Sacrifices, Part 2

Story Concept by Larry Davison.
Written by Cinnamon.

Previously on Gargoyles...

Xanatos to Elisa: "For some time now I've been using every available resource
to conduct a world-wide search of the most gifted and highly skilled geneticists
and biotechnologists living and practicing today. Among them should be one with
the knowledge and skill needed to find a way to reverse the effect of the mutagen
and restore Talon and the others to their original human forms."

Sharon to Maggie: "My otoosan is an honorable man, Maggie.
And he has no love for the Yakuza. Of course he agreed to testify."

Maggie to the clans: "My mother came to New York?!... She actually came to find me?!
And she's here in the city now?!...... She... doesn't know."

Dr. Goldblum to the mutates: "I won't go so far as to make you any blind promises.
But I will make every attempt to counteract what's been done to you - if you're all willing."

Elisa to Mrs. Reed: "She's... changed from when you last saw her.
...But she'd like to meet with you. I can arrange to take you to her myself."

The Kashimoto-Oyabun Shinji Kimura to Tommy Kimura:
"If this matter you have caused is not resolved satisfactorily, you
areaware of the required disciplinary action."

Tommy Kimura to Hiroshi Nomura: "I know all about your freak gargoyle friends!
They can't help you now!"

~ Sacrifices, Part 1

Tommy drew back his fist intending to slam it into Hiroshi's face -- and felt it seized in a vice.

"Are you referring to us?" asked Brooklyn calmly.

He, Broadway, and Angela had sped down from the roof at the crash of the door being kicked in and Tommy's angry voice in the apartment below. Now all three stood with blazing eyes as Brooklyn held Tommy's wrist in a grip that would leave him bruised for weeks. Tommy paled visibly as he released his own grip on Hiroshi and flung the man away. Mariko rushed to help her husband and they both stared at the confrontation taking place in front of them.

"He's not being respectful," teased Angela coldly.

"Maybe his Yakuza family didn't teach him any manners," added Broadway. He had grabbed hold of Tommy's other wrist, and now he and Brooklyn also each pinned one of his feet with one of their own huge splayed feet. Tommy found himself immobilized and totally helpless.

"What are you freaks?!" he cried, his arrogance replaced by sheer terror. Although he knew of the gargoyles, he had never actually seen them before. Now he felt confronted by demons.

"What are we?" Brooklyn retorted in a jeering tone. "Maybe you don't know all about us after all!"

"Let's just say we're somebody you don't want to mess with," said Broadway.

"I'm not messing with you!" Tommy's false armor of arrogant bravado was shattered, and his cowardly inner nature was openly evident as he gasped, "This is no concern of yours!"

"When you mess with friends of ours, it becomes our concern," Angela told him firmly. "What do you think we should do with him, Guys?"

"I vote for dropping him off the roof," suggested Broadway, playfully but without smiling. "I've always wondered if slime like this can bounce."

"What I'm wondering is how he got in here past the police and us," said Brooklyn.

"Here's how." Angela picked up the discarded cane and grey wig and beard in the hall.

"Very clever -- for an old, tired trick." Brooklyn and Broadway's unyielding iron grips were cutting off the circulation in Tommy's hands and he still could not break free. But the red gargoyle was not through with him yet.

"Consider yourself lucky -- this time," he said. "And since you're into giving warnings, let's see how well you take one." He grabbed the front of Tommy's shirt, in the same way that Tommy had grabbed Hiroshi, and yanked his face close. Although his eyes blazed white hot, his voice was ice cold.

"You've made us angry, Punk! You don't ever want to make a gargoyle angry! That means you don't ever threaten anyone we protect! And we protect all the good people of this city -- including these two people right here. Just remember, wherever you go in this city, we're watching you! And we don't have a lot of qualms when it comes to dealing with scum like you! That's something you should know about our kind! If you ever come near these people again, maybe we will find out how high up we have to drop you from to make you bounce! Consider yourself warned!"

A few seconds later Tommy picked himself up and fled -- after Brooklyn and Broadway heaved him between them and sent him tumbling headlong down the stairs. Looking after him, Angela wondered, "Do you think we should have let him go?"

"He has to be in court day after tomorrow," Brooklyn answered. "Like Elisa says, the system isn't perfect, but it can work if we let it. I guess I'm willing to give it a chance."

They all turned back to the Nomuras, still staring at them from the floor of their apartment.

"Are you folks okay?" Angela asked.

"Yes, ...I think so," answered Hiroshi, regaining his breath.

"Can you stand, 'Anata'?" Mariko asked her husband.

With her help on one side and Broadway's on the other, Hiroshi got to his feet.

"You are the 'friends' our Saeko spoke of," he said. "The mutates."

"We are friends, but we're not the mutates," said Brooklyn. "We're friends of theirs too. We're gargoyles."

"The gargoyles we've been hearing about in the news?" asked Mariko, still incredulous.

"Yes, Ma'am," Broadway confirmed.

"And don't worry about Sharon," put in Angela. "She's our friend too. I promise you, she's safe."

"No one will bother either her or you with us around," followed Broadway.

"We're glad to finally meet you," said Hiroshi gratefully. "Saeko has told us about you. It was hard to believe any like you could even exist. But these days -- anything is possible."

"The important thing now is for you to testify at that trial," said Brooklyn.

"Yes," Hiroshi agreed. "As long as we know Saeko is safe, I know it's the right thing to do. Thank you for your help... and for protecting our daughter." Turning to his wife he added, "Maybe now, Anata, everything will turn out all right."

* * * * *

December 11, 1996
Early morning

In his university medical center office, Dr. Goldblum closed his bulging medical bag and looked up at his friend and colleague, Dr. Alan Bremer.

"All right, Alan," he said. "I know how much you've been wanting an opportunity like this. The chromosome tagging project is yours now. I'll check in with you now and then, but I'm confident you can handle it. I'll still follow the clinic cases and do the rest of the lectures, but this new project is going to demand more of my time than I can fairly divide."

"Glad I can help you out, Daniel," responded the other, a thin, studious looking man with the first grey threads in his hair. "I just wish you could tell me more of what this urgent new 'top-priority' project is about."

"Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to discuss it," smiled Dr. Goldblum. "Suffice to say I've been engaged by a private concern who insists on remaining anonymous. Still, if anything I find there does prove useful for other types of cases, I'm sure the parties involved won't object later if I share the same techniques with the rest of you in the clinical field."

He lifted down a favorite plaque from the wall and took the photo of his wife and children from the desk. "I'm still maintaining this office, but I won't spend as much time here, so my special sources of inspiration are going with me," he said as he carefully placed them both in one of the boxes of books and papers he had packed.

"Sounds like a pretty long-term commitment," Dr. Bremer observed. "What sort of time-frame do you have?"

"No definite one." Dr. Goldblum paused then as his expression grew serious. "It is going to be a long-term commitment, Alan," he said finally. "But it's one I very much want to fulfill."

Alan Bremer's long-standing admiration for Dr. Goldblum was clearly evident as he nodded in understanding. "You've never been one to take any commitment lightly, Daniel. If it's really that important to you, all I can do is wish you luck with it. Let me carry one of those boxes down for you."

He had come to the medical center directly from early shaharit at his synagogue, and now was anxious to get to the Labyrinth and begin his new work in earnest. With his two boxes of books in the trunk and his medical bag on the floor behind the driver's seat, he made his way through the New York traffic to the warehouse. From there he had to heft the boxes himself, but only as far as the rolling carts Talon had shown him yesterday. He loaded everything onto one of those and pushed it into the freight elevator for the slow descent deep underground.

As the elevator rumbled and clanked downward he looked at his watch and winked at the image of Mickey Mouse like an old friend. "No official greeter," he mused aloud. "No one here to verify my identity or frisk me, and no metal detector to pass through. I'm freely given access codes to enter the Sanctuary with no escort to take me through security into the inner sanctum." He shrugged then and gave a short chuckle. "Then again, Xanatos did run a very thorough security clearance on me, didn't he?" He looked again at the figure of Mickey and added in complete sincerity, "To be given this measure of trust is a grave responsibility. May I always be worthy of it."

* * * * *

Sharon Nomura was at the computer in the Sanctuary's new lab working on the notes she had taken for him the day before. When she finished with the files and printed out copies, she arranged them in a folder and took them to his office intending to leave them for him. Instead she found him already there, humming to himself as he hung his plaque on the wall facing his desk.

"Ah, Miss Nomura. Good morning," he said pleasantly.

"Good morning, Doctor," Sharon returned her own quiet greeting. "I didn't hear you come in."

"I just arrived a few minutes ago. I wanted to bring down some things from my medical center office. Tell me, is this plaque hanging straight from over there?"

"Just a little to the left... There. That looks straight.... 'Maimonides' Prayer?'"

"Maimonides' Prayer for the Physician -- instead of the Hippocratic Oath. I couldn't very well swear by Apollo, could I?" He turned then, and saw that she was not smiling.

"Actually... I'm not familiar with either of them," said Sharon, not realizing he had been teasing. "Who was he, Dr. Goldblum? Maimonides, I mean."

"Hmm? ...Oh, Maimonides," he answered. "He's perhaps the single most influential person in shaping the Judaic world since... well, since the Talmud was finished." He smiled at her interest and went on to clarify for her, "He's known as 'Maimonides' to non-Hebrew-speaking people. To Jews he's Rambam, that is, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. He's been one of the greatest and most renowned scholars, philosophers and personalities of Jewish culture since the 12th Century."

As he went about systematically arranging his bookcase she read the plaque through completely.

Maimonides' Prayer for the Physician

O Benevolent God. Thou hast created the human being with infinite wisdom. Thou hast blessed Thine earth, Thy mountains and Thy rivers with healing substances that enable Thy children to alleviate their sufferings and to heal their illnesses. Thou hast chosen me to keep vigil over the life and well-being of Thy creations.

Purify me and fill my heart with love for my art and Thy creations. Endow me with strength of mind and heart so that both be always ready to serve all that need me, be they rich or poor, good or wicked, friend or foe. Let me never see in the sufferer anything else but a fellow human being in pain.

Grant me perseverance to continually expand my knowledge, for wisdom is boundless and can extend infinitely to enrich the human mind with new discoveries.

O compassionate God. Thou hast chosen me to watch over the health of Thy creations. I now apply myself to my calling. Support and strengthen me in my task so that I may aid those in need.

Working with him the day before had already impressed Sharon as to his knowledge and ability. Once she read through his plaque she looked around and noticed other things that gave her some insights into the man himself. His kipah with the contrasting double helix pattern, his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, and his necktie hanging loosely out of his coat pocket as if deliberately placed that way; all caught her attention in turn. Collectively they convinced her that he seemed to enjoy sporting his individuality and was not the least concerned with what type of impression he presented. While she might not always understand his humor, she could understand his eccentric quirks and somewhat brusque manner being the result of his extremely high level of intelligence and his advanced education. But Maggie had also told her about his encounter with the children in the Labyrinth, and now she watched him carefully lift his family's picture from the box he was unpacking and plan exactly where he could place it to best advantage. Sharon began to feel that he was a sensitive and compassionate man and, for now, she was glad to be able to work with him -- if only to keep her mind occupied in the face of her own current situation.

At the same time, Dr. Goldblum was noticing things too - particularly the dark shadow that had clouded her face and eyes again. He had seen it the day before as well and sensed that something was troubling her. Sharon suddenly realized he was speaking to her again.

"That plaque was given to me by a patient several years ago," he was saying. "I've grown very fond of it now."

"It's very inspiring," Sharon remarked quietly. "When so much of your work must be so... uncertain, it does seem it would be helpful to have something like this as a reminder of your purpose."

