Author's Note: Well, it's been a while. I know my writing has slowed considerably in the last 6 years (or more), but as the fandom declined, so did my interest as well. I invested a lot of time in writing fanfiction and there are times when you simply burn out. I still love Gargoyles and will always consider it one of my favorite universes to dwell in, and I always hoped I'd be able to give my series a proper end (I have notes for possible future stories that would take me another ten years to get through, but unfortunately, most of those will never see the light of day). I don't know how fast I'll be able to write but I'm going to try to cap this series off without leaving a cliffhanger or any questions unanswered for those still interested in reading. As for this particular story, all I can do is suggest that you go back and read the last few stories to get caught up on as there are a lot of smaller threads that are slowly being entwined; it's the culmination of basically every storyline since the "4th season" started with #80 and a direct continuation of #115 (there are flashbacks that take place in between some scenes). Hell, even I had to go back and refresh myself as I haven't actually written anything since December 2010, the last time I posted a story. Plus I basically exceeded my own future plans and thus, as the series kept evolving, I had to think about which direction I needed to go in and the consequences that came with. And getting back into writing, and getting back into a style that is also constantly evolving is difficult to say the least.
116 - "...And Into The Fire."
"Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either"
Meanwhile, in Japan...
The heart of Nagano forest was almost completely untouched and had been for thousands of years. Almost reliably peaceful, at least to the human population surrounding it, in one split, chaotic second a crater suddenly opened in the canopy.
Shrapnel exploded into the air as the slender larch trees bent, strained and finally snapped under the sheer weight and kinetic force of the gargoyle's body being thrown to the ground. Once bound in canvas over his shoulder, ancient weaponry scattered and caught the moonlight against polished blades before dropping and piercing the ground all around him. Body responded before brain and instinct flipped him to his feet, sending a shiver through the forest floor and kicking up a bit of loose dust.
His memories splintered as his mind tried to piece itself back together after the first initial attack, like a freight train had rolled through the relative calm of the forest and he was caught on the tracks. It'd been a little more than a week since exiling himself from New York, since killing fifty men, since seeing that last, telling disdain in Delilah's eyes. Stowing away on a freight plane at JFK bound for Japan, he'd traveled on foot to the crumbling stone cabin he'd once called home to pay his respects to his grandfather's grave. He was a specter at the temple walls at Ishimura and before the rumor could even spread of his arrival, he was already gone, on his way towards a place he never imagined he would return. He'd barely reached the periphery of the forest village where he was hatched when a couple of somethings leapt from the darkness.
He first thought Kokuei, the demon entwined with his past. Perhaps he'd get the chance for revenge sooner than he thought.
But as Shadow sniffed the air, it was decidedly something else. Something quicker.
A ghost appeared to his left, hands a blur, bones like steel as they drilled into his flesh like a jackhammer. The speed was incredible, the power immense and the pain was lightning through every nerve ending. He spit blood and shored up his left arm to block, only to have another ghost appear to his right and nearly collapse his ribcage with a single blow, so well-placed the assailant might as well have had x-ray vision.
Shadow had never felt such concentrated pain before, the attackers hitting pressure points to inflict the greatest amount of pain with the slightest amount of effort. They were skilled, incredibly so, to the point that their expertise might just rival his own. He edged away, only to sense the second figure tuck into a ball, roll and maneuver behind him. She outstretched her arm to an almost inhuman length and caught him in the sternum before he could block; his lungs deflated and all his momentum halted. The attacker behind him capitalized. She struck him about a dozen times in the neck, spine and lower back before his nervous system even registered the pain. His reflexes slowed against the precision hits and he swung around with enough force to decapitate whoever and whatever he might hit, only to helplessly carve through a tree trunk. The slender cypress toppled without fanfare.
He thought he heard one of them speak.
Shadow's ears were ringing, his equilibrium shot to hell and he could barely hear them, though the cold monotone delivery stood out amongst the pain. As his vision cleared, he finally caught a glimpse of his assailants. From the sheer power channeled through their fists, he thought they must have been at least twice his size; the actual truth was a little shocking if not slightly embarrassing.
Both were female, tall and slender, muscled but lithe. Stark white skin, coal black hair, they were mirror images of each other; if one of them had hair draped over the right shoulder, the second wore it to the left. Both were gargoyles and if his head wasn't pounding he might have been able to discern those serrated features were eerily similar to his own.
"He's not very good." the right one sneered.
"He was trained by a human." the left one answered. "But perhaps he's just weak. How he was venerated above us is unthinkable..."
"Dwelling on the past is counter-productive, sister."
Her partner tipped her head in a subtle nod, eyes still dead-locked on their victim.
He moved slowly and scarcely but with purpose. A simple defensive gesture inflamed his attackers and they charged at him, claws at the ready. He caught one and nearly got the other until she squirmed away with the agility of a circus contortionist, flipped, landed, dug her talons in and struck low, trying to dislodge the larger gargoyle from his place on the ground. A flurry of open palms were met with equal speed and strength and it wasn't until an explosion of pain tore through his neck that Shadow realized she was simply baiting him (perhaps testing) and allowing her partner to attack from behind.
Something hot and wet started dripping down the back of his neck; he was bleeding. By either blade or bone-spur, the one behind him had drawn blood and a lot of it. In an effortless move, she leapt over him and raked her claws from back to front and as soon as she landed, both females used both arms to nearly collapse his chest. He was sent flying backwards and dug an impact trench with his limp form almost twenty feet long.
Shadow willed the pain away, staggered to his feet and stood to his full height, cricking his neck. Muscles rippled under the dark skin. Wings snapped taught. Anyone else might have been close to wetting themselves, but the females didn't seem to budge. "...who...are you?"
They smiled, but didn't answer.
"Who are you?!"
"I am Winter."
"I am Wind."
"We are your elder sisters."
"Welcome home, little brother."
Shadow digested the revelation as best he could, while at the same time trying to keep from coughing up a lung.
New York, about 15 hours ago...
He remembered screaming at the top of his lungs every obscenity he'd ever learned in his short but memorable life, as a cop on either side each took an arm and hauled him from police headquarters at the behest of FBI agent Abel Sykes. After a few meters and his thrashing like a shark attack victim, they decided to simply lift him off his feet and carry him the rest of the way. The main doors were opened and they were nice enough to drag him down the concrete steps and onto the sidewalk.
"Let me go!"
"Son," the burly cop, the one with no neck, decided to give him some advice, "you were ordered to leave by a federal agent, so I suggest you take my advice and leave without incident."
His answer was a rabid snarl and more struggling. Maybe, if he'd calmed down enough not to pose a credible threat or work up the ravenous crowd surrounding the front of police headquarters, they might have just let him go. Instead, as he continued to resist, it became increasingly difficult to hang on to him.
"Kid! Knock it off! The only way you're getting back in there is in a cell with fresh charges!"
"Damn it..." the skinnier cop said through gritted teeth. He was close to losing the feeling in his hands.
"All right," his partner growled, "enough!"
They heaved in perfect sync and the guy was sent airborne. They'd meant to make sure he landed on something soft but with his constant struggling the trajectory was off kilter and, unfortunately, he went chin first, with a sickening thump.
Coming to a stop on rough asphalt, Todd Hawkins groaned.
The sky lit up around him in a sea of flash bulbs as every reporter turned to the sudden movement after hours of stagnancy and lack of any useful information since the mayor's press conference. It was more instinct than anything else and once they realized what they were wasting precious film and room on their flash cards on, eventually turned away. A few disappointed murmurs rumbled through the crowd.
He picked his head up, made sure his goatee (and some of his skin) wasn't smeared on the road and turned around to face the building. But the sentries lining the street, cops, a few National Guard soldiers and even SWAT teams with semi-automatic rifles and full riot gear, made him think twice about trying to force his way back in. Plus, there were dogs. He hated dogs. Especially police dogs. One almost latched its jaws around his left forearm before he could roll the window up on the ambulance he'd stolen and that particular memory only served to ingrain the sense of hatred even more. A few of the men even presumed what he'd planned and started slowly shaking their heads in silent challenge.
If he'd regretted not telling Sykes everything he knew, it didn't show.
So he was left with little recourse; Todd opened his mouth and started yelling. There he was, in front of the building, in front of hundreds of reporters and onlookers, screaming like a madman and cursing like a longshoreman at anyone who might hear, especially Abel.
His escorts didn't even get back into the building and stopped to watch his tirade continue. "Should we do something?" one asked.
"We've been able to keep everyone calm so far, but there's a lot of simmering resentment that thankfully hasn't erupted into something more. That kid could be the match."
But uncertainty soon evolved into full-blown certainty when Todd palmed a rock from the street, quickly chose a target and right-armed it straight at a window. It shattered cleanly. "Oh shit," he said, surprised at his accuracy, and then realized softly, "that's going to cost me..."
The no-necked cop scanned the damage and frowned underneath the heavy moustache. "Goddamnit. All right, I've had enough of this. I don't care how well that agent knows this kid, if he incites a riot then someone could get hurt." He turned to the small army behind him. "Put him down, boys. Gently."
One of the SWAT team marched out from the rest and took aim with his weapon, a wide-barreled rifle that looked more like a rocket launcher than an actual gun.
Todd eyed the weapon and puffed out his chest in either defiance (this wasn't the first time he'd had a gun drawn on him) or recognition. "Well, let's get this over with." The officer pulled the trigger; with a dull thump and a swirl of white powder, the next thing Todd knew he was almost knocked out of his shoes. Drilled in the sternum by a rubber bullet, he landed on his back struggling to breathe. "Oh...jesus!" His lungs stopped processing oxygen for a moment until he willed them back into working order, sucking in air while sounding like a barn animal. He was able to get up on shaky legs and struggle through the crowd, some congratulatory, some condescending. He found a car parked across the street and collapsed against the hood, trying to get his breath back, but it wasn't long before he was interrupted.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Todd turned his head just enough to see a couple of stragglers having disentangled themselves from the throng, a few with microphones, a couple with TV cameras. "...what?"
"We just watched you come out of police headquarters." a well-dressed woman asked. "Did you see or hear anything while you were in there?"
He wheezed in response, "You mean...did I see...a gargoyle?"
"Basically. We were hoping you could tell us something."
If it wasn't for what felt like a crater in his chest, Todd could've talked, yelled and flung spittle until his throat gave out. But his response was a little anemic. "Yeah, those gargoyles in there...are innocent, every single one of them."
"And how do you know this? Do you have any connection to them?"
Caught, he actually took the time to think about what consequences were weighing on any answer he could give. "I just know they haven't done anything to hurt anyone."
"How can you be so sure?" she fired back. "Do you have proof of this?"
"No...I don't." he said dejectedly. "I was...I was in there for trying to steal an ambulance during the attack at Times Square...that's all..."
She leaned back, rolled her eyes in frustration and waved off the rest. "Christ, he's just a little thug. C'mon, boys, this guy doesn't know a damned thing."
Todd watched them rejoin the crowd and dropped his head back on the hood with a thud. He'd never considered himself a coward until now, but serious impulse control issues aside all he wanted was to protect his wife and unborn child, thus the selective inability to speak. He didn't know how long he stayed there on that warm sheet metal, but when his skin started to overheat he decided he better get up or risk bad sunburn on one half of his face. His breathing back to normal, the searing pain of where the bullet hit reduced to a dull throbbing, he pulled out his cell phone. A couple of quick jabs more and Todd once again saw the list of calls gone unanswered, mostly from his wife. He figured her cell phone was probably angrily clenched in between stone fingers.
He took one last look at the crowd practically surrounding police headquarters and the clan inside, and after a bit of silent deliberation started in the opposite direction, towards Times Square. He didn't have much choice in destination; he figured he might as well go back to the castle and find his wife, get some sleep, figure out what to do now. He started north, walking and holding his chest as every footfall reverberated painfully through the rest of his body. Times Square was a good fifty city blocks from where he was and with the pain and decreased lung capacity, didn't think he'd make it.
He eyed the crisscrossing traffic and employing an old trick from his youth, waited for a delivery truck to slow at the closest intersection and scuttled into the street out of the range of the driver's mirrors. He hopped up on the back lift gate and grabbed the handle and the canvas strip, wrapping it around his hand to anchor him to the truck. As it rumbled through the green light and gained speed, Todd put his head against the steel door and watched the street signs as they passed. Two trucks and an old pickup later, he'd found one that was more or less aimed for Times Square. Less than a block away he leaned out and peered around the edge to see what was left of Times Square since he'd last been here.
It was a hell of a lot cleaner than it was two days ago; the piles of cars were almost gone and no one was trying to kill each other. Vehicles slowly leached through the square with uniformed men and women directing traffic as city crews repaired the damage around them and crime scene investigators continued snapping pictures and combed through anything and everything they deemed important. Before one of the cops or National Guardsmen could see him, he hopped from the truck and joined a stream of pedestrians crossing the street, effectively vanishing into the crowd. It was half a block to where he'd parked and hopefully he wouldn't find a pile of tickets under his wiper blade (he'd already stuffed about a dozen into his glove compartment and left them until he needed a napkin to catch the runoff from his burrito before it sloughed onto the carpeting).
Coming upon where he expected his car to be waiting, instead, in the exact spot where he'd left it, was nothing but an empty parking space and an overlapping patch of oil. His eyes widened. "Uh oh..." Either an overzealous tow truck driver had hauled it away to help with the clean-up of Times Square or...the alternative made him nauseous. It was either the reality of his car having been stolen that made him sick to his stomach, or the bullet; either way he felt like he was going to vomit.
He sat down on the curb and put his head between his legs, careful not to touch the giant purple bruise he could feel forming on his chest, radiating pain with every heartbeat. "Perfect." he muttered. "A perfect end to a perfect night." He wasn't oblivious to the selfishness of a missing car compared to everything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours, but it didn't do much to relieve the sense of helplessness. As he sat there, traffic continued without a beat, evanescent flashes of light and noise gone before he could even lift his head.
But after a while of self-pity, he heard something familiar; a heavy, low-toned growl warbling its way towards him that stood out amongst the four cylinder imports. He'd spent a lot of money on the exhaust system, fine-tuning it to get just the right sound, and that particular sound was roaring towards him from down the street. His Superbird suddenly swerved into the parking spot and squealed to a halt, as if it had just spent the last few hours searching for its master and finally caught Todd's scent. But as Todd moved his eyes up, his expression shattered.
It was Macbeth, and the former Scottish king looked far too comfortable behind the wheel. "Get in." he said simply.
But Todd was literally shaking and not quite able to process the English language at the moment.
"Are you all right, son? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"You stole my car?!" he seethed. "I swear to god if you've damaged my car...!"
Macbeth was ice. "I've been alive for a thousand years, boy. I was there for th' industrial revolution and th' invention of th' microchip. I think using a slimjim t' lift th' lock and doing a little rewiring isn't beyond my capability."
"Rewiring?" Todd hissed. He could only imagine what tangles Macbeth tied his car's wiring into.
"A simple hotwire," he patted the steering wheel, "which I can easily restore t' normal afterwards."
Todd stared daggers at him, then stood up and stomped towards the driver's side.
"Th' passenger seat." Macbeth said quickly, seeing the boy reach for the handle.
Todd's hands came down on the door with enough force to rock the car on its springs. "I don't ride in the passenger seat of my car."
"'Tis my car now, boy." Macbeth challenged. "Especially since I don't trust you behind th' wheel, at least not in yuir condition."
