Re-Emergence - Part 2
Written by: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur
Story concept by: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur and Nicodemus
Previously on Gargoyles...
"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."
* * *
"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!"
~ Re-Emergence - Part 1 ~
* * * * *
Re-Emergence - Part 2
* * * * *
Demona paced her bedroom anxiously. Her thoughts were a jumble, darting between Oro and his proposition, the Sun Amulet, and now Angela.
She placed a hand on her forehead and sat down at the edge of her bed. "Must I continue to fear for Angela's safety every time we part?" she sighed.
"The Quarrymen, gone. Madoc, gone. Why am I still so paranoid?" She got up and walked over to her computer set up in the corner. She stared down at the screen, and the desktop icon labeled "Perimeter cameras". With a few clicks of her mouse, she could check the cameras, and reassure herself that her daughter was safe.
She scoffed and waved her hand as if to shoo the computer away. "She's probably already out of range of the outer cameras, anyway," she told herself.
A few rooms down the hall, in a darkened bunker lined with monitors surveying every inch of Destine Manor and the surrounding area, one of the screens showed a winged shape that vaguely looked like a gargoyle. Several other shapes were converging on it...
* * * * *
Angela felt a sharp pain in her back as she hit ground. Bull snapped and snarled at her. A few feet away, Coyote's powerful jets set him down. She could feel the earth vibrate slightly under the pressure. Already on the ground, and leaning cross-armed against a nearby tree, was Wolf, who watched the scene amused.
"That will be quite enough, Bull," the robot commanded. But the dog wasn't listening. He continued to savagely bite at his fallen victim.
Coyote calmly raised one of his heavy arms weighed down with weaponry and shot a small laser cannon at the animal. The blast struck it in its back-mounted jetpack and sent it hurtling toward Wolf. He moved aside a second before the animal struck the tree with a heavy thump, breaking free some leaves from their branches. They fluttered in a shower down to the ground.
"Hey, watch where you're shooting!" Wolf yelled. He kicked the dazed canine out of the way and resumed his place in front of the tree.
Lobo, Hyena, and Jackal promptly landed and Lobo raced up to his pet. After making sure he was all right, he looked back at Coyote. "You shot my dog," he stated plainly.
"He was about to extract Miss Angela's esophagus. Perhaps you'd better keep a tighter mental link with him," Coyote replied.
"Is that true?" he asked of the stout bulldog. The animal merely looked up at his master curiously, and Lobo sent a mental command through their cybernetic link. In an instant, the bulldog was shivering as electrical currents buzzed through his body. Bull managed a squealing yelp, and Lobo withdrew the command. A faint sizzling sound emanated from the animal, whose fur now stood on end.
"Hmmm," Jackal observed. "Is that little trick something you both can do?"
Hyena snickered at her brother's remark, while Lobo simply gave him an intimidating look. "Careful, Jackal. You don't know if that ability is limited to my link with him." Then he turned to Wolf, still leaning against his tree. "If you kick my dog again, you're going to be the first to find out."
"Come on, Bull," he ordered as he approached Angela. The bulldog followed his master without the slightest waver in obedience, if a slight one in balance.
"Hey, Lobo, can he pass a sobriety test after one of those?" Hyena asked mockingly.
Angela heard Hyena's words echo in the back of her mind as she struggled to her feet. The voices sounded distant and remote, but as her head cleared she realized her captors were only an arm's length away.
"I'm afraid not," Lobo's voice came from behind as a boot was laid on her back and pushed her down to the ground. The boot stayed there as Lobo gave his orders to Coyote, "Secure her for transport, Coyote. You have baby-sitting duty until we get back to base."
"Certainly," the robot replied, without the slightest hint of reluctance in his voice. Lobo's boot lifted off her back, and Angela took advantage of the situation to try to run away. She got to her feet, pulling together all the remaining traces of strength she had left in her.
"After overcoming Hyena and Jackal and almost Coyote, I'm taken down by a flying bulldog," she murmured to herself between short, quick breaths. The thought caused her to laugh.
The laugh was interpreted differently by the Ultra-Pack, who stood back and watched in amusement as Angela tried to make her 'getaway'.
"That's it!" Hyena yelled. "Keep smiling, you're almost home free!"
Then, the feeling of a thousand tiny needles came over her as a net wrapped itself around her body, gripping her so tight she lost her balance and fell onto her side.
And the Ultra-Pack's laughter echoed through the park as Coyote's gargantuan arm lifted her off the ground effortlessly.
"Well, that was easier than past attempts," Wolf commented.
"What would you know, hairy? All you've been doing this whole time is standing down here looking cryptic," Jackal retorted. "I'm just glad we've finally managed to bag princess for good. I don't know about the rest of you, but the recent redundancy of our missions has been getting to me. So what if she's the pretty one?"
Lobo looked to him indifferently. "Just as long as we get paid every time, I'm not complaining."
"Yeah, she's just a popular girl," Hyena added, half-mockingly to the semi-conscious Angela being hauled up onto Coyote's shoulder.
"Let's go," Lobo ordered, firing up his jetpack. He and Bull bolted skyward, as Coyote waited patiently for Wolf.
"One would think genetically implanted wings would be the intelligent thing to include in your next upgrade," Coyote suggested as Wolf hoisted himself up.
"Yeah, Wolf, you're going to need 'em one of these days when that dog finally cracks," Hyena commented.
"Would you shut up already about that mutt," Wolf bellowed.
"Just friendly advice," Jackal replied.
"Consistent animal abuse has been known to result in the animal in question lashing out against the abuser," Coyote informed.
"Just take off," Wolf ordered. The dual jets flared to life and the ground shook as the huge robot lifted into the sky, followed by Hyena and Jackal. In the distance, the horizon was reddening and the first signs of sun were beginning to creep up.
* * * * *
Brooklyn looked through the cockpit's front window as the plane approached the Eyrie Building. The craft reached the building's peak, and Brooklyn looked down into the castle courtyard. Then they dropped like an elevator, and the building began to whip by so fast that the floors they passed became just as undistinguishable as the blocks of a sidewalk as seen from a speeding car.
Then, the craft abruptly came to a stop. In front of them was the hangar, the doors in the process of parting. Coyote waited until they were open wide enough and then skillfully piloted the plane inside.
In back, everyone was anxious to get off. Coyote opened the main door as soon as they set down, and the lower half transformed into a flight of stairs.
Upon setting foot on the hangar floor, Sata and Brooklyn were surrounded by the twins and Nudnik.
"What did we miss?" the twins demanded in synch.
"Was it an adventure?" Ariana asked eagerly.
"It was twelve hours of Mozart and lobster," Brooklyn replied. He quickly drew a repugnant expression from both their faces.
Lexington and Bronx were next, followed by Zafiro, who carried a semi-conscious Obsidiana in his arms.
Xanatos and Owen promptly guided Zafiro to the portable bed they had waiting and motioned for him to set her down. He did so, somewhat reluctantly, and Owen took her away.
"We have a special medical facility set up in case any of the gargoyles are ever injured or sick," Xanatos explained to the worried gargoyle as he led him back into the hangar. "It's more than equipped to take care of all of Obsidiana's needs until she has fully recovered."
Goliath and Hudson both greeted him with a diplomatic warrior's handshake.
"It has been a long time since we last saw one another, Zafiro," Goliath stated.
"It has," Zafiro agreed. "But now I get to see your home. I thank you for your hospitality." The snake-like gargoyle bowed from the waist.
The last to exit was a very anxious Broadway. He looked around the room, puzzled, as he realized that Angela was not there to greet him. "Hey, where's Angela?"
"She hasn't returned from her mother's yet," Hudson replied.
"Dawn is only ten minutes away," he stated, although everyone else in the room was quite aware of it.
"Don't worry yuirself, lad," Hudson comforted. "In all likelihood she's just decided to spend the day there. That's all. You weren't due back, remember."
"Has she called?" Broadway inquired.
"Well, lad, now that you mention it, no. We've not heard from her."
Graeme nudged his sister on the arm. "Stop that, Graeme-kun," she told him in annoyance.
"Tell them," he urged her. "About the goorudendisuku."
Ariana rolled her eyes. "Why did I bother telling you?"
Graeme nudged her again. "Come on, Ari-chan, tell them."
"Would you stop doing that," Ariana demanded.
"Well, if you'd just--"
Ariana cut him off. "Graeme, I'm the one who saw it."
"Saw what?" Brooklyn questioned. Both siblings flushed as they realized their parents were watching them.
"Nothing," Ariana interjected, before Graeme could finish. "Yabuhebi, Graeme-kun," she snarled at her brother.
"You told me," Graeme whispered under his breath. "So now it's joint knowledge."
"What?" Ariana protested. "That's stupid, Graeme, I'm the one who decided to tell you. If I don't want to tell, then I don't have to."
"All right," he replied, crossing his arms with determination. "But I want to tell my half."
"Your half of what?" Brooklyn asked impatiently.
"The knowledge!" Graeme answered with thinning patience. "It's partly mine. And if I want to tell them about the disk, I can."
"Disk?" Goliath asked. The twins looked around to see that almost everybody was watching them now.
