112 - "Assault on the Guild: Part 4"
"The darkest hour is just before the dawn." - Proverb
"About goddamned time you picked up!"
"Sorry, I was busy."
"Yeah, well, just shut up and listen."
"But I didn't say anythi–"
"I said shut up and listen! I'm about to become very busy. What's left of the clan just went right back into shitstorm central!"
"What?! They made it back?!"
"Most of them. Right now, Katana's lying on a stretcher in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by Guild survivors and gun-toting SWAT teams and the clan just flew in to get her."
Six hundred horses nearly tore the hood off as the car lurched over the center line, tires squealing in protest against the emergency brake, did a U-turn and barreled up the road in the opposite direction.
If there was anyone able to form a coherent thought amongst the crowd, it wasn't voiced. Or, at the very least, it was caught in the throat.
After years of sightings, rumors, pranks, whispers passed from Manhattanite to Manhattanite and casual conversation at the water cooler, this was the holy grail of urban legends standing less than fifty feet away. Colored hide, horns, wings, tails and claws, along with a silver-maned human clad from the neck down in strange, almost form-fitting armor.
The small one, with the kite-like wings and what looked like, at least, from afar, intricately etched patches of chrome and gold covering (or implanted into?) his skin, had taken a forward stance a few feet away from the rest. The leader maybe, crouched. His large eyes were dark and markedly fixed on the masked men atop the wrecked pile of cars.
Like everyone else, agent Red was a little unsure of what to do. He didn't think the beasts would fly straight into arm's reach.
The SWAT teams held, their attention divided between a deadly hostage situation and a fantasy having come to life.
Mackenzie was mulling over this new wrinkle. "Hold. Everyone hold."
Agent Red tried efficiently to turn this to his advantage. "Look! Look!!" he screamed, pointing an accusing finger at the clan. "Look at these creatures! See them for what they really are! Violent, unnatural beasts!"
Lexington answered, collected, "We're not here to fight."
Agent Red was eying the same things a lot of the surrounding crowd and the police were, a bow strung, knives unsheathed and eyes, incredibly, glinting red. "You certainly look ready."
"We're here to get our clan-mate. You hurt her, and we're here to take her home."
"Look at the men and woman under those sheets," he screamed, and waved a hand over a few of the bodies the police had pulled away, each a formless shape underneath a coroner's tarp, "she killed them! She gutted them like animals!"
"Only because you left her no choice!"
"It wasn't enough to kill those in our base! She had to pick off any survivors! You broke in, planted bombs, flooded a bunker with more than a thousand people inside! How many of them won't be coming home tonight?!"
Lexington never wanted to be drawn into an argument over ethics; especially out here, completely exposed, and under the threat of an arsenal that rivaled a small army. "You attacked our home!" he exploded, and his concerns were waylaid by a burst of anger only waiting for an appropriate target. "You've tried to kill us every chance you got! You've murdered friends and innocent humans! We had to stop you before we were all slaughtered!!"
"This is getting out of hand." Juarez noted in between rasped breaths.
"I agree." nodded. He used his right hand to grab at his radio and tilted his head towards the speaker. "Mackenzie to all snipers. Pick your targets but hold for my order. I repeat, hold for my order."
"Are the, uh...gargoyles targets as well?" a voice came back through his radio.
"Right now, yes."
The stairway curled around the pillar a good ninety degrees, just enough to obscure the destination about fifteen steps down. He couldn't help but imagine the lower level at castle Wyvern, preserved like a tomb without any modern conveniences, just corridors in the dark winding on without end.
Of course, the two armored cops escorting him downstairs also helped to block his view of what awaited below. Two in front, two behind, with a medical team keeping their distance until the prisoner was properly restrained. Brooklyn took each step gingerly and the police on either side weren't in much of a hurry despite the collective want to get him behind lock and key. Every movement was scrutinized from the back-end of the barrel of a gun, the nervousness hanging thick in the air.
He reached ground floor and got the chance to scope out where presumably he'd be spending the night. Solid concrete block construction, obviously a room as old as the venerable building itself, unchanged except for the fluorescent lights above and a new coat of paint every few years. This was the overflow room, used only when the holding cells upstairs were full to capacity but Brooklyn wouldn't be the only occupant tonight. From the moment he neared the stairwell a nonstop string of yelling and randomly interspersed profanity floated up to meet him.
He'd now come face to face with the source.
His escorts parted to either side of the cell door and as soon as he got into Canmore's line of sight the noise level suddenly dropped; the clamor, the echoes off brick and mortar, the insults and blasphemes in accented English, everything went dead in lieu of an astonished, livid, fire-lit stare.
Jon Canmore nearly went catatonic at the sight of his new cellmate.
Even as far as the opposite cell a hundred feet away, Brooklyn could feel the heat radiating from the human.
"Ye can't be serious..." he mouthed, then exploded. "What is that thing still doin' alive?! Ye should've put a bullet through its brain and thrown th' corpse out in th' trash!!"
The lead officer warned him, "Watch your mouth! We're not going to indiscriminately kill just because you say so!"
Canmore pressed up against the bars and covered the back wall in spittle. "Kill th' demon!! KILL IT!!!"
The officer marched up to the last cell and put his baton against the steel, sending a ringing shudder through the entire room. "Pipe down!"
Having pulled himself away to keep his fingers from being crushed, Jon stood tensed and vicious in the middle of his cell, staring down the cop like a predator would a fresh meal. He'd no choice but to watch as Brooklyn was escorted inside and helped, actually helped, to the bed.
Two guards trained their weapons on him as the other two removed the handcuffs, only to replace them with a sturdier pair. There were warnings from cop to prisoner about how the doctors were going to inspect and redress his wounds, how if he caused any trouble he'd probably get another hole in him somewhere and a little bit more of how the police department was going to proceed.
Canmore caught it all with such good acoustics; the gargoyle was to be attended to, fed, basically treated with almost all the rights afforded to a human and kept here until... At this point, even the lead officer wasn't sure, and Canmore knew bullshit when he heard it. He was stalling, trying to keep a potentially dangerous threat pacified until whatever he expected to happen happened. And then he watched that same officer, exit the cell, turn towards him and stroll his way to the end of the corridor.
"And you," he said, "keep it quiet, Canmore, until it's your turn for questioning."
Canmore threw him a defiant smirk. "Who th' hell said I was Jon Canmore?"
"Every wanted poster in the tri-state area."
"Really, well let's see what our records have to say about you."
"Actually, sir," one of the officers quickly spoke up behind him, "we couldn't get any prints."
He turned, brows clenched. "Why not?"
"He doesn't have any. There's nothing there but burned flesh."
"Shit, Canmore," Brooklyn's voice funneled down from the other end, "you burned off your own fingerprints?"
The police found themselves in agreement if only with matching disgusted expressions. "It doesn't matter anyways," the leader said, "we'll run him through CODIS and check his dental records, unless you've found a way to completely replace your teeth and blood, Canmore."
Jon just scowled at him and then moved that brooding stare towards the gargoyle at the opposite end.
"And as for you," he continued, as he passed by Brooklyn on his way out, "we'll be back to talk to you later."
"Looking forward to it." Brooklyn huffed.
"I've got some bad bleeding here."
"I can see that, but what I can't see is the artery. Get the suction. Hurry!"
"A little. Damn, this boy has some thick muscle..."
"He is a gargoyle."
Pierce answered with a distracted nod.
Annika looked up from Broadway's open thigh and caught a quick glance at the doctor with the fast hands. His cap was dark from sweat, eyes intensely fixed on his nimble fingers digging through the strands of muscle, cutting and sewing delicate tissue together in syrupy pools of blood. She was impressed at the display of skill, handling something with the consistency of tissue paper without tearing it or worse. She did her best to keep up and anticipate his needs, but with no medical training and only a single operation under her belt on her mother-in-law several months back it was an excruciatingly difficult and painstaking task.
They had to guess on the amount of anesthesia needed; Broadway was five hundred pounds of solid muscle surrounded by a healthy layer of insulation and Pierce was forced to do a bit of quick math in order to get Broadway under safely without his patient bleeding to death, or suffering permanent brain damage. The last thing he wanted was an enraged gargoyle waking up in the middle of a delicate surgery.
Hudson was hooked up to an IV tube just a few feet away (there wasn't time to make the surgical bay completely sterile) and watching as his blood flowed from his arm into a bag hanging among a mix of others labeled Heparin and other indiscernible modern medicines, and then into the limp form of his son.
Unable to reach doctor Weathers, Pierce was forced to go the surgery alone with Annika and Mother as his nurses. But already two hours in, the metaphorical hourglass was about to trickle through those last few grains.
With no chance of an artificial or donated graft, Pierce had to dig around in Broadway's leg for a spare vein to cover the hole in the femoral artery before they either drained Hudson dry or Broadway succumbed to the sheer loss of blood. But to make sure the damage was completely healed in time, Pierce was forced to rely on a medically unproven technology he never had the most confidence in.
Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact he'd just spent the last few hours with that technology in one of the castle's spare bedrooms.
Small lucent beads ran the fleshy road from surgical headdress to mask; Annika would've wiped the sweat away if her hands weren't presently engaged as well. "Mother?" she said. "The doctor needs another wipe."
Her arms transformed into thin tendrils holding the incision open and a part of Broadway's circulatory system in place, Mother looked up and noticed the perspiration. A vine of nanotech shot out from her shoulder, grabbed a sanitary wipe from the nearby tray and dabbed it gently to Pierce's brow.
"You are welcome." she said affectionately. "Are you all right? I am detecting an elevated heart rate and your body temperature is higher than normal."
"I'm nervous, Mother." Pierce said. "If we don't fix this, I may have to amputate his leg to keep him alive."
"Dinna take his leg..." Hudson murmured from behind. The loss of blood was making him weak and speaking coherently, let alone staying conscious, was becoming a hard-fought battle.
"I may have no choice, Hudson."
"If he loses his leg...ye lose yuirs..."
Annika smothered a grin underneath her mask. "If that's not a great incentive to get the job done, I don't know what is."
Pierce's eyes flicked up, probably the only time he wasn't completely focused on his patient for the entire surgical procedure. He pulled his hands out and placed the scalpel to the tray. "Okay, Mother, I've got everything sewn into place. Now I need you and those microscopic machines of yours to seal it completely."
"You know what to do?"
"I have absorbed all the knowledge from your textbooks and online procedural guides. I am well versed in the process."
From the tone, Pierce swore he caught a trace of what could only be considered resentment.
"And I do not think you are versed well enough in nanotechnology to help me." Mother continued. Her arms and fingers already extended into a dozen thin tendrils, they started snaking towards the partially reconstructed section of the artery and completely engulfed the main trunk. Mere moments passed, with no indication from Mother by way of expression or movement that she was actually doing anything until the silver strands leeched away and the artery, at least to the naked eye, appeared completely healed.
Pierce flipped his magnifying goggles down and inspected Mother's handiwork. His intricate stitching had been erased, leaving healthy pink tissue with no sign of the shredded tatters left by the bullet ever having existed. "Very nice..."
"Thank you." she said. One last tendril connected to the artery and hanging off the end of her finger like a string to a puppet, she could detect the flow of blood increasing. "The artery is completely sealed."
Pierce didn't acknowledge her, just probed the artery and surrounding tissues to make sure she'd done the job.
"The procedure was flawless." Mother insisted. "The artery is completely sealed."
"Mm hmm." he mumbled through his mask.
Mother understood his hesitation to even acknowledge the successful procedure let alone thank her outright. He was uncertain from the start to allow her to heal Broadway's wound by simply smearing him in her nanites, despite the speed at which she could perform the necessary surgery. "You do not trust me."
"It's not about trust, Mother," Pierce tried to explain, "it's about making sure the patient receives the best care possible. Vitals?"
Annika turned her head to the machines. "Steady."
"Okay, let's close."
Stereo screams ricocheted between the buildings as Todd nearly put the front end of his car up the tailpipe of a minivan, stopping a few inches short of the bumper. Forced to an abrupt halt when he couldn't go any further, he noticed the line-up of cars in front of him. Traffic was backed up for an entire block between here and Times Square and he had the sneaking suspicion what he heard on the radio, hastily described as a small war, was the cause.
"Come on!" he yelled, punching the horn with an open palm. But the quaint Roadrunner 'meep' wasn't much for raising a ruckus. "Get the lead out!!"