Macbeth quickly jabbed a couple of fingers into Todd's chest, watching him suddenly stiffen as every muscle in his body contracted at the pain. He would've yelped but his teeth were clamped together strongly enough to muffle any sound. "Right." he chuckled. "I hope I get t' see whatever caused that injury on th' news tonight. Now get in th' car, boy."
That pulsating, twisted knot of pain was overriding any argument he could come up with and it took a fair bit of willpower to keep on his feet. So Todd did the unthinkable and conceded the point, slowly walking around the car with a hand braced on the violet metallic body panels and slid into the passenger seat with a grunt. He was grateful for the seatbelt going across his waist only; a chest strap might have made him scream.
Macbeth hit the clutch pedal, dropped the car into first gear and the front end lifted a good few inches higher as it lurched back into traffic. He could feel his passenger's eyes on every little movement he made behind the wheel, dissecting his driving technique, how he shifted gears at the precise moment to prevent any excessive pressure on the clutch and how he navigated through traffic with a car with a Fiberglas cowl stretching a couple inches further from the hood.
But Todd had to admit the man had a talent for driving. "So, I see you survived too." he said at length.
"You sound disappointed."
"I'm not that petty." he said. "I wanted everyone to come back from that suicide mission, especially after I woke up!"
Macbeth had been waiting for that; he took a particular sort of pleasure in knocking the boy out with a quick jab to the nerve endings. "I was wondering if you'd be angry about that." he answered, a bit of bubbling laughter threading through his voice. "I tried to be gentle. And I only did it at th' request of yuir mother, and yuir clan leader."
Todd harrumphed in response.
"Fortunately, th' only casualty was that fancy suit of armor. I'm afraid th' Guild might've put one too many bullets in it."
"Yeah, well...I guess it did its job if you're here, healthy and," his voice rose to a crescendo, "committing vehicular theft. Speaking of casualties, how's Broadway?
"Alive and better." Macbeth nodded, taking an aggressive corner. "That little blob of silver goo you keep as a pet did an admirable job."
"So," he segued into a new topic, "I heard you and yuir agent friend had a nice little chat..."
Frown lines appeared, emerging alongside the scowl. "Yeah, Maria really likes to run her mouth, doesn't she? Well, I had to make sure he was serious about helping me and that he knew just how much I had to lose. Plus I didn't feel like spending the next twenty years in prison." Todd's eyes bored into the side of Macbeth's head. "I can trust Abel, but just in case you're wondering I didn't tell him anything else...I didn't tell anyone anything else..." he trailed off.
Macbeth didn't seem interested in judging. "It was yuir choice."
"Then why did you bring it up?"
"T' annoy you."
Already sick of the conversation, Todd swung his head towards the window and watched as Manhattan blurred to a kaleidoscope of color and energy. It was a straight shot to the Eyrie building along 6th Avenue and he was glad for it. He was exhausted, hungry and aching for home.
The Eyrie Building, about 8 hours ago...
"What does one more gargoyle matter?"
"More than you could ever know. And as Second, I'm officially in command until Brooklyn gets back..."
"No!" Broadway growled, willing the sluggish effects of the anesthetic away. "Everyone stays here...until we can figure something out. Now, give me every single detail..."
If it was simply to expedite their next decision or a burst of pent-up emotion, what followed was an onslaught of information, with Broadway struggling to absorb it all with a brain that felt like it was still half-frozen. In several accents and several speeds of speech from quick to lightning fast, Hudson, Annika, Rain, Nashville and Tachi all took turns telling him everything that happened since the clan escaped from the Guild bunker, with Dr. Pierce filling in the details of his surgery and why his leg felt like someone had taken a red-hot poker to the hide. Up until the very end he struggled to keep it all in a single timeline, until someone decided to finish it all by saying, "and then you woke up and started yelling at us."
"Right..." he wheezed. "Okay, okay...okay...just, give me a second to digest everything before anyone decides to do anything."
Dr. Pierce leaned in towards Broadway and suddenly snapped his fingers. Getting the gargoyle's attention, he (again) shone that light into each pupil before Broadway could react and grimace in pain. "And I suggest you don't do much of anything until you're healed."
"Well, since I think it's best we all stay here, I'm not arguing with you."
Satisfied his patient wasn't going to jump out of bed and put a full five hundred pounds on that newly repaired artery, Pierce nodded. "Good. Because I want to make absolutely sure that leg heals."
"He'll be staying in that bed, doctor," Hudson said warningly, "if we have t' tie him t' th' rails."
"Fair enough. Well your vitals all look very good considering the damage your body absorbed, Broadway, but I want you to take it easy."
Broadway settled into his pillow, kneading his brow with a few fingers. "As long as there are no more surprises..."
"It's about damn time you guys woke up."
In one perfectly fluid, synchronized movement, everyone turned their heads to the door and the voice of the young man entering into the infirmary. Todd swaggered through, clothes rumpled and a Red Bull in his hand. Riding on his shoulders, Alexander Xanatos held himself in place with two small hands gripped to either side of Todd's head. He smiled at his wife. "Hi, honey."
Pierce sighed in exasperation, returning his attention to his clipboard. "That's not going to help..."
There was a ubiquitous pause before Annika reacted first with a wrinkle through her brow and a bit of a sneer to her upper lip. Her wings rustled. "If I wasn't so insanely relieved to see your stupid grin, I might be furious..."
Todd's slanted smile was his apology. "I know, I'm sorry."
She rushed forward and wrapped herself around him, and immediately Todd winced in pain. A few hours rest and some Tylenol had dulled the pain, but like a dog when poked it flared up something fierce. Jumping back at his grunt, Annika saw the reaction wash through his expression. "What's wrong?"
He tenderly rubbed a spot on his chest and admitted, "Non-lethal projectile."
"You got shot?"
He grimaced with his next breath. "With a rubber bullet."
"There's a good shot of it on th' news." Macbeth chimed in, taking a seat on the nearest empty hospital bed. He'd followed Todd to the Eyrie's hospital after getting a few hours of sleep himself. "Boy nearly lost his lunch on th' street."
"It was funny..." Alexander laughed as he floated to the ground and padded over to the bed where Rain was sitting.
"Is there a recording?" she asked hopefully, hoisting Alexander up.
"Mother's been downloading and storing any and all footage from th' attack, including what's going t' become my new screen saver." Macbeth explained with a smile. "We'll watch it later."
Ignoring the gallery, Annika was still a little hazy on the finer details. "How did you go from getting the charges dropped and actually being able to keep a watchful eye on the clan to getting shot on the street?"
"Uncle Abel decided I'd outlived my usefulness and had me thrown out." Todd said. There was underlying malice in the explanation, complete with matching livid expression.
"Because I wouldn't elucidate on the bombshell of having married a gargoyle."
Broadway groaned from his bed, "You told him?"
Todd turned to the voice and found Broadway propped up on his pillow, half-lidded eyes still sharp despite the overpowering fatigue. "Yeah." he said firmly. "And like I explained to Macbeth, I did it to prove how serious I was and also, more importantly, avoid a couple decades in prison by trying to save Katana's life. Anybody have a problem?!"
No one spoke, especially Nashville and Tachi, but a few lowered brows and tensed jaw muscles told him there were a few things being left forcibly unsaid.
"I didn't think so. By the way, Broadway, glad you see you're still alive."
Broadway slowly nodded, expression half-incredulous. "Yeah, thanks. You too." He waved over Dr. Pierce. "Do me a favor, doc and check him out."
"Well," Annika sighed, "Abel's not invited to the family picnic."
"Yeah and I think I deserve some brownie points with the fact I took a bullet to the chest for keeping my mouth shut. Or breaking a window...whatever...OW!" Todd yelped, flinching at Pierce's prodding fingers as he inspected the angry purple bullseye in the middle of his chest.
"A window?" Annika echoed.
Todd shook his hands. "Long story. Anyways, I just..." His features darkened. "I didn't want to take the chance of someone else finding out about you."
"A little late for that, don't you think? Considering Uncle Abel knows every sordid detail."
"Damn, Chavez has a big mouth." Todd muttered.
And from his spot behind Annika's right shoulder, Hudson cautioned him, "Careful, laddie..."
"And it's not every sordid detail," he continued unabated, despite the threat of disembowelment, "hence why I'm here. I got thrown out because I wouldn't cough up any more details."
"You? The mouth of the south? Didn't volunteer any more information?"
Todd whirled on the insult, prepared to go tooth and nail, considering his tattered conscience. It was Broadway of all people, hard stone eyes bearing down on him like a ten-ton weight. "No." Todd advanced on him. "I didn't. I told Abel to get him to trust me, to get him to understand how much I have at stake in all of this."
"That could've backfired." Broadway said pointedly. "And blown up in your face. And ours. You know, Hawkins, I've always been afraid someone would spill the beans at the wrong time and you came dangerously close."
"To what? Saving your ass?"
"By blabbing to an FBI agent about your gargoyle mate? That could have condemned you, and Annika. Is that really what you want?"
"Do you know what I really wanted to do?!" Todd fired back, breathing steam. "I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that I married a gargoyle to anyone that could hear! I wanted to run up and down the hallways screaming how much I love my gargoyle wife, and how happy I am that we were able to conceive a child! And how much I love the gargoyles that I'm lucky enough to have in my life, and how every single one of them are completely innocent because I know them and I know the struggle they've faced for over a thousand years! But I couldn't! I can't! And I don't know if that was because I might have made things worse or because I'm a fucking coward!"
The storm dissipated and left the infirmary in almost total silence, the only sound Todd's lungs heaving for fresh air. There wasn't an immediate answer and Broadway decided to give him time to compose himself. He had no idea what reaction he'd illicit but this didn't come close to anything he expected, watching the human heave out short, heavy breaths. After a moment, Broadway said quietly, "I wish I could tell you that what you did was right or wrong...but even I don't know. Maybe I'm just paranoid about being so exposed...and the consequences that come with." He unconsciously rubbed his thigh, tracing the faint surgical scar that would eventually fade after a few more nights of stone sleep.
Todd harrumphed, but didn't say anything else.
"A couple of nights ago, we flew into the heart of the Guild's bunker and set bombs that probably killed a lot of people. Was that right?" It was a rhetorical question, but several of the gargoyles couldn't help but answer differently in their own minds. "All I know is, we were left with no choice. If we didn't do anything, it was a death sentence. I know that doesn't automatically undo the morality of it all but..."
"But that's the difference," Todd said, "I did have the choice."
"Right, you chose to tell that agent, but you also chose not to tell him anything else in order to protect the people you care about." And with that, whatever resentment Broadway had boiled off and that same numbing sense of fatigue settled in again.
But Todd just stood there clenching and unclenching his fists. And Annika stood there staring at him. Her mate was a ragged, unshaven, injured and bruised, semi-psychotic mess with bags under his eyes and a fresh ketchup stain on his shirt, and there wasn't a word or emotion that could properly convey just how relieved she was to have him home. She curled around his shoulder and started whispering into the breadth of his neck, feeling him shiver. "It's okay..."
"No, it's not..." he whispered back and unconsciously rubbed a hand to her swollen belly.
"Yes," her tone went firm, unarguable, "it is." A delicate hand with the strength to pulverize a stone cradled the cleft of his jaw and turned his head towards hers. "It is. It will be. I'm glad you told Abel. Getting him to trust you is more important than you think. And you can't agonize over the choices you've made, considering they ultimately led you back home." She then turned to Macbeth, said, "Thank you, Macbeth." and settled back on Todd. "I asked him to go and get your car last night, but I didn't think he'd bring you back as well."
Macbeth shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "Lucky timing, 'tis all."
Breathing followed, a few talons squealed on the linoleum and sensing the discord hanging in the air like a thick fog, Hudson spoke up. "Perhaps ye can tell us about th' clan." he said. "And how they fare in their cells."
"They're okay," Todd said, "at least their statues are. Abel's punk partner said they all were given medical treatment and no one seemed seriously hurt."
"And that young lass...?"
Todd surmised exactly who he was talking about. He figured everyone had their own moment of shock and awe in seeing the clever sister again. "That's her all right. Back from the dead."
He managed a weak smile at the thought of his rookery daughter having escaped death twice in her young lifetime. His next breath was thready, but relieved.
"Speaking of our mother..." Nashville interrupted.
"And thank you by the way." Tachi said to Todd. At least someone recognized the sliver of bravery in the dumb stunt with the ambulance.
"Did you see her?" her brother continued without missing a beat. "Is she okay?"
But Todd couldn't do more than languidly shake his head. "Sorry, guys, but she wasn't there. She's probably still at Bellevue."
"Then let's go get her."
"No way." Broadway snapped from his bed. He was going to need a leash soon, to keep all these gargoyles tethered to the castle lest they go wandering off. "No one's going anywhere, especially you two."
"Our mother could be dying."
"True, but do you think her last wish would be to see her hatchlings caught in the same trap she's in?"
"Then...then..." Nashville's eyes seem to dart helplessly around the infirmary as he struggled to come up with something that would sway Broadway into something more than holing themselves up in the castle. His eyes suddenly went up and settled on the little redhead. "Then what about Alex? He can teleport her out of there. He can teleport everyone."
Alexander seemed to shrink at the sudden attention. Rain put an arm around his shoulder, drawing him into the smooth velvet of her web-wing.
Broadway noticed the downturn in demeanor from bubbly to conflicted in a few seconds flat. "Alex can do amazing things," he said, "but with Owen's disappearance he'll be doing it without anyone to guide him. And how is it going to look if they all suddenly disappear at the same time? They'll be considered escaped fugitives and the government will never stop hunting them down. And it'll also give Canmore and the rest of his kind the ammunition they need to put a few more nails in our coffins."
Tachi was incensed and it flared up, hitting the air as a growl. "It's not your–" She was about to say mother. She was about to tell him it wasn't his mother, or his father in there, but of course, she remembered, painfully, it was his mate, and his brothers and sisters and loved ones who were in the exact same predicament. She soured and put a hand to her face, disguising her wretched features.
Broadway saw the girl start to crumble. He tore the bed sheet away and swung his legs from the bed and onto the ground with a shudder that went deep into the linoleum. Dr. Pierce would've protested if he figured the gargoyle would listen or if he had the strength to stop a quarter-ton living bulldozer from crushing his frail human form, so he simply moved aside. Broadway beckoned the younger gargoyle towards him with a hand outstretched and she folded into his bulk. "Right now," he whispered into her hair, "we have to let this play out. And what do you think your parents would say? I can hear Brooklyn's voice in my head right now, telling me to not interfere under any circumstance and...you know what? I'd be telling him the exact same thing if I were in his place. If this agent Sykes is doing his best to protect them, then just maybe they'll make out all right."
"And what if they don't?" she whispered into the breadth of his chest.
"Then it's my responsibility to take care of who's left, no matter what happens."
New York Harbor, about 6 hours ago...
The car wasn't even at a full stop before he swung open the door and set expensive Italian shoe on the ground. His driver exited as well but, at his orders, obediently stayed by the car.
Despite the late hour the port was bustling. He could see half a dozen container ships in a row, unloading their goods, with more in the harbor beyond, nothing but faint outlines and deck lights against the black water and distant, speckled glow of New Jersey. The asphalt and concrete underneath him gave way to wooden piers and metal walkways, thinning as he ventured closer to the shoreline. Sidling up amongst the ship he'd sought out, a moderately sized vessel in amongst all the commercial giants, he took the extended ramp and after a few long strides, hit the ship's deck and immediately scanned the area.