Graeme took the liberty of explaining. "Ari-chan said she saw Angela leaving right after sunset with a big gold disk in her arms."
"Graeme!" Ariana protested.
Zafiro approached the duo and asked of them, "This disk, was it in the shape of a sun?"
Ariana nodded with a defeated sigh. "Yeah, I didn't get a real good look but I'm pretty sure. I know it had lots of spikes coming out of the sides... like sun rays."
"The Mayan Sun Amulet," Xanatos identified.
"Angela, the one we met in Guatemala, has taken it someplace?" Zafiro asked, a trace of distress in his voice.
"I don't get it," Ariana said, flustered, "what's so important about this Sun Amulet?"
Zafiro leaned forward and held up the jeweled pendant he wore around his neck for her to see. "It controls this pendant I wear, as well as those of three others. With them, the sun does not turn us to stone. Like we are now, we remain, night and day."
Ariana's face lit up at the revelation. "Can I try it?" she asked eagerly.
Sata scolded, "Ariana-chan, it is not polite to ask such things."
"I'm sorry, but shouldn't we be looking for Angela right now?" Broadway interjected.
"Dawn is imminent," Goliath replied. "There is no time."
"A phone call can..."
"Wait until tomorrow night," Goliath finished. "We will find out what has happened to her, but there is no use trying to race against dawn. Broadway, you may remain here until then. The rest of you, Brooklyn, Sata, Lexington, Bronx, you four must get back in the air as soon as possible. Tonight, preferably."
Lexington was the first to rebut the order. "But Goliath, what if you get into trouble?"
Brooklyn added gently, "Lex is right, Goliath. We've gotten out of some sticky spots before, but that was with all of us together."
Goliath shook his head. "There may still be others in dire situations. We must do what we can. This is just as urgent of a matter as it was two nights ago."
"Goliath-sama, it has been many weeks," Sata explained politely. "Any who were mortally wounded in the war have long passed on. Any support we could offer them now would not be as important as what we could offer here, if indeed Angela-chan has met with peril."
"I've made up my mind," Goliath replied evenly.
"I can help to fill your absence," Zafiro offered, stepping into the discussion. "And Obsidiana can as well, once she is well. The Sun Amulet is our responsibility, and I feel we owe you a great debt for how you've helped our clan -- twice now. I would help you in your search for your daughter, Goliath."
"That's presuming she's missing at all," Xanatos interjected. "Just because she may have missed bed check doesn't mean she's met with foul play. Are you sure you're not letting past fears influence your judgment?"
"Past fears as in Angela's place at the top of the Unseelie's Most Wanted list?" Broadway asked.
Xanatos replied casually, "Madoc's court is long gone."
Brooklyn looked toward the hangar doors, feeling the approaching dawn. "I still don't like leaving you like this," he said, extending his arm, "but I'll accept it." Goliath took his arm in a traditional warrior's handshake. "Good luck." He gestured toward the plane and the others filed back aboard. He followed them up the steps and disappeared inside.
One minute later the hangar was quiet, and Xanatos and Zafiro found themselves alone among a group of stone statues. Outside the hangar, Brooklyn, Sata, Lex, and Bronx slept in perfect peace as Coyote expertly piloted them to the next of their targets.
* * * * *
Angela awoke with a slight headache. At first, her mind was a blur. Where was she? She tried to move her arms and realized that she couldn't -- they were chained above her to the wall she was leaning against. Then, things began to come back to her. She remembered being ambushed by the Ultra-Pack... it was on her way home from her mother's, and they'd captured her. She recalled looking up at the horizon from over Coyote's bulky shoulders, and then... that was it. Where had they brought her, though? She opened her eyes and tried looking around, but the only light in the room came from a single ceiling lamp that swung lazily overhead. Most of the room was shrouded in darkness. The most she could make out were voices. There were at least two. One, a female voice, loud and raspy, was instantly recognized as Hyena's.
"Well she had it earlier. I saw it myself. I don't see how she could've lost it. The thing's the size of a dinner plate!"
A mysterious voice replied, "Did you ever consider the possibility that she had been delivering the Amulet to someone? She probably left it with her mother. Didn't it ever occur to you to relieve the child of it before she made it to her destination?"
A third voice, male, stepped in on behalf of his sister. "Hey, you said you wanted the gargoyle, not her jewelry."
"Spilt milk," the mysterious voice replied. "We'll use one to get the other. Only this time we get to have a bit more fun." The words were followed by low laughter; a laughter that seemed just as familiar to Angela as the voice... but she just couldn't place it. Her head was swimming.
She accidentally rustled the ground with her tail as she tried to position herself more comfortably, and the voices stopped. Angela cursed herself. She didn't want them to stop, let alone realize that she was awake and listening.
"It would appear our guest has opted to join in on the conversation," the mysterious voice observed. Angela heard a couple of footsteps and a pair of red eyes emerged from the darkness, staring at her. From out of the shadows also emerged Hyena and Jackal, although all that she could see of them was also red. Their black parts melted into darkness.
Hyena and Jackal took up positions on either side of red eyes as he stepped into the light. And Angela's heart froze. Her breathing ceased.
"Thailog!" she exclaimed. "This can't be. You died at the amusement park!"
Her captor seemed genuinely amused by the remark. The grin on his face vanished as his eyes met hers.
"Let us just say that the reports of my death were... exaggerated."
* * * * *
Broadway intertwined his fingers with the phone cord as he held the receiver to his ear intently. The only sound was a monotonous ring as the line continued to go unanswered.
The ringing ceased and the line finally opened. Broadway listened anxiously, biting his lower lip, as he heard the whir of a cassette starting up and a recording began. "You have reached the residence of Dominique Destine. Please leave your message at the tone, and I will return your call at my earliest scheduled convenience."
Broadway sighed as Hudson came down the hall. The elder gargoyle stretched his arms and gave way to a wide yawn. When he saw Broadway, he stopped and frowned.
Broadway shook his head grimly. "No, just her answering machine."
"Come," he replied somberly, "We'll tell Goliath." The pair turned to seek out their clan leader, only to find him standing behind them. He looked worried.
"Xanatos just got off the phone with Demona's office at Nightstone Unlimited," he revealed. "She came to work as usual, and her secretary said she left for home just before sunset, again... as usual. She didn't mention anything about anyone else being with her, if perhaps Demona had taken Angela there using her spell of illusion."
"Well," Hudson sighed, "it looks like our only option is to go to visit her ourselves."
Goliath nodded firmly. "Agreed."
* * * * *
Broadway tapped his fingers together nervously as he scanned the surrounding landscape. "I hope she's all right," he muttered.
"I am sure Demona would not have let anything happen to Angela," Goliath affirmed from alongside him as they glided over the city.
"In any case, we won't know 'til we get there," Hudson interjected. His eyes diverted briefly to Zafiro and his pendant. The talisman was beginning to glow.
Their shadows passed over a small park, where the moon lit the ground well enough for some up-torn grass, a pair of deep imprints, and a dented tree to be visible. No one noticed the signs of struggle as Destine Manor came within view.
* * * * *
Demona sat behind her desk with the Mayan Sun Amulet sitting in the center. An open book with withering pages rested to one side, and a computer monitor displaying a screen of ancient symbols and text translations sat on the other. Also opposite the large book was a thinner, more contemporary Anthropology text on Central America.
Demona flipped a page in her book and ran her finger down the fading text. In the other room, a phone rang. She ignored it, intent on her research. The ringing ceased, and the sound of her voice seeped in as her answering machine turned on. She wrinkled her nose and took out her agitation on her book as she flipped the next page.
"Don't people have anything better to do?"
She lifted herself from her seat and went into the other room to unplug her phone. The French doors were open. Goliath, Broadway, Hudson and a strange gargoyle Demona had never seen before, stood waiting.
Demona cocked an eye ridge. "May I help you?"
Broadway brushed past Goliath. "Demona, have you seen Angela?" he began anxiously.
Demona shook her head. "She left last night with plenty of time to return to the castle."
"She didn't make it back," Broadway said.
Demona's eyes narrowed. "Come inside and tell me everything you know."
* * * * *
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?!" Demona screamed.
Broadway cringed. This wasn't going as well as he'd hoped. He looked around anxiously to make sure that Demona's mace, or worse her laser rifle, wasn't easily accessible.
"There was no time," Goliath insisted, but Demona wouldn't listen.
"No time? Oh yes, of course, the sun was about to rise. I see. Have you forgotten that not all of us are as limited as you are?"
"And what would you have had us do?" he countered.
But even as he was saying the last word Demona was facing him again and answering, "At the very least you could have had Xanatos call me to tell me that my daughter is missing! Or does he too turn to stone by day?"
"I spoke with Xanatos," Goliath rumbled. "And he did not call you because he did not want to worry you unnecessarily. There wouldn't have been anything you could have done."
"I will judge whether or not I could have done something!" she snapped. "Who are either of you to decide that? I don't need you or Xanatos to protect me from the truth because it might hurt me! I've lived through ten centuries of hurt, Goliath!"
