114 - "Under The Magnifying Glass"
"There are no rewards or punishments -- only consequences."
- Dean William R. Inge
Morning slowly rolled over the asphalt in shades of heavy yellow and tangerine, thick as a down comforter.
It was over, it was a new day and the rising sun seemed to wash everything of the previous night away. But sunlight had a funny way of emphasizing the details obscured by darkness. Times Square was a ghost of its former glory, the intersection choked with the remains of a few dozen vehicles. By this time in the morning every survivor and almost every body had been cleared from the pile-up and a fleet of city crews were working furiously to unclog one of the busiest traffic arteries in the city (of course, they had to contend with the police and the CSU leisurely sifting through the remains and arguments sprouting up in between).
A six-wheeled tow truck the size of a mammoth struggled in low gear and with a shudder and screeching tires, finally managed to yank the bus from the middle of the wreckage; it came loose with twisted scraps of metal hanging from its grill.
The foreman grimaced as he supervised the extraction; he was a thirty-year veteran of NYC public works and this was one of the worst pile-ups he'd ever seen. The shock of driving into the Square just as dawn broke challenged every conception of how destructive human beings could actually be. Once the bus was out he gave the waiting rescue workers the all-clear. A small sedan had been completely buried underneath the bus' front axle; it was probably the first car hit and was practically crushed underneath the massive wheels as the bus rolled up and over the vehicle. Even though he could see the driver inside the mangled remains, he knew the poor man had died instantly when struck.
All the wounded had been transported to the hospitals, leaving the dead behind. A section of the street where Broadway ran across Seventh Avenue had been cordoned off and used as a temporary morgue, white sheets lined up in grids and kept under a temporary shelter to thwart reporters and any passers-by with a camera. They were having trouble finding enough hearses and other transport vehicles to transfer the bodies to any city morgue that had room; ambulances were slowly finding their way back to the Square, sirens quiet in respect for the victims. The death count had reached thirty-six, including five police officers and SWAT.
Twisted neon signs still threw off sparks, half the letters hanging from a single post or missing altogether, crumpled in brightly colored shards on the ground. The Coca-Cola sign had lost a few pieces, billboards were riddled with bullet holes and even the massive Jumbotron was missing half its face, the remaining video footage interlaced with shots of static. Almost every window on ground level and facing the intersection had been blown out, leaving the buildings with gaping, toothless maws. Most of the work crews were charged with rescue operations and until the police had ensured every one of the wounded was found and treated, Times Square would sit waiting in its squalid condition.
At police headquarters, the surrounding crowd had grown unimaginably larger, completely surrounding the building and stretching down both sides of the street. Reporters from every television and radio station, newspaper and website from the entire state and beyond were hoping to be a part of what could be the biggest story in the country. A wall of police and SWAT teams kept the tide of people from rushing the building but as the crowd continued to swell, the ratio between police and civilian started to become dangerously unbalanced.
The curiosity of the gargoyles wasn't just confined to the press.
Even in his little room, almost exactly in the middle of the station's second floor, he could hear the commotion outside like a low rumbling of an oncoming thunderstorm, or a car stereo with too much bass. Abel Sykes yawned, scratched the back of his neck and fell his gaze on the clan, now lifeless statues.
Everything seemed to return to as normal as it could possibly get in the aftermath, but Abel figured he and the rest of his brethren were just in a state of semi-shock, trying to do their jobs if only to alleviate the encompassing sense of helplessness. The names had been released of the cops who'd either been injured or killed at the Square and every cop had a friend or an acquaintance on that list. He knew the reality would hit them all soon and it would take the form of a scream, a sobbing fit, a hole on the drywall made in anger or something else to relieve the pressure; every precinct on the island had called in their department psychiatrists hoping to prevent any such distress-induced freak-outs. The last remaining police officers and SWAT team members numbering a few dozen strong, those who were lucky enough to be afforded a bit of time off before being put back on the beat, either mulled around in a daze or tried to grab some sleep on anything horizontal. Some were even sleeping on benches in the lobby. But a few of them still managed to pass through the room to get a glance at the gargoyles' stone forms, expressing their amazement from the buffer zone of a few feet away. Despite their relatively non-threatening poses, the clan still served to frighten away the masses.
Abel too had to admit the wonder of it all was hard to ignore, even if these creatures were inert, speckled-gray stone. He was characteristically solemn in contrast to his partner, Dominic wide-eyed and staring at the clan as if he expected something else as equally amazing to happen to their statues. He was still reluctant to get too close. And just when Abel thought he was going to get the chance to take a break himself (he could smell the freshly-brewed pot of coffee from somewhere in the station's lobby), someone small and weedy stuck his nose into the room.
"Christ..." Abel muttered into his hand. "This is all I need right now."
Agent Phillip Neville appeared through the small crowd and stood with his hands behind his back, looking intently at the gargoyles. He seemed to be the only one willing to get within arm's length, but statues didn't help his investigation, they only hindered it. And apparently he'd have to wait until sunset to continue. But at the very least, their unique manner of sleep made them easy to transport.
"What's up, Neville?" Abel called to him. "No other suspects that you can steal their personal liberties from?"
As Dominic smothered a grin to the side, Neville answered first with a sneer. "Funny, Abel, you should definitely give up your day job. But no, I'm actually here to move the gargoyles."
That wiped the smile from his face and he perked up. The jackass actually sounded serious. "On whose authority?"
"Deputy-director Nelson's authority, Sykes." he answered curtly. "You'd do well to remember the chain of command."
"Right." Abel sighed. "That chain of command."
"We need to move them to a more secure area, where we can begin a proper investigation and conduct one-on-one interrogations."
"And on what grounds?"
Neville's chest jumped with a heavy breath and he turned around to face his fellow agent slumped on the couch's armrest. "The FBI is aware of the underwater explosions that took place last night, we know the gargoyles' self-proclaimed leader has a link to Xanatos Enterprises from the communicator we found on him, plus they are also facing charges stemming from accusations by Jon Canmore."
"Those are tenable connections at best." Abel argued, even though he'd made some of those same connections a while ago. "And Canmore's a textbook psychotic."
"They're connections nonetheless–"
"More like coincidences," Abel quickly rolled over Neville's reply, hoping to throw him off the trail he himself was following, "and any lawyer worth his or her salt would dismiss anything Canmore would say until given a proper mental health assessment, and I guarantee you he'd fail."
"Regardless, it's enough evidence to continue the investigation somewhere else." Neville said.
"Not without me."
"Because of this deal you offered them? Abel, you have no authority here and you never did. Your deal will never hold up. Now unless you want deputy-director Nelson to personally call down here and tell you to back off, I suggest you back off and let me do my job."
Abel would've said more if he knew what to say. Once agent Neville set his mind to something it was damn-near impossible to sway him from his course. Across the room Dominic opened his arms to his partner, mouthing what seemed like Well, what are you going to do? and Abel simply shrugged. He was already beyond the limits of what little authority he had and unless a miracle somehow presented itself in the next hour, the clan would be moved to only god knows where and he might not be able to follow.
Neville turned on hearing his name and found an agent at the door. "What is it, Bates?"
Stepping into the room, the young man was waylaid by a streak of nervousness under the glare of the agent-in-charge, but eventually stumbled through what he came here to say. "Uh, sir, it...it might be a good idea to postpone the move."
"Because we just got word that the mayor's coming and he wants to see the gargoyles."
Abel put his knuckles under his jaw and leaned on his arm, watching Neville's expression transmute and collapse from thinly-veiled gratification to palpable annoyance. "Plans gone awry, Neville? Damn those pesky bureaucrats..."
Agent Neville swallowed his frustration but knew enough to follow the letter of the law; the New York police department wasn't completely subordinate to the FBI and had only allowed them to intervene due to the attack in Times Square, the incredibly bizarre circumstances regarding the attack and recent and much stricter terrorism laws in effect. "Fine. We'll hold them here until he arrives." He looked back at the gargoyles. "I suppose they're not going to pose any kind of a risk now."
"You're all heart, Neville."
"Shut up, Sykes."
"Maybe you should go and get some coffee." he suggested coyly. "It's better here than at the office."
A dark look crossed Neville's gaunt features and he left without so much as a contemptuous retort. But as he stormed out, he passed someone else trying to squeeze his way through the crowd of cops at the door. And without any authorization or even the proper uniform he was immediately stopped and questioned.
Abel heard the guards ask the man his identity, then he heard arguing and finally, through the mass of bodies, a middle finger appeared. "Wait, wait," Abel called to them, before that finger was torn off, "let him through..."
Todd barged through and restrained himself from the usual inflammatory comment.
"Mr. Hawkins." Abel nodded at him. "We need to talk."
As daybreak hit the island, half the residents of Wyvern slept (whether they wanted to or not), while others had only begun to stir. The events of last night replayed ad nauseam on the television, with every news anchor, reporter, consultant and morning talk show host giving their opinions on the clan, the Guild, the ensuing battle, what exactly occurred when most of the city was asleep and what should happen now.
The mayor's office offered a short statement to assure the populace and revealed the mayor would be having a press conference shortly, but otherwise they'd remained tight-lipped despite the fact it would only lead to rampant speculation among all the so-called experts.
Rose flipped the channels between the news programs, trying to find something that didn't constantly repeat the same footage, and trying to see if she could spot her reckless firstborn amidst the chaos. He ran off hours ago and hadn't checked in; she only hoped he'd either succeeded in what he'd planned (if indeed that boy had a plan from the start) or had found somewhere to hole up until it was safe.
The bed beside her shifted and she turned to see Sarah fixing the covers and settling into a more comfortable position. She pushed the wheelchair away that'd carried her here from her castle bedroom and Rose pulled it around the neighboring bed. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Sarah said, "stop coddling."
"I can't help it."
"I know, but I'm not completely helpless. And I don't think I need to be here."
Her daughter was adamant she didn't need another check-up from the time she woke up but Rose was equally adamant in seeing to her health. It also allowed her a respite from her thoughts running wild, and to the carnage constantly recycled on the television. "Mind your poor, overprotective mother, Sarah."
As independent as she wanted to be Sarah couldn't help but smile up at her mother, glad for her company; she was one of the few people in this place that didn't look like they were torn straight from an old horror movie. She stubbornly refused to acclimatize to the evening hours her brother and his friends kept, as daylight lit every dark corner and hall in the castle above them; dark shapes didn't dance on the tendrils of firelight, casting shadows every which way in that dungeon everyone else claimed was a library. Usually the only things lurking beyond her sight in the daytime were a gray tabby that'd often hop up on the bed, turn, stretch and then curl into a ball against her leg, hungry for any kind of company. And, of course, there was less chance of coming across a gargoyle.
But she was beginning to learn that everyone and everything that was capable of wandering the castle through the day was just as strange; the little red-haired boy, floating a few feet above the stones or that liquid-metal woman, the walking computer program, slinking through the hallways and every so often changing shape or fondling an item hanging from the wall. Whenever they would cross paths she would stare at her with a relentless, unblinking gaze, like she was boring into her skull with x-ray vision and dissecting her brain one layer at a time.
And then there was her bedmate, currently sitting opposite from her, the Australian and his Scottish girlfriend.
Dingo was almost fully recovered from his captivity within the belly of the Matrix; he'd gained back the weight he lost and the color had returned to his flesh. And Robyn had hung over his shoulder like a vulture the entire time, limiting her conversation to him alone, and if she was feeling pleasant, occasionally the doctor.
But Sarah was content with the fact their little world had never scraped against her own, even when their respective appointments happened to overlap.
She didn't realize she'd drifted off within the middle of her thoughts while still staring at her mother. She blinked. "Hmm?"
"You seemed distant." Rose said.
"Yes," Rose deciphered that as concern for her brother and the clan and looked up at the television, "I can't help wondering either. What has happened to your brother?"
"I'm sure he's okay. According to his wife there," Sarah flicked her chin towards Annika's statue in the middle of the infirmary, "he's pretty much indestructible."
"No one is indestructible. Your brother has just been incredibly lucky, but luck can only last so long."
"Then why'd you let him go?"
She sighed in frustration, both at her daughter's naivety and her son's persistent recklessness. "Your brother is a force of nature, and he's very difficult to control. When he sets his mind to something it's hard to convince him otherwise. And this particular quest was very important."
"The gargoyles." she guessed, with not so much veneration.
"He'd really risk his life for them?"
"They're his family as much as we are."
Her eyes slid away. "That's hard to believe."
"Perhaps, my dear," Rose caressed her daughter's cheek, "you should open your mind just a little more."
From the doorway he watched the display between mother and daughter and was, if only for a moment, reminded of his own mother. What memories he had of her were precious and few, and usually only surfaced through external stimulus. Jason had come here specifically to find Rose with information regarding her son's current whereabouts but couldn't help be drawn in.