He leaned out of the window and tried to get a better look over the pile of rooftops; far down at the end of the road he could barely make out a barricade with several uniformed officers keeping as many people out as possible. The police had already cordoned off the entire intersection and were evacuating those who'd been trapped in or near the Square when all hell broke loose. "Damnit..." he muttered and dropped back into the driver's seat. He slapped the gearshift into reverse, hit the gas and quickly pulled away before he too was trapped here. He traveled about half a block until finding an open parking spot, and then expertly maneuvered the muscle car into the painted lines and hopped out.
Hearing the chirp of the alarm system engaging behind him, Todd started sprinting down the street. But on getting close, he noticed the size and purposely intimidating troop of police in full riot gear manning the barriers which cut a giant orange swathe through where Broadway and Seventh Avenue ran across each other. His typical approach would have him running like a madman towards the barricades and busting through with a hope, prayer and a silver tongue to talk him out of any trouble, but as if he could see into the future he imagined getting tackled, tasered, handcuffed and arrested in a few seconds flat.
Crouching by a pick-up, he scanned the immediate area for another access route. The buildings lining Times Square offered several ways in if he were willing to throw himself through a plate-glass window. But he had little choice if he was going to help the clan and, spying a crowbar in the truck's bed, grabbed it and dashed off towards the entrance to the Viacom building, more specifically the large front window.
At least the bed was comfortable.
Of course, this particular bed was comprised of a thin mattress, sheet, pillow and wool blanket, all atop a steel slab bolted to the cell wall. It didn't compare to the luxury of Wyvern, but at least it gave him a place to rest his battered form. His leg, and his shoulder, throbbed. So did his wrists, rubbing against the two sets of hinged handcuffs, leading by several chains to his ankle shackles. He thought it was overkill but obviously his gracious hosts weren't taking any chances.
Alone in this particular dungeon and stripped of everything but his belt and loincloth, he was guarded by at least three armed men and women on the opposite side of the corridor, each of them trying to conceal their apprehension through that stoic, tough-guy SWAT team mentality.
He skimmed over his accommodations, bouncing his eyes off the toilet, the steel bars and finally resting on the officers. He'd done so well to keep from exposing himself as one hundred percent gargoyle, but by now, he pretty much figured they knew the truth; when redressing his wounds, when he was shackled good and tight, when he couldn't help but send a quiver of movement through his wings and tail. Real deal, genuine article, flesh and blood and bone. Probably why they were trying to so hard to keep up the façade.
The medical exam, as brief as it was, should have confirmed he wasn't human. No costume, no paint, no zippers or stitches; he knew his fingerprints wouldn't match anything on file, and the blood they'd extracted was probably showing up as a completely unrecognizable type in their lab. The revelation, and the reaction to it, was kept to a minimum, to keep any rumors from wriggling through the absurd amount of security and out into the sea of reporters.
He'd always wondered just how he and the clan would be introduced to humanity; he just hoped it would've taken place somewhere other than where a drunk might've slept off a bender and wet himself.
"So," he broke the silence, his beak curled into a smile, "aren't I entitled to a phone call?"
They reacted with a jerk, unsurprisingly, considering they weren't expecting casual banter. The three of them shared glances, deciding how to answer and who should bite the bullet. "No." the tall one replied.
"Hmph, seems harsh. I thought everyone was entitled to their fair share of rights."
"Every human." he corrected. "Are you human?"
Brooklyn nodded at the logic, if not skewed. "What do you three think?"
Again, another collective glance, but nothing in the way of an answer or anything remotely resembling sound; this definitely wasn't in the academy training.
"What do your instincts tell you?"
"Listen," one of them chimed in, "you've been given food, drink, medical care, but your right to consult a solicitor has been delayed for the moment, until you're not deemed a threat."
He lifted his shackles, as high as he could before the chain connecting his ankles went taut. "Do I look like a threat?"
"Yes." the female officer put it bluntly.
"Oh so you've dealt with..." A fleeting pause, followed by deliberation; he wasn't quite willing to expose himself yet. Just the right hint of sarcasm should conceal the blatancy nicely. "My kind before?"
"Then you're basing your knowledge of gargoyles on unsubstantiated rumors, gossip, tabloid articles and the bigoted ranting of hooded xenophobes."
She squirmed, but didn't reply. The thought process had kicked in, but didn't get the chance to finish.
"Don't answer him, Harrison." one of her companions, the tall one, came to her defense. "You don't owe him a damned thing," he cut towards Brooklyn, "and she's just doing her job."
"Fair enough." he said, raising his hands as best he could under the weight of all the steel around his wrists.
The echo of footsteps cascading down the stairs put an end to the conversation, such as it was, and Brooklyn turned to find a single officer standing at the bottom step. He had a feeling this was the precursor to the official interrogation, considering they'd already taken Canmore away just ten minutes ago. But oddly, the escort simply stood there as if waiting for someone else and sure enough he stepped to the side and allowed access to another man purposely taking his time descending the staircase, dressed head to toe in bureaucratic drab.
Brooklyn could detect the stink of a government agency, and he figured FBI (once word got out, he was sure the CIA would follow).
"Bring him." the man ordered.
His jailors and reluctant conversationalists sprung into action; while two had their guns up and ready and trained on his every move no matter how slight, the third walked forward and unlocked the cell. Number three held his rifle up as well, and urged the gargoyle to stand with a shake of the barrel. "Time to go."
He ventured another glance at the agent near the stairs. There was something slightly disturbing about a man wearing sunglasses indoors, and at night. "And if I refuse?"
"Then we'll drag you out by force. And I don't think you'd like that."
Brooklyn tightened around the beak. "True enough." He rocked forward for a bit of momentum to get on his feet, his leg and shoulder still numb and when he looked up, the guard had moved to allow him out. He shuffled from the cell under the threat of four weapons trained on different but undeniably lethal parts of his body and, passing by the agent standing stiff and equally pensive, could feel those hidden eyes on him as he slowly and painfully ascended the staircase.
The low rumble that'd trickled down the stairs became a dull roar of voices overlapping voices until he emerged into view and everything went quiet.
There weren't as many weapons this time; maybe they finally realized how much of a threat he wasn't, especially with a couple holes in him.
Skimming the crowd with a dissecting gaze, his eyes widened only slightly when he passed by Maria and Iliana. All three of them tried to conceal the recognition that rippled across their features. Maria and Iliana both were forced to stand there and do nothing, especially at Brooklyn's inconspicuous urging (disguised as a subtle shake of his head), but watch as he was escorted into a room at the far end of the corridor framed by men and women in dark suits.
Maria was fuming. Not only had she been cut off at the kneecaps by the FBI, she was powerless to do anything but stand and watch the clan's world slowly unravel.
It had all degenerated into a shouting match, each side condemning the other; the Guild trying to convince everyone around them of the gargoyles' malevolence and the clan countering every lie thrown at them with the truth. But the truth also stained their hands with blood. If they couldn't make the audience around them understand why they had no choice but to go on the offensive and destroy the Guild headquarters more than a few people may be inclined to believe agent Red.
"For thousands of years they've lived in the shadows," he continued preaching, "maiming and killing innocent people! And now they're using our own technology against us!"
This time, Angela got involved, yelling red-eyed. "You're twisting the truth to your own ends!"
"Did you not plant bombs and flood our base?!"
"If only everyone could see what you've done," she countered, "then no one would be swayed by your lies!"
He would've waved to the crowd with his free hand if it wouldn't have taken his weapon away from the hostage, and offered one of the cops around them a free shot. "We don't need to lie to the populace when they're presented with the evidence right in front of them. They have dozens of recordings of the female gutting our men, spilling their blood on the streets they call home!"
But Lexington wouldn't have it. Small lungs exploded like a cannon, shooting a heartened scream upon the crowd. "You're the ones who've taken a hostage! And endangered innocent people by stealing and plowing a bus into the middle of a crowded intersection! You're the monsters! You've done nothing but kill people according to some sick convention, including cops! We're just trying to survive! We just wanted to live peacefully but you forced us to kill for our very existence! You turned us into killers!!"
No response. Agent Red could repeat ad nauseam everything he'd just said since the clan flew right into his grasp, straight out of the Guild's recruiting propaganda, but he'd probably come off as a screaming lunatic. He could see his position had become tenuous at best. The woman in his clutches was whimpering, shaking with every sob that jolted through her chest and he was sure every video camera had zoomed in on his abduction.
"Hank." Agent Gray said quietly to him. "Maybe we should get out of here..."
"We've come so far, we have them here, in our sights, in the middle of Times Square."
"But we're turning the beasts into martyrs. And taking a hostage has only weakened our position in the eyes of the people."
Agent Red clenched his jaw under his mask. "Damned sheep..."
"We'll need a diversion." said a skinny agent to their side. "I'm sure they have snipers set up by now."
He considered their short list of options and quickly ran through the pros and cons.
"Escape to fight another day, Hank," agent Gray said, "we could be the only ones left and someone has to carry on the mission."
But no one got the chance to say anything else. Nerves were frayed and rational thought was drowning under the weight of instinct and sheer reaction and all it would take was a misunderstanding to resume their little war.
Agent Red twitched and Othello was the first to react. Thinking he may either kill his hostage or spray the surrounding crowd with bullets, he pulled his bowstring to the breaking point and let an arrow fly. It impaled the Guild agent through the shoulder with a wet scrape and threw his aim off as he reached around his hostage to shoot; the bullet shredded the pavement at the clans' feet and ricocheted harmlessly into the air.
Agent Gray watched as agent Red, her husband, was just wounded with a wet mist of blood. "You bastard!!" she screamed and let off a few rounds in the direction of the gargoyles.
From there, everyone with a gun started firing. The clan scattered and used the cars as shields while the SWAT teams opened up on the cluster of men and woman standing above. Bodies started raining, tumbling down the cars and eventually ending up on the asphalt in broken heaps.
Lexington darted forwards, avoiding the gunfire and bounded up the car-wreck mountain, leaping through the group of Guild, grabbing the hostage around the waist and gliding away. With the added weight of the young woman and the fact one of his wings was crushed in towards his body, he only had enough momentum and height to soar straight down towards the ground. He dropped in front of a SWAT team member, and the man had to physically restrain himself from pulling the trigger by instinct. Lexington pushed the woman towards him and yelled, "Get her out of here!"
The officer caught her and watched as the little gargoyle jumped back into the fray. He stood there shocked until the frantic movement of the young woman attempting to put as much distance as possible between her and her would-be kidnappers brought him back to reality. "C'mon!" he said and grabbed her by the hand to lead her out of harm's way.
Othello was first in after Lexington had gotten the woman to safety; he was the battering ram, hoping to break up the little group like bowling pins and if they got a shot off, he'd take it willingly to give the others their chance. He sent three arrows into the small crowd of masks before using his bow as a bludgeon, swinging at anything that moved. Two arrows hit their mark, sinking into soft flesh and he knocked a few more agents from their perch with a wild swing.
Angela was right behind him, catching the Guild unawares before they had the chance to re-aim. She was exhausted and her muscles strained at the exertion, red hot under her skin. Her speed was a benefit, her grace and surefootedness on uneven terrain as she danced across ruined cars and threw herself into a particularly large agent. They rolled down into the street, Angela using him as a cushion on impact but he threw her off and she could hear a muffled scream explode from behind the mask as he got up and charged towards her like a freight train.
Delilah and Desdemona jumped into the fray, overpowering more agents as Lexington tried to back them up until he came across a thin agent with a perfectly smooth scalp and a pair of massive daggers in each hand. He was just as fast and agile and chased the web-wing across the heap until Lexington stumbled into the street. The hard steel of his blade hit empty air as Lexington somersaulted out of the way, but he turned on a dime and threw a dagger through his wing. The membrane tore open and the small gargoyle yelled in pain. Staggering away, he sought refuge in a slim gap between vehicles and took stock of the damage. There was a gaping hole in his right wing, and he wouldn't be able to fly out of here on his own. "Crap..."
Lexington whirled around to find his stalker right behind him. He'd retrieved his other knife (impaled in the ground he'd thrown it with so much force) and was slinking through the narrow chasm with his equally slender form. Lexington held his ground and put his hand to a door handle, waiting as the agent got within arm's reach and quickly slammed the open car door into his attacker's hands. The pain was quick and lightning-like when sheet metal cracked bone and the agent yelped, dropping his knives, and Lexington did it again, this time making contact with the agent's head. Grabbing one of the knives and tucking it into his belt, Lexington scampered away.
