Re-Emergence - Part 1
Written By: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur
Story Concept by: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur and Nicodemus
Previously on Gargoyles...
"This precious forest can never be replaced. It must be protected at all costs." Resolve set Goliath's features.
Elisa couldn't believe her ears. "Shouldn't you find out who legally owns the land?"
"The forest is not meant to be owned." Turquesa slowly shook her head and spread her arms wide. "It belongs to everyone. Your misguided laws threaten to steal it from future generations."
"Misguided or not, I'm a police officer, sworn to up hold the law." Elisa walked up to her friend. "Don't go, Goliath, there are other ways to protest an injustice."
"In your world, Elisa, not theirs, and what's left of their world is rapidly dwindling."
~ The Green ~
* * * * *
Re-Emergence - Part 1
* * * * *
The sun sank lazily into the Manhattan skyline outside Dominique Destine's office window. Dominique, seated behind her massive desk, searched through a stack of file folders as she dictated to her secretary.
"I want those papers drafted and on my desk by noon tomorrow, and tell Collins we need to organize a phone conference with the President of Hugo Automotives. There are some neglected points of this acquisition that need going over."
She let a stack of papers thump to her desk and sighed in annoyance. "Where are the acquisition documents?"
Her secretary looked up from her notebook and gestured towards the edge of her employer's desk. "Right at the edge of your--"
"Ah, here they are," Dominique declared. She reached forward and grabbed them. Then, mumbling to herself, she began to skim through them. "It's no wonder these people found themselves losing ground to their competitors," she grumbled more audibly. "They can't even properly organize their own terms of acquisition."
"Yes, Ms. Destine," her secretary, Candice, replied nonchalantly as she attempted to organize the notes Dominique had so hastily given her.
Dominique stopped lecturing as she began to read more carefully. "Here we are... hmph, their work force is far too large. First thing we do after acquisition is cut a fourth of it." She let the paper drop to her desk, and turned to her secretary.
"Maddox pampered this car company for seven years with his funding, right up until his own corporation went under. And as soon as that happened, these people began running in circles like lost children looking for someone else's wing to shelter them. Well, it will give Nightstone Unlimited an opportunity to get its feet wet in some more commonplace industrial fields... Genetic research, robotics, and weapons manufacturing are all good and fine, but we should try to diversify ourselves. Wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, Ms. Destine," Candice agreed dutifully.
"Yes, well, make sure you get everything done as I've asked, Candice. I want to get this over and done with. That will be all for today."
Candice clicked her pen and was about to leave when she remembered something. "Oh, Ms. Destine, a letter arrived for you this morning. It's on your desk."
"Thank you, Candice," she replied absently as her eyes flicked across the remainder of her workload for the day.
Minutes passed, Candice had left, and Dominique finally put everything aside. She leaned back in her leather-padded chair with a yawn. Time to go home.
And that was when she noticed the small envelope laying at the edge of her desk. She leaned forward and picked it up, vaguely remembering Candice's mention of it. No return address. Odd handwriting...
She opened it up curiously and extracted a single folded piece of paper. Her eyes quickly flicked from one end to the other, until she finally reached the bottom and refolded it. A personal meeting with an anonymous stranger? She wouldn't have considered that even if she weren't a rich and influential executive. At night? Definitely not. Her spell of illusion wasn't one to be squandered on petty requests. Getting up from her seat, she walked around to the front of her desk, dropped the letter and its envelope into her small trash can, and walked out the door.
* * * * *
Elisa's red Fairlane slowed as it turned the corner into the nearly empty parking lot. Nearly empty, because the American Museum of Natural History had been closed for three hours. She cut the wheel to avoid a deep pothole, only to splash through a second, muddier one.
The detective glanced absently at a pair of police cruisers parked haphazardly in front of the museum. "Prowl cars have set up camp," she told her partner, Matt Bluestone, who sat beside her.
Matt roused himself from his doze and peered out into the fog. Outside were two patrol cars, one with its lights still flashing, the other dormant. A patrolman walked into the museum's front entrance with a cup of coffee and a box of doughnuts in his arms. He propped the door open with his knee as he slipped inside.
"Is this a burglary investigation or are we crashing a secret policemen's fete?" the redheaded detective asked as he sat up straighter in his seat and blinked his eyes.
Elisa strained to keep her eyes from blurring as she pulled up to the front of the museum. "I don't know, but that coffee looked pretty good," his partner replied.
"Long night, I know," Matt agreed as he stifled a yawn. "When are we going to quit pulling double shifts?" He massaged a kink in his neck as he tried to shift into investigator mode. "So, this is our number four, right?"
They came to a stop alongside the curb. "Number four and number two," she corrected, turning the ignition off. "This is museum break-in number four, but also the second one at the American Natural History Museum."
Matt's seatbelt was already unbuckled and he was opening his door as he replied, "So our guy is doubling back on us."
Carefully stepping over the foot and a half gap between the car and the curb, Matt exited the car. He pushed both hands into his trench coat pockets, and let the door's momentum shut itself. There was a simultaneous thud and Elisa's head emerged from the other side of the vehicle.
"Makes sense," she said, continuing their conversation. "He probably wants to finish what he started. The first time here, a guard stumbled into him and he took off." She paused to unfold her jacket collar. A heavy mist had replaced the shower that deluged the city earlier in the evening. The air seemed thick enough to slice with a knife, and it was chilly.
Matt smiled. "Through the building's skylight, if I remember correctly. Interesting, isn't it?"
Elisa rolled her eyes. "Matt, lots of crooks use the roof to get in and out of places. Besides, the last thing we need is another Eye of Odin fiasco. The city bought robots before. Somehow, I don't think they'd buy it again."
She joined Matt on the curb, where an officer in blue promptly met them. "Detectives Maza and Bluestone?" he asked, propping upon the door with his foot as he extended his hand.
Matt took it. "Yes."
"Eric Jonesco." He stepped back to allow Elisa and Matt to enter and followed them into the lobby, where he reclaimed the lead and brought them into the museum's main hall. It was massive.
Matt whistled as he took in the high ceilings and grand arches. "Wow," he muttered.
"Haven't you ever been here before?" Elisa asked, amused at her partner's awe.
"Not since the eighth grade. And I gotta admit, I was much more interested in Molly Parker than I was in the architecture."
Elisa snickered, then returned her attention to the patrolman as another officer joined them. He held a Styrofoam cup of coffee, with a half-eaten jelly doughnut in his other hand. He held it with wax paper, though that had evidently done little to prevent the gooey, pink innards from dripping onto his blue police jacket.
"There's a box in the lobby, if either of you detectives would like a bite," the new cop offered.
"That's all right," Matt replied politely, taking note of the jelly stain on his jacket -- no, it couldn't become a stain till he wiped it off.
Elisa found herself staring at the steaming cup of coffee.
"Take a look around," the police officer, Jonesco, invited them.
Both guessed they knew where this was heading, but did as they were told. Elisa noticed what she postulated was a woolly mammoth skeleton, only half-built.
She shrugged. "Is that what we're supposed to be seeing?" she asked him, her hand pointing in the direction of the mammoth.
He followed her hand to the skeleton and he answered like they were playing a game of "I Spy", his voice conveying what Elisa interpreted as anxiety for her next guess. "No. The museum staff have been trying to put him back together for over a year now, ever since he crumbled to the ground as a result of another earlier break-in."
"So," Matt finally spoke up, "what are we supposed to be seeing?"
Jonesco shrugged. "As far as I can see, a museum that hasn't been touched by a thief. Except for a hole in the roof and the mysterious security camera 'malfunctions' the museum security guard found. " He crossed his arms, eyeing the detectives as if interrogating them. "Either this guy's incredibly picky, and doesn't consider two thousand year-old relics worth his time, or we're dealing with a real professional -- someone sent in for a specific item. When he couldn't find it, he split. What he did with the security cams was, after all, the mark of a true craftsman. This wasn't no street punk."