Workmen were prepping a mini-submersible, docked on a specially made cradle to keep it from pitching on particularly rough seas. Others were scurrying around and obsessing over delicate sonar equipment, some of the most advanced and expensive in the western hemisphere. This particular ship was used primarily for research and he'd spent a considerable amount of money putting this floating science lab to work. No one noticed his presence except for a single man, walking towards him. "Mr. Xanatos." he called out over the clamor.
An older man, his age apparent in the tiny lines that'd used his flesh for a canvas, he quickly jogged up to the billionaire's side, close enough they could talk without yelling. He seemed at a loss for words before deciding on something pedestrian. "Good evening."
His companion simply nodded.
So he tried the direct approach. "We've docked under the assumption we need to take on more fuel and supplies."
If he was rattled by the earlier discussion with his former employee, having intruded into the car less than an hour ago, he didn't let it seep to the surface. "Good." Xanatos said curtly. "Once you're finished, I want you to go back out and join the rest of the fleet and continue your search until I say otherwise."
He'd argue the point if he wasn't getting paid to look busy, but this wasn't the first strange order he'd received from this man. "Yes, sir."
"Now, where are they?"
"Aft storage bay. It's a sealed area."
An extended hand indicated Xanatos wanted the captain to lead the way and the two men set off across the deck. Xanatos treaded carefully on the deck slick with salt water, towards the tower and a single door with faded red paint. One of the sailors quickly reached out and opened the heavy steel door, allowing them access inside. Down a narrow stairwell, through another corridor before reaching another nondescript door, except this particular one was bolted shut with an electronic lock. The captain pulled the glove from his right hand and quickly danced a finger over the keypad; the metal surrounding them shuddered at the hydraulic pistons suddenly retracting and with a withered hiss, the door popped open, a sliver an inch wide into creeping darkness.
With a hefty yank and a squeal, both men entered.
The cavernous storage bay was nearly empty; wooden crates were piled neatly in three of the four corners and yellow plastic tubs with printed labels, most likely extra engine parts, barely filled half a wall themselves. But their eyes were instantly centered on a formless blob alone and ominous in the center. The captain hit a switch near the door and overhead halogens flooded the bay with light. That formless blob revealed a canvas tarp strapped to the floor, covering something massive, minimal and strange.
Xanatos immediately started towards the oddly structured tent and his companion was forced to put a bit of mustard in his stride to catch up. "I need to see them." he demanded, standing within arm's reach.
"Grab that rope." the captain pointed to the closest knot, attached to a large tie-down welded directly into the floor. They started at one end and worked their way to the other, eventually loosening the ropes and allowing the tarp to sag and better conform in the shape of whatever it disguised underneath. And like cracking a sardine tin, they peeled the cover off to reveal the contents. Seven massive stone blocks, seven feet square, and each with an unrecognizable symbol carved on their unnervingly smooth side.
The stones were meticulously placed in a circle, symbols out, an almost perfect circle Xanatos figured. In fact, he bet if anyone were to measure the diameter at any angle it would be precise down the millimeter.
"The odd thing is," the captain remarked from behind, "my crane operator swears he didn't arrange them like that. They just seemed to move by their own accord into what you see now."
"I'm sure it's just a trick of the senses, captain." Xanatos bluffed, steely eyes flitting over every square inch.
"Well the instruments have been acting a little screwy ever since taking these stones on, like they're emitting some kind of electrical charge. Look..."
Xanatos turned his head only slightly. The older man was conspicuously keeping his distance; sailors were admittedly superstitious but this was a thirty year veteran spooked by rock drudged from the ocean floor. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an antique compass tethered to a gold chain. Flipping the brass lid he held it out towards the nearest stone and immediately, the needle convulsed and once choosing a direction, started spinning wildly.
He snapped the casing shut and replaced his prized possession snug to his chest. "We would never have found them by simple sonar sweeps if we hadn't picked up a spike in electrical readings from our instruments, considering these stones were buried under thousands of years of sediment. We had to launch the submersible to make sure the buoy we sent down wasn't malfunctioning."
But Xanatos was only half-aware of the captain speaking. He was mesmerized by the monoliths, smoothing his fingers around the symbol delicately carved into the surface flecked with gray, indigo and peculiarly glinting silver. He could feel something at the ends of his fingertips, and hear the whisper of a whisper of something other than his own breath in the air. He swore the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, but he wondered if it was simply Puck's earlier warning playing itself as a faint echo on his subconscious.
"By the estimated age, there isn't a hint of erosion." the captain continued. "These stones are as fresh, the carvings unworn, as if they were cut yesterday."
"My father always said the sea is a fickle creature." Ever since opening the car door to the salt air, the memories spent with his father in Maine hung like a fog about him. Petros Xanatos' thick brogue was as clear as it ever was. "It can destroy in minutes or preserve for a millennium. But I doubt this is ordinary stone, captain. In fact," he added distractedly, "I don't think I've ever seen stone like this before."
"Rumors are spreading fast about what they are and where they came from."
Xanatos quickly straightened out and turned his hard gaze to his employee. "Then I suggest you suppress those rumors and fast. Need I remind you you've all signed confidentiality agreements? If anyone decides to leak even the slightest bit of information, not only will you forfeit your payment, you'll be in violation of a signed, legal contract and subject to indictment."
It was the captain's turn to stiffen, but it was more of an involuntary reflex to the chilling tone. "Yes, sir."
"Good, now I want these stones loaded on the truck before sunrise. Discreetly."
The office of Jason Canmore, about 2 hours ago...
He figured if he wasn't so lost in a slew of thoughts he might've heard the cold, wet slither of something slinking across his floor. He'd become accustomed to the strange sounds of this building, like the sharp crack of stone, panther growls echoing on the winds just outside his open window or cold liquid metal rippling towards him.
Jason peeked over the expensive fabric of his suit jacket to see his door was still closed. But he figured a simple barrier wouldn't be much of a deterrent to someone able to seep through the seams of any known structure. Suddenly, a silver glob of something rose into his line of sight, completely featureless until something like a skull seemed to bulge out from the middle, blooming into slender spurs and sharp cheek bones. Wings snapped taught and then relaxed about her shoulder blades, and the rest of her clothing filled in before showing off a bit too much skin.
She walked towards him with unnervingly silent footfalls and stopped a perfect three feet from the edge of his desk. "The salvage mission is complete, Mr. Canmore." Mother announced.
Jason turned his full attention to her. "Any problems?"
"Due to the increasing number of Coast Guard and police vessels at the site of the Guild bunker and their extensive use of scanning sonar we were unable to remain any longer, but able to escape undetected. And according to several intercepted transmissions, once the sun rises diving teams are being prepped."
He rubbed the stubble on his chin and suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to shave again. "They're not wasting any time, are they?"
The only outward emotion was a slight angle to her brow. "The authorities seemed quite determined. From what I was able to discern from the radio frequencies and cellular calls, more vessels will join the search for the Guild bunker."
"Speaking of the Guild bunker, how much were you able to find?"
"From the initial twelve, we have retrieved approximately sixty nine point eight percent of the Steel Clan robots that accompanied the clan into the bunker. With the specially modified drones, I was able to salvage as much debris as possible and eluded detection from any city authorities. The remains will immediately be shredded, recycled and the metal smelted and taken to several steel mills within the state. Any irretrievable remnants I was forced to leave behind are either buried too deep–"
"Hopefully they stay buried." Jason muttered, forcing a halt Mother's precise but long-winded report.
"The destruction is quite absolute." she responded without pause. "The explosives used were very powerful and coupled with the amount of fuel and ammunition within the base, there is a very high probability that everything else has been obliterated beyond recognition or rendered small enough to be washed away into the expanse of the Bay and or most likely into the North Atlantic if currents are strong enough."
"And what are th' chances of anything being found and identified?"
She went to answer but stopped, rethought and resumed. "Would you prefer an exact percentage? I have noticed...annoyance at precise measurements. Perhaps the adage slim to none fits best."
"So there is a chance." he said.
"The chance is minute," Mother defended her precise calculations, "but yes, there is mathematically a chance remains could be discovered, but I highly doubt they could be traced back to Xanatos Enterprises."
"Well, at least I can make something disappear."
"Are you referring to the clan and Miss St. Nicks and your inability to extricate them from police custody?"
His hand balled into a shivering fist, but relaxed before the fingernails could break skin. "There's not a damned thing I can do t' help them without exposing this company and a lot of innocent people."
Mother quickly noticed the flush in his skin and the change in his heartbeat. "That must be frustrating."
"You don't know th' half of it."
There was a moment of decision before she approached with one silent step, purposefully rocking her hip in a suggestive motion, as if she was trying to load a holstered six-shooter without her hands. "Perhaps, if you are feeling tense–"
He caught the flick of lavender flesh thrown at him like a fastball; as inexperienced at the subtle art of seduction as she was, her programmed form possess owned a certain exquisiteness he figured even she wasn't quite aware of yet. "I'm not having sex with you, Mother." Jason said brusquely, putting an end to any and all stray Freudian thoughts.
Snubbed, Mother halted the activated program and resumed her usual mechanical posture. "As you wish."
"I need you t' focus on th' tasks at hand, not on yuir continuously evolving anatomy. You were designed for a purpose, and I'd say that purpose is even more important right now. Do you understand?"
"Yes. My apologies, this new physical form is...distracting."
"Yuir a machine. Don't get distracted," he practically demanded of her, but followed with a softer, "please." In many ways, it was like dealing with a child.
"I will endeavor to control myself."
"Good." Relaxing into the short seat-back of his wheelchair, Jason hoped to change the subject. "Well, we've done all we can from our end. We can't risk getting caught salvaging debris from a suspected terrorist base. I've already had agents here looking for Elisa, no doubt because of my brother and his tall tales."
Mother's eyes skated back and forth. She quickly reviewed the security footage of the FBI agents questioning Jason in the lobby earlier. "Yes, their determination is tangible."
"Probably knew I was lying through my teeth, but it seems this company has had its share of spin doctors before I ever got hired, thus our reputation isn't as sterling as I'd hoped."
"If the FBI is looking for Elisa, perhaps I can be of assistance." With barely a ripple to the flawless lavender skin, flesh turned liquid metal for a moment before blooming into a familiar caramel hue. Mother shaped her form to resemble Elisa, famous red jacket and all.
Jason stared blankly. The simulation was perfect down to every last detail, including a few stray hairs that would occasionally and errantly drift into Elisa's face. Now this was distracting. "Ah...well, it's impressive..."
"Thank you." Mother answered in Elisa's voice. Again, the pitch and tone were flawless.
And Jason realized how much he missed that voice. Maybe it was the reason he found Delilah so attractive when he first met her, Elisa's genetic pattern doing everything it could to wash away what proportion of Demona had been added to the mix. "But Elisa's supposed t' be pregnant."
Mother simply blinked and her stomach slowly bloated outwards, perfectly simulating an early-stage pregnancy. "Is this better?" she asked wide-eyed, still using Elisa's voice. "I have extrapolated the exact size of the fetus based on the assumed date of conception and using Trinity as a template."
Thinking it couldn't get any more awkward, Jason sat staring at that bulge. Mother was obviously still oblivious to the finer points of emotion and how it much of a double-edged sword it could be. "Yuir offer is appreciated, Mother, but how long can you keep up th' pretense? A week? A year? We have no idea how long Elisa will be gone...or if she'll come back at all."
She cocked her head, eyes still wide.
Jason was struck by the sudden memory of the Canmore family dog and its inability to comprehend simple commands; it would often tilt its head to the side just like that. "Or she could come back forty years older just like Brooklyn," he continued, and he found the suggestion of Elisa's loss becoming permanent unpleasant, "and then we have to explain why she's suddenly aged a few decades."
A slight wrinkle in her expression, and she seemed to understand. "Of course. I apologize." Mother shed the false skin and for one disturbing moment, it looked as if Elisa had melted, sucked back into the silver goo before she assumed her usual gargoyle appearance.
"Don't. It was a good idea and a kind offer, one I already considered." he admitted. "If we say that Elisa's decided t' stay in Africa, there'll have t' be reasons why, along with a faultless paper trail."
"May I assist with that particular proposal?"
"I've already filed th' paperwork on her husband's maternity leave, allocation of benefits, and Xanatos Enterprises was nice enough t' fly them t' Africa using a company jet. But yes, sabbatical, termination, retirement, prepare for any contingency yuir fancy new electronic brain can come up with."
Her expressive capability still primitive, Mother almost seemed outwardly pleased at the prospect. "I will begin immediately." she said brightly. "And if this particular conversational topic has come to its natural end, I would also like to point out that Mr. Hawkins has returned to the castle."
"I know." Jason nodded. "He got back a while ago. He ate, he slept and now he's spending time with his wife and th' rest of th' clan. And all the while I've been debating whether or not t' tell him his father's currently in a hospital bed at Bellevue, clinging t' life."
"I believe he would appreciate the knowledge."
He pulled his hands from the desk, jerked back and wheeled around; Mother simply rotated on the spot, her legs corkscrewing at the knees to follow him as he pushed himself out the office doors. "I'm just worried what he'll do with that knowledge."
His left wheel squealed on the impeccably clean linoleum floor, and any stealthy entrance he'd hoped to make was dashed by his rapid pace. Jason was forced to slow himself before taking some of the crowd out at the knees and washed his gaze over the gathered humans and gargoyles, some clustered around the television scanning news reports, others surrounding the only other occupied bed in the infirmary.
He passed Macbeth, the former immortal sprawled across the breadth of a chair, and nodded to the man out of respect for what he'd accomplished last night. He continued on, seeing Rain distracting Alexander with a simple game of levitation with inexpensive hospital equipment and slowly approached Broadway's hospital bed. "Yui're looking much better, Broadway."
Getting a quick look in between a doctor constantly poking and prodding every square inch of his flesh and an over-protective elder gargoyle ensuring he wasn't about to lift an inch from the mattress, Broadway spotted Canmore a few feet below. "Thanks. Are you just concerned for my welfare or is there something else you'd like to report?"
"And please," Annika chirped, "make it good."
He smiled an enigmatic smile. "I don't know if I can promise that. I received a phone call earlier today from Savannah."
"Savannah? Where is she?"
"Bellevue hospital." he answered. "She was brought in from Times Square, along with Katana."
By now the clan had seen Katana's very public transfer from Bellevue to police headquarters amidst a feeding frenzy of reporters, the sight of a live gargoyle so close and yet so far behind lines of armed policemen like chum in the water. Every single news outlet had their own theory on just exactly who and what Katana was, some calling her courageous for defending her kind, others condemning her as a terrorist, skittering through wrecked cars and cleaving humans in two with her swords. But no matter the human opinion, at least she was alive.
"But Savannah told me she didn't arrive alone."
"Who...?" Broadway asked, Canmore acting a little too enigmatic for his liking.
"Joseph Hawkins." he said carefully and deliberately paced.
Todd yanked his head from the window like the crack of a whip, lower jaw hanging. This was the second time in less than a day that Macbeth had seen the boy shocked into stunned silence; he figured they must have set a record. The rest of the clan didn't quite react as violently but the mere mention of the name caused a few tails to twitch, especially after everything they'd suffered the last couple of days. "He's alive?"
"Barely," Jason said, then added for good measure, "and you can thank th' clan for dragging him out of th' base before th' bombs went off, at th' risk of their own lives."
As the haze of shock started to lift and synapses started firing again, Todd suddenly connected Abel's trip to Bellevue hospital just before he was kicked out. "That bastard didn't tell me about my own goddamn father."