Brooklyn was led into the interrogation room and practically shoved into the chair on one side of a stark table with a brushed-metal surface, like someone was going to whip out a deck of cards and some poker chips. On the other side sat an FBI agent who appeared very comfortable at the fact a gargoyle was just a few feet away. Of course, the heavy steel shackles and chains, Brooklyn's injuries and the amount of firepower surrounding him somewhat leveled the field.
The agent was thin and pasty with black hair pulled taut at the hairline and slicked down with a healthy dollop of Brylcreem. His small, watery eyes drilled into Brooklyn with a slightly ominous air. "Good evening." he greeted him. "My name is agent Neville."
Silence met the artificial pleasantry. Brooklyn waited before giving his response, drinking in as much information he possible could before being prodded for an answer.
But agent Neville decided to continue regardless of any cooperation from the prisoner. "Well, I must say, I am extraordinarily blessed to be questioning a real live gargoyle."
"Sure it's not a costume?" Brooklyn smirked.
"Very sure. Blood test proved it. Your DNA is unlike anything we've ever seen before."
"Your scientists are very efficient."
A smile followed, pricking the hairs on the back of his neck. "We are the FBI." Neville said.
"So, what am I doing here?"
"Primarily, you're being questioned about your involvement with the attack on one Mister Jon Canmore. And I do hope you're a lot better behaved than he was." The agent's attention seemed to wander, as if he was reliving the previous interrogation and staring into a pair of eyes that seemed depthless and mad. "That man has a powerful set of lungs..."
"He belongs in a mental institution," Brooklyn huffed, "heavily guarded and sedated..."
"Perhaps, but he was calm enough to allege that you attacked him, beating him nearly to death before police arrived on the scene."
"He seemed very sure."
"He's also an escaped convict. And an acknowledged gargoyle hater, considering he created the Quarrymen."
Neville seemed uninterested. In contrast, he seemed very interested in how he could force the gargoyle into a corner using Canmore and whatever lies he could think up as a carefully-aimed weapon. This was too perfect of a situation to pass up. "That doesn't invalidate his accusation, especially when his blood was spattered on your arm."
"How about we let a jury decide?"
He was impressed; this creature was possessed of a dry wit and an uncanny familiarity with the law. "You know a lot about my world."
"It's my world too." Brooklyn shot back.
More and more information was being leaked out and agent Neville was becoming slightly giddy at the prospect. "How many of there are you?"
"Just me." Brooklyn said as sincerely as possible. "Passing through, and got attacked near the shore when taking a breather."
But there was still doubt. "Really. Are you sure?"
Neville took a breath; he knew the gargoyle was lying, but needed something to loosen his stubborn tongue. "Well, I doubt you've heard what's going on in the middle of Times Square." He picked up a remote control, and turned on the small television bolted to the ceiling.
On turning, Brooklyn's smug expression plummeted to the ground (which served to fuel Neville's). This particular channel's news crew was hunkered down behind a parked car, getting good motionless shots of the battle. He could pick out Guild agents in between the wreckage and flashes of colored hide; Othello and Angela, and then a quick flash of Desdemona, and then Lexington. And then, heart-wrenchingly, the camera swept around and zoomed in on Katana, lying on that stretcher. "Katana..."
The agent was intrigued at this creature's response. "You know her?"
His caution was waylaid by his concern; he tried to keep quiet but could quite manage it. "She's my mate." Maybe he could illicit a bit of sympathy. He turned around, looked at the agent square in the eye and clarified, "My wife."
Neville's eyes were flicking back and forth between the different gargoyles. "And the rest?"
He sighed and relinquished, "My clan."
"Were all of you just passing through? Apparently, according to the man atop the wreckage there, you destroyed their base of operations. Just fly in for a little bit of terrorism?"
Brooklyn's bottom jaw scraped along the top. "That man–"
"Is obviously incredibly dangerous, responsible for that accident and the ensuing deaths, might be mentally unstable and will be dealt with." Neville concluded. "But I'm also left wondering how much truth there is to his claims...you yourself have lied several times since I brought you in here."
Brooklyn remained silent; fuming, but silent. His tail gave a little whip-like crack around the back legs of his chair, startling the surrounding agents.
"I assure you...ah...Mr.?" Neville stopped mid-sentence and leaned back in his chair. "You know, I don't think I asked for your name. I'm terribly sorry, how rude of me."
His name; if there was anything that would nail down his place of residence... "My kind doesn't have names."
"What about this Katana?"
"My nickname for her."
The agent quickly scribbled something down on his notepad. "Interesting. I assure you, friend," he rolled over that word with a certain amount of grease, "you'll only live up to his claims if you don't defend yourself."
"Or indict myself." Brooklyn amended.
"Either or, works for me."
"How can you be so sure Canmore's telling the truth?"
Agent Neville went back to that file, apparently an inexhaustible fountain of knowledge and leverage he was using a piece at a time. "I'm not, but interestingly enough," he pulled out a piece of paper, "the seismometer at NYU registered several spikes to which they've traced to just off the southern tip of the island. They measured a one point five on the Richter scale, and the only possible explanation would be underwater explosions."
Brooklyn was cynical. "How would someone like me get a hold of a bomb, or bombs, that powerful?"
"This is New York, you can buy anything." Neville did his best approximation of a joke. "Of course, it's been suggested that they may have been supplied by Xanatos Enterprises."
"Never heard of it."
"Really?" He grabbed a large manila envelope that'd been resting on the table's corner throughout the entire interrogation, tipped it up and let the contents slide out.
Brooklyn recognized them as everything he'd been carrying when he was arrested.
Neville grabbed a small device and held it up between a few fingers. "A compact communications device, very powerful, very cutting edge. There are only a few corporations in the city, let alone the country that are capable of building something like this. And Xanatos Enterprises with all its numerous subsidiaries tops the list."
With a shrug, Brooklyn explained casually, "I found it."
"Well, I suppose we can add theft to your list of charges." he said abstractedly. "Interesting though, that connection to Xanatos Enterprises. And I'm sure it's just a rumor that an entire clan of gargoyles roosts on that castle of his."
With a smile, Neville steepled his fingers, placing them on the table. "Listen, friend, I don't think you're aware of the situation you're in. Thanks to the president's new security measures, Homeland Security and all the crap that's gone on the last few years, I am well within my jurisdiction to have you confined to a cage, being poked, prodded and experimented on for the rest of your natural life."
Throughout the entire interrogation (poorly masquerading as an informal conversation), it wasn't hard for Brooklyn to tell this agent's overly sociable attitude was a front for something slightly more sinister. And it was becoming more apparent with every second that ticked by. Taking Canmore's word was proof he was only looking for a mere sliver of evidence to justify the gargoyle's arrest and incarceration, or get him backed up against the wall in order to bribe him.
"You are an unprecedented find." agent Neville continued. "A real live gargoyle. There are hordes of scientists who'd give their left testicle to get this close to you. Now I'm sure you'd want to protect your...clan was it? Yes, your clan, by fully cooperating with the United States government, including full disclosure."
"And what exactly do I and my clan get from this cooperation?"
"You get to live."
Brooklyn cocked his head. The skin around his eyes creased anxiously. "I beg your pardon."
Neville opened his hands, acting proud and almost charitable that he'd just offered the gargoyle a way out. "You'll be under our protection. No organization such as this Guild or the Quarrymen will ever threaten your kind again. You and your clan will be relocated to a special undisclosed site and in exchange for that protection, you'll provide us with every single detail about your race, including the locations of all the clans you're currently aware of."
"You mean, you want me to sell out my clan and my species." Brooklyn presumed.
"Well, I could always put you to the mercy of the legal system. You were found in the middle of an altercation with a wounded human, with his blood all over you, and I'm sure there's enough evidence to link you to the bombings. Not to mention your presumably illegal presence in this country."
The shackles and chains were suddenly put under the pressure they were designed for as Brooklyn tensed from the forehead down, brows and hands clenched. "Is this the government's idea of protection? Blackmail, bribery and threats?!"
The agent was staring down the barrel of a slowly enraging gargoyle bending his half of the table with his bare hands and somehow remained calm. It was probably due to the fact his partners had closed in, hands on their holsters.
Brooklyn was aware of the fear he engendered, seeing the cronies advance on him lest the beast get angry and rake his claws across fragile human flesh, but at this point he didn't care anymore. "My clan and my mate are out there fighting for their lives and you want me to make a lopsided deal that at best puts us in a zoo?!"
"You have to decide what's more important to you!" agent Neville replied angrily.
The door suddenly swung open, and someone new was about to force his way into the conversation. Abel Sykes appeared through the doorway, his timing impeccable. "No, you don't."
Neville saw his tiny world come crashing down with the intrusion. "Sykes? What the hell...?"
Abel set himself at a neutral side of the table, apparently either undaunted by the gargoyle a few feet away or he was concealing that fear very well. "The FBI isn't an insidious force that uses underhanded tactics to force people into doing what it wants."
"You're not authorized to be here, agent Sykes."
"Do me a favor, Phil, and shut it. You're acting like an ass."
Standing up to leave, Neville was presumably going to talk to his superiors. "I'm protesting this, Abel."
"Go right ahead." Sykes grabbed the vacant chair and pulled it up to the table, taking the exact spot where agent Neville was sitting. He and Brooklyn linked their respective glares. "Now, let's talk serious."
"Juarez, look out!" Lieutenant Mackenzie shouted at the rookie. The boy had been lured in by a Guild agent as his friend circled around without him seeing.
Juarez quickly turned around and both men fired at the same time. The agent dodged the shot while Juarez took it in the shoulder. The body armor deflected the bullet but the impact was like a jackhammer to the muscle underneath and he staggered back, losing his balance.
Mackenzie opened fire and scared the agents away, the masked men retreating into the safety of the wreckage and vanishing like wraiths. He ran towards the young man and got him back on his feet; Juarez wasn't afraid so much as embarrassed that he was so easily tricked. Having to be rescued didn't quite help the ego either. "You okay?"
"Yeah," he muttered, inspecting his body armor and the dent the bullet made, "just a little...shaken."
He was shaken ever since he accidentally shot the gargoyle female; she'd come up close to him and he'd mistaken her for one of those masked men. Now he was visibly second-guessing every decision. "Watch your back, Juarez. These guys are killers."
He nodded and reloaded.
Either on the periphery or as equally entrenched as the gargoyles were, the police and SWAT teams were only faring better than their targets by sheer number. The masked men and women were machines, better trained than most of New York's finest. They'd stripped these terrorists of the dead weight, those not skilled enough to evade capture, and left the best to continue fighting, evening out the odds with their skill. Though gunning for the gargoyles, every so often, whenever one of the SWAT teams or a cop got in the way or tried to make an arrest, the Guild agents would fire on them as well.
As he watched Juarez jump back into the firefight, presumably to find the men who tried to gang up on him and kill him, he held his gaze a little too long. He wondered, if he hadn't been squinting at the evening paper to read the small text, if his wife hadn't insisted he see his eye doctor when she noticed, if the doctor hadn't recommended he get Lasik surgery, if he would he would've seen the agent out of the side of his vision. He rolled out of the way of a particularly good shot, and backed up into the twisted hulk of a station wagon as more bullets ricocheted from his shield. He saw another SWAT team member unknowingly wander into the agent's field of view and all it took was a few shots to put the man down in front of him.
"Johnson!" He'd had enough and these psychos were going to put his men in the hospital or worse, the morgue. Mackenzie screamed into his radio to the snipers hidden above and waiting for that order. "Take the shot! Take the shot!"
Silencers muffled the distant gunfire, and a few Guild agents suddenly jerked and collapsed as bullets fell from the sky.
With Times Square currently a war zone, no one even noticed the front window to the Viacom building just left of the main entrance, high, arched and divided into wedges with thin bronze strips near the cap. Or more specifically, the vaguely human-shaped shadow just behind the massive pane. The middle of the window burst from the inside out, throwing the pieces into the air as the curled head of a crowbar appeared through.
Todd stepped onto the sidewalk. After breaking his way through the Paramount building's windows, running across the street and then going from one side of the Viacom building and then out the other to gain access to Times Square, he was almost in disbelief of what was happening before him (and either oblivious or indifferent to the thousands of dollars of damage he'd just caused). He could barely pick out members of the clan between the Guild and SWAT teams all shooting at each other while taking refuge behind the wrecked vehicles and his plan to suddenly rush in and help, though without much sophistication or finesse, was looking a little suicidal.