"Very well said, Miss Nomura." Dr. Goldblum was impressed. "It is quite inspiring... at times." He paused for a moment as if caught by a somber thought or memory, but then quickly smiled again and handed her his cherished framed photograph.

"And here is my other major source of inspiration. May I present my family," he began, as if they were actually present and he were introducing them in person. "This is my wife, Chaya... It's spelled with Ch but pronounced like a soft K - like in Bach or loch... and my three children. My eldest daughter Rivkie is nine; my son, Moshe, is seven; and my little Shaindy is four. Even when my work keeps me away from them, they're always near me."

Sharon smiled only very slightly as she looked at the photo. Dr. Goldblum was in it as well, standing with his wife and the two older children and holding his youngest daughter.

"You must be very proud of them all," she told him as she handed back the photo.

"Very much so," he answered. "Have you a family, Miss Nomura?"

"Only my parents. They... live up in the city."

She did not offer any more, and Dr. Goldblum chose not to press for any more just yet, though he did not fail to notice the trace of sadness in her eyes. He reached for a plain brown paper bag and looked up with a smile as he handed it to her. "But on to more immediate things," he said. "Here's some of my wife's rugelach. I hope you'll make more of that excellent tea later. It's better than in the finest restaurants -- and certainly far better than the instant stuff I'm used to."

"I'll be happy to, Doctor. ...Thank you for thinking to bring these." For the sake of courtesy, she opened the bag and looked inside. "They smell wonderful... like cinnamon."

"I prefer the cinnamon, myself, but my children go more for the chocolate. No one makes rugelach better than my Chaya. Quite shamelessly, she spoils me with it. Along with your green tea, we'll have a true meeting of East and West, ...or perhaps East and Middle East, but a fine example of cultural synchrotism in an afternoon snack. Either way, the UN could not do better."

The twinkle in his eyes, the warm humor in his voice, and the visual image he created of Jewish pastry and Japanese tea being the envy of the UN, actually made Sharon laugh. She found it a pleasant relief after all her weeks of worry and fear.

"I knew there was a smile in there somewhere, Miss Nomura!" the doctor beamed. "I hope you'll share it more often. ...Now, let's go over some of this data, shall we? Please do sit down."

He moved to sit at the desk and Sharon took the chair he indicated facing it.

"I have all of yesterday's notes compiled." She handed him the folder she was still holding. "They're all in the computer, but I printed out these hard copies for you."

She sat quietly as he paged through them.

"Yes," he was saying, nodding approvingly. "Very orderly. I'm glad to have the assistance of someone who can be so attentive to detail. Well, we'll get back to these, but let's first review the individual cases. How well do you know them?"

"I've actually only known them for a couple of weeks now -- since Thanksgiving. But they've become my very good friends in that time -- except Fang."

Dr. Goldblum nodded his understanding. "I'm afraid my brief encounter with Fang has made my impression of him something that cannot be stated in polite company," he told her. "Much as I hate seeing anyone imprisoned in that way, I do believe they're doing the right thing by keeping him confined."

"They've told me how he threatened and victimized the people in the tunnels." Sharon spoke again with a hint of sadness. "And he doesn't want to be human again."

"So he said yesterday," Dr. Goldblum agreed. "He re-confirms the point of my conversation with Mr. Xanatos about the use and misuse of the means and abilities one may have. However unfortunate their circumstances, at least Talon, Maggie, and Claw have made good use of their abilities. According to these case files, the 'powers' they all have are certainly impressive -- an intentionally controlled and directed electrical charge, wings to glide with, strength and endurance beyond what is normal for humans. If one were to grow accustomed to having all these, I can see how they might be advantageous to keep -- so long as one realizes and accepts the sacrifices demanded."

"Sacrifices, Doctor?" asked Sharon.

"While being human has its limitations, it also has advantages," he explained. "By nature humans are gregarious and need contact with other humans. Becoming a mutate, and gaining all the 'powers' inherent in that, nevertheless isolates one from the rest of humanity. Losing that human contact is a very great sacrifice. And despite the changes brought about by the mutagen, these friends of yours are still human by their original nature. No amount of mutagen can change that." He suddenly seemed to realize what he was saying and hastened to add, "But excuse me if I sound too much like I'm lecturing. It's what I'm used to doing. I'm afraid I tend to get a bit too philosophical at times as well."

"Actually, I find it very interesting, Doctor. But do you think they really can be restored to human?" Sharon's tone conveyed her hope for her friends.

"Before I can answer that with any certainty, I'll need to prepare a batch of the original formula to determine how it acts on the DNA. I'll also need to run some additional tests on those blood samples we drew yesterday. Later we'll obtain tissue samples and analyze those as well. But I do think, once the DNA over-ride mechanism is identified, it should be relatively simple to reverse it -- at least in theory."

He set aside the folder she had given him and now looked through the first of Sevarius' individual case folders. "Margaret Reed; Maggie as she is called, is very anxious to be returned to human form. There's little information here of her past except she came to New York from Ohio to find work -- apparently without much success. I suspect sheer economic desperation is what drove her to take part in Sevarius' experiments."

"She never talks about her home or family," said Sharon. "But we've just learned her mother is here in the city looking for her. She hasn't seen Maggie as she is now, but there's a meeting being arranged for them."

"I'll be interested to know how that goes," said Dr. Goldblum with a mild shrug as he opened the next folder. "But to continue, Claw is the nonverbal one -- the mute. According to this record his real name is Theodore West and he is... was... a graduate student majoring in... genetic sciences!" His surprise was registered in the inflection in his voice tone. "He was a lab assistant to Dr. Sevarius at the time of his mutation. Well, that certainly accounts for him being so familiar with all the lab equipment. Apparently he was a willing voluntary test subject; although, I seriously doubt he was made fully aware of the expected outcome. It's very like Sevarius to withhold full information from his subjects, including his own assistant. I suspect he's left vital information out of these case files as well." He looked up at Sharon then and added, "Miss Nomura, as my assistant, if you feel at any time that I'm not keeping you informed, please don't hesitate to say so. And questions are welcome anytime."

"Of course, Doctor," she answered.

"Claw also seems very anxious to return to his human form," he continued. "It says here that, after starting his mutation process, he escaped from Sevarius' lab and returned to the university lab late at night, presumably to try to find some kind of counteragent himself. Anyway, he surprised another lab assistant there who was working late, and nearly killed him with one of those electric bolts. Fortunately, the assistant suffered no lasting harmful effects."

"I hadn't heard about that, but I'm sure Claw never meant to hurt anyone," Sharon defended. "He's so... shy and gentle."

"He doesn't strike me as an aggressive sort," Dr. Goldblum agreed. "The incident doesn't seem to suit his nature. I suspect it was probably a sudden outburst of his own frustration over what was happening to him combined with the massive internal stress of going through the mutation process. It was also about that same time that he stopped speaking. That has me wondering whether he doesn't speak by choice rather than specifically because of the DNA alterations. Again, Sevarius' information is vague on all of that, but it's certainly something to make note of."

He moved on to the next file and continued. "Then there's Fang -- the mutate renegade. There's little information here about him except his name is Steven Fisher. His school record is incomplete and there's a string of short-term employers interspersed with frequent periods of unemployment. Clearly he was never able to maintain a regular job and whatever work he did get was primarily basic labor or janitorial. There's mention, as well, of several incidents of insubordination and some suspicion of petty theft. All of that would go along with the erratic work history, I suppose. Well, we know where he is and that he doesn't want to take part in this project. It is entirely voluntary, as agreed. Still, I'll keep his file on record in case he should reconsider."

He set Fang's folder aside and picked up the last one. By now he was talking fully in a clinical mode. "That leaves Talon, properly known as Derek Maza. Let's see, he's a former policeman, a helicopter pilot, and was employed by Mr. Xanatos himself as his personal bodyguard. It's unclear here how he came to be affected by the mutagen, but my initial impression after talking with all of them is that he is somewhat... reluctant... to be returned to his human form. That strikes me as odd considering he's the only one of them to have any contact with, or support from, his own family. You seem quite comfortable with them all and consider them as friends, Miss Nomura. Would you know anything more about Talon's motivations? ....Miss Nomura? ....Are you listening?"

Sharon's mind had wandered, but now she suddenly snapped back and gave him her full attention.

"Hmm? -- Oh! I-I'm sorry, Dr. Goldblum," she stammered. "What was it you wanted to know?

The doctor was particularly careful not to admonish her, seeing how her brief smile had long since faded and her eyes were clouded again. "I wondered what else you may know about their pasts and Talon's motivations," he said simply.

"I really don't know," Sharon answered quietly. "I never knew any of them before they... before their mutations."

"How did you come to know them, if I may ask?" His face and voice both conveyed his genuine concern as he added, "And I'm curious as to why you're living here with them, underground. Wouldn't an attractive young woman like yourself prefer living above in the daylight world?"

"It's... a very long story, Doctor," she said softly.

"And judging by your distraction, it's a very troubling one as well." Dr. Goldblum regarded her kindly and added as a gentle prompt, "And it makes it hard for that smile to come out?"

He was not teasing her, and would have been appalled at himself if she were at all embarrassed, for that was not his intent. But she knew by the warmth in his voice and the kind concern in his eyes that he understood. She answered only with a nod.

"I know you don't know me very well, Miss Nomura," he said encouragingly. "Please don't feel I'm trying to pry. I can't promise you any easy answers, but if it's something you want talk about, I can offer you a listening ear... if you'd like."

Sharon met his gaze with only a hint of a smile, but her eyes conveyed her gratitude. He got up from his chair then, indicating she should do the same. "You can tell me as much as you feel comfortable discussing while we set up some tests in the lab. Later we'll have that green tea and rugelach; and may the UN envy us. ...Where are our three mutates now? I don't recall seeing them when I came in."

"They're above in the city. They're... protecting my parents."

For the remainder of the day Sharon and Dr. Goldblum worked in the lab. As he prepared and analyzed a fresh batch of the mutagen and continued the first series of tests on the blood samples he had drawn the day before, Sharon checked references and recorded his findings. During the course of their work he also listened to her story. And, yes, he had no easy answers for her. But she found him to be an open and non-judgmental listener who was easy to talk to -- and one more person she felt she could trust.
"So you're originally from Japan?" he asked at one point.

"My parents are," Sharon explained. "They both grew up there, and they met and married there. I was born here, but we speak Japanese at home and we've kept Japanese customs there too. They're very proud of their own heritage and have always wanted me to be."

"Everyone should be proud of their own culture and heritage," the doctor nodded understandingly.

"I am," Sharon affirmed looking up from her notebook. "I've never been to Japan, but I hope to visit there someday. We still have relatives there."

"I certainly hope you have the opportunity to go sometime. I'll never forget my first visit to Jerusalem myself, and I look forward to returning again. But I'll probably always live here. All Jews are closely bound to Israel no matter where we live. Libi b'mizrach v'anochi b'sof ha- me'arav."

"Pardon?" asked Sharon looking up in bewilderment.

"Oy! Please excuse my Hebrew," he apologized. "Translated it means My heart is in the East, and I am in the farthest West. It's from Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the 12th century." Dr. Goldblum had a tendency to ramble as he mixed and measured precise formulas; and Sharon was an equally patient listener.

"I honestly haven't known many Japanese people, Miss Nomura," he continued. "There was a young man from Kyoto in my class in medical school, though. After his internship and residency he returned to Japan a very dedicated surgeon. I'm afraid we've lost contact over the years. I mostly remember how hard it was for him to be so far away from his family. He persevered though. Both he and his family were willing to sacrifice those years they could have shared together for him to have the opportunity to come and study here."