"Boy, has Officer Jonesco been reading up on this case..." Matt whispered sarcastically.
Elisa frowned at her partner and assessed the young beat cop. He couldn't have been long out of the academy, she decided. "Professionals don't randomly go through museums until they've found what they're looking for," Elisa explained. "It draws unwanted attention -- like us -- it's slow, and it's just plain sloppy."
"There have been... others?" Jonesco asked innocently.
"Three others," Elisa confirmed. "The first of which was right here. The other two hits were at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. All in the last week. And, just like tonight's, nothing turned up missing."
"The other places. They could've been diversions," the other cop, the one with the coffee, suggested eagerly. Elisa guessed him to be Jonesco's training officer and frowned again. "You know, to draw your attention away from here so that he could try his luck again." He crumpled up the wax paper leftover from his doughnut and stuffed it in his pocket.
Matt was already shaking his head. "It still doesn't explain why he didn't take anything from here. No, I think those other museums were just as much a target to him as this one was. He may very well have been a professional, but maybe there was an extra factor that kept him from knowing where to look."
"But, it would be easy enough to waltz in here during normal hours," Jonesco rejoined.
"Unless," Matt corrected, giving Elisa an intent look, "he couldn't come during normal daylight hours."
* * * * *
"Twenty-two locations, total," Xanatos said from behind his desk, the always-shining overhead lights illuminating his features in an eerie glow. Crowding close, the entire clan watched information crawl across the wall monitor.
"This is what was obtained from Madoc's computer system during the final assault?" Goliath asked.
"I found the file while I was hacking into the system to disable the Unseelies' anti-ironsound devices, and downloaded it before releasing the Coldstone virus," Lex answered. "It was the only thing saved before the whole system crashed."
Xanatos got up from his chair and approached the group. "It took my best computer technicians weeks to get through all the layers of protection, the encryptions, the multiple blocks and fail-safes. But, as you can see, the end result was well worth the trouble. A complete listing of all the locations worldwide that Madoc had his forces strike that night."
"Guatemala," Angela gasped, her eyes on the list. "It was attacked. And Prague."
"Well, at least Jade and Turquesa are still on Avalon," Lex offered. "Right?"
Angela nodded her head absently as she continued to read down the list.
"New Olympus was a target as well," Goliath added. His words were followed by a low growl. "Half of these places we have visited, the people there we have met. The other half are unfamiliar, places we've never heard of before."
"Maybe new clans? Gargoyles we haven't discovered yet?" Broadway suggested. Somehow, the thought felt more heartbreaking than joy-inspiring.
"It could be," Goliath answered. "But... it is a possibility I'd rather you not be right about. Ishimura and London, there the clans were prepared, great in numbers, and familiar with technology of the present. And since the Unseelie assault, we have had contact with them. But the gargoyles we found in Guatemala are proof that there may be many others out there that are still isolated, living in ignorance of the world around them, and ultimately vulnerable. Their chances against an attack of Unseelie..." He straightened and drew in a deep breath.
"We must search out every place on this list, familiar or otherwise, make contact with them, make certain that they are still alive and well. If they are in need of aid, than we will give it to them. But we must act. Lives could be at stake, and it is now our responsibility."
"A good thought, lad, but how would we go about accomplishing what you propose? I'm thinking you mean more than a simple phone call," Hudson inquired.
"You forget," Lexington pointed out, "we have the owner of a multi-national corporation at our disposal." He gestured toward Xanatos, and everyone's eyes fell on him.
Hudson narrowed his eyes as he added, "Aye, ye must have resources you don't even know about, influence in foreign countries, and at the very least a mode of transportation."
Xanatos let a small smile surface. "Now," he said with a grin, "flattery will get you somewhere."
He walked up to his desk and pressed a small button. The faint sound of static echoed for a moment as a speakerphone came to life, and Xanatos announced, "Owen, would you be so kind as to route the video feed from the hangar to my office viewscreen?"
"Certainly, Mr. Xanatos," Owen's stagnant voice answered. Xanatos released the button and the speakerphone became silent again. A moment later the list was replaced with a view of a small hangar, in the center of which sat a very impressive looking piece of machinery.
"This," Xanatos presented proudly, "is how I propose you make contact with everyone on that list."
On the screen, a medium-sized airplane lay dormant, its sleek, jet-black skin glistening under the bright hangar lights. Three cylinders composed the main mass of the craft. A V-shaped wing acted as a superstructure, connecting the body into a single unit. The cockpit was visible in the front of the middle cylinder, and jets protruded from the tail ends of both outer ones.
"It's fast, it's maneuverable, and it's fully automated," Xanatos explained.
"Lexington, if you'd do the honors," he offered the mesmerized gargoyle.
The schematic continued to flip, rotate, zoom in, and zoom out, while technical information scrolled down the side non-stop. Lexington watched intently, letting his cyber-optic eye take it all in.
"He's right about its capabilities," he finally said. "This thing must have cost millions to put together. It has everything." The awe in his voice was unmistakable.
"Well," Xanatos stepped in, "don't be too flattered. It wasn't built solely for the purpose I'm offering. But it is well equipped, and would suit your needs perfectly. It was built to accommodate five comfortably, but that could be stretched to nine or ten if need be. You can go down the list one by one, travel from country to country. There is a modest cargo hold, so you can bring some medical supplies with you. Food, water, all the comforts of life are yours on board. There's only one bed in the sleeping compartment. It was originally built for medical use, as no long-term missions were actually considered during development, but somehow I doubt that will inconvenience its upcoming crew much. So, what do you say?"
"You had this planned," Goliath stated plainly.
"I might have taken a glance at the information in Madoc's file before presenting it to you, yes." He leaned back against the bow of his desk, hands folded behind his back.
Goliath actually smiled, and looked back at the plane, now in full frame again. "You have done well, Xanatos. We accept the offer."
There were some excited exchanges between the rest of the clan, before Broadway spoke up. "Just one question. Who's gonna pilot this thing?"
"I could pilot it," announced Lexington, jumping at the opportunity. "I flew the Pack's helicopter, and besides, now I could download everything I'd need to know!"
Goliath shifted uneasily, but Xanatos quickly stepped in, moving away from his desk and approaching the clan candidly. "No pilot is required," he assured. "As I said, everything is fully automated. All you have to do is sit back and relax. This plane comes pre-installed with interactive computer piloting. I'm thinking of marketing it."
Lex and Brooklyn looked at each other and shrugged.
"So," Angela begged the question. "Who's going?"
Goliath pondered the thought for a moment. "Lexington, your...capabilities may prove useful."
"Hudson, you're the best-versed in Old World culture, the best to serve as an intermediary," Goliath continued.
Hudson simply nodded.
"We'll need a good nose, but...," he looked at Nudnik who panted happily back at him as he sat on the floor next to Graeme, "I don't think Nudnik is ready for this. Bronx has the better experience."
"And who will lead this little adventure?" Hudson inquired.
Goliath's and Brooklyn's eyes met.
"Goliath went around the world and visited a lot of the places on the list," Brooklyn offered. "A familiar face would probably be best in this case, and for first impression's sake, a new clan should meet the leader of ours."
"True..." Goliath agreed too quickly. Then added, "But I think this is a mission better suited for a Clan Second. I have full faith in your abilities."
Brooklyn looked at his leader closely, suspecting another motivation. He knew Goliath still felt guilty for his long absence at Avalon's hand. He tossed aside his counter arguments and replied, "Well, I suppose I'll be running the show, then. Sata, dear, feel like going on a trip?"
Sata smiled. "It would be most agreeable, Brooklyn-san."
Not a second later Ariana and Graeme were begging to go along too.
"We want to see the world!" Graeme declared.
"You'll have more to do here at the castle than cooped up in a plane, Graeme," Brooklyn laughed. "You and your sister will just get bored if you go. Trust me."