And the crowbar was looking a little pathetic compared to what he could've had for armament courtesy of either Xanatos Enterprises or Nightstone Unlimited, but there wasn't enough time to go back to the castle.
There were few people left after the first shot was fired and only the most intrepid remained, most among them reporters and their cameramen. Brickwork and plaster were crumbling under stray bullets, windows become mouths with teeth of broken glass, a few neon signs had already exploded in a spray of shards and inert gases and before he could make the decision to do anything, a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
The first thought Todd had at seeing the hairy paw was that a gorilla must've escaped from the city zoo. He turned and found the owner, scowling under the brim of his duty cap.
"Let's go, kid." the cop ordered.
"No way, pal." Todd tried to resist but the grip was iron strong. The fingers started digging into his flesh, crushing a bundle of nerves and his face was distorting from the pain. "Kcchhh..." His knees were buckling under the Vulcan nerve pinch but it made dragging him away even easier for the officer.
"This isn't up for debate, son." he said.
Todd figured there was a couple hundred pounds difference between him and officer Kong and made struggling a little less than absolutely futile as his heels were dragged across cement. He was being towed by the neck towards one of the blockades. "Hey!" he hollered. "I didn't break four massive plate-glass windows just to have a rent-a-cop throw me out!"
"The entire neighborhood's a battleground! Why would you want to stay here?!"
"I've got family here!"
"The entire block's been evacuated except for a few stubborn dumbasses who'd rather risk their lives for either an overdeveloped sense of curiosity or a few lousy pictures for the National Enquirer! No one has family here!"
"Who?" He turned towards the chaos. "One of those masked bastards? Or maybe one of the gargoyles?"
Todd bit his lip; the mouth that'd rarely run out of gas found itself suddenly dry. Something happened to the answer somewhere between brain and lips. As much as he wanted to put this guy in his place, that nascent dread of exposure was an ever-present weight at the back of his skull and somehow prevented the truth from spilling out, like some automatic defense system.
The cop had expected either silence or bull as his answer and he was glad to be proven right. "Yeah, I didn't think so. Come on." He hoisted Todd to his feet and escorted him by the arm, gently enough to guarantee a hand-shaped bruise. Every street out of the Square was barricaded and guarded by police, ushering anyone still trapped to safety as the little war continued unabated. "Murphy," the cop called to one of his fellow uniforms standing near the entrance to 43rd street, "get this kid out of here before he gets killed."
Todd was tossed between them. "Fascist." he muttered.
"Out you go, sir."
A mock salute followed, and Todd started for the barricades. But he just happened to glance sideways down the sidewalk towards a cluster of emergency vehicles, in between police and SWAT and bystanders and Guild and everything else thrown in between. The medical teams were loading the wounded into ambulances and one in particular caught his eye. Katana. With the Guild distracted, the EMTs were finally given the chance to tend to the gargoyle female without the lingering threat of being shot to death just for being near her.
The last thing the cop was expecting was for this young man to crane his neck to peer off into the distance, stop and then put his chin into his shoulder, peering behind him. The look stunk of desperation. "Don't even think about it, ki–"
Todd shot off like a stray bullet.
"Hey!" he yelled. "Are you insane?! Do you want to get yourself killed?!"
The yells behind him were drowned out by the noise of gunfire and Todd was sprinting like a madman, using that short burst of adrenaline-fueled speed to widen the gap between him and his pursuers. He ran the block in ten seconds flat until his lungs were red-hot and ready to explode from his chest, but it gave him a good head start. He sidled past the police escorts (who'd fixed their eyes on the gargoyle on the stretcher) and slinked up to the edge of the ambulance.
Pawing along the steel surface, he came up alongside the driver's window. The keys were in the ignition with the ambulance idling in preparation to leave the scene and all Todd had to do was slip into the driver's seat, crouch low and wait for Katana to be loaded. Her stretcher was rolled into the back with a heavy thud that shuddered through the vehicle right down to the tires and just as the EMT got in with her, Todd put his hands up on a steel rail running just above the seats.
The young medic got a pair of Timberlands in the chest before he even knew what hit him; Todd had lifted his feet off the ground, swinging from the rail and putting his weight into the double dropkick, knocking the medic from the ambulance and onto the cold, hard ground outside. He quickly closed and latched the doors and scrambled his way back to the front, knocking tools off shelves and banging his shoulder on a low-slung cabinet in the process.
As soon as he dropped into the driver's seat, he came face to face with the other medic trying to load into the cab.
"What the hell...?"
Todd smiled and said, earnestly, "I just want you to know I have the utmost respect for medical personnel. You guys are real heroes." before swinging the door out and into the medic's forehead.
The man dropped like a stone, clutching his head and muttering obscenities.
Closing the door, Todd adjusted his rearview mirror, shifted into drive and hit the gas. For a big and heavy machine, it had a surprising amount of horsepower under the hood and the acceleration put him against his seat-back. The ambulance screeched away.
The two cops who'd been chasing him only caught a pair of taillights and two medics on the ground, one flat on his back and seemingly unconscious, the other cradling his head and clenching his teeth.
"The little bastard stole the ambulance!"
"Was there anyone inside?"
"Yeah," he managed through the splitting pain between his eyes, "it was the gargoyle!"
Katana felt her world lurch back and forth, throwing her from a nice relaxing semi-coma. Her eyes slitted open, working against the Vaseline haze and barely conscious of where she was, she slowly moved her head up to get a better look at the driver.
Somehow Todd felt the pair of eyes on the back of his head and he turned around in the seat. "M'lady." he nodded.
Katana responded with a weak smile, which faded quickly.
Watching as she slowly fell back into unconsciousness, he wondered if bringing her back to the castle was the best idea. He saw the bandages over her stomach, soaked through with blood and had no idea how bad the injury was or how long she could survive. Times Square was nearly dead center between the castle and most of the hospitals in Manhattan. And what if she died on the way there? And what if he actually got her to Dr. Pierce but he couldn't save her? What if, what if, what if...
He didn't get much time to think when he noticed he was approaching one of the barriers set up along West 42nd (where he was planning to turn onto 8th and make a beeline for the castle). Judging by the reception waiting for him, scores of police with their weapons drawn, the two cops he'd bolted from had obviously radioed ahead about a somewhat psychotic young man who'd stolen an ambulance with a live gargoyle inside.
He had seconds to decide what to do, either plow his way through or somehow turn this beast around and barrel through Times Square for another route. "Well, this certainly blows..."
As he sped towards the barrier, the police held up their guns and that was enough incentive to hit the brakes and burn a line of rubber into the street. He could hear his heavy breathing rushing through his head like waves crashing on the beach; there were no alleys or parking garages to slip away into, especially with something as big as an ambulance.
"Put your hands on your head, and get out of the vehicle!" A few of the police had gotten within shouting distance. "Now!"
He'd had brushes with Manhattan's finest before, but none this serious and none involving a gun to his face. Looking behind him through the small windows at the ambulance's rear, he could see the guards who'd let a New York emergency vehicle and a gargoyle be stolen from underneath their noses and they were looking none too pleased.
"Shit...shit, shit, shit..."
"...go..." a weak voice filled the cab. Katana was conscious again. "...go...now."
"I'm not leaving you." he said.
She licked her dry lips. "...I will not...be a part of your incarceration..."
Todd frantically waffled from front to back.
"I said, put your hands up and get out of the vehicle!" a large cop shouted. He was practically standing on the hood, his gun aimed straight through the windshield. He wouldn't miss at that distance. "Now!!"
"I won't get very far, Katana. Either I get us both out of here, or we both get arrested."
She fell silent again, probably asleep, leaving Todd to decide what he was going to do.
"You're not getting out of here, kid!" the cop shouted at him. "We've got all the intersections blocked off, spike-strips are being laid and that particular ambulance has a GPS unit. We can track you wherever you go."
"You'll see exactly where I go when I run over your fat head you son of a–"
"Get out of the vehicle, now!!" the cop yelled, cutting Todd's angry whisper off at the tail. "I'm not going to ask again! You have fifteen seconds before we release the dog!"
"Dog...?" Todd perked up. He strained to look past the group at a German Shepherd being held back by his keeper, snapping and snarling, its beady eyes dead-set on whoever was in the vehicle. His knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. "Dog."
He'd had a bad experience with dogs, especially police dogs, back in his less-than-reputable youth (something Annika didn't know about and wouldn't ever know about). If it weren't for a high, chain-link fence he'd scrambled over, the dog might've had his genitals for lunch.
If he hit the gas, the cop had a straight, uninterrupted line from the barrel of his gun to his head.
His heart was pounding; he could feel it against his ribcage. There had to be something he could do...
"Release the dog!"
The dog came roaring towards him and started hopping up at the driver's side window. Todd barely had time to roll the window closed just as threads of saliva shot into the ambulance's cab and onto his pant leg. The dog growled and snapped its teeth at him, mercilessly hounding the door but it still couldn't get in.
One of the officers then aimed to the left and fired a round through the windshield. The bullet made a small hole a few feet away and Todd heard the recoil. "Get out of the vehicle NOW!!!"
"Okay!" Todd yelled and closed his eyes in defeat. "Okay! I'm coming out...I'm sorry, Katana." He put his hands up and kicked the door open with his foot. He slowly hopped from the ambulance and walked around the door only to have a couple of policemen grab him by the wrists and shove him to the ground. He cold the cold sting of asphalt on his cheek and swore his brain rattled around in his skull with the impact. The dog, now collared by its master, kept barking at him.
"You're under arrest."
"Perfect..." he muttered. His plan, such as it was, had gone to Hell.
Abel Sykes never thought he'd be in this situation, face to face with a gargoyle who was sitting across from him, breathing the same air, staring that same dissecting stare. He seemed intelligent enough for all the people who'd called them monsters despite only having seen a bare wisp of a shadow swoop low against the violet sky. But there was an intelligent glint in his eye, and no hint of malice. "You have a name?" he asked.
Brooklyn responded, "Like I told your friend, my kind has no names."
"Your kind?" Dominic Ford, Sykes' partner, joined the conversation. He'd trailed Sykes into the room and was barely keeping the mixture of giddiness and trepidation in check. "As in...not human?"
Brooklyn slowly turned his head towards the younger agent and gave him a good once-over. Obviously Sykes' junior, and probably a little more receptive than his partner with the hard, amber eyes. "What did your tests say?"
Sykes started leafing through the same file folder on the table that Neville had used, soaking in the contents without so much as a twitch on his diamond-hard features. "Well, according to this, not human."
Dominic reacted in muted disbelief, even with the evidence sitting right there in front of him. He just never expected their existence to be proven so unquestionably.
Leaning forward and putting the weight of his shackles on the table between them, Brooklyn got down to brass tax. "So, are you here to offer me a deal as well?"
"Well, yes, but not as self-serving as my counterpart's. I just want to end the continuous cycle of madness in this city, starting with the Guild." Sykes closed the folder and crossed his hands on top, similar to agent Neville, but without that smoldering hint of menace. "What I want from you is the truth, everything you're willing to give me that won't put anyone else in danger."
"Sounds fair, at least until I spill my guts and then see my clan slaughtered for my honesty."
"That won't happen."
"Begging your pardon, agent, but you're one man, who's not exactly sitting on the top rung of the FBI."
Sykes couldn't argue with the logic; he was here without any authority. He'd just muscled his way into the investigation. "You're right." he conceded, and wondered just how well this gargoyle knew of the FBI. "My superiors could override any promises I could make, but I can assure you, I will fight for your rights more than any other agent in the bureau."
A hard crease whittled through his face. He wanted to believe this human and all his seemingly iron-clad guarantees, but he couldn't escape the nagging little voice pinballing around in his skull. "One man?"
"Two." Ford corrected.
"Okay, two men. Doesn't seem much against all the organizations that might want a piece of me."
"Well, as I see it, you don't have much choice," Sykes' eyes flitted to the side, "unless you want to deal with agent Neville here..."
Brooklyn stared at him for a while, before nodding. "Deal."
"Catch more flies with honey, Phillip." Dominic said to the other agent, who'd spent the time sulking against the far wall. He was going to leave but decided otherwise, if only to hear what Sykes had to say.
"This is not in our best interest, Sykes." Neville hissed resentfully.
Sykes was incensed. "How is ending a war and saving innocent lives not in our best interests?"
Neville pushed off from the wall, circling the table and, though talking to Abel, he was eyeing Brooklyn guardedly. "How do we know he's innocent? How do we know if any of them are innocent?! All the evidence we've collected, the witnesses, the first-hand accounts, for years!"
