111 - "Assault On The Guild: Part 3"
"Every person has free choice. Free to obey or disobey the Natural Laws.
Your choice determines the consequences. Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices."
- Alfred A. Montapert
He'd seen a lot in the last few years, enough to make a lesser man turn and run in sheer terror. But tonight he'd been treated to something new, thanks to Demona's able display.
She was a shish-kabob.
The knife had split the skin and plunged into muscle and tissue with a wet scrape, all fourteen inches buried to the hilt.
Todd couldn't believe it; he never thought his arrival here would segue into a self-wrought mutilation. Something finally trickled out, "Jesus..."
Demona coolly regarded the handle sticking from her gut, slightly off-center, an upward angle; the entire experience was blunted by the fact she felt no pain and was somewhat annoyed her aim was off. Her demonstration proven effective in the fact the human looked like he was about to pass out, Demona pulled it out with a clean yank. The blade was clean, and where there should have been a hemorrhaging gash there was only a bright light shining out from the wound. It quickly sealed itself from the outside in, what should have been a grievous wound completely vanishing, and she replaced the knife to its place with nimble talons.
His expression cycling through several shades of horror and shock, Todd had melded in astonishment as well.
"The boy made sure his experiment would not be disturbed." Demona explained.
"I...I..." Synapses were shorting and he couldn't make a complete sentence.
Demona snorted, and seemed to bring him back to his senses.
"You just stuck a knife in your gut."
"A knife in your gut. Where the baby is."
Her talons started whetting against each other. "Yes, I'm well aware it's a might uncivilized method of terminating–"
"Whoa, what?!" Todd interrupted. "Terminating?!"
But she continued unfazed. "I've tried many a number of aborticants to no avail."
"I can't believe you tried to kill the baby! You sick bitch!!"
If she were near him, instinct might have sent her claws across his esophagus. But even from a distance, her sudden forward slant was enough to startle him. "Watch your tongue, human, I have every right to control what happens to my body!"
"You have no right to kill something that isn't yours–"
"It is my body, my choice."
"The clan desperately needs that baby. You know that!"
Air was sucked through her sinuses, "I hope we're not about to become embroiled in some petty debate."
"I'm pro-choice actually." Todd responded.
"Then you agree with me."
"Not in this case."
"So it is alright that I was violated, raped? Again?"
Todd threw his eyes away. She was arguing semantics, but had a good point. "Well, no...but..."
"But what, human?"
With his hands reaching, he tried to explain, "There was no other choice to save the baby. And it's a gargoyle."
A hand crawled over her stomach, led by talons testing the flesh. Having lived for a thousand years in a body never changing, Demona could sense even the slightest alteration, including a few extra pounds around the midsection. "It is a repulsive amalgamation of species...brewing inside of me..."
"Is this because it's carrying Maza DNA? Huh?! I thought you got over that..."
She rushed on him and stopped short just as he jumped away a few feet. The expression was clenched and twisted and vintage Demona. "This has nothing to do with the detective or that clone! I am taking back my life, human, and I will not be taken advantage of anymore!"
"Why do I get the feeling this isn't about self-preservation, considering Alex said you'd never know you were ever pregnant after you delivered that bun in your oven."
"Yes, if only I could trust a child with too much power and a teacher who walks a fine line between insanity and infantile behavior." Demona pointed to the stairs. "I think it's time for you to leave now."
Todd crossed his arms. "No, not yet. I'm not going to let you seal yourself away in this Caligula-like mansion scheming ways to kill an unborn child, at least until I find out why."
"It is none of your business..."
"Why do you want it out of you? How can you carry so much hatred for another gargoyle?"
No answer, just gnashed teeth and an expression unreadable in the dark.
"Why are you so afraid of this baby?!"
"Because this may waste my last chances to–" Immediately, Demona cut herself off. Damn this human; she was hemorrhaging her soul to him and couldn't quite tell why. He had a peculiar power about him, that kind of hypnotic empathy a woman couldn't resist telling all her secrets to. And she supposed killing him to rid herself of his annoying presence would no doubt upset the Wyvern clan.
But Todd was already on her before she finished her malicious train of thought, hoping to wheedle that last bit of crucial information she'd gnashed between her teeth. "To what?"
"Leave it!" Her brow wrinkled. "Just...leave it..."
Todd thought on it, carefully considered how exactly he was going to broach the subject and, unsurprisingly, decided to jump in headfirst. "Is this because you're mortal now?"
The look he garnered meant he'd hit the mark pretty close and Demona stared through his chest, but said nothing.
"Have you ever wanted...more children?"
Her fists clenched in the darkness, the sound like wet leather.
"Time's running out I guess." Todd continued, either horribly unaware of the danger he was courting or working to a specific point. "You've got an hourglass around your neck now. You're aging, decaying as we speak like the rest of us mere mortals. And even if you did want to breed again, who'd take you? I don't know how many available males there are out there, but I doubt anyone would want some stranger with such a sordid past."
"You must think me feeble-minded."
She'd caught on. "Reverse psychology is a tool of the arrogant, believing you can extract information from me with such a simple trick."
He shrugged. "Worth a shot, but I'm only trying to do what I can to protect that baby. I can't believe even you would try something like that..."
"Believe it." she asserted, reminding him not to take her lightly, or as any other female sauntering about that castle. But then relented, and said in defeat, "You are a protector like the rest of that clan, Mr. Hawkins. Rest assured the child cannot be harmed, even by my own hands. But I do not promise I won't keep trying to find a way to rid myself of this...parasite, albeit undamaged."
"Just remember, the clan is here to help you."
"Yes, support, love, family, etc, etc, etc...you should go now, back to your castle."
With a glance at the wall-clock, Todd realized how much time had passed. "You won't help me?"
"Help you kill yourself? No."
"But the clan–"
"Will survive, in one way or another."
He immediately started past her; he'd come here looking for help and obviously Demona wasn't the wealth of weaponry and overeager support he thought she might be. He'd have to find another way.
She stood there, letting him go, reflecting and wallowing.
A few steps down the curling, wrought-iron staircase which, in the dark, looked almost like a growth of vine, he stopped, and huffed and had to voice that tiny, intrusive thought itching at his brain. "You know, I got an inkling of something throughout this entire...frightening conversation and–"
"The speciousness isn't necessary. If you must know, I...bred once more during my life."
Bombshell. Dropped. And Todd nearly toppled over the step before he caught the railing. "You have another child out there?"
Demona got a look similar to someone suffering through major surgery without anesthetic. The pain was obviously deep-rooted.
He quickly realized her memories encompassed a thousand years, and while the revelation of an egg she'd laid was a shock to him, it was probably a wound Demona had sealed shut a long time before he was even born. "I'm sorry, it must have been...years ago–"
"He is still alive."
Both little snippets of information hit him at once. "Alive? You have a son?"
She breathed, pained, and closed her eyes against the threat of all those old memories coming to the surface. "Yes, a son I have never met."
He had the taste of grass on his tongue with his face in the dirt, but he wasn't about to move until the four officers surrounding him had calmed down some. He could just faintly make out their racing heartbeats, and wasn't about to set off frayed nerves with any sudden movement. He already had a bullet wound spilling into the soft woodland earth and didn't want any more matching holes.
They edged closer, unbelieving of what actually could be lying before them; prank, reality or a collective hallucination from the smog.
But Jon Canmore was watching his victory slip away with such indecisiveness it made him sick. "Shoot it, ye idiots!" he yelled, and had to be restrained by an officer on each arm.
"Calm down, sir! Calm down!"
"It's a goddamned monster! It'll tear out yuir stomach before ye even get th' chance t' get a single shot off! Shoot it!!"
They traded glances, but wouldn't be persuaded by any amount of ranting. Still, the officers took a while to deliberate.
"You know," Brooklyn quipped, "I could bleed to death before you make up your minds on what to do."
"Quiet!" one of the cops ordered. "Stay on the ground, and don't move."
Brooklyn heard footsteps. Then a revolver being holstered and the jingle of handcuffs. Only three guns left, but still trained on him. One cop close enough to grab and use as a hostage just long enough to get away. But besides the fact he didn't want to further the unjustified stereotype of gargoyles in Manhattan, his leg was useless, as was his arm; he could barely walk let alone run away from police officers not quite against shooting him again to put him down.
