Author's Note: Thank you to the Awakening Awards committee for my 'Best Chapter Story' award for "Breakdown", MidnightzStorm and Jenigoyle, and Lily, my 'movie buddy', I enjoy the chats we often have. Thanks to Morgana Fae as well, and Liat, you are always a joy to hear from. You all make this seem more than worthwhile when it sometimes drags down on me.

76 - "Mutiny"

March 22nd, 2002
From the journal of Nicole St. John...
Welcome to my nightmare, ladies and gentlemen, and whoever reads this journal, and of course, if it ever sees the light of day beyond these stone walls from which I'm now trapped inside. Even though I have now been given free reign to most of the castle with this handy little gadget wrapped around my wrist, sparking the thousand volt punishment if I go where I'm not supposed to, I'm still imprisoned here like some common criminal. (Of course, criminal s don't get their own private suites, lavish meals, access to a massive television, pooltable and a bathroom bigger than my entire apartment.)

I am either the luckiest reporter in the world, to be able to have the chance to break the news of proof of a new species, or condemned to a life inside these walls as whatever's left of my celebrity profile and career goes slowly down the drain. But is my career worth thirty innocent lives? I've lived among these creatures for weeks now, seen how they live, and how they experience death. They seem as human as anyone else, perhaps even more. And I know for a fact they wouldn't stoop so low as to kill innocent protestors at a rally like this Guild did four days ago.

The damnable human fear of the unknown has resulted in over two hundred and fifty deaths, and here I am bitching to myself over a decision whether or not to expose these creatures. They would most surely die. And in their extinction and my spotlight by bringing them to the world in a news report, I would get that corner office I've always wanted. But maybe...just maybe I could save them, by revealing them in a true light, by getting six billion people to open their eyes to creatures who according to the information I have gained, have saved the world ten times over.

I have never been so confused in reporting the truth. I think when it comes down to it, the people deserve to know, but these gargoyles, whether free or in careful monitored captivity, deserve at least to live. And I'm stuck in the middle...

****************************************

The chamber throbbed with only the soft, lively flicker of computer and television screens, a sheathing of a cold and mechanical frost against the walls. Where machines droned on in the background, pulsating with metrical light and sound as if the heart of a larger entity formed in Scottish stone and decorative cornice. He rested quietly within his chair sculpted ominously of stretched leather and curling around him as if a massive claw, the gargoyle watching a list of names scroll before him, an unpleasant reminder of the struggle he found himself in. "What was the final death count, Elisa?" rumbled Goliath in a muted whisper, as his wife behind him rechecked the paper files.

"Two hundred and fifty three dead." she replied, a tone of glacial ice as her eyes skimmed across the police reports. "Thirty four severely wounded, forty five escaped without injury." The detective slapped the files down on the computer countertop, with Goliath noticing of the brutal gesture from his place beside. "No suspects, no leads," she hissed, sweeping the dark strands from her face, the tawny skin glowing a bitter white in the computer lighting, "whoever left that bomb planted it and most likely walked off into the night looking like just another New Yorker."

Goliath exhaled, a long, arduous breath cast into the still air and warmed by the massive computer banks lining almost every wall. Where connecting pipes and twisting wires crawled up as if tendrils alive and slithering into cavernous holes in the ceiling, feeding power and computer-driven commands to the rest of the castle. "The calling card of the Guild." he mused, his talon-tips pressed together mimicking the brooding posture of a billionaire turned unlikely ally, and he focused keen eyes on the screens. "It seems they may be recruiting from out of the Manhattan populace."

"Which makes them a harder enemy to fight than ever before." Elisa finished, embittered in stance and voice. Then, as the tamed riot of her hair having bled upon her trembling shoulders shimmered only slightly, the halo of light against the raven silk bobbed and revealed a shiver passing through the entirety of her form. She casually grabbed a hand to her stomach, soothing the flare of cold fire within her belly. "Ugh..."

Goliath noticed as well, his wife cringing against her pain in concealment of his eyes honed, and able to pierce through even the murky darkness suspended like a mist. "Are you still nauseous?"

"Concussion's still packing a punch." she whispered, tasting a dry almost raw metallic tang within her mouth and the acidic urge rising in her throat. She refreshed it quickly when brushing the sweet liquid of her bottled mineral water against her mouth, and licked the remnants from her lips with ravenous craving. "It'll go away. Like always."

"Perhaps you should see Dr. Pierce," suggested Goliath, tending cautiously to his wife and reaching out to her, "your wound may be far worse than we ever thought."

She slighted quickly the advance of his taloned hand, and held her distance almost deliberately. "I'm fine."

"Of course." he relented, and relaxed back into the embrace of tanned hide so much like his own, the chair whining its pain from the burden of weight upon its frame.

"We should be doing something more, Goliath." she whispered, as the names of the deceased continued rolling past upon the computer screen, each victim now reduced to a morgue identification number.

He raised a double-spurred ridge to her statement, feeling the heat not from the room surrounding him with the creatures of technology, but her spitted breath. "And exactly what do you propose besides what we are already doing?"

Through lips colored like and tasting of fire, she answered truthfully, "I don't know. But I would rather be doing something more than sitting here and waiting for Xanatos to upturn every little stone in the city."

"The P.I.T. protestors were doing something more," the gargoyle burst with anger flowing through pearly, fanged teeth, "and now two hundred and fifty families grieve over their deaths." Goliath rose up and expanded before Elisa's eyes, his shadowed wings lifted from their docile cloaking and swathing the room with massive, black sails. "If you wish to play out your little desire for revenge like the others, then I will truly regret having to inform Trinity of her mother's premature death."

"A little severe, don't you think?"

He shrugged. "Is it?"

"You're so sure you're right, aren't you?" she challenged the authority he possessed even just by standing before her as her eyes trailed up the striking, animal form that was her husband, to match against his deep-set glare ablaze with glistening resolve. "You're so damned sure that by keeping us here you're saving us. But what if we're the only ones with the power to stop the Guild?"

"If we had gotten to Central Park any earlier, you would have been caught in the blast." he reminded her coolly. "That is not power, that is fragility."

"Damn it, Goliath, people are dying!" she screamed back, igniting her growl with the power leaked from her wounded soul. "Almost three hundred so far! And last I remember saving innocent lives was part of our job description! The clan has to get back out there..."

His eyes peaked in fiery white, opening the dark crevasse of his jutting brow to a lustrous, revealing glow. "That is exactly what the Guild want, to flush us out into the open! So they can kill us!" he set his own snarl against that of his stubborn wife, a bellowed roar that set to flame the stifled environment of the main computer room. "And all I get from you is a constant whimper of tedium when my race is threatened with extinction!!"

Her eyes immediately thinned in the malicious attack on her character. "How dare you." she seethed, purring her response in a dark, irritable tone. "I am your wife, and I am more than aware what could happen, as I have just as much at stake. Maybe more."

"And yet you continue to persist in the same line as Brooklyn and Shadow, and even Hudson." He became as the shadows, his form moving near silently, ghostly, and silhouetted only by the soft, ethereal radiance of the computers. "You willingly fill your heart with thoughts of vengeance."

"I'm a cop!" snarled Elisa, her hair aglow in the basking computer light, giving breath to lifeless strands and stirred with every erratic movement. "Or have you conveniently forgotten that?! This isn't revenge, it's bringing these killers to justice before more people die!"

"And we are trying, but this is a delicate matter. Like every single police officer would, we need to proceed extremely cautiously, or our clan, our family could suffer the same fate as those protestors."

She snorted a weighted exhale through her nostrils and sulked, crossing her arms around her stomach in a gesture of infuriation. "Fine..." she hissed, their conversation having abruptly come to an end with such stark, opposing views. "First you dictate the terms of our family, and then you stifle the very reason that I and your clan risk their asses every single night." They crossed their eyes against each other, like raw steel scraping against unforgiving stone. "You do what you have to, Goliath, and so will I." Elisa stormed off, and opened into the room a shaft of bright, burning light through the doorway, before it slid shut and locked Goliath into a frigid darkness.

Only his eyes were touched by what technology-spawned illumination remained, alighting the lines of pain etched into the thick, suede skin, a tiny network of creases below his bulging ridges and thankfully dimmed. He fell the brunt of his weight to the curved computer desk leaning on closed fists, his chest compressed and stolen of breath with what he held within, that of his leadership taking its toll and a marriage weakened and brought to its very knees.

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
Stubborn, willful, hot-tempered, and so damned sure of themselves, this is the impossible pairing of Goliath and Elisa. In any other couple, they would clash with such difficult attributes, but the big guy and his beauty seem to feed on the other's power and heart, and even enjoy the arguments that sometimes erupt between them. Marriages are never perfect, they're not supposed to be, thus brings the happiness after the struggle to attain it. But Goliath and Elisa, I can't believe I'm saying this...they belong together. I can't imagine, only after knowing them personally for less than a month, any other person, either human or gargoyle or even those fairy things I keep hearing about, being able to handle one of those two.

Like fire and lightning, they swirl together in a sky of clouds, and temper each other. Soothe the other's hostility and unrest. Well, most of the time. It seems now the conflicts that arise between them are terrifyingly real, and loud, and are slowly eroding that barrier they erected around themselves for protection of their innermost feelings and souls. They're practically at each other's throats, and I don't know why. There's something that lingers between them, something very private and painful...besides the obvious.

I have heard Elisa's own family have practically abandoned her due to their fears of what could happen if exposed, and I can't help but agree in their justification. If Elisa is exposed, so many innocent people will die, including her. But is this her fault? Can you help who you fall in love with? Can you continually fight for a cause you think is just and still be wrong? I really don't know, but I think she's suffered more than any one person should under any circumstance.

****************************************

She walked the trailing halls of her home where corridors turned and curved and vanished into distant, murky nothingness, and never did this castle feel so cold, and empty of the life so savored by walls having seen slaughter and death and the stench of decay over ten long lifetimes. Elisa wiped the tears blurring her vision and staining her skin flushed in a sunset coral rose, scraping her palms across the milky, moist chocolate to rid herself of any sign of pain. She wept for Sara Jasper, for Iliana, for the protestors, she wet her face with tears for her partner, for her captain, and for her husband.

For every time she and Goliath combated against each other, even if the topic were not as important or life-altering as a growing family she desperately wanted, or the attack upon her husband's very species, it tore at her with each confrontation, and corroded as if acid just a little bit of her soul.

Her soul, their soul, it was shared between the two, and now it pulsed like a beacon of pain.

She wondered as she traveled, her thoughts drifting in anarchic flashes, how her family might have had taken the Central Park attack, and wondered in a rare moment of weakness if they were truly right. Right to condemn her, and separate themselves from her life in order to safeguard the remaining generations carrying the Maza name. But she also knew, that any such distance would not be enough if the Guild unearthed her marriage to Goliath, and the birth of her treasured daughter. They would most assuredly die, just as so many others have already.

And thus, she needed to take action, if only to ease her own fears of such death coming so close to any of her family, and to fight for that intangible sense of normalcy she so needed to calm the insanity any other human would endure under such circumstances. She could not sit and wait and slowly, calmly, infuriatingly probe the city from the castle like Goliath, for her patience had been drained and stretched to its very limits.