"Do you really think gargoyles should be held accountable for those masked vigilantes?" Dominic jumped in. "That, may I add, are slaughtering anyone, either gargoyle or human, who gets in their way?"
"From what I see, we have a group of people fighting for their lives against insurmountable odds, regardless of their guilt." Sykes backed up his partner's train of thought.
Standing up and smoothing the wrinkles from his suit, Neville's lips thinned. His forehead burst with lines from the effort of contorting his face. "Well, we'll just have to hear what the director says about all of this." And with that, he exited the room, taking his companions with him.
"Speaking of which." Brooklyn centered on the most important thing on his mind right now. "My clan..."
"Will be protected by the SWAT teams," Sykes continued without missing a beat, "but from the reports coming in and the news footage, they're at each others' throats. I can't guarantee their safety with those masked psychos."
"And my mate?"
Ford was intrigued at another bit of detail coming to light. "Your mate?"
Brooklyn turned to the television, excruciatingly blank. He only had a few seconds to look over her wounds through a cameraman's wobbly shot. "The green one, on the stretcher. It looked like she was hurt."
"She'll get the best medical attention," Sykes assured him, "if they can get her out of there." He'd added that last bit in a grave tone, considering the reports that were flooding in.
"It has to be before sunrise."
For the first time since he was led into this room, Brooklyn looked uncomfortable. He didn't like giving away so much information for free. "Let's just say gargoyles have an allergy to sunlight. When the sun comes up, they'll be completely vulnerable."
"We'll spread the word."
Annika rubbed her brow. They'd been out of the operating room now for about twenty minutes but she was still sweating. She assumed it was her nerves; she'd had her hands up to the wrists in Broadway's leg for the last hour or so and only now was her heart rate returning to normal.
After helping doctor Pierce to close Broadway's incision, they'd bandaged the wound and wheeled him into the main infirmary, across from the comatose Matt Bluestone, to wait for sunrise. She was standing at the foot of his bed watching him sleep off the anesthetic when her name was called from the operating room. It was Pierce. She rushed back in and found him trying to prevent Hudson from getting up.
But the gargoyle was already on his feet, the IV tube pulled from his body and oozing its contents on the floor. And just as Pierce had warned him, within seconds the head rush hit, then the double vision, the dry mouth and weak knees and he nearly toppled over like an old growth oak. If it weren't for Annika coming up behind and keeping him vertical, he would've left a dent in the floor.
Doctor Pierce put a hand to his chest and his shoes squealed against the tile when the gargoyle put his weight against him. "Whoa, Hudson, you've given a lot of blood and you're in no shape to do anything." Seeing that Hudson wasn't able to protest, even if he wanted to, he didn't see the need to restrain him to a hospital bed. He and Annika guided him out of the surgical room and towards one of the beds, so at least he could be close to Broadway. "Besides," Pierce added, "we may need you in case something else happens before sunrise."
"But...'r clan..." Hudson replied groggily.
"Are on their own." Annika whispered from behind. "Unless you want to send Tachi, Nashville or Rain."
"...nay...they're just hatchlings..."
"I'd go, but..." she trailed off. Fear stole her voice.
But Hudson placed a gentle hand to her swollen stomach. He knew she would've gladly and willingly joined the clan if it weren't for a bit of extra, precious baggage. "...there must be someone that can help..."
Her lungs were red hot and about to burst from her chest, but she kept running. She'd just clothes-lined a Guild agent and left him for the police when two of his associates appeared in her blind spot and started firing. A sniper's bullet put down one, but the other bolted and kept moving to present a moving target. Desdemona rolled over a roof and saw her mate a few meters away, fending off his own attackers.
She saw Othello disappear behind a van tipped on its side and a few Guild agents follow in pursuit, then shots were fired, ringing out into the night. For one terrifying moment, when no one emerged, Desdemona feared the worst until an agent came flailing through the van's rear doors. Othello appeared by tearing the doors from their hinges, grabbed the agent and threw him nearly twenty feet away with a single hand, into the clutches of awaiting SWAT teams.
But so distracted for his safety, she wasn't looking out for her own. A bullet ricocheted near her and it caught her attention. The agent had moved in on her and was preparing to fire again. She dodged the second shot, hitting right where she was standing only a second ago, and continued running until hitting a dead end. Forced into an alcove caused by a truck piled up over two smaller cars, Desdemona had only one chance by bringing the fight in close so the agent couldn't get a shot off. She'd swiped at his arms to get him to drop the gun, but he was stubbornly holding onto the weapon and what he figured as the equalizer. She growled and he growled back, unimpressed by this golden-haired demon.
She was strong, but sluggish as her body betrayed her exhaustion; he saw an opportunity arise when she swung and just barely missed raking her claws across his chest and stunned her with a blow to the stomach.
He slammed his body into hers, forcing her head into a wall of steel and she collapsed, gushing from her forehead.
Desdemona looked up and through the ribbons of blood streaming across her vision found herself eye-level with the barrel of a gun. On the other side, the Guild agent was surely wearing a grin under that mask with such a perfect shot. She wasn't sure how much time passed before intent turned to electrochemical stimulus turned to action, but it seemed like an eternity.
The agent depressed the trigger and all the sound around them dissolved away. Before that final, fleeting thought could race through her mind, an orange blur preceded the explosion of gunpowder and Desdemona suddenly felt like she'd just run headfirst into a wall, despite being completely motionless. Like the world had tipped on its side. Her mind was lagging behind what was happening around her, and when it finally caught up she realized she'd been saved from certain death by someone now clutching to her around the back.
Strong but slender, and obviously smaller than she was, Desdemona's surprise was more directed to her rescuer's strangely frictionless skin.
It was smooth, almost like glass or the polished metals of this modern world, but warm and with a discernible pulse coming from within. The stranger held her tightly, with her back towards the Guild agent and she could feel every bullet that pelted her savior's skin. Flesh made a unique sound when struck or pierced, but when the gunman opened fire all Desdemona could hear were bullets bouncing off a hard, unbreakable surface.
The agent ran through his ammo and clicked a few times on an empty clip, before realizing none of his pointblank shots actually penetrated this newcomer's body.
Desdemona felt the smaller gargoyle release and spin around to face their attacker. Before she even had the chance to turn she heard running footsteps, a struggle, a crack of noise that could only have been a fist against bone and the telltale thud of a human body collapsing in a heap on the ground. She cleared the blood from her brow and got a better look at the stranger.
A gargoyle, lithe and delicate, had just toppled someone twice her size with a single blow (the mask had come off and rolled away, a thin fissure running the length of it). But if that wasn't strange enough, this particular gargoyle's pumpkin-tinted skin appeared completely metallic.
"Who are you?" Desdemona half asked, half wondered aloud.
The gargoyle revealed herself. "Hello, sister."
Those spiraled horns were a dead giveaway, despite the fact her entire body gleamed from head to toe in some unknown, glowing alloy. "Sister..." Desdemona gasped, staring slack-jawed into the face of her rookery sister, presumed dead months ago. "You're alive..."
The gargoyle rubbed her forehead, where recently a dent had robbed her of her memories. "Very much so."
"But how?" Eyes trickled down. "And your body..."
"Yes, well, it was instinct I suppose." She held up her hands, rubbing her fingers against each other to feel the odd texture her skin had undertaken. Hyperactive senses magnified the sensation tenfold. "This happened just before I fought that giant creature many months ago."
"Where have you been?"
"I...cannot believe you are here...now..."
"It was not hard to find you, sister," she said, "all I had to do was look for the chaos while gliding over the island."
Desdemona struggled to her feet, the rest of the world quickly coming back into sharp focus. She could ask her sister the questions that'd blossomed in the back of her mind later. "Come, sister, we must keep moving!"
The gargoyle nodded and steadied her sister.
"It is good to see you again. We've lost so much."
"Then let us not lose anything more tonight."
Mackenzie got an errant spray of windshield in his face, and he might've taken a few shards to the eyes if he didn't have his helmet visor down and locked protectively over his face. A Guild agent had sprayed the car he was using as protection, mercifully missing him but raking his armor with tiny razor-sharp projectiles.
"Damnit!" the SWAT leader yelled, peppering the air with his rifle. His shots went wide but at least he scared the agent away.
The snipers overhead were still trying to pick off anyone in a mask and black suit, but with the commotion and constant movement it was hard to get a clear shot.
A voice crackled through his radio. He didn't recognize it and thus, didn't answer right away. Of course, considering he was engaged in an all out kill-or-be-killed war, he had an excuse to let whoever it was on the other end of the line hang for a while.
He grabbed his receiver. "What?!"
"Lieutenant, my name is FBI agent Abel Sykes."
"Yeah, listen, agent Sykes, I'm a little busy here!" He retreated a few steps when a gargoyle raced in front of him, chasing after the same Guild agent that'd nearly killed him. A dusky one with white hair, snapping arrows as quickly as his automatic rifle fired off rounds. "It's World War Three!!"
"I know, and I hate to make your job harder but I want every gargoyle protected and brought into custody."
He froze, a dangerous thing to do in the middle of a battleground. "What?!"
"You heard me. Those gargoyles are now officially under the protection of the U.S. government."
Mackenzie digested what he just heard as easily as a chunk of concrete. This night was going down in the history books of his career; his wife was never going to believe this. "Understood, but it's chaos down here."
"Do your best, Lieutenant. Reinforcements are on their way."
He clipped the radio receiver back to his shoulder and started reloading. "Yeah...right."
Sykes placed the radio receiver back to its cradle and turned around to Brooklyn. His part of the deal had been concluded and he hoped the show of good faith would be reciprocated. "Let's hope everyone in your...ah..."
"Clan." Brooklyn reminded him.
"Clan, thank you, everyone in your clan is brought here safely."
He was apologetic as he laid out the terms. "Listen, I'm not in the best position here. I can be easily superceded by a higher authority. I'm sure my friend out there, agent Neville, has already gone off to tell on me to the higher-ups."
"What do you think will happen?"
"I think the best solution I can offer you is fair and decent representation." he said. "You'll be charged for your crimes, but charged alone, with no conspirators."
Brooklyn digested silently. He wasn't a stranger to taking one for the clan if only to protect them, but even he had to admit his unease, like a cold hand on the delicate skin between his wings. "And if I'm found guilty?"
"I really don't know. I don't even know if you'll be even be given a trial, let alone a fair one."
"I'm officially outside of the legal system."
"Correct." Sykes nodded sympathetically. At least the gargoyle understood his precarious position. "I'm already out on a limb concerning the FBI and my jurisdiction here. But your cooperation will go a long way to broker a bit of trust. And with a known killer and prison escapee as the so-called victim, I think you'll have a better chance. Of course, I need to know–"
"I attacked him," Brooklyn revealed, "but only in self-defense. He tried to kill me. Again."
This time, Ford chimed in, "I'm sure any good lawyer will ask what exactly the two of you were doing beating the crap out of each other in Battery Park."
"He attacked me." Brooklyn reiterated forcefully, jerking at his chains when he made an unconscious gesture. "Plain and simple."
"Maybe it's time to tell the truth." Sykes suggested. "The whole truth."
"Who's to say I'm not?"
"My gut. And a growing file folder of evidence. Better you confide to me than someone else figure it all out and catch you by the balls. Gargoyles do have balls, right?"
Brooklyn almost smiled. "Yes."
"Then you know of the pain."
"I could hurt a lot of people if I told you everything."
"Yeah, but think of what could happen if you didn't..."
With all the injuries stemming from the Times Square battle, patients were being shipped all over the island to the nearest hospitals, St. Vincent's, Beth Israel, and the New York hospital.
But Bellevue on 1st Avenue got the brunt, being one of the closest. The entire medical center had called in all available medical personnel and the ambulances were lined up out into the street. It was chaos inside, the head nurses doing triage and passing along patients with the worst injuries to the operating rooms. Police escorted the injured Guild agents, handcuffed to their stretchers while most of the civilian population was sorted by the seriousness of their wounds, some left in the hallways waiting for the next available nurse to sew up gashes and salve minor burns.
Savannah remembered her rescue from Times Square in intermittent patches; her memory was spotty at best. She was about to be carried out from the wreckage when she told the SWAT team that she didn't want to be separated from the man lying across her lap. He grunted his answer and had a buddy grab the cataleptic Guild leader. Getting them both to safety, she was able to ride with Black in the ambulance and stayed near his side as they were unloaded, quickly checked over and admitted to a room on the third floor. Still unconscious, Black's injuries required a respirator to help with his damaged lung (Robyn Canmore was an excellent shot) while Savannah was deemed severely malnourished; she was given an IV and all the cuts, scrapes and bruises from her captivity in the Guild's headquarters were treated and bandaged.