"It must be that way for you when your work keeps you away from your family, Doctor," said Sharon thoughtfully. "My okaasan has often said for every choice we make another choice must be given up."

"I'm sorry," Dr. Goldblum interrupted looking up with a puzzled expression. "Okaasan?"

"My mother," Sharon clarified.

"Ah," he understood. "Mothers everywhere have their own gift of insight. But you were saying...?"

"I think it was hard for her to leave Japan, but she was willing to give up staying there in order to be with my otoosan -- my dad, I mean. Is that something of what you meant earlier about sacrifices?"

"Precisely!" Dr. Goldblum beamed his enjoyment of conversing with someone who could follow his thinking. "And it's something that's common to all humanity, no matter what their background or heritage," he continued. "The difficulty arises when the choice is forced upon us and the sacrifice must be made unwillingly. Like my classmate from Kyoto, your mother made her choice willingly out of love for your father. Even the most painful choice and most costly sacrifice becomes bearable when it's made willingly out of love and devotion."

"My parents also taught me that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward." Sharon had set down her pen and notepad and just sat quietly on the lab stool listening to him.

"That sounds very similar to Lefum tzaarah agrah, which means According to the suffering is the reward." He went on to clarify, "That's another Jewish saying; a proverb actually." He looked up then and added, "Our cultures have more in common than most people might think. Perhaps I can meet your parents sometime, Miss Nomura. They sound like people I'd like to know."

"I think they would like that too, Doctor. If you ever need a tailor, my father is one of the best."

"That I will certainly keep in mind. ...Well, all this talk of family has me thinking of my own. And you're quite right; it is sometimes difficult being kept away from them -- especially while my children are growing up. But enough of all this philosophy! If it gets any thicker in here we'll have to open a window!"

Realizing where they were, Sharon broke into light spontaneous laughter, and Dr. Goldblum joined her.

"Better this time!" he praised. "And a light in your eyes as well! Very good, Miss Nomura! I'll have to keep trying to find ways to coax out that smile of yours. Will you hand me those other two beakers, please; and remind me later to call my wife?"

Working underground, Sharon and Dr. Goldblum had little awareness of the passage of daylight in the city. At some point, around noon by the clock, they took time for a light lunch. The doctor had brought his own kosher lunch and Sharon made herself a sandwich, but they both enjoyed tea and rugelach.

Just as Sharon started to clear away the dishes he unexpectedly asked, "Would you know which way is east, Miss Nomura? I didn't think to ask Mr. Xanatos for a compass, but I should be facing east for minchah... afternoon prayer, that is."

"I'm not sure exactly, Doctor," she began slowly. "Oh, yes! Talon once said the library wall is to the south, so east should be the far wall... over there." She pointed toward the area of the entertainment center.

"Ah, good."

As she did the dishes and tidied the kitchen she glanced over to where he stood quietly and swaying very slightly as he bent over his prayer book, and wondered at the odd circumstances that had brought them together. She would never have thought anything good could come of knowing Tommy Kimura, but she would not have met any of her unusual new friends otherwise -- including this quirky, compassionate man so determined to help her laugh again.

Later in the afternoon Dr. Goldblum took a moment to call his wife, but Sharon feared her parents' phone was probably tapped by the Yakuza and did not dare to call them.

"Rivkie, my little shaina punem!" she heard him saying on the phone. "Home from school already? ...She did?! ...No, you mustn't be angry at her, she's only four. ....You're her big sister, so why don't you help her clean up the mess she made? ...Get Moshe to help too. ...And, Rivkie, be sure you practice your piano lessons. ...Now, have your mother come to the phone. ....Chaya? ...Yes, I'm in my new alternate office. ...So far it seems promising. ...I'm not sure what time, but I don't expect to be late. ...All right, Zeeskeit; I'll call if I'm later than that."

Four hours later, Dr. Goldblum looked up at the clock.

"Oy!" he exclaimed. "Look at the time! I must be getting home to light with my family for sixth night. We'll have to pick up again in the morning."

"Oh, yes; your Chanukah holiday," said Sharon with understanding. "If you need to hurry, Doctor, I'll be glad to clean up here," she offered. "Is there anything I should have ready for you tomorrow?"

Before he could answer they were interrupted by a loud disturbance in the hall coming from the outer tunnels.

"What on earth is...?" Dr. Goldblum did not finish his question. The doorway to the laboratory/clinic complex burst open and mutates and gargoyles rushed in amid a massive explosion of shouting and pandemonium.





Maggie held the door open while Talon and Angela cleared lab stools out of the way for Brooklyn to enter. Sharon and Dr. Goldblum were horrified when he carried in the broken, bloodied form of Claw hanging limp in his arms.

"CLAW!!" cried Sharon rushing up to him. "NO!!"

"Bring him into the treatment room!" ordered Dr. Goldblum. He stared for an instant at the gargoyles, but Claw needed his immediate attention, so he cleared the way himself and helped Brooklyn carefully lay the injured mutate on the treatment table. The others all hovered about anxiously while he quickly did his initial assessment.

"He's in deep shock! I'll have to get an IV going. Miss Nomura, see if there's a liter of Ringers Lactate in the cupboard! ...Sharon!!"

Sharon was standing momentarily frozen in horrified shock at Claw's injuries -- till Dr. Goldblum spun around to face her and called her first name.

"Now is not the time to panic! I know you're not a trained nurse, but I still need your help if we're to save him! I'll tell you everything you need to do!"

He was not angry - only urgent. Sharon quickly snapped back to immediate focus.

"Yes! ...Yes, Doctor, I'm all right! What can I do to help?"

"Find me that Ringers Lactate and an IV setup. Then I'll need a large basin of water and some disinfectant. I've got to clean these wounds before I can get a good look at them! While I'm doing that, will someone be good enough to tell me what happened?"

"I can tell you, Doctor." Talon stepped forward. "Claw was on watch at the Nomuras when a sniper fired a shotgun at Mr. Nomura from the building across the alley."

Sharon nearly dropped the IV bottle she was holding in a new rush of panic.

"Otoosan! ...MY FATHER!" she cried. "Is he...?"

Angela sprang to her side to steady her as Talon went on. "No, Sharon. Your father's not hurt. Both your folks are all right. Claw saw the sniper in time to save your father, but he took the shotgun blast himself!"

Sharon was not going to be able to render much assistance now, so Angela stayed with her and Maggie stepped in with Talon to help all they could. As Dr. Goldblum worked, the full story came out. Claw was positioned on one side of the building overlooking the tailor shop and apartment. Maggie was on the other side of the same roof, and Talon had taken a place on the roof of the adjacent building to gain an additional vantage point over the street and alley. They were all aware that as soon as it was fully dark, a couple of the gargoyles would be coming to relieve them. It was shortly past dusk when Claw first noticed a furtive movement in the darkened window of the next building. Across on the other side of the roof, Maggie was momentarily distracted with her own conflicting thoughts of meeting with her mother. Neither she nor Talon knew what Claw was watching.

They were alerted when he suddenly leaped over the side of the building. Seconds later the shotgun blast went off followed by Mariko's scream. Hiroshi had just come upstairs to the apartment and was standing near the window looking through the mail. Mariko was in her kitchen. The gunman, positioned in the window directly across from their apartment, seized the moment he had waited for and fired, intending to assassinate Hiroshi. At that moment Claw realized what was about to happen and dived for the Nomuras' window to protect him. The blast of the shotgun tore through his left shoulder and wing. After that everything was fast and frantic.

Talon and Maggie went for the Nomuras and Claw just as Brooklyn, Broadway, and Angela swooped down from above and went for the gunman. Before the sniper could aim again, he was thrown flat on the floor and pinned down by the combined strength of Brooklyn and Angela, while Broadway snapped his weapon in two. By the time the police from the cruiser outside had forced their way into the building and up the stairs, the sniper and his broken shotgun were left tightly wrapped with a piece of metal bed frame.

The gargoyles made the easy leap across the alley to the Nomuras' apartment and came in on the scene through the shattered window. There, the situation was grim. Hiroshi and Mariko were both unharmed but badly shaken by the assassination attempt. Claw was severely injured and barely conscious. As Talon and Maggie tried to stop the bleeding and keep him still, he looked at them with a strange and vague gaze and then slipped into unconsciousness.

"Claw!!" the gargoyles all gasped at once.

"He's alive, but hurt bad. He's lost a lot of blood," said Talon grimly. "We'd better get him to the Labyrinth -- fast!!"

"He... saved my life!" gasped Hiroshi.

"Now we have to save his!" declared Maggie. "Hang on, Claw!"

Brooklyn came forward to carefully lift their injured friend. "I can carry him. Angela, get Goliath on the two-way and tell him what's happened. We'll need Hudson and Bronx to take over watch here. And see if Lex can meet us in the Labyrinth. He's the best one to help with the doctor's equipment."

"I'll stay and help the Nomuras till Hudson and Bronx can get here," offered Broadway.

As Talon related the story, what he, Angela, Maggie and Brooklyn did not know was that they had barely gotten launched with Claw when the police called over to the Nomuras from the next building.

"Hey! Are you folks okay over there?"

The last thing they needed now was for the police to come in here! In spite of his own close brush with death, Hiroshi kept his wits about him and motioned Broadway out of sight as he quickly stepped up to the shattered window.

"Yes, Officer, we're fine," he called back. "We have a mess of broken glass to clean up, but neither of us is hurt! Thank you for responding so quickly!"

"If you're sure you're okay, we'll get this sniper down to the lock-up and be back to check on you."

"No need now, thank you," Hiroshi assured him. "We'll be fine. We only need to board up the window and we have wood in the basement for that. We're just very relieved you got the gunman."

The police then just looked at each other and back at the tightly bound gunman.

"How're we goin' to explain this?" one asked. "You think they saw anything they're not tellin' us?"

"I doubt it," his partner answered. "I've got my own suspicions, but without definite proof no one'll believe 'em."

* * * * *

Up in the castle, Goliath found Hudson slowly working his way through the evening newspaper as Bronx lay sprawled on the floor beside him.

"Hudson!" he interrupted. "Angela just called on the two-way to say that Claw's been injured! They've taken him to the Labyrinth, but you're needed to take over protecting the Nomuras. Take Bronx with you. ...Have you seen Lexington?"

"Aye," said Hudson as he dropped the paper and got up. "He's in workin' at the computer again. Tell me what happened to Claw."

On their way to find Lexington Goliath related all that Angela had told him ending with, "It had to be a Yakuza strike attempt. I'm going to meet Elisa and help her try to find some more evidence. The Kimura trial is tomorrow, but she says the case is weaker than was hoped. Nomura must be there to testify."

"Dinna worry, Lad," Hudson promised him. "No one'll get near them with us on guard there. Right, Boy?"

Bronx whimpered his agreement.

At the computer, Lex was sulkily tapping at a new program and did not want to be interrupted.

"Well, at least it's nice to know someone needs me," he said a trifle testily as he finally got up to follow orders.

"It may be my imagination, but is that lad getting more out of sorts these days?" wondered Hudson as he and Goliath watched Lex depart.

"He has seemed somewhat moody lately," Goliath agreed. "If it continues I'll probably have to have a talk with him. Right now we'll just have to depend on his technical ability and not worry about his mood."

The rest of the night passed in a blur. Lexington raced down to the Labyrinth to help with the doctor's monitoring equipment. As they were setting up for him to operate, Dr. Goldblum called home to tell his wife he would not be there for lighting after all and the family should go ahead without him. Talon and Maggie both willingly donated blood, being the only two likely to be compatible. Sharon was in a frantic state of worry over both Claw and her parents but took great reassurance in Angela's presence and worked along with her in getting out whatever the doctor needed.

