110 - "Assault on the Guild Part 2"
"There are no rewards or punishments -- only consequences."
- Dean William R. Inge
If only he could see their faces from behind those masks, he might've enjoyed the expressions he'd wrung from hurling an armed explosive into their midst.
Fear scattered them, every man for himself, and the bomb simply hit the floor and skittered for a few feet before coming to rest. The agents had thrown themselves as far as possible behind any kind of cover before realizing the wall of napalm they thought was coming never materialized.
Canmore knew, even though he'd fallen for it to save his own skin in case the beasts were that desperate. He was the first one off his stomach looking for anything to put an entire clip through.
As soon as Brooklyn had lobbed the bomb into their ranks, Delilah and Desdemona hopped over Black's bed and turned it on its side for cover. The wounded man tumbled out to their knees with an audible grunt, and any protest went completely unheeded. Desdemona held him down with a hand over his mouth, her grip so powerful she could've broken his jaw and forced his head into the floor if necessary.
He didn't struggle, just took it, eyes up and wild.
Brooklyn was the last left standing as the humans dropped for fear of having their flesh torn off. He'd set the bomb to go off in three minutes, and was mentally following the countdown. Two minutes, fifty-two seconds. With his good arm he reached around for his rifle and started firing at the bewildered agents.
He and Canmore traded bullets and thin red streams of laserfire, missing each other by a hope and a hair's breadth, shredding the room around them. Glass shattered, steel dented and burned, a few men were hit, jerking before they fell and flopping on the floor like fish out of water.
Two minutes, thirty seconds.
White got up and immediately eyed the bomb. It'd been armed but there wasn't a visible display that he could see; it could be seconds or hours. "Agent Green, disarm that thing!"
The skinny, unimposing agent crawled out on all fours and adjusted his mask like he would a pair of thin-frame glasses, getting a better look at the small disc. If he had the chance, he would've pulled the entire casing apart and rummaged through the guts to find the proper wires to cut.
Brooklyn turned, spotted the agent fiddling with the bomb through the fireworks and caught him in the shoulder with his rifle.
He shrieked as the energy beam ran across his shoulder, cutting his suit open and leaving an angry line of burned, bubbling flesh, and rolled away in blinding pain and garbled, high-pitched yelps.
Seriously outmatched and his aim down to half what it should've been with his right arm gone numb, Brooklyn retreated and threw himself over the bed.
Two minutes, five seconds.
The thin steel plates running the underside of the hospital bed were the only shield from the barrage being thrown against it. The mattress muffled every slug making tiny craters, and their attackers had obviously either forgotten about their leader, or were angry enough not to care anymore.
Delilah tore off a few strips from the sheets and bandaged Brooklyn's wound; most of the blood had congealed around the hole, but the dressings started soaking through almost immediately.
"You've got less than two minutes before that thing goes off!" he yelled from around their makeshift armor. "I suggest you all start running!"
"You armed the bomb?!"
One minute, forty-five seconds.
Brooklyn swung back around. "We've got to get out of here now."
They had a minute and a half to escape the infirmary and somehow make it through the hail of gunfire. But as Brooklyn fired back from around the bed, he caught sight of the wounded agent Green crawling towards the bomb. Before he could get another shot off, the agent picked it up and suddenly dashed from the infirmary.
As far down the corridor as he could run, agent Green started slowing. Every nerve ending was on fire from his neck to his thighs, and his body was simply shutting down from the pain. He couldn't breathe, he was suffocating; he tore off the mask and guzzled for air, teetering and ultimately slumping against the bunker wall. And through the veil of the adrenaline and endorphin overload short-circuiting his nervous system, reality was about to hit and hit hard.
Fanaticism was a fastidious thing, and he believed in the cause right up to the end.
The bomb started beeping, faster and faster until it flat-lined, and his eyes trickled down. No one would ever know his real name, but he hoped his sacrifice would be spoken of well into the future.
His last memory was a bright light of the initial reaction, the sudden heat, the sensation of fire crawling up his arms and then nothing.
The corridor funneled the explosion down both ends, blowing steel sections from their welds and tearing the entire structure apart. The yield of a single bomb was enough to uproot an apartment building, but several tied together in an uncontrolled chain reaction meant half of all the explosives planted by the clan had gone up an hour too early.
It was almost a pattern, each bomb a different beat in the tempo.
It vomited up the hallway like a locomotive and emptied into the infirmary through the door. Fire, propelled by a rush of black, acrid, superheated air, washed over those still standing. Then the noise followed, a deep, guttural scream belched up from whatever had spawned it.
Agents were swept up in a whirlwind strong enough to pluck hospital beds and other equipment from the ground. Everything was pushed against the rear wall, a few pieces even impaled through the steel.
There was no way one bomb could've created so much destructive power, but agent Green had blindly run in the direction Brooklyn and his team had entered. Obviously, he'd set off the rest of the explosives by accident.
The gargoyles were nearly crushed by the bed that'd been their shield, tiny spurts of liquid fire coming through the holes in the mattress. They ended up against the wall just like everything else, and the bedding quickly caught fire; they had to push it away before being smothered.
Brooklyn surveyed the damage through the low-hanging pall. The entire hospital was laid to waste in seconds, like a tornado had run through and played a game of darts with the furniture. The agents were in the same shape they were if not worse; luckily for his small group, the humans were closer to the door when the explosion came knocking and took the brunt of the wave. "Damnit..." he moaned. "That wasn't supposed to happen..."
Angela felt the tremor. The shock rippled through her face like it did much of the structure, and she stopped dead in her tracks. "The bombs...?"
Katana sniffed the air. "No, not all of them."
"She's right," Lexington nodded, "the bombs that Brooklyn's team planted just detonated early. All of them." Then, like an animal sensing danger just beyond the range of perception, he twitched and got antsy. "We've got to go, fast!"
Desdemona cleared her hair of debris. "Considering the power of the explosives, I'm surprised there isn't more damage."
"We were far enough to escape the brunt of it, but we might've just opened up a big hole." He staggered on a single knee before lifting up over the edge of their battered shield. He saw overturned equipment, dotted fires and scorchmarks on the walls. Part of the roof had come down, exposing the bunker's innards. There wasn't any movement; the dull, lingering roar may have covered up the moans of any survivors. "Let's go."
"What about Todd's father?" Delilah asked. Half her face covered in ash, her hair had been painted as black as her mother's.
"Bring him along." Brooklyn ordered, and led the way with the barrel of his rifle.
Desdemona and Delilah hauled Black to his feet. He'd been lying on his ass too long, and coupled with getting rolled from his bed and shoved into the wall by an explosion he was barely able to stand let alone walk. He didn't have enough strength to fight his way free and was dragged out from behind the overturned bed.
Brooklyn crept through the wreckage, sidestepping small bursts of flame and jagged shards of steel. He saw a few bodies on his way through the infirmary, but couldn't tell which was which. Most were buried under the debris and he hoped Canmore and agent White were among them.
As soon as they hit the doorway a slick of water rolled towards them, bleeding through their toes. It was cool and each of them caught a whiff of salt. It wasn't from the freshwater storage tanks, it was seawater. The bunker was flooding. Again. But there weren't any doors to force closed this time, just a mortal, hemorrhaging wound.
Brooklyn nodded at his team and motioned for them to go on ahead. They dragged Black out of the room and he was last out. But with the bunker groaning along every strut and panel, he couldn't hear the debris being moved behind him.
He came at the gargoyle like a predator emerging from the tall grass, no fear, no anxiety, just rage given permission to supersede better judgment. Canmore appeared from the wreckage half aflame himself and grabbed Brooklyn around the neck before the gargoyle was able to fully turn and face his attacker.
His face was seared on one side, red and blackened, hair burned to the skin, but the madness in his eyes remained. "We're not finished!"
The psycho had been working out; he was stronger and with Brooklyn's wounded arm the little pissant was difficult to fight off. Canmore threw him into the nearest steel wall, hot by the fire and burning against the delicate membranes of his wings.
"I am going t' peel th' skin from yuir bones, and then kill yuir whores!"
"You wish, Canmore..." he growled back and pushed the human off of him.
Canmore staggered back, and then put his knuckles into the bullet hole. Brooklyn howled, his eyes glazing white and gritted through the pain that'd run up his skull. He dropped the gun and lurched to the side.
The water started rising, tons of ice cold Atlantic pouring in from an unseen hole somewhere further up the hall and Canmore splashed towards him, kicked him in the thigh, got him on the ground and starting working on that bullet wound. He got in a good five shots before Brooklyn raked his claws against Canmore's stomach in a last-ditch attempt to throw him off.
"Uhhrkkk!!" Canmore gurgled.
