108 - "The Chase"
"Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something."
- Author Unknown
June 16th, 2002, now...
She flew and flew and flew until her power was exhausted, bled from her veins, and simply dropped.
Like a stone, weighed down by her cargo and her own fatigue, half unconscious and on the edge of an aneurysm at the sheer strain of pushing herself to the utmost limit of what was left.
All Infiniti saw below was a blanket of nothingness, not even color, like someone had erased the ground beneath her. There were no distinguishing features but the biting cold of wind and snow clogging her wings, making a controlled descent impossible (she'd flown with the aid of her powers so much and so long she might later laugh at the fact she'd forgotten how to use her wings).
A shadow appeared a split second before impact and proved there was ground underneath, before that nothingness enveloped her in a hand with fingers of ice. The chill hit her first before anything else, before the collision, before being nearly suffocated as her entire body fell right through. The ground gave way and Infiniti was buried.
She had to dig her way out for air; if she was capable she would have melted herself an escape route a good half a mile in diameter, but all she could manage were a few weak, dead-limbed grasps at whatever had gulped her whole.
She opened a pocket, breathed deep and nearly froze her lungs in the process. The air must have been a good forty degrees below zero and went down as easily as swallowing a knife.
Reaching the surface, she now only noticed the snow all around her for as far as she could see. A range of low-lying cliffs dotted the distant landscape, and beyond that, it was like the Earth just simply fell away in every possible direction.
But Puck. Where was Puck? She'd held so tightly to him as to make her knuckles white, and still they'd separated before colliding, and the fay could have been thrown clear anywhere for several hundred yards in any direction. But here, where the horizon blended in with the sky, where direction was twisted by vertigo and blurred vision, he could be as close as under her feet without her seeing him.
Her supernatural sense of direction returning, she was hit with the realization as quickly as she was the cold air; they were deep in the windy, white plains of the Antarctic.
"WHERE IS SHE!"
Sobek was noticeably upset, seething really, what was left of his face a sneering, knotted mass of muscle and skull. The hole to the chamber where Infiniti had burned a hole to the outside was quickly patched with plates of steel but the Vault was still despairingly empty.
As fast as his legs and the high-speed elevator would carry him, Xanatos arrived at his over-sized safety deposit box and found Infiniti and Puck had escaped with the Matrix's untimely intrusion into his building. His brisk sprint had slowed and he reared back at what met him. Dazed, he started inwards and stepped over pieces of debris from the ring that once held the self-proclaimed protector of the gargoyle race, singed and scorched, the fire ultimately doused with time and insufficient fuel.
The floor served to funnel any vibration perfectly and when he felt the first, wild tremor ripple through the plating he knew his houseguest had made an appearance.
Sobek nearly tore the billionaire's throat out when he first laid eyes on him, having tried to reach him for almost an entire day. It was difficult enough waking up only to see his arm on the floor, but to find his captives missing and a tunnel bored through the building's side nearly pushed what little sanity he had left to the limit.
He demanded answers, Xanatos offered excuses; the Matrix, Avalon, as good albeit outlandish as they were Sobek wasn't happy. But at least his side trip to Avalon reaffirmed what hung in the balance.
That image of Fox was a ghost and a cold, constant whisper at the back of Xanatos' head. Gray and veined, alive by only the beat of her heart, he was haunted by her every time he closed his eyes.
Removing the temporary dressing over his stump, Sobek grabbed his amputated arm (set unceremoniously on the chamber's large desk) and pressed it wound to wound. Tendons, arteries and viscous strands of muscle shot out from the wet end of the severed appendage and met with where they were once attached. The ends pulled together and sealed not quite so neatly, leaving a very visible line and Sobek tested his arm by making a fist as blood started pumping and nerve endings were re-energized.
Xanatos had followed him back into the chamber and disguised his revulsion.
Why he waited until now to re-attach the arm was probably deliberate; he wanted to put on a display for his puppet, hoping to dissuade any rebellious thoughts. Somewhere, Alexander noticed the dull pain in his own arm had vanished.
"Find her, Xanatos." he rasped. "I need her."
"You still haven't told me what for."
"You do not need to know! Just find her!"
"I'll do my best."
"See that you do," Sobek warned, "or that last lingering sight of your wife shall be all that you have left. I hope you remember every tiny, grisly detail of her withered body. I presume she looks a fright."
He saw the human bristle; Sobek could only imagine what demented little thoughts were running through Xanatos' mind, and what someone of his intelligence and imagination would do if he wasn't held by a noose around his neck but ultimately Xanatos merely shrugged if off.
"I'll get her back," he repeated, "by any means necessary."
He never thought one of his job requirements was having to choose between confronting his employer before he waged a private little war, or helping to hunt down a formerly immortal gargoyle who'd been knocked up by a combination of sorcery and science and craving some sort of revenge.
Paperwork, yes, phonecalls, meetings, the minutia David Xanatos couldn't be bothered with, but this...
With less than a few months in his place at Xanatos' side , Jason was now beginning to believe how Owen padded his résumé. His penchant for mastery of all trades both insignificant and considerable seemed more like a bit of magic than simply skill at his job, but what he'd been through since being promoted was enough to convince him otherwise.
As Jason emptied out from the elevator he heard and felt the cadence of something in the air, striking like a hammer and growing stronger the closer he rolled towards the Eyrie's hangar bay.
Jason wheeled into the hangar and, stunned by what he found, let his momentum carry him towards his employer. Mother's succinct report was right, if not lacking a few important details.
Xanatos' private army of Steel Clan robots were marching off to war; at least, that was his first impression in seeing two perfect rows of gargoyle-styled machines goose-stepping towards the hangar's exterior door, dropping off precipice-like into the Manhattan skyline. The endless rows of Cyber-Biotics drones once stowed up top on the hangar's ceiling had been released and were circling just above in perfect formation, bees swarming their nest.
And in between all the chaos, Xanatos was suiting up in his own svelte and tailored armor. He'd dressed himself almost to the neck before Jason was able to get close and a word in edgewise amongst all the noise of metal on metal.
"Planning t' invade a small country?"
The smooth Scottish brogue was almost expected, especially with all the eyes in this place. David was just about to sheath his right hand in the clawed glove when he turned around. "Mr. Canmore."
"What th' hell is all this?"
"None of your concern."
He was doubtful, obviously. "Really." Jason said deadpan. "I think my job description specifically mentions that when my employer brings enough artillery online t' obliterate a small city, I should be involved in some small capacity."
"You have other responsibilities."
"Not as encompassing as this."
"The Guild, the clan and all the drama in between. That is what you should be dealing with."
A chill kissed the part of his body that wasn't numb; Jason was getting a cool vibe in return. "I am, I have, I will. But this I think takes precedence."
Xanatos was just intrigued enough to brook Jason's defiance. "Really? Pray, do tell."
"Because I don't think yuir well, both physically and mentally."
"Oh I assure you," he clanged his metal chest, "I'm the picture of health."
"And what about these injections you've been filling yourself with?"
Xanatos returned his attention to Canmore. "Injections? I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I had doctor Pierce analyze a sample of your blood. You've been injecting yourself with an experimental drug in order t' keep yuirself calm and alert, but it's also affecting yuir nervous system. You have involuntary tremors, mood swings, and I'd say it's having an effect opposite of what you're hoping for."
His majordomo had the expression of a man mining for gold and hitting a vein large enough to make him a millionaire, but he was about to steal the thunder from Jason's victory by simply raising his hand; a hand that didn't shake, or move in the slightest. "Yes, I did peruse your progress report, but as you can see, I'm not afflicted."
Jason did notice that Xanatos had yet to show any of the usual symptoms since he'd mysteriously returned a day and a half ago. "You've taken another injection."
"Actually, no. Having your head drilled into by nanoscopic machines gives you a unique perspective on your priorities, and a renewed strength."
Jason raised his chin, opened his mouth as if to say something but stopped, and then, started slowly nodding. "It fixed you."
"The Matrix. It fixed you, didn't it? Sucked all that garbage right from yuir blood."
"Jason," he sighed, in the tone of someone with things to do, "I'm rather busy and I presume you are as well. Guild, clan, remember?"
"You can't just keep dismissing me, dismissing this, all of this!"
"I'm doing nothing of the sort. I simply have priorities myself."
"Like what blew a hole out th' side of th' Eyrie?"
He stiffened, from upper lip to steel, clawed feet. "Collateral damage," he said, "from the Guild attack."
But even Jason knew the excuse was weak, especially from a man with such flair for putting spin on little white lies. "Th' hole was blown from th' inside out." he said. "It wasn't caught on any exterior security camera–"
"–and th' damage was quickly albeit hastily repaired."
"Jason," his tone dimmed, "enough."
Canmore's skin tightened across his jaw. He didn't fear the man so much as the reputation; people disappeared under the billionaire's far-reaching influence.
"If you wish to retain your employment I suggest you quickly develop a very selective memory. There are things you are not meant to know, nor can I have you involved in this particular aspect of my life. Now please, before I lose my temper, leave. Tend to your duties, or I'll have the accounting department draw up your last paycheck within the hour."
His glacier gaze veiled by a lowered brow, Jason hid his resentment admirably.
"Oh, and Jason, you should really have Dr. Pierce look at that eye."
He quickly felt around the bruise surrounding most of his left eye, distracted by his own embarrassment and battered sense of pride just long enough for Xanatos to attach his armor's matching helmet and turn away. Whatever further protest he'd mount was drowned in rocket flame and the echo of an army blindly following their leader via remote control.
Xanatos' back exploded in fire and he was propelled at break-neck speed towards the hangar's gaping maw; the steel clan and Cyber-Biotics drones followed suit, all melting into the small purple piece of night sky, leaving Jason in the middle of a slowly rising waft of exhaust.
Jason had delayed the inevitable for as long as he possibly could, between press conferences and departmental meetings, until Demona's patience wore thin and then ultimately wore out.
Before she clawed through the wall of his office he sat her down in the castle library and put himself across from her, hoping his candor would be a sign of good faith considering all the bad blood that had passed between their clans; with a drink and a platter of hors d'oeuvres, he made the room as comfortable as possible before he bit the bullet and told her, simply and straightforwardly, that she was pregnant. With Delilah's child no less.
What happened next proved he was getting soft. Not so much around the midsection, considering he did a few hundred sit-ups every morning, but rather in his guard. Here he was, looking deep into the black diamond gaze of the demon herself, and he thought himself safe behind the guise of ally to her former clan, and protector to her only daughter.
She moved so quickly, so effortlessly, the surrounding musculature barely slithered in the exertion of her gathered strength.
A blur of rich azure color, darkness, light and then blinding pain followed. The punch had so much power behind it he was dislodged from his chair and tumbled to the floor, actually rolling a good meter.
"You smug BASTARD!" she screamed, her eyes hemorrhaging light. "How dare you violate me!"