Demona continued bitterly, "The truth of the matter is that you simply didn't think to tell me of my daughter's disappearance because you were unable to do anything about it at the time, and that's all that really mattered to you. Never mind that Iím her mother and a clan elder! Or were those just pretty words at the mating ceremony to please Angela?" The azure gargoyle growled in disgust. "To you I was not a parent to be notified but a possible suspect to be interrogated. Ask yourself, Goliath, did you come here tonight with statements or questions?"
Hudson and Broadway exchanged incriminated glances as they waited for Goliath to frame a reply. He stared down at the floor instead. Demona took the silence as a signal to go on.
"I don't turn to stone during the day, and neither does he!" she declared, gesturing to Zafiro off-handedly. The Guatemalan gargoyle's face echoed his surprise at Demona's remark. They hadn't been introduced yet.
"While you were sleeping, we could have been searching! What you seem to continually forget is that Angela is my daughter too!"
"Now that's enough!" Hudson silenced. "I've had it up to here with the both of you! Every minute we waste tryin' to decide whose fault it is that we couldn't search for Angela sooner, is another minute we lose in makin' up for it!"
They both turned away from each other.
"Now," he began, "let's get some things answered. For instance, what would ye know of a gold sun-shaped amulet, Demona?"
The question was like a slap in the face. The blue-skinned gargoyle turned back around with a sudden, sharp, surge of realization as she stared at Zafiro, the stranger she'd referred to, yet had not noticed among the others.
Her eyes stayed fixed on his magic pendant as it glowed brilliantly against his chest, and then traveled back up to meet with his. "You're from Guatemala," she stated, although it was more of a question. Her voice was relaxing into a lower pitch.
"Yes," he nodded. "My name is Zafiro. You... know of my clan?"
Demona looked over to Goliath, who replied merely with, "It's a long story."
"Now, about that Amulet, lass," Hudson urged.
"Did Angela bring it here when she came?" Broadway followed up.
"Yes," she finally admitted. "Yes, she did. She left it here with me; it's in the other room." Anticipating their next series of questions, she added briskly, "I wanted to examine it and asked Angela if she could bring it to our next meeting."
"And it didn't occur to you to ask us for permission first?" Goliath questioned.
"I admit, it was poor judgment to have her bring it here behind your backs'," she replied. "But we both know that you never would have said yes."
"That is because that Amulet, if damaged, could result in the loss of the four magic pendants Zafiro and his companions wear. It is their property. And if it were to fall into the wrong hands... anything magical falling into the wrong hands... could result in great catastrophe."
"You see," she confirmed. "You're phobic of magical artifacts. Listen to yourself, Goliath. What if the Amulet fell into the wrong hands? Just what might they do with it? Perhaps use it to forge more magic pendants? Think of it, Goliath. Our children needn't fear sunrise anymore. If the key to unlocking that Amulet could be figured out we could remove our greatest weakness as a race!"
Goliath was more than unsettled by her words. "Even if what you say were possible, are you so sure it would be wise to attempt such a thing?"
"It does not matter," Zafiro cut in. "It is not possible. The sorcerer who created the Sun Amulet was only able to forge four pendants from it. If the Amulet was capable of powering more, then he would have forged more. There would have been no reason not to."
"Unless your sorcerer was fearful of your clan turning on him and the others, and decided to keep the number of you with the ability limited to retain control," Demona suggested.
She quickly waved it off, leaving Zafiro dumbfounded. "Never mind. It doesn't matter. Someone came last night looking for the Amulet -- a gargoyle. He said his name was Oro, and he said he was from a clan in Guatemala."
Zafiro's eyes widened. "Oro?" he questioned. "Alive?" He squinted his eyes and shook his head. "Not after all these years, it couldn't be." His voice grew sterner as he spoke. "It's impossible."
Goliath looked from Zafiro to Demona. "This gargoyle, he claimed to be of Zafiro's clan?"
Demona nodded. "He said he spoke on behalf of them."
Zafiro shook his head more forcefully. "He is an imposter..."
"He was of gold color, tall, slight of build, with blue eyes," Demona recalled.
Zafiro's jaw dropped. "Could it be? My rookery brother is alive?!" He approached Demona with desperate eyes, everything else slipping from his mind. "Where did he go? What did he say?" he asked of her, one sentence tripping over the next.
Demona felt the impulse to put her arms up in defense, when Goliath asked, "Who is this Oro?"
Zafiro allowed himself a moment to calm down and answered, "He was a member of my clan lost to the poachers' raid. We were close, once." His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "I miss his friendship still. But you say you have seen him... alive?" Hope mingled with disbelief as Zafiro absorbed Demona's words.
"Yes... well, so I assume." She began to trail off. "So, he wasn't lying about being a part of your clan. But I doubt he consulted you on his business proposition."
"What business proposition?" Zafiro asked in puzzlement.
"I'll have to tell you later," she said quickly. "It's a long story and we've already wasted too much time." She promptly disappeared beyond a door for a couple minutes, and then reappeared with the Sun Amulet in her arms. She handed it over, and Zafiro accepted it gratefully. As it came closer to him, Demona noticed the pendant glow brighter.
"Come," Goliath ordered. "Demona is right. There is no more time for talk. We will follow Angela's trail from the house back to the Eyrie Building. Fan out. Check every possible route she could have taken from here." He frowned as he suddenly realized how much area they had to cover and how few searchers there were. "Maybe leaving Graeme, Ariana, and Nudnik back at the castle wasn't such a good idea, after all."
Goliath watched as the search party exited through the French doors. Demona wasn't among them.
"Are you coming?" he asked her.
"You four go searching your way," she replied. "I will search in mine." Goliath nodded and leaped out the window.
After she heard him glide away, she released a bottled up sigh. "How am I going to get through this night?" she demanded of herself. "Angela's missing, and while Goliath and the others are out searching for her, I'm stuck here waiting for Oro."
She brought a hand to her lip and muttered, "At least I have an advantage now. I know his back story." The azure gargoyle began to pace impatiently. She put her fist to her forehead as she closed her eyes and shook her head. "I should have checked those perimeter cameras."
* * * * *
Thailog took another step into the light and Angela felt herself shudder. The step he took looked very strained, and when he'd completed it, it was with great exhaustion. It was then that Angela noticed the cane he used. Thailog, the very epitome of independence, was now forced into walking with a cane. His talons were clenched around the ball of it tightly, almost desperately... or, rather, resentfully.
Then his other hand was suddenly on Jackal's chest. With a wheeze, he barked, "I don't need any help." The obedient cyborg stepped back and rejoined his sister.
Angela found herself still staring at Thailog's body, unable to turn away. It was covered with burn scars, the skin ravaged by keloid welts. She couldn't help but think how many sunrises had he gone through since the fire? How bad could his original injuries have been if what she saw now was the end product of two years' worth of stone sleep?
"Unappealing," she heard Thailog say, "to say the least, isn't it?"
The first thing that caught her attention was how he hadn't connected his appearance with himself, by saying "it".
"The fire didn't do that to you," she retorted, perhaps a little too bitterly.
She saw Thailog smile slightly. "Yes," he agreed, completely ignoring the insult she'd intended, his voice growing cold and emotionless, "You did, didn't you?" Angela saw her shocked expression reflecting back at her in Thailog's crimson eyes.
"Oh, don't act so surprised. You were the catalyst to the events that led to my burning, it is obvious. It is because of you that I am now a cripple. I can't even glide anymore, but am forced to move around on foot, with the aid of a cane. My wings, you see, took the worst of it. They now hang limply to my back like withered bundles of flesh, clinging to me..."
Jackal wrinkled his nose in disgust and glanced to his sister, who leaned against a metal strut with a bored and totally oblivious expression on her face.
A gentle laugh followed Thailog's words and his mood seemed to lighten. "It's not as if I blame you absolutely. You were merely one of many factors that played a part in my burning."
"So you see, I haven't gone through all this trouble for simple, petty revenge. I haven't degenerated that much mentally as I have physically. That's not why I've brought you here. Oh, you will be tortured and in all likelihood you will not leave this room alive..." he chuckled to himself, that cold self-satisfying laughter. "But that's incidental." He shrugged.
"Then why?" she asked.
"You are the daughter of the now major stockholder of Nightstone Unlimited and the leader of your clan. I'm sure you can figure it out." He leaned forward. "Give it time. You'll have plenty of it."
Something about that didn't sit right with her, only adding to her nausea. If he planned to use her against her parents for personal gain, why was it incidental that she wouldn't leave here alive?
Thailog turned to Jackal and Hyena. "You two, rally the others. I want a visit paid to my ex. Tonight. The Amulet, I want it."
"No!" Angela cried, the sound escaping her mouth almost before she realized it.
Thailog turned a sideways glance in her direction. "Don't worry," he said with a grin, "your mother's immortal after all." He turned his eyes back to the twins. "Take that into account. Her immortality doesn't make her any less immune to pain, only more prone to suffer from it."
The air with which he spoke was chillingly casual.
Angela tried to stand but her restraints kept her pasted against the stone wall, the chains biting into her skin. "Thailog!" she called. "You said you'd use me to get the Amulet, to use as leverage, to barter with!"