And Brooklyn capitalized. He reached down for his rifle and put the barrel at the human's chest.
"Kill me, demon, or I'll certainly kill you."
His finger on the trigger, Brooklyn couldn't have hoped for a better shot. "I should." he breathed. "I should put a hole through your chest and rid the world of a cancer that's eating everything good about it away."
Canmore was barely holding himself back. The anger had receded just enough to allow him to participate in the conversation. "I'm sure th' world sees me more as a savior."
"Because you lie to them, play to their fears like a parasite."
"I tell th' truth, about th' monsters they continually refuse t' believe are there above them!" he yelled, pressing into the rifle's barrel. "I'll make them believe, I'll make them face th' truth if I have t' hang yuir gutted corpse from Times Square!!"
A moment of deliberation, and even Brooklyn would later wonder if he would've indeed pulled the trigger. His peripheral vision didn't afford him the time to dodge a new player to his and Canmore's private little war.
Agent White's aim was obscured by the blood running into his eyes and, despite his purpose to the contrary, caught the rifle in between his cousin and the demon. It shot out of Brooklyn's hand, and both men were separated by the fear of a possible ricochet. White followed the brick-skinned creature with a string of bullets from where he rolled into a brisk sprint towards his rifle (where he scooped it from the ground) and towards the door to the point where he jumped into the hall.
"Ye can run, demon, but ye canna hide!!" Canmore yelled after the gargoyle.
"Jon..." White rasped.
Canmore noticed his cousin throwing a rolling cabinet off of him. He started over and a little less than gently hoisted the agent to his feet.
"We have to evacuate..."
"No. We haveta kill th' demons before they escape!"
"The water's past our ankles! And we have no idea how many more bombs are in the bunker, or when they'll go off!"
"What about yuir leader?"
Jon was facetious, but agent White's guilt was apparent. He dipped his head, lowered his voice and answered simply, "He'd want the Guild to survive."
"Fine, ye grab all yuir little minions and run away, I'll take care of th' gargoyles. Give me yuir guns."
His cousin had those iridescent animal eyes. Obviously his mental state was still teetering on the edge between sanity and whatever awaited him on the other side.
But Canmore didn't wait for an answer; he kicked White in the gut and immediately grabbed for his weapons and any spare clips hanging from his belt. Leaving his cousin in a heap on the floor, Canmore charged out in search for the gargoyles.
Warning lights went off in Macbeth's helmet, information scrolling past his field of vision. Brooklyn's explosives had been detonated before the designated time. Either one of the Guild had tried to tamper with them, or he was forced to set them off early.
It was hard enough to navigate the corridors of an unfamiliar military-styled bunker riding on a plume of flame, but doing that with a thousand pounds of extra weight piled atop him proved tricky. Macbeth could feel the strain on his nervous system as the exertion he put the armor through translated near flawlessly into his body via the neural link. Muscles strained, and there was a nascent ache at the back of his head.
He leaned into another corner, wings scraping the wall as he completed the wide arc. Othello had to tilt himself away before he was smeared across the steel like a butter-spread.
With Broadway dangling from his left arm, he wasn't able to get a good look at his leg wound. But the amount of blood letting out onto the floors behind him in a spattered trail worried the other passengers, Hudson especially.
The gargoyle stirred, slightly, eyes half-closed. He looked a little pale.
Macbeth had been on a battlefield enough in his lifetime to be intimate with the symptoms of severe blood loss. They were going to have to put down and dress the wound before he bled out completely. "Hang on, lad."
He hit a straight stretch, close to a possible exit. They could stop up near the end, bandage Broadway's leg and take a breath before escaping into the bay, either through a hatch or a hole cut with the armor's lasers. But turning the corner, it was like hitting the beach at Normandy, thirty men and women in masks waiting for that dull roar to make it around the corner.
Whether or not they were escaping a sinking ship or not was moot in the face of four viable targets as big as life and coming straight at them. They certainly had enough time to kill a few gargoyles and peel open the sophisticated tin can of a race-traitor before getting to the escape ships.
Macbeth immediately went low, put on the brakes by digging his metal claws into the floor and whirled around, dropping the gargoyles he'd been carrying and spreading his wings as a shield. Silence one moment, gunfire the next; the Guild members started shooting blindly, a few more in surprise and fear than anything else.
Macbeth could feel every bullet, his brain translating it the best it could (being stabbed with a fork a hundred times over). "Brace me!" he yelled to Hudson and Othello.
They looked at each other, then hunkered down and held him in place on either side.
Fire burst from the rockets on his back, channeled down the corridor and cutting a swathe through the Guild's ranks. They scattered, retreating before being burned to death or having their masks melted to their faces.
Hudson and Othello acted as anchors, preventing Macbeth from taking off and putting himself through a wall headfirst somewhere down the hall, but the sheer thrust of a jetpack with enough power to put a man into orbit started pushing them back. Their talons cut thin grooves in the steel, metal shavings curling in a spiral from each toe before Macbeth throttled down and cut off the rockets.
"They'll be back." Macbeth said, straightening out. "I've only scared them off."
Hudson was already hovering over Broadway's limp form. His leg was caked in blood, still flowing freely.
"Th' bullet may have nicked th' femoral artery."
"Broadway." father called to son. "Broadway. Open yuir eyes, lad."
His eyes fluttered, and eventually opened to slits. "I...I'm fine..." he whispered. "I'm good to go."
"Nay, yuir not. Yui'll be dead before we make th' surface."
Othello grimaced, squinting down the hall for any more Guild members brave enough to pop their head around the corner. "We need to stop the bleeding."
Hudson wiggled his talons under one of the leather straps around the bottoms of his leggings and unwound it. Using scraps torn from his loincloth, he tied the strap around Broadway's thigh using the torn strips to plug the wound. "That'll do fer now."
"Good, because we're not alone." He strung his bow and sent an arrow to the other end, from quiver to wall within seconds. A few clustered agents, the ones that hadn't already fled, had waited for the heat to die down and were waiting around the corner for an opportunity to present itself.
Hudson lifted Broadway up and the three gargoyles piled on to Macbeth. He took to air in a fireball exploding from his back, curled his wings around his cargo so much so he formed a big, black bullet speeding its way to the end of the corridor.
Any Guild members peeking around the corner nearly had their heads taken off as this gleaming, serrated shell screamed past them and took the corner with barely enough directional control to keep level. He left behind a trail of sparks and quickly outran their weapons range.
Somewhere along the bunker's outer periphery, several more Guild members were evacuating, the instinct to survive overriding their loyalty to the cause. Apparently a few of the younger, less indoctrinated members had heeded Angela's warning.
Thus, when the halls got a little too crowded for comfort, Katana, Angela and Lexington had jumped into the ductwork and continued on.
The ducts were just big enough for them to slip through, and with Lexington having mapped part of the bunker through computer memory they were making their way back to the point of entry by crawling on their hands and knees.
To Angela, it'd felt like they'd been scuttling through these tunnels for far too long, especially when faced with a particularly long stretch of passageway. For a gargoyle to be confined was aggravating, and her thoughts swirled and conflicted. "How much further?"
"Should be close now." Lexington answered from behind. "Maybe a few hundred meters to the hatch, a couple more turns or so."
"Good," she growled low, "I for one can't wait to get out of here, and meet up with the others."
The webwing nodded silently and, with his mind wandering just as Angela's was, didn't notice when she suddenly stopped, nearly causing him to face-plant into her tail.
Angela got the taste of copper in her mouth, shoved up her sinuses. She'd scented blood, wafting through the grate she'd just passed over. It was faint but enough to focus her attention on something else than escaping. "Wait..."
Taking up the rear, Katana couldn't see what'd piqued the young female's interest. "Angela? We don't have time to delay."
She gazed through the slivers of the grate, into a small room lit by a single, struggling bulb. A jail cell was laid out in perfect medieval fashion, and there, hung by a chain and shackled at her wrists, Savannah St. Nicks was left to die like a slab of meat in a butcher shop window. "Oh...my."
She was still wearing the same clothes the night she was dragged from her apartment, flaked with dried blood, skin plum and welted, a good ten pounds lighter.
Angela watched for any movement. There was none, not even the presence of breath.
But Lexington saw more than his partner could as he squeezed beside her to get a look. His irises rotated and focused on Savannah's limp form; she was still registering a heat pattern through his infrared. "She's alive."
"Then we have to save her."
Katana immediately moved towards the hatch, unsheathed her sword and, quite unintentionally, lifted her eyes up from beneath her brow. She'd noticed Angela's surprise. "You actually think I am heartless, don't you?"
"Sometimes." she answered honestly.
