113 - "Exposure"
"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
The fearful are caught as often as the bold." - Helen Keller
June 20th, 2002
Everything seemed so far away right now.
The Guild, Times Square, the dull roar of the reporters outside yelling their protests; their world had shrunk to a tiny bubble, much like a fishbowl, with wide, distorted and dissecting eyes staring in from the outside.
That faint line of dawn was just that, a sliver of pink behind the skyscrapers with the blanket of stars still heavy in the sky. There were a couple of hours left to go before daybreak and before the clan could finally rest, their wounds healed by the concrete cure-all. But right now, there was an entire police station filled with twitchy policemen and women between them and that much-needed respite.
A pin dropped would sound like a gun going off it was so quiet, except for a few murmurs running ribbon through the back of the crowd. Bronx held a low growl in his throat, standing tense at his masters' feet. Angela made sure she kept a steady hand at the scruff of the beast's neck, just in case.
Lexington had taken Agent Sykes' arm in greeting and both men found themselves locked in that embrace, testing the other's resolve.
With his all-too-average human hearing, Sykes couldn't detect the mechanical clicks of razor-thin titanium iris leaves overlapping as Lexington's cybernetic implants focused in on him. He wasn't aware his internal body temperature was reading like a rainbow in the glassy reflection, his heartbeat a quick cadence on the gargoyle's keen ears. But despite his unawareness, he knew this Lexington was sizing him up like a side of beef. Sykes might have thought the gargoyle weak due to his slim build, but the pressure on his forearm was unmistakable; he figured, if pushed far enough, this Lexington could tear steel like Kleenex. "Lexington, huh?" he finally said, intrigue battling that innate sense of skepticism for control of the tone of his voice.
"Funny, we have an avenue here with the exact same name."
Lexington couldn't help but catch a nagging hint of something he hoped wasn't being used against him and his clan. "Coincidence I guess." he said cautiously.
Sykes nodded. This one was just as slick as his friend Brooklyn in the back room, each of them evading any direct relation to their origins or where they made their home. Of course, the coincidence of them both taking–or being named after–famous streets was a little far-fetched. He relaxed his grasp and released his arm, but noticed the gargoyle hesitated slightly to let go, as if he felt a little less vulnerable when linked arm to arm with the agent. "I guess."
"I suppose we should get your clan checked by our medical team and cleaned up. Then I'd like to ask you a few questions–"
Immediately, Othello stepped forwards, garnering a few nervous jolts from the surrounding officers. He was for all intents and purposes a solid brick wall of frowning muscle. "We will not answer anything."
Abel looked the warrior from head to toe. This one was big, burly, scowling and none too pleased in being here. He had a compound bow and empty quiver strapped between his wings, a perfectly medieval weapon that seemed to suit him. "It's not an interrogation." he appeased the gargoyle as calmly as possible. "Just questions. Simple, friendly questions."
"As impulsive as my mate can be," Desdemona tried goodwill in place of Othello's outward aggression, "he does raise a valid point. How can we be sure of our safety here?"
"I gave my word."
Though willing to believe, the female seemed incredulous. "I do not know you, or your word."
"I saved your lives and stuck my neck out in doing so. I risked my career and reputation. I hoped that would've at least counted for something."
"You've earned our respect, not our trust."
Abel smothered a smile. These creatures were remarkable; he felt a pang of guilt stab through his temple at having succumbed to the typical human prejudice. "Then what can I do to rectify that?"
Angela stepped up; she looked exhausted. "We would feel better if your police officers weren't pointing their weapons at us..."
On turning, he scanned all the officers surrounding them, seeing expressions much like their white-knuckled grip on pistols and wood-trim rifles. "I thought the purpose of the police department was to protect and serve." he quipped. "I hope no one is thinking of shooting the people we worked so hard to, you know, protect and serve."
Reluctantly, they lowered their weapons. There wasn't many in the small crowd that shared agent Sykes' ability to trust so open-mindedly.
"Thank you. Now," he swiveled back to the gargoyles, "please, we'll take you somewhere private."
Lexington could see where the FBI agent was ushering them with a hand, towards a corridor flanked by more cops. "We're not being split up." he said abruptly.
"I wouldn't dream of it." He held his arm up and still, offered them a single choice in where to go.
Lexington made a simple, non-communicative gesture with his head and started off, silently leading the clan down the hall. The women followed with Othello taking up the rear, watching with hard, flint eyes any movement no matter how subtle or telling.
With a bounce in his brows, Sykes took a breath and felt the cool air pass through his lungs. He rubbed the tension etched in lines from his brow and looked around him. The surrounding crowd was silent and still in awe of the small group receding from view and Abel had to admit, as he was unconsciously wringing his hands, it was like meeting Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa at a country gas station.
Watching the clan being herded into a room at the far end of the hall, Todd stood there, wondering if he should follow. Abel had already saved him from a prison sentence with the laundry list of charges against him, or at the very least, community service.
But his indecision would give someone else ample time to catch up to him, putting her face directly in his line of sight.
Maria Chavez suddenly appeared, nose to nose, wearing a scowl like a pit-bull. No one had ever looked that good in a skirt, heels and a grimace that could a scare a convict. "So, punk." she hissed.
Todd flinched, shrinking from the sudden and, what he thought, undeserved resentment. "I beg your pardon?"
"You think just because the high and mighty FBI waltzes in here and undermines the NYPD's authority you can get off scot-free?"
"Well, I...uhm...wait, what?"
"Come with me, kid, you and I have to talk." She grabbed him by the collar and practically lifted him off his shoes, pushing him through the crowd and towards an empty room. "Detective," she called to a certain redheaded woman nearby, "I may need your assistance if this little puke tries to get fresh."
In on the joke from the initial glare, Iliana smiled and quickly followed behind, keeping up the pretense. The mob parted to allow them through, most of the cops laughing and a few even cheering Maria on. Reaching the room, Maria shoved him in and Iliana slammed the door behind them. "All right, Hawkins, spill." she barked. "Now!"
Todd straightened his collar and returned the glare, but not even close to the intensity Maria was capable of. "You were just joking with all of that punk stuff, right?"
She answered with clenched lower lip.
"You'd better do what the lady says, Hawkins," Iliana minded him, "I've seen that look before."
"Hey, I'm a little shaken up too, you know." he defended himself, to the relative apathy of the two women. "I was knocked out by a certain Scottish jackass, almost eaten by a police dog, thrown to the pavement, arrested and left to rot in a jail cell, looking at a bleak future of becoming someone's personal colonoscopy patient. And I think my car is somewhere, alone, in downtown Manhattan."
Maria quickly cut in, "I need details, Todd, now." And then, she softened her tone. "Please."
He shrugged, throwing his arms out to either side. "I don't know much, I've been out of the loop as well."
"But you spent a lot of time with that FBI agent downstairs."
He felt like he was under the spotlight in an interrogation. "Yeah, and?"
"I need details, including what passed for conversation between you two."
"I know that agent went downstairs to talk to you personally, and sometime later, you were sprung without a hair out of place, all charges dropped. I have to assume you gave him something he wanted to hear. So, please, enlighten us."
Where both of them expected the typical, barely-intelligible, motormouth barrage in true Hawkins fashion, Todd simply held off, avoiding Maria's steady gaze and even appearing a little guilty.
Maria leaned in, reading that expression like a worn romance novel. "What did you tell him?"
"Listen, I needed to gain his trust, and gauge just how serious he was..."
"You sang." Iliana quipped, leaning against one of the tables. "Like a canary."
But Todd wasn't comfortable with the accusation and reared up with a pointed finger. "Listen, lady, I have just as much stake in this as the rest of you. Actually, I have twice as much at stake than the both of you combined! Remember? Gargoyle wife?! Unborn, apparent miracle child?! So why don't you get off my back! Abel Sykes is an old family friend. He already knows my dad is the leader of the Guild, he knows I have a connection to Brooklyn and the clan, and I told him...about Annika."
Maria threw her hands up and whirled around; she started pacing the length of the room. "Oh, hell."
"I didn't dime anyone out except for myself." he continued. "But I'm pretty sure we can trust him. He gave his word."
"Oh, his word." Maria spit. The sarcasm hung heavy in the air like a bad smell. "Well, pardon me. That's definitely worth giving up the most important secret we all share."
"He's already saved Brooklyn's ass tonight and he personally issued the order to rescue the rest of the clan. Do you think he risked his reputation, career and livelihood, not to mention half the SWAT team, just as a favor? If there's anyone who can help us here, it's an FBI agent who just wants to know both sides of the story."
"But how much can we trust him?"
"I can vouch for him."
From where she ended up, Maria digested the facts and started nodding. "Okay, all right, fine, I'm a little less annoyed with you now."
But Iliana was hoping to see a little blood. "Aww, that's no fun."
"Funny." Todd returned. "But I did what I had to, to get Abel's trust and he ended up saving the clans' lives. But since I haven't gotten the chance to speak to any of them, I don't know if everyone's okay."
"Most of them are." Maria answered. "I've already gotten in touch with Canmore. Broadway's surgery was successful, Hudson's sleeping off losing a few pints, your wife and everyone else that was left behind are okay but..."
She offered the same helpless look he'd done a few minutes ago. "We're still missing a few soldiers."