* * * * *

From the castle, Hudson took Bronx and went to the Nomuras. Interestingly, it was Bronx who most impressed them. When Hudson brought him inside they took one look at the huge brutish beast and acted like they knew him.

"Komainu!" they both said together with definite tones of relief in their voices.

Broadway and Hudson looked at each other blankly as Bronx shuffled over to nudge Hiroshi and Mariko both, whimpering happily.

"Koma-what?" asked Broadway.

"He is Komainu!" insisted Mariko.

"Would ye mind explainin' what that means, Mum?" asked Hudson.

"In Japan, komainu are either dogs or lions made of stone and placed at the gates of Shinto shrines to drive away demons and evil spirits," Hiroshi told them. "They're considered very powerful protectors. He's like one of them."

"I can't say I know much about demons or evil spirits," said Hudson. "But Bronx here is as good a protector as any Koma -- whatever. And he's certainly taken as much a likin' to the both of you as he has to your bonnie lass, Sharon."

Between Broadway and Hudson, the shattered window in the Namoras' apartment was boarded up and the nervous couple greatly reassured. They liked having Bronx with them, and Hudson agreed the big gar-beast should stay in the apartment while he and Broadway kept watch on the roof.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Tommy Kimura sat in his favorite club savoring his favorite drink. He felt smugly confident that nothing could be pinned on him when an unknown gunman assassinated a simple tailor elsewhere in the city. As he reflected on his own wise course of action, he smirked at the barkeep who had seen him sitting there all evening, knowing he had a sound alibi.

Since his own sanshita had already failed in abducting Saeko Nomura from the tunnels, and were probably the ones responsible for reporting back to Shinji, Tommy would have to handle matters on his own. He shuddered inwardly remembering his encounter with the gargoyles. That had been a terrifying set-back he had not expected. Better to stay out of the action himself and let some flunky take the real risks. Now he kept his arrogant front fully intact as a couple of his cronies saw him from the door and came toward him. "Good," he murmered under his breath to his drink. "The more witnesses that I'm here, the better." He waved them over.

"Hey, Takeo-san," said Toshito. "What're you doing sitting here all alone?"

"Waiting for you two to show up, o'course," Tommy shot back. "What kept you?"

"Didn't know you were expecting us," answered Tsutomu playfully.

They ordered drinks and all three moved to a table where it was quieter.

"So, you ready for your big day in court tomorrow?" asked Toshito.

"Got everything under control," Tommy grinned smugly.

Although the ikka could call on the aid of a clan of Ninja in some cases, Tommy did not have the authority to do so himself. His Oyabun had made it clear that the ikka was not supporting him in this matter. But he still had other minions - including these two.

With the barkeep at the far end of the bar and no one else near them, Tsutomu leaned toward him and lowered his voice. "Everything's all set to hit the DA's office tonight. Shouldn't be a problem."

Tommy gave a slight nod and nonchalantly sipped his drink. "And the witnesses?"

"They've all been talked to," Toshito assured him. "They won't cause any trouble. What about Nomura?"

"He's being dealt with," Tommy said quietly. He had no doubt his paid sniper could take care of the tailor.

Just as he was enjoying the certainty of his plan's success a third crony came in and hurried over to him. The other two could not hear what was whispered to Tommy, but they watched his smile fade and the color drain from his face. Just as quickly, as the other man left again, Tommy resumed his usual cocky demeanor.

"Anything wrong?" asked Toshito.

"A minor glitch," Tommy responded off-handedly. "Nothing to worry about." He gulped the last of his drink and got up. "Gotta go. Stuff to take care of for tomorrow. You two go ahead with your end of the plan."

Outside, with no one around to impress, Tommy could not maintain his false armor. The coward he really was now reeled with terror. The sniper had failed! But worse, there were definite signs that the gargoyles were responsible. His informant could not provide details, but knew that the sniper was in police custody and Nomura was unharmed and was sure to testify. He thought one of the creatures may have been wounded, but there were still others.

Tommy looked at both his hands as if weighing the value of his fingers, but then a worse fear intruded. If one of the creatures had indeed been wounded, the rest would probably figure out who had sent the sniper. And they had already told him they had no qualms about dealing with him. Now he had to weigh his options as well as his fingers. "I guess I'd better take my chances in court," he muttered to himself. "There's no one else I can send to take out Nomura, and I'm sure not going myself if those things are around."

He straightened up and resumed his swagger. After all, he would be oyabun one day - leader of a powerful ikka. And real leaders never got their hands dirty.

* * * * *

While Dr. Goldblum had Claw in surgery, Sharon waited anxiously with the rest of them in the mutates living quarters.

"Have some coffee, Sharon," urged Angela, trying to encourage her.

Maggie had just made a pot and brought a tray of cups to where they all waited. At their insistence, Sharon finally did accept a cup, as did Talon and Brooklyn.

"Sata wanted me to tell you she'd like to have you join her for the tea ceremony sometime, Sharon," said Brooklyn, trying to make some normal small talk to relieve the tension they all felt.

"Thank you. I'd like that," Sharon spoke softly but was obviously not thinking of either tea or coffee just now. "He's got to be all right," she added, to no one in particular.

"Claw's made of tougher stuff than most might think," said Talon. "He's got every chance there is, given the situation."

"And I have a good feeling about Dr. Goldblum," added Angela.

"I have too," Sharon admitted. "Working with him today..., I think he's the best you could get anywhere." She set down her cup and went on, close to tears. "None of this would have happened if you hadn't all gotten involved in protecting me and my folks."

"It's not because of you, Sharon!" said Maggie urgently. "And it could very well have happened anyway. If Claw weren't guarding your home he would have been protecting someone else. It's what we do now...."

Her voice trailed off. They all knew how desperately Maggie wanted to be human again. But here she almost showed a thread of acceptance of the mutate she had become, as if she could see a purpose for all of them.

"Maggie's right, Sharon," supported Talon. "I was a police officer before. I'm still a protector now. What happened to Claw could happen to any of us because what we do puts us into that kind of risk situation."

"And we've always been protectors," said Brooklyn, referring to the gargoyles.

Sharon could not keep back the tears, even though what they told her made sense. "Awhile ago, Dr. Goldblum talked about sacrifices and how everyone has to make them in order to have something else," she said. "All of you have given so much for me and... what have I given?"

"You've given us a lot more than you know, Sharon," insisted Angela. "You've been our friend! You've accepted us as we are when so few others are willing to even give us a chance."

"You've worked all day with Dr. Goldblum... to help us," put in Maggie.

"And you've supported your folks in this Yakuza business," added Brooklyn. "Isn't that trial tomorrow?"

"Yes. In a few hours." Sharon drew a deep quivering breath. "I want to be sure Claw's all right... But I want to be with my folks too."

"We'll be here with Claw, Sharon," said Angela. "You should be with your folks in court, but you need to get some rest first. I'll stay with you in your room awhile, if you like."

"And I'll take you to your folks' place before dawn," promised Brooklyn.

"All right," Sharon agreed. "But you'll call me when Dr. Goldblum finishes?"

Sharon could not actually sleep, even with Angela's reassuring presence. She managed only to doze for a short time before Maggie came to tap on the door.

"Dr. Goldblum has Claw settled in the infirmary," she said. "He made it through surgery, but he's still not good. And Elisa and Goliath are here."

Sharon and Angela hurried out to join the rest of them with Lexington and the very tired and haggard doctor. He could now take better notice of the gargoyles and looked at them all -- without fear or undue surprise. As they all turned to face him expectantly he knew what they wanted to know.

"He survived the surgery," Dr. Goldblum began, "but I can't give you any definite final outcome at this point. His left wing is shattered and there's extensive damage to the entire left shoulder girdle as well. Also several fragments from the blast penetrated to the pleural cavity causing a pneumothorax of the upper lobe of his lung." At their blank expressions he hastened to explain, "That's a partial collapse of the lung. I've inserted a chest tube to reinflate it."

"Does he have any kind of chance?" Goliath ventured to ask. He was remembering a particularly terrible night two years earlier when he wondered how much chance Elisa might have. Now she stood beside him and he extended a protective wing around her.

"He's basically young and strong," Dr. Goldblum was saying. "That's in his favor. For now his condition is relatively stable, but still critical. The next 24 to 48 hours will be the most crucial. If he can hold steady through then his chances will improve. I'll need to contact Mr. Xanatos for some additional supplies and medications. To prevent infection, Claw will need massive doses of antibiotics now and during the next few days."

"Whatever supplies you need we'll pick up and bring down for you, Doctor," said Goliath.

"Is there anything we can do for him, Doctor?" asked Maggie.

"You two have already donated blood," he answered, indicating her and Talon. "Without a trained medical staff, you can all take turns sitting with him. He'll need constant monitoring. I'll show you what to do and explain what to watch for. But don't worry," he went on with a shrug. "I'll be staying as well." He paused a moment and looked at them all before adding, "If you believe in any kind of 'Higher Authority'... you might consider praying."

As Dr. Goldblum went to his office to call his wife, Brooklyn touched Goliath's shoulder. "It's getting close to dawn, Goliath," he said. "I promised Sharon I'd take her to her folks' place so she can be with them in court."

"Go on then, Brooklyn," Goliath told him. "Have Hudson and Broadway return to the castle. I'll meet them there as soon as I take Elisa home."

"I'd like to stay here today, Father," spoke up Angela. "Then I can be here to relieve Maggie and Talon tonight."

"I'll stay too, Goliath," said Lexington. "I've gotten the feel of the heart monitor and ventilator." With a very slight trace of discontent he added, "At least here I can do some good."

Goliath nodded his agreement as Elisa drew Maggie aside. "I talked to your mother, Maggie," she said. "She wants to meet with you tomorrow afternoon. I set it for 4 o'clock -- if you still feel okay about it. I'll bring her to Xanatos' warehouse above."

Maggie seemed hesitant but resolute. "I... Okay. I'll come up just before four. You've... told her?"

"Not in detail. Only that there've been changes because of some chemical effects." She paused briefly and added an afterthought. "You know, if it would help, I could still have my own mom come; and Dad too."

"No," said Maggie quietly. "At least not yet. I guess I really have to meet her on my own. It will help if you're there though."

"I'll be there," Elisa assured her. "I won't just drop her off and then abandon you."

* * * * *

Shortly before dawn Brooklyn safely delivered Sharon to her parents' apartment to await the police car that would take them all to the courthouse. Bronx remained in the Nomuras' apartment and went into stone sleep there while Hudson, Broadway, and Brooklyn all returned to the castle. Meanwhile Goliath took Elisa back to her apartment. Outside on her covered terrace they had only a few minutes.

"You're exhausted, Elisa," he said gently as she leaned into him, and he folded his arms and wings around her.

"I'm worried too, Goliath," she admitted. "About Claw. And about his and Derek's and Maggie's chances for returning to normal. And about Maggie's meeting with her mother. And about Sharon and her folks and this court case with Kimura. I just wish we could have found some kind of stronger evidence to use against him and the Yakuza. Whatever happens in court today, the Nomuras will never be completely safe now. I've already talked with Captain Chavez about some more effective protection for them. At this rate I won't have more than a couple of hours to rest, but..."

"Elisa," Goliath stopped her. "You have taken on a heavier burden than most people could handle. Yet you cannot let it overwhelm you." He lightly smoothed her hair and went on. "And I will not let it overwhelm you. Did we not once promise to always protect each other? And to be there for each other? I'm here now to share the burden you bear; and to lighten it for you."

"You do lighten it, Goliath," she smiled wearily, resting her head against his broad chest. "I don't know how I ever managed before you came into my life. With you here I don't feel I have to carry all this alone."

She reached her arms up around his neck and he pulled her up close and closed his wings tightly around both of them, momentarily concealing their faces.