It was just a few hours ago when he wheeled in here last, hoping to pass along the good news of the clan's safety. And like the castle above, sunlight almost entirely transformed the Eyrie's infirmary; he figured he'd been living nocturnal for too long and daylight had become a privilege far too scarce for his liking. A sort of golden glow streamed through the windows, warming sterile colors and sharpening the tiny details often lost in the darkness.
Robyn was the first to notice her brother's entrance, and probably the only one to notice the exhaustion he carried in his features and stooped posture. She assumed his duties as majordomo were forcing him to log an obscene amount of overtime.
He rolled in an unmistakable line towards Sarah's bed and for a moment, when she first saw him, Rose's heart skipped a beat. As a child, she'd heard stories from her mother of grave-faced, uniformed men silently appearing on the doorstep, only to hand the unlucky recipient a letter informing her of a husband or son's death overseas during World War Two. And a chill raced down her spine at her sudden reminiscing and how this was all mimicking that nascent fear so perfectly.
"Mrs. Hawkins." he addressed her, with a sort of solemn graciousness often reserved for bad news.
"Mr. Canmore." she answered. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"First of all, yuir son is fine." Jason quickly wiped away the dread. "But he was arrested for stealing an ambulance."
Rose buried her head in her hands. "Oh good lord. That boy..."
Sarah was confused. "How does stealing a car equate to saving the gargoyles?"
"It was th' same ambulance that Katana was in. But he was caught a few meters out and taken into custody. Fortunately, he was released on an arrangement with FBI agent Abel Sykes."
Rose's head quickly came back up, face skewed with an air of thinly-veiled recognition.
Jason caught it. "Ye know him?"
"Yes," she sighed, "very well. Thank god, Abel..."
Swearing she knew that name from somewhere, Sarah echoed, "Abel?"
"A dear family friend." Rose clarified, though she was surprised at hearing herself say that. She and Abel didn't exactly part on the best of terms twenty years ago.
"Really?" Jason shifted in his seat; he had a less than pleasant experience with agent Sykes when the FBI was proverbially lodged into his colon, all thanks to an anonymous phone call. "You mean th' same man that recently scoured th' castle looking for over a hundred dead bodies belonging t' th' Guild?"
"Yes. But if there's anyone you want investigating the gargoyles, Mr. Canmore, it's Abel."
"I'll have t' take yuir word for it..." He paused and Sarah and Rose both thought he was finished, his business concluded and he was going to quickly roll off and put out yet another brush-fire. But he kept sitting there, staring at them, and long enough for suspicions to arise.
Rose sensed the hesitation, from half a lifetime of hearing people from every walk of life spilling their guts to a wooden idol at the front of her church. She supposed the only reason he allowed her to even detect any trace of uncertainty was due to a lack of sleep; he was hiding it well. "Is there something else?"
"Mrs. Hawkins, I'm not sure I should tell ye this, considering I haven't yet come t' a firm decision. But I suppose ye deserve t' know...Savannah was found in th' wreckage in Times Square."
"Thank god for small miracles." she said, and was probably one of the few who'd say it with a certain amount of sincerity.
"Th' clan rescued her from th' Guild base..." Jason continued, and then dropped the bombshell, "along with yuir husband, Joseph."
Her smile fell from her mouth as if it was yanked off by an unseen hand. Rose took a breath that sounded sandpaper-rough coming up the lungs and nearly doubled over. She quickly put a hand to the bed's railing to steady herself.
Sarah leaned forward. "My father's alive?"
"Apparently." Jason replied flatly.
"And just what do you intend to do?"
Jason stared the girl down; a hundred pounds soaking wet and eyes like a furnace, a glare she'd inherited from her mother. She was obviously waiting for an answer he couldn't give. "I truly don't know. Savannah's given th' hospital staff a fake name t' protect his identity, but who knows how long that will last."
"So, you're going to get him, right? Bring him back here?"
But the sentiment was shared by more than a few in the room. And Robyn, on the periphery of the conversation, was first to voice it. She sneered, "Ye must be joking, girl."
"Excuse me?" Sarah quickly turned her head. Their once happily-contained worlds just crashed into each other. "That's my father."
"Yuir father's a dangerous psychotic."
"That's funny, coming from the family Canmore, the archetype of crazy."
Robyn's face tightened; as cool as liquid nitrogen, her emotions didn't betray her, but she couldn't help the twitch running lightning through her brow, mouth and jaw.
Dingo sucked in a breath, brows heavy on his watchful, alert gaze. As much as his girl had 'softened' in the last few years, he half-expected her to stomp towards the poor waif and yank her from the covers by her neck, but Robyn had restrained herself admirably.
But Sarah was smug in her little victory and capitalized, "Yeah, I've heard all about you. A thousand years spent hunting the demon, with each generation training the next until your father was killed and your brother fell off his nut."
"Sarah..." Rose warned her, seeing Robyn's hand clenching at her side. This particular woman had already put a hole through Joseph's lung in the hurricane-like wash of a helicopter's propeller blades and who knows what she was capable of when suitably pressed.
"My father told me everything about the Canmores. The family trapped in a sloppy, revenge-fueled quest only to end up imprisoned, paralyzed and psychotic."
Everything went deathly silent; everyone expected the worst. The young girl had obviously never learned tact in her sheltered life, or contended with someone capable of plucking a scalpel from a bedside table and hurling it into her trachea with deadly accuracy. But Robyn simply turned up her lips, smiling at her. "Ye have a spark, girl, one that may get ye killed."
"Hey!!" It split the tension in the room the same way a bazooka would. Jason had decided to call an end to the bickering before a fight broke out and his heavy Scottish brogue rang from the ceiling. "Enough, all of ye! We're all running on a dangerous combination of worry, dread, sleeplessness and caffeine, and th' last thing we need is t' fight amongst ourselves." He turned to Sarah. "I don't know what I'm going t' do, but at this point I don't give a goddamn if he's yuir father or not. I have a lot more important things t' take care of, th' most important of which is bringing yuir brother and th' clan home."
"My father is no less important than those–" Even if she had the chance to muse on it later, Sarah wouldn't know what she might have said if a latent sense of civility hadn't substituted something else. "Than the gargoyles. I thought you of all people would understand."
Jason kept forgetting there were a select few outside of the immediate clan that knew about his history, but to hear it coming from this young girl was jarring. "I know it's hard t' understand, but I don't have t' explain myself. I assume my severed spinal cord proves how that same narrow-minded obstinacy never works out. Now I'm sure yuir father didn't program ye like his toy soldiers, but he probably said a lot of things about their kind, half of which were almost certainly outright lies. But ye should never trust a man who's capable of genocide."
Sarah bolted forward to presumably defend her father when a hand clamped down on her shoulder and pushed her back into the mountain of pillows.
"He's right." her mother's voice above her was soft yet stern. "That's enough."
"Don't you care?! Don't you care that he's considering abandoning my father and your husband?"
Rose was impressively composed. "He hasn't abandoned anyone." she rebuked, but added for good measure. "Yet."
With nowhere else for the anger to go, it shot out her nostrils with an audible snort. She swallowed the rest of it as best she could, but undoubtedly it still simmered just beneath the surface. "You still haven't answered my question." Sarah whispered in defeat.
"Right now, yuir father is safest where he is, Ms. Hawkins, right now, my priority is getting th' clan back safe and sound, and right now I need t' talk t' my sister." Jason turned a wheel and rotated on the spot, putting his back towards the small crowd. "Robyn, if ye please."
Curious at her brother's enigmatic behavior, Robyn gave one last, icy glare to the young Hawkins girl and started walking forward. And by habit, Dingo followed.
But from his peripheral vision Jason saw Dingo move behind his sister, supposedly intent to join them. "Mr. Monmouth can stay here."
Coming up behind her brother's wheelchair, Robyn quickly argued, "Where I go, he goes."
"Listen, hon," Dingo said, "this is obviously a family matter and–"
She was persistent. "He's coming. End of discussion."
"Fine." Jason huffed and he wheeled from the room in the same manner an abled person would walk with a determined, almost impatient gait.
Abel waited for the response, but the young man's attention seemed firmly rooted somewhere else.
Todd heard him, but instead immediately shot towards the clan and made a loop around their statues, inspecting every wing and tail and ensuring everything was still attached. He skidded to a stop when catching the sister's still form, features halved between relief and surprise.
Watching from afar, Abel soaked in every tic and movement of the boy circling the gargoyles. Intrigue washed his normally stolid features. "Well, I guess Brooklyn was right..."
Suddenly aware of the other occupants, Todd spun around and found Abel there, staring intently. He quickly fell under the weight of his ten-ton glare and got jittery. He answered, guardedly, "Yeah."
Abel stood up and suddenly announced, "I want everyone out, with two guards on this door at all times. Switch up every two hours."
The gathered cops and agents were reluctant, but they passed looks around their little group and silently headed out. The door closed with a click.
And without missing a beat, Abel quickly asked, "So, this happens every night?"
"Uh huh." Todd nodded.
"And they're statues." Dominic said abstractedly. Like everyone else, he'd been entranced with the clan ever since dawn turned them to stone and padded closer. He got in arm's length and raised a hand towards them. "This stone...is it just a covering, or...?"
"Careful!" Todd snapped at him, watching as the agent came too close to fragile appendages. He could only imagine a clumsy rookie tripping and falling into the center, with the clan toppling like bowling pins and pieces exploding everywhere. "They're stone through and through. You snap something off, it stays snapped off. So unless you want to accidentally relieve of them of a hand, you'd better keep your distance."
A flashback to his childhood roared through the forefront of his thoughts. Dominic remembered being scolded by his grandma Ruth when, as a kid, he got a little too close to an expensive vase on a rickety end-table. He retreated out of sheer instinct.
"My young partner, though, has just brought up an interesting observation." Abel said, stifling his laughter.
"Yeah, and what's that? He's finally hit puberty?"
Dominic sneered at him. "Funny." he shot back. "And actually no. These statues look exactly like the ones at castle Wyvern. The same statues that line the cornices on a daily basis, and yet, Xanatos denies they're nothing more than holographic deco-art."
Shrugging, Todd answered as blasé as possible, "Coincidence I guess."
"No, they're exactly the same. Right down to the horns, tails and claws. That's more than a coincidence."
"Maybe whoever designed them saw the gargoyles one lucky night. Copied them, claimed the designs were his own and sold them."
Dominic and Abel both shared a glance and then returned their eyes to Todd. He wasn't much for giving anything up.
"Listen, how the hell should I know?" he dodged.
"Because, apparently, you might just reside there. With your wife."
Dominic perked up. "Wife?" He looked back to the clan and waved a hand across the group; the kid did seem particularly interested in the small one with the spiral horns, lingering in front of her with a mixed expression. "One of...?"
But Todd quickly shot him down, along with any giddy idea his overactive imagination could come up with. "No."
"Todd," Abel's heavy voice continued, "I've got too many unanswered questions. I've got seven gargoyles turned to stone in front of me, two of them named after streets in this city, a link to a medieval castle atop a local billionaire's skyscraper, not to mention numerous hospitals filling with wounded, jail cells and morgues filling with bodies and a city in the throes of panic."
As flippant as ever, Todd answered, "And...?"
"And I have the feeling you can let me in on everything that's going on."
"I already did."
"There are convenient gaps in your tale. Like how I found you asleep in the Eyrie building one day and your marriage to a gargoyle."
Dominic's eyebrows shot up and he thought he might've heard his partner wrong. The first piece of information wasn't near as juicy as the second. "Whoa, what?" he coughed. "Are you serious?"
But Todd ignored him, putting a hundred percent of his attention on Sykes. "I gave you a lot."
"No, not good enough." And then, Abel's affable exterior suddenly hardened. "Not goddamned good enough."
Composing himself, Dominic tried the scare tactic. "You want to go back to that cell, kid?"
But it didn't work as well as he thought. Todd was unflustered. "I've already worked out a deal with your partner here that guarantees me immunity."
"But," Abel said, "your particular end of said deal hasn't been fulfilled yet."
His safety net suddenly yanked out from underneath him, Todd was understandably upset. Brain connected to mouth and readied a tirade that would make a sailor blush with a lifetime's worth of Manhattan-brand vocabulary. "Are you fucking kidding me?!" he barked. "I spilled my goddamned guts to you! And you're frigging reneging?!"
"I need more. In order for me to help you, I need to connect all these dangling threads. There are far too many for my liking."
"Including any that may connect to innocent people? Are you not aware of the murders committed by the Guild? What'll happen if any more names get out into the public. including mine? How many cops were buried? How many people were killed in the bombing in Central Park? Has the possibility of any of that even remotely passed through your mind?! I told you my biggest secret, because I knew I could trust you. You, and only you."
