109 - "Assault on the Guild Part 1"

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.

And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

June 18th, 2002, approximately 12 hours ago...

"We'll go in as teams of three. Explosives will be placed in a scattered pattern to spread as much damage as possible. The explosives can be manually triggered via a digital signal similar to what our commlinks run on, but as a precaution, they're set for detonation in three hours, whether we're out of there or not."

"There's no way to get any kind of interior plan?"

"No. We've only been able to confirm the existence of a bunker with one of Xanatos' satellites, and even with an infrared sweep, we've only managed to piece together a rough estimate of the entrances and exits."

"So our best guess of where to go is just that."

"Essentially. If anyone is still left inside past the time limit, I suggest you find some way to get out by any means possible. The yield should be enough to blow up a third of this base and flood the rest."

"Will we warn them?"

"Angela?"

"Will we warn them? Will we give them time to escape?"

"Why should we?"

"Because we're not cold-blooded killers."

"This is war, child. There is no room for mercy."

"I'm still not sure about this...we're talking about murder on an unfathomable scale."

"None of us are, but it's our only choice. It's only a matter of time before they mount another attack, and so far we've been lucky the castle wasn't knocked from its moorings."

"So it is us, or it is them."

"That's the gist of it."

"...all right."

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June 19th, 2002, approximately 3 hours into the future...

Fires dotted the halls, with bodies still aglow in their personal energy fields, a sputter of fluorescent light giving intermittent glances at the damage. It was a war zone littered with the wails and moans of those who'd survived whatever cut a swathe through the bunker.

The first initial explosion had ripped into the hangar bay, seconds after the radar sweeps had picked up an object hurtling towards the base. The sea followed, cold and greedy and pouring in around the shredded metal, catching those who were unfortunate enough to still be alive after the missile's strike.

The klaxon went off, ringing through the base and all its steel corridors. There was an attack. There were intruders. The beasts; they must have broken their captured comrades through whatever sick torture tactics and were angry/foolish/stupid enough to launch an attack.

Every available agent scrambled towards the hangar, only to find salt water lapping at their boots upon entering. Rescue teams waded towards the wounded, while the elite gunned up and started hunting for the beasts. Thick grey clouds of smoke were filling the room as quickly as the water, and their masks' air filtration couldn't quite purge the acerbic taste from every breath.

Their eyes were trained on the gaping hole in the wall. There were redundancies for this kind of attack, doubled and tripled against any intruder and their surprise was waylaid by the dance of movement in the black curtain beyond. Large forms and red eyes materialized, sired from the brume and what they thought was smoke at first starting moving towards them.

Wings and tails and an inhuman gait; the gargoyles had come.

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Present...

Brooklyn was pensive.

It was a decision not without its share of doubts but his hand had been forced. Time was a luxury and so forth, and he'd already spent a day on the intricacies of storming a heavily armed bunker and minimizing if not completely preventing any sort of casualty. The sun had set less than a half hour ago and he was already in the Eyrie's hangar bay and armory, trying to balance hope against an ever underlying fear of complete and utter failure.

He wanted to come home with as many warm and functioning bodies as he'd left.

The fleet of Steel Clan robots supplied by Xanatos was smaller than he'd hoped, but apparently the ranks had been thinned by a mission their billionaire ally refused to explain or even acknowledge. A few even bore scars and scorch marks, proud badges of a recent battle.

To his right, Othello tested the string on his compound bow. He once built his own from the tough sessile oak surrounding Wyvern, but in the age of steel alloys and carbon fiber he'd willingly upgraded to something that, if strung with enough weight, could easily put an arrow through metal.

Brooklyn had tried to talk him into something a little more contemporary, a little more 21st century, like a gun, or bazooka, but the archer wouldn't budge. He was deadly from a distance as much as he was up close; a thousand years ago he'd often impress the young trio with feats of accuracy several hundred yards out.

"You're sure?"

"Very." he said perfunctorily.

"These guys have sophisticated weaponry, personal shields..."

Othello made a sound through his throat. "I'll manage, and I hope not to be there so long as to endanger the other teams."

He was reluctant to be separated from Desdemona.

"She'll be fine." Brooklyn reassured him, all but a hollow promise. Truthfully, the thought of sending his own mate into battle, even as exceedingly skilled as she was, terrified him. His ridges furrowed under the burden of every possible scenario played out all at once.

If it weren't for the well-timed voice ringing through the hangar bay, his imagination might have concocted a few images too gruesome for his liking.

"Hey!!"

Nerves already frayed, Brooklyn almost jumped a foot from the ground if he weren't expecting this. With all the tact of a drunken elephant Todd Hawkins made his presence known as he barreled into the hangar bay mouth first.

"What the hell is this?!" he continued his rant. "You weren't going to tell me?!"

Othello skimmed his eyes towards Brooklyn, mouth a thin, indistinct line. "Should I tell him?"

"Tell me what?"

Shoring his arms against his chest, Brooklyn explained outright, "You're not going."

He reacted more calmly then anyone expected, though the dripping sarcasm more than made up for the lack of intensity. "I'm sorry what?"

"We've already found someone to use the armor."

"Who?!"

"Me."

He only heard the voice, and the accent, and before the instinctive, obligatory and irritated expression could react across his features, pain exploded upwards from his neck and Todd collapsed.

Macbeth wandered up behind the boy he'd dropped with a single hand, and rubbed the silver bristle.

"Thank you," Brooklyn sighed, "I thought we were going to have to tie him up but this is much cleaner." He then gestured to the Epsilon armor stowed on its rack, a wrought-metal golem without a master to guide it. "Think you can handle that thing?"

"If th' boy can, I can."

"You sure? His brain is wired differently from the rest of the human species."

He appeared wounded. "I've used a fancier sort of weapon in my lifetime."

"Nothing I suspect like this."

Macbeth took only a moment to scan the armor, those cunning eyes wandering over every line and sterling feature in minute detail. "Neural interface control, dual vectored thrust rockets, forearm lasers..."

Brooklyn exhaled his resignation, continually surprised at how a thousand years of experience gave the man a rare insight. "Okay, I get it. Now prove it, because that armor may be the only thing that keeps you alive tonight."

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Under whatever layers of asphalt, sand, sea and pipe, beneath and below where no one would ever think to look, an entire small city bustled and bristled at the end of its patience.

There was an ingrained sense of melancholy permeating every steel-lined corridor, considering their forces had just been handed another loss at the talon-tipped hands of the Manhattan clan and their leader returned on a stretcher.

Joseph Hawkins, known only to his subordinates as the somewhat enigmatic Mr. Black, was breathing through a respirator in a sterilized infirmary. On landing he was ushered through the halls and hushed, parted crowds, bleeding from the chest and mouth from a bullet put skillfully through his chest by a one-eyed Robyn Canmore.

Ever since he was admitted gasping through the fluid collecting in his lungs and survived several hours of surgery to patch the holes, a single figure kept a solitary vigil by his side, having ordered the hospital emptied of any personnel save for the nurse and her hourly rounds, and the guards outside the door. His expression was unreadable, and it wasn't from any lack of ambient light.

Agent White was in command now that his direct superior was incapacitated. Every emotion riding through him was blended with another, warring on a battlefield that didn't show any of the scars.

"Ye know," a disembodied voice filtered through the silence, "it'd be easy t' put a bullet through his head. Make him a martyr."

Agent White turned slightly to find his cousin standing at the doorway, a silhouette topped by short, burnt-gold locks. It was still a shock seeing his cousin comfortably walking the halls, having talked his way out of being killed on the spot. But he'd always the greasy charm and slick tongue, enough to recruit lawyers and homemakers to his own cause.

But despite his impassioned speech, all he'd accomplished was to drive a wedge of confusion into the ranks, the masses stuck between leaders.

"Kill him by our own hands?" White answered at length, impassively. "I admit it'd crossed my mind a long time ago, but we'd undermine the trust we garner. He's invincible to them, he inspires them."

"Doesna look invincible to me."

"He survived a direct assault on the beasts' nest and come home. And for me to simply execute him would brook rebellion on an unprecedented scale."

He wandered in closer, enough to get a look at the bedridden master of the agents scurrying about the halls outside. "Then turn off a machine or two." he said, and by the tone it was hard to tell whether or not he was actually serious. "See if he's worthy of yuir adulation."

White stood up and confronted him, giving him a cold gaze through Atlantic-blue eyes. "Why don't you do it, Jon?" he snapped back. "Or are you afraid your charm won't hold back a thousand loyal agents when you carry out his death sentence?"

Jon pursed his lips and, thoroughly if not momentarily suppressed, allowed his cousin the little vocal victory.