"No, we won't be, we promise! Please!" Ariana chimed in.
Sata gave her husband an apologetic look. "Perhaps I should stay behind with them," she suggested.
"Nae, I won't hear of it!" Hudson interrupted. "You two have been in need of some off time for awhile now. Go. I'll stay behind and watch these two. Besides, ye won't be needing me as an intermediary if yuir going along." He gestured offhandedly to Xanatos, standing patiently by. "The Xanatoses have Owen to take care of Alex, who do you have?"
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "Alex isn't your average child," he pointed out.
Before Hudson could reply, Sata quickly maneuvered her way into the conversation. "We would be more than happy for you to watch them while we are away, Hudson-san," she said.
Ariana and Graeme perked up. Alone with Hudson while Brooklyn and Sata were away? Why, just think of all the things they could get away with! The pair exchanged happy, subtly devious, glances.
"I volunteer Broadway to go in my place," Hudson recommended. Broadway's expression suddenly went pale, and Hudson noticed. "Don't worry yuirself, lad, there's nothing to it. If an old war horse like me can fly in an airplane, then so can you."
Angela took him by the arm. "Don't tell me you're afraid of a little plane ride..."
"No, of course not... It's just, I'll miss you," he admitted to his mate.
Angela smiled bravely. "I'll miss you too. But father needs you to help on this mission. Don't worry about the plane, my love," Angela added quietly. "I've flown before too, you know, to Scotland. I thought it was fun."
"I... it will only be for a little while," Broadway conceded. "All right."
"Excellent," Xanatos announced. "The plane is already loaded and ready. As soon as you feel like departing, the craft is yours."
"That would be now," Goliath rumbled. "Time is of the essence."
Everyone nodded their understanding, and they began to say their farewells.
Hudson knelt before Bronx. "Don't worry, you'll have a fine time," he assured the slightly distraught gargoyle beast. Then, he leaned forward a little and added, "Besides, something tells me you'd be wanting to be someplace else once Graeme and Ariana get their first whiff of free air." Bronx cocked an eye and moaned as Hudson rubbed him briskly on the head and rose to his feet.
Bronx caught up with Brooklyn, Broadway, Sata, and Lex as they were walking out the door.
"You know, I have been feeling a bit confined here lately," Brooklyn whispered to Sata as they exited. "After forty years like ours I guess you just get used to being in a different time and place every day."
Goliath and Angela followed up the rear, leaving only Hudson, Nudnik, the twins and Xanatos.
"It looks like you'll have your hands full for the next few days," Xanatos observed.
"Aye, it would appear so," the old gargoyle responded, as Graeme and Ariana took up their positions on either side of him. Hudson passively walked out of the room as they both began talking to him at once, tugging on either arm, while Nudnik, taken up in all the excitement, ran laps around the three of them.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Xanatos, now alone in his office with the picture of the aircraft still displayed on his screen, pushed the button to his speakerphone again.
"Our invitation has been accepted, Owen," he said, half relieved and half humored at that relief.
* * * * *
In the hangar located just between the castle and the arboretum, Brooklyn, Sata, Lex, Broadway, and Bronx stepped aboard their new home. It was incredibly spacious, more so than one would have thought from looking on it from the outside. Five compartments made up the entirety of the craft.
Broadway noted the galley with interest as they entered the main compartment. A pair of neatly lettered signs identified the bedroom and bathroom. A forward compartment held the cockpit. Aft, beyond the main passenger cabin, lay the cargo hold.
Lex was the first to venture into the unknown, opening the door and entering the craft's bow. The room was small. There was only one seat for the pilot, and about three feet of space behind and around that.
"Welcome to the bridge," announced a disembodied voice. Lex narrowly avoided the doorframe as he jerked upright in surprise.
"Coyote?" Lex managed to say as he rubbed his head. A small view screen located under the forward window came to life displaying Xanatos' familiar likeness.
"CY.O.T.I. Standardized Interactive Pilot version 1.0, actually, but hello to you, too," the view screen replied with Xanatos' unmistakable vocal mannerisms.
Brooklyn rolled his eyes mockingly, as a series of groans were heard from the others. "Remind me to have a chat with Xanatos when we get back."
Lex observed, "He didn't say anything about Coyote being the 'automated pilot system'."
"Exactly," Broadway grumbled. "Probably thought it would be better to leave it as a surprise..."
"Well, I can tell this is going to be a loooong trip," said Brooklyn.
"Actually, at top speeds, our first target should take no more than three and a half hours to reach," Coyote obediently corrected.
After a pause, Lexington conjectured, "Not as bright as his earlier models, is he?"
"I assure you, I am the first of my line," insisted Coyote.
"You mean you don't remember being smashed into scrap metal five times over?" Broadway inquired.
"I am a collection of data processors, microchips, and circuitry. I do not contain anything remotely similar to a material capable of being 'smashed into scrap metal' in my construction."
"Oh yeah," Lexington suddenly remembered. "The last Coyote robot's central processor was stolen by Hyena and Jackal after he blew up. That means that, even though Xanatos may have had another copy of his program lying around, all the memories and experience of that Coyote is now a part of Coyote 6.0. As far as this one's concerned, he was born yesterday."
"Two days, one hour, forty-eight minutes, eleven seconds ago," Coyote corrected.
"Well, Coyote 1.0, if you'd do the honors," Brooklyn offered, gesturing toward the hangar doors through the front window with his hand.
The pseudo-Xanatos raised an eyebrow, and looked up in the direction of Brooklyn's hand blankly. "Pardon me?" he finally said.
"You'll have to say it in more...straightforward terms," Lex advised.
Brooklyn sighed. "And this thing is supposed to be able to run the whole plane?"
"Although Mr. Xanatos found it necessary to design my program more... fundamentally than could have been possible, I assure you, I am fully capable of operating all aspects of this craft with precision."
"Okay, then with precision, please take us to the first target on the list," Brooklyn tried again, diplomatically.
Almost before he finished, the craft's engines hummed to life and a seemingly random assortment of buttons and switches lit up. "Certainly." From behind, they heard the door click shut and the room pressurize. Then, the craft lifted off the ground by a few feet and started forward. The hangar doors, already open, slipped past as they gained speed.
"Sit back and relax," Coyote told them, his face staring straight forward even as the various levers and switches continued to move by some invisible hand. "First stop: Guatemala. Time to arrival: Three hours, thirty-seven minutes."
His face suddenly took on an unexpected jovial expression. "Would anyone care for some steamed lobster and cocktail sauce?" he offered, courteously. "I have been programmed with exceptional culinary knowledge, courtesy of Mr. Xanatos." A ding sounded from behind, as if on cue and Coyote added, "Who wants butter rolls?"
* * * * *
The next night, Angela awoke with a yawn and stretched her limbs as the last of her stone skin fluttered to the ground. She waved good-bye to her father, Hudson, and the twins, and leaped off the parapet to alight in the courtyard below.
"She doesn't waste any time anymore, does she?" Hudson humored.
Goliath replied in a neutral tone. "She looks forward to her weekly visits with great fervor."
* * *
Angela made her way through the castle's main hall to the lower level corridors. She kept on pace, as she knew exactly where she was going. "Who would have thought mother could have such a soft spot for Mayan sorcery?" she asked herself. "Well, I brought it on myself for bringing the subject up, I suppose."
She peeked around a corner to see if anyone was there. An empty corridor stared back at her, and she continued.
"Angela, I simply must get a look at this Mayan Sun Amulet you say you have, first hand," she mimicked in fair approximation of Demona. Apparently, her mother had a great deal more experience with European sorcery and the Central American variety intrigued her. Angela had agreed to her mother's request for her to bring the Amulet to their next visit.
So, there she was, feeling foolish as she sneaked up to the vault where the Amulet was stored. It was the only thing in the closet-sized safe to Angela's knowledge.
