The Happiest Place On Earth
Story Concept by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez and Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur.
Written by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez.
Artwork by Noel Leas.
Near the Labyrinth
Their faces held an expression of fearful, rapt wonder as they looked at the freshly-dug tunnel, large enough to possibly be a subway. Though no tracks or construction equipment seemed to be present, they were sure that was what it was. Regardless, it was welcome because of its warmth ... easy to cut the cold chill of homelessness they felt every day.
The elderly couple were dressed in hand-me-downs, their faces seamed with worry lines from a life of hard times. Hands and feet wrapped against the chill in the air, they sat for a while at the mouth of the hole, basking in its warmth, but their sense of foreboding about the place slowly grew. The wife looked up at her husband.
"Perhaps we should tell Talon about this. He'll want to know."
The husband let out a disappointed creak, nodding. "You're right, of course. Let's go."
They stood up to leave. And that was as far as they got.
* * * * *
A loud yawn coming from Lexington broke the monotony of the dull patrol flight. "When's something going to happen?"
Broadway and Angela looked behind them at their fellow gargoyle. "Listen to him. Mr. Eager-to-Get-Home is actually looking for something to happen. Let me get this straight. You actually want a situation where people are in danger, or we could get shot at again?" Broadway's remark brought a dirty look from Lex, but a strange expression from Angela, an expression Broadway noted quickly on his mate.
"Well…," Lex started.
"Actually," Angela quickly said, " I'm starting to agree with him. I don't recall a patrol being this slow since I've been here in New York."
Broadway sighed. "You're right, of course. I suppose we could head back and get a head start on dinner."
Lex was just about to agree when a nearby explosion caught his attention. "Yes, now that's what I'm talking about!" Quickly he directed his descent toward the explosion's source. Angela and Broadway were left alone in the sky for a brief moment.
Broadway rolled his eyes and dove after Lex. "Sometimes I wonder about him."
"Ah well ... so much for an early dinner." Angela giggled slightly as she followed her mate toward the buildings below.
* * * * *
Once the three gargoyles had landed, they immediately took a defensive posture, watching for any additional danger to approach, but at the same time searching for the source of the explosion. The source, a warehouse now apparently engulfed in flames, stood before them, a wide firewall of destruction.
Broadway's voice cut the din. "Let's get in there, there might be people inside!" Angela was quickly behind him, both running into the flaming warehouse, covering their heads protectively with their arms and wings.
Lexington started to follow, then stopped, still at some distance ... something looked strange about the explosion. "Guys, wait!" His cybernetic eye's optical sensors detected an anomaly, but not soon enough to keep his clanmates from rushing inside.
* * * * *
A Short While Later
"I don't get it, Detectives, the neighbors swore this building was an inferno."
Officer Morgan looked confusedly at Elisa Maza and Matt Bluestone, who had just arrived at the scene of what was supposed to be a warehouse explosion. Looking up at the building itself, no damage could be seen on any surface. Everything seemed to be in perfect order, right down to the sign over the loading bays designating it as belonging to Nightstone Unlimited.
"I won't doubt that the neighbors saw it in flames. It's just a matter of why it isn't ashes." Matt looked at his partner. "Any ideas, Elisa?"
She quietly muttered under her breath, "This isn't like Demona, she wouldn't kidnap her own clan."
"What was that, Detective?"
Elisa's head snapped up suddenly, surprised by Morgan's question. "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. This isn't presenting any easy answers."
Matt almost chimed in his opinion when a soft sound caught his attention. He looked around for the source, finally finding it ... Lexington, crouching behind Elisa's car, frantically motioning for him. After some more gesticulation, Lex ran back over toward the warehouse, ducking behind a corner. Matt walked back over to where Elisa and Morgan stood.
"We've got a witness. C'mon, Elisa, he needs to talk to you."
Elisa gave a questioning look, but followed close behind Matt. She turned toward Morgan briefly.
"Pack it up here, officer, Detective Bluestone and I will take over."
* * * * *
"I'm glad you guys made it, Elisa. Something's happened to Broadway and Angela and I'm having trouble contacting the castle. It's just luck that I got through to you at all. I think that there's some kind of interference around here."
Elisa looked at Lex with disbelief. "What happened, Lex? I got your call over the link, but it was rather garbled." Matt pulled out his notebook.
"Well, we were about to head home, but we got distracted by an explosion, which we found here. Broadway and Angela ran in to find any people who might have been inside, but once they were in, everything disappeared."
Matt and Elisa looked at each other, then back at Lex. "Disappeared?"
"The flames. It was all fake. I didn't detect any heat coming from it, so I didn't run in." He tapped the cybernetic side of his head. "First time I've been grateful for this stuff."
"So what happened to them?"