"You were able to talk yourself out of getting shot only because you curried favor with a very impressionable agent, and of course, didn't present much of a threat. Imagine what they'd do to you when they found out you killed their hero."

"Th' Guild cannae survive on th' shoulders of men who doubt their own vocation."

"He didn't doubt it when he tried to kill his own disloyal children."

"I heard." Jon nodded. "But that only came at a long and lengthy reluctance t' get off his ass. And one canna wonder if he's going t' hesitate again."

He hunched his shoulders and somewhere, deep down and in his gut, wondered why he was now defending a man he'd fought with so vehemently in the past. "That won't happen." White said quietly.

"Of course, now that yuir in charge. But yuir first chance t' prove yuirself already ended in failure."

White narrowed his gaze, his leather gloves squealing against the pressure of a closed fist. "I beg your pardon?"

"Ye had an opening," Jon pursued, outstretching his arms as if still in disbelief, "but ye didna fire on th' castle."

"We had to evacuate."

"Ah. All fer a single man."

That smile again, curled at the edges and like a jackal before the kill. Whatever madness this man had suffered through, White could see he hadn't quite shaken the effects. "Don't be so smug, Jon," he shot back, "it was your sister who put all the holes in him."

He was wounded only for a moment, before he was able to rationalize the response in his own particular method. "Robyn's dead t' me, been so a long time. An' she wouldna have stopped me from destroying that entire clan!"

"You weren't there, Jon."

"I should'ha been."

"You had your chance, and you fucked it up." White put it plainly. "You were reckless and sloppy and overconfident, as I was quickly becoming. I'm not going to make the same mistake."

Canmore waited a moment, mulled over his thoughts and decided against arguing the Quarrymen's failure. "Why aren't we mounting another attack?"

"Because every attempt has been turned back with more and more casualties. One of our helicopters was actually swallowed by a substance that covered the entire building! A missile taken apart in mid-air! Who knows what else is lurking underneath that castle?"

"Then we up th' stakes."

"And where does it end?"

"It ne'er ends, not until every gargoyle is either rubble or a corpse!"

Agent White absorbed the onslaught like a sponge, and a surprisingly rational one; anyone else who'd raise their voice to him would've found their guts unzipped and piled at their feet. But his cousin, despite how he constantly skirted the edges of insanity, had a point as warped as it was. There were stores of heavy weaponry collecting dust, missiles and warheads sitting and waiting for a singular purpose and no one with the guts to pull the trigger. He suddenly wondered why he'd begun to doubt himself and the quest he'd been handed the reins to, but remedied that fear by imagining a scorched earth with humanity more the loser than the victor.

Jon was directly over his shoulder now. "Th' demons will soon get th' information they want from those men." he said. "They'll be coming."

"Good. Let them come." White growled. "If they want to fly right into the heart of the Guild, I'll welcome it."

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Brooklyn rubbed his chin in reflection. "How does it feel?"

He felt around the neural patch affixed to his forehead, the small device that flooded his synapses with the sensation of extra limbs. It burned a little hot though, running a trail of fire down his spinal cord and he hoped it wouldn't do any permanent damage. The trade-off was that, through the neural link, Macbeth could feel this black and sterling armor as if it was part of his own body and experimented by moving different pieces. "Odd. Like having my own wings."

Brooklyn watched as metal wings unfurled and listened as hydraulic joints quietly clicked and flexed, the movement growing steadily smoother as the Scotsman grew used to his wings. "Good. I don't want you stumbling around like an infant."

Macbeth balled a fist, tapping claws into his palm. This was the closest feeling to immortality he'd had for a while now. "Don't worry."

"The weaponry?"

"Online. And fully reloaded."

"Good, because you have less than a half hour to become an expert."

Macbeth threw his head back into a subtle nod, giving a half smile and continued to experiment with the armor. He wasn't aware another would be watching him until she announced her presence.

She'd perfected a noiseless stride from years of walking over squeaky church floorboards and welded plates of steel didn't present much of a challenge without even consciously trying. Rose had entered the hangar, presumably following her son and found him in a pile in the center. The surprise of seeing her son sprawled out on the floor was waning, becoming more a recurring sight in all the time she spent with him (amongst other things). "Todd Matthew..." she sighed.

The men all turned around, eyed Rose and then, eyed Todd, soundly unconscious.

"I suppose I should thank you for stopping my son from going."

Brooklyn nodded, adding, "He's going to be angry when he comes to."

"I'll take care of it." she said and raised her eyes from her comatose son. They were continuing to prepare their weaponry, Macbeth stomping around in the winged armor that had coated him from the neck down and Othello stuffing a leather quiver strapped between his wings. The sheer amount of artillery between the three served to exemplify the danger they were willingly walking into, and the expected fallout sent a sharp pain through her chest. "If...Joseph is still alive," she said quietly, "what will you do with him?"

Brooklyn turned, and answered. "Do our best to convince him to leave us the hell alone."

"And if he isn't so easily convinced?"

He didn't quite know what to tell the woman; it was as if she was hoping for a peaceful resolution that he wasn't able to provide. There were already flashes of blood on his hands, from whatever twisted, erratic warnings his own subconscious was sending him. "Rose...he may still be Joseph Hawkins to you, but to us, he's the leader of the Guild and an angry, xenophobic killer. And I think his decision was made very clear a few days ago."

She stiffened, her knuckles turning white under the pressure of her hands wringing against each other. "I just feel...I'm losing him all over again."

"I know, and I hate to drudge up a tired human cliché but its do or die time, and we're not going to be simply exterminated."

"The police, perhaps? Maybe they could–"

"No cops." he sternly cut her off.

"Why?"

"This is private and personal. I've tried to keep Maria and Iliana out of the loop before they do something stupid and try to stop us. We don't need any more innocent casualties."

"Do you expect many to die tonight?"

"Hopefully no one on our side."

"I understand." Rose sighed, seeing how resolute the Wyvern clan's leader was in his decision. Obviously it wasn't made easily or hastily; in fact it seemed he was forced into it with no other choice but to put this bloody, underground war on the offensive.

"I'm sorry, Rose," Brooklyn offered, "sorry your life–our lives–had to turn out this way."

"As am I."

"Maybe you should go back to your daughter."

"And explain to her that her father may be killed tonight."

Brooklyn reacted silently, the fine webbing of skin creased outward from his eyes. In that moment he suddenly realized where Todd Hawkins had inherited his potent sense of sarcasm, though his mother used it more skillfully; if the young Hawkins was a sniper, Rose was a surgeon.

She leaned down and cupped her son's cheek, and then walked away.

"Nothing like a little guilt trip to put a damper on a full-out attack." Brooklyn groaned.

Macbeth's gaze lingered until she'd slipped from sight, and then it fell, wavered and eventually set, like cooling steel. There was regret there, deep in a pair of eyes that were often turned away from prolonged scrutiny. "She'll get over it." he said. "And I hope she'll get over believing in that psychotic."

Brooklyn chuckled, "So says the spurned."

"'Tis not jealousy, my boy."

"Right."

His jaw ground through the words. "'Tis common sense."

"Common sense, really?"

"She has seen him, firsthand, an' what lengths he'll go to."

"There's no accounting for love." Brooklyn shrugged, checking his rifle's power-cell.

"Sometimes love is a detriment. She has t' learn that, for her children's sake."

"And what if it was you? And Gruoch? Standing on either side of that chasm? What if she suddenly appeared alive, after all that time, changed, but alive?"

Macbeth didn't have a response, but behind him, his metal wings fluttered and involuntarily twitched.

Brooklyn recognized the gesture, insignificant but revealing, and more than a human could ever appreciate. "And so says the silent."

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For all the preparations going on around her, Angela was content at a windowsill in Wyvern's great hall, framed by thinly-carved flints of darker stone. The last red vestige of daylight was fading and blending into a clear and star-spun sky and the countdown had begun; in eleven hours they'd turn to stone again, whether their task had been accomplished or not, whether they were still breathing or bodies cold to the touch.

Immersed if not drowning in a weight of thoughts that threatened to push her under, she stood with folded arms and an eye to the expanse of light.

Contact with her mother had been sparse, as Demona had barricaded herself inside her manor and wasn't allowing visitors. Angela had already received word from Nightstone of her mother's re-inception and that her duties as acting CEO were no longer required, and she hoped that Demona reclaiming her small empire would at least focus her attention on something else than attempted murder.

A breath escaped through gritted teeth and Angela chided herself for believing her mother capable of such a despicable act. But anger had always been her mother's shadow, and her Achilles' heel, a blindfold to reason.

"What are you thinking?" someone asked from behind.

And Angela, on hearing the voice–that voice–half-expected to find Elisa Maza standing behind her as she swiveled around at breakneck speed. But even before her gaze connected sight to thought, she knew it was an ephemeral hope and only proved it to herself when discovering it was Delilah.

