63 - "The Public Eye"

January 16th, 2002
"...and as President Bush concludes another successful international summit, senator William Walsh has officially announced his candidacy for president, for the election in two years." Through colored lips, impeccably painted with a perfected rouge tint, a straight line following the swollen curves, did the news anchor smile consolingly towards the viewing audience, having finished her latest story. Sharply dressed, a subdued business suit concealing a white blouse of sheer material beneath the folds of navy blue, she clasped her hands together on her desk and leaned forwards. "And now, here is reporter Nicole St. John with an...editorial," she minced the word, barely believing this upcoming topic was actually airing this night as news considered worthy of precious airtime, "on a myth most New Yorkers are quite used to hearing."

She casually turned her eyes, followed by a slight movement of her neck then torso, and before the camera shot changed, did her lips curve downwards, perhaps an expression of pity, and a clandestine repression of humor. And then, with the sudden switch of cameras, came a blond-haired woman allowed the chance to speak her mind, and advance her fledgling career. Nicole St. John appeared in full, her hair styled, unbidden by a single flaw or loose strand, ensuring herself of complete and total perfection when on screen.

"Thank you...Tiffany." Nicole uttered, for when off camera, did the established news anchor pass along a disbelieving smirk. She then refocused on her audience, and cleared her throat. "They are beings we dare to imagine, but fear to exist." she started, bringing her topic into light, hoping to grab what attention that may have waned from the more serious topics discussed earlier in the news programs. "They are an enigma, a mystery, with only rumors and a few unsubstantiated sightings marking their possible existence in this world. They have been dubbed...gargoyles, winged creatures who habitually fly the night sky. Even without proof of their existence, they have already sparked a war between humanity, the P.I.T. group, or the 'people for interspecies tolerance', and the oddly named Quarrymen, have often come to blows over creatures who supposedly don't even exist. Creatures written off as hoaxes or pranks or publicity stunts by eccentric billionaires with too much time and money on their hands, and then forgotten for the next big storyline." She steadied her eyes, unpossessed of any fear within the bright pools of deep sapphire stardust, unwilling to allow any sense of dread of anxiousness in a topic she had dedicated the last few years to. "So there in lies the greatest question. Do gargoyles actually live among us?"

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Beyond the rooftops, in the living towers of the island of glass and steel, where the perception of life extended through antennae and iron railing, imperial, embellished spires that directed themselves towards the heavens, did they slip through the wandering shadows. Along a crumbling brick ledge, his great weight barely had the chance to settle on the fragile structure with such speed and striking agility, enough to carry over six hundred pounds of weapon, sinew and wing with the lightest touch of the clouds. His spurred sails, a color darker than death or night, were brought low, to better heed the slight breeze in his direction. His taloned feet brought him needed stability to the slippery, snow-covered surface, and a skill of non-detection and utter stealth allowed the dark warrior to slip above his prey without a sound. The only mark of his passing, a disturbance of glacial confection, the snow being tossed as he traveled the entire length of the building's ledge in a blur, keeping his eyes trained on the forms below.

They tore their way through the darkened road, surrounding on both sides by unfeeling, unwavering walls of solid, adamantine brick, with tattered fragments of discarded debris and paper nipping at their skin and clothes, brought to life by the malicious hands of a Winter wind. A straight path was all they were granted in their evasion from the creatures above, unallowing of any deviance from the darkened passage. There were four of them, each possessed of a thundering heart, a singular thought of escape from the demons of legend and modern fables to scare unruly children. Simple crooks, having brought down upon them the wrath of this city's protectors for a simple heist, and a simple, and meager payoff.

The leader was the fastest, the sprinter, able to outrace the others, and wish on his soul to retreat from shadows possessing jagged claws and glowing fire where eyes should have been on any other man or animal. He could see his salvation, the exit to the alleyway, where perhaps hope lay in the concealment into busy streets, becoming once again strangers in a strange world of humanity, beings without a face or any possibility of being singled out from innocent bystanders. But above, in the labyrinth of gnarled steel and faceless windows as if ever watching eyes, did the pursuers take to wing, four of them to perfectly match their ranks, their distorted shapes cast along the alley's stained, graveled surface in the starlight. He could hear the snap and rustle of leather, and as he came ever closer to his freedom, did the shadows drape over the last sweet vestige of his world, and entrap him within their own. A realm of darkness.

A sapphire barrage in twin flame, enough to raise his thoughts to chaos, from fear to panic, and from evolved man to whimpering child. The larger one stepped forward, a glint of golden steel whirling in a perfect circle and the smell of oiled leather raiment wafting along his senses, fused with the stench of rotting garbage and a dirty, gritty snowpack lining the dank side street. "Shit..." he cried in defeat, as the others behind him edged back. "What are these things?!!"

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"What are these creatures? Who are they?" she continued, hoping to peak an interest such as hers in the unknown, a race she knew to exist, having seen with her own eyes, and felt their power with her soul. "Ever since that night, years ago when the first footage was shot with trembling hands, was the world captivated by another race inhabiting our world, our home, and perhaps even fearful of being replaced at the top of the foodchain. Are they dangerous?"

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"RRRRAAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!" screamed the closest one, with four brilliant orange scars formed in the eloquent brushstroke of the Japanese written language. It then lunged forth, diving into the midst of their four human forms and using a steel-ended implement of war to strike savagely at the closest. A spray of blood spattered across the walls, the warm sanguine liquid coating the weather-beaten brick surface and trickling down in thin trails onto the ground. It spun around, using all of it's appendages to lash out, it's spurred tail and wings sweeping the remaining criminals to the ground. It then appeared over the leader, and bared it's teeth, glinting a soft ivory enamel in the available light from beyond. "You broke the law..."

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"Or are they peaceful? Wanting only simple co-existence with humanity? Perhaps even acting as our...protectors?"

