Author's Note 1: Just a little diddy of information. Wizard magazine has recently rated Gargoyles no. 29 out of the 100 best cartoons of all time. And I quote, "Slick animation and moody atmospherics highlighted this un-Disneylike Disney 'toon, which also featured dark symbolism that may have gone over the kiddie's heads."

Author's Note 2: I'm now on AOL instant messenger as well (The Barracuda 69), so drop me a line whenever I'm online…wait, yeah…that's right.

68 - To Find Your Place

February 18th, 2002
Sapphire blue blends to twilight amber, and the harsh world soften it's edges just enough, to allow the serenity of evening to calm burdened hearts. Above the concrete-bidden earth, an island of iron and steel, and beyond the range of limited human sight, lay the castle of the sky seemingly suspended on a cloud-formed skiff set adrift in the river of starlight, as the Spring fog collected to the Eyrie's highest floors. And where a family prepared to bid their comrades farewell, the fitted stones holding upon their surface a sleek, black aircraft, it's design and styling as if stolen from a future time.

A crimson warrior, with a mane of long, silver hair, walked along the craft's side, trailing his talons across the surface, seeing his reflection distort with the flared curves, air intakes, and exhaust ports. He had seen such craft in his travels to beyond this timeline, this world, and now found where the inspiration born years from now had perhaps originated. Brooklyn took a moment to admire the CY.O.T.I. aircraft, his appreciation for vehicles of any kind overwhelmingly so, to lure his attention from the others and place it upon the transport vessel holding itself on the Wyvern landing pad.

"Shall I leave you two alone, my love?" Sata mused, strolling through the gathered crowd and coming up quietly behind her mate, seeing him caress the raven metal hide as a lover would to his chosen consort.

"You know nothing could come between you and I, Sata dearest," Brooklyn joked, without a bother to turn and allow her jest the power of his angered expression, "except for my motorbike."

Sata frowned, her courtly features hardened by a playful scowl. "You mean that incomplete skeleton left abandoned in the parking garage, and surrounded by it's own greasy parts?"

"Ah yes, my third child." He grinned, turning back to the jade gargess. "And a hell of a lot more obedient than Bonnie and Clyde in there…" He pointed a thumb towards the castle interior, where he knew both Ariana and Graeme were most likely wreaking more havoc within Wyvern's walls. "I think the best thing about having kids is when you get to leave them behind."

"Perhaps…" Sata smiled, and moved closer, her hips teased with a seductive saunter, curling up against Brooklyn's chest and at last drawing his attention to her and her alone. "But now we have an entire week just to ourselves."

"And the entire Ishimura clan." He amended.

An emerald hide flushed then flushed near-dawn with excitement. "I was both surprised, and delighted, Todd and Annika chose Japan for their honeymoon." Sata beamed, reliving memories of her homeland and thrilled at the chance to once more grace it's shores. "Do you remember when you first arrived in Ishimura?" she cooed, winding her lithe fingers into the sterling lengths of his hair.

"How could I forget?" Brooklyn replied, bearing down on Sata's delicious scarlet lips, inviting and flavored of rose. "They had kick-ass egg rolls."

Her eyes widened as Brooklyn hovered over her, the passion of the intimate moment shattered with an ill-timed jest, and she curled her mouth into an abrasive snarl, though surprisingly, only serving to further add to her allure. "You have a silver tongue to match your hair, Brooklyn-san," she wrenched him closer with her talons, her sweet breath wafting seductively over his flesh in the evening air, "you would take great care…or I shall cut it from your head with my blade."

"I love it when you talk like that." They embraced, Sata lifting a foot and curling her clawed toes in the sheer power of the kiss passed to her lips.

"Hey!" A shrill howl forcefully pulled the timedancers apart, and both stared bewildered towards where Todd had rushed from the castle with several bags aloft his shoulders. "There's only one couple that is going to be having mind-blowing sex on this vacation!" He and Annika both approached the aircraft, dumping their suitcases onto the snow-covered stones. "And that's us!!"

Sata released from her mate, embarrassed in being caught in such a situation, fixing the fallen hem of her kimono from baring more jade flesh to roving eyes than she wished. "Hawkins-san, Annika, are you sure you do not mind us coming with you on your honeymoon?" she then asked, wary of their allowance to travel with the newlyweds to the island nation of the far East. "We do not wish to be in your way on such a special time."

Todd shrugged impassively. "No problem. You won't even see us anyway."

She tilted her head to an odd angle, with Brooklyn already having picked up on Todd's meaning. "Why not?"

"Because we're going to be locked in a room having sex all night and every night."

"Then why go all the way to Japan?" Sata inquired.

"Because we've never done it in Japan. Der." Todd looked to Annika for confirmation, the dawn-tinted gargess appearing as confused as her new husband in Sata's seeming inability to understand such a simple concept. "Man," he wrapped an arm around his wife, forming a foolish smile, "I can't wait…an entire week of pure sex. You brought the Sailor Moon costume, right?"

Annika nodded, and nudged one of the suitcases with her taloned foot. "You brought your cape?"

"Oh yeah."

"Then we're all set." She rapped a few times on CY.O.T.I.'s steel skin, the near-sentient aircraft immediately opening it's side door with a bare hiss of the hydraulic locking mechanisms. She heaved the bags into the interior compartment, with one releasing it's zipper somewhat with the forceful landing, and spilling a few of it's contents. "Whoops." Annika whispered, picking from the stones a leather riding crop and a pair sterling steel handcuffs. "Can't forget these…"

"That's sick, man…" Brooklyn wheezed, watching as Todd cocked his eyebrows and rubbed his hands together fiendishly, his body almost quivering in the anticipation.


"The body was male, definitely," she whispered, her voice subdued, bereaved, a far cry from what festivity reigned above, "but until we get a positive match to the dental records, we won't know for sure."

"But," Elisa looked up, her eyes apparent with a receptive glint, seeing Iliana bow her gaze of Persian ice away, "you pretty much have a good idea of who it is…"

Iliana sighed, as if in pain, as if she had suffered a physical wound to her form. Her eyes drooped to the reports and files held in lavender fingernails, where gruesome photographs stared back at her, unnerving the young detective and churning the bile within her stomach. "The body's decomposition rate has been narrowed down to three weeks, the same amount of time that…Maguire has been missing."

Elisa's lips pursed, and she seethed, "A cop. One of our own." Both detectives remained silent upon the mention of the name, though not a close friend, still a comrade in arms, who like them, risked his life each and every night to protect those who sometimes could not protect themselves.

"To be dumped into the East river like that…with a single bullet hole through the head…" Iliana wheezed, tracing delicate fingers over the photograph, of the corpse once a living breathing human with dreams perhaps unfulfilled.

"Execution style." Elisa added grimly. "Same as Tony Dracon last week. Damn…"

"But…you want to know the really scary thing?"

"I know. Maguire was part of the old gargoyle task force."

"This is the reason I came here tonight. Is this a simple coincidence? Or something more?"

Elisa instantly started shaking her head, her great strength of will and determination unwilling to submit to perhaps her greatest fear, retribution through simple association with anything gargoyle. "Let's not turn this into something bigger than it already is. We have no suspect, no motive…and no proof the reason Maguire was killed just for that…that one reason."


"No." Elisa cut her short, playing upon her superiority in rank. "First we get a positive I.D., then we look for a killer. And the motive."

Iliana nodded, and slipped the photographs back into the envelope, possibly a vain attempt to forget they even existed, yet still haunted was she by the memory refusing to release it's forceful hold. "Yeah…"

Elisa flicked out her hand, splaying supple fingers and carved nails, checking the time on her watch and raising her brow in the discovery. "Damnit, they're going to leave soon." She stood up, pulling on her coat, the worn crimson leather slipping around her like an old, reassuring friend. "Come on, we'd better go." Her eyes found their way searchingly across the expanse of royal blue, where another doorway, an arched frame of fitted Scottish stone and modern steeled beams beneath, remained nearly closed with the sliding door, and where a small child played blissfully beyond. "Trinity." Elisa called to her daughter softly, garnering a sweep of ebon tendril and chocolate passed to her own dark gaze. "Come on, baby, we have to go say goodbye to Todd and Annika."

The hybrid hopped from her bed and fluttered into the main bedroom, an exhaustible amount of energy stored contained within such a diminutive form. She ran past Elisa and Iliana, and stormed out the main doors into the labyrinthine corridors of her home.

Elisa smiled, placing the murder victim far from her foremost thoughts for now, an oft-necessary ability when those of the badge returned home to resume what remained of their normal lives. "Come on, 'Ana, before the squirt takes off in the elevator by herself."

"Yeah…" the redhead sighed wistfully, though impressed by Elisa's natural ability to shelter her pain deep inside.

"Problem?" Elisa asked as they traveled the hall towards where Trinity waited impatiently in front of the elevator doors, standing on her toes to reach for and jab her tiny hand onto the lighted button.

"No." she lied outright.

"I'm sure you're tired," Elisa guessed, seeing what fatigue settled on her younger friend's features, "and I'm sure you'd want to get home and get some rest. Let the others take care of this…you've done your part."

"Yeah, going home…" Iliana whispered as she trailed behind Elisa, having captured her daughter and lifting the tiny gargess into the air before she had the chance to escape into the elevator cab. "Where anyone in the crowd can yell at me or laugh at me about those pictures when I travel the sidewalks and subway, and when I do finally reach my place, it's tiny, cramped…and lonely…"

"What was that, 'Ana?"



"Well, are going or not?!" Todd yelled, loading into the aircraft the last of his bags, the turbines powering up with a hauntingly luminescent glow spread across the vents in both the wings, a plume of molten fire awaiting the command to unleash into the open air.