A doctor, in quite a rush due to the amount of people piling up downstairs, quickly asked, "What's your name, ma'am?"
"...Savannah St. Nicks..." she whispered. Her voice was hoarse from lack of water. "...famous reporter..."
"And him?" He nodded to Black while he checked the machines.
She thought quick, and answered, "My husband. Please, I don't want to be separated from him."
"You'll both stay here for the moment until we get everything under control. Please be patient." He was in too much of a hurry to probe deeper into something he felt didn't quite fit, considering her 'husband's' injuries weren't new enough to be caused tonight and left the two of them alone.
Savannah worked on the bottle of cold water she was given and the tray of hospital food which, because the Guild had only fed her enough to keep her alive, almost rivaled in delicacy the triple-decker steak and mushroom burger from Famous Harry's down in the village. She wondered what the hell to do now. She'd just saved the life of the man who kept her prisoner and regularly beat her for information, all because he'd just happened to spawn that Hawkins kid, but the ruse wouldn't last for long. She was sure the cops and eventually someone like the FBI would uncover his identity once everything had calmed down and she was questioned further.
But, surprisingly, she found herself wondering more about the clan and if any of them had made it out alive as she did. She could hear the distant noise of gunfire and sirens through the open window, the war still going strong, and the constant influx of patients being wheeled past the room. Seeing the devastation firsthand and one of the only living victims of the Guild's black and white brutality, she didn't like their odds.
Brooklyn had been staring at the table's surface for a few minutes now without realizing it. Sykes allowed him the time to think on his decision while Ford used the opportunity to study the gargoyle, how his wings moved, his tail, the structure of his hands and feet. Dominic was sure he would've demonstrated his annoyance, either through voicing it or warding him off with a silent stare, if he wasn't deep in thought.
All of a sudden, Brooklyn lifted his head and said, "Maybe I'll wait until I know my clan is safe."
"Fair enough." Sykes nodded. "Then all we can do is wait. You want some coffee?"
"More water would be great."
His partner nodded and sprung to his feet. "Two coffees and a water coming up." Dominic went to leave and as soon as he opened the door, a cop appeared with his fist at the ready. He was just about to knock. "Whoa..."
"Sorry to interrupt," the officer said, "but..."
Sykes leaned over to get a look at the uniform. "What is it?"
"Thought you might want to know, we got a kid downstairs that tried to steal the ambulance with...well, you know what..."
Falling back in his chair, Sykes was immediately intrigued. Something struck his instincts like a hand on a harp string and he had to satisfy his hunch. "Really? Tell me, is this kid about yay high," he stood up and held a hand level to his own height, "with brown hair, grayish eyes, goatee and an unfortunate tendency to run his mouth off?"
The messenger twitched through the face. "Actually yes," he said, surprised, "and when we unloaded him outside he started screaming to the reporters about his rights, government conspiracies, etcetera."
Brooklyn rolled his eyes out of view of the humans surrounding him and something sieved through his lungs like a growl. The description sounded like only one man he knew on the entire island and he just got himself arrested when he could've been infinitely more help if he'd just stayed put.
But Abel had the opposite reaction. He couldn't help but turn that weathered face into a smile.
Dominic did a double-take. It was rare to see his partner grin like that; he didn't think those particular muscles even worked anymore, atrophied from chronic disuse. "Abel?"
"Watch our friend, will you, Dom?"
"What's going on? Who's the kid?"
Agent Sykes started out. "Someone I know." But he stopped halfway to the door to put his face level with Brooklyn's and added perceptively, "Someone I think my friend and I might have in common."
As Brooklyn tried to keep his expression completely indecipherable, Sykes continued on through the door and down the long corridor still full of cops and armored SWAT, some mulling about too anxious or high on caffeine to stand completely still. More Guild agents had been brought in and were being processed, held in cells on the other side of the building until the district attorney and public defenders could arrive. They'd been stripped of their masks, piled on the front table along with their weaponry and most of them didn't appear as intimidating without the anonymity and mystery their uniforms afforded them. But he supposed these were only the grunts that'd been caught, and the elite were still loose in Times Square, too skilled and cutthroat to be caught or killed so easily.
As he passed, he didn't see the police captain and accompanying detective stuck in the lobby, waiting for any word on the gargoyle he'd just questioned. He didn't hear her on her cell phone with an agitated but somewhat euphoric tone because someone had finally answered on the other end of the line. And he was completely unaware they knew both the gargoyle in the far room and the young man in the prison cell he was heading towards. Sykes navigated his way through the crowded processing center, down a short hallway and towards another cellblock where the young man had been left to cool off.
He had the guard open the door and, as soon as he caught sight of the prisoner, stopped short. "Why am I not surprised..." he said. A few steps more, a closer inspection to make sure he was right in his assumption and Sykes let his greeting slide out with a sigh, "Hello, Todd."
The young man sitting on the bed let his head loll around on his shoulders; he seemed unimpressed at the FBI agent and made sure he knew that. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Cute." Abel snorted as he approached. "Mind telling me just what the hell you were trying to do?"
"Rescue an innocent woman."
"Who just happens to be a gargoyle."
He shrugged. "Yes. I'm a firm believer in human rights. I just happened to catch the news and decided to do something to help."
"Yeah right..." Sykes was skeptical. This kid was a master at slinging bull and doing it with a perfectly straight face.
"Seriously." Todd said.
"Cull the bullshit, Hawkins! Tell me what's going on!"
Todd took a defiant breath and stretched out on the bed, folding his arms behind his head and crossing his legs. He obviously wasn't in the mood to answer.
"Fine..." The punk wanted to play hardball. Sykes was game; he'd broken more hardened crooks before his FBI headquarters dispenser coffee got lukewarm. "You're facing criminal charges including vehicular theft, assault, interfering with an investigation, need I go on? I don't think Rose would be too happy to have her only son whom she sacrificed so much for to wind up in prison for twenty years."
Nothing, not a sound, not a twitch. Todd seemed determined to count the holes on the suspended ceiling and await his punishment. Maybe at some unconscious level he thought it was justified for abandoning Katana.
"I'll tell you what," Sykes said, relaxing against the bars, "I'll have all the charges dropped on one condition."
Now he'd gotten his attention. Even if he didn't give him the courtesy of a simple look Todd couldn't help but listen. "What's that?"
"Tell me about the gargoyles, including your connection to them."
All the interest fell to pieces, and Todd chuckled. He smacked his lips, feigning thirst and apathy. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"It wasn't hard to deduce your relationship to them with your father and his extracurricular activities, your presence at the Eyrie, your illegal entry into Times Square and theft of an ambulance that just happened to have a gargoyle in the back." He tapped on the jail bars with his knuckles, causing a melodic echo to roll through the room. "This is your last chance, Todd, to help me help them."
Finally, that hard, steel-gray gaze turned towards him. Todd gave him a good, long, scrutinizing look. As much as this man had been a friend to his family, this wasn't something he could easily let into the open.
And Sykes, sensing his apprehension, voiced his sincerity, "I promise, you can trust me."
"Have you ever had a secret which you couldn't trust with anyone?" Todd sat up, swiveled around to drop his feet to the floor and started towards the bars. "Especially someone who could, without even meaning it, literally destroy your entire world?"
"Yes." he nodded meaningfully. "About twenty years ago."
Suddenly reminded, Todd couldn't argue with the fact Abel Sykes knew how to keep sensitive information to himself, especially when pertaining to his own family's past. "Is this between you and me?"
Todd was right up at the bars now, staring down the agent with the glistening gold eyes. "I need to know that you're serious about this..."
"I gave my word and that word is bond." Sykes clarified. His tone was sober and those hard eyes didn't waver in the slightest.
"Fine. I know about gargoyles." Then, his voice lowered. "In fact, I'm married to one."
Sykes raised his brows. He certainly wasn't expecting that.
So high up, it looked like an anthill through his scope, tiny black forms crawling over everything in their path. One of several snipers on the rooftops surrounding Times Square, he could barely get an aim on any of the masked men and women they were moving so quickly and incessantly. The scope afforded him a perfect view of the street but only a limited section and he had to keep roving around to find a target.
He noticed a slim, lavender female tussling with a large man easily twice her size. She was holding her own, red-eyed and furious and fending off his savage attacks as they circled each other. He was impressed. These creatures were fighting with everything they had. But no one, even the sniper above or any officer on the ground, could get a shot in with their constant, circular movement. He didn't want to shoot someone, or something, he thought might be innocent.
The agent using a bumper he'd ripped off a vehicle, Angela blocked his attack with her forearms, knowing he might've broken her bones and at the very least, gave her bruises that may even show up after a good stone's sleep. She dodged to the right and he brought his weapon down on the street. She kicked the severed bumper away and whirled around, her tail cracking like a whip square into his chest. The agent was knocked back, stunned but unhurt, and slowly stalked towards her.
He left himself open.
The man's chest opened up from a sniper's bullet fired from a hundred feet up, and Angela was flecked with blood. The agent collapsed, dead before he hit the ground and she quickly wiped the blood from her face. She didn't know if she should be grateful for her unseen savior or horrified at another pointless death, but right now, she wasn't much for a philosophical debate. As she tried to get up, sharp pains in her thighs dropped her like a stone; her leg muscles were strained from overuse. Angela fell to the ground and discovered the taste of Manhattan asphalt wasn't pleasant. Getting up and wiping away errant hairs, she came less than a few feet away from a human in strange armored garb.
"Hey, are you all right?"
Angela reacted out of fear first, and scuttled away before the man in riot gear yelled at her retreating form.
"Wait!" he called after her. "My name's Lieutenant Mackenzie and I've been given orders to protect you and the rest of your friends!"
She stopped and turned and quickly searched his expression. He seemed sincere enough but it was getting that the clan couldn't trust most humans anymore.
"We were told to get you out of here. You're now under the protection of the FBI."
Angela whirled on her heel and scanned for Lexington. The small gargoyle appeared from behind the wreckage close to them and she screamed, "Lex!"
He ran towards her and Angela introduced him, stumbling through his title. "This is a Lieutenant Mackenzie and he claims we're going to be protected by the FBI."
Lexington swept his gaze towards the human, doing presumably what Angela had done just a few seconds ago. The Lieutenant gave as good as he got, his eyes darting around every non-human part, including the surgically implanted pieces of gleaming steel. "Why?" he said.
"Search me, but I have my orders from an agent Sykes."
Somewhere, that name triggered something deep in his memory. Looking behind him, and into the war zone, Lexington asked, "Can you cover our escape?"
"Yes," and then Mackenzie pointed to a large armored van across the street, "if you can get all of your gargoyles into that vehicle, we'll get you out of here."
He nodded and the SWAT team leader grabbed his radio receiver. "Okay, we need an escape route for the gargoyles. Everyone lay down suppression fire and I want the snipers to cover our men."
His team mobilized quickly, shifting position to put themselves between any Guild agents with a gun and the armored van waiting in the wings. The gunfire increased, mostly to push the agents away and allow a hole for the gargoyles to slip through.
"Othello!" Lexington yelled. "Get everyone over to that van!"
The stoic archer gave the armored van a quick but strict once over, then nodded and nocked a few more arrows from his rapidly diminishing stock to send into the fray. He started shouting at the dismembered clan and pulled them towards the intended target by the sound and force of his voice alone.
Lexington was impressed how his rookery elder always seemed cool under fire, almost glacial, and why Othello hadn't taken charge before when he was obviously suited to it. Maybe more than Lexington ever was or could be. "Lieutenant?" he asked.
Mackenzie looked down. "Yeah?"
"The green female, on the stretcher..."
"She was taken by ambulance to one of the closest hospitals." he said. "But I don't know which one."
He managed a smile. "Come on."
Lexington loped on all fours towards the van and noticed the clan converging on the same place, even as the Guild tried to pick a few off. The SWAT teams kept pushing them back and any spare police officers started firing from the side-lines. But he also noticed one more member than he remembered coming with. Small and slender, with a tattered dress and spiraled horns and–her skin, it was metallic–she seemed familiar. "It can't be..."
Othello's reaction was identical to the rest of the clan: shock, surprise, elation. "Sister..."
"You're alive...you're alive!" Angela cried, as the sister slowed and flashed a breathless smile.