The talons afforded him the dexterity to grasp the butt-end of the bullet shell and pull it from the leaves of titanium plating where it'd lodged itself. With eyes fathomless in their experience and equally vivid color, he examined the tiny little thing that came too close to severing his jugular and flicked it away; it clinked along the pavement with a melodic echo until coming to rest in a rain gutter, and finally falling into the Manhattan sewer system.
Macbeth cricked his neck and rubbed his jaw, wiping away a layer of sweat, blood and grime, some of which had trickled down underneath the Epsilon's armor, where he couldn't reach. He needed out of this fancy tin can, with a good long shower and a bottle of scotch liberated from Xanatos' endless stores.
The helmet mechanism had malfunctioned somewhere between escaping the Guild headquarters and arriving here, thus, with the helmet halves refusing to close over his head, he was unprotected from the neck up. But it didn't stop him from running headfirst into the fray when the bullets erupted and the tenuous peace was shattered by an involuntary muscle twitch. With every clenched, armored fist against a Guild agent, he was able to let out a bit of pent-up rage.
Despite the fact he was a thousand-year-old king with a shock of white hair and matching beard, dressed from the neck down in strange, ebony, gargoyle-like armor, teeming with weaponry, he was almost forgotten in the carnage that followed. The Guild seemed to focus, almost obsessively so, on any gargoyle they came across. But it did help to make the job a little easier when he wasn't so much of a target he thought he'd become, protecting the clan in his gleaming bulletproof skin and getting any more trapped civilians to safety. He figured a put a good dent in their number and relished the chance to revenge himself on those who tried to kill him months ago.
But late into the battle, Macbeth had only just caught the clan being loaded into a SWAT van from across the wreckage and as it rumbled out of sight, he was left alone on the battlefield with an enemy dwindling to near zero. Most of the Guild agents had been arrested, wounded or killed, a few by his hand, and to Macbeth, it was battle under ancient rules, kill or be killed. He didn't waste a single second on remorse for the fallen. The gargoyles had loaded into that van–was there another he'd missed? A small one, with gleaming orange skin?–and not quite under the threat of injury or death. He had to assume they were safe and turned his attention to the leftovers. They were scurrying in between the twisted cadavers of sedans and SUVs like ghosts, without mass, without the recklessness of the others. These agents were the elite, having escaped arrest and capture or the inside of a body-bag.
Suddenly, an alarm went off inside the armor. The helmet halves, stowed and stuck behind his head, started screeching. The armor's systems had picked up a transmission floating through the Square. The Guild was talking to each other. It was brief but shrill, like a fire alarm; a beacon, a warning, the precursor.
"Damn..." Macbeth muttered and started in towards the epicenter with a panicked stride.
Until the night lit up and his pupils contracted, quickly and violently shrinking to dots like doors being shut on his brain to keep it from being flash-fried. With no mask to filter out the flare's effects, he was rendered just as blind as everyone else in the Square. He stumbled around, following blurry images and streaks of color, forced to rely on his other senses to traverse a literal minefield where any specter that crossed his vision could be holding a gun to his forehead. But the mechanical scream that filled Times Square played havoc on his equilibrium and he could barely keep standing; if it wasn't for the armor's gyroscopic balance (which helped with the added weight and appendages) he would've ended up on his back, floundering like a turtle.
Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, thready mists of grays and yellows filtered back into his line of sight and, like watching the clan escape a few moments before, he just caught the Guild hijacking a four-wheeled tank and running the closest blockade. The flare burned itself to a slowly descending ember and sunk to the street, and Times Square fell back into that same creeping, ubiquitous darkness.
As the ringing in his ears faded, he started to pick up the sounds of chaos, including cops screaming at each other to stop the Guild, warning the roadblocks or calling ahead to any reinforcements outside of the area cordoned off.
Macbeth turned to the voice that seemed, at least as best as he could tell, was closest to him. A SWAT team had turned his attention to him now that the main curiosities had fled the scene. His gun was up and aimed between the Scotsman's eyes.
"Freeze! Don't move!"
"That's gratitude..." he muttered, blinking rapidly.
The younger man (by about a thousand years) was out of patience and hanging on by a thread. It didn't matter if this particular man hadn't taken a shot at them all night during the fight, and helped to round up more Guild members than most of the police and SWAT teams combined. "I said freeze! You're going to take off whatever the hell that is you're wearing and lay down face first on the ground."
"Sorry, laddie. Not tonight." With a single thought translated through the forehead neuro-link patch Macbeth opened the armor's shuttered louver and fired up the rocket.
The amount of force necessary to lift several hundred pounds of human and titanium into the air caused a wave of pressure to explode in all directions, knocking the SWAT on his butt. Flames licked his boots. By the time he got to his feet, Macbeth was gone, nothing but a quickly-evaporating trail of smoke in the direction of one of the roadblocks. He lowered his rifle and tore his helmet off, spitting.
Macbeth aimed down East 43rd street, following the damage trail left by the Guild in their stolen vehicle. He passed over several squad cars at the first roadblock, one with a crushed front end and the other lying on its top, and a scattered crowd of cops and reporters. Obviously they came through here, running up a one-way street without any care to who might be driving the opposite way. He flew low to the ground, pushing the armor as fast as it could go without draining his dwindling fuel reserves or clipping a building while trying to turn a corner and hoping to catch up to the stolen SWAT van before it got too far.
Several blocks up, seeing more wrecked cars pushed aside like one-ton paperweights until crossing Park Avenue into Grand Central Station, he spotted the hole in the concrete barrier and finally the SWAT van having run itself into some vehicles parked along the street. A couple of sleek, ground-hugging coupes were pancaked underneath the van, halfway from taking off from a makeshift ramp. He landed, scaring away a few of the confused onlookers and ripped open the back door; he wasn't surprised in the slightest to find the vehicle completely empty.
He exhaled. Within minutes, the Guild had stolen a truck, run through the blockades like they were made of tissue paper and abandoned their vehicle on top of several others only to vanish into the crowds of Grand Central, and into the miles of subway tunnels running in every direction. They were mercenaries worth every penny.
Sirens split the stillness, flashing lights reflected off the skyscraper windows and he knew the cops were moments from arriving on the scene. He launched straight up and hoped to hide himself in the city skyline, disguising his trajectory.
When the police pulled in, all they found was a cloud of black smoke rushing towards them, quickly swelling underneath a fiery plume that went straight up, like a rocket had just taken off in the middle of the island. The speck at the top wasn't even remotely identifiable without a pair of binoculars; just a faint glint of what might be metal rapidly flying out of sight.
The boy looked peaceful enough. Sleeping there quietly, and doped up on enough sedatives to drop a rhinoceros, Broadway could've been mistaken for stone if it weren't for the steady rise and fall of his chest.
And Hudson, lying beside him in the closest hospital bed, had an ear on the rhythm of expelled breaths. He hadn't taken his eyes off of Broadway the entire time, that solid, slate gaze flickering between his face and bandaged leg under the starched hospital sheet. Dr. Pierce had explained that, if he noticed blood seeping out from underneath, the graft hadn't taken. But Mother's handiwork seemed to be holding. She seemed overly proud when helping Broadway into his bed, not so much by bragging (assuring Dr. Pierce several times over even after the surgery) but with an expression unique to someone who'd not quite gotten the hang of full emotional range.
Now he hoped that liquid metal woman's self-confidence was warranted. That was one of his children laying there, another casualty of the Guild, and he'd already lost one. Heaven pray he wouldn't lose another.
It came from just outside the infirmary, in the corridor somewhere. But it was enough to finally tear his attention away from Broadway and focus on the hallway past the door.
"Little sufferable...!" The voice burst back into the corridor like a cannonball. "Why won't you answer?!"
Hudson identified the voice as belonging to one of his nurses. Rain had taken the twins up to the castle to get them something to eat and to hopefully get their minds of off their parents for a moment at least, Pierce was in his office and probably buried under a stack of papers, Mother had vanished somewhere so that only left "Annika."
She appeared through the doorway, with a cell phone on her ear.
He wasn't quite as versed on the technology of the twenty-first century, but knew enough of body language when the young female snapped the little device shut with an audible crack. "Any luck?"
It started as a low growl that could've exploded into a scream but she minded the patients and decided to swallow her anger. "None." she managed, and cricked her neck. "Either he's not answering for a very good reason or..."
"Tis th' trouble with being left behind, th' waiting..." Hudson said forlornly. "T' see if th' ones we love live or die."
She raked her claws through her hair, ribbons of gold lacking a little of its usual sheen from the sweat and medical dressings. She wanted a shower to rid herself of the stench of blood but refused to leave the hospital in case Broadway took a turn for the worse, and didn't want to be indisposed if her husband happened to call her back. "Broadway will be fine." she said at last. "And Todd's damned-near indestructible. If years of junk food, psychotic driving, mouthing off to people twice his size and generally living by the skin of his ass can't kill him, then nothing can."
"Then why are ye worried?"
"Because he's my husband." she sighed. "And he has a particular talent for getting into trouble."