The clone stood at a distance, staring that same insidiously innocent stare as she always did, no matter how much she'd evolved from the naïve little woman-child.

"Delilah..."

She shrunk. "Sorry, I suppose my voice is a constant reminder of...her."

"Actually," Angela was quick to amend, "it is more comforting than you know."

Delilah took a few timid steps forward, joining her sister at the window. "I was hoping to find you before we left."

"Delilah–"

"I'm sorry, I just..."

With a touch of bitterness, a mouthful more than she'd wanted to unburden on her sister, Angela retorted, "I can't tell you anything more than what I know, and what I believe."

"And as much as I trust you I just can't trust your feelings, especially when it's my baby."

"She hasn't done anything yet. She has two months to digest before she does anything of any consequence."

"But she might."

"For all my mother has done," Angela argued, "I find it impossible to believe she'd kill a hatchling."

"Even if it's part human?"

If there was an answer, it didn't present itself in time and instead Angela simply huffed in frustration and turned away.

Then Delilah twisted the knife, albeit quietly, "And the fact it was forced on her?"

Angela shook her head, slowly at first and then quickly and more aggressively. As much as she resisted she couldn't quite help imagining her mother ridding her body of the baby forced upon her whether by science or an enchantment, or even a bloody, haphazard hack-job to her own stomach. "I refuse to believe that." she managed, despite the same cold dread sending chills through her.

"It's not your baby." Delilah protested, flaunting the best of her inherited genes in a tone that would make a certain time-displaced detective proud.

"But it is my mother."

"Who seems to have had a change of heart lately." Delilah lowered her head, fixed on the floor's intricately-patterned stonework but looking at nothing in particular. "She frightens me. Her eyes are like they were before..."

With so many of the clan noticing Demona's abrupt change in demeanor ever since coming out of her dementia, Angela had a meticulously prepared argument sharpened like a dagger and ready to strike but she often found herself skeptical of her own line of reasoning. "You'll just have to trust me." she said limply.

"I don't know if I can, not when it comes to Demona."

Silence hung heavy and long between them, then a few flitting glances and a resignation they'd each never resolve tonight. "Maybe you should stay here, with Annika." Angela said, the first to speak. "After all, you are an expectant mother as well."

"I need to go." Delilah insisted.

"Then I suppose we should meet the others in the hangar."

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"Broadway, Othello, Hudson and Macbeth are the second wave of noisemakers. Katana, Lex and Angela will hit here, Desdemona, Delilah and I will hit here."

Brooklyn's talon scratched over the surface of a series of satellite images; in the first a dark square could barely be discerned against the denim-navy background, but in the second using infrared, the shape took on more dimension. There were sharp angles in the depths, outlining a building sunken into the black earth.

"Now since we have no definitive schematics and only a vague description of the base's innards, we're basically walking in blind. Which is why you four have to keep the Guild as busy as possible, for as long as possible."

From the ring the clan had formed around the table, shadowed faces under a single source of light, Broadway snorted playfully, "Oh sure, no problem."

"You'll have our friends to take most of the damage, but–"

"It'll basically be the four of us against how many hundreds of Guild agents are waiting down there."

"I'm more than willing to switch places with you, Broadway." Brooklyn said, wearing the lines of guilt in his brow.

Broadway shook a hand his way and drummed a few talons on his stomach. "I'm not built for stealth."

"I just don't want to force you into anything..."

"Brooklyn." he stopped his brother short. "We went over this from dusk to dawn yesterday, every scenario, every outcome. It's got to be done."

Knowing the damage his hefty brother could inflict with the right amount of momentum and purpose behind him, Brooklyn nodded. He supposed he was never going to get used to sending his family into battle. As stone-faced as Goliath was when issuing orders, he wondered if the former Wyvern leader got the same feeling he did in the pit of his stomach, that same twisted, writhing knot.

"Perhaps Mother can be of help." Angela suggested.

"Which? Your mother?"

"No, the other one, now that she is...ah, corporeal."

Brooklyn shook his head; though the idea had crossed through his mind earlier, he'd had his fill of anything nanotech for a good long while. "Except for the fact she's still learning that new body of hers, and usually can't even walk without tripping over her own tail. And frankly, I still don't trust her completely. Pushing her into a battle wouldn't do well for someone who was just born."

"And Dingo? Or Robyn Canmore?"

"I didn't ask them. This isn't their fight."

"They could be useful."

"They could be killed."

"You know, I think we're all forgetting about someone." Broadway intervened. "Savannah? Pesky reporter kidnapped by the Guild?"

A collective groan rippled through the gathered clan; they weren't heartless, not by any means, but this just introduced a wrinkle into an already dangerous plan. Like the rest of the Guild's victims they'd pretty much written Savannah off as a corpse, probably dumped where no one would ever find her body until a stray dog dug up her bones.

"Now who knows how long she stayed valuable to them?" he shrugged. "Probably beat her for everything she knew."

Standing with her hands folded in front of her obi sash, Katana noticed, "Past tense."

"We have no reason to believe she's even still alive," Brooklyn finished Broadway's particularly nasty train of thought, "considering the Guild's inclination towards killing everyone even remotely associated with gargoyles."

"And if she is?" Angela asked.

"Hopefully we'll find her before it all goes to hell."

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He nearly bruised a rib or two as he hugged Angela close to him. No words, no hushed assurances that they would see each other again, just scent and sensation and a simple moment shared between the two. He smelled her hair, felt her skin and tried to reinforce every detail of her into his memory just in case.

Katana guided her sword into its scabbard, and turned around to face her children. She noticed they'd each gained an inch or two in the last year, on their way to becoming cross-colored clones of their parents.

"Mom..." Tachi whispered, but couldn't manage anything more.

"I will see you again." she said, glancing from Tachi to Nashville, her son attempting the stoicism the older males seemingly achieved so easily. "Both of you."

Having grabbed the olive-skinned gargoyle and hanging on for dear life, Rain was reluctantly parted from Lexington as Annika handed him a canvas backpack, bulging against the contents like an overstuffed Christmas stocking. "Make sure...make sure you don't blow off a few fingers..." she teased, her voice cracking.

He smiled back at her and flexed his mostly-metal hand a few times. "Don't worry, I'll just build myself some new ones."

"Love you."

"Love you too."

Lexington hobbled away, slinging the pack over his shoulder and joined his clan at the hangar's edge. They waited as the Steel Clan rose up in a backwash of flame and sailed out through the door in formation, veering off around the Eyrie, leaving only the dull, warbling roar of rockets that too steadily died away.

"Clock's ticking, ladies and gentlemen," Brooklyn announced to his clan, "and we've got a job to do."

On a gust slinking up the Eyrie's side like a stripper on a brass pole, they threw themselves into its grasp with unflinching purpose, becoming specks against a yawning purple horizon.

Brooklyn was the last to leave, standing with his toes curled over the precipice. He'd just sent his clan into the heart of the Guild carrying enough explosives to level an entire city block, and silently prayed to whoever would listen that everyone would come home. With a parting glance to those he was leaving behind, he unfurled his wings and let the night air carry him towards the island's southern tip.

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Jason watched as the clan glided off, dropping in altitude and weaving in and around the skyscrapers until he couldn't see them any longer. His gaze lingered though, tracing their route as best he could. "They've launched." he said.

Behind him, his desk heaped with the customary paperwork of a global corporation, David Xanatos stole a quick glance over his shoulder before returning to his work. "Good. Is everything ready from our end?"

"Yes."

"Then let's hope this will put an end to all of this Guild nonsense. My repair bills are becoming quite distressing."

"I'm sure they appreciate the loan of a few Steel Clan. I wish there were more, but considering what few you brought back, we'll be lucky enough to salvage less than ten from that particular regiment." Jason spun around and wheeled himself away from the window-wall and over the office's single step, and then around to where he could face his employer head on. David's face was a pale mask under his desk lamp's wattage. "I never actually asked what happened after you left in such a hurry, and then arrived back looking a might worse for wear..."

He signed another document, flipped it over and sighed, "Must we dance around this particular subject again?"

"You're right, it's becoming tiresome and I believe we have bigger problems to worry about than your own dirty secrets." Jason rubbed his chin, and now only noticed he forgot to shave. "There's going to be a backlash."

"You're under the impression the clan won't be completely successful?"

"They're not out to kill every single Guild member, and even if they manage to do that, I'm sure there are more spread about the city, even the country for all we know."

Xanatos leaned back into the comfort of his steep-backed leather chair, his attention squarely focused on his majordomo. "Revenge?" he mused with fingers interlaced. "How trite."

"But still a genuine threat."

"These gargoyles are turning out to be more trouble than they're worth."