Elisa's question frustrated Lex. "That's the thing, I don't know. The flames cut out suddenly. I climbed up to that window and checked it out inside, there wasn't anybody in there. No sign of them." He frowned. "It's all my fault. If I hadn't been wishing…" he muttered.
Elisa looked at him sharply. "What?"
Lex shook his head and waved her off. "It's nothing."
Matt motioned back toward the building's entrance. "They're going to want a report soon, Elisa."
"Then give them one, Matt. Check the inside and tell them it appears to be a hoax. In the meantime, I'm going to apprise Goliath of the situation." She turned back to Lex. "Meet me there, you can tell Goliath what you told me."
* * * * *
Unknown Underground Location
"Ease it in, people. That's precious cargo."
The foreman kept his eyes fixed on the rearview mirror of the electric truck backing into his loading bay. Motioning his hands to direct the driver, the team smoothly brought the vehicle to a halt, bed level with the loading bay. As soon as the truck was parked, a team of workers came forward to unload the truck's living cargo, ensuring the shackles around them were secure.
The foreman picked up his handset radio, calling up to his supervisor. "Sir, they're here. If you wish to come down and inspect the cargo, now would be the time."
A thin voice came over the speaker. "Understood, I'm coming down." This was followed by the sound of a hydraulic lift engaging, lowering to floor level. From the lift's platform, two business-suited men exited, approaching the dock.
The foreman greeted the two men, leading them over to where the unconscious cargo of the truck had been unloaded, fully bound so that arms, legs, jaws, tails, and wings had been secured. Two gargoyles, one blue and quite large-bodied male and a lithe violet female, lay against a railing, propped up so that the suits could inspect them.
One of the suited men, the younger of them, crouched by the female. "This one looks familiar..."
The other approached slowly. "Does she?"
The crouched man brushed a lock of hair away from the violet female's face. "Of course, three years ago. I remember her, with her father, a doglike beast and a human. They came to visit our little hidden sanctuary."
The foreman scanned the invoice of the driver's load. "Whatever you say, Mr. Taro. Where do you want them?"
Taro stood up to face the foreman. "Clean them up and put them somewhere comfortable." He smiled widely. "Nothing but the best for my star attractions."
* * * * *
The Eyrie Building
Goliath stood lost in thought, staring out over the city from the topmost parapet. His keen eyes spotted Lexington returning alone and he hurried down to meet the younger warrior. "Lexington, where are the others? It's getting late."
"Goliath!" The web-winged gargoyle landed and quickly caught his breath, pouring out the story of what had happened.
Goliath frowned down at him. "Why didn't you contact us via the communicator?"
"He tried, Goliath."
The giant gargoyle turned at the sound of Elisa's voice. Beautiful to his eyes as always, she strode quickly across the flagstones. "Something was jamming the comm links. I'm not sure that it's deliberate, there's interference across all the police and radio bands tonight, too. Listen, you aren't going to have time to mount a rescue mission tonight. It's a long glide back down to that warehouse. Let me do some digging tomorrow and see what I can come up with."
Goliath frowned again and clenched the flagstone until the rock fractured beneath his claws. "I don't like the fact that Nightstone is involved in this, but it doesn't make sense for Demona to be involved." He paced back into the gargoyle's quarters.
"Lad." Hudson looked up from the TV, which was showing some commercial for a new theme park, and came out to join the conversation. "Let the lass do her job. We'll find them and get to the bottom of this mess. But the sun's going to rise sooner than we could get back. Use some sense. "
Goliath nodded, agreeing with his former mentor, remembering another night long ago when they hadn't returned to the castle.
* * * * *
The following night
"Over this way!" Lexington banked left, sliding into a wide turn, motioning for his companions, Goliath and Brooklyn, to follow. The two older gargoyles swung onto a similar heading, following their smaller clanmate.
Brooklyn mused, "It's too bad that the Xanatos family is out of town for the weekend. Alex Xanatos might have been able to help us track down Broadway and Angela as a 'magic lesson'."
"Nah, maybe not," Lex said. "Lately he's been real cranky about doing anything magical and more interested in normal kidstuff. I'd also be wary of magic where Nightstone's involved."
"Nightstone ... Demona must be involved with this." Goliath's muttered accusation brought Brooklyn's attention.
"I wouldn't assume that yet, Goliath ..."
"I wouldn't put it past her," Lex suddenly piped up.
Brooklyn flashed a dirty look at his rookery brother. "Don't encourage him, Lex. Elisa didn't find anything out so far other than that the warehouse belongs to Nightstone. And so far she hasn't been able to get in touch with Demona, just with some flunky who wouldn't tell her anything about anything without a warrant or subpoena." Forming up in a close pattern, the three gargoyles alighted across the street from the warehouse, carefully watching...
Watching a number of dark-clothed men stealthily moving around the doorways moving large crates of some sort.
"Looks like a robbery." Brooklyn's suggestion was quickly agreed to by the others, particularly Lex.