But when her stomach flared a nausea far worse than ever experienced from her injury, Elisa then faltered and collapsed against the wall, her path lost, her body reduced to a flaccid rag doll. She clutched a hand to her stomach, as the bile rose undesirably and burned a repellent trail within her throat. Elisa tried to keep it down, but lost a war against her body rebelling in pain. She jerked, heaved and retched, spilling the contents of her stomach across the floor, spattering the stones with an earlier meal. "Oh damn..." Elisa moaned, wiping away the last remnants of vomit from her lip and staring in concern at the discolored puddle left pooled on the ground. She rubbed her temple where the massive bruise from her concussion once laid a lavender stain to creamy copper skin, and wondered if indeed the injury was far worse than she imagined. "What the hell is wrong with me?"

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
When I first came here weeks ago, the clan was a stable, solid family. I thought them unbreakable...until now. They have been practically shattered like a broken mirror, and between the anger and petty bickering lays a greater menace threatening to tear them completely apart. They seem extremely divided on Goliath's decision to keep them all inside the castle, hidden away from this Guild.

Brooklyn, the second in command, especially. He and Goliath have had some heated arguments since the Guild bombing in Central Park, which I thought were almost going to escalate into something physical. But Goliath remains steadfast in his orders, and I don't really blame him. He's doing what any leader would, and should do. Approach this extremely cautiously, and use the billionaire at your disposal to sift through the crap coating this city to look for these people discreetly.

But what if Brooklyn's right? What if the gargoyles have the power to stop this Guild? What if those deaths could have been prevented with the clan's diligence to their ever-spouted platitude of protection?

And what if Brooklyn decides to do something more?

****************************************

Each of their forms bordered on the darkness surrounding the small, unobtrusive chamber, below the main castle floor and population. They were all inwardly nervous, in their clandestine meeting to contest the authority forced upon them, and as such, any lingering dialogue was short, emotionless and kept to an absolute minimum. He forced into the barren, pallid colors of the room a brutal swathe of scarlet red, his skin tone not one for subtlety, and standing as a beacon to draw all eyes towards him.

Brooklyn stepped out and into where a lone chandelier allowed him a singular presence as if a spotlight, and looked to each of the clan members gathered around him, blanketed by darkness, perhaps comforted by their feelings of anonymity. "You all know why we're here." he started, his tone first broken, anemic, until he refreshed his dry throat and thrust his chest with borrowed courage. "You all know why we must do what we've planned. To take back what we've been denied by Goliath."

Shadow stood tall from his place, seemingly unaffected by what he was about to participate in, for he never wore any emotion on an icy, impassive facade. Hudson rested beside him, the old soldier idly trailing his talons across the leather-wrapped handle to the sword sheathed obediently to his side, refusing to direct his eyes anywhere but to his weapon. And Othello, the hunter brooding in usual fashion, hunched over and staring at the floor. He damned himself for such an action he was about to take, and hoped his mate would not so readily condemn him for which her life he was trying to protect at all costs.

"I want you all to remember that we are not doing this to hurt Goliath, or anyone else in this clan," Brooklyn continued, using the focused, amber-hued light as a podium, a perfect stage to cast his voice to the shadowed collaborators, "in fact we're doing this to save them, to save all we care about."

A shock of fire draping across a seductive, sullen countenance outlined from the shadows the lean form of Demona, watching as Brooklyn tried his best to make right what most of the gargoyles gathered here thought to be wrong. She admired his mettle though, tempered over forty years lost in time. She admired his precarious grasp for power in the fight for their species' very existence and right to share this planet with humanity. And thus, for Angela, she was here, risking her carefully and painstakingly restored status in the clan and her respect for Goliath to safeguard her daughter's life at all costs.

"Shadow, Othello, you're doing this for the women you love, Hudson, for the son you lost...I'm doing this," Brooklyn paused and turned aged almost tired eyes to where his twin offspring, colored a dulled, fused scarlet and jade, waited together on the couch, having made their decisions to join their father in his attempted coup, "I'm doing this for my children. As are you, Demona." He then looked to another having remained silent throughout, sitting with knees raised and tucked beneath her chin and withdrawn from the group, a growl hummed from her ample chest and intermittently cast between large, swollen lips. "Annika..."

"I'm doing this for Todd," she suddenly blurted out, flashing towards him an anger in ruby red between the falling molten gold she claimed as her hair, "not your little powertrip."

Brooklyn shook his head to the accusation, holding out a hand to keep her guilt and subsequent anger at bay, an offering of peace. "This isn't some greedy grasp for power, Annika. This isn't malevolence, or greed guiding our choice, this is taking control of our fates, and getting Goliath to see we have to start taking a more active search to find the Guild."

Her answer a mere grunt, she sunk back into the dark cardinal swaddling of her wings, content to rest within the shadows, and disgusted with her decision to go against the man who had welcomed her into this clan. She suffered guilt, remorse, the purest of shame in what she was about to do, her eyes of ocean calm tarnished, the waves weakened and dead of crest. "Maybe he's right." she muttered, lifting the collective gaze of all there by her statement.

Demona especially noticed the younger female's aversion to this gathering, and with a brow wrinkled in disgust beneath the crown of regal, sweeping gold, she seethed, "Then why are you here?"

An old argument sparked the fuel for a growing fire, as Annika unleashed her form from the shadowed, louvered ledge of soft stone where she had once been content to remain until now. "For my husband." she growled, emphasizing the one word known to raise even the tiniest of hairs on Demona's neck, and rouse the flames pitted deep within an exposed, sculpted stomach. She edged close towards the redhead, and they stood flared pinion to lashing tail, each forcing a breath mingling with their adversary's.

Seeing Demona's deep, scalloped wings tremble in anticipation of battle, Brooklyn quickly interceded to douse the explosion awaiting only the trigger. "Demona." She retreated a step only by Brooklyn's reprimand, peeling back her lips ever warningly towards the buxom challenger. "As you all well know, if more than half of the clan with a recognized voting status chooses to dispute the leader, they can rescind the decision and if necessary, remove him from his position."

"Remove him?" Othello echoed, his low Scottish drawl tinged with a morbid curiosity in the outcome of such a betrayal against his brother. "Is such a drastic act needed?"

"Ye be knowin' as much as we all do," Hudson interrupted coarsely, his very honor at stake, "that it be th' only way with Goliath."

"He is not one to let go so easily." mused Shadow, the ninja perhaps the only one without an expression of remorse. For he was justified. In his mind, he was warranted of his choice not simply for the attack on Iliana, but the next generation soon to be born from his blood. "It's not just enough to dispute the singular notion of patrols, we need a new leader. And I doubt he will so easily change his decision."

"But to remove him in such disgrace?" Othello complained, stepping forwards, his stoic features at last breaking with an angled brow.

"If you have any better ideas, I'd like to hear them." Brooklyn snapped back, pointing a taloned finger towards the exit. "And if you don't want to be part of this, there's the door."

The dark warrior ruffled his wings to shake loose the cramped, stifled sails of black leather, and heaved his tattooed chest in a slanted exhale, "We all respect Goliath, but we all know he's not doing what he should."

"And therefore," Brooklyn concluded, "we all vote to confront Goliath. If he won't change his decision, as second I can take command if more than half the clan votes in my favor. Are we agreed?"

The gathered throng nodded slowly, repentantly, and Brooklyn tipped his chin in response to end the meeting. They slowly and silently made their way from the smaller room, each climbing the stairs to the main level and splitting off into separate directions, perhaps wanting only for the comfort of their loved ones to ease their troubled souls. And when Brooklyn, the last to leave, closed the door behind him and vanished down an opposite corridor, even he did not notice the dark eyes watching him with catlike scrutiny, a glistened chocolate obscured by thin strands within a waterfall of ebony silk.

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
I would never imagine being forced to share my world with another species, let alone a combination. But because gargoyles and humans are now proven to be able to have children, this planet seems just a little more cramped.

Trinity Maza. A hybrid of human and gargoyle, and either the most blessed of miracles, or the most frightening of prospects, and it seems the human race is in for one hell of a surprise when their children start going to school with winged offspring. I can see the panic now, it'll most likely reverse evolution back to the sixties with the war for integration of the races, or species as it stands now. I can't even imagine if the Guild knew this child existed, if they don't already. Their worst fear come to life, that of the fusion between their race and the monsters they seem to wish to eradicate.

It's weird, seeing these creatures mingle so flawlessly with humans, they treat each other as equals, friends, and even lovers. They dream for families and children, and as they so claim, peace above all else (but considering their penchant for violence and animalistic behavior, and the weapons some of them carry around, it's sometimes hard to believe that). Goliath and Elisa, Todd and Annika, Shadow and Iliana, and Hudson and Maria Chavez. Now there's a person I would never have pegged as a gargoyle lover, straight-as-an-arrow Chavez. But now she rests in the hospital downstairs mending from the loss of her half gargoyle child, taken from her by a bullet fired by the Guild.

I don't care what this child was made out of, you don't ruthlessly kill children under any circumstance and you don't celebrate the demise of something innocent that never got the chance to live.

****************************************

Her body would not heed the commands given by the mind, and as she screamed at her legs to carry even the slight weight resulted from her injuries, she gripped to countertop with knuckles turned white from the strain. Maria traveled cautiously, an excruciatingly slow crawl from her hospital bed towards the decanter of water, that prize awarded to her grueling trek and gleaming in the severe fluorescent lighting as if the most precious of gold. Maria ignored the pain in her stomach from the exertion to her stitching and form weakened by the loss of weight, and continued. And though her journey's end neared the door to Dr. Pierce's adjoining lab, it was the water to refresh her parched throat that motivated her leaving the berth since she had been shot. A constant pain that would not relieve from her, even when lost in the deepest of her dreams.

As she neared, she passed by the door, and used the steel handle to brace herself when the counter soon gave way. And little did she know the stranger behind her feared that her destination lay behind the barrier, and prayed he could reach her in time.

Maria gasped in alarm as her slender body was plucked from the cold linoleum floor and enveloped by massive arms feeling more as leather than skin, and she lurched, and fell into the hard, unyielding tunic stretched over a familiar musculature. "Hudson??" she shrieked through a dry mouth, as her hand fell into the thick, sterling bristle of the gargoyle's beard. She calmed a heart nearly bursting through its cage with a hand comforted over her chest, and gasped, "What...what are you doing?"

Having returned from the meeting he knew Maria would never accept and hoped she would never discover, he now tried to keep from her what first placed her here in this sterile infirmary. "Stoppin' you." he whispered.

She creased her eyes in confusion, her thin, vaulted eyebrows bouncing on pale skin. "Why?" she asked, wanting only for the water so close, yet now held almost cruelly beyond her reach. "I was just trying to get a glass of water."

Hudson yielded his stiffened form to Maria's innocent desire, and carried her towards where the decanter stood before him, sweating small beads pooling around the base. Using one massive arm to brace her form, he poured the water and offered the glass to Maria, the captain grasping hungrily for the fluid like pure crystal taken a liquid form. "I'm sorry, lass, I thought ye..." He shook his head, and blinked away the errant thought. "It be nothin'."

"No. What is it?" she forced the issue when hearing Hudson deflect so abruptly his explanation of why he had pulled her from her feet, though thankful to be relieved of the burden to her legs weakened and fatigued from a bedridden atrophy. "What's in there that you're so adamant in keeping me from seeing?" She directed her gaze to where the laboratory door perhaps held from her the most horrible of agony, sealed only mere meters from her bed. "Is it...is it our son?"

Hudson's talons clenched impulsively, and just barely grazed the flesh beneath Maria's hospital gown. Given away by his body reacting without consent to such a question, he responded sullenly, "......aye."

"I want to see him."

He pursed cracked, rough lips and shook his head. "Nay, I dinna think that ye should." he refuted inflexibly. "Not now. An' not ever."

