quick glance over his shoulder behind him to see Macbeth leaping from a plume of asphalt dust as bullets tore up the ground where he once stood and, surprisingly, with an actual pang of guilt, looked away to see where the butterscotch-colored gargoyle was leading him. They were able to slip into the narrow passageway between the two closest warehouses, and soon zigzagged their way between dozens more before the sounds of the battle started dying away. "What about the others?"
"They are quite capable of taking care of themselves."
She didn't quite sound like she'd convinced herself of that fact, but took it on faith as she navigated herself through the labyrinth of rusted steel walls, still feeling the shudder of heavy rotor blades through the ridges of her fingerprints.
"Can't we get in touch with them?"
Desdemona stopped, and took out what was left of her commlink from her belt. Her duck and roll into the side of the hovercraft had destroyed it. "No."
Todd slumped against a wall to rest, breathing heavily. "Terrific." he said between huffs.
"Where is yours?" she asked.
Head resting against the wall with his eyes closed, they snapped open as if he'd just been accused of murder. "What?"
"Where is your commlink? You were told to keep it on you at all times."
"Uh, I left it at the castle."
And just as his mother would, Desdemona exhaled on cue and thinned her eyes, scolding him without a word. Then further proving motherhood produced a similarity in body language on the genetic level, she placed her hands on her waist and stood hipshot.
"Listen," Todd explained, "this little jaunt of mine wasn't exactly what Brooklyn would consider safe."
"We were well aware of that."
"Yeah, hence the tracking device on my car. But," he swung his sister closer towards the gargoyle to prove his point, "I had a damned good reason."
"Which is why we must keep moving."
The helicopters skimmed the rooftops, almost close enough to tear a few bolts and screws out by the sheer force of spinning rotors and the thrust required to keep these war machines above the ground.
Agent White was in the gunner seat behind the pilot in one of the craft, and understandably infuriated.
He had them in the open and through his targeting sights, and seven well-placed bullets later he could have moved on to bigger and better things. Manhattan was only one corner of the world where the creatures made their nests. "Where are they!" he growled, searching the ground from the cockpit window.
"I don't know, sir," the pilot answered, "but they're gone."
"How could we have missed them! Damnit!" A fist slammed into the instrument panel, with enough force to nearly short it out. "They were right there! They were right there!"
"They couldn't have gone far."
"Switch to the infrared!"
The pilot flipped the switch for the night vision camera, soaking in every wisp of heat source that the naked eye couldn't see. And almost instantly something flew right into the view of the wide-angle lens. "I've got one!"
White looked at his own monitor. "Where!"
"Right in front of us!" the pilot screamed.
Before his brain even recognized the figure on the infrared scope as even vaguely gargoyle-shaped, the upper windscreen was cleanly pierced by an old rusted pipe. It shot through and was about a foot from White's chest before it got caught and stopped dead.
The agent was stunned at the jagged edge sitting level with his heart, while the pilot panicked and pulled away from whatever was strong enough to puncture the bullet-proof window. And he could've sworn he saw a dark shape flit past his side of the helicopter as he banked left and tried to get away from whatever was buzzing the aircraft.
White looked up, seeing the skyline whirl past him through the spider-web pattern of what was left of his part of the windscreen. "What are you doing?"
"Getting some distance!"
He took one hand off the control yoke for just a moment, to point out what was quickly bearing down on them with glowing eyes. "Them!"
White followed the hand and caught on the edge of his peripheral vision the tails of several gargoyles splitting up on either side of the helicopter.
Sparks tore down the right side, and White only caught the hind end of a flash of emerald green. "The creatures. They're attacking us!"
With the helicopters unable to locate them, even for a few minutes, the gargoyles had been able to get a foothold on their domain, taking to the air. The fireworks display was courtesy of sixteenth century Japanese steel carving into the helicopter's side, but as the instruments didn't register any damage, Katana hadn't the chance to cut as deep into the helicopter's innards as she would have liked.
"Shimatta!" the samurai growled as she, Lexington and Brooklyn turned around for a second pass.
"I only see three." White growled, noticing the number of opponents they'd started out with had dwindled. "Where are the others!"
The pilot put two fingers to his helmet. He was getting reports from the other helicopter currently engaged a quarter of a mile away. "They're attacking our sister ship."
"Divide and conquer." White muttered. "Keep them off of us and call for reinforcements. I'm going to make sure I don't miss again."
Angela could hear the distant gunfire going off like a string of Chinese firecrackers; someone was getting a little trigger-happy with so many available targets in the air. If she wasn't already dodging the blades of another helicopter in a wind funnel more like a tornado, she might have had the time to think of their welfare.
Something hit her, kicked the air from her lungs and she would've protested if she had any breath left, and if that something hadn't just saved her life. Bullets sprayed the air, raining aimlessly onto the ground below.
By the scent, she recognized it as her mate. "Broadway?"
"Careful," he smiled down on her, "they don't seem too worried in wasting ammo."
She followed him in an upwards loop, extending her wings to their limits to catch as much of the updraft as possible. "I noticed."
As she and her mate regrouped, the rest of their particular contingent flew past, Macbeth riding shotgun on Othello's back. They were strafing the helicopter as it too regrouped and tried to find its bearing on targets that were twice as maneuverable.
"We need to distract them, and give Macbeth as many open shots as possible!"
"Which means," Angela groaned, "we must act as targets."
Broadway smiled; it was nice being back in sync with his mate. "You got it." He took the lead with Angela on his flank, and set himself up as a target in front of the helicopter, clasped his hands together and slammed them into the windshield.
A shudder passed through the fuselage as Broadway landed his blow, scaring the living hell out of the pilots who thought the massive hands were going to come straight through the windshield. Losing momentary control, the helicopter dropped a hundred feet or so and skimmed a few warehouse roofs before regaining a bit of altitude.
She quickly and abruptly pushed him against the side of a warehouse, sensing the roar of the helicopter's engines before it even tore across the narrow passageway nearby. It wasn't until Todd started mumbling something from underneath the hand that'd forced his head (and body) into cold aluminum siding that she released him, and resumed their escape.
"I do not think they saw us." Desdemona whispered.
Todd cricked his jaw, wondering if there was an impression in the form of a hand on his cheek. "They must be too busy shooting at the others."
She didn't quite enjoy how true his statement could've been, and decided to concentrate on one thing to keep her mind from wandering. "We must get you and your sister to the castle."
"How? It's a long way back to the Eyrie and I don't have a ride."
"Then we walk." Desdemona argued. "I cannot support you both in the air, especially when the Guild are flying those...things around."
They stole across another small access road into the crack between another pair of warehouses, exactly what they'd done for the last twenty minutes until they began running out of hiding places as the South St. seaport was blending into the rest of habitable Manhattan.
Desdemona was forced to rethink her escape route when the open area was far too open for her liking. She could detect the faints sounds of life just beyond. "Perhaps we should try to glide."
But Todd started wandering away from her, in a small circle and scanning the buildings around them. He may have been born and bred in New York but he was still an ant on the biggest hill of them all, stuck between blades of grass that rose anywhere from a hundred to two thousand feet high. "Or maybe..."
Desdemona turned, a brow cocked. "Yes?"
He dropped his gaze and quickly asked, rhetorically most likely, "How close are we to the twoline?"
"The twoline?" she repeated.
He breathed in the realization she probably didn't have a clue about what he was talking about. "The Seventh Avenue Express. The subway. It connects to the oneline and goes close to Central Park." Todd explained, looking behind him. "I think there's a station near here, we just have to get there."
"Are you sure?"
"It's the best bet, unless you'd rather walk through semi-crowded city streets. I don't think you'll make it before sunrise."
The sky was a little light on that one side of the horizon. To a human, even one with good eyes, the slight change in color was indiscernible and faint at best, but to a gargoyle on the circadian rhythm of stone sleep, they knew intimately. "I suppose." Desdemona whispered, terrified of the prospect.