"Maybe they're connected to Broadway and Angela somehow. It's worth a try."
Goliath grumbled. "I don't think so. I doubt mere criminals would know anything about disappearing gargoyles. But it is odd that they would chose this particular warehouse to rob."
Lex turned back, eyes glowing. "Well, I say we go in. We're not going to find out much by just watching and they'll be gone by the time Matt or Elisa can get here."
Brooklyn nodded. "I think that a little application of force might be needed." The red gargoyle's eyes lit with anticipation.
As the brothers focused on the warehouse, Goliath was distracted by a noise in a pile of crates, located down a side alley next to the building where the gargoyles waited. He cautiously approached the pile, wondering if someone might be spying on them.
Lex and Brooklyn were so intent on the men at the warehouse that they hadn't yet noted Goliath's movement. The two rookery brothers were so focused that when they rose from their crouched positions they were surprised by the four men who had silently approached them from behind.
The men moved with deadly efficiency, wordlessly, snapping immediately into a fighting mode once the two gargoyles faced them. Brooklyn and Lexington were both caught completely off-guard from the ferocity of their attack, snapping kicks around the two gargoyles' heads and chests, landing blow after blow, calculating every move their quarry made almost even before they made it.
Brooklyn looked over and noticed his leader moving away from where they were. "Hey, Goliath, we could use a little help over here!" His call was interrupted by a loud grunt as he was delivered a blow to the midsection by one of the attackers.
Goliath, far enough away and focused intently on the noises behind the crates, was not at first aware of the fight that had broken out behind him. Eyes glowing, he took a hard grip on the crate, throwing it savagely aside.
And just as Goliath did, and became aware of his Second's call for help, three more dark-clothed men leaped out of a darkened crevice towards the lavender gargoyle. He was barely able to get into a guard position, knocking his attackers into the wall with a wide sweep of his tail.
"Brooklyn, I'm coming!" His impassioned roar came too late, however, as when he got back over to where Brooklyn and Lexington had been fighting, he found them both unconscious and their six attackers still upright, ready to rumble. Goliath noted that the three he had slammed into the wall were rushing up behind him. Normally seven against one would not have been a fair fight for the seven, but Goliath realized that there was something strange about these attackers – they shouldn't have been able to take out both Brooklyn and Lexington that easily. With a loud growl developing in his throat, the huge gargoyle frantically pushed his way through the men, scrambling for the far wall. One of the men lunged and grabbed the gargoyle's foot as Goliath headed up the wall. He shook off the handhold with difficulty and continued climbing, noticing when he looked back that the bodies of his two clanmates had disappeared.
Once he had clawed his way up to the roof of the warehouse, he spread his wings and leaped into the next convenient updraft, only one thought on his mind that he muttered into the night sky.
* * * * *
Unknown Underground Location
"Wheel it in, boys. Nice and easy!"
A burly foreman motioned the truck, slowly backing into the loading bay, so that it would not strike a wall. Once it was docked, its cargo was carefully extracted from the bed by more large roustabouts. Just as carefully, the unconscious bodies of Brooklyn and Lexington were laid out before Taro and his associate.
"Interesting." The new man crouched down beside Brooklyn, running one finger along the red gargoyle's beak. "They come in all shapes and sizes, I'd imagine."
"Indeed. Don't be so surprised, Rika-san, my village has legends about gargoyles such as this one and the battles they had with the resident clan."
"Yes, I do recall your stories about the tengu on our trip over." Rika stood back up. "Are you sure this is worth all the effort? I mean, we are damaging them, aren't we?"
Taro looked at Rika carefully. "Well, it beats mutating people, and there's less call for responsibility with actual gargoyles than there is if we have some Sevarius-like hack mutate the homeless. Your employers should be receiving a return on their investment in a small amount of time."
Rika nodded. "I certainly hope so, Taro-san. For your sake. The last thing we need is for Xanatos to bail you out once again."
* * * * *
Goliath thought nothing of his own safety as he swooped down to the front door of the manor, savagely pounding the door, eyes glowing and teeth gritted. Mirroring his own agitation, Demona answered the door with her own eyes glowing and a pestle full of some occult material clutched in her grip.
"Do you realize what you almost made me drop?! You could have killed us both!!" she roared at him.
Goliath tried his best to control himself. "What business you are up to is unimportant. Where is my Clan?"
She snarled, putting the pestle aside. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"It was your warehouse where they all disappeared. Lexington, Brooklyn, Broadway and Angela! They've all disappeared or been captured."
Demona sighed, rolling her eyes which were now losing their glow. "Do you seriously think that I would kidnap my own daughter, Goliath? Really, we've been through this numerous times ..."
Goliath's own eyes stopped glowing as his critical thinking skills resumed their place in his mind, replacing his anger. "No ... you are right."
