64 - "The Shattering"

January 20th, 2002
"Okay, people, come and get it!! Woman having affair with gargoyle!! See her bare all for her winged lover!!" A chosen mantra of the urban landscape rang out above the screeching tire and blaring outcry of passing cars, and the low rumble, incessant and unending, of passing pedestrian traffic slipping past him through the darkened city, only brightened with the faint streetlights and the drifts of powdered snow. A simple newspaper stand, with it's operator calling out to any who would listen, brandishing the newspapers with the photographs released on television only days ago like burning flame, treating them as if too hot to handle with bare skin.

And even when news of such preposterous origin and farfetched story content would appear on even the most respectable of periodicals, did the consumers easily pass them by, the temptation yet unable to sway their curiosity, to latch upon them with claws of racy pictures and an opening line that screamed as if a banshee to any passers by.

Yet tonight, something had sparked their interest, the vendor selling a few more than he ever truly thought, due to a singular phenomenon centered in their city, their very home. A bold headline, with even bolder photographs, showing the detective of the twenty-third and the dark warrior of Wyvern locked in a kiss. The piles fell swiftly in number, the cash flowed in, and soon the papers were spread throughout the island within a day and night of publication. Within twenty four hours of being released for a healthy sum by the taker, she who first broke this story to the world.

And past the small crowd around the wooden, makeshift stand, did a slender woman pass by, attempting to conceal her more outstanding features. Though with such a playful wind, possessed of no discernible direction and taunting it's victims, did the breeze of a thousand paths forcefully pry away her hood and scarf, and reveal flaming locks to the open air, much to her chagrin and a composure straining and stretched to it's limits.

"Hey! It's you!" came an exuberant cry from a single bystander when seeing the remarkable similarity, with the others coming to attention. "The chick in the pictures! The one who's doin' the gargoyle!!"

Iliana Starr turned around in pure instinct, and found almost twenty patrons comparing her to the pictures held in their hands. "Oh shit...not again..."

"I knew it!!" he cried again, a younger man brimming with a smile in his seeming important discovery, his victory in capturing a supposed celebrity created from a story brought to light without her consent, or even her knowledge. "Hey, baby, yer gargoyle dude have a sister?! Heh heh heh..."

Iliana sneered, with the jest directed her way, having been assaulted with such barbs and banter for almost three days know, from even her friends and co-workers. She had tried so hard to pass the photographs off as obvious fakes, but it seemed New Yorkers were only interested in this revelation, no matter how fraudulent it appeared, to satiate their morbid curiosity in seeing a mystery uncovered. In being witness to the strange and aberrant, the secrets they knew which existed beyond their realm.

"Gotta hand it to you, red..." the man continued, with the vendor enjoying the publicity so near to his place of business, guaranteed to win him increased sales. "You know how to pick 'em...by the size of this guy, I bet he's really hung..."

With the contemptuous utterance barely given ample time to roll from his tongue, did a blur of scarlet flash forwards, and the distinct sound of a gun being cocked fall into the surrounding streets. Iliana, in a passing moment of anger, had pulled her magnum .45 from her holster, and pressed it against her verbal attacker's forehead, effectively silencing him and ending further chance of continuing jest. "See this, moron?!!" she growled, her thumb resting on the cockspur, and her other hand pulling out her badge. "And this?!! One more word, and I'll cover the street behind you with whatever gray matter up there that wasn't killed by endless cans of cheap, Canadian beer!! And it would be legal, 'cause I'm a cop! Is that clear?!!"

The man crossed his eyes upwards, and to the witnesses, it seemed as if he could actually see the tiny red dot searing a hole into his head between the eyebrows. He then nodded, when Iliana pushed even harder against his skin, a warning of mere silence, and her glare.

"Good. And just for the record, those so-called pictures are fakes. All that bitch St. John did was repaint my...boyfriend's skin, and tack a few wings on to his back with a computer." She slowly traversed the gathered throng with pools of frozen glacier, and with but a look, did they back off with cautious steps. "Now I suggest you people throw those papers in the trash where they belong, and get back to real life. Is THAT clear?" A few more nods in the affirmative, and Iliana was satisfied her point had gotten across to wide-eyed spectators. She holstered her gun, and slowly moved away, pulling up the hood of her long Winter jacket, acting more like a cloak, while quickening her pace towards her place of work, to suppress further harassment of a mistake made and threatening to haunt her for a very long time.

She tore through the precinct doors only minutes later, having left a trail of frozen snow heaved into the air by her swiftness to escape the open streets, the plumed flakes left to flutter and caress and scrape across the ground with delicate crystal vibrissa. And as she undressed, plowing through the squadroom doors in her haste to forget what just had transpired, she lifted her eyes through her falling tress to see an entire room of police officers and detectives staring at her. "Aw shit..." she sighed, her shoulders slumping in yet another hurdle having to be jumped in her growing fatigue. "You guys still can't believe this crap is true..." she said, almost coming off as a whine, a sullen plea when pointing to the newspaper held in another's hands.