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"You injured innocents in your attempt to steal the money." it rasped, a hot breath crossing the leader's sweat-stained face, the eerie scent of fire and flame released. "And for that, you will pay."

"W-What are you??" the human gasped in the face of his seeming demise, terrified into paralysis, a numbing narcosis having settled onto his legs and along the length of his spine, and making him unable to run, to retreat from this demon carving given the breath of life.

"Shadows."

"A choice, felon," came yet another voice, interrupting the other born from the specters appearing to float and dance around him in his blurred vision, "you can either confess and face the consequences of your actions in prison..." Another shape took on more detailed definition, somehow emerging as a lavender shade and seeming even impossibly bigger than the others. "Or deal with us." it warned in it's deep, throaty rumble, it's eyes nearly setting alight rugged features, almost human, but yet so alien. "Your choice..."

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"Whatever they may be, the actuality exists now. They are very real, like all of us first thought. And very much here, in our city. I can tell you assuredly that the footage we watched then was not faked, for I have recently seen with my own eyes on two separate occasions, these creatures in the flesh." Nicole swept away the hair to behind her ear, and settled into an assured facade, that of her own sincerity, and the truth she knew was in her favor. "I have with me tonight, someone who has already been in the hotseat once about the very same topic. A Dr. Lennox MacDuff, professor of medieval history at Columbia University, and well-known expert in the unfamiliar."

Another scene change to the ancient king, and gone were his golden crown and robe of royal birthright, now dressed in a dark gray suit in modern appareling, appearing with only a half-smile, if only to please the audience. "Nicole." said MacBeth, steeled eyes forcing their way to the younger reporter.

"Years ago, you defended these creatures." she started abruptly, the true reason of why he was seated across from her. "Why?"

"I only defended th' idea of extending th' hand of friendship to such creatures...IF they existed." he countered, finishing his argument with a larger smile, with Nicole pausing in confusion, only a few minutes into her interview and already, had she lost the edge to whom she thought of as a simple university professor, and unwitting to the fact he was a man possessed of a thousand years of knowledge.

"So...you now say they don't exist?" she asked cautiously, hoping her choice to bring in this particular interview would not backfire, and perhaps erupt in flames in her face. "This coming from the man who nearly got into a physical brawl with assistant district attorney Margot Yale."

MacBeth winced, in his memories of he and Margot Yale almost coming to blows over the entire gargoyle situation, while in front of millions of viewers. "Only b'cause she wished t' destroy beings who could have been sentient. A new race and she wanted t' destroy them, dissect them, treat them as animals..." His anger was growing, and he knew to keep himself calm, in order to further protect his friends.

Nicole nervously licked her lips, an inexperience to being in front of the cameras, in a live broadcast, where her words would have to be chosen extremely carefully, if only to protect her journalistic integrity. "From the tone of your voice, it sounds like you believe there could be a possibility gargoyles dwell within our very city. Like Mrs. Yale." She had saved herself, buying precious seconds.

"I dinna know what t' think. All I know of these so-called gargoyles is some blurry footage shot years ago...but now, after years o' absence from any news programs, I be leanin' towards the fact they were nothing but men in rubber suits and fancy hangliders. Hoaxes."

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"Man, these ain't no fucking hoaxes!!" screamed a larger man, possibly the last breath uttered in his defeat, being tossed to the ground by a slender shadow, so much different from the others, brimming with the scent of sweet blossom and the glitter of raincloud and the stars beyond. He rolled from the attack and scrambled across the alley floor in his haste to flee. But he was grabbed by his neck, claws entrenched into the loose, meaty flesh and wrenched back into the embrace of a lithe being, possessed of curves and a grace that would have mesmerized him, if not for his rampant fear.

"We're not done yet, pal..." It was female, unmistakable by the soft tone, and the sultry whisk. But the strength was unimaginable, this female lifting him from his feet and heaving his body from the rough concrete as if a child mishandling her doll. With one swift motion, she hurled him towards the dumpster, allowing his body to collide with the open lid, and plunge into the trash. "And Todd thinks he's the best in the castle at basketball." she joked, watching the lid fall closed with an audible clang. "I just got a three-pointer, baby..."

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"And these hoaxes were enough to cause the creation of the Gargoyles Task Force?" she asserted, maintaining her position, and knowing she still had a winning hand concealed, the proverbial ace up her sleeve. "Born of some of the best and highest honored police officers in the city?"

"Only t' calm the populace down. A person alone is smart, lass, but people are panicky, fearful and sometimes stupid. Quick thinking resulted in this so-called task force, whose true mission wasn't t' scout th' city fer winged creatures of legend, but t' assure the city of their safety. And when tha' happened, the task force was effectively disbanded." He was doing his duty to friends of honor, assuring the gargoyles and their newborn kin a chance at obscurity and thus, safety, taking the chance to bury them once and for all with public interest having subsided considerably. "An' I never did see th' task force actually apprehend any gargoyles...did ye?"

"Yes, well...but what about the P.I.T. groups? And the Quarrymen?"

"Mere children with overactive imaginations, and terrorists, using the peoples' fear t' cause destruction in the name o' protection o' humanity."

"And all the sightings over the years?"

"An' how many supposed U.F.O. sightings have there been, miss St. John? A thousand? A million? An' what proof is there tha' little green men exist?" The former king leaned back into his chair, tapping his fingers onto the anchor desk, seeing the anger flare in her eyes when comparing Nicole's gargoyles to unfounded alien encounters. "None. Besides, it be already proven tha' military-styled robots have been created by successful robotics companies tha' closely resemble these beasties of yuirs, which would explain th' sightings. Ye are living in a fantasy world, Miss St. John, one I suggest ye should be gettin' out of before ye do yerself harm."