Glancing up at the wall-mounted television, Annika noticed just one more of the annoyingly infinite number of news reports on the disturbance in Times Square. Her lip curled. She was forced to keep the TV tuned to the news channels as the only way to find out what was happening, but wasn't growing fond of the constant repetition, seeing different angles of the same deadly battle with part of the clan caught in the middle. "Don't they have anything new?"
"'Tis television news, they rarely have anything good unless it be a drunken celebrity."
"Or an all-out street brawl. But the repeated footage is getting on my nerves."
But this time, a bit of new footage had suddenly appeared in the form of the clan being carted off in a SWAT van. In between the scrolling news ticker, with infuriatingly repetitive and moronically obvious text, the channel ID, the blurry and rapid switches between the on-site reporter and barely focused shots of the battle, she could make out several gargoyles loading into the back-end and then disappearing through one of the roadblocks. The screen reflected in Annika's wide eyes. "Oh my god..."
Hudson picked up on the sudden change in attitude and followed her wide gaze to the television screen.
Annika scrambled for the remote and started flipping through the channels. The constant repetition was gone, replaced by a startling new development with the police actually rescuing the gargoyles. She was looking for better footage, close-ups, something to confirm what she was actually seeing. No handcuffs, no threat under the gun, they seemed to willingly load up, all except Othello, who seemed to hesitate until someone who seemed to be developing some leadership chops forced him in. "Way to go, Lex..." she whispered admirably.
She whirled on the linoleum to face him. "They got out." Annika announced. "They got out. And under police escort apparently."
She somehow squeezed out a bare hint of a grin, even though it quickly faded into the weather-worn lines of Hudson's face. "Thank th' dragon...but where are they?"
"I don't know." Annika upped the volume, and continued flipping until she came across a reporter. Fatigues, tussled hair, she seemed a little more informed than the rest, a little less biased and didn't quite care how she appeared on camera.
"...In this amazing turn of events in an already incredible night here at Times Square, the gargoyles have been escorted away in an armored van. With an exceedingly high body count, the police suddenly and strangely switched tactics and risked their very lives to save these gargoyles, if indeed they are genuine..."
"You're damned right they're genuine." Annika muttered.
"...Police and SWAT teams have been tight-lipped about what's happening, offering no answer to the validity of these gargoyles, where they've been taken, who the masked terrorists are and why they caused all of this in the first place. And there's still the identity and fate of the green female who was left behind against such overwhelming odds. She was fatally injured and taken away from the scene via ambulance, but her destination has been kept a highly-guarded secret..."
"...The mayor's office and police commissioner have offered no comment about the battle, only offering similarly-worded assurances that the situation is firmly under control. When asked about the rescue of the gargoyles they seemed genuinely surprised, which would confirm the rumors of the FBI becoming involved..."
"Ach, not them again."
Her expression faltered, and Annika's brain started grinding gears. "Huh...you know, I think I may know where Todd is and what he's doing."
"Remarkable...her organ structure is almost identical to that of a human. Enlarged, tri-chambered heart and slightly larger lungs, but the liver, kidneys, gastro-intestinal tract, it's all damned near the same."
The surgeon's colleague nodded. "Good news for us, the bullet did a bit of damage on its way through."
"Piercing the lung, narrowly missing the heart, but hitting and deflecting off of the fourth vertebro-sternal rib and nicking the gallbladder on its way out."
"Speaking of which, are you finished with the gallbladder?"
He tied off the thread. "All finished. The lung?"
"Patched up." The assistant surgeon adjusted her glasses, deft and nimble fingers prodding around the lung to make sure she'd completely closed the hole. Nodding to one of the many assistants crowding around the operating table, she watched for any stray air bubbles as the lung was re-inflated. "Pink and perfect. Or as perfect as a gargoyle's lung should be, I suppose..."
"This lung, her lungs, they're incredibly dense with alveoli, at least one and a half times more. They must have incredible breathing capacity, and endurance. Funny, by the look of her, I would've thought she'd take more after a reptile–"
His lifted his head, eyes as big as dinner plates under the magnification of his surgical eyewear. "Adelle?"
Completely locked on the patient for the last hour, her own eyes trickled up over the edge of her thick-rimmed glasses and met his gaze. She always had to hold back the instinct to laugh, but the glasses allowed him to better inspect his surgical handiwork. "Hmm?"
"Are you finished? Because apparently we're under a tight deadline and it ends come sunrise."
"Yes, I'm finished. And I think that FBI agent's pulling your leg, Henry." she said incredulously. "Turning to stone at dawn? She becomes a statue?"
"I know it sounds odd, Adelle, but as of an hour ago, we also thought gargoyles were an urban legend." The surgical mask muffled an amused chortle. "And here we are, saving the life of said legend." He pulled back, getting a better look at his patient; at least, her exterior. He remembered best her striking jade color when she was wheeled into the operating theater and the call he received from an agent Sykes just minutes prior didn't seemed as outlandish now as it did then.
The female was limp on the operating table, with breathing tubes down her throat and an IV in her arm, eyes taped shut and skin stained from the battle. It was all a blur and he had trouble keeping the memory from becoming jumbled. With all the casualties flooding into the hospital, he was on triage. The hospital administrator suddenly appeared from somewhere in the chaos, tapped him on the shoulder and ordered him to get suited up for emergency surgery; a special patient was arriving. He voiced his protest, but the administrator shot him down, claiming this order came from a much higher source and telling him he might as well comply or have the Federal Bureau of Investigation up his ass for non-compliance. He grudgingly assembled his team, got suited up and within minutes his patient arrived under heavy police escort. Silence fell over the theater, and all he remembered was that vivid green and someone dropping something in the background, a scalpel maybe. Once he and his operating team got over the initial shock, he quickly assessed the damage with help from the EMTs. Shot through the chest, lung punctured, internal bleeding, she needed immediate surgery or she wouldn't last the night. Then came the phone call, and a mister Abel Sykes with the FBI, explaining all about his mystery patient, expounding on the administrator's cryptic orders. She was a gargoyle, she was involved in the terrorist attack downtown and come sunrise, she was going to turn to stone.
As if it all wasn't strange enough, doctor Henry Crispin, one of the best surgeons at Bellevue Hospital Center, was just told the gargoyle female was about to become a statue.
The anesthesiologist was under the gun to figure out the proper dose to put her under safely; judging by her height, weight, muscle density and extra appendages, he used all the experience at his disposal and judged as best he could. The surgical team took scissors to her tattered kimono and undergarments, stripping her down to the bare skin. They carefully examined her, wings and all before prepping for surgery. And now an hour later, closing in on daybreak, he finally had the chance to lean back and digest it all. His gargoyle patient was going to survive. "Okay, are we ready to close?"
If anyone happened to be looking in through the door's small, wire-laced window, they would've seen a head slowly rise up only to stop at the eyes, darting back and forth, scanning the hall outside. The thin brows see-sawed wildly before the head sunk out of view again. The doorknob slowly turned, the door cracked a few inches and Savannah poked her head out. The hospital corridor was empty. Obviously the guards didn't think her much of a security threat, especially after her faux fainting spell.
Suckers, she thought, for a woman swooning in their arms and fluttering her lashes.
The door whined as she pulled it open further, and tip-toed into the hall, wincing at the cold floor on her bare feet. She hugged the wall, treading slowly to muffle her steps and make sure she didn't burn out with her limited energy. But a bellyful of food, a surge of adrenaline and a restless sense of revenge spurred her on. It was like old times, Savannah St. Nicks on the case again and it felt good. Good enough to ignore the fatigue and slight numbness in her limbs and press on.
She skipped across the hall to the other side and peered around the corner; the nurse's station was a hundred feet away and poorly manned with the triage center downstairs. Every so often a doctor, nurse or orderly would come by, hands usually full with another patient being admitted after treatment. If she timed it right, she could get to the station and hijack a phone, but she didn't know where the handsome thugs had disappeared to. She figured they were guarding the operating room but couldn't see them from her own hall. They might've believed she was lost the first time, not the second. Savannah leaned out, farther, farther and then, not seeing anyone, shot out from the corridor into the main hall, scuttling down the cool linoleum and hugging the wall. From the windows she could see the commotion outside; ambulances lined up waiting to unload their patients and nurses and doctors scrambling around to try and treat every single one.
She inched along, listening for anything that may indicate a visitor to her section of the floor and finally reached the end of the main hall. A tall potted plant at the corner provided cover and she stared between the leaves. The nurse's station was at the hub of several corridors, lit up like a Christmas tree against the relative darkness surrounding it. It was empty, but probably wouldn't stay that way for long. She looked left, then right, and then went for it; Savannah shot across the hall, reached the desk and threw herself around, catching her breath from the exertion. She scanned the large, curved desk, found clipboards on top of clipboards, patient files, towels, a bedpan, a half-cup of coffee and a general amount of disarray. Whoever worked here left this station in a hurry.
And then, she spotted the phone, half-buried, and smiled. "Hello." To a starving man it was a porterhouse steak; to a reporter it was a means to share her story again. Just as she was about to reach out, something suddenly funneled down one of the corridors to spoil her fun.
"Come on, a gargoyle?"
Savannah froze, dropped like a stone and shuffled underneath the counter. Footsteps followed the voices, heavy and rapidly approaching. Seems the guards weren't actually at their post; they'd gone for a quick coffee run, especially since no one had appeared near the operating room, at least no one that didn't belong there.