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Despite the traffic overhead, barely a ripple from a passing tug or freighter was able to reach the bottom. Perhaps it was the cold at those depths or the healthy amount of pollution over the last century that made the waters still like a giant Jell-O mold, but at least it afforded the dark shadow passing a few feet above the ocean floor an added amount of stealth as it zeroed in on its target.

Launched from a few miles offshore through one of Xanatos' less reputable business ventures, it followed the jagged contour of Manhattan and slowly veered south, running along the gentle downward slope. The sleek profile helped it shoot through the perimeter sonar sweeps, before the Guild even had a chance to register the object hurtling towards the shroud of dark steel jutting out from the ocean floor.

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With Brooklyn in the lead like a red guided missile, the clan was soon running out of skyscrapers to use as cover, opening up on low wooden buildings and the rust-stained walls and slapdash fencing crisscrossing through the Manhattan docks. The tepid salt air shot like acid right up their nostrils, and a few of the clan grimaced at the sudden change of wind. He shot a quick glance to the side where his smaller brother struggled to keep up the pace.

Internally he'd been running a digital countdown. "We've got less than five minutes before it hits."

Having cleared the land by a good hundred meters, Brooklyn looked to his brother for confirmation. Lexington nodded; they were almost right above the target.

He banked sharply, pulled in his wings and dropped into a spiral. The air coiled around his sleek form, as if protesting the sudden and suicidal nosedive into the nothingness below. The clan followed and plummeted in unison to follow their leader, breaking off into separate groups.

There was only the dark stretch of water like black ice underneath them and coming up fast, reflecting light near the shore and crumbs of starlight from above. Having put a small regulator and oxygen bottle to his mouth, Brooklyn was first to break the surface and sink into the bay.

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The poor schlub on monitor duty yawned as he massaged his brow and drew a seven of spades.

One of the lower ranks, he was assigned the tedious duty of watching the static, black expanse of ocean surrounding them. On occasion, he'd catch a bit of sea life brave enough to trawl the grimy waters of Manhattan's bay but nothing more; anything bigger than a few meters would have been caught by the sonar sweeps or the ten security cameras attached to the bunker's exterior.

And of course, like all the fresh-faced recruits, he never thought anyone would discover their base under a hundred feet of water just south of Manhattan's thriving port authority. That is until an alarm sounded and he leaned forward in his chair, letting his boots drop from the console to the floor. The game of solitaire was quickly forgotten as the cards scattered. The sonar sweep had picked something up, and camera two caught a shadow barreling in towards the hangar bay.

"Shit...!"

The only job this young man was charged with was to sound the intruder alarm and in his hesitation, he nearly screwed that up by missing the switch on the first try.

--------------------------------------------------

Even as the young guard managed to trip the alarm, it was an exercise in futility. The speed at which the object was traveling pretty much made any defense completely useless.

A flash of color rippled in faintly pink concentric circles along the wall's surface, but the shield didn't seem to stop the object as it quickly counteracted and dispersed the energy, having matched the exact frequency with a charged hull of its own (the pilots gave up a lot of information under threat of disembowelment).

The object struck, stuck and yet didn't explode on contact. The impact opened a hole in the outside wall, its tail-end protruding from the thick steel and threw a shockwave into the surrounding seabed, kicking up walls of sediment. Water exploded outwards in a wash of bubbles and escaping air, slowed, stopped and then retracted back in on the crack in the armor.

It started pouring into the main hangar bay, the largest individual chamber.

--------------------------------------------------

Every available agent scrambled towards the hangar, only to find salt water lapping at their boots upon entering. Once the initial shock wore off rescue teams started wading towards the wounded, while the elite gunned up and started hunting for the beasts (it had to be them, no one else would be as brazen). Thick grey clouds of smoke were filling the room as quickly as the water, and their masks' air filtration couldn't quite purge the acerbic taste from every breath.

Their eyes were trained on the gaping hole in the wall. There were redundancies for this kind of attack, doubled and tripled against any intruder and their surprise was waylaid by the dance of movement in the black curtain beyond. Large forms and red eyes materialized, sired from the brume and what they thought was smoke at first starting moving towards them.

They thought the gargoyles had come, thought they'd get their first real chance at revenge, until the figures broke through the lead-colored pall, armor glinting against the fire. The Steel Clan robots scattered, serving a very basic command program to eliminate Guild members as efficiently (and non-lethally) as possible.

"They're decoys!!" an agent screamed.

Gunfire erupted, from both sides, immediately catching a few on the front lines. Men and machine alike collapsed from their wounds, allowing the second waves to rush in.

Agent Red shrugged a few blasts off his personal shield and caught a pretender between the eyes, allowing rescue workers to drag the wounded out of the hangar area. "Get them out of here now!" he roared.

A woman beside him covered a few more wounded agents with a gun in each hand and an uncanny accuracy. No bullet was wasted. "We have to withdraw!" she screamed. "Before we drown!"

The water level was rising quickly, already past their knees and it was steadily clawing its way into the rest of the base. "Hold the line!"

"Damnit, Hank!"

"We hold the line, Saph!"

"There're no gargoyles here!"

A robot flanked them, left side, and nearly put a hole through the woman's stomach; she dodged only to have the wall behind her crumpled by a metal fist. She and agent Red both opened up on it, and the barrel-chested agent behind her was barely able to drag her away by the collar before it collapsed into several different pieces where she once was.

She got to her feet and dropped her clips, reloading with extras strapped to her belt. Within five minutes anyone still left in the hangar were either alive and fighting or under three feet of water, and a thin line of agents separated the Steel Clan from the rest of the base. "This is agent Gray to central command!" she screamed, putting up her own energy shield. "We're under attack!"

--------------------------------------------------

Somewhere deeper into the facility, far from the commotion, a wall-panel shook on its screws.

A thin blade pushed through the seam and retracted just as quick, popping the panel towards the floor. A hand darted out and caught it, before metal rung off metal and compromised their position.

Katana went to ground with a whisper touch, impressive considering the way the floor plating echoed with each and every step, and unhooked her breathing mask and the small oxygen canister. She'd tied her hair back and had forgone the kimono for a short-sleeved wetsuit, and glistened with the garbage-tinged outflow of the East River.

She snorted and cleared her sinuses; obviously, the scent wasn't pleasant.

Lexington followed, threw off his breathing apparatus and immediately grabbed for the backpack he'd lugged from Wyvern to the southern shore and a hundred feet beneath the bay's surface. "This thing is heavy..." he griped.

"Hush." Katana minded him, scanning the hallway through slitted eyes. No one was in range; all available agents had been called away, but the small band had no idea when someone could come strolling around one of the widely arcing corners and start filling the hall with panic-driven gunfire. "I suggest you begin."

"Yes, ma'am." He dug in up to his elbow like a kid in a cookie jar and pulled out a small metal disc, fringed by four equidistant clawed limbs. Upon touching to the wall the small arms extended, caught a bit of the steel in their tiny two-pronged claws and sunk deep, securing to the wall.

Angela was next out of the shaft, and wicked away the water from her brow. She caught Lexington's nimble fingers racing across the explosive's keypad, arming it. "How many of these do we have to place?"

"I've got twenty-five, and they need to be planted at least a good hundred meters apart to be effective."

"That far?"

"We don't have the best idea of how big this place is..."

Katana leaned in, still brandishing her sword like an extension of her own arm. "And I suggest we hurry."

--------------------------------------------------

Except for a few medical instruments their particular section of the bunker was as quiet as a tomb; conversation was sporadic between the small circle of agents and infirmary guards near the door, and hushed for fear of their acting commander picking up on any scraps.

Quiet, soundless, still and to a few of the guards, incredibly tedious especially with so much unexpressed racial intolerance unable to be released. All until the floor rippled underneath them and the first jolt tore through the bunker from end to end.

They felt the subsequent tremors, saw the lights dim and items tip from shelves and were on their feet, living up to their paranoia. Either it was an accidental arsenal detonation or the bunker had just been blindsided by something big.

One of the agents, a smaller, thinner man who'd preferred a lower profile, raised a hand to his ear and the tiny device inside. "We're getting scattered reports...the hangar's been breached!"

White was up and already scowling at the clustered underlings. "By what?"

"A missile of some sort."

"How did they manage to get a missile in under our surveillance?! And through the shield?!"

Agent Green shook his head; what was coming through the communications channel was garbled, full of screams and orders lost to the bedlam. "Don't know, but we can't seal the hangar until all the wounded are out."

"Tell them they have ten minutes to get out before the doors close, or we seal them in with the beasts."

Forgotten in the background, Jon smiled at his real cousin suddenly emerging from all the uncertainty. The diluted traces of Canmore blood were boiling to the surface.