She smiled in return. "I suppose I am too much of a realist."
"And I can be too much of an idealist."
"Very true." With a balled fist, Katana punched through the grate. It snapped from its screws and fell to the floor. Savannah barely moved.
Katana followed, sluicing through the open hole as fluidly as if she were liquid. But on landing, she put down into an inch of water, slowly leaking in through the door. The surprise was waylaid as she approached the human suspended from the ceiling, and it was only when she got up close that she could distinguish her from a corpse.
One eye swollen completely shut, the other cracked just enough to reveal a hint of auburn. If there was shock, it was blunted by the amount of bruises Savannah had amassed through several beatings. "...hulp...me..."
Having followed, Lexington winced at the amount of punishment she'd taken and wondered at how much they were able to wring from her. "Let's cut her down."
With a clean swipe, Katana cut through the chains and Savannah fell into Lexington's awaiting arms. She was light and toothpick thin, and he could've sworn he felt her ribs through her tattered shirt. "Savannah?"
"We thought you might be dead."
She rolled her head around with what little strength remained. "...not...yet..."
He dug into a hatch on his forearm and pulled out a lockpick. It was easy enough to unlock the shackles and when he removed the heavy-gauge, steel cuffs, noticed the shredded flesh underneath. "Come on, we have to get out of here. The rest of the bombs are going to go off soon, and this place is already flooding."
"...bombs...?" A hand weakly grasped at air before it flopped back to her chest. Savannah didn't even have the strength to hold her arm up for less than a few seconds.
"Hang on, we've got a little more to go."
But as always, an uncomplicated escape was too much to hope for when a guard kicked his way into the cell, waving a high-powered rifle around at a buffet of targets. Lexington drew Savannah from the line of fire as Katana reacted and raced towards the masked agent.
He didn't even get off a shot before the first few inches of the rifle's barrel suddenly dropped off, sheared by a flash his eyes could barely register. The blade curled around, just a glint of light; he heard the air being split and felt cold steel suddenly pressed to his throat.
On the other end of the sword up against his carotid, Katana bled from her eyes and hissed, "Run."
He didn't deliberate. The guard whirled on his boot-heel and hightailed into the hall, never looking back to see if the jade-colored demon had given chase.
Lexington cocked a ridge, staring at the gun he'd left behind in his haste. "Bet you he just turned in his membership."
She slammed the door shut and returned to help Lexington lift Savannah to her feet and then to Angela who'd remained in the ductwork. She pulled the reporter beside her and as the others returned to the ductwork, allowed them to slip Savannah onto her back.
"...how much...further..." Savannah whispered.
"A bit more. I hope you can hold your breath."
He figured they had less than half an hour before the other bombs went off, if everything went as planned. And then there wouldn't be just a slow trickle of water flowing through the base, it would be a flood of freezing water rushing in to swallow anyone left behind.
As they followed the only available corridor that wasn't completely destroyed, the damage was still considerable. The water level was halfway up their shins; the only reason it wasn't getting any higher was for the fact it was rolling into the rest of the base, faster and faster until it was hard to move against a roaring current. Either the entire bunker would soon be underwater or the weight of the ocean above would crush it like a cracked eggshell.
Brooklyn slogged through the river, leading his team around the twisted mess of girders and popped steel plates. Any lights that still worked flickered; some threw off the occasional spark, small explosions of gold embers falling into the water. He didn't expect much resistance but had his rifle trained on anything that cast a shadow.
"How much further?" Delilah asked. The strain of dragging a semi-conscious human through the water could be heard through her voice.
"I'm not exactly sure. We've changed the map a little." From what he could recognize, between hanging wires like colored spaghetti to exposed sections of the substructure, they were getting close to where they first came in. "But we're almost there, I think."
"It's almost over, Delilah."
"Not soon enough..."
Brooklyn didn't respond to the dripping cynicism and let it slide, instead concentrating on getting them to safety (he didn't blame her of course, he felt the same way). Coming up on a three-way junction he cautiously checked each direction through his rifle's scope, and with one completely blocked with wreckage it left only a single road open. "Come on."
They followed behind and as fast and best as they could, through flooding halls and dragging an unconscious human along with them, the group backtracked until turning a corner among many to find their path had come to an abrupt end.
Part of the structure had caved in on the corridor, leaving small gaps to the other side. There was a hole big enough for them to squeeze through one at a time and Brooklyn immediately motioned towards it. It was too much time and too much of a distance to go back now.
Delilah slinked through and helped guide the Guild leader to her side, and Desdemona followed.
Brooklyn was the last, and just as he was about to crawl through the hole (and consequently let his guard down), a pair of arms came down around his neck with a piece of steel tubing up against his Adam's apple.
Canmore's tattered uniform was covered in dirt and smoke damage so much that he was indistinguishable by scent from the rest of the wreckage surrounding them. He blended in with the fire-spoiled junk and like a phantom, got in under Brooklyn's radar.
Desdemona could see them struggling through that small hole. "Brooklyn!"
Despite the pipe up against and crushing his vocal cords, he managed to get out a hasty "Go!"
"We're not leaving you!"
"Go! Get out! I'll be...right behind you!"
Canmore decided to end the debate by whipping out one of his stolen pistols and nearly putting a bullet through Desdemona's face.
She jerked away as shrapnel sparked from the debris, the bullet recoiling with a pained scream.
"Go!" was the last thing they heard from Brooklyn as he was dragged away from sight. "Now!!"
Desdemona deliberated, and then made her decision. "We're going."
Still under Black's limp arm, Delilah made a face momentarily before it vanished under a rarely seen sense of professionalism (Elisa's genes bubbling to the surface). "And do we take him with us?"
She took a breath and got under Black's other arm. "Yes."
Canmore put his weight into his left leg, sheered up his arm and held the gargoyle with a grip that could break his neck with the proper leverage. "You should've let them stay."
"They know they'd only become liabilities." He couldn't be worrying about them while taking on such a dangerously unpredictable lunatic, and Desdemona understood.
"Pity, I would have enjoyed an audience for what I'm about to do." He cocked the gun and held it to Brooklyn's temple, hoping for a pretty spray of brain.
Brooklyn's right arm may have been rendered useless, but his legs worked just fine. He flipped Canmore over him before he could pull the trigger and onto the ground. The water cushioned the fall, but he came down with his knee on Canmore's chest and held him under just long enough to disarm him. The fleeting thought of drowning him was just that; he wondered why he couldn't bring himself to kill this man, despite the fact he'd popped up from under his rock more times than he could count.
Canmore thrashed around like a madman, managing quick breaths before being forced back underwater.
Maybe he could force the air from his lungs just long enough to knock him out, and then leave his unconscious body to the mercy of a deteriorating bunker. At least his hands and his conscience would be a little less stained with blood than it would be by spilling his innards or slashing his throat.
But it was Canmore who'd decide his own fate when a wild kick connected to Brooklyn's skull and knocked the gargoyle's balance off just long enough to get up over the rising water. He grabbed for his gun and fired off a few rounds that didn't connect, but it helped to shake the demon's confidence and even up the odds.
If he tried to run, he'd get a bullet in the back and thus Brooklyn kept the fight close-quarters, trading clumsy blows with legs like cement in the water.
He brushed the gun away every time Canmore brought it even remotely close to getting off a shot, only to have the psycho capitalize on the opening with his other arm.
A fist to the ribs, another to his wounded shoulder, Canmore was all adrenaline and no hesitation. Brooklyn was losing as quickly as his shoulder was sending lightning up into his chest and neck, only because he was holding back for fear of...
It would be so simple to snap his neck (humans were fragile that way), and this monster deserved it a thousand times over. He wanted to be decidedly proactive to Goliath's cautious nature but murdering to protect his clan wasn't what he had in mind. They were fighting for their right to exist, he'd justified it right up to now, but Desdemona had a point back in the infirmary, it would be an execution.
But if Canmore pushed him just enough...
His reverie got him a fist to the face and Brooklyn was shoved back into reality and Canmore's second incoming punch. He grabbed his hand, wrenched it away and clotheslined him. Canmore did a flip and ended up in the water again.
Lexington stopped; the quiet countdown running in his head was nearing the end and despite all the help to the contrary repeatedly scrolling past his field of vision, he just wasn't paying attention. They should've given themselves more time.
A voice filtered in from the side. "Lexington?"
"Don't stop, don't stop, don't stop."
Macbeth rounded another corner, his eyes trying to focus through the chaos of information splashed across his helmet's inner display, including the countdown getting dangerously close to zero.
"Macbeth, we've got t' leave now!" Hudson shouted. "Th' boy isna farin' well!"