Macbeth perked up from where he was sitting. "Really? You know, I'm actually starting t' respect this agent friend of yuirs..." he said approvingly.
"Aye, I suspect he didn't tell you in order t' prevent you from doing something stupid. He seems intent on protecting you and th' clan regardless." He pointed a heavy finger at Nashville, specifically addressing the young gargoyle. "Something to think about, m'boy."
"Shut it, Macbeth." Todd spat.
Annika watched her husband's expression, which was decidedly mixed. She could read his body language well enough to know he was scheming something. It was probably the same expression she had earlier when she was ready and willing to dive straight into the crowd of reporters surrounding police headquarters to find her mate. "You're not planning on going, are you?"
"I..." he stammered and then, surprisingly, trailed off. "I don't know."
"Well, that's something I never thought you'd say..."
"Yeah, maybe it's the chest wound...or maybe..." He shrugged helplessly. "It's my father. Every time we meet face to face, we usually try to kill each other."
"And now he's in a coma, and close to death." Annika's breath was warm against the back of his neck; she'd sidled by his shoulder without as much as a footfall to announce her presence. Pretty good for a pregnant gargoyle.
"I don't know if that's a good thing or not."
"Well, despite whatever feelings you may have for the man, this may be your last chance to see him before–"
"He dies." Todd finished.
Morning, present time...
"Good morning, I'm Travis Marshall and we wake up to the beginning of one of the most unusual court cases in this city's history." Hair perfectly coifed, seven hundred dollar suit pressed and lapels symmetrical, Travis Marshall sat behind his anchor desk addressing the city. "There is now no denying that gargoyles exist and, perhaps, have been living among us for years. There can be no more rumors or hearsay with the arrest of eight live gargoyles and what appears to be some kind of animal. A dog perhaps."
"The court case against the gargoyle, who has yet to reveal a name if indeed he even has one, will begin in two days. It is scheduled to take place after sunset due to the unusual sleeping habits of the defendant. From what information our reporters live in the field have discovered, coupled with official statements from the mayor and police commissioner, it seems these creatures actually turn to stone when the sun rises, becoming as inanimate and seemingly fragile as any stone statue. This would seem to corroborate the original Quarrymen manifesto and their chosen symbol–and weapon–of the hammer. Only now with these confirmed reports, does the imagery become...slightly unsettling."
"The gargoyles are in protective custody, sequestered within police headquarters and reports state that they are being questioned for their role in the attack on Times Square. But strangely, only one gargoyle has been officially charged for any crime, that of assault and battery on a single man in Battery Park. Coincidentally, that man has been identified as Jon Canmore, alias John Castaway, leader of what some consider a terrorist group and others consider heroes, the Quarrymen. Susan?"
The camera switched from Marshall to his co-anchor, who quickly shored up and flashed a smile full of bleached teeth. "Thank you, Travis. Good news from Times Square, traffic has once again started flowing through the intersection, albeit in a reduced capacity. The CSU teams are close to finishing their investigation and the vehicles once piled atop each other are being hauled away."
A live shot of Times Square was put up on the screen, proving the intersection and the heart of Manhattan was slowly getting back to normal as fast as the work crews could get everything restored.
"Stores, playhouses and hotels will be reopening soon and once given clearance, city crews will begin repairing streets, lights and the iconic electronic billboards that have been dark since the incident. Damage has been estimated at nearly two million dollars."
The camera switched back to the anchor and she took a breath before continuing.
"The official death toll of this horrific attack has now been confirmed at eleven, as any and all remains have been located and identified. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims. As for the members of the terrorist group identified as The Guild, twenty-one were reported killed and as many as sixty have been arrested and charges are pending. They will be held for further questioning and eventual arraignment. There are nine more unaccounted for, having stolen an armored SWAT vehicle and escaped from the Square after setting off a magnesium flare."
Travis Marshall appeared again. "This incident marks the second time in less than a year that New York has faced an attack, the first being in what New Yorkers still refer to as The Hole, and will likely refer to for a long time much like many other famous neighborhoods. The cause, and the...astonishing, and unidentifiable nature of the assailants, still remains a mystery to this day but many experts believe the two events could be related. The mayor and the city council have stated they plan on taking no chances this time around as hundreds of National Guard troops still stand watch on city streets and a heavy police presence has helped stem any looting or small crime."
"Construction within the boundaries of The Hole is actually proceeding ahead of schedule due to the sheer amount of construction companies involved and the lucrative contracts they were offered, including several companies owned by one of New York's most infamous residents, David Xanatos. If anything, city planners and public works engineers maintain the neighborhoods that suffered the most damage will be even better than before, with improved water and sewer lines, roads, parks and buildings that will meet or even surpass minimum code."
Susan smiled at the camera. "Ironically, employment has risen almost four percent with the number of jobs being created. Those who were displaced by the attack are slowly being allowed back to homes that weren't destroyed or severely damaged, but city and emergency FEMA shelters still remain full. Hopefully they will be able to return very soon."
"One thing is for certain, the level of resentment in the city is at its peak and it is perhaps only due to the extra military presence that it hasn't erupted into riots. Several quick polls indicate New York is almost split down the middle in regards to who is at fault for the attack in Times Square, the masked terrorists or the gargoyles."
"What kind of idiots can still blame the gargoyles for Times Square?"
Abel Sykes smiled, making tiny cracks on either side of his mouth. "Never underestimate the power of human idiocy."
Dominic shook his head and kept his gaze on the television suspended a few feet above him. He and Abel were standing just off center of the courthouse foyer, catching a few news reports before they reached their final destination on the third floor. "Fair enough...just doesn't bode well for the gargoyle currently being tried."
"I've still got faith. And a few hours sleep."
Dominic pulled his attention from the television and gave his partner a once-over. "You are looking a little better."
"Death warmed over."
The voice Abel had dreaded hearing from the very beginning exploded into the room with a certain, unmistakable force. Running around from hospital to police station to everywhere else in between afforded him a certain amount of absenteeism to use as an excuse, besides the fact he never quite learned how to use his bureau-issued cell phone. But he was surprised the owner of that particular voice was able to track him down. He looked over his shoulder to see a thin suited man barreling towards him with the stride of a power-walker. "Oh boy..."
"Speaking of death..." Dominic made a face like he'd sucked back a lemon and surreptitiously ducked away, leaving his partner alone to face the oncoming storm.
"A.D. Klaus, good morning." Sykes greeted him, noticing he'd been abandoned.
"Cut the crap, Abel." the man quickly scolded him. "Is there any particular reason why my messages haven't been returned?"
"Been busy, Tomas."
His Rockports screeched on the wood grain as he stopped few inches from his agent. A slight flush ran through FBI assistant-director Tomas Klaus' bald head. "Yes, I know. Apparently you've started a few new careers in the last few days including ambassador, lawyer, immigration officer and, what really steams my vegetables, director of the FBI."
Abel was glib. "I don't want your job, Tomas."
"I don't like it when my agents are excessively glib, Abel." Klaus shot back, frowning. "This is serious."
"I know, and I'm sorry for keeping you in the dark, but it's been a bit of a blur."
"Yes, I'm aware. I've had every agent under my command running around the city trying to hold it together along with a pretty frazzled police force and an over-zealous national guard."
Abel nodded slowly, took a languid sip of his Styrofoam-warmed coffee and allowed Klaus to stew a while, at least until the red patch of skin on his forehead returned to normal. "You know, stress like this is why you've lost your hair and I'm getting a bigger forehead with every passing day."
That red patch flared angrily. "Do you want to make wise-ass cracks all morning or do you want to know why I was forced to chase one of my agents halfway across town in order to speak with him?"
"The second part, but I think I can guess as to the why."
Klaus clamped a hand to his shoulder and pulled Abel into a more secluded corner, considering a few stray stares he was attracting. Thankfully reporters weren't allowed inside. "You offered the other gargoyles in custody full immunity," he said, volume restrained as much as humanly possible, "without any kind of authorization or counsel from the bureau. You overstepped your authority, Abel."
"And you could've at any time, retracted that immunity." he argued. "But you didn't."
"I didn't, but lord knows I should have. We're taking a lot of flack due to the fact only one gargoyle is being charged while the rest get a free ride. There's a lot of anger in this city right now and all it needs is a spark to ignite."
"As soon as the details are revealed, I'm sure public opinion will sway in their favor."
Klaus paused and, though silently, had to acknowledge the lengths this man was going to, if only because it seemed he believed in them so completely. "So is your decision based on infallible evidence that has been properly filed at the bureau or am I to simply rely on your 'gut' again?"
Abel patted his stomach. "Mostly the gut, but the evidence will come later."
"And how do you know those other gargoyles aren't killers and monsters themselves?"
"Because unlike most everyone around here, I've actually talked to them."
"And we've also talked to serial killers who seemed very normal after butchering entire families." Klaus pointed out. They'd both seen the worst humanity had to offer in their lengthy careers; sometimes it was the most innocuous people that committed the most heinous crimes. "Hell, I've seen the footage. That green female you practically kidnapped from the hospital is responsible for at least two deaths."
"That was purely self defense." Abel shot back with a finger in his director's face, forgetting for a moment about the chain of command and what rung of the ladder he was actually on. "You and I both know that, and we've got the evidence to prove that. If she were human any defense lawyer would absolutely destroy such an accusation in court."
"As much as I trust you, Abel, we just can't absolve them of any crime they may have committed without justification."
"Our government has been doing that for years, especially when it means we can save more lives in the process. How's that for justification?"
"What?" Abel caught him. "Criminals? Animals? Killers? Monsters?"
The director was momentarily stunned, mouth left open.
"Your words." Abel shrugged.
His agent had caught him with his foot in his mouth, and Klaus took a moment to rethink his stance. "Fine, I was wrong. They're...unknowns, at best."
"Nice save." he breathed into his cup.
"Now I know why you got the job as director, you speak the language of diplomacy well."
"Damnit, Abel," he barked, "we don't know anything about them!"
"Exactly. Which is the root of the problem. We all have to learn to look at them as something other than what's been built up by the media, and the naysayers, and the terrorist groups who try to justify attempted murder as a kind of protection for the human species. I'm sorry, but these gargoyles didn't just blink into existence; they've obviously been here as long as we have and I'm assuming they have as much right to live on this planet as we do." As he calmed down, his tone softened, if anything to calm that angry red patch on his superior's forehead. "Now, you don't have all of the information you deserve but until you do, until that information can come to light in a way that won't threaten the innocent lives entangled in all of this mess, you have to trust me, and my instincts."
The director sighed, "That's a lot to ask."
Abel was sympathetic, but kept pressing as he saw the resilience in his employer begin to falter. "I know. But you've known me a long time. I've been an FBI agent for almost thirty years and I've paid my dues, especially after the incident with my partner and his family. What's left of my career is on life support and my social life isn't doing much better because I chose to do the right thing. Because I knew I was doing the right thing."
Klaus just shook his head with a defeated slump in posture, spine curling. "You know, Abel, you're one of the most straight-laced and honest agents I've ever met." he said.
"Okay," he conceded, "I'll go along with your gut instinct for now, but I think it's best the other...gargoyles stay in protective custody during the trial. But if any evidence surfaces against them, I will have them arrested and put on trial with the red one. And that's a promise."
"One I know you'll keep."
Klaus sighed and rubbed a hand from his forehead, over the bald spot and ending at the neck. "I'll talk to the prosecution."
Abel took another swig of coffee and halfway through swallowing, his eyes seemed to widen. "Oh," he remembered, "do me a favor? Get Neville out of my hair. He's biased against the gargoyle for no appreciable reason."
Klaus drew back, giving Abel an odd look. "Ironic, coming from someone who's willing to risk everything of himself for the gargoyles for no appreciable reason–"
"No, great reason. But I can't tell you what that is just yet..."
"I have need of him back at the bureau anyways." the director admitted reluctantly, but didn't let his agent think this was a victory. "I'm more worried about deputy-director Nelson. He's about as pleased as I am right now, considering he did put Neville in charge."
"Well," Abel smirked into his cup, "just put that conciliatory power of yours to work and explain to him why I'm the better choice."
It was either someone with a bad sense of timing or a sadistic streak that suddenly pulled the shades to let in the morning light, and her pupils shriveled to pin-pricks. "Jesus...!" Rookie public defender Stephanie Helms shielded her eyes from the sudden change in ambience and blinked away the spots dancing in her vision. The shadows draped over the library like a thick blanket altogether vanished and everything became perfectly, painfully crystal-clear. "Oh." she said matter-of-factly. "Morning, apparently."
"What time is it?" a voice came from behind a stack of books, partway down the table.
"Seven thirty, give or take."
A small hand pushed a stack away to reveal a young woman, hair rumpled, oversized glasses askew. "I didn't even notice."
Stephanie stretched and popped her spine back into place; she'd been hunched over her own book for hours. "None of us did."
Several more stacks of books, in staggered piles down the length of the wooden table, trembled and parted, revealing young law students, assistants and interns, all equally shunning the sunlight. A lanky redhead rubbed his forehead and yawned. "I need an espresso."
"Ooh," a young Asian woman brightened at the prospect of caffeine, "double mocha with whipped cream."
And then the floodgates opened; the half dozen worker bees started jabbering about what they were hoping to order from the Starbucks on the ground floor.
Stephanie shook her head imperceptibly; the severity of this case hadn't quite sunk into her team's heads quite yet. She didn't think they were aware of what was actually on the line besides the freedom of a creature none of them had ever seen up close, let alone had an actual conversation with. But these were some of the best and brightest of New York's legal education system, hand-picked, albeit quickly. She'd plucked them from the list, phoned them up and offered them the case of a lifetime. Of course, almost a dozen of them quickly declined out of their own prejudice or due to fear of reprisal for defending a gargoyle. Those few that had answered in the affirmative met at the courthouse and adjourned to the library, Stephanie sprinting through a brief history in order to bring her team up to speed and hoping that together they could put together a bullet-proof defense. "Maybe we should take a break..." she muttered. "We've been at this since before sunrise."
"Good idea." someone said, and everyone traded glances across and down the length of the table to try and find the owner of the unfamiliar voice. "If anyone's wondering who just said that, it was me."
Someone was hovering over them. From the suit, as wrinkled as it was, and as disheveled as he appeared, they figured government employee.
"Okay, kids," Abel announced gently, "time to get some non-dairy lattés, low-fat bagels, power-naps and whatever else you youngsters need nowadays to recharge yourselves. I have to talk to your boss."
The students and interns were already up and heading for the exit across the cavernous room. They didn't need much prodding to take a break from hours of soaking in decades of legal precedents and former cases.
"And remember," Stephanie called after them, "if anyone asks, you have nothing to do with this case. The last thing I need is someone spilling their guts to the press."
"And they're everywhere," Abel added, "like roaches."
The last student disappeared from his sight and he returned his eyes to the public defender. "Damn, they're all a bunch of kids, aren't they?"
Fiddling with a pen between her fingers, Stephanie angled her head towards the agent. "You know, I'm not much older than they are."
A low, expressive growl rolled over his tongue. "Then I'm just really old."
"And also, technically, I'm not their boss."
"Your case, your rules."
"Right..." she whispered, the responsibility of this case becoming heavier than the little passenger she was lugging around all day and night. "So," Stephanie segued, "how is my client?"