Of all the possible entrances to this place and no matter how paranoid they'd proven to be, he figured there'd be at least one access point that wasn't as well guarded as the rest. The Guild weren't too worried about anyone getting in, considering it'd be nearly impossible to get back out without at least a few bullet holes in the spine.
Using his cousin's codes and a latex impression of his thumbprint, Jon Canmore was strolling the halls of the Guild's inner sanctum complete in stolen uniform and mask, a sprawling concrete and steel bunker whose recent renovations couldn't mask the World War II era construction. For what actual purpose this was built, he couldn't even begin to guess.
He'd already passed a few recruits and garnered some lingering looks from sentries posted at sensitive areas, which made it a little difficult to feign familiarity with a building that was already damned hard to navigate.
Canmore skidded on his heels; he'd barely made it halfway. These agents were a paranoid lot, always on the hunt for something that didn't conform to their own skewed sense of what should and shouldn't exist (though, ironically, he did agree). He turned, and found two agents standing behind him, likely having appeared from one of the many corridors.
"Identification." they demanded, simply, menacingly.
The intruder cocked his head, stalling, which sent the other agent grabbing for his holster.
"Who are you?"
"There's no such agent on file."
He was caught in his own overdeveloped sense of sarcasm, but, despite the danger he was in, couldn't help but laugh. "Pity, an' here I thought every color was taken."
And it was awarded with a well-placed punch in the gut.
Dropping like a stone, Canmore grabbed his stomach before he coughed it up. The agent hit a little harder than most; must have been the steel-lined gloves that rearranged his internal organs and pushed his spleen against his spine. "Careful, m'boy," he wheezed, "ye might damage something..."
Another fist came down on his neck, nearly putting him out. "Shut it, trespasser."
Canmore blinked back a sudden, nasty bout of unconsciousness.
"We should kill you now..."
"But we'll let Black decide what to do with you. Let's get him to the cellblock."
The agents each took an arm and dragged him from the hall, quickly, as swift action quelled any such disobedience, and down a smaller corridor that darkened with every meter they traveled. A few twists and turns, only which a few he was aware of, and they ended up at a dead-end with a lone elevator door at the end. The agent on his right took his glove off and pressed the single button (down), held his thumb to the surface until the fingerprint was scanned and the door quickly slid away.
The better part of caution told Jon to wait for his chance, rather than get shot to death in a tiny elevator cab that had already descended three floors, well below ground level. The door opened and he was hauled out in front of a row of heavy steel gates on either side of another corridor that seemed to stretch on forever from his blurry point of view.
But from the same vantage, he could see straight into the cells through the doors' slots.
And in the third from the right, a young blond woman was hung by her wrists from the ceiling and looked as if she'd died in captivity, but as he passed, she twitched and moaned and looked up through the haggard strands of hair.
The reporter. Apparently she was alive.
How he'd like to get a few words form the woman who supposedly lived with the demons for a few months; she must have some interesting tidbits about his brother.
The door to his own cell was opened, a dank little place with four steel walls and lacking windows, and Canmore took the chance. He pulled the agent closest to him into position to get his arm some slack, and then nearly dislocated his captor's shoulder. He screamed through the mask's breathing slits, alerted his partner in time to get a boot upside the temple and get his face pushed into the opposite wall. Each body landed at almost the same time, and Canmore stepped on the neck of the one still conscious, kicked him in the head and blemished his boots with a spatter of blood.
He straightened the mask, still attached to his face, and stood up, scanning the prison block. The entire population was made up of a single person, considering the Guild's penchant for killing not-so-indiscriminately and he slowly approached the only occupied cell.
He watched through the slit in the door at Savannah dangling from her chains; she looked starved, beaten but alive, and as lucky as her useful information would last. Once the Guild finished with her, her corpse would probably be thrown into the East river.
She caught the eyes staring at her through the slot, but didn't have the energy to react with anything more than a tired gasp.
"We'll talk soon, Miss St. Nicks." he whispered, and darted towards the elevator with a body in tow.
He needed the thumbprint after all, considering the agents had ruined his latex fake.
"Can't you keep still?"
"This is exceedingly difficult," Othello grunted, breathing through raw lungs, "but if you'd like to switch positions I'm happy to oblige."
It was hard enough to hit a large target while riding between the wings of a gargoyle, let alone something less than the relative size of a square foot. But as the clan did their best to draw fire away from them both, his aim was slowly centering on the rotor mechanism, one of the only weak points he could manage against a heavily armored killing machine.
Macbeth let out another blast, but missed as the Guild helicopter swerved off and Othello was forced to brace against the sudden draft and change of direction. "Damn!"
Othello closed his wings and dropped out of the path of more bullets; the helicopter had spun around and laid down a path of gunfire where the gargoyle used to be.
"They're persistent." Macbeth muttered.
"But let's see how calm they can stay. Get behind them."
Broadway and Angela played their roles of distraction perfectly, allowing Othello to drop and come up behind, running along the starboard side.
Macbeth started strafing the entire side, his aim deliberately and widely skewed in order to hit as much as possible in a short amount of time, and sow panic.
They could hear the shots against the fuselage, despite the fact it was only charged energy. But the damage was being done, and a few were actually piercing the steel skin.
A laserbeam (at least, those readily available on the black market) had the characteristic of being incredibly visible to the naked eye, and with every shot the pilots could see exactly where the human riding on the gargoyle like horseback was aiming.
"Bastard's shooting at our rotor!" the co-pilot growled.
"Then turn, damnit, turn!"
He gritted, the stick fighting against his hand as he pushed his bird beyond its specs, "...trying..."
The helicopter was running erratically back and forth to shake Macbeth's aim and fend off the gargoyles, considering they'd have a better chance of catching one of them in the rotor blades as opposed to getting a hit with some of the most advanced weaponry available. But with Broadway and Angela running interference, the former king was able to land more and more shots.
But it was only when an actual piece of something important was cleaved from the rotor assembly and flew off, Macbeth knew he'd hit his mark.
"Got you." he hissed under his breath.
A faint line of smoke spurted from the top of the helicopter, stirred and mangled by the spinning blades. It dropped and shuddered, the once continuous hum becoming dangerously intermittent and the gunfire ceased for the first time since the battle had started, as the flight crew was a little busy trying to keep control of their wounded craft.
Macbeth kept firing until he was assured it wasn't just a temporary problem.
It veered away, suddenly less interested in the creatures flying around it and headed for open waters near the southern shore. Whether or not it was trying for home or just didn't want to strike a building they couldn't tell, but it was definitely limping somewhere.
"Where is it going?" Othello pondered out loud, following close behind.
Macbeth answered, "Down," aiming his lasers and waiting for the absolute second they crossed over the shoreline.
"Don't shoot!" Broadway yelled from behind. "This is our chance! They might lead us to their base!"
"I doubt they'd be so foolish."
A shadow crossed over the Scotsman; Broadway was right on top of him, ready to grab the guns from his hands if need be. "We've been searching for months! We're going to take the chance!"
But Macbeth didn't seem too interested in heeding the plea, as the remains of his home and pride and all the expensive liquor flashed through the forefront of his thoughts. He really appeared as if he was going to fire, caution be damned.
"Shoot," Broadway warned, "and I'll make you swallow those things."
The polished finish reflected glowing eyes, but it wasn't fear of retribution that made him rethink the recklessness and lower his weapons, it was something borne of noble blood.
"Wise choice, my friend." Othello smirked. He too had to argue with his own frustrations, but held off for the sake of his clan.
"Fine for all it will do for us, th' helicopter isna going to make it anywhere."
Macbeth knew aircraft, thoroughly, having watched the first plane go up in Kitty Hawk almost a hundred years ago. The helicopter was listing heavily to one side and losing as much altitude as it was speed, and that thin plume of smoke had turned into a full blown fire, spreading from the rotor across the fuselage. It barely cleared the warehouses and docks, turning the water below into a mirror reflecting its own flaming demise.
It hit the water and sunk within seconds, gravity, momentum and the downward force sucking it under. Nothing, save a few charred pieces of debris floated to the surface, despite how long the clan circled overhead. And if it weren't for the police helicopters coming to investigate the crash, they would have stayed longer.