"Well," she whispered to herself, "I've gotten past Goliath, the Xanatoses, and Owen. Now, all that's left is to slip into the room with the vault, type the six-digit code, get the artifact, and slip back out with as much luck as I slipped in with." She thought again how foolish it all seemed. Would Goliath not allow her to take the Amulet to her mother's if she'd simply ask it of him? She quickly pushed the thought aside. It didn't matter how much he trusted her or Demona, Goliath was exceptionally paranoid when it came to magic artifacts. He'd never have agreed to it.
"How much electricity must having these lights on all the time cost Xanatos?" she wondered aloud as she entered the vault room. The whole chamber was illuminated... and completely empty except for the medium-sized metal door embedded in the stone of the right wall, and the tiny security camera mounted in the opposite corner. No matter. She knew that not even Xanatos would pay someone to sit in a room somewhere watching the vault twenty-four hours a day. At most, it was a way of finding out who was responsible for a theft, after it was already discovered. And since, if all went well, nobody would know anything was ever gone, nobody would bother looking at the camera's recordings.
Six digital beeps, followed by a buzzing sound, and the sucking noise of hydraulics in motion. The vault door opened. Angela stared at the solitary occupant -- a sculpture of a sun carved out of solid gold. She grabbed it and pushed the door shut again, relaxing as the magnetic seals met and a metallic click resonated through the empty room.
After one quick glance to the camera, she caped her wings over the Amulet, which she held with both hands against her chest, and made her way to the courtyard.
"I hope you appreciate this, mother," she whispered.
In her haste to depart, Angela neglected to check both ends of the hallway. She failed to notice Ariana.
Ariana watched Angela's hasty departure, and started to follow after when her brother's voice suddenly echoed from behind her.
"Ariana, bon'yari! We're going with Hudson on patrol tonight!" he exclaimed.
Angela's silhouette disappeared beyond a bend and Ariana turned around. "Coming! Hey! Who are you calling 'blockhead'?" she replied, as she raced down the corridor to join her brother.
* * * * *
Outside, Angela leaped over the castle battlements with the Amulet still clutched under her arms and took to the air. Unknown to her, someone was watching from a distance.
* * * * *
The sight of the Eyrie Building magnified several times until it was a blur. The pixels that composed the digitally enhanced image condensed and the picture sharpened. The Eyrie Building could now be made out again, so close one could make out the cracks separating the blocks of Castle Wyvern's ancient battlements. Sudden motion caught the observer's eye and she re-trained her focus again.
A young lavender-skinned female -- finally, the one she had been waiting for. The watcher wasn't particularly fond of the gargoyle species, but this one annoyed her especially for some reason. She was just so... petite. She couldn't wait to shatter that elegant composure.
"What's this?" she to herself. "We're looking pretty edgy tonight, aren't we?" She continued to watch closely, while unconsciously biting her lower lip.
Angela looked from side to side, then leaped off the battlements and unfurled her wings. The nearest updraft carried her away.
"She's left the castle, moving north... northeast," the observer informed in her usual coarse voice. Then, something caught her eye, a twinkle right as she was about to un-zoom her optical implants. "Wait a minute, what's this?" she asked herself. "Going in for a closer look." The image zoomed in until the sparkling gold artifact the gargoyle carried filled her vision.
"Well, what do you know?"
* * * * *
Almost three thousand miles away, Brooklyn, Sata, Broadway, Lexington, and Bronx awoke with a chorus of yawns. As soon as the last of the stone skin fluttered to the floor, a familiar voice announced, "I assume you'll be cleaning up after yourselves."
Coyote's face stared back at them from the small view screen mounted on the front wall of the main living compartment, right over the door leading to the "bridge", as Coyote called the closet-sized room.
Lex replied with a hint of annoyance, "Aren't you supposed to be flying the plane?"
"On the contrary," the computer program informed, "we've been on the ground for hours. Eleven hours and fourteen minutes to be precise. We landed shortly after sunrise, and I've been waiting for those eleven hours and fourteen minutes for you to awaken."
Mozart was playing softly on all the speakers and the room had been air conditioned to a crisp sixty-eight degrees.
"Why didn't you just turn off your program?" Broadway demanded.
Lex agreed, "Yeah, why not just put yourself on an automatic timer or something?"
"Because I cannot," Coyote replied matter-of-factly. "Xanatos programmed me with special mission parameters, and guarding you five, twenty-four hours a day is one of them. I am to be fully capable of protecting you every minute of this excursion. Turning myself off would compromise that objective."
"Well," Brooklyn announced, "that's some comfort."
"Should we not be looking for the Mayan gargoyles?" Sata interjected. "We have been here for several hours already."
Brooklyn nodded. "You're right. Let's get moving."
"But, we haven't even eaten breakfast yet," Broadway dutifully brought up.
"Broadway, you ate half a dozen lobsters last night," Brooklyn pointed out.
"There are some leftovers in the refrigerator," Coyote offered. "I could heat them up--"
"No, thanks, Coyote, that won't be necessary," Brooklyn cut off. "I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to share with us all the 'Cooking with Erma' that Xanatos programmed you with... later."
Coyote nodded his head over the view screen. "Then," he ventured, "I'll assume you want to head for the pyramid as soon as possible. I have already taken some sensor scans and have estimated the distance to the nearest substantial rock formation to be roughly 4.2 miles southwest. The exact coordinates have been prepared for download to Lexington's homing system."
"Oh, uh, okay," Lex stammered. He extracted the wire from the back of his head and plugged it into the computer terminal embedded in the wall beside him. There was a two-second pause and Lex detached from the circuit. "Got it."
"Okay then," Brooklyn declared, "Let's do it."
* * * * *
"...Almost there," Lex assured the rest of them, as they continued toward the pyramid.
"Man, it's hot," Broadway observed.
"Tell me about it," Lex agreed as he wiped his forehead. He looked down at Bronx beside him. The beast was beginning to lag behind, his tongue hanging lazily out the side of his mouth. "It's even gotten to Bronx."
Brooklyn slowed his trek through the dense foliage and glanced backwards. "Jeez, Bronx, did you have this much trouble last time you were here?" Brooklyn questioned.
The beast whined an affirmation.
"Are you saying the heat is not getting to you at all?" Sata asked her mate.
"Hey guys," Lex interrupted, "I'm getting something here. I think I'm in viewing range of the pyramid." He paused a moment as he adjusted his optical implants, zooming in as far as they would allow.
"Getting anything?" Brooklyn asked him, ducking under a tree branch and holding it aside for the others to pass.
"Through all this jungle growth it's difficult to say, but it looks like the pyramid. Well, at least something big and rock-like."
Lex adjusted his optics again, maneuvering his zoom-in ability around some of the heavier over-growth until he came to an opening.
"Lex," Brooklyn insisted, "talk to me."
Lex took in one more look, then brought his eyes back into normal focus. "There's nothing... but a large pile of rock. It looks like a demolition team did a number on it."
* * * * *
Despite their efforts, it took another twenty minutes' hard trek through the jungle to bring them to a large clearing, almost perfectly circular. In the center of the grassy circle was a thick layer of jagged, uneven rock... much of it scorched.
Lex stared at the singed rubble. "The rock's not the only thing burnt," he commented as he pointed out the several black, leafless trees that lined the outer fringe of the clearing.
"They look like they've got the integrity of burnt paper," Brooklyn observed.
"The grass, as well," Sata added, "in many places."
Brooklyn nodded grimly. "There's no way fire could have done this. Only the precision of magical energy discharges could have."
"I'm not reading any life signs," Lex informed them somewhat shakily. "Nothing on infrared or motion detection."
"That could mean one of two things," Brooklyn realized. "Either they made it out okay and are somewhere else..."
"Or they didn't," Broadway finished quietly, as he surveyed the wreckage of the once grand pyramid.
Brooklyn nodded in grim acknowledgment. "Okay," he said with the attempt of gusto, "let's get digging."