Jason pushed himself up, half his face an angry purple welt. The way her eyes had changed (glimmered really, then darkened), thinned and widened again, it should have been the first and only clue to what her response was going to be. If he even reacted, he may not have had the time to dodge her clenched hand coming so fast and so perfectly aimed. "It wasn't actually me."
She stepped over him, intent to do more damage. "Of course it wasn't, you would not be so foolish! Was it Sevarius! Or another of Xanatos' pet scientists!"
"If you'll just let me explain, this is all very delicate."
Demona grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. "I do not see the delicacy in any of this! Now, TELL ME!"
"What do you plan to do?"
"I plan to disembowel this man!"
Either Demona would succeed, Jason thought, or she'd get a face-full of magic when Alexander would try to defend himself and the two combatants might take out an entire floor. Either way, there'd be blood and as majordomo to David Xanatos, that was not going to happen. "Listen, we'll just go talk t' doctor Pierce, and he'll help explain everything..."
"Pierce." she repeated vacantly, as if an epiphany had just popped into the back of her head.
But Jason winced at his slip. "Demona, don't you dare..."
Her attention abruptly returned to the man she had clenched in her talons, she knotted a fist and struck cleanly and surgically at the base of his neck. Jason went limp in her hand and she let him slump to the floor, then stalked off, a target in her sights.
It wouldn't be until about an hour later that Jason was found by Angela, who'd come to find her mother and instead nearly tripped over his immobile form left in the faint orange-ember glow. By the neatly-shaped bruise under his eye, fit perfectly to Demona's three-knuckled fist, she was able to quickly piece together what had happened and then chided him for not waiting for her before he told her mother.
And now Demona had effectively vanished into the Eyrie, hell-bent for blood and revenge.
"I told you to wait for me." she said to him.
"I know, but I owed it t' her."
Angela put two opposing fingers to the bridge of her nose, sighing. "And now she's gone."
"I think I may have a good idea where..." Jason said, being helped into his wheelchair.
Angela raised a brow from behind. "Where?"
"I just happened t', accidentally mind you, mention Pierce's name–"
"Oh, by the sands."
Ready to start the day with an extra-large coffee in his hand, Dr. Pierce stepped off the elevator and strolled towards the hospital (he always enjoyed taking his Porsche through the drive-thru of the Starbucks a block off the Eyrie; it made him feel like such a yuppie with a little bit of mediocrity in between all the chaos).
It was nice to face a workday without the impending threat of death hanging over one's head, such as someone's creation let off its leash or an attack by a cadre of highly-trained, well-armed xenophobes out to punish whoever they deemed a traitor. Certainly, anything could happen over the course of the night but he remained optimistic, especially when his luck had held out so far.
But little did he know one of the shadows in the hallway beyond was alive, breathing and hoping he'd return to work before the rage wore off some.
Demona had waited for him, for an hour maybe more, all the while avoiding her daughter and anyone else she'd cajoled to come looking for her (she was still thin enough to slip into the roof through one of the acoustic tiles). And as soon as he walked the short distance from elevator to infirmary, he'd a pair of eyes on him the entire way.
The little human who played god. He wouldn't be so apt to mess with things beyond his comprehension if he were missing a limb or two, or perhaps his eyes, or his tongue, or anything else she could extract from his body. The hospital he'd made his laboratory was undoubtedly filled with sharp instruments, all the better to remove something he didn't want removed.
She crept out from her hiding spot and reached the infirmary's threshold, leaving claw marks against the wood as she pushed herself inside. The entire wing was almost empty; the patients discharged save for Bluestone, the captured Guild members incarcerated, and all the time in the world for the human to wile away in the midst of all his experiments. She might've been impressed if she wasn't a test subject herself.
She was soundless, her talons on the cold linoleum floor no more than a whisper.
When she found him in the far corner Pierce had already settled in with a mug of fresh coffee, leaning in his office chair with his back turned to the door. Whether or not he was meant to sense her approach was moot when he turned around, expecting a legitimate patient considering what this clan was going through on a daily basis and found himself in the shadow of a very angry mother to be. Hands clenched, mandibles working through the skin, if this wasn't how she appeared most of the time he might've been slightly more concerned. "Oh," he said blithely, face half-buried in a coffee cup, "Demona."
She swooped in, clasped a hand around his throat and lifted him first from the chair, and then the floor. There was a clatter of baubles, papers and beakers falling to the ground around him, diminishing into a low gurgling coming from the doctor. "How dare you!" Demona growled.
"...you're...kkkggh...upset..." Pierce wheezed, his esophagus slowly constricting. "...I can tell..."
Her response was dead-level, from the diaphragm with a bit of a rasp and enough to make a grown man soil his shorts. "You have no idea."
"...listen, I can explain..."
"Do so quickly, and thoroughly, before I crush your larynx."
She grinned. "You may find yourself missing a lot of body parts you need if you do not justify your very existence, let alone what you've done to me."
"Mother, No!" Angela had finally caught up to her mother, just in time to see about to tear Pierce limb from limb (Jason had to leave her to her own resources as he was facing his own small crisis with his employer). "Let him go!"
"This so-called doctor implanted me with that clone's bastard child!"
"...technically..." Pierce interjected, "she's a...recombinant hybrid..."
The hand squeezed tighter, and Pierce reproached himself for being so damned analytical.
"Mother." Angela tried again, before she heard a snap. "You don't have all the facts."
"I have everything I need! This human bred me like a common cow while I was unable to resist!"
"Actually, doctor Pierce is the main reason you're still healthy."
"Oh, Dragon forbid he'd want his sick experiment to fail!"
"...you're right...I don't want it to fail..." Pierce managed.
"You are not helping," Angela told him, and returned to her mother, "and he is not responsible."
"THEN WHO IS!"
"Me." a small voice squeaked behind them.
Demona dropped Pierce, slowly whirled around and found Alexander Xanatos standing at the hospital's entrance. She didn't seem to care whatever innocent front the boy tried to put up against her, so wretchedly cherub and despondent all at the same time. "You...did this to me!"
"You little mongrel brat!"
He quickly toddled up towards her and, though seeing the gargoyle flinch slightly, placed both hands against the gentle swell of her belly. If he was afraid, he didn't show it. "Th' baby woulda died." he said, staring directly where the fetus was growing. "I didn' wannit to die. Do you?"
"He had to find a suitable womb," Pierce explained, his voice still hoarse, "with similar DNA, so the fetus wouldn't be rejected. Elisa wasn't available and you were the next best and only viable choice."
"I am not a surrogate womb you can use at your leisure!" she screamed at him. "You will remove it, now!"
"I can't," Pierce shook his head, "even if the cloning tube could be repaired, the fetus is firmly attached to you now."
Demona dropped her gaze like a ten-ton weight, back on Alexander. "Then you will."
"It needs a mommy," he argued, "not a m'chine."
It started with a slight curl to her lips, then a sound brewing at the back of her throat and exploded into a full-blown scream of frustration. But somehow, those small arms remained around her waist and after emptying her lungs Demona returned those blazing, ruby eyes towards the boy. "Get this thing off of me." she said, defeated.
Quickly, before her mother lost more than her temper, Angela stepped in and pried Alexander away, whispering something the only full-blooded human in the room (not currently in a coma) couldn't quite hear. Turning her head over her shoulder, she caught the tail-end of her mother storming out from the infirmary. She feared for the child Demona was carrying in her current state, and wondered if her miraculous recovery was a little too miraculous and if she wasn't still carrying the crushing weight of all that pain.
"Maybe..." Pierce choked. "...you should go after her..."
"Mother!" Angela called out, hoping to catch her mother before she hit the elevators.
But Demona already had a good head-start and was nearly at the elevator doors; it looked like she would've stomped her way right through the layered steel if it weren't for the timely chime and the elevator suddenly opening up to reveal the occupant.
As if a freight train had barreled out from the elevator shaft, Demona was hit head on by Todd Hawkins' brassy smile. "Oh," he said, oblivious to her gritted expression, body language, history of violence, etc, "hey Red."
She skidded to a halt, rolled her eyes and made a sound through her throat.
A bit of chatter came through Todd's cellphone, and he quickly responded, "Roger, Handsome Eagle here, Spicy Cinnamon has been found. I repeat, Spicy Cinnamon has been found, cancel the search."
Demona felt a migraine brimming under the recently reclaimed tiara. "What do you want, human?"
"Well, as much as the little game of hide-and-seek-and-get-to-Demona-before-she-disembowels-someone was, I'm here to help you convalesce."
"I do not need your particular brand of help, and shouldn't you be with your sister?"
His features darkened. "Who? Mini-Stalin?"
Angela stepped closer, directing a talon towards him. "Would you stop calling her that? It is not wrong to believe there's still a part of her father in the leader of the Guild."
"Oh great, she can join him in goose-stepping down Broadway while killing everyone in sight and then a rousing game of Monopoly afterwards."
"I never gave up on my mother and look at her now."
"Yes," Demona feigned her appreciation, "formerly psychotic and now pregnant."
Todd's expression suddenly changed, like an animal sensing danger it couldn't see. "Oh," he said, subdued, shooting a glance downwards and towards the ticking, genetic timebomb, "so you found out..."
"And suffice it to say I am not in a good mood."
"Hormones." he nodded. "Annika's got the same thing."
Demona tensed, every muscle coiled beneath her skin. She'd heard that Todd and Annika were expecting, another miracle child for this damnable clan that had already mixed human and gargoyle blood one time too many. But, doing the math, she thought it a might early for Annika's breeding season. "Yes," she forced out, "but she was not forced into pregnancy as I was."
"Are you a little weirded out about carrying another woman's baby? Like a bad femslash fanfic?"
Todd put an arm around her shoulders and, unwisely, prodded a finger into her stomach. "Well, a bit of Shadow's in that cake you're baking and, you know, he's pretty manly himself."
Demona was silent for a moment, staring at him, thinking thoughts no one could ever guess until whatever thought had come out on top was translated into violent action. Before Angela saw what was coming, before she could warn him, Demona punched him, hard, her fist actually crossing his chin faster than the sound hit the air.
Todd collapsed at Angela's feet, and upon hearing the dull thud of bone on floor she jumped and then sighed, rubbing her brow. It appears the human's potent mixture of charm and sheer luck had run dry at the worst possible moment.
"Idiot." Demona sneered.
"Do you feel better now?" Angela groaned. "Or is there another male in the castle you'd like to maim?"
Demona rubbed her knuckles, and smiled, pulling her lips so far back as to reveal her molars; for as long as she was confined to that cell, numb to every sensation, the blunt kiss of pain through her fist was simply marvelous. "No, I believe I am sated for the time being. And, of course, I can't hit a child."
"Well, Alexander is the one who–"
"In a manner of speaking yes, but he did not have a choice."
Demona spun around, scoring a faint circle in the floor with her talons. "You're actually defending that little–"
"Boy?" Angela finished. "Yes, I am. He saved a gargoyle."
"He saved an abomination. This thing," she grabbed at the fatty tissue starting to build around her midsection, "growing inside of me, is neither human nor gargoyle."