"I said," she repeated more forcefully, the tone often used when shouting orders to young, stubborn-minded detectives, "I want to see him."

Hudson sighed, wincing almost in defeat. "Are ye sure?"

Maria swallowed the lump wanting to burst from her throat and neck, and nodded. Hudson leaned in, to touch his weathered brow, revealed where the hair had slightly receded, to hers, to feel at least some warmth from the cold chill having tainted her body and flesh. He carried her to the door, and using his great strength, quickly broke through the lock, leaving the barest minimum of damage. He crept through the powered computers and beakers and jars lining the numerous, surrounding shelves, where Dr. Pierce had made his home. Chaos reigned in place of order, with handwritten notes sprawled wherever there lay a surface, and the medieval setting of a madman's lab cast in cold stone and outlandish machinery overlaying a modern research center. Hudson caped his wings and heeded his tail as he slithered his large form through, lest he break or fall an expensive and delicate piece of equipment needed to heal the sick.

Maria's eyes searched fearfully, both wanting for and afraid to place her gaze to wherever rested her dead son. And soon, a flash of bright bottle green bringing an eerie light to a darkened crook caught her attention and she clenched a hand into Hudson's chest, directing his attention to the far corner of the room. "Hudson." she whispered, her voice strangled with emotion. It was there, suspended within a small tube and seemingly on display for any intruder looking for a cheap, macabre thrill. He guided himself towards what called to him on instinct, on some subconscious level he swore he almost heard the hazy, distant whisperings of a child lost, of a possible future crushed by shaped, screaming steel.

It was tall, built into a rudimentary support system funneled into the roof and capped on both ends with metal plugs, and crystal clear, allowing a perfect view to what this tube held inside. A bright green liquid lit from below embraced the unborn child almost perfectly, completely and chillingly still in its womb of technology. Even suffering rigorous tests and a physical examination with a scalpel, it appeared almost untouched, flawless with Dr. Pierce's exceptional care, and his attention to treat this child not as research, but respectfully as a living, breathing creature.

"He's so tiny..." Maria caressed a few fingers to the glass, dragging her long nails over the slick surface in a desperate want to touch the minuscule, near undeveloped fetus, and she littered her gown and Hudson's arms in the long reaching trails of tears. "Look at his wings." she gasped in a broken sob, seeing where the fetus would have eventually sprouted two small wings if given the chance to grow.

Hudson stared with thinned eyes, and a scoured mask twisted by grief and rage, promising an aggressive recompense for his loss and that of his once bedded partner. He pressed Maria closer to his chest and allowed the mother to say her farewells to a child that was perhaps never meant to be.

"Did you truly want this child, Hudson?"

The question sudden in response and terse in content brought him from his anger-clouded reverie. "After all be said an' done...aye. I wanted him." he confessed, surprised by his own words and feelings of loss for a single child. "I be sad I canna be th' father this wee child deserved. It would have been...nice."

Maria curled within his brawny embrace to roam her eyes over his expression of sorrow, where regret loomed on windswept features, as if a piece of his future had been torn away. "But, you already have a son," she mused quietly, "don't you?"

Hudson tapered dark, moping eyes, his answer a mere harrumph, perhaps to dodge a question delving into too personal a life. Hudson shored the captain higher, wary of her injury and sudden bouts of pain when moved or jostled too sharply, and returned through the cluttered lab towards the door, away from the glass and steel container. Using his tail to grab for the rumpled sheets, he opened up the berth and gently laid Maria back onto the soft, welcoming bedding.

She settled as best she could, pulling the covers up over her emaciated form. Hudson stood a silent vigil at her side, the shadows reflecting and serving to highlight a hardened visage, tempered and aged by war. She studied his tacit demeanor, knowing he was holding inside of him a pain all too familiar. "Hudson?"

"Aye, I do. I have a son." he answered quickly, as if bursting from across his tongue in the impulsive want to share his secret. "I be sure he doesna know his true ancestry. An' everyday I hope t' the heavens he be safe, and carry on th' blood of my mate."

"It's Broadway...isn't it?"

Hudson quirked a heavy, beaten brow, and opened up his battle-ravaged eye towards her almost skeptically.

She shrugged almost apologetically, and could not help but flash a pained smile in his aversion to the subject now being forced open after so long a silence. "Oh come on, Hudson, he's built just like you. And with the detailed description of your mate you once gave me..."

"Tis not our way." he argued stubbornly, turning away from the bed and into the slatted streams of moonlight from the adjoining window, a dusting in azure across his tan skin. "He be a child of th' entire clan."

"Says the man who wanted the child I couldn't have." Maria argued, struggling to raise herself onto her elbow within the delicate drifts of white linen. "I lost a son, and maybe the chance for another...but you still have yours."

He turned from the cityscape far below, draped in an amber radiance giving ghostly prominence to the spires against the starlit sky, to where Maria stared at him with damning emerald eyes, open and bared with a diamond edge to her soul. "Perhaps..."

She lay her head back into the pillow, granting her body the rest it so desired, and continued staring at him. Hudson fell under her intricate examination of his winged form, especially the grimace worn of guilt and loss and perchance even a suppression of acknowledgment for his child, and he wondered for but a moment, if she knew what he had been a part of just less than an hour earlier. A secret threatening to damage what fragile bond forged from pain they had made between each other. "Hudson," she called to him softly, and reached a hand slim and graceful out into the air, beckoning for his contact, "do you believe it's possible to...fall in love again?"

For the first time tonight, a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, weak, but nevertheless present. He leaned in and pressed her hand to a callused pad, entwining their fingers. He shrouded the entirety of his lady's senses with the essence and musk of polished steel and ancient, fragrant leather, and let his answer flow on a warmed breath tasting of pungent spice, "I wouldna have thought so...until I met ye, Maria."

He was so near her, so close to pressing against her cold, creamy porcelain, she could not resist the temptation as hard as she may try to touch him, to find warmth in him, to find the tiniest of cracks and crags with the tips of her fingers traveling searchingly across his face and brow and the spurs lining his silver tress. "Good."

His strength and stubbornness and deep-seated honor at stake within a battle where victory was perhaps never attainable, Hudson surrendered to the desperate need burning within an empty heart for over a millennium. He tilted forwards and allowed her to slant her mouth over his, and further his education in the human custom of the kiss, the sweet taste but marred with the promise he had broken to her.

****************************************

March 23rd, From the journal of Nicole St. John...
Shadow scares the shit out of me. Even with just a glance as we pass by in the hallway, he's able to let both of us know just who's in charge, and just who's on the top of the evolutionary foodchain. I know he hates my guts, and would love to prove it to me by using me as a punching bag strapped down in the dojo with my mouth securely taped over.

Whenever I'm allowed to explore the castle, with that Mother program hanging over me and watching my every move through her little, hidden security cameras, it seems I always somehow meet up with that guy. It's like I'm cursed to forever live in fear just because he blames me for helping to break up his relationship with Delilah. But frankly, he shouldn't have been dipping his McNugget in another's woman's honey in the first place. I'm told it was a 'magic spell' (yeah, I'm still having trouble with that entire concept), but I think the desire was already there, and since this ninja warrior spouts honor, meditation and ultimate control of his abilities, he should have had more restraint when slipping beneath the sheets with the irascible Miss Starr.

But there's something still there with Delilah, he just can't let go of her no matter how hard he tries. There's something still remaining between the two, as I heard their relationship was very hot and heavy once, and I know for anyone it's hard to let go, especially when you're forced to share a castle with your ex-girlfriend.

****************************************

She leaned against the strapped gate, the long strands of marble satin brushing across her face in the soft whimper of nature, passing across the courtyard, along the cornices and towards the ascendant stairway where housed the solitary turret far from the main castle structures. And where she had remained in pensive thought for nearly ten minutes. Delilah mulled over her words, preparing for such a query to be asked of the man she once allowed the triumph of her virginity.

"Shadow?" she then called out, running her slender fingers across the coarse oaken slabs of the gate holding an impenetrable barricade to the small turret. Until she coerced the heavy door with a tug on the iron handle painted a dulled raven black, and allowed the auburn light inside to leak an almost fluidic radiance from behind the door. She backed a ways from the piercing shaft of light, as if the rippling glow from the firepit upon the stones would scald her. "Shadow?" she called again, her eyes roaming the small chamber. "Are you here?"

Watched over by a shadow swelling behind him into an immense, flickering creature of misshapen wing and jagged spur, and asphyxiating an entire half of the room in darkness, the ninja sat cross-legged from on the other side of the centrally housed flame. His eyes closed, his face buried behind his hands, he knew by the sweet scent it was his former lover, and sensed by her presence just what she needed of him. "I know what you want." he rasped an answer to her summons.

"Do you?" Delilah mocked, closing the door behind her and prodding cautiously to the side as to not disturb the warrior's meditation.

His eyes shot open, beguilingly aggressive, and thawed by the fire reflected in the smooth mahogany. "I saw the look in your eyes when Dr. Pierce informed you of the procedure to have your child." he whispered, as Delilah distanced herself from him deliberately, as if she were trying to hide something having grown with the advent of spring. "It was a look of desperation and desire. And the question you had asked then with but a glance my way. And now after four days without another word to me, you come."

Delilah crept closer and settled into the floor across from him, her flesh aflame in opulent copper. "Dr. Pierce has to extract the ovum within a few weeks and try for fertilization soon after," she explained the situation, "or it...could be an entire year before I can even attempt another try."

Shadow nodded, her aroma far more powerful than he had ever known, rich in pheromone and honeyed musk. "The breeding cycle."

Delilah nodded, feeling the damnable heat of blush crossing her cheeks. "The breeding cycle." she echoed in some embarrassment. "Something I can't help, but it seems when flowers start to bloom with life in the spring, so do young gargesses."

"This choice could irreparably damage what I have with Iliana."

Delilah caped her wings to her shoulders, the fire glinting from the snowy membranes like sparks thrown from a forge. "I know, and...I won't force this on you, as I would never want to jeopardize what you two have found in each other." She reached out to idly finger one of the ninja's discarded nunchuku, bringing the weapon close to her and examining the exquisite craftsmanship in such a simple construct become a lethal weapon. "But...I find myself unable to imagine another I would want to be the father, if I even could, as there aren't a lot of eligible males I can choose from. I don't think anyone can fulfill this task...except you."

Shadow kneaded his tattooed ridge with a talon, and brushed the long braided tail of hair from his shoulder. "Even if I do say yes," he breathed, approaching with discretion, "do you truly want to run such a risk with the threat on our lives?"

The chain chinked in melodic tune as Delilah continued playing with the weapon, and ran her tongue over dry, tensed lips. "I keep thinking of Trinity and the happiness she's brought to Elisa," she revealed, having taken such joy from a small child since her birth, "and have weighed it against captain Chavez's son's death a thousand times over." Delilah snapped around the nunchuku and between skilled fingers, waving the free fighting stick into a blurred circle and certainly impressing the ninja across from the dancing flames. "I can't tell if this is just part of the gargoyle urge to breed, or my own wish for a child. But I really don't care. My life has been nothing but danger, and any excuse is justified to me, and any risk to bring a child into the world. Into my life."

"Are you even sure this is even possible?" he continued his line of questioning, perhaps astutely deflecting his true choice. "What are the chances for conception in that tube?"

Delilah's delicate brow snapped upwards, and she formed a quirky smile. "Against a womb damaged because Thailog couldn't wait to play with me? Very good." she chided, a distinct snap of leather on flesh as she played a perfect revolution of the nunchuku into her palm. "You know for a fact we're very...compatible." The word simply rolled from her tongue, and with the unusual crease in Shadow's brow, she thought it perhaps held more of a hidden meaning than ever intended.