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"OH GOD!!! MY ARM!!!" came a rabid scream, an abraded horror edged on his tone, erupting from the darkness and into the city noise forever unceasing, only to be consumed wholly by traffic and pedestrian utterance, and lost to any sympathetic ear. It was the ninja, who had left a brand of three, fresh swipes across his lower arm, when the thug had attacked when and where he shouldn't have, a last, desperate gamble to free himself. It would prove ultimately futile, when captured in his grasp, and his anger.

"You should have thought about your physical being before you dared to commit a crime in our city," the shadow pulled the crook close to the creature, and his eyes were at last able to peer closer upon a hide of leather texture, a lavender-gray devouring all light that was cast on it's surface, "or in my protectorate."

His arm was twisted behind his back, and the crook screamed in torment, until the breath was forced from his lungs by a open palm to his chest, possessed of a strength that nearly broke his ribs and collapsed several of his internal organs. He was released, only to topple and drop to the ground, suckling his breath through a constricted throat, tasting the metallic spice of his own blood. Then, as he rolled over slightly and looked up, towards the sky, as if attempting to peer into the stars, it all went black when the shadow finished him off with another brutal strike.

His spurred elbow came down into the thug's neck, a sickening crack and the breaking of fragile flesh to forever mark itself upon his ears, the last sound the thug was left with before he lost consciousness.

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"It would seem you have totally reversed your position on this entire matter, DOCTOR MacDuff." Nicole hissed, seemingly battling on a losing side without her greatest weapon. "But you are just one person, out of millions who actually believe in what they have seen, including some very scared criminals who yell about encounters with giant monsters...and of course, me. They are real."

"Evolution created man from ape. Are ye saying tha' it also created winged creatures from th' dinosaur?"

"A likely theory." she agreed in his profession, though meant mostly as sarcasm. "One of many."

"An' how does an entire species hide themselves from us? Especially when humankind covers almost th' entire globe?"

"I'm guessing with very keen minds, an instinct for survival and of course...human allies," Nicole cocked an eyebrow in a distrusting carriage, still having been unable to unlock why hidden secrets lay in castle Wyvern for years now, and knowing the billionaire was hiding something behind the Scottish stones, "rich human allies."

MacBeth sighed in contempt, as even her evasion of the intended name was not enough to sway the fact she was speaking of someone close to him. "Lassie, I dinna hope you're still thinkin' that David Xanatos has real live gargoyles livin' in tha' castle up there atop his building, do ye? Fer I have been there, to study tha' particular fortress, and I found no trace of yuir gargoyles..."

"Perhaps you didn't look hard enough."

"And perhaps I don't let my imagination run wild."

Nicole suppressed the urge to scream back, an entire interview having formed into an argument between two opposing forces. "Well..." she forced a false pleasantry through furrowed lips, hoping to wrap up this interview quickly. "It seems we are out of time. Thank you, Dr. MacDuff, for your...opinions." She turned away from the former king and his complacent smirk, the camera zooming in and focusing on Nicole. "As demonstrated here tonight, humanity is firmly divided on the entire gargoyle situation. Some believe, and some force themselves to suppress what even their own eyes tell them. If I have to prove myself, then I shall. Tomorrow night is my last chance to bring evidence of the gargoyle race to light, and how certain New Yorkers are protecting these creatures, for what purpose we still don't know."

Nicole shuffled her papers casually, bringing pause to a silent city, and wasting valuable airtime much to the producer's swelling aggravation. "I promise my viewers my proof tomorrow night, confirming gargoyles are alive, and real, and living just above us, coming to life whenever the sun goes down. I'm Nicole St. John, and thank you."

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"Idiotic girl." hissed Maria Chavez, having watched the entire program if only to see what intentions did this reporter have, especially when being witness to her arrest and her accusation of Goliath at the precinct Halloween party. "There's no way she could have evidence of the clan..." she muttered as she turned off the television, the picture fading and folding in on itself, leaving a darkened void behind in the absence of electricity. Maria placed the remote control back on her television set, and with only the slightest of physical exertion, did her stomach clench, and tighten with an anguished pain. "Oh god...not again..." Her words were stammered, lost in a mouth of a loathsome if not peculiar dry cotton texture, when the bile rose in her throat and allowed the taste of acid to permeate her entire senses.

She stumbled to her bathroom, hand clamped over her mouth, the walls twisting, contorting in her ailing eyesight and a disturbing loss of equilibrium. She forced the bathroom door away, and lunged for the toilet, barely reaching it in time when spewing the contents of her stomach into the bowl. Maria coughed, muscles wracking in powerful spasms as she heaved her remaining spittle, dropping from her bottom lip. "Oh god, please...no..." she gasped, resting her flushed skin against cold, frigid porcelain, suckling her breaths in sharp, strident exhales. "This can't be happening..."

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"Cease your struggling..." came his inhuman rasp, carrying over the drone of the city with perfect, piercing clarity, enough to halt all movement of the limp form held in the clutch of his talons. "Or this alleyway will serve as your grave." Shadow tossed the criminal forwards by his own hair, as if a piece of trash unworthy of mercy or compassion. The dark warrior unloaded the last of the quarry captured this night into the wall, atop the others, huddling together not from the blistering cold of a glacial January, but of their fear of the winged demon standing above them, towering with wings outspread, an image that would forever be etched into their minds, and carved as a mortal wound on their souls.

Goliath came near, hearing the anger betraying the ninja's gentle spirit, and destroying a fellow kin of claw. "Shadow." he commanded with but a single word, the leader boasting his true power of respected authority in just his tone. "You were rather harsh on these men tonight, for simple criminals."

"It's less than what they truly deserve..." he hissed, snapping his teeth at one who had let his eyes stray to the warrior's form, and now frightened back into submission. "They betrayed their own race...their own kin...and loved ones..." The Japanese gargoyle balled his fists, his talons kneading into the leather binding across his palm.