More reports trickled through, becoming a might clogged with the extra traffic as the entire bunker was up and alerted to the crisis. Without a face to express with, everyone around agent Green was forced to rely on body language to guess what was filtering through the comm. channel. After a moment he suddenly jerked his head up, and announced, "It's not gargoyles!"

White turned, his features breaking to convey the surprise. "What?!"

"They're Xanatos' robots."

"Where are the gargoyles?!"

--------------------------------------------------

Too far from the actual battle to hear anything of any consequence, but close enough to feel every vibration run through the floor, the young guard was already running a good sweat (small beads of perspiration were running over the lip of his mask). Every faint scream could have been one of his bunkmates and either side of the winding section of corridor he watched over could give birth to a roving gargoyle death-squad at any moment, considering the rumor passing over the communication channels of how they'd sent a red herring in their place.

Every shadow moved and he quickly aimed his rifle towards what he thought might be alive, back and forth, ignoring the archway behind him, but such was the price of inexperience and the idiocy of youth.

Katana was up behind the guard without even the breeze of movement to alert him and quickly noticed there wasn't that singular hum of energy crackling about him like those who first attacked Wyvern. Blood and sweat infused the senses that night, but nothing of what they were made of leaked through their shields until breached. Their scent was bottled in a nearly invisible sheath of energy; this man's was not.

Not everyone was awarded a personal shield generator, as they were expensive to come by, cost-prohibitive despite their seemingly endlessly wealthy benefactors and only for the chosen soldiers sent to the frontlines. And as unfortunate as it was for the oblivious guard, it offered the shadow behind him the time to strike.

She grabbed his head on either side and wrenched it quickly, hearing a crack. He dropped and Katana caught him halfway, guiding the body slowly to the ground.

Angela grimaced. "Is he dead?" she asked.

"What does it matter?"

"We're not killers."

Slate eyes flitted towards the freshly planted bomb on the wall, holding itself there but for the singular purpose of swallowing everything in a fifty meter radius. "And what do you think is going to happen when we set off these devices?"

Angela followed her gaze, and the reality of what they were doing was beginning to sink in. It sounded all too surreal in comparison when discussed last night, like planning a party.

"These humans have made their choice." Katana continued. "They started a war to exterminate us and I will not allow any more attacks on my children."

"And thus you'll become just like them?"

"They have forced us into this." she made it clear, her tone ice. "Never forget that."

"This is..."

Katana grabbed the younger female by the chin, not hard yet not completely gentle either, and locked eyes. "Our only choice, and every second we spend deliberating only further endangers the rest of the clan." Then, without so much as an awkward pause to wait for a response, Katana released and bolted down the corridor. No steps, no noise.

Wanting nothing more than to finish his task and leave Lexington followed, avoiding the body.

But Angela lingered for a moment; she could still hear the guard's heartbeat, see his chest steadily rise and fall. She would have turned a smile at Katana's compassionate nature showing through the warrior façade if not for the fact this man would probably die in the backwash of a few planted explosives all detonating at the same time.

"Angela." Lexington's voice funneled down the corridor. "Come on."

She broke from her stupor and followed.

--------------------------------------------------

Brooklyn's team had progressed even farther, leaving a sporadic trail of unconscious guards in their wake, tucked into alcoves and stuffed into lockers to better hide the fact they were ever there. Brooklyn was on point, using his laser-powered rifle to snipe outlying targets whenever possible as Delilah planted the bombs and Desdemona took up the rear.

Rounding a tight corner, Delilah quickly attached another bomb (the second to last and it still made her yelp and pull her hand away when viciously grabbing to the wall) as Desdemona noticed their leader had already gone on ahead.

Looking down the hall, she caught the tail-end of a severely one-sided brawl, a body thrown across the corridor's wide expanse like it was a rag doll, denting the wall on the other end and puddling on the floor. Brooklyn was clearing a few guards from their path up ahead and, without even using the rifles strapped to his back, venting some pent-up rage in the process.

They ran to him all geared up with fangs bared but found several unconscious men at his feet, masks askew. Young men, boys mostly, recruited either through boredom, gobs of cash or overzealous nationalism. Of the few Guild members left standing, they turned only to have a slender hand tear their weapon to shreds before a shot could be fired; Delilah and Desdemona attacked the last two before Brooklyn could get his hands on them.

Holding an agent by the collar, Brooklyn threw him back down and restrained the bloodlust he felt bubbling at the back of his throat. He felt the reproach of a companion threading through his mane, prickles on his neck, and restrained himself under Desdemona's unremitting glare.

"Brooklyn..."

"Grab a bomb." he ordered.

They were now both looking at him, but found he wasn't reciprocating; instead he was staring through a doorway too far on an angle for Desdemona and Delilah to see inside.

Delilah answered with an explosive in her palm, the last, before Desdemona stepped up to the threshold and quietly announced, "It is a hospital."

Brooklyn's gaze was dark and hauntingly fixed on something far beyond the entryway. "Yeah," he nodded, "with only one patient." He wandered in, while the two gargoyles he left behind were surprised at sudden preoccupation on something other than the mission he'd chewed his talons down to the knuckle about over the last two days.

Delilah swung her head back and forth between the infirmary and the empty corridor, and started in.

They followed Brooklyn past a few empty beds towards the far corner, where a sudden sense of déjà vu washed over them. Hearing the steady, empty cadence of a respirator forcing air into damaged lungs it was like walking into Wyvern's infirmary and a chilling parallel to an ally of their own.

"By the dragon..." Desdemona gasped, on seeing the bedridden man. The sheets were pulled halfway up his chest, exposing the bandages over the bullet hole. "Is that...?"

Brooklyn's sneer went deep to the bone. "Mr. Black."

"He survived."

"Lucky him." He dug his claws into the thick, callused pad of his palm, near enough to draw tiny beads of blood at their end and then turned towards Delilah. "Delilah, the bomb."

--------------------------------------------------

Sprinting along the corridor, they led themselves towards the hangar by either memory or military-style section numbers painted on the stark, rivet-seamed walls. Agent White led the group with a gaggle of his agents and Canmore near the back, admiring how his cousin seemed to miraculously transform in the presence or at the very mention of the gargoyles, effectively erasing any fear or doubt.

The touch of the beast was an obviously painful one to him, and his hatred ran gloriously deep.

But where he thought White was charging all too myopically through the corridors, the Guild's second officer took in everything around him in an ice-cold leer and sure enough, he noticed something on the walls. He knew every corridor, every room and panel down to the number of screws and it took him a few feet before he slowed and eventually stopped.

He turned slowly towards the object that could've been passed off as a smoke alarm of all things, secured to the wall by thin clawed arms.

One of his men moved to examine it closer.

"Agent Green."

The agent specified stepped out from the middle of the group, not so much a warrior and more a ostensible cubicle dweller trying to play warrior, black hair slicked back with pomade and sternly parted. But too many had underestimated the shorter, gangling man, especially with his tendency to remain back and simply observe, and ended up with a grenade attached to their suit, ending the training exercise as he threatened to flip the switch and detonate the device. No one knew if they were ever fake or not, but no one dared to find out by trying to bluff their way into a victory.

Agent Green squinted from behind the mask (it was difficult to fit his prescription to the lenses) but recognized the bomb. He was an explosives expert in his former life after all. "Wait!"

A hand borne of curiosity promptly pulled away, and the agent looked at him.

"You try and force that from the wall and it'll most likely detonate." he explained.

He took another step back, for fear of getting a face-full of explosive shrapnel. "But where did they come from?"

Agent White had already clued in and hissed out the side of his mouth, "They're here, you idiot." The proverbial light bulb went off over his head, trickling into sinewy features. "The attack's a front..." And they'd left the infirmary with only a small compliment of guards, not quite enough to hold back even a single one of those creatures at full, murderous strength. He spun on his heel and, eyes ablaze, roared, "Get back to the infirmary, NOW!!!"

--------------------------------------------------

"Push them back, push them back!"

It was hard to maneuver when the water was knee-high and Agent Red wasn't always the fastest man on dry land. He'd watched as a gargoyle-shaped machine broke a companion's skull through his shield by the sheer force of the blow, and put half a clip through its head a second too late.

The robot wandered aimlessly, its vision impaired with only half a face, only to be replaced by another setting down in a wash of black-crested flame.

Stepping over the convulsing body of his friend, submerged under a foot and a half of water, he tried to back away from the advancing enemy. He'd already put a few down but was running low on bullets considering it took quite a bit to stop these behemoths; he figured he'd have to completely drain his ammunition and then run like hell towards the nearest weapons locker.

But when he was thrown from his feet by the impact of the robot suddenly exploding, it was like someone had answered the small voice in the back of his head. And if it weren't for the shield, he might have been human paste.