"Damn," Broadway muttered, signaling to the others to scatter, "let's hope the others do better..."
White saw a flicker past the windshield as the green female passed, running the tip of her sword across the steel skin. She'd been doing that over and over as the males covered her, but he didn't notice any visible damage. "What is she doing!"
"Nothing vital's been hit." the pilot reported.
"She's up to something.. ."
"I don't know, just keep them in my targeting sight!"
One last swipe and Katana had almost cut through what she could discern as every working mechanism that locked part of the cockpit lid in place. On Brooklyn's order, Lexington had downloaded the plans through his embedded, wireless internet connection, giving the trio a workable scheme that the agent hadn't yet figured out.
Maybe it was his own over-inflated sense of superiority or inherent lunacy, but White preferred to answer with as many bullets as possible as opposed to changing his wild tactics.
Until, with keen eyes, he saw Katana diving down and turning for another pass, the city light distinctly reflecting from the blade, and decided to put her down for good. "Watch the female..." he said to his pilot.
He could see her under their port side. "Yes, sir."
The red one stayed on their starboard side, intending to detract them from the samurai and deftly dodging the barrage of bullets.
"Here she comes." White warned his pilot, watching as the distance between them diminished rapidly. He waited, until he could see the sword twist slightly in her hands and the sober determination on her features. "Now, bank right!"
As soon as she tried for the target, the entire helicopter leaned to starboard, causing her to swipe at empty air and throwing the artillery wing right into Brooklyn's wing-strut.
By sheer luck, he didn't lose anything, but the wound was deep and spurting and made gliding more than a little difficult. His scream was muffled by gritted teeth.
"Brooklyn!" Katana yelled, and pulled him to safety. "Are you all right?"
He bit back the pain, despite seeing dark globules seeping out from his own body and falling into the city below. "I'm fine." he cringed. "Lex! We're going to try again!"
The web-wing came up behind them. "Let's make it quick. Between the bullets and rotor blades, one of us is going to lose a wing."
"One more time, Katana." Brooklyn said doggedly, flexing and re-flexing his wing to work out the shooting pains.
"Are you sure?"
She knew better not to argue with him, and swooped down to prepare for, hopefully, one last pass.
"Where'd she go?" White growled, searching both sides of the aircraft. But the female had disappeared, much more effectively than before. "Damnit, where is she!"
The helicopter went into a near-spin; something had collided with the tail and tried to throw them off course.
And then, the high-pitched wail of his pilot alerted him to the target he sought, "Sir, to port!"
A streak of green and a horrid screeching sound later, he caught the female on the retreat and couldn't get a shot in she'd vanished so quickly. He felt a draft blowing into the cockpit, but wasn't able to tell where it was coming from before two sets of hands grabbed either side of the hatch and wrenched the entire lid from its sword-severed hinges.
The entire cockpit cover tore off, exposing White and the pilot to the full brunt of the wind. They shielded themselves from the debris sprayed over their bodies and into the rotors just above; sparks, shrapnel and even more debris exploded off every blade.
"Turn!" White ordered, not content to give up. "Turn!"
"Sir...we're compromised, and the rotor's taken damage...we have to get out of here!"
"I said turn!"
"I've got shrapnel in my shoulder!" the pilot winced.
"I don't give a damn!" White snarled. He was too close this time, and damned if he was going to allow a whiny, wounded pilot ruin the chance. "Now cowboy up and kept this thing afloat!"
The pilot begrudgingly kept his hands on the yoke, despite the pain shooting through his left arm. He turned towards the gargoyles and allowed the agent his opening to fire. The weaponry was deafening without the sound-deadening hatch to protect against several hundred bullets being discharged less than a few feet away from him, but more importantly, he was unable to hear the police scanners through his helmet receiver, warning of several helicopters flying in their direction.
White was practically possessed, behind the firing controls like the pilot of a bi-plane in an old war dogfight and shooting at anything that dared to enter his range of view. But even he noticed how unstable the flight was; his pilot was down to using one hand on the control stick. He let off the firing trigger only long enough to admonish the man. "Keep it steady!"
The break in gunfire allowed a wealth of information to flood the pilot's radio receiver, and he looked over his shoulder. "Sir, we've got several police helicopters heading this way!"
"Damn..." he muttered, and saw a flash of something from the corner of his eye.
It was too late to react to the object on his left, as it preceded a rush of wind and movement and sunk into his throat.
She'd flown in under the spinning blades and dug her talons into the fuselage, getting leverage to better force her blade into the taught underside of White's jaw. The agent froze when feeling cool steel on his neck.
"Give me one good reason, human," Katana hissed, "that I should not separate your head from your shoulders."
A smile somehow leaked through. "I can't, beast."
She pushed, he jerked, and blood trickled over the sword.
"Katana!" Brooklyn attached himself to the other side. He was still bleeding, obviously in pain and ready to help push that sword through the agent's esophagus, but now wasn't the time. "We've got the cops on our ass!"
But the emerald female was dead intent on the agent, her knuckles discoloring from the pressure applied to the handle. "I can end this now, end his pitiful existence."
"And another will simply rise up to take his place! He'll be a martyr! No, let them go!"
She moved her dark eyes towards her mate, but held the weapon steady. Months of frustration were about to be liberated through her blade.
The pilot had already seen them and pulled out a weapon, but a hand snatched his own. "Uh-uh." Lexington said, perched in the Apache's nose and twisting the human's damaged arm slightly to keep him compliant. "That wouldn't be nice."
"Let him go, Katana." Brooklyn said again, taking on the commanding tone of a clan leader rather than a mate. "He won't turn us into killers."
His ridges wiggled, a sure sign he had something else up his proverbial sleeve. "Trust me."
Returning her gaze to watch as White choked on the stress on his windpipe and the fear of being beheaded, she stayed for a few moments to better enjoy his suffering and then, when Brooklyn thought she'd already made up her mind, released.
White slumped forward, and immediately grabbed his neck to cover the thin, red line the gargoyle had cut into his flesh. The blood was oozing between his fingers, but the wound wasn't deep enough to cause permanent harm. He might have a scar to match the other Hudson had carved into his forehead, but he should have considered himself lucky. "...you'll...regret this, bitch..." he wheezed.
"I already do." Katana whispered, and released from the helicopter.
Lexington grabbed the gun from the pilot, crushed it, threw it back into his lap and fell away, leaving Brooklyn alone with agent White.
He grabbed the agent's jacket in his fists and yanked him from the seat by the material alone. A couple of talons dug behind the mask's pressure seal and popped it off, revealing White's face gnarled by rage and embarrassment. "I'm going to give you a warning, douchebag, lay off or I'll bring down some serious shit on your little band of zealots."
"You're dead, creature." White bared his teeth. "DEAD!"
Brooklyn smirked, and shoved the agent back into his seat. "Think it over." He let go and followed Katana and Lexington to find cover between the buildings.
White was trembling to the point of having a seizure, so full of unreleased fury. But even he could see the NYPD helicopters in the distance speeding towards them, and somehow, with logistics entering into the haze of red, realized tonight was a bust. Even a psychotic such as him knew the risks of being exposed, so even if his pilot and aircraft could make it, a quick run at the Eyrie would compromise the organization. Funny he'd think more like Black at a moment like this. "Get us out of here." he ordered, seeing the distant aircraft.
She wondered if the humans who frequented this particular mode of transportation could actually detect every scent wafting through the train car, they wouldn't be so apathetic about the cleanliness of the New York subway system.
But, in their defense, perhaps most of the stench was coming from her choice of attire.
Todd had dressed her in clothes and rags he'd found scrounging through a few dumpsters near the subway station, a tattered coverlet as a makeshift robe draped just over the base of her horns, revealing most of her face and covering her wings and tail, and several coffee bean sacks tied from her knees to her ankles, with the extra material hanging down and disguising her large gargoyle feet (as much as the smell had bothered her, she wasn't intent to ask for the young girl's heavy clothing).