"We're coming…" Brooklyn drawled, helping Sata into the passenger compartment, as the lights flickered on, the powerful computer-driven entity being roused to life with the promise of flight and the chance to touch it's wings to the sky.

"Have a great time, Annika." said Angela, releasing her friend from a bracing hug.

"Give Kai and the others our best." Goliath rumbled, holding Trinity to his massive shoulder, the young child waving frantically to the departing gargoyles, hoping she would be seen.


"Huh?" Todd looked deep into the crowd, heeding the rasped summons over the ghostly hum of the engines, and as Shadow appeared from the darkness, he eyed the ninja swathe quickly to the aircraft's side. "Shadow?"

"I was wondering…" He then paused, a question so difficult to ask to anyone, let alone the young man now enjoying the twist. "I was wondering if I could join you."

Todd crossed his arms and leaned into a comfortable stance against the doorframe, he now having the rare advantage of having the ninja ask him for such a favor. "We offered," he chided his friend, "but you said no."

Shadow knitted his brow, and ran his fanged teeth together. "A choice made…hastily, as I did not want to risk spoiling your retreat, but…now, it seems as if…a rare chance to return to my homeland."

Todd smirked, and crossed eyes of sterling gray and tinted sapphire towards him. "All right. Hop in. But," he stopped, ensuring his control in force of tone, "I get the window seat!"

As Shadow bowed to show his gratitude, Iliana, standing next to Goliath and Elisa, perked up, her eyes at last shedding the despondency and showing a glimmer of life. She watched with great interest and womanly admiration the dark warrior lifting six hundred pounds effortlessly into the aircraft with but a quick hop, his muscles bursting even with such a small exertion, and his wings folding in and scraping against the metal sides. She leaned over to roam her gaze across the expanse of CY.O.T.I.'s rear section, where the cargo ramp sealed into place with an invisible seam between the wing struts. She noticed another door, leading into the rear cabin on the far side, and instantly, did her mind wrap around a wicked idea, her frosted lips thinning into a smile crafted of defiance.


Nearly thirty two thousand feet over the ocean waves cruised the sleek aircraft, the crescent moon suspended within the sable drapery, caressing it's light upon the barren sea stretched out beyond the horizon in every direction, a darkened, sterile environment, lit only by what lay in the heavens above. The starlight sparkled across CY.O.T.I.'s metal hide, ripping asunder the atmosphere by four powerful engines embedded in both the wings and rear fuselage, and tearing away whatever deemed itself powerful or daring enough to brave direct contact with the razor-sharp aerodynamic curves. Stray clouds, tiny droplets of mist screeching across the skin for barely a second, and only to be thrown mercilessly back into the air.

And inside the smoke-tinted windows of the cockpit, sat Brooklyn and Sata, the Japanese samurai settled comfortably into the right seat with a large, leather-bound book, enthralled by the written word and allowing the five-hour journey to pass quickly within the periphery of her tale.

Brooklyn though suffered, drowsily eyeing each bead of water cross the sheer-strengthened plexi-glass and whisk away. "How long, CY.O.T.I.?" he whispered, smothering a yawn of boredom in the passage lasting far too long for his preference, perhaps ironically spoiled by the Phoenix gate years before.

"We are traveling at a comfortable mach two, and should reach Japan in less than two hours." the mechanical drone of the artificial intelligence answered in Xanatos' dry tone, seeming to come from anywhere and everywhere, surrounding his person with the cold of technology come to life. "Just before the sun is due to rise in Ishimura." Another silent pause, as he closed his eyes and leaned back into the pilot's chair. "By the way, Brooklyn…I have an itch."

The beaked gargoyle lifted his head to the odd assertion. "Pardon me?"

"Rear section, overhead panel six." CY.O.T.I. answered back, a lighted panel displaying the exacting schematics. "I have an itch. Please scratch it."

Brooklyn studied the screen and lifted himself from the glowing menagerie of controls, entering into the main compartment, where Todd and Annika huddled together on the long bench, staring dreamily out the window and seeing the moonlit ocean crests peak far below them as the craft streaked past. Shadow sat cross-legged on the far side, seemingly adrift in his meditation, and lost in the deep link to his soul, a perhaps futile cleansing of what plagued him, what threatened to tear him apart. "Shadow." The ninja tipped up his chin, and opened deep mahogany to the Wyvern second. "Walk with me."

"As you wish."

Brooklyn continued into the rear cabin, tapping the control panel to gain access. The door slid away with such speed as to move Brooklyn's perfect strands from their place. He entered cautiously, unknowing of what to expect from CY.O.T.I.'s cryptic message. Shadow slipped in after him, his senses now screaming, and an aroma present that was so powerful and distinct as to rouse suspicion when at last released from the sealed compartment. "The panel's over…"

"Here." Shadow finished for him, the dark warrior led directly to the panel in question by the familiar scent.

Brooklyn sniffed the air, attracted by what had piqued Shadow's curiosity. "Is that…perfume?"

"Yes." he rasped. "And I know just who's…" He studied the panel, a large, jutting compartment at eye level with a surface smooth to the touch, as Shadow caressed his talontips over the titanium skin. And suddenly, with an open palm, he rapped upon the panel forcefully, and the hatch popped open.

"Hey!!" She fell to the floor at Shadow's feet, her features disguised by the flailing strands of ruby fire, and struggled to regain her footing. A pile was formed of stolen junk food from the small fridge in the room's corner, and as Iliana sucked in the licorice Twizzler hanging from her mouth, she rubbed a hand through her hair, over the forming bruise. "Ouch…"


She looked up sheepishly, seeing from a new perspective the dark warrior towering over her. He reached down and pulled her to her feet with a single thrust, and now bore down on her with accusing eyes. "Hi…Shadow…Brooklyn…"

"What are you doing here?" he demanded, a reproving anger flooding his slightly accented rasp.

"Well…I just thought, you know…I could use a vacation…and I've never been to Japan before…" She paused, content in her explanation as Shadow continued staring, using the awkward silence to further press her, and she held out as long as possible. Until eventually, she cracked under his intense scrutiny, the power exuded from his chestnut gaze hypnotic. "Okay! All right…I just wanted…to get away for a while…besides numerous other things, I'm getting a little too 'well known' around Manhattan for my tastes…"

"You could have just asked." Brooklyn drawled, closing the panel and suppressing a sigh.

"Not my style."

Brooklyn could not help but to nod his agreement. "And how the hell did she get in here without your so-called upgraded security system alerting us?" Brooklyn snapped, this time directing his furied voice towards where the holographic representation of CY.O.T.I. swirled from cold oblivion and appeared with a pompous facade.

"Miss Starr has sufficient security clearance to board my person, just not handle the controls." it answered calmly. "And besides, you never asked."

Brooklyn chewed on his lip to keep the annoyance brimming just beneath well inside. "Damn, I hate machines sometimes…especially ones programmed with Xanatos' flippant sarcasm."

"So," Iliana started, throwing off her thick, leather jacket and flopping down onto the massive bed adorning the rear quarters, "since you've ruined my surprise, can I stay?"

"I say we throw her out the door." Brooklyn joked, with Shadow crossing his arms.

She batted her lashes seductively towards the ninja, and stole another piece of licorice from the bag. "I'll share my treats." She waved the confection in front of Shadow's watchful eyes, hoping to break through the iced fascia with her charm, and the promise of a taste of strawberry, and perhaps more. "All of them…"

Though not too terribly upset at this sudden upheaval in their travel arrangements, he still was wary of her friendship, for she seemed to enjoy coming on strong towards him. "We presently have no choice, Iliana." Shadow relented, taking the candied strand colored a sweet blood red between his talons. "If you do not cause anymore trouble, I am sure Todd and Annika will have no objections."

"Kick ass!!" She jumped up and nearly touched the ceiling in her excitement, her scream of joy unleashed at last echoing throughout the entire aircraft. "We're going to Japan, baby!! Of course, Chavez is going to be pissed off…"


It crept low over the tree line to avoid detection in the swelling light, the automatic piloting system detecting the even the slightest of winds thrown against the metal hide from the hills beyond to allow it the best chance for a smooth landing. They had reached the Japanese isle within seconds of CY.O.T.I.'s given computation, and the craft ducked low and twisted between massive, soaring trees while heading quickly towards the small village of Ishimura and home to the Japanese clan. "Slowing to one hundred kph." CY.O.T.I. droned, as the entire group gathered into the cockpit, seeing the emerald brush blur beneath them even at this low speed. "Ishimura temple…located. Deploying landing gear…slowing to thirty kph."

As the curved spires and feudal embellishment of the temple loomed into view, the craft noticeably lurched to a stop above the landing area used once before, a cloak of yellowing meadow brush and towering tree to conceal the futuristic craft. The exhaust ports let loose a tempest of air as the craft touched down softly, stirring the forest floor into a frenzy of dust and debris. When settled, CY.O.T.I. opened it's side door and allowed the travelers to peer out into the forested area near the temple.

Todd poked his head out, and looked around guardedly, wary of this environment far too quiet for a man bred in New York City. "Where is everyone?" he whispered to his wife, the gargess beside him spellbound by what she never had been witness to.

"Greetings." came a quiet reply to their side. Startled, the group all craned their necks to see a lone figure caressing a hand across the craft's nose. Skin of creamy pale pink, she glanced her eyes from the aircraft towards the group now staring back at her. She waved away her long black strands and settled them behind her spurred brow, dusting her kimono of the remnants of soil from the landing. She was of Japanese descent, and strikingly beautiful, seemingly formed from molten gold. "I bid you welcome to Ishimura."