One of his arms was grabbed and forced to his back and, inflaming his earlier injury to the shoulder, an involuntary muscle twitch sent his wings into spasm. They snapped and proved more than wire, stitching and fabric. The officer paused for a moment before coming to his senses and cuffing both hands behind Brooklyn's back. He then turned his head over his shoulder, "I don't think it's a costume, Reynolds."
Reynolds, apparently, took a breath that visibly filtered through his expression. "You have the right to remain silent." He started reciting the Miranda rights; if he was going to arrest a gargoyle, he was going to do it by the books. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at interrogation time and at court."
So here it was. He'd escaped the Guild headquarters, twice fought to the death with a psychotic out to kill him, survived it all and with the castle in sight, was being arrested. "Damn..." Brooklyn spit.
But Canmore was livid. He expected those entrusted to protect and serve would've had more sense to shoot the monster dead rather than arresting it and actually bandaging its wound. "KILL IT!!!"
"Enough!" an officer yelled at him. "Calm down or we'll be forced to calm you down ourselves!"
Jon turned to get a good, long, dissecting look at him and the officer couldn't quite see the madness brewing behind those brilliant blue eyes. "Ye're a stupid jackass." He cracked skulls with the cop holding onto his left arm and tried to shove the other one off, but couldn't get enough leverage and was arm-locked, tripped and thrown to the ground. His face forced halfway into the dirt with a knee to his neck and literally frothing at the mouth, Canmore stared at the gargoyle just across from him.
"I'll let you guys in a secret." Brooklyn said calmly, having watched the chaos unfold as if he expected it. "That man's a fruitcake. He's psychotic."
"Dinna listen t' him! He tells lies!"
"I'm sure you've all heard of Jon Canmore aka Jon Castaway? Leader of the Quarrymen? That's him."
All eyes fell on Canmore, who was looking more and more like a caged animal than something resembling human. Several immediately recognized him, Manhattan's own little Hitler and whether or not anyone there shared his views on how humanity should regard the gargoyle species he was considered dangerous, arrested and imprisoned for inciting riots, causing willful destruction to public and private property and several counts of attempted manslaughter.
"Last I heard he was in prison."
"Put him in the car!" the lead officer ordered quickly. "And if he tries anything, use the mace."
A mustached cop nodded towards Brooklyn, "And what do we do with...him?"
"We treat him like any suspect. If Castaway's story has any truth to it, we're bringing him in."
Brooklyn was lifted to his feet and, with an officer on each side, escorted out towards the edge of the park. He didn't quite know where he was being led, but figured it was toward a couple large vans approaching from the north end.
Armored vehicles rolled up to the periphery, over the sidewalk and tearing up a bit of turf in the mad rush to unload its cargo of a few harried squads of SWAT teams. They flooded out and surrounded the entire area; obviously, by their frenzied behavior, the reports of gunfire starting at the terminal and ending at Times Square with a fifty car pile-up had made it to every precinct on the island.
They found a few of their uniformed brethren leading away what appeared to be a gargoyle and two more struggling against a sopping wet, bleeding, platinum-blond screaming obscenities with a Scottish accent.
A crowd had gathered outside of the ferry terminal, eyes on the spectacle with all the attraction of a train wreck or another celebrity sighting. Whispers raced through the crowd some of which Brooklyn could pick up on, but they were cut off when he was led into the back of a paddywagon between the parted sea of SWAT. A large armored van, it was used only to transport large groups but he assumed fear of a feral gargoyle was enough to take precautions lest he 'tear himself free' from a normal police cruiser.
"I thought I was being treated like any other suspect." Brooklyn quipped. "Since when do I deserve a cage?"
"We can always put you in the same car with the man you seemingly assaulted."
He slumped into one of the steel benches and was happy to take the weight off his injured leg. Guns still trained on him right up until the door was closed, and latched, he sighed, "Great."
Over the commotion brewing outside, he could hear Canmore's protests turned rants turned physical threats as the police forced him into the back of a squad car nearby. If the man wasn't screaming bloody murder, it might've been difficult for Brooklyn to pinpoint Canmore's voice from the crowd.
Seeing a presumably rabid herd of gargoyles coming straight at someone surrounded by the threading screams of bullets would be convincing enough to move from their way. The crowd had already parted out of fear and allowed the retreating clan the safety of the storefronts behind. Lexington had taken the pseudo-position of leader though it may have been his natural agility and speed, beating everyone else to the sidewalk.
They'd realize a few hundred yards away that the only reason they'd made it alive was for the fact one of their number had stayed behind to allow them the opportunity.
Claws cut concrete and they slowed.
"We're short one!"
A quick scan revealed who was missing. "Katana!"
"Do we go back?"
Lexington quickly went back and forth between the warzone they'd just escaped from and salvation at the other end of the alley. His deliberation barely took a few seconds but it felt like forever, especially with the weight of leadership apparently dropped right on his shoulders.
"We have to go back." Angela told him.
He slowly shook his head, "She wouldn't have separated from us without a good reason."
"She allowed us the chance to escape." Desdemona presumed, helping Lexington's argument.
"And going back in to get her would only make things worse..."
Angela's fists shook. "I refuse to leave her. I refuse to leave anyone else behind!"
"And are you going to jeopardize any more of our clan?" Lexington shot back. "You convinced me to leave Savannah behind. Was that only because she wasn't clan?"
"No, it was..."
"The right thing to do." he presumed for her and, by her expression, knew he was closer to right than wrong. "We knew the risks, Angela, and I for one won't put anyone else in danger for someone who's more capable of escaping from there on her own."
For a moment, it looked as if she was going to channel her mother. Red rimmed her eyes and then vanished just as quick. "Lexington..."
"Angela," Desdemona intervened, with a hand on her shoulder, "we must go."
"Yes," she sighed, looking over her shoulder, "yes of course."
It got as quiet as Manhattan ever could. She stood there, in full view of everyone on the sidewalk, and felt so exposed she might as well have been naked.
It was barely for a moment, but enough to get a good look at a live gargoyle, jade skin, thin eyes and curled horns, with a sword in each hand. She was indisputably female and more than a few men wouldn't be ashamed to admit she was a looker.
"It can't be real."
"It's just a publicity stunt..."
Anyone with a camera and the reflexes fast enough snapped off a few blurry shots before the moment disappeared.
The woman wasn't still for long; bullets bounced off the asphalt and she shot away, right back into the accident scene and the swarm of Guild. Four men twice her size went down under a flurry of motion and no one else could even touch her she was so fast, dancing across crumpled hoods. But anyone watching in stunned silence from the sidewalk could see she was incredibly, dangerously outnumbered, up against a vicious mob and the question of who to root for was becoming skewed.
It was like ants swarming over a grounded butterfly.
Katana didn't stop moving, breath hot and hoarse, attacking anyone in a black uniform and mask, putting them down by blade or handle, some being struck, others being skewered. There was an agent in every direction, blending together in her peripheral vision to obscure their true numbers. She figured she was still alive by the fact not all of them had a gun, the rest brandishing whatever they could grab from the debris around them.
She swiped wildly to keep them at bay, and to keep herself from resorting to killing she cut uniforms and left scratches that would heal eventually, but no amount of harmless grandstanding would stop them.
A young one got overzealous, and was rewarded with a gash that would eventually become a permanent scar. Of course, the fact he could've lost the entire right arm was lost on him as he fell away cradling his injury; if it weren't for Katana's skill and mercy, he would've become instantly left-handed.
More took his place and Katana rolled away, putting a crater in a Pontiac's hood and bruising her side in the escape attempt. She slowed, enough for a few agents behind her to get a couple swipes in. A board, a bumper, she couldn't tell through the sudden bursts of pain against whatever was exposed. Brought back to a relatively human speed, she threw herself away from their reach and unfortunately into the side of the bus.
An agent had raided someone's trunk and wrapped a set of jumper cables around her neck from behind, yanking on the ends. "C'mere bitch!"