Yet when they returned to their respective task, still the wandering eye shifted towards her, still the mistrust in her most heartfelt assumption of trickery and falsified pictures, set against her for no reason but to make headlines around the country. "Damn..." she whispered, seeing what this mistake in her judgment had cost her, her private life ripped away and opened to the world. Iliana slinked her way to her desk, head bowed in near-defeat and nearly collided head first with a taller woman, rushing past her. "Whoa...captain Chavez..."

"Detective Starr." Maria greeted her subordinate casually, and then slipped away rather quickly, a plastic shopping bag clenched underneath her arm as if precious gold.

Iliana paid no heed, allowing Maria her privacy, and settled into the chair, a noticeable creak having gone unrepaired since she was assigned here only a few years ago, and a quirk she wanted preserved, to distinguish this area as her own. "Man," she whispered, forcing a stray hair from her face with a steady pressure of air through bee-stung lips, "can things get any worse?"

"KATYA!!!"

Iliana whirled around, nearly startled from her chair with the blaring cry of a childhood name in a thick Russian accent, having been granted to her by only one person. She found an elder man tromping towards her, with silver hair, tied back into a long tail and a full beard to match the sterling steel tint. He approached her deskside, with a crumpled newspaper in a very large and apparently powerful hand, weathered by laborious work. She swallowed, scraping against a dry throat, when bathed in his shadow. "Poppa??"

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

Without an audible breath, and only the fierce beating of her heart echoing relentlessly in her ears, did she stalk his quarters, his private sanctum where allowed were only a select few. She could now explore unimpeded with his absence, and took in each nuance and every subtle idiosyncrasy that was him and him alone. She could smell him here even, when he was half a city away, his powerful scent a constant reminder. The lapping flames in the firepit curled and danced as if just for her enjoyment, choosing a new master for whom to frolic and bring pleasure in their soothing flicker. And from the centered fire, came a soft orange glow, catching each weapon, each steel, gold or silver surface like ripples in a pond. She glided her hands over a large sword, a marvel of craftsmanship by skilled hands, yet an implement of slaughter and death, and she wondered just how many lives had been lost to this weapon. And if he himself had taken them.

Delilah stared deeply into the katana's reflective surface, a mirror distorted by the sharpened edge, casting her image back to her, a composite of two halves of two women and brought into a single whole. And in her eyes, did not lay the mild cresting of the ocean waters of Elisa Maza, but the fire and oft-uncontrollable rage that was Demona. She was angry, a bitterness and hatred left to fester and grow within her for days now, for her lover, her best friend and whom she deemed her greatest strength, had betrayed her trust, and hidden his sin from her with an unbroken facade.

She carefully plucked the weapon from the wall, testing the surprisingly light weight in her hands, feeling the soft leather wrapped tightly around the handle, and running a talon across the entire length of the blade, savoring the rigidity and wafting power of this simple weapon, perhaps hundreds of years old, perhaps passed down through his adoptive family, that of clan Minamoto, and then finally to him. "Weapons that kill, that draw blood with but a touch..." she whispered, a cruel tongue in a voice so much unlike her own. "Is this all you are? A killing machine driven by pure bloodlust? By instinct alone do you act, Shadow?" She was asking of her young soul possibly questions that could never be answered truthfully, and thus, did she at no time expect an answer. "Do you follow your baser needs, that to conquer everything and everyone you come across? Including other women?"

It was there, simmering just beneath the surface, the biting memory of seeing her lover clasping his teeth into the flesh of another woman. His righteous sense of self-control he fought so hard for, and yet abandoned freely when presented with the chance. She was angry, betrayed, her innocence and inexperience unable to deal with the rush of emotion, churning within her breast. "DAMN YOU!!!" she screamed, turning sharply only to cleave the sword into the stone pillar against the wall, supporting the roof structure. The sharpened steel flicked away a chunk of rock, perfectly hewed from it's foundation, leaving a smooth edge, and the severed corner rolling to her feet.

Her breathing was ragged, and she took great solace in the weapon's strength, a power held over her when clenching her copper-tinted skin into the leather binding, feeling the superiority in simple shaped metal forged and tempered years before her birth. It possessed her, used her pain and anger to it's own twisted ends. Until her own intellect and reason fought back for control, and when the daughter of Elisa returned, she found only a hollow emptiness. "No. I won't become him..." she whispered, placing the sword back onto the hangers, freed from it's poisonous touch. "As much as I love him, I won't become him..."

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

For his very life, did he pray on his very soul, begging silently to what lord existed above and looked down on and protected those who strayed from the path, for the speed and strength to escape the specter of death come raining upon him. As if the entire street had come to life, as if the unyielding monoliths of brick and steel were reaching out to him, threatening to swallow this being, once cradled in their bosom, and now treated as an enemy to their domain.