But Desdemona hurried past them, quickly bringing the clan back to reality. She'd already had her emotional moment. "Yes," she said, "and there will be time for pleasantries later! If we are being offered protection then I think we should take it!"
Her mate scowled at the offer, which seemed too good to be true. He'd had his fill of human treachery. "We can't know for sure what will happen, especially if we are locked into a steel box. And we can't leave without finishing this!"
Lieutenant Mackenzie had jogged the short yet bullet-riddled distance to the armored van with them, coordinating their escape personally. "I suggest you take the offer, I don't know how long you can last before one of your people gets blown away."
"And what about your...people?"
"We can take care of ourselves. We're New Yorkers."
Helping Delilah into the van, Desdemona reproved her stubborn mate. "My love, this battle does not fare well for us."
"I do not trust them." he growled, to both Desdemona and the human in front of him.
"You have my word," Mackenzie told him, and didn't seem intimidated in the slightest, "this is on the level."
But Lexington had already seen enough destruction and death tonight. He'd made the decision to come back and finish what they started, but it ended up erupting into a full-blown war with innocent people involved. He didn't like running off in the middle of it all, but the opportunity was too attractive to pass up, especially if this was a chance to save more lives and forge a union with a higher human authority. And according to his internal clock, it was only a couple of hours before sunrise. "Everyone into the van."
"Lexington–" Othello tried to protest, but was cut off.
Angela and the rest willingly took up on the offer and piled into the armored van, but Othello was resistant right up until the end. It took his long-lost rookery sister to convince him, by using an unnatural strength to practically shove him into the vehicle with a tiny hand against his sternum. He hit the floor and slid inside while the sister followed and closed the doors behind them.
"Okay!" one of the SWAT team called to the driver, rapping his fist on the back of the van. "They're in! Go!"
As the van rumbled out of Times Square under police escort, Lexington watched as the rest of the clan welcomed the lost sister back into their clutch now that the bullets had stopped flying, Angela leading with a bear-hug, but he didn't join them. Instead, he turned and peered through the windows laced with wire-mesh and caught Lieutenant Mackenzie tip his helmet up slightly to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then lock it back into place and head back into the fight. He regretted not saying more to the man, especially since they were being shepherded away from a war, their war, which no one else deserved to get involved in.
Agent Gray watched as the gargoyles were escorted away and growled underneath her mask. How any human could ever help beasts like them was completely incomprehensible to her twisted thought process. Seeing a SWAT trying to flank her, she turned and dropped him with a single shot to the neck, between the seams of his armor. Blood sprayed, he gurgled and fell.
Escaping the snipers' ubiquitous view, she climbed over and even in some cases, through wrecked cars to find her husband on the other side of the pile. "Hank!"
Agent Red laid down a line of fire and backed towards where his wife had called him.
"The demons were just loaded into an armored van and led out of here!"
His massive body tensed at the news, chest bursting at the seams. "What...?"
"This battle is over. We're low on ammo and dangerously outnumbered. We need to go, now!"
He was pensive for a moment, using as much time as they were allowed in between the chaos to mull over the decision, and then asked, "Where's agent Brown? And agent Yellow?"
"Then we're leaving." He started digging into his uniform with his free hand and pulled out a slim, steel object from under the lapel. Agent Gray eyed this object with some reverence. "Get them and anyone else that's able to follow. The Guild does not die here tonight." He started climbing the vehicle they'd taken refuge behind and she started creeping along the edge of the wreckage.
Agent climbed to a certain height but kept himself as hidden as possible from the snipers above. He could already see his band of agents had been whittled down to a few survivors and he scanned the periphery for a mode of transport; there were enough emergency vehicles surrounding them would serve well enough until he spotted a troop carrier near the exit to West 43rd street, sparsely guarded. It was a four-wheeled tank, with enough room to comfortably carry any survivor who could make it. He grasped the object in his hand and flicked his fingernail over a notch on the smooth surface; something beeped, and then started counting down. "You're not the only one with an impressive firecracker, you little freak..." he hissed, remembering Lexington's flash grenade in Battery Park, and pressed a couple of fingers to a section of his mask near the temple, sending out a warning to every other Guild agent still alive or well enough to heed its call. It was a warning beacon implanted into every mask, signaling the call for escape.
Below, agent Gray heard the noise in her mask and starting gesturing to any agent left.
Agent Red readied the small device and, risking exposure to the snipers, stood up and threw it into the air. He'd calculated down to the second when it would go off, just at the arc of his toss. A few cops and SWAT saw it fly into the air. It exploded in a blinding flash of white light and grating, screaming sound, like every firework in the forth of July packed into a single punch; the flare hung in the air, feeding on phosphorus and magnesium dust. Everyone not wearing protection over their eyes had to look away the light was so intense, and the Guild agents got their chance.
"Move!" agent Gray screamed at the survivors, and every agent still on their feet started running towards the troop carrier, their masks just barely filtering the light (the only reason they didn't use the device earlier was it could've handicapped them just as easily as the beasts). The police stationed at the side could only make out dark, tenuous forms and started firing at specters.
"Damnit, don't let them escape!" Lieutenant Mackenzie yelled from across the way, but he too could barely see.
Agent Brown, one of his knives lost to the tiny gargoyle, right hand broken and his head ringing from a mild concussion, followed behind his partner agent Yellow, a gun in each hand carving a trail between any opposition and the vehicle.
"Snipers, can you see?!" Mackenzie yelled into his radio. "Snipers?!!"
"We're blind! That flare has washed out the entire Square!" came the reply. "We can't risk a blind shot!"
"Damnit, damnit, damnit!" Mackenzie threw off his helmet and rubbed his eyes but they still wouldn't clear. He and the rest of his men were running towards what they thought was the troop carrier.
Agent Gray reached the transport first, her path cleared by her fellow agents (leaving more than a few bodies on the ground) and opened the door. Getting behind the wheel, she quickly hotwired the ignition and started the vehicle. "Get inside! Hurry!"
"Don't let them escape!"
Bullets were flying blindly in the confusion and one of the Guild agents suddenly jerked and tumbled into a boneless heap, dead. Agent Red ushered the rest of the agents towards the back of the van as he used up the rest of his ammo to frighten away anyone unfortunate enough to get within range. He counted nine men and women out of nearly a hundred that'd climbed into that bus, now crumpled and sitting askew, its front end dug in underneath several cars. Ninety loyal agents gone, either dead or arrested. Hopefully, more survived the base's destruction, including agent White. "Let's go, Sapphire..."
Agent Gray popped the clutch and the behemoth rattled down the street. She used the steel-buttressed grill to plow through several squad cars and headed straight for the blockade across the street. She ducked behind the dash as bullets obliterated the windshield and hood from the guards stationed at the barriers. She geared into third and heard the engine wind up the RPMs and blindly bulldozed her way through the officers and to freedom.
Mackenzie shouted into his radio, "We've got a stolen SWAT transport, designation alpha tango dash seven nine, coming your way! Stop it! Stop it!" But he had a cold feeling in his gut the next time he saw that particular vehicle again, it would probably be found abandoned. "Damn..."
He'd knocked but didn't get a response. After his second attempt with no answer, Jason Canmore pushed the door to the office open and slowly rolled himself inside. The office was as dark and motionless as a tomb.
He found his employer staring pensively out of the large window that framed the entire office, the dancing glow of city streetlight down below chasing away the shadows. From the vantage point, there was no way he could miss at least part of the chaos just a few blocks away. Jason thought he'd have the television on, like everyone else in the city. "Mr. Xanatos?"
He muttered something that could've been confused with a greeting.
"Yuir aware of what's been happening?"
David Xanatos didn't bother to turn around; he liked his gaze where it was and didn't feel the need to indulge his majordomo very time Jason rolled into his office. "Quite."
He wheeled in further, putting the chair's footrest right up to the single step that cut the office in half (and made it difficult to share the view). "I've just gotten a call from Maria Chavez, th' gargoyles have been ordered into police custody for protection." he said. "And our mole at police headquarters has confirmed it."
"Then the matter is settled."
"Not quite. Brooklyn is being questioned for his involvement on th' attack on my brother and Todd Hawkins is presently awaiting prosecution for theft and assault." He then waited for a reaction, but didn't get the one he'd expected. Check that; lately, Xanatos was ice. He'd turned off his emotions like he had access to some switch in his brain.
"And I suppose you expect me to get my legal team out of bed to defend a gargoyle and a foolish young man, thereby exposing their link to me and this corporation?"
"I expect ye t' care, at th' very least." he said, almost adversarial. "But that would be asking too much of you, wouldn't it, Mr. Xanatos?"
At last, he turned from the window and his eyes naturally phosphoresced. "I'm sorry?"
"I've seen nothing but vintage David Xanatos th' last few months, undoing all that ye've built for yuirself by alienating yuir closest allies." Crossing his large arms, Jason was sympathetic but only to a point. "I know yuir thoughts are centered on yuir wife and her declining health, and yuir son, but I can't help contribute th' sudden change in attitude t' something else, and I doubt it's th' drug ye've been injecting yuirself with."
"You must be mistaken."
"Please," Jason was almost insulted, "ye wouldn't have hired me if I wasn't good at my job."
"What would you have me do?" Xanatos took him to point. He was becoming tired of his majordomo's continued coddling. "The clan decided to destroy Guild headquarters all on their own, and they are now facing the consequences of that action. If I come to their rescue, I will be playing right into this agent Red's hands. I may expose not just myself, but my family and hundreds of thousands of employees, including you."
"I'm willing t' take that risk."
"Is the accounting department? Research and Development? The secretary pool? I doubt everyone would feel the same way."
Jason couldn't believe what he was hearing. Either Xanatos had concocted a good and believable excuse or the Grinch's heart had just grown three sizes. "Yuir being very unselfish, ye know that."
"It wasn't a compliment." he explained. "All of yuir life, in every endeavor, whether it was a corporate takeover or a fruitless quest for immortality, ye were never concerned with anyone else but yuirself. What's changed?"
"Perhaps I am tired of losing control of my life." he said somberly, without the usual wit. "I have protected the clan ever since I allowed them back into the castle. I've given them everything at the cost of my own safety, not to mention that of my family. I've already provided them with the means to enter Guild headquarters and an entire regiment of Steel Clan robots, all of which are most likely reduced to pieces of scrap metal lying on the bottom of the sea. Like I said before, they knew the consequences and now they are paying for them."
"That's life." he snapped. "It's rarely fair."
"No," Jason agreed, "it certainly isn't."
Xanatos hesitated and then turned back towards the window. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles made Times Square stand out even more than before. "You may think me callous, Mr. Canmore, but I sacrificed a lot to help them. Now, I cannot give anymore without serious cost to myself, my family and everyone in my employ. I assume you've already called our press team. I'm sure they'll deflect any question that this agent Red's little tirade will bring up and as usual, no one will be able to prove anything."
"So, yui'll do nothing?"
A thoughtful pause, then an answer, "We'll do what we have to, to protect Xanatos Enterprises, but nothing beyond that right now."
"Well, if I may suggest, Mr. Xanatos. Perhaps ye can turn this opportunity t' yuir advantage. If this is indeed when th' clan, and th' gargoyle race in general is finally, permanently exposed to humanity, Xanatos Enterprises can follow th' trend and become an interested party."
Sykes shook his head. "I'm sorry, I must have misheard you."
"Then let me repeat." Todd said. "I married a gargoyle."
"This is ridiculous...if you're not going to tell me the truth–"
"This is the truth!" He banged his hands on the bars, which later, he'd regret when a lingering pain would thread through his palms. "That's why I need to know you're serious about helping them, as it affects me very intimately."
Abel crossed his arms and his gaze narrowed, almost fatherly, with that same hint of mistrust as if he'd just caught the boy with a bag of marijuana. "You have a reputation and a talent for spinning lies, Hawkins, I need proof."
"Then get my wallet from the Nazi over there." Todd flicked his head towards the duty officer in the office.
He deliberated for a moment and then realized he'd nothing to lose by indulging him. Sykes walked over to the office and knocked on the Plexiglas window. The cop perked up. "Do you have the prisoner's belongings?"
"Yeah," he said, grabbing a small container of personal effects, "he didn't have a lot on him, just car keys, a cell phone and his wallet."
"Give me the wallet."
The cop slid the black leather wallet through the slot in the Plexiglas and Sykes brought it over to the cell, but held it just out of reach of the bars. He obviously wanted Todd to tell him how to find it.