She nearly had her esophagus crushed and knew he was there merely to hold her down until his fellow agents were able to disarm her. Already unbalanced he was able to pull her back and back into a throng of gloved hands. Someone kicked her in the ribs, another cracked his fist off the side of her mouth and it wasn't until she was already bleeding that she was able to break free by curving her spine and kicking the agent with the leash in the mask. One good swipe, the cables were severed and she was free.
Katana whirled around and knocked the agent out with a well-placed fist to the head. "Never call me bitch!"
The minutia fascinated her; the delicacy, the structure, the movement, the sense of touch running through the tips of her fingers, and the fingers themselves. She could stare for hours at her new physical form, often lost to her own private exploration that filled every sense and new sense. In the aftermath of her experience with The Matrix, sifting through the massive database download shared between them, she'd experimented with every free moment.
Though she had yet to tackle something as complex as flight (she'd decided to keep her gargoyle form the way it was, deeming it superior to that of a human with no intent to offend), she'd learned her body fast, reflex and motor control, walking and grasping and all the simple things humans and gargoyles discovered from childhood.
As her form became more and more complex with every new layer of intricacy added, she happened upon the inexplicably-linked polar opposites of pain and pleasure, mostly by accident.
"It is amazing how a precise reproduction of an autonomic nervous system can provide such pleasure, by simply mimicking quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvic muscles which surround the primary sexual organs."
The man lying beside her simply grunted, "Well, you really know how to suck the fun out of a one-night stand."
Mother shifted alongside him, and though she didn't quite have the best approximation, instinctively pulled the bedsheet closer over her body. "Are you regretful over what we've experienced?"
Dr. Pierce's head started rocking back and forth across his pillow. "No, no, I've simply made love to a sophisticated A.I. with a body made out of billions of microscopic machines named Mother, who just happens to completely resemble the actual flesh and blood mother of the very large clan leader I currently work for." He ran his hands down his face. "This is a Freudian nightmare."
"Freud, Sigmund. To what relevance are you connecting our experience with a famous Austrian neurologist and psychologist?"
"I only wanted to experience what organic beings are able to. And you seemed quite nervous while waiting for the clan to return. And you yourself have vocally maintained a lack of female companionship for quite some time–"
"Thank you, Mother...I'm glad I was able to help you."
With a seemingly oblivious demeanor, considering she'd just lost her virginity less than an hour ago in an act encompassing her first orgasm (which in itself was enough to send her new internal computer core into a meltdown), Mother turned to him. Her body oozed against his. "It was very wonderful." she smiled at him. "A truly magnificent experience. Are we to...what is the appropriate term?" She searched an internal encyclopedia and cross-referenced it against a vast database of slang. "Ah, snuggle, yes. Are we to snuggle now?"
"I beg your pardon?"
She curled in against him, running her talons down his arm. "I believe that is the traditional act."
"Yeah..." he said warily. She was getting clingy, and considering what he'd witnessed just a little while ago with David Xanatos nearly being eaten alive by the Matrix, the threat of assimilation hovered just near the back of his thoughts. But that particular fear was buried under a body curved like a Ferrari pressed up against him; she seemed warm, almost eerily comfortably so. This was exactly how he'd succumbed to her innocent and pointblank suggestion more than an hour ago, when desire overrode everything else from the waist up and they ended up in a spare castle bedroom. "You're warm..."
"I have raised my body temperature to a more comfortable setting."
"Oh. You're certainly learning this new body of yours fast, considering you've only had it less than a week."
Mother lifted her head. "The Matrix's program and experiences are a part of me now. It has given me most of what I need to cope with myriad of sensory information."
"Are you...sure you are not regretful? You seem uncertain."
"No, I'm just..." He released the air in his lungs in one fell swoop and quickly sat up. "I think we'd better get up actually."
"But the snuggling..."
"Can wait." Throwing the sheets off and hobbling over to where he'd slung his clothes haphazardly over the back of a chair, he started putting on his pants. "If you already didn't notice, it's been over three hours. We could be receiving casualties any time now."
"Of course." She threw off the covers, slid out of bed and quickly constructed a dress over her nude form, washing over her like a silver wave until settling, adding textural detail like stitching and finally a bit of color.
Still a might disheveled, Pierce was a little jealous of how she could clean herself up so quickly. He wondered if she would ever be aware of the power she held, how fortunate she would be to never age or be sick, or simply recreate herself from the atom up if she ever felt the need.
"Incidentally, it has been three hours and twenty minutes. The clan should be arriving soon."
"Let's hope so..."
"Do you think you'll move here?"
"I don't know. Leaving my clan would be hard."
Three hours down and overtime had begun.
"It's only half a night's flight."
"I know, but I just can't imagine not seeing my brothers and sisters every night."
"I never had a rookery. My family was always moving around."
Those left behind were forced to find ways to bide the time, some with sex, some with work and others with conversation; anything to keep their minds off of what or who they could lose tonight.
"You have a clan now, and that's the most important thing."
"So..." she segued into another train of thought in typical teenage fashion, quickly and with an ulterior motive, "speaking of clan, is Thrash dating anyone?"
"Yeah, I mean, he didn't find his own young gargoyle, or human or...suddenly become gay since Todd and Annika's wedding?"
Rain threw her head up and offered a lopsided smile. "Uh...no. No cute gargoyle females, ho humans and straight people only suddenly and inexplicably become gay under the pen of oversexed fanfiction writers."
Tachi brightened, but was wary of the revelation. "You read fanfiction too?"
With a casual shrug, Rain admitted, "How else am I ever going to get a continuation to The Pretender?"
A huff of annoyance somewhere in the background chased the end of the conversation (at least, the end as he saw it) and Nashville followed it up with a growl. Stuck in the same room and staring at the intricate lines between stones, he'd been forced to listen in on what he considered an incredibly inane, pointless exchange. "How can you two engage in mindless conversation when the rest of the clan is out there fighting a war?!"
"Because it takes our mind off the fact people we love may not be coming home tonight." Rain answered plainly.
He stood up, nearly knocking over the chair. "I can't take this crap! I can't just sit here and do nothing!"
"Funny," Annika replied, as she appeared through the doorway, "that's exactly what Todd said before he ran off."
"I think to see Demona."
Tachi suggestively angled a brow much like her father would when hearing that. "Demona? Why?"
"Maybe we should go help..." Nashville said quietly.
But his sister was adamant, "No, we're staying here."
"Because mommy said so?"
"No, because our clan leader said so."
"Kids," Annika interjected, before things got bloody, "don't make me separate you two."
Nashville turned to her, his expression pleading. He was hoping there was at least someone in the room who was willing to back him up. "Don't you want to help? Aren't you sick of sitting here and waiting for any word?"
She took a seat on the couch and placed a hand over her slightly bulging midsection. "Yes, I do and yes, I am. But frankly, we're the excess baggage. We'd only hurt them by getting in the way."
"Having someone to watch your back never hurts."
Annika smiled at him; so young and headstrong, like her husband, but with a thought process that sometimes didn't fully process whatever it was he was scheming, including the repercussions. "You think your mother would be such a formidable fighter with her mind constantly on her hatchling? We stay safe and we let them concentrate on what needs to be done."
"It should already be done. It's been more than three hours."
"If it helps," someone intruded in on the quasi-argument, "I think at least one of the teams made it out." Jason Canmore wheeled himself in, his timing impeccable as always (something he was learning from his predecessor). "There's a disturbance downtown. Times Square is a warzone."
Manhattan's emergency switchboard was flooded with phone calls, nearly gumming up the entire system. Residential, payphones, cellphones, anywhere there was an open line in or around Times Square someone was reporting a city bus plowing straight through the intersection. Masked men, gargoyles, gunfire and ensuing mayhem; the first call might've been written off as a prank, maybe the second, but not the third or the dozens more that followed.
It took less than twenty minutes before the police arrived at the accident scene. One couldn't help but be impressed by the speed of mobilization, but there was nothing like a bit of terrorism and weapons fire to light a fire under the collective butts of a hundred civil servants.
Already lopsided, the battle was joined by a small army in riot gear and automatic machine guns, running full steam into the wrecked pile of cars upturned and half-crushed by the bus.