And in response, Shadow wilted the flames with his heavy exhale, "And what would my involvement in the child's upbringing entail?"

"As much, or as little as you want. It's your choice, Shadow."

A visible groove furrowed Shadow's angular ridges, and he and Delilah matched stares silently as the ninja thoroughly pondered upon his choice.

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
God, I love the gossip that floats through the long corridors of this place, touched from lip to lip and passed to my ear. I just learned of something new that complicates this little triangle between the ninja, the cop and the clone (which I might add is a hell of a lot better than watching a soap opera). It seems Delilah just asked Shadow to be the father of her child (yeah, I'm sure this kid won't grow up a little peculiar with the family surrounding it), and judging by the smile I just saw on Delilah's face...I think he's accepted.

Pause for an evil and hysterical laughter echoing throughout my entire room.

I would give anything, my career, my chance for that corner office I want, just to see the expression on Iliana's face when Shadow tries to explain this to his newest conquest. Let's just see what'll happen now! Let's call it payback for the 'deceitful cow' remark and the fact he tried to kill me.

****************************************

He watched over her as if a shadow embracing a weary traveler, having escaped the sun behind a tree strong and unyielding. The dark warrior loomed over her sleeping form, watching tendrils colored a liquid sunset fire drift lazily over the pearly satin of her pillow casing, curling shoulder length from through the bandages wrapped around her forehead to salve the wounds. She shifted, he watched with interest peaked in mahogany eyes, she moaned, he listened to the whisper escape through full lips pouting even in a deep slumber.

And Iliana noticed, in her dreams perhaps, the presence of another at her bedside and opened eyelids made heavy by the warming distortion of dreams too pleasant to let go of just yet, fluttering the long lashes towards a favored suitor. She found him there, a deep lavender gray fashioned in the form of gargoyle. "I'm still mad at you." she growled, her speech slurred by fatigue and the grogginess of coming out from a deep sleep.

Shadow raised his tattooed brow, and huffed a breath in seeing the piercing, glacial turquoise of her eyes scream towards him a silent accusation. "Damn this castle and its inability to keep a single secret." he muttered, as she knew, and he was caught with his loincloth down in front of her. Again. "The discussion was four hours ago in my private turret. How did you know?"

"I'm stuck lying in a hospital only a few feet away from where the excitable Dr. Pierce is going to grow your kid in that oversized test tube." she grumbled, gesturing a hand towards where a massive, inclined steel and glass tube lay silently near the door to the main lab, awaiting its installation. "Imagine my surprise when hearing half of your DNA will be sharing my luxurious accommodations."

"This is not the way I wanted you to find out."

"Oh sure."

"Are you that angry with my decision?" he inquired, almost mockingly, sensing the heat exuded from her skin even through the bandages, hoping to defuse the situation before it grew dangerously out of hand.

Iliana pushed herself up from her bed, and pushed out her bottom lip, scowling. "Gee," she snarled, sending a lungful of air towards Shadow's face, "ya think?!"

To calm the fires of anger, Shadow raised his hands in clemency and rested his weight into the chair beside the steel frame of the hospital bed. He reached for Iliana's hand, and as she tried to pull away, he clamped down not painfully, but with enough force to keep her from escaping into a stubborn fit. "My decision to grant Delilah a child was made not to anger you, but to give to her the happiness she has been denied since her birth."

"You didn't even ask me!" she snapped back, tugging her hand from the vice of titanium muscle but Shadow held firm, and only aggravated her fight against him, the small detective biting her lip in the attempt to rid herself of the massive paw wrapped around her own. "You didn't even let me know you had considered this."

"I did not think I had to...or do you wish for her to suffer without her chance to give life?"

Iliana relented, and tucked her eyes from under a lowered brow matching color to her fiery locks. She sighed, thrown shakily through an astounded laugh, "I can't believe she's having a child now...after even the attacks..."

"This has been a dream of hers ever since she was freed from Thailog's control," he explained cautiously, hoping for her to see his side, "and she is now in the ovulation cycle, which will not come for another year perhaps." He bowed his eyes, perhaps distressed of a choice made without the consent or even the knowledge of the woman lying next to him, but he remained adamant. "And I chose to grant her request for fear she may miss her only chance."

"Just because you made to her a promise when you two were dating, doesn't mean you have to now." she responded in an icy pant, still trying to break herself from Shadow's steeled grasp.

"You wish me to break that promise?" he offered to her his side, his ridges angled upwards and opening the full alluring hex of his dark eyes towards her. "Or any others I have made? You wish me to go against the doctrine of the ninja I have lived by my entire life?"

She relented her struggle, and flushed from her lungs a tone to heed the stubborn conviction to his honorable coda, and strengthen her own. "I wish you to think about this objectively."

"Who else could she ask?" Shadow whispered, his rasp become smooth and hushed, cowing the bandaged and bedridden detective. "I am perhaps the only male available, and whose DNA is similar enough to grant healthy conception." His talons traced the soft flesh, a porcelain sallow from a Russian ancestry, and a suede softness from her mother born of the Irish isle. "And I will not cause her any more pain."

Iliana's anger eventually eased, into a dull, throbbing ache buried deep within her chest. "So, instead you decide to hurt me." she spat bitterly, sadly.

Shadow shook his head, rustling the long, silky braid about his ample, bulging backside, playing between lavender-strutted black wings. "You wanted me to turn down her only chance for a child?" he asked in return, and seeing Iliana's eyes lessen from the frigid barrier she often obstinately erected to a softened Caribbean blue. "And have her wait an entire year for someone else willing and able?"

"I didn't want my boyfriend spreading his sperm around without even asking me first." she cut back, as Shadow rolled his eyes in the boorish remark, a discernable ripple caressing his forehead. "I thought I was your girlfriend, your lover, or whatever the hell the gargoyle equivalent is...or don't you think of me as that?"

Shadow's searing glare took on a luster almost as if it was to erupt in a fire peaked with sapphire tips, and he then stole forwards, rising up to cloak the entire berth and detective swallowed in the sheets. "That is untrue," he growled, "I care for you more than you could imagine."

"Do you love me?"

Shadow paused, his answer having receded into the brunt of his wide, intricately scarred chest. "...yes."

Iliana swallowed, studying the expression he formed and the weak breath used to force an unwanted answer to her inquiry. "As much as Delilah?" And in reply, Shadow blinked, his shoulders draped in lifeless wing over the rising spurs heaving in time with his chest. The silence unnerved her, frightened her, and perhaps settled for so long what she had feared. He leaned to tentatively touch his lips to hers and break the silence, until a hand slighted between the incoming gesture and her skin. "Thought so." was the near heartbreaking supposition, as even her fingernails touched lightly to his cheek, tracing grooved lines creased in his silent repentance. "You know, I wonder. Is this gift you gave to Delilah destined to at last end what you both had, or is it just going to bring you two together, and leave me in the cold?"

Shadow loosened his throat with an infuriated snarl, a dragon snorting flame in anger and the fact this was a simple gesture of friendship having turned into an inquisition. "Why are you so troubled about this?!"

"Because!" she seethed, having pushed from her pillows a small form empowered by the will and heart of a gargoyle, and matched against the greatest of warriors. "Because...we can't have children..."

Shadow jerked back, and understandably widened his gaze to the statement. "What do you mean?"

Iliana sighed, "I had Dr. Pierce do a blood comparison a while ago, and I found that we're not compatible. Our DNA and bloodtype won't mix. We can't have children."

Unsurprisingly stunned, Shadow fell back into the chair, the molded plastic and steel groaning against such a brunt. "I didn't think you...even wanted..."

"You don't know much about women do you?" she chided, interrupting his stutter.

Disbelief soon transformed to cynicism. "Pardon me for growing up in utter isolation because of my species and the fact I have a malicious shadow of humanity's collective evil wanting me for a plaything and mate." viciously and rather cannily Shadow thrust back, usually not one for such sarcasm.

She brushed off the rare burst of dark humor, and explained to him an important fact he seemed to be lacking in his limited knowledge of the fairer sex. "Every woman immediately sizes up their perspective man, and takes stock of what they can offer. And we can't offer each other a family."

"Quite a depressing vision." he whispered, alarmed by her cold and barren views of their future. "Is that how you envision your future, Iliana?"

"Yeah, with the man I love by my side. But with your refusal to let Delilah go, and the fact my life is now and forever marked for death by psychotics who could well be my next door neighbors, the image of that man and that future is somewhat blurred." She brushed away the meddlesome strands of hair and tucked them behind her ear. "And the man who I thought I could count on most is forever questioning what's between us."

"There shouldn't be any question." came a voice to the side, as Delilah entered into the hospital from the door leading into the hall, presumably having heard part of the argument already. "I am not trying to steal him away."

Iliana thinned her eyes. "No, just his manjuice."

Ignoring the barb, Delilah approached the bed, and absentmindedly stroked a hand across the ninja's nearest wing, a motion not lost on Iliana. "Shadow, in his unlimited nobility, has just granted me something I can never repay, and in doing so, has truly proven himself worthy of you and your love."

And to such a declaration, Iliana scorned the trite offer of peace. "Oh don't civilize this, and knock it off with the Star Trek crap! Your ex is a naughty, naughty gargoyle!" She raised a hand with a dangerous intent, and slapped the open palm against Shadow's shoulder, the sound resounding as the ninja twitched in slight pain. "For spreading himself where he doesn't belong!"

"Why do I even bother making nice with you?" Delilah sneered, blowing a spiteful breath. "You are so simple-minded sometimes it makes me sick."

"Ah bite me."

"Don't tempt me." Delilah coaxed herself in front of Shadow and raised a talon towards a patient turned adversary. "Here's an idea, why don't you quit the selfish whining and just close that extraordinarily large mouth of yours!"

And true to her nature, Iliana reacted like wildfire fueled by a tornado, the forces of nature about to clash nail to claw. "Just because I'm in this bed doesn't mean I can't wipe the floor with your tail-sprouting, man-stealing ass, bitch!"

Iliana threw off the covers and lunged forth, ignoring her injuries, until Shadow quickly intervened, using his imposing size as the barrier between the warring females, bracing an arm against the smaller detective and another to hold back the fury that was Delilah. He pushed Iliana back into her bed, and snaked his barbed tail around Delilah's waist. "That's enough!!" he yelled, reduced to a referee and holding off a potentially malicious and childish spat. "Both of you!" With Delilah contained, her anger further spurred by the pheromones running rampant through the castle, he turned his attentions to Iliana, thrashing about almost violently even with Shadow's taloned hand pressed just below her neck and pinning her to the mattress. "There is something that is eating at you, Iliana! Why are you acting like this?!"

"Because I'm scared!!" she screamed, forcing his hand away and sitting up on her knees on the bedspread. The room quieted upon her cry of pain, and Iliana's breathing became labored, wracked with sobs as she released everything built up since she braved the wall of destructive flame in her apartment. "I'm so scared..." she whispered, falling into a heap as Shadow quickly wrapped around her with strong arm and dark wing. "Scared to death to leave this hospital without you watching over me...and face what's outside alone." She huddled as if a frightened child within Shadow's arms, shivering and sobbing and pressing her long nails into the leather sheathings worn on the dark warrior's arms.

Delilah stood up and looked with sympathy towards the detective, laying a hesitative yet gentle hand to her shoulder and knowing her familiar pain, so like her own. "You are never alone, Iliana."