As the moon slowly drifted from one end of the sky to the other, their work soon fell into a pattern. It became methodic, and so solemn a chore that very few words were exchanged. The heat, leftover from the daylight hours, soon faded and the air grew cooler.
A soft moan broke the eerie silence and grew into a high, keening wail.
"What was that?" Lex asked.
"It's Bronx," Broadway answered. He paused and listened as Bronx's wails turned into short barks and then whimpers. "He's found something, on the opposite side of the rubble."
Sata dropped the tree trunk she'd been using as a makeshift lever and joined the others as they followed the sounds. A moment later they found the beast, head drawn back, howling at the moon. Barely visible above a large chunk of stone was a gray, stone hand.
"Help me," Brooklyn said to Broadway, as he bent to clear the rubble away from the disembodied hand.
"Right," Broadway replied curtly as he prepared to move the heavy chunk of stone.
Together they strained, lifting huge chunks of rubble away from what appeared to be an impromptu tomb. As they cleared the final chunk of debris away, the figure of a female gargoyle, intact, but frozen in a pose of agony, was revealed.
Bronx howled again, sending a shiver through his companions.
Came a voice from behind them, "You are from Goliath's clan?"
They all spun around and faced the speaker, a haggard snake-like gargoyle. He looked at Bronx. "I recognize the beast... Bronx, was it?" Bronx's ears perked up at the mention of his name, and the newcomer smiled. It was a cold empty smile. "Then you have come in search of us?"
Brooklyn nodded slowly. There was a long uncomfortable silence.
"I am... Zafiro," he introduced at last. "She," he gestured to the statue laying before them, "was Obsidiana."
It all suddenly began to make a lot of sense to Brooklyn. Zafiro had been the one who placed the stone blocks around Obsidiana, burying her away from the wreckage of the pyramid. He'd probably been gathering food while they had been excavating. But that didn't seem quite right. The lone gargoyle carried neither catch nor container and he didn't look like he'd eaten for days.
"I am sorry for your loss," Sata said after the silence became insufferable.
Zafiro's eyes, locked onto Obsidiana's unmoving form, didn't waver. "Do you know what happened?" he asked. "How it happened?" Nobody dared answer. "Weeks ago," he began, "was when the attack came."
Brooklyn shut his eyes at the realization of what Zafiro was about to say. He didn't want to know how it happened, and it sent a chill up his spine to hear Zafiro speaking of it so calmly.
"It came out of nowhere. There was no warning. They just... they just appeared. Ghastly creatures... they floated on the wind, at least four of them. We were no match. They were beings of magic, I know that now. The creatures spoken of in the ancient legends."
He paused for a moment, reflecting on what happened or trying to organize his thoughts, one couldn't be sure. "The attack was furious, and the assault too much for us. They realized this, I think, yet pushed the attack as if they were battling against an undefeatable foe. Lightning was summoned onto us with mere gestures of the hand, the ground shook, the trees... the trees were also attacked. ...Toying with us. Yes, they were toying with us. Destroying our sacred land, and then... our sacred home, with the manner of casualness like the destruction of our home was a chore to be done, and we the pestering nuisances who continued to get in the way. They swatted us aside, with invisible blows and bolts of energy. Obsidiana and I, both buried in the rubble... buried alive. The assailants must have been too impatient to search through the rubble and make certain our demise, but I sensed, as we lay there in silence not daring to breath, that something more was coming. They would have obliterated us in one clean stroke. But then, they simply... left. I do not know why."
"Their leader was slain," Lex explained to him softly.
"Their leader?" Zafiro jumped. "How do you know this?"
Brooklyn answered, "We battled their forces in Manhattan. You weren't the only ones attacked."
"Then, you did it? Your clan slew the leader?" he asked them, looking up for the first time from Obsidiana.
There were some slow nods, and Zafiro went on, "Then... it was you who saved us from them. If only it had made a difference in the end." He took in a deep breath, the tears finally beginning to appear in his eyes. "I had been severely injured in the fight, but Obsidiana was worse. She was dying. The only way to heal the injuries was to let the sun turn us to stone. It had been done scantily in the past, on an occasion when one of us had been badly wounded by a bullet from a human or some other such thing. Buried under all of that rock, with not the strength to free ourselves, it was the only option we had. So, I removed both our pendants and we waited for the sun to rise..."
"The next night, I awoke from my stone sleep rejuvenated, but she was as you see her now. I dug us both out as skillfully as I could, so as not to damage her, and afterward tried putting her pendant back on. I didn't know... maybe that would have had an effect. It didn't. Day after day, night after night, she remained in stone form."
Zafiro was breaking down. Tears were creating rivulets down his scaled face, his voice becoming choked and congested. "At first I wanted to believe that it was some kind of side-effect from wearing the pendants so long, that they had done something to our sleep cycles, ignoring the fact that it hadn't affected me... and ignoring the knowledge that death while in stone sleep was far from unheard of. It happened with the elders, whose bodies would just give up one day, and with the mortally wounded, who turned to stone with injuries too severe for the sun to cure... as with Obsidiana."
Brooklyn took a step forward and laid a hand on Zafiro's shoulder. Broadway, Lex, and Bronx stayed back as Sata joined Brooklyn in comforting him. All three of them had lost their home and their clan at one time, but Zafiro had lost his twice.
"Lex," Brooklyn said quietly, "contact Coyote and get him over here." Lex nodded, anxious to get his mind on something else. He opened his communications link with Coyote. Before his eyes, an image of Coyote that only he could see appeared and he related Brooklyn's order.
"No," Zafiro suddenly said after hearing something Brooklyn and Sata told him, "I cannot leave."
"Zafiro, you have nothing left here. We can take Obsidiana back with us as well," Sata tried to persuade.
"But, you don't understand, there is the rookery. Who will tend to the eggs? Who will guard it? What if my enemies return?"
"Zafiro, the Unseelie Court has been disbanded, most of its members killed. They're the ones who attacked you. They aren't coming back," Broadway explained.
"Whoa, hold on a minute," Brooklyn interjected. "You have a rookery?"
Zafiro nodded in silence. "Yes, they were the only survivors of the poachers' raid on our pyramid years ago. They are our future."
"We cannot leave a rookery here unguarded," Sata insisted.
"What if we transported it to New York... with us?" Broadway suggested.
"When are they to hatch?" Sata asked quietly. "Soon?"
"No," Zafiro replied. "Not for sometime yet."
"So the eggs do not yet require constant attention," Sata surmised.
Zafiro shook his head.
"I don't know..." Brooklyn said as he watched the exchange. "We don't know when your clanmates are returning from Avalon. We don't have a rookery set up yet in Manhattan... so maybe moving your eggs isn't the best alternative. In the end, they're probably safest where they are now for the short term, especially if they've already survived both the poachers' raid and this attack. Once we get things set up back home, then we can move the eggs."
"Very well," Zafiro finally conceded. "You are right. The rookery can survive on its own for a few days."
Sata, too, nodded her somewhat reluctant consent.
Xanatos' aircraft emerged from behind the forest and hovered over them.
* * * * *
Angela looked up from her magic lesson to observe her mother as she feverishly flipped through a six-inch thick antique spell book.
"How the Amulet enthralls you, mother," Angela commented.
Demona looked up suddenly. "What was that, Angela?"
Angela smiled. "Nothing. It's just you seem particularly intent with that artifact. More so than with other magical talismans."
Demona set the Amulet aside. "What do you mean?"
Angela chuckled. "Mother, you've been peering at those bizarre inscriptions with magnifying glasses, browsing through dictionary-thick books, casting unsuccessful spells, and chanting unfruitful incantations for hours."
"Oh, you mean... that." Demona shrugged sheepishly. "It's just that... this artifact, Angela, if I could only unlock its secrets, could be the key to relieving our greatest weakness as a race. If only more pendants could be forged from it, that is."