The Guild agents suddenly had to defend themselves against a militia more heavily armed and immediately, guns burped and the police were forced to retaliate. Field commanders ordered their teams to disperse and pick out targets, but the amount of wreckage and possible wounded drivers in between them made things a little tough.
Agent Red wasn't about to let his band of survivors come this far only to be arrested. It wasn't so much about innocence and guilt as it was about the mission. No matter how Joseph Hawkins and Jon Canmore decided to go about their personal ideologies, if they were indeed the last of the Guild he would ensure he'd finish what he signed on for.
He shot a SWAT pointblank in the chest and knocked the man back a few feet, then clothes-lined another with so much force he nearly separated him at the neck. "Agent Gray!" he yelled.
She turned on hearing his voice.
"Regroup behind me!"
"You heard him!" she screamed at her scattered ranks. "This night isn't lost yet!"
They reorganized with alarming speed and accuracy, amassing around a single point in the middle of the accident scene. Climbing higher than their pursuers, they had the singular advantage of height and starting raining gunfire and other loose debris down on the police until they were forced to retreat.
Several SWAT members started weeding through the wreckage, led by the thin red lines of their targeting lasers. Smoke trailed from uprooted engines, the acrid scent of gasoline stung the nostrils and the entire intersection was a roman candle just waiting for a spark. It was hard to tell the dead from the living, a few motorists having died on impact and the rest having taken refuge under any piece of debris they could find, nursing their wounds and hoping to survive long enough to live until the morning.
One of the team squeezed himself between two cars, relegated to search and rescue while his coworkers dodged bullets, and placed his fingers to the jugular of a young woman behind the wheel of her car. No pulse, no breath, rigor mortis setting in; she'd been crushed instantly.
He stumbled over another body; an elderly man had either just enough strength left to climb from his car or was thrown through the windshield.
About to move on, he heard something whimper behind him.
He turned on his heel and put the laser between the eyes of a young brunette slumped up against another vehicle. There was a man unconscious and thrown across her lap; he had to admit, if she'd never made a sound he might've walked right past them.
Savannah smiled weakly to prove she was still alive and wasn't about to riddle his bulletproof vest with holes. "...mind giving us a hand?"
"I've got two survivors here!"
"Get off me, pig!" he screamed, but got a hairy paw clamped over his face for all his bravado.
The hand yanked and pulled the mask from the Guild agent's face, and with the right amount of force it came off with a pop. The surprise of discovering another young man or woman barely past their twenties was being dulled with every one they'd caught.
"Race-traitor! Race-traitor! We're saving the entire goddamned world!"
"By hurting innocent bystanders, yeah right..." The agent was shoved to the asphalt, with a boot to the neck to hold him down. "Now shut it, punk."
The police were slowly but surely gaining the upper hand, considering the amount of man- and firepower in their favor. Guild agents were subdued, handcuffed and left on the ground under guard before being loaded into large vans, a small pile of masks to the side. A few were put down when they offered little choice, and answered the vocal threats with blatant defiance and a blast from their weapons.
Caught in the middle, Katana avoided the police as best she could and put her attention on the diminishing number of agents roving through the accident scene. Though getting smaller in number, the ones left were becoming aggressive to the point of desperation.
Blood flecked as she pulled her sword from the belly of one man when another crossed his arms around her neck. Not male, the figure was too slender, lithe, like wire. Female, persistent, and with a few choice words that hissed out through the breathing slits, "That was a friend of mine, freak."
Steel pressed up against her neck; the agent was about to slit her throat with a hunting knife the size of a chainsaw.
"I'm going to cut you into pieces so small, your fellow beasts will never be able to find you again."
But Katana wasn't intimidated, even with the knife pressing up against her esophagus. Bullets cracked and burst in the background and she calmly tensed the muscles in her forearm, moved her right foot back for proper leverage and thrust her sword through what she thought was the upper intestine. She twisted the blade and quickly pulled it out again; the woman jerked and gurgled and spit blood across her shoulder before going limp.
She threw the agent down and, hearing glass break under a heavy boot, whirled on whoever was behind her.
Turning, she put her sword up against the rifle of an officer and, for a second, locked eyes with him.
He didn't shoot, she didn't sever the end of his gunbarrel and neither deemed the other a threat in that moment they had to analyze whatever it was standing in front of them. He was more unnerved and mystified at the sight of her than afraid for his life. "Good god..."
Then, she darted away, running purposely towards an opening and unintentionally towards someone who'd emerged from the firefight, nerves threadbare.
A rookie on the squad, seeing a gargoyle barreling down on him wasn't something he'd been trained for. Against the masks all he saw were the swords and something not human racing towards him. Lack of experience lent instinct to supersede his training.
He fired at the blur.
Pain preceded sound.
Katana felt something hot in her chest. Her blood spattered, each droplet a tiny cannon reaching almost as far as the surrounding crowd. It didn't slow her momentum as the bullet threaded through her abdomen and spiraled out the side after glancing off one of her ribs. She made a sound but kept running, trying to sidestep him and rolled over a car with its hind-end sheared off just behind the front doors, and sprinted through police and Guild and towards salvation on the outside edge.
With so much chaos she was able to reach the edge with little trouble, except for the fact her breathing had become a little more labored, like molasses in her lungs.
The young cop watched her retreat, trailing blood in sporadic patches until he couldn't see her anymore. "I didn't...I didn't mean to..." He turned to the man who'd stood face to face with her. "Jesus, Mackenzie, she just appeared out of nowhere..."
"I know, Juarez."
Tracking the scent of her clan, Katana found her way into the same alley the others had used to escape.
She collapsed against the side and left a smear across dusty, red brick as she dragged herself down the corridor. Reality was liquefying around her, growing hazy and indistinct; her eyes half-lidded, she discovered it was her.
Her swords fell with a clatter.
She'd soon follow, her diving suit wet right through and just before she collapsed, breathed, "Brooklyn..." Her eyes rolled back into her skull, and the ground suddenly jumped up and kissed the side of her face with a meaty stone fist.
In a backwash of flame, Macbeth touched down on Wyvern's courtyard.
Smoke wafted outwards in a perfect circle, eventually clearing and revealing the ghosted forms inside. Hudson and Othello climbed off of the armor and gently lowered Broadway to the ground. He was completely unresponsive, and had been since emerging from the East River.
Macbeth removed the helmet, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Three and a half hours stuck in this hermetically sealed titanium can was beginning to wear on his patience, but getting a whiff of the blood-drenched air surrounding him due to Broadway's injuries, he was suddenly appreciative. He noticed Hudson quickly hovering over the younger gargoyle.
"Broadway!" he cupped Broadway's cheek and tried to rouse him. But by all appearances he could've been dead. "Broadway!"
The others crowded around him, hoping for any sign of life. Nothing, not even a flicker of movement from his eyes but Hudson wasn't about to give up. "Come now, laddie, we didna make it back t' th' castle just t' have ye die in my arms...Broadway?! Broadway!!"
Barking, in the background. Something had been disturbed by the shouting and that same something, big and ungainly, scampered towards them from the shadows in between where the tall lights, spaced about the courtyard, didn't overlap.
Othello nearly cracked a smile. "Bronx..."
The beast caught his claws on the stone in an attempt to stop his bulk from skating past the arrivals, and only came to rest when Macbeth grabbed him by the scruff. If there was anyone more affected by that thick, copper stench hanging in the air, it was Bronx. He reared back and snorted, wringing the smell from his mouth before connecting that odor to the limp form of one of his masters. He led with his nose towards Broadway, nudging against his arm and whining when he didn't get any response.
Nashville's voice shot through the tense moment and he appeared over the stairs joining one level of courtyard to the other, followed by several members of the clan.
Hudson spotted Pierce among the small group. "Doctor!" he growled out. "Ye've got a patient!"
Like sliding into home, Pierce was on Broadway's limp form in an instant and starting checking over his wounds. His hands trickled to the leg and the makeshift bandages soaked right through. He carefully peeled them away, and grimaced. Spending his residency at the Manhattan General emergency room, he'd seen gunshots to every part of the body and this one was a killer if not treated soon. The amount of blood already lost would've drained a human dry, and the gargoyle was sweating, his skin cool and deathly pale; he needed a transfusion fast before he went into hypovolemic shock.