"Get as much rest as you can, Elisa," he said as he gently released her. "I'll see you tonight."

* * * * *

December 12, 1996
Late Morning

The courtroom was filled with mostly Japanese-Americans. Takeo Kimura sat with his ikka's attorney displaying his usual smug, arrogant expression. Frequently he gazed openly over at where Hiroshi Nomura sat uneasily with Mariko and Sharon. Already several witnesses had been called who said they knew nothing about any illegal gambling activity in their neighborhood and that the police had misunderstood their original statements. One very frightened looking woman only remembered that Takeo was always very polite as a youngster, had made high marks in school, and delivered newspapers to help out his family. Worse, the gambling records the police had seized in the raid on Takeo's "supposed" gambling establishment had mysteriously disappeared from the District Attorney's locked file.

Even before Hiroshi's quiet testimony that he had indeed rented space in his building to an illegal Yakuza numbers racquet, all key evidence against Takeo had either been lost or declared irrelevant. And since that numbers racquet was in no way directly related to the current case or the establishment the police had raided, Hiroshi's testimony could not be applied in this trial. Even worse, Tommy's threats against the Nomuras had no bearing on the case involving his gambling operation so it too, was declared irrelevant. It took the jury only 20 minutes to agree on acquittal for Takeo Kimura.

The judge's gavel dismissed the case and Hiroshi tightly gripped the hands of his wife and daughter as Takeo and his supporters jubilantly left the courtroom to meet the waiting reporters outside. As he passed them, the look he gave them was one of pure malice. They would be fortunate to even make it home to their apartment before the Yakuza struck.

Hiroshi turned to whisper urgently to Sharon, "Get out of here, Saeko! Get to your friends quickly and... take your mother with you!"

Mariko was equally as urgent. "No, Anata! Saeko must go, but whatever happens I will stay with you! Go, Saeko-chan! And hurry!"

Confused, frightened, and still reeling from the events of the night before and the farce of the court proceedings, Sharon hugged them both and slipped out of her seat. In the hallway Tommy was thoroughly enjoying gloating to the press and soaking up the congratulations of all his friends. Sharon managed to get down the hall half hidden behind a tall policeman walking the same direction. Where the corridor turned she ducked into a stairwell and down to a service entrance to escape into an alley. Then she simply ran till she found an entrance to the Labyrinth that she knew.

Still in the courtroom, Hiroshi and Mariko looked quietly resigned as they slowly got up to make their way out.

"You should have gone with her, Anata," Hiroshi was telling Mariko. "I only hope she can make it to safety."

"She will be safe," Mariko declared with more certainty than she actually felt. "And she will have a better chance away from us. But I will not leave you, Anata!"

Miraculously, Captain Maria Chavez suddenly came to their side.

"Mr. and Mrs. Nomura," she said quietly. "If you'll come with me, I'll get you to a safehouse. You must not return to your home. ...Wait! Where's your daughter? Wasn't she with you?"

"She is already gone... to a safe place," Hiroshi answered.

"Are you sure she's all right?"

"Yes. She is... with friends who will look after her."

"All right then. If you'll come this way please."

As Captain Chavez led the Nomuras out a back way to a waiting unmarked car, Elisa made a hurried call from her own cellular car phone. In the Labyrinth, Talon answered.

"Derek? Is that you?" recognized Elisa.

"Yeah! Elisa? What's going on? Are you still bringing Maggie's mother to meet her?"

"I'm going to get her now." Elisa sounded tense. "Derek, Kimura's trial was a disaster! All the witnesses except Sharon's father backed down, and the gambling records the police found disappeared from the District Attorney's office! Kimura was acquitted!"

Elisa jerked the phone away from her ear at the angry growl her brother made.

"Jalapena!!" he exclaimed. "Then the Nomuras are in even more danger than before!"

"I hope not. Captain Chavez got them into the Witness Protection Program. She took them straight from the courtroom to a safehouse. But Sharon slipped away on her own and is probably on her way down there to the Sanctuary!"

"All right, we'll watch for her. But we're having problems here too."

"What's happening? ...Not Claw!"

"He's not good, Elisa." Talon sounded grim. "Maggie and Dr. Goldblum are with him. Maggie's really worried about this meeting with her mother, but she's determined to go through with it. I'll go relieve her so she can come up to the warehouse. I just wish it were closer to dark so Angela and Lexington could help us here too."

"Just hang in there, Derek! I'll be down as soon as I can! When you see Sharon, let her know her parents are safe!"

Before Elisa reached the YWCA she quickly made one other call.

* * * * *

In the lobby of the YWCA, Mrs. Reed sat nervously on the edge of a chair. Every few minutes she got up to look outside for the red Fairlane and then again at the clock over the main desk. Finally she saw the car pull up and recognized Elisa in the driver's seat. Anxiously she hurried out and got in as Elisa opened the door from inside for her. At the same time Maggie wrapped in her long cloak and steadied herself to go up to the warehouse and wait. But she hesitated, looking back into the infirmary where Claw was developing a harsh rasping cough.

"This doesn't sound good," Dr. Goldblum was saying, clearly becoming worried himself. "His breathing is becoming too labored and irregular." Like all of them, he was exhausted but could not leave to rest.

"I should stay here... with Claw," Maggie finally blurted out. "I shouldn't go."

Talon came over to her and firmly took both her hands in his.

"Go, Maggie," he urged. "We all know it's important to you. It's what Claw would want you to do too."

"But what if she doesn't..."

"You won't know if you don't go meet with her! It was all right with my mother. Just believe it will be with yours too. Families are like that, you know."

Maggie was still unsure, but Talon gave her a hug and helped her pull up her hood. Resolutely she went out to the freight elevator.

* * * * *

Fleeing from the courthouse, Sharon made her way through the tunnels to the main Labyrinth complex outside the mutates' private quarters. This time the clones were still in stone sleep and she was too distraught to notice anyone else.

She reached the entry hall to the Sanctuary gasping, breathless, blinded by tears, and clutching at the stitch in her side from running. "Acquittal!" The whole way she had run she could only see Takeo's mocking leer and hear the judge's gavel and pronouncement of "acquittal." All this time of living in fear and hiding, waiting for this day in court, had been for nothing! How could it happen this way? What would she tell the others? What would become of her parents? How could she ever return home or go back to college? What could she do now? And most of all, WHY?! WHY?! WHY?! It pounded in her mind relentlessly with no answer as she finally entered the comforting seclusion of the mutates' Sanctuary.

But even here, she could not find the friends she had come to trust and believe in. In the main living area Angela and Lexington were still sitting frozen in their stone sleep. No one else was there. Then she remembered Claw and hurried to the clinic area. As she reached the infirmary, only Talon and Dr. Goldblum were there with Claw. But the scene was terrifying. Claw was thrashing wildly in delirium and Talon was struggling to hold him steady while Dr. Goldblum administered something with a syringe directly into a vein. Neither of them noticed Sharon, and it was just as well they didn't. At that point she was in no state to help them anyway.

Hearing voices entering from the other side of the living quarters, Sharon ducked quickly into the lab. She couldn't bear seeing or talking with anyone just now. In the infirmary Talon looked up in surprised relief.

"Mom! Dad! Thank God you're here! How did you know to come!"

"Elisa called to tell us you may need some help here," Diane Maza told him.

"We came as quickly as we could," said Peter. "Here, let me get hold of him on this side."

"Dr. Goldblum,... my parents, Peter and Diane Maza."

"Baruch HaShem!" said Dr. Goldblum, equally as relieved. "All offers of help are welcome! But we'll have to wait till later to get properly acquainted. Just hold him steady, you two. Mrs. Maza, if you will look in that cupboard to your right and find me another syringe like this one... I'm sorry we can't take time for tea just now."

Sharon closed the lab door to shut out their voices. All of this was happening because of her! Maybe she should have married Tommy. But all Tommy really wanted was to own her. And if she went to him now, what good would it do? It wouldn't help Claw. Or her parents. It would only mean total victory for Tommy and the Yakuza -- and total defeat for all those who had given so much to help her. In the boiling rage she felt inside she only wanted to go somewhere she could scream. And she wanted a way to seize Tommy's victory away from him and give him a taste of bitter defeat.

As she wandered aimlessly about the lab, she suddenly saw the answer. Right there in front of her, on the lab counter, was the fresh batch of Sevarius' mutagen she had helped Dr. Goldblum prepare the day before. Yes!! There was a way to take back Tommy's victory and give him defeat! She would go to him, but not meek and submissive to be his obedient concubine. She would go after him as a huntress -- with razor talons, and a powerful electric bolt. But if she were to stop now and think about it, she would not be able to go through with it. Frantically she searched through the lab drawers for a syringe and needle and drew up a full dose of the serum with trembling hands. No hesitating. No turning back. Immediately she slid the needle directly into a vein in her arm and injected the entire dose. It was going to take effect fast, taking it directly like that. She had to get out of here before anyone happened to find her. Checking the hallway and finding it empty, she hurried back out to the main Labyrinth. The clones and the gargoyles were just waking up as she ran for the tunnels.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, up in the cavernous warehouse, Maggie waited in the shadows huddled in her cloak. Her own thoughts were not much clearer than Sharon's as she alternately worried over Claw's crisis and how her mother would react to seeing her... like this. Elisa did not have a remote control to open the huge rolling overhead door, but she did have access to the small side door. She parked outside and showed Mrs. Reed in. Maggie drew back further into the shadows until she recognized her mother's voice.

"An empty warehouse, Detective Maza?" Mrs. Reed was wondering. "Why on earth would Maggie want to meet here?"

"Because of the... changes the chemical agent caused, she isn't comfortable openly meeting in a public place, Mrs. Reed," Elisa explained. "This warehouse is very near to where she's living now."

"You're sure you told her the right time to be here?"

"I'm sure. And I'm sure she'll come."

"But I still don't understand what changes have happened to her. It's all a bit much for me."

"It was for me too -- with my brother. But he's still my brother, just the same. And so is Maggie still your daughter."

"There's no heat in here." She pulled her coat tighter and looked around uncertainly. "...I just hope she'll be here soon."

They both turned at the sound of cautious footsteps and saw the small cloaked figure move out of the shadows.

"I'm here, Mom," said Maggie, slowly pushing back her hood.

She started to come forward, but Mrs. Reed backed away, staring at her in total shock and -- revulsion. Her face drained of all color, her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open.

"NO!" she cried, first in a hoarse whisper and then rising to a shriek, "NNOOOOO!!!"

"Mom,... it really is me," Maggie tried to tell her.

But the horrified woman was beyond reach. "FREAK!! BEAST!! MONSTER!! YOU CAN'T BE MY DAUGHTER!!

Maggie shrank back at her mother's reaction and her eyes filled with tears. Mrs. Reed turned on Elisa.


"I never lied to you, Mrs. Reed," Elisa began. "I tried to make it easier for you to..."


As she turned away and went for the door, Elisa heard another door at the far end of the warehouse and spun around in that direction. Maggie had fled. Elisa knew Mrs. Reed could not take the car because she had her keys in her pocket, so she ran after Maggie. But Maggie had the speed and agility of a cat coupled with a surge of adrenalin. Even heartbroken, crying, and with no clear direction, she pulled up her hood, kept to the shadows, and easily outdistanced Elisa. Finally Elisa let her go. She could only hope Maggie would make her way back to the Labyrinth as she hurried back to Mrs. Reed.

But Eleanor Reed had also fled. When Elisa reached the car there was no sign of her. She had rushed from the warehouse district out to a main street. There she would be able to get a cab, so Elisa knew the best thing to do was return to the YWCA. Only now it was nearing 5:00 PM and the combined congestion of rush hour and holiday shoppers was in full force. By the time Elisa reached the YWCA the cab had gotten Mrs. Reed there by a route known only to cab drivers, and she had already checked out and left for the bus terminal.

