Re-Emergence - Part 3
Written by: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur
Story concept by: Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur and Nicodemus
Illustrations by: Flynt
Previously on Gargoyles...
"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."
~ Re-Emergence - Part 2 ~
* * * * *
And now, the conclusion...
Re-Emergence - Part 3
* * * * *
"Understood," Lobo said from his end, coming to an abrupt pause as Thailog said some more. As soon as he was done, Lobo switched on his uplink to the rest of the group. "Jackal, report."
"There are nine of them," Jackal responded from over his link. "The exec and three of her tin cans, Goliath, the old-timer, the fat blue one--"
"Is the pendant-wearer with them?" Lobo demanded impatiently.
There was a pause as Jackal peered through his optics. An image of Zafiro's hand closing around his pendant could be seen through the magnified lenses that composed Jackal's right eye. "Oh yes," Jackal answered. "Our friend's right in the front, leading the bandwagon with Goliath by his side."
"I see them as well," Coyote cut in. "The group is approaching my position now. ETA four minutes."
Lobo returned to his uplink with Thailog, and added simply, "Yes."
There was another pause as he listened to Thailog's response. Then there was a click and the connection went dead.
"Okay," Lobo ordered, returning his attention to the rest of the group again. "We've been ordered to take 'em. We'll rally on Coyote's coordinates. As soon as everyone's into position and they're within range, converge. Our primary objective is the pendant-wearer. The others we deal with only as they become an obstruction to that objective. After we have it, we hold our ground till they turn around and go back. We can't lead them back to our base of operations. There's not more than another hour until the sun rises, so the pressure'll be building and we won't need to wait long. Got it?"
"Mission parameters registered," Coyote informed obediently.
Lobo accepted the silence as sign enough from the others and finished with, "Let's see some coordination this time."
* * * * *
Goliath stared out over the cityscape ahead, taking special notice of the light color creeping up over the horizon.
"The night grows shorter," he commented.
"As does the distance between us and the Amulet," Zafiro reassured as he watched the brilliant jeweled talisman glow in his hand. Indeed, it had increased even in the few minutes since Goliath had last turned his head, it seemed.
Broadway turned his gaze back forward after a suspicious glance to Oro. "He doesn't seem to be getting any more nervous," the burly turquoise gargoyle observed.
"Who?" Zafiro asked innocently, a moment before he realized exactly who he was talking about and turned his attention away again.
"That could be a good sign or a bad one," Hudson concluded.
Before another word could be exchanged, Zafiro's voice cut in. "What is that?"
The question caused Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway to raise their heads in curiosity.
Zafiro squinted. "It looks almost like a flying..."
"A flying dog," Goliath finished.
"Bulldog," Hudson corrected.
Zafiro wasn't exactly sure he knew quite what a 'bulldog' was, but it wasn't difficult to make the connection. "The same Bull--"
"Yes," Goliath bellowed as his eyes furiously followed the creature's movements, "the same one from the alley."
The canine member of the Ultra-Pack made its way down to a rooftop a few buildings ahead, and alighted in front of another figure -- a person.
The group passed over the rooftop and caught a glimpse of the person in question, an instant before the shadow-shrouded figure and his bulldog companion were whisked away like a highway marker being left in the tracks of a speeding car.
Goliath stopped in mid-air and spun around.
"Look for other--"
"Was that Lobo?"
"He's behind us!"
"It's a trap!"
Coyote emerged from the dark street below, and shot past the front of the group so fast that he appeared as barely more than a blur. Wolf leaped from the mammoth robot's shoulders, where he'd been hitching a ride, and plunged himself into Goliath. In the ensuing struggle, they both dropped.
"Goliath!" Zafiro's voice rang out as it became audible over the roar of Coyote's engines. He stared down helplessly at Goliath's and Wolf's rapidly descending forms.
"I would worry about yourself, if I were you," came Jackal's voice, followed promptly by his sister's maniacal laughter.
Zafiro looked up in time to glimpse Jackal's metal foot before it made contact with his head. He flung back, then began to tumble through the air in a downwards spiral away from the rest of the group. Jackal and Hyena followed.
Coyote came around for another pass, with the full force of his weapons brought to bear on the remaining gargoyles. He was joined by Lobo and Bull, who closed in from the rear, and an eruption of laser fire headed towards the group from both directions.
"Break off!" Hudson barked as he and Broadway split into opposite directions. Demona pulled up, and following her were all three of the Valkyries, who mimicked their master's movements without hesitation.