"Hello, Riko." Brooklyn said, the first to touch his feet to the soft ground with Sata directly behind him.

"Brooklyn-san. Sata-chan." She bowed to show her respect from one second to another, and an ancestor brought back to her home. And as she peeked beyond their shoulders to see the others disembarking, a fascination apparent in her dark eyes of the strangers inhabiting her lands, she smiled softly and amiably. "And where is the newly-mated couple?"

"Right here." Todd swept up and offered his hand to the surprised gargoyle, his forwardness nearly throwing her off guard, as did his blinding smile. "Todd Hawkins, and this is my wife…er, mate, Annika."

"It is very nice to meet you both." She took both their hands, and inspected her guests of honor, unused to seeing human and gargoyle together, especially in wedded bliss. "I have heard so much about you…Mr. Hawkins."

"Damnit! Even in Japan! Why does everyone keep calling me that?!"

She concealed the laughter brimming from her throat, and winked to Annika, then found yet another couple unloading from the craft, a massive dark-skinned gargoyle lifting a smaller human to the ground, depositing her with great care. "And who…is that?" she whispered.

"That's Shadow Minamoto. And our stowaway, detective Iliana Starr."

Riko stared in utter surprise the dark warrior approach, and bow. She roamed her eyes to his features, his weaponry and garment, his very mannerisms speaking a language she fully understood. "You…are of this land." she spoke with broken words, Shadow's presence unnerving her.

"Hai. That I am, Riko-chan." Shadow rasped, thinning his brow at the uncertainty she presented.

"Those are…interesting marks you carry." she said, walking through the gathered and tracing the tattoos just above his flesh with an interest unlike that any have taken before in the fiery brands, four brightly burning Japanese symbols etched in dark skin.

Yet suddenly, a sweep of crimson hair ducked into her view, effectively separating Riko from the ninja. "Hi there." she hissed, concealing beneath the disguise of amicability a hostile growl, and a sense to defend what territory she deemed as hers. "Iliana Starr."

"Oh…" She stepped back in alarm, recollecting her composure and the task at hand. "Please do not misconstrue my intentions…" she laughed quietly in seeing the rage of jealousy flare in the human's sapphire eyes. "It is just…I have seen these markings before…and it was not my intention to come between you and…your mate?"

"I assure you," Shadow broke through quickly to sway Riko's mistaken belief, "Iliana is NOT my mate."

Riko batted her eyes at Shadow's rushed assertion and even Iliana's hostile body language, the human crossing her arms and sighing. "Hmmm…please accept my apologies. Come, my friends. I would like you to meet the others before dawn arrives."


A long, serpentine trail of placed stones carved through the grasslands had led them to the walls of Ishimura temple, where had stood for centuries as home to the gargoyles. Riko opened the massive wooden gates to allow the travelers a glimpse into the courtyard of her home, lit by the growing light and shattered beams of sun barely peeking over the misted horizon. It was a sanctuary from the world where gargoyle and human lived in peace, this temple, where serenity and calm reigned. A few winged beings were present as the group walked through towards the main building, hushed whispers passing through the Japanese gargoyles at the Wyvern clan.

Sata filled her eyes of four hundred years of history left nearly unchanged, seeing the courtyard where she would play as a young hatchling. Though a sapling now a massive oak, and clean and faultless walls cracked and tarnished with the flow of time. "Home." Brooklyn noticed the saddened luster to her almond eyes, and swathed a soothing hand across cool jade. She noticed his firm grip, and squeezed back.

"Riko?" The doors ahead of them swung open, the metal hinges emitting a soft whine to alert the others. A massive green-skinned gargoyle appeared from the shadows of the temple, followed by what seemed to be the entirety of the Ishimura clan. His kind, trusting eyes appeared to settle on each member of the travelers, and lastly, Shadow. "Ah. Greetings. I am Kai, leader of clan Ishimura. Welcome…to our home."

As both Sata and Shadow bowed, Brooklyn nudged an elbow into Todd's midsection and forced the young man with but a brutal glance to show his respect. He did so with an exasperated sigh, with Annika and Iliana following suit.

"It is good to see you again as well, young Jade." he said softly to Sata, bowing at the waist, and seeing his predecessor's steeled skin at last blemish with the slightest hint of rose, an ancient name bestowed upon the gargoyle who embarked on a journeyed within a massive ball of flame. "Come. It is nearly dawn, and we must rest. Full introductions will be made tonight. Hawkins-san, Starr-chan, your bedrooms have been prepared inside. You'll be shown the way by young Mai here." He waved a hand towards a young girl, barely twelve years of age, and she too gestured inside.

Todd wrinkled his brow at the alacrity of Kai's arrangements, then shrugged and kissed his wife goodnight, he and Iliana soon following the girl inside to find their rooms. The others guided the gargoyles to the parapets and allowed them each a place to greet the sun. The sphere of fire rose, and formed a prison of stone around them, allowing another day to pass.


"Minamoto. The name sounds…very familiar." Kai mused, clenching the ninja's hand into his own, a grip stronger than most.

"A family of human origin and ancestry." Shadow replied, standing as tall as the flared-wing leader, sensing a dissecting eye set upon him. "I was raised by perhaps the last surviving member of a clan who can trace their roots back two thousand years."

"Interesting tattoos…"

Shadow then lost what smile had curled his lips, worn when awaking and being introduced to the entire Ishimura clan, and perhaps now realizing he was to be treated differently than the rest. "Thank you." he growled beneath his breath, the sarcasm clearly apparent to all.

Kai could sense his hostility present even in the ninja's thinned eyes, and a wildly lashing tail erupting in jagged spurs near the tapered end. But the wearer of the brands, those that brought disquiet to his heart, was not to be trusted. "Please, friends," he then turned to the others, feigning cordiality within his tone, "there is a feast being prepared in your honor. If you will follow me to the dining room, we can be," he shot a pointed look to the ninja, "better acquainted."

Shadow clenched both his hands, and continued behind the rest as they followed Kai's lead, drawing a single talon over his glowing brands. And Yama, the tall, lanky gargoyle always possessed of a bitter approach, stared vehemently, birthing a crafted smile in Kai's treatment to this stranger claiming origin in his country.


"I do not know what you seem to see when looking at Shadow, Kai-sama," Sata tried her truest weapon when catching Kai's ear, that of her eloquence and friendship, striking as true as her blade, "but I can assure you, he is of a good heart. He has proven himself worthy and just on many occasions."

"What Goliath has conferred to me in our monthly conferences, once allowed me to see him as a noble gargoyle, but…I wonder…" he paused, and faced Sata with mottled eyes. "Do the others know that the left side of his chest has been imprinted with the ancient Japanese symbols for war, and death?"

Sata physically winced, and furrowed her slender brow, a fact undisputable of her kinsman in country, and something she could not deny. "But the right side, the symbols for peace, and life. A soul torn between two worlds, two sides waging a battle within him. We are all constantly at war within ourselves, Kai-sama…as is Shadow. He is plagued by a hurtful past, and actions he has committed but kept to himself."

"But is he strong enough…to keep this darkness from devouring his heart?"

Sata smiled. "I believe so."


"Man, this is friggin' awesome! What is it?"

"I think it's fried squid."

Todd then froze when hearing his wife tell him the true identity of what he had been served, studying intently the cooked morsel held between the chopsticks. He held the last piece chewed within his throat, now discerning the long, curled foodstuff wrapped around the wooden implement as perhaps a tentacle. "Oh well…" He continued blindly in his feast, blissfully unaware of the exotic foods he was being subjected to, with Annika across from him struggling with the chopsticks yet again.

"Damnit. I hate these things…" she muttered, forced to yet again stab at her food with a single stick.

"Here." A taloned hand of glowing flame reached out to her, and Annika lifted sapphire eyes to Sakura, a female gargess with shoulder length hair and an edged countenance fronting two massive spurs curling up and over her head. "A gift."

Annika smiled and gladly took the fork from Sakura's hands, relieved in being freed from the eating utensils so radically different from what she was used to, and those that always served to make her look the fool. "Thank god."

"Hey, Takashi!" Todd yelled out towards an enormous, scarlet-skinned behemoth, the preparer of the meal, in laughable comparison to Broadway. "What the hell is this?"

He waddled over on massive paws, and thinned his eyes towards Todd's plate, and the food in question. "It is wasabi."

Todd perked up, and cocked a brow towards the gargoyle, a fire lit. "Did you say…wasabi?"

"Yes, wasabi."

"Wasaaaabi." echoed Todd in an odd emphasis, with Annika instantly peering up from her meal, dreading what was certainly to come next.

"Wasabi?" another repeated further down the table.


"Wasabi!" It continued on relentlessly, these gargoyles seemingly abreast of the latest fads, though Yama, near the end of the table, almost alone, sneered in the game.





BANG!!! The entire room came to a silent standstill as Annika pounded a balled fist to the shortened wooden table, with enough force to rattle the cups of mint tea and stir the bronze liquid within. "Stop that!" she chided her husband, her eyes simmering with an annoyance taken to its limits.

"Sorry, couldn't resist." Todd whispered, having been effectively scolded into submission. "I just wanted to get that in before the whole Whassup craze disappears forever like the Macarena."

"You're going to destroy the peaceful little village of humans and gargoyles here with just your sense of humor…is that clock right?"

"Yes, Annika-chan," answered Riko, kneeling beside her at the long table where the entire clan had sat down to a prepared feast in their honor shortly after awakening, "why?"

"It's eight, handsome. Time to start having relentless sex."

"Oh boy." Todd flipped out from underneath the table, taking great care to allow the fluttering folds of his kimono to float free, and grabbed an egg roll to take with him. He skipped over to his wife, she too robed in a silk frock to match her husband, though hers longer. Todd lifted her from her feet, and carried the golden-haired gargoyle down the hall and to their private room.