"I never saw anyone in such a hurry to leave," the woman at the desk told Elisa. "Mrs. Reed rushed in here like she was being chased by demons. It wasn't even five minutes till she was back down again with her bag ready to check out. I believe she had the cab driver wait for her. She wanted to know whether I had a Greyhound bus schedule, so I assume she must have been on her way to the terminal."

"All right. Thank you," said Elisa with quiet resignation.

Back in her car, she stopped to think. Intuitively she knew it was futile to try to find and bring back Eleanor Reed. "That poor woman denied her daughter's very existence," she told herself regretfully. "Now she's on her way to... probably back to Ohio and out of Maggie's life altogether. Maggie's sure to return to the Labyrinth and she'll need the support of her surrogate family there more than ever. But Fang can't be counted as one of the clan and Claw.... With him fighting for his own survival, Maggie really only has Derek now. So I've got to let Derek know what's happened."

As she started the ignition, she realized she needed her headlights. It was already dark and the clan would be awake. She reached for her two-way communicator to call Goliath.

"Too much is happening too quickly," Goliath responded when she told him. "Where are you now, Elisa?"

"On my way to the Labyrinth. I need to let Derek know about Maggie, but they're not answering the phone down there. I'm worried about what's happening with Claw. Can the rest of you meet me there? I've got a bad feeling that something more is going on. We're going to have to keep an eye on Kimura. He's almost sure to try something else to get at Sharon. She should have made it to the Labyrinth by now and will be safe there."

"If you're sure the Nomuras are safe, Hudson will stop at their apartment to pick up Bronx. Angela and Lexington are already in the Labyrinth. The rest of us are on the way."

* * * * *


Sharon was in the labyrinth under the city, but not in the mutates' Labyrinth. When she had fled into the tunnels she turned down one of the countless side passages that was unlit and unfamiliar. She had caught her dress on something but barely noticed the long tear that had ripped part way up her skirt. Now, deep in the darkened maze, she quivered and writhed and screamed unheard as the mutagen had its effect. She felt things happening to her as the changes brought spasmodic waves of pain. She could not see the sleek black coat of fur she was growing, but knew it was there. Her shoes split apart as her small feet expanded into taloned claws. Only when she tightly clenched her fists and felt the sharp talons bite into her hand did she know they also were now part of her. In her anguish she ripped the sleeves out of her blue dress. The horrendous cracking and tearing pain across her shoulders was the worst, but now she knew she had a pair of wings. She could not yet unfurl and spread them, but there was no doubt of what they were.

As the pain gradually subsided, she did not know how long she had been here, but her mind was clearer and she knew the choice she had made. Regrets would have to wait for later. She could not think beyond the here and now. Cautiously she extended a hand forward and tried to focus an electric bolt. There was only a short crackle of blue sparks from her fingers, but it was a start. She would learn to use it. And now she could see. Her eyes had lightened from dark brown to the deep amber eyes of a panther and could penetrate the inky darkness around her.

She knew by now it must be well into night in the city above. Takeo Kimura would be celebrating his court victory with all his Yakuza friends -- probably in his favorite club. Even without full use of her wings, she would give him the shock of his life -- and ruin his victory celebration.

"Beware the Huntress, Takeo Kimura," she said aloud. "Now you will know the bitterness of defeat. And you will never trouble the Nomuras again!" She discovered her voice was still the same - and yet it was different.

* * * * *

As Sharon made her way back through the maze of tunnels, using her keen new senses to find a way up to the surface, Elisa was stepping out of the warehouse freight elevator and punching in the access code to enter the mutates private quarters. At the same time, Hudson landed on the roof above the Nomuras' apartment. Inside, the apartment door was standing open, broken in by a pair of Yakuza wakashu sent by Takeo's oyabun, Shinji, to dispose of the Nomuras. Hudson drew his sword in a quick natural reflex and charged into the apartment where he pulled up short and laughed aloud. The Nomuras were not there, thanks to the intervention of Captain Chavez. But the two wakashu were not going anywhere. One lay on the floor, eyes bulging, gasping for breath, with Bronx sitting squarely on his chest. The other was pinned underneath the first. It was easy to figure what had happened.

The two had burst into the apartment just before dusk, expecting to take the Nomuras completely by surprise.

"If they're not here, where are they?" asked one.

"The oyabun won't like it if they've escaped," said the other.

"They could still show up. Let's just be ready for when they do."

"Hey, get a load of this!" They had just walked into the living room and were amused by the huge stone figure of Bronx. "To have a life-sized komainu temple guardian taking up half their living room, these people must be really superstitious."

"Or else they're really serious collectors," chuckled the other.

Their amusement suddenly faded as the sun dropped below the horizon and the stone beast cracked awake and emited a bestial roar unlike anything they had ever imagined.

"THAT THING IS ALIVE!!" one yelled.

"Let's just get out of here!" his companion urged.

They slowly backed away in retreat as the huge gar-beast turned toward them and growled a warning. Whatever it was, it knew they did not belong here. Before they could escape, both were knocked flat and pinned right where they fell by the heavy bulk of the creature still sitting on them. Now, if they expected help from Hudson they were disappointed.

"Well now," chuckled Hudson. "Looks like you lads came in here meaning to do some harm and found something you weren't expecting. Good work, Bronx!"

A short time later a police car arrived responding to an anonymous phone call and found the two wakashu tightly bound with a drapery cord. Both were wild-eyed and babbling about a demon- creature and a stone statue of a temple guardian that came to life. The police laughed openly among themselves as they loaded the two into their squad car -- until one chanced to look up at the roof where a big winged creature had just launched carrying a bulky beast-thing with it. He nudged his partner and pointed.

"Gargoyles?" asked the partner as they both stared upward.

"I guess. D'you suppose they're the ones who left these two here for us?"

"Could be. I recognize these two as Yakuza. We've had trouble with them before but could never pin anything on them."

"And isn't this where that guy who testified against the Yakuza lives?"

"You know, maybe these 'gargoyles' really are on our side!"

* * * * *

Goliath and the rest of the clan reached the Labyrinth just after Elisa did, followed a short time later by Hudson and Bronx. The mutates' living area was filled with tension and confusion. Elisa was greeted by her mother, much to her relief. Talon was showing the strain of the hours with Claw, and Peter was with him, just as haggard. Angela looked apprehensive and hurried to Goliath and Broadway. Even the deadpan expressions of the clones showed their worry as they paced the room. Everyone was talking, but no one was making sense. Their actions and expressions screamed volumes.


Goliath's roar got things quieted enough for some explanations. It was Talon who finally spoke up, though not without difficulty. "Dr. Goldblum has taken Claw back to surgery. He's... putting another drainage tube into his chest. Lex is in there working the monitor and vent. I... couldn't stay in there any longer." His tone was both sad and angry as he continued. "I can take on a dozen street thugs single-handed and not bat an eye, but I couldn't take seeing Claw go through anymore of this."

Peter tightly gripped his son's broad shoulder as Diane picked up and finished for him. "Dr. Goldblum said one of the puncture wounds into Claw's back reopened into his chest cavity and collapsed his entire lung. If he can't get it sealed and the lung reinflated, Claw won't be likely to survive. And Claw does want to live. He roused just enough to be able to understand."

"How long have they been in there?" asked Brooklyn.

"Quite awhile," Angela answered. "They started before we woke. Lex went right in. They should be through pretty soon -- I hope."

Sata quickly stepped forward. "I can help too. Children, stay here and mind your father and uncles."

Hurriedly she darted down to the clinic and operating room. Elisa took a quick look around and missed someone.

"Derek, has Maggie come back?" she asked with a slight note of urgency.

"No. Not since she went up to the warehouse to... Elisa, what is it?"

"It gets worse, I'm afraid," Elisa told him. "Maggie's mother... rejected her completely."


"It was awful, Derek!" Elisa now vented her own frustration. "Mrs. Reed totally freaked out. She called Maggie a 'beast and a monster.' Then she accused me of lying to her, and insisted her daughter is dead. The way Maggie took off from there, she must be heartbroken. I ran after her but couldn't catch up to her. When I got back her mother was gone too. When I got back to the YW to find Mrs. Reed, she had packed up and gone. I'm sure she's left the city, but I thought Maggie would be back down here by now."

"We should have gone with her to meet her mother," said Peter regretfully. "We can still try to trace Mrs. Reed. Maybe if Diane and I can talk to her..."

"I doubt it would help now, Dad," said Talon. "It sounds like her rejection was pretty final. I guess we'll just have to be Maggie's family now."

"If we're going to be her family let's start by finding her!" insisted Diane.

"The kids and I can search from overhead," offered Brooklyn. "Let's go, youngsters."

"Bronx can help track her on the ground," said Hudson. "She'll be most likely to keep to back alleys and just find someplace to hide."

"She's bound to come back here," said Peter. "Where else can she go? You'd better stay, Son. If she comes back she'll need you to be with her. Diane, we can take the car and go up and down side streets."

* * * * *

Before any of them could leave, the clinic door opened and Dr. Goldblum wearily stepped into the room flanked by Lexington. He was immediately besieged by the entire group. He knew what they wanted to know and gave them all an encouraging nod.

"He's made it through the worst," he told them quietly. "His condition now is still very serious but stable. He should sleep for several hours."

There were audible sighs of relief from all around.

"Can I offer you some coffee, Doctor?" asked Diane.

"Yes, thank you, I would like some." He looked around at the odd assortment of humans, gargoyles, mutate, and clones and added, "Claw is very fortunate to have so many supporters. And I'm glad to have had the assistance as well. Lexington here; Sata, I believe she said her name is; and the female clone, Delilah; have all been extremely helpful. Sata and Delilah are settling Claw in the infirmary."

"Delilah?" exclaimed Elisa. "She was helping you?"

"Surprisingly, yes; and quite capably, I might add. She has very steady hands and takes directions well under pressure. Although..." he looked around more carefully then, "...I had hoped Miss Nomura would have returned by now, but I don't see her here. Is she in the lab perhaps?"

"SHARON!!" cried several voices at once, followed by a fresh explosion of frantic questions.

"Wasn't she helping you with Claw too?"

"Did she get back all right, Derek?"

"I haven't seen her. If she came in, she didn't let us know she was here!"

"If she came back?"

"She left the courthouse right after the trial! She should have gotten here hours ago!"

"Where else could she go? With her parents maybe?"

"She wasn't with them when Captain Chavez took them to the safehouse. I'm sure of it!"

"There was no sign of her in their apartment when I went to get Bronx either."

"You don't think that Kimura fellow could have gotten to her before she got back here?!"

A sudden terrible chill swept through them all. Angela and Elisa looked at each other with expressions of near panic and then broke from the rest and raced down the hall to Sharon's room. Dr. Goldblum and Talon made for the lab. Her room was empty and undisturbed with no sign she had been there. When the rest got to the lab, Dr. Goldblum and Talon were both standing numbly at the counter. The doctor picked up the evidence -- the vial of fresh mutagen, clearly down by a full dose, and the empty syringe. He looked pale and stricken.

"If anyone is to blame, I am," he murmured, mostly to himself. "I knew she was distressed. She told me earlier of all that she and her parents were dealing with. I should have realized she was reaching a crisis point. It never occurred to me she would do something as... extreme as this."

Angela was close to tears. "I knew she was upset too," she stressed. "That's why I stayed here through the day. When Talon told us that Elisa called about the results of the trial, I should have checked in here for her, but everything was happening with Claw then."