The old soldier couldn't hide a fatherly concern, or one for a clan member slowly bleeding to death in front of his eyes. But Macbeth could only offer a tinny, "Almost there." through the helmet's speaker.
Another corner, another hall, but this time he slowed and angled up, then stopped a few inches away from the steel ceiling. His armor had detected an opening.
Othello was able to reach out for a hatch big enough to let them out as Macbeth hovered just underneath. Once opened he was going to shoot straight up no matter how much water charged through, or how long his passengers could hold their breath. Othello muscled opened the hatch; it cracked, broke the seal and he felt the collision of fuel, spark and oxygen in Macbeth's rockets in opposition to the dull, ominous roar of what was about to come crashing down.
"Hang on, laddie," Hudson whispered to a near cataleptic Broadway, "we'll be home soon."
"Move, move, move!" he screamed at them. Agent Red directed his small group into the escape submersible, as others filed into more down the line. The entire wall held a bank of docking gates leading into the bunker's numerous ejectable lifeboats, launching as soon as they filled to capacity.
By the quick headcount he figured there were a little over two hundred survivors out of more than a thousand active agents. But the casualties had mounted with the battle in the hangar bay and in the aftermath of the explosions and subsequent flood.
One agent in particular he'd watched for, picked her from the monochromatic crowd and made sure she loaded into his lifeboat. As she passed, the woman paused, rubbed his arm in a more than casual manner and ducked through the hatch.
With a quick scan of the loading area he knew he was the last to load, and anyone left behind would have to fend for themselves.
Three hours elapsed in an anti-climatic end.
Until the bombs went off, and the world went sideways. The entire bunker felt like it had just been catapulted across the ocean floor.
The surface above didn't break, just gurgled and simmered with the amount of escaping air, considering the explosion was blunted by several hundred tons of ocean sitting on the bunker and turned inwards. Fire was replaced by smoke and then by water, the damage almost twice that of the earlier blast with the structure weakened on one side.
Water poured in without heed or mercy, swallowing entire sections instantly.
Guards who obstinately stood their ground were washed away. Even those who hadn't yet made it to an exterior door, hatch or submersible were caught up in a rush of freezing water come upon them more quickly then they thought possible.
He was dreaming, of great things and people past and future, or more truthfully, he was still sleeping off the chop to the cervical nerve. And then, suddenly, it was all sucked through a black hole and ended with a burst of light.
Under her high-cheeked visage and blue eyes like mirrors, Todd awoke and for a moment, before memory intruded, there was nothing in his world but his own reflection. It didn't last. He shot up, fire-eyed and for a moment was unsure of his surroundings. The last thing he remembered was the Eyrie's hangar, a Scottish accent, pain, cold metal against his cheek, "Macbeth! Fuck!"
"He did it to protect you." Annika explained, calm to his chaotic.
"Yeah, right." Todd rolled off the couch and whatever his direction, stopped when he realized, "Bastard stole my armor, didn't he?"
"First of all, it's not your armor and secondly, yes he did, and I'm glad for it."
"Glad? That he knocked me out–from behind I might add–like some punk kid?"
She buried the urge to call him on those last, appropriately descriptive words. "Yeah, because that means my husband doesn't have to participate in something that may get him and others we love killed."
He did a few circles on the carpet, wiping a hand over his mouth and chin and glancing between his wife and the door. "I should be there." he said. "I should be helping them."
Annika got up from the couch, the three-month belly a bit more pronounced. "No. You need to be here."
"I don't like other people fighting my fight."
"It's just as much their fight as it is yours. More probably. And frankly, I don't see what you can do."
"Because, it's a little over three hours since they left." She needed a breath to continue. "The bombs have probably gone off by now."
Todd shot a glance at the nearest clock. She was right. He didn't think to check the time when first waking up; it didn't feel like it'd been that long, but unconsciousness can warp someone's sense of reality. He wasn't exactly privy to all the fine details of the plan, but he knew the clan (the survivors at least) would try and make their way back home.
"There's nothing you can do, except wait like the rest of us."
"Yes there is..." he said softly and doggedly.
"Xanatos won't give you anything." Annika warned him. "He's agreed not to help you in any way."
Whether not that fact registered didn't show, as he paused momentarily, let the gears grind and then started walking off.
"Don't you dare run off again."
He turned so fast he nearly put a hole in the large stone he was standing on. "I can't just sit here and wait!! They're our family!! My family...they've risked their lives for me and I owe them the same!"
"And what exactly are you going to do? Walk right into the ocean? If they aren't out of that place yet, then they're," she choked, and swallowed, "dead."
He stood and digested the possibility, then turned to leave, seemingly unaffected.
"And just where are you going to go?!"
"To see a friend."
He slipped through the doorway and all Annika could do (barring the use of an entire roll of duct tape) was massage her brow and sigh in frustration.
He'd yelled, "Hang on!" when his internal timer ran out.
The explosions were distant thuds but it took only a few seconds for the shockwave to race through the entire bunker. The duct had wrinkled from one end to the other, slammed them against the side and for a moment, they were weightless, until gravity reared up and dropkicked them back down again.
Lexington rubbed his head where he'd nearly put it through the metal. "Ow...I suggest we get moving."
Several minutes later and several meters on with a slightly panicked crawl, they'd finally reached an exterior hatch.
Angela gently laid Savannah down, propped her up against the duct's wall and stood up inside the aperture. But before she even put her hands to the locking mechanism, the entire duct started shivering and rattling on its screws.
"Not again..." Lexington dug his claws into the brushed aluminum to get a better hold. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes, the intended result." Katana answered.
He scrambled up to one of the grates overlooking the corridor below, and the little trickle gently running along the floor swelled into the Grand Rapids. "The base is flooding fast."
"Then we must leave. And hopefully the others will be waiting for us above."
From what little they could see of the corridor now a raging river, men and women were carried from one end to the other like driftwood. It was hard to tell if they were still alive they passed by so fast; thrashing limbs could be the current simply rending arms and legs as easily as kindling, crushing the bodies as it carried them into the depths and hollows.
Water spit at the grate, the level rising fast.
"Angela, go!" Lexington started pushing against her.
She stood up and put her hands on the hatch's locking mechanism. Looking down, she noticed Lexington and Katana both holding to Savannah, readying themselves. She knew as soon as she opened the hatch water would come rushing in, slowed by the escaping air and the pressurized bunker acting as a barrier against the onslaught just waiting above. But with the damage suffered, that fragile air bubble had a few holes in it. "Take deep breaths, Savannah." she warned the reporter. "We're going to swim upwards as fast as we can."
A weak thumbs up and Angela nodded.
"Here we go." She filled her lungs and wrenched open the hatch. The sting of cold ocean hit her skin like a butcher's knife, but she muscled through the torrent of water pushing against her chest so hard it nearly collapsed her ribcage. Lexington followed with Savannah hooked in one arm, and the gargoyles took to each metal rung of the ladder one hand at a time.
As they passed through the threshold the buoyancy helped to shoot them out into the inky expanse and swim away from the whirlpool sucking back into the bunker's interior. Now all they had to do was kick and scrape their way straight up until they hit the surface and the stars above.
The walls were groaning.
Only half the structure was keeping the ceiling from caving in and the pressure of thousands of tons of water pushing against the walls wasn't helping in the slightest.
Brooklyn heard the explosions and figured he had minutes to find a way out before drowning. Unfortunately he was neck to neck with a psychopath intent on painting his blood on the walls.
Each of them bore scars from an all-out brawl; there wasn't any grace or fluidity to their movements, just a sound pummeling and the most swings thrown against the other whenever an opportunity presented itself. Their guns were lost somewhere under the water and they may have well been washed away by the strong current, thus Canmore resorted to whatever was available, from debris to his bare hands.
Brooklyn felt his teeth rattle off Canmore's hand as the human glanced a fist off his beak. He spit blood in a wide arc and shook it off, dodging another incoming blow just before it made contact.
"This is getting tiring!' he shouted.
"Good. I'm sick of yuir inability t' simply accept th' fact yuir going t' die here."
"Is it really worth it?"
"Your death, just to rid the world of a single gargoyle."
"I'd willingly send a thousand men and women t' their deaths if it meant killing but one, me included."
He staggered back and discovering how hard it was to move, noticed the water was already up to his waist. "Well we're both going to die very soon if we stay here!"
"Who says I'm going t' die tonight, demon?!"
"The rising water!"
Canmore charged towards him. "Cute..."
Brooklyn edged away. He definitely had the disadvantage against someone with no conscience and nothing to lose, not even his own sanity.