"I don't know, mother... I know you'll say it's my father talking, but trying to balance the odds like that sounds rather... dangerous."
"Do you think you would say that if the Quarrymen were still around?" Demona countered.
Angela bit her lower lip, and Demona leaned back in her chair with an air of triumph. "You know I've gotten you," she insisted lightheartedly. "Come," she beckoned with an unusual excitement, "you must look at some of these carvings. I think I may have actually found a match to translate them."
Angela got up from her seat to join her, when the sound of Demona's doorbell echoed through the house. Angela shot a look to Demona, but her mother was already getting up from her desk.
"I don't suppose you were expecting anyone?" Angela asked.
"Not tonight, no," she answered, pulling back one of the books in the room's bookcase. The two sides of the bookcase slid apart to reveal a hidden computer terminal. Demona quickly punched a series of buttons and the video screen lit up with the image of a gargoyle. Angela could do no more than stare forward in an awestruck daze, as Demona's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.
The image they were looking at was a live feed from the hidden security camera above Demona's front door. They watched as the gold-colored creature raised his taloned hand and rang the doorbell one more time. Then he crossed his hands in front of him and waited patiently again for someone to answer.
"Is he insane?!" Demona shrieked. "For all he knows he could be ringing the doorbell of a house filled to the brim with people."
"Do you know him?" Angela asked.
"No." Demona quickly shook her head. "I've never seen him before."
"You don't think he could know who you really are?" she asked nervously.
The thought seemed to frighten Demona, but she shook her head again. "No, I have people at Nightstone who work with me twelve hours a day and they don't suspect a thing. There's no way an outsider could have figured out my true identity."
"So, what are we going to do?" Angela asked.
"You stay here. I'll answer the door."
"Won't that be dangerous?"
"Angela," Demona said with a smirk, "have you ever known me to go into anything unprepared?"
* * * * *
A few minutes later, the front door to Dominique Destine's private estate slowly opened. Inside, stood the corporate head herself, her face a mask of utter shock. The gargoyle smiled politely.
"Good evening, Miss Destine," he greeted, his voice conveying a slight accent.
Demona took in his features. He was a relatively tall gargoyle, with deep gold skin that was reptilian in texture and several long spines hanging from the back of his head that could almost be mistaken for hair. He was otherwise bald, but with a very defined forehead ridge that indented in the center and split off into rows of small spikes. He was slight of build, though there was an air of whipcord strength to him. He wore a lot of clothing for a gargoyle, and although his garments were simple, he managed to look very sophisticated and presentable in them. The feature that struck Demona the most was his piercing blue eyes.
"Perdonmé. I realize my being here must be quite a shock to you," the gargoyle went on. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Oro." He slowly extended his hand, trying to make the gesture look as harmless as possible.
Demona gave the moment some suspenseful drag, before raising her hand and waving dumbly. "Hello."
"Splendid," he announced jubilantly. "I believed you would be the right one to come to. David Xanatos has been quite actively pro-gargoyle, but I did not want to risk going to someone with such a questionable past. You, on the other hand, Miss Destine, haven't a scratch on your record. I am simply flattered to make your acquaintance, at last." He bent over in an extravagant bow.
If only he knew, Demona thought to herself. She stifled a smile.
"I am aware of the security camera placed above the door." He pointed to a recess above the doorway. "I hope I didn't give you too much of a scare. I assume you must have given your monitor a good long stare, which accounts for the delay in answering."
Demona allowed herself to smile shyly, while internally her mind was racing with apprehensive thoughts. "Yes, please forgive that. I hope I haven't come across as rude. Please, come in. No one else is here."
"I know," the gold gargoyle replied as he entered. Demona frowned and wondered for how long Oro had studied her before making contact.
The door shut behind him and Demona gestured him toward the living room. There were two plush couches facing each other there and they took a seat on either one.
"You must be very nervous. This is like... a first contact situation for you, yes?" He sat back and smiled broadly... again.
"Well, I have to admit," Demona replied, "the last place I expected to meet a gargoyle would be my front doorstep."
Oro laughed a little, his smile still there. "I will cut, how do you say... ah yes... right to the chase," he said. "You received a letter the other day requesting a personal meeting, alone, at night. That letter was sent by me. Now, I can understand your caution in engaging in such meetings, as well as how busy your schedule must be. So, I understand why you may have declined my invitation. But that is my reason for being here now. I decided that, perhaps, a more direct approach would be better."
"But why do you want to meet with me?" Demona asked.
"Because I have a proposal for you, Miss Destine. For you and for your company. The chance," he hesitated looking for the right phrase, "of a lifetime. I'm sure that you'd like to learn as much about me and my race as you can."
"Yes, see, I knew you were the right one to go to. Your company's official stance on the Quarrymen and then later Phoenix Rising, the donations and public support for P.I.T., and even your personal appearance at one of the latter-mentioned group's assemblies. You are an open-minded person, Miss Destine. One of the few people in this world who aren't holding onto past superstitions and beliefs, and who are instead embracing the future! Do you know how I think that future will be? If we work together, the two of us can shape a future where gargoyles and humans live in absolute unity with one another. It is a dream I have, Miss Destine, and one that I think you'll be both capable of and extremely anxious to have a part in making possible."
"What is your proposition?" Demona asked. She had to admit that this gargoyle was capturing her attention, and her curiosity was getting the better of her.
He leaned forward. "How would you like to be the person responsible for introducing gargoyles to the human race?"
"Me?" she asked innocently.
Oro nodded warmly. "And propel Nightstone Unlimited past Xanatos Enterprises and all the other major corporations at the same time?"
"I come from a clan, if you will, of gargoyles who originate in Guatemala. We are the last remaining group living in the region, four of us total, minus myself. In addition, there is a rookery of eggs soon to hatch. Our home is a particularly grand Mayan pyramid, located deep in the Guatemalan rain forest. It is perhaps the best-preserved specimen in all of Central America, not worn down by centuries of abandonment and subsequent neglect. The pyramid alone would be the find of the decade archeologically, and its contents even more so! Ancient stone tablets, artifacts, and ornaments, scrolls thousands of years old, the texts of which are possibly invaluable to current research. Your company could get the chance to record the actual birth of a gargoyle rookery, observe their growth and study their biology -- the biology of both infants and full-grown adults. I'm sure that kind of information could be extremely valuable. Valuable to humanity and yes, even the gargoyle race itself, as we actually know little of our own biological workings!"
"What I suggest is that Nightstone Unlimited purchase the lot of land that our home is located on from the Guatemalan government. For as long as you like thereafter, your company will get exclusive rights to everything -- us and the pyramid. We would promise nothing less in exchange for your generosity. What we ask of you is the chance to be carefully introduced to the world, with a big company such as yours there to protect us as the process unfolds. We are tired of living in isolation and solitude, cut off from the rest of the world because it is too dangerous to show ourselves. Additionally, our forest will be protected. Logging companies, slash and burn outfits, and every other imaginable form of forest destruction have been posing threats to our sacred home -- the rain forest, to us, is something that must be preserved. Because Nightstone will own the land, we will no longer have to worry about further invasions. And since the pyramid is an archeological site, your own government will no doubt take a hand in protecting the area. We do realize that, when the latter happens, we'll have to move out, but that is already covered. Everything is covered."
"In short, we need your help, Miss Destine. We are a dying clan of a dying species, and to be honest, you're the only one I believe we can come to. Do you think you can help us?"
* * * * *
"Ah, Goliath, good," Xanatos greeted as the gargoyle leader entered his office. He stood from behind his black metal desk to meet him. Once again, the room's view screen was on, this time filled with the image of Brooklyn.
"He's speaking via a videophone on the plane," Xanatos informed Goliath. "They're on their way back now."
"Back?" Goliath questioned, looking from Xanatos to the view screen.
"We should be there in another hour," Brooklyn pointed out.
"But why? Were there injured?" Goliath was quickly going from confused to worried.