He could hear it behind him, the thing, the being possessed of no body, only a shadow reforming it's shape to suit it's needs. Be it wings, or tail, or weapon, the creature birthed from the darkness of it's carrion anything to attempt it's capture of him. He would not let it take him, he would never allow himself to be taken without a fight. The man, now tired beyond physical pain, his clothing torn and covered in his own perspiration, he banked into the abandoned field beyond where he was first spotted, and sprinted across it's patches of yellowed, dying grass, tearing asunder the wind in his unwavering path. He climbed through the mass of collected garbage and refuse, uncaring of what objects marred and ripped at his fragile skin, leaving behind smears of his own blood.

He could still hear it behind him, smashing through the piled debris, splintering wood, and bending metal, each step it took was faster and farther than his own, decreasing the distance behind him. He could feel the heat of it's exhale on his neck, even detect it's steady breathing, as if it wasted no strength in chasing him down, a relentless quest for someone unworthy of such pursuance. But he continued on, having escaped mere days ago from such creatures, and now released to walk the city's pathways once more. And a grave mistake, when thinking himself safe in holding up the convenience store in an insignificant sector of the city, had effected his punishment, when daring to believe he would never face these winged creatures again.

Lost in thought, he snagged a loose board and tripped, landing on his chest, knocking the wind from his lungs, and ending the pursuit. He turned over, only to see the form slowly rise over him, blocking out the stars in total blackness. Pure instinct, a reaction without thought resulted in his grabbing the board and swinging it across the shadow's midsection. It merely impacted against a solid object and the fragile wood cracked and erupted in a spray of splinters. His weapon discarded, he had realized with a sudden and frightening comprehension, his purser was only made angrier.

"Mistake."

It had growled to him, that same grating voice heard days ago, that same ferociousness that singled out any sense of humanity from his assailant. He was lifted by his jacket, a massive four-fingered claw entrenched and grazing past his hide. A strange sensation wafted through him, even as his paralyzing fear struck as if lightning to every nerve ending along his spinal cord, the sense of weightlessness, of floating free above the constraints of the soiled earth.

"YOU!!!" it screamed, recognizing both the look of fear and the strong scent from this human. "I thought I had rid the streets of you three days ago!!" Shadow growled, an almost exacting similarity to the gang of petty thieves they had caught in the alleyway. A simple technicality in the legal system, a loophole discovered and exploited, had set him free after only a day in police custody, and now this fact had enraged the protector of the island of glass and iron castles. "Perhaps that night, I was far too lenient..."

Shadow used merely a fraction of his strength to flip the man over and drive him into the pile of rubble, forcing weak human flesh into wooden planks and steel tubing, a coating of rust upon the metal colored a deep orange-red and flaking off with each strike to it's surface. He screamed in pain, only incensing Shadow's primal lust to a higher degree, lashing out with quick and powerful thrusts into the thug's midsection. He continued pounding, ignoring the human's garbled pleas for mercy, and allowing his anger to take hold. Guilt, tearing at him, pure rage, guiding his bloodied fists without his consent. It had built to it's peak, a cresting wave of emotion threatening to drown him, engulf him, the accidental death of his cherished caretaker, the incident in Egypt with the Pack, the betrayal of his blossom to another woman, all taking their toll. He would have perhaps ended this man's existence in a blinding delirium if not for yet another of his kind at last catching up to the one whom had strayed so far.

"SHADOW!!!" It was Goliath, having chosen the ninja once more to join him on patrol, to better keep watch, and now, his decision had proven disturbingly correct. The lavender giant swept in and captured a wrist in his hand, stopping Shadow from delivering what could be the final blow. "Enough!! You're killing him!!"

Acting on pure instinct to the imposing presence behind him, did the ninja swoop around and knock Goliath back with his free hand. He had chosen a new target to take out his anger on, that of his leader, and friend. Goliath had no choice but to defend himself, against a warrior lost of his control. They clashed hand to hand, a show of strength between two opposing forces of nature. Until Goliath's greater might forced him back, and with his own impressive skills, clenched a hand to Shadow's bound hair and yanked him down, flipping the dark warrior completely around when grasping upon his wing struts.

He rolled with the blow, and flipped to his feet, seemingly unfazed. He then lunged forth, a snap of his talons against the soft earth propelling him into the air, and struck hard into Goliath's forearm, having blocked the oncoming blow. Shadow went low and jabbed an opened palm into Goliath's side, and the giant cringed, yet held in the growl of pain, and unleashed with his hands upon the sides of the ninja's head with enough force to rend steel. Shadow faltered back, momentarily stunned, allowing Goliath the chance to end this before it became truly dangerous.

"What is wrong with you?! You are acting as if I am your enemy!"

Shadow stood silently, heaving, his entire body bulging with every breath. He scraped trembling talons down his face, relieving the madness coursing through him. "I am...sorry..." he said, at last a true intellect granting him the gift of intelligent speech.

"I will not stand for this any longer." Goliath continued, though keeping his stance wary, noticing Shadow's tensed mannerisms. "You are growing out of control. Ever since Egypt, I have noticed your anger swelling, and your sullen, withdrawn attitude. Your continuing arguments with Delilah..."