Goliath put an understanding arm around his daughter. "No one here is to blame," he stated. "What's done is done. Now we have to do whatever we can to help her."

"What will happen to her, Doctor?" asked Diane, clutching at Peter's arm.

"This serum is the exact same formula Sevarius used," he answered. "The same thing will happen to her as happened to Talon and Claw and Maggie. The effect on her own DNA structure will cause her own individual mutation, just as each of them is individual."

"So, we know she did come back here," said Brooklyn. "But we don't know when."

"And more importantly," Goliath pointed out, "we don't know where she has gone. Didn't anyone see her?"

"We see her."

It was Malibu who spoke. They all spun around to see him with the other clones nodding agreement.

"You saw Sharon come in here?!" demanded Talon. "Why didn't you tell us?!"

"No one ask us."

Amid several groans of frustration from humans and gargoyles, Talon kept at them. "We're asking you now! Tell us when you saw her and what you saw!"

"Today. Just wake up from stone sleep. Pretty girl, dark eyes, long hair, name Shah-ron. She know our names. Always she wave to us in Lab-rinth. Sometimes talk to us. Today she come from here, no wave to us, no stop to talk. Running. Crying. We wave -- she still no wave. Run down into tunnel. Then we see her no more."

"Then she came back from the courthouse while Lex and I were still in stone sleep," said Angela.

"Claw was getting into trouble then," said Talon. "If she saw the problems we were having, she probably ducked out without letting us know she was here."

"And if you add up the problems she's been having with Tommy Kimura, the threats made to her folks, the attempt on her father's life that Claw took full force of, and top it all off with the trial and Tommy's acquittal," Elisa listed the tally. "She must have been half out of her mind!"

"And ready for desperate measures," Broadway finished.

"Worse yet!" Angela suddenly cried, "She's been blaming herself for everything!"

"Yes," rumbled Goliath in his pensive tone. "And now she's somewhere in the hundreds of miles of tunnels under the city; alone, frightened, and no doubt going through the mutation process."

"We have to find her, Father!" pleaded Angela desperately.

"Aye, and we still have to find Maggie as well," Hudson reminded them.

"We'll split up and search for them both," Goliath decided. "Brooklyn and Hudson, go ahead with your original plan to search for Maggie. Peter, you and Diane go as well. Talon, you should remain in case Maggie returns on her own."

"It's possible," considered Dr. Goldblum, still in shock himself, "that enough time has elapsed for Sharon to have gone through the first stages of transformation. But why would she do it?"

"And what if she's left the tunnels?" asked Angela.

"If she has, I think I know where she's probably headed," said Elisa. "She'd be likely to try to find Tommy Kimura."

"Sharon is not one who would normally seek vengeance," said Sata, coming in from the infirmary.

"But she's clearly not herself to have done this," said Dr. Goldblum regretfully. He was still numbly holding and staring at the vial of mutagen when he suddenly looked up with a new realization as he remembered the mutates' case files. "During the actual mutation process..., the multiple stresses of going through the transformation can cause heightened aggression! I should have seen it before! Claw nearly killed a lab assistant during his own mutation, even though he'd probably never intentionally hurt another."

"You mean like the way Maggie blasted me when she was just newly formed?" asked Brooklyn. "She couldn't understand then that I was trying to help her."

"I think you're right, Doctor," said Talon grimly. With his own troubled memory he turned to Elisa. "Remember right at the end of my... change, Elisa? I... blasted you with an electric bolt. I wasn't myself then either. ...I don't think I ever apologized for that."

"Yes, you did, Derek," Elisa assured him warmly as she lay a hand on his arm. "But I'm all the more sure now that Sharon is likely to go after Kimura."

"All things considered, I hope that Kimura dude gets what he deserves!" declared Broadway.

"Yeah!" agreed Lex. "A guy like that deserves the worst!"

"But Sharon doesn't deserve it!" cried Angela. "We weren't here for her when she needed us, and now she needs us more than ever!

"Elisa, you come with Broadway, Angela, Lexington, and me," said Goliath. "We'll search above ground. Malibu and the clones can search the tunnels."

"The clones will need someone to lead them," Talon pointed out. "Otherwise they'll just wander in the tunnels and get lost."

"I will lead them," said Sata, "Delilah can stay to help look after Claw."

"Nudnik can help too, Mother," offered Graeme. "He's been learning to track."

Sata and Brooklyn exchanged knowing glances over their son's head, but Brooklyn was willing to give the gar-pup a chance. "Let Nudnik sniff around in Sharon's room to get her scent, and take him with you, Sata," he said. "He's young but maybe he can still help to track her."

"Everyone, stay in contact with your two-way transmitters," Goliath ordered. "We have to find both of them and have them back here before dawn comes."

As they all headed off on their search missions, Dr. Goldblum looked after them, clearly impressed with their collective commitment. "Godspeed, all of you," he said quietly, as he turned back toward the infirmary.

* * * * *

In a darkened alley a bleary-eyed wino settled himself comfortably against a trash dumpster to block the winter wind and pulled out his bottle of cheap whiskey. Just as he lifted it to swallow a hearty swig, he noticed the grate over the storm drain moving -- by itself. He stared at it a moment, shook his head to clear his fuzzy vision, and stared again. Yes, it was moving, but not by itself. Someone, or rather some thing, was moving it -- and climbing up out of it. Frozen more with fear than the winter cold, he scrunched down tightly against the dumpster and stared at the thing. It, or rather, she, rose slowly out of the drain and carefully replace the grate without a sound. Once, when she turned slightly, he glimpsed a slanted amber eye. She didn't appear to notice him, or didn't concern herself with him if she did notice. She seemed to know where she wanted to go and stealthily crept on down the alley. The old wino picked up his bottle again and talked to it in a thick, slurred mutter.

"What're they allus talkin' 'bout pink el'fants fer? That wern't no pink el'fant. It were a... It were a... A panther wit' wings... an' wearin' a blue dress!! Rite outa th' shjungle! D'jou know panthers got wings? Meybeee... jus' the ones 'ere in the konkreet shjungle. Tha's gotta be it!"

* * * * *

Sharon moved with her new panther-like stealth toward the end of the alley, staying well hidden in the shadows. She had already been to Tommy's favorite club, but he was not there. She did hear talk near the rear kitchen door that he had reserved several tables for later that evening for a "victory celebration." She could wait there, but didn't know how long she had till another stage of her transformation began. And she did not want to wait for another night to confront Tommy. This was his "day of victory" that she wanted to spoil. That left another of his regular hangouts to check -- the pool hall out there on the street this alley opened into. She still could not spread her wings, but could feel them tightly furled behind her. For now, she did not need them. She would stay still and lie in wait, a shadow among shadows. It seemed longer than it actually was, but finally a particularly loud and boisterous group of young men charged out of the pool hall with Tommy beaming in the center of attention.

"...never had any doubt you could pull it off, Takeo-san," one of his cronies, named Motoki, laughed.

"Ah, it was easy!" Tommy boasted. "Had the judge, jury, and all the witnesses right here in this pocket the whole time."

"Easy for a pro like you, Takeo-san," praised Tsutomu loudly.

"All the witnesses?" challenged Yukio. "What about that tailor, Nomura?"

"What about him?"

"He talked, didn't he?"

"Not enough to convince the jury." Tommy was very pleased with himself. "Besides, my ikka is dealing with him."

"Are you sure?" asked Toshito. "I heard on the police band a couple of ikka wakashu were picked up at Nomura's place just a little while ago. They're charged with breaking and entering, but the Nomuras weren't even home."

Tommy had not heard that, but would not let the news dampen his celebration.

"Hey, don't rain on my parade, Toshito-san!" he threw back. "I'll deal with it -- after we have this party! You'll all be at the club tonight, won't you?"

"Wouldn't miss it!"

"You bringing Nomura's daughter, Takeo-san?" asked Kenichi. He was new to the Yakuza circle and perhaps a little too eager to be fully accepted, but was apparently less well informed of the total picture. "You still have an eye on her don't you?"

Tommy gave him a very pointed look that unmistakably warned him to back off. Tsutomu quickly stepped in. "After that chick's old man ratted on the ikka, she's in as much hot water as he is. Right, Takeo-san?"

"Just make sure none of you are late to the party or you'll lose your reservations!" Tommy shot back evasively. He wanted to be away from this crowd for a time, and left them with no further answers.

As he walked on down the street with his usual arrogant swagger he did not notice the slender, catlike figure with amber eyes that followed him with silent stealth, darting from shadow to shadow. Not until he neared the corner did he sense he was being followed, but a glance behind showed only shadows and nothing moving. Nevertheless, the prickling chill up his back was not due only to the cold December night. He could not deny the eerie feeling that he was being stalked by... something that was not interested in his wallet. It was unnerving to feel like chosen prey of... he didn't know what, and he walked faster. Gargoyles would most certainly attack from overhead, but a nervous upward glance revealed nothing. This was something stalking him on the ground.

At the next corner he crossed the intersection and continued up the street, planning to duck into the alley and across to the next block. The shadow following him turned the corner, crossed midway down the block, and hurried back to slink up near him again. As soon as he turned into the alley, the shadow struck without warning.

The claws that seized the back of his neck were like something out of an old sci-fi horror movie, but the sensation was all too real. Tommy yelled in pain and terror as those claws raked down his back, tearing right through his coat and shirt. The elaborate Yakuza tattoo covering a third of his back would now be scored by three long scars. But before he could recover from the first shock of this weird attack, he was seized again, lifted off his feet, and held off the ground. Only now he could see his attacker. And that was, by far, the greatest shock of his life.

The creature holding him suspended was not a gargoyle, as he had feared. It was a slender, winged panther -- sort of. It... no, she was not even as tall as he himself but seemed to have three times his strength and held him up with little effort. He immediately found it was useless to struggle in her grasp. Tightly curled wings joined to her shoulders were as black and silken as her sleek fur coat; and she had a long, flowing mane of black hair. Slanted amber eyes, smoldering with anger, glared at him; and her open mouth revealed long, sinister fangs. But the real shock, that blanched his face and choked off his breath, was Sharon Nomura's face and voice.

"I will warn you once and once only, Takeo Kimura," she told him fiercely. "You will never again threaten Hiroshi and Mariko Nomura or cause them trouble, or anyone else for that matter. If you do, you will not have another warning. Look at me, Takeo Kimura! Look well and remember! I have marked you now! If you ever give me cause to hunt you again, it will be to destroy you!"

Tommy was spared the pain of colliding with the brick wall she threw him against only because he passed out cold before she flung him. But once she had finished with him, Sharon, herself, collapsed in the alley. The huntress was suddenly gone and only the frightened, tormented girl remained, overcome by despair and loneliness. Her strength was rapidly fading and spasms of pain were beginning again. She could feel the first stretching and pulling of her wings expanding, and now only wanted to escape back underground before someone found her.

Then, suddenly, she was no longer alone. There was a whoosh of four pairs of powerful wings from above as Angela, Broadway, Lexington, and Goliath with Elisa, all dropped down and surrounded her.

"Sharon, it's us! We've looked everywhere for you!" cried Angela.

"We saw what happened here!" said Goliath. "Are you all right?"

"We know it's you, Sharon!" Elisa told her. "We knew as soon as Dr. Goldblum found the syringe and serum in the lab."

"Elisa figured out you'd probably go after Kimura," said Broadway. "Half the clan is looking for you and the rest are looking for Maggie!"

They clustered around her protectively and Angela hugged her. Sharon broke into uncontrolled sobs, at least relieved to realize she was not alone. "It's... not over!" she choked out through her tears. "I'm still... changing! ...Help me!! What have I done?!"