Thailog responded, "My dear sister, why give away a crucial linchpin such as yourself for something that is perfectly attainable on its own?"
"Um," Jackal said, raising his hand. Thailog, his head now turned to them, rolled his eyes in annoyance. "That does bring something to mind. We've had a little run-in with the exec's defense systems before, and..."
"It wasn't pretty," Hyena finished.
Thailog remained turned to them. "Is there a point to this that I'm missing?"
The twins exchanged an uncomfortable look. Hyena opened her mouth, about to say something more, probably to the effect of, 'Yeah, there's a point!' when Jackal managed to beat her to the punch.
"No," he said concisely. Hyena flashed her brother a dirty look, but followed his lead as he turned to leave the room.
"Taking orders from a gargoyle?" Angela interjected, in an attempt to create any kind of disjunction she could.
When they disappeared without so much as an acknowledging glance, she tried the opposite tactic. "Why do you think the Ultra-Pack were so easily hired, Thailog? They couldn't get a job done right if their lives depended on it. They've gone through more employers than upgrades!"
"They work for me because I pay them enough not to care who I am," the gargoyle replied matter-of-factly. "And as for their competence... they succeeded in capturing you, didn't they?"
He turned around on his cane and lumbered back into the shadows. "The buffet opens at four and room service is available upon request. If you need anything, just give them a ring."
The sound of a large bolted door slamming shut was followed by the one light overhead going out. Angela was immersed in cold, wet, darkness.
* * * * *
Zafiro stared down at the towering Manhattan building as he and Goliath passed over it. In his left arm he held the Sun Amulet tightly against his chest, as his pendant hung on its necklace overtop, bobbing back and forth and swinging about in the breezes. "Such marvels," he said to himself. "We used to use our pendants to keep track of each other back home, but here their light would only become lost in the thousands of others that cover this city."
"Your pendants... they glow when close to the Amulet?" Goliath asked thoughtfully.
"They glow always," he answered. "Brighter as they're closer to the Amulet, fainter when they're brought apart, but always glowing. It is their life-force they draw from it, and only when there is no more to be drawn, when the Amulet is destroyed, will they stop."
He paused as he and Goliath passed through a low-hanging cloud, and closed his eyes as the millions of tiny water droplets rushed over him.
"Even when the Amulet sat on a pedestal in a museum here in your city," he continued, "I like to think my pendant still glowed... just too faintly for our eyes to see. It is a magic glow, and so it produces no heat, yet I think I can feel it more than I could before... almost as if it radiates its joy at being near to the Amulet."
"Goliath!" Broadway's voice interrupted. They both turned their heads to face the turquoise gargoyle and the armored, bearded one that followed close behind.
"What is it?" Goliath asked. "Is it Angela? Have you found her?"
"I don't think so," Broadway replied, coming up alongside them, "but whoever it is they've got wings."
"Not likely, lad," Hudson replied, coming up along the opposite side, "I'd say this one's male... but I don't recognize him. We only got a brief glimpse, but he alighted on a rooftop not far to the south." He squinted as he examined the cityscape looking for the rooftop.
"There!" Broadway pointed, his finger targeting a low-laying building a couple hundred yards away.
Almost as soon as Goliath's eyes found the spot a winged shadow passed over the side of one of the large skyscrapers nearby, and Hudson commented, "He must have taken back to the air."
Zafiro, apparently having had seen the shadow himself, broke off from the group, flying toward it without an instant of hesitation while yelling, "Ooooorrrooooooo!"
All three of them stopped in mid-air like cars on a freeway and, with Goliath's bellow of, "Follow him!" bolted off in his direction. Goliath took the lead, with his powerful wings folded up alongside each other like sails on a boat, slicing through the sky like a bullet.
They followed Zafiro's path around the corner of the building just in time to see him take a nosedive into an alleyway squeezed between two smaller ones.
"It may be a trap," Goliath observed as he examined the concrete crevasse.
"You two stay here," he ordered, "I'll go after him. If it is a trap..."
"If it is a trap we won't be leaving the two of you alone down there, that's for certain," Hudson finished. "We'll be waiting."
Goliath nodded and glided down into the alley, soon vanishing in darkness as if diving into a river of shadow. He felt his feet touch the ground and caped his wings around his shoulders as he examined the alley. At the far end, weak light filtered in from a nearby street lamp. The other end was marked by a brick wall, with some garbage cans and a large abandoned dumpster laid up against it.
From behind the dumpster, a pair of eyes peered at Goliath curiously. The watcher was careful not to involuntarily let his eyes flare white, for that would give him away. The sound of metal scrapping against pavement went undetected by the mighty lavender gargoyle as an iron pipe rose into the hands of the watcher. As Goliath turned around he took a step out into the open, with the pipe in hand, when suddenly a noise broke the silence.
"Zafiro!" Goliath called. The sound upset a rat, who promptly scampered out from beneath a discarded burger wrapper and up into a nearby gutter, but received no other response. Goliath sighed.
The sound of the name gripped the watcher like an iron vice clasped around his heart, and the pipe slipped from his hand. The sound of metal banging against pavement didn't go unnoticed this time, and Goliath spun around to see a metal pipe rolling on the ground and a shadow vanishing back behind a dumpster.
"Hello?" Goliath called. "Zafiro? Is it you?" Even as he asked the question, he knew the gargoyle he'd seen wasn't Zafiro. "Who are you?" he demanded, as he took another forceful step forward. Two hundred pounds of rushing metal suddenly met with his chest as the dumpster was shoved into him.
With a grunt, Goliath fell on his back. He stopped the momentum of the dumpster with his feet and pushed it back against the brick wall with a deafening crash. Two feet above the area of impact, the other gargoyle clung, narrowly avoiding harm. He looked down and then back at Goliath, making brief eye contact with him, before turning back around and continuing to climb. Goliath got to his feet with a growl. The dumpster began to lazily roll back toward Goliath, who leapt over it and landed on the concrete just in front of the brick wall with a heavy thud. Goliath was in pursuit of the gargoyle as they raced against each other up the wall. The sound of talons digging into brick echoed through the alley.
Zafiro slithered toward the alleyway from the street. As he was about to turn the corner a dumpster sped past him, and came to a lazy stop in the center of the empty street. Zafiro looked inside the alley and saw Goliath and the other gargoyle racing up the far wall.
Goliath reached his attacker and grabbed him by the leg. The gold gargoyle kicked him away and Goliath lost his grip on the wall. He fell, grabbing the back of his opponent's garment, as he scrambled for a purchase. The pair slammed into the concrete twenty feet below.
Zafiro raced down the alleyway toward them as two shapes descended from above. Broadway and Hudson alighted beside Zafiro just as he reached the two fallen gargoyles.
"There you are!" Hudson exclaimed at seeing Zafiro. Then he saw Goliath and the stranger lying by his side.
Goliath got up with a groan, followed by the other gargoyle.
"Are you all right?" Broadway asked, a general question aimed to them both.
"I... think so," Goliath answered. He stood up and, after a moment's hesitation, extended his arm to his injured party. The gargoyle accepted and let Goliath pull him to his feet.
"Now," Goliath began, "who are you and why did you attack me?"
"He is my brother!" Zafiro exclaimed.
"The one ye told Demona about?" Hudson inquired.
Zafiro nodded anxiously, agonizing over how to react. Several times, his mouth opened, but closed again before he could stammer anything out.
As everyone stared at Oro, he, for the first time, looked over all of them. His eyes went from one to the next, until he came to Zafiro. He turned his eyes away.
Finally, he said, "I am sorry for attacking you. I heard of the tales of gargoyles living in New York, but... I suppose I was never able to fully accept them. Gargoyles living in a jungle of steel and concrete such as this, so in the heart of human civilization...? The thought seemed unreal to me. I was taken off-guard, maybe even frightened, and I apologize. You see, I have never actually seen another gargoyle anywhere aside from my home clan in Guatemala."
"So, it is true that you're Zafiro's rookery brother," Goliath stated.
"Oro, was it?" Hudson said, trying to recall the conversation from Demona's house.
The gold-skinned gargoyle nodded slowly, "Yes, it is true. Zafiro is my rookery brother." The tone was anything but heartfelt, and a little too bitter for anyone's comfort.
Zafiro, on the other hand, was far from uncomfortable. "Why do you act this way, hermano?" he implored, approaching him candidly. "It is me, Zafiro!"
Oro stared at him coldly, without moving an inch. "I know," he answered. He turned to face Goliath and the others. "It is good to see other gargoyles, but I have diverted you long enough. Good night."
He began to walk away, but Zafiro didn't let things go. He slithered up to Oro just as he'd reached the side of one of the buildings to use to climb and grasped his shoulder firmly. "Why are you doing this?!" he demanded.
Oro spun around and grabbed Zafiro's wrist with both hands. Zafiro could only gasp as Oro flung him into the side of the building and put his arm up to his throat. The Sun Amulet fell to the ground with a loud clank and rolled away. Zafiro remained pressed against the wall, his tail whipping about beneath him.
"Oro!" Goliath bellowed. "Let him go!"