"How odd." Riko mentioned idly while leaning over and watching until the newly married couple had slipped from sight, with the others nodding in agreement with her assertion.

"Americans." Sakura responded, and the entire clan seemed satisfied in the rationalization.


He swept through the door with vigor in his step, his heart pounding with the promise of pleasure within the arms of his new wife. Todd grunted slightly as he slammed shut the heavy wooden gate of their guestroom with just his foot, his balance nearly lost with the added weight of a relaxed Annika held securely in his embrace. She nibbled contentedly on the given half of her egg roll, floating across the floor and enjoying the sight of her husband's features contorting, the young man struggling somewhat with the two hundred and fifty pounds of her gargoyle girth.

"Careful now, husband." she chided him playfully, a sensual tone released into the breadth of his neck. "Or you might drop me."

Todd forced down the growl forming within his throat, this one time burying the smart remark always on the tip of his tongue deep into his chest, lest he spoil the mood in the midst of their honeymoon.

"Careful…slowly…don't jostle me…"

It would not last, as he approached the oaken frame of the room's massive berth, piled high with hand-woven quilts and animal skins provided graciously by their hosts, and dumped his wife face down into the soft furs. "Whoops." he joked, as she turned over and shot a scowl towards him. "I jostled you."

Her wings billowed, the membranes opening to their full span of creamy rose from underneath the raven kimono, as he passed along a deep kiss delicately to her lips, delving his hands into the invitingly honeyed strands of platinum, swathing the purest of silk through his fingertips and smiling in the softness. She birthed a gentle laughter as Todd opened slightly the folds of her kimono and kissed down her chest, emitting a deep, husky snarl as the gargess burrowed deeper into the skins of Bengal tiger and mountain sheep. He stopped though, suddenly and inexplicably, when reaching a laced fold between her breasts, the material warm to the touch through the heat exuding from her skin of sunset tint and fire rose. Annika spurred him on with but a suggestive cock of her brow, and a lean smile, licking her tongue over her fangs.

He untied the silk kimono scarf around her waist, and pulled the robe away. "Holy…" he gasped in a bare whisper, discovering not bare skin as expected, but an ivory trail of lace and garter taken form as a white satin Merry Widow. Her large breasts were just barely contained by a tightly-laced teddy, the lingerie completed with a frill-edged garter around her left thigh, and matching gartered hose extending down her legs allowing only her taloned toes to poke through. "…shit."

"C'mere." Annika snaked her arms around his neck and pulled him close with talons rending soft human flesh, pressing her sharpened fangs into the delicate skin just below his ear. Her tail aggressively snapped around his waist, ensuring his subservience to her smoldering desire and the fever burning through her arteries. "Now it's time to have some fun…"

"Let the games begin. RUFF!!!"


February 20th
It was a warmer night than most, the coming autumn season without power to bring forth gusting winds and frigid temperatures, allowing the clan to revel in the fading vestiges of their summer. Sitting undisturbed on the parapets of her home, a precarious poise, she skimmed her nose across the wafting vapor of cinnamon, seeing her black eyes reflected in the surface of her tea.

"Riko." a young gargoyle inquired of her second, stepping vigilantly and with great care upon the wall's peak. "How do you fare, second?"

"Well, young one. Have you finished your patrol of the Eastern wall?"

"Yes, though there is no sign of the intruder."

"He has not come tonight. Perhaps it is a good omen."

"Were we wise to allow the Wyvern clan refuge here?" she then asked, her long, raven hair played by the breeze. "With the recent…break-ins we have suffered?"

"Neither Kai or I will allow this kaitou to disrupt our lives." Riko stated adamantly. "And it is not every day we celebrate another human and gargoyle coupling. We will defend our temple and say nothing to our guests."

"Speaking of our guests…" she said once more, standing with a purpose more than idle chatter, yet held silently within her heart, and timidly curling the winding braid draped upon her slim shoulders impulsively around her hand. "Where is the one they call…Shadow?"

Riko smiled in her younger sister's inquiry, the adolescent, like most of the unmated women here, quite enamored by the new arrival to their temple, he of spurred wing and skin of evening ebony setting aflame their passion, even more so with their leader's suspicion of him. "I believe he is in the dojo, Miika-chan," she whispered over the rising steam of her tea, "sparring with a few others. Why do you ask, my sister?"

She was trapped by her own tongue and youthful infatuation, a gargoyle swathed in a creamy flesh of an ocean cerulean turning red in her embarrassment. "I…only wondered…"

"Of course."

"Why is Kai so mistrustful of him?"

She turned, and looked upon the younger female with raven tarn. "I truly do not know…it is as if he recognizes something within the ninja…something he does not like…"


Miika shuddered as the scream echoed out and into the courtyard, as if an animal had cast it's last throes of life from its breast. "What was that?!" she screamed, nearly losing her balance upon the wall's towering summit.

"I believe it was Annika." Riko answered calmly, sipping her tea. "She and Todd have not come out from their quarters since the meal last eve."



"Hmmm. Perhaps we should move them to the stables on the far side of the temple…"


Sweat poured from her, satin beads slipping from her glistening form and onto the sheets, a humid, sultry warmth soaking into the fabric and affixing them to her body. Todd lay on top of her, between her spread thighs, rocking back and forth in the carnal rythym both desired, their flesh intermingled and aflame, and searing with rising steam from such exertion. Like the thunder, and sapphire lightning erupting from gathered storm clouds, they made love to each other as husband and wife should, as lord and lady summoning from their loins a tempest.

He lay the softest of kisses, and the most feral of wounds to her neck and chest, suckling on the sweet nectar of her breasts, her perspiration flavored of gargoyle and honeyed dew, and flowing between the clefted valley of her cleavage. He trailed the crystal beads onto her sculpted abdomen, his wife shuddering in a consuming union of torture and erotic pleasure when feeling his teeth gouge her sensitive dawn hide just beneath her breasts, his lips and tongue roaming wildly as he pushed into her, garnering a muffled scream from Annika with each tempered thrust betwixt her legs.

She tore her talons into his back, a bloodlust screaming for passion and sexual crest drawing blood in her frenzy. Todd winced when feeling the heated fluid spilling out, exposed to the cool evening air, and buried the scream of pain. "Erkk…damnit…"

She was beyond caring for his muted cry of anguish, nearing climax, staring up to the ceiling with blood red eyes, having waited for so long for this moment, and not allowing any second she was released from her prison to spend it in the arms of her husband and mate. And thus, lost in the gargoyle instinct to mate, she only considered his momentary discomfort a step in ultimate peak.

"Where…are those things?" Todd muttered, reaching to the floor and sorting through the opened bags and discarded clothing, until his hand brushed against something oddly shaped and cold to the touch. "This should…stifle those claws…"

"…w-what…" she gasped, momentarily broken from her euphoria to see Todd handcuffing her wrists to the bedposts.

He bore down on her with a malicious grin, and pressed deeper inside of her, Annika convulsing and unable to rend fragile human flesh. "Now…that's better…"

She growled and hissed as if an alley cat drawn to the sight of a predator, snapping her fanged teeth when he lowered his lips, and nearly catching his dangling skin. Todd pursed his mouth and clicked his tongue, teasing her and watching the feral gargess throw herself towards him, yet held in place by the shackles, inches from tearing his throat with her fangs.

Todd laughed in seeing Annika restricted and bound, helpless to resist, he now becoming the dominant partner. "Awwww…is my little, sweaty, horny gargoyle all tied up?" She lowered her brow, and pulled at the steel cuffs, the chains unforgiving and unallowing her escape. "Those handcuffs are a titanium alloy specially made by Xanatos Enterprises. The same material used in the Epsilon. Call it…a wedding gift."

She stared at him, before locking her legs around his waist, and snaking her tail around his right hand, effectively locking him into place as well. Lovers now set equal, and she growled as if the storms given a breath of life, "I want another orgasm, Mr. Hawkins…and I want it now."

"Yes, dear."


It was thunder now rippling the walls and bowing the windows with each thrust, alighting the charged air with fire, bringing the entire foundation of Ishimura itself under attack in a different rhythm. Within a small ring of bystanders, two combatants sparred, pitting their expertise against each other upon a wooden platform. He was younger, perhaps faster, yet the spirit of untamed youth allowing a great disadvantage in blind optimism and arrogant conceit. He was proud, a younger warrior chosen out of many for his skills, and fancied by the females for an appearance and handsome form molded from steel. He dodged an open fist easily, and bounced the dark hand off his forearm, colored a deep, misted gray. With a smile born of his position held opposite his larger opponent, the young warrior darted his eyes to the sidelines of the dojo, where a few females gathered near the arena wall, to watch and whisper and gossip amongst themselves of a seductive power unleashed and a potential mate before them.

But unknown to the steeled youngster, the trio's topic on hand being passed to receptive ears was in fact his opponent, the dark warrior of Wyvern. Each female peered with a glistening gaze as Shadow connected time and time again, his blows being easily matched by the youth more than a foot below him, a calmed facade met with a superior smile.

"It seems the Americans' boasts about their new warrior were untrue," the youth barked as he impacted for the first time a fist to Shadow's side, hoping to curry favor with the female audience, "you are as slow as a pregnant cow."

Shadow said nothing, and continued twisting and ducking, cautious in his battle with the Ishimuran youth, to not hurt his chosen opponent. He was holding back, allowing the brash gargoyle to work up a light sheen of sweat coating his body, and turning flesh of dulled steel into sterling silver.