But Angela argued fervently, "It is both. And is that how you feel about Trinity?"
She noticed the shiver in her daughter's voice, right near the end, her extended family obviously a sore spot. "I don't know how I feel anymore."
"Nor do I. But screaming at a small boy who did whatever was necessary to save a life won't change the fact the child now growing inside of you needs you."
"I will not allow my body to be used as an incubator only because it is convenient."
Angela's eyes thinned, a disturbingly-accurate mirror image to her mother. "You are selfish."
"I am a survivor, daughter, even more so now that I have a severely limited amount of time before I wither and die. And because you and this insufferable clan continue to blur the edges of ethics and morality, I am now stuck with this thing inside of me."
"Oh, my apologies for burdening you with a child, and you of all people should not be arguing about morality! And if you want to argue semantics, it is here because of what you set into motion years ago!"
"You're blaming this on m–"
But Angela didn't let her finish, "Why are you dismissing all the pain we've suffered? You have no idea what we've gone through!"
"I have some idea." Demona answered calmly. "Your little pet creature has informed me of everything that happened during my small bout of insanity."
Her head was swimming, and just about to burst like an overripe watermelon. She'd just absorbed two months worth of information in as much time as it took Mother to recount it.
And Demona had nearly fallen asleep a few times, considering the computer program made quasi-flesh hadn't yet perfected much beyond the monotone. But with Canmore avoiding telling her what had happened to her personally, the clan had offered Mother the task with her perfect, meticulous memory and invulnerability to Demona's infamous temper to fill all the gaps in between.
She'd relayed everything just after Demona had snapped at the sight of her daughter gunned down, and tried to kill her younger self. The Guild, the death of her clever sister, Goliath's evil doppelganger, the FBI investigation, the gang war, Shadow's disappearance, the Matrix, every grisly detail, all but her impending pregnancy.
And Demona's response throughout the entire account was a rather relaxed position on the loveseat while inspecting her talons (she needed a manicure, or at the very least an emery board). With her resurrected phoenix gate, she'd almost ended most of reality and offered up the Mazas to its insatiable appetite and for some apparent reason, didn't seem too bothered by it.
What she had really noticed at the moment was the creature modeled after an elder from the old Scotland clan seemed to be touching and caressing every object in reach of her greedy hands; books, trinkets, the crystal glass where Demona's diet coke had been (she was particularly fascinated by the facets in the design and how the light reflected through it) and even her own hair, twisting the strands through her fingers.
It went on for a while before she became annoyed enough to say something.
"Why are you touching everything?" Demona asked, sneering.
Mother looked up, eyes wide and replaced the glass to the tabletop. "My apologies, but the sense of touch is...remarkable." Another object caught her all-too-short attention, the remote control and she started playing with all the buttons. "Textures, temperature, sensation, how any organic creature does not become completely overwhelmed..."
"We manage. The novelty wears off very quickly, as I'm sure it will for you. Now, are you finished?"
"I have covered most of what happened during your incarceration, but there are finer details–"
Demona quickly waved her off; she only had so much time to live the rest of her mortal life. "No, thank you. I believe I've got the gist of it all."
"Are you sure?"
"And yet," Angela snorted, "you're still apathetic."
"On the contrary daughter, I am glad you survived."
"Actually, I didn't–"
Rolling her eyes, Demona said sharply, "Please, don't. I have seen more than you could possibly imagine. If you believe I would actually care you're a different version of my daughter, having lived identical lives up to the point where you should have died from three bullets instead of two, you are exceedingly mistaken."
"Do you care about anything else? Goliath and Elisa missing, your clever sister dead, the fact you nearly destroyed reality!"
Demona sent a sharp exhale through her nose, "I care about you, and my own well-being."
Angela watched helplessly as her mother stepped over Todd and sidestepped her completely, presumably aiming for the elevator or the next available window or door leading outside. "Where are you going?"
"I've spent far too much time in this castle already. I'm going back to Nightstone to reclaim my company before I'm replaced."
"But, shouldn't you stay for a while longer? At least until we have doctor Pierce's approval?"
Her shoulders clenched, and her wings at the mention of the doctor's name. Like a nail through her foot it was enough to hold her in place. "I do not need that human's permission."
"But he is the only doctor qualified to help you." Angela pushed.
"Help me?" Demona barked over the spit-curl of her mane, the back of her gaze a matching color. "He's fortunate he is still alive."
"Please, daughter, allow me the dignity of storming out." And thus she did, on the coattails of an angry retort having left Angela standing on her tongue. Demona made a bead for the elevator intent to mow over anyone else who'd try to offer advice or an opinion and reaching the doors she nearly jabbed the button right through the mechanism.
Her reflection staring back at her, the doors split down the center of it only to be replaced by another. Demona felt herself cringe and pull back, an involuntary twinge at what seemed to birth from her own mirror image. The irony wasn't lost on her.
Delilah nearly choked on her last breath, dangling at the back of her throat.
The temperature was steadily getting colder the further they traveled from the equator.
But to David Xanatos, leading his metal army, he didn't feel it. In fact, even in spite of his armor's insulation he felt that strip of red-hot heat up every vertebra from his own anxiety in losing his 'master's' prize.
"...Where are you now?..." a ragged voice came through Xanatos' helmet.
"Over the South Atlantic."
"...You cannot lose her..." Sobek minded him.
"I don't intend to." he said, with as much restraint as humanly possible. "She's being tracked by three different satellites."
"...Your technology is impressive, if not faulty. Her signal has vanished..."
"I'll find her, so leave me to it!"
"...Watch your tone, human..."
The connection between New York and Nowhere didn't quite translate the muted growl very well.
"...Remember, Xanatos..." Sobek said lastly, as a final warning, "...she is the key to everything..."
The comm-channel closed and Xanatos was left with the silence of his own thoughts. Angry thoughts, being that a man of his stature would never allow himself to be an errand-boy if Sobek weren't dangling a rather large carrot in front of his nose.
He checked the display on his right forearm, indeed noticing the blip his satellite had followed halfway across the globe was no longer transmitting.
Infiniti had obviously somehow obliterated the tracking device he'd implanted under her skin, the signal having died somewhere over Brazil, so he'd have to opt for something a little less technological and more mystical.
The Orb of Dalgrinnis, (medieval tyrant, amateur wizard and stabbed in the back by his own wife) able to track any source of magic no matter how faint the trail.
It was a little bauble he'd picked up in an estate sale at Sotheby's for a few hundred grand, paying more for the legend that surrounded it than its actual net worth. A few ladies in the audience got a good chuckle out of the story, as did Fox, winking at David while flicking her wrist and putting in a bid. Of course, it was useless to anyone without the proper spell to activate it and he'd rescued it from a lifetime of sitting on someone's coffee table as a conversation piece, the owner never knowing how much power it contained.
Pulling it from a compartment in his armor, he'd already noticed the once dark orb was now glowing, and becoming lighter with every mile he traveled, a small blue burst of fire deep within its heart. And as they hit the glacier-dotted coastline he could feel a numbing warmth radiating through his metal glove, a whisper, a voice, the crystal ball vibrating in the midst of magick. She was here, somewhere.
He sent out a command to his troops to widen their formation and they continued on, into the heart of the southernmost continent.
Her cloaked wings barely did a thing to keep the cold from slowing her blood, and making her extremities feel like fifty-pound weights. Infiniti had made a trail of footprints across the tundra for a few hundred meters, the snow-pack knee high, and led by senses beyond that of any ordinary mortal.
She sensed warmth, the only warmth for a few thousand miles. The Puck was close, and giving off an electric heat that made him easier to track even through the white-out and flurries like daggers hurled by the wind; a snowstorm had picked up in the blender of converging weather patterns, but she pressed on.
A small dash of color against the abyss first caught her eye and as she zeroed in on it, the closer she got the more likely it wasn't simply an outcropping of land to lead her astray. The cool wind heaved and blew and swelled into something fierce that had settled into the small valley, and what little visibility she had was waning quickly.
Approaching the lump in the snow, Infiniti found Puck instinctively curled into a fetal position. The Burnett façade had completely withered, leaving the impish fay in his own skin and clothes and half-covered.
A gesture from her arm moved the snow around her in a wave, peeling back layers until hitting what huddled and convulsed below.
Infiniti kneeled alongside and drew her knuckles down the line of his brow, infusing him with as much energy as she could spare. His eyes fluttered but nothing more; his blood was still infested with the iron nanobots his employer had injected into the back of his neck. So she dug her talons into the flesh of his arm, through to the meat and started drawing every microscopic intruder towards her hand until satisfied she'd gotten every one (or at least, most, to the point where Puck could heal on his own). She'd ended up with a palmful of iron machines still writhing, then closed her fist and crushed them into a pea-sized ball, eventually flicking it away into the surrounding snow.
"Heal now, son of Avalon," she whispered, "I need you."
Lifting Puck onto her shoulders Infiniti traipsed on, still too weak to fly but getting a bit of distance with some floating jumps. There were hills and cliffs surrounding her, jutting crags where the snow hadn't yet reached, and possible shelter.
Eventually reaching what almost seemed like a mirage, she hunted against the rock face feeling for anything that could lead at the very least into an overhang. There were few, and near to none with enough protection from the elements but Infiniti wouldn't concede and nearly bloodied her hand in searching through the snowdrifts for something, anything, that would make do, clawing at stone to see what lay beneath.
It wasn't until she ran her hand through a pile of snow when she actually found a hole in the hillside and leaning down, she figured it was large enough for both her and Puck to squeeze inside. The cave continued for a few meters before expanding into a larger chamber and Infiniti dragged the unconscious fay towards the end, propped herself up and then laid him gently across her chest hoping to share what little warmth she could offer.
And then, she got a few minutes to herself to recharge; it was an odd feeling, as her body was slowly consumed by this overriding desire to black out. Every breath a measured one, she dragged a few talons through the Puck's silver hair, raking the strands through her fingers.
But the serenity of hiding out in a tiny hollow wasn't meant to be when a noise caught her attention.
The cavern's funnel shape caught and amplified every sound outside, and between the roar and howls of the weather's sudden downturn Infiniti swore she could pick out what sounded like footsteps in snow and her eyes sharpened on the entrance. Soon the footsteps materialized in a distinct shape appearing at the mouth of their shelter and no animal indigenous to this region that she knew of walked so comfortably on its hind legs. Perhaps it was one of her captors, having tracked her here.
She raised a hand, ready to expunge any intruder with a well-placed blast that would scrape out the sides of the cavern's mouth.
The figure stopped, bent down to examine the rocky fissure and started inside, seemingly unaware of the occupant ready to tear his skin off with a well-placed blast.