"It doesn't matter, Sharon," Angela comforted. "We'll deal with it. Let's just get you back to the Sanctuary."

Elisa joined Angela in calming her. "Your folks are safe, Sharon. The Yakuza and Tommy can't get to them now." She carefully omitted any suggestion of trying to contact them tonight.

"What about him?" asked Lexington, indicating the unconscious Kimura.

"Leave him," said Goliath. "He's out cold but otherwise not seriously hurt. We'll send an ambulance to pick him up as soon as we get Sharon out of here."

"Do you think you can climb that fire escape, Sharon?" asked Broadway. "We'll help you."

Slowly, painfully, with their help...she could. From the roof they could launch and glide back to an entry near the Labyrinth. Broadway carried Sharon with Angela close alongside and Lexington following, and Goliath carried Elisa. Once inside the Sanctuary they took her to her own room rather than the infirmary. Angela stayed with her as Dr. Goldblum quickly examined her. Mindful of her pain, he was especially gentle. The doctor himself was beyond exhaustion, and the added blow of seeing his new assistant going through this seemingly senseless anguish weighed heavily on him. Still, he could not let her think he regarded her any less now than he had before. His heart ached for her as she turned to him with tear-filled eyes.

"Doctor," she said, barely above a whisper. "Is Claw...?"

"Hush," he told her, kindly. "He lives. He's still serious, but I think he'll come through all right. ....And you, Sharon. When I asked you to be my assistant, I never intended for you to become this involved in the mutate project. ...Was there no other way?"

"My parents..., everyone close to me... hurt or in danger... Had to do... something," Sharon gasped through her pain. "Please... understand."

He had worked with her for only a day and a half, had listened to her troubles with no answer for her, and had never guessed she would take such extreme measures as this. Like all physicians, Dr. Goldblum hated feeling powerless to help; but his own deep convictions and compassion kept him from hastily judging her actions. Weary and haggard as he was, he sat down beside her and lightly grasped her hand.

"I think I do understand," he assured her. "Do you remember when we spoke about making sacrifices?"

Tearfully she nodded.

"In the Talmud there's a discussion about temple sacrifices and how wine and olive oil were used in nearly every sacrifice. But the olive tree, which produces the olive oil; and the grape vines, that produce the wine, were forbidden to be used. It's described as 'the parents being saved for the children's sacrifice'. No one can fault you for making this sacrifice when you have made it out of love and devotion for your parents. For now you're safe... and I can give you something to help ease the pain. Later we'll see what else can be done." He did not judge. He looked at her with compassion and understanding and added, "When things are more settled we can talk about it... over green tea and rugelach."

She actually managed a weak smile.

Dr. Goldblum gently eased her into a more comfortable position to allow her wings to expand, and stayed a little longer till she relaxed from the medication he gave her. When she finally drifted to sleep he quietly got up to leave.

"I'll stay with her, Doctor," said Angela softly. "Do you think...? Will you be able to help her?"

"I hope so," he answered wearily. "I certainly intend to try. There's nothing more to do now but let the transformation run its course. At least here she can be comfortable and surrounded by close friends. ...Call me if she needs anything at all."

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Sata had returned with the clones. "So you did find her where you expected," she said as they all gathered in the living area. "Nudnik did well following her scent until we found what was left of her shoes and dress. He got off-track after that."

"Not find Shah-ron," spoke up Malibu. "Find others. Safe in Lab-rinth now."

"What others?" asked Elisa, puzzled.

"A mother and her two young children," Sata explained. "They became lost after they ran into the tunnels to escape the husband and father who abused them. They were cold and hungry, but more afraid of him they were hiding from than of us. We brought them to the Labyrinth for shelter. They are there now having a hot meal."

* * * * *

Out in the city, the others were still searching for Maggie. Peter and Diane had returned with nothing to report. Talon was pacing endlessly, growing more worried as time passed. But about the time Goliath's party were on their way back with Sharon, Bronx caught sight (or scent or both) of a mangy pack of mongrel dogs. They had something cornered in a blind alley and were closing in on it when they were suddenly confronted by the huge blue beast. One good roar from Bronx, followed by a war cry from Hudson brandishing his sword, reduced the entire pack of snarling, growling curs to a fleeing streak of terrified pups with their tails between their legs.

"Well, that takes care of that lot, right enough! Eh, Boy? Now let's see what they were after in here."

Huddled in the alley, alone, bedraggled, devastated, and crying, was Maggie. Bronx's roar became a soft whimper as he crept up to nuzzle her. Hudson sheathed his sword and stooped to wrap a wing around her.

"Come, Lass," he said in his gruff, gentle way. "We're here to take ye home."

"It's not my home!" Maggie protested. "You don't know...!"

"Aye, we do know," Hudson countered. "Elisa told us what happened. But, ye know, Lass, home isn't only what ye're born into. We've all learned that since coming here when we lost our own home -- and our world. Home is what ye make it to be. And family is who ye make it with. Half your family is out looking for ye, Lass; and the other half is frettin' with worry over ye. Come now. Let's be going."

Maggie did not resist then as he helped her up and walked her out of the alley. There they were joined by Brooklyn and his two children swooping down from above.

"We saw that pack of mutts tear out of here and figured it might be Bronx that set them off," said Brooklyn.

"Are you okay, Aunt Maggie?" asked Graeme.

"Uncle Talon and everybody's real worried," followed Ariana.

"I'm not sure I'm okay... yet," she answered, drying her tears. "I guess I will be though. ...Thanks for coming to find me."

When they brought her into the Sanctuary Talon rushed to embrace her.

"We know what happened with your mom, Maggie," he told her. "Maybe she'll feel differently after she has time to think about it. But whether she does or not, ...we're your family now. Your home is here with us."

"That's sort of what Hudson told me, too," she said quietly, still fighting tears. "And I am glad to be back here. I felt really bad about leaving Claw when he was in trouble. How is he now?"

"Serious but stable. Dr. Goldblum ended up taking him back to surgery. His lung collapsed, but the doctor got it re-inflated and sealed. He's made it through the worst."

Maggie's shock and dismay showed clearly on her face. "Oh, Talon! You're sure he's all right? He's going to make it, isn't he?"

"We think so, but it's going to take awhile for him to recover. He's sleeping now."

"I only hope, if we do find a cure, for us, it'll still be effective for him."

Then Elisa came up to her apologetically. "Maggie, I'm sorry about what happened today. I never expected... I wouldn't have set up the meeting at all if I'd had any idea."

"It wasn't your fault, Elisa. I'm the one who agreed to go." Maggie hesitated a moment and drew a deep breath. "I never told any of you anything about my family because I always knew I was a disappointment to them. My father was always unhappy that I wasn't a boy. And Mom... she and I never really met each others' expectations. I was never the high achiever she wanted me to be. She was never there for me when I needed her. Now that I think about it, Hudson was right. Home is what you make it to be. Family is who you make it with. I really have a lot more home and family here than I ever had in Ohio -- even if I can ever be human again."

Talon took her shoulders then and turned her toward him.

"Maggie, there's something more you need to know -- about Sharon."

Maggie's face and eyes showed her disbelief as he told her. Finally he took her down the hall to Sharon's room. For a moment she simply stood in the doorway and stared. Angela was still there, and Sharon was....

"I never wanted to be like this," Maggie said softly. "But even though it cost me a normal life, it's given me a real home and family for the first time. If I were cured today, I would still have that. She chose this out of love for her family, ...but what has it cost her?"

Angela was tightly holding one of Sharon's hands. Maggie went over and took the other one, clearly intending to stay. Talon quietly slipped back out to the hall where Elisa, Goliath, and Dr. Goldblum waited. Wearily, Dr. Goldblum arched his back in an effort to relieve the aching stiffness he felt.

"Well, we can certainly call this a Murphy's Law Day," he said wryly. "I must speak to Mr. Xanatos about the work schedule down here. He neglected to mention the extended hours, multiple crises, and no allowance for suitable rest breaks when he offered me this project. Perhaps I should report him to the Labor Board."

They all enjoyed a chuckle at that and began to finally relax.

"Xanatos has a tendency not to tell you everything," said Elisa. "You have to get used to unexpected surprises."

"So I keep finding out," Dr. Goldblum remarked as they walked back down to the main living area where the others all waited. "After these last couple of days, I doubt there's anything left that could surprise me, but I do remember being taught never to say 'never.' ....Is everyone accounted for now?"

"Yeah," said Talon grimly. "Everyone's accounted for."

"Thank you, Doctor," said Goliath with quiet sincerity, "...for all you've done these last couple of days."

"You would be Goliath," he responded, looking up at the huge gargoyle towering above him. "The gargoyle leader I've been hearing about. We met earlier, I believe; though we didn't actually meet." He turned to Elisa. "And you're Talon's sister."

They both nodded as he went on. "You gargoyles actually do change from stone to flesh and back to stone with the setting and rising of the sun? An amazing phenomenon of physiology which I'm too tired to try to speculate on just now. But I must tell you, I'm impressed at the way all your families and clans pulled together in handling one crisis on top of another."

"Most of the families did," said Elisa sadly, thinking of Maggie and Eleanor Reed. "Not all. And Sharon's parents... sooner or later they'll have to know."

"Let's hope they can accept her the same way Mom and Dad have me," said Talon.

"I have a feeling they'll be able to," said Elisa.

"I can't imagine it will be easy for them though," said Dr. Goldblum. "I'm... finding it difficult myself. When the time comes; and it must be soon; I should go and talk to them." He fell silent and seemed to think a moment before saying, "It's a fortunate thing to be born into the family you would choose to be part of,... if you could make that choice. In any case, this collective family you've all put together is quite remarkable."

"You know, it's kind of strange," said Peter Maza, joining in. "The Yakuza operates on the idea of 'family.' So does the Mafia. And it's family by choice for them. But look at the difference between someone like Tommy Kimura, or even Tony Dracon, and someone like... well, like you gargoyles."

"Sure is hard to figure," said Brooklyn.

"Perhaps not so hard at all," ventured Dr. Goldblum thoughtfully. "There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with hearts of men." He looked up at them then and hastened to explain, "Uh... that's a passage describing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I've always liked it, but I'll have to go look up who actually wrote it."

"I like that too, Dr. Goldblum," said Talon after a brief pause. "It says a lot. And... I'd like to thank you too -- for all you've done for us these last couple of days. I have to give Xanatos credit for doing one thing right. He sent you to us. I hope you'll still stay on -- and continue the project you've started."

"I have no intention of doing otherwise," the doctor assured him, reaching up to lay a firm hand on his shoulder, "as soon as things here settle back to normal. That is -- whatever 'normal' is here." He looked at his watch then and found it missing. "I took my watch off when I scrubbed for surgery. Does anyone know the time? No, never mind, it doesn't matter. I'd better call my wife regardless. It seems I've missed the last night of Chanukah, but if Claw and Sharon are stable enough by tomorrow night, perhaps I can get home for Shabbat."

No one knew what new crisis they would face tomorrow, but for the rest of this night a welcome calm settled over all of them at last. Sharon and Maggie were both safe and together with their clan, and Angela stayed with them. Claw slept in the infirmary and Dr. Goldblum fell asleep in the chair beside him. Brooklyn and Sata kept their children from pestering anyone as Sata drew them close and quietly told them a story of ancient Japan. Peter and Diane leaned against each other on the sofa, dozing. Goliath' immersed himself in a novel while Elisa nodded drowsily against his shoulder. Broadway and Talon sat at the library table and played cards, talking in low voices, and this time Lexington hung around and joined them. Hudson and Bronx settled in front of the TV and kept the volume down to a minimum. And the clones proudly stationed themselves as guards. Through the remaining hours of the night the Sanctuary was just that - a sanctuary.


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