"Shadow," Goliath whispered, placing a reassuring hand to his comrade's shoulder, "what is wrong?"

"Nothing!" he bellowed, whirling around to butt his shoulder into the underside of Goliath's forearm, and savagely knocking the lavender giant's hand away from the spurs on his shoulder.

"Then why does the fire of anger burn in your eyes?" Goliath questioned gravely, faced down by a warrior on par with him, and perhaps even beyond his greatest skills.

"You presume too much, Goliath-sama." Shadow warned, forcing his breath through fanged teeth, the visible waft of steam curling around his face, and drifting upwards into the sky.

"Your attitude of late gives me reason to think otherwise."

"I will not be questioned by you...BY ANYONE!!!" His scream echoed, casting upon each wall and being lifted into the cosmos above. "I have paid my dues to this clan tenfold! Fought for you, protected your children without regard for my own life..."

"And for that I am truly grateful." he replied, keeping his calm in the face of raw animosity.

"Then do not ever question my tactics. Those who destroy, those who...betray, should not be allowed any quarter...or any mercy." he said sadly, the facade nearly breaking to his devouring guilt, until he resolved himself, forming the layer of ice and emotionless demeanor that protected him so very well. "No acquittal of their crimes..."

"You speak as a man who has committed wrongs in your life, my friend." Goliath stated firmly, a skill in interpreting facial cast seeing the ninja's oft-indefinable features droop.

"It is a subject...I do not wish to discuss."

Goliath nodded and relented to the ninja's continuous concealment of his shaded past, if only to sway his fears of a hidden secret eating away at the ninja's soul. Shadow swept away from him, and continued into the darkness, living true to his name, becoming a mere wraith and being swallowed whole by the alleyway towering on either side. "As you wish." Goliath whispered.

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"Whoa, what's eating Shadow?" Annika asked, when being crossed by a winged specter, the dark warrior scaling the wall and disappearing over the ledge of the rooftop, with only a scattering of brick fragments to rain down onto the concrete.

"Could be anythin', lass." Hudson answered, eyeing the subtle glint of polished steel in his sword, a witness to his own weathered gaze staring back at him. "Sometimes life can...wear ye down..." His voice was tired even, grated and heaving with his deep accent, and each breath containing a slight wheeze, enough for Annika to pick up upon.

She moved closer, attempting to single out his afflicted exhale from the unceasing city babble with her great hearing. "Are you okay, Hudson?"

"Nay, Annika lass." he said, sheathing his sword. "I be...tired."

She could not answer, for she had seen firsthand the decline in his once-jovial demeanor of late, and thus, like a trail of placed dominoes, his physical health. Fewer days lay ahead than behind, and his usefulness to the clan, at least to him, had seemed to wane in the last few years. The death of the clones and Delilah's newfound independence had robbed him of granting the gift of his great knowledge and patience to students willing to learn, an ailing heart had robbed him of the self-assurance he so desperately needed in his later years, and recently, his dearest friend had turned away from him, shut herself away from his embrace. "Hudson, I'm...sorry."

"I know, lass." Hudson formed a weak smile to the younger female. "Let's go home."

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"Stupid bastard..." she muttered, a confident stride in his direction, and running through her mind words that would perhaps never grace her lips, even in a moment of anger. Her eyes locked in on the retreating king, through the hustle and chaos of the backstage area of the news studio, hoping for a quick and discreet exit. "MacDuff!!" It would not come so readily.

MacBeth turned around when held in place by a shrill scream, and found Nicole racing up towards him, with eyes of rippling fire, brimstone and bane, a noticeable similarity to a former wife. "Miss St. John." A casual reply to her summons born of hellfire, an enjoyment in bringing her as close to the breaking point as possible. "What can I do for ye?"

"What the hell was that?!!" she screamed, edging face to face, even her smaller, diminutive stature and discernible height disadvantage unable to suppress a fiery spirit.

"I dinna know what ye are referring to, lass."

"You know damned well what I'm referring to! That interview was a joke! You defended the gargoyles once, and now you feign total ignorance."

"I merely told th' truth, and gave m' honest opinion."

"Bullshit." she hissed, her features inured, stubborn. "You did nothing but try to protect them. Again, and this time by outright lying. You know as well as I do that gargoyles exist. I can see it in your eyes."

MacBeth shook his head, in anger and exhaustion. "Th' only gargoyles I saw were th' ones on th' televis..."

"You're lying." she interrupted his defense, an audible growl trickling from her tongue. "Again." Nicole moved in close, nearly on her toes to better look the Scotsman in the eye, to better see his true intentions, often given away by a mere twitch of the eyes. "You know about them. You know what they are, and just how dangerous they may be. You're hiding something..."

"An' so are you, lassie." he countered, and receiving an unexpected response.

Nicole smiled. "You're damned right I am. And I intend to warn the American people about what I know. They have a right to learn about just what lurks on their rooftops when their children are asleep."

MacBeth sighed and straightened his suit, smoothing out the stray wrinkles in the glossy, smoke-tinted material. "Ye are a fool, Miss St. John. Ye are merely creating this entire situation t' further yuir own career, without care t' anyone else's private life. I pity you..." He turned his back on her, and simply walked away.

A high explosive ready to erupt, she, the reporter with a living fuse would have taken out the entire station's windows with but with rabid scream. "I'll prove it to you!!" she yelled to him from across the distance of his swift retreat. "I'll prove it to everyone!! You'll find out tomorrow night, pal!! Gargoyles exist!!"