As he approached, Infiniti first noticed a distinct lack of protective clothing before his features were uncovered each after the other as the shadows slid off of him. The middle-aged man was smartly dressed with tie and single-breast suit, and at first, blurred glance the fabric had an intricate design of the universe, stars and galaxies. But as her eyes adjusted, the stellar matter moved and interweaved like a strand of DNA; the material was what seemed a window into another realm. He stopped a few feet from her and Puck, and cocked his head. "Oh," he said, "hello."
Infiniti was understandably wary. "Who are you?"
The man tugged on his lapels, and the universe pattern shifted slightly. "A friend."
"Speak your name."
"Adam, my name is Adam Ambrosias." he answered. His voice rolled like the ocean and despite the arctic temperature, his breath didn't steam. "I am the director of a multi-dimensional law enforcement bureau known as the Agency."
Her hand was steady and the stranger could see what brimmed neatly at the edges of her talons with his golden eyes. Even drained of her power she was still on the par with an army or two, able to strip his bones in a bright, hot flash of light and energy. "It's...rather difficult to explain. I believe your favorite clan had a run-in with one of our younger agents recently."
Infiniti let her silence answer for her.
"You may have met him. Albion? No recollection?"
"Ah." he nodded and pulled something from his breast pocket. "It's just as well, that boy's got a few things to learn about tact. Anyway, my card."
Looking at the small card, Infiniti thought it looked more like a thin sheet of ice than paper, plastic or any manmade substance. Holographic images swirled above the surface. Regardless of her curiosity, she didn't take it; she'd rather let it burn in his hand as a warning not to take her or her threats lightly. "And why are you here?"
"I've come to reclaim you."
"Yes, we created you, and in this particular reality the experiment has become tainted before it could reach fruition."
"Experiment? You are a blasphemous creature." she hissed, curling her right hand tighter around Puck.
"No, I'm not. You are experiment number two-hundred-fifty, the last in a long line of matrixes-bred duplicates spread through the same number of separate realities. It was a low-level department experiment, to see if your presence could truly change the opinion of humanity towards peace with their neighboring sentient species." He crouched in front of her and laced his fingers, his liquid-gold eyes portals unto themselves, similar to his suit and endlessly vivid. "You were delivered to this particular timeline just after Trinity Maza's birth but you weren't released by the breaking of some spell, you were born."
She would have easily brushed this all off as a hallucination if everything wasn't so sharp, crisp and clear, or lies if this man weren't possessed of warm, trusting eyes. "But the sorcerer...his spell..."
"Lies. All lies." he sighed, genuinely sympathetic. "Or, to be precise, programmed memories." He stood up, fixating his interest on the cavern's ceiling and the colored striations of rock and mineral. "There was no sorcerer, there was no stone spell. Most gargoyles already had the ability to turn to stone more than a few hundred thousand years ago, an evolutionary adaptation and defense mechanism that a high percentage of the world's clans developed over time at a gradual pace. They'll eventually be able to control it through either technology or sheer willpower."
"But Gaia..." she argued, but was losing ground fast and didn't understand why.
"...is a delusion. Created by our memory grafts and your programmed determination to spread the word of peace."
"I've spoken with her...seen her, touched her very essence..."
"Hallucinations." he explained. "Your mind is trying to convince itself of the impression of being a demi-god. Let me guess, Gaia is a devastatingly beautiful Nubian woman in flowing lavender robes."
She nodded, "Yes..."
"She was one of your creators, she wears a labcoat, not robes," then he lowered his voice, looking off to the side, "and I'll have to speak with her about her ego. No matter, Gaia," he continued, "or the spirit of the Earth, doesn't exist. Well at least not in any sort of corporeal form, or any form we can see or hear for that matter. Whatever living essence of our world that may exist is spread extremely thin between an infinite number of realities. It's more like an aura of energy, with a distinct, interminable pulse. Like a heartbeat, that's all."
Enough. This was sacrilege, such contemptible ideas and how dare this human presume she would believe him. No one had created the life she lived before she was chosen; her clan, her mate, her death and rebirth. "I am the guardian spirit, taken the mantle of he who came before."
"No, you're not. There's no such thing."
"How dare you..."
Adam raised his hands in clemency, hoping to keep his skin firmly attached. "We planted the suggestion of a guardian spirit in many cultures in many times, so it would hopefully find its way to the present as a myth or vague legend of some sort. But enough to give credence to the notion of an all-powerful guardian and that Goliath and Elisa would be more inclined to believe you when you first appeared to them in their bedroom."
The ceiling shook; the gargoyle still had an impressive amount of power after all, and Adam had to dodge a few of the larger pieces dislodged from above. "I am the guardian spirit! I am power and fire and vengeance incarnate!"
But the oil-haired man didn't budge in the face of her warning. "No, you are a confused experiment that has run rampant for far too long, and its time to go home."
Mother and pseudo-daughter stared each other down, and in the background Angela bit her bottom lip. Like gas and fire, if this wasn't an explosion waiting to happen she didn't know what was.
Delilah's shoulders were hunched, her wings slightly furled and everything about her stance was passive; seeing Demona like this, so proud and strong after her short-lived bout of lunacy was enough to regress all the progress she'd made in her life back to the point where she was unmercifully dumped from the cloning tube and given to Thailog's wanton lusts.
And like the hunter Demona picked up on it and decided to capitalize. "Ah, it's you."
"Good to see you're still as pitiable as ever."
She blanked, and bit her bottom lip. Delilah thought she'd achieved a certain point in her relationship with Demona, however strained; it seemed now it'd all been wiped away by a sudden personality change.
"Now, tell me dear girl, why I shouldn't tear this thing from by belly and be rid of it." she sneered.
Delilah lifted her chin, defiant, a little like stone. "You'd be killing a gargoyle," she fired back, "and I doubt you'd make the donor very happy."
"Yes, the ninja. And where is the father?"
"He went home."
Demona tilted a single brow-ridge. "Japan?" she said. "What chased him away?"
Delilah didn't answer, just moved her eyes from Demona's piercing, questioning glare.
She chortled deliberately. Seeing the pretty yet abject little thing so downcast Demona couldn't help but ease off her attack. "It's all right, I already know what he's done. Quite the barbarian, hmm? Worried it's a genetic trait?"
"From Shadow? Or me? Considering my parentage..."
A spark. Unexpected. "Hmph, touché. You've become quite the acid-tongued chip off Maza's block."
"What?" Demona leaned in.
"I'm sorry," Delilah repeated, "that this had to happen to you."
"Then we have something in common." She flicked away a few strands of hair that'd fallen across her shoulder with one fluid, supercilious movement. "The fact your twisted threads of DNA have found their way back into me is appalling, and the only thing that seems remotely optimistic about any of this is that your donor, such as he is, is rather good breeding stock."
"So then, you'll keep the baby?"
"That remains to be seen."
"Mother," Angela was razor-sharp and quick to interject, "I can't imagine you'd do anything to harm that child."
"If your pet doctor or the mongrel boy-wizard does not find a way to pull this thing from my stomach, be assured I will." With the back of her hand against the clone's shoulder, Demona rolled Delilah off her knuckles (nearly knocking the smaller woman from her feet) and started towards the elevator before anyone else decided to intervene. She boarded quick and determined-like and then turned as the doors slivered to a close, throwing coal-dark daggers from her eyes.
"I-Is she serious?"
"I don't know." Angela sighed. She couldn't rub away the ache in her brow, deep to the bone, and breathed through her frustration until it squealed out from her lungs. Movement tickled at her calf, and Angela nearly jumped from her skin before realizing the boneless, human-shaped blob underneath her was still alive.
Todd shot into consciousness as quickly as he'd lost it, became newly acquainted with the throbbing pain near his left eye and wobbled to his feet with a guttural moan. He flinched when he noticed deceptively-passive movement behind him, swinging his head around and readying to defend himself to the death with his fists and any other inanimate object in arm's length, until noticing his opponent wasn't who he thought she was. "Angela..." he breathed in relief. "Where is she?"
"Gone." she said, waving halfheartedly towards the door. "Off to sulk and brood and eat chocolate."
"And punch other defenseless, handsome humans."
But Delilah wasn't convinced her child was in the safest of care. Her empty gaze was still hung on the steel doors of the elevator. "She won't–"
"I'll make sure she doesn't." Angela jumped on her fear.
"Doesn't what?" Todd asked, fingering the rough edges around his eye.
"Doesn't make good on her threat."
Angela gritted her teeth, "Please, just...go tend to your wound."
Stumbling upstairs half-blind, it didn't take Todd long to discover that someone had already swiped the last icepack from the castle's walk-in freezer, so he had to make due with a bag of frozen peas. He touched it gently to the swelling bruise and sucked in a cold breath through gritted teeth. "Ouch. Why do people always go for the eye? First the Samoan, now the redhead."
Wandering around the castle with his vision partially impaired and half his face slowly going numb, he eventually reached the library (all the while noticing the halls were strangely empty) and put his shoulder to the towering door, so he wouldn't have to move the pack from his bruised eye. The heavy door swung inside and Todd nearly tripped over several books piled atop each other. "What the hell...?"
More to his side, another pile ahead of him, he was getting a flashback from a movie he'd seen that'd started similar to this.
As if she'd emptied half the library's endless shelves, there were rickety stacks of books everywhere, like she was building a small castle of her own.
He found his sister in the epicenter and entrenched in a pile of blankets on the larger of the library's central lounges, an oxygen tube fitted to her nose running from the small, wheeled canister parked alongside. Amongst everything, that struck him as odd.
"So," he said, effectively announcing his presence, "you don't need an entire room full of oxygen?"
His little sister peered over the edge of her book only to find a bag of frozen peas obscuring half of her brother's face. She stifled the initial burst of laughter none too successfully, and answered, "Not really."
He humored her, "Oh."
"Doctor Pierce didn't think it was necessary as long as I have a portable oxygen container–"
"And proper medication," her mother interjected, seated by her side, "anti-viral agents and immune-boosters."
"–and so on. He figured dad was just a little overprotective of me, and overcompensating. Besides," Sarah shrugged, "apparently having a room full of pure oxygen in a building that gets attacked constantly is a fire hazard."
Todd could only imagine the explosion. "True."
"So, uhm, what happened to your eye?"
"Which eye? This eye?"
But Rose was on him quickly and his far-too-succinct explanation. "Did you provoke her?" she asked, drifting closer.
"Of course not!" Todd shouted, playing the innocent. "I tried to offer some friendly advice and next thing I knew, I was licking shoemarks off the linoleum."
Rose was skeptical; she knew her son's singular talent for getting under someone's skin and how, when up against a few certain individuals lacking in considerable patience, it was sometimes not brushed off with a certain amount of lenience. "Mm hmm."
"I think she's just a little tetchy after her insanity."
"Yes, tetchy is the word I'd use to describe her emotional state."
Todd readjusted his bag and somehow only now noticed the room was missing a certain occupant. "Where's Annika?"
"She left a while ago. Sarah was...uncomfortable around her."
He made a sound, brusque and disapproving. "Well, she'd better damn well get used to her."