"My life," he started, instilling fear with his haunting rasp, even in the fearless, that of a warrior bred and born in a much barbarous era, "is my business."

"Not when it involves your clan. Not when you attack me in cold blood. Your leader."

"I am not some servile you have dominion over! I am my own being, and I shall do as I wish..."

"Not under my roof! And not when sharing the same home as my wife and daughters! You would take due care with your tone, Shadow Minamoto." Goliath warned, severely. "Do not test my patience."

The ninja stalled, his tattooed brow lowered into place, almost obscuring his eyes if not for the slight inkling of a searing sapphire glow beginning deep within his dark pupils. "And I warn you now, to not test mine..." he hissed, a near sense of humor floating across his thin lips in the assumption of such bravado. "Or you will find, Goliath-sama, my deep respect for you will mean absolutely nothing..."

"Shadow." Another voice cut through the coming storm, though possessed of no emotion, a glacial cold that seemed so unlike the owner. Wings of white snow, an angel granted the breath of life through artificial means, she touched down and stood firmly between father and lover. "Stop this." Delilah commanded, as if scolding a child, and uncaring of any consequence. "You're allowing your anger to dominate your actions...again. You see everyone around you as enemies, as if they're judging you. Why?"

Shadow sunk back, perhaps never expecting his blossom to appear before him, and demand of him such questions. He remained silent in the face of her accusing glare, her pouted lips forced together, trembling.

"Answer me!!" she screamed, releasing her anger in a breath of flame.

He refused, choosing reticence in favor of any words. For he thought there were no words that could ever fully explain his actions, and what his life had given him, what was there to lay within his tortured heart.

"Why won't you tell me?" She was on the verge of crying, her eyes rimmed with tears, dragging across in opposite directions and holding in spherical droplets upon the corners of her eyes. "Why?"

"You...would never understand..." he whispered. "You could never feel the same way about me...if you ever found out..."

"Then I guess you don't know me as well as you thought...and I guess...I don't know you as well either..." She turned away from him, heading past Goliath, when her father suddenly cast an arm to her shoulder, stopping her from spiriting away.

"You would do well to honor her, Shadow," he minded the ninja, "to hold in pain can only lead to more. Trust me, I know this fact very well."

"It's all right, Goliath." Delilah whispered, turning her eyes towards her lover. "He's angry, and his silence only shows what guilt he feels...in betraying me to another woman..."

Shadow snapped his eyes up, wide with rare fear, his mouth slowly dropping open to the fact his blossom had discovered a transgression so desperately attempted to conceal. "Delilah...I..."

"Save it." she cut through, allowing no quarter, or explanation. "I won't watch you retreat further into darkness anymore. I just can't...deal with it...anymore. You were named well, Shadow, for that's all you are...is darkness..." She walked away, climbing higher into the pile of debris and taking to wing, soaring farther from Shadow's sight, until lost beyond the field of stars.

He stood there, unbelieved of what was happening, but it was true. His actions and adamant refusal to allow her the knowledge of the greatest sin committed, had perhaps cost him the greatest treasure found, the love of a woman.

"It seems she has discovered the truth, Shadow." said Goliath sadly, breaking the dark warrior from his stupor. "Perhaps you should concentrate less on taking your anger out on simple criminals, and try to put right what has gone wrong in your relationship."

For a moment, he seemed lost. For the blur of a second past, he seemed afraid of chasing after her, of saving what was becoming frayed to it's very edges. Shadow then lept forwards and followed exactly Delilah's path, back to the castle beyond, leaving Goliath to look down onto the fallen human left in Shadow's wake of destruction, barely breathing, bloodshot eyes staring up to the massive form gradually moving into view, yet unable to discern just who or what it was in his condition.

"Be thankful, human, that I was fortunate enough to stop him." said Goliath, gathering the limp crook into his arms, intent on taking him to receive proper medical attention. "Or perhaps...you would not still be alive right now."

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

"Look at this place, katya! It's tiny! And disgraceful!! You should not be living in such squalor..." He roamed his eyes to the cramped apartment, seeing in his daughter habits thought broken of with strict rules when growing up. He stepped over a pile of clothing, and made his way cautiously to her couch, careful to avoid his shoes to any loose impediments. "There are thousands of apartments in Manhattan alone, and you choose...this?"

"Poppa, I like this place." argued Iliana, throwing off her boots and heading to her refrigerator, pulling out two beers with the gentle clink of glass upon glass. "The rent's low and it came fully furnished."

"No daughter of Dimitri Starr's should be stuffed away in some closet." he demanded, his distinctive Russian accent booming, casting off the walls.

Iliana shook her head, popping the caps off the dark-tinted bottles and proceeding towards her father, watching as he cleared the cushions of her discarded clothing. "It's not a closet."

"It sure looks like one. I thought your mother told you to..."

"Always keep my room clean." she finished for him, handing the larger man the beer and slumping down beside him.