"Haven't you seen the footage of the Square? There's a bunch of 'em."
Cop number one added the packet of cream to his coffee and stirred the steaming liquid, hoping something good might come out of this cheap hospital dispenser sludge. "Fanatics in costumes, Frank."
"So you don't believe the woman in that operating room is a gargoyle?" cop number two shot back. "We rolled in with her, you saw the horns and wings, the tail!"
"Fifty bucks says the first thing they did was unzip the costume...and we're stuck here guarding an idiot hero wanna-be that ran out into the middle of a warzone and got herself shot."
Number two blew on his coffee and tested it. "That's cold, pal."
But cop number one defended his point of view. "Hey, do you know how many people in gargoyle costumes I've arrested in the last seven years? And how many were real? None. These fanatics keep us from helping those who really need it."
The conversation continued around the desk with Savannah trapped underneath and she hoped they'd keep on walking right back towards their post near the operating room, leaving her to her skulking. But they stopped, and one step of footfalls wandered closer, right up to the edge of the desk. Savannah saw the size eleven boot come down inches from her fingers and she quickly pulled them away before they were steamrolled and stamped with a standard issue NYPD shoeprint. "...eep..."
"Poor thing, though, she's a looker."
"Yeah, take away the wings, the tail, claws and fangs, she'd be really hot."
A hand suddenly appeared, grazing a few of Savannah's stray hairs and she retreated as far back as possible, hitting her head on the underside. Her hands flew to the crown of her head, "...augh...!" and then over her big mouth. The hand searched around blindly with several empty cream containers clutched between the fingers and she knew exactly what the cop was looking for. She pushed the wastepaper basket forwards until it nudged the groping hand. He deposited his trash and the cops moved on, presumably back to their post.
"You're hopeless, pal."
Savannah heard a fit of laughter receding into an echo; they were returning to the operating theater. Letting enough time pass, she peeked out and made sure no one else was around, then reached up, grabbed the phone and pulled the entire unit under with her. She only hoped she remembered the number for Xanatos Enterprises.
He was rising above the skyline, flying free from the gaping maw and leaving Manhattan behind him. The Eyrie loomed ahead, aglow around the seams, the castle bathed in spotlights. Macbeth had weaved through skyscrapers, foiling any attempt to track him or his destination. Rolling around he caught a glance at the Square, and could see the carnage wrought by the Guild; a shallow mountain of wrecked cars surrounded by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, and people turned ants scattered in between. The SWAT teams were mopping up, sifting through wreckage for any more survivors or the bodies of those not so lucky.
A ripple in the road brought his focus back and he swiveled back around. Turbulence, he guessed, but the night was calm, with barely a breeze about. Another jolt and this time he felt it go right through the steel skin.
At first he thought the shudder was wind-sheer, but when he stopped gaining altitude, he knew something was wrong. The boosters were losing power and sputtering, coughing up more smoke than fire, even though the fuel gauge still showed enough to get him safely back to the Eyrie building. As a last desperate attempt, he shot straight up to get as much altitude as possible and hoped he could glide back to the castle using short, fuel-efficient bursts as directional thrust, but as he pushed the boosters to the limit they suddenly cut out and Macbeth started falling.
His forehead crumpled like tissue paper in his efforts to control the armor's rockets, but all he could get were gutless wheezes that barely changed the direction he was falling. He thought quick and aimed for an alley; better to crash there out of sight than in the middle of the street or through someone's roof. A little here, a little there, he maneuvered between buildings and caught the wall with his clawed glove, trying to slow himself down while tearing chunks of brick from the mortar. He hit ground and even with the armor's shock absorbers felt the impact through his knees. The rockets burped and sputtered and eventually burned out, giving one last death knell in the form of a puff of black smoke. "Damn!"
All of a sudden the rush of sound from the city poured into the alley, and Macbeth suddenly felt the most vulnerable he'd been all night. A disarray of sirens and voices could be heard on the breeze, the tension thick like exhaust in the air and here he was dressed head to toe in gleaming black and silver armor.
The mask was still stuck behind his head, probably due to malfunctioning hydraulic pistons (the possible culprit as innocuous as seawater, a direct blow or a stray bullet). He reached behind him, grabbed one of the halves and yanked it forward, checking the readouts on the small inner screen. The fuel gauge still read 8%, more than enough for a straight burn back to the castle, but the boosters were coughing up sparks. He shook it and noticed the screen fizz and flash. Seems the damage extended into the delicate electronics; this armor was a prototype after all and had been put through its paces in its relatively young life.
"Ruddy machine..." he spit, and then, allowed himself the luxury of thinking what could have been. He took into the account the number of bullets that could have riddled his body at any time during the battle, bullets that bounced off titanium plating while keeping him alive.
But he was still stuck at ground level in the middle of the city, a city on high alert with a tendency to jump at every shadow. Though the armor's electrical, hydraulic and weapon systems were powered by several small, powerful fuel cells, the boosters were fed by good old-fashioned rocket fuel, both solid and liquid, kept in thickly armored fuel tanks and then mixed on ignition. Xanatos Enterprises held several patents on hybrid rocket designs, boasting a solution to the troublesome nature of mixing the propellants during the combustion process. But an engine without fuel was still useless, no matter how well-engineered.
"Well, sire," he said to himself, "this is a fine mess. What do ye do now?"
He was still dangerously close to Times Square and cops were crawling all over the place, presumably looking for any stray Guild members. Though they could easily stash their masks and weapons in any passing dumpster and easily blend into the populace, that only meant the police were more likely to stop almost anyone on the street and search them. And Macbeth was wearing his weapon. He neared the edge of the alleyway, where it fed into the street and he noticed it was largely empty of people, most likely frightened away or herded out of the neighborhood. Icy eyes scanned for any movement, and at the moment he saw none. He seized the opportunity and darted out as quietly as he could in metal, gargoyle-like feet.
An awning provided makeshift camouflage for the armor, stripping the building's window frame to an aluminum skeleton and he walked the street (considering the alley was a dead-end), looking for the first available chance to get as far away from the Square as possible. A squad car raced past, and he flinched, retreating in towards a building's brick front and the shadows it provided. He was getting jumpy, and that didn't lend itself well to blending in; he needed to get out of here and fast. Washing the street with his eyes, he could see car after abandoned car lining both sides; his brow furrowed with a particularly objectionable thought. Nobles didn't lower themselves to the contemptible act of theft, but he could always return the car later or even buy the owner something new and sparkly to soothe his conscience. He continued walking, that same pervading thought dangling over him like a pall, passing by trucks, sedans, another sedan, an SUV, another truck, and then, sticking out like a sore thumb sat a four-wheeled cry for attention painted deep metallic purple. He harrumphed, "Well, well, boy, I found yuir impressive chariot."
Todd's car, the Superbird, sitting on bloated radials and looking wretched stuck in between all the ordinary little vehicles.
He leaned over and peered through the window; it was empty except for the Doritos shards on the passenger seat. "But where have ye gone?" He looked down the road. "Into the inferno? Ye couldn't have been that brash."
The irony would be too delicious, no matter where the boy had disappeared to. The car was fast, but far too recognizable. Fast didn't always immediately equal an easy escape, especially when stealth was far more important than speed and considering he just spotted a pair of uniforms walking up the street, no doubt two of many currently casing the neighborhoods surrounding the square, attracting attention to himself was exactly what he didn't need. He figured as much as the boy sung the car's praises, he made sure to protect his investment just as passionately. The car had an alarm system no doubt, and as soon as he opened the door the car would scream its angry, pulsing scream. The cops would run towards him and at closer inspection, they'd easily suspect something of a sterling-haired man swaddled in weatherproof canvas and who could be easily recognized from the Times Square battle.
"Hmph..." He pulled his makeshift cloak closer to his body and, regretfully, slipped away.
If there was any room to keep a very large secret out of the public eye, it was a room without windows, and only one way in or out. The clan was ushered here and left to stew for almost half an hour before a complement of doctors and nurses arrived and stopped dead and pale-faced at the door. The two groups stared each other down, one suspicious, the other in astonishment (even with the lengthy briefing on who and what their patients were), but Abel Sykes pushed his way through and made sure to play the go-between, swaying any fears and supervising the medical check-up.
Most of the clan was willing, considering they were nursing bruises, sprains, cuts and open wounds and were appreciative if only for the bandages and painkillers. Othello was rather disinclined to have strange human hands crawling all over his flesh until a gentle prodding from his mate came in the form of an elbow spur and a hard look, but the real holdout was Bronx; he'd always been obstinate when having any wound treated and snapped and snarled at any doctor willing to get close.
Abel Sykes stood quietly and near the doorway, just observing these creatures as they interacted with each other and with the doctors. They, at least the females, were very gracious and incredibly intelligent, whereas the only two males in the room seemed stubborn and withdrawn. The tall one, Othello (Shakespeare, he mused), was very much an alpha male, and stood with his arms crossed, refusing to comply until the blond female with the caramel skin (Desdemona, how fitting) used her charm to crumble every wall he put up and somehow got him to allow the medic to treat his wounds.