"This is pointless!" he crowed, landing yet another blow to Shadow's arm. "I need an opponent that will give me a challenge!" He struck to his chest, seeing an opening given, and he took it excitedly without question, and bared his teeth in impacting against dark ebony skin. "It's like fighting a child…"

The last remark uttered, and Shadow edged his foot into the wooden floor, digging his talons to gain a better grip.

Kai watched intently the ninja's leg grow rigid, and a subtle change in stance gone unnoticed by his charge. "Be careful, Toshi." he warned, his voice collected, even when seeing the slight twitch in Shadow's tail.

"Why?" he asked, insulted by his leader's aid, in thinking he was unable to hold his own in this battle. And in truth, he was not.

Shadow caught Toshi's right hand, and wrenched his left forearm into the youth's mid-section, forcing the breath from his lungs and a few droplets of saliva from his bottom lip in the brutal strike. Reeling, Toshi staggered back, and Shadow unleashed with a headbutt, and an open fist to his opponent's chest perhaps payback for the earlier blow. The dark warrior ducked down from Toshi's blind strike, and as if the winds themselves had come to life, swept with his foot, knocking the gray gargoyle from his feet. With his opponent felled, Shadow lodged his forearm into Toshi's neck, inches from crushing the esophagus, effectively halting the fight. "You are beaten." he growled to the frightened youth. "Submit."


"I warned you, Toshi." Kai then said from the sidelines, beside the females giggling both in Toshi's optimism viciously crushed, and Shadow's quick victory.

"But…" he whined, as he stumbled to his feet, his pride damaged more than his body. "But how can someone move that large move so quickly?"

"Appearances are always…deceiving."

"Indeed." Shadow assented, holding out an offered hand towards the leader. But not of friendship, instead for the desired need to prove himself in the ring of battle against he who deemed him unworthy of a true gift, that of trust.

Kai stepped up, and to the surprise of his clan, entered into the ring, despite his hatred for hostility within gargoyle society. "Kentou, kagemusha." he granted the ninja his respect and honor, and then arranged himself into a fighting stance, his already massive form shuddering into a frozen posture, watching with keen eyes Shadow take a similar carriage.

"This could be interesting…" Yama whispered, as Toshi stood near him, nursing his inflicted wounds.

They were waiting for each to make the first move, a twitch, even an involuntary flicker of an eye could bring them to each other's throats in an instant. Wings held steady, drooping beneath their shoulders, charcoal grit to chestnut steel, they stood silently, until, perhaps impatiently, Shadow struck first. A blur of fist and hand, they twisted around each other, the very airwaves being subjected to deafening claps rending the audience nearly deaf.

"You are fast." Kai whispered as he dodged the savage swipe grazing past his ear, a furied thrust if connected would certainly draw blood.

"As are you."

"Left." he warned, as Shadow banked to the left.

"Right." Shadow played true to their contest, allowing Kai to break right from his fist.

"You say you are searching for your true clan, shinobi." he started into a dialogue even as they traded blows and savage kicks, where a thousand souls of their lineage guided their fists and brought clarity to their task.

"Yes. My grandfather found my egg abandoned near the Nagano forests." Shadow ducked and spun around to strike against Kai's broad shoulder, partly wrapped in his kimono sleeve, the shimmering silk taking the blow to barely crease the fabric. "I thought I could use this opportunity to explore my heritage and my homeland with the use of Xanatos' technology. Down."

Kai centered his emotive eyes upon his challenger, thinned beneath his masculine brow, "There are…rumors of more clans in Japan, but…since we are forced to remain isolated in this temple and the surrounding area, we do not know for sure. Right."

Shadow sneered, wrinkling his nose and contorting his dark features. "Why help me?" he hissed, seeing this sudden offer as a double-edged sword. "It seems quite apparent you do not trust me."

"Left. I help all gargoyles in need of aid, even those who…fight in the ways of the Kuroi Doragon."

Shadow caught his hand, a test of strength against each other, each straining to release themselves from a steeled vise forged by evolution and tempered by breeding. "How do you know of the Black Dragon?" he asked, surprised.

"Rumors run rampant, as do tales told around the flickering light of a fire by elders long dead." He pulled down on his hand, gaining leverage with but a simple crick of his wrist. "Our homeland holds many secrets. Including an ancient style thought lost." He wrenched Shadow's arm with enough brute force to tear steel from it's moorings, and the ninja clenched his teeth when his elbow twisted nearly the wrong way, but held himself rigid, unmoving against the pain sparking like lightning throughout his nervous system. "But your style is unmistakable, from what I have heard, it matches completely. As do your brands. A dangerous and savage method rumored to bring chaos to the user." Kai used his free hand to entrap his talons into Shadow's flesh, wanting not simple defeat, but total submission from the ninja. "And ultimately…defeat."

"He still doesn't give up…" Toshi whispered in sheer awe of Shadow's threshold of pain.

Yama seethed a breath through tight lips, "Stubborn fool. Kai is obviously stronger."

"But Shadow," Sata broke through form her place near the side, having chosen to watch the sparring matches in silence until now, "is never to be taken lightly."

Shadow could feel the tendons screaming within his shoulder, yet let no sound escape. His eyes burst with a sapphire spark, and Shadow launched himself from the dojo floor, flipping around and unleashing his foot directly into Kai's face. "I am stronger than some prophecy of an aging decrepit!" he growled. "I am of the Minamoto clan, and a warrior pledged to Wyvern! And I do not bow to anyone or anything!!" Kai staggered back as Shadow advanced on him, and blindsided the Japanese leader, setting free his anger and magnified rage now roiling within his chest.

Kai responded, slapping away a fierce blow and releasing a spin kick, splitting Shadow's lip. "We shall see…" he replied, as the ninja savored the taste of iron in his mouth, and reciprocated.

"What is happening here?" It was Riko with Iliana behind her, edging up towards the others, as Yama's shrewd smile only enlarged.

"A true contest of skill."

"This is more as if a foolish grudge match than a simple sparring lesson, Yama." she chided furiously. "This is not the way of Bushido."

"Shadow can sometimes…get a little carried away." Sata explained, cringing as each blow landed, forcing a snap in the air.

"Well…" Iliana muttered, in the ferocity of the fight. "This leader of yours is looking kind of pissed off too."

"He fights with anger, Starr-chan." Riko sighed solemnly, seeing Kai willfully abandon his principles held so highly in regard as he lowered himself to the beast within. "It seems his pain of losing so many in the Unseelie war has taken its toll. He has been unable to forgive himself for their deaths…including one…very special to him. It seems his wounds of losing Sora…still bleed as brightly to this day."


"A member of our clan lost. They were…close."

"Well, this pain both Kai and Shadow carry is going to bring down the walls…" Iliana crept towards the weapon rack and unsheathed a shorter sword, it's blade enough to carve the very atmosphere in two. She stood before the gargoyles, both becoming a blur of wing and tail, as if unable to see where one ended, and the other began. Until, an opening presented itself, and Iliana gripped tight to the leather-wrapped handle of the butterfly sword.

Right between them both, the wood was split as the sword cleaved into the dojo flooring, bringing the fight to an abrupt end. Kai and Shadow looked with wide eyes the sword shivering with the ferocious vibration, and eventually slowing to a halt.

"Are you two boys finished in spreading your blood and testosterone all over the walls?" she condescended them both, uncaring of their size or the matching expressions of irritation in having their fight brought to an abrupt halt. "Maybe it's time to stop before one of you kiddies puts the other's eye out."

Kai shuddered, damning his actions and immediately released Shadow, though the ninja reluctant to leave this short battle at a draw. "Yes…yes, of course, Starr-chan. I apologize profusely, Shadow," he sighed, bowing in repentance, "it is not my way to show such anger towards a fellow gargoyle."

"I suppose…I should apologize as well…" Shadow grudgingly offered, though still kept his glare upon Kai. "Though I am…disappointed, in the fact we did not get to 'settle' a few things."

"Your soul is troubled, ninja. And the fact you have chosen to fully embrace this fighting technique causes me concern and doubt in your intentions, and perhaps cost you what you hold so dear, but…" He adjusted the fallen hem of his kimono, disturbed only slightly after such a battle, and nodded soberly. "I hope you find what you are looking for."

Shadow clicked his eyes away with Kai's words, his warning of what he kept inside of him, the power that consumes, takes control, and allows the most primal of instincts precious freedom from a carefully guarded barrier. "As do I."

"Oh, Shadow-san! That was truly amazing!!" The females had rushed to him, three young women bursting with excitement and clambering at his mighty chest and thick arms. "Very few can stand on par with Kai."

"You are exceptionally skilled…" another cooed, wearing a devious grin and running her hands down the bulging peaks of his heaving stomach and nearing his loincloth.

"Okay, ladies…hands off the merchandise." Iliana barged through, separating the females from Shadow, and pushing the ninja towards the exit. "We'd better start planning our trip."

"OUR trip?" echoed Shadow. "Who said you were coming?"

"Details, details…come on, we'll leave tomorrow at sunset…and get you away from all these girls…"


February 21st
"There. Land there…near the pond." Shadow directed the aircraft, guiding it's way over the Nagano forests, a deep valley of trees swallowing the land whole and appearing nearly uninhabitable to those who would claim this land as their own. "There's a clearing there where I used to train. It should prove sufficient for your size."

"Thank you. I would hate to scratch my paint." CY.O.T.I. answered, resting it's massive girth into the softened embrace of the trees. He stole from the door as soon as it opened to the propulsion of wind to fill the pressurized cabin, and as Shadow disembarked, he wandered off before Iliana could follow him, a man of such stature becoming a wraith within the bowing trees.