But the stench had the side effect of throwing her back to the first time she'd caught it on the wind, and she'd remembered staring at the flight of stairs leading underground, holding Sarah while Todd did a bit of shopping and a sudden doubt slowly itched its way into the back of her skull.
And now that itch had ballooned into a full-blown fear of being discovered. As Desdemona kept a tight grip on her improvised garb, she also kept vigil on the small number of people scattered about the car. She'd hoped at three am there wouldn't be a crowd, but as soon as they descended the stairs into the Wall St. station she froze in the face of a good fifty people and nearly ran into a young couple behind them just fresh from the pub.
"Come on," Todd had said, walking towards the platform, "we're going to miss the train."
"Are you sure no one will notice?"
"Yes. Everyone's too drunk, too tired or too uninterested to care."
He was right; as no one seemed to mind a gargoyle in dumpster-brand clothing gradually joining them as the subway train lit the tunnel around the far bend, she stuck close to her human guide, following his every movement through the doors, choosing a seat (near the end) and used him to shield her from everyone else.
Looking around at the late night passengers, she was still a little paranoid even halfway through the ride (an older Korean woman with a couple of grocery bags on either side of her looked up from her Style magazine, lingered with a long, hard glance and eventually went back to her article). The car had just lurched from the Christopher St. station and continued on, and from the map overhead between the advertisements for the bust enhancing drugs and Yankee season tickets, she knew they still had a while to go. Not long by human standards, but excruciatingly slow for her.
Sensing her discomfort (the way she kept fidgeting under the robe was a sure sign she was uncomfortable around so many humans in such a confined space), Todd leaned over. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yes, I suppose." she responded absently, her cagey gaze still darting about. "But I do hope this train brings us home very soon."
"Relax, no one's even given you a second look."
"They have given us more than a few," she whispered sharply, "considering I am clothed in discarded garments and you have an unconscious girl in your lap."
"It's New York. No one gives a damn."
Someone had called to him, and Todd was caught with wide eyes in his own untruth. "What?"
What had looked like a discarded pile of clothes a few seats up and across from them suddenly sat up, wiped the drool from his chin and reiterated (drunkenly), nodding at Sarah. "Yeah, hey, wha's with the girl there?"
"Uh," Todd quickly improvised, before someone thought he was kidnapping her, "too much to drink. My baby sister's a lightweight."
The guy started nodding, understandably receptive to her plight; he looked about ready to pass out himself and miss his stop somewhere down the line. "Yeah, tell me about it." Then his eyes, as open and bloodshot as they were, veered to the robed woman who by all appearances was trying to avoid any kind of eye contact. "So, who's yer hot friend?"
Desdemona stiffened; under his intense gaze it was like being placed under a microscope. But she assumed his interest wasn't scientific, especially where his hungry gape kept centering.
"Oh, this is my...girlfriend."
Desdemona shot a daggered gaze at him from under her hood, and Todd shrugged and smiled slightly.
The claim already staked, the guy put up his hands, "Whoa, sorry dude." and slumped back down onto the bench cushions.
She'd be incensed if Todd's particular brand of help hadn't just taken the spotlight off of her. But still, she was a mated woman. Desdemona crossed her arms. "If only Othello would have heard that..."
"I hope he'd be happy I was protecting your little secret," Todd said, and then added for good measure, "honey."
"I suppose..." her tone went low, clearly remorseful if one knew her well enough. "How is your sister?"
Todd moved his eyes from one woman to another, from conscious to comfortably unconscious. Sarah was still out, even an hour later. "Still cataleptic." he said. There was a tinge of regret in his voice he couldn't speak to her right away; they undoubtedly had a lot of notes to compare. "But this monitor says everything's fine. I wonder what the hell's wrong with her if she's hooked up to this thing and is breathing through an oxygen tank."
Looking over the device and careful not to expose her talons, Desdemona studied the readings as best she could. They seemed to be as steady as they were an hour ago. "We'll have Doctor Pierce examine her once we reach the castle. And hopefully we'll meet the others there as well."
"Think they made it?"
"I know they did." she answered resolutely, while staring at no one in particular. "I just hope we will, and soon."
And, if by divine intervention or some other such cosmic monkey wrench in the gears of life, the train suddenly dug into its rails and squealed like it was dying, almost throwing the passengers from where they were quasi-comfortably settled in. It ground to a halt just neatly at the platform to Times Square Station, amidst groans and complaints of the passengers, as if planned that way.
"What...?" Desdemona sputtered, grabbing at her robe and trying to keep herself upright all at the same time. "What has happened?"
Todd, used to these sudden bumps in the rail, pulled himself back up having almost lost grip on his sister. "Damnit...of all the goddamned nights..."
And almost on cue to answer the gripes being tossed about, the speakers crackled to life. "...Ladies and Gentlemen..." the conductor reported, far too dispassionately. "...We're sorry to announce the discontinuation of the oneline service tonight, due to severe mechanical failure..."
Little did everyone know, the driver on duty tonight was currently on the floor, nursing a bruise and possible concussion as someone else stood on his neck and manned the intercom.
"Perfect." Todd spit, and got up just as the doors opened onto the platform.
Desdemona stood up, ironically reluctant to leave the train. "What does this mean?"
"It means we've got to hitch a ride on another train." Todd exited out onto the platform, and started looking around. "The Broadway Express should take us the rest of the...way..." His glance down the end of the train caught more than he was expecting, as someone stepped from the engine cab and cut a swath through the grumbling, retreating crowd, straight towards him. The knuckles on his right hand were flaked with blood, and his stare intensified. Todd didn't need to see a mask to know that he was not the conductor. "Oh shit..." he was stunned. The Guild had followed them underground, presumably the same cronies that had flanked his dad. "We've got to go!"
Todd nudged her towards the exit with his shoulder, causing her to trip over her feet. "Let's go, now."
"Why!" Desdemona protested.
"We've got company!"
"But is this not Times Square? One of the most heavily populated areas in Manhattan even at this hour?"
He was halfway across the platform approaching the stairs, pushing her the entire way. "Yeah. And considering we've just been spotted by one of my dad's goons, I think it's a pretty good risk."
"What?" Her eyes went wide, and under her robe her wings wanted to instinctively mantle and lift, throwing her disguise. "The Guild? Here?"
"They're everywhere." he repeated an especially frightening line his father has whispered to him a while ago. "C'mon."
The lesser of two evils loomed just at the top of the concrete stairway they took two steps at a time, pushing through several people who, as the cloaked woman ran past them, could've sworn they saw a tail peeking out from under her tattered robe.
Just off the last step, the pair surfaced into a riot of color and neon light, almost drowning in the glitzy splendor of it all. Despite her species' finely tuned vision, Desdemona had to shield her eyes for a moment for them to adjust whereas Todd was used to the bright flickering jumbo screens and billboards, the lights and storefronts, years of television having built up an immunity.
This was definitely worse than the subway. But as Desdemona looked up, over the throngs and anarchy of advertising and even above most of the rooftops, a familiar sight was backlit against the sky by an array of hauntingly pearlescent spotlights. The castle, perched atop the Eyrie, didn't look so far anymore. "I can see the castle."
But Todd already started out into the semi-crowded streets, urging the gargoyle to follow with his ever-growing distance. "Yeah, the trick is actually getting there."
The two men in black suits with the unnaturally casual stride held at the top of the subway steps, looking both in and out of place all at the same time; anyone else but those who knew exactly who and what they were walking past would be oblivious to their intent. The taller one was wiping the conductor's blood from his knuckles, while his fellow crony started looking through faces for the Hawkins boy.
"Where'd they go?" one asked.
"They used the crowd." the other answered, scanning through the aforementioned horde. He wanted to fire out a few shots just to clear the area, but knew Black would have his ass if he endangered any innocents or drew unwanted attention. "Call one of the choppers. Get them over here quickly."
"I already did. It's homing in on our beacon."
She had to be careful, meandering through the crowd. Even something as inane as crossing the street proved dangerous with so many people brushing past her and her disguise. Using Todd as a buffer in front of her worked only so much and she was glad to reach the safety of the sidewalk.