"Then trust me now." Abel responded to the rant. "That masked man who took the hostage, part of the group that escaped, he accused David Xanatos of harboring the gargoyles–"
"Xanatos was cleared." Todd cut him off. "You and your cronies found shit-all up there."
"Except holographic statues that mimic these gargoyles perfectly." Dominic appended.
Todd at last acknowledged the young agent's presence and favored him with a scathing look. "Fine. You want to know the truth? It was me. I designed the statues based on the gargoyles, sold them to Xanatos and was graciously offered a room in the castle while I oversaw their installation. It's not something I'm proud of but a man's gotta eat, huh?"
Abel face-palmed, rubbing the creases from his forehead. The lightest trace of laughter filtered through the exhaustion. Abel had been up now for more than a full day but was still sharp enough to know a lie when he heard one, even when told with the skill of a natural shyster. "I know holography and programming of such is a relatively new technology, especially to us dinosaurs who still own a VCR, but I'm pretty sure you're nowhere near qualified."
"I'm the designer, not the technician."
But Dominic wasn't about to fall for that. "Bullshit."
"Gentlemen." Abel interrupted. "As I was saying, Todd, that Guild spokesman accused David Xanatos of harboring the gargoyles and I just happen to believe him. And if I believe him, I'm sure a lot more people do as well. People who won't be as receptive as I am, like my fellow agent Phillip Neville. He's got the same suspicions I do and is hoping to entrap your friends there."
Todd remained stubbornly quiet. His jaw worked under the skin; he could've cracked a walnut between his molars.
"I can't." he said through pursed lips.
"Because I can't!" Todd shouted. "It's not just me, it's not just them, it's not just my wife and friends at stake! It's my–" Like a steel trap, Todd clenched his teeth together to keep what he knew was coming down the pipeline from spilling out. A few calming breaths and then, "You have no goddamn clue what one little piece of information can undo, and what it can destroy."
"And that's your final decision?" Abel offered.
"Fine." Abel leaned back on the couch's armrest and nonchalantly flicked his hand at the wrist. "Dominic, take him back to his cell. All the previous charges have been officially reinstated. Let's see who'll come to bail his ass out."
"What?!" Todd growled. From the edge of his peripheral vision, he caught agent Ford stalking towards him and quickly swiveled his head around. "Back off, grease-stain. You lay a hand on me and you'll have to wipe your ass with your feet."
Dominic smiled, rolled up his sleeves and cracked his knuckles.
Like a cornered dog, Todd hunched over and narrowed his gaze. Either he was going to attack the agent with his fists, feet, teeth or whatever weapon he could improvise or jump through the ceiling and escape through the ductwork.
Abel watched them like two animals about to fight over the same measly bone and shook his head. "Jesus, all right!" he shouted when the two men got within a few feet of each other. That was all he needed right now. "You'd really go back to that cell, wouldn't you, Hawkins? You'd really serve a jail sentence for them?"
Todd warded off the agent with a bit of false intimidation before turning to Abel. "It's not just them."
"It's your wife."
"Not just her." he added. "My wife, my mother, my sister..."
Alarms went off. "Sister?"
Finally, Todd was on the offense and he relished it. "Yeah, remember the one you didn't tell me about? I found her. Or, more accurately, daddy dropped her in my lap."
"Close th' door please."
Dingo waited by the doorway until Robyn was inside and swung it back into place.
Jason had wheeled into the corner of this small castle suite, stopping on the bare edge of the sun's slatted beam coming through the window. He'd led them all the way up to the castle, through several corridors until reaching a room in the west wing, all without a single word to why he wanted such privacy.
His sister didn't like the mystery, and it showed through right quick. "All right, Jason," Robyn demanded, "care t' tell us what's so important that ye need t' confine us t' a private room?"
As Jason turned on one wheel, his brow-sheltered eyes didn't even twitch until meeting his sister's. He seemed preoccupied to the point where she thought he might not be able to reveal why he brought her here. "Apparently, there was someone else brought in with th' gargoyles. Robyn, it's Jon."
Her arms, once folded across her torso, dropped like stone. Like Rose before, this particular revelation hit with the force of a shotgun. "What?"
"Strewth..." Dingo exhaled. Robyn had rarely talked about her younger brother and he'd never pressed. There were some things he thought were best left buried if they were to live a life near to normal as possible for the two of them.
Jason explained, "He and Brooklyn were both arrested on th' shore near Battery Park beating th' living hell out of each other."
"Why...why was he there?"
"I figure Jon was involved in th' battle. He must've thrown in with th' Guild."
Unable to contain herself from standing in a single spot, Robyn started walking in circles, widening ever steadily until she was pacing almost the entire length of the room like a caged animal. "He was down there, in that bunker...he could've been killed..."
"We both know he would gladly die for his beliefs. He's never been able t' let go of th' hatred, and th' rage."
She stopped, wearing that particularly stubborn expression and announced in the sort of tone that wouldn't brook an argument. "I want t' see him. Jason, I need t' see him."
"Are ye sure?"
"He's our brother, no matter what he's done."
He put his mouth into an open hand and wiped his chin with a quiet pensiveness. "I'm not quite sure anything left of our brother exists, Robyn."
"That I want t' see for myself. Up close. I haven't seen him for years, just heard th' stories and read th' news reports, seen that damned Castaway veneer of his."
"All right. But don't get yuir hopes up, Robyn."
Her eyes narrowed into slits, they still caught the sunlight, reflecting sub-zero blue. "I never do."
He reciprocated with a look much like their father's whenever one of the Canmore siblings didn't perform to his high expectations, stern and heavy. "Good, because he's changed more than any of us."
But before the conversation could continue further, a swirl of color in the corner split the gloom and caught the attention of the occupants. The projector above, inconspicuously nestled into the stonework, built a body on the first spark and within a millisecond Mother's hologrammatic self stood silently and stiffly before them. "Excuse me, Mr. Canmore, I don't mean to intrude..."
Jason barely acknowledged the hologram. "What is it, Mother?"
"We have a security breach in storage bay seven."
"Who?" he asked but Mother had already intended to answer.
"It is Macbeth."
He wasn't surprised; in fact, if he were to bet on who'd return first, he would've put all his money on his fellow Scotsman. But unless he'd taken one hell of a detour, Macbeth should've returned a while ago. "Is he all right?"
"He seems uninjured, but I am quite sure the Epsilon armor will need extensive repairs."
Like a lot of things around here, Jason thought. He added it to the ever-expanding mental list and then replied, "Please meet him and fill him in on everything. I'm going to be...occupied for a while."
"My avatar is already on its way."
The built-in plasma torch was a handy addition, and it sliced through the mesh fencing like a hot knife through butter. Anyone else trying to cut through the twelve-foot-high fence crowned with razor-wire would be treated to a severe electric shock (the armor prevented any electrical discharge from reaching the flesh underneath) and even if they somehow managed to cut off the electrical supply, any normal torch or bolt-cutters would simply either scorch or dull itself on the patent-pending titanium alloy.
Macbeth stepped through the hole he'd made and took his first steps on Xanatos Enterprises property. The Eyrie's mammoth foundation stood a few hundred feet away and from this vantage, even in broad daylight, he still couldn't see the top. But he figured he was home safe, as anyone wanting to follow him would need a search warrant past where the city of New York gave way to David Xanatos' own little kingdom. He'd zigged and zagged through Manhattan streets, running across the rooftops and hitting alleys wherever he could find them, eluding police on high-alert who no doubt issued an alert for a silver-haired man wearing a canvas tarp.
Stowing the torch, he headed for the first door he saw in the particularly deserted section of the Eyrie's back-lot; he figured if there were any security guards on duty, most of them were probably handling the ever-growing crowd he'd spotted on the building's front steps. The door itself was molded into the foundation with no handle to grasp or anything as commonplace as a keyhole to jimmy open. The only indication this vaguely door-shaped outline was more than a simple architectural design was the panel to its side, about four feet above the ground. He waved his metal-gloved hand over the panel and suddenly it lit up, sensing the Epsilon's presence. The door retracted away from him and swung open to reveal the interior.
He slipped through and into what seemed like a storage bay, half-filled with large crates. When the heavy door slid shut and locked, Macbeth heaved his next breath like expelling concrete from his lungs. The ruddy little gadget affixed to his forehead had sent a sharp pain through his head and it'd been growing worse as the night went on and he exerted himself more and more, taxing his all-too-human nervous system. He'd been wearing the armor for nearly eight hours now and if living for a thousand years hadn't cured him of any latent sense of claustrophobia, this titanium-mesh tin can would've driven him 'round the bend.
He couldn't wait to get up to the hangar bay two thousand feet above him and wriggled a finger around to the back of his neck, feeling for the neural implant just a layer of flesh away from his spinal cord. He threw off the canvas, clicked the magic button and felt the armor unclench, releasing from around his body. It split at the waist, forearms and legs, invisible seams opening up just enough to allow him to slink out and as soon as he was free he stretched and felt the cricks travel through every joint like snapping twigs. Quickly, but carefully to prevent any permanent nerve damage, he pulled the forehead patch off followed by the one on his neck and chucked them back into the empty shell behind him. They clanged, clinked and banged off the insides until landing in each of the feet.
Without that ageless spell to continuously regenerate nerves and muscle, his body felt the mileage a little more than before the magic was forcefully siphoned from his body.
If the clock on the wall was right, it was almost eight in the morning; he needed breakfast, a stiff drink and something for the headache thundering through his frontal lobe. He didn't notice the faint chime in the background and then something creep in between the stacked crates; it was only when that same something caught the light from above did Macbeth spot it from the corner of his eye.
A liquid-metal puddle slithered towards him, and then stopped a mere few feet away. To anyone else it would've been cause for concern but Macbeth, knowing exactly what it was, didn't give it a second thought, even when the puddle started to mushroom in the middle, an amorphous blob rising up and forming a humanoid shape from the reflective goo. The figure sprouted wings, limbs and a tail, features filled in with more detail and color bled through the metal surface. Mother's physical form was complete. "Greetings, Macbeth." she said.
"Lass." he greeted brusquely.
"Welcome back." She cocked her head and stared; unbeknownst to Macbeth, she was putting his body through an intensive visual examination. His heart rate was slightly elevated, his skin flushed, and the infrared revealed hotspots on his brain where the stress from the neural patch had no doubt caused him some amount of pain near the end. "You appear relatively undamaged."
"Relatively, aye, thanks to that armor. It kept me alive despite th' fact it's tendency to leave behind a rather painful parting gift." He leaned back and stretched the kinks from his back, and then met Mother's eerily wide, unblinking gaze. "What about th' clan?"
"They are still in custody, but apparently unharmed."
"Doctor Pierce has been informed of your arrival and is waiting in the Eyrie infirmary."
"Lassie," he grumbled, "I'm hungry, thirsty, I ache all over and I have a splitting headache from the neural control."
"There are ample supplies of food and drink in the castle's kitchen, but I suggest you check with Doctor Pierce regarding your physical health and any required medicine."
"Th' only medicine I need is a fine bottle of Scotland's best."
He was stubborn, like most of the biologics she was surrounded by. "I do believe Doctor Pierce would disagree."
Acknowledging her with the barest hint of a nod, Macbeth lifted the long-sleeved shirt and prodded with his fingers across his ribcage where he'd taken a nasty jolt in the Guild bunker. One of the bigger agents had snuck up behind him and jabbed a piece of steel into his side, hoping to pierce through the armor.
What he wasn't aware of was that Mother was doing some inspecting of her own, roving her eyes across his healthy form. One of her more irritating habits was a tendency to stare for long periods of time without blinking, but everyone eventually got used to it despite their attempts to impart to her a simple biological trait. Neither Lexington nor the XE Research and Development teams thought to program her physical form with the tendency to blink; simple human quirks weren't high on the priority list considering they'd managed to create another fully autonomous artificial intelligence.
But Macbeth was never comfortable with lingering attention; he'd developed a sixth sense over a millennium about drawing unwanted attention, considering he'd start a new life after the previous one had ended and hoped all ties would be completely and unquestionably severed. He turned and caught her and he swore her eyes suddenly jumped up to meet his narrowed gaze. "Can I help you, lass?"
Indeed, she'd found something that triggered her processors and allocated a large part of her memory to her prolonged examination, although she didn't quite know why. Though the doctor was an above-average human specimen if assessed strictly by his physical condition, Macbeth was much...bigger than Pierce, with increased muscle mass and tone. And owing to his exceptionally long lifespan, he could have a wealth of experience in the ways of physical love. "Perhaps I can help you. Would you would like to have sex?" she asked, so candidly it was hard to accept it as a poor attempt at a joke.
His eyes bugged out. "What?! Have you gone daft, woman?!"
"Sex is a very calming activity. And it is known to help relieve pent up stress."