With a piece of jagged steel fished from the water and brandished like a knife, he took a few wild swings at the gargoyle, hoping to sever an artery or two. Brooklyn twisted and turned and sucked in his gut, anything to avoid having a makeshift knife put a hole in him, including throwing anything that happened to float past.
"This has drawn on long enough." Canmore growled. "I'm sick of yuir clan, and I'm sick of this constant confrontation and yuir stubborn insistence in staying alive."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but my clan has the annoyingly tenacious trait of not wanting to die."
More vicious swipes and every time Canmore missed Brooklyn could see the rage multiplying, effectively erasing any other concerns such as drowning to death. He got so brazen he actually flipped the knife so he was holding to the tip of the blade and hurled it towards the gargoyle.
Brooklyn slapped it away without realizing it was more distraction than desperation (though it did put a deep gash in his forearm), and Canmore lunged as best he could in four feet of water. Brooklyn couldn't avoid him despite his noticeable lack of speed and just as Canmore was about to reach him, a dislodged piece of rubble ran up against his shoulder carried by the water, and nearly knocked him under.
More and more debris was washing in through the door and between the two combatants, effectively ending the fight, and considering it was difficult to have a fistfight in water up to the chin, it'd degenerated into a struggle for survival. But it didn't stop Canmore from trying to choke the life from the gargoyle when he was able to crawl/swim over the churning wreckage to get to him.
When he felt hands around his throat Brooklyn figured Canmore would rather drown himself and take the gargoyle with him than let him leave still able to draw breath. "Get off me, bastard!!" He pushed him off and slogged his way one-handed through the hall, using torn, misshapen steel plates as anchors to pull himself towards the hall's end.
Canmore followed, intent to get to him before the current separated them within miles of interconnecting corridors. But the gargoyle had already worked his way to the corner and sure enough, was quickly swept away out of sight. "Demon!" he screamed. "Demoooooooonn!!!"
Brooklyn was a might busy to mind the psychotic howling at him; he was trying if not somewhat unsuccessfully to steer himself with a tidal wave under his tail carrying him faster and faster along the long stretch of hall. Thrown up against one side he dug his claws in and scored a few lines in the steel before coming to a stop.
A door a ways down afforded an escape and he slowly whittled his way towards it before allowing himself to be sucked in. Eyes bouncing between the lake of debris in front of him and the ceiling above for anything leading outside, he caught something near the corner of the room amidst the typical military signage, a hatch. Finally a bit of luck for a change. "It's about goddamned time..." he muttered and started swimming towards it.
"Demon!" Canmore yelled at him. Somehow he'd followed behind like a bad smell and pushed his way through the door.
"I'm leaving, jackass." Brooklyn shot back. "I'd suggest you do the same but that would mean you might actually survive!"
Incensed, Canmore started pumping his arms and rocketed towards the gargoyle. The beast was trying to open an escape hatch and this was the last chance to drown him before he slithered his way free of this dying bunker.
The room was filling up, leaving only a few inches of air near the ceiling. Brooklyn bobbed up and sucked at any available oxygen before it was squeezed out through the cracks. He grabbed that last, desperate breath and held on to the hatch as Canmore tackled him around the midsection. Submerged, they struggled under the water holding on to a mouthful of air, Brooklyn stubbornly attached to the hatch's lock-wheel and Canmore trying to wrench him free.
With a knee to the gut, Brooklyn squirmed loose and started working on the hatch. He wasn't able to open it with just one hand, so he gritted his teeth and willed his other arm to work just long enough to get a good, two-handed grip and slowly turn the wheel.
The hatch popped. The pressure between the bunker and whatever lay outside wasn't equalized quite yet, and he was pulled through and followed the blurry tunnel as best he could, banging against the sides before emptying into the ocean.
Looking behind him he could see Canmore right on his tail, struggling to beat the gargoyle to the surface.
She could see the specks of starlight just before breaking the surface, and once up she gasped for air in one long, sustained inhale. The night air cooled raw lungs, despite the tinge of exhaust.
Desdemona was the first to emerge from the water, followed by Delilah and finally their passenger.
"We made it..."
"Yes..." Treading the choppy waters near to the major shipping lanes, she quickly scanned the harbor with dim eyes. A few hundred feet away three silhouettes awaited them at the shore, in a vacant berth of the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, currently under construction (and not due to be completed for another three years). She could only hope Othello was among them, or at least somewhere near. "Come." she said, and started moving towards the shoreline.
It was hard enough to swim one-handed, especially when trying to keep the semi-conscious Black from slipping back under. As they neared, those silhouettes filled in and Desdemona was pained to learn her mate wasn't one of them.
"Glad you made it." Lexington greeted them, but as he grabbed a hold of their passenger when they got in reach, his brow furrowed at the sight. "Is that who I think it is?"
"We couldn't just leave him." Desdemona explained. "He was injured."
"Good. He deserved it."
"Tell that to Todd."
"I'm sure he'd agree with me..."
As they were helped on shore, given a moment to catch their breath, Katana was on Desdemona with something burning on her mind. Their team had come back with one less. "Brooklyn?"
Her expression answered for her before she could cinch it down. "We were attacked...by Jon Canmore."
The name rippled through the gathered clan like a bad smell. "Canmore?" Lexington reacted. "That psycho's thrown in with the Guild?"
Desdemona smoothed a few straw-gold locks behind her horns, and took a breath. "He told us to go, to take Todd's father and get out before the bunker flooded completely. He said he would be right behind us..."
Katana turned and scanned the water, dappled light from the ferry terminal spilling out onto the oil-slick surface. He could've come up anywhere in a one-mile radius, and come ashore along hundreds of meters of coastline. Maybe even had the misfortune to surface under one of those floating behemoths making the trips between islands.
"Maybe we should wait..." Lexington suggested.
But Katana was as stiff as her sword. "We had our orders to meet back at the castle."
"And are you going to follow those orders?" Angela asked. "Considering our mates are still out there somewhere?"
Her eyes went up and across the bulk of the ferry terminal. Despite the amount of construction and impediments between them and any open window, it would only take one human looking hard enough to see them under the wrought-iron streetlights. "We're too exposed here. Perhaps we should find better shelter."
"Maybe we should just go, now."
She was looking towards a group of humans climbing up over the rail of the promenade farther down, more and more emerging from the ocean, like Mongols streaming over China's Great Wall. Before the clan even caught the few masks peppered in between, they knew exactly what'd just come to shore.
"Fast..." Delilah was up on her feet. "We've got to go fast."
They were en masse, wet and seething and spoiling for a fight. The demons had just struck a blow to the organization and the few members that'd run off for something a little safer in the way of extremism barely made a dent in the sheer number.
Agent Red (his mask still stubbornly affixed) slowly separated himself from the group, and lurched his way forward; he'd caught the figures just a few hundred meters down. His clenched stance was a silent challenge.
Katana knew it well, especially when the others started goose-stepping forwards, whatever weapons they were able to salvage glinting in the moonlight. Individual rank among the clan was never quite delineated with an autocratic clan system, with no officers below the Second. It was generally accepted that someone with the most amount of experience in whatever kind of situation they found themselves in would take the lead. She unsheathed her sword and, as the others looked to her, suddenly ordered them to "Scatter!!"
The only cover to the hail of bullets was the construction site down the shore. The clan ran for cover and found it behind the bones of the half-completed section of the ferry terminal's new addition. Fortunately tonight's moon was a muted sliver and the lights of the city were still far off, affording the clan the darkness to hide against shadows and concrete blocks, and jagged, gold-taped threads of temporary fencing leading off towards the distant buildings.
The terminal's older section still a hum of activity this late at night, their options were limited without being spotted by a crowd of passengers waiting to board.
As the Guild advanced, Katana whirled on Lexington. "We need a diversion!"
"Coming up." That same forearm panel popped up and he dug around in the compartment until pulling something back out. It was small and unassuming and just before he threw it out into the open, yelled, "Everyone cover their eyes!"
A moment later, night became day, like the sun had just dropped onto the beach. Every square inch of the shore, the water and the surrounding landscape was bleached of any color or distinguishing line by an intense flare of light. The clan bolted, through the thicket of cement and steel and across a parking lot roped off with construction equipment and material, still dragging the wounded humans they'd liberated.
The Guild shook off the flare (the masks diffusing most of the light) and followed like a swarm before anyone in the terminal noticed.
The portable office trailers allowed sufficient cover and paths to freedom. Lexington being the smallest and with the best eyesight took the lead, carving a path for the rest to follow.
Bullets rang off aluminum and steel in a glut of different pitches, either going straight through or ricocheting off different objects, sending sprays of wood splinters into the air. Savannah cried out when a bullet screamed past them, quickly fading to a breathless gasp.