The cobwebs clearing as he got to his feet, he waded through still-quivering limbs to find the reason why he was thrown ten feet back. A few of the reinforcements had brought in the heavy artillery and started firing into the hordes of Steel Clan, doing a lot more damage than the standard firearms ever could.

He turned, shook out the double vision and searched the field for a certain slender agent. His eyes were immediately drawn across the hangar, where he would find her covering the last of a few wounded agents' escape. "Sapphire!" he yelled.

She looked back, caught him, and starting inching her way towards him.

"Is there anyone else?!"

"I think the rest are dead!"

Sirens wailed, ringing through the hangar; the emergency doors were activated on the ten-minute mark and slowly emerged from inside the walls. "Then we go!"

The frontline started retreating, laying down waves of ammunition if anything to slow the advancing Steel Clan. Half the regiment was still left, others dragging their semi-destroyed forms towards any human target in range. As the Guild withdrew between the closing doors, a few were picked off, and the Steel Clan began advancing.

The emergency doors were a little lethargic in cutting the flooded and infested hangar off from the rest of the base, so much so there were streams of Steel Clan fighting their way through the narrowing gap in between. Coupled with the seawater frothing at the door's mouth and pushing through with ever-increasing pressure, the mechanism was struggling to seal the entrance.

The Guild fired with whatever they had available, a few unarmed agents even resorting to using pieces of debris to attack the robots preventing the doors from fully closing.

After five minutes of shooting and poking and prodding and losing a young man to the grasping claws, they were able to force most of the Steel Clan back into the hangar.

Any robot between the two slabs of heavy-gauge steel were crushed, and then shredded by the hydraulic locks securing the doors together. Body parts dangled from the seam; arms, hands and fingers mostly, burping that last blue death knell of sparks and falling to the ground. But there were gaps still, allowing little streams of water.

The doors shuddered against blows from the other side, a few powerful enough to make fist-shaped dents.

Agent Red disabled his shield and took stock between gulps of hot, wet air. Of a few hundred agents, mechanics, medics and other miscellaneous personnel either caught in the initial explosion or called in as reinforcements, less than a hundred still stood. The rest were either sprawled on the ground bleeding or coughing seawater from their lungs, or trapped in the hangar, already dead.

"Get the wounded to the main infirmary." he said, and then addressed the small corps of soggy engineers and technicians, towering over them. "And someone get a welding torch and seal those doors."

"Where are the gargoyles?" agent Gray spit.

"They either didn't have the guts to face us or..."

He paused, and she immediately picked up on his train of thought. "They're somewhere else in the base."

A young agent beside them slowly raised his head; whether or not it was his own fear playing on his nerves but he swore he just heard a rattle in the panel above. "Sir...?"

"What is it, agent?"

"I think there's something above us."

All eyes went up, directed at the trembling panel. At first most thought it was simply from the army of robots on the other side of the doors, pounding in unison with such force it rattled every panel welded or screwed to the bunker's superstructure.

That was until it simply dropped from the ceiling with a dent in the middle, followed by several healthy figures having squeezed themselves through the large air duct.

Macbeth hit first, fully armored up and came out swinging. His metal wings pleated and stowed behind to better slip through the ducts they unraveled with a snap, the steel segments a perfectly symmetrical, razor-tipped plume. He'd hoped the first initial wave of expected gunfire would fall on him and away from the rest of his flesh and blood team. Broadway landed next, followed by Hudson and then Othello.

The snow-haired gargoyle took up the rear for those few precious seconds and quickly strung his bow. He used the confusion of a hundred agents piled atop each other to start picking off targets without the luxury of their own personal energy shield, and between Hudson's flailing sword and Broadway's fists he was able to sink a few arrows into unprotected human meat.

Macbeth had learned the suit of armor well, moving quickly to disarm the agents while Broadway and Hudson rampaged through the Guild ranks behind him. He went low into a torso with his forearm, nearly bringing the man's lunch up into his shield, and then swiveled and used his wings to widen the hole in the bodies around him.

Othello felt the string snap back into place and before he even knew his arrow had hit its mark, he used the bow to catch an agent trying to shatter a vertebra or two from behind.

The sedan-sized human stumbled back, his shield having absorbed a blow that would've put his lower jaw through his upper palette. Agent Red stepped into his boots and darted back towards the gargoyle, trying again to break something with the butt of his gun; he'd long exhausted his ammo and was fighting with anything he had left. "Bastard!" It came out a little flubbed, considering the pain in his jaw.

Othello was ice, his eyes level and stone-still as the man charged him with every intent to kill him or die trying. He caught his arm, would've pulverized his wrist if not for the crackle of energy surrounding him like a second skin and shoved him away.

As the agent fell away, several more replaced him and the gargoyles were slowly being piled on by the crowd.

--------------------------------------------------

Delilah quickly shot her eyes up from under the feathered swoop of hair. Brooklyn's request was a slight more homicidal than she'd expected.

"Give me the bomb." he repeated.

"You're not going to–"

"Why not?"

"He is Todd's father."

The next sound from Brooklyn was a cynical grunt. "He hasn't been Hawkins' father for twenty years. That man lying there is nothing but a murderer who'd kill you the second he laid eyes on you." The device in her hands was a tantalizing choice, and such perfect penance for a man who'd tried to massacre his entire clan. "We could end this now."

Desdemona bit her bottom lip; she too had been caught between her principles and as dirty an operation as this was, she still held to them dearly. "Murdering this man won't end this. It'll only make it worse."

"What the hell do you think we're doing here?!" Brooklyn snapped at her. "How many people do you think are going to die when we set these explosives off?"

"It's not our intention to kill, it is to cripple their organization."

"Is that how you're justifying this?"

She stood her ground, despite the height difference, despite the fact he was her leader and despite the fact he looked angry enough to tear her throat out. "Yes. How are you justifying deliberately murdering a single man?"

"I know my conscience would be clear..." he hissed.

"No, it wouldn't. This decision is taking a toll on all of us, but for the leader of his clan to descend into petty execution is barbarous and unconscionable."

He bled white light, spilling across the caramel of Desdemona's flesh. "I am ensuring my clan's survival! And if I have to get my hands a little dirty that's fine by me!"

She braced a hand against his sternum, quickly, which may earn him a bruise later on; his heart was kicking into the dimple of her flattened palm. "No! You will not do this, you will not take that path."

"I'm going to finish this!"

"You usurped Goliath in your belief you could do better in his place, now prove it."

Brooklyn breathed out steam, and didn't know of any other way to release a bellyful of anger with no one else left conscious to crush an eye-socket or two. He would've screamed if it wouldn't have threatened their position, but instead swallowed it all. Blood trickled from his closed fist.

Desdemona touched his arm, and felt it spasm. "We should complete our task and leave."

He burned the man with black eyes and heaved all his weight on him through a cold, lingering stare. It was if he was willing Black to wake up, daring him to see and watch as he destroyed all of his empire with the click of a button.

And then, like an answer to the voice in his head, eyelids fluttered and opened to pools of thunderstorm gray. Mr. Black woke up.

"Well, well, well," Brooklyn growled, "good evening."

Blinking his eyes to become used to the light, a muddy image of earth tones, he moved his head towards the brick-red smudge of color. He saw fangs and frown lines. Despite his infirmity the man's gaze flared; he'd a hole in his lung but had already died once in his lifetime, so he didn't let it bother him. A hand crawled to his chest, and whether he was struggling to remove the breathing tube or grasp at the demon who stood by his bed it was hard to tell.

Brooklyn sought to aid the man and pulled at the tube, dislodging it from his throat with a brusque yank.

He coughed and sputtered. His breathing was like someone sucking air through wet cement, but he made do as best he could. "...you'd best...kill me now..." Black wheezed.

"You're lucky, I was just talked out of it by my associate."

"...then you're weak..."

Desdemona came closer, leaning over him. There was a split second where he was struck by an almost human elegance framed by blond whorls and two large back-curling horns. "Mercy is not weakness. And I didn't want to deprive your son of his father."

"...my son...?"

"I am quite fond of him, he saved my life recently."

His brow clenched. "I have no family...we all died twenty years ago...all that's left...are ghosts..."

She sniffed at him, and held her head at a slight angle. He was uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the creature, her eyes abyssal, and devoid of color. "Ghosts of flesh and being, ghosts that ache for their father and husband."

"...they're dead...as dead as one can be..."

"Because they choose to embrace our kind, rather than hate them."

"...they're blind..."

"Why?"

"...they don't understand..."

"How to hate so unreservedly?" she finished for him.

He tried to correct her, "...no..."

"No, you are right, and I am glad for it. You hate for no reason, you destroy and murder for an empty cause."