The line between machine and living thing blurred for a moment. They spent a moment in silence before Macbeth made a strangled sound through his throat and walked away. He wanted Scotch and Tylenol.
"Is that a no?"
"I already had myself inside one machine tonight," Macbeth yelled from over his shoulder, "I don't need inside another!"
Standing with her fingers entwined at her waist, Mother watched him stalk away towards the elevator. "As you wish..."
It'd gotten a little quieter in the last hour. The sirens had fallen silent and the constant commotion in the halls and beyond had slowed to a mere trickle. The blinds sieved the sunlight into slatted patterns on the floor and walls; morning, she figured, and it couldn't have come quick enough.
And all that lack of sound was conspiring to Whatever they'd given her, it was swimming around her bloodstream like a shark. Savannah was falling asleep intermittently, but she wouldn't let herself become so vulnerable when lying beside the man who'd beaten and interrogated and, for all intents and purposes, could've easily killed her without wasting a single thought on why. Even laid up and on sedatives twice as powerful as hers, the thought of waking up to his hands wrapped around her throat filled her with a cold dread even the blankets couldn't take away. So she did anything she could to keep herself awake and alert, even if it included counting the perforated dots in the ceiling tiles.
Of course, her mind had a tendency to wander in its struggle to keep from submitting to the drugs, like how her life would've turned out if she wasn't kidnapped from her apartment. She figured her exposé would've either gained her fame, awards and all the acclaim she'd wanted since getting into the business or she would've been laughed out into the street. But with every fantasy came that tiny nagging voice at the back of her skull; her conscience she figured. She was able to muffle that annoying little bitch for so long until recently, when her former jailors impressed her with their humanity, released her even though they were ninety-nine percent she'd eventually squeal and then risked their safety to rescue her from the Guild's underwater bunker.
She was alive because of them. Life was becoming one big ironic mess.
The soft squeak of sneakers on the linoleum alerted her to someone entering the room with a quick gait. Savannah turned her head to see the nurse rushing past the bed in her pastel green jumpsuit, the stethoscope slung around her neck swinging back and forth. She ended up between her and Joseph.
"I'm sorry I didn't check in sooner," she said, and seemed slightly out of breath, "but we've been absolutely swamped with the influx of wounded from the attack in Times Square."
"It's okay..." Savannah replied. She was actually surprised any nursing staff would be here so quickly after seeing the amount of wounded outside just a little while ago.
"So how are you feeling this morning?"
"Good. Well, let me just check your husband."
"My husband, wha...oh, oh, my husband, yes." The thought of it turned her stomach but she needed to keep up the pretense just a little while longer. "He's...he's going to be okay, right?"
The nurse checked his chart and then inspected the machines surrounding him. "He sustained some pretty severe injuries, but he should pull through."
"That's good." she whispered, the tone dripping with disdain. "I'd hate for him to die all of a sudden, without my hands wrapped around his throat."
"Pardon?" she asked, considering Savannah's voice had trailed off at the end.
Savannah brightened. "Nothing. Is he in any pain?"
"He's on a morphine drip and is heavily sedated. I doubt he feels much right now."
Replacing the clipboard, the nurse looked up. "Sorry?"
Again, Savannah evaded, "Nothing."
He hoped to keep a low profile, but a twenty-five-foot Lincoln Town Car wasn't exactly subtle. Then again, he was barely able to even go to the bathroom without a reporter looking through the window in this city so he figured there wasn't much point.
Mayor Evan Frost saw the fringes of the crowd halfway up the street from the back window and furrowed his brow in response. He thought he could get here before most of the hysteria began. "Damn..."
His driver turned his head slightly. "Are you sure about this, sir?"
"We have no choice. Unless we want to fly in by helicopter." he joked, but watching as the crowd started getting bigger the closer they got, he was beginning to second-guess his decision to come in by car (a very conspicuous car at that). "Just keep the car slow and steady."
The limo slipped into the left lane and turned into the plaza, facing a wall of people between the vehicle and the building just ahead. And as soon as they caught wind of the mayor arriving, like predators scenting their prey, every reporter once trying to get past the barriers surrounding the station immediately reversed direction and stampeded towards the limousine entering into view. The tinted windows disguised the occupants inside but every reporter worth their salt knew the mayor was in the back, and it didn't deter them from screaming the same questions they'd been asking all morning at their own reflections in the dark glass.
The limo didn't break pace, rolling through the field of reporters until allowed through the barriers. The police contingent doubled up near the only opening to prevent anyone not authorized from getting through. It quickly degenerated into a shoving match, a few of the more assertive ones getting manhandled, dragged out by their arms and even tackled to the ground. As the limousine pushed through, the police swarmed the hole in the line and swung the wooden barriers back into place just as the throng pushed against them. It continued towards the station and then sidled up along the curb. Mayor Frost stepped out, adjusted his suit and slightly turned towards to the crowd, only to get blindsided by a flood of camera flashes all at once, flaring through the crowd like a string of firecrackers and he had to turn away before his retinas were burned out. With spots floating through his vision, he could hear the reporters trying to goad him into giving a statement before he was ready, a few hundred voices all trying to reach above the next. He ignored them as usual and started up the steps, taking refuge between the walls of canvas still hanging there.
As he entered the station's lobby, emptier than it had been a few hours ago, his gaze meandered across the servicemen and women left behind. He himself had given the order for every cop in New York to take to the streets to ensure his city's safety and maintain the peace; these were obviously the leftovers, needing a break before going back out and he wasn't about to complain. He saw a few of the SWAT teams that had fought in Times Square, still in their armor, huddled around steaming cups of coffee that went untouched.
But one face stood out from the rest, a man whom many at City Hall were ready to proclaim a hero and parade him around the city as a boost for the NYPD. He looked ragged, like he'd been put through a wood-chipper and sloppily glued back together; he was sitting on a couch in the lobby clad in his armor as well and nursing a paper cup, eyes ringed with dark bags and settled into a lazy stare that didn't go anywhere in particular. "Lieutenant MacKenzie!"
MacKenzie's head shot up and he found the mayor practically running towards him. He dropped the cup to the table and stood up to greet him. "Mayor Frost."
"Lieutenant." He quickly reached for the man's extended hand and shook it hard enough to pull it from the socket. Even without a camera present he still grinned and enunciated every word. "You and your teams did a great job in the Square. You should be commended."
"We did our best, sir, but we still lost a few."
Frost's smile dimmed. "From what I saw of the news footage I can only imagine. Those lost in the line of duty will be honored."
"Thank you, sir." MacKenzie responded soberly.
"I'll expect a full report, Lieutenant," he continued, and added as an afterthought, "when you're ready of course. There'll be an inquiry as well."
"I know the procedure, sir." An awkward pause and then, Mackenzie had to ask, "Are you here to see the...ah..."
"The gargoyles you rescued? Yes." He cleared his throat, and lowered his voice slightly. "Tell me, lieutenant, you were there. Are they real?"
"These aren't just elaborate costumes? Another practical joke for some vapid radio show top prize? Lord knows Manhattan's had enough gargoyle-themed hoaxes over the years..."
MacKenzie once thought the same as well, until he got a good, close look at the gargoyles. They were indeed living, breathing beings; that fact alone at least helped him cope with the loss of five officers. "No, Mr. Mayor," he said, "I think these are the real thing. But maybe you should see for yourself."
"Perhaps you could point me in the right direction."
Mackenzie motioned to a corridor, flanked by several guards. "There, sir. A couple of FBI agents are waiting for you inside."
Watching the mayor whisk away to the room at the end of the hall, where he'd ironically yet to go, MacKenzie felt no desire to follow. His interest had faded to practically zero in the face of what happened and he just sat back down with a huff.
Mayor Frost nodded to the guards on either side of the door and was about to burst into the room when he inexplicably slowed, as if he expected something to jump out at him. The report he'd received was cryptic at best; the gargoyles he'd seen on the news footage and actually rescued by the city's SWAT team were now in custody at police headquarters. But the only things to fly from the room were voices, one calm, the other livid.
"Yeah that's right, my baby sister."
The conversation, whatever the subject, was heated.
"Todd, I'm sorry, but I had no idea she was alive. And it wasn't my secret to share."
"Oh, wow, the air in here just got thick with irony. Now you know how it feels to–"
"Am I interrupting?"
All three men in the room looked to see who'd just poked his head into the room. Mayor Frost stepped inside, leading with a politician's smile.
Todd's eyes went as wide as dinner plates and he immediately swiveled on his heel to hide his face from view. He tried to blend in with what little humans there were in the room but without a uniform or a freshly-pressed suit, he and his civilian clothing stuck out like a sore thumb. He shuffled towards the corner, suddenly interested in the potted fichus.
But the mayor had already forgotten what he'd overheard when his gaze happened to cross the room's unusual inhabitants, "Oh...wow..." and he followed the unwavering line from the door to the clan's resting place in the middle of the room. He slowly circled around much as Todd had done a while ago, as had agent Ford, drinking in the incredibly surreal spectacle. He'd presided over prestigious art exhibits at several of Manhattan's museums, with a particular theme in oils or clay, but nothing ever came close to the sheer detail radiating from these statues. He couldn't believe these were living creatures; but, then again, even his wife never appeared this lifelike and she'd become the personal experiment of her high-priced plastic surgeon. "Good lord..."
"Apparently, they turn to stone during the day."
His heart skipped at the voice, considering he was mere inches from the largest gargoyle's growling visage. He wheeled around and found a well-dressed agent standing ramrod straight. The man looked like he was going to hurt himself at such a stiff angle; even his jaw seemed clenched.
Having seen the mayor arrive at the station amidst the media frenzy, agent Neville had slithered after him and crept into the room, intending to beat Abel to the punch. Before Abel even had the chance to react, Neville broke the silence first. "Excuse me, Mayor Frost?"
"I'm FBI agent Phillip Neville, and this situation has officially been placed under FBI jurisdiction, so you have no need to worry."
He didn't particularly enjoy the supercilious tone. "I beg your pardon?"
"Perhaps I wasn't clear..."
"Oh, you were clear all right, I just don't like suits ordering me around in my city."
Sensing Neville's inherent lack of tact may hurt his case as well Abel decided to step in from where he was sitting. "Perhaps I can play intermediary, sir."
Frost found another agent stepping into view, but this one already seemed a little less self-important and slightly less concerned with his dress sense. He wore the brunt of his career in the lines on his face. "And you are?"
"Agent Abel Sykes."
He pursed his lips. He knew the name well; it'd popped up in one of a hundred reports shoved in front of him in the last few hours. "The same Abel Sykes that I hear authorized rescuing the gargoyles using the city's SWAT teams."
"Yes, sir." Abel nodded, unapologetic. "I took over the investigation into the gargoyles and the terrorist attack in Times Square."
"You barged into the middle of my interrogation with that gargoyle," Neville argued, "with no authority might I add."
Frost pointed to the clan with raised eyebrows. "Wait, those things can talk?"
"Those things are incredibly intelligent, peaceful beings, Mr. Mayor." Abel said. "And I'm convinced they're innocent."
He'd officially been in office for half a year now and even before the election he'd heard all the tall tales from the senior city staff, those who'd served in the boroughs for years, and dismissed every single one of them. Now that those stories had been proven frighteningly true, he never expected the urban legend supposedly haunting his city to be intelligent or even peaceful, especially considering their appearance. "Did you not see the news reports?" Frost quipped.
"If you believed every news report you saw on television, I don't think you would have been elected."
The mayor frowned, but conceded the point. He too was left with half-assed news reports and rampant rumor-mongering as his main source of information, considering almost no one in his inner circle could offer him anything but an uninformed opinion.
"The gargoyles were merely trying to save themselves and many innocent people still trapped in the Square from being slaughtered. Those masked men caused the accident by plowing a stolen city bus into traffic, and then took a hostage to goad the gargoyles out into the open. They consequently fired on the gargoyles without any regard for the crowd or the police officers and SWAT teams, and ended up wounding dozens in their rampage, and killing three."
But Neville was quick to remind him, "We have nothing to substantiate their innocence."
"And there's no evidence to the contrary, Neville." Abel had expected the opposition from the beginning and was on him right quick. "When I first got here, you were trying to blackmail their leader into doing whatever you wanted, threatening him with illegal incarceration, possible experimentation and using all the recent turmoil New York's gone through as an excuse to suspend any and all of his inalienable rights."
Frost crossed his arms and put agent Neville under a heavy glare. "Is that true, agent?"
"Hardly, sir." Neville scoffed. "It was merely an interrogation. I was trying to get him to confess."
"To what?" Abel asked derisively.
"Whatever he's guilty of." Neville said it with so much conviction, Frost figured the agent had already determined the gargoyles' guilt before even the mere thought of a trial. Even Todd, relegated to the background, had to restrain himself from bursting in. "He was found near the shore in Battery Park last night after having beaten a man to a pulp."