But the subtle change in the background noise didn't fill her with the confidence she would've liked, from carefree conversation to confusion to a nascent dread. "Something is wrong."
The wind changed; a gargoyle could feel the currents and every shift in direction, and even covered by the heavy robe Desdemona felt the wind sharply force itself down on her. "Oh no." She looked up. "Do you hear that?"
Todd turned, and seeing her eyes darting from star to star, looked up as well. "What?"
"I believe the helicopters are back."
He heard it as well, a low thrumming like a heartbeat somewhere just beyond the row of buildings. "Oh damn, oh damn..."
A massive black shape drifted into view.
It wasn't one of the Apaches, it was the beast, the very same that'd gunned down Macbeth's hovercraft with a single shot and carried the Guild leader in its belly.
In its wake followed a hurricane-force gale that nearly knocked everyone below off their feet. A few were already scurrying for cover while the rest looked up, seeing this big, black thing settling between the buildings on either side of the street.
It hovered there, presumably picking out its targets (the ones that weren't running).
Right smack dab in the center of Times Square, Todd and Desdemona edged closer to what little cover they had in the form of a streetlight and threw a surreptitious glance up at the aircraft, slowly turning and scanning the avenue below.
"Do you think they have spotted us?" she asked.
"I don't know..."
It rotated until it seemed to be looking right at them, and stopped, then tilted its nose down.
Todd couldn't quite see into the cockpit due to the glare of every bright light against the windshield, but had a feeling that familiar eyes were on him. But what he didn't notice was the empty space in a sizable ring around him and Desdemona both, as if everyone else had known something he didn't, that something bad was going to happen.
He swore, before he even heard the sound of the machines guns discharging, the ground tore up at his feet. The lamppost was neatly cleaved in half with so many bullets shredding through its steel skin, and Todd barely had time to duck out of the way before his head was taken off at the shoulders. "Fuck!"
Desdemona pushed him from behind, getting him out of the path. "Look out!"
"I did," he stumbled, "that's what nearly got me killed! Come on!"
Panic erupted, people screaming and running for their lives in every direction as the gunfire continued. The pair ducked between parked and abandoned cars, scuttling along the ground and hearing the sheet metal all around them practically disintegrating.
"Goddamnit!" Todd shouted, turning away from a spray of glass. "You hit?"
"No." Desdemona answered. "But I find it hard to believe we have yet to be shot!"
"Just our luck I suppose. Live another day just to have another psycho start shooting at us..."
Another round was fired, and the pair ducked lower. Their cover was being minced and any moment a bullet was going to graze a gastank.
"Crap, we have to get out of here!"
"We are pinned!"
"And one good shot away from being dead!"
"And what would you have me do!" she growled.
Todd lowered his gaze to his sister. "Take her, and get the fuck out of here while I lure them away!"
Her eyes went wide. He must have taken a hit while she wasn't watching. "I will not abandon you."
"You got any better ideas! I'm not going to let my sister die in the street!"
She was adamant. "Nor will I allow you!"
"Stupid, stubborn bitch!"
Adrenaline and fear wasn't a good mixture for delicacy or diplomacy, and though Todd didn't mean it and in any other situation Desdemona would have recognized and absolved him of the unintended outburst, her eyes bled a dark crimson. "I beg your pardon!"
"Wait...you hear that?"
"What? The bullets, or the screaming?"
But Todd was concentrated on something down the road. He knew that growl, just as intimately as he did the theme song to the Super Mario Brothers. It wasn't Shadow after he'd done something particularly cruel, it wasn't Annika in mid-throes of passion, it was the sound of dual exhaust breathing up past six thousand RPMs.
The Superbird split the thin, retreating crowd, appearing from out of nowhere and skidded around the stunned duo, coming to a halt a few feet away.
Annika was behind the wheel. She leaned over the passenger seat, pushed the door open and screamed, "Well, are you getting in or not!"
The fact he'd probably yell his throat raw at his wife for actually having the nerve to take his car without permission was a faraway thought against the opportunity at escape (god, he loved her). Todd and Desdemona shot towards the idling muscle car, the gargoyle stripping off the rancid garments she'd been forced into considering everyone walking the shimmering boulevard had scattered for cover.
Rain was in the back, and having flipped the passenger seat forward she reached out for the girl and took her by the shoulders. Desdemona helped her with Sarah's unconscious form, took half the rear bench and Todd slipped in front. He didn't bother with the seatbelt. "Punch it, woman!"
She nearly peeled off the painted yellow lines by the sheer force of the torque through ten inch Goodyears. The car lurched away in a wail of grinding rubber and followed the wide avenue of Broadway Street, crossing traffic through a yellow light and being chased by bullets until they got out of range.
Half-admiring the way she handled herself at the wheel and partly annoyed she was so comfortable at reigning in a car he thought only he himself was capable of, Todd was a little curious about the miraculous and last-minute save. "How the hell did you know what was going on?"
"The police scanners are all going nuts with reports of an explosion, a crash landing of an unidentified aircraft near the docks and black helicopters shooting at something in the sky." Annika explained between third and fourth gear. "It was barely an hour after you took off. It wasn't hard to put two and two together, and we followed this particular helicopter here."
"Touché." he said, eyes trickling down. Her enlarged stomach was close to the steering wheel, even with the seat pushed back. "You know, you shouldn't be driving in your condition."
"I tried to tell her that." Rain piped up from behind, cradling Sarah's head in her lap.
"I can drop you back off," Annika challenged, showing half a fang, "if you like."
In the side mirror, Todd saw the Guild helicopter coming up on their rear bumper. "Uh, no, it's all right." he said weakly. "In fact, I think you should go a little faster."
Desdemona turned her head and looked through the back window. "By the Dragon..."
"He's right." Rain said. "We've got company, and judging by the giant guns on either side it doesn't look friendly."
"It isn't..." Todd whispered. "There!" he shouted, "Hang a hard left!"
Annika had barely time to react and wrenched the wheel in the direction of where her mate was pointing. "Hold on!"
The car was forced into a near ninety degree angle as it banked around the corner almost lifting off from two of its tires. 46th street wasn't as wide as Broadway, and the Superbird's bumper fishtailed onto the sidewalk, narrowly missing a newspaper stand and several people who's only warning was the high-pitched squeal coming towards them.
The helicopter behind them followed in their path, the rotors mere feet from slicing through windows and brick.
"It's still with us!" Rain screamed.
"Hard right!" Todd shouted just as the next intersection loomed down the car's elongated snout.
This time Annika was a little more prepared but the light ahead was on red and the traffic, though scarce for this time of night, was thick enough to make slipping an entire vehicle through a little tight. "Oh damn..."
"Remember the video games, honey!"
"Sidewalks are our friend!"
She hit the clutch, brakes and the horn at the same time, downshifting into second and aiming for that narrow squeeze between the lamppost and the corner of a credit union. "Oh shit..."
Todd expected to lose his side mirrors or something else just as expensive and hard to replace, but by the grace of god or sheer luck, they slithered through and onto Eighth Avenue, heading north towards Central Park. Opening his eyes and discovering everything on his car was still intact, he looked ahead and found nothing but a straight stretch towards the park and relative safety. "Jesus, we made it..."
Annika's knuckles had turned white. "I think I just laid the egg."
Todd started laughing; that sort of adrenaline-and-fear-induced laughter that came out an octave higher than normal. "It's okay, we're fine. You did it, you did it, and you didn't wreck my car in the process!"
"How can you think of this big chunk of tin at a moment like this–"
"Uh, I hate to spoil the moment," Rain piped up, "but that thing is still behind us."
"And it is doing something..." Desdemona added, watching as its artillery wings were transforming mid-air.
"What!" Todd shouted; he didn't have the best view out of his mirror and couldn't see it from what view he had out of the rear window.
But Rain, a little more in touch with the twenty-first century, especially when dating a confirmed tech-head, watched as the missile racks were moved up to firing position. "Oh...uh, big, big guns."