The only one left was Oro, who hadn't had enough time to react. His eyes widened and he froze up. When the first of the shots were about to hit him, a metal form appeared out of nowhere. It flew past Oro to create a temporary shield against the laser fire. The barrier lasted for no more than a second, and took on the first of the several energy blasts before disappearing just as fast as it had appeared. That second was all Oro needed to get himself out of there.
When he was clear, he caught sight of the Valkyrie that had come to his aid. A now thin line of smoke trailed from a modest laser burn on its side, as it flew back into formation with the others.
Coyote and Lobo pulled up as their exchanged laser fire sped past them.
Zafiro felt his head fling back again, the bone in his chin splinter, and a muscle pull in his neck. He shut his eyes in response to the shooting pain as he felt himself tumble backwards. He reopened them to the sight of Jackal closing in for another kick, his jetpack carrying him forward with uncanny ease.
Zafiro tried to duck out of the way, but it was too late. Jackal brought his leg forward and metal met flesh again. This time, Zafiro felt his nose break, as his head once again flew back, and he helplessly tumbled through the sky.
Hudson and Broadway met back up with each other.
"We've got to take the battle to the ground," Hudson said as he flew up alongside him. "Up here our wings are no match for their jetpacks. Draw their fire, force them down to the rooftops, at the least."
He was about to go after Zafiro, when the luminous shadow of Coyote crossed overhead.
Goliath struggled against Wolf, but the creature's genetically enhanced muscle was too much for him to overpower. As it was, their rapid descent was about ten seconds away from ending.
The top of a building passed them. Goliath growled, "So it is a street you are going to plummet into."
Wolf released a self-satisfying laughter. "What makes you think I'm going to be the one--"
Goliath managed to wrap his tail around one of Wolf's legs, and pulled it out from under him. The move resulted in the creature's claws briefly digging into his side as the foot slipped, but afterward Goliath was able to free one of his own legs and pushed the mutate off.
He spun himself around in time to see the street pavement hurtling towards him. He tried catching a wind current, but this close to the ground, there wasn't one available. Goliath outstretched his wings attempting a last-minute parachute maneuver. He shut his eyes and waited to see if he'd be reopening them.
Hyena swooped down on her jetpack and snatched Zafiro's falling form by one of his wings. She saw the glowing light of his pendant swaying back and forth across his chest. "Well, looks like our boy's lost consciousness already," she snorted as Jackal leveled off beside her.
He looked the gargoyle over and shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Grab the pendant and ditch him."
Lobo's voice came over their radios. "Jackal, Hyena, quit fooling around and get that pendant. We can't hold the others off forever."
Jackal pressed a button on his arm and replied sarcastically, "Gee, we weren't just about to do that."
Hyena snorted, "Take Goliath out of the picture and the rest will be a cinch, huh?"
Jackal only half-listened to his sister as he reached for the pendant. As he was about to grab hold of it, Zafiro's hand clasped his at the wrist and stopped him.
His eyes flipped open. "That does not belong to you."
Zafiro elbowed Hyena in the face with his free arm and tried to whip Jackal away with a sweep of his tail, but the cyborg dodged it. Then, with his and Zafiro's hands still together, he turned the tables and clasped hard, tightening his servos until he heard Zafiro's hand begin to crack. The gargoyle barred his teeth in pain, as he tried to separate himself from Jackal without success.
Hyena approached from the side, rubbing her cheek where Zafiro had elbowed her. "Listen here, scaly," she threatened, "we could have done this the easy way or the hard way."
"It seems you prefer the hard way," Jackal said with a widening grin.
Hyena returned the grin with a disturbing twinkle in her eye, but Zafiro didn't notice as he squinted under the pressure of Jackal's grip.
"Oh, silly me," he said lightly, "I forgot I was still doing that." The servos relaxed and Jackal let go. He took a quick look around. "Looks like the battle's moved to lower altitudes," he remarked off-handedly, "meaning we're all to ourselves up here."
Zafiro watched nervously as Hyena's arms split open and contorted by way of unseen joints into an array of unnatural positions, and her fingers elongated into five twelve-inch blades. Her face contorted into an equally unnatural grimace.
Lobo fired a laser rifle at one of Demona's Valkyries. The beam deflected off the surface. He dodged to one side as the automaton returned the gesture, and saw the other two robots closing in from either side. He spoke into his radio, "Coyote, get over here and keep Ms. Destine's robots occupied."