The tide had turned and the mayor seesawed back to Abel. "Agent Sykes?"
Abel thinned his golden eyes, and quickly clarified. "That part is true, but he's distorting the facts to his advantage. The man who this gargoyle supposedly assaulted is none other than Jon Canmore."
Frost paused for a moment, but visibly reacted with a creased brow. "Canmore?" he echoed. The gears were turning. "As in Jon Canmore, the leader of those...those Quarrymen from a few years back?"
"If you've done your homework before taking office, you know he was a dangerous and borderline psychotic who started a war with every gargoyle everywhere. He was captured, charged and sent to jail. After he was released on bail, he disappeared. Now, he's downstairs in a holding cell, screaming at anyone who gets close."
"If you were assaulted by a gargoyle," Neville pointed out, "you'd be angry as well."
Abel's own brow furrowed so much, it nearly brought his receding hairline down to where it was ten years ago. Neville had the singular ability to annoy anyone he came into contact with. If it weren't for the fact he was actually a very dedicated and semi-valuable FBI agent, Abel would've slugged the man a long time ago. His gaze flicked towards Todd, and he simply shook his head at the boy to keep him firmly rooted in place, less he do something stupid. "He's far from a credible victim, Phil," Abel answered at length, "and I'm inclined to believe Canmore dealt out just as much damage to the gargoyles' leader, considering his extensive injuries."
He fired a bony finger towards the clan, and Neville charged, "You're glorifying them."
"And you're demonizing them."
"Gentlemen." Frost intervened. He was always good at playing the mediator; it probably helped him get those last few votes to win.
"Your honor," Neville was almost reduced to whining, "agent Sykes here has undermined everything I've accomplished in this case, including offering the gargoyle leader a deal which completely exonerates the rest, even though he wasn't officially assigned to the case."
"That sounds like something your director should decide, not me." Frost said.
"He already has. Deputy-director Nelson of the local office has already placed me in charge."
"Unless you, mayor," Abel said, "authorize my jurisdiction."
Neville rounded the mayor to get in Abel's face. "You know he can't do that."
But Abel held firm. The only thing he feared from this greasy little rodent was the extent of government-backed power at his command. "He can, as this crime took place in his constituency. He holds the most authority here. At least until a federal prosecutor is assigned."
"Until I go higher. Like Homeland Security, or the CIA, or the White House."
Mayor Frost rubbed a hand impatiently across his chin, considering he seemed to be in a never-ending conversation that was quickly deteriorating into a battle of wills and viewpoints. "I need answers gentlemen, not suppositions." he said sharply, and anxiously tugged on his lapels. "I've got hundreds of reporters crawling up my ass about the gargoyles. And I have a press conference I'm going to give in..." he stopped and pulled back his sleeve to reveal a Rolex, "less than fifteen minutes from now. What do I tell them?"
Abel slumped onto the arm of one of the couches and shrugged. "How about the truth? That the gargoyles saved lives tonight because they decided to come back, even if it meant their death. Who knows how many people the Guild would have killed?"
"The Guild?" Something clicked and he started nodding; he'd taken in an inordinate amount of information today and had trouble with recall. "Yes, yes, I remember it from the footage."
"Think of them as the newest incarnation of the Quarrymen, but much more methodical and much more dangerous. According to the gargoyles' leader, they were responsible for the murders of several police officers and the bombing of Central Park."
"What? And where is your evidence?"
"I have none yet." Abel confessed.
Frost rolled his eyes; he wasn't quite sure of this particular agent's approach. "Typical." he coughed, somewhat under his breath. "Agent Sykes, you're not exactly filling me much confidence in your investigative style. And so this is all on the word of a...a gargoyle, one who hasn't been cleared of any wrong-doing."
"I think I know why agent Neville doesn't want you on this case."
Abel stood up and neared the mayor. He let his eyes relax on Frost until the man squirmed uncomfortably. "All I can ask is for you to trust me, sir." he said. Any trace of flippancy had vanished. "These gargoyles are not the enemy."
But any good mayor couldn't just ignore a potential threat, no matter how eloquently they were spoken for. "Do you think seven million New Yorkers feel the same after last night? The city's frothing at the mouth and I have to stem the anger somehow. We need to first ensure the people they're safe and stem any further chaos, but the only answer may be to find someone responsible."
Abel knew he wouldn't like where the conversation was inexorably going to end, but felt compelled to ask anyway. "So who'll become the scapegoat?"
Mayor Frost sighed pitiably. "I don't know yet."
A makeshift stage had been put together on the front steps of police headquarters where, in just a few minutes, the mayor would address New York. The police had moved the barriers towards this stage and when finally allowed access, it became a mad dash to win; the reporters all ran for and squabbled over the best spot closest to the front.
He dusted his suit and straightened everything else attached. He could hear the crowd outside the doors and even with quite a few press conferences as Mayor and D.A. under his belt he was feeling a little anxious at the prospect of revealing an entirely new species to an entire city out for blood. "Here goes..." Frost said to himself.
When the mayor emerged from inside, the cameras started flashing and questions were thrown from all sides in a riot of sound that didn't even resemble an actual human voice. Sykes and Neville appeared behind him, both invited by Frost himself, and sat down in a few of the chairs at the back of the stage. He stepped in front of a lone wooden podium top-heavy with a dozen microphones, a tangled braid of wiring snaking down the back end. But before he could even don his reading glasses the war intensified; every reporter wanted their questions answered first and weren't above almost stepping on their rivals to do so.
But he was patient and almost deliberately languid in getting started, causing the reporters to froth at the mouth. All until he simply held up a hand, calling for silence. The crowd reluctantly quieted to a dull murmur. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he started, his voice projected halfway across the street by several loudspeakers, "I want to assure you first of all, that everything is under control. City officials have responded with their usual promptness to ensure the safety of every citizen on the island. Everything that can be done is being done. The police presence in Manhattan has doubled and we are conducting routine traffic stops and extensive searches.
"As you're all aware, our fine city was subject to a deadly attack in its very heart last night and many people were killed as a result. I'm sure everyone has seen the news reports and watched as masked men and women caused a major traffic accident, took hostages and started a firefight, wounding many and even killing some. But what makes this particular act of violence unique is the identity of those who willingly caused so much destruction. They called themselves the Guild. Apparently, they are the latest predecessors to the Quarrymen, a vigilante group formed years ago with a single purpose, destroy any and all gargoyles. Despite what we thought then, whether we believed in their wild claims or not, they proved dangerous and destructive, and unfortunately, contagious.
"They poisoned the hearts and minds of anyone willing to follow them. I shudder to think how many of our citizens were under those masks, now walking around free on our very streets. This Guild is criminally liable for the deaths of thirty-six people, including five brave police officers that died in the line of duty and if found, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
"But with the tragedy, comes a revelation. After all the years of rumor and gossip, of stories from criminals found tied up in the remains of a fire escape ladder, would-be rape victims and grocery store owners who actually had the thieves run back into the store with all the money, we now have solid proof that the gargoyles exist. I've seen them for myself. They are not a hoax, not actors or college students wearing costumes, they are indeed real and now we must confront this new chapter in our city's distinguished history.
"Like most of our city's elected officials, I admit to some trepidation and inexperience to what we are facing, but I've never backed down from a challenge before in my long career as a public servant. I promise to do everything I can to protect the citizens of this city and ensure their safety, but I will not compromise my ethics by falsely accusing someone, even if they're not human, just to alleviate unfounded fears. As of right now, the gargoyles inside pose absolutely no threat to anyone and we will follow the exact letter of the law in deciding their fate. New York will not be broken down by anyone or anything threatening our way of life, not terrorists, not gargoyles. We've endured for more than three hundred years and I'll be damned if this city is hurt anymore on my watch!"
He received a mixed reaction after finishing; half the crowd clapped and cheered in support of their city more than anything else, while others were skeptical the fledgling mayor wasn't quite up to the task considering the circumstances. In the first six months of his term, New York had suffered damage from modest to cataclysmic.
"Are the gargoyles intelligent?" the first question came exploding out of the crowd. "Can they think, or feel? Can they even talk for that matter?"
"According to the FBI, they are indeed intelligent, as intelligent as you or I."
Skepticism rolled through the same voice. "You haven't talked to them yourself?"
Frost wished he could've been better prepared; having the chance to actually converse with those creatures would've helped immensely, but according to agent Sykes, the gargoyles wouldn't wake up until sundown and his city needed his assurance now. "The gargoyles are...ah, asleep right now." he answered, with a bit of a waiver running through his tone. "They have a very particular way of sleeping that doesn't quite allow for conversation. But rest assured, when they do wake, I'll be there."
"And when will that be?"
"Sometime later today." Frost answered somewhat evasively. He didn't want to pin down a specific time in order to avoid exactly what was happening now.
"Have the gargoyles confessed or taken responsibility for anything that's happened tonight?"
"To my knowledge, they have not. While being interrogated they have maintained their innocence, speaking through their leader."
"And what happened to the green gargoyle female, the one that was injured? Will she be charged?"
"The bureau has informed us that she was admitted to a hospital for emergency surgery." Frost replied. He'd yet to come into contact with Katana's surgical team. "Her prognosis at this time is unknown and, though I hate to speak before all evidence has been collected and intensely scrutinized, the FBI believes she was acting in self defense."
"Is the FBI in charge of this investigation? They seem to have a lot of information."
"The FBI is joining the NYPD in a joint investigation. We are all committed to finding out the truth."
"We've all heard that before." someone shouted out and it was hard to tell if it was a reporter or someone else in the crowd. "The city and its elected officials don't have the best track record in finding anything regarding the gargoyles. How long have they been living among us? Considering the sightings reach back as far as eight years, it seems as if those same officials were either ignoring the gargoyles, keeping their existence carefully under wraps or weren't capable of dealing with them at all."
Mayor Frost took the comment like he'd take a bullet, complete with wide eyes and slack jaw. He was sure that particular line would soon end up as a popular soundbite on the news and as ammunition for some of his detractors. Trying his best to disguise the look of shock, he recovered quickly and responded, "We had no prior knowledge to the gargoyles' existence, only the same rumors everyone one else heard. But to assure the city's safety, a Gargoyles Task Force was assigned after the destruction of the St. Damian's cathedral, but eventually they found absolutely no evidence after exhaustive work."
"That so-called task force was comprised of a team of six detectives and officers in a single precinct. That's hardly enough people to barely patrol a single city block. Seems more likely it was set up in a pathetic attempt to easily sway the city's fears with a mere pretense rather than deal with the real danger directly."
"That's not true." he quickly berated the voice, which turned out to be a reporter almost directly underneath his podium. "I was indirectly involved with the Task Force during my time as district attorney and they were all fine men and women who did their best to ensure public safety. The only reason they failed at finding any evidence of gargoyle activity was due to the fact there was no evidence to be found."
"So they were either incompetent, or they were never supposed to find anything in the first place."
"They were consummate professionals with years of experience and distinguished careers. Their names are public record and you can look them up at your own leisure. And if they couldn't find anything, then the gargoyles did very well at concealing their existence." The reporter looked as if he was going to continue the line of questions until mayor Frost quickly cut him off. "Are there any real questions out there? Ones that don't involve furthering someone's career by slandering dedicated policemen?"
Someone else jumped in immediately before his competitors. "For years it's been rumored that David Xanatos harbored the gargoyles in the castle atop his skyscraper, with several anti-gargoyle groups, including the Quarrymen and this Guild, accusing him of just such a crime. Is there any genuine connection between the gargoyles and David Xanatos?"
For a moment, he regretted not letting the other reporter continue his slander; it would've been easier to debunk an outright liar than try to answer a question with a certain amount of legitimacy (he himself had never believed Xanatos was as squeaky clean as his press team made him and his massive conglomerate out to be). While Frost struggled to come up with something, with anything, to answer him, the reporters smelled blood in the water; when those in the spotlight incriminated themselves through silence, even if was only a few seconds, it was sometimes even better than an actual answer. "I don't wish to add fuel to a fire already growing out of control," he said, "especially when it may be a simple coincidence. But I believe in full disclosure."
"So, is there a connection?"
He didn't know it at the time, but he'd then make the mistake of glancing over his shoulder at agent Neville.
Neville got up and joined Frost at his side; he put on airs better than any aide, appearing more composed and more prepared to speak than the mayor himself, considering he was hoping for this chance since the beginning. "We found a communications device on the gargoyles' leader, imprinted with the Xanatos Enterprises logo."
Someone in the crowd immediately followed up. "Does this mean David Xanatos is funding or equipping the gargoyles you have in custody?"
Neville turned to the reporter and answered in the mayor's stead, whether he wanted him to or not. "Perhaps, the link between the gargoyles and Xanatos is still under investigation, but a link exists nonetheless."