"If ye only knew, lassie," he whispered, "the real truth would blow yuir mind. Especially when meeting th' ex." MacBeth laughed to himself, when nearing the exit door, and just before pushing through into the outside world, his senses captured a wafting scent carrying along in front of him, that which forced his eyes sideways, and to long strands colored of a deep abraded sand, where lay beneath twin cauldrons of molten topaz. "Jo."

"Hey, Len." said Joanna Walker, leaning against the side of the wall, a casual posture, certainly having waited for her beau and his interview to finish for some time.

In his surprise, he found himself unable to make an effort for words, even to she who had once shared his bed, and loved him underneath the cornices of his own castle and the stars thrown by a child's unsteady hand into the heavens. "What are ye doin' here?" he asked, still in a state of mild surprise.

"Just to tell you...well, I've moved all my stuff out of your place."

MacBeth cringed, a final step in ending a relationship, of clearing her most precious intimates from his home, where they had shared their life together for quite some time now. "I see..." he said, dejected, though braving a false front for Joanna's sake, hoping not to make this situation not harder than it ever had to be.

"Len...you know this would never have worked out..." she started, bringing forth a smile through her pain. "I'm just...not what you're looking for..."

MacBeth roamed his eyes from the floor to her own, his strong, regal features saddened in having injured her, if only with his inability to commit, to find in her what he had searched the world over for a thousand times, in a thousand years of solitude. "Lassie, I wished so much I could have been...the man ye would ha' spent yuir life with...I'm sorry..."

"People just...grow apart, I suppose." whispered she, and not lost to the educator, was the dark humor in a simple assertion of the true reason their relationship had ended.

"Aye."

Yet she still reached out to him, pleading for his touch, his inviting warmth, if only one last time. "Friends?"

He took her hand, the smooth, peach skin gliding across his, an acceptance of her friendship with an open heart. "Always."

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The calm night passed on, a silent journey of stars drifting in the solar winds, from beginning to end to beginning once more, the distant city beneath the tower of stone and a sanctuary to legend and myth would continue in it's blissful ignorance, that it's protectors had once again made their presence known within the deepest hollows, and darkest corridors. And to put an end to unfounded rumor now being sparked anew, did they rise into the clouds and effectively disappear.

And one protector would find himself drawn here, and driven to push himself to an ultimate limit, far beyond what his physical form would ever allow, to calm his soul, to at last discover the control he knew he so desperately wanted, needed, before another he loved would be hurt by his own hands. Though engulfed in the brightest of light of the artificial dojo lanterns, the dark warrior was a form of black, blurred by his rhythmic movements, almost a dance birthed from fluid movement and a refined skill. With talons clenched into the bright, crimson leather binding, he gripped his weapons, whirling into perfect circles, a periphery rimmed with shimmering gold. Shadow brought his nunchuku past his eyes, the matching implements twisting and curving about his body, a high-pitched whine almost too far from audible range, fused with the gentle chink of steel connecting chain.

He traveled the entire length of the floor, and from shoulder to hand, it was a smear of lavender-gray, his appendages moving too fast. He was placing all he was, all his power of blood aflame and a pounding heart against his mighty chest into his practice, with the nunchuku straining under the pressure of the forces of gravity threatening to break the weapons in two. Suddenly, he threw away his weapons, both sliding across the floor in opposite directions. He lunged for the weapon rack, a simple oaken structure carrying the deadliest of weaponry from a menagerie of ancient lands and cultures, hoping to find something to quell the rising bloodlust. He grabbed the matching katana, a sword straight and beautiful in it's simplicity, and waved them around as if running the blades through an invisible army, the air having become his prey. An echo of sharpened steel filled the practice area, rising high upon the ceiling, the discernible hymn of a preparement for war and a training of the body, mind and soul.

So involved, so far gone in his exercise, he would never pay heed to a visitor to this building, allowed freedom in her friendship, entitled access to castle Wyvern and the Eyrie building in exchange for her furtherance for the gargoyle species. She watched him swiftly step across the padded floor, swiping the razor-sharp weapons around him with a ferocity comparable only to a strike of lightning from a Summer storm. She walked closer, her large boots softened in their heavy step by the thick padding, and thus, silencing her approach.

He was oblivious, so lost in the dance of an art formed thousands of years ago. He played upon the swords like extensions of his own hands, and as the shaped steel swathed through the air, he could feel the still atmosphere being rended, torn away, each light touch of a droplet of mist traversing his sensitive hide. Shadow flipped over and grew increasingly closer to the smaller woman walking towards him, and with a last twist of his massive form, did the ninja direct the katana towards her.

Iliana stopped short, having the edges of the sword stop only a hair's breadth from her face. She and Shadow locked eyes, hers a cold turquoise frost, his a deep chestnut brown. "We need to talk." she said firmly, unwavering by the swords still held motionless to her face.

Shadow pulled back the weapons, and turned sharply, heaving the swords through the air, both burying handle deep into the far wall. "We have nothing to discuss, detective Starr." he answered her, without a trace of emotion in his frigid tone, enough to cast a chill past her face.

"It took me a week to build up the courage to finally come here..." she started, the falling strands of scarlet fire resting against her cheeks. "We have to talk about what happened between us...and what you did to me."

Shadow straightened his hunched posture, standing to his tallest height and towering over the detective. His eyes burned within the thin slits beneath his heavy brow, and he allowed the silence to fill an awkward pause, deliciously domineering, he intentionally keeping his rebuttal as a cessation of sound, perhaps to intimidate her.

"Say something." she snapped.

"What happened was only the result of magic. Nothing more."

"Not to me..." she huffed, clenching a hand into her shirt, as if attempting to seize upon her very heart. "You gave something to me I'll never forget, for that spell only released what I've always wanted...you. Without any of this ninja warrior crap to get in the way."

"You have glorified what happened in a childish presumption. To me...it was merely a mistake I made. We both made."

"A mistake?"

"Something to be buried in the past."