She slanted towards him. "Don't force her into this. She's been through enough as it is. For twenty years your father has drilled his creed into her head."
"Then let's undrill her."
"That doesn't make any sense, and you will not force your own beliefs on to her or you'll be no different than Joseph."
Todd grunted, and for a moment his mother thought he'd leave well enough alone until, ultimately, and predictably, "Maybe she needs some psychotherapy."
"You know," Sarah intruded, "I can hear you."
Mother and son turned in sync, towards the young girl who'd bookmarked her place and set the novel down in her lap.
"And I'll make my own judgments about these gargoyles."
"Kind of unfair that your judgment may be a little skewed in one direction."
"I know what my father has become. I know that his own anger and guilt has twisted his quest into something beyond simple revenge, but I've also seen what you haven't, the depths to which gargoyles can sink."
The icepack came off, revealing a pair of eyes slit razor-thin. "Oh really?" Todd deadpanned. "Have you seen one with your own eyes? Or through footage carefully edited by daddy's little stormtroopers?"
"Yes, actually," Sarah waved an arm around her, "the samurai. The hunter. The warrior with the sword. The beasts."
"What about the one who killed fifty people?" she blindsided him.
He paused before answering, considering it was hard enough even rationalizing what Shadow had done. "They were bad guys. And they were about to kill a cop and then her buddies."
"So he slaughtered them." she persisted. "In cold blood."
"No, not really. Every time you give me an example of how the gargoyles are helping us, there's another one to contradict that fact."
"As a few gargoyles say about humanity, considering we're chock full of rapists, psychotics and murderers."
"Enough." Rose sighed, but was quickly ignored.
Despite her illness and general physical infirmity, Sarah had all the chutzpah of someone hopped on a few triple-espressos, her features sunken but her eyes glossy. "I never condemned the entire species, but I'm not about to blindly ignore everything I've seen on the word of a man who I just met!"
"I'm your brother, you little snot, and you want to argue who's seen the most shit! I've got stories that'd make you vomit up your lower intestine!"
It cut a swathe through the argument like a chainsaw, the children rearing back from each other with the high-decibel screech. Todd was immediately thrown back to his days at the orphanage and a rather portly nun named Florence, while Sarah didn't know the human voice was even capable of reaching that level.
"Please," Rose begged, "can we have at least some sense of civility? This is the first time we've been together in twenty years, and you two are arguing ethics!"
Her children sulked, crossing respective gazes for only a few seconds at a time.
"Todd, you must let your sister become used to the clan, like you had to be." And just as Sarah was about to gloat, Rose threw a response at her before she could even curl the edges of her mouth in triumph. "And you will not make any judgments until you get to know every member of this clan, gentle, honest creatures."
"This Demona isn't a gentle, honest creature. Hence the eye."
"Hey, ever been raped?" Todd hopped on her like she was a full bag of Doritos. "Ever been hunted, or attacked, or constantly made the butt of life's shitty sense of humor?"
Having slyly maneuvered herself in between her children, Rose hoped to derail the freight train that was her son, running on pure unleaded resentment and barreling in on his little sister. "You too would be slightly disconcerted after everything she's experienced. Now hush, both of you."
A finger, like a rapier, thrust in his face. "Quiet. Please."
Todd scowled, but bit his bottom lip. His breathing soon slowed to an acceptable rate and the sound of crinkling plastic could be heard as his hand clenched around the bag of peas.
"Thank you. Now, please, can we just...be a family, and try to go a few hours without getting into an argument concerning the Guild or the gargoyles?"
"Whatever..." Todd mumbled.
Sarah crossed her arms. "Suits me just fine." she huffed. "I'd rather just avoid them..."
Todd harrumphed, but his sister had brought up a good point. "Where is everybody anyways?"
"You sure this is necessary?"
"Positive. We finally have a few of these guys still breathing and I'm not about to let this opportunity slip away."
"Could get messy."
"Only if he answers wrong."
The shadows were whispering; despite his mask's ability to filter bright light, he couldn't quite make out the shapes at the other end of this tiny gulag. The beasts had dragged him here from his cell, two of the larger ones with a grip that could rend steel and threw him into his chair. He wasn't secured in any way, considering there was only one exit, guarded by those same shadows only proved alive by the glint of six pairs of eyes.
He heard the claws on the floor just ahead of him, and something emerged into his sight. The red one, the leader. The large lavender one had been missing for a while; presumably the red one had taken over, perhaps after he'd killed him for his position.
Brooklyn stood at the opposite edge of the small, unembellished table, drinking in the sight of what had the clan fearing for their lives. If it wasn't for the mask he would've never considered him such a threat. "Agent Orange, hmm? Aptly named."
The agent looked up through his eyeslits, the white lenses obscuring any humanity this man might have had. This was obviously an interrogation room, close to the prison block where he and his fellow agents had found themselves in when coming to. Smooth walls of steel, with a table and a chair on each side and a 100-watt light bulb as the single source of light, radiating an inordinate amount of heat. He wondered how many had died in here, maybe beaten and clawed to death while begging for mercy.
But truthfully, this was the first time Brooklyn had ever been in here. In fact, he'd never looked behind the door until now; he just loved the décor and the ominous vibe it gave off. "Nothing?" Brooklyn continued. "Nothing to say?"
"No." the agent hissed.
"All right, fine." He took the opposite seat, and placed both his hands on the table. The light only caught a half of him while the rest was obscured on the outside edge, a few crags and horn and enough to faintly highlight his expression, giving his brick skin a bleached-blood pallor. "I'll start. We're getting a little tired of these constant attacks."
"And we're getting tired of not getting the job done."
"Frustration, huh?" Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, if I were as incompetent as the Guild, I'd be a little pissed off as well."
"We've picked off a few."
A rustle in the back; Brooklyn knew the comment had caused a bit of movement behind him, but the clan admirably restrained themselves. He wouldn't get much information from the pile of human sputum left over in their wake.
"Just give us one last chance," the agent continued, "and we'll get the rest."
"One last assault."
"And then we can move on to the rest of your kind."
"How many more do you know of?"
There was a smile, though hidden. He enjoyed the sight of the beast squirming for more information on his demon kind. "Enough."
His eyes leaked out some color, white hot. "Where's your base?" Brooklyn repeated.
"You don't actually expect me to tell you, right?"
"Probably not. You're a well-trained young zealot, ready to die for what you believe in, but I thought I'd just make it easy for you before I'm forced to resort to physical means to get the information I need. You know, torture, bloodletting and the like."
It was hard to tell whether or not the agent's defiant façade had cracked under the mask he wore.
But if there was an answer forthcoming, Brooklyn didn't wait for it. "I'm kidding, of course. Well, a little. Maybe a few broken fingers–"
"Fuck you!" it rang out, suddenly.
A brow rose. "I'm sorry, did I touch a nerve? Got a thing about torture?"
"I'm not telling you a goddamned thing!"
"All right, all right," he held up a hand to calm the man down, and only got a flinch in response, "there's no reason anyone here has to get hurt, as long as you tell me where your base is. We followed the tracer just off the shoreline where the reading got a little fuzzy. It eventually vanished altogether, like something was obscuring the signal."
Silence, again. Just the vaguely skull-shaped mask staring back at him.
He could tell the clan was getting restless behind him; Othello especially. Desdemona probably already had an arm attached to him somewhere.
"Seriously, I'm going to need an answer."
The agent slowly raised his chin, defiant.
Out of sheer frustration Brooklyn lunged forward and dug his talons under the lip of the mask's top edge and found, surprisingly, it wouldn't budge even with a considerable amount of force. So he yanked harder, and elicited an audible grunt of pain from the man now getting his face pulled from his skull.
The mask hissed and popped off, releasing the seal that kept it firmly attached to the agent's head.
Inspecting the mask, Brooklyn crushed it in front of the exposed agent and let it clatter to the floor. "Much better."
Agent Orange squinted, ducking his features away from the lamp. He was surprisingly ordinary, someone who'd easily and dangerously get lost in the crowd.
"Anonymity is a bonus, huh?"
"One mind, one body. That is the Guild."
"Genocidal, xenophobic, murdering cowards. That's the Guild."
The man sneered at his captor. He thought he'd be long dead by now, along with the rest of his confederates, hung by their intestines in the heart of the beasts' nest. "We're here to correct a mistake made by nature."
Brooklyn lifted from his chair and leaned in. "I'm going to let you in on a secret, pal, we evolved just as you did, and before you did."
"You don't deserve this planet."
"We don't want the planet, we just want to live."
"By attacking and killing us!"
Amidst the rumblings of the rest of the clan behind him, Brooklyn pulled in a breath and walked his aggravation out in a small circle. "How much crap have they filled your head with?" he said. "I bet this is the first time you've actually seen a gargoyle in person, isn't it?"
The Guild agent couldn't quite meet the gaze. It was. He'd only seen films and read reports, no matter how biased they may have been. There were only a select few fortunate, or unfortunate enough, to have seen these creatures in the flesh. Some wore scars, others never returned, while the rest had merely helped to slaughter a small, peaceful clan or two.
"I thought so." Brooklyn smirked. "Now true, I know in the last few million years or so there have been some gargoyles that didn't play nice with the rest of the mammals, but we're a well-behaved species, only wanting the simplest pleasures out of life. To condemn an entire species you don't even have a fucking clue about is stupid and evil."
"We know enough."
Again, despite the absolute idiocy this man was freely spewing, Brooklyn was intrigued at how many clans the Guild knew about and they didn't. "Really? How? From where?"
"We have our sources."
"Yes, the Guild has a long-reaching influence."
His beak pursed. "You know, I'd argue with you the finer points of racism and hatred, but it's so ingrained into you that it would be pointless."
"This entire exercise is pointless."
"Not when I get what I want."
"You won't break me, freak."
"Maybe, maybe not, but I'm sure those pilots of yours aren't as well-trained. They're just there to escort the big boys around and blow historical landmarks off skyscrapers. I bet I'll have them shitting their pants within ten minutes, yelling the location of your base at the top of their lungs."
"No, pal, we're actually very civilized and refined, until people start trying to kill us for no apparent reason except for the fact they're frightened, stupid bigots."
A single bead of sweat writhed out from his hairline; either the heat was getting to him or he was getting increasingly more desperate to argue his side and avoid the fate he'd imagined through years of meticulous programming.
"Hot?" Brooklyn asked. "I can get you a glass of water."
He swallowed, obviously thirsty, but declined, "No."
"Good, because I was lying. Now, I'll give you another chance before I break something. Where's your base?"
A hand tightened on the edge of the table. "I imagine I can do a lot of damage before you pass out from the pain. I'd say it's in your best interest to tell me, anything. A morsel, a scrap."
"Cram the tough-guy shit, I'm not buying it, now you're going to tell me where your fellow maggots are hiding out or I'm going to kick your teeth in!"
"I'd rather die, freak!" With the fact he thought he had nothing else to lose, he jumped towards the gargoyle on the other side of the table.