"Next time I won't disarm my security systems before I answer the door, then we'll see how far your next temper tantrum gets you." Demona chuckled. "To tell the truth, I kind of enjoy these little melodramas ... they remind me of the old you."
Goliath growled. "Get to the point."
"Let me handle it during the day, Goliath. It is my warehouse, after all. And our daughter is involved in this. Better that I check up when they are least expecting it than for you and the rest of the Clan to rush in and also get caught. If there's anything illegal going on there, I am quite sure that Dominique Destine can get to the bottom of it."
Goliath sighed. "Very well. I will inform the rest of the Clan of what is happening ... what's left of the Clan ..."
"You do that." The door suddenly slammed shut in his face. Taking that as his cue to leave, Goliath turned toward the front lawn.
* * * * *
Pondering the pestle, which was now sitting on the table near the door, Demona looked down at the floor.
"Do I really want to do this?"
Rolling her eyes, she turned toward the telephone. Carefully weighing her options, she picked up the receiver and dialed.
"Yes, who is this? Karen? This is Miss Destine calling. Cancel all my meetings for tomorrow and have a security team meet me at the 37th Avenue inventory warehouse. No, I'm not joking, do it! Hmm? The morning meeting? Well I can't cancel a meeting with them. All right. Cancel all the meetings after that one, then."
She hung up the phone, worried that perhaps a gargoyle-like growl had come through. She would have left right now, but she couldn't leave the spell she was working on without grave consequences – for everyone. She went to pick up her pestle once more, but just as she had it in her hands, another thought came to her. One that was unwelcome...but at the same time probably necessary.
She set the pestle back down, moving back over to the phone and quickly dialing, muttering under her breath "I can't believe I'm actually going to do this." The recipient of the call answering interrupted her internal dialogue.
Demona sighed heavily. "Detective Maza, please."
* * * * *
Goliath pondered the night sky as he stalked away from Demona's door. It galled him to admit, but she was right. She had a better chance of finding out what was going on than he did – and she could check during the day. He would have been more alert, had it not been for her informing him of the deactivation of the lawn defenses.
Unfortunately, they also did not activate for the dark-clothed men who assaulted Goliath ten feet from the door. Overwhelmed by a massive force before he could even think to counterattack, they had the giant gargoyle down in short time, bound in shackles and carried to another truck.
* * * * *
Nightstone Unlimited 37th Avenue Warehouse
The next day
The red Fairlane made its way to the door of the warehouse, its driver wary of everything that awaited her there. After the events of the past two nights, it paid to be cautious, especially where it involved this particular warehouse. The car pulled up to one of the dark-uniformed security guards, who stepped to the driver's window.
"State your name and business."
The window rolled down, allowing Elisa to hand over her ID to the guard. "Detective Elisa Maza, 23rd Precinct, Ms. Destine should be expecting me."
The guard carefully inspected the ID, then looked back at Elisa, handing it back. "She is, Detective. Through there, hang a left."
"Thank you." She replaced her wallet, rolling the window back up and driving in the direction she had been told to go, all the while pondering the message Demona had given her.
"Meet me in the afternoon at the warehouse where the Clan has been disappearing. I want your help to determine what is going on."
"Do I seriously want to do this? This is Demona we're talking about here." Elisa's talking to herself was her only way of calming herself on this tense afternoon. She pulled up to where Dominique Destine was waiting for her. Steeling herself for anything, she exited the car.
"So you know about the abductions."
Dominique nodded, approaching her. "Goliath told me of them last night. As much as it makes me squirm, I decided that I would probably need your help."
Elisa took in a deep sigh before continuing. "Well, you can add Goliath to the list of abductees. He never came home last night."
Demona almost reacted, but then looked at the detective's face .... one filled with genuine concern for her future mate's safety. For a moment, the immortal softened.
"We'll find him, detective. Him and the others. And the one responsible will pay dearly." She clenched her fist in a clawlike motion and practically hissed the last word.
Elisa approached Dominique as they came to the door. "Sounds like you already have a pretty good idea. You're thinking Thailog, aren't you?"
Dominique entered her security code. "The last time we encountered him, he was using a former Nightstone warehouse. Who else could it be? He so relishes in ... torturing me..."
The door opened quickly, allowing ingress for the two women into the main area of the warehouse. The lights came on, automatically. Carefully looking over the area they were standing in, Elisa took notice of a strange extra control panel near the door.
"Do you know what this is, Demona?"
"I've no idea." Dominique approached as well. "Well, it doesn't look like it'll explode." Elisa put up a hand and flipped the only control on the panel, a simple toggle switch.
* * * * *
The guards were on their normal rounds around the building when it apparently exploded beside them. The suddenness of the explosion made them jump ... until they realized there was no heat coming from the now apparently-burning building. They looked at one another confusedly.