Oro looked into Zafiro's desperate eyes with a cold emotionless gaze. "Why are you here? What are you doing thousands of miles away from our home? Sightseeing? Have you decided to abandon our home again? Did you learn nothing before?"
Zafiro opened his mouth but nothing came out, though from a loss of words or a loss of breath was uncertain.
"Let us tell them the story, shall we? A story of duty and obligation and misplaced trust," Oro challenged. He released Zafiro, who collapsed in a disheveled heap against the wall, grasping his neck.
Oro turned to face the others. "He has told you all about the pendant he wears and the others like it? And of the poachers' raid, I trust?" Goliath nodded with a certain degree of caution, managing a quick glance to Zafiro to ensure that he was all right.
"But I would be willing to wager he did not tell you why the poachers came. The pendants were originally forged so that the pyramid could be protected twenty-four hours a day, and the four pendant wearers were entrusted with the duty of carrying out that directive."
Oro's features grew bitter. "But... as time went on, they began to spend less and less time at the pyramid where they belonged and more time chasing tree-cutters, obsessed with their new-founded quest to rid the rainforest of man and save it from destruction -- a noble effort, but not theirs to be assumed." He shot an angry look at Zafiro who returned the gaze with a defiant one of his own.
"One day, they chased off a farmer who was going to clear an entire section of the rainforest and burn the land to make way for a new field. This one was not like the others and did not scare easily. He became angry. And he not only returned, he returned with others. They found the pyramid that very next day, and the farmer got his revenge... Fifty times over. And where were the four pendant-wearers when this happened? Where were all four of them, I ask you? Still off saving the trees!" His tail whipped about angrily in barely contained rage.
"But you survived," Broadway pointed out.
"Yes," Oro answered quickly, "I survived. The night before, I had become distracted and could not make it back in time for sunrise. I found a place to sleep for the day. The next night, on my way home, I ran into a returning caravan. I hid behind some bushes and watched it pass. A wagon and several horse-bound men were traveling back from a recent pillage. In the back of the wagon I saw, as it passed me by, the Sun Amulet... along with several dozen of our clan's belongings. Who knows how much they ended up getting for them? I was shocked, but I was not sure of what had happened. I raced back to the pyramid, my heart full of fear. As I came into the clearing, I saw the many steps of our pyramid, where our clan would roost, littered with piles of stone pieces. I was not horrified. Horrified can't begin to describe it. I was beyond horror. All of the pendant-wearers were still, by the way, ...elsewhere. I don't know when they finally did end up coming back, but I was already gone. I stayed away from the pyramid for a long time, wandering on my own, hiding from my surviving brothers and sisters. Then, eventually, with Cyberbiotics' short-lived logging operation came news of gargoyle activity up north, and of pro-gargoyle corporations such as Nightstone Unlimited. I realized things were changing and if I ever hoped to be a part of that change, or to at least survive it, I would have to embrace it. I left on a journey to America. That was over two years ago."
"Nightstone Unlimited. That explains your visit to Dominique Destine," Hudson concluded.
"How did you -- no, never mind. It does not matter. Everything is different now," he said, glancing at the Sun Amulet laying half in a puddle of water in the center of the alley. Zafiro watched as Oro picked the Amulet up. "This... I have been looking for, for a long time."
Zafiro stood up. His voice broken and tear-choked, he professed desperately, "Oro, we didn't know, we couldn't know!"
"Spare me, Zafiro!" he shot back. "Those pendants were given to you to protect us, the clan, and the pyramid, not the native shrubbery!"
"The death of our clan has haunted me just as it has haunted you," Zafiro declared. "I do blame myself for what happened, I will admit to it, that it was my fault! Are you satisfied, Oro? Because you can't know what it is like to realize you were responsible for the deaths of everyone you care about, your family! Regret, Oro, has haunted me and always will. Now, I find that not all was lost, that just one has survived, my dearest friend in youth, and you would deny me the simple joy of his companionship -- even his acceptance?!"
Oro sighed. "I was planning on reuniting us, eventually," he revealed. "Perhaps things can still work out."
"When I met with Miss Destine, I proposed her corporation move in and purchase the lot of land from the Guatemalan government where our home is, and thereby ensure its protection. More than that, we can be carefully and gradually introduced to the world. Our centuries of living in seclusion like primitive animals are over. These are not the old days anymore. Now is the day of satellite TV, internet communication, car phones, and jet planes. We must change with the world, or risk becoming displaced in it. I was on my way to meet with her again, when I ran into you four."
Zafiro just stared at him wide-eyed, slowly shaking his head. "We," he replied, "are already displaced -- we are gargoyles! You would present us to the world and expect us to be received as, as what? Celebrities? And at the mercy of some corporation?!"
The golden gargoyle's eyes glowed an angry white. "Who are you to decide what is best for our clan? You, who already had his chance and squandered it? Because of you we lost nearly an entire generation. Now, it is my turn. I plan on doing things right, Zafiro. The only hope we have left is the rookery of eggs that the poachers didn't find. With their hatching comes a rebirth, the revitalization of our clan... and I will not let you or the others condemn them to a fate like their parents'! In only another few months they will hatch, and when they do, they will hatch into a world where they can feel secure; where they are protected."
"Who am I to decide? Who are you?!" Zafiro countered angrily. "You who abandoned his clan? You let us think you dead. Now you wish to return and dictate our future? How were you planning on us reacting to this? Did you think we'd fall in line for you?"
Oro stared at him coldly, the Sun Amulet firmly within his grasp. "I would have asked you cordially at first. But if you refused, I had alternative ways planned to give you the needed incentive. Such as this." He lifted the Sun Amulet for him to see. "I planned on having this in my possession, as... insurance."
"Insurance?!" Zafiro replied in suppressed outrage. "I don't care what you call it, it is nothing less than blackmail!"
Goliath shifted uneasily at the words that were being exchanged.
"It is for the good of our children that I do it!" Oro shouted.
Goliath stepped forward to separate the two. "It is getting late and we still have to worry about finding Angela."
"If blackmail is needed, then I will blackmail! Either way, Zafiro, I will see our children survive!" Oro said grimly, ignoring the Manhattan Clan leader.
As he finished his sentence, a blast of red energy exploded the pavement between them, sending Oro to the ground with a shower of asphalt flakes, and the Sun Amulet skidding across the alley like a novelty-sized hockey puck. Zafiro shielded himself from the explosion with his wings, and let the wall of the building serve as a buffer.
Six black-clad shapes with red outlines dropped out of the sky. The Ultra-Pack landed atop either side of the alleyway, with Lobo and Bull on one side, Jackal, Hyena, and Wolf on the other, and Coyote covering their last remaining avenue of escape -- the opening at the far end.
Zafiro drew back his wings to see Oro laying a few feet away, covered in asphalt and unmoving.
From one of the rooftops, Hyena and Jackal leaped down into the alley.
"Get the Amulet!" Goliath cried.
The two cyborgs landed lightly on either side of the gold disk.
"Too late!" Hyena's triumphant voice exclaimed as she picked up the artifact.
"Well," Jackal began, "that was the shortest mission I've ever--"
Goliath plowed into him like a bulldozer, his shoulders positioned like a battering ram. The cyborg went flying all the way across the alley, over Coyote, and into the dumpster laying in the street outside.
The dumpster blew apart in a fury of particle laser beams and Jackal rose into mid-air. "You'll pay for that."
"Re-entering the alleyway would not be advisable," Coyote said dutifully, but Jackal didn't listen as he engaged his jetpack at full speed.
He bolted into the alley, as Lobo's voice echoed from above, "Jackal, don't you go back in there!"
He rammed into Goliath and they both went hurtling into the brick wall at the alley's rear.
Lobo's face contorted in anger and he looked to Hyena, who still held the Amulet. "Hyena, get out of there!"
Wolf stared into the alley from his perch ten stories up, watching the fight between Jackal and Goliath. With a snarl, he commented, "I'd like to be down there giving that gargoyle some bruises."
Lobo looked at Wolf from his ledge. "Wolf," he said sternly, "stay"
Hyena prepared to engage her jetpack, when Broadway charged her from the side, his eyes burning white as a deep growl rose from his belly. Hyena turned her head in time to see his fist hurtle towards her. Her expression fell just as the powerful punch sent her flipping over. The Amulet fell to the ground.
"So it was you who took her!" Broadway bellowed as he took another swing at Hyena.
She ducked with relative ease and replied acidly, "Easy, chubby, you don't want to overexert yourself." She extended her forefinger and an electric current erupted from the tip.
Broadway dodged the current and it struck one of the alley walls, chipping away inches of brick. He came up with another punch, this one an uppercut. It hit Hyena straight on her chin, and was followed by a quick swipe of his tail to her legs, causing her to fall on her back. The last thing she saw before later reawakening was Broadway's clasped fists coming down on her.
Goliath and Jackal were now locked hand-in-hand and taking turns throwing each other into walls. Goliath slammed into the concrete like a sack of salt, sending out a web of cracks along the surface. Jackal finally decided to throw a punch. Goliath, on the other hand, was more prone to ducking, and Jackal's fist met with the hard concrete.