"Sleeping." Dominic answered first. "With the rest of them." He was there, in the room with the rest of the clan when the sun started to rise. They'd known morning was coming without windows and without even having to look at the clock. It was instinct he figured, buried deep within the genetic code. The gargoyles quietly prepared themselves; wings curled in, and some crouched while others huddled around the rest in a protective gesture. Then, skin turned gray, hardened and flesh transmuted to stone. For the second time since the last time he stood frozen for a moment before cautiously reaching out towards the arm of the white-haired female, trembled slightly with his fingertips poised half an inch from her skin and then gently pressed down. Not quite like marble but polished granite, with a few indecipherable pockmarks, it was warm to the touch. He couldn't feel a heartbeat or pulse and had to admit the stone went all the way through. He didn't think he'd ever get used to this.
And then of course, there was the slim pumpkin-colored female everyone simply referred to as sister. Her statue wasn't stone, but smooth golden steel. Why she was different was just one of a million questions he'd love to ask...
Abel's voice would snap the young agent from his reverie. "He's in lockdown," he said, "and safely away from anyone who might want to take a swing at a sleeping gargoyle..."
"Including Canmore?" Stephanie voiced her concern.
"Good. I imagine they're especially vulnerable when they...turn to stone." She squeezed her eyes shut and tussled her hair, dragging fingers through the entire length. It'd been hours since untying the bun. "Lord, I'm going to be keeping some weird hours in the next few weeks..."
"How's your husband dealing with all of this?" Abel asked.
"Well, I'm sure he's rethinking his encouragement of my choice to become a lawyer." she joked half-heartedly. "But he's taking it in stride, especially since it's better than being an exotic dancer."
Sick of looking over her shoulder, especially since her waistline wasn't as flexible as it was a few months ago, Stephanie grabbed each side of her chair and with a few tiny hops, rotated to face the agents. "Is there any particular reason you two have come to the courthouse library, or are you here just to rub a good night's sleep in my face?"
"We didn't get much..." Dominic revealed. "And we wanted to check up on you."
Abel then said curtly, "Also, I'm curious..."
"You're curious about everything." Stephanie groused playfully.
He nodded without argument. "I am. Do you have any connection to the gargoyles?"
Stephanie opened her mouth and the two men half-expected something a little fiery to come spitting out, until she stopped before any making a single sound and seemed to rethink her response. "Why?"
"So it's not enough that I believe everyone who comes through the criminal justice system, including a gargoyle, doesn't merit the right to defense?"
Abel smirked and casually shrugged his shoulders, letting the silence stand between them as his answer.
It was enough to spur her into confessing. "Off the record...I was the stripper at Mr. Hawkins' bachelor party."
Abel rubbed the deepening furrows. Everything had threads. "Ah." he breathed. "Well, that's...um..."
"A conflict of interest?" Dominic offered. "You could get either yourself of this case thrown out if they discover you have any prior connection to your clients."
"I don't," she answered briskly, "at least not an emotional one. And besides, there wasn't any paper trail and if there was any footage, it was destroyed in the explosion."
"Explosion?" they echoed collectively.
The memory was so potent even half a year later that Stephanie suddenly caught a phantom whiff of natural gas and charred chicken wings. "That was one hell of a party." she reminisced aloud. "Besides, gentlemen, familiarity with the client isn't enough to get me kicked off the case, especially since it's not affecting my judgment in any way, shape or form."
Dominic leaned over the table and looked down the breadth of the table, almost completely covered in thick books and scattered notepaper. He caught some of the titles on the spines, only recognizing a few of them. "This is some pretty heavy stuff."
Stephanie sighed, "This is a pretty heavy case, one that keeps evolving with every new speck of information I find. But regardless, one of the problems I see is trying to defend someone who's not human, yet should be awarded all the rights of a human because he's an intelligent, emotional, sentient being. But in trying to convince a judge and jury that he should be looked upon as an equal, I can't prove he's the victim simply because of his species."
"Then he's screwed." Dominic said. "The only reason he's here is because he was defending himself against prejudice and a form of racism."
"Yes, I know, but most of the city–most of the world mind you–looks at gargoyles as dangerous, vicious creatures due to misinformation, rumor and rampant hysteria. I need them to see my client as a peer and equal and I can't do that by singling him out as well, basically, a minority." And then, under her breath, she seethed, "Which is just one of the reasons why I loathe Hate Crime legislation."
"But Canmore basically committed a hate crime." he argued. "That maniac was found trying to kill the gargoyle just because he is a gargoyle."
She waggled a finger at him. "Actually, that's only half correct."
"Oh?" Abel was intrigued. "Care to explain further?"
"Well..." Stephanie evaded.
He sensed trouble. "What?"
"I'm afraid it goes a little deeper than that, agents."
A master of reading expressions, Abel translated the flat mouth and hooked brows as something a little more than disconcerting. "I assume the rabbit hole is deeper than we thought."
She sighed and rested her chin on laced fingers, staring down the length of the table and the mess of books, papers and file folders. "I got one hell of a history lesson last night and I think it might be damaging to my case. Especially when the prosecution gets wind of it. And with the fact that half the city believes everything that's happened is because of the gargoyles, I have to make sure my client is declared innocent due to absolutely indisputable evidence or there could be one hell of a backlash. Remember the L.A. riots?"
"I doubt it will come to that."
No one saw the bitter smile hidden in her hands. "What if I told you that that gargoyle currently in shackles in police headquarters led the rest of his clan in a bid to destroy the Guild's headquarters, consequently killing a lot of them in the process. This was of course in response to the Guild attacking the gargoyles at their home. Miss St. Nicks knows this because she was literally held captive by the gargoyles for several months before finally being released, only to be kidnapped and tortured by the Guild for information."
Abel cradled his head in his right hand as if he was unable to support its weight anymore, as Dominic was stunned into silence. "God damn." he muttered. "It was an all-out war."
"A war that's been literally waging for centuries, but this particular incident is just another bloody chapter. And if you look at all of the facts and the history, it's better to call it self-defense, especially when they're trying to prevent their own extermination."
It was only right now, as sharp as a kick to the head, that Abel suddenly started questioning his choice to protect the other gargoyles. He was always well aware he didn't know every sordid detail, but this wasn't something he expected to hear. Something started to rise in his throat. "Euphemism." he sneered.
"Would you condemn a Jewish man if he were to wage a war against the Nazis who gassed most of his countrymen to death?"
"Yes, because he still attempted murder."
Stephanie leaned back in her chair, tugged her blouse down over her extended belly and shot a formidable look Abel's way. "How very black and white of you."
"You're well aware of the ideals of our legal system. We cannot allow people to take the law into their own hands or there would be chaos."
"The human justice system, you mean?" she reminded him.
"Ye–" He grunted mid-word. "Touché."
"Was war the only option they were given?" She'd gone immediately into lawyer mode, grilling the agent as if he'd taken the stand under oath. "Would having approached humanity for help done anything to quell the violence forced upon them by the Guild, the Quarrymen, and countless other hate groups throughout the years? And who knows how long they've been persecuted? Centuries? Millennia? This behavior of vigilante justice has been ingrained into their species because of humanity and their blind hatred."
But Abel didn't have an immediate answer. He didn't know if he could ever come up with something, let alone articulate the proper response. But eventually, it suddenly bubbled up and Abel spun on his heels and swung a fist at nothing in particular. "God damn it!" It echoed into the relative quiet of the library, enough to catch the attention of anyone in a fifty foot radius. "This is such a goddamned mess."
Stephanie felt his frustration, considering all the man had done for them on faith. "I still believe they're innocent in all of this," she tried to reassure him, "but this latest revelation has just made my job incredibly more difficult."
"I hope they are," Abel said shakily, "I really do, because I just spent ten minutes defending my decision to the assistant director of the FBI. Hell, my entire career and reputation are on the line."
"You defended them because you believe in them."
"Yeah," he admitted quietly, "but right now, I'm not sure what to believe."
"Do you think they're monsters? Do you believe they deserve annihilation at the hands of the Quarrymen or the Guild?"
Abel quickly turned on her and responded, "Of course not."
"Then maybe when night falls," she suggested, "you should talk to the gargoyles again."
Compared to Brooklyn's defense team, the people responsible for putting him in prison for what could be the rest of his natural life were veterans in every sense of the word. Their knowledge and experience, even their grooming and dress sense, all was as slick as a newly waxed car.
Even this early in the morning Gabriel Logan and Margot Yale looked impeccable; as if they'd just stepped off the pages of a Gucci ad. Their assistants weren't simple interns and students but a fully-fledged lawyer in their own right, and everyone had an assigned task and was performing that assigned task with haste.
Federal prosecutor Logan was looking over his notes while simultaneously flipping through a thick book, trying to tie everything together into a coherent case. Information was coming in fast and furious but most of the time he couldn't quite trust the source. And where he wore a mask of concentration, his partner almost seemed to beam with enthusiasm.
Margot was perfectly in her element. "I must admit," she said leisurely, "having the chance to actually prosecute one of these creatures brings me an exquisite amount of pleasure. I'm sick of being terrorized by animals running around New York."
Logan shifted his eyes over the edge of a book he was skimming through. "Animals?"
"Well," she was oblivious to the implication, "what else would you call them?"
"I don't know...gargoyles, perhaps?"
He was careful to mark his page in the book, closed it and placed it on a pile of several others. "Are you here simply because you have some childish grudge against these creatures for ruining the finish on your Beamer, or do you truly believe they pose a threat to this city?"
Chided, Margot stiffened and pursed her lips. "The destruction of St. Damien's cathedral isn't a childish grudge, Mr. Logan."
"I thought the Canmore siblings destroyed that old church." he said, and reached for a file folder. Leafing through the contents, he continued, "With a giant hovercraft if I'm not mistaken."
"Well yes, but, the gargoyles were there, and involved."
"Really? You have proof of this?" But his partner didn't answer. "Even with the footage and sightings that night, there's still not enough substantial evidence to implicate them. Hell, they could have been living in that abandoned church and simply had a hovercraft crash through their living room."
Margot went on the offensive. "And what about the clock tower above the twenty-third precinct?"
"And the footage of the Times Square attack? That agent who took a hostage, he said they attacked their base and planted bombs. And he confirmed what we've all suspected for years, that David Xanatos harbored the gargoyles in that castle of his."
"If you're implying Xanatos has anything to do with this, he was recently investigated and cleared of any charges." Logan argued.
She looked incredulous, either unable or unwilling to believe this ivy-league educated professional actually believed David Xanatos was innocent of anything. "The man's a magician, Mr. Logan."
"Yes well, according to the government, he's a law-abiding magician. And the fact we found a piece of technology on the gargoyle belonging to one of his many subsidiaries is enough to bring him in for questioning, but not condemn him." He stopped and rubbed a hand down his mouth. "And do you really want to trust the word of a masked man who endangered lives without any regard?"
"I'm not condoning what Canmore did, but he seemed quite fervent for us to learn the truth as it were, enough to risk his freedom or his life." Margot said quickly, dispelling any similarities between her and Jon Canmore.
"Some people would chalk that up to fanaticism." Logan disputed.
"And others would call it bravery. What these people did and how they went about it is debatable, but our country's history is full of those we've venerated because they risked their lives to reveal the truth or do what was right. Hell, the founding fathers could have been tried for treason if they hadn't won the war. Now, we've taken statements from all of the Guild members who were willing to talk and testify against the gargoyle, and every story is the same."
"Yes, but unverified."
"Regardless, my point is valid." she waved him off and continued her tirade. "If the gargoyles are dangerous, if they are indeed guilty of everything they've been accused of, then it's our obligation to do something about it. And if there are people out there helping dangerous criminals, or wild animals..."
He sighed, his associate arguing in circles, "I assume you're speaking about Xanatos."
"If he can conceal his association, how many more already have?"
"Maybe I can help with that." a disembodied voice interjected.
A stout, flat-capped fellow had entered through the door without anyone noticing; he could've been standing there for ten minutes for all they knew.
Margot drew in a breath; she was struck by the sheer plainness of the man more than anything else. "Agent Hacker."
"Mrs. Yale." He gave the woman his customary greeting, his hat brim pinched between a few fingers. "Or is it Quarters?"
"Yale." she corrected him.
He held up a hand in contrition. "Of course."
"Can I help you, agent?" Logan asked.
"Actually, I was thinking just how much I could help you. If of course, you don't mind..."
"Certainly. If you have evidence that could help this case, we welcome it."
The briefcase he'd been holding the entire time hit the table-top with an audible thud. He popped the locks and the lid shot up from the sheer amount of contents inside. "I believe Mrs. Yale is correct. There are many people who've been concealing information and evidence of their association with the gargoyles. Of course, nothing is concrete, but nothing has been investigated with any kind of detail. It always seems to get pushed to the side."
"You mean our law enforcement agencies always have pesky things like murders and crime to distract them."
The sarcasm was thick but Hacker didn't seem to mind. "Well, we've ignored the problem for far too long and there are many people who agree." he said enigmatically. "The gargoyles and their human allies have hidden in the shadows for too long, and allowed this city to take the brunt. How many have died in gargoyle related attacks? How many suffered in the destruction of the Hole? How many in Times Square? And how many bodies have we already fished out of the East river this morning?"
Logan was inexpressive. This man seemed to have an aggressive an agenda as Margot Yale, but he'd already received reports of dozens of bodies being recovered from the East river, all wearing the same uniforms as the Guild members currently in custody. And if the gargoyles had anything to do with the Hole, the body count was staggering...
"This city has suffered too much and it's time to take a more assertive stand. We should seek them out and deal with them rather than brushing it under a rug, or creating pointless taskforces to appease the vocal minority." He started emptying his briefcase, photographs, stapled reports, newspaper clippings, CDs, discs, sealed file folders, it seemed never ending until he'd made a small pile in front of him and the entire legal team was staring at the sheer amount of evidence. "It's gone from a menace to an actual threat to our lives, and it keeps escalating."
Margot sifted through some of the photographs, most of them centering on city property and landmarks damaged by rumored gargoyle attacks. She spent the most time on one in particular, where rescue workers had lined body bags in unending rows in the middle of a debris field. "This is..."
"The Hole." Hacker finished for her, seeing the date and code on the back of the photo. If there was anything incredibly useful for swaying the obstinate, it was death on a massive scale. "I was there in the aftermath, and that's not a sight I'll readily forget. Neither was St. Damien's cathedral, the clock tower, the lost night, Times Square, and of course, the final stand of drug lords and crime kingpins Li Zhu and Lucius Barnes."
"The gang lords?" Logan asked. "What does this case have to do with them?"
"Not so much them as their deaths." Hacker explained, and enjoying the rapt audience. "They filled the vacuum that Tony Dracon left when he was killed but they, along with fifty of their men, were slaughtered by an unknown assailant just prior to what was going to become a small war with the police. Within minutes, everyone was dead before any officer outside could get off a shot. And when the bodies were autopsied, the cause of death for everyone involved was blunt force trauma, fatal wounds caused by stabbing weapons, swords and such, and finally, deep symmetrical gouges. Claw marks for the uninformed. Now, either these men were killed by an escaped grizzly bear who just happened to be quick enough to avoid the twelve hundred rounds found fired inside the building, or–"
"Gargoyles." Margot whispered, almost involuntarily. As a few pairs of eyes turned to where she was sitting, she cleared her throat and arched her spine; chin up, upper lip stiff, Margot feigned ignorance of the stares.
But agent Hacker hoped someone would voice what everyone else was thinking. The accusation was relatively obtuse enough. "We did witness their savagery in Times Square, including the green female with the katana swords."