"He was shot." Hudson explained, though he knew Pierce had already discerned that from the inspection of the wound.
"How long ago?"
"Half an hour maybe..." Macbeth answered.
Pierce strained to hear or feel for a heartbeat, ear up against Broadway's chest. "Pulse is slow and thready, he's unresponsive to stimulus...damn, I don't think we have enough stored blood."
Hudson leaned in. "Dinna worry, ye've got a donor!"
Intrigued, Pierce looked up, and despite the fact Broadway was bleeding to death at his feet he had to sate his curiosity. Though he knew Hudson and Broadway had identical bloodtypes and similar genetics, he never pressed the issue out of respect for their customs. "So you are his father."
For a few, it was a revelation; for the rest, they'd known a long time.
Hudson simply nodded. "Broadway has many fathers, but...aye, I am."
"All right, we'll get you hooked up. Annika!" Pierce motioned to the female. "I'm going to need you to play nurse again."
"Please," Mother appeared to his side, almost protectively, "allow me to aid as well."
Her hands melted, her forearms losing the lavender color to her new natural silver and distended and transformed into a large platform. They loaded Broadway onto the flat surface and all too effortlessly Mother carried him in towards the castle's interior.
They passed Jason on the way out, and he shuddered at the sight. The security monitors didn't do the reality justice. "Is he going t' live?"
Pierce yelled an almost unintelligible string of words as he ran past, "If I can keep him alive until sunrise!"
Jason watched helplessly as the group hurried inside, and he wondered, albeit morbidly so, if the clan would suffer their first casualty, and how it would affect them. And how it would affect his job.
Something heavy tromped up behind him. Jason recognized the hydraulic squeal and metallic footfalls, turned a single wheel to rotate in place and found Macbeth behind him. His neck strained as his eyes followed the gleaming titanium-mesh suit of armor from bottom to top, ending with a silver bristle and eyes just as hard. "I suppose I don't need t' ask what happened."
"Considering we were th' distraction, no." returned a rough Scottish brogue. "I suppose we're lucky we came home at all..."
"Is th' job done?"
"Th' bombs detonated, th' bunker flooded, and a lot of Guild agents went t' their grave tonight."
A pang of guilt started crawling up his breastbone, even if he was never the instigator. The Guild had recruited hundreds of innocent people just as the Quarrymen did before them, all under the auspice of protection.
"Has anyone else come back yet?" Othello asked, his mind on his clan and mate.
"You're th' first team t' report in." Jason said distractedly. "But I think I know a great place t' start searching." He motioned with a flick of his head towards the general direction of Times Square.
From here, gunshots like fireworks set off at street level rang back and forth between the skyscrapers and all that energy was shot up into the sky, just licking the underside of Wyverns' parapets.
"Question is, do you go back into th' frying pan?"
Traffic came to a standstill as the convoy slowly made its way from Manhattan's southern shore. Police cruisers led the long train of vehicles, followed by the paddywagon and more cars right behind. News vans and paparazzi were hot on their bumpers, and the police who could see them in the rearview mirror were amazed at how word traveled so quickly so late.
Pulling into 1 Police Plaza, Manhattan's police headquarters dressed in cracked, stone gray and fronted by elaborately-carved roman columns, a small army awaiting the convoy's arrival opened a hole in their ranks just wide enough to allow it access and then quickly sealed shut before any overzealous reporter was able to slip through.
But despite the barricades set up, there was still a good view through the building's ubiquitous archway and where the paddywagon was being unloaded.
As the SWAT teams disembarked and got into position, Canmore was pulled from his car first and led with a howl. With bared teeth and eyes tiny pinpricks of ice, he provided a good number of photo opportunities that would no doubt end up on every newspaper and morning news program in the city within a few hours. More officers jumped in before he had the chance to wrestle his way free no-handed and they practically dragged him into the building, holding to every extremity.
It was then the photo flashes started intensifying, turning night to day for a split-second at a time as the police's attention turned to the paddywagon. The paparazzi could taste the nervousness in the air, like a shark to blood and knew they were going to be rewarded with something they'd been waiting for since those first few glimpses of their hometown's urban legend starting cropping up years ago. There was no way the police would have their SWAT teams swarming all over the van if it were just a kid in a costume.
The crowd surged forward to get a better shot and the officers behind the barricades stood their ground against the wave.
The doors opened into an empty van, and for a moment the photographers thought the police had successfully pulled the switch on them, swapping vehicles to lead attention away. After the firefight in Battery Park anonymous tips had surged in to every contact of every paparazzi within a fifty-mile radius, trawling Broadway and 58th and every other light, bright corner where an opportunity might arise. They'd just caught the paddywagon leaving the shore and heading inwards, with no time to weave out of sight only to be replaced by an empty doppelganger.
But the police held their guns steady on that darkness, until something moved at the back. Bulbs started firing, a flash of red emerged and Brooklyn was led out.
Slowly, and surrounded, he lowered himself to the pavement and narrowed his eyes at the crowd. He couldn't quite see with all the cameras going off, but got a sense of the sheer size from the noise. His appearance led to a mixed reaction, surprise and awe, anger and fear, skepticism and jadedness. He started limping through the manmade corridor lined on either side by armed police, leading all the way inside the police station.
Reporters started screaming questions at the police and, if by a hope and a prayer that he'd answer, at him as well. What was he, where he came from, were there any more of him, etc, etc, etc.
If he didn't want to absolutely prove he wasn't quite human he might've been inclined to respond. But the better part of responsibility kept him silent for the march between rifle barrels and, albeit glaringly, ironically and painfully, found himself trying to do what he'd imagined Goliath would do if he were here, and handcuffed, and limping, and being led into dragon knows what.
"Take him to the holding cell." Lieutenant MacKenzie ordered. "The one downstairs."
Downstairs, to the cell without windows, where the walls were concrete and a foot thick.
The lacquered redwood double doors were opened up for him as if he was going to a five-star bistro in the Village, but instead of a well-dressed Maitre d' he found more armed policemen who couldn't believe he was strolling into their particular precinct. Brooklyn flicked his eyes around, scrutinizing facial expression and body language and every bathroom and corner office where a window might lead outside.
But with all the hardware these police officers were grasping a might too tightly, escaping would probably be tough. He was herded towards a set of stairs yawning into another corridor a floor below, where obscenities funneled up with a familiar Scottish accent.
The young cop watched until the very end as the gargoyle disappeared through the doors and half the SWAT team took a position outside, almost completely surrounding the building (or at least, any door or window leading inside). The crowd, mostly reporters, pressed forward against the barriers and he was forced to hold his ground against a multi-colored tidal wave.
He was so distracted by everything going on around him that he nearly missed two women pushing through that same crowd and attempting to cross. "Whoa!" He put a hand out and stopped the well-dressed brunette. "Hold it, lady! No one gets through here without proper authori–"
"I'm no lady, officer," she pulled back the lapel on her jacket and flashed her badge, pinned to her blouse, "I'm Captain Maria Chavez, of the twenty-third precinct."
The updraft tossed them up and over the southwest wall and castle Wyvern welcomed them home with a violent, solitary arrival. Angela, Delilah, Desdemona and Lexington finally arrived back at the castle, and the exhaustion they'd kept at bay immediately shot through their bodies and each of them nearly collapsed into a boneless heap.
They were alive, they were home, and they'd won, except it didn't quite feel like a victory.
Dark stones and a touch of wind dancing through was what met them, the courtyard empty.
That cold breeze carried the scent of blood, and the first thing they noticed was the smear on the stones beneath them; a Rorschach inkblot of someone's insides and strangely symmetrical. Someone had bled here, which proved they had survived the trip back home maybe to die on the jigsaw cobbles.
Delilah leaned over and traced her talons over the bloodstain, just inches from actually touching. "Oh no..."
Before speculation could run wild, Tachi appeared suddenly to greet them. "Angela!!"
The fact that she was singled out sent a chill down her spine. Angela turned. "Tachi? Has anyone else made it back?"
"Yeah, Broadway's team. But Angela..."
Relief warmed through her, about to be shattered. "Oh thank the sands..."