Zafiro saw the fighting and rushed to Goliath's aide. He attempted to jump Jackal from behind, but Goliath, not expecting him, accidentally gave him away with a brief flick of the eyes. Jackal spun around and drop-kicked the assaulting gargoyle.
"Darn servos almost move themselves," Jackal remarked as he raised his foot to crush in his victim's skull. He stopped once he got a good look at just who his victim was.
"Well, well, well," he said. "You're a little out of your way, aren't you? Not many trees 'round here to baby-sit." Zafiro would have given him a dirty look if his eyes weren't squinting in response to the intense pain he was feeling in his chest. His hand clenched the spot tightly, yet something managed to slip through his fingers -- a bright glowing light. Jackal placed his foot on Zafiro's neck and pushed until the gargoyle placed both hands around it to try to save himself from suffocation. As soon as he removed his hand from his neck, out fell the pendant. Jackal's eyes lit up for a moment, before Goliath came up from behind and pulled him off...
Lobo aimed his rifle into the alley and began firing shots around the Amulet to keep Broadway from getting to it. A shower of laser-fire encircled the gold-cast talisman, as if it lay peacefully unscathed in the eye of a raging hurricane. Broadway, after two close hits, was forced to back away.
"You're gonna hit it!" Wolf criticized.
"I've got cyber-optic, computer-assisted targeting," Lobo retorted as he fired another couple rounds. "I don't miss."
He continued to shoot random shots around the Amulet while switching on his comlink. "Hyena, are you still there? I've laid down covering fire." Then, careful to articulate each syllable with perfection, he added, "Get. The. Amulet." A moment passed. No answer.
"She's knocked unconscious," Wolf snarled. "I'm going down there."
Before Lobo could stop him, Wolf leaped over the side of the building and let himself fall ten stories to the bottom of the alley.
Hudson came up to Broadway and brought him out of the way just as another laser blast from Lobo struck the ground he had been occupying. "There's no use risking yuir life for it, lad," he yelled above the laser-fire.
The red blasts suddenly ceased. Wolf landed lightly in front of them, with a cat's agility, directly over the Amulet.
Picking it up, he yelled, "I've got it!" to Lobo.
"But let's see ye keep it," Hudson said as he and Broadway charged him.
"Wolf, get out of the field of fire!" Lobo yelled over his comlink, as he aimed his rifle into the alley. He watched as the two gargoyles trampled over the werewolf and a struggle ensued, while Lobo remained unable to fire without chancing hitting the Amulet or Wolf. He threw his gun down on the roof in frustration and suddenly remembered Coyote, who was still dutifully holding up his post at the mouth of the alley. He switched comlink frequencies.
"Coyote, get in there, retrieve Hyena, and pry Wolf and the Amulet away from those two gargoyles."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible," the gargantuan robot replied. "The alleyway is too narrow to accommodate my... carriage."
"Can you take out any of the gargoyles from where you are?"
"Not without the chance of damaging Wolf or the Amulet," Coyote informed, his many laser cannons trying in vain to acquire a steady target. Lobo swore something under his breath and switched the comlink back to Wolf.
Wolf, with one gargoyle on each arm, threw both appendages back in rage. Broadway and Hudson went flying into opposite walls, and Wolf grabbed the Amulet again.
"Wolf, do you hear me?" Lobo asked from over the comlink.
"Yeah, yeah, I hear you. I've got the Amulet, now I'm coming up."
"Take Hyena with you," he ordered. "I'm sending down Bull for the Amulet."
From the mouth of the alley Coyote commented, "The tables do turn." Wolf ignored the robot as he pulled Hyena over his shoulder.
Goliath and Jackal were now fighting over control of Jackal's right arm, which had been transformed into a steel drill. Both sets of hands remained locked in place in a game of deadly, double arm wrestle.
"I ditched most of my old accessories in favor of newer better ones, but this little baby I kept for old time's sake," Jackal commented as Goliath began to falter. "I never got a chance to really test it back in Guatemala, you know." Goliath clenched his teeth harder as Jackal's servos began to whine. "Juiced it up a bit too."
Suddenly, the razor-sharp fingers on Jackal's left hand popped out an inch. "Surprise," he said sadistically.
Goliath twisted his head out of the line of fire as all four fingers shot out from their sockets and pierced the brick wall behind him. A cat on the opposite side made known its discontent as four speeding razors flew past it with a screech.
Jackal wasted no time taking advantage of the distraction and promptly brought Goliath to his knees. The muscles in both of Goliath's arms grew numb as Jackal's powerful servos steadily closed the remaining distance between his adversary's face and the drill. The machine hummed to life with powerful pulsations and several rotating layers of edged metal twisting in contrasting directions, hovered within inches of the lavender gargoyle's hairline.
"It won't stand up to time like stone, but I should be able to sculpt a half-decent mural out of that face..."
Zafiro came up from behind and whipped Jackal across the back of his metal-platted head with an iron pipe. The impact left a permanent dent and the cyborg's eyes rolled up in their sockets. The drill stopped and he collapsed.
"This," Zafiro said as he weighed the pipe in his hands, "could have been useful in Guatemala." He dropped the pipe and helped Goliath to his feet.
Wolf held Hyena securely over his shoulders with an arm. "I'll finish you two off when I come back down," he said to the half-conscious forms of Broadway and Hudson.
"Uh oh," Wolf gulped as he stared at the empty spot where Hudson should've been.
"You should always watch yuir back," Hudson advised before coming up from behind and punching the werewolf square in the face. He grabbed the Amulet and drew his sword.
"Four inches to the right, please, Wolf," Coyote's voice said over his comlink. Wolf quickly obliged and a laser blast was sent off from one of Coyote's cannons. Hudson deflected the shot with his sword, sending it right back at Coyote. It struck the cannon from which it had been fired and destroyed it.
The distraction was all Wolf needed to grab for the Amulet, and before either one knew it, the artifact was sailing through the air, thrown up by both their attempts to get it.
Bull swept down and grabbed the Amulet in his mouth in mid-air. He flew back up to his master obediently.
"Bull's getting your cut of this mission's pay, Wolf," Lobo yelled from above. "Now let's move out!"
Wolf tossed Hudson aside and leaped onto the wall of one of the buildings. "We'll finish this some other time, old man."
"I would just like to point out that I was more than capable of being handed the Amulet at any given--"
"Enough, Coyote, let's see some covering fire," Lobo ordered.
"Fry 'em all while they're trapped together!" Wolf yelled. "We can rid ourselves of half of them right now in one barrage from Coyote."
"No, Coyote," Lobo ordered. "Jackal is still down there."
Coyote's monotonous voice responded, "Understood."
Goliath and Zafiro emerged from the back of the alleyway, Zafiro with an unconscious Oro over his shoulder.
"Everybody, up both sides of the alley, quickly! If we don't get out of here before Wolf is clear they'll have us boxed in," Goliath ordered.
Goliath and Zafiro went up Wolf's side, while Broadway and Hudson started up Lobo's. Coyote's shots combined with Lobo's from overhead and soon flooded the alley in laser-fire.
Wolf looked down at Goliath and Zafiro as they gained on him, their talons digging into the side of the building with ease as he desperately tried to keep himself from losing his grip and falling.
"Come on, Coyote!" he yelled. "Pick 'em off!"
Coyote's Xanatos face wrinkled its nose at Wolf's rudeness, but diverted its attention to try to form a precise lock on Goliath. The shot exploded a chunk of the building between Goliath and Wolf, causing Wolf to lose his foothold.
"Oops." He re-aimed and fired again. This time the shot struck an inch away from Zafiro's face.
Goliath looked over and noticed Zafiro's trouble. "You can't climb as well with that tail. Here, give me Oro!"
Zafiro handed him over to Goliath, who threw him over his own shoulder. Another laser blast struck the building between them.
"Keep going!" Goliath shouted.
Coyote powered up his jets and flew upward, keeping himself on level with the gargoyles as they ascended. As he was about to reach the top level's window, a light turned on from inside and the frame lifted open. A scruffy-looking individual in an undershirt with headphones dangling from around his neck peered out. He looked from his left to his right and then fell back into the apartment as the powerful updraft of Coyote's ascent created a miniature windstorm.. Coyote stopped when he reached the window and hovered in front of it. A powerful light peered into the room, drenching the man in bright illumination and effectively blinding him as to what it was behind the light floating outside his window.
"Who are you?" he asked over the sound of Coyote's jetpacks, his voice aquiver.
After a brief pause, Coyote replied, "The parochial constabulary," and the synthesized sound of helicopter rotors emanated from his external speakers as he rose out of sight.
The response left the man dumbfounded for some moments, until he finally came to a realization. "UFO...," he whispered to himself in awe.
Broadway and Hudson were almost to the top of the alley. Lobo continued trying to shoot at them, but the pair kept dodging. One blast finally struck Hudson and he fell, but Broadway caught him by the wrist. The mahogany gargoyle used his sword as a climbing spike and got back up.
Wolf finally reached the top with Hyena. "I've been genetically engineered to lift bulldozers, and I'm telling you she needs to lose some weight," he remarked.
Lobo pulled up his rifle and announced to Coyote, "We're all clear."