"Where did you get all of this?" Logan asked incredulously.
Hacker shrugged. "I'm an investigative agent. I investigate."
Logan scanned all of the files, discs and pictures, and the extra, almost clinical attention to detail. Everything was perfectly organized. There was no way one man could amass all of this. "This is...quite the collection."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "I've had a lot of time on my hands. Call it a fascination, but I also believe the gargoyles are a threat to the entire country, let alone the city."
"Your personal feelings aside, agent Hacker, we're prosecuting only one gargoyle right now." Logan admonished him. "The red one currently in custody. If he is guilty of these crimes you describe, he will be tried for them. We've taken his prints and we'll check them against any found on the bodies that have surfaced in the bay or on the bodies of Zhu, Barnes and any of their cronies."
"And what are your personal feelings on the fact the rest of the gargoyles in custody have been awarded immunity?"
Logan made the mistake of staying silent for a moment and even if he was just trying to form the proper response to a decision he himself had decidedly mixed feelings about, Hacker took the hesitation as something more.
"I thought so." he nodded. "I've also taken the liberty to compile a list of possible associates, if you don't mind."
"Of course not." Margot said delightedly.
"David and Fox Xanatos of course, Detective Iliana Starr, Doctor Alan Pierce, Doctor Tricia Weathers, captain Maria Chavez, Todd Hawkins, Jeffrey Robbins and," Hacker was somewhat elated to finally get this particular name out into the open, "detective Elisa Maza."
Margot took special interest in that name, considering her brief involvement with the Gargoyles Task Force and a certain dark-haired detective who didn't seem to take her assignment seriously. "Didn't Jon Canmore mention Elisa Maza?"
"Yes, he did." Logan replied. "In fact, he painted a rather sordid tale of her and a gargoyle. But it's hard to take anything he says seriously at the moment, considering his tenuous grasp on reality. I sent a couple of agents to talk to her if only to keep him compliant."
"Well, I wouldn't just throw out his testimony quite yet." Using splayed fingers, Hacker flicked an 8x10 glossy across the desk's glossy surface and right into Logan's hands. The prosecutor turned the photo up, only to see a picture of Elisa and Goliath during the battle with Sobek, Elisa's hands on Goliath's chest. The photo seemed hastily taken, as if in a hurry, and this particular shot had been enlarged and enhanced to show as much detail as possible. "Someone was able to snap this before being evacuated."
Margot leaned in on her elbow, along with the rest of the legal team. Her thin lips suddenly spread between store-bought cheekbones. "Oh my." she cooed saucily. "What exactly did Canmore tell you?"
Ignoring the catty demeanor, Logan immediately thought back to his conversation with Jon Canmore and the story he wove that, with each new unbelievable detail, continually exceeded itself and quickly ascended into a deranged fantasy. Among the best, the detective and the gargoyle were lovers. In his career he'd heard the accused create wild stories in order to justify their crimes and this didn't seem any different, until he saw that picture. "A single photo doesn't confirm the truth," he said quietly, "especially without any kind of context."
"But it does raise some important questions." Margot argued. "During the incident in the Hole, an officer helping to evacuate the neighborhoods witnessed a detective talking to one of the gargoyles before willingly following him back into the chaos. According to him, they seemed quite close, as if they'd known each other for more than just a few minutes. He tried to tell his story to anyone who'd listen, including a couple of radio interviews, but it's only now that his deposition carries significant gravitas."
Logan wagged the photo back and forth in his fingers. "Could this have been faked?"
"I've had the forensics team at the bureau go over this photo." Hacker replied smugly. "It's genuine."
Then, reluctantly, Logan asked, "Is this officer available for an interview?"
"I already took the liberty. He'll be here within the hour."
"Good." he nodded. "And agent Hacker, please contact the agents you sent to find detective Maza and tell them to continue their efforts."
"And the rest of this list?" Margot asked impatiently.
"How many agents can you spare?"
The door nearly rattled from its hinges under the heavy hand of whoever was behind it.
Diane almost put a knitting needle through her palm at the noise that seemed to explode through her suburban bungalow and she stared across the expanse of her living room.
Peter poked his head out from the kitchen, eyed the door, and then Diane, and then the door again. "Who the hell is here this early?"
"With all the chaos lately, it could well be anyone." she answered, lowering her knitting into the basket beside her chair. "Including Elisa..."
It was an odd tone of guilt and hope helplessly intermixed. Ever since hearing that Elisa and Goliath had vanished with their daughter, the devastating possibility of never seeing her firstborn again weighed heavily on every aspect of her life. And now with half the Wyvern clan in police custody after a small war in Times Square, everything seemed to be unraveling around them.
"I don't think Elisa would knock." Peter laughed to himself, imagining his daughter kicking the door down and leaping into his arms. He approached the door and hesitated before opening to the morning day sun. A pair of suited, thick-necked men blocked the doorway, each wearing almost identical sunglasses, as if they were standard issue.
One of the suits addressed him, "Mr. Peter Maza?"
"Yes..." he answered warily.
"We apologize for the early hour, but we're looking for your daughter, Elisa Maza."
Peter stood stone-faced, willing away any emotional response that just might flicker across his weathered features and implicate him without realizing. "Well, she's not here. In fact, we haven't seen her for a while now."
One of the agents pulled his sunglasses down just enough to expose his eyes and peered into the house as far as his vision would allow. His gaze momentarily settled on Diane before scanning the rest of the modest home, including pictures on the walls and mantle. "May we come in?"
"Of course." He opened the door further and allowed them into the foyer. "If the two of you want to search and ransack our home without a warrant we're used to that, if you catch my drift."
That threw the agents off guard slightly and they shared a look. "We have no intention of doing anything without your consent, Mr. Maza–"
"Of course, I'm sorry."
"It's all right, son." he said and closed the door behind them. "Now, why exactly are you looking for Elisa?"
"We need to ask her some questions."
"What sort of questions?" Diane had pulled herself from her knitting and joined her husband.
"Regarding the current situation, Mrs. Maza..." the agent on the left paused, considering he was getting a little sick of the odd looks he'd get whenever this particular subject came up, "with the gargoyles."
The Mazas immediately played dumb, self-trained for years to deflect any and all attention from themselves and their three trouble-making children. "The gargoyles. I assume you're speaking about those creatures on the television?"
The agents nodded in perfect sync.
"She was a part of the Gargoyles Task Force." Peter explained. "She was assigned by her superiors to help monitor the so-called gargoyle menace, which seemed more like a waste of my tax money than anything useful."
"And that was her only connection?"
His detective training kicked in, and he couldn't quite hide it in his tone. "What are you implying?"
"It seems evidence has been discovered that she might have more to do with the gargoyles than the limits of her professional career." the agent on the left explained. "And if she has any information that might pertain to the court case currently being prepped, we need to talk to her."
And his partner on the right made sure to let the Mazas know that helping them meant helping their daughter. "And we want to ensure her safety against any violent response, considering her partner was killed a few months ago."
Diane suddenly had a flash of Matt Bluestone the last time she was at the Eyrie's infirmary, breathing through a respirator and as lifeless as a corpse. That could have easily been Elisa, or any one of her family.
"Her husband's employer has informed us she and her family are in Africa."
Before Peter could even answer, before his mind hastily connected thread to thread, before he even had the chance to figure out that someone close to Elisa had informed them of that particular location for a particular reason, his wife chimed in.
"Nigeria, actually." Diane answered confidently, reinforcing the falsehood. "It's a very special place to my side of the family and she wanted her daughter to see it firsthand."
Another sideways glance and the agents didn't seem convinced. "Of course. But it also seems dangerous to be so far away from home when she's pregnant."
"How far along is she if you don't mind me asking?" the other agent followed his partner's train of thought.
The most frustrating part of that question wasn't the obvious attempt of the two agents trying to catch the elderly couple trying to feed them false information, it was the fact they honestly didn't know. Diane swallowed the lump in her throat and allowed Peter to answer. "You don't actually think our daughter would endanger her unborn child by doing anything rash, do you?"
"So, first trimester."
Diane simply nodded, eyes down. "Yes. And she may not come home until the baby is born, unless they decide to come by boat, which could take weeks."
"And where can she be reached?"
"She can't, at least not right now. The village she's staying at is far from a telephone."
Agent on the left seemed skeptical, his frown deepening into his jaw like a bad scar. "Really. There're no phones anywhere around them."
"Gentlemen," Diane playfully admonished, gray eyes sparkling, "one doesn't travel to the cradle of human civilization to stay at the Hilton. And I doubt there's a payphone at the ruins of Kara Digi."
"Digi. I take it you've never heard about Anansi, the African trickster? And the village he ordered the panther queen to build?"
A slow, deliberate shaking of his head indicated he didn't.
"Pity." Diane breathed. "Well, both my daughter and granddaughter have and they decided to see that legend and many others firsthand and you can't much do that from a large, industrialized city."
With a sigh, agent on the right reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. "If you hear from her, please let us know immediately."
Sensing this entire endeavor had just hit its inevitable dead end, agent on the left had one last thing to say. "We'll keep in touch, Mrs. Maza." He turned and nodded to Peter. "Sergeant."
Closing the door behind the agents, Peter just leaned against it for a few minutes, listening for a couple of car-doors slamming shut, an engine roaring to life and then fading into the background noise of the city. The house itself was eerily silent, save for measured breaths from the long-married couple. Peter was still and Diane fidgeted, almost shivered; thoughts swirled and collided but couldn't be articulated. Part of him wanted to punch a hole in the drywall, another to take solace in his wife and never let go.
Diane slowly approached her husband, then stopped, opened her mouth, then closed it, and then quickly dropped her head with a sharp breath. "I..." She swallowed the knot in her throat. "I wish I could say that was helpful. I wish I could be sure we just did the right thing."
"Funny you mentioned Anansi," there was a bit of dark humor in Peter's tone, "considering the web of lies we're all slowly spinning. But it's all for Elisa, isn't it? It's always for Elisa."
Diane nodded; she was sure it was meant as self-deprecating, but it only served to bolster her already troubled conscience. "We both would give our lives for any of our children, Peter, lying is a much less painful alternative."
"But how long until the lies crash in around us? This...this ridiculous divide between us and Elisa was caused out of fear of our family being persecuted or even killed and now it's so close to coming true."
"Does that mean you'll stop fighting for her? Stop fighting for her right to be happy, or for the gargoyles' right to exist?"
Peter seemed to be intent on a spot of the circular carpet in front of their door. "I'll never stop fighting for her." he said at length and met his wife's eyes. They glinted and swirled mesmerizing silver in the streams of morning light filtering through the front door's small diamond-shaped window. "Never."
She smiled. "Good."
"Was that a lucky guess?" he asked. "About Nigeria?"
Diane fished something from her pocket and held it up for her husband to get a better look. It was a cell phone. She flipped it open to reveal a text message sent less than an hour ago from Jason Canmore, with all the sordid details of his own encounter. "This infernal little device finally came in handy."
Maria Chavez and Iliana Starr returned to the twenty-third precinct; with the clan in stone sleep, both at police headquarters and at the castle, there wasn't much else they could do but get back to their livelihoods, especially with the city still reeling from Times Square.
And as soon as Maria appeared around the corner of the bullpen, she was immediately surrounded by half a dozen people. Iliana waited as Maria quickly put out a few brush fires, getting her detectives organized; there was still a city out there despite the circus going on, and still ongoing cases that needed attention.
Iliana meanwhile couldn't help but pass a look to where Elisa and Matt's desks used to be, now occupied by another set of detectives. It wasn't an easy decision to give up that particular pair of desks but as far as everyone else knew, Matt Bluestone was declared dead and Elisa Maza had disappeared without a trace (on maternity leave was the only answer anyone could give, and in a twisted sense of irony it was party true).
Within ten minutes, every detective that needed an assignment posted, a question answered, a request for a warrant and paperwork signed off on was dealt with quickly and efficiently. Maria cracked her knuckles, cricked her neck and motioned with a wagging index finger for Iliana to follow her to her office. As she opened the door, a flash of something flickered across her eyes when discovering a pair of government agents mulling around her personal space. Before she even saw the badges, Maria could tell by the suits, the stance, the haircuts and the generally clenched posture these two were definitely FBI. "Can I help you, gentlemen?"
The men both whirled on the owner of the voice. "Captain Chavez?"
Without a single word of acknowledgement, Maria made a beeline for her desk in an unbroken stride, and then making sure nothing was out of place, addressed the pair. "Yes."
"Yes, we're here to ask you and your detective," he nodded at Iliana, "a few questions."
"I think you know, captain."
Maria leaned forwards, perched on a couple of knuckles on the surface of her desk. "Why don't you clarify for me, just so we're all on the same page."
"The gargoyles, captain." the agent said simply, as if he was discussing as unassuming as the weather. "And who exactly has been, and is currently, involved with them."
"And I suppose you think we are?"
One of the agents turned his head to Iliana, fuming in the corner. "And does she speak for you as well, detective Starr?"
Iliana frowned into the lapels of her leather jacket. "Yes, she does."
He pulled a photograph from his pocket and placed it on the desk's surface. "Care to explain this?"
There was that picture again; she hadn't seen that damned thing for months. She and Shadow caught on the balcony of her apartment. And before the agents figured they had her dead to rights, she blasted back, "You two actually believe I had an illicit affair with a gargoyle? What are you, fucking idiots?"
Neither of the agents seemed to take that well. "Detective Starr, if you're lying, you could be charged with perjury and lose your badge, not to mention your pension."
"Detective." Maria chided her, before a tiny fist came flying out of nowhere and one of her detectives was carted off in handcuffs. Apparently ending her relationship with Shadow was still an open and painful wound. "We're all agents of the law here, gentlemen."
"Then how about a little cooperation, since we're all one big, happy family."
"Fine," Iliana snorted, "that picture's fake. And besides the fact I suffered no less than total embarrassment from the woman doctored that thing, I was targeted by the Guild and my apartment was blown to bits."
And as eloquently as ever, Maria came to her defense. "I can assure you, agents, detective Starr was the victim of an overzealous paparazzo trying to drum up a story, for the simple fact she works out of the twenty-third precinct, the literal nexus of gargoyle hysteria thanks to that ineffectual taskforce–"
But she was interrupted. "That paparazzo was a reporter by the name of Savannah St. Nicks." an agent cut in. "Who, after being missing for a few months, only recently turned up in the middle of Times Square, somehow right in the middle of the attack."
"I'm glad she's alive." she responded curtly. "Despite the fact her inclination towards bending the truth almost got detective Starr killed."
"You don't see a connection?"
"She was investigating gargoyles, disappeared after taking this photo–"
It was Maria's turn to intrude. "Supposedly taking this photo, according to her and her alone." she minded him.
"–and then suddenly pops back up at the heart of an attack by gargoyles."
"You mean an attack by the Guild!" Iliana growled.
And despite the fact she would've been a little more courteous in her response, Maria agreed whole-heartedly. "It looked to me like they were the aggressors. Considering a lot of people were recently killed by this terrorist organization for any kind of association with the gargoyles, whether it was true or not, I'd say it was more likely she was kidnapped by them. How she survived and made it out is anyone's guess." She grabbed the photograph from the table and resisted the desire to get a better look, considering its authenticity. Maria wasn't privy to the finer details of the triangle Iliana found herself in the middle of. "Now, this photo was never proved real, especially due to Miss St. Nicks' tarnished reputation as a mud-slinger for hire and we can just add this to the hundreds of fakes reported since nineteen ninety-four. And I've already argued this fact in front of a judicial review board and if you want an audio transcription, I can readily provide you with one. Besides, even if the photograph is real, how can you prove it's not just her boyfriend wearing a costume? One of thousands of costumes available at dozens of costume shops around the island alone."