"I think those are missiles."
All a little stunned, it was Annika who'd first voice what everyone else had on their minds. "There's no way they'd fire missiles at us in the middle of New York!"
Todd grimaced, "I think my dad's gone off the deep end, and the whole black and white, innocent or guilty thing just drowned."
"Sir, we having a firing solution."
From where he was seated, Black watched as the helicopter's targeting system zeroed in on the car below them, his son's pride and joy. And he was about to reduce it to a smoking pile of melted metal, his children included.
"Sir?" the gunner tried again.
With a sharp breath, he lifted his chin from his hand and answered, "Fire. But be precise."
The beast started descending slowly and bearing down on the winged car to better ensure the best shot. Their war was never supposed to include anyone innocent and accidentally obliterating a building on a miss wouldn't fit their bill as protectors of the human race.
The entire circular mirror filled with dull black paint, and Todd had a feeling in the pit of his stomach about what was coming next. "Let's see if that bloated piece of shit is fast enough to catch a Roadrunner." he whispered. "Everyone hang on to something. And that includes my sister!"
The experience still fresh on her mind and however a rush it might have been at the time, going that fast in a vehicle-shaped bullet wasn't at the top of her list of things to do while pregnant. "He's not kidding, ladies." Annika warned, swerving around a slower-moving truck.
Reaching towards the dash, Todd flipped up the protective cover and readied his hand over the toggle switch. "Ready?"
"Just keep your elbows locked and don't let the steering wheel move an inch unless you absolutely have to."
"We have target acquisition."
His mask's eye-slits were glowing slightly against the gloom of the interior, filtering no emotion through the lenses; Black was dressed in shadow and ambiguity. His silence was enough for final consent.
"Firing, fox one."
The only thing between the missile and the helicopter now was a thin trail of smoke. It was fired towards the car and slowly descended, leveling out a few feet above the ground and looking to punch a hole in the trunk.
Todd hit the nitrous switch and instantly found the back of his seat as the car lurched forward, almost standing on its hind end. Rain screamed, Desdemona dug her claws into the vinyl seat, Annika grit her teeth and Todd was centered on the missile as it dove beneath his range of sight and, after a second of terrifying anticipation, hit the street.
They felt the shockwave rear-end the bumper and lift the Superbird off its rear tires for a moment.
"Oh crap!" Rain screamed. "If I don't get blown into tiny bits first, Ares is going to kill me!"
But despite the crater and chunks of asphalt and gravel underlay that filled the air in a plume of flame, Annika was far too concerned with what was just ahead of her and coming fast. They were rocketing along Eighth Avenue, lightly dotted with late night traffic and chock full of gas-filled obstacles to a novice driver. "Car!" she screamed. "Car!"
"Turn slightly!" Todd directed, seeing the vehicle grow closer. "Just slightly! Don't oversteer!"
With their speed she expected to fishtail, swerve and flip (and roll and burn and possibly explode) but the car's wide stance and tires held it to the ground as she wheeled around the intruding vehicle. A horn blared under an angry hand but died out quickly, considering they'd already put a few hundred feet them and the car within seconds.
The needle was wiggling at the limit of the speedometer, but Todd knew their head start wouldn't last forever even with their stretch of road quickly running out and the supply of nitrous oxide most likely used up. And the gap between the helicopter and his car was closing again as the burst of speed died down to near-normalcy.
"They're catching up!"
"And likely to fire again."
"Can't we hit the nitrous again?" Annika asked.
But Todd had his eyes on the gauge. A gauge reading empty. "Uh, no, I'm out."
"Hey," he yelled back, "this stuff is expensive!"
His son was persistent, he had to give him that. And he seemed to have a little bit of luck running with the rocket fuel in his veins. "Again." Black ordered.
"Firing," the pilot responded, "fox two."
"Incoming!" Rain shrieked.
A caramel-colored hand shot between the front seats. One building loomed above all the others. "We are almost at the castle!"
Todd leaned over and pointed his hand down the road for his wife. "We're going to hit the Columbus Circle, and then a sharp right on 59th!" he said, and then shot a look towards Rain in the backseat. "Got your commlink?"
Centered on the second missile bearing down on them, it took Rain a moment to tear her attention away, unhook it from her ear with trembling hands and hand it over. "Y-Yeah..."
"Mother!" Todd shouted into the tiny microphone, set to the castle's emergency frequency. "Open the private garage entrance door! We're coming in!"
No answer. The normally-proficient computer program didn't respond, which put a slight damper on his plans.
"Mother! Mother! Hell-ooooo!" Todd tried again, but received nothing in response. "Damnit! Is this thing fucking broken too!" For the first time since getting in, he looked a little panicked. "Uh, why isn't she answering?"
"I don't know." Annika answered. "But what I do know is the missile behind us is getting closer!"
Todd saw the street sign for Columbus Circle, and, knowing he might get either blown to pieces or yelled at, he reluctantly told his wife, "slow down."
"What!" all three passengers screamed at once.
"We need to get that thing as close as possible before we take the corner onto the circle. Take it down to a hundred."
Deliberating on her husband's insane idea but seeing no other choice, Annika gingerly pumped the brake pedal, alternating her gaze between the rearview mirror, the upcoming turn and the speedometer slowly dropping.
Rain thought she was able to read the serial number from the missile's casing it was so close, and then, turned around and closed her eyes, hugging the unconscious human in her lap closer.
"Now!" Todd ordered. "Turn hard and hit the gas!"
The car swerved into the circle and narrowly avoided the missile as it slammed into the street behind them, taking out a sizable chunk. But the shockwave nearly threw the entire car from the road and Annika had to struggle to keep the entire machine from flipping over or careening through the guardrails. She accelerated after getting control and made the quarter length of the circle, then turned (skidded) onto 59th, a few blocks away from the Eyrie.
The helicopter followed, still hugging the street and thus, forced to follow it fairly closely. But considering half the road bordered Central Park, there was a little more freedom on the left side and the aircraft veered that way, favoring the trees.
Todd reached up to the driver's side sunvisor and held his index finger an inch from the garage door opener. "Okay, baby, we're going to have to time this perfectly. This thing only has a range of about a couple hundred feet."
"How do you know that?"
"I tested it."
"Do you spend all your free time doing weird and stupid things!"
"Yes, but I also just saved us from two missiles, so all my useless knowledge about video games and muscle cars has come in handy, hasn't it?"
Annika sunk lower into the seat and bit her lip. She couldn't argue with logic that'd saved her life, no matter how bizarre it may be.
The base of the Eyrie was coming up, the building's ground floor and foundation taking up an entire city block and a good third of Central Park South. They were approaching the rear end, where among the expansive back lot and numerous loading bays stood a wall ready to open up at the invisible seams with the touch of a button. It was the Xanatoses' private parking garage, utilized by more than just the billionaire couple.
"Ready." she whispered.
Todd waited for the usual signs along the roadway, watching both them and the helicopter gaining once more and gauging how much distance he had before the door opener would connect with the private parking garage. He wasn't sure if his father was willing to fire this close to the Eyrie, but the two small craters between here and Times Square said otherwise.
A signpost ripped by, his own personal signal he'd used many times before and he pressed the button.
Just ahead an entire section of the skyscraper's foundation wall, done in an aesthetically pleasing brick fascia, suddenly recessed and started moving to the side, revealing an entrance. But the angle they were coming in on meant another tight corner and risking a collision with part of the entrance frame.
Annika turned wide, hugged the opposite side of the private road and just as the helicopter seemed to be right above them, she yanked the wheel to the right and squeaked through the doorway.
The car barely touched the ramp as it leapt into the parking garage, the shocks nearly going through the floorboards as it landed with a thud. Annika stomped on the brakes, but the momentum was carrying them through the rows of expensive imports, Elisa's Fairlane and towards the rear wall. It swerved, favoring the passenger side and Todd got a good view of a reinforced slab of concrete, close enough to reach out and touch when the Superbird finally came to a stop.
The engine died with a flick of the key, close to running on fumes, and the car's back end was steaming from the heat.