The gargoyles began to emerge from the alley, like ants swarming out of a crack in the ground.
"Take to the air!" Goliath ordered, as if such a command was necessary. In a matter of seconds all five of them were gliding away.
Wolf threw Hyena down in frustration as he watched the winged shapes fly off.
"Should we pursue?" Coyote asked as he landed on one of the buildings.
"No," Lobo answered. "We take the Amulet and we return with it."
"We could have had them!" Wolf complained. "They were boxed in!"
"Yes," Lobo replied. "They were boxed in. Maybe next time if you don't all get yourselves stuck down there with them we can take advantage of it."
Wolf snarled and mumbled something offensive under his breath.
"Now let's get Jackal out of there and get going." He turned to Bull, who sat at his feet holding the Amulet between his jaws obediently. "Good boy."
* * * * *
Goliath, Hudson, Broadway, Zafiro, and Oro came into view of the castle courtyard. Waiting for them was Demona, laser rifle in hand, and three of her Valkyrie robots.
They all landed a few yards in front of Demona, and Goliath noticed the other people who were present. Elisa, Xanatos, and Owen all stood on either side of Demona.
Elisa's eyes widened as soon as she noticed the multiple cuts and abrasions covering Goliath, and she rushed up to him and the others.
Owen soon followed as his eyes caught sight of the unconscious gargoyle lying in Goliath's arms.
"Goliath, what happened?" Elisa exclaimed, as she examined injuries. She allowed Owen enough room to take Oro off his hands, taking a brief glance at the mysterious new gargoyle and making a mental note to ask Goliath about him later.
"We," Goliath began, as he handed Oro over to Owen, "had an encounter with the Ultra-Pack."
Demona gasped when she saw Owen carrying away Oro. It was no wonder he didn't make good on their appointment.
Elisa shut her eyes at the mention of those six sociopaths, knowing quite well that the incident had been far worse than it seemed.
"I came here an hour ago looking for you guys, and Owen and Xanatos filled me in on everything." She watched as Owen carried the unconscious golden gargoyle into the castle. "Zafiro," she added. "We have to tell him Obsidiana has regained consciousness."
Goliath nodded in agreement.
"Demona," she continued, "arrived a few minutes ago with her robots, insisting on waiting for your return."
"So, how bad is it?" Elisa asked, as Broadway, Hudson, and Xanatos closed a circle around them. "You don't think the Ultra-Pack is responsible for Angela's disappearance..."
"All we know is that for some reason they're interested in the Sun Amulet," Goliath answered, "...but it seems reasonable to assume that they, too, kidnapped Angela. Perhaps they somehow knew she had the Amulet with her, and attacked her to get to it."
Elisa squeezed his arm reassuringly. "If that's so, they probably still have her," she suggested optimistically. "Do we know when the others will be getting back?"
"You'd be the one to tell us that, lass," Hudson replied. "You've been here with Xanatos." Everyone's eyes fell on the black-suited billionaire hopefully.
"Sorry," he responded. "The last contact I had with Brooklyn and the team, they were just leaving Africa, on their way to Europe. They haven't had reason to return again yet."
Elisa turned to Goliath. "Should we call them back?"
Goliath considered it for a moment, but only a moment, as his eyes caught sight of Demona and her three Valkyries again. "No," he replied. "They have a mission to accomplish. If it's strength we need, we have...other resources," he said with a flick of his eyes toward Demona.
She caught the gesture and brought her eyes up to meet his. Elisa followed the exchange with interest.
"I would offer you my Steel Clan robots," Xanatos added, "but unfortunately, since the last battle of the Unseelie conflict, I've been unable to replenish my losses."
"It doesn't matter," Demona replied as she stepped up to them. "Your robots aren't as maneuverable or intelligent, Xanatos. The Ultra-Pack would just use them as target practice, anyway."
Xanatos raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything more.
"Those vermin have assaulted my daughter for the last time," Demona continued, her eyes briefly flaring red. "I will see to it that they never do so again."
"Well, you aren't doing anything until you guys get a good day's sleep and heal those injuries," Elisa insisted.
Demona appeared indignant. She answered for Goliath and Broadway. "Detective, if it were your daughter or your mate, could you wait to 'get a good day's sleep' before continuing your search?"
Elisa saw Demona's point and shook her head. Despite his bruises and abrasions, Broadway was anxiously pacing, his tail whipping back and forth. Goliath looked ready to take on the entire Ultra-Pack single-handed.
"At least let someone look you over before you go back out," Elisa countered. "Some of your injuries look serious. You could-"
"No, I'm not waiting," Broadway said, cutting off Elisa's sensible advice. "I'm going out there to find Angela!"
Owen approached Goliath with a first aid kit in hand. The gargoyle leader waved away the offer of medical assistance as Owen continued to speak in low tones.
Goliath looked up after a moment and addressed the others. "Oro has regained consciousness." He turned to face Zafiro who stood apart from the others. "Obsidiana is conscious again as well."
Zafiro's eyes lit up.
"I assume you can follow Owen to see her?"
Owen cleared his throat, and extended an arm respectfully. "This way." Zafiro followed him back into the castle.
"I want to help, Goliath," Elisa added. "I can't put out an APB, but Matt and I will do what we can and I'll call Derek and get him in on the search too." She gave Goliath a gentle hug, mindful of his bruises. "Matt should be waiting downstairs. I told him to meet me here." She turned to the others and caught Demona's eye. "Be careful. All of you."
Elisa followed Owen and Zafiro through the doors leading into the main hall.
Broadway asked, "How will we find Angela?"
"By finding the Amulet," Goliath answered. "And the Amulet has a built-in tracking system..." He looked over to Zafiro, whose pendant hung from his neck. Goliath imagined he could see the glow diminish as the minutes passed, and the distance between it and the Amulet grew...
* * * * *
"But you did get the Amulet?" Thailog's voice emanated from Lobo's comlink. He held the Amulet securely in his arm as he soared over New York City, Bull by his side. Coyote took up the rear carrying Wolf and Hyena. Jackal, having regained consciousness, flew alongside Lobo, opposite of Bull.
"Affirmative," he replied, holding the tiny speaker on his arm close to his mouth to keep the wind from blowing into it. They flew several hundred feet above the tallest skyscrapers, on their way back to Thailog's hidden base.
"There was nothing at the exec's house, but we found it on the gargoyles."
After a moment, Thailog replied, "Good. Make sure you return here with it intact."
Lobo glanced over to Jackal and added, "There's something else. Jackal thinks -- Jackal says, one of the gargoyles we tangled with was from the Guatemalan clan."
"Most unexpected," he replied curiously. His interest was now peaked. "That certainly raises some interesting questions. But none of which are more important than the fact that, if he's here, we needn't worry about forging pendants from the Amulet. We need only to worry about getting his... Ms. Destine's usefulness may have just dropped significantly. But, ah, let me guess, none of you got his pendant."
"Well, Jackal tried," Lobo replied, "but he was... unable."
"I see. Once you've returned here with the Amulet, I want you to go back after the Guatemalan. I want that pendant."
The link was severed from Thailog's end and Lobo switched off his own.
* * * * *
Three Scottish gargoyles, two Guatemalans, three robots, and a business executive soared over the city.
Zafiro led the way with his pendant.
"Has it changed at all, Zafiro?" Broadway asked.
Zafiro responded wearily for the thirty-third time, "I don't know, I can't tell. Maybe."
Zafiro glanced to Oro, who glided a few feet away. "You should have spoken to Obsidiana with me. It would have done you both good to see each other."
Oro remained silent for a moment. "Zafiro, I am agreeing to accompany you on this for the sake of Goliath's daughter and the safety of the Sun Amulet. I have nothing to say to Obsidiana, just as I have nothing to say to you." He caught a nearby updraft and glided away from him.
"What I'd like to know is who the Ultra-Pack is working for," Broadway stated. "The last time they were working freelance, they were robbing banks. Whenever they're this coordinated, that usually means they're working for someone else. If he wants the Sun Amulet, that must mean he's a gargoyle, right?"
"Maybe not," Hudson replied. "What can he do with just the Sun Amulet? You can't avoid the sun without a pendant. More likely it's someone plannin' on..." He stopped himself when he suddenly realized what the end of that sentence would imply. He sneaked a quick glance behind him, and saw that Oro was now all the way in the back and hadn't heard him.
"Come on, lad," he whispered to Broadway. "I think this is something we should run by Goliath and Zafiro." He gestured for Broadway to glide forward and they both reached the front.
"What is it?" Goliath asked.
"I think we may know whose employ the Ultra-Pack are under," Hudson explained. "Now it's quite possible I'm wrong, but what if it were Oro?"
"Never!" Zafiro said quickly.
"Just hear me out, lad," Hudson implored. "Oro said himself that he was planning on using that Amulet against you and your clan. He has big plans for you. So, the Ultra-Pack ambush Angela to try and get it. She doesn't have it. Later they ambush us in the alley. How were they able to find us? And how convenient it was that Oro was 'knocked out' at the start of the fighting. I ask ye, how many other people even know the Amulet exists? Is it mere coincidence that he shows up here just as things begin to take place?"