Iliana angrily swept away her hair, to better focus her own sapphire gaze towards him. "How dare you..."

Shadow lunged forwards, appearing to almost attack, and then stopping short when they came nearly face to face, the sheer size difference making it almost impossible. "How dare you." he growled. "How dare you try and make so much more of this, and try to ruin what I am desperately trying to save. My relationship with Delilah."

Iliana inwardly cringed, knowing Shadow's great love for Delilah would cause him to commit any deed, if only to keep her by his side. Even if it meant lying to her, and hurting another friend. "I had never felt more used in my entire life...when you left. Like I was thrown away."

"As you must be aware, it was never my intention to hurt anyone that night. Including both Delilah...and you."

"You have no idea what it was like the next day, knowing you were back with her, and knowing I would never have that again."

"You knew I was committed to another!!" he yelled, the power of his scream forcing Iliana's hair back. "And yet now, you wish only to hurt both Delilah, and me."

"It still hurts..." she countered, her voice grated, lost from that of cultured dialect to a broken record, stuttered and choked with raw emotion.

"You have no idea what pain is..." Shadow rasped, his eyes spilling forth with the sheer rage contained inside. "You could never imagine what I have gone through in my life!! And then I at last find my own kind...and a woman to share my life with."

"Everyone's had their share of pain, Shadow, everyone hurts. But does that justify hurting those you care for? I thought you cared for me..."

"I do. But I care for Delilah more than anything in this world."

"So, you lie to her...and left me. Where was your vaunted sense of honor when you abandoned me in my apartment after you fucked me?"

"HOW DARE YOU!!!" he bellowed, his entire muscular structure seeming to bulge, a power threatening to burst from his hide. "How dare you speak of pain when you have no idea what true pain is!!"

"I've had my share!!"

"You could never understand, girl!!"

"And what would justify trying to keep total control over yourself and everything else, and end up hurting everyone you come across?!!"

"YOU TRULY WISH TO KNOW?!!!" His voice erupted into a feral snarl, as he clasped a hand to the clothing surrounding Iliana's slender neck, and in his blind rage lifted the woman from the ground. "YOU WISH TO KNOW REAL PAIN?!!! SUFFERING?!!! IMAGINE LIVING WITH THE FACT THAT YOU HAD KILLED YOUR OWN GRANDFATHER!!!"

The secret held deep within his soul was now released into the open air, and all Iliana could do was stare with wide eyes to the winged being crushing the life from her, her shirt and jacket binding tightly against tender flesh, all too human in it's fragility. "Oh...god..."

Shadow then released her when his reasoning returned, and she dropped to the ground, and in her blurred vision, saw the dark warrior foundering, and collapsing to his knees. "I...killed my own grandfather..." he wheezed, wracking sobs racing through him, his wings trembling. He fell forwards, placing his forehead to the canvas matting, the warmth inherent spreading through him, even as the tears that burned in their birth, rolled down his cheeks and spattered onto the floor. "I lost control...and I killed him...with my bare hands..."

Iliana lay far from him, her mouth left open, yet unable to form any sound, her eyes still centered on perhaps the most powerful man she had ever met, releasing tears and wailing for his lost caretaker. She ran through her mind his words, that branding him a murderer, and hesitated, feeling for the first time, fear from this massive, winged creature. She slowly crawled over to him, and timidly reached out, until a slender hand rested against his broad shoulder. "Shadow...I...w-what happened?" she asked, hoping if not needing to know if it was merely an accident that spilled innocent blood, or something so much more.

The ninja remained still, and deathly silent. A huddled mass of gargoyle, once a warrior feared by any foe foolish enough to face him, and now reduced to merely a quivering babe.

"Please...tell me...tell me, damnit..."

"I...cannot..."

Iliana, in anger, gripped her nails forcefully to his face, lifting it to hers. In her eyes lay passion, a fire that rivaled his. "You can't just leave it like this..."

"But...I cannot...face it again..."

"Face it, like the man you are. Prove to me you're not a killer...please..."

A choice made beneath his breath, a clear mind attempting desperately to fight through the clouds of doubt and rage, of what had darkened his soul and laid his honor to waste. "It is...it is a technique known...as the...Black Dragon..." he whispered at last, the hand chosen to wipe away his tears, his sign of weakness, shaking, a rare sight indeed for someone seemingly crafted from glacial ice. "I implored him...to teach me, as I had come so far in my skills...and though young, I felt my training...had reached it's peak. So he...reluctantly agreed."

"What happened, Shadow?" she inquired of him, burrowing yet further into his past to at last discover the agony hidden behind shimmering mahogany. She curled around his larger form and traced steady hands and long, painted fingernails over his shoulders, hoping to soothe his violently trembling form.

"The Black Dragon is an...ancient technique that increases strength, power and speed tenfold, at the cost of your mental balance. You become...a mindless fighter, even dangerous...if not controlled...and I could not control it..." Shadow pushed himself from the floor, and found Iliana waiting beside him, her eyes speaking silently, that she wanted so to aid him in his pain. "...he had no idea how this technique would react with a gargoyle...he was...unprepared for what would happen...the first time I successfully used it..." Shadow stared forwards, his once lustrous chestnut gaze become faded in recalling the final moments of his grandfather's life. "I was unable to control the rush of power...I could not discern ally from enemy...I saw my grandfather as an attacker...I w-was blind...when he tried to calm me...I struck at him...lashed out...and in doing so...had broken my grandfather's neck in one fatal blow..."

"Oh god." Iliana gasped, her own eyes tearing when resting against his massive frame.

"When I at last came out of it, I looked down to see his limp form...his dead body...with his eyes still open...staring at me...blaming me...condemning me a murderer..." Streaking through his mind, a vicious wound inflicted by his own subconscious guilt, was the image of an elderly Japanese man, his neck broken and limp, the jagged shrapnel of shattered bone jutting from beneath his skin. "...I killed him..."