Broadway and Hudson flew side by side over a rooftop as Coyote swooped down in close pursuit. He fired a series of laser blasts, but the pair dodged them. The energy struck the rooftop instead, after which it ceased all together, and Coyote pulled up.
As soon as he was gone, Broadway approached Hudson. "We should try to look for Goliath."
Hudson nodded. "Aye, lad, but I'll go. You find Oro and try to get to Zafiro, while Lobo and Coyote are both busy."
Broadway nodded and glided away, while Hudson swooped down to the street.
Lobo watched the Valkyries close in and prepare to fire, when a laser blast shot not two inches away from each of them. They both turned their attention toward Coyote, as he appeared from above. Their on-board computers re-acquired a target with the introduction of a new element to their computations, and that target now became Coyote instead of Lobo. All three of them ignored Lobo and went after Coyote, who proceeded to lead them away from the rest of the battle.
From out of nowhere came Demona, her laser rifle brought to bear on Lobo. Bull saw her approaching, and sent the mental signal to Lobo, who promptly spun around and raised his own weapon. But Demona got her shot off first. It erupted from the barrel of her gun and seemed to strike Lobo directly in the chest simultaneously. Lobo was thrown back by the impact of the blast, and in sliding back, shot a series of rounds from his own gun. Demona dodged all but two of them, one which she intercepted with her laser rifle and the other which hit her on the shoulder.
With a low snarl, she switched the rifle to her other arm and prepared to fire again. But Bull beat her to the punch, and rammed into her from the side. Demona grunted and lost her grip on the laser rifle, but dived and managed to catch it by the shoulder strap, as Bull came around for another pass.
* * *
Goliath opened his eyes to a blurry smear of color and light, which soon coalesced into buildings and an overhead street lamp. He blinked his eyes to try to get rid of the spots appearing in his vision, and rolled over onto his side. This action was immediately regretted as he realized his side hurt.
"Goliath?" he heard a voice call, and saw Hudson leaning over him.
"Are ye okay, lad?"
"Yes," Goliath replied, attempting to get to his feet. Hudson braced him as he stood. "Where is Wolf?"
Hudson glanced over to an abandoned, old car sitting by the side of the street a few feet in front of them with what looked like a caved-in roof. The windows were all shattered too, and shards of glass littered the curb. Goliath walked forward, noting to his relief that he could walk without much pain.
The metal of the roof twisted a little, and Goliath peered over the top to see the apparently unconscious form of Wolf. His body was literally embedded into the metal of the car's roof. He moved again, and the metal twisted and squeaked.
"He's coming to," Goliath warned.
After a moment, a voice answered, "Too late." Wolf rose out of the crevasse in the car's roof. He held his head and let out a groan, as he looked at Goliath and Hudson. Hudson drew his sword and narrowed his eyes at the mutate.
"Oh, now aren't these familiar circumstances," Wolf remarked as he hopped down to the street with a somewhat wobbly landing.
"Go, Hudson, I will handle Wolf," Goliath ordered.
"Nae," Hudson answered, "we need you back with the others. You go, I'll take care of him."
Wolf faked a yawn and began to approach them. "If you two don't come to a decision, I'll make one for you," he threatened menacingly.
"Then again," Goliath said thoughtfully, "if we were to both go, what would there be to lose?"
Hudson smiled. "Aye, he's pretty much grounded here either way."
"Hey!" Wolf exclaimed. "What's this? You're just going to run away?"
"Come," Goliath ordered, "we must return and help the others." He and Hudson leaped onto the side of the nearest building and began to climb. Wolf, enraged, lifted the car he'd landed on and attempted to throw it at them. The ground tilted, and the buildings began to twist, as he felt a sudden onset of dizziness and stumbled back. He tripped over his own feet, and the car dropped out of his hands to crash on the pavement behind him.
* * *
Demona swung around and fired her laser cannon at Bull. Again, she missed, causing her to growl in frustration. Her eyes flashed a bright red. She heard a growling bark behind her and saw that the stout bulldog had somehow managed to get close enough to nip at her heels. Demona snarled at the canine with a demonic expression. Bull snapped at her and barked again, unimpressed.
Finally, she'd had enough. Coming upon a rooftop, she landed heavily, spun around, and fired, all within a split second's increment of time. Before the dog could register everything that had just happened, the blast of red energy struck it on the jetpack, promptly igniting the fuel, and causing the entire thing to explode.