Zafiro shook his head vehemently. "No, if he was behind everything then why did he reveal his plans for the Amulet to us?"
"He was quite angry at the time," Goliath suggested. "Anger clouds judgment."
"Or perhaps it was his intention to give it away, to mislead us," Broadway added.
Zafiro remained silent, immersed in thought. "Zafiro," Goliath said gently, "he has been separated from his clan for years. When last you knew him, he was a different person. That's evident now. He blames you for the loss of your clan. And that hatred has been brooding in him for a long time. Believe me, Zafiro, years by yourself, with only your hatred and grief to keep you company, can change a person... Whether or not Hudson's suspicions are correct, I believe we should keep a careful eye on Oro. We can't rule him out."
Zafiro's melancholy was interrupted by a bright glow creeping up on his face. He looked down and saw that his pendant was glowing brighter than before.
"We are getting closer!" he informed, his hand closing around it tightly.
* * * * *
A stream of light illuminated Angela's cell for a moment, and was then quenched behind the invisible door as it shut. As if on cue, the room's one overhead lamp flickered to life and the small sphere of light reappeared. Angela opened her eyes, blinking a few times to let them adjust to the sudden brightness. A clank came from behind the darkness, followed by another, and another, until Thailog's form finally melted into the light. His cane took him one more stride towards Angela before stopping.
His right hand rested on the cane, as it always did, while his left held something; something shiny and reflective under the overhead light. Thailog held it up for her to see.
"Where... where did you get that?" Angela asked in astonishment.
Thailog frowned. "Don't you remember?" he asked in disappointment, a tone that could have been mistaken for genuine concern. "Think hard. The drugs we administered to you helped soothe you. Unfortunately, some small memory loss does tend to ensue..."
Angela glanced to her right arm, the one that had been feeling sore for the past couple hours, and saw the tiny puncture that had been the entry point for whatever Thailog had injected her with.
"Done while you dozed off briefly a little while ago," he added.
Thailog, satisfied with his measure of explanation, decided to begin his own interrogation. "Why did you take this to Demona, and why did she give it to Goliath?" He gestured with the Sun Amulet for emphasis. "How does the Guatemalan fit into all this? What are you planning?"
The interrogatory bombardment ceased, and Angela tried to let all the questions sink in; try to confirm what Thailog did and didn't know and what she had to use against him. Guatemalan? Did he mean Oro? If only she could manage to focus... Even though she was nearly sure she'd only gone through one stone sleep since her capture it seemed like she'd been locked up down there for days... a week.
She wanted to ask if the Ultra-Pack had attacked her mother to get to the Amulet, as her memory of their previous conversation gradually began to resurface. But as her head started to clear she realized that she hadn't, if the Amulet had been 'given to Goliath'. She allowed herself a small sigh of relief, though an uneasy one, as her thoughts went to Goliath and fears of what might have happened to him.
Thailog continued. "Demona and Goliath... working together?" He chuckled. "What an alliance indeed. I am surprised he even let you go over to your mother's by yourself."
Angela scoffed at him. "A lot has changed while you've been hiding. My mother isn't the same person she used to be. She's change from when you knew her."
"Hiding is an interesting word," Thailog commented, amused. "Just because you haven't known about my presence doesn't mean it wasn't there." He smiled roguishly. "I may know a lot more than you think, and had much more of an impact too." Thailog looked delighted as Angela struggled to cover her shock. "Demona's quaint little trek down the road of reform and redemption, your weekly visits with her, Madoc Morfryn and all that Unseelie Ragnarok business. Oh yes, I know of it all," he said smugly. "The private little war you and the pixies waged just didn't seem like something I wanted to include myself in. Now that it's concluded, or so I assume, I can... pick things up where Madoc left off." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "The spoils of war are mine to collect, and there's no better time to make an entrance than when your opponent's down. Don't you agree?"
"What do you mean?" Angela asked uneasily, refusing to answer any of his questions no matter how trivial. "What impact?"
Thailog answered innocently, "Who do you suppose was really behind little Alex's kidnap attempt?"
He chuckled to himself again. "Once more Goliath and the others are probably going through the same thing, trying to figure out who is behind everything, what their intention is, et cetera. I so enjoy the subterfuge." He fixed his gaze on Angela. "I don't enjoy being a victim to it, however," he finished menacingly. "Now, tell me what you know."
Angela turned her head away from him, refusing to answer. She thought furiously, trying to figure out the best way to build on his paranoia.
"Just as stubborn as your mother," he commented. "You do realize, of course, how obviously forced her 'reform' is. It's all superficial, for your benefit. Deep down inside, she hasn't changed... she will never change. Don't think for a moment that she still isn't anything more than a mace-swinging, emotionally-disturbed, mentally-unbalanced lunatic."
Angela didn't face him. That was what he wanted. He was trying to get to her again. She felt some weight build up on her eyelid, and blinked. A tear ran down her cheek. Fortunately, it was on the cheek facing the wall.
He decided to try a different approach. "The Amulet I hold in my hand controls four magic pendants that allow a gargoyle to ignore the sun... or so I'm told. One of those pendants is right here in the Big Apple."
Thailog saw the surprise register on her face. "You didn't know that, did you?" Confident he'd found the right button, he continued to press. "Tell me what I need to know, Angela, and he needn't be harmed in an effort to retrieve it. Tell me how to forge more pendants from the Amulet. And do it for me."
It made Angela's stomach turn to hear Thailog speak her name so gently. "No," she said plainly.
Thailog re-adjusted his weight and used the cane to point at Angela. "You can either do it or I can arrange for Demona to. You know she will cooperate with you as a hostage." A thoughtful look crossed his face. "Yes, now there's an idea. Demona practices magic, and I have you. She probably has more experience than any other person still alive on this earth." A look of anticipatory pleasure crept over his ravaged features. "Yes, it will be more fun to torment her, I think. Not like Goliath." The clone frowned as he remembered the gargoyle leader's pleas. "He's so noble, always trying to redeem me... so boring. Demona, on the other hand..." He trailed off as he remembered something particularly tantalizing about his ex-love.
"And then there's David. You've gotten rather chummy with dear old dad, haven't you?" His expression dropped and he actually looked hurt. "I hear he even gave you my old rooms..."
"Your rooms?!" she gasped.
Thailog smiled in a sort of perverted delight. "I was so disappointed to find that he'd remodeled. So inconvenient."
"What need would you have for the ability to avoid the sun, anyway?" Angela challenged, angry with herself for giving Thailog the satisfaction she did and trying to counter it. "Turning to stone seems like something you need." Her words were particularly bitter.
Thailog laughed, a short angry bark. "I've been turning to stone for over two years. How much of an improvement can you see?" He motioned over his scared and battered self. "What use could a pendant have for me? You tell me. I know very little about them. But I do know that Puck's spell of transformation substitutes Demona's lack of stone sleep by regenerating her itself. If these pendants operate on similar principles, if they can heal you magically... " There was something akin to mingled desperation and hope in the clone's voice. "Science and medicine haven't been very helpful, but I believe in exercising all my options."
Angela began shaking her head. Thailog stared at her curiously as the semblance of a smirk started to form on her face.
"There's no way you could have known I would be taking the Amulet with me to my mother's the other night. You weren't after it, you were after me. Jackal said that's what you sent them after. So, that begs the question, why did you want me?" She turned her head back to face him. "Could it have been for 'simple and petty revenge'? Could you have 'degenerated that much mentally'?"
"I do not enjoy being toyed with," he replied coldly, his eyes flaring red and narrowing on her momentarily. "Besides," he added coolly, his eyes returning to normal, "why would I bring harm to my very own sister?"
Angela shut her eyes and tried to shake away the thought of he being her brother. It was almost as disturbing as the thought of he being her father.
"Let us just say that I had you at the amusement park, you and the rest of your clan. But you, them, my Delilah, the other clones, Nightstone Unlimited ...all was taken from me -- save what measly savings I had hidden away in secret accounts." He paused and regarded Angela thoughtfully. "Where have you taken my clones, I wonder? What lies have you told them? No doubt you've been giving them boosts in their self-esteem, teaching them to read and write and brush their teeth? Given them some sort of misguided direction; a sense of purpose, do you think? ..." Angela refused to respond, she lifted her chin defiantly instead. "Well, we'll see when the time comes, won't we?" His eyes returned to their crimson glow as he finished ominously, "Because, my dear sister, I plan on reclaiming all that I lost in the fire. And I have chosen to start with you."
A beeping tore through the silence like a chainsaw and Angela jumped. Thailog turned on his cane and strode back into the darkness. After a moment, the beeping stopped and Angela could hear a faint voice say something about engaging gargoyles.
"What do you mean they're coming here?" Thailog demanded angrily. Hope blossomed in Angela.
There was a pause. "This could work to our advantage," she heard Thailog say. "Return here at once. Curve around so as not to be sighted, and try to ambush them. The pendant-wearer is with them, right?" Another brief pause. "Good. Our quarry has come to us, that's all. And now they've placed all their eggs in one basket."
* * * * *
To be concluded...