Lush greens fell into view, the small park a haven for creatures whose skin didn't quite blend in with manmade materials as well as a wooded area. The group emptied into the park, finding refuge in the trees.
Lexington threw his eyes up and across the sparse canopy. The trees weren't as tall as those in Central Park; they were more for beautification than cover and still allowed those lucky enough with waterfront property a generous view. "We're easy targets in the air. They'd pick us off one by one."
Delilah rested against a gnarled trunk, twisted unlike its brethren. Her chest heaved with the exertion of dragging a two hundred pound lead weight by the arm. "Then where do we go? The castle's almost four miles away."
"We go by foot." Desdemona stared through the forest to the neon glow beyond.
"We don't blend in very well..."
"We have no choice. We'll be dead otherwise."
A bullet tore into the trunk of a tree nearby and exploded out the other side, nearly splitting it in half.
"Move!" Katana shouted and got the party on their feet.
Their direction chosen out of necessity they were forced from one end to the other until quickly running out of park, emptying out where Battery Place ran through Broadway and Greenwich Street. The jungle laid out ahead of them was all concrete, steel, brick and glass, with plenty of open spaces to get caught by a random human with a bad sense of timing. In the background the stampede of footfalls shook the ground.
"The subway perhaps?" Desdemona suggested, though it filled her with a bit of a cold dread considering the last time she was forced to use public transportation.
"No stations around here, and not enough trains running this time of night." Lexington shot her idea down, but his eyes were transfixed on something just across the street. "I have a better idea." He slinked out from the bushes and, when clear, motioned for the others to follow him.
They darted across the street and holed up against a small pick-up, rusted along the wheel-wells and held together with a roll of duct tape. Lexington threw his elbow into the driver's side window and pulled up the lock through the shards.
Angela was surprised (and silently impressed) at his grit. "You're stealing this vehicle?"
"Any better ideas I'd love to hear them." He hopped in amidst no resistance, dug his claws into the ignition and pulled out the lock tumbler. Reaching under the dash and hooking several wires with a few talons, he pulled them out, stripped the ends and touched them together. They sparked, the engine fired up and Lexington smiled over his shoulder. "Get in."
The clan piled into the cab and rear bed and Lexington shifted into drive. The little import lurched into the street and shuddered as the new driver pushed it past its limits.
Bullets riddled the side, drawing a line of craters from bumper to bumper and the abused, flaking sheet metal couldn't quite hold back every single slug. The passengers squirmed through hot lead brushing their wings and tails. "Faster!" someone yelled from the back and Lexington leaned into the pedal, pushing the needle past sixty. The Guild streamed out from the park, forced to chase after the truck full of gargoyles until it sped out of reach up Greenwich Street and eventually out of range of their weapons.
Agent Red caught the taillights as the truck receded out of view and spit into his mask as he screamed out his frustration. "Damn!!"
"Now what?" another agent asked.
"We follow. I'm not about to let them disappear back into their tower when we're so close." He turned around and into a pale set of headlights coming up fast. An empty bus was heading back from the ferry terminal and without a thought to his own safety, he nonchalantly stepped in front of it, forcing the driver to hit the brakes. The billboard-covered behemoth skidded to a stop a few feet away from smearing him across the asphalt, and the agent never flinched right up until he could read the manufacturer's inscription on the grill.
The driver opened the doors and was ready to tear a strip of some impatient asshole that couldn't just wait before having a gun thrust into his face. "What the hell...?"
"Okay, okay..." He put his hands up and slowly got up from his seat. The agent hurried him along by grabbing him by the collar and forcing him out into the street, into what he could only guess was a roving gang considering the uniforms and masks. He was pinballed between them and then shoved to the ground. Figuring there was at least a good hundred loading into the bus, it was hard to get a specific number when they all looked alike.
The doors hissed closed and the bus pulled away, into traffic and after the rusted Datsun.
He didn't wonder if she heard him as he roared up to the curb just outside her manor. There wasn't subtlety in his approach, just gas, brake and a few lines of rubber left behind on the street.
Todd got out of his car and, where most people including the mail carriers couldn't help but look up at the five-floor Victorian manor and be awed by the caliginous atmosphere, shot right towards the door and demon head knocker.
His balled fist against the solid wood went straight up to the top of the building. There was no mistaking someone was at the door. "Demona!" he yelled. The security camera attached to the foyer's roof was on and watching as usual; she was here. "Demona! Open up!"
No response. But he wasn't surprised. Once 'cured', if she wasn't snarling and bearing her teeth at anyone crossing her path Demona had shut herself off from any contact save her daughter (though even Angela found it hard to get a word out of her mother), and then retreated here, to her manor, alone in the dark.
The intercom suddenly crackled, "...What?..." The tone was equal parts exasperation and resignation.
"Demona, it's me."
"...I'm well are, as is the entire neighborhood. Now please, go away, human..."
He noticed she'd picked up the habit of referring to him as human, purposely avoiding any familiarity or courtesy such as a first name. "I need your help." he tried again.
"...Were you not listening? Leave..."
"...Give me one good reason why I should..."
"Because about four hours ago, the entire clan walked right into Guild headquarters with enough explosives to wipe out a city block."
"Including your daughter."
Silence. Deliberation. He figured she was mulling it over with gnashed teeth and cursing Angela's stubborn streak of morality.
The door unlocked, heavy gauge bolts sliding from even heavier gauge locks. Todd smiled, pushed his way through into the manor and nearly smashed his toe in on the leg of a heavy oak writing desk in the pitch-black entrance hall. Going from memory alone, he climbed the curving staircase with the intricate iron railings and hit the second floor. If he thought Demona was anywhere in the room, he wouldn't know it by her ability to completely conceal herself in the darkness. "Demona?"
"You have thirty seconds–"
There. Near the balcony doors; spiked ruby, soft azure, steady breath.
"–to pique my interest before I hurl you from the window."
His eyes were slowly adjusting and the outline started filling in, starting with that piercing, slate gaze. "Can I turn on a light?"
"I prefer it dark."
"Of course. It's good to see you, Red, we haven't talked much since you got all your marbles back."
A growl went up her vocal cords. "Yes, I have had...other concerns."
"Yeah, I know, I'm sorry–"
"Angela." Demona cut him off. She'd let him in under a single prerequisite, information, and wanted it concisely and without his tendency to ramble.
"Right. The clan got a location off one of the Guild prisoners, and tonight they decided to crash their party."
She started moving, from one side of the room to another, and just like a ghost he couldn't pick up any footsteps. "And what exactly do you want from me? You already have the means."
"Macbeth took the armor."
Demona found that particular tidbit amusing. Her old companion and enemy was living his last days very dangerously. "And so you need something else to wage your own little war against daddy, hm? Perhaps another suit of armor? Or why not just strap a nuclear weapon to your back and charge right in."
He answered in practiced cynicism, "Demona..."
"You are a reckless fool. The clan obviously decided to keep you home to prevent you from killing yourself. Be content you will not die tonight."
"But maybe I can help."
"No," she shook her head, "without that armor you are useless, and you will most likely complicate things. Best you run back to the castle and be with your mate."
"And what about Angela?"
"My daughter is old enough to take care of herself."
"And if she dies?" Todd grunted.
Her face didn't break. "That is her choice."
He didn't like the way this conversation was going, especially where and how she'd tried to end it. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I have a new perspective now."
"Because of the baby?"
The change in expression wasn't completely masked by the gloom, and Demona clenched her jaw. Muscle scraped muscle. The disgust was palpable. "No."
He lifted his chin and stared, drinking in every twitch and tic she wasn't readily sharing. As cold as she was coming off, her tail was restless and lashing about near her legs. Todd had to wonder exactly what he'd interrupted. "Maybe we should talk about that."
"Your thirty seconds are long passed." she dismissed him. "Please leave."
"What are you doing?"
She advanced on him, with a flash of red from underneath her brow. It was the brightest–and only–light in the room, bathing both her and the walls and anything else nearby in a blood-like glow. "That is none of your concern. Now either leave by your own accord, or be thrown out by your genitalia."
"You weren't thrilled to be a surrogate mother, but I can't imagine you doing anything to harm that baby." Then, he voiced something he though even Demona wasn't capable of. But of course, he wasn't around the last thousand years. "You're not trying to remove it, are you?"
"Actually, I've already tried."
He remembered swimming away from the Guild bunker and washing ashore, but in between he drew a blank. Somehow he'd drifted in towards the island's southern tip and up against a rock wall near what he guessed was Battery Park. Using his tail to replace his dead, wounded arm, Brooklyn climbed up over the railing and fell to the ground, hard but dry.
Staring up at the violet sky he was able to catch his breath.