Through red-rimmed eyes, Iliana peered across the room to where Matt Bluestone lay deathly still, a slab of cold flesh alive by machines forcing his heart to beat and his lungs to refresh the decrepit corpse with oxygen. "Will I be forced to wake up from this bed one day and hear that someone I love has been killed like Sara? Or will I be the one lying in a coma like Matt? Or a grave..."

Shadow pressed his large hands to either side of Iliana's face, and assured her eyes opened to his. Using his thumbs, he wiped away the tears gathered on high cheekbones and allowed her part of his strength. "Not while I'm around."

****************************************

March 24th, From the journal of Nicole St. John...
A new day, or night I should say, since I'm pretty much forced to reverse my sleeping schedule if I want to scoop any dirt on these creatures. I've noticed especially the relationships between the humans who frequent this place, and those who even live here and are considered a part of this clan. Elisa, Iliana, Dr. Pierce, and Todd Hawkins, someone perhaps more annoying than I ever could be. Or the Xantoses, the clan's billionaire benefactors, who have diligently kept my disappearance a well guarded, and obviously explainable secret.

But they won't tell me what they've said to deflect any investigation from Vinnie or anyone else from WVRN. It's been two weeks already since I was dropped off here, and nothing about my absence in any newspaper or the TV. Maybe Xanatos paid them off...or maybe no one cares...

He seems to be very diligent in keeping the clan secure, a man I thought who'd never place the safety of anyone above himself. All this technology, all this power, and he devotes himself to keeping these creatures safe at all costs, no matter what the price. I wonder what hold they have over him? A debt he's simply repaying? Or could the cold billionaire actually care, and treat the clan as his family?

Is all the money and power in the world worth risking his ass for a small group of creatures on the verge of extinction? Maybe he's just too proud to admit to himself this may be a lost cause, or maybe there's something far larger to his affiliation than I can even imagine.

****************************************

The lights of the city spires reached up, clawing, grabbing, scraping against the falling darkness to assert its rightful place in mankind's continuing evolution of technology, to where such towers would take even the heavens from the hands of God. But one man had already claimed his place, laughing in the face of any attempt to knock him from his lofty perch. His kingdom. David Xanatos watched from his throne where behind him the wall of reinforced glass opened up into the city down below, thrusting his form and the desk he was seated at into a distorted silhouette outlined only by the soft, embracing orchid of the light spangled sky.

And Owen Burnett as always, stood rigidly to his side, impeccably dressed and glacial of sentiment.

His desktop workstation, tied into the entirety of the Eyrie computer network, flashed towards him the preparedness of his home to defend itself against the attackers he knew would soon come, a vigilance readied and entrusted to a singular being. An idea Xanatos did not feel comfortable with, never one to delegate his safety and life and that of his family to anyone save himself.

"The defensive weaponry?" he whispered from behind his hands pressed together almost deflecting the cold efficiency of his dark tone, his eyes glowing against the computer screen as sunlight reflecting and glaring from purest steel.

"Successfully tested and one hundred percent operational." she answered succinctly, swirling photons within a beam of focused light giving her presence, a voice placid and motherly allowing her an existence not limited to the computer banks compressed into a small room above. "They can be deployed to cover the entire castle exterior in less than sixty seconds."

Xanatos nodded calmly, as one would think preparing for a war would erupt a terror within anyone else, but he remained far too composed. "Good. Are all of the upgraded steel clan online?"

Mother crossed by his desk without a sound in her frothy step, her lavender wings lifted high and imperially above her shoulders lean and draped in an electronically fabricated gown. She drifted towards the larger viewscreen displaying the hanger bay below the office floor, where a hushed, mechanical militia of steel clan robotic sentinels awaited uncomplainingly in their berths lined up on either side of the massive, cavernous hangar. "Yes, all prepped with flight and defensive systems verified." The screen flickered an abrupt scene change to the hangar's ceiling, where small, menacing cybernetic machines curled up on the automated launch racks, pending their call to duty. As if a bee's nest needing only a rustling to the thin, fragile shell to send out a swarm of warriors, they promised great power in the proverbial small package. "As are the Cyber-Biotics sentry drones. We have over three hundred, including those salvaged from previous attacks."

Xanatos tapped a nervous finger against the royal indigo of his desk, watching the hologram with great interest. "Mother," he caught her attention with his stern tone, "you have been given almost complete control of these cybernetic defenses. Are you sure you can handle the entire force if put to the test?"

She smiled in the near questioning of her abilities, knowing well of Xanatos' personality and his distrust from the distinctive programming by Goliath's hands. "You already know for a fact I am more than capable, Mr. Xanatos." said Mother assuredly, unable to be less than completely secure in her abilities. "You are just weary of placing your home and family in the care of a prototype computer intelligence online for less than a month."

"The clan's confidence in the Mother program is not unfounded." Owen came to the rescue, his opinion respected above almost all else's to the billionaire. "She is perhaps twice as sophisticated as the Coyote programs ever were."

Xanatos cocked a brow, crooked and distinctly sharpened to display the fact he perhaps still was not satisfied, even with his majordomo's confidence. But he in fact almost never was, with anything but his wife's performance underneath the expensive, Italian sheets of their bed, and his company's profit revenues growing on a daily basis. "I suppose a test would be the only way to truly assess your capabilities." he reflected, a genuine interest to see how this program would fare in the gravest of circumstance.

"You sound as if you expect such a test to be coming quite soon." she answered, drifting closer to his desk, her hologram unbidden by the shadows condemning the room to near darkness. Her expression conveyed more of an emotion than even her sophisticated programming was perhaps capable of, her eyes of deepset charcoal brimming with the vestiges of Goliath's own. "Mr. Xanatos, may I ask you something?" Though candid in her usual mechanical form, Mother's voice softened somewhat, garnering a raised eyebrow from her owner. "Are you afraid?"

The billionaire turned a smile, and suppressed an odd chuckle. "I fear for the family upstairs, and the trials they continually face." he revealed, a statement shrewdly deflecting what pitted in his stomach. "Do you experience fear, Mother? Or is your programming unable to cope with such a difficult and encompassing emotion?"

In a gesture so delicately insignificant installed in the billions of lines of coding, Mother moved her eyes away from Xanatos' anticipating glare in very nearly an indication of discomfort, and whispered, "I do not know the sensation of fear." With her apparent evasion, Xanatos found this hard to believe. "Yet I am...anxious for the clan I am programmed to protect...especially Goliath."

"Well, in some small way, he's your son."

Mother's holographic form again relayed with flawless precision through from the computers guiding her cognizance a discomfort, especially when her association with Goliath was bared so openly. "Yes," she yielded, "though technically there is no basis for such an attachment apart from my appearance and voice, with his...intimate programming, I suppose he is."

Sufficiently matching his wits against even the most sophisticated of computers and yet even further, making it squirm, Xanatos awarded himself a smile in triumph. "I want the security system on full alert, Mother." he ordered. "Twenty-fours hours a day. If someone even coughs inside this building, I want to know about it."

The computer austerity returned to dominate the personality. "Yes, Mr. Xanatos." Her form shimmered, and broke up as the holographic projector in the office ceiling powered down, the light abruptly drifting away as if a plume of colored smoke in pearl and lilac.

"Owen, what's happening?"

The majordomo quickly raised his chin to the question at hand. "Sir?"

He breathed from beneath the suit of expensive cloth and sewn by crafted hands a troubled sigh, bred from an apprehensiveness he loathed and treated as a disease. "When did this chore of keeping the gargoyles out of harm's way become so tasking?"

"We could always expose them," Owen suggested coldly, in some sharp fashion to see what response he would garner, "hand them over, and save ourselves."

And indeed David Xanatos spurned such a proposal quickly and brutally, "If that is a joke, I assure you I am not laughing." He stood up and straightened the coat, being rather unsympathetic to the material, and pushed his leather bound throne from the path to the window. His eyes drifted from his city to the sky, where he once thought even he could be so bold as to seize the winds, and temper and bend the sun and moon to his will. But yet, it seemed so small to him now, so arrogant, in the face of a much greater war carrying a horrific toll. "They're coming, aren't they." It was a statement more than a question, one filled with fear and frustration for a future damnably uncertain. "The Guild."

Owen took his place beside his master, his employer, his friend, and gazed from eyes that were not truly his own to where the heavens burst through the thick, bejeweled drapery with spirited bursts of light. "The day is soon, when we will stand again for what we have pledged ourselves to." the disguised Seelie whispered, his words and tone gentile and concise compared to what wild faerie he entrapped within his soul. "The Guild will come, like the Quarreymen, and the Phoenix Rising group before them, and perhaps many will follow in the years to come." Owen touched to the tempered glass with his fingertips, sensing the entire sum of hardened emotion and sentiment flowing throughout the building and castle. The fear, the hatred and pain, all a part no matter how indistinct of the collective passion and rage the clan exuded, and it flowed through his blood and excited the Puck within. "But it all depends on what role you have decided upon in the gargoyles' future. You are irrefutably linked, as are Fox and Alexander, and are part of a larger circle."

Xanatos opened wide his eyes to his friend's optimism, though cryptic as always, and getting worse as the months and years progressed. "And if I disrupt said circle?"

"It will collapse, and leave devastation in its wake."

He bobbed his brow and curved the sharply groomed goatee into a devilish mask, the fact the weight of the world resting on his shoulders would grant to him a rare chance, to become as the savior and continually feed an ever-present ego. "Interesting." He buttoned his jacket and walked past the majordomo, towards the doors. "Owen, continue your efforts in the search for our new friends providing such a fulfilling distraction. I on the other hand have been up for twenty-two hours and am famished. Where's Fox?"

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
It's like Star Trek come to life, with sentient computer programs, holograms, security systems, robots and actual, goddamn cyborgs. With Xanatos' multi-national corporation and the sheer volumes of money I know he rakes in, and all the hardware and weaponry at his disposal, he could scoop up half of the planet in a matter of days. And yet, he chooses to only share barely half of all of this technology with the world, and leave the rest to preserve the sanctity of this palace in the skies.

To give the gargoyles almost everything they can't have, including the chance to have children. They are going to actually grow a child outside of the mother's body in some tube once used for cloning. I wonder if Xanatos ever had any qualms about playing God? I seriously doubt that fact considering this man's arrogance and self-importance, and the fact he enjoys having nature itself bow down before him. The ultimate conceit of man dressed in a two thousand dollar suit, and wearing a grin so smug you want to try and smack it from his face.

But Dr. Alan Pierce has no reservations in breeding life in a machine. He treats this as a simple procedure, the tube a surrogate mother shaped in cold iron and glass. I wonder what would happen if this cloning technology got into the wrong hands, or anything else from this castle that could be used as a weapon.

I shudder at the possibilities.

****************************************

He tinkered, he played, he delved into where only gods dared to tread, that of the contradictory miracle of life, and creating from nothingness the inexplicable spark of being. "Fascinating." Even resting on its side to better maneuver it through the doorway to his lab, it towered, and bulged with the readiness to set to existence a small clutch of cells within its glass urn. "Ah, here it is." It had been tested once years before, having bred a massive, dark creature with an even darker heart, and now, its tarnished reputation would be restored if only it would grant the greatest of gifts. "Amazing."

"Having fun, doc?"

Brushing away the silver streaked locks from his eyes, Dr. Alan Pierce found the aggrandizing stance of cocked hips and a proud smile that could only be the other half of the billionaire benefactors who now employed his services fulltime. "Oh, Fox...yes," he answered, probing his hands into the delicate electrics beneath the sterling surface of the tube, "this machine is absolutely amazing."