"...it was...it was an accident...it had to be..."

"No..." he wheezed, clenching his fists against his chest, and silently damning what inhuman strength possessed his form. "I am dangerous, even to those I love..."

"There's no way you could have known what would happen." She continued in her bid to help him, to ease what was tearing at him, held inside for so very long. "But it's something you never have to face again..."

"I used it again in Egypt, and lost control once more, killing members of the Pack." he said, effectively rebuking Iliana's argument in such brutal fashion, his own words threatening to drown him in a consuming guilt. "I keep losing control...like last week, when...when we..."

"Don't." she silenced him with her pleasant tone, though tinged with hostility, a song of angels wafting through violet-painted lips. "Just...don't. You don't...have to talk about it. I...I never knew why you wanted to forget this so much, I thought...you were intentionally trying to hurt me. I'm sorry..."

Shadow lifted his sorrowed eyes to her, the young detective having perched herself in front of him, as if awaiting him, and his touch. "Delilah can never know," he whispered, "about any of this. Or I will lose her..."

Iliana nodded, and rested herself against him, feeling his strong arms wrap around her, and his wings settle lightly about their two distinctly different forms, though fusing into one when cloaking them both in a shroud of darkness.

"Delilah can never know..."

****************************************

January 17th
"Thirty seconds to air, Nikki!" called the stage manager, as the golden-haired reporter acknowledged his signal thrown to her from his station.

She was being pampered, her hair and make-up being prepared just before the cameras transferred her image to millions of homes. She bore a singular smile through the handling and ministrations of the make-up artist and stylist, her lips just barely curling upwards, a hint of complacency born from what would come in less than a minute. Her final chance to be recognized, for her wild claims to become material reality.

"Okay, people, here we go...five...four...three..." The stage manager gestured frantically towards the anchorwoman, and as the cameras continued rolling, did she assume the smile seen a thousand times, through the digital connection from this one building to an entire nation.

"And now for the second part of her continuing editorial, here is reporter Nicole St. John..."

"You expect from me nothing but a frantic claim of winged monsters running our streets," she started without hesitation when thrust into the proverbial spotlight, knowing the audience focused solely on her would expect so very much from her report the previous evening, "and like the picture of bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster, you perhaps expect a blurred object within a field of stars. I'm here to prove you wrong..."

****************************************

"What has this bitch got up her sleeve?" mused Brooklyn, his beak nearly pressed against the screen, he and the rest of the Wyvern clan surrounding the massive television in the media room, interested when informed of last night's broadcast and the unusual topic discussed, their curiosity peaked by this reporter's unmitigated gall to expose them.

"If you would move away, Brooklyn-san," said Sata, pulling against a muscled arm of dark scarlet fade, "we could all see. And please stop swearing in front of the children."

"Well, excuse me."

"Quiet." commanded Goliath, in no mood to deal with any argument or even a simple, playful spat between lovers and mates. "This could be more serious than we believe. Miss St. John has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and a talent for getting it when motivated."

****************************************

"Gargoyles. The very word sometimes either strikes fear, or results in uncontrollable laughter. From myths born in the midst of our city, did they come forth, creatures who seem in appearance to be similar to us, but still so very alien. So different, that we have begun to label them as monsters, unfeeling creatures, often the topic on hand when visiting any police station's holding cell, and hearing the garbled screaming of winged beings thwarting thefts and other sorted crimes, and even afflicting harm, simple criminals marred with giant clawmarks. Gargoyles do exist, and here as promised...is my proof."

Nicole prompted for the photos to be displayed upon the screen, and thus, when removed was her smile from the screen, did the pictures of two lovers come into sharp, clean focus, one human, and one not. The photos taken the night of powerful magic though from innocent hands gone terribly wrong, and appearing in full were Shadow and Iliana, embraced in a passionate kiss, with the detective completely shorn of her clothing.

"They are among us," she continued, as several more photos flashed forth, showing a timeline of events compressed from almost an hour into mere seconds, from innocent friends to passionate lovers baring their all to each other, "and interacting with humanity. Some it seems in very...intimate ways. Anyone could know these creatures, anyone could be keeping their existence a closely guarded secret, and for what purpose, we can only imagine."

****************************************

"Jesus fucking Christ...is that Shadow??" Todd was unbelieved of what he was witness to, leaning forwards to get a better view. "And Iliana??"

Almost the entire clan looked on in silence, eyes of charcoal tint, and a few of diverse colored hue all directed towards the television, with one of their own betraying his lover to another. This was possibly what they had ever feared, their existence being released to the human world. Though hidden now for years due to lack of sufficient proof and actual, diplomatic contact between the two races, they had remained concealed above the clouds and in the darkness, firm on prevailing in the public eye as clandestine mythos and a spattering of fiction made public by struggling authors.

"Damn..." muttered Brooklyn, with Sata shaking her head in what upon the screen caused her distress, grasping a soothing hand against her mate's shoulder. "That damned spell..."

"No one's actually going to take this seriously," Annika peered wide-eyed to Goliath, as did a few others, those who looked to their leader for assurance of their safety, "are they?"

The lavender giant lowered his furrowed brow, creased just beneath his hairline. He thinned his eyes and furtively moved his gaze to his wife and child, Elisa holding Trinity in her arms, perhaps realizing a worst fear in having her gargoyle family exposed to the world, and not even on her own terms. "I truly do not know..."

Xanatos stood behind the couch, rigid, and his eyes crafted of organic steel unwavering from the screen. Owen stepped closer, sensing his employer's need for his unique services. "Owen, I want security increased," he whispered, unwilling to have the gargoyles hearing of his apprehension, "and double check the entire security system, in both the building and the castle."