The other male kept to himself into the corner, the one who shook his hand, who seemed to be in charge and the only one to willingly give his name (the rest were gleaned from bits of dialogue). He was smaller than the rest with odd wings and didn't offer much in conversation, but he'd seen fellow agents and cops after shoot-outs and raids gone wrong; he knew the telltale signs of anger, fear and helplessness translated as depression and isolation. He didn't even acknowledge the medic working on his arm, just kept staring into the far wall.
Seems there were just as many psychological wounds as there were physical.
A knock on the door behind him meant someone was about to come in and he quickly moved aside. A duty cop appeared through narrow gap and threw him a nod; the prisoner he'd asked for had been escorted to the room and was right behind him. Abel motioned with a couple of fingers to allow the prisoner in. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "I have someone here you might want to see."
The door opened and where the clan expected more doctors or agents or cops, a familiar sight lay before them in heavy shackles. The last they saw of him, he was fighting for his life against a psychotic in an undersea bunker rapidly filling with water.
Closest to him, Angela stood up and expressed her relief with a grated sigh, "Brooklyn."
That reckless smirk, still as sharp even after forty years, rolled into his beak. "Hey, guys. Glad to see you're still alive."
"Yes," she smiled back, "all of us..." and deftly stepped aside to allow the rest of the clan into view.
Brooklyn scanned the tattered gargoyles; they were bruised and cut, sunken-eyed and exhausted, gashes sterilized and stitched before being wrapped in gauze and tape. By first glance, he could see the care taken by the medical teams. At least they were being treated fairly, as promised by agent Sykes. Slowly sweeping his gaze around the room, he found Othello protectively and unsurprisingly hovering over Desdemona as a doctor threaded a needle through the flesh on her forearm, closing a deep wound, and Delilah hesitantly extending a wing to another doctor to make sure no bones were fractured. Angela returned to help keep Bronx under control as a doctor tried to check the wounds on his front leg, the beast baring his teeth at the stranger who didn't even have the courtesy to bring him something to eat.
And then, to the far side, in the corner of the room, a bespectacled little physician obscured his view of the last patient (did he count wrong?) until he moved out of the way, and saw a slim female dressed in NYPD sweats hastily modified with a pair of scissors and wrapped in a blanket. The dull pumpkin skin was a dead giveaway. "Sister...?"
A smile caressed her lips in the same, subtle way Brooklyn's had just a few minutes ago. "Hello, little brother."
As quickly and as poised as possible in chains, Brooklyn shuffled towards her. He had to stop and swathe her in a dissecting stare in order for his brain to accept the reality. After all, tonight had had its share of surprises and this particular one was close to shorting out a synapse or two.
She enjoyed the stupefied expression. "Nothing to say? A thousand years ago, the elders had trouble keeping that beak shut."
"I just..." he stammered. "I thought–we thought you were dead."
"No, just lost."
If it weren't for the chains and the fear he might accidentally strangle her, Brooklyn would've scooped her from the floor in a hug. He couldn't believe something good had come out of this terrible night. He opened his mouth to say something but couldn't form the words. A million little thoughts had bunged up on the way down from brain to vocal cords, tangled together until he forced something out. "Huh...I'm...I'm so glad to see you, so glad to see you're alive."
She offered him a smile. "As am I, to see my clan alive after..." She trailed off, uncomfortable with the recently returned memory of being buried alive after toppling one of Sobek's false gods with several thousand volts of electricity.
"Yeah. But," he couldn't help but satisfy his curiosity, laughing in the face of the luck that brought her back, "where the hell have you been?"
His brows furled. "Seriously?"
She rubbed her forehead, where recently a dent in her skull had pushed on her brain and robbed her of her former life; until it repaired itself, owing to her unique body chemistry. "Yes, very serious–"
Brooklyn turned only to catch Angela wrangle Bronx around his neck as he snapped at the doctor unlucky enough to be assigned to him, the weedy man pulling his fingers away with a frightened yelp. It seemed he and the young female gargoyle had succeeded in calming Bronx down enough to examine his wounds until the doctor dabbed a bit of hydrogen peroxide across a particularly large gash. Bronx was almost foaming at the mouth in response.
The doctor sat on the floor with his hands clenched into fists to prevent anything from getting chewed off, and just happened to look to Brooklyn with a pleading expression. "U-Uhm...perhaps you have a suggestion?"
"Steak," Brooklyn threw at him, "and lots of it. Then he'll love you for life."
The doctor turned back to Bronx, where Angela had placated him with a good scratch behind the ears. He swallowed the lump and wondered how far the closest butcher was.
"Stick close to him, Angela," Brooklyn said, "keep him from taking off one of the good doctor's hands."
"No problem." she said, and held her gaze on him a little longer than usual. "And Brooklyn, it's good to see you."
"You too." He winked at her and turned around, flashing a grin to Delilah, then Desdemona. He and Othello shared a nod (surprisingly more emotion than he expected) and then he settled on the only one who'd kept to the back of the room. He was crouched and eerily still, with his back against the wall and his elbows on his knees. "Hey, Lex."
Lexington sluggishly raised his head. Those big eyes weren't as reflective as usual, dull almost. He'd had his share of the burden of leadership tonight. "Hey..."
He sensed something in the tone, the ambivalent body language, the exhaustion more mental than physical. Brooklyn saw the holes in the wing and the large knife slung through his belt, obviously a trophy from the Guild fight. He and Othello were allowed to keep their weapons, considering they wouldn't do much against an army of cops just outside the door; guns always trumped knives and bows. "Good to see you." he said.
"What happened out there?"
"A war." he answered, but held back. He guarded the truth from all the extra ears in the room, especially seeing Sykes perk up near the door.
"And the Guild?"
"Some dead, some arrested, and according to the police, some got away."
Brooklyn visibly balked. "Damn. But at least you're all right, all of you."
"No thanks to me..." Lexington muttered.
"What do you mean?"
"We were all okay, we got out, thanks to Katana." The name sent a visible shudder through Brooklyn, but he kept his mouth shut. "But then she got hurt and the Guild took prisoners, and..."
Lexington had trailed off, and Brooklyn presumed to finish for him, "And you made the decision to go back."
He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing the back of his head almost obsessively. His hands flexed and opened faster, repeating. "Yes."
"It was the right decision." Brooklyn assured him. "I would've done the same thing."
It wasn't the tone or the accusation that cut him to the bone, it was his brother's guilt and the fact Lexington was forced to make that decision in Brooklyn's absence. "I don't know."
"I never asked to be put in charge. I-I'm not..." he tried, and then resigned, "It should've been Othello..."
"I assume they looked to you, Lex, because they trust you, implicitly."
"And look what happened!" he barked, his eyes finally open, his eyes flaring. "Look at us! And where's Katana?! I don't know, because I left her behind! I left her behind..."
He was running on empty and Lexington couldn't be convinced otherwise. Brooklyn was sure anything he said would only come across as cold comfort to someone who refused to listen. "But you went back," he tried, "to help her, to help everyone trapped in Times Square. I imagine even the thought of going back was excruciating, but it's always hard to make the right decisions, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time."
Lexington didn't answer; he just looked into the palms of his hands.
"Excuse me, agent Sykes?"
The issue far from resolved, like many things tonight, Brooklyn forced his attention away from his brother and towards Angela, who was approaching Sykes and it didn't look like she had a pleasant conversation on her mind. "Uh oh..."
"I thought we were safe here," she said almost graciously, but with an underlying bite, "why is he still in chains?"
Having remained at the doorway to allow a reunion unfettered by police interference, Abel stepped forwards. "You're friend Brooklyn here..." he said with some sort of pride in the fact he'd already weaseled the name from Todd earlier. "Has entered into a deal with the FBI to face any charges that might be laid against him."
Lexington was up on his haunches immediately. "What charges?!"
Immediately, the clan started protesting in a ruckus that shook the ceiling tiles. The doctors were spooked and backed off as the gargoyles started moving in towards Sykes. But Brooklyn didn't let the objection last more than a few seconds before he quickly silenced them with a wave of his shackled hands.
"It was my decision." he said calmly. "I did it to keep all of you safe."
"It was a lousy decision." Lexington argued. "We're all innocent, and we have it all on tape."
"Lex, don't do this..."
But an upsurge of emotion from what he'd gone through in the last ten hours came rushing out without a filter. "No! We survive by the skin of our teeth only to have one of our own arrested on false charges?!"
"He hasn't been charged yet," Abel clarified quickly, "he's simply under suspicion and thus, is in custody. He could easily be cleared."
"Yeah right. And how likely is that, agent Sykes?"
"Enough, Lex." Brooklyn scolded him.
But Lexington was already fueled by something more potent than gasoline, and started laying into the agent. "What's your deal? Plan to sell us out to make yourself look good?!"
"I said that's enough!"
There was obviously more he wanted to voice, but he skulked away to the far corner, visibly angry, and shuddering. He was still wringing his hands, the muscle underneath knotted like old bark to the point where his talons might pierce his palms.
The clan was surprised at the outburst, coming from someone so typically calm and gentle. But everything had changed tonight, including one of their own.
Though not as intimate with him as the rest of his family, Abel knew the outburst was atypical for this particular gargoyle. Especially when interpreting the reaction of his fellow clan-mates, reading body language and expressions as well as someone would an open book. "He's rather agitated." he said, almost clinically.