"A couple million dollars went into the research alone for this 'machine', doctor Pierce." Fox scolded almost playfully, moving beside him and roaming her hands covetously across just one of the results of her own small company's comparable genius. "This is Cyber-Biotics at its best. To create life from oblivion."

"Says my esteemed colleague, doctor Anton Sevarius." muttered Pierce, his voice tinged with hatred at its most raw and unrefined. "If you can even call that psychotic a doctor..."

"Tut tut, professional jealousy is unbecoming." Fox laughed, as Pierce lifted his gaze, damning with slitted eyes her simple jest. "Sevarius may be a sociopath, but he had a brilliant mind. Too bad it went to waste with his greed and warped psychosis."

"Well, hopefully, using Thailog's tube, we can put right what he made wrong." He stood up, and crossed his arms against his lab coat. "The only problem right now is how to get this thing through the door to my lab."

Fox shrugged. "Just get one of our winged furniture movers upstairs." she teased, though the joke intended was lost on a facade turning just slightly grim with matters more disquieting. Where the maturity prevalent by the tiniest of lines gathered at his eyes truly aged him beyond his years. "But, judging by your expression, that isn't your biggest concern."

"This will be tricky." Pierce confessed, grabbing the bundle of file folders overstuffed with notes and papers and flipping through the mass of collected information. "The reproductive cycle is fraught with millions of tiny anomalies that hopefully the cloning software, and artificial womb tissues we grow based on Delilah's own can handle as well as an organic body."

"Cloning has already been proven successful many times, doc." replied Fox, almost wounded in the fact her company's repute was on the line against Pierce's aversion to this particular piece of equipment.

Doctor Pierce nodded, though somewhat circumspectly when entrusting a patient completely to technology. "I know," he yielded, such a clone alive and well and the mother of a patient soon to be grown, "but to settle any problems derived from cloning such as malformed fetuses, distorted flesh and hair tone, and even intelligence, reason, and a proper, functioning immune system, everything has to be one hundred percent perfect for this to work." A certain folder then appeared on top of the pile in Pierce's hands, labeled simply and ominously 'Thailog'. "I'm just...concerned. That's all."

Fox noticed his brows lower into place over darkened eyes as the doctor sifted through the Thailog folder, his face having fully contracted into a serious cast. He was having second thoughts already, but it seemed a viable solution to ease a mother's pain. To give back one life in the loss of so many. For it seemed in his own grief and fear of exposure and death, the good doctor was trying so hard to restore a delicate balance. "Please don't tell me you're now rethinking your venture into the realm of the almighty creator." Fox mused, flicking the long hairs of fiery scarlet from her blouse sheathing a lithe, athletic form, perhaps far too thin to be considered healthy.

"This isn't playing God, if that's what you're implying," he argued, without even turning his eyes away from the files, "it's giving back what his children were cruel enough to take away."

Fox upturned supple, silky lips and released a laughter as soft as the gentle breath of summer wind, her respect for this doctor growing with every new facet he overturned. "So, when can you start?"

"As soon as I get this tube into my lab and have it set up by your technicians during the day, I can start the tissue growth and then extract an ovum from Delilah. Then we plant the fertilized egg in the pot," he lifted from the scrawled files and photographs, his gaze littering upon the tube, "and let it stew. And without a dangerous acceleration of the growth process either." He tucked the folders underneath his arm, and blew a breath upwards to ripple across his falling hair. "Hopefully conception will occur before the ovulation cycle has finished, or it'll be another year before this can be attempted when it starts up again."

"Ah yes, once again comes the good old breeding cycle right on time." Fox agreed, her nostrils flaring subtly, as if she could detect what heavy, sweetened haze flowed untouched through even the castle air filters.

"Yes, and I for one will be glad when the breeding season ends." came a voice soft and strong from behind the pair. The unnamed sister having finished her rounds as nurse to the wounded officers, she approached and played her fingers searchingly over the cloning tube. "This entire castle is thick with pheromones."

"Really?" Though knowing of the cycle, Doctor Pierce sniffed the air trying to discern the fragrance from the customary tang of hospital anesthetic and cleansing disinfectants.

Fox wrinkled her nose. "Oh yeah. It's like a musky, floral scent."

"You can smell it??"

"I'm a fox, remember."

The lost sister flitted with laughter, filling the vacuous, solemn infirmary with the rare and blessed sounds of joy, and nodded while opening a panel on the tube and discovering a trove of wiring and computer chips. "It is nearly undetectable to the human senses," explained the clever sister, "but to gargoyles, that's another matter."

He sidestepped, bringing himself surreptitiously closer to the pumpkin-skinned gargoyle fawning over yet another new piece of technology. Pierce cleared his throat, and pressed the creases from his stained labcoat with a flattened hand. "And...just how do gargoyles react to these pheromones?" he inquired coyly.

She turned from where she leaned over the tube, her back seductively arched with wings draped imperially, and thrusting her hips without even her knowledge of the effect it tolled on the doctor. She spread a smile onto a small mouth, and curved a loose strand of tawny, flecked gold back behind a pointed ear. Her answer a demure silence, she rose and sauntered away, the remnants of perhaps a low, muffled growl faded from earshot.

"And the good doctor strikes out again." Fox clucked, as Pierce frowned in yet another failed attempt to sway any favor beyond friendship.

"Oh shut...up..." he trailed off, his eyes focused on Fox as she moved closer into the light above, and where golden skin once reigned, a pallid veneer now lay. "Fox, you're looking a little pale." he tended somberly, the sudden switch from friend to doctor far too easy when noticing such poor health even in ashen skin tone. "And how much weight have you lost?"

Fox swallowed. "A few pounds." she dodged quickly, a blatant lie the doctor quickly picked up on.

He edged closer, with the billionairess uncomfortable under his scrutiny of her form far thinner than usual. "Your last test shows it's spreading," he warned, "and the dosage is becoming inadequate."

"Then increase the dosage." she hissed.

The stubbornness of his employer aside, he acted as he should. "Have you told your husband?"

Fox bit her bottom lip, and the kelly emerald of her eyes shimmered in frustration. "No." she answered, rubbing a massage over her temples when the sudden pain erupted through her skull. "How do you break something like this to him?"

Pierce shook his head in empathy. "You just do."

"This is a little more serious than the tired colloquialism of ripping off a band-aid..."

"But it spares any unneeded pain. Your most recent bloodtest shows the medication is slowly becoming ineffectual against the growing disorder, and we've already pumped you full of so much medicine and pills you could swan-dive off of the Eyrie and walk away without a scratch." He leaned in close, to assure the utmost of confidentiality. "Your husband at least deserves to know..."

"No!" she snapped, and wearily inspected her immediate surroundings when the echo reflected from the walls, hoping the bedridden occupants did not hear such an outburst of privacy. "I won't put him through this." she whispered, lowering her voice to better disguise what was laying siege to her body from the gargoyle nurse near Bluestone's bed. "He already has enough to carry on his shoulders without having to worry about me...please, just...just increase the dosage for now."

He shook his head and gave in to the fire he knew to be inextinguishable. Pierce slipped into his lab, where he pulled from an adjacent cabinet a syringe and a small amethyst jar with fluid glowing a dark, unpromising chartreuse, as Fox waited impatiently outside, her breathing become shallow and forced as she fended off the massive streak of pain through her brow. Her outburst had only served to throw off a fragile equilibrium, and now it set against her a retribution promising great pain.

She winced in pain and desperately tried to conceal it, as it crept up her spine and became as a storm within the base of her skull, and in one split second, it struck with a tendril of lightning igniting across the cerebellum. Fox snatched a hand quickly over her mouth to snare the flow of blood pouring from her nose. "Oh damn..." she whispered, her fingers glistened with metallic crimson. "D-Doctor Pierce?" He peered out from the lab to see as Fox reached forwards with her blood-soaked hand, pleading with trembling eyes. "I think something's...very wrong..." Her knees gave out, the pupils rolling back to force a dead white towards the doctor watching on in horror as the former television star collapsed limply to the floor.

"Damnit!" Pierce rushed forth, and tucked his hand under her head before it had the chance to impact upon the cold tile. Fox trembled, which soon swelled into a violent seizure thundering through her body, her lungs pressing the last vestiges of oxygen into a gnarled scream. He held on to her as best he could, the wild, aggressive contraction of muscle straining even his strength.

"Doctor Alan?!" the clever sister yelled out, practically jumping to his side when hearing the deathly howl escape into the serenity of hushed calm. "By the dragon, what is wrong?!"

"Hold her down!!" he screamed, as she took hold of her arms and pressed the shaking human woman to the floor. "Damnit, keep her still!!" Maria from her bed, once resting quietly, watched as Pierce readied the syringe, and tried to steady the needle towards the artery bulging with a ferocious pulse and jutting from Fox's arm. He plunged deep the steel into yielding flesh, striking true, and emptied the entire contents of the syringe. As both Iliana and Maria stared on, doctor Pierce and his drafted nurse clamped onto Fox's body as the seizure eventually died away with the administration of the powerful drug.

And with Fox's head securely cradled in her lap, the sister looked up towards Pierce, sitting beside her and ensuring heartbeat, though weak, and erratic. "What is wrong with her?" she implored to the doctor, as he lifted his head and brandished a weapon far more destructive than a sword or rifle, that of a cruel reality continuing its attack on the innocent.

"She's dying."

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
The clan's lost so many already, Sara Jasper, and Matt Bluestone's still in a deep coma, one that Dr. Pierce doesn't think he has a big chance of coming out of. And then there's MacBeth, whose mansion was blown sky high just because he had a little spat with me on national television. And damned if I don't feel guilty because of that. But I was doing only my job, and I never thought there would be psychotics who would kill him just because of his views...and I can't believe I just wrote something so goddamn naive.

No, it wasn't me, I am NOT responsible for his death, and I sure as hell won't be blamed for it. He was seen as a sympathizer long before we even met, and because of that, he's most likely buried somewhere in the rubble of his mansion.

And if it even matters...I'm sorry.

****************************************

He walked in a deliberate silence, a soft, elusive tread, as if trying not to offend the silent watchers holding a blessed vigil above him, carved in oiled, chestnut wood and varnished to a mirror-like sheen. His long cloak nearly trailed across the wooden floor, concealing prominent features and allowing him an unobtrusive presence hidden into the stark embellishment of this place of worship. It was achingly empty, tonight being a rare night where none sought refuge from the city outside or their pain within, and thus, the absence of any and all individual granted him yet more time to hide from those who wanted him dead.

Because he had discarded a millennium of hatred, turned himself around and into a proverbial hero, and damned if he has not condemned his choice in weaker moments.

He drifted past a seated wall of candles in a descending stairway pattern and with even the slightest of movements he thrust the air into a tempest against the flames, a collected radiance flickering in rippled rings spreading outwards from the center. From his vantage from under the hood of his heavy robe, it lay a beautiful waltz across the statues and decoration of the church's grand hall, and danced a misty firelight in the dark, anguished gray of his eyes. Battered features turned upwards in the simple pleasure it brought to him, and he waved his hand to snap the flames to attention and play with them if but an amusing toy.

It had been almost a week since the attack on his home, and since he had found this place to hide away, to make the world believe he was dead and buried within the ruins of his castle home. He now skirted the darkened edges beyond the row of pews, drifting aimlessly towards the podium up front, and far too anxious to grasp what troubled sleep he was fortunate enough to have.