"And if she could only see you now...her spirit is probably restless because you have ignored every single rule we set for you."

"Just like momma did when she was young."

Dimitri sighed, and relented suddenly, a smile appearing beneath the thick bristle of his beard. "Yes, you two are so much alike, my katya. Rebellious, and obstinate." He matched a swig of his drink to his daughter's own, and settled deeper into the couch, seeing his wife of so many years within the young woman in front of him. "You should not be here. You should come home with me to the old country, and work in the store."

"Poppa, you live in Brooklyn." she countered, seeing her father shrug impassively. "And I hate that store. Every summer you made me work there, and after high school and college, I finally escaped to go to the academy. Besides, I like Manhattan...and there are...other reasons I want to stay..."

Dimitri immediately grabbed for his newspaper, and opened the front page to show Iliana the picture. "You tried to convince me for the entire trip here that these pictures are fakes. I can maybe believe the whole gargoyle creature may have been made up...maybe," he lanced steeled eyes to his daughter, perhaps still unconvinced in the farthest vestiges of his mind, "but why is my youngest daughter almost naked on the front page of a newspaper?!"

Iliana sheepishly smiled, her fair skin turning a deep shade of crimson upon her cheeks. "Well...uhm, you see, poppa..."

"No more of your lies, katya. The truth."

"Well, it seems St. John was doing some late-night spying, for what reason she picked me I have no idea...and then decided to do some...adjusting to the photos, just to make her career." she explained, her anger rising when thinking of just how close this brought the gargoyles to the public eye.

"And why have you not confronted her?" he demanded brusquely. "Why have you not had her print a retraction if these pictures are obviously fakes?"

"Because it would appear three weeks later in a small corner of the last page. And besides, it won't do any good anyway...the damage has been done. All I can hope for is if and when the public eventually becomes bored...and then it fades away."

"And just who is this man underneath the wings and claws?" he asked, tapping fiercely his finger into the newsprint.

"Uhm, just some...guy, I met a while ago..." Her voice softened when speaking of Shadow, and she placed her head into an open hand, staring intently with drowsy eyes at the man whom had captured her fancy, and her admiration. "A very handsome, sensitive, powerful man...who's in a lot of pain right now..."

"Hmmm..." he muttered, snapping a few fingers in front of Iliana's eyes, having glazed over, the crisp sapphire ice becoming frosted, and effectively breaking her from her daze. "Are you two...involved?"

"No...just friends..." she muttered solemnly, staring at the picture, until her father stole it away to regain her attention, severely waned from his conversation with but a single photograph. "Just friends."

"And you are not dating a gargoyle?"

"No, poppa."

"You are sure?"

"Yes, poppa."

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

"Okay, we've got twenty kegs of beer, five bottles each of rum, whiskey, vodka, mixers, and schnopps..."

"What kind of schnopps?"

"Uhm...let's see...mint, peach, strawberry and...root beer."

"Nice..." Todd nodded his head slowly, wearing a devilish smile as Brooklyn prepared the beverage list for his upcoming bachelor party. He rubbed his hands together, almost seeing the carnage and debauchery in his mind, his powerful imagination conceiving what would place a wandering fear in even the most intrepid of men alike. "Oh boy...only three more weeks, I can't wait..."

"You don't think we've gone a little overboard?" Brooklyn asked, when flipping through his notepad, and seeing the numerous pages of supplies for what he deemed a simple party. "I mean, you should see the food list...it's four pages long!"

"Dude, this is it." Todd asserted forcefully, closing the freezer door of the castle kitchen. "My last remaining days as a single, free man. This party is my last chance, because soon, it'll be the ol' ball and chain snapped on to my wedding tackle. So I plan for bachelor Todd to go out with a bang, before married Todd takes over."

Brooklyn shook his head, coercing his beak into an erratic smile. "Getting married doesn't mean the end of your life. It's great, you get to wake up to the same beautiful face every night, you'll talk about the future with each other, watch the stars in each other's em...brace..." he trailed off when seeing Todd peer to him with a raised brow, and his lips curled into a sneer. "Uh, sorry."

"You know, I would've liked to meet the bachelor Brooklyn just once..."

"Yeah, I know," Brooklyn agreed, moving his eyes back to his prepared list, "I miss him sometimes." The beaked gargoyle followed the human from the kitchen, appearing into the corridor when all turned suddenly black. Both Todd and Brooklyn stepped back into the stones when Shadow stalked past them, a hurried stride, and a featureless mask.

"Where is Delilah?" he rasped, bearing down on them as if their lives would depend on one answer alone.

"Uh...library." Todd replied, pointing down the hallway, and immediately Shadow took off, his distorted silhouette trailing behind in the bright lights, eventually and silently slipping away. "Whoa..." he breathed a sigh of relief, as the elder gargoyle beside him cocked a brow.

"You think he found out that Delilah found out?" Brooklyn whispered.

"I think, Brook...that the shit's about to hit the fan."