"None at all. Maybe it's another one of the boss's new gadgets, who knows? Nobody's screaming and nothing's burning."
The first speaker shrugged. "Then I'm not worried. Resume your posts." The guards followed suit.
* * * * *
"Turn it off!" Dominique's frantic yell snapped Elisa out of her thoughtful pose so that she could turn off the holoprojector that had been inadvertantly triggered. Once it was off, the detective's face had a satisfied look on it.
"So that's how they managed the explosion without hurting the warehouse ..."
"Over here, I've found something else!"
Elisa quickly wove her way through the various bric-a-brac on the floor of the warehouse until she made her way to Dominique's side. The immortal woman was feeling her way around a large wrapped package on the floor.
"I don't remember anything this big being stored here. Help me unwrap this."
Quickly the two women pulled off the cover, rolling it as they pulled. Once it was free, the contents could be seen for what it was.... a small pickup truck, with a long bed, its floor molded into two depressions.
"Not much for cargo ..." Elisa started ...
... and Dominique finished, "... but large enough to carry an unconscious gargoyle or two." Dominique continued her inspection of the vehicle. "Electric. Well suited for a long trip underground, it's just a matter of finding the access."
A breeze greeted Elisa approaching another pile of boxes. "I think I found it, Demona." Turning quickly, she began pulling boxes away from the breeze's source, soon joined by Dominique in her efforts. Once they were finished, the mouth of a long passage was revealed, a passage that made a downward incline ... enough for a small pickup truck to clear and continue to drive further.
"So complex ... this isn't ..."
Dominique's mutterings brought Elisa's attention. "You're not so sure any more it's Thailog, are you?" Dominique nodded. "Don't worry, neither am I."
Demona inwardly seethed but she would not give Elisa the satisfaction of seeing it... if anything annoyed the immortal gargoyle more, it was agreeing with her. She finally decided to take some action, moving to enter the truck's driver side.
"What are you doing, Demona?"
"Let me take the truck to where this tunnel leads. At the very least it should lead to the Clan."
Elisa checked her watch.
"I know, detective. I'm hoping I can time this right."
Elisa couldn't help but smirk, picturing what would happen at the other end. "I'll go rally the rest of the Clan and inform them of what's happening ... we'll follow after nightfall."
Dominique and Elisa both sighed, then in unison uttered "Agreed." Without any further preliminary, Dominique powered up the truck, making a turn to steer it down the tunnel. Elisa stood there for a moment longer.
"Agreeing with Demona? This is getting too weird."
* * * * *
Unknown Underground Location
"I thought we agreed, Taro ... no mutates."
Rika approached the smaller man as he watched the unloading of another "attraction," a black panther-based winged male creature. Taro merely shrugged, carefully supervising his placement between two other cat-like creatures, a lioness and a tiger, both with wings.
"Oh well, the more the merrier, you know, Rika-san. Besides, we agreed not to create mutates. These three were already living in Manhattan's bowels."
Rika leveled his gaze at Taro. "You're sure you have all your cards on the table with us, Taro-san? My employers cannot afford any kind of screw-up with this, they've invested far too much in you."
"I cannot afford any problems either, Rika-san."
Rika approached close behind Taro, placing his mouth close to the smaller man's ear, his voice a harsh, acidic whisper. "You would be well advised to remember that, Taro."
Rika stalked away from Taro, leaving Taro to ponder the quiet parting shot, barely noticing as the workers finally unloaded Talon.
* * * * * * *
Outside Kyoto, Japan
Three years ago
Taro entered the room, going into a deep bow as soon as he had crossed the door. The seated men before him barely took notice.
"Domo arigato, gentlemen. This opportunity to share my vision with you is greatly appre ..."
"Yes, yes, Taro-san, please present your project."
Taro, stopped short, stuttered a bit. "Y-yes sir." Nervously, he put up his placards and turned to face the panel again. "Now then ... my proposal is this. We know of the existence of gargoyles in New York, the American press has been more than open about this. They panic. However, I can tell you of the true nature of these magnificent beasts ..."
He dropped a card to the floor, revealing a pencil sketch of a gargoyle. "... having lived among them for years in my home village of Ishimura. They are gentle beasts, with a strong sense of duty. Eager to follow whoever they owe their duty to."
Another card dropped. This one showed a dome. "Gentlemen, what I propose is a small sanctuary for the gargoyles of New York. This can give benefits to both sides of this arrangements. For the gargoyles, it provides them a safe haven, away from the prying eyes of a public that misunderstands them. For you ... well, this is where their sense of duty comes into play."
Another card dropped. This one showed gargoyles attacking various people. "The gargoyles will follow the person ... or people .... who they feel a sense of duty to. Once in this sanctuary, they will feel a sense of duty to not only myself but to you as well. Then they will do anything you ask of them. Even ... eliminate your competition in New York, if you gather my meaning."