Demona ducked under the unexpected fireball that resulted. When it dissipated, she was shocked to see Bull, entirely blackened, laying on the roof a few feet in front of her. He was still breathing.
Lobo sensed something happen to Bull, and was about to go after him, when he caught sight of Goliath and Hudson coming forth from the street below. He brought a laser to his eye and fired. The red beam sliced the air between Goliath and Hudson, and they split up.
"I'll handle Lobo," Hudson volunteered, "you go get Demona and her Valkyries."
Goliath nodded his agreement and the pair separated.
In mild disappointment, Lobo remarked, "Looks like it's just going to be me and you, old timer." He brought the laser to his eye again and fired another round.
Hudson expertly dodged it, and lunged at him with his sword. "Where's Zafiro?" he growled as the blade sliced the air between them.
Lobo moved to the side and let Hudson's lunge miss, after which he jabbed his elbow into the gargoyle's back. "Sorry. The Guatemalan has... prior engagements." The jab struck Hudson directly on his spine and he grunted as shooting pain went up and down his back.
"There aren't any exceptions for senior citizens, old timer," Lobo remarked as he watched Hudson waver in pain.
Hudson didn't listen as he swung around and stabbed his sword behind Lobo's left shoulder blade. Lobo lurched forward in unexpected pain as Hudson extracted his weapon and came around for another pass.
"You'll regret that," Lobo winced.
"Come on, then," Hudson urged. "Or are you the one in need of an exception?"
"Snappy comeback," Lobo replied leisurely as he rose his laser. "Here's mine."
* * *
Zafiro barred his teeth as an uncontrollable groan escaped. He held his arm where four inch-deep slashes maimed it, the result of Hyena's relentless attack.
She lunged for him again. Zafiro brought his wings together and caught an incoming breeze to out-maneuver her. But he didn't get far before Jackal caught sight of him.
He casually raised an arm and a slot popped up, out from which a metal cord launched. It reached Zafiro in a matter of seconds and wrapped itself around his tail. Zafiro felt himself lurch to a stop as the slack ran out.
He flapped his wings as hard as he could, but was unable to keep himself from losing altitude. Hyena returned and took another swipe at him. He managed to dodge it, but lost his remaining 'hold' on the wind current he was riding and fell. He lurched to another stop and, to his horror, found that he now hung upside down.
"Ah, èl es una piñata grande!" Jackal exclaimed jubilantly as Zafiro swayed helplessly back and forth at the end of his cord.
Zafiro watched the upside-down image of Hyena approach him, the foot-long blades sprouted from her fingers waving menacingly. He gulped as her hand came down on him and desperately tried to move himself out of the way. The blades found their target's back, and Zafiro moaned in pain as tears leaked from squinting eyes. His body rotated methodically at the end of the cord, the image of Hyena coming in and out of his range of view.
Hyena retracted her blades and did a quick spin-kick, striking Zafiro in the face, and sending him spinning around in circles.
"Having fun yet?" Jackal called from above.
"A great time," Hyena replied as she executed another spin-kick, this time to Zafiro's gut, knocking the wind out of him. As he gasped for breath, he felt his necklace fall over his ears. The pendant was now hanging below his head. He felt a hand snap it from the necklace, and saw Hyena holding it.
"Wouldn't want to accidentally scratch the jewel while we play," she laughed.
Jackal's radio came to life with Lobo's voice. "Jackal, have you two gotten that pendant yet?" The question was followed by the sound of a sword swooshing by and a metal clang.
Jackal replied, "Not to worry, El Capi- tan. Hyena was just demonstrating to our guest the full range of her accessories."
Hyena remarked, "Shouldn't he be too distracted keeping the other gargoyles busy to bother us?" Zafiro, his eyes half-open, rotated into view of Hyena in time to see her fist come forward in a punch. Her head didn't so much as turn to him as she spoke to her brother.
Lobo replied furiously, "You two weren't assigned to retrieving that pendant for your personal amusement! I don't know what kind of grudge, if any, you and Hyena have against this Guatemalan, but either kill him now and stop wasting time, or ditch him. If you want a cut of the pay, get over here and earn it!" His voice was cut off by the sound of a growl, followed by a laser blast.
Jackal rolled his eyes as he turned to his sister. "Looks like it's time to pack things up here, sis. High Opatha has spoken. We're to return to the fray."
Hyena's disposition sank. "Oh well, just as long as I get to deal the finishing blow to nature boy, here." She raised her arm and let a laser cannon pop out.