"Hey…" She raced after him, and abruptly slowed her pace when entering into an open field of emerald grass, drifting lazily in the restless breeze. Stricken by the peaceful surroundings, Iliana stumbled across the plains until reaching a small cottage centered in the clearing, delicately detailed in ancient Japanese design. Weathered by rain and the ivory exterior beaten by the winds, it yet possessed a singular beauty in minimalism and the subtle union to its environment. "Shadow?" She had lost him, and searched this quiet place with ice blue eyes, until turning a corner and seeing above her on a distant hill, a silhouetted form.

A cherry blossom elm stood tall, almost proud, as perhaps a guardian to ward off those who would defile this resting place, and rains that would threaten to wash away. Its faded petals of rose and a sweet jasmine scent were brushed gently from their limbs and twisted into the flowing breeze crossing through the valley, blanketing the ground in the colors of the burning dusk sky.

Shadow fell before the grave as if a lifeless marionette, his heart torn, at last returning to this place where arose his greatest sin. The simple wooden cross bore the name of his grandfather carved elegantly in Japanese, and the date he had died at his grandson's own hands. He raised a quivering talon to place against the wood, and traced the symbols of Yin and Yang forever chasing the other, water dousing fire when fire boils water, and he wanted to both laugh and scream at the irony. Of the greatest joy of a student surpassing the master, and the greatest sorrow when the master falls before the student. "Grandfather…" he wheezed. "…I have…returned…"

Iliana kept her distance behind the huddled mass of crumpled wings drooping upon the petals strewn far beyond what she could see, when at last discovering Shadow near the gravesite. She fought the urge to comfort him, believing it too far an advance in what they shared.

"…I have come…to seek my place once more…" he whispered, finding solace in the aromas of his home since birth. "I hope I can find…my family…my home…" He shut his eyes and instantly relived the past as if a slideshow tearing through his subconscious. His hands darkened by the blood of his grandfather, his soul tainted by an ancient power unleashed without proper control. "I hope I can somehow make up for…my greatest transgression, and honor your memory, ojiisan…by passing down your teachings…"

It was then she brought her hands to his shoulders, the muscles beneath knotted and strained. Iliana wrapped her arms around his neck, and rested against his back, unable to hold back from comforting a friend. "It wasn't your fault, Shadow." she whispered into the breadth of his braided tail. "It was an accident."

"An accident I will be forced to live with my entire existence." he hissed, unintentionally. "Such is my sentence."

"If…if it makes you feel any better…you're not alone."

Shadow drifted a hand to rest on Iliana's, consoled by her presence. He turned to match mahogany to sapphire, her long strands of ember scarlet brushing against his brow. "Surprisingly…it does." He stood, and allowed himself to drift away from the grave, carving through the petals with each weighted footfall, the wind purring and playing havoc with his tail and the tied ribbons around the crown of his biceps.

"Where are you going?" Iliana shouted to him. "You haven't been here for years. Don't you want to spend some time here?"

"No. I cannot stay here anymore." he said quickly from over his shoulder, a refreshing breath stolen through his lungs. "It brings back…too many powerful memories."

"Then where do we go now?"

Shadow stood, and pointed a finger towards the forests become black within the absense of light. "Where my egg was found, and beyond. We can use the CY.O.T.I. craft to fly further than I ever traveled as a child, and perhaps discover…what I could not years ago."


"Move!! Move!! The intruder is near the Western wall!!" one screamed, as his steel-skinned patrol partner grabbed a longspear from the rack, and raced towards where the commotion had started.

"Gather the others!!" he ordered, as he disappeared into the foliage towards the silent figure moving away. "And tell them he is back…" He was alone now, heading into the thick brush behind the temple, skimming the length of the towering walls after a specter faster than a forest-bred tiger and dancing along the temple wall as if a mischievous spirit. "Not tonight, bandit!" the guard hissed, using the spear to hurl his weight into the air and dash upon the cornices.

It turned sharply and skipped across the temple roof, entering inside the courtyard, much to the pursuing guard's dismay, having allowed this bandit to penetrate their defenses so easily.

"Toshi!!" Kai almost screamed as he and a few others flooded into the grounds, seeing a shadow pass over them, with Toshi in chase, his anger and impatience being sparked.

"He's fast!" Toshi cautioned in a frantic scream.

"Not fast enough…" Kai entered into the fray, his massive size belying what speed and agility he possessed, launching into the air and allowing his wings the taste of freedom in the night air, to savor the rush of the billowing winds. He had guessed the intruder's path, and bounced off a wall to land in front, effectively blocking the only escape from the courtyard. The others herded in closer, and the bandit, now grounded, looked around warily, choosing his options carefully.

Kai stepped cautiously closer, and with every step the bandit flinched, wary of this behemoth gradually creeping his way closer. Kai raised his unyielding brow to the intruder's features, slender, and holding itself in a position he had seen before. Yet the eyes, the only visible part of the intruder left uncovered by the tightly bound and bulging wrappings, acting almost as if a dark mist, would be what softened Kai's resolve, his anger replaced by curiosity. "Do I…know you?"

It didn't answer, only batting the massive eyes, and flicking ebony tarn to further examine his position. An option unimaginable was perhaps the only way to escape, and he took it without question, or time to reflect. Before Kai could reach for him, the bandit flipped up and over the two closest gargoyles, directing a foot to each of the males' heads, and toppling seasoned warriors as if children.

"He's heading inside the temple!!"

"Gods…he is fast…" Kai whispered, as the bandit slipped between the wooden gates.

"Perhaps it is a ghost."

"Yes, one of our fallen comrades come back to haunt us." another joked.

"Hold your tongue, young one!" Kai snapped back, ensuring the honor of his brothers and sisters whom perished years ago in a war that nearly took their home. "They died for your safety, and your continued existence."

The cerulean-skinned warrior winced. "Kai…my leader…I apologize. I did not mean any harm, or disgrace to my clanmates."

"Let's move," he ordered, gesturing the clan inside, "before the elders and hatchlings are harmed."

"Or our guests…"


"Damn, woman…I'm going to need some serious skin grafts when we get back to the states…"

"Sorry…" Annika let loose her head, a sheepish expression creeping into her features of her husband's wounds.

"Damn…second night in a row…" Todd rubbed his back where Annika had bandaged him, the young man wearing nothing but his boxer briefs, his peach flesh covered slightly with band-aids and gauze. "Good thing you always miss my tattoo…this thing was expensive…" His hair was disheveled, even his chaotically styled trim proven unmanageable. Annika followed behind in a slower gait burdened with fatigue to match her husband's, her golden strands tossed over her brow spurs and shoulders, the gargess wearing only Todd's shirt, suspended just past her naked buttocks and swaying tail.

"I liked last night's game…" she then whispered to lift Todd's spirits, trailing her husband to the temple's kitchen.

"Game?!" Todd spit out. "What…kill the human with claw marks and multiple orgasms?!"

She tipped a talon underneath his chin, bending seductively and standing on her toes. "Are you saying you wish me to stop?"

"Der. Do I look insane?" he snapped, with Annika's approving smile. "It's just…you go a little psycho sometimes…"

She shrugged, as if unaffected. "I like sex." she answered honestly, helping Todd unload portions of food from the towering refrigerator. "It's healthy. Besides, I don't want to become one of those married couples that get…comfortable. And only read in bed."

"We read in bed."

"YOU read porno mags."

"I told you! I only read the letters!" Todd snickered when turning away from her. "Besides, it's 'healthy'…heh heh heh…dear Playboy, I've recently married a sex-crazed gargoyle who enjoys writing her name in my back with her talons…"

"Just grab some food, husband dearest." she interrupted, slapping a hand to merely one of his numerous wounds, the human's features contorting.

Todd rubbed his back and disappeared deep into the refrigerator, an appliance equaling that of Wyvern's massive icebox. "Let's see. Leftovers…some of Takashi's killer squid, still squirming…oh hey, chocolate mousse…and whipped cream…and strawberries!! Nice." He bundled the food products into his arms, and slammed shut the fridge. "All right…let's go."

"No plate?"

The smile of Satan reborn and Todd looked upon his buxom wife with a ravenous gaze, the gargess filling out his torn shirt well past capacity. "Gorgeous, you ARE the plate."

She spread her swollen lips into a smile, and grabbed the can of whipped cream, dabbing a small creamed portion into her taloned finger and suckling the sweetened dessert temptingly as if tasting the clouds, as Todd backed mindlessly into the corridor, his wife advancing on him with the look of ecstasy ignited in her eyes.

"Damn, baby, you are so hot…WHOA!!!" Brushing past him was a shadow, nearly tearing his head from his shoulders in such alarming speed and reckless abandon for his safety. He was thrown violently towards Annika, though finding safety in the pillowy softness of her breasts. "Oof…"

Annika watched in shock as the lithe figure tore down the hall, only to disappear from her sight. Then, a rumbling upon the walls, growing in intensity, as a few Ishimuran clan members raced past the bewildered couple, weapons in hand and the heat of battle apparent in their glazed eyes. "What was that all about?"

"Who knows? The Japanese. They're as weird as Canadians."


Sifting through the woodland labyrinth, twisting branches forming claws and reaching out to impede their most proven efforts, the pair moved as best they could within territory unknown even to he whom was raised and bred here. The ninja trained in such a hostile environment, Shadow slipped through as a specter untouched by the foliage thick enough to block the full golden moon, a bare flicker of trailing leaves the only sign of his passing.