"You killed my family! You bastards...killed my family!!" he roared, lifting from the bed, his injuries all but forgotten. "You attacked children, a baby! A baby! And left them to die!"

She leaned back, cheeks flushed from the wet heat of the man's wails. Desdemona had been fond of literature, following a thousand years of human evolution she'd missed out on through the written word. Humanity had its fill of philosophers and theorists, some of which who understood human nature more than someone who could fill three hundred pages of psycho-babble for a simple paycheck, and they would always allude to the eyes as true portals unto the soul. What she saw in Joseph Hawkins' eyes wasn't madness, it was despair. "You are suicidal." she commented dryly. "Live, you continue to feed your anger. Die, you become a martyr, inspiring thousands to exact a very personal revenge."

Black had overexerted himself, the hole in his lung burning white-hot in his chest. He fell back into the comfort of starched, hospital issue sheets.

"You're no better than a junkie," Brooklyn chimed in, "anger's your drug, and it's rotting you from the inside out."

"...then kill me..."

He glanced at the bomb he held still, but found his anger had somewhat evaporated and transmuted to pity. "There's no need, you're already dead." Brooklyn turned away from the man and called out to the others, "Let's finish what we came here to do." and started out.

Desdemona delayed a moment and crossed glares with Black before leaving herself.

The group was halfway on their way out the infirmary when agent White appeared through the doorway. He was close enough to take a swipe at the human's vocal cords, and when their eyes locked both of them immediately stumbled back into their respective groups.

--------------------------------------------------

Hudson caught a few rounds on his blade and rushed in for a close-quarters brawl. He smothered the agents and cut off any good angle to get off a shot, then introduced them to the sharp edge of his sword. Most were incapacitated, some were run through and he reveled in the ferric odor overpowering the other scents.

His heart was strained but the sheer adrenaline was like rocket fuel, feeding the weakened muscle just enough to get him through. He thought of his baby and Maria and all the creaks of old bones disappeared, high on endorphins and numb to the stiff joints, though he knew he'd feel this tomorrow.

Behind him his son preferred his hands over any kind of sword or firearm, his fists weapons themselves, bruising flesh and breaking bone with every wild swing. Broadway wasn't as fast as the humans scurrying around him, but in the commotion and claustrophobic-inducing swarm he was able to overcome his disadvantage. He narrowly missed getting plugged in the shoulder and rang his fist off of an agent's head; his skin crackled against the energy shield, like he'd grazed a car battery with his knuckles.

An unprotected agent stumbled past him with a few arrows in his chest. Othello had missed the man's heart, and he couldn't quite tell if whether it was intentional or not. He'd never known his rookery elder to favor mercy on the battlefield; most of his kills were efficient and instantly lethal.

"Broadway!" Hudson yelled from behind. "Behind ye!"

The freight train-sized gargoyle whirled around and caught a woman before she could trace the line from the barrel of her gun to his forehead. His distraction nearly bled him out.

"Watch yuir back, laddie!" scolded Hudson.

"Watch your own!"

Hudson was taken aback at the similarity of his heated response and would've smiled at the irony if it weren't for the waves of new Guild agents refreshing the fallen frontline. "How long do we have t' keep this up?!"

"Until we're done!" Broadway shouted back.

Then they were separated again by more agents, like ants, crawling all around in their effort to overwhelm them by sheer number. "Or dead." he muttered, and was sure the youngling didn't hear him.

--------------------------------------------------

Clustered at the doorway every agent pulled a gun from their holster and aimed it towards the trio of gargoyles, and the only reason the back wall wasn't filled with bullet holes by now was for the fact Brooklyn stepped in front of his cohorts and lifted a bomb to eye level. Stalemate.

"Ah, ah, ah." he teased them. "You wouldn't want to blow your leader into tiny pieces, would you?"

Agent White was particularly livid, finding gargoyles in the heart of his own kingdom. And especially one with a grin from ear-to ear while holding their leader by the throat with an explosive. "You must realize by now I will sacrifice him if it means killing and gutting three gargoyles."

"You want to take that chance? I'm hoping your own sense of self-preservation will override the rampant xenophobia."

White sneered, but a coherent response leaked out as hot, angry steam.

A soft-throated voice from his right ear advised him to shoot them, kill them and outrun the explosion, be done with them and spare the great Joseph Hawkins a long and lingering death of choking on his own spittle. White realized it was his cousin standing by his shoulder, whispering his own will onto him.

"No." White barked.

Brooklyn noticed the worm obscuring his features and cowering behind the leader. He couldn't quite place the features until he imagined him with a thin moustache the same greasy gold as his hair. "I know you..."

The man simply blinked, seeing the inevitable recognition washing over the gargoyle's demonic glower.

"Canmore."

Jon looked up, and smiled. He was resurrected on a growl, back from the dead if only in the beasts' eyes. "Brooklyn, I believe?"

"I should've known you'd crawl out from under your rock someday." Brooklyn faked forward if only by a step, scoring three long lines as he dragged his right foot forwards before realizing he'd just stirred the pot.

The agents got antsy.

More glances, more nervous tics, gun barrels trembled on line with the trio of demons; most of the agents had never actually seen a gargoyle in the flesh and so close. From every story and propagandist recruitment film like something from the fifties warning schoolchildren to hide under their desks when a mushroom cloud split the sky, they were conditioned to believe in monsters without an opposing opinion. The white-haired female looked positively angelic, if not for the fangs and claws. The blond and bronze-skinned one stood hipshot with her talons whetting against each other, eyes flinty under those swooping horns.

But the beaked male, he was as red as blood and straight out of an old Quarrymen recruitment poster.

And he started goading them. "C'mon, guys, here we are. Fresh meat."

He got a few twitches from the boys, but they were puppets too well trained to fire out of fear.

"Sir?"

"Not yet." White hissed.

"You let us leave," Brooklyn offered a deal, one he'd have to think hard about to keep, "and we all survive to destroy each other some other day."

"Kill them now," Jon's breath ran along the nape of his cousin's neck, "here's yuir second chance."

"One stray bullet and we all come apart at the seams."

"Yuir name will be passed through th' ranks like a legend."

"I don't want fame, I just want these things dead."

"Then," Jon curled around his side and pulled a gun from his hip, "allow me to oblige." With a spray of gunpowder and a clap of thunder that superseded the bullet, Canmore had fired off a single round.

Brooklyn couldn't think as fast as instinct kicked in; he turned his shoulder into the bullet to protect the bomb in his hands. It missed by inches. Flesh peeled around the iron-alloy slug and it bit into the tissue, exploding out the back and shredding his skin. The bullet passed through Brooklyn's shoulder with a thick, syrupy spray, gore flecking the wall behind him.

He bit down on the scream and tumbled backwards, catching himself before he crumpled into a mewling ball of pain and fury.

"Brooklyn!" Desdemona howled and immediately took a defensive position up front, only to stare down the smoking barrel and a sadistic smile pulled back to the gums.

Canmore showed off his porcelain veneers, and slowly moved his pistol from her chest to her head. "He dared me."

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All their explosives were successfully hung up on the walls and Katana, Lexington and Angela were barreling through the bunker's long, meandering corridors, thigh muscles threatening to explode at the exertion and loping on all fours until hitting a corner, getting up on two legs to better go from hall to connecting hall.

There was discussion of going back to the battle, quick, curt and ultimately pointless; Brooklyn and Broadway both had repeated themselves ad nauseam, they were under strict orders not to return despite whatever was happening out of their reach. There wasn't a sliver of allowance for a rescue attempt if someone decided to be a hero and got themselves into a mess. So they were heading to the next available exit they could find under great personal discontent, and hoped the rest of the clan would meet them back at the castle.

That is until Angela slowed and went erect. "Wait..." She suddenly angled left, vanishing into an adjacent room.

Lexington's talons squealed as he abruptly changed direction, digging in to slow himself before he tumbled end over and finished up on his ass. As Katana growled her frustration further down, "Angela.", he followed her into the room and found her trying to visually dissect an abandoned communications console.

Angela quickly explored the electronics, a glut of lights and control knobs. But she'd noticed one piece of equipment that looked familiar.

"Angela, what are you doing?"

She ignored him. "Lexington, is this a...an intercom?" Angela fumbled over the word.

"Yeah."

"Please turn it on. I want the entire base to hear this."

"We don't have time for this..." Lexington argued.

"Please."

He did as he was told with an audible sigh and flipped the intercom's on-switch and a row of toggles labeled by subsection, powering every loudspeaker from here to the other end of the base, then handed her the speaker.

Angela cleared her throat and breathed sweetly into the speaker, "Excuse me. I hate to interrupt your intolerance and war-mongering, but by now you have obviously noticed the bombs on the walls we've planted about your base. They are set to explode in..." She stopped and turned to Lexington.