It was done. Bombs planted, bunker demolished, Guild crippled. And now it was time to see who would come home, how many more family members he'd have to mourn and if all he'd sacrificed was worth it.
There was a pang of fear in the fact no one was here waiting for him, but he'd ordered everyone back to the castle as soon as they got out and he'd hoped to find Katana there waiting with the twins.
A splash in the water alerted him to a hand reaching for the same railing that'd saved his life and he watched, in disbelief, as Canmore appeared sopping wet and flipped himself over onto the ground. Bile rose in his throat; he'd hoped the man would've drowned in the harbor, his bloated corpse coming to surface face down somewhere upstream.
He coughed, puked up part of the harbor with a few body-wracking heaves and raised his head just in time to see Brooklyn's foot come up the side of his head. But there wasn't any water to cushion the blow; his skull bounced off the cement and he rolled a few feet away.
"I should've drowned you when I had the chance!"
Canmore staggered to his knees. "...should've...but didn't..."
Another fist, knuckles white, bounced off Canmore's temple. The sound echoed down each end of the promenade and Canmore was nearly decapitated. He twisted at the waist and fell over face first. Unbelievably he started laughing, blood gurgling over his bottom lip. "Are ye going t' kill me, demon?" he goaded. "Or do I have t' do a lot more...t' earn yuir wrath?"
"You're sick, you know that, Canmore?"
"No, demon...I'm righteous. Th' savior t' th' entire human race..."
Brooklyn stood over him, watching for any movement that could be construed as hostile, and then he'd kick him in the teeth. "I'd say you're more of a disease." he hissed. "You're as bad as Hitler, trying to win over the public with smooth lies and false promises, then murdering innocent people."
"They don't need winning over, as th' Guild can attest to."
"Only because they're severely uninformed. You can hire as many psychotics and mercenaries to carry out your suicidal missions but how many housewives and accountants have been duped into joining under the artificial pretense of protecting their loved ones?"
He wiped the blood onto his sleeve and shot daggered eyes at the gargoyle. "Th' power of speech and public forums...'tis a great thing."
"The Guild isn't about publicity. They're rats, skulking about in the darkness."
"No, not for long. It's time th' Guild revealed its face t' th' people."
The expression was revealing, and Brooklyn gave away more than he was willing as his beak turned down, thin lines gathering at the ends of his mouth.
"That scares ye, doesna it?" Canmore prodded him, seeing his face wrinkle in fear. "Ye think humanity will side with us, rather than yuir demon kin."
Brooklyn leaned down, pouring all the anger and rage upon him, hard eyes without end. "Once the public knows about how the Guild murdered innocent men and women in some insane quest, they'll never be regarded as anything but a menace to be wiped off the face of the Earth."
"Try it then, show yuir faces and see how fast yui'll be branded th' monsters ye are."
"Funny, I was about to suggest the same thing."
"It doesn't matter whether it's th' Guild or th' Quarrymen, there'll always be those who won't tolerate gargoyles running rampant in their home."
"So you think the government will continue to allow vigilantes to operate without any kind of sanction?"
Jon huffed, "Th' government isn't a threat. They're puppets t' an even greater organization."
He'd quickly come to a realization while trying to talk sense to a complete and total psychotic. "Why am I even trying? People like you will never change, you're all malicious, soulless monsters."
"Yuir th' monsters!"
Canmore's lips pulled back to the gumline and that same mad expression reared up. "I'm going t' kill yuir bastard brood and yuir clan!" he roared. "Spill their guts, and have a party."
Brooklyn stunned him with a quick left cross and put what he thought was an end to the overzealous, almost fanatic rhetoric he'd heard many times before.
But Canmore didn't let up. "I'll start with th' green one, yuir whore, use my bare hands to break her bones and tear her wings off."
Another nasty blow and Canmore took it. Blood flecked the pavement.
"I'll let th' dogs...have their way with her, and just as she's bleeding...screaming and begging for us t' stop, I'll put a bullet between her–"
Brooklyn got down on one knee and with his good arm started raining blows down on Canmore's head. Again and again and again and again, until his hand was dripping wet. But through it all Jon continued laughing.
"...every gargoyle...will be dead..." he muttered. "...I'll personally make yuir kind extinct..."
The bloodlust was rising, spurred on by Canmore as some sick experiment. Brooklyn knew killing him could create a martyr, but it was the anger blinding him to that simple fact. He raised his fist for what may be the last time, given that one more might just crush Canmore's skull.
Hesitation set in and whether or not he was going to follow through was quickly rendered immaterial when a sound, often part of the city's background drone, split the night air.
Brooklyn immediately threw his head up; sirens wailed in the distance, a flicker of interchanging light piercing through the trees.
If it wasn't the carjacked bus driver who'd called the police, it was probably someone in the ferry terminal near a phone when the gunfire erupted just outside. They were a few minutes away and may soon block off any escape route.
"Ye have a few minutes, demon...before th' cops come t' break up our dance..." Canmore coughed out, teeth stained red. "Kill me now...or run away."
Brooklyn considered dragging the man along, but with one of his arms still numb, the bullet hole still seeping and the fact Canmore would weigh him down like an anchor (with a nagging tendency to want to kill him), his options dwindled to one. Well, two actually. But the second meant killing him and throwing his body back into the water.
The police cruisers swerved into view and followed the park's periphery, heading for the ferry terminal.
"Seconds, now, demon...just give in t' yuir bloodlust...snap my neck, disembowel me..."
And let the police find his broken corpse. Brooklyn wanted to scream his frustration out at the world but wouldn't let Canmore feed off his indecision, especially in so raw a form.
Tires squealed, voices could be heard; the police unloaded at the terminal's entrance and were met by a few witnesses who quickly pointed in the direction of the park.
Brooklyn had no choice. He grabbed Canmore and tried to drag him along when the human reared up and struck dead center in his wounded shoulder, again. Brooklyn howled and staggered back, amazed at how much it still hurt even now (it must have been the salt water from taking a swim in a dirty river). Spurred by the haunting sound rising up from the park, the police started running towards them and Canmore decided to capitalize.
"Help!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "Help me, I'm being attacked by a monster!"
Flashlights split the darkness, and a steady gait transformed into frantic footfalls. Some were cutting through the park while a few more were running along the promenade.
"Help!" he yelled again, all the while shooting a sadistic grin at Brooklyn. "Please, I think he's going to kill me!!"
Brooklyn was frozen in place, left with seconds to decide whether to deal with Canmore or simply cut and run. That smile held him there; he couldn't stand to let Canmore win again, but he'd waited a second too long.
The police emerged just as Brooklyn turned away and what they found was a bloodied human on his knees and either someone in an expensive costume or every urban legend come to proof. But when several flashlight beams crossed red skin, the possibility of it being a costume withered to the weight of reality. "Freeze!" an officer yelled.
But Brooklyn was already up and running for safe cover.
"Shoot it!" Canmore screamed.
They hesitated, as any good cop would when faced with a questionable scene where the victim and attacker could easily be interchanged, but the emotional height made it much easier to pull their guns and aim it at the retreating gargoyle.
"Don't just stand there like idiots, shoot it!!"
The lead officers exchanged side-glances but couldn't bring themselves to fire. They could only imagine the backlash if they shot a teenager in a costume.
Canmore saw his chance escaping into the dark and decided to make the decision to shoot for the police. He got up and blindsided the nearest cop, grabbed his gun and emptied it in Brooklyn's direction before he could be wrestled to the ground. Bullets sprayed wildly, but out of almost an entire clip at least one was bound to make the target.
Brooklyn felt his calf explode in a white-hot streak of pain. He lost his balance and crumpled to the ground, rolling end-over and landing hard on his wounded shoulder. His body convulsing from his overworked nervous system trying to suppress the pain, he could barely push himself off the ground before he heard a gun cock behind him.
"Don't move! Stay on the ground!"
He was surrounded by at least four officers, each with a weapon trained on several different parts of his body. Consciously keeping his tail and wings still, he tried to sit up but was quickly shouted down.
One of the officers shuffled up a little closer. "I said don't move!"
Brooklyn could sense the fear in their voices. Obviously, any excuse involving a costume party, college prank or something equally inane wouldn't pass for water. "Okay..." he said. "Okay, I'm ice."
An awkward pause followed, considering none of the cops knew what to do next. If this was the real deal, a gargoyle in the flesh, then getting close enough to handcuff it may cost someone a limb.
No stitching, no visible seams, nothing to indicate the brick-red skin was anything but.
Canmore watched from under the pile of the cops that'd pulled him to the ground, as he himself was being cuffed. He was plunked to the ground, sitting with his legs crossed and spit a few drops of blood.