Todd got the hint. "Look in the cash pocket." he said.
Sykes opened the fold and found a crumpled dollar bill, a condom, an expired Burger King coupon and a ticket stub but nothing he could see as evidence to back up Todd's wild claim.
"There's a hidden pocket...just dig your fingernail into the corner and peel back."
Raising an eyebrow suspiciously, he nonetheless prodded in the corner and noticed a corner was coming loose against his fingertip. Sykes pulled the flap back and found a small photograph. He pulled it out and his expression melted. There, in the middle of the frame Todd stood with an arm around a female with a high-horned brow, rich coral-pink skin and, the clincher, a pair of wings. "This has to be a costume..."
"Nope. She's the real deal." Todd smiled weakly. "Name's Annika, my wife."
Turning the photo over, Sykes saw a date scrawled in pen. It was more than a year ago and nowhere near Halloween.
With a proud smirk, Todd couldn't help but enjoy the small victory. "Now you know why I need to know you're serious."
Still slightly in shock, he answered as best he could, "Uh...yes, yes, I'm serious..."
"I know about gargoyles, Abel, and I also know that gargoyle in the ambulance. She's a friend, she's innocent and that's why I tried to get her the hell out of Times Square before she was killed."
"Really..." he whispered. His eyes were still on the photograph; the couple, though mismatched, looked like they complimented each other very well.
"Her name is Katana." Todd continued despite the fact Abel seemed to be somewhere else. "She's mated to the leader of her clan, Brooklyn."
Sykes tore himself from the photo. With another connection just revealed, now he wore the same proud grin. Everything had a tendency to run in circles. "So, his name is Brooklyn." Sykes said triumphantly.
Todd opened his mouth. "What?"
"Why does everyone keep calling me that?"
"–I just came from one of our interrogation rooms where, right now, a brick-red, white-haired gargoyle was almost forced into revealing everything about his clan by a fellow FBI agent. He refused to give his name, and I think I now know why."
"Oh Jesus Christ..." He let his head fall limp, dangerously close to the bars. As much as he was relieved to hear that Brooklyn survived, he may have just hung the gargoyle out to dry.
Sykes held up a hand. "It's all right. We've already worked out a deal."
"And what's that?"
"I've offered to protect his clan if he's willing to tell me the truth. He may still be charged, but at least he'll spare the rest of the gargoyles the same fate."
"So I stole an ambulance and got myself arrested for nothing." Todd muttered.
"Not necessarily..." Sykes offered in commiseration, but there was that lingering hint of sarcasm that seemed out of place, up until he spoke again. "I probably never would have gotten his name if it weren't for you."
The expression he got in response was priceless. Abel knew Todd would probably strangle him if it weren't for the solid steel bars separating them, and took the opportunity to hold it over his head.
"Now, please tell me about your wife."
She'd already polished off two trays of hospital food; she particularly enjoyed the meat loaf and either the food here was improving, or she was incredibly hungry. Even the over-starched sheets and the lingering scent of disinfectant was a welcome sensation after a few weeks of being strung up by her wrists in a dungeon and beaten for any scrap of information.
It was nice to have somewhere to sleep horizontally; the Guild would usually keep her hanging from the ceiling for hours before allowing her to rest on the cold, steel floor.
But what Savannah wouldn't let herself believe was the fact that extended stay at Guild headquarters may have frightened her more than she ever imagined. If it weren't for the incessant murmur of doctors and patients outside the door, she might've had to make some kind of noise to keep her mind from constantly reeling back to every interrogation session where Guild agents would take turns pummeling her until she gave up and blabbed what little information she had. Singing, humming, banging her hand on the hospital bed's rails, anything to keep her overactive brain from sabotaging any hope of recovery. "Damnit..."
She shifted and rolled over, staring at the comatose Joseph Hawkins, or Mr. Black as he preferred to be called. He was there almost every time before he was injured, usually standing back asking the same question over and over again until he got a response. When she wouldn't answer or give him something he didn't think was satisfactory, he ordered his men to slap or punch her again. The urge welled up to visit a bit of revenge on his sleeping form, but beating a man in a coma was futile. And it might break their cover as man and wife when the wife would start mercilessly pummeling her betrothed with her bare fists.
"I don't know why I'm protecting you, bastard..." she whispered bitterly. "I suppose it's for that Hawkins kid, but I'm personally hoping the gargoyles want to get a piece of you before the cops do."
He breathed in response. From what she heard from the doctors, he could be unconscious for a good long while.
"She's bleeding into her abdomen! Heart rate is low and pressure is dropping! But I don't know if that's normal or not!"
"I think she may have an abnormal heartbeat! It almost sounds like a triple rhythm!"
A ruckus out in the hallway threw her attention away from the Guild leader and towards the door leading outside. A low rumbling filled the corridor and shadows flitted past the crack underneath the door. She heard voices.
"Breathing is erratic! She's going into shock!"
"Surgery room three is being prepped!"
A new patient was just rolled by her room on a stretcher, and by the sheer number of blurred forms rushing past the frosted window atop the door she figured this particular patient was either important or dying.
"If her physiology is similar, we have a better chance of repairing the damage! Let's just hope gargoyles are built like us!"
Savannah lifted her head from the pillow so quickly she nearly got a head-rush. "Gargoyle..." she whispered. Reporter instinct just kicked in, curiosity overriding everything else including her own health. "Sorry, Mr. Black, but you just don't make for interesting company." She pulled the IV tube from her arm, pulled back the covers and as soon as she hit the floor, remembered how weak she was. Her knees buckled and she had to grab the bed's rail before she collapsed. Spotting a wheelchair in the corner, she pushed her self from the bed and made it as far as halfway before hitting the linoleum. "Oof!"
She grimaced in pain and waited until she could catch her breath. With one arm in front of the other, she pulled her feeble body across the floor and into the wheelchair. Maneuvering towards the door she pulled it open only a few inches and peered through the slim crack out into the hall. The nurses' station at the end was practically deserted with all personnel helping out downstairs, which allowed her the chance to wheel into the hall and follow the voices without being bothered.
The signs above directed her to surgery room three, and all she had to do was follow the painted line on the floor. Whenever she heard a voice echoing down the hall, she'd back into a corner or into another patient's room until whomever it was passed by. After several twists and turns through sterile corridors, she came upon surgery room three, heralded by a simple door with a window currently out of her reach. She wheeled up, put on the brakes and strained to lift herself from the vinyl seat. Practically falling against the door, she shuffled to the side in case anyone heard her. But peering in, she knew everyone inside was a little too preoccupied to concern themselves with a set of extra eyes watching them scurrying around.
Amidst all the commotion she could see flashes of jade skin. Katana was being prepped for surgery.
"Damnit...I need a phone..."
Savannah looked over her shoulder to see a pair of cops marching down the hall towards her. They were obviously the guards for the very unusual patient the hospital had just admitted.
"This area's off-limits, ma'am."
"Oh," Savannah feigned confusion, "I-I'm a patient here and I was looking for a nurse and...and...ooooh..." She threw an arm across her forehead and slumped into the wheelchair.
They rushed to her side. "Are you all right?"
"Yes...yes...just weak..." She opened her eyes wide and pouted. "If you nice policemen could push me back to my room, I'd be so appreciative."
Her act garnered a kind smile. "Of course, ma'am, but from now on you have to stay out of this part of the hospital."
They didn't see the celebratory grin erupt on her face, nor did they know she'd already seen enough. "No problem."
"I hope you've got the proper authorization..."
"I do. The charges are being dropped with the offender's willingness to aid the FBI in a very important case."
He didn't quite like this, but he didn't have the authority to supercede an agent of the FBI. The duty cop unlocked the cell and pushed the heavy door away, watching as Todd strolled out with a nonchalant gait, rubbing his freedom in the cop's face.
He suddenly snapped his fingers while holding out his hand. "My stuff." Todd harrumphed.
The duty cop tightened his face at the tone and reluctantly handed over the kid's things.
"Thank you." he said, and flipped open his cell phone, checking for messages. "I hope you haven't rung up a huge bill..."
"Let's go, Hawkins." Sykes told him and started walking out.
Todd followed with his eyes on the cell phone's digital screen. With a flick of a few buttons he scrolled through the menus and grimaced. "Damn, Annika's called me four times..."
"Yeah, she's probably worried sick about the clan."
He threw out the word so casually, Sykes took notice. For a self-professed loner as long as he'd known him, he was speaking of the gargoyles with a certain familiarity. "You talk about them like they were family."
Todd followed Abel back into the heart of the police station, and became aware of the stares he attracted. Apparently the tension was high and anyone with even a remote association with anything gargoyle was immediately put under intense scrutiny. Todd Hawkins usually didn't like cops that much owing to his history; it wasn't anything personal, considering some of his closest friends were all New York detectives, but he still felt a little uneasy with so many well-armed police officers eying him (probably due to the fact he gave a medic a concussion, tried to steal an ambulance and was walking around free in spite of it).
"Agent Sykes!" a voice called out over the noise. The station captain clambered through the crowd and caught Sykes by the arm. He was a burly man, with a thick moustache that nearly obscured his mouth. There was the hint of cigar smoke and nicotine gum about him. "Agent Sykes, as much as I appreciate your help, this young man's been charged with assault and auto-theft."
"I know," he said, "but he had a good reason, I assure you."
"A good reason? Does this have to do with the gargoyle?"
Sykes fudged before answering and looked at Todd. "Somewhat."
But Todd had his attention elsewhere; having skimmed the crowd it wasn't hard to catch the flame-red of Iliana Starr's hair. He saw Maria Chavez standing next to her, the captain flexing anxious hands. "Hey..." he remarked absentmindedly, and immediately, Maria started shaking her head. Todd recoiled with the stern look. She obviously had a reason to keep her anonymity intact for now.
"We've got incoming!" someone yelled from the main doors. "The escort has just pulled up."
The station captain immediately pulled his interest away from the boy and towards the doors. "Is the corridor set up?"
An officer nodded from his place near the entrance. "We've got the tunnel up. Those goddamn reporters won't be able to take any pictures through canvas tarp."
A corridor made of aluminum pipes and heavy canvas tarp covering the structure snaked its way from the doors to the street twelve steps below. This way, no one from behind the police barricades, including the droves of reporters with cameras at the ready, could see the gargoyles arriving. The armored van made its way through the crowd and rumbled up to the corridor's edge, and the SWAT teams opened the doors to allow the gargoyles out.
Othello poked his head out first and his cold expression was enough to give them all a wide berth. The clan started out one by one, limping and nursing wounds. They were both physically and emotionally exhausted, wrapped in gauze and bandages provided by one of the drivers of the van that'd delivered them here.
Lexington hopped out and, first struck by the sight and number of armed policemen lining the insides of the makeshift corridor, he slowly started up the stairway in between them, leading the clan. He could see the flashbulbs going off between the sections of tarp, the reporters beyond obviously trying to get any shot worth the money of whoever had arrived via armored van and police escort. On entering the station, the clan huddled in the lobby under the weight of all the stares directed their way.
Othello was the biggest of the group and even with the permanently etched scowl and the compound bow strung over his shoulder, didn't garner more attention than the rest. Angela, Desdemona, Delilah and their sister were drawing their share of wide-eyed stares and whispered comments. The sister had transformed back to her usual skin texture and dull color. She didn't have any idea how it happened, but she assumed it was an automatic response to the fact she was out of danger. Her heart rate had slowed, adrenaline production was leveling off and her body returned itself to normal.
Todd breathed a sigh of relief, and then he, Maria and Iliana all stared dumbfounded at the clan's recently returned clan member.
Gawking as intently as everyone else, Sykes shook himself from the near-catatonic state and stepped forward. "Ah...hello." he said, in lieu of a more formal greeting. "I'm FBI special agent Abel Sykes." He extended his hand to the group, but all he got in return were a few anxious glares.
The clan was understandably nervous. They'd just been pulled from battle only to be delivered into the heart of a police station surrounded by equally nervous cops and their heavy weaponry.
The small one came forward, hunched on all fours. His right wing was damaged and his large eyes were fixed on him, almost uncomfortably so. What Sykes didn't know was that he was being examined in infrared, the cybernetic implants checking his vital signs, heart rate and temperature to detect the slightest hint of deception. "Are you the one who helped us?" he said at length.
He nodded. "I am."
The gargoyle lifted from his hands and took Sykes' arm in a warrior's shake. "Then we're grateful for your help. My name is Lexington."