"You seem restless."

The soft voice having crept through the wooden, buttressed archways brought his attention from the candles to a figure bound in blackest robe across from him, her kind eyes expressing a question to his health and emotional abstraction. "I suppose I am." he whispered, a brogue like wet gravel and wealthy of a Scottish burr. "I have lived a thousand years as a man without a familiar face or home or a life t' speak of, but now, it's different." He traveled towards the woman studying his every movement, and that of his features creased by a millennial age. "That was an existence I did not want to live, an' yet could not escape as much as I tried. Now I am...wanting fer such a life that has now been placed in constant peril."

She would perhaps fear this man's impressive size and strength as he approached and towered over her smaller frame, and the authority exuded from regal lines rounded by a trimmed beard and brow glowing dulled silver. But whenever he placed his eyes to her, he swelled her heart with only a lancing grin in a way thought lost for almost twenty years. "I am sorry for the loss of your home." she expressed a regret for what he narrowly escaped, his resourcefulness though intriguingly alluring. "And all that you lost from your former life."

He etched a smile into hardened features, and slowly fronted her sympathy with a greater hope. "Nonsense, my temporary albeit beautiful landlord, and she who graciously offered me a home." he smoothed a calm response towards her, flashing powerful eyes beneath a chiseled brow. "All th' possessions I truly care fer are three floors down in an impenetrable titanium bunker, which I now find myself thankful fer after th' explosion. Especially with th' fact I'm now mortally fragile."

She laughed serenely, coaxing small remnants of scarred flesh into a dimpled smile, sweet and alluring. "Actually," she mused, "I think your becoming mortal may have just heightened your appreciation for life...and what it can offer."

"Sage words from a woman who chooses t' hide herself away." he countered, reaching out to caress his fingers over her left cheek, where fire had marred once flawless skin. She jerked away in an automatic response, and turned full lips downwards with the abrupt change in playfulness to something more serious he offered. "My apologies, Rose. I didn't mean to..."

The nun concealed her pain with another smile, though this time a struggle to wipe away the years of torment kept within a spirit wounded like her flesh. "It's all right, I'm just not used to such...intimate contact."

The larger man dropped his hand to his side, remorseful in causing her even the slightest of pain with advances he wanted to make, and yet perhaps too far for their friendship to allow. He breathed through clenched teeth, "Aye."

Rose straightened an errant fold on her black dressings to hide her discomfort, and moved away slightly. "Where will you go now?" she asked of him, as he followed her through the perfect rows of pews towards the double doors leading outside. "The world has been made just a little more dangerous after the bombing in Central Park, especially to those who publicly support any person but human. What will you do?"

He puffed his chest from underneath the robe like an animal preparing to defend for it's right to mate, where the Kevlar chest plating threatened ominously a retaliation. "Tis payback time, lassie." he snarled with a smile, a voice of silk underlined by steel. "That was a brand new book I was reading, an' never got t' finish when so rudely interrupted by my mansion crumbling t' dust around me." He affixed the hood of his cloak to where it lay suspended across his brow and fell his eyes in a shadowed veil. He grabbed for her hand, and any apprehension on Rose's part would be for naught, his large hand grasping unto hers and pulling it to his lips in a motion swift in appreciation. He kissed her hand long and hard, and granted to the slender fingers a gesture imbued with passion. "Thank you, Rose, fer letting me stay here while th' authorities scour my mansion, or what's left of it." he whispered, holding her hand to his cheek, the scent of vanilla and jasmine stained flora a dead giveaway to her moisturizer. "Yuir aid, and friendship, has been invaluable."

Rose shuddered and sucked in a sharp gasp when his breath stroked her skin, erupting fire and delight in a trail of pores rising to weep the heat held within. "It was...my pleasure." she answered, watching as he pulled the cloak in closer and opened through the doors and into the Manhattan basin. She stood within the light flooding down the church steps and bleeding a golden ocher into the night, as the former king allowed himself to be swallowed into the blurred contours like rain-smeared glass, and the shrill mechanical screams of the city. "Goodbye, MacBeth," she called to wherever he may be, wishing for the stars to guide him safely on his journey, "and good luck on whatever path fate bestows upon you."

****************************************

March 25th, From the journal of Nicole St. John...
Well, I've been ordered to my room, as the clan seems to be gathering for some kind of meeting, and judging by the lack of conversation, even more so than usual, something's brewing. It doesn't take a reporter to know that. The air has changed, the mood, drastically, and when I'm forced into my suite by Broadway, I don't argue, knowing by my jailor's tone the severity of the situation.

Could it...could it be the culmination of everything that's been dividing the clan so far? Could this be the turning point? Something's going to hit the fan, and I think it's a big, steaming pile of Bronx droppings...

****************************************

The entire clan was called together into the library, a room frequently utilized as a gathering place with enough room to comfortably house such immense and impressive creatures. Goliath was here, standing to the side when called upon by Brooklyn, and when seeing the entirety of the clan here as well, he pondered silently the significance of such an assembly. With eyes pensive and roaming, he found a definite division in the ranks, as a few gargoyles seemed to take their place furtively behind Brooklyn as if to confirm without speaking their allegiance.

Brooklyn stood firm, arms crossed, and staring at Goliath, his eyes neither damning nor benevolent, merely vacant, but determined nonetheless. The remaining clan members surrounding the two leaders without knowledge of why they were called here whispered to each other, garnering answers of raised brows and shrugged shoulders.

Elisa lingered far from anyone, on the plush velvet benchseat molded from underneath the sill of one of many towering bay windows lining the library wall. She lay silent, contemplative, staring out into the distant cornices sweeping majestically below the Arabian-peaked portal's edge. Where a grieving city lay paralyzed with fear, and where she selfishly veiled herself above the clouds.

"Are you going to explain why you called all of us here, Brooklyn," Goliath broke through the tension with a heavy, impatient brogue, as the others immediately fell quiet, "or do we have to guess for ourselves?"

Brooklyn shored up the wings resting against his shoulders, and refreshed a dry mouth with the warm, fragrant air made even more so by the assemblage of females suffering through the breeding cycle. "I think you are perceptive enough to why this meeting has been called." he announced clearly for all to hear, thrusting his voice without a hint of hesitation or nervousness. "I think all of you know why we're here, even those I didn't speak to privately. We're here to overturn a decision made that hurts us all. That denies to us our very nature, and allows the city around us to erupt in chaos and war."

Goliath now noticed the clan members standing closest to Brooklyn, Shadow, Othello, and even Hudson, and thinned his eyes in what he knew to be imminently close. "Please get to the point, Brooklyn." he commanded, seeing as his second simply and covetously reinforced both himself and his cause in the motivation behind his cadre's rebellion. "And end this pedantic showcasing."

Brooklyn snorted to Goliath's brusqueness, "Fine. I hereby challenge your decision to suspend the patrols and keep us inside the castle. And according to clan decree, if enough of eligible members vote against you, we can overturn your command. And remove you if necessary."

Goliath lowered his brow, a situation he thought almost laughable, but by judging by the shadowed ranks Brooklyn had seemingly built up, it became quite serious, and a real threat to his authority. "You truly wish to continue in this ludicrous pretense?" he sneered, unwilling to waste time on this while he watched over Owen and Xanatos as they combed the city in his chosen, clandestine method.

"I wouldn't have called this meeting if I wasn't completely serious."

"Then draw your lines, Brooklyn," he set his own challenge, where lavender lips contained barely an allusion of a smile, "I am quite interested to see just who will side with you."

To answer his dare, Shadow quietly stepped up beside the crimson gargoyle, as did Othello and Hudson. Then Demona to Angela's horror, and lastly, Annika to Todd's wide-eyed surprise, and Goliath's brow twitched slightly in the support. Graeme and Ariana as well joined their father by his side, trying if not bravely to withstand the stunned, fiery glare from Sata.

The jade samurai immediately jumped from the loveseat, accusing her mate with dark, slanted eyes bred in battle and time and the farthest reaches of the Earth. "You would willingly drag our children into such a decision?!" she was quick to lay blame upon him, unbelieving that her children would act on their own accord in this decision.

"They came to me, aisai, on their own." Brooklyn countered, rubbing a hand to Ariana's shoulder. "They're old enough to be considered voices in the clan's vote. But just for argument's sake, let's treat them as one combined vote."

As Graeme shied his eyes away almost fearfully, Ariana found the courage to peer from under her inherited spurs and hair towards her mother. "I-I'm sorry, mom." she whispered.

An expression to shatter glass, a glare that would melt the thickest of ice, Sata damned her daughter for the impulsiveness passed down from her father. "Indeed," she relented with an exasperated hiss that pressed Ariana back into Brooklyn's chest, "but I am afraid I must stand with Goliath."

Broadway stood up to his full height alongside Goliath's shoulder, his considerable bulk intimidating a few gathered there. "So do I." Angela joined him silently, her eyes never having left Demona's. Lexington, Delilah and the clever sister next, leaving Desdemona abandoned on the couch and staring into the obsidian that was Othello's brooding gaze.

"My love?" she implored to him.

Othello drooped further his already sagging shoulders, and huffed a hardened breath in his choice. "I do this for you, beloved."

And thus she fell her gaze lifelessly to the floor, hindered by the beginning's of tears, but she refused to let them fall. "I understand." Desdemona rose and slowly backed into the group that was by Goliath.

Goliath noticed one last clan member perched on the chesterfield's large, padded arm. "Mr. Hawkins?" he called the human to attention, who skidded his eyes from his wife to the leader.

A look of desperation passed over young features, as if a war erupted for honor versus love and pitched a fevered battle. Annika looked to him, beseeching for perhaps nothing but his understanding of her choice, and because of the woman he pledged his life to, he too chose his path. "Goliath...I'm sorry," he expressed his regret, subdued from a normally buoyant, almost annoying boast, "but...I have to stand with my wife." And consequently, he joined Brooklyn's side all too reluctantly, coming to rest beside his wife who simply wrapped her arms around him and buried her head into his shoulder.

Goliath sighed, yet nodded simply in Todd's direction, supportive to his decision.

Brooklyn surveyed the sides drawn, and slowly inclined a brow upwards. "Well, I guess we're split right down the middle." And all eyes settled upon the last voting member, having hidden herself deep into the darkness beyond the library chandeliers. "It seems, Elisa, the last vote is up to you."

From the window to the clan having divided themselves on opposite sides, Elisa allowed a languished chocolate to swathe over each faction. From Brooklyn's iced expression, to Goliath's near smug grin, she almost had to smother a bitter laughter in the weight of leadership having come down upon her shoulders. She wanted to stay impartial, she just wanted peace above all else, but even that was some elusive fantasy beyond her reach. Elisa slowly coerced a body fatigued and suffering, and met the light's edge, cloaking her complexion and masking her shadowed eyes.

She and Goliath linked their respective gaze, fire and wind, and the earth set against the sky. The detective then simply, wordlessly, indifferently slipped away from him towards Brooklyn, and with her choice, Elisa tipped the vote against her husband in one detrimental swoop.

As his party erupted into bewildered murmurs behind his back, Goliath unraveled his arms from across his massive chest, the smirk all but disappeared in the damaging loss, and his eyes having opened wide to the extent of the rift between them. He knew it was there, but he never thought it had swelled this far. "Elisa..."

Elisa remained silent, unable to presently form any words to vindicate the damnation of her husband, her lover, that which had not already been passed between them in countless arguments. She instead concealed herself within the crowd, feeling his eyes still upon her rending like fire her flesh and piercing her soul, and knowing his heart, like hers, was slowly breaking.