Within a split second and before Agent Orange got halfway towards Brooklyn, there was a blur to his side as Othello came to his defense and caught the man by the throat. He cracked the agent's skull against the rear wall, allowing his larynx just enough air to keep from passing out.
"Ah, ah, ah," Brooklyn chided him, "that was dumb. Especially in a room full of gargoyles who've just been itching to get even." He walked forward and patted Othello on the shoulder, knotted like steel flexing under leather. "Now I'll call my friend off here if you cooperate and tell us exactly where your base is."
The agent vainly tried to peel the fingers from his throat all while trying to force out an unintelligible string of words, but from what they could discern they weren't suited for anyone, especially a lady.
"Let him go, Othello." Brooklyn sighed. "Let's try one of the not-so-doctrinaire."
But the gargoyle didn't quite release on command, enjoying the sight of Agent Orange's skin turning pale as the life was slowly being choked from him, his eyes bulging from his skull.
"My love." Desdemona called from across the room. "We are trying to prove we are not the monsters he believes we are."
Either the wall was going to dent against the force being applied, or something was going to break inside the agent's body, turning him to paste. "Your compassion does you justice, but it will not safeguard our lives." Othello gently minded his mate, but continued trying to force his hand through the man's neck. "If he will not tell us the information we need, then we do not need him."
"Othello, let him go." And then, like a wind up against his neck, he could feel her breath threading through his mane. "Please."
The only indication Othello had let go was the dull thud of a human body impacting on the floor; the agent hit, crumpled from the head down and slumped to his side.
Brooklyn kneeled down, steepled his hands across his knees and observed the agent for a moment, grasping at his bruise-darkened throat. "Wow. Irony. A gargoyle saved your life. Broadway, Othello, will you please escort Agent Orange here back to his cell. And get me one of the pilots..."
A puddle of silver goo funneled out from the elevator shaft, trickling towards the infirmary's entrance as if someone had tipped the building on end. Suddenly growing a mountain from its surface, it morphed into hips and lithe curves and long, black hair.
Mother donned her usual appearance, having chosen to keep it exactly as it was programmed (having grown quite attached to her form even though she could change it at a whim). But getting around as an amorphous blob was sometimes easier than learning to walk without stumbling over her own feet and tail.
Slowly, becoming used to the gait and the movement of tendons and muscles in her thighs, she approached the doorway without even realizing she wasn't making a sound. In the far office Pierce was hunched over his desk, back to the door and immersed in his work, unaware of the visitor about to reach for his shoulder.
And instantly he reacted, whirling around and screaming, "I have mace!"
But where he was expecting the red eyes and molten hair of his earlier assailant, he was met with the seal-brown gaze of someone he was used to seeing through a projector. For a moment and somehow in between the muddled rush of adrenaline and instinct, he noticed how they reflected the light above.
"Oh sweet Jesus..." he muttered and slumped back into his chair, holding to his brow with an open hand. If he weren't an expert on the subject matter, he might've thought he was having a heart attack.
Mother slightly tilted her head. "My apologies."
She heard him, perfectly, but was confused about the context. "I beg your pardon?"
"Sound." he repeated with a fervent shake of his hands. "You need to make sound."
"Ah. I am sorry, but I am unused to...walking."
"Then whistle, hum, sing, just don't skulk. Now, what can I do for you?"
"I am in need of your services."
He crooked a brow and started into a half-filled mug of coffee, speaking over the rim. "My services? Wouldn't you need Lexington with that new sterling body of yours?"
"Well, I have recently fashioned myself a vagina and require a gynecological exam."
The coffee went down the wrong pipe and Pierce nearly swallowed his tongue, then nearly hacked up a lung in the coughing fit that followed. Once everything had either gone down or come up and out, Pierce recomposed himself and had to let what he'd just heard sink in, determining whether or not it was actually said. "I-I-I'm sorry, I must have heard you wrong...d-did you say what I think you just said?"
"I believe I have said what you thought I have said, unless your thought processes are incorrect."
"Let me just...uhm..."
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, but a-aren't you now just a massive humanoid collection of microscopic machines?"
Mother handed him a wad of paper towel to help wipe up the coffee spatter. "Such is human, merely a collection of organic machines," she remarked, "called cells doctor."
Pierce gave her an incredulous look.
Thus she reiterated, "The nanobots that comprise my new form have flawlessly translated the guise of gargoyle flesh, including a fully-functioning nervous system, internal organs, arteries and veins, skeletal structure–"
"You've been busy..."
"–but I must ensure everything is in...working order."
Her tone was becoming throatier with every word, and he swore her eyes were wandering to different parts of his body. "But what would someone like yourself need to be...ah, anatomically correct?"
"It is essential to be complete, is it not?"
"You know, that's exactly what the Matrix said before it tried to eat everyone."
Mother's expressional range was filling in all the subtleties with such freedom of movement and experimentation, and what passed over her exquisitely-designed features was something she'd just mastered: charm. With a bit of cheek thrown in for flavor.
And Pierce felt the weight of it against him. She was an incredibly attractive female, no matter what she was made of.
"I've never known anything beyond my program and now, I have the freedom to choose and create, and be complete." Mother explained. "I believe this is a first step towards completion, for a female at least."
"Uhm...okay...okay...we can start uh, whenever you're ready...I suppose..."
"Thank you, doctor. And perhaps afterwards, we can have sex."
His eyes bugged out. "What!"
"I would like to have sex with you. I understand the orgasm is a wonderful sensation."
Lower jaw in his lap, the doctor was at a loss. She seemed so wonderfully naive and yet so sincere in her desire that he'd actually found himself considering it. After all, it'd been a long time since the divorce, and the fact his last crush (and one of a few last chances) was killed months ago. "Uhm, it...ah, it is, but...I don't think this is appropriate."
"Why not?" she asked.
"I'm your doctor, and you're basically a computer program with an artificial body. No offense."
"None taken. If you feel uncomfortable, I can ask someone else–"
"No!" he blurted, and then realized how loud his voice had gotten before reining it in. "I mean, I can help you...with the exam of course. Let's just tackle the whole...sex thing later, shall we?"
Mother simply smiled and slithered onto the examination table.
"I am not going anywhere with you." Infiniti hissed.
Adam pursed his lips, nodding; he'd expected a response like that, either delivered on an acid tongue or with a blur of talons inches from his face. Whatever strand of DNA she got the temper from was a potent little genome, but strip away all the layers of hauteur and intricate programming and she could be just as feral as her less-than-supernatural brethren. "There isn't a choice." he said.
"There is always a choice."
"Not now, not today. Now please, if you'll follow me I've a dimensional access port ready and waiting just outside."
The cave glowed against Infiniti's red stare. "And you think such a pithy tale will persuade me?"
Adam shrugged his shoulders, secure in his position. After all, the Infiniti template wasn't programmed for violence unless used as a last resort. "Frankly, it seems like I've already got you half-convinced. Hearing those little faint voices yet?"
"No." she lied.
"You sure? You do have an extraordinary perception beyond your five senses."
He dusted his hands and looked around him. "All right. There's no use in trying to convince you, we didn't get anywhere with the rest of your alternates either. A few even killed themselves, unfortunately, rather than face the truth–"
"You will find I am not as weak-willed." Infiniti cut him off mid-sentence. "And if you truly wish to convince me, then explain the stones..."
"That said sorcerer used to entrap you, yes." he nodded. "Well, those are real, they were worked into your memories as tangible evidence of your death and subsequent resurrection but they've been buried beneath one of the seven oceans for several hundred millennia."
Infiniti's sneered only deepened, etching into her skin. "Another pitiful lie."
"This is getting tiring."
"You will leave, now."
"Okay, that's enough." Adam barked at her, either momentarily forgetting she could take his head off or he was a hell of a lot more indestructible that he was letting on. "I've been as lenient as humanly possible, I'm in a cave in the Arctic, getting my suit dirty only to argue semantics with a science experiment."
"I am no experiment!"
"Yes, you are and you're coming with me."
She growled and he got the point. This wasn't going to be easy, but none of the other extractions and captures was either.
"It's time. And I've already wasted enough of it coddling you."
Her arm still out, as it had been through the entire conversation without tiring or shaking in the slightest, slowly raised towards the cave's ceiling.
Adam knew what was coming next and sighed.
The entire cave opened up to an angry argent womb of a sky, and Adam shielded himself from the rocky debris. The gargoyle was there one moment, in the remnants of the cave now a smoldering crater, and gone the next. She'd mustered up enough power to obliterate a good chunk of the hillside and speed past Adam to a distance of fifty feet in less time than it took to blink and breathe and connect thought to action.
"Please don't make this hard." he turned and called to her, dusting off his jacket (despite the fact he was in the middle of the explosion, not a hair was out of place).
But Infiniti was already trudging through the snow in a vain attempt to escape. She was running on spaghetti legs, having used up those last dregs of energy.
Adam shook his head at her stubbornness and vanished, leaving nothing but a few shoeprints in the snow and a vacuum in the sudden absence of matter. He reappeared in front of Infiniti, and reality around him hiccupped. "You know, I've had practice at this, about two hundred and forty-nine times over."
She stared him down under her lowered, rutted brows.
"Now, now, I've come here personally and by myself as a show of good faith, without any weapons or extra agents–"
"How benevolent of you."
"–but the fact is you're coming back with me one way or another."
Infiniti offered up her only compromise, said on a breath that could melt the snow around her. "Then it shall be as a corpse."
"You do realize I am more powerful than you are, especially at your current power levels."
"And what you fail to realize is that I have much better hearing than you do."
The man was struck, by her bravado and the jackal grin; obviously this female held an ace. She wore the same smile he'd seen a hundred times over when pushing different versions of Infiniti into a corner.
And by the time the sound of warbling thunder reached his own ears, he'd barely the time to look up and see the sky grow black with shapes and smoke.
Robots about the size and shoulder-width of Goliath drilled into the ground, upending the serenity of the landscape with scorchmarks and fire melting snow into pools of cratered ice. More followed, dropping out from the layered cotton drifts of cloud cover with smaller insect-like machines in between.
Infiniti wasn't sure if she should be pleased for the rescue, especially when seeing a smaller, blood-and-black-hued robot slowly descending amongst its larger, more menacing kin.
But to Adam, and judging by his expression, the billionaire's arrival in force seemed more like a simple intrusion, both ill-timed and bothersome. "Damn, he's earlier than expected..." he sighed. "This timeline changes by the goddamned millisecond."
The smaller, painted robot raised its right arm and ejected a laser rifle from the alloyed limb. The near-identical army followed in succession, their cannons bigger. "Please, no one move. I don't want bloodshed."
As always Adam was impressed at his civility but after over several hundred successful captures, including a few scrapes with several David Xanatoses, he couldn't afford any unnecessary violence.
With an unceremonious snap of his fingers and before the army could fire off any bullets or lasers or wreak havoc on whoever had stolen the gargoyle, everything around them stopped. Sound and motion, freezing in place, every object hung like a landscape painting; even every individual snowflake was trapped in time and as he started forward, they brushed against his face and clothes without melting. "Better, don't you think?"