"Yes, sir. Are you expecting any...trouble?"

Xanatos sighed, when looking to Elisa clenching her arms around her firstborn, her shifting eyes denoting a rare sign of fear. His promise to protect them now facing it's most strenuous test of all. "We can never be too sure."

****************************************

"And as these photos illustrate in a quite evident theme, one particular Manhattan detective has a very special connection with this creature."

****************************************

"Oooooooohhh...fuck." Iliana gasped, seeing her nearly nude form enveloped by the dark warrior, attacking relentlessly upon her neck with his fangs, his talons nimbly removing her bra of sheer black lace. The photographs taken through her apartment window without their knowledge or consent, those which had effectively stolen her privacy away, and spilled her greatest secret to the entire world. She dropped onto her couch, her body collapsing inwards, and buried her face into her awaiting hands. "Shit."

****************************************

The fragments scattered upon the stones, white porcelain once crafted of the finest material and shaped into expensive china, now spread across the entire expanse of the castle's floor, littering ancient granite with tiny shards and crystalline ivory dust. She had dropped it in her trauma, a concussion, unable to keep ahold of the fine dinnerware when peering onto the screen.

Her eyes were wide to that of the coupling between human and gargoyle, between a woman and the man whom had shared her bed on many a night. Who had once pledged to her his essence with just a crossing of his eyes against her own, setting aflame the embers of passion and true love. Delilah had seen the photographs released on the television, and as if the hand of god had reached into her chest, and ripped out her heart, the emptiness left struck a devastating blow to her innocence and incorruption of soul and spirit. A weak gasp released, the clone unbelieving of the sight before her. "S-Shadow??"

****************************************

"You may not believe this, or even want to care, but at least...it will give you something to think about." Satisfied of the results, and the rather shocked expression by the newswoman, who once had berated her in the past and now was transfixed to the monitors when the photos flashed by, Nicole now allowed the country to make their own conclusions. To at last take notice of the night sky, and the beings who could be dwelling within. "Something to look for when peering outside of your window when the sun goes down," her last words she hoped would adhere to their minds, and place fear in their hearts, if only to feed their curiosity, and leave them hungry for more, "something to ponder when you tuck your children into bed at night, or hear a scratching of what you think are tree branches against your window, swaying in the wind. It could be something you may never have imagined...even in your wildest dreams."

****************************************

In a chamber formed from a surrounding spherical wall, a full three hundred and sixty degrees of square-shaped monitors with rounded corners, the largest of which centered in the middle and focused on the news report of the gargoyle sightings, did the lone desk and chair of raven steel illuminate under the flickering brilliance of hundreds of different television stations and security monitors. And somehow, a solitary figure sat bathed in darkness, and only did his cold features lighten and fall into full view, before being hidden once again. His eyes of cool gray mist centered on the pictures, his monitors having recorded the pictures at his previous command, and now displaying each separate photo on a separate screen. "Interesting."

He roamed his eyes to each crisp detail of the black being in the photos, from the outline of massive wings to the glowing tattoos of an obvious Eastern origin. He found himself hypnotized by the gargoyle of darkness, his heart beating in a faster pace when tracing each sharpened claw, each spur of bone, and even in the fascination, his stomach churned in this lecherous display of, at least to him, a treachery of kin, a betrayal by the detective of her race. "This can't continue..."

"Sir." another voice beckoned to him, as a figure drifted through the only door, sliding up to the desk with a graceful stride unburdened by any sound. "Should we begin?"

"Not yet." he sanctioned in a learned voice, speaking with the true mark of age, wisdom. "We'll see where this new development leads. Tail this reporter, and see what else she knows. Same with that...detective."

"But should we not strike now?"

"This is just the spark, to ignite the fire. Allow it to spread, then we shall be there to douse the flames, and grow ever stronger with the populace's misguided praise. And regardless, we must continue building our forces, adding to our ranks and building support for our cause. We will do this silently, and not repeat Castaway's mistake." He turned to face his subordinate, and in the subtle change in position, he was revealed in full. Long chestnut hair on the verge of deep ebony, with a touch of sterling gracing his temples, his goatee of a matching color, and deep-set eyes the color of swirling stormclouds over an angered ocean crest. "The Quarrymen, Phoenix Rising...all failures, all wiped away by disorganization, impatience...stupidity. We will not make the same mistake...for we are the Guild. And we will cleanse humanity of any deviation from the norm, destroying these gargoyles and any betrayers to our species, the true rulers of this world...once and for all."

****************************************

"And possibly out there somewhere, as this photograph clearly shows, there are more human and gargoyle couples. A secretive union between two races. And perhaps...could there even be...children? Hybrids? Walking a thin line between two radically different species?"

****************************************

A fetal form upon the bathroom floor, as if neither alive nor dead, the tiling of white tinged with an intricately detailed border of royal blue adhering to her sweaty skin, the perspiration melting from her hide in the illness plaguing her. She was flushed, warm to the touch, and as Maria ran a hand down her cheek, wiping away a layer of moisture, did she swallow and taste once more her own bitter regurgitation. Again the strange sickness had come, sending her running to her bathroom, heaving over the toilet bowl her very insides.

"Please...no..." she whispered, her lips trembling, coated with a sticky substance of her own saliva. "I can't be...I just...can't be..." Yet from recollection of other's experiences, and especially Elisa's own, was she running through her mind the unthinkable, perhaps the worst price paid in allowing a loss of control, and a night of passion without precaution. "...I can't be pregnant..."

****************************************

"We don't know. And only time, and our unappeasable quest for knowledge will govern whether or not humanity is truly alone. Whether or not we can exist peacefully alongside the gargoyle race, or face a war for our very own planet. This is Nicole St. John. Goodnight...and sleep well."