"Well, no, not exactly," the Second-in-Command replied woefully. "We're bringing back both Zafiro and Obsidiana, from Guatemala, but... only Zafiro is still alive."
Goliath just stared at the screen for a minute, without reaction.
"I'm sorry, Goliath..."
From behind, Xanatos approached and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Goliath?" There was no answer. He simply stared, absorbing Brooklyn's report.
"Zafiro said the Unseelie were closing in, preparing to finish them both off, when they suddenly retreated. They retreated because of Madoc's death, Goliath. If we hadn't, if you hadn't, been there... a few seconds more and they both would have lost their lives." A faint line ran through the video image, as radio interference disrupted the signal.
"The pyramid?" Goliath asked.
"Gone," Brooklyn answered. "They leveled it. But Zafiro says they have a rookery, well hidden beneath the ground. It's still there."
"And there's also Jade and Turquesa on Avalon," Xanatos reminded.
"In other words, Goliath, there is still hope. Not all is lost," Brooklyn said putting as much conviction in his voice as he could.
But Goliath remained unconvinced. "And what will we find when we visit the next location on the list? Will they be just as bad... or worse?"
"For all we know, the Guatemalan clan got the worst of it," Brooklyn suggested. "It was four to two, Unseelie versus gargoyles. All things considered, I'd say they came out pretty well. If the same can be said about all the other places the Unseelies hit, then I would say that's something worth being grateful for."
"Yes," Goliath conceded, "perhaps you are right." He still seemed unconvinced. His words were still devoid of any feeling.
Brooklyn swallowed hard. "I'll keep you updated if anything new comes up," he assured. He looked down and pressed a button, severing his connection, and the view screen went black.
"When we defeated Madoc that night, we thought we'd finally put an end to it all," began Goliath. "But even after his death, Madoc manages to create pain and suffering. His legacy... will haunt us for far longer than he himself did."
Xanatos listened placidly, without interrupting.
"To us, the Second Unseelie War was over, Madoc's court put to an end. And in our rejoicing the voices of those like Zafiro and Obsidiana were drowned out." He sighed. "Now... that which we were so quick to put behind us has re-emerged."
"Maybe it would be better to just stop right now... before we come up to the next location, and find that an entire clan of gargoyles we never knew existed has been slaughtered."
Xanatos allowed himself a moment of repose. "Goliath," he said gently, "what if that gargoyle clan had all been killed but one? What if that one survivor's only hope is that someone will come and rescue them from a life of endless solitude? That's why you started this. That's why you are going to finish it."
With that, Xanatos placed his hands in his pants pockets and walked out of the room.
* * * * *
Demona sat in silence for many long minutes. His proposal had obviously been rehearsed many times over. She had to be careful in proceeding. The clan of gargoyles he described sounded a lot like the one Angela had told her about. If that was so, where did he fit it into everything? If only she could speak with Angela, she could possibly shed some light on things. But to leave the room now would seem too suspicious.
"All that you've told me," Demona began, struggling to maintain her role as Dominique Destine, "definitely interests me. But... it's all just a little much. I want to help you and your clan to the best of my abilities, but I think I'm going to have to sleep on it, to clear my head. We can talk... later. Tomorrow night?"
Oro replied amiably. "Of course, of course, gracias," he told her, rising from the couch.
Demona stood as well.
"I hope to see you tomorrow then," he said politely, and turned to leave for the door. But just as he was about to open it, he turned back around and asked, "By the way, I take it many people seem to be interested in indigenous cultures. I just recently saw an article in the newspaper about Mayan sun talismans... did you happen to see it?"
"No," she replied, startled by the unlikely coincidence of Oro's interest in the very object she had spent the evening studying. "It doesn't sound familiar."
"Oh, I see. It was just that the article said the artifact was on display somewhere in Manhattan, but I can't seem to find it anywhere... oh well."
Demona was grateful he didn't choose to push the issue, and finally left. As soon as the door was shut she went back to her study, where Angela promptly met her.
"I heard everything over the surveillance camera," she told her. "I think I've met his clan," Angela said slowly as she tried to reconcile Oro's presence with the Guatemalan gargoyles she had met.
"Do you know anything of him specifically?"
Angela watched as Demona switched the image on the video screen from the living room camera to the outside one. Oro could be seen walking away from the house.
"No. He doesn't seem familiar at all. But I definitely don't think we can trust all of what he said as the truth." Angela frowned. "He couldn't possibly be speaking for his clan, at least, not if his clan and the one I met are the same. They had no Oro among them. And no desire to seek outside help."
"Agreed," Demona said, as her voice suddenly broke off. "But... I must admit, much of what he offered has caught my attention. Who knows what could be locked away in that pyramid! For all we know, those scrolls he spoke of could be encyclopedias of spells! And, the opportunity to save this clan should not be passed up. I have seen too many fall victim to prejudice and butchery, I will not have this one brought to its end by greedy logging companies. Although it will be something to handle delicately... I know of the theme park that impudent Japanese businessman tried to create in Ishimura, and I won't have that incident repeat itself."
She looked at Angela apologetically. "I'm sorry, Angela. I'm afraid our night's been ruined."
"Don't worry about it, mother. I'm just as interested in finding out who this Oro fellow is as you are, and," she finished, looking over to the desk, "what his interest is in the Mayan Sun Amulet."
* * * * *
A crackling sound caught Lexington's ear. It was very faint, and at first he thought it was background static from the plane's electronics.
He looked around the cabin to the others, to see if anyone else was reacting to a strange noise. Brooklyn was in the cockpit, talking to the others back home over the videophone. He saw that Broadway and Sata were still sitting on either side of Zafiro on the room's couch, while Bronx napped peacefully at their feet. No one, not even Bronx, stirred.
He continued to listen. It sounded almost like pouring milk over a bowl of rice cereal...and it was steadily growing in intensity.
"Like the sound glass makes when it's splintering," Lex said quietly.
The noise culminated in a sudden snap! Bronx's ears perked up, and his eyes opened to look around the room for the mysterious noise that had wakened him. Unexpectedly, his gaze locked onto the bedroom.
"Hey, looks like Bronx is hearing things," Broadway observed.
Lex initiated his audio tracking system, and sure enough, it was coming from the very room Bronx indicated.
"Wait a minute, I think I'm hearing something too," Broadway amended.
Another sharp snap cut the air and Sata nodded, "As do I."
Bronx was the first to get up to his feet. He made his way over to the door, planted himself in front of it and began sniffing along the bottom edge.
"You hear it too, Lex?" Broadway asked.
"It's coming from the bedroom," he announced.
Zafiro was soon on his "feet" as well.
Suddenly, Brooklyn entered the room from behind, having apparently concluded his phone call, and demanded, "What's going on?" just as another snap sounded, followed by a second, and a third.
Bronx's taloned paw scratching on the door soon overshadowed the noises, and Broadway walked forward to oblige the gargoyle beast. As he was turning the door handle, something occurred to Lexington.
"Guys, does anyone know what it sounds like when we break out of our stone skin?"
Before anyone could respond, Broadway turned around in obvious agitation. "The door won't open. It's locked."
"Obsidiana," Zafiro's voice rang out. "She is awakening! She's not dead! We must get in there, we must help her!"
"Coyote," Brooklyn said affirmatively. "Unlock the aft door."
Coyote replied in his usual calmness, "The door has been sealed for your own protection. A security risk has been detected inside."
"A security risk?!" Zafiro exclaimed.
"Coyote, explain the security risk," Brooklyn ordered, as the sound on the other side of the door continued to grow.
"An unregistered life sign has been detected by internal sensors, as well as the threat of an imminent explosion."
"Coyote, we know who and what it is, now open this door!"
"That may be, but I don't."
Suddenly, a dozen thumps were heard against the inside of the door and Coyote announced, "Explosive threat has expired. Intruder still present. Proceed with caution." The door unlocked with a metallic click and Broadway pushed it open forcefully.