Brooklyn went on the defense. "Did you not see the footage? He went through Hell out there. We all did."
"But you weren't out there." Abel remarked. "Unless you're talking about something else. Was there another battle to the death I'm unaware of? Maybe Canmore's outlandish allegations aren't so outlandish after all."
His brow kneaded a pair of glazed eyes. Brooklyn was impressed how this agent soaked up the most innocuous details; he had to learn to watch his tongue. "Always digging, aren't you?"
"It's my job, and like I told you, the more I know of your situation, the more I can help you."
"Then help me right now. Tell me where Katana is."
He breathed, a sympathetic sigh maybe, but most likely one of frustration. "Like I told you before, she's been taken to the hospital."
"Yeah, you told me that, but you failed to mention which one."
"For sake of obligation, let's just keep that a secret right now. But rest assured she's in good hands."
A spark of something white-hot surrounded his eyes, but Brooklyn restrained the protective instinct. "If your wife was in the hospital, would you rest assured?"
He dipped his head in agreement. "Point, but it still doesn't make any difference."
"Told you." came a disgruntled voice from the background. It was Lexington, with an air of pride in his accuracy.
Abel's expression was hard as rock and impossible to read. "I've extended you as much courtesy as I can possibly afford in this situation, Brooklyn." he said stiffly. "Please don't ask me to go any further or it could cost us both, dearly."
The office he'd inherited was monastic much like the former owner and his alter ego's taste in décor, but at least the single window afforded one of the best views in the city. But Jason Canmore's eyes weren't focused on any single point.
Times Square was just far enough away to become an indeterminate splotch of light in the distance and the fact he couldn't see anything didn't help the restlessness; pacing his office proved pointless and he only got wear-burns on his palms for his trouble. His television was tuned to the same news reports the entire city was watching but it'd all become a blur of colors and voice. It was difficult to watch when the only information of what was happening was being fed through the bias of a reporter, the cameraman, anchors, editors, station managers, etcetera, before it even got out to the general public and with the world-spanning resources of XE, it wasn't how he liked to operate. In fact, he was considering sending a Cyber-Biotics camera drone to the Square before his phone went off, his private line not many people were privy to.
Now, he was neck-deep in a slew of heavy thoughts after the phone call from Maria Chavez, whose report had come as both a relief and a shock that went straight to the gut. The clan was saved by police intervention, though he was surprised at why; to watch them suddenly get carted off by SWAT teams had its share of ambivalence. He was thankful but suspicious of any motive beyond simple public service.
Their rescue seemed abrupt, as if the order had suddenly come without anyone expecting it. Now he had to wonder just who gave that order and why. Perhaps Xanatos had pulled something out of his sleeve despite his reluctance to offer the clan the least amount of help, using the influence of one of the world's wealthiest men to pull a few strings. David Xanatos had moles on the payroll in numerous major corporations, public utilities and emergency services, and all it would take was a phone call.
But something else had deadened the rest of his body, at least from the waist up, and that was the revelation of who else was brought in alongside Brooklyn.
The office almost dead-quiet, when the phone on the far desk crackled to life he nearly jumped from his seat. "...Mr. Canmore?..." a female voice echoed into the room through the intercom. "...I have a call for you on line three..."
He took a breath and a moment to steady his heart. "Take a message." he responded absentmindedly. He wasn't in the mood for business now and any of the clan or their allies would have used the private line just as Maria did.
"...I think you'd better take this one, Mr. Canmore..." his secretary pushed the issue. "...The caller sounds urgent and she says her name is Savannah..."
Jason turned his head quick enough to give himself whiplash. Leaving skid marks on his hands (the ones he always tried to avoid in his line of work), he rolled to his phone faster than an abled person could run and swiped it from its cradle. "Hello? Savannah?!"
"...Is this Jason Canmore?..."
Sounded like her. "Yes."
"...Are you sitting down?..."
And the caller had the same irritating attitude he remembered from before. "For th' rest of my life," he said, and then sighed in confirmation, "Savannah."
"...In the flesh...barely..."
"Where are you?"
"...I was taken to Bellevue..."
How fitting, he mused, but didn't say it aloud. He found himself actually relieved to hear her voice. "I'm glad yui're okay."
"I'm serious, I'm glad t' hear from you personally. When th' clan said they'd actually found you in th' Guild bunker and alive, I was–"
"...Listen up, square jaw..." she butted in, not in the mood to be fed phony pleasantries while hiding under a desk. "...Before you start gushing, are you missing a certain green female from your little menagerie up there?..."
Jason tensed. "You know where Katana is?"
"...She's just down the hall..."
As soon as the transport pulled up to the police station, they could see the throng having gathered ever since the gargoyles were brought here; reporters, cameramen, photographers, paparazzi and anyone with a cell-phone with built-in cameras trying to catch anything past those makeshift canvas barriers inside. It was chaos, a party, a zoo and everything in between. There were revelers in costumes, holding signs like it was the second coming, concerned citizens groups demanding to know what was being done about both the gargoyles and the masked terrorists, anti- and pro-gargoyle groups thankfully separated before their differing opinions came to blows, and anyone else just wanting a glimpse.
The heavy transport chugged its way towards the building and the SWAT team peered at the crowds screaming and yelling, cheering and peppering the truck with incessant questions. It slowly rolled up to the square and came to a lurching stop. Lieutenant MacKenzie stepped out the back-end and had to steady himself before collapsing face-first onto the pavement. His body was wracked with pain, old bones and muscles not as flexible as they used to be, but a few aches and pains was better than the alternative.
He and his team disembarked just outside of the steps leading up to the station's front doors and he took a moment to scan the crowds, stretching damn-near the entire length of the street. He saw the duty cops near the barriers trying to keep control over what looked like half the island's population, most of them reporters pushing as a wave and shouting at anyone who might even be willing to give them a sound bite.
"Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" someone called from the crowd upon spotting MacKenzie. He'd become somewhat of a celebrity from the battle footage, his identity gladly offered up by the NYPD and politicians hoping for heroes, especially in their own departments. "Can you confirm the existence of the gargoyles you rescued from Times Square?! Are they real?!"
Another reporter jumped in on the questions. "Are they under arrest?! What does the police intend to do with them?!"
MacKenzie just shook his head, and motioned to his team to head inside. "Ugh...vultures..."
Within minutes Desdemona had felt the drugs kick in. It was an odd experience for someone raised in the dark ages, but whatever took the pain away wouldn't draw a single complaint. But her mate had hung over her shoulder like a vulture, inspecting everything the doctor treated, bandaged, taped or attempted to inject into her. It was the syringe that nearly caused him to grab the smaller man, lift him from his orthopedic shoes and demand what exactly he was giving her, but Angela quickly helped explain the antibiotics and he begrudgingly relented.
Bronx was sated with a box full of hot dogs from a nearby vendor and on his side at his masters' feet, successfully treated, bandaged and sleeping off the feast.
The doctors and physicians had finished their jobs and weren't at all reluctant to exit the room, leaving the clan alone with agent Sykes. But Abel too had decided to give them their privacy, if only for a little while. And as soon as he closed the door behind him, they gathered in the middle of the room. They had business to discuss that didn't include outsiders.
"Broadway?" Brooklyn was quick to ask.
And Angela was the first to answer, "Last time I saw him, he was in surgery."
"With Hudson as a blood donor." Lexington added. "But Pierce said his chances were good."
"I wish I could check with him, but we're cut off from the–"
Brooklyn cut her off by clearing his throat, and moved his eyes to the security camera in the ceiling's corner.
Angela understood; the walls had eyes and ears. Better to keep from exposing anyone else. "From home." she corrected.
"The doc can work miracles." he tried to relieve her fears, but found himself with the same nagging sense of doubt. "And Broadway's a fighter."
"I hope so..." Her wings shivered, right through to the ends of her membranes, and reflexively curled in around her for warmth. "I just wish...even when we're left alone we're still being watched, like those animals in the zoo. We can't even talk. This is worse than a prison cell."
Since his brother had motioned to the camera, silently observing everything under its unwavering, cycloptic gaze, Lexington had turned his attention towards the intrusive eye.
"Think you can do anything about our audience, Lex?"
Without a word, he lifted up and used the furniture as a set of stairs, ending up on a table right underneath the camera. Reaching up, he disconnected the feed and ensured their privacy. His eyes then slowly and meticulously washed the room, switching through several different spectrums and dissecting the room right down to the studs behind the drywall. "I can't detect anything else that may be spying on us..."
"Good." Brooklyn nodded. "What about Macbeth?"
"Hopefully he got away." Lexington answered as he hopped down to ground level and perched on the end of one of the couches. "He should've, wearing the armor."
If he had the chance to offer his advice into the design of this armor, he would've asked the bottom half remain much more like his own. He was running like an ungainly toddler in these gargoyle-styled feet.
A voice rang out behind him, giving him a clue to just how far the police were behind him. Macbeth was running through alleyways, turning tight corners, slinking through parked cars and doing anything he could to stay ahead of his pursuers. He'd barely made it a couple of blocks before hearing someone yell at him from a distance. Police. Macbeth had tried to keep himself scarce on the main streets, but most alleys in this damnable city had a tendency to end too soon with a wall.