He checked the internal countdown he'd been running with a blink. "Fifty-seven minutes."

"They are set to explode in less than an hour. I suggest you start leaving as soon as possible. Thank you." She set the speaker back into its cradle and turned around, her conscience a little less laden than it was before.

Katana stood by the door, edgy and mildly annoyed. "Do you feel better?"

"Much. Now we can leave."

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His quiver empty, Othello was reduced to pulling expended arrows out of the warm bodies littering the floor. Most of them still alive, they winced at the barbed tip being pulled back through the wound. His bow's string had been colored by the blood rubbing against it, his fingertips as well.

Broadway still rampaged through the crowd, albeit slower, skin wet by blood, some his, some not (and all the same cherry spatter, though he figured the irony of similarly-colored blood was lost on the humans). He'd lost track of time and it felt like they'd been fighting for a day straight. Macbeth's armor was running the same countdown but he was often too busy to offer updates on how much time they had left.

Using the armor, he'd attacked those with the heavy weaponry first before they killed everyone in range just to get at the gargoyles. Whipping his steel-segmented tail at an agent hugging a rocket launcher to his shoulder, he accidentally loosed the grenade into the ceiling. Thankfully, that section of the bunker didn't cave in and release the several thousand tons of seawater sitting just above.

But for every agent to go down two more filled his or her place, the Guild being an equal opportunity bigoted regime, and with the identical masks and dark uniforms distinguishing between fresh soldiers with full ammunition and those that'd been on the field for a while was becoming increasingly difficult. He figured their small band had worked their way through most of the spectrum considering the Guild's proclivity towards naming their higher-ups by color. Agents Blue and Orange were currently locked up in the Eyrie's jail (the Guild probably thought the beasts had killed them, disemboweled by long claws and organs eaten raw), but the names had been imparted to another pair of men by what he was able to pick out over the racket.

He thought he'd even caught a Pink and a Yellow, even a Brown. The thin one with a deadly penchant for large hunting knives.

Bullets opened holes in his wing and he turned to disarm a woman by crushing the bones of her hand around the gun. "Sorry..." the ever-chivalrous gargoyle offered and tossed her into a pile of her friends.

"...Excuse me..."

They almost didn't hear it amidst the chaos, an incongruously pleasant female voice piped through the speaker system above.

No one stopped. To do so would've been suicidal if not completely stupid with a tooth and nail battle being fought in the narrow confines of the main corridor.

Othello sunk a few more arrows; Hudson whirled around trailing a ribbon of blood from his sword.

"...I hate to interrupt your intolerance and war-mongering, but by now you have obviously noticed the bombs on the walls we've planted about your base. They are set to explode in..." A slight pause. More yelling, screams, grunts and gunfire. Then she continued. "...They are set to explode in less than an hour..."

Broadway's heart thudded in his ribcage on hearing Angela's voice. She was alive and hopefully, hopefully, on her way out.

"...I suggest you start leaving as soon as possible. Thank you..."

More blood splattered his cheek from an agent's broken nose. "Okay," he shouted, "time to leave!"

Hudson took a grand swipe and brushed away four agents who'd narrowly missed being gutted about the belly, then took off in the opposite direction. The quartet started closing in towards each other, not the easiest task with so many in their way and it wasn't until they got about ten feet from each other when, with all the bullets flying through the air, one actually hit its mark.

The bullet had already passed through his leg before Broadway felt the pain.

Hudson scented the fresh blood before he turned to prove what he caught on the air was gargoyle. "Broadway!"

He could've bit through a six inch plate of steel the way his jaw clamped shut. He teetered and eventually gravity pulled him down on his weakened leg; Broadway might've ended up sideways if not for Hudson suddenly putting an arm under his shoulder.

"Are ye okay?" The concern couldn't be hidden.

"Fine..." Broadway lied. Sharp pains were shooting their way up his entire left side, and half his leg had already been drenched in blood gushing from the wound. The bullet could've possibly nicked an artery from the amount now pooling on the floor.

"Yuir not fine and we're leavin'!" He looked at Macbeth and relayed what needed to be done in a single brow-heavy glance. "Hang on, lad, I think it's time fer th' heavy artillery."

Macbeth turned around and his suit whirred, clicked and trembled. A pair of guns that'd been stowed behind each shoulder blade were lowered by hydraulic arms and attached to his forearms with a visible jolt.

Recognizing the weaponry, one of the agents screamed, "Down!!" and any and all hostile fire came to a screeching halt as people scattered in every direction.

The barrels started spinning, heralding the gut-wrenching, chainsaw sound; they burped fire and hot steel at five hundred rounds per minute, and a wave of ammunition starting mowing down anyone who hadn't gotten out of the way. He was able to carve a path through the fodder before exhausting the small store of bullets and by the time the gatling guns fell silent a opening had presented itself, and a thousand black holes dotted the steel walls on either side.

The guns were stowed, tips steaming, and he exploded from the backside; fire and the stench of rocket fuel burst out from the Epsilon's slatted vents, rippling along the floor. Flat on the ground and thankful they weren't yet dead, agents scrambled from the rolling orange breaker as Macbeth was lifted into the air and straight towards the small group of gargoyles. He caught them all, Othello hanging off his right arm with Hudson and Broadway in his left, and angled down the corridor, knocking any stray agent away like bowling pins.

"Hang on!" his voice was metallic through the armor's speaker.

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"...I suggest you start leaving as soon as possible. Thank you..."

The expression on agent White's face curdled and turned downright hostile, nearly retracting the cold sneer into his skull and it looked like he might've had an aneurysm from the anger stewing the length of his spine. He would've bored a hole through the female's head himself with the whole clip if not for the fact Brooklyn still held to that bomb like a piece of him that'd fallen off.

Canmore still had his gun trained on the trio and with every indication from simple body language to the slight twitch flickering through his right brow, looked like he was going to fire.

But White reached out and wrenched his cousin's pistol away. "Don't. Not yet."

"Ach," Jon sounded like he just spit something up, "are ye ever going t' have the balls?"

"This isn't about backbone, Jon, it's about what sits atop it. I want to see my victory firsthand and stand on broken skulls."

"Hear that?" The strained voice came from Brooklyn, drawing the humans' attention.

His arm hung near-useless under long dribbles of blood, having crawled all the way to his knuckles and coming off in little crimson spherules at the ends of his claws. His good hand still clutched to the bomb, the only equalizer between the two groups and the only reason they weren't yet dead. Braced on Delilah's shoulder, he was helped to an upright position and hobbled his way to the front.

He had mixed feelings on Angela's base-wide warning (though he wasn't surprised in the slightest), but at least it gave weight to his threat.

"Fifty-six minutes and counting." he said through a gritted jaw. "Right about now, my clan's on their way out of the bunker. So should we all."

"A lot can happen in an hour."

"I'd think abandoning this powder keg would be your first job."

"We're not leaving, demon, and neither are you. We'll disable your bombs–"

"You can't." Brooklyn stopped him, his breath getting husky. "You tamper with one of them, and they all go off. Once started the timer can't be stopped."

"We'll find a way, and eventually we'll either kill or catch all of your clan in this bunker. You'll be jailed, almost certainly beaten, interrogated for every scrap of information and then dissected." White got a gleam in his eye, a crook to his grin. "We'll hang your head on a pike as a warning to the rest of your kind."

"Try it." Brooklyn growled, hand tightening on the bomb's casing.

Agent White suddenly jerked his pistol right, and fired several rounds into a nearby hospital bed. The linen jumped up in tattered pieces, the mattress exploding in the center. "Though I'm quite unwilling to die tonight, I can't help wonder if you're fast enough to put that bomb in the path of my bullet before I blow out your kneecaps. Or those of your breeding whores."

Eyes flared, but no one jumped their line.

Brooklyn looked sternly at the group. "You sure?"

"Are you?" White fired back.

He tapped three times on the explosive's keypad. It hummed and blue light glowed around the edges. "One more button and we all die together."

Desdemona's brow flittered, and Delilah winced at the fact her leader was playing with her life so casually, despite the cause and something she'd probably do in his place. But she knew when accepting this mission it was a measured risk.

But agent White had had enough of threats and intimidation and constant failure; they were here, now, close enough to touch, and he couldn't let this opportunity slip past without at least trying. Perhaps his cousin's brazenness could actually be put to the advantage with the beasts' leader suffering a wound that could dull his reflexes. He straightened his arm and locked his elbow, hoping to reduce any recoil that could throw the bullet off-center. Head or heart, the shot had to be perfect. "It ends here."

"You're right."

Click.

And Brooklyn grinned. "Boom."