The murmurs started again, and Abel stepped up as the crowd started to get louder. "Of course," he argued, "the gargoyle could have easily found, bought or stole that device from any number of locations, considering these devices are standard for all of XE staff and security detail. Just because someone robs a bank with a Smith and Wesson pistol doesn't mean the company personally supplied the thief with the gun."
"So has David Xanatos or his company been cleared?"
"Not officially." Neville answered, craning his neck within reach of the microphones. "The investigation is still pending."
Another reporter spoke up; with an agent at the podium, he wanted clarification on something the mayor said earlier. "Does the FBI believe the gargoyles are innocent or guilty?"
"Neither." Abel waved him off. "At least right now. I just want to remind everyone that the gargoyles are being considered innocent until proven guilty through due process, hence the motto of our system of justice. Until we can begin an official investigation, they are merely being kept safe, and where we can restrict their movements."
And then, a bomb went off, "You should do more than restrict their movements!" It'd come from somewhere in the crowd, riding shotgun on an angry voice and it definitely wasn't a reporter. "Those damned freaks have caused more damage and destruction in this city than any Guild or Quarrymen! First Central Park, then the Hole, and now Times Square! When is it going to end?! When are we going to stop whoever's responsible?!"
And then, the reporters were actually outmatched for volume by the rest of the crowd. Anyone who'd either lost a friend, a business, a home, a vehicle or their sense of security started in on the chorus, filtering all the way to the other side of the street.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please..." Frost tried to gain some leverage but the collective rage was just too powerful. Even with the speakers he was being drowned out.
"How many people have died because of them?!"
"There's no proof the gargoyles are involved in any of the recent attacks New York has suffered in the last year!"
"What about all the eyewitness reports during the attacks?! The photos?! The video?!"
"The same could be said for UFOs." Frost argued. "I've seen those blurry photos and that grainy footage, and anyone in any stress-induced state is capable of seeing anything their imaginations could create."
Then the reporters decided to capitalize on the confusion. "Then are you dismissing all the previously reported eyewitness accounts as false?"
"I'm not dismissing anything that is backed up by physical evidence."
"Is my destroyed apartment evidence enough?!" someone yelled.
"I want to assure you–"
"You have all the evidence you need inside that station! Do you actually expect us to believe the gargoyles are completely innocent in everything that's happened to this city in the last decade?!"
Seeing the conference quickly degenerate, Abel leaned into the microphones, put a few fingers in his mouth and whistled. Loud enough close up, it translated through the speakers as a high-pitched scream fused with a enough feedback to shatter nearby windows. Anyone within earshot grimaced and covered their ears until Abel ran out of breath. The warble finally died and left an eerie silence in its wake.
"Thank you, agent Sykes." Frost said, twisting a pinkie into his left ear. With the crowd still recovering, he continued speaking, "I know everyone is angry right now. Frightened, pained, but especially angry. I know everyone's waiting on a final decision regarding who's to blame, so we can start the healing process, so we can have closure, but frankly, I don't know. It would be so easy to lay blame on either the gargoyles or this Guild, but we have to take this slowly and methodically, to ensure no innocent person is unfairly prosecuted."
"What does the city plan to do now?" a reporter asked something actually sensible.
"A federal prosecutor is scheduled to arrive soon, and the investigation into the Times Square Tragedy, the gargoyles and the Guild will officially begin. Every cop in New York is on duty and several contingents of the National Guard are on their way as we speak. New York is safe and under control."
The ride down was spent in near silence, both the Canmore siblings lost in thought. The elevator cab was in freefall, picking up enough speed to nearly lift them off the ground into weightlessness, but it still wasn't quite fast enough for their tastes. While Jason sat brooding, Robyn paced the little well-lit, chrome-decked dungeon from top to bottom, with Dingo stuck against the wall to avoid getting his feet stepped on.
Their stomachs dropped from their throats as the cab slowed but as soon as the elevator hit ground level it and dumped them into the Eyrie's main lobby, they were confronted by a small group of XE employees standing in a semi-circle, almost as if to prevent them from leaving. Jason wheeled out ahead, intending to meet the members of his press team.
"Mr. Canmore, sir."
The brunette in the sharp gray suit and skirt ensemble watched as her employer's right-hand man rolled up to the group. "I don't know if you've been watching the news..."
"Oh," Jason said, "we caught the press conference before we got in the elevator."
"The Mayor's press conference brought up a lot of questions directed towards our company, and that small crowd of reporters camped outside the building is starting to grow and they're badgering any employee trying to get inside."
"Security will deal with it."
"True. There's over a hundred men and women around the Eyrie's perimeter keeping the peace and protecting our staff, but I think we need to issue a statement at the very least, considering the show at the police station."
Jason couldn't argue with the logic. This was as close to the truth as it could ever get, and as usual, a well-spun story could help deflect the looming storm. Between the bodies and through the windows, he could see the small crowd on the sidewalk mulling about under the presumably heavy glare of the Xanatos Enterprises security teams. "Damn it..."
Coming up alongside her brother, Robyn touched his shoulder. "Go, Jason, yui're needed." she said. "I'll go see Jon."
Once again, his personal life suffered at the demands of his job. "I'll try and join you as soon as possible."
With his sister and her boyfriend off into the city, Jason had the unenviable task of dealing with the reporters camped out front. He'd had his share in his short time as majordomo to one of the world's richest men, but this had a particularly different feeling to it. Jason wasn't just dissuading rumor or a bit of gossip passed inside of a county holding cell, he had the fact of their revealed existence hanging over him.
A security guard opened the door for him and he wheeled outside. He barely had a moment to bask in the warmth of the sun before the crowd made up for their small size by yelling twice as loud. He motioned to the security team to divide down the center so he could face them and like a small wind, the press team set up a microphone and stand right in front of him. Marissa adjusted it to his level and quickly backed away.
With some of the reporters having come directly from the mayor's press conference, others had been here since daylight, considering the rumors of gargoyles circling this behemoth like vultures for the last ten years and everyone was hoping David Xanatos, or one of his hired cronies, would at last confirm them. They pushed forward, shoving their cameras and micro-recorders as close as possible to Jason.
But just as the mayor did at his own press conference halfway across the island, Jason waited out the crowd's impatience. "I can't say anything with so much noise."
It worked; they quieted and waited, hoping to catch every second's worth.
"Let me begin by saying that Xanatos Enterprises has no connection with the gargoyles, nor do we harbor gargoyles in any part of XE headquarters, especially the castle. The statues that line the cornices are simple holographic projectors patterned after the original carved-stone statues safely stored away in a maximum security vault. They complete the illusion of the Scottish legends that haunted this particular castle since the day it was constructed over a thousand years ago. They are shut down at night to conserve power and you can see their installation and operation on our official website. David Xanatos will and does freely admit to some early press stunts involving animatronic replicas and actors in costumes, but only for the benefit of his V.I.P. guests during banquets and other parties held in the castle. All activity was confined to the Eyrie building and the sky above."
"Then you deny Xanatos Enterprises supplied the gargoyles with equipment?"
But Jason wasn't as congenial as the mayor, nor did he need the city's approval for future re-election. "This isn't a press conference," he shot him down, "I'm not answering questions and that is all, ladies and gentlemen." Jason turned away from the podium amidst a sudden eruption of reporters annoyed their questions didn't have the answers they wanted.
"How can we trust a spokesman whose own brother is the former leader of an anti-gargoyle group that has been operating in Manhattan since the mid-nineties?"
He flattened his palms on his wheels, coming to a dead stop.
"Seems to me we've already found a connection between Xanatos Enterprises and the gargoyles. Who knows how many more we could dig up?"
Jason didn't recognize the voice, but he'd had plenty of experience with smug reporters. He turned around and found a woman with a Lois Lane complex in the middle of the crowd, holding her micro-recorder like a sword straight at his throat. "My brother is currently back in prison, where I firmly believe he belongs. He cut any and all ties with me a long time ago. My personal life does not interfere with this company. Period."
The reporter barely took a moment to digest his answer. "But the gargoyles seem intricately connected to David Xanatos several times over, from his purchase of an ancient Scottish castle complete with gargoyle statues to several so-called publicity stunts to what sounded like a pitched battle the night after the castle's completion. Of course there've been numerous sightings over the years that are rarely far from the Eyrie building, the lost night several years ago, the attack that decimated part of the city now informally dubbed The Hole, the Quarrymen and now the Guild, reports of unmarked black helicopters firing upon the Eyrie, the sudden appearance of a silver liquid coating the entire building..." She stopped when she figured she'd made her point but that damned handsome, lantern-chinned man kept staring at her with an undecipherable expression.
"All of those incidents can be easily explained." Jason simply offered.
"Then explain them."
He nonchalantly pulled back his sleeve to check his watch, held his eyes there for a minute (if only to further annoy the reporters) and then returned his gaze. "I'm sorry, but the workday is starting and Xanatos Enterprises is a multi-billion dollar corporation that needs my attention and, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with those gargoyles. Good day ladies and gentlemen."
Jason rolled into the building despite the protests, followed by his press team. The security guards stepped in to close the gap, blocking any access to the main lobby.
"Bastard..." the reporter muttered and hit the stop button on her recorder.
The drugs had won out. Her eyes fluttered; she no longer had the strength to keep them open and her relative infirmity after weeks of malnutrition had left her strength completely sapped.
Savannah was in that nebulous place between awake and asleep and as she slowly went under, the reason she was trying so hard to remain conscious quickly became clear. Her heavily-drugged brain was hemorrhaging images from every point in her life, but none were so vivid than the most recent memories. She actually flinched at the shards of her apartment door exploding under the boot of a massive Guild agent, remembered her skin being torn away when dragged into an interrogation room and shackled to the roof, she relived all the beatings, the intimidation and curling into a ball on the concrete at night, wondering if she'd live to see morning.
She started tossing and turning as the images intensified, clutching the sheets and close to tearing them in two with her bare hands. If she had a heart monitor attached it would be sounding an alarm by now with her heart trying to leap from her chest.
Hearing that particular sound above her and raising her heavy head, an amorphous green blur dropping from the ceiling and cutting her loose from her chains, being dragged through the ductwork, the bombs detonating and feeling the cold, sudden rush of seawater as they opened a hatch directly into the East river's murky depths. Who knows how long the Guild would've kept her alive considering what little useful information she had was wrung from her skinny body like a sponge. She wondered if the last thing she would've seen was the barrel of a gun pressed between her eyes.
The cold steel leaned into her brow, the chamber being loaded, the sound of her last breath before...
Her overactive imagination just found a good way to keep her awake; Savannah violently jerked. Her eyes shot open and she yelped at the terrifying fantasy her brain had created, breathing in tortured rasps. As she calmed down, realizing she was back in the real world and safe in her hospital bed, she turned on her side and her wide, red-rimmed gaze happened to fall on her roommate through the bed's aluminum railing.
The nurse had left the curtain open so she could always stay within eyeshot of her 'husband', her view of Joseph and his machines completely unobstructed. He was still under. She wondered if he was dreaming just as she was, sitting in his throne on a pile of corpses, including her own. It suddenly occurred to her she didn't give a damn if this man had a wife and son and any tiny particle of remorse she might have had evaporated. Savannah threw back her sheets and touched her bare feet to the floor, padding over to the other bed.
She stood over him, watching every measured movement of his chest. "Sleeping peacefully, hmm?" she whispered. "Are you dreaming of the world you wanted to create? Of all the people you've hurt, tortured and killed in your little quest? Including me..."
She could imagine him speaking back to her, in that commanding, gravel voice. It echoed inside of her head, burned there so she'd never forget, even in her dreams. Her hand reached out, tentatively, half-expecting him to jerk and wake and snatch her hand. But with her fingertips on his stubble, Joseph remained deathly still and Savannah continued her exploration unabated. She traced the jutting shape of his face, like she was trying to prove he was indeed just a human being, a father and husband gone astray by anger and the pain of loss and not the monster she thought of him. He was a very handsome man for his age, rugged features and long hair flecked by silver, someone she might take a second look at if they passed in a crowd. Lifting from the bristle of his goatee, those same fingers drifted to the pillow under his head and clutched the fabric. She gently removed it and held it tightly, staring into the pattern and warm pastel color.
It was something so innately unthreatening she almost didn't come across the idea until lifting her gaze up and over the pillow, seeing Joseph take another breath.
Then, something clicked and everything went blank. There wasn't so much a physical indication when Savannah stopped being Savannah, just an emptiness slowly rolling down her features, washing the color from her eyes. "This is for the beatings." she whispered and held the pillow over his head.
Once tuned like a metronome, Joseph's quickly breathing changed its rhythm. He started gasping, and in his weakened state could barely mount any resistance.