"Sir," an officer hovered over him, "are you all right?"
"Do I look all right?" he snapped, stretching out his jaw. It'd nearly been torn off and he was sure he'd lost a molar. "That thing attacked me! It was going t' kill me...I'm lucky t' be alive. Ye should'ha killed it."
"That can't be–"
"A gargoyle? Open yuir eyes, ye fool, they're everywhere! And that thing nearly tore out my throat."
"We'll find out soon enough." the officer told him. "Right now, you're under arrest for attacking an officer, discharging his weapon and wounding a possibly innocent bystander. We've got an ambulance on route, we'll have you to a hospital soon and then we'll take a statement."
His brow dropped, but his eyes were dead-still and trained on Brooklyn. "Fine."
Every so often he'd glance in the side mirror, and his paranoia notwithstanding, hoped every vehicle passing in his line of sight wasn't filled to the brim with Guild agents.
As Lexington guided the small truck along East 43rd Street by way of 6th Avenue (passing through what New Yorkers had officially dubbed "The Hole" was a harrowing experience in itself), diverted due to construction (with all the government subsidies and private donations for re-construction, the city council had decided to spruce up a few more streets outside of the Hole), he was glad most New Yorkers didn't give a damn who traveled the streets alongside of them especially this late at night. With the others lying down in the bed and safely out of sight, he and Katana sunk low in their seats to avoid a direct glance from passersby.
But the detour from 6th had veered them straight towards one of the busiest intersections on the island, Times Square. As the multi-colored glow became more intense, Lexington felt the dread of exposure creep up his spine. He was praying under his breath he looked human enough from a distance and that his fellow commuters were as jaded and oblivious towards their own kind as the infamous stereotype.
They'd come this far without incident, but Times Square was a nest of activity, tourists and locals alike.
"I suppose we should just act natural."
Katana's advice didn't help. "As natural as two gargoyles in a stolen truck." Lexington mumbled.
"We have no choice. We have to get back to the castle."
"I know," he sighed, and leaned on the gas pedal, "I know."
He hoped just to calmly drive through the intersection and make it to 8th Avenue without incident. The cars started moving and all looked good, until someone cut someone else off, honking ensued, insults followed and traffic slowed, stopped and then the light turned red before they could make it through.
Traffic came to a standstill and he braked a little hard, throwing his passengers into the cab. "Damn."
They were so close; the Eyrie loomed in the distance like some half-lit monolith, the castle above a muddy-gray crown. It would've blended in to the sky if not for the courtyard lamps throwing up light from the center.
Lexington shifted slightly behind the wheel, talons drumming on the electrical tape keeping the steering wheel cover on. He knew he shouldn't have taken such a heavily-traveled road, but decided on the most direct and fastest route towards the castle (and could be excused for never having navigated Manhattan streets behind the wheel of an import shortbox).
"We can't just sit here," Katana pointed out, "we are exposed."
"Perhaps we should find another route."
"I think there's a side street we can take." he said, scanning the intersection up ahead. His internal navigation program, a prototype of Xanatos Enterprises' new software set to compete with Mapquest, quickly displayed a new path, starting with a turn-off just behind them. "I'm going to back up–"
Someone screamed from the back. The truck shimmed side to side with frantic movement.
He looked up, and the entire rearview mirror was filled with a large, chrome grill. Reflexes honed by hours of video games and Viking battles were only just fast enough to mutter, "Shit."
The clan braced themselves just as the bus mowed into the rear.
It picked up the rear axle and nearly crushed the box (and those inside), pushing the accordion-folded truck into the car ahead, into the main intersection and into two different directions of oncoming traffic. It plowed a path through several vehicles and caused a small pile-up before there was enough of an obstruction to weigh the bus down and drag it to a stop.
Any pedestrians on the street had fled for their lives and the safety of the sidewalk when seeing that massive thing carve a peculiarly neat path through twenty different cars.
As the shock eventually waned, a circle formed around the accident, and except for a stuck horn, a few car alarms and the electronic billboards above still flashing their neon advertisements an eerie stillness fell over everyone and everything. Hushed voices rippled through the crowd, and a few people started moving inwards, either intent to help those still trapped in their wrecked vehicles or just out of sheer morbid curiosity. The bus at the center of the pile stood only slightly off-kilter, a centerpiece to the wreckage and suddenly the side doors opened, and the Guild started flooding the accident scene.
Agent Red noticed the few good Samaritans and fired his gun into the air, warding them off. "Find them!" he ordered in a growl. "I want corpses."
The agents went right for the crushed truck in front of the bus, half the size it used to be, but didn't find any gargoyles inside. Those with guns started searching the surrounding vehicles, and the first flash of anything other than human would earn a spray of bullets.
Lexington wiped the blood away from his forehead and groggily slumped against an upturned Buick. Angela dumped Savannah beside him, Desdemona and Delilah practically put Black in her lap and they took stock of the situation. They were cut off by open road and hundreds of spectators with greedy eyes, and more and more agents were combing through the pile-up amongst a few dozen stunned victims.
"Where's Katana?" he whispered.
Angela shook her head. "I don't know. When the bus hit, I lost sight of almost everyone."
"We're lucky to be alive I guess. But we're probably going to have to fight our way out of here."
"But the humans..." Delilah protested.
"Will get a quick peek and nothing more." He motioned for Angela to grab Savannah. "Okay, we're out of here."
"...no..." Savannah rasped, blocking Angela's arm. "...leave us here..."
"...we'll act like accident victims...you've got to go...now..."
"She's right, Lex." Angela said. "We have to go."
His gaze conveyed what he didn't need to say, and in a moment of epiphany, she finally saw what Rain found so attractive about him. Those big eyes were was so expressive, despite the fact they were cybernetic implants. Savannah smiled and shooed him off. "Hurry."
"Thanks." he nodded and loped away on all fours, followed by the rest of the clan.
She watched as they squeezed through several cars and out towards the edge of the heap, and then leaned over Black's body, obscuring his identity and played possum.
Less than a few minutes later an agent poked his head over a hood and found a brunette slumped over another body, assumed they were victims and moved on (he didn't recognize the woman being a low-level agent, and everyone in the know thought she'd drowned). He was hunting for gargoyles after all.
The clan was already a few cars away, nearing the edge of the pile-up. All it would take was a wild sprint across the street and towards the storefronts (and through a crowd of onlookers too curious to sense any danger).
Until an agent happened to turn in their direction. Bad timing, good eyes. "There they are!" he yelled, pointing them out.
Exposed, the clan went for broke and started running before sheet metal started exploding behind them. However exhausted they were, whatever injuries they'd suffered, there was only a single overriding instinct to run. They scrambled between and over cars, bullets tearing past them and shards of tempered glass wetting across their skin, going for the No Man's Land in between the accident scene and the sidewalk.
"Katana!" Lexington yelled. "Where's Katana?!"
Angela couldn't tell. "I don't know!"
"We can't leave her!"
More bullets, more shrapnel, and they were running out of vehicles to hide behind.
Katana had gone left when everyone else went right. It wasn't a wrong turn; it was intentional. She'd led most of the Guild away to the other side of the accident, cutting a swathe through black uniforms with her swords but the odds started stacking up and she was riding a crest of agents being pushed out towards the edge of her only cover.
She had no choice. Thoughts of her mate and children were fleeting, ghosting through her mind before being steamrolled by instinct.
Two bodies were thrown into the street and she followed, landing and rolling on open asphalt and in full view of everyone on the sidewalk (at least those who hadn't run for their lives when the shooting started). Her dark gaze flitted up and on a bewildered crowd, and she stood there, exposed.
He must have heard her wrong. He swore–he swore–Demona just said she'd already tried to rid her body of what she considered a parasite.
But from her impassive expression, there wasn't any doubt a sudden burst of humor (no matter how sinister) had just happened to bubble to the surface.
Todd coughed, "What?"
"Did I stutter?"
"You tried to abort the baby?"
"Yes, using several different methods, both modern and medieval. But so far nothing's proved successful."
"Allow me to demonstrate." She moved towards the far wall, decked out with an arsenal of medieval weapon stock, every steel and iron blade, spear or knife the height of human malice and of particular interest to a woman who'd spent a millennium attesting to their malevolence. She gracefully plucked a rather nasty looking dagger from its brass hooks and inspected the cutting edge.
"What are you doing?"
"I am hurrying this entire pointless exchange along."
Todd's eyes went wide enough to see his brain in behind and it didn't take much of a stretch to know what she was about to attempt. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey!"
"It's quite all right. Little Alexander has taken precautions. Watch." She raised the knife, flipped it so the blade pointed down and before Todd could do anything, put it right through the middle of her stomach.