The agents shared a deliberate look. "Was it?"
A few stray thoughts ghosted through Iliana's mind, foremost the mess with Shadow and Delilah and the pain of rejection and humiliation was just as excruciating now as it was then. "No." she hissed.
"That's very transparent evidence, gentlemen." Maria reproached them both. "I hope you two, along with the rest of this so called prosecution, aren't allowing the rampant, unsubstantial paranoia and hysteria that gripped this city for a decade to influence your case. Besides, you don't actually think if one of my agents was consorting with a gargoyle, I wouldn't find out? Do you think I lucked into my captaincy? If anyone under my command was fraternizing with winged vigilantes, I think I would notice."
"Speaking of the Gargoyles Taskforce, captain Chavez," an agent asked, "what part did you play?"
"Am I also under suspicion?"
"Depends on who and what you know, captain."
Maria suddenly felt like her bare neck was just put on the chopping block. "I simply oversaw the bureaucratic side. Paperwork and such. The team leader was Matt Bluestone and regrettably, along with a lot of good officers involved with the task force, he was killed months ago by the Guild. The same attack in which I was also..." She swallowed through the pain. "Severely injured."
"And why do you think you were targeted?"
"I don't think I was. I was just collateral damage, shot by someone I thought was one of our own."
"Maybe the two of you should be expending your energy trying to find those terrorist bastards, huh?" Iliana jumped in, standing a brave five and a half feet to the lead agent's full six foot three. "Before we get a repeat of Times Square."
He didn't budge. "Trust us, we're doing our best."
"By questioning cops?"
"Yes. If there's anyone withholding information critical to this case, it could be seen as obstruction of justice, cop or not." he explained grimly. "Now, if you be so kind to indulge us, we'd also like to speak with detective Elisa Maza."
Both women had to swallow the surprise, before it bubbled to the surface as something flickering through their expressions.
And fortunately, it was Maria who answered first. "Detective Maza is on extended maternity leave, which basically ends when she decides to come back."
"From...?" the agent tested.
But Maria could see he was waiting for that little mistake, that little hole in her armor he could exploit. "Africa." she answered confidently and saw a twitch. "Were you expecting me to say something else?"
Both men were silent, expressions frozen.
"And I'm sorry, but she didn't leave any forwarding address or number where she can be reached."
The agents breathed out at the same time; it was a hard, exasperated huff. "If you hear from her, let us know immediately. Just don't leave the city, detectives." He made sure to glance at Iliana, the little spitfire still visibly fuming. "You may be called in for more questioning."
"Come back with solid proof, boys, and I'll be happy to take the stand." she called after them as they slipped out the door, and then turned to Maria. "Were they for real?"
"This is serious, detective." Maria snapped, and for a moment, Iliana thought she heard the normally unflappable tone wobble. "They're going after everyone with even a remote connection with the gargoyles. If they pull on enough threads, something's bound to unravel. We've all been keeping big secrets, ones that could effectively end our careers and change our lives, and not for the better."
"Well, he seemed satisfied regarding Elisa."
Maria collapsed inwards and had to push herself back into a standing position before she hit the desk face first. Her strength had quickly drained from her, leaving the usually collected captain of detectives pining for a hot bath and a stiff drink. "It was a fifty fifty shot." she revealed with a chuckle. "I went with Africa because it's farther than Arizona and a much better place to get lost in. Apparently I guessed right." She reached into her jacket pocket and flipped out her cell phone. "I'd better warn Peter and Diane...oh..." There was a message waiting for her. "Oh damn..."
Maria thinned her stern eyes at her detective, but the cause of her unease was the text too tiny to make out. "Too late."
His wife said to just let it go. But after all the jokes and embarrassment and the misery, if this was the last chance to let everyone know he wasn't psychotic, he was going to take it. And if it didn't lead to anything, he promised that sweet woman he would bury it all. But staring at that door, all the bravado he once had when marching in here just evaporated. As he approached the office, an agent noticed him and quickly blocked his way. "Can I help you, officer?"
He nodded. "I'm here to speak with a Mr. Logan."
"He's been expecting you."
Blair was escorted inside the office and immediately and subserviently, grabbed his cap and placed it to his chest. It was the effect of a slickly-dressed, well-presented legal team whose combined wardrobe probably cost more than his car, and collective glare made it felt as if he was getting an x-ray without a lead jacket.
He nodded at his name. "Yes, are you...?"
The man leaned forward and took his hand. "Gabriel Logan. I believe you know the reason of why you were called here today?"
"I think so." he replied warily. He'd learned with great difficulty the price of sharing too much information. "I just want to be absolutely sure I'm here for the reason that I think I am."
"Gargoyles, officer Blair," Margot cut through the hesitancy with a shrill voice like a laser beam, "that's why we're all here. And I find it amusing that you seemed so tight-lipped about the subject when, just months ago, you couldn't shut up about them."
"Please," Logan offered him a chair at the end of the table, "have a seat."
He sat down and put his cap on the table in front of him. The rest of the legal team followed suit, with Logan and Margot on either side of the policeman. "I don't know if I can tell you anything about Times Square that you don't already know. I was assigned a few blocks away, doing traffic control."
"Not so much Times square, we want you to tell us about the incident in the Hole, and the gargoyles you saw fighting."
"I've already told my story. I tried to tell everyone, my superiors, my fellow officers and when no one believed me, I went to the press and even a radio talk show. I am not going to be called a liar or called crazy. And I'm not going to lose my pension because of something I know I saw."
"It's all right, officer Blair, the circumstances are a little different now. Please, tell us."
He sighed and then, bolstered by the attorneys' patience and willingness to believe him, more so than those two FBI agents in the Italian restaurant, started telling his tale. How he was helping evacuate people from the destruction as the city was being ripped apart by strange, massive creatures he'd never seen before, when two gargoyles started fighting tooth and nail less than a hundred feet away. How they savagely beat each other with whatever they could find, how they threw cars and caused small explosions, how the lavender one was struggling, wounded and covered in blood and how grotesque his larger foe was with his distinct lack of skin. How a black-haired woman suddenly appeared and stopped him and his partner from firing their guns at the rampaging pair and how that woman seemed so familiar and so intimate with the lavender gargoyle, enough to get within arms' reach, enough to put her hands on his chest and talk to him, and enough to vanish with him into the Hole. "She ran after him and called him by name." Blair finished his story. "And I could've sworn I heard Goliath."
As Margot quickly scribbled something in a notebook, Logan digested the account. Then, he quickly leaned in and pulled a couple of photos out of specific folder, marked with a red plastic tab. The first was an enlargement of Elisa's photo I.D. "Is this her?"
Blair leaned in and almost immediately, his face lit up with a distinct sense of recognition. "Yeah, that's her. Definitely."
"Are you absolutely sure?"
"One hundred percent. Same face, same hair, same eyes. And she identified herself as a detective."
Then he showed officer Blair the second photo, of Goliath and Elisa together. "And this is the gargoyle?"
The man nodded slowly, the picture bringing back powerful memories. "Yeah, yeah definitely."
And to the side, having stayed surprisingly silent for most of the exchange, Margot put a couple of knuckles to her cheek and leaned on her elbow. "And you can attest to this in court?"
"Will it help salvage my reputation?"
"If your account is accurate, of course."
"Then yes," he answered briskly, "I will."
"Thank you, officer," Logan reached out for a handshake, "we'll be in touch."
Margot watched the officer replace his cap and leave the room. "Well," she started blissfully, "seems as though Canmore's sordid tale about a certain detective and a gargoyle has some basis in reality. Now I find myself wondering what else he was right about."
But Logan was far too lost in his own thoughts to argue with Margot's seemingly endless quest to find every single person in this case guilty by way of association. But as much as he tried to admit it, he was having his doubts.
The door opened again and a pair of FBI agents wandered in, the look of defeat in their collective expression. "Mr. Logan."
"Gentlemen, any luck?"
"We went looking for detective Maza, but had no luck." the lead agent revealed dejectedly. "Apparently she's on maternity leave...in Nigeria."
Margot slanted her head, eyes half-lidded. "Oh you've got to be kidding me..." she sneered.
"Africa, huh?" Hacker uttered under his breath, but where Margot wore a scowl he simply turned the edges of his mouth up into a smile. "Interesting."
"It's been verified by three different sources." the agent pointed out. "And the paperwork is sound."
And his partner chimed in. "If they're covering for her, they're doing a damned good job."
"Oh, of course they're covering for her." Margot huffed indignantly. She wanted to slap every male in the room, hoping to spark a few impotent synapses and get them to realize the truth that had been staring them in the face the entire time. "She knows something more than everyone around her is letting on. We should put out a warrant for her and drag her back to New York."
But Logan was still operating with at least some rationality. "Let's not be hasty." he waved off her suggestion, one that would cost a few thousand dollars at the very least. "We'll get our chance to talk to the gargoyle in court."
"And I'm sure it'll lie to protect its allies. Including detective Maza." Margot sprung back to her upright and inflexible stance, eying the agents. "And the others?"
"We questioned Chavez and Starr, but they made their case and without any evidence to implicate them, there's nothing we can do. As for the rest of the list, they weren't a high priority, but we've only had a few hours."
"And the result will be the same." Logan stood up and brushed any errant creases from his suit. He focused his attention on Margot, and agent Hacker. "Even if they're simply guilty by association, they can simply deny any involvement and we would be torn apart in court. We need solid proof, and until we get any, it's all just hearsay. Now, we have several interviews to conduct with the Guild survivors currently in custody, but first I'd like the chance to speak with Miss St. Nicks. Care to join me?"
"You go ahead," Margot said absentmindedly, "I'll catch up."
As Logan left the room, Margot used the time to gather her notes and her thoughts.
Hacker remained behind as well, staring at the A.D.A. He stood up, adjusted his trench coat and casually strolled in Margot's direction. "Elisa Maza is involved with the gargoyles," he said suddenly, but ensured his voice wouldn't carry, "intimately."
Margot turned to face him. "How intimately?"
"What do your instincts tell you?" He held up the picture of Maza and the gargoyle. "This embrace seems intimate to me, wouldn't you agree?"
"But she's married."
"Yes, but to whom?"
Margot's features darkened, and soured. He couldn't be serious... "Are you suggesting her husband is that creature?" she balked. She snatched the photo away from him and gave it a good onceover, running a flinty gaze over every line and curve. She never would've let any other woman put her hands to Brendan's chest like that.
"Her husband exists on paper alone." Hacker explained. "No one's ever seen him, there are no pictures, and only a select few could describe what he actually looks like."
"This is..." she said shakily. "This is unprecedented."
"Yes, it is."
"But it's not exactly illegal to be married to...a gargoyle."
"Unless that said gargoyle is a criminal, or a dangerous animal, or even an illegal alien. But I digress. Apparently only one gargoyle is on trial now."
"Unless we find evidence to the contrary." It came out quicker than Margot expected.
"Now you're thinking like a detective."
From where the elevator let off at the third floor, it was a straight shot past the nurses' desk and left down a particularly narrow hallway that dead-ended without even a window. As Todd and Macbeth exited through the metal doors, everything seemed normal enough; as if a gargoyle hadn't been interred here for surgery and recuperation amongst the dozens of wounded shuttled in from Times Square. The demeanor from walking into Bellevue hospital's foyer up until now was a sort of frayed calm, as if everyone was still walking around on eggshells waiting for something else to up and suddenly turn their world back on its side.
Looking innocent enough, the pair strolled leisurely past the large circular desk situated at the nexus of four connected halls and while Todd hesitated, Macbeth led on his left foot towards the proper corridor. Eventually following behind, Todd stayed at a distance from the older man until he eventually slowed and ground to a halt. Macbeth stepped aside and gave Todd full view of a single occupant outside that last room.
Sitting on a bench, Rose nursed a steaming mug of something. She'd tucked the length of her robe past her legs and under the seat, held the cup with both hands and seemed enthralled with whatever birthed thin, ghostly wafts of steam, enough to stare unblinkingly for the entire time they watched her.
Todd took a reassuring breath and continued forward, until his mother noticed him.
Her shoulders crumpled with relief in seeing her son just a few feet away and Rose quickly discarded the coffee to the bench beside her, got up and rushed towards the young man. She swept him into a hug and before Todd even had the chance to decide whether or not to reciprocate, a shudder went through him. Todd tried to disguise it through gritted teeth but she'd already pulled back to see the expression flutter through his features before being replaced with a falsetto smile. She noticed. She always noticed. Either it was an overdeveloped sense of motherhood or the gift of a higher power, Rose was a human lie detector. She unclenched and relief visibly transmuted to concern. "What's the matter?"
Her son tenderly rubbed a spot on his chest and admitted, "It's nothing, just a war wound from the cops surrounding police headquarters."
Her gaze went up and her brows, one arched and the other almost swallowed by the fire-ravaged skin, folded in. Her son's reputation notwithstanding, she wore the recrimination in delicate features. "What? I thought you were with the clan?"
"I was, until Abel decided to kick me out."
She breathed a sharp, thoughtful breath through her nose and gathered her wits before answering, "And what exactly did you do to get kicked out?"
Todd tilted his head and his mouth went perfectly flat. "You're blaming me?"
"Whose fault is this?" she countered and poked at her son's chest.
Before that fingernail made contact Todd quickly brushed her arm away. "I was deemed unnecessary because I refused to tell him anything more about my gargoyle wife. I kept my mouth shut and I paid for it."
"But why would Abel...?"
"He's an ass, that's why."
"That ass, as you so colorfully put," Rose minded him, "had the charges against you dropped, may have been single-handedly responsible for saving the gargoyles' lives while doing everything he could to protect them, and he allowed your sister and I to be with your father."
An apologetic he was not, but Todd didn't do much to sway his mother's opinion of the man; he doubt he could anyways considering their history. But the mention of his father immediately refocused his thoughts, hell he almost forgot his father was lying in the room next to them. He turned to that farthest door and stared.
"You should see him." Rose urged, following that forlorn gaze. "At least one last time."
"I think I've seen him enough for a couple lifetimes."
"Then why are you here?"
He couldn't fight the logic and didn't try, but he hated to leave a tentative silence as his only answer. He just couldn't his brain to get his mouth to open up and utter something that resembled speech.
And Rose capitalized quickly, jumping on the chance. "His condition hasn't improved." she admitted. "The doctors say he could worsen at any time."
But Todd wasn't moved at all by that particular fact; he wasn't moving at all, he just felt numb, and stuck to the floor.
"Go, Todd Matthew. See him. Make your peace while you still have the chance."
"I don't know if that'll help."
"Then do it for me, and your sister."
Now with the added weight of a guilt trip heaped on his conscience, Todd finally willed himself to move in the direction of the door.
As he disappeared inside, Rose looked at Macbeth, standing there rugged and impassive. "Thank you for coming, Macbeth."
"Of course. How are you holding up?"
"By the power of caffeine alone." she managed, and made the Scotsman smile.
As Todd entered the room, a couple of cops who had been guarding the patient immediately reacted to his presence. He held up his hands, seeing them each place a hand on their holstered Berettas. "Whoa. I'm here on the allowance of agent Abel Sykes."