Iliana though, even with her diminutive stature, swathed past thick branches and struggled against the biting brush and jutting stones with her bulky leather boots, slowing her progress to but a crawl. She found Shadow occasionally having to stop and wait for her to catch up, and even with the emotionless facade he often wore, annoyance perhaps leaked through. "You know, the thought just occurred to me…" she muttered, ducking underneath a massive limb of Japanese Emperor Oak, and nearly snagging the tattered leather of her prized jacket. "Shadow, why the hell haven't you searched this far before? Of course, you didn't have an almost sentient, supersonic plane at your disposal, but, you know…"

He heaved a fiery breath into the night air, the dragon releasing the swirling flame from its belly and drifting into the near-freezing atmosphere. He was almost invisible against such a darkened backdrop of suffocating tree and enveloping branch, and Iliana had at last relented to following the faded glow of the brands upon his massive chest. Shadow had stopped near the top of a slanted hill, and looked down on her with her weakened summons, the detective having chased down men twice her size through the winding back alleys of Manhattan now stumbling over a raised root erupting from the Autumn brown soil. "I suppose…but I could not stay here any longer after the death of my grandfather." he explained softly. "I just…wanted to escape…and I eventually drifted onto and across the Eurasian continent, and then took to the sea towards New York…" He looked back towards their path still to journey, as if restless, and wanting to move ahead.

"I'm sorry…I must be slowing you down." she wheezed, out of breath from almost half a night's hike through the forests.

"Though I perhaps could cover far more ground if alone," he said, as she came up alongside and rested against an offered arm, "I am…glad you are here."

Iliana was struck back by the ice melting if only for a moment, to show what gentle soul he possessed within the form of a supposed demon. Her hand drifted along the length of the leather-wrapped forearm, and found his taloned paw, her nails scraping across a callused pad of thick hide, strengthened through relentless training. It closed around her lithe fingers, and clenched gently with a touch of misted cloud. "Should we continue on?"

Shadow puffed out his chest, and let it deflate, a breath of courage. "Unnecessary."


"Because…I believe we may already be here."

Iliana walked up to where Shadow swept away a few heavy branches and revealed to her an entire clearing below, where the trees could not conceal fully what had been constructed, and she gasped in the discovery, of what perhaps they had been searching for. "Oh…wow…"

Shadow immediately slipped down the embankment, leaving a trail of dust in his chaotic wake. Iliana, startled, came to her senses and followed Shadow's path, a spattering of broken trees forming a perfect trail down the hillside. The ninja slowed his pace when reaching what had almost been swallowed by the growing trees, and approached the creation as if a column of fire burning at his exposed flesh. A pair of carved poles, intricately detailed and camouflaged into the surrounding canopy, holding upon them a curved beam entangled in creeping vines and dark leaves of emerald. Shadow caressed his hands down the surface, the wood holding within it's soft, earthen hide Japanese calligraphy of a skilled hand.

Iliana rushed up beside him, and paused, seeing Shadow frozen in sheer wonder, as if seeing through an innocent child's eye. "Shadow?" she called to him, yet received no response. "What is it?"

"It is…Japanese."

She rolled her eyes, and sighed. "But what does it say?"

He formed a wounded expression, as he continued guiding his wide eyes along the detailed calligraphy. "It is a chronicle…" he said breathlessly, perhaps hoping this was what he had so longed for. "Of a village. But…"


"It ends nearly fifty years ago…" He dropped his eyes to where the writing had ceased, where the last words of a chosen recorder did not reach, and never would. "About the time…I was hatched."

"You're only twenty-five??"

"Yes." he answered automatically.

"I thought you were so much older…I mean, you're so damned mature, almost to the point of being stolid."

"No. I was born in nineteen fifty-two, the year of the Dragon."

"How appropriate." she jested composedly, birthing a smile to Shadow's seeming indifference. "Well, as this seems a gate…why don't we just go through?"

Shadow looked down to her, a suggestion so simple it had eluded his foremost thoughts. He moistened dry lips and stared into the empty void of darkness through the carved gate. Hesitation settled into a muscular form, rare for him, but how many have been presented the chance to perhaps at last find out a past hidden through circumstance and fate. A tasking challenge for any to meet head on.

"Want me to hold your hand?"

"I do not need a baby-sitter!" he snarled back, with Iliana raising her hands in defense. "Shinneri." he muttered under his breath. "But attractive none the less." He started underneath the ancient gateway and moved slowly inwards, cautious, aware of the sounds of the forest life echoing all around him, a haunting, woodland song drifting within the soft breeze. His senses pounded within his skull as he crept further into the darkness, and an uneasy feeling slithered down the length of his spine and tail. His eyes pierced the darkness, his great hearing besieged by the creatures that roamed the ground and sky. But ushered by a greater purpose, that of discovering something thought long lost, Shadow continued in with Iliana close by his side, as if taking comfort in his presence, she too wary, and now almost regrettable in her in the coercion of her companion.

The ground before them opened up with the thin shafts of moonlight pouring through the dense canopy, leading their way as if stepping-stones across a shimmering pond. As they traveled further, they both could see the massive trunks that housed the forest ceiling holding more than their branches. Shadow utilized the gift of perfect sight even in darkness, to uncover what secrets the forest had concealed. Remnants of a dwelling, where precisely cut logs formed small huts, wrapping around the largest and sturdiest of trees and rising into the impenetrable warren of branches above. Several more homes, constructed in similar fashion, spread out in a semi-circular pattern around a formation of large rocks in the clearing's center, most likely a pit once housing a nightly fire. And beyond, a small brook trickled through the middle of this village, where a wooden bridge still remained across perhaps once a mighty stream of babbling crystal, where the heart of nature would birth a gentle song.

Shadow walked through, and inspected the first dwelling he had come across, peering in through the door, moving a woven drapery from his path and releasing half a century's worth of collected dust, preying upon his powerful sense of smell. A simple home, a table, chairs, and broken shelves at one time holding clay pots, now laying in shattered heaps upon the soil. Simple draping hung in tattered remnants from the ceiling and walls, perhaps a solution to decorate such bland quarters with hand-woven blankets, the colors now faded from time's relentless savagery. The dark warrior entered inside, silent and treading cautiously, as if not to disturb what spirits may rest here. He kneeled and reached a hand into the dirt, uncovering a small, lifeless form. A doll, from a child possibly dead for years, sewn together with such incredible skill and attention to detail as to resist the damages of weather and decay.

Shadow delved his nose into the doll, the scent of faded flora wafting from the material, perhaps the plaything lined with a dried sprig to forever keep the scent of a forest home near the owner's heart. He clenched the doll to his chest, and fixed his heavy eyelids, lowering his tattooed brow and hanging his head in solemn prayer. "Wherever you are, child," he rasped, his once strong tone broken with a rare emotional release, "I hope this simple toy brought you happiness."


And outside, Iliana explored as well, where the dim light of the moon allowed her access, crossing the wooden bridge to reach a larger building resting far into the background. She guided a hand over the one railing still standing tall, the wood carved and smoothed to that of glass. Her trail was littered with increasing debris and splintered logs, fallen trees broken and torn to shreds. The huts were nearly destroyed here as well, and she even found evidence of scorch marks on the wood, where fire had ravaged this place.

"Oh man." she whispered, in seeing a thin shaft of wrapped wood lodged into the dirt. She pulled out the broken limb, a sharpened blade of steel tied with a leather tine appearing to her sight. A spear, snapped in half, a weapon from a warrior perhaps fallen. Yet something had smeared the faded luster of the steel, and as Iliana ran a finger into the dried substance, she opened wide eyes of glacial ice in her gruesome discovery. "Blood."

"Yes." a voice rumbled behind, as a shadow loomed over her. Iliana found Shadow kneeling beside her, and taking the spear into his hands. "There was a battle here. Long ago."

"And it looks like whoever lived here…lost. Shadow…I'm sorry."

"As am I." he said quietly. "But I still have no evidence supporting whether the inhabitants of this village were killed or merely relocated after this war that seemed to take such a toll on their home…and if they were even gargoyle."

"Maybe we should look in there…" She pointed towards the larger structure pressed back into the surrounding foliage, and Shadow stood, flipping the long, ivory braid back over his spurred shoulder. She noticed as well, the doll tucked into his thick belt, and smiled softly. "It seems important." she continued.


"Nice doll." she then mentioned as they approached the building. "A souvenir?"

"A reminder." he amended clearly, eyes fixed on the structure. "Of how precious life can be."

"And how easily it can change." she added, garnering an odd expression from the ninja, seeing the damnably endearing smile form on Iliana's pouty lips. She followed behind him as they approached the building, with the main support beams suspended from two massive trees, and the walls slanting towards the ground. A door, partially buried beneath where the rotted beams had collapsed overhead, opened up to Shadow's great strength, the dark warrior pulling away the fallen barriers and granting the pair access inside.

It smelled of rotting wood and an absence of life, a foul, musty odor stronger than anywhere else in this destroyed village. From the rafters above between the ethereal webbing of crystal spider silk drooped torn banners, with indiscernible writing in an ancient Japanese tongue. Simple decorations of woven tapestries almost eaten away, and cracked clay pots with only a parched layer of soil adorned this place. And along each massive beam placed between the logs forming the walls, lay torches of soot and charred ends, having gone unlit for decades.

"As abandoned as the village…" Shadow whispered.

But as they investigated even further, a hope of discovery soon led to a silent dread when seeing the walls marred with claw marks, and where steel impacted upon fragile wood, clear signs that the battle waged outside had either started, or ended, here.

"It's like a warzone…" breathed Iliana wistfully, having fought to dislodge a tempered sword from the wall, one of many weapons strewn across the entire hall. She pulled away the broken beams and fallen limbs of the crumbling structure, intent on finding anything that could lead Shadow to his past. But as the last flattened plank fell away from a darkened corner, she unwittingly had roamed her hands too far, too deep. "JESUS!!!" she screamed in morbid fear, stumbling and falling to the ground, desperately scrambling back through the clouds of dust as the malformed entity fell out and almost on top of her, her high-pitched scream of terror alerting the distracted ninja to her side, Shadow pulling her away.