"Angela, he's been hurt, bad."
She paled, "What...?
"He was shot...he's in surgery right now."
It took a few seconds for it to sink in and then Angela bolted, running towards the main door like fire nipped at her heels.
"Lex?" Tachi grabbed at her uncle before he could follow. "Where's mom?"
Guilt pressed down on him like a ten-ton weight. Lexington swallowed through a dry throat before answering, "We got separated between here and the shore. She made sure we escaped when the Guild attacked us at Times Square."
The young gargoyle made a sound that could've been an aborted attempt to speak. She looked morose.
Lexington did the best he could to comfort her, and put a hand on her shoulder. "She'll make it back."
The sky? Reality? Was she floating? She was numb, exhausted and slightly disjointed, and then suddenly realized her eyes were open and she was conscious.
Katana could hear sounds. Distant. Thunder maybe, or her hatchlings misbehaving somewhere. Her left arm was moving and she couldn't feel it, nor did she remember telling it to do so. She could only watch as it slipped under her and pushed up, before wracking pain shot through her abdomen.
Her eyes could barely focus down the blurring, twisting, deforming corridor behind her. That thunder was footsteps, rippling along the ground and underneath her. Red lines washed their way through the darkness and eventually converged at her chest.
They were attached to the laser sights of the SWAT team who'd followed the spatters of blood into the alley, only to find her lying in a slick of blood. One of them got closer than the others, and she didn't know it was a sense of remorse that'd led him here in the first place.
He flipped his visor up.
Hispanic, soft-featured and coffee-toned, Katana especially liked his eyes. She could tell he was the rookie, letting his guard down to slake his curiosity.
"Can you talk?"
Katana wasn't sure what to make of this young man.
When he didn't get a response, he tried again. "Can you talk?"
"...yes..." She felt her throat bubble.
He was quickly brushed aside by his superior officer, clutching to his rifle. This one seemed a little more battle-hardened, touched by gray at his temples. "I'm Lieutenant MacKenzie. Were you responsible for what happened out there?"
Her accent was Asian, and he was surprised that particular fact swam up from the depths of his mind when conversing with a live gargoyle (at least he thought it was real). "Then who?"
"...it was...the Guild...they chased us...tried to kill us..."
"...like the...Quarreymen...only much...more dangerous..."
"Those bastards with the masks..." Juarez turned his head over his shoulder, where the war was still going on.
"Quiet, Juarez. I'm taking you into custody for assault and suspicion of terrorism."
Katana didn't answer; she simply regarded him for a moment while digesting and then, unceremoniously, fell back unconscious, her head dropping to the concrete with a light thud.
The team lowered their weapons; despite the fact this woman had single-handedly fought off an army, she was obviously no threat while bleeding to death.
"Get a stretcher in here now!" MacKenzie screamed.
Hips cocked, her eyes narrowed to slits and she put the young officer up against a woman who'd been severely overworked and pulled from the luxury of her goose-down comforter. "Now get the hell out of the way like a polite young boy," Maria castrated him, albeit with as much restraint as she was capable of right now, "and I won't lodge a complaint to your captain."
He stumbled through his apology, "Uh, y-yes ma'am, go on through..."
She marched through followed by a younger woman in an over-sized leather coat. The redhead quickly waved her own badge past his field of vision and shot him a lopsided smirk.
Maria started towards the main door with considerable speed, leaving Iliana to try and catch up. Readying for bed after logging half a day's worth of overtime, her cell phone screamed into the peace of her bedroom and she nearly tore whoever it was a new orifice before Morgan frantically relayed to her what he'd heard through every phone line and radio link. When he mentioned a gargoyle was being arrested in Battery Park, she was up and dressed and behind the wheel of her Toyota within a few minutes.
After several calls to the Eyrie went unanswered, she tried everyone else among the tiny circle of the clans' human allies until reaching Iliana. The rookie detective waited outside her apartment and practically leaped into Maria's import like one of the Duke Boys into the General Lee and they headed towards police headquarters, hoping the rumor of a gargoyle in police custody was just that.
The crowd they found rivaled that of any lined up outside of Madison Square Garden, choking traffic and growing with every reporter, photographer and curious onlooker on the island. Maria parked a block over and took point, across the street and straight into the crowd, cutting through the media circus like a hot knife, a bit with her elbow but mostly with a glare that could give someone a heart attack.
"If this isn't a hoax," Iliana said quietly, as they approached the weather-worn building, "then how the hell did one of the clan get arrested?"
"I don't know." She pulled out a cellphone and dialed a number only a select few were even aware existed, one she'd nearly worn out the keypad with. "No one's taking my calls at Wyvern, but I assume it has to do with the Guild, considering Times Square is full of masked men shooting at cops."
"Think they...you know."
"Went on the offense? I don't doubt it at all. They were left with little choice after the last attack."
"And how many do you think made it home?"
Maria stopped and turned around, her concern showing through the cracks of a practiced façade. Every waking moment had been centered on Hudson, but she was trying to put on an air of professionalism and concentrate as best she could on protecting Brooklyn. "I hope every single one of them."
"So," Iliana continued, "what exactly are we going to do? We can't break him out, or even be at all familiar with him or we're exposed."
"I'm well aware of that fact, detective. I've been involved with a gargoyle just as long as you have. But at the very least, the clan now has someone on the inside." She showed her badge to the guards at the main doors and, following a quick inspection of her credentials, they allowed her access.
Following as best she could the woman with the long strides, Iliana was struck by the amount of police and SWAT and semi-automatic rifles as they were closing in on the holding cells downstairs and beginning to think this may not be as easy as her captain probably thought it was.
And sure enough, when Maria came close enough to the stairway to attract to the attention of the security force, one of the guards cut off her approach by standing to his full height. "Can I help you?"
"I'm captain Maria Chavez from the twenty-third."
"I want access to the prisoner."
He puffed his chest, strained the buttons and went back to whatever seemed so particularly interesting on his clipboard. "You have no jurisdiction here, captain."
"My precinct is home to the Gargoyles Task Force, and if that really is what everyone thinks it is down there," she flicked a finger down the stairs, "then it's definitely under my jurisdiction."
"I thought that particular unit was rendered defunct when most of its members were killed."
Maria made a sound through tight lips and Iliana breathed a slow, purposely drawn breath. "The task force was never officially disbanded." she reminded him, politely, biting back a more acerbic response. "Thus, anything even remotely related to gargoyles falls under my precinct's authority."
Weathered flesh cracked under a slight smirk and he gave her an odd look. "Do you believe it's a gargoyle?" he asked. He couldn't believe this woman, of all people, would barge in here under the assumption something more than human was in a cell downstairs. She had a reputation of being one of the more level-headed captains on the island; most of the requests for transfers to the twenty-third were due in part to her. "There've been dozens if not hundreds of false alarms for almost eight years now, since the first reported sighting, college pranks, publicity stunts, glory-hounds, escaped mental patients wrapped in shredded sheets. What makes you think this is the real deal?"
"The same reason all those reporters outside can plainly see," Iliana cut in, "the sheer amount of security and firepower. Doesn't take a few SWAT teams to escort a retarded, drunken university student to a holding cell."
He harrumphed, and scribbled something else on that damned clipboard. "Well, I for one wouldn't waste so many valuable resources on what's obviously another hoax, but it wasn't my decision."
Maria raised her brows. "Oh?"
"Orders came down from a higher authority than the Manhattan police department."
"And just who the hell–"
Maria blanched, while Iliana drew a lock of her from her eyes and shook her head.
Angela didn't see them.
In her defense, she wasn't seeing much of anything while running at full sprint towards the infirmary. The celebration of seeing more of her clan home and safe was pushed to the back of her mind and she barreled through Othello and Macbeth, stopped only by the locked door to the surgical bay.
Pierce heard the thump and looked up over Broadway's open leg. He was halfway through thick fibrous tissue, patching arteries the bullet severed on its way through the gargoyle's thigh. The only part not covered in surgical garb were his eyes, and he tried to relay a wealth of information and emotion through them considering his hands were full of scalpel and flesh.