The lead cop took a quick look. He was told the patient inside was only allowed a few visitors, the nun, the girl in the wheelchair and a shaggy looking young man with a goatee and wild eyes. "You have I.D.?"
Todd reached into his wallet and showed the man his driver's license.
The name checked out, one of a select few he was told had access to this room and this patient. "All right," the cop nodded, "but I need to search you, just in case."
Todd knew the drill well and held up his arms as the cop patted him down, searching for any hidden weapons. When satisfied he was clean, the officer motioned with a quick nod he was okay to go. He moved towards the far corner of the room and immediately saw the wheelchair parked at the bedside, the owner hunched over her father's left arm. He wondered how long his little sister had been holding vigil there, at his side, despite her own medical difficulties.
"This must make you very happy," a little voice squeaked, "seeing him like this."
Todd slowly approached her; obviously their relationship was still strained. "It's good to see you too, sis."
But his sister was well aware how resentful she sounded. "I'm sorry, it's just..."
"Yeah, daddy dearest in a coma." He was sympathetic, for his sister at least. "Truthfully, I don't know how it makes me feel. But all I know is, with him here, like this, the people I love are a hell of a lot safer." And on coming close, Todd finally got a good, long look at his father, once the imposing figure who held him and a hundred million dollar suit of armor at bay on Wyvern's highest towers, now a lifeless, pallid shell whose arm was in a cast, head bandaged and breathing through a respirator. "How is he...?"
"They re-inflated his lung, stitched his wounds and set a broken arm, but the doctors say he suffered moderate to severe head trauma and..." Her voice trembled, but she willed the strength back. "There could be brain damage."
Todd's next word wasn't so much of a word as a low, guttural clearing of his throat. If he said anything, it was lost to the odd sound.
"They saved his life, didn't they? The gargoyles."
"Yeah, they did." he replied, surprised at the declaration. "They risked their lives to get him out of that bunker when they could have easily left him there. They did it for me, I guess."
"Tell me about them."
"Tell me about the gargoyles." she clarified, her voice a little louder. "Tell me why you love them so much and others hate them."
Todd was curious. "Why? You want to understand how our dad could spend half a lifetime trying to destroy them?"
"Why do people expend so much energy, so much money and time and sacrifice so much in order to destroy someone who just happens to be a different color, or different religion, or even a different species?"
He shook his head. "Anger, and fear I guess..."
"And what made our father so angry and so afraid?"
He tried piecing together every conversation he'd had with his father, however brief, only to recall they usually degenerated into shouting matches, gunfights, explosions, before he ever got to the actual root of the cause of his transformation. He never gave much of a clue as to why he'd become so obsessed with destroying the gargoyles, only that twenty years ago, Joseph Hawkins died and someone else was born in his place. But comparing his father to the Hunters, the pride of the Canmore family line, and how their feud started over a millennia ago by Demona's own hand, he was forced to admit that somehow, someway, a gargoyle had done the same to his family. "I don't know."
Sarah felt her brother put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but he didn't say anything more. She simply adjusted the oxygen tube attached to her nose and continued her silent vigil.
He didn't know how long she'd stay like this, probably until either someone physically tore her away or the steady heartbeat of their father slowed, withered and came to a stop. Todd spent so much time looking at his sister, if only to avoid the alternative, he wouldn't exactly know why at that particular moment he decided to slowly turn his head. It was either incredible peripheral vision or some sixth sense that bloomed at the back of his head like a bad itch, almost as if he knew his father would open his eyes and look straight at him.
Savannah was still in her police issue sweatsuit, still bandaged and haggard, still uncommunicative and withdrawn. Several doctors and psychiatrists had seen her, flashed lights in her eyes and asked her questions about her childhood, but she never gave them a second look. They would confer with their associates, speaking in hushed voices and eventually conclude she'd suffered some kind of trauma. Obviously, she wanted to scream at them. Now she'd been dragged to the courthouse and ushered into this small office, waiting on Mr. Logan for another interview. She unconsciously rubbed the gauze wrapping on her wrists. For months she'd worn those shackles and there were times she could still feel the weight and cold steel.
"Miss St. Nicks."
She didn't even notice the door open. Gabriel Logan was staring at her and though it wasn't with a hint of malice, she still couldn't meet the gaze for more than a few seconds before turning away.
He decided not to wait for a response, figuring he wouldn't get one, and grabbed a chair at the table. "I hope you're feeling better." he said.
If he hadn't been watching, he would've missed the light bob to her shoulders as the only answer.
"I know you were afforded private council due to your traumatic experience and because it wasn't yet decided whether or not you were medically fit enough to be an official witness for this case, I wasn't privy to your previous discussion, but I'm not barred from being able to ask you questions as well." His voice was purposely soft, but still held the rigidness of authority. "At any time, you can reserve the right to stay silent and call for legal aid."
"Fair enough." she said, and noticed her lips were dry and a little cracked, probably from lack of use.
He arranged a leather-bound notebook holder on the desk, pulled out a pen and settled into his seat. "Miss St. Nicks. You claimed to have been kidnapped by the Guild and held hostage by them for a couple of months. Is this true?"
"And do you have any proof?"
She held up her arms to show off the bandages. "Nothing more than the wounds on my wrists."
"And yet somehow you're here, and still alive, while the morgue is full of bodies."
"Yes," she echoed distractedly, "still alive."
"You rose from the dead in very dramatic fashion, appearing in Times Square in the middle of a small war." he continued, and couldn't quite disguise the condescension. "I don't think it's a coincidence. If you were indeed held against your will, I think someone rescued you. The only question is who, or what. Were they there, the gargoyles, in that underwater bunker?"
Savannah had two distinct voices screaming inside her head, and she almost shook herself to the bone with the fact she was trapped in the middle.
"I take it by your silence I'm correct–"
"Maybe I saved myself." she blurted.
But Logan wasn't quite convinced; if her story of captivity was true, there was no way she didn't have help to escape. "So, malnourished and sporting several significant injuries, you were able to carry a comatose man, who outweighs you by almost twice as much, out of the bunker and swim to the surface of the bay, and then somehow get him to shore and find yourself in the middle of Times Square just as the conflict between the gargoyles and the Guild breaks out?"
Even to Savannah that sounded ludicrous. "Maybe..."
"I have a feeling you're lying, Miss St. Nicks."
"Of course she's lying." Margot cut through the bullshit in spectacular style, entering the room with a full head of steam. She marched to the table across from Savannah and slapped an open hand to the metal surface, banging a few times and startling the other woman enough to look up with wide, feral eyes. "You will tell us absolutely everything you know or I will make sure you spend a good decade of your life in prison for perjury and for trying to kill a man!"
"That man is the leader of the Guild, and the man who kept me prisoner." Savannah hissed in response. The fugue was clearing in the face of this blonde harpy.
"That is the only reason you're not in a prison cell! Because several doctors gave their opinion that you were suffering from symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, which may have led to your animosity against that man currently in a coma at Bellevue!" Margot leaned back and composed herself slightly, snorting air through her nostrils. "Now, your actions speak volumes, Miss St. Nicks. I too would be very angry at someone who kept me chained up at the bottom of the bay, and that may lend credence to your story but the city at large has already suffered from your lies in the form of outrageous stories that more often than not belong in a gossip rag!"
"Mrs. Yale." someone cut Margot off at the highest octave, before the vase on the table shattered. "I doubt the judge will be pleased to hear you're badgering my witness. Of course, it would really help my side of things."
Margot turned and found her contemporary standing at the door. Her porcelain skin returned to its normally pale hue. "Mrs. Helms."
Stephanie wandered in and was glad for her impeccable timing, lest Margot and Savannah get into a fist fight in the middle of the courthouse. "Mr. Logan."
"I assume you're here to protect your client?"
"Actually, I think we should start the official deposition, being she's going to be a witness for the defense."
Logan was surprised to hear that, considering Savannah's current condition. "Are you sure?"
He held up his hands in compliance; he had a feeling this woman was carrying around a lot of secrets and his opponent was getting her claws in first. "Fine."
Stephanie sat down at the table beside her client, and gently laid a hand on Savannah's. "You've been medically cleared and deemed competent enough to take the stand."
"Are you sure?" Savannah asked. "I could damage your case more than help it."
"You have no idea how much that exact same thought's been running through my head since we last spoke, but I'm absolutely sure your testimony will prove useful." By the hard slant to her features, Savannah could tell this woman was dead serious about her choice. "Now go ahead, Savannah. Like I told you before, it's time to start telling the truth. I think everyone deserves to know the real story."
He could have sat on that stone bench and listened to the hatchlings play for hours, he mused, but he needed to stretch his legs and wanted to enjoy the crisp summer air. And besides, given he couldn't quite see where the ball might end up, he could get a mouthful if a hatchling let loose with an errant shot.
Though blind, he knew his way intimately through paths and fields he had traveled and explored for over a hundred and seventy-five years. He used his cane not just for balance for this old body but to test the road ahead, ensuring he'd find a rock in his way before his foot did. The main path was set with intricate stone and easy to follow for the sight-impaired, and though it stayed relatively close to the castle it was still far enough away to quell even the loudest voices coming from the courtyard.
He was glad for the solitude; he was sick of hearing the human news reports about the attacks in America, he was worried as the rest of the Ishimura clan for their brothers and sisters and tired of arguing with stubborn, thick-skulled elders of who was to blame for the Wyvern clan's exposure. No gargoyle there had asked to be attacked; they simply did what they had to in order to ensure their own survival. But he wondered now, what this sudden revelation would bring.
He was on the far side of the castle, as close to the forest as the path would come before winding itself back around and towards the front gates.
The wind shifted suddenly and with it brought a powerful warning that he was suddenly not alone. The elder sniffed the breeze and almost lost the grip on his cane when something familiar ripped through his senses. He turned, trying to follow that scent. For a disquieting moment, he thought it was just an errant memory playing tricks on an old mind, like the dreams of his mate and days long passed, but the scent grew stronger, surrounding him. It was coming from the forest, less than a stone's throw from the path and he immediately stood rock still and tried to listen for anything that might give form and identity to the intruder. There! A branch moved a hundred yards in, about fifty feet up; too heavy for a swallow or a thrush. "Who's there?!" he shouted, the strength of his voice belying his age.
He received no answer, but didn't expect much. This wasn't a hatchling playing tricks or a hunter stalking prey; someone was watching him. He heard the rustle of wings unfurl and something graceful take to the air, glide the short distance and alight to the path just ahead of him. A gargoyle.
The scent was inescapable now; he had no doubt to the owner just out of reach. "It's you..." he whispered.
Whoever had come no longer wished to keep their presence hidden, especially knowing their identity had been given away on the wind, but the advancing footfalls were hesitant and unbalanced.
"I never thought...I would encounter you again..."
"I needed to see you." a voice answered, her Japanese unpracticed. "At least, one last time."
The elder grinned, heavy lines marring his drawn face. "I am not ready for a wind ceremony yet."
The tone was despondent; the few times he'd heard this voice in his long lifetime it had always been laced with a certain weariness, but this was something different. The stranger was close now, and he resisted the urge to extend an arm and test to see if he was simply being haunted by a spirit.
But it was Demona who'd reach out first and gently cradle his cheek.
The elder gargoyle didn't flinch at the sudden contact, his breath stuttered and he simply leaned into the hand and caressed the skin with his fingers, eventually grasping to that hand with his own. Her cobalt-blue skin was a perfect match for his. "Hello, rookery mother."
She carried the tray as quickly as she could without spoiling any of the contents. It would not reflect well as a hostess to serve the prepared meal and drink if it were jostled and spilled. Across the courtyard and into the west wing, she quickly made her way through the corridor and stopped at the door at the very end. "Sister?"
"Come in." a woman answered from behind the paper screen.
The gargoyle gently slid the screen away and entered into the room. Several lanterns hung in each corner, giving the chamber a soft but hearty glow. A woman was perched in one of the chairs to the side, fiddling her thumb over the smooth glass display of a small device she couldn't quite make out. The lanterns' flickering glow had turned the thin ribbons of her gray hair to silver. "I have brought your meal."
She looked up and reproved the gargoyle with a look. "I could've come to the dining hall."
"That is not our way, especially for honored guests."
She rolled her eyes and laughed under her breath. For the entire time she'd been here, she was waited on hand and foot by the clan against her will. "You're too damn fussy."
The gargoyle paid her no mind and set the tray down on the table in the middle of the room. "Of course. Now please, put down your toy and eat."
The woman powered down her gadget and lifted herself from the chair. Carefully folding the ankle-length kimono so it wouldn't crease or catch underneath her, she kneeled in front of the table and allowed to be served. "Wow." The woman eyed her meal and seemed to enjoy the sight of such an elaborate effort for such a simple meal. She always loved how the Japanese took so much care in their food preparation, almost as if the chef was painting a Picasso with rice, seaweed, spices, vegetables and thinly sliced fish. Each roll was perfect, by size and proportion of ingredients, and arranged so carefully on the wooden tray. "You didn't have to go to such trouble," she said, "a simple sandwich would've been good enough."
The hostess bowed only slightly. "It is our honor to serve your needs. And Takashi would not consent to something as common as a...sandwich."
"You've been doing that non-stop for a week now. But thank you."
As the woman fit the chopsticks into her hand and practiced a few times to remind herself how to use them, the gargoyle poured hot sake into the little ochoko cups and placed one beside her guest. She kneeled on the opposite side of the table and while her guest enjoyed her meal, she enjoyed her drink. She waited patiently for the human to finish and only when she placed her chopsticks on the empty tray, did she speak again. "I hope you feel better."
"Can't get sushi like that in Manhattan. And it beats waiting." she answered distantly.
The gargoyle nodded her head in understanding and poured her guest a drink. "Be careful, it is quite hot."
Grabbing the little cup, she blew against the trail of steam and put it to her lips.
Staying silent for a moment, the gargoyle couldn't help but satisfy her curiosity. "You have come to us from so far away, if the tale is to be believed–"
"You don't believe me?"
Sora smiled sweetly and the woman across from her could see how Kai loved this female so effortlessly. "Your mere presence is proof enough," she explained, and continued her original train of thought, "but after such a journey, especially with such an important purpose, I would think you would wish to do more than sit and wait. Especially with what's happening in New York."
The woman sighed; as much as the Ishimuran clan had been glued to the news reports about the attack and the clan's arrest, she had shied away, much to everyone's surprise, mostly keeping to her chambers. "You have no idea how much I want to be there for them, but it has to play out without any interference from me. At least, what I was meant to do."
"And that is?"
Russet eyes danced in the lantern-light and the woman offered a pair of tilted lips as a response.
"Of course. You cannot tell."
"No, not yet, and I'm grateful for your trust."
"You have earned it, sister, many times over, but..." Sora stopped, and didn't think it honorable to continue pressing the subject. She poured more sake and took a swig, much more than proper for a lady and hostess.
"But, you, Kai, Riko and the others deserve an explanation." she answered for her, while wringing her hands together. "I know I've been frustratingly cryptic, but it's for a purpose. It's just not the right time. It'll come soon, but not now."
"Begging your humble pardon, but how do you know?"
The woman laughed despite herself. Her life the last few decades had been hectic at best, chaotic at worst. But now everything depended on a precise, unwavering timeline she could not deviate from, lest the events that forced her into hiding tumble out of control. She downed the rest of her sake in a single motion and replaced the little cup to its tray. "Sister, let me tell you," Elisa Maza grinned, moving salt and pepper strands from her brow, "time travel's funny that way."