Infiniti was startled at first, considering she and Puck were the only two unaffected by this man's seemingly incredible ability to stop time itself. "What have you done?"
"I've put a halt to everything in a radius of half a mile." he answered, squeezing himself through a couple of Steel clan robots. "To Mr. Xanatos here, it will be like we've all just disappeared."
"You still assume I'm going to allow myself to be taken."
"Yes, your brethren were just as tenacious. But two-hundred forty-five came back one way or another. You're the last."
"And just what do you plan to do with me?"
"You and your alternates will be taken care of. You'll have an island continent all to your own in a specially created dimensional tesseract."
"Can I leave?"
She curled her lip. "So it is essentially a prison."
He held up a few fingers. "Ah, we don't like to refer to it as that. Think of it as a protected habitat."
"It is captivity–"
Before she could finish, Adam interrupted her, "Someone with your power levels cannot be left free." From his tone, it was almost as if he was getting slightly impatient, which was a little incongruous with his ability to control the flow of time at a whim.
"If you truly know me, then you will know I am committed to peace."
"I'm not worried about you, my dear, I'm worried about the nuclear bomb you carry around in your DNA. DNA that we at the Agency created."
"I do not believe you."
"You are stubborn." he realized. "And people wonder why I was initially against this particular experiment. Now, please, listen and listen well. You are not a demi-god, or a magical benefactor to an entire species, you are a creation, built in a lab using DNA strands from hundreds of different gargoyles throughout time itself."
"Are grafts, constructed by machines and scientists. I can show you where you were born, show you footage of your growth sequencing and your alternates."
She shook her head, now getting desperate as even her own subconscious had turned traitor, rebelling in tiny voices, tiny doubts. "Liar..."
But Adam used her confusion to stalk closer. "Haven't you wondered why your power isn't absolute? Or why your contact with most of the world has been limited, and yet you still retain incredibly detailed knowledge of everyone in it?"
"It is not mine to meddle in the lives of those I protect."
He scratched above his eyebrow, sighing, "An excuse for everything...fine, is there anyone able to substantiate your existence prior to your resurrection besides the clans you've visited?"
"Oberon. He will tell you..."
"You've never spoken to Oberon, and he didn't even know you were on his island. It was another premeditated memory graft."
"I lived an entire life!" she snarled. "With my clan! My mate! I was mortally wounded, innards spilled on the forest floor...when she appeared before me..."
"Grafts grafts, grafts."
"I-I am Infiniti," she choked, exhausted and raw, "guardian spirit..."
And this strange man in strange garb looked down on her with pity, not so much as a father would his daughter but more a prized possession with a bit of tarnish on the surface. "No, my dear, you are not."
She flung a hand out and let off a burst of energy from between her fingers, but Adam merely held the blast a foot from his palm.
"Whoa." he said casually. "There's no need for violence. I don't want to you to come to any harm."
"I will not be a pawn in anyone's power struggle!" she screamed ruby-eyed.
"Which is exactly why I'm hoping to bring you home."
She slashed at the air, a hair's breadth from digging her claws into his skull. Adam ducked it, as if he'd known it was coming.
"Ah, now you've tried that many times." he said. "Favor your right hand, hmm? That was programmed as well."
A fissure opened underneath them, Infiniti hoping to swallow him, but Adam merely floated above the gaping hole.
"And that." he winked.
The gargoyle shimmered, a split second before lines blurred and one became two. All of a sudden, Adam noticed another body materialize to his side, leaching color and form from its progenitor. Infiniti had made a double of herself, near-indistinguishable. It gave off heat, and a pulse, and breath that curled against the horizon's melted gray.
"Ooh, a rare treat. Three Card Monte."
The double started doubling, then tripling, until more than twelve identical clones stood in a semi-circle around him. Three jumped forwards, surprisingly refreshed and danced with claws out and wings extended to blind him. Pig in the middle, Adam sighed and expected the first blow to be swift and sharp across his belly or his neck. When it came he coolly stood his ground and the clone passed right through him.
They were distractions, as solid as a stiff breeze and Adam immediately started searching for the real thing, hidden among the bunch. He would've stuck them all between the ticks of a second if Infiniti's own magical defenses didn't cancel out his own abilities.
There, to the right, one was holding back while her clones were trying to conceal her escape. He blinked towards her, bypassing the rest of them through simply opening a tunnel between where he was and where she currently stood. He went to grab at her and was slightly dismayed when his hands passed right through. It wasn't until he heard the sight whisk of snow behind him that he'd figured out all of the gargoyles were magical constructs, and that somehow the real Infiniti had slipped away, eluding his sight.
He turned only to get a hand clamped over his eyes.
Feeding the man enough voltage to light a small home Infiniti meant only to incapacitate him, but should he suffer any permanent damage with what was now threading through his retinal nerves and into the brain, so be it. Adam could've coughed up smoke for all the electricity flowing through his tissues, but he simply convulsed, nearly bit through his tongue and collapsed in the snow.
His body still twitching and her doubles coming apart at the molecules, Infiniti watched as the world snapped back to normal; wind, snow and movement.
Xanatos cleared the cobwebs from his head, seeing that a few of the players on his chessboard had instantly switched places. "Interesting." He immediately refocused himself on his target and motioned for the Steel Clan to surround her.
Infiniti could barely get a mouthful of chilled air before a circle of flexing, hydraulic joints and whirring clicks closed in on her. They went to grab her by the hands and feet and ended up losing their own in a flash of butter light; the inner circle staggered back, their forearms hot melted stumps.
The next wave moved in with the small drones in skittering between the flailing limbs, each taking a shot at the thrashing gargoyle as she did her best to escape the pile of chilled metal claws. "Away!" The small mound exploded outwards, sending bodies everywhere and Infiniti's clenched fist stood up in the middle before she crumpled in on herself and felt something wet splash across her skin.
Blood, pooling into her palm, the taste of copper on her upper lip. She was bleeding, a long-forgotten experience. It clouded her vision, enough to conceal the next wave of Steel Clan leading a charge with their fists. Like semis, locomotives, ten tons per blow, they pummeled her, feeling her resistance break down with every robot she threw aside. Fire and light erupted from her hands and faded with every swipe of her fists; like she was holding the game ball on the ten yard line, Infiniti was nearly swallowed by the sheer number of machines until great masses of earth rose up and broke through the snow layer, grabbing each automaton around the head and torso and throwing them away.
The smaller flying drones were only able to escape for a short while before being dragged down, but not without letting off a thin stream of red-colored light. Constantly pelted by laser beams Infiniti shrugged off the blasts with charred, smoking skin, whereas a lesser being would've probably ended up a pile of shredded body parts.
One Steel Clan broke its arm across her back while another drove its elbow into her gut, rearranging her internal organs. She heaved them both away and swatted a few more drones from the air. More lasers, more burns and blisters.
A summoned gust of wind cut a narrow path of escape and offered a reprieve if only for a moment.
But just as Infiniti thought she was in the clear, she got a laser blast in the back of the neck and was thrown towards Puck, eating dirty snow as she plowed in face-first.
Xanatos had picked her off, having waited patiently for the fodder to sacrifice themselves by wearing her down.
Groggy, she tried with her one good arm to raise herself up and peer though her one good eye (the other caked in blood from a gash through her hairline), only to find a silver-haired fay coming to.
Puck would awake to the sub-zero temperature and the lovely cream gargoyle now a crimson-colored pulp of broken flesh. It was jarring at the very least, considering the last he remembered of her was skin like pale marigold and a jar of microwave-warmed honey.
"Go now." she said, suddenly.
Puck's eyes narrowed. "Say what?"
"Go, now! Fly. And hide, Puck, where no one can find you."
"Have I...skipped a page...?"
Now, the Puck was of a fickle mindset, only fleeing from a fight if a good enough reason presented itself. The fog was still heavy on his mind, like a lead weight in the frontal lobe but the beseeching gaze from the gargoyle was enough to light the fuse underneath him, without question, without rationale.
"Find me again. Go!"
He shot away in a plume of snow, and before any of Xanatos' tin soldiers could react he bolted through their ranks (and through one poor clansman's chest, tearing it in two).
Shielding himself from raw circuitry turned shrapnel, Xanatos watched helplessly as his former majordomo fired off like a cannon and become a speck against the sky, then zigged and zagged and completely obscured his flight path before vanishing altogether. A blink of an eye and he could be across the world by now, back in time or across a few separate realities. Xanatos felt his heart beat against his chestplate. "OWEN!"
Infiniti breathed bubbles through the blood in her mouth. "...go..."
"Where is he going!" he yelled at her. "Where!"
He nearly wrapped that metal gauntlet around her throat. "Don't play games with me."
"The Puck is gone...Mr. Xanatos..." Infiniti declared firmly. "You have what you want...and I suggest you take it before I gather enough strength to stop you."
They were told to wait outside, while Brooklyn, Othello and Broadway dragged the violently thrashing pilot inside the interrogation room and locked the door behind them.
Katana assumed the sight of a lovely woman, despite her and her sister's own fierce appearance, wouldn't be conducive to the entire process of scaring the man half to death in order to squeeze every little secret out from him. While Desdemona and Lexington hung back, she watched through the tiny window as Othello threw the pilot into the chair and stood at his shoulder.
Broadway took to the opposite side, crossing his arms while his smaller brother leaned on his knuckles, staring a hole through the hapless human.
Her mate's carefree nature didn't often lend him the ability to use his opponent's fear so skillfully, but he knew his reputation as a monster had been seared into the pilot's mind. Othello bared his teeth, Broadway cracked his knuckles but he just stared, coldly and silently, letting the man's imagination stew to the point where Brooklyn couldn't have threatened him with anything he himself didn't already think up.
Then, the first sound to come out of the room came in the form of a clenched fist rapping against the table's surface. It exploded as quick and effective like a crack of thunder and the pilot jumped a foot from his seat.
From there it took less than ten minutes.
There was growling, yelling, threats of bodily harm and a bit of blubbering near the end. But it slipped out, loosened by adrenaline and the dread of having something torn from him. "The harbor! The harbor! The base is under the bay!"
The room was soundproofed; Katana was unable to hear anything except a low murmuring drone, but seeing Brooklyn suddenly cease his assault on the poor human and lean back, she knew he'd struck gold.
Othello and Broadway were out first, with the pilot in tow. Brooklyn followed nonchalantly, with a shit-eating grin as wide as his head.
"By your expression," Katana said, hands tucked into the sleeves of her kimono, "you have obviously found the information you wanted."
"You're damned right."
"So?" Lexington bounded up towards him.
"We know where the Guild are."
The transport helicopter arrived later. It was a simple beast of burden running cargo for Xanatos Enterprises across the globe, until drafted for something slightly more sinister. Its belly emptied, pilots replaced by something a little less human and less apt to spill all the dirty secrets, Infiniti was restored to her titanium ring, shackled tightly and hung like an ornament in a cavernous cargo hold, surrounded by every available Steel Clan still online.