In the center of the small room, Obsidiana lost her balance and collapsed. Zafiro got there in time to catch her and he gently placed her on the bed to their side. As everyone approached, stone shreds crumpled beneath their feet.
Obsidiana's limbs hung limp, and it looked as though breathing took a lot out of her. Her body was grayish, like the stone that had encased her. Her eyes were rimmed with red and her hair fell out as Zafiro moved her.
"What happened?" Lex asked. The same question was painted on everyone else's face. All except Brooklyn.
"Coyote," he demanded. "I just know you have a great explanation for your actions."
"I have already explained them," Coyote answered. "I detected a life sign on board that wasn't there before." From the outside room, a small camera peered in through the doorway as it swiveled into view of Obsidiana laying on the bed. "It appears as though she's a friend, but at the time I was not aware of that. Perhaps if Mr. Xanatos had installed more cameras I could have made a better call of judgment." There was a petulant whine in Coyote's voice.
"You saw us bringing her aboard!" Lex retorted.
"I saw you bringing aboard a stone statue. I assumed it was of some sentimental value to your new guest and didn't presume to ask questions."
"Okay, okay," Brooklyn conceded. "Do you have an explanation for what happened?"
"It appears to me that you know more than I on her condition. I am familiar with all data collected during Project Thailog on gargoyle biology, and I haven't the slightest idea what has happened here. By all reasoning, if she was stone while you weren't, she should have been dead."
"I think I may have an explanation," Sata interjected. "Zafiro said that she was at the point of death when the sun rose." Everyone, including Coyote, waited for her to continue. "There is a legend I heard as a hatchling. It was centuries old even then. In it, a clan warrior was mortally wounded in battle and was said to have gone into stone hibernation for many days to heal. When I heard it, the legend was thought to have been metaphorical; the warrior went into solitude to heal and recuperate. But, now, I suppose it may have been more literal than was thought."
"So, you're saying that Obsidiana stayed in stone sleep for a longer amount of time so that her body could heal itself?" Brooklyn asked, putting everything together.
"It doesn't matter," they heard Zafiro's tear-choked voice say. "All that matters is that she is alive!"
* * * * *
"Are you taking the Amulet back with you?" Demona inquired as Angela prepared to leave.
Angela paused and a thoughtful look came over her. "Well, I suppose I could leave it here with you until next week..."
"You are sure no one will miss it?" Demona asked.
Angela shook her head. "No, I don't think anyone's touched the vault since the Amulet was put in there. And I think I can count on you to keep it safer here under your care than the vault, anyway." She gave her mother a wry grin.
"It will be here waiting for you when next we see each other," Demona assured in the semblance of a pledge. "I do appreciate it. In a week's time, I think I may be able to make real progress in deciphering it."
"Well, good luck, mother," Angela offered. "And goodbye."
* * * * *
Angela left Destine Manor, passing over the great marble arch that served as the main entrance to her mother's plot of land, and subsequently, out of range of all the Manor's security systems. She closed her eyes and let the wind carry her homeward.
Relaxed, her eyes still closed, she took in a deep breath of the cool clean air -- not like the polluted air that hovered over the inner city. Suddenly, she felt her throat back up and let out a cough.
"Exhaust fumes?" she mumbled to herself with a repulsed expression on her face.
She entered a calm pocket of air where there was less resistance, and the noise of the wind blowing over her died down -- enough for her to make out another sound. "Jetpacks!"
Her eyelids flung open as a peal of manic laughter rang out beside her, and she saw the black and red metal form of Hyena flying at her wing.
"I'm sorry," Jackal's voice came from her other side, "we didn't wake you, did we?"
Angela tried desperately to maneuver her way out from between the two, but they wouldn't give an inch.
"Sorry, honey, you're not going anywhere," Hyena told her as she blocked her attempt at an escape.
Angela pulled back, careful to avoid the sociopath's brother, and realized that she'd have to fight her way free. The Eyrie Building was still too far away to consider trying to escape to, but her mother's house was only a few minutes back.
Her eyes flared red as she spun around and punched Jackal square in his face. Jackal grasped his nose as his eyes went wide with shock and rage. Had he any natural bone left in his face, she was sure it would have caved beneath her fist. Instead her fingers reverberated with the shock of punching metal.
"Why you little-" Hyena mumbled as the fingers on her right hand elongated into five razor-sharp knives. Hyena lunged but Angela gracefully twisted away. The knives sliced through the air skimming just above Jackal's cheekbone.
"Watch it will you!" he gasped as he narrowly avoided his sister's talons.
"So sorry," Hyena said sweetly as she jerked her wrist free.
Angela took advantage of the spare five seconds she'd won herself and took off. Even with such a head start, her wings were no match for the twins' jetpacks. Jackal popped up in front of her. Her momentum sent her hurtling into his chest with a hard clang and he quickly grabbed her by the neck.
"Just try that again," he invited as his grip tightened, and Angela's hands reflexively grabbed Jackal's in a vain attempt to free herself.
"Hey, Jackal, do I have to be the one to remind you this time that we're supposed to return with her alive?" Hyena cautioned as she met up with her brother.
His face twisted into a sadistic grin. "Don't worry, sis, you'd be surprised by what a gargoyle can live through."
Angela swung her tail around his neck and tightened it as hard as she could. Jackal let out a barely audible galp as his grip loosened and Angela managed to break free. She released her tail from around Jackal's neck and punched him again. This time he went flipping through the air, one hand around his neck and the other over his jaw.
Angela turned around to find Hyena's retractable laser cannon out and trained on her.
"You won't kill me," Angela told her, although her confidence wavered slightly.
"I don't know," Hyena replied. "Right now I may just forget about the money and take that pleasure."
Angela's eyes narrowed, as she heard Jackal's jetpack roar to life from below. "Go ahead, try to hit me."
Hyena's laser cannon erupted in red light and Angela moved out of the way. The blast missed her head but managed to pierce her wing, after which it struck Jackal and sent him tumbling through the air yet again, a trail of smoke wafting from his chest.
Angela, without so much as a glance to her injured wing, tried to escape once more. She flapped her wings until each motion sent pain through all of her muscles. The wind currents seemed to die down just for her. Hyena wasn't following. Angela risked a backwards glance to see her tending to her brother, who was waving his hand at her. It looked like they were fighting over whose fault was what.
A laser blast cut through the air right beside her. She felt the presence of something enormous following her, and turned her head to see Coyote 6.0 with his laser cannon aimed straight at her. The next blast hurtled past, an inch away from taking off her arm. Coyote, like the rest, it seemed, was trying to capture her unharmed.
She dodged a swipe of the robot's large metal arm. He was getting way too close for her comfort.
"If you surrender now, this pointless fiasco needn't go on," the robot offered. The funny thing was that he sounded honest, and probably was -- but there was no way she was going to let any of them get their hands on her.
"Are you two all right?" Lobo asked as he hovered beside Hyena and Jackal. Jackal detected a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"Are we all right?" he retorted. "Who's the one who's been punched two times and shot in the chest by his own sister?!"
"I told you," Hyena began, but Jackal didn't let her finish.
"It doesn't matter, you shouldn't have shot at her in the first place! You could have killed her and then we would've been out of a hundred grand! Not to mention the fact that the last person on this planet twisted enough to hire us would then cut us from his payroll entirely!"
"And you," he turned to Lobo, "where were you, Wolf, Coyote, and that little dog of yours while all this was going on?"
Lobo smirked. "You two looked like you had everything under control and I didn't want to spoil the fun. Now come on. Let's help Coyote and Bull wrap things up so that we can get out of here and get paid."
"Not a chance!" Angela yelled at Coyote, in response to his offer.
"As you wish, but you do understand that I tried."
Bull swooped down from overhead and rammed into her. Angela fought to keep the canine from ripping out her jugular as she, and it, went plummeting downward.
* * * * *
To be continued...