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

Bathed in darkness, even the brightest of starlight unable to penetrate into the penumbra of living shadows cast over this place of knowledge, where written text, perhaps the last remaining memory of person or place or civilization, became as a tomb in such pensive silence. He drifted through, following her scent as it laid a distinctive trail towards her, and he tracked her intently as if his prey.

Shadow found himself drawn into the library's foyer, where the massive fireplace dwarfed even him, and on the couch, facing away, was a shock of ivory hair, turned faded hues of orange and deep crimson. He approached silently, six hundred pounds making not a sound, but she knew he was there, she knew he would have come after her. "My blossom," he started, a soft tone, "I..."

"Please don't call me that." she said, without bothering to turn around. "Not anymore."

He felt himself cringe, when she turned away even his affectionate moniker. "I was naive in thinking I could hide this from you."

She released a sullen laughter, biting, full of malice. "After I saw those pictures, I was hurt...angry. I could have even gone to Iliana's and confronted her, taken out my anger on her. But I didn't...because I'm better than that. And after everything we've been through, I was ready to give you one more chance. But you still refuse to tell me...tell me what's tearing your soul apart...and that chance was wasted in your silence...and your betrayal."

"Delilah, please..."

"Did you enjoy it?" she interrupted with the topic on her mind, her eyes still centered on the small fire lit. "Did you enjoy making love to her?"

"It was a mistake..." he asserted, his strong rasp forced down to a fraction of it's power, and hoping she would believe him, accept his reparation.

"A mistake that you didn't even have the courage to tell me."

"A mistake best left in the past. I have tried to move on, and forget that even happened, to help preserve what we have built together."

"It seems what you want...is possession." Delilah stood up, and at last turned around to face him, her features cold and unfeeling. "That's not love, Shadow."

"I am aware as much as you are," he countered, his anger being sparked, "what love is."

"If you truly loved me, you would have kept your control! You would have stayed with me that night, or even had the power to keep yourself from betraying me to another woman."

"I could not control myself because of that damned spell!"

"It seems you never had any control to begin with." she argued back, watching intently as he came drifted around the couch, their eyes of mahogany and chocolate clashing against each other's, nearly setting off sparks in their intensity. "You fight, you destroy, you kill...and you enjoy it. You're nothing but an animal."

Shadow growled, unwilling even in his own fault, to have this girl speak to him of the circumstances of life and death. "Choose your words carefully, Delilah. For I kill only when absolutely needed, when no other options exist to save innocent lives."

"Is that what happened in Egypt? When you killed Jackal and Hyena?"

Yet another successful attack upon his being, the warrior beaten down by mere words. "I...it was different...I needed to stop them..."

"By slaughtering them?" she added, with the ninja unable to answer with such alarming veracity. "Goliath finally told me what he had found, after I begged him. Two dead, one crippled, one near death...was that kind of brutality necessary? What did you do to them?"

Shadow furrowed his lips and looked away, as somehow even with all his vaunted power, still could not face a young woman and her accusations. Or even tell her of a secret from his past. Not her, and not like this.

"You still won't tell me. You still refuse to open up to me..." She walked away from him, arms crossed, as if attempting to gain warmth near the fire. Her delicate wings shivering, sending shimmers of crystal firelight through the snow-colored pinions. "I wanted to spend my life with you." she whispered hoarsely, mesmerized by the dancing flames and their granted serenity, lapping at the hearth and decorative brass grating. "But in my naiveté, my childish dreams, I now know that's impossible. How can I be with someone who will never open himself to me? Feel comfortable enough with me to share his soul? Who kills...without a thought?"

"You would never understand the pain I have gone through! Never understand just what drives me..."

"I know pain!!" she screamed, turning around to face him. "Imagine being a creature made of two women, without a soul of your own! Imagine being created from a tube only to be a whore and a slave!!"

"You know nothing!!" he countered in a blaring cry, his wings involuntarily flaring with the furious beating of his heart. "How could you ever know what true agony is?! You have led nothing but a sheltered existence, protected from the world! Running to your mother whenever life becomes too hard!"

"I've seen enough pain...or have you conveniently forgotten the fact I watched my brothers die in front of my very eyes? Or the fact I can't have children of my own?! Or when my friend Jessica died?!"

"You had family there to aid you in your pain. I did not. I had nothing..."

"I still opened up to them...to you...I cried myself to sleep in your arms!! If you refuse to tell me, it just means...you really don't care for me..."

"Delilah...I can't..." he pleaded with her, desperate to keep her from what he hid inside of him. And in his despondency, did his talons burrow into the leathery flesh of his palm beneath the wood-brown bindings.

"Then it's true. You don't care for me. At all."

"You would never look at me, or love me the same way...if you truly knew what I was..."

"Oh, don't worry, I know exactly what you are now...an animal, a betrayer, a killer...you never cared for me, or anyone!!" Her voice was fractured, coursing through a constricted throat, her body trembling with an anger washing over her. "You're just some unfeeling robot! A monster!!"