She was shaking in his embrace, her chest heaved with the rush of breath into her lungs. Shadow peered to her and then to what had fallen into view. A skeleton desiccated, with the dulled, ivory white of bone showing through the remaining scraps of rotting flesh, it's life long extinguished.

"Oh god, Shadow…" she whispered, clasping to his arm. "It has wings."


He slashed away at Toshi's spear, reducing the strong shaft of wood to a spray of splinters effortlessly, and throwing the overzealous youth away against the wall, using his own weight as momentum. He was violently slammed into the wall in a cloud of brittle mortar, as the intruder advanced upon him before the chance to retaliate presented itself. A savage kick to the midsection, he continued driving his foot into Toshi's chest and stomach, serving to not only break a few ribs and bring the taste of blood to his mouth, but also nearly beat him into unconsciousness.

Another tried her luck, Sakura coming to her brother's aid, though futilely, as the intruder twisted around and captured her wrists, flipping Sakura over and brutally thrusting his knee into the gargoyle's spinal cord. Sakura screamed in unrelenting pain, as her entire body grew numb for a bare instant, before granted the cold reality of a concrete floor.

Two down within seconds, the intruder would almost be pleased with himself if not for a frigid lack of emotion in his victory. A short-lived victory, as through the closest door came an inferno of molten fury, taken form as the peaceful leader of Ishimura brought to his limits.

"Enough!!" Kai howled, glancing a fist off the intruder's jaw. "You have been showing your face here for more than a year, driving us insane with fear and paranoia, hoping your frequent attacks on our home would not escalate into death!!"

"…home…" he spoke as if loathing the word, regaining his footing and rubbing his sore jaw, the voice used muffled beneath the mask, yet still surprisingly buoyant and distantly husky.

Kai unleashed with a kick, though easily blocked and rewarded with a dual-fisted thrust to his neck. He flipped over and slammed at Kai with the back of his hand, and another, whirling around to repeatedly strike at Kai's face. And through the constant punishment and pain, the leader noticed a style so similar in the way his opponent fought, a conspicuous parallel screaming to him even as he defended every open area of his body from rabid thrusts with eerie accuracy. He brushed the stray thought away, and broke through his onslaught, crushing his hands to the sides of the intruder's head, throwing off his equilibrium. "This ends now." Kai snaked around him, holding the dazed intruder in a grip that would crush a lesser man, the gargoyle's hands digging into the skin in his chest, though discovering something he never would have guessed. "What…" The slender curves unmistakable, the chest not of hard, restricting muscle, but of soft, enticing flesh. It was a woman, and in Kai's enduring gallantry, swiftly released his hold from her breasts. "Who are you?!!"

"Someone you abandoned…" she hissed, struggling to release Kai's hold around her waist. He held firm, until she tore from her back two leather wings and breathed life into her sails, tinted deep lavender and abruptly knocking Kai away, directly into Yama.

"You are gargoyle…" he gasped in surprise.

"And you will soon be either a part of us…or yet another corpse littering the ground."


Shadow gritted his teeth, his eyes of seething mahogany fire seeing two massive wings erupting from the dead creature's backside, tattered remnants still attached like sails on a ship beneath the waves, swaying unnervingly in the breeze and clearly signifying it's heritage. "A gargoyle." he hissed angrily, reaching out to tactfully turn the skull and it's barren gaze towards him, where atop the brow lay four spurs, a delicate curve into a V-shape behind the withered remains of a tail of hair.

"I...I guess we know now…who used to live here."

"Are you all right, Iliana?" he whispered to her, her safety his primary concern, and feeling with a hand caressed against her cheek her bottom lip trembling in the sudden fright, her nerves already frayed with such a haunted place.

"I hate dead bodies." she said, forming her lavender-painted lips into a scowl. "I thought I would have gotten used to them being a cop. But it never gets easier."

"And it never will. But you are strong, and do not fear death as much as…others." He helped her to her feet, and guided the young woman away from the corpse with her hand clenched into his, and past the long table perched directly in the middle, years of dust left undisturbed on the surface. He was again drawn towards what had interested him before Iliana cried out, a massive carved symbol on the far wall, hidden by intruding cobwebs and a layer of dust. He cleared away the debris, and with a gasp of surprise, ran his talons over a deep-grooved etching of a winged beast. A gargoyle. And surrounding it, were four placed symbols, and Iliana immediately recognized them as Shadow's brands, an exacting match to what had been burned into his flesh, and forever marked the dark warrior.

"This has to be it, Shadow…this has to be your home."

He dragged his talons over his tattoos, and swallowed, refreshing a dried throat. "War and peace, life and death…what every warrior must face, a fine line walked in between." His hands drifted over the carved symbols, hoping to find some connection to his shrouded past. "Is this…where I truly came from?" he asked of anyone who could provide an answer. "A place of decay and death?"

Iliana remained silent, bowing her eyes away in silent sorrow from Shadow's unearthing of a village lost and perhaps the end of his journey, cut short with the empty promise of death and voiceless spirits. "Shadow, I…I'm sor…" she stopped when noticing a slither of movement beyond. She snapped her neck around, catching the flicker of shadows, thinking her eyes had deceived her when looking past the swaying strands of her untamed, shoulder length bob. A noise, a skittering of clouds, a sweep of the wind across the ground and suspended drapery, and Iliana held her breath in the mystifying sound. "Shadow…did you hear that?"

"Yes." His wings flared as he turned, his eyes darting into the sections of the building left dark, abandoned into oblivion by the moonlight. "We are not alone."

The winds had picked up, flowing throughout the open cracks and doorway with a chilled embrace, sending a violent shiver through Iliana and a familiar scent past Shadow's senses. Aged leather and decaying flesh, the acerbic odor of polished steel, a scent he partially held as his own, and now filling the entire room. They were ghosts, apparitions taken form almost recognizable as humanoid, spilling from the shadows. As they roamed closer, surrounding both Shadow and Iliana in lightning blur, they took on more defined features with garment of ages past, the ancient ninja of feudal Japan, tight wrappings concealing withered features and glowing emerald eyes.

"Oh shit." Iliana whispered, using reaching behind her for the reassuring strength contained within soft ebony skin.

"…the lost one…"

"…he has returned…"

"…Kokuei will be pleased…"

In faded whispers did they speak, almost a hundred separate entities, some scarcely human, some even possessed of wings. They formed an army, circling their prey, and unable to remain in one place, only serving to push the dark warrior beyond his already frayed patience.

"You would be wise to explain your presence here…" he snarled, an abraded utterance rising from his throat. "Before I become angry."

"…you no longer have dominion here…ninja…"

"…we serve…only one master…"

"And who would that be?"

"…that…would be me…" From death and souls lost, from the silenced cries and spilled blood of the innocents spattered and coating the barren soil did she create a form of total darkness, empowered by the night. Through the chinks in the walls' armor, thought impervious when raised years before, and shattered beams at last brought down by a futile war did a wraith of devouring coldness surround the entire structure. Iliana backed into Shadow's chest, the ninja closing his spurred wings around the smaller woman in a gesture of protection, seeing an impenetrable mist gain strength and size and a demonic form, and seeming to collect near the front podium. "Okay, Shadow, I'm officially freaked out now." Iliana cringed.

"…isei…kyouko…so strong…filled with such unimaginable power…" A voice like acid, without a discernable source and echoing all around them. "…and yet, chained to a single, limiting concept…unevolved…and unable to grasp what he may be ultimately capable of…"

"Who are you?!!" Snadow snarled, as the mist roamed and amassed, and brushed past their flesh with the touch of glacial frost. "What are you?"

"…I am darkness given life…a bringer of order to chaos…" It was female, as high-pitched as talons across glass or sheet metal, with a distinctive Japanese inflection. "…the gatherer…" Her minions remained still, watching as the master formed her body, a diaphanous form possessed of voluptuous curves and surrounded by the trailing vapor. Features delicately feminine, she peered with blood red eyes towards the ninja. "Greetings, lost son, and heir to the Nagano clan." She smiled and coated her lips with her long, serrated tongue. "Welcome home."


"Why are you doing this?! Intruding within our home once more?! Causing fear to innocent hatchlings?!!" Kai screamed, pointing an accusing finger towards the winged bandit, her true gender revealed at long last. "You are gargoyle! You are a part of us!"

"Not any longer!!" she hissed, unleashing the matched sai tucked into her belt, the tri-speared daggers glinting threateningly in the candlelight. "I have found a greater purpose…a greater power…"

"And what would that be, trespasser?" Yama growled, stalking towards the intruder

"You would never understand, Yama. You're nothing but a pigheaded, callous chauvinist…"

Yama chewed into his lip, hearing both the barbed insults and his name being dragged through the proverbial mud. "How do you know me? Reveal yourself instead of hiding your face with a mask, coward."

The mists surrounding her grew in power and density, her eyes flooding scarlet with rage as she tore away at her bindings to release more of her sweetened lavender skin to the refreshing air. Her wings freed themselves fully from their entrapment, and fell away from her slender shoulders. Kai and Yama's eyes grew wide in the simple gesture, a trait unique and instantly recognizable to both the leader and his rival, the intruder's wings drooping to just beneath the slender shoulders in a ninety degree angle, and at last revealing in full her identity. "It can't be…" Yama gasped, the scowl yielding. "…you died years ago…"

She removed her hood, releasing her features into the firelight, and Kai's heart stopped within his chest. "Sora…"