He dropped the last card at his feet. "Any questions?"
The man at the head of the table cleared his throat. "Taro-san ... we here are well aware of your prior attempt at this sort of thing. A sanctuary which wound up becoming more of a theme park than a sanctuary. You would want for our enforcers to be gawked at by the public?"
"On the contrary, sir, they would be in a hidden area away from the prying eyes of the citizens of New York proper. Those who would interact with them would only be persons that I myself would trust."
"We are also familiar with what happened to your last such 'sanctuary,' that which was purchased by Xanatos Enterprises to cover your considerable debts incurred in its construction. Give us one good reason why we should finance another park like this."
Taro approached the table ... stalked to it ... placing his hands on the edge of it and looking intently at the man at the head of the table. "I promise you, sir ... you finance me ... you help me collect the gargoyles ... and I will hand you New York City on a silver platter."
This created quite a rumble amongst the men around the table. After a brief burst of quick conversation between them, the men finally faced Taro again.
"Taro-san ... your argument, however flawed, is convincing. I do believe we can do business with each other ... but we have some conditions."
One of the men at the end of the table approached Taro, standing next to him ... rather threateningly. The man at the head of the table continued.
"This is Hideo Rika. He's one of our best field men, he will be at your beck and call for as long as you are in the U.S. However, he will also be watching you for us. We expect daily progress reports on the project. Understood?"
Taro nodded. "Yes sir."
"Good. Your contact in New York will be a Mr. Kimura, who will arrange everything you will need to construct the sanctuary and obtain your gargoyles. He is reliable ... albeit a bit loose every once in a while."
Taro nodded once more. "Yes, sir."
"One other thing. All three of you ... you, Rika and Kimura .... are going to have to prove yourselves to us. We will be watching your every move. We will expect a return on our investment, Taro. And we are not patient, by any measure of the word."
Taro bowed deeply, out of respect. "Yes, sir. I understand. And thank you."
* * * * *
Taro carefully fingered his hands ... ten fingers, same as always. His performance here, though, would determine how long it stayed that way.
"All right, people, prepare for the next shipment!"
* * * * *
A darkened tunnel
"How long is this blasted tunnel?!"
Dominique let out a shriek as another corner of the truck bounced into the wall of the tunnel. The sound of crunching metal still made her cringe, however fortunate it was that the truck remained running. She had already used up her selection of choice curses at the halfway point of the passage, but the path continued without end.
"Stupid human-designed contraption! How does that bloody detective even do this without hitting everything?" Another strike. Another cringe. Another shriek. Her teeth gnashed together savagely, her grip on the steering wheel never wavering.
Not to mention the itching beginning in her back ... "Oh no, not now!"
Another strike. This time, instead of a shriek, a full-bodied ROAR screamed forth from her lips. Human hands merged into four-fingered gargoyle talons, savagely tearing into the steering wheel. Feet grew significantly, pressing the accelerator pedal down to the floor, speeding the truck further through the tunnel, at almost excessive speed, until it finally broke through a door at the end of the passage, roaring in at uncontrollable speed and slamming into the loading bay.
The workers jumped away from it as it hit. Taro, though, wore an unusual smile as Demona wobbily exited the truck, eyes glowing brightly red. She let out another roar as she saw the Japanese man standing there, smiling at her.
"Well well ... isn't this quite the surprise? A gargoyle actually comes to me ... without any ... persuasion."
Behind Taro, the rest of the captured gargoyles awoke from their stone slumber, roaring their discontent. Quickly, Goliath made note that Demona was there.
"Demona, don't! Get out of here, he's a madman! You can't ...."
A determined look came upon Demona's features. "Not this time, Goliath. I abandoned this Clan once. I won't do it again ... I'm going to get you all out of here!" With a savage war screech, she mobilized herself and leaped forward…
* * * * *
With no small amount of roughness, the biggest, strongest workers in Taro's force wrestled the enraged blue gargoyle into her restraints. Once she discovered that she could not escape on her own, Demona finally relaxed for a moment, apparently resigned to her current fate.
Goliath, next to her, shot her a sideways glance. "And who exactly was going to get us all out of here?"
Demona growled. "Oh, shut up."
* * * * *
Nightstone Unlimited Warehouse
"Through here. Hurry!"
Elisa motioned the small group with her through the front door of the warehouse. As quickly as she had called for them, Graeme, Ariana, Nudnik, Bronx, and Sharon Nomura scurried through. Hudson and Sata had stayed behind at the castle, awaiting the Xanatoses' return and keeping watch over the clones, along with Delilah. A quick flip of the switch on the wall ... then a flip of the correct switch when the hologram was accidentally triggered again ... brought the lights up. Carefully, Elisa led the group over to where she and Demona had found the truck earlier in the day.
"I hope this leads us somewhere, Elisa."