* * *
Coyote locked his targeting systems on the first of the three Valkyries as they charged him. A pair of missiles erupted from his forward launchers, leaving behind dual smoke trails in their paths. The two outer Valkyries swerved out of the way of the middle one, and at the last second it rolled itself onto its side. The missiles continued on their course, missing their target, and eventually colliding with each other a distance away.
The other two Valkyries flew back toward each other. Before Coyote could aim his forward laser batteries, the pair flew past each other and exchanged sides. The move was enough to cause Coyote to hesitate, and before he could re-acquire a lock they flew out of his forward guns' range.
He was about to switch to his rear batteries when an alert sounded in his internal speaker. "Warning, collision imminent."
The two Valkyries leveled their wingspans horizontally as they passed, and the sharp edges of the metallic surfaces sliced into the outer hull of Coyote's upper set of arms. Damage reports flooded his central computer, as his optical sensors relayed the image of the middle Valkyrie, leveling off and firing its laser cannon. His visuals abruptly turned into a red blur as the blast struck his primary optical sensors.
Coyote brought his head back as the Valkyrie attempted to pull up and pass over him. He armed his lasers and, his still operational targeting systems, acquired a lock. The red square was the only stable element of his wavy visuals, as both side-mounted cannons pulsated with energy discharges. Coyote registered a positive hit.
He maneuvered himself around as the damaged robot passed over him, and raised his left arm. Electricity sparked from exposed circuits as the servos within rotated, visible through the deep gash that now ran along the arm's surface. He opened his pincers and jabbed them into the Valkyrie. They punctured the robot's abdomen, and severed several circuits as well as piercing the fuel tank. The two reacted, and the Valkyrie exploded. A ball of fiery debris fell over Coyote as the Valkyrie's metal wings hurtled forth.
Below, Goliath soared up alongside Demona.
"Ah, Goliath," she greeted upon seeing him, "you've decided to rejoin us."
"I had nowhere else to be," he replied. "Demona, where are your Valkyries?"
She was about to respond when an explosion lit up the sky above them. They looked up as the high winds quenched the flames. "Battling that cursed robot of Xanatos'!" she fumed.
Goliath declared with authority, "We must recall them!"
"What? Why?" Demona protested. "Coyote may be a match for them, but there are still two left. Better they keep each other occupied than deal with that artillery-weighed automaton ourselves."
"Do it," he insisted. "We need them."
Demona grudgingly flipped her gun over and flipped a tiny switch, which set off a blinking light. "They'll home in on my signal," she explained.
The other Valkyries came about, leisurely dodging the steaming pair of wings leftover from their fallen comrade, and aimed their laser cannons. Coyote brought his own to bear on them, and they exchanged a volley of laser fire, Coyote's lower set of arms pulsating back heavily with the discharges. The Valkyries dodged them as they rocketed forward, their own blasts clearing their way, and again sliced past either side of Coyote with their wings. This time the metal cut into his torso.
"This is becoming tiring," Coyote remarked as he flipped his lower arms around to face his rear and continued firing. The first of the blasts struck both Valkyries, but they pulled up before the others reached them. To his surprise, they didn't return for another pass, but continued to fly away instead.
Hudson and Lobo continued to do battle on a rooftop, exchanging laser blasts and swipes of the sword. They paused as the sound of approaching jets filled the air. Demona and Goliath flew by, accompanied by the two remaining Valkyries.
Lobo tapped his arm radio. "Jackal, Hyena, you're going to have company."
Hudson took advantage of Lobo's distraction and lunged for him.
"Sorry, old timer, but I've got to run..." Lobo looked back and gasped as the sight of Hudson's sword came down on him. He blocked the swing with his arm, and the blade cut into his armor. He pulled it out, and swung again. Lobo caught it by the handle and they began to wrestle over control.
The sight of Hyena's laser cannon reflected in Oro's eyes as the tip of the weapon began to glow. Any hesitation slipped away as he strained to go faster. His wings flapped furiously against the wind to push him forward until he was shooting through the air like a bullet. Zafiro may have been the object of his hatred for years, but to let him perish at the hands of a metal-skinned, wire-veined monstrosity was too disturbing. Not even Zafiro deserved such a fate.
"Looks like we're going to have company soon," Jackal said to his sister as he glanced up from his arm radio.
"Looks like they're too late!" she cackled as a ball of red energy built up in the barrel of her laser cannon.
"Nooooooo!" Oro cried