"You dare call me a monster?!" An anger growing beyond his control, Shadow fought back, defending his actions in perhaps a savagery unintended when thinking with a clear mind. "You're nothing but a distrusting, childish clone! A mere science experiment!!"

Delilah lashed out at him, slapping an open palm across his face with such ferocity as to actually cause him pain. He could have blocked it, in his great skill and practice, he could have at least dodged the incoming blow, yet for some reason he never tried to. Possibly even, he allowed it, perhaps on some subconscious level thinking he deserved it. The impact echoed, thundered in his head, such brutal actuality of her pain and wrenching agony that would forever mark him, leave his memory scarred.

She pulled her hand away, coursing with a stream of scarlet fluid, her palm and fingers cut open with a long gash trickling with a blood reflective of even the faint light. She had caught the small spur beneath Shadow's ear, and ripped away the fragile skin in the savage swipe. "You bastard...why would I ever think I could love a creature like you..."

"Then perhaps," he rasped, lifting back to his full height, "we should not be together any longer."

"That's fine by me..." she whispered, clenching her hand tightly to keep the blood from flowing and cradling her wounded appendage to her chest. From the flickering light of the fire, she retreated into the darkness, and tore through the doors, leaving the dark warrior alone, tracing delicately where she had last left her final touch.

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

Dimitri eyed the newspaper photograph closely, having lost only a bare whisper of it's focus, his reading glasses tipped on the edge of his nose, his eyes held steady to discern the image of a strikingly real creature possessed of wings and sharp spurs. "Hmmmm..."

"Poppa, stop that." Iliana scolded her father, as the elder Russian snapped away from the newsprint, startled back to reality.

"Oh. My apologies, katya. It's a remarkable hoax." he mused, slipping his glasses back into their lined case. "These computers do imaginative work."

"Yeah..." she breathed cautiously. "Imaginative."

"I wonder what this sweetheart of yours actually looks like underneath these wings and that loincloth..."

Iliana nearly spilled the remnants of her alcohol upon her father's oblivious adage, unable to ever realize just what made the detective turn a deep shade of glossed pink. "Oh...it's nothing...special..." she lied outright, still unable, even after a full eight months when seeing the dark warrior completely exposed to her young eyes, to shake that particular image from her mind.

"You speak with more than just friendship, katya." Dimitri had guessed, when seeing his daughter fade away, and drift off to a world born of her wild imagination.

"I think we went way past friendship last week..." she whispered out of earshot of her father. "I like him, poppa," she continued in a much stronger tone of voice, "...very much."

"And does he feel the same way for you?"

Iliana stared into her drink, silent. "I don't think so...he's kind of...involved..."

"Ah. Another woman." Dimitri reached out and grabbed the red-headed woman, pulling her closer to him. "You know the funny thing, my katya? I first met your mother when she was dating another man..."

Iliana shot up in her father's lap, forcing an odd smile towards him. "Really?"

"Oh yes."

"Oh...well..." She smiled in such a presumptuous belief, cursing her almost childlike expectancy in thinking Shadow would ever care for her like she wanted of him. "It's not going to happen, poppa," she relented sadly, "even as much as I wish for it..."

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

She was blind, only able to discern the barriers surrounding her when grazing her wings against them, scraping her sensitive skin upon the abraded Scottish wall. Delilah ran as fast as her legs would allow, muffling her heartbroken cries within her cupped hands. Trickling down her cheeks and clothing, crystalline spherules left to plunge and spatter upon the ground, a trail left of the young clone and her desperate attempt to place as much distance as possible between her and the library.

She came across the massive doors leading to her mother's room, and burst through them, hoping to find her, hoping to find solace in her arms. "E-Elisa?" she cried, barely a whisper, until flooding her lungs with fire in her endeavor to locate she who had welcomed this creation into her life. "Elisa!!"

"Delilah?" She exited from the bathroom in a rush upon hearing the blaring summons, and found her twin of wing and tail clutching a wounded hand, caked in drying blood. "What's going on?!"

She staggered towards her, her skin moist, a copper gleam tarnished with tears of ocean crystal. "I...Shadow and I...we..." An answer too difficult to form into words, merely a spattering of garbled utterance fused with her wail.

"Oh god..." Elisa wheezed, immediately recognizing the distinct signs of the end of a relationship, and taking the sobbing gargoyle into her arms, settling onto the couch with Delilah's weight resting upon her, as if unable to support herself any longer. "I'm so sorry."

Delilah clenched herself into her mother's chest, burrowing deeper into her clothing and her wings falling limp, the sails having lost their spirited wind and dying away. "He's nothing...but an animal..."

"Shhhh...you don't mean that..."

"Yes...I do..." she tried to convince herself, of perhaps how she would be better off without him in her life. "He's a monster...a killer...I don't want to be with him anymore..."