He bolted, keeping his wings tucked behind him and the two cops immediately took chase. The awning was thrown off to add to his aerodynamic profile and hopefully blanket his attackers, or at the very least, trip them up. He tore down the sidewalk and skidded around a corner, entering into another alley that fortunately had a hole to it on the other end. The police behind him were quick on his tail and they seemed determined to catch him; tempers were flaring after the battle and anyone even suspected of being a Guild member was being mercilessly hunted down.
A fence loomed ahead, and the police behind him figured they could gain some ground until the man they were chasing put his forearms up and burst straight through, ripping the chain link fence from its steel posts in a spray of sparks.
"Damnit, stop!" one of them yelled. "Before you force me to shoot you!!"
But Macbeth kept on going, knocking over a set of trash cans and making a beeline down the center of the alley. Salvation was a hundred meters away where normal traffic resumed its steady pace.
Macbeth kept running.
One of the cops dug his feet in to stop, aimed his gun and, after a second of hesitation, fired. His bullet screamed towards his target only to bounce off a steel calf muscle. "What the hell...?"
With a smile full of teeth, Macbeth ran out of the alley and darted into traffic. Horns blared and cars swerved to avoid him but he kept his line straight like he was still immortal, towards another alley on the other side. With his pursuers stuck clambering between half a traffic jam full of angry drivers, Macbeth put some distance between him and the police and made it to the alley. He stopped, looked up and dug his talons into the brick wall, climbing upwards at a steady pace. Before the two cops entered the alley, he was up and over the edge of the rooftop and out of sight.
Desdemona then turned her soft eyes to Brooklyn. "What of the rest of us?"
But he didn't have the answer, and could only hazard a guess. His squirmy body language told her more than he could come up with, but he tried anyway. "I hope they'll let you go."
A brusque snort shot out, Othello's reaction to Brooklyn's so-called guess and seemingly misplaced optimism. "You cannot be serious."
"We are gargoyles, monsters to some, curiosities to most, but to these police, criminals."
"That is not true, my love." Desdemona argued.
"Oh?" He extended a hand to his shackled leader as proof.
Brooklyn tested the weight of his manacles; even with his great strength he knew he'd have a hell of a time trying to pull apart the thick chain links. "He may have a point, Des."
She made eyes at her mate, beautiful but deadly-sharp. "A very short-sighted point. We are not in shackles and we have been treated quite fairly."
"The deal I made exonerates the rest of you," Brooklyn interceded, "but I'm not so sure the police, or the FBI for that matter, are going to be so willing to just let the rest of you walk out of here. By his own admittance, Agent Sykes doesn't have much authority when it comes to the government. He could be easily be superseded at any time."
"And what happens to you?" Delilah asked. "You haven't actually told us."
"I don't know." he offered helplessly if not honestly. "If they approach my case like they would a human, I assume more questioning, then a case will be made against me with whatever evidence is available, and if it's strong enough, it'll go to trial."
"Human justice." Othello sneered. "Which is certainly slanted against you."
Brooklyn shrugged in response. "Maybe, maybe not. But I wouldn't discount the justice system yet. Elisa always had faith in it, and so do I."
"Then why are you still in shackles?"
"Because technically, I'm under arrest. But agent Sykes, and the rest of the police in this station, were kind enough to allow me to see my clan where any other prisoner under the same charges would be in solitary." He waved his finger at his fellow gargoyle, like scolding a hatchling and enjoying the expression he elicited. "Don't be so quick to judge, Othello."
The sneer just deepened, right down to the jawbone.
"But even if this goes to trial, even if you're found innocent," Angela cut in, "it's absolute."
With a learned wit, Delilah cracked quietly, "I'd like to see Xanatos' press team explain this away..."
Brooklyn sighed, the reflection crossing his brow in a series of deep lines; so many years of walking that fence. "We're exposed now. We've skirted the edge for so long, but now...our existence is undeniable. Pictures, camera footage, hundreds of eye witnesses, interrogations, blood samples, doctor's examinations...the evidence is irrefutable."
"So, now what?"
"A media frenzy. We have to make sure all ties to any and all of our allies are buried."
"They'll go after Xanatos first." Desdemona presumed.
"Maybe, but he was cleared in an FBI investigation."
"An investigation agent Sykes himself spearheaded." Lexington pointed out, laced with that same mistrust. "Think he won't go back to follow up?"
He sighed, "It's hard to tell." The web around them was spinning ever larger, ensnaring more and more people in the threads. "But I'm not worried about David Xanatos. He can take care of himself and has the resources to make everyone in the world forget about any connection to us."
"It's everyone else." Angela said.
"Right. Whether you're brought in for questioning or not, I want everyone to keep their mouths shut. Or at the very least, play dumb. We can't risk exposing anyone else."
"Eventually they're going to find out, whether we say anything or not." Lexington argued. "They connect us to Xanatos, they'll connect us to Elisa and her family, Maria, Iliana, Todd, Doctor Pierce. We can't wipe away all the evidence."
Brooklyn faced his brother with a smirk. "Then let's do our best to make it hard for them, Lex."
He made sure his model was the top of the line, especially in his most recent employment. Steel and titanium mix, leather seat with lumbar support for his back and his wheels were constructed with sealed bearings for strength and, he'd soon find out, an added bonus of stealth.
As he wheeled himself into the infirmary, no one took notice. All those awake or not still in a coma were glued to the television, watching the gamut of reports on every other station. He recognized the footage of Times Square run over and over again up in his office.
He rolled in right up to the corner of the bed and gently grazed the gargoyle's arm. "Annika."
"Wha...?!!" She nearly fell off the edge of Hudson's bed but caught herself on the rail and spun around, coming face to face with Jason Canmore. She was breathing sharp and quick, and seemed annoyed at his sudden appearance. "Canmore..."
"I'm sorry." Jason apologized.
"It's okay...it's okay. Usually I can hear footsteps as soon as someone gets off the elevator, but..."
He tapped the armrest. "Top of th' line."
Getting her breathing under control, she answered with a none-too-subtle wit, "I gathered."
"Have ye heard anything?" Hudson asked.
"I got a call from Captain Chavez just a little while ago." he said. "She's at th' police station where th' clan's been taken."
That seemed to get their attention. "And...?"
"They're all right, physically at least." Then he turned to Annika. "As is yuir husband."
"I knew it!" she crowed, bouncing off the bed and to her feet. "Let me guess, is there an FBI agent named Sykes down there?"
At first, Jason was a little put-off by the fact Annika had absolutely nailed one half of his intended revelation. "I haven't heard from our informant t' confirm, but according to Maria, th' FBI has become involved."
She rolled her eyes. "Uncle Abel probably bailed his ass out."
"What will become of them?" Hudson interjected. "Th' clan?"
"Well apparently, Brooklyn's under arrest."
"She doesn't know." he shrugged. "Th' NYPD's not privy t' every detail, but Brooklyn wasn't brought in with th' clan, as you obviously saw on th' television. He was brought in earlier with..." Jason paused and his eyes, and attention, wandered off track. Whatever was enough to derail the normally unflappable majordomo was obviously a sore spot, considering his pained expression. "Brooklyn was brought in with my brother."
Hudson was upright and quick. Even the name sent a cold bolt down his spine. "Jon Canmore?" he growled with contempt.
"An' what rock die he crawl out from?"
Jason's head started absently swiveling back and forth; his attention was wandering again. Hudson and Annika could only imagine how he took the news earlier and whether there was a fist-sized dent somewhere up in his office. Jon Canmore had literally vanished off the face of the earth years ago, only to pop back up in the middle of New York, and in the middle of another anti-gargoyle group. Old habits die hard. "Obviously he's thrown in with th' Guild."
The reality took a while to sink in, the hospital a tomb in the absence of any voices, save for the television.
Then Jason cleared his throat and reined in any loose, distracting emotion to deal with the matter at hand. "But at th' very least," he said quietly, his voice gathering strength as he went on, "I was able t' find out where they've taken Katana, and Savannah. They're both at Bellevue."
Close to tearing out his IV and any other wire or tube currently attached to him, Hudson eyed the man in front of him intently. "Katana, is she...?"
"I have t' assume, and hope, that she's getting th' proper medical care. But Savannah's sounding like her old self again."
"Joy." Annika said deadpan. "So...now what?"
Jason confessed, "I don't know. Mr. Xanatos is unwilling t' do much but brood in his office. I've tried t' convince him t' become involved but...I don't know."
"Half the clan is in the police station, one's in the hospital, another's still missing somewhere, we have to do something." she urged.
A heavy thump went through the floor, rattling a few jars and bobbles on some far shelves and a couple of beside tables. Hudson had slid from the sheets and hit the ground, ripping the needle from his forearm and barreling his chest with a fortifying breath. "Aye." Of course, he looked a little less than imposing without his sword and in a hospital gown loosely tied in the back.
"There's nothing much ye can do." Jason said, eyes flicking to their side. "It's best that ye just stay here for now."
"Give me one good reason why."
He pointed out the window. "It's dawn."
Neither of them even had the chance to turn and share the view of morning creeping its way into the skyline. Skin turned to stone, flesh transmuting on a molecular level to a granite-like substance and a familiar sound like crumpling paper. Annika and Hudson were frozen in place.