As the heavy sliding door closed behind them, a shadow flitted past and a rush of air blew across the entrance. The Guild helicopter harmlessly buzzed the entrance and continued on.
"Yeeeeaaaaaaah!" Todd screamed at the wall, and presumably, the helicopter outside. "How d'you like them apples, bitch!"
Annika forced her fingers from the steering wheel, and while she massaged the feeling back into them a hand started brushing a few stray hairs from her brow.
"Damn," Todd said, leaning over, "color me impressed."
She managed a smile. "I don't think I want to drive for a while..."
Desdemona let her head fall back and finally released the breath she'd held since going airborne, while Rain placed a hand over her chest, waiting for her heartbeat to resume a rate considered somewhat normal.
"I can't believe we dodged two missiles..." she breathed, keeping the vomit down.
"Believe it." Todd winked at her, still riding the high. "Good ol' American muscle."
"It always does." Desdemona added, kneading her brow ridge with a few fingers.
"How did we not get shot!" Rain pressed, eyes wide. "How did we not get blown to bits! And why are you smiling!"
"What?" Todd shrugged. "Just be glad we survived, miracle or not."
"And what'll happen when those miracles run out?" Rain lowered her head, not waiting for any kind of answer her three counterparts and as she did that, found herself staring into the wide eyes of a very awake, and very confused young woman. "Uh, Todd?" she said quietly. "I think your sister is awake..."
Todd nearly climbed over his seat to get a better look. His sister was conscious, and near to hyperventilating in the lap of a gargoyle (there was no telling what propaganda his father had filled her mind with). "Oh wow..."
She'd never known his voice, but was somehow drawn towards him. Sarah looked at her brother. "Todd?"
After running the maze of halls and corridors like a rat, Canmore had at last reached the main hangar, and judging by the sound, the main source of activity. He was on the floor above, and the door in front of him opened up onto a catwalk that stretched from end to end.
Taking his first few steps in the bridge, beyond the first, sheer surprise of the size of this part of the compound, he was impressed at how much firepower Black had amassed, well beyond what he'd expect from a small country. Five more Apaches in the far corner with a few troop carriers, racks of weaponry and small arms lining the walls; everything looked U.S. military issue, painted black of course, and he wondered just what he could do with all these wonderful toys at his disposal.
Below him, everyone in their matching black ensembles went about their work, loading missiles and inventorying the weapon stock. A little more than half were wearing their masks, those with something to hide. Canmore knew, he himself had recruited straight off the street, housewives and business men along with mercenaries and ex-military personnel, and he doubted Mrs. Cleaver wanted her children and husband to know she was cataloguing ballistic missiles.
These were the rank-and-file, those who didn't fight but kept the entire operation well-greased; little robots going about their tasks with precision and efficiency. As much as he enjoyed the entire Marxist aspect of an army of one mind and purpose, the fact they'd become far too complacent under the hand of a man who seemed destined to wither under his inability to get things done.
Reaching the middle of the catwalk, Canmore reached up to his mask and pulled. An indistinct hiss of air escaped the seal as he yanked it off and threw it into the crowd.
It hit the hangar floor with a clang that caught the attention of anyone in range of a hundred feet.
"Yui're sheep! All of you!" Canmore hollered from the footbridge above. "No backbone, no heart, no goddamned inspiration but a man torn between his own fears an' his traitor son."
The beast went up, and started climbing the monolith home of Xanatos Enterprises in a languid spiral.
Black could've ordered the pilot to empty the missile racks into the parking garage but the risk was still too great; David Xanatos was one of the top ten employers in New York State, and as many as fifteen thousand people could frequent this massive structure at any time of the day. Taking potshots on mostly empty streets was one thing, attacking a building that could be full of oblivious corporate drones was another.
And he would not allow anyone else innocent to be hurt, unless of course, they betrayed him like his daughter had. But watching as the Eyrie's stories passed in front of the helicopter's windshield, he knew he shouldn't have been surprised at her defiance; she got it from her mother.
"Rose..." he whispered, and didn't realize the indiscretion until the pilot turned his head slightly along with the rest of the small crew. He straightened in his chair and cleared his throat, and everyone immediately moved their gaze away.
"Do we attack, sir?"
The castle was just above, set in ghostly light, just as it had looked on the eve of their first battle.
"They'll spot us soon," one of his personal guards said low, leaning in close, "and with their armaments we won't be a match unless we hit first, and hit hard."
"How long must ye wait to save your own species from extinction! How long will yuir leader deliberate on what must be done! You've been weeded from the populace for a reason, yuir skills, yuir importance, and t' be the bastion of our last line of defense!"
All had their eyes on the man screaming at them from the exact same place Mr. Black had given his speech before the first attack on the castle, but few were actually speaking.
"He's given us purpose," someone in the crowd piped up, the housewife maybe, "given us a reason not to be afraid."
"Aye, but months have passed an' what have ye done! Nothing! Save th' same little tasks he's given t' ye, t' keep ye from becoming disgruntled at yuir incredible lack of progress. Perhaps it's time for a change."
A gun cocked. "Excuse me," someone said, far too polite, "but you don't belong here."
Canmore's hands tightened on the catwalk railing. He supposed it was only a matter of time before one of several hundred of Black's little henchmen caught up with him. He slowly turned his neck and looked straight down the barrel of a gun, held by a rather strapping young crony who stood a head taller than he did, took up the entire width of the walkway and looked like he ripped phonebooks, and people, in half for fun.
Little did he know this was the same agent who tore Savannah St. Nicks' apartment door off the hinges with his bare hands.
"Ye dinna want change, my friend?"
"You have no idea what I want."
Jon clucked his tongue. "Dinna be so sure."
"Sir? We're almost in range."
He'd nightmares of this building crumbling under his own hands, snapping like a twig and laying across the island, crushing everything underneath. The devastation would be unimaginable, and it wasn't worth killing and maiming tens of thousands for a small band of creatures.
But he wondered if that was the only reason that kept him from getting rid of it, and them, once and for all.
One of his personal guards grabbed his shoulder; not hard, but enough pressure to elicit a response. "It'll be a surgical strike, not like what White wanted to do with this place. The missiles don't have the yields most do, but they'll be enough to do some damage without knocking the castle from the top of the building."
Black turned his head only slightly. One could only imagine what was going through his eyes. "Agent Orange, you're absolutely sure of this?"
"Positive, sir." he said solemnly. "I was the ordinance officer on the George Washington, after all. I know missiles."
"We couldn't hit my son's car."
"This particular target isn't moving at over a hundred miles per hour." Quickly, the last of the Eyrie's stories fell away into the architectural hollow just below the lower floors of Wyvern, and then the ancient rock walls and ramparts, and finally the courtyard and towers. Everyone in the helicopter was stunned for a moment at the sheer size and magnificence. "And it's a lot bigger."
The pilot looked over his shoulder, the castle in the background. "Based on our last battle, sir, we know they're capable of preparing their weaponry within minutes."
"We need to attack," Agent Orange was back in his boss' face, mask to mask, "now."
An ephemeral thought of which room his son had made his home in ran through the back of his skull. But it was as fleeting as every other flash of emotional connection. "Aim for the center structures, unload as many missiles into this place as possible without risking structural collapse."
"Ye have the power." Canmore concluded, considering his would-be executioner was getting an itchy trigger finger. He deemed himself lucky he was able to get this far. "The power t' choose the destiny of this army, and of this world."
"Stirring." hissed the man with the gun trained to Canmore's head. "Too bad it's fallen on deaf ears."
"Are you sure?"
Below, the threads of conflict had already wormed their way through the audience. Probably the most dangerous weapon to use on an army of zealots was to introduce another purpose into such a myopically ordered structure, and ultimately, dissent into their ranks.
The gunman had already noticed many of those in the lower ranks were beginning to chirp and hail Canmore's moving speech. And the fact the former leader of the Quarrymen wasn't lying dead at his feet was a good sign he too, somewhere subconsciously, had believed in something he'd said.