But Savannah held tight, pressing the pillow so hard over his head the faint outline of his face could almost be seen through the fabric and stuffing. Blood thundered through her ears, her heart trying to leap from her chest as she willed herself to finish the job she'd started. Joseph's breathing became erratic; she was sure he could easily swat her away if he was able or even conscious and something didn't quite sit right with the fact he was so defenseless, but neither did cold-blooded murder, and she was committing it with free and wanton lust.
His breaths started waning; he was wheezing like an old man with chronic asthma. He was dying and Savannah was relishing the chance for revenge without realizing the far-reaching consequences.
Dark drops appeared on the pillowcase and if Savannah had noticed anything outside the red haze of her vision she would've discovered she was crying as she willingly killed another human being. But all that flashed through her mind were the daily beatings while hanging from the ceiling, chains wrapped around her wrists. Every question she evaded or answered wrong she was punished, every instance she couldn't tell the Guild anything because she didn't actually know she got a fist to the stomach, the ribs or the face. It was never hard enough to break anything, just bruise flesh and draw blood. She lost track of time in her little windowless cell and only knew that day had passed when the lights went out and she was lowered to the ground to sleep. Then the lights would flicker back on, she was yanked to her feet and the interrogations would begin again.
If it weren't for the intrusion into the room, Savannah might've pushed that pillow into Joseph's face until his heart monitor squealed with a flat-line alarm.
"What's going on?!" the nurse shouted.
Reality came crashing back in and Savannah was suddenly aware of the world around her. Her elbows unlocked as her muscles relaxed and she almost collapsed on top of Joseph she was exerting so much pressure on the pillow. She spun around wild- and teary-eyed and stared down the duty nurse. Her brain still choked by endorphins, it raced for any excuse. "H-He started having trouble breathing..." she whispered.
Whether or not the nurse believed her, she quickly ran to the bedside and tried to clear whatever she figured was blocking Joseph's throat.
Dropping her weapon, Savannah slowly padded backwards until she hit her own bed and felt the cold aluminum railing through the hospital gown; she nearly yelped, both in surprise and the sheer hormonal overload. Everything was swirling, the room tipping from side to side like the ground underneath the hospital had turned to Jell-O and Savannah was having trouble remembering even getting out of bed. Her memory had a giant hole in the middle; she remembered looking at the pillow and then, nothing.
The nurse helped Joseph regain a normal breathing rhythm, glad she wouldn't have to intubate him but couldn't find any obstruction in his throat that would cause him to react like he did. The only thing that could cause this had to have been external and needed to completely cover his mouth and nose, but he was unconscious, leaving the only other patient in the room. Then, it hit her. The pillow. She just noticed one of the pillows was missing from his bed; it was in the woman's hands when she came into the room, but why would anyone take the pillow from under their spouse's head while his throat was blocked, unless the wife herself was doing the choking.
The nurse looked over her shoulder at this man's so-called betrothed, but his would-be murderer was cataleptic and crumpled in a pile on the floor next to her bed, sobbing into her hand.
Abel and Dominic were returning to the clan's room, both in silence with Dominic following after his partner. They were still digesting what'd just happened outside and wondering if the public opinion had either swayed towards or away from the gargoyles. When Frost left the podium, the reporters shouted themselves hoarse trying to squeeze in that last question until he disappeared back inside the station and then the crowd was left to mull about, deciding amongst themselves whether or not they believed the mayor's assurances they were safe. Everyone was herded back to a safe distance and the reporters decided to camp out, hoping to be there when the gargoyles awoke, as did most of the surrounding crowd.
Despite the last question Sykes had asked of Frost before the press conference, he never gave his audience exactly what they were looking for, an unmistakable target. And Abel wondered, without that scapegoat everyone was waiting for, would the lingering anger only fester into someone more dangerous...
On opening the door, Todd was the first face they saw; he was only allowed to remain inside this particular room on the assurance he wouldn't attempt to leave and, judging by what next came out of his mouth, he'd obviously watched the press conference. "Well, that was pointless..."
But Abel was somewhat optimistic. "Actually, it went better than I thought. But how did you expect this entire scenario to play out? The gargoyles hailed as saviors, or heroes, or celebrities?"
"I preferred not to think about the future, just the present."
Typical young idiot, Abel mused. Of course, he'd never even come close to understanding what Todd and his extended family had gone through and why the young man often lived every day like it was his last. "Right..."
"So," Todd said after a short pause, "what are the clan's chances?"
Collapsing into the comfort of the largest couch, Abel started kneading his forehead. "Neville's so-called evidence is tenuous, but I have a feeling with enough investigating, he could find something more. But that all depends if all the leads he follows up on are dead-ends." His eyes appeared from behind his hands. "Are they?"
"I wouldn't know." Todd evaded.
"Still stubborn, huh?" he sighed. "Well, that could come back to bite you in the ass later. I mean, with so much anger amongst the city's population right now, and with this Guild seemingly vanished, the gargoyles could be made easy scapegoats."
"Then do your job, Abel."
"I can't. Not without you. I know you're hiding something, Hawkins, I know you're hiding a lot of things."
But this time, Todd had an impressive counterattack. "You know how dangerous secrets can be, and how easy they are to accidentally slip out to the wrong people. Or did you mean to let your partner know that I'm married to a gargoyle?"
Weapon fired, target hit, Abel leaned back with a slightly surprised, self-deprecating look and then quickly switched to Dominic, who simply shrugged in response. The kid had a point.
"See," Todd wore a proud if not subtly irritated smirk, "a few hours with one of my secrets and you've already let it slip."
"Well...Dominic's good for it. Right, Dom?"
When prompted, Dominic beamed out a smile. "Don't worry, kid. I won't tell a soul. Hell, some of these gargoyles are lookers, and I wouldn't mind getting better acquainted with a few of them."
"Right." Todd muttered. "And don't call me kid, junior. I'm pretty sure I'm older than you."
"Well," Abel started, stretching out the kinks as he stood up, "there's nothing we can do now but wait."
"Wait?!" Todd yelled.
"Yes, wait for the federal prosecutor, wait for the mayor's final decision and wait for the gargoyles to wake up, unless you can suggest anything that doesn't involve breaking several laws."
He couldn't, he didn't; he just stood there, steaming. Of course, he had fantasies of pulling Abel's coat over his head, kicking Dominic where the sun doesn't shine and ripping open a hole in the drywall to abscond with the clan's statues, but he knew as well as the agents did he was stuck here.
Seeing Todd literally chew through his frustration, Abel started walking away. "That's what I thought. Now I'm going to get some coffee as I've been caffeine-deprived for a good twelve hours now." But he only got so far as the door before it suddenly swung open and he had to catch it before having his nose pushed into his brain.
A cop appeared, skidding on his heels to avoid running headfirst into the agent. "Excuse me, agent Sykes?"
Judging by the officer's shortness of breath and disjointed expression, Abel quickly sensed something was wrong. "Damnit, I'm never going to get that coffee, am I?"
"I just think you should know that someone's come to see Canmore."
His face darkened. "Really? Who?"
"Apparently, it's his sister."
Dominic smiled. "Helloooo."
She was standing at the top of the stairs, and had been for a few minutes. About fifteen steps down sat her younger brother, caged in a jail cell as she'd been years ago. Robyn Canmore was rarely controlled by her emotions, especially by something as insipid as uncertainty, but this had caught her by the throat.
"Robyn?" a voice drifted in from behind her. Dingo was intrigued by the sudden hesitation, considering Robyn had a tendency to completely conceal any outward emotion to the point where, sometimes, she could come off a bit robotic. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm just..."
"Scared?" he offered.
He was starting to get to know her very well. "We haven't spoken to each other for a long time, Henry. It could be...awkward at the very least."
"You won't know 'til you try, sheila."
Robyn started anxiously flexing her hands and continued staring down that curving stairway. All the work and hubbub to get here and she'd stopped just before the end. Navigating rush hour without Times Square was difficult and infuriating enough, especially with the increased police presence and roadblocks, but the morning traffic paled in comparison to the crowd surrounding the police station. She and Dingo fought their way through until reaching the barricades and one of the cops guarding the station's exterior, then calmly told him that she needed to get inside. The cop was incredulous; he heard the same thing from a hundred people in the last hour and even a pretty blonde with sparkling blue eyes wasn't about to sweet-talk him into letting her through.
Until she announced she was Jon Canmore's older sister.
The cop took a second look at her. No one else had tried that particular line yet and the way this woman kept giving him that cold, relenting gaze told him she was serious. "Uh...can I see some I.D.?"
"Of course." Robyn pulled out a leather wallet from her coat and flashed him her driver's license.
The cop's eyes flickered back and forth between the license and the woman until she abruptly flipped the wallet closed and replaced it to her jacket. It'd read Canmore, Castaway's real name.
"Now is that all or do I have t' pee in a cup?"
Of course, licenses could be faked; he'd been lied to, flattered, bribed, threatened and even prepositioned already by any reporter desperate enough to get inside the station and the decision played out on his features for a moment before he told her, "I'll escort you in. Of course, if you're lying, you'll be charged with obstruction in a criminal investigation."
"That won't be necessary." she said and slipped through the barriers with Dingo behind her. The crowd around her voiced their dislike to the pretty blonde getting through, but the cop just ignored them and led the couple towards the station. He assumed if they knew the sister of noted Quarrymen leader and suspected terrorist Jon Canmore had come to visit, there'd be even more of a frenzy that what was already happening. They were escorted inside and then stopped, made to wait as her identity was checked and confirmed and it only took a few minutes for the rumor to spread like a brush fire, that Canmore's infamous sister had come to visit.
She held back the inevitable sneer as the whispers passed between all the personnel and waited until the desk sergeant signed her in. He waved her through with little ceremony but she knew he, like the rest, were watching her intently (with her identity, her police record had also come up). But now there was nothing to keep her from seeing her brother except for her own apparently paralyzing fear.
"So, are you going to go, or do I have to push you down the stairs?"
She turned her head whiplash-quick and found a smirk under that moustache that was begging to be wiped off with a clenched fist. But as usual, Henry played the part of her conscience when she herself tried to bury it. Robyn reciprocated with a slight hint of a smile and started down the stairs. And when she reached the bottom and found Jon in that cell, all the memories came rushing back in a single, powerful surge like a kick to the head. The night their father died, the fateful Hunter's Moon, Jason's crippling and Jon's descent into madness in front of her eyes, and all the years of separation. And here he was, casually sitting on his bunk like nothing so monumentally life-changing had happened.
Jon had heard the footfalls and sensed the stare pressing down on him. "If yui're not a lawyer," he said, the Scottish burr unmistakable, "then I suggest you turn around and walk back up those stairs."
"Hello, Jon." Robyn said softly.
His eyes on the ceiling, they trickled down to match the voice to the owner. He found a ghost in front of him, standing so casually she could've been alive. "Well, well, well, look who's haunting me now. First mother, then father, and now my long-lost sister. Be gone, spirit."
"I'm flesh and blood, Jon." she answered coolly.
He seemed to better relate to the ghost. Jon's expression curdled at the thought of his older sister standing in his presence and gloating at his predicament. But something else simmered underneath the presumably calm exterior. "Ah," he managed, "so ye've crawled out from under yuir rock."
"I could say th' same thing. Ye've kept a low profile."
He nodded at her. "As have you."
She imagined this moment many times and still found herself struggling. "I see you've dropped th' American accent."
"It didn't suit my purpose anymore. John Castaway died a long time ago and with him any pretense."
"I would consider that a good thing, considering that man was a monster."
Jon defended his persona, "That man was a hero, and he died trying t' rid th' world of monsters. But his time is passed now."
"Time t' become someone else?"
"Or reclaim th' birthright yui've forsaken. Make th' Canmore name stand for something again."
"I've never done wrong by my family name." Robyn said staunchly.
"Then why did ye quit?" Jon kept needling. "Ye abandoned th' hunt and renounced our heritage."
"I was educated," there was a lifetime's worth of regret laced into the tone, "and humbled."
"And domesticated. Like a dog."
Robyn swallowed the sudden stab of anger, and shook it off.
But Jon continued to twist the knife, seeing that faint twitch on his sister's face. "Ye abandoned th' hunt, and look what's happened, sister. Death and rampant destruction all because ye didn't have th' backbone t' finish what we started!" Something flickered in his gaze. "Jason lost his backbone a long time ago, both literally and figuratively. Now he serves them like a butler, catering t' their every whim, while ye consort with a petty crook."
"Jason was able t' let go of all th' anger." She paused, and looked back over her shoulder to Dingo, who lingered near the stairwell out of consideration. "As was I."
"Then yui've given up something precious, and something powerful."
She shook her head. "No, Jon, anger eats away at us, every day. It's a cancer..."