Jason looked past them to Broadway, who'd turned to stone as well and he rubbed a hand over his mouth.
Abel had returned to the room about a half hour later after noticing the time and remembering what Brooklyn had told him about his species and their unusual requirements during the day. One of the security techs had reported the lost video feed to the room but Sykes waved him off, allowing the gargoyles a little privacy. He knew they were discussing strategy, Brooklyn probably telling the rest of his clan to keep as quiet as humanly possible. The number one rule when dealing with several suspects was to never leave them alone together and never let them formulate an alibi; divide and conquer, press them, grill them, listen for inconsistencies, but if the deal he made held through all the levels of authority above him, all but their leader would be released free and clear. And he already knew there were holes in Brooklyn's story, holes he could open with enough time and patience.
He made sure he got here before dawn arrived, if what Brooklyn had said was true. His young partner Dominic was standing at his shoulder with the wide eyes of a ten-year-old and a grin to match, along with several other officers who were crowded at the doorway.
Even without a window, the gargoyles seemed to know intuitively when dawn was due to arrive and stood up, gathering close together. But this small, segregated room wasn't the Wyvern ramparts, it wasn't free to the wind and coming light, it was drywall and spackle and oddly-colored carpet and they felt separated from the rest of the world. Rather than baying at the sun and following millions of years of instinct to ward off predators baring teeth and fangs and flaring their wings, they simply stood limp and let the warm embrace of stone sleep surround them.
From Abel's point of view, the gargoyles' expressions were that of relief and sheer bliss; he had to assume they wanted this night to finally come to an end. Bright marbled skin transformed, and in seconds the clan had turned to stone. Skin, hair, even their clothing had all become inert and gun-metal gray. "Wow..."
Dominic's mouth hung open, the agent slack-jawed and caressing every curve of what used to be sentient, breathing creatures. But something actually sparked inside his brain currently numbed by the shock of what he just witnessed. "Statues." he whispered, and turned his head to Sykes. "Just like at castle Wyvern."
Though the poses were visibly different, Abel immediately saw the resemblance and smiled.
Surgeon Henry Crispin was watching over his patient with a blend of concern and rapt fascination. They'd patched all the holes that bullet made inside of her and sewn her back up, keeping the stitches small to lessen the scarring. With the urgency of emergency surgery over, he was finally able to get a good look at the woman lying peacefully in the ICU (sequestered at the behest of the FBI, complete with a private corner and police guards outside of the drawn curtain), and without the added shock of actually seeing a gargoyle for the first time. Take away the wings, the horns, the tail and that entrancing jade skin and she could easily pass for human, with all their frailties.
Stuck here by order of the administrator, his team had been removed from the operating theater just as he was tying off the last stitch to help with the wounded and he was left with only a few duty nurses. He wasn't allowed to leave, to help or to perform any more surgeries until he was absolutely sure the patient was out of danger. Apparently when the FBI snapped their fingers, the paper-pushers jumped to attention and he was caught in the middle without the ability to play politics.
He was keeping an eye on the time with a digital wristwatch. It was minutes from dawn and here he was waiting for something incredible to happen based on a single special agent's wild tale, and without any tangible proof. He had no idea what to expect, especially in this woman's current condition; she was stable, but still serious and whatever was about to happen he hoped it wasn't traumatizing enough to send her injured body over the edge.
His watch beeped on the hour and distracted only for a second, he quickly moved his eyes back onto the gargoyle. Nothing had happened. She was still sedated and asleep under the heavy wrap of bandages. He'd just removed the IV and any other intrusive tube or wire per agent Sykes' instructions (except the heart monitor, affixed to her chest) but hoped whatever was going to happen happened soon before the lack of a steady drip of antibiotics became dangerous.
"Well," he whispered to himself, "go on now, my dear."
He dropped his head and ran a hand through his white, thinning hair, and then massaged his temple against the budding headache. It was then he heard the most peculiar sound, like crumpling paper or someone walking on broken glass and quickly raised his eyes only to find his patient's beautiful jade skin turning a dusky stone gray. "Good lord..." The heart monitor immediately sounded the flatline alarm, unable to read anything from a solid mass of stone. He leaned from his stool and found his legs weren't as quick on the draw as his brain wanted them to be and stumbled towards the bed. He caught himself on the aluminum railing and, as he gained his footing, immediately pulled back for fear of breaking something. But the statue rested undisturbed, like a sarcophagus he'd once admired in the Museum of Natural History.
He cautiously grazed a few fingers to the gargoyle's skin; it felt like polished stone, and was warm to the touch. "Amazing..."
David Xanatos was barely aware of the passage of time, his back to the window that framed the southern end of the island. He'd practically ignored the television reports, plastered all over the large monitor in his office and like his majordomo had something else on his mind. He knew this was the inevitable outcome and had played it over so many times in his mind; the clans' exposure. After so many years of close calls, brushes with the media and the successful efforts of a well-paid press team, this particular incident seemed like the one to stick. Yet, in some way, he was also slightly annoyed it wasn't under his own terms.
His life had taken a serious detour lately and he wasn't quite as interested in the clan's affairs as he was years ago, except when it impacted his family, his corporation, his personal life.
The creeping daybreak had intruded on the darkness of his office, shafts of light slowly skulking across the wall. But nothing seemed able to tear him from his reverie, even the channel switching programs at the top of the hour.
"...Good morning, I'm Gloria O'Neill and welcome to Channel Four Morning News. Our top story today is undoubtedly the strangest story we've ever reported, but something that hits home for anyone living in Manhattan the last several years. Times Square erupted into gunfire last night in a deadly terrorist attack, taking many lives and causing several million dollars worth of damage. At last count, the death toll stands at twenty seven, with more casualties expected..."
"...But what truly makes this attack bizarre is the involvement of what New Yorkers thought as an urban legend. As you can see by the footage, these strange masked men and women were fighting neck and neck with what can only be described as gargoyles. I warn you, the footage you are about to see is very graphic and very real..."
The anchorwoman vanished under recorded snippets of the battle in Times Square. By this time, new footage had been delivered, edited and interspersed with the old, revealing candid shots of Guild, police and gargoyle alike, including agent Red's speech to try and ignite the masses, the arrival of the clan en masse and the trigger that started it all.
"...No one knows who or what these masked men and women are, but law enforcement authorities speculate they are similar to the anti-gargoyle group, the Quarrymen, that plagued the city for years before eventually fading from public view due to their considerable unpopularity and suspected criminal activities. The Quarrymen were seen as dangerous radicals with outlandish, unsubstantiated claims, but it seems those claims weren't so baseless after all..."
"...The footage clearly shows a group of gargoyles, seven in total, including what seems to be a large animal. There have been many hoaxes perpetrated in the past due to rampant gargoyle hysteria and an effort to cash in on the popularity of New York's most famous urban legend. In fact, tourism has increased by twenty percent since nineteen-ninety-four, when the first sightings were reported. Experts in audio/video surveillance, kinesiology and even costume fabrication are adamant in the authentication of these gargoyles..."
"...There can be no doubt now. After years of rumors, obscured photos, blurry video, countless hoaxes, we now have undeniable proof that the gargoyles are real...and they live among us..."
Xanatos muted the television as the phone rang. He would've ignored it and let his answering service deal with the caller until he noticed it was coming through one of his private lines, one that no XE employee was aware of, not even Sobek. It was kept completely separate from anything else in the building, scrambled in code and run through several security checks before bouncing off one of several XE satellites in orbit. He answered, "Xanatos."
"...Mr. Xanatos, it's Captain Miller..."
A huff of annoyance passed through his mouth. He was becoming irritated at this man's insistence to continually second-guess his orders, especially with the amount of money he'd spent to keep a fleet's worth of ships and crew continually scouring the ocean floor. "I'm very busy captain, and as I've told you before, you'll remain in a search pattern until those stones are found or until I relieve you and your fleet of this particular task."
"...But sir, we've found the stones..."
His hand tightened on the phone and his breathing became shallow. Silence passed, maybe moments, maybe minutes, he didn't know.
The skipper waited on the other end of the line and, aware of his employer's aversion to even the slightest breach in etiquette, didn't want to interrupt what could be a simple pregnant pause. But he needed confirmation that Xanatos had heard him. "...Sir?..."
"I heard you, captain." he managed, pulling himself together. "Are they...? How many?"
"...We've just brought up the seventh one now and all are an exact match to the description you provided. They were buried almost two miles down, covered in what could only be thousands of years' worth of sediment It's amazing, there's barely any erosion, if at all..."
He didn't need the details, just those stones. "It is imperative that you protect those artifacts. They are worth more than you could ever imagine."
"...Your orders were to return to port and deliver the stones to you directly and as quickly as possible. Do those orders still hold?..."
"Yes, captain. Be expeditious, and discreet."
"...Should I recall your fleet?..."
"No," he answered the exact opposite of what the captain would've guessed, "have them continue searching."
"...But sir, we've already found–"
"I want them to keep up the pretense, Captain Miller. Is that clear?"
Xanatos replaced the phone, released a short breath and then his thin lips twisted into a smile. It'd been a long time since that greasy, triumphant smirk and he relished in it. The day was looking up. "Perfect timing."