He nodded, and Angela was moderately satisfied. But seeing Broadway lying unconscious on an operating table was the absolute epitome of what she'd argued against last night. Hudson was next to him, lying on a table with an IV tube in his arm and wearing the same worried expression.
"The doctor was...optimistic." Othello tried to comfort her in his own particular stoic approach.
Her talons on the window made a squeal. "He shouldn't be in there in the first place."
"It was necessary."
"Death shouldn't be necessary."
"But our survival is, and all those who ally with us."
She'd no answer to Othello that wouldn't involve them running through an infuriatingly circular argument, treading on old territory from the night before. Two different worlds and the resulting mind-sets were colliding.
But even if he'd prepared an answer to whatever she was about to reflect back at him, it was reduced to a mere afterthought when Desdemona hobbled through the doorway.
Her caramel skin was covered in soot and ash, her hair unkempt, skin grazed with small cuts; he supposed the fact she wasn't being cut into by a surgeon or left for dead at the bottom of the ocean made her all the more beautiful. "My love."
"Othello..." She crossed the infirmary and stumbled against him, into the embrace of his wings, intent to stay there until skin hardened to stone. "Thank the Dragon. You're alive."
"Wait..." Nashville intruded on the reunion. "You know, I've never been the best at math, but at least I know that you've come home with less than what you left with..."
His sister feared the worst. First their mother and now... "Where's our dad?"
Having followed Desdemona into the infirmary, Delilah slumped into a nearby chair and her wings crumpled behind her, hair half-red and knotted from blood (no one as sure if it was hers) and stringy from the East River. "We...ran into Jon Canmore." was all she could manage.
"Canmore?" Macbeth wasn't particularly pleased to hear that name resurface. His face contorted. "Bloody hell."
But for another in the room, it stirred up a wealth of grief. "Jon?" Jason breathed. "He's still alive?"
"And as psychotic as ever."
Lexington rubbed his scalp. "What is Jon Canmore doing with the Guild?"
"Doing what he does best I'll bet," Macbeth quipped, "committing genocide."
Jason said nothing further, lost in thought with his brow collapsed over his eyes and squared jaw resting firmly in one hand. He didn't challenge Macbeth's biased opinion of his younger brother considering what passed between their families a thousand years ago; his prejudice was well-earned. And Jon had already done so much to prove himself beyond reproach, and beyond what he considered the limits of sanity. Jason simply turned around and wheeled himself out of the infirmary.
"So?!" Nashville barked. "Where is he?!"
No one answered. Desdemona and Delilah were working up the courage to explain to the teenaged hatchling that his father chose to stay behind, their last sight of him locked in a death-grip with Jon Canmore, surrounded by fire, rising seawater and a crumbling superstructure.
Lexington looked to Desdemona. "What happened?"
"We were forced to leave him behind in the bunker."
"Behind?" Tachi echoed. "Like you did our mom?!"
"Brooklyn, like your mother, made his choice." The once palpable tinge of sympathy in her tone had diminished; she was exhausted and not in the mood to become the victim of a young and angry gargoyle's accusations. "We did not agree with it, but it was what any capable leader would have done."
"He could be dead..." Tachi choked back a sob. "Both of them could be dead."
Nashville poured more salt in the wound, continuing his outburst, "My dad never would've left any of you behind!"
"Yes he would! If he knew what was at stake!" Lexington snarled back at him, and Nashville was suitably cut off at the throat. Once wrapped around him like a sapphire blanket, Rain was forced off when Lexington quickly shot up. "Listen up, Nash, when you grow up and get a clue you're going to find that you'll be forced to make some decisions you'd never wish on anyone else! But Brooklyn did. And Katana. They sacrificed their safety for their clan, and made that decision freely."
Nashville wanted to say more, wanted to explode, wanted to take everything choking his lungs and let it loose on everyone surrounding him and blow out the back wall. But he remained quiet, fists clenched at his sides.
Lexington sighed, and made his way to where the twins were standing. "I'm sorry, but no one's given up on them yet."
An agent was plugged in the shoulder, the wound expelling blood as the skin exploded from the inside out. Before someone could grab him, he tumbled down a slope made of bent, twisted metal and into the hands of the police.
Hoods and doors made good shields, but were quickly being peppered with tiny craters. The SWAT teams had a wealth of ammo compared to the Guild's limited supply and they had to choose their shots carefully.
Agent Gray sidled up alongside her larger compatriot, with moves almost intimate as they protected each other's blind spots.
"We can't last for long, Hank..." she said between bullets. "We have to think about our escape!"
"No escape! Not this time! This is our chance to educate the entire world, rather than being forced into obscurity!"
"If we're the only survivors, then we need to continue on!"
"No!!" He wasn't being stubborn; there was much more at stake and something drastic needed to be done. "It's time to end this..." He suddenly turned and aimed at a late-model Ford, and started plugging away at the rear end, right around the gas tank. Metal grazed metal and let off a spark, enough to ignite half a tank of fuel. Liquid turned to fire, noise and pure kinetic energy.
The explosion ripped through the battlefield, scattering the SWAT team members and blowing a few off their feet. The fireball shot up and rose into the sky, where it belched black smoke and blanketed the area with bits of flaming shrapnel.
Agent Red grabbed a young woman who'd been lucky enough to survive by spending the entire firefight cowering in the backseat of her car, dragged her out the window by her collar and propped her up beside him on the roof. He put half a clip straight up into the sky, and as the column of fire shriveled and dropped, he'd caught everyone's attention. "ENOUGH!!!"
After all the noise of gunfire and screams and tearing metal blended together, the ensuing silence was almost more terrifying than what had filled the intersection nonstop for the last half hour.
"The next cop to fire will be responsible for the death of every single man and woman underneath me!"
"Pull everyone back! Now!" Having overseen Katana's arrest and retrieval, Lieutenant MacKenzie returned and started pulling back the SWAT teams. They started dragging away the wounded and encircled the Guild, holding their weapons ready. "Hold your fire until I say so!"
The agents started collecting around their leader. There were about thirty of them left, down to the best and brightest, the elite.
"The time for skulking through the shadows of this city has ended! We are the Guild, and we are the first and last line of defense for the entire human race!"
"I don't give a damn!" MacKenzie shouted back. "You will put down your weapons and surrender!"
"The time for ignorance of what surrounds you is over! We're here to show you the truth and protect you from it–!"
Something caught his eye mid-tirade. From his little hillock throne made of crushed cars, he could see a pair of EMTs carting the gargoyle female away on a stretcher. The demon who'd run so many loyal agents through with her sword, spilled their innards all over Times Square. He immediately fired off a few shots towards them, chasing the men away with the real threat of a bullet to the chest.
The SWAT teams flinched, but held.
With no one willing to get close, Katana was abandoned on the gurney, still unconscious. There was only one reason he didn't immediately kill her; he was running low on ammunition, down to the last few bullets, and needed a bit of collateral to keep the small army of SWAT at bay.
"You'd save those things?!" he roared. "You'd place their lives over that of a human?!"
Lieutenant MacKenzie had his rifle trained dead-center between the eyes of the lead psycho's mask. "Whatever she is, she's hurt and deserves medical attention! And she was being detained and processed to the full extent of the law!"
"Human law...useless laws that won't protect us from an entire species bent on our destruction!"
"Listen, I've heard enough! Now put your weapons down and surrender!!"
"Why won't you listen?! Why won't you see the truth?!"
"I've only seen one truth tonight! A group of masked vigilantes turning an entire intersection into a scrap pile!"
His voice was carrying over the stillness of the crowd, speaking over and above the ring of police as if they weren't even there and hoping he'd sway the people, still somewhat shell-shocked but receptive nonetheless. "Those things are killers! Animals, aberrations of nature and something that has clung too long to the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder! You saw what she did single-handedly, imagine what more could do! There are thousands of them around the world! Japan, Guatemala, London, Scotland, Germany, Canada, Russia...in every shadow and on every rooftop! How long will you allow them to have free reign in your city, your home?! Where you live, where your children play and go to school?!"
"Listen, pal, you're surrounded, severely outnumbered and won't get far with a single hostage!"
"We don't need to go anywhere now! If this is it, our last stand, then we're going to let everyone in the world know the purpose of our mission!"