"Don't worry, Sharon, the passage is right around the corner here ..."
Sharon sighed. "I'm just worried. Talon, Maggie and Claw all disappeared last night... I hope this leads us to them."
Elisa looked at the black-furred Mutate, taking her arm in a reassuring gesture. "We'll find them, Sharon."
"Elisa, over here!"
Moving to where Ariana was standing, the group found a bashed up electric pickup truck under a tarp... empty.
"No ... she must have been captured ...Hmm. But why return it?" She shrugged, "Unless it's their only one."
Graeme whistled. "They got Demona? Boy, these guys must be good."
"Either that or they caught her off guard and this is a possible trap. Everyone on your toes ... get in."
Elisa made the natural motion to enter the driver's side of the truck. Sharon and the two beasts jumped into the bed of the truck, while the twins climbed into the bed to ride with Elisa. She quickly swung the truck around in a sharp circular turn and zoomed into the passage's opening, lights on, pedal to the floor.
* * * * *
The trip for Elisa was considerably much shorter than it had been for Demona, mainly because of her experience driving her Fairlane through the labyrinthine streets of Manhattan. The twists and turns of the passage were nothing for the experienced driver in Elisa, as she was able to pilot the vehicle through the tunnel with no impacts against the wall.
"Get ready, looks like this tunnel's ending soon. Jump as soon as we hit lights!"
Elisa savagely mashed the pedal to the floor, muttering under her breath. "I'm coming, Big Guy ... hang in there ..."
* * * * *
Unknown Underground Location
The proximity warning barely had enough time to sound before the truck barreled through the entrance to the loading bay, crashing through a guardrail which separated the loading bays from the main holding area and the cells that held the Clan. Elisa and company launched themselves from the vehicle as it made its final trip and landed on the concrete to either side. The truck, no longer running, made a final burble and shut down.
"Sharon, the bars! Find a control! Graeme, as soon as they're open, help me pick these locks!"
Her gun pulled, ready for anything, Elisa quickly backed toward the cells. Sharon, after quickly finding the controls for the laser-guided bars, killed them, allowing everyone to approach the entrapped gargoyles within them.
Elisa immediately made her way to Goliath's enclosure, passing him a brief kiss before starting to work on his locks. "I was so worried ..."
"Hey, what about me??"
Elisa looked over at Demona. "Oh sure, you too, Demona. Anyway, what's going on, Goliath?"
Demona groaned. Goliath obligingly replied. "It's Taro, Elisa. He's built another park and wants us to live there, but this time he's not quite as sneaky as he was in Japan. Although he still seems to believe that we will come to see things his way."
Elisa nodded. "I understand. We're ready for anything."
Demona glared at Elisa. "You mean you actually know the psychopath that did this? You're braver than you look."
Elisa smirked. "Right." She turned to Graeme. "Any luck?"
Graeme, working on Brooklyn's locks, shook his head. "Can't break them, they're titanium."
Ariana, working on Maggie's locks, growled. "I don't have a hairpin crooked enough for these locks!"
Sharon's shriek brought their attention away, though. "We've got company!"
The free party turned to face Taro, garbed in his traditional samurai armor. Suddenly, Taro's face flickered with recognition as he saw Elisa.
"I know you ... in Japan! You ruined my press for my park!"
Elisa leveled her eyes at the Japanese man. "I'm glad you remember me. You're going down for this, Taro!"
"I think not. ATTACK!"
A large force of men appeared behind Taro... all dressed in full-black -- ninja style. Elisa and her party fell into a defensive posture, ready for anything. The ninjas launched themselves forward, leaping and attacking.
Elisa stepped back took a calm and measured look at the opposition as the ninjas fought with the others. Graeme and Ariana, who she knew to be world-class martial artists in their own right in no small part to Sata's bushido teachings, were barely keeping up, kicks and punches flying almost too fast for the human eye to perceive. Sharon was hard pressed to keep up, she was taking too much time between blows ... for every one she threw, the ninja she faced threw ten.
A ninja appeared right before Elisa, armed with a set of nunchukus, and made a point of flipping the weapon around himself threateningly, whipping kicks and punches like a mad exhibitionist. Elisa tried to follow his movements for a moment ... but then finally gave up, pointing her gun at the ninja and firing.
The bullet found purchase in metal and electronics. The ninja sparkled to a halt and collapsed. Elisa finally saw her opening.
"EVERYONE! They're all robots! Don't hold back!"
She could almost hear the twins grin at that. Ariana, finally set free to do as she pleased to the attackers, discarded her bo staff briefly.
"Let's try something a little harder, people!" She wrenched a piece of the railing into her grip, taking a stance like a home run hitter. "BATTER UP!!"
Once she swung, robot parts went flying. She kept a steady stance, wildly swinging at the robots, until finally eight of them were scrap at her feet. Breathing hard, grinning, she had a wild-eyed expression on her face.