Jon sprung to his feet and covered the distance from his bunk to the cell's edge so quickly it nearly made Robyn jump. Even Dingo, relegated to the background out of courtesy for his girl, suddenly became wary. "Anger makes us stronger!!" he screamed through the bars and started beating a fist to his chest. "Anger feeds us, makes us more than simple human beings! It gives us strength and focus and purpose! Did ye forget what th' demon did t' us? What she did t' our family?!"
"I've not forgotten." Robyn answered forlornly. "I will never forget. But I can't blame an entire species for th' actions of one creature. Or have ye forgotten that Goliath saved us from th' DY-1000 carrier virus six years ago? Saved millions of lives?"
"He saved himself, and his spawn." Jon rationalized it, like he'd done for years. "Th' demons have an incredible sense of self-preservation."
"If he was truly evil, he would've let th' bottle smash and watched us vomit up our own intestines before he himself died. But ye can't see that, can ye? Yui're blinded by misdirected, myopic rage, dealing death to innocent people and gargoyles–"
However precarious Jon's anger was, it quickly spilled over the wrong side of the fence. Shades of John Castaway returned in their most vicious form. "There are no innocent gargoyles!" he screamed at her. "Do ye not eradicate a disease?! Ye don't just let it infect someone and hope it will play nice as it ravages the victim. No, ye kill it as fast as possible before someone is hurt or killed. They are animals, a disease on this world and I will not stop until every single gargoyle is rubble on th' ground."
She'd hoped there was a glimmer of her brother left, even after the years spent apart and Jon's persistence in continuing the hunt. But it seemed he'd wrapped himself up in all the anger and misplaced blame like a blanket, far too comfortable to discard it as she once did. The conversation turned argument with the Hawkins girl came to the forefront; she knew Sarah had defended an idealized portrayal of her father and here she was ready to do the same for her baby brother. "There's nothing left of ye, is there, Jon?" she realized aloud. "Ye've been hollowed from the inside out."
Jon slowly retreated back to his cot and sat down. But he was still of a mind to leave her a chilling reminder of just how lost her brother really was. "I'm reborn in many ways, sister. I'll be reborn again."
"Jon, ye can't let it end like this..."
"I haven't done a thing but stay true t' our father's teachings, and stay true t' myself. Can ye say th' same?"
Robyn tilted her head forwards, her hair brushing against the cold steel of the cell's bars. "I suppose not."
His little victory firm in hand, Jon nonchalantly shooed her away. "Go, sister. I'll see ye again in another life."
The entire conversation had taken less than ten minutes, but it was enough. With nothing else she could think of to say, Robyn simply turned around and headed for the stairs. She'd walked in here without any expectations and Jason's warning fresh on her mind but it still hurt, more than she thought it would. Without even a glance towards Dingo, she started up the stairs and as far away as possible from what had replaced her brother. But as soon as she reached the top step, she found herself face to face with Abel Sykes.
He smiled at her. "Miss Canmore I presume?"
Robyn returned a dissecting glare. "Yes."
"So, you must be the second of the three famous Canmore siblings." he said glibly. "I've already met Jason, and earlier this morning I had the pleasure of being spit on by your younger brother."
"Who are ye?"
Abel offered his hand. "Agent Abel Sykes."
But Robyn looked at the hand briefly and continued past him, intent on the front doors and nothing else.
Trying to salvage any kind of dignity, Abel pulled his arm away from the empty spot where the woman once stood and called after her, "I was wondering if I could ask you some questions?"
She stopped and said from over her shoulder, "Does it pertain t' my brother?"
"I assume he's going t' jail for a long time."
"And is there anything ye can do t' prevent that?"
Abel shook his head. "You know there isn't..."
"Then we have nothing t' talk about." Robyn continued her long-legged, lightning-quick stride. "Good morning, agent Sykes."
Dingo followed behind, but turned and offered an apologetic smirk as consolation, even though he'd thoroughly enjoyed Robyn's dismissal of the agent.
Consigned to stand there watching the couple leave with his hands in his pockets, Abel sighed, "Damn."
"Well," he said, flipping closed his cell phone, "we confirmed her identity with her fingerprints. Seems she has a record full of misdemeanors like trespassing and harassment."
"Who is she?"
"Her name is Savannah St. Nicks, television and beat reporter and general pain in the ass. Her most recent records indicate she was never married but the funny thing is she was reported missing weeks ago."
The duty nurse switched from the cop to the farthest bed. "And the man?"
"Nothing." he shook his head. "I can't find anything on this guy. His fingerprints don't match anything on file, neither do his dental records."
"Well, they were some of the first casualties brought in from the Square and she told me he was her husband."
"Right now, we have nothing to disprove what she's saying. They could've just eloped and spent the last month on a sunny beach somewhere." The officer shot the woman standing beside him a quizzical look. "Are you sure about this?"
She struggled through her response; having gone to all the trouble of pulling the cop away from what was obviously a more important task then confirming her suspicions, she was trying to rationalize what could simply be dismissed as intuition. "No, not really, it's just...it's just a feeling I have. The breathing problems he experienced could have been caused by a pulmonary edema due to the injury to his lung, but..."
"You had a hunch." he guessed.
"Yeah, and now Miss St. Nicks is nearly catatonic, like she's in shock."
"I'd chalk it up to the trauma of the accident and from watching her husband choke to death in front of her, but something tells me you think otherwise."
She held up the clipboard in her hand to show the cop. Her hand started skittering across the sheets at several hand-written notes. "There are signs that she's healing from injuries inflicted a while ago. Her x-rays revealed a recently broken wrist and bruised ribs, and there're abrasions and scabbing on the skin around her wrists, like she struggled against some kind of binding."
Watching her leaf through charts, pictures and x-rays, the cop was beginning to see the telltale signs he'd come across too many times before; his career had a list arm's length of domestic abuse cases that often if not always ended with the woman in the hospital or the man dead. "Sounds like motive to me. She finally gets the chance when her husband's too weak to fight back and she can blame it on his injuries sustained in the pile-up."
"The funny thing is," she said, "the wound to his lung is at least a couple of weeks old. It was already stitched up and healing. There are corresponding wounds on his chest and back."
An eyebrow twitched. "A bullet hole?"
"Through and through."
"Jesus, this is getting weirder by the second." The officer decided to try for himself and came up to Savannah's bedside. He leaned in towards the small woman, curled into a fetal position under a single sheet with her legs clutched tightly to her chest and a lazy stare fixed on the far wall. She'd been like this ever since trying to kill her roommate. "Miss St. Nicks?"
He didn't get a response.
"Miss St. Nicks?" he tried again. "If you need help, if your husband is mistreating you, we need to know."
She didn't answer. She didn't talk, move, blink or give any hint of acknowledgement of the man's presence. Without even an indication she was listening or even capable of hearing him, the cop sighed and turned to walk away.
Until, suddenly, "He's not my husband."
"Miss St. Nicks?"
"His real name is Joseph Hawkins, and he's the leader of the Guild." Savannah explained further, much to the shock of her audience.
He did a double-take. "What...?"
"He and his cronies kidnapped me and kept me in their base, interrogating and beating me on a daily basis. He's a murderer and a borderline psychopath. I suggest you call the FBI and have him arrested."
The cop straightened out and rubbed his forehead. "Jesus..."
She'd forgotten how the sun felt on her face; for the last few years she'd practically breathed, ate and slept in that mask and it was hard to open a window to the fresh air in a military bunker a few hundred feet under the water. It felt so good to breathe without it; the mask would automatically filter out any contaminants in the air, even the simple scents she took for granted, and even the tinge of smog riding on the breeze.
But she'd ditched the mask and her weapons as soon as they unloaded from their stolen SWAT van and scattered into the lobby of Grand Central Station. They pushed through the crowds, flew down the stairs and jumped the turnstyles before anyone there could react to what was happening around them. Before reaching the rail tunnels, they tore off their masks and abandoned everything that could link them to the Guild in a large garbage can. She remembered running alongside the subway lines until breaking off into a service tunnel and coming across a sewer grate; her husband ripped it from the hinges and they continued running under the streets until she thought her lungs would burst and until Hank grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to a halt.
The Guild had safehouses all over the city, linked by specific routes that often bypassed the streets above. They emerged from a manhole in an alley and approached a doorway several meters away; it put on the appearance of an ordinary wooden door, but if anyone tried to break through they probably would've dislocated a shoulder or shattered a foot on a four-inch slab of solid steel just behind. He waved his glove just underneath the knob and several latches could be heard pulling away. It opened and the group slipped inside. It was only when they were inside, safe from prying eyes and the legions of police combing the city that they had the chance to breathe and rest and reflect on what'd happened. There were nine of them in the original group, with another dozen or so finding their way to the safehouse in the next few hours.
She had no idea how many more had survived the bunker's bombing and the firefight in Times Square, as they were on a communications blackout in order to avoid any kind of attention no matter how inconsequential. Out of more than a thousand agents, they could be the last.
The breeze suddenly shifted, threading through the slats of the Venetian blinds; agent Gray's hair lifted up and curled around her face. Pulling the strands away, she just happened to graze where the mask was once attached. The suction mechanism had left the skin a little raw, especially when combined with sweat, grime and seawater. Usually she'd apply a bit of moisturizer but this particular safehouse was lacking in the little amenities.
So engrossed with the view outside, seen through the blinds' tiny slits, the subsequent explosion would nearly cause her to tumble off her chair. It went off like a balloon bursting, the sound going from one end to the other in a split-second shockwave. She snapped her head around to see what the hell had just happened.
The only television in the floor now had a smoking hole in the middle of the screen.
The remote control hit dead center like a guided missile, throwing sparks and glass up to ten feet away. And agent Red stood there staring at his handiwork, fists clenched at his side and the little veins on his neck bulging in sync with his rapid pulse.
A massive man, none of the other Elite agents and grunts complained about his aim, but they decided to give him a wide berth. The only one who dared to approach him was agent Gray, his wife.
"That was our only TV." she said softly.
"Doesn't matter," he harrumphed, "I've seen all I need to see. We tried to show everyone the demons and ended up making them martyrs."
"They're not martyrs yet. True martyrs need to die."
"And we can't even do that. We've tried so many times and now look at us, a handful left over."
She didn't have anything that might pacify him, except the usual spousal rhetoric that he'd heard before. "We'll rebuild our ranks," she at least tried, "rebuild our base, try again–"
"And then what?!" Red had whirled on his heel and roared at his wife, who seemed unaffected at the outburst. "Every attempt has resulted in the death and destruction of valuable agents and equipment and we can't do anything without hurting those we're trying to protect!"
"Perhaps we could squabble amongst ourselves, hm?" she shot back in a coolly measured voice. "That would certainly be a good use of our time."
She'd always had that ability to get under his skin and do it absolutely fearlessly; he sneered, turned away and just happened to face the door leading from the room. He straightened, going from hunched and belligerent to completely nonplussed in a second flat; someone he'd never expected to see again was standing, leaning actually, against the frame. "Jesus..."
Every agent spun around at the mere sound and every eye was cast upon the haggard figure at the door. He lurched his way forward, coming into the light. Blond hair stained red by blood, clothes torn and soaking wet, agent White quietly shuffled towards the table and chairs in the center of the room. Clutching his limp left arm to his chest, he used the other one to pull out a chair and slumped into the seat. He sat there, breathing for a moment, before anyone reacted.
Agent Gray spoke first, "We thought you were dead..."
He slowly turned his head towards her. There was something unreadable behind his pale blue irises, but surviving death usually left a lasting impression. "I was washed out by a tidal wave through a hole in the bunker's wall."
Murmurs rippled through the group; obviously most of the agents had shared a similar experience.
"I swam to the surface and noticed the entire shore was filled with police. I had to swim further up the coastline past the ferry terminal until I was safely out of sight. Then I vomited up a stomach full of seawater and passed out on the ground..."
"Then you have no idea what's happened..." agent Red sighed.
White leaned back in the chair to meet his gaze with the large man, even though it looked like it caused him considerable pain. His breathing spiked when his bruised ribs grazed the chair's wooden back and where anyone else would have let out a scream of pain, he kept his eyes dead-set on the Guild's pseudo-leader. The man was six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds easy, but agent White was coldly indifferent to that fact. "I have every idea, agent Red, what has happened. Every television in the city is full of video footage from your firefight in the middle of Times Square. On my way here, I saw your speech, your battle, and your subsequent escape."
"We had no choice, the gargoyles were rescued by the police, we had to get out of there–" He was cut off by agent White simply lifting a flattened hand.
"I'm not angry about what happened," White said, "I'm angry that you didn't finish the job!"
"We've lost any support we might have had from the public, but we've never needed them to accomplish our job. That was the Quarrymen's mistake. We're officially considered a threat by the city but it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks. The gargoyles must be exterminated, now." He pounded his good hand on the table in front of him, which seemed to rally the remaining agents around him. "I want them dead and I'll kill anyone I have to, to make that happen."