The world indeed, considering all the news cameras and reporters (growing in number with every passing minute) recording every single word, and sending all of this across the country and beyond.
"We have proof of their treachery, of the danger they pose, of how they attacked innocent families, how they destroyed our bunker and killed hundreds of people and how humans betray their own species by concealing them!"
Something whispered in his earpiece; snipers were close to getting set up on the surrounding rooftops. MacKenzie had to keep him talking, keep everything under some semblance of control. "If someone was concealing gargoyles in this city," he tried, "I'm sure we would have found them a long time ago."
"You're looking in dark corners and shrouded streets! You need to raise your eyes!" And then, he pointed to the one piece of Manhattan real estate that stood plainly above the rest, silhouetted against a veil of stars. "David Xanatos! He's been harboring them in that castle of his for years!"
Jason steepled his fingers. "Damn..."
And several blocks away, FBI agent Abel Sykes narrowed his gold eyes, currently glued to the television.
His young partner Dominic Ford pointed at the screen, and with a mouth full of cinnamon raisin bagel, celebrated by saying, "I knew it, I goddamned knew it!" He swallowed the rest and tipped forwards in his chair. "They were snowing us, Sykes, the entire time we were there."
"Far be it for me to take the word of a terrorist, it could all be a fake..." Sykes bounced the thought off the man sitting across from him.
A vehement shake of the head followed. "Uh uh, not this time."
"We've got a confirmed gargoyle in custody, and one obviously in the middle of a warzone. And I doubt this guy here would be shooting up Times Square if that...uh, woman, I guess, wasn't the real deal."
Abel stood up, adjusted his tie and quickly asked his partner, "The FBI has just sent a team of agents to police headquarters, right?"
"We're going with them."
Dominic wiped his mouth and shot his partner an incredulous look. "We weren't assigned. In fact, we were basically told to stay the hell away from this entire situation–"
"Since our investigation of Xanatos' castle turned up absolutely nothing." Sykes answered for him.
"Well," he shrugged, "deputy-director Nelson didn't actually say that, but..."
"He didn't need to say it, Dom. My entire career's been stalled for twenty years and I'm sick of being stuck behind this desk. I knew Xanatos was hiding something and if all of this just happens to be true, then I want in on it."
Of course, he didn't mention Joseph Hawkins or his connection to this particular band of masked, xenophobic zealots. For months he was trying to construct a massive puzzle with pieces that didn't quite fit, until now. The missing link was just revealed like a blow to the head.
"Get your coat, Dom."
"For years his lackeys have spun lies and covered up the truth! An entire clan roosts up there!" He was pandering more to the crowd and the cameras now than a simple police lieutenant who'd rather kill him than be enlightened to the threat he was completely oblivious to. "How much has this city suffered because of them?! An entire section of our home was destroyed because of a gargoyle!"
"The Hole?" Juarez echoed quietly, standing alongside MacKenzie.
"The destruction of St. Damien's cathedral, the lost night where more than a dozen people went missing, a war waged in several major cities across the world, there is so much you don't know!"
"Jesus, could this guy be telling the truth?"
"And just an hour ago, an entire clan forced their way into our bunker, planted bombs and killed hundreds of young men and women who were there trying to protect their loved ones!!" the agent continued, and by now he knew he had half the crowd whispering amongst themselves. Though it was unlikely he'd sway most, a few or any of them to his side, at least he'd provided much better weapons than anything they used before: fear, suspicion and doubt.
"All right, enough of this...I'm not going to ask again!" the SWAT leader screamed. "Put your weapons down!!"
Agent Red then lowered his head, chillingly slow and measured, and centered all of his attention on the man below him. "Are you willing to risk everyone here because you refuse to see the truth?"
The woman in the agent's arms was gasping for breath against a massive hand clenched around her throat, streams of tears running down and under the swell of her jaw.
MacKenzie's finger rubbed the rifle's trigger. If he shot one right now, there were thirty more that would explode in a hail of gunfire and their targets might not be as heavily-armored. Better to let the snipers do their job, whenever he got the signal they were in position. "Listen to me very carefully, I need you to stand down or every one of you is going to die tonight."
"We are willing to die," the woman beside the leader replied, Agent Gray, "for what we believe in. For the ultimate protection of the human race."
"You're not protecting that woman by holding her as a hostage. Or the other accident victims you've prevented from getting any medical help."
"Desperate measures, Lieutenant." Agent Red started back in on the conversation. "We took an oath to protect six billion men, women and children by any means possible. In a war, the majority takes precedence."
"What do you want, then?"
"We want the world to open its eyes, to see what breathes down their neck whenever the sun goes down. We want every gargoyle dead or dying."
The only noise in the room came from the flatscreen television attached to the wall, the clan ghost-faced and stunned into semi-paralysis. Jason had been flipping through the channels when he first caught sight of the news reports that were flooding in, just to catch the Guild's revealing speech to the masses. While the majordomo tore open his cellphone to get the entire XE press team out of bed and working on a plausible denial, the rest of the clan crowded around to get a better look.
Shaky camera work, going quickly back and forth between SWAT teams and Guild agents but when it first glanced across Katana and offered a terrifying close-up, a collective gasp rippled through them. She was alive at least, but wounded, apparently unresponsive and deserted.
There was only one choice, they knew, but it still needed to be voiced. There had to be consensus.
Desdemona flicked her slate eyes towards her mate, and she could already see through what little he emoted that he was willing to jump right back into the thick of things. "How much time do we have?"
He didn't need a clock; it was instinct, despite the layers of stone and steel surrounding them. "Four hours before sunrise."
"What? No!" Tachi stood up in protest. "You barely escaped the first time! Broadway's in surgery, my mom is on a stretcher in the middle of Times Square and my dad is still missing!"
"We need to save her!" Nashville snapped at his sister.
From where he was hunched, Lexington was strangely pensive. His gaze wasn't on anything in particular, just a lazy, lifeless stare into the layers of latex paint. "It's our fault the Guild is out there killing cops. We stirred up the hornet's nest..."
"We had no choice." Othello reminded him.
"I know, but we left the job unfinished, didn't we?"
"All because we didn't kill everyone?" Angela offered.
Lexington turned and addressed his clan with a gaze that went beyond his years. "No one should be forced into this." he said plainly. "This should be strictly volunteer."
Glances were traded, and the decision was made.
"You can change this world for the better!"
The standoff continued, with an eerie stillness in between agent Red's ranting. Guns were held against each other until someone on either side would eventually pull their trigger in nervousness or fear.
"You can help us protect our cities, our people, our world! Humanity will be united for the first time against a common enemy!"
MacKenzie was being left with decreasingly little choice, considering the demands of the apparent leader of this group; gargoyle heads served on a silver platter would prove difficult to deliver. The Guild wasn't budging and any officers he sent up to make an arrest would certainly be shot at, at least until they ran out of bullets. The snipers were still setting up on several rooftops surrounding Times Square, minutes away before there was enough coverage on the Guild to take them down.
"Sir...?" someone spoke up.
"Hold your fire. We're still waiting on the snipers."
"And then what?"
He grimaced. "Then all hell will break loose real soon, son."
He didn't know how portentous his simple statement would be considering his eyes were on the Guild, and not aimed up at the sky.
It was the rookie, Juarez, who'd first see what was gliding in on the smoke-tinged wind. "Mackenzie, above us!"
Shadows weaved in between the stars, and one by one the entire crowd lifted their heads to catch the descent. The Epsilon armor made the most noise, and the orange plume of burning liquid rocket-fuel rivaled any neon sign across the Square. Falling quickly, colored hides caught the glow of the streetlights and the clan swooped in to a landing in the intersection, not far from the accident scene.
Agent Red and the others turned to see them gouge the asphalt with their talons. The SWAT teams didn't know where to point their weapons, but kept them on the Guild in case the tenable ceasefire was broken.
Othello already had his bow strung, Macbeth unsheathed the knives on his armor's forearms, Delilah, Desdemona and Angela took up a defensive stance back to back to back and Bronx growled at his masters' legs.
Lexington had the lead and was crouched on all fours, brows knotted deep into his eyes. "You wanted us? You got us."