The craft lurched and gravity pulled at the deck plates; the behemoth was lost in its own backwash from the rotors, a column of snow rising up towards the sky.
Infiniti's head flopped around without the strength to lift it, searching for flesh amongst the heavy metal faces surrounding her. The billionaire wasn't too far, sitting on a crate with his helmet off, studying something she couldn't quite make out between the armored talons.
Xanatos clutched at his orb, hoping in vain to have seen a spark of light to catch the fleeing Puck but no such luck. He wondered if his metal claws could crack or even shatter the bauble, but he was never one to waste such valuable tools.
"Your trinket will not work." Infiniti whispered.
He leaned back. "And why not?" he humored her.
She showed glinting eyes through the hanging strands. "The Puck is far too shrewd to be caught by something as inane as your toy."
Xanatos stood up and charged towards her, every step an angry echo. "It found you!"
"Only because I was weak. Puck is no longer infected by your machines."
Skin creased, blood rushed but the exterior was ice. He worked his jaw around the response he'd thought he'd blurt out loud before offering a twisted smirk instead. "The Puck is bound to me until I breathe my last. Even he can't escape his own vow."
"Your covenant is broken, his servitude ended the day you betrayed him. And how I wish I could see him spoil all of your master's plans."
"We'll see." he nodded thoughtfully. "But I am intrigued to the identity of your friend."
"The smartly dressed fellow out in the snow. Black hair, odd eyes."
"Yes," she said vacantly, "my creator."
"I beg your pardon?"
It started low, welling up from her stomach only to explode into the empty recesses of the helicopter. "You stupid, narrow-minded fool!" Infiniti managed between her bouts of laughter. "I am a fraud!"
Xanatos thinned his eyes.
"I was created in a laboratory, by human scientists. I am nothing but an experiment and everything I know is but an untruth implanted into my mind."
Whether or not she believed it, watching the expression of pride on the human's face eventually crumble was delectable. If anything, perhaps she could sow dissension into the ranks of Xanatos and the demon he'd allied himself with.
"No, I am not, at least according to the leader of this Agency."
"Agency?" It rung a bell, and suddenly this tale had a bit of weight to it. "I've heard of it."
"Then let me tell you a story, Mr. Xanatos."
The remnants of his army limped home, a few missing limbs and bits of armor and flying on a single rocket engine that sputtered and belched through an uneven mixture of fuel and oxygen.
But the cost of replacing so many drones was insignificant to retrieving Infiniti alive and in one piece.
Strapped back into her ring, her continually-replenishing energies sucked out and into storage batteries that were near full capacity, Infiniti's lifeless body swayed back and forth with every violent jolt.
As he let his remote-controlled soldiers carry the massive steel halo back into the Vault from the private elevator, Xanatos headed for the small adjoining alcove, leading a proverbial trail of fire behind him. He stormed inside and only slowed when the darkness obscured his target.
Sobek turned towards the echoing footsteps, one thing on his twisted mind. "Did you retrieve her?"
But Xanatos wasn't in the mood for his master's myopic concerns; he would've marched straight up towards him and shot him in the head if it weren't for the fact the hole would fill in and heal within a matter of minutes. "This sorcerer was a fake!" he roared at him, without hesitation (he apparently didn't care the creature he had dared to scream at was eight feet tall without any skin). "You have my entire fleet chasing after a myth! Do not toy with me, Sobek, I've buried far more for far less!"
A cannibal and psychotic, a temper like a cannon's fuse, Sobek surprisingly and composedly humored him. "On the contrary, the stones are real."
"Infiniti says otherwise!"
"Whatever she may have told you, false or not, her memories were of true stones, buried by their own infamy, crafted from pieces of ancient gods. The Lost Race I believe they were called..."
"Fox could die by your hollow pursuit of a legend without any goddamned fact."
"Fact is inconsequential. Myth is always so much stronger, isn't it?" The bony plates and surrounding musculature approximated a pompous grin. "As you found out one stormy night."
"What do I believe now! Your empty claims could doom my wife and you've yet to explain to me anything about what you're planning to do, or when."
"I assure you, Xanatos, without my cure Fox will die, and I do not need to explain myself to you."
Xanatos wandered over to a large wall display, where several blips tracked by GPS moved around an electronic world map. Most of the ocean areas had been marked off in red. "My ships have scoured more than seventy-five percent of the planet's oceans." he said. "With every passing day I'm inclined to agree with the gargoyle I've strung up to be your sacrificial lamb."
Sobek looked over his shoulder and watched as several Steel Clan members hoisted Infiniti's prison ring back up into place. She looked worse for wear, dried blood spatter caked across her skin; obviously she'd battled hard to regain her freedom but was too weak to mount a suitable defense. He noticed there were a lot less automatons than what the billionaire had started out with. "Whether or not her claims are true, whether or not it was desperation, her power is real. Tangible. Like harnessing the sun itself. You were fortunate you came back alive."
"You don't need her, you don't need these stones, I can give you power."
The mutant turned, intrigued by what Xanatos was willing to pull from his magic tophat now.
He didn't meet Sobek's eyes, for what he was about to offer would damn him. "Avalon." he said quietly. "I can give you Avalon, the king and queen and all their subjects."
"You would betray them?"
"Betrayal is only that if the cause isn't just. For Fox...I would do anything."
"How dark the heart of man...but your offer pales, and my patience is worn." Deliberation quickly turned to forcefulness. He'd already allowed Xanatos to push the limits already. "Intensify your search."
"I can't keep up this pretense forever." Xanatos said feebly. "The clan will find out you're living underneath them."
"I do not need forever, only enough time to complete what I've sought for so long."
He knew Sobek thought the conversation was going to end there, but he couldn't quite this particular morsel of information hanging between them. He closed his eyes and whispered, "...Owen."
Sobek stopped. "What?"
"Owen. He escaped."
A tremor rattled through his bony plates, wet muscle clenching beneath. "And what does he know?"
Xanatos shook his head. "I don't know."
"Then kill your friend, or kill your wife, I do not care!" His bellow filled the room, filtering in waves out into the next room. Slowly, Sobek's bulk receded into the darkness, leaving behind a final warning. "Tick tock, Xanatos, tick, tock."
The trip back to the office was as always a sight that could burn out the retina, considering all the matter in his body had been compressed to an infinitesimal stream of energy riding through the timelines. But all the grandeur of every moment in time and reality being played out in overlapping threads was pushed to the background with Adam's current disposition.
He felt the familiar tug of his molecules coalescing and within the nanosecond he had before decelerating from half the speed of light to a dead stop, was already halfway through his available options.
He was made whole and his journey ended at an antique wooden door suspended ahead of him. Crossing the threshold into an office that broke every law of physics from a single filing cabinet that held a file on everyone in the known multiverse to the combination of mahogany baroque and chrome-laced moderne, Adam closed the door behind him, a portal with enough raw energy to equal an atomic bomb.
His desk was as he left it, his quantum crystal laptop open to the Gilligan's Island screensaver, notes and baubles in a few haphazard piles and a book open halfway through, something old and leather-bound with yellowed pages.
Adam crossed the length of his office without even noticing the lack of movement in the corridor beyond, slumped back into his chair, slammed a fist down on the keyboard and rubbed his eyes. Taking a few volts through retinal nerves had left him with a slight headache and the inability to look into the light without squinting.
"Tammy!" he yelled. "I want a systematic timeline diagnostic for reality number four-four-one-nine-six-nine-zero-one! We're going to have to backtrack and try again...you'd think doing this a few hundred times it would get easier..."
He was so engrossed in the computer display, it took him a while to realize he'd yet to get a response.
Usually his personal assistant was up at his side almost instantly, without even as something innocuous as a footstep to announce her presence, Brazilian decaf in one hand and her computer pad in the other.
"Tammy!" he tried again, and lifted his eyes. There was movement down the hall, a flicker of something just beyond his range of sight. Typically it was bustling, like downtown L.A. "Tammy?"
"Tammy is unavailable, Mr. Ambrosias."
The voice that answered him was a few octaves lower than his assistant's bubbly soprano, heavy as a brick and dripping with an undertone that sent a chill straight through him.
Adam rose from his chair, straining to make sense of the gnarls and muddy distortion of body parts just beyond the doorway. A light sputtered in the background, like a distant thunderstorm, giving just enough clarity in split-second flashes to ignite the imagination. With some scuffling and a gait like rigor mortis, Tammy appeared across the doorsill, at least, her body did; eyes open, mouth agape and arms dead by her sides he couldn't quite tell if she was conscious or even alive. She was twitching, and when she shed a tear down to the jawbone from the edge of her eye Adam got his answer.
She was being carried by the back of her head a foot off the ground and by something that scraped the doorframe on all three sides as it walked through.
Adam was well acquainted with this particular creature. "Goliath..."
The Wyvern leader tromped up towards his desk, his massive, scarred form blocking out most of the office behind him. "We meet again, Adam."
In every timeline, every alternate world, Goliath of Wyvern was a noble creature. It had been Adam's pleasure to peek in on this gargoyle and his human mate from time to time, especially under the auspices of the Infiniti Project. But this thing standing before him and ready to crush his assistant's tiny skull in his right hand was nothing like he'd ever seen; twisted by grief and revenge and magic, this Goliath was the devil wearing angel's wings. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I just thought I'd visit an old friend–"
"We're not friends, you bastard!"
"Careful," Goliath motioned to his captive, and Tammy winced as the claws tightened, "or we find out what color her brains are."
Adam swallowed every ill thought and tightened his Windsor knot. He could already see the thin rivulets of blood from where Goliath had his talons firmly entrenched in Tammy's head. "What do you want?"
Goliath moved closer, into what little light invaded the office; it caught metal on his forehead, through his brow and right eye. Where there was flesh was now a form-fitted steel plate, where Albion had torn a chunk out of his skull with his diamond tether. "Resources."
"I will not aid your insane quest, nor will I allow you to run amok inside the Agency."
"You do not have a choice."
"I've seen time begin and time end," Adam showed his palm to Goliath, "there is always a choice."
"Do you think I'd invade this bastion between time without the power to back up my every word?" The silence between them was enough to convince Goliath his threat had been seriously considered by the man standing a few feet away from him. "Good. Now aid me, or she dies."
Adam feigned movement, before being caught in the black glint of Goliath's static gaze.
"And do not think of playing any tricks with the flow of time, as you will find I'm quite immune." he warned, and just as Adam silently mouthed the word How, explained, by holding up his arm. "Your impressive technology is mine now." His entire left forearm wasn't flesh any longer, but melded seamlessly if not gruesomely with pieces of what Adam recognized as the facility's main computer core.
"What do you need?" Adam deferred. For now.
"My thread has been cut to the demon that killed my angel. I need to find her, and I need your help."