Elisa found herself unable to mount a defense, never imagining this could ever happen between her daughter and the man she at times worshipped. In all her strength, in all her power, having battled for her life against enemies unimaginable to the common man, all she could do was run her fingers through her daughter's silken hair, granting her the gift of her love and silent patience.

Delilah's wings curled around her, her grasp upon Elisa's shirt loosening, and falling infirm to the touch, offering no resistance. "...he's an animal..."

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

He climbed to the highest tower, a leader's perch, and as if attempting to reach into the gates of heaven from man's greatest achievement of technology and modern fabrication, he stood on the medieval-adorned roost and spread his wings. They unfurled, demon sails of darkness and sharpened spurs, and caught the powerful wind in the impressive reach, nearly toppling him. He stood firm, every breath released as an animal snort, blind to anything but his anger.

He could still feel the sting of her hand, and the ferociousness contained in her voice, a melody he once took great pleasure in, and now serving only as a bitter reminder of such a radical difference between them. Shadow raised his eyes to the expanse of space, and they burned from beneath his brow, brighter than the stars above and a sapphire inferno pouring with sheer power. The dark warrior then opened his lungs and allowed the crisp air to inflate his barreled chest. With the sum of all his rage and torment, did he fill the sky with a bloodcurdling howl, echoing for miles beyond the Manhattan shorelines.

He was lost, separated from his sense of balance, his peace, and as his lungs at last lost what power he contained, did the ninja become silent, only due to lack of sufficient breath. He continued staring skywards, now a man hollowed of any soul, leaving only a true instrument of death. And that truly frightened him.

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

"ANIMALS!!! THEY'RE ANIMALS!!!" he screamed, restrained by the nursing staff, attempting even with his severe injuries to kick off the hospital-issued sheets of starch white and the intoxicating scent of disinfectant, and force himself from the orderly's strong arms. "GARGOYLES!!!"

"He's gone nuts!!" a male nurse yelled to the doctors surrounding the wounded man. "We found him outside, looking like he was attacked, and now he...won't stop screaming...damnit, hold still!!"

"He would...have killed me!!" he choked, spitting up blood from a punctured lung, his body beaten, failing him even as he yelled rabidly to any who would listen. "You have to...d-do something!! Warn everybody!! I've...been attacked twice now...they're...real..."

"It's okay, sir...we're going to take care of you." a doctor calmed him, directing the hospital bed towards his intended room, to treat his wounds and soothe his frantic anxiousness.

"No, you...don't understand...they're real..."

"Yeah sure, pal." mused a skeptical aide, allowing the man to live out his fantasy as he watched the doctor pull out a glass bottle of clear analgesic. "You've been reading too many tabloids."

"It's okay..." she calmed him still, the doctor, preparing the syringe full of a light sedative, in order to have him rest, unless he only aggravate his wounds further. She tapped his vein and pumped the contents into his bloodstream.

As he lay restless, they treated him, attaching him to IVs and diagnostic machines, and soon, the somnolent crook was left alone to heal, to stare at the ceiling, eyes having never closed, unable to wipe the burning image of twin sapphire flame bursting from the darkness. "...they're...real..." He forced his body to stay awake, he coerced battered flesh to combat the sedative, lest he see the creatures come to life in even his dreams. "...they're...real..."

"I know."

He turned his eyes at last to the direction of the voice, seeing a blond-haired woman creep into his room amidst the chaos of the hospital rounds just outside the walls. "...who...are you?..."

"Someone who believes you." whispered Nicole St. John, pulling a seat beside his bed.

"...you're the...reporter...who got those...pictures..." he wheezed.

"Yeah. Just to light the fire under the collective butts of Manhattan, and wake them to the real threat this city may be facing. But I need your help," she smiled as she leaned in closer, noticing the exactingly similar wounds inflicted on many criminals over the last few years, "if I'm truly going to get a really good story. Now, let's say we have a little chat...about gargoyles..."

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

"Come on..." It was the waiting that nearly drove her mad. Holding herself on the edge of her seat, desperate to have anything take her mind off the incessant delay in seeing the results with her own eyes. Maria rocked back and forth slowly in an perfect, unending rhythm, a silence become so ardently deafening, she begged for anything to ease her tattered nerves. Ten minutes had passed, and according to the instructions, it was almost time. Maria looked to her clock, licking her lips in nervous expectation.

And suddenly, when the timer set hit it's intended mark, echoing into her apartment suite with a shrill, mechanical chime, it sent the woman into a mad dash for the small, plastic implement left abandoned on the counter. Her hands trembling and barely able to perform even the most effortless of motion, she plucked the instrument from it's receptacle and peered upon a color set against both her deepest fears and highest hopes.

When seeing the results firsthand, she nearly let out a burst of laughter, for the sheer unimaginable situation she had been placed in would seemingly end here, and begin anew in yet a different form. She found her vision blurring, as twin trails spilled from the edges of her almond-shaped eyes, burning her skin in their substance and validity, and trickling over her crooked smile, born of exhaustion and near-giddiness in her discovery. "...oh my god..."