"It seems you're officially outvoted, Goliath," Brooklyn broke the awed silence in a neutral tone, seeing Goliath's stone facade become despaired, hurt, but under a certain stubborn control, "now I'll give you one more chance and ask you again. Do you rescind your decision to halt the patrols and keep us from searching for the Guild?"

Goliath settled the spurred ridges crossly over blistering eyes, and crossed his arms defiantly, well aware of how his refusal to relent would condemn him and his side. "No," he growled, his voice like iron crushing granite in a taloned claw, "I do not."

"Then...with the majority of the clan's vote, and as second in command, I hereby relieve you of duty...and take command."

A deathly silence signaled Brooklyn's final victory, the rebellion successful in changing an old guard for new. But in the new, came a cleft in family seemingly already present between brother and sister, friend and mate only minutes after the decision.

"Brooklyn," Angela stepped forwards, imploring to his sensibilities, "you can't do this..."

"I'm sorry, Angela." he answered his once flame, his feelings though dampened for the daughter of Goliath when dragged from the neck by the Phoenix gate through forty years of history. "I just did."

Broadway then grunted a disgusted, guttural breath. "You can't actually expect the rest of us to listen to you, do you?"

"Yes, Broadway, you must, and you will." Goliath intervened, staring down his wife never having lifted from her guilt-ridden glare from the floor.

"What?!" the younger gargoyle protested with fire on his tongue, an anger rarely shown now peaked and taken to its limits. "This is bullshit, Goliath! You can fight for your leadership, you deserve to lead us far more than Brooklyn ever does."

"It is a rule that defines the very basis of our clan, and keeps the peace. To refuse, to start a war within our clan will only spread more dissension through this family at a time when we need to be together."

"Funny choice of words, Goliath." muttered Lexington. "Considering it was dissension that dethroned you in the first place."

"I know." Goliath stepped up, to better address those who took from him his rightful place, his voice thrummed to the entire yawning chamber clear and loud and very, very livid. "I truly hope you all understand the ramifications of what your new leader intends to do." he declared, gathering all eyes towards him, those of sympathy, and those who conspired against him for what they thought to be the greater good. "The Guild is only waiting for us, and with opening ourselves to the outside, we may serve to draw them right to our friends and family, and our home. I was doing everything I could to protect you, my clan, and I hope for your sake Brooklyn is right. That you can stop them. For if not...we all are dead." Goliath quickly took his leave, seeing no point in remaining to hear what orders he knew Brooklyn would give. But as he headed for the exit, he happened by Elisa, still unable to face him and closed off to any contact physically and emotionally.

"I hope you realize, Goliath," she stopped him with a voice passive and bereft of any strength, a rasped whisper, "my choice wasn't meant to hurt you, and I did this with the best of intentions."

Goliath ballooned his chiseled and divinely carved chest when feeding a breath through fangs gritted, and flared beneath curling lips. "And I hope you realize, Elisa," he snarled, "that you have betrayed the very trust on which we base our entire marriage."

"I know," she whispered, looking up through her long hair, as tears outlined the subtle curve of her cheekbone, and slewed beneath the delicate cleft of her chin, "and that fact hurts me more than you could ever possibly imagine. But if anyone taught me to stand up for what I believe in no matter what the cost, it was you."

He leaned in and Elisa nearly flinched in his form coming so close, in the breath spreading across her skin so hot. "If any of the clan is hurt because of this," he warned to her with a voice never used against his mate, "I will hold both Brooklyn, and you, personally responsible." And to keep what shreds of his dignity remained intact, Goliath walked out and disappeared from sight, leaving Elisa to blink the tears from her eyes, tasting of a bitter saline.

Brooklyn immediately took control of the situation with the clan left distraught, knowing he must act quickly and appropriately to gain the favor of Goliath's supporters. "Ladies and gentlemen," his tone was braced, hard, authoritative, "the patrols will start up tomorrow night. I'll draw up a schedule and confer with Owen with the most likely places to start our search for the Guild." One final glance to Sata advised due caution, the samurai none too pleased to be kept in the metaphorical dark from Brooklyn's decision. "You're all dismissed until tomorrow."

Broadway shook his head and immediately started from the room, parting the stunned crowds with his bulk and practically dragging Angela by the arm. And as he and Brooklyn crossed paths, Broadway cast towards his rookery brother an expression of malice and anger, the gentle giant reaping quickly an apprehension in his new leader. He tore from the room with Angela on his heels.

"I can't believe mother took Brooklyn's side, and Elisa." she whispered, as Broadway stopped and allowed his mate to collapse into his chest and the embrace of his wings. "Goliath gave up so easily, Broadway. It's not like him..."

Broadway sighed, feeding lush strands of long, dark sable through his fingers, sloughing with the consistency of satin. "I know," he sighed, comforting Angela who suffered for all three of her parents, "but Goliath has been constantly under fire for weeks because of his decision, even from his oldest friends. After everything else that's happened, the death, the destruction, and then having Elisa side against him...that most likely killed what fight he had left within him."

"But...what will this do to their marriage?"

"I don't know."

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
Holy shit. Unbelievable. Goliath has been relieved of his leadership. Wow...every single night in this place always seems to pull from a hat yet another little surprise, and I wonder how these creatures deal with this on a daily basis without going completely insane with anger and grief.

I saw Goliath only once when let out of my room, and I have never seen a man more dejected, or hurt, than him. Angela refused to tell me more about what happened, only that Brooklyn has taken command, and even this gargoyle, the one who spouted unity and peace, seems a little lost herself.

Well, with a new leader comes a new way of doing things, much to the contempt of a few others. It seems the clan's going to go on the offensive and fly their little patrols over the city looking for the Guild. I can't say I totally disagree. I don't think I could just sit and wait for someone who wanted me dead. I would have to do something, anything to ease my pain, and protect my loved ones too.

But if this proactive solution may be for the best...then why is my hand shaking?

****************************************

Outside, the air turned and swirled for its young master, forming a massive tempest churning with lightning vomited from its center, fusing, clashing with the emerald tendrils reaching upwards and cast from a diminutive human form. Alexander stood atop Goliath's tower, floating a few inches from the stones within the milky, fluidic embrace of an ancient sorcery, holding him aloft and inviting the very wrath of nature itself to gather above at his very whim. He controlled that which wiped entire civilizations off of the Earth and tamed it like a puppy lost and wanting for simple affection.

The storm grew stronger to encompass all of Wyvern, throbbing and bulging in an exact rhythm with Alexander's heart, his pulse guiding the storms and regurgitating into the once calm spring skies a fury of white fire streaked across the clouds of livid ashen charcoal. His eyes lost to the supple green glow of his fey ancestry, his long scarlet hair aflame and rippling in the winds, he was gathering his energy ready to burst from all too fragile a covering. The young hybrid of human and fae stared into the stars beyond the storm he himself had inadvertently created, sensing a presence scraping upon the back of his skull, where only stray, rambling thoughts and vivid nightmares existed of a boy far too young to discern these images from reality. He could hear the voice, that of the stranger, growing stronger with every passing second, and it was too strong, too close, and far too malevolent.

Young Alexander Xanatos stirred the heavens and made from clearest sky a dark, angry squall with only the slightest of physical exertion. So far reaching with his talents to find what troubled the adolescent, the arrival of a kindred spirit eluded him, until she braved the storm from the protected tower stairway and called out.

"Xand'r?!" Trinity yelled through the howling winds, her wings used to deflect the dust roused from the stones.

Alexander landed to the turret surface in a small swirl of dust, and released from his sorcery the storms he himself had called. The clouds parted almost instantly, the sky calmed and breathed with wistful, starry light, and Alexander turned around. "T-Trini?"

She dribbled up towards him on tiny legs, her tail padding the ground with each step. "Watcha do?" she chirped, curiosity overriding what panicked her heightened gargoyle senses.

"He's coming, Trini." Alexander whispered fearfully, trembling his answer and looking back into the chaotic embrace of a lighted Manhattan, where distantly a force beckoned almost in a faded whisper to the young sorcerer. "He's coming back..."

****************************************

The droning, pulsating roar of the massive engine dangled almost precariously on the wing drowned out any conversation passed between them, and until the EgyptAir pilot powered down the four jet engines, they played between them a few informal hand signals. Their own language created when unable to lift their voices above the chaos of noise from several hundred tons of steel and fueled power lumbering around their small, fragile human forms. A world of winged giants was this sprawling airport, and they scurried through as best they could.

A larger man preceded another woman, dressed in the customary canary vests with reflective strips to ward off the drivers of the menacing equipment lest they be trampled underneath. As the noise died down to some relief, the cargo door shuddered and released from near invisible seams along the aircraft fuselage. He waited patiently for the door to descend to his level, a crude approximation of metal stairs inside allowing him access to the cavernous cargo area. As his companion carefully maneuvered the luggage conveyer into position, he climbed up and peered into the darkness.

She watched from below, as the man seemed to hesitate from continuing any further. And suddenly, in a flurry of movement, the man twitched and was brutally wrenched inside. She pulled off the large, insulated earphones and stood up to better see what had happened to her partner. "Jack?"

To the best her mind could discern, it was a nauseating shredding like fabric being torn apart, the sound of bone separating from muscle, followed by a muffled scream trailing off into a drowned, repulsive gurgle. "Jack..." She cautiously approached, when sparked a morbid curiosity in seeing a thin rivulet of dark liquid pour out from the compartment. To which soon flowed into a river cascading down the lowered cargo door, a cherry gleam flooding from the painted steel and pooling onto the tarmac below. "Oh god...Jack?!" she screamed, and stumbled from her machine and onto the asphalt when the stench of blood hit her, a tainted metallic within the breeze. "Jack?!!"

It landed, sending a tremor through the ground with the weight, and as she looked up, her eyes trailed up the massive, mutated form. Where an exoskeleton of jagged bone covered a bulging muscular structure, where the separations between an organic armor left exposed the tendons and dark crimson sinew rippling with power, and heaving with the creature's every rasped breath. "Jack," it spoke with an accented rasp spit down upon her, a trickle of blood from what seemed to be its mouth, "is unavailable."

Her body numbed with cold fear, she scrambled to her feet and tried to run to the safety of the terminal, but in an instant, carried by tattered wings, he was upon the human as a shadow would willingly embrace the last of light. His claws tore into her body, his mouth and fangs fed ravenously on her exposed flesh, and just before she died when reduced to but a meal, her last sight was of two glowing, sunlit eyes, breeding the purest of evil.

****************************************

From the journal of Nicole St. John...
The clan is facing their greatest battle yet, against the hardest of enemies to fight, those they try to protect with their often-dangerous vigilante justice. And the funny thing is, I may be targeted alongside these creatures, just as the others were lying in that hospital downstairs. In the most ironic of ironies, my life may now depend on the gargoyles, whose lives in turn I hold in my hands with the threat of exposure. And if I ever get to escape this castle, to protect my own life, I have to play their enemy as well.

A role I'm quite capable of pulling off. I have yet to be completely convinced of the goodwill these creatures boast. They pose a danger, as they are a focal point for destruction, mayhem and hatred, and now with their spreading into the city looking for a fight, they may kindle a larger war threatening to pull the rest of us into it. Their very presence makes the city itch nervously.

There's something in the air, thick, heavy, and cold. I can feel it, and it's not those damned male pheromones that frankly send a tingle through my thighs. Something's very wrong, and...it's so damned frightening being trapped here without any choice of how and when you may die.

I don't want to die...