Canmore turned, seeing he'd caught the man's attention. He proudly put himself right in the middle of the gun's targeting laser, the red dot between his eyebrows. "Ye can kill me–"
A finger curled over the trigger.
"Yes, ye can kill me," Canmore breathed through his nostrils, "wipe out any kind of opponent to your leader's reign or methods, or you can think for yourself, and open your eyes for the first time in your life."
The agent rapped his gun's handle on the catwalk's steel rail, and then quickly reacquired his target. "Black built this, this, everything around you, with his bare hands!"
"An' I simply wish t' use it, unless you'd rather see it covered in cobwebs as yuir forced t' wait as he plays out his little drama with his children."
The gun barrel, liberally shoved in Canmore's face, was wavering only slightly. "He paid with blood." the agent continued, arguing his point rather than shooting him (which clued Canmore into his mental state more than the man realized). "He's led us farther than anyone else has!"
"An' look where ye are now. Sitting, collecting dust."
"We're training, preparing for the next battle."
"Lies," Canmore pressed, "all lies. Yui're decomposing."
"And just what makes you better than Black? The Quarrymen died under you–"
"Because I made a mistake," the former hunter interrupted, "one I don't intend t' repeat."
"Reports say you went crazy, you were imprisoned and institutionalized."
"Because no one believed me about th' demons." A cautious step forward. "Another mistake, spreading th' word t' people rather unreceptive to th' stain on their world. But now we both have th' power t' fix our mistakes, th' power t' make things right."
With an entire militia still below them both, hanging on his next move, the agent knew he should've made a new hole and painted brains on the wall. Black had always kept the leash tight on everyone and everything around him, bucking no insubordination, but his faith had already been shaken in the man known only as Mr. Black, or, as only a privileged few knew, Joseph Hawkins. "You grease every word?"
"I'm not as green as the newbies down there," he nodded his head towards the crowd, "I may need more convincing."
"Yuir irascible agent White is my cousin. We've been in contact for months, an' I've been trying t' persuade th' man t' do something more than waste away along with th' rest of ye."
"Cousin?" the agent parroted quietly. The bright blond hair was similar, as was the lanky stance.
"He's a Canmore as well, albeit distantly, but the Hunter is in his blood."
He knew of the Canmore line; it was one of the first few lessons when he was first inducted into the higher ranks of the Guild, how not to repeat past mistakes. But the agents all had respect for the Hunter more than the family itself, a near-mythical figure that had become somewhat of a folk hero to the elite.
The agent eventually lowered his gun, much to Jon's relief.
"Maybe not." he said, holstering his weapon, wary and still yet completely convinced. "There're some in this organization that would kill me without a second thought for mutiny."
"Mutiny's such an awful word, mister...ah, what's yuir name?"
"No," he laughed, as if they were old friends, "yuir real name."
The agent hesitated; if there was anything more powerful it was an anonymous identity, freeing one's conscience and separating guilt from his actions. "McClusky." he said at length.
"Well then, McClusky," Canmore held out his hand, "join me?"
The beast circled around and centered on the heart of Wyvern.
No defenses had been activated, no creatures were waiting with glowing eyes to meet them; the entire fortress appeared perfectly, hauntingly still.
Agent Orange leaned in, surveying what he could from his vantage. "Seems quiet. But we underestimated them before, and lost over a hundred people."
"Missiles ready, sir." the gunner reported.
"I'm sure they are." Black said, faintly. "And you're certain we can limit the damage to the castle?"
"Positive, sir." agent Orange took it upon himself to answer. He wore a greasy smirk under the mask, thankful he'd finally talked his way past the stubborn streak of his employer.
"I hope there's not a smile behind that mask, agent."
He stiffened and leaned back, caught by an eerily accurate supposition. "No, sir."
Black wrung his gloved fingers together, and balled a fist. "Then fire."
"You heard the man," Orange sneered at the flight crew, "I want rubble. But make it neat."
The gunner turned around and pressed his trigger button, setting off a wealth of sound within the cockpit. "Firing, fox three, fox five, fox four, fox six."
The helicopter shuddered against the force of the missiles launched from the artillery wings, leaving gray threads of smoke behind them and aimed for the castle's center structure.
But just before they impacted, a massive silvery tendril reached out from somewhere just underneath and plucked the missiles from the air. They exploded harmlessly within the liquid metal mass, flames squelched within a vaguely hand-shaped appendage.
The pilot reacted as anyone else would, "What the hell!" and yanked on the control stick.
The tendril shot out and engulfed the entire aircraft before it could fly out of range, oozing between the rotor blades and into the intakes, clogging the machinery. It layered itself over the windshield and every exterior hatch, making the ejection mechanism useless and escape pretty much impossible, and then, the rotor blades, grinding every moving part to a screeching halt.
The helicopter was held mid-air, two thousand feet above the ground and encapsulated within a skin like steel but malleable and writhing, as if it was alive.
Black wasn't pleased. "Anything!"
The pilot and gunner were desperately trying to get anything to respond but the controls were dead; they couldn't even see where they were, the windshield reduced to a distorted, reflective surface. "Nothing!"
"What the hell is this stuff?"
"Sir!" agent Orange yelled out, and directed his employer's attention to the silver liquid creeping through the seams of the side hatch. "It's coming in!" He tore his gun out of the holster and started firing, before Black could voice any sort of protest about bullets ricocheting in such a confined space.
Agent Blue grabbed his gun and joined in.
Every round was snatched from the air by small vines that shot out from the ooze's center, swallowing them whole. They emptied their clips in a useless display of panic as the entire compartment started filling up, surrounding them, slinking around every appendage.
Black was up to his chest and forced to watch as his agents were made lunch for whatever was threatening to drown them in something that, oddly, felt like liquid mercury, just slightly more viscous. It quickly reached to his neck and curled around his jaw, needling against the pressure seal of his mask and after a futile struggle, shaking his head back and forth, slipped tiny filaments underneath and into his mouth and nostrils.
The very last thing he felt before losing consciousness was the liquid going down his throat.
They wore the blend of pride and worry on their ridges as they flew home, fresh from dunking a helicopter in the water and chasing off the others, but anxious to hear from a few they'd lost in the anarchy.
Contact from Wyvern had been completely cut off, and there wasn't any word from Desdemona and Todd. Macbeth had noticed especially his chauffeur was leaning into every warm current for as much speed as possible, Othello eager for home and his mate.
The castle visible against the pebbled night sky, it was only when they'd reached far enough to see the Eyrie's lower stem and the new color it had been painted to notice something was wrong. The entire foundation was a gleaming silver.
"Uh," Broadway said, "is Xanatos doing some redecorating?"
Lexington zoomed in. What he saw under the magnification was like nothing he'd ever seen. "It's rising..."
Angela got the chills; something from her memory sent goosebumps through her skin. "It cannot be..."
"We must glide faster."
The building was being consumed from the ground up, a slick, silvery liquid like molten chrome, ascending against the weight of gravity. It had already engulfed up to the twentieth floor and was still rising, creeping along and showing every little detail in the Eyrie's surface through its sterling skin.
As fast as the clan could glide towards their home, the ooze was climbing towards the castle and had reached the Eyrie's uppermost floors just as Brooklyn led the charge into the courtyard.
"Mother!" he yelled, touching down and running. "Mother! What the hell is going on!"
The silver liquid wrapped a few tendrils over the battlements, leading a wave that seemed to flow over and through the merlons and arrow loops in eerie precision, coating everything, even bleeding between every crack in the stone.
The small band made it to the door leading inside and as Brooklyn shepherded his clan inside (unable to ignore that nagging voice begging to look behind him), noticed the liquid had stopped a mere foot from the threshold.
It looked a little like winter, after a freshly fallen snow had turned everything inside Wyvern's walls glistening and pearl.
"What the hell...?"
A small hillock in front of him starting rising from the silver, sculpting itself something akin to a humanoid form and stood politely just outside the open door. It stared without eyes, just sunken sockets where eyes should have been, tilted its head and stated calmly, "We are looking for our creator."