"Eat your heart out, Babe Ruth!"
Graeme looked briefly over at his sister. "Whoa. Scary." Without turning his head, he ducked, allowing a ninja to fly over him, bashing against the far wall and disassembling explosively. He emulated his sister, grabbing another piece of railing and swinging for the ninjas again. Bronx, deciding that enough was enough, finally chose to jump into the action, and grabbed a ninjabot by the leg, tossing it full force against the wall. It slid down the wall and advanced again until the gargbeast grabbed it by the torso and shook it apart.
Sharon, having disposed of her opponents, had her attention fully on Taro, her eyes narrowing. "This all smells very Yakuza to me, stranger. Mind telling me who paid for all of this?"
Taro took an offensive stance, unfurling his fans threateningly. "Little girl, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Sharon bared her fangs at him. "I smell Tommy Kimura all over you." She lunged. Taro folded a fan and batted it down on the back of Sharon's head, releasing an electric charge and knocking her briefly to the floor. She recovered quickly, snapping a kick around and knocking Taro off of his own feet. He opened a fan on his way down, though, and drove another blow to Sharon's head. She shook her head, trying to clear it as she stood back up.
Taro himself was quickly back up on his feet, fans unfurled again. "Try it, little girl. You're not the only one trained in the bushido arts."
Sharon grinned. "You think this is bushido? Hate to disillusion you ... "
Just then, Nudnik leaped and clamped his jaws around Taro's left knee.
"... but I happen to subscribe to the theory of dumb luck and strategic placement." Sharon spun a kick on the newly-immobilized Taro, landing a clean blow to the side of Taro's head, knocking his helmet off of his head and the man himself into unconsciousness.
Elisa punched one last shot into the last of the mechanical ninjas before coming back over to where Taro now lay spreadeagled and unconscious. Nudnik, having finally let go of his knee, came up to Sharon, who obligingly petted him for a job well done.
* * * * *
Above the Unknown Underground Location
The chopper made its way through the night sky as silently as it could. Sitting comfortably within the front seat, Hideo Rika turned toward the pilot.
The pilot nodded, handing over a cellular phone. After speed-dialing, Rika put the unit to his ear.
"Goma-san ... we are severing all our ties with Mr. Taro. Inform the home office that he has failed. Again."
Rika looked down with a bit of regret at the tall tent which obscured the project.
"Too bad, too ... you had some real promise, boy."
* * * * *
Unknown Underground Location
"That should be the last of it." A loud click signaled the last of the shackles being unlocked, as Talon stepped free. Elisa smirked at her brother. "How was lockup?"
He smirked back at her. "Not an experience I want to duplicate any time soon." He gently took his sister's hand. "Thank you, sis."
Goliath, at a distance, watched the siblings reunite, but was soon interrupted by Demona walking over. He looked over at his ex-mate.
"So what now?"
"I'll take the other truck ... the one the detective didn't wreck ... back to the warehouse and destroy the passage."
Goliath chuckled. "And I suppose then you'll get a change of clothes?"
Demona looked down, almost subconsciously, at that comment. She still wore Dominique Destine's power suit, however it had been completely shredded by her transformation. Forgetting her dignity for a moment, she chuckled.
"I suppose I'll have to."
Goliath nodded, as Elisa approached the two of them. "All the Mutates are going to hitch a ride with you, Demona. Easiest way for them to get back to the Labyrinth."
Demona nodded. "All right." She stood there, watching Goliath and Elisa turn away slowly. Finally, she had the gumption to call out.
Elisa looked at the immortal gargoyle. Demona approached her slowly, and grudgingly extended her talons.
"Don't think this changes anything. It's only for the Clan's sake that I did this."
Elisa nodded, taking the talon in her hand. "Fair enough." They held the clasp for a moment before Demona pulled away to take the truck back up the passage. Elisa turned back to Goliath, who raised an eyebrow ridge.
"You mean ..."
Elisa smiled. "She can be really helpful ... when she wants to be. Come on, Big Guy, I've missed gliding."
Goliath grinned, picking up his love in his arms and carrying her up to the surface, followed by the twins and the beasts. Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway and Angela looked amongst each other.
"Was that enough excitement for you, Lex?"
Broadway's joking question brought a chuckle from the group. Lexington smiled and blushed a bit, then replied, "That'll do."
The four of them walked up out of the complex, but stopped for a moment at the sight of a model in a small office. They looked at it and Angela shook her head.
"It's so sad ... he can't fulfill his dreams."
"Let me get this straight, Angela," Lexington intoned, "this is the second one of these insane things he's built?"
"Indeed. Such a huge dream ..."
Brooklyn shrugged. "You never know how someone's going to find the happiest place on Earth. It's different for everyone, I think."
Broadway, at this, shot a loving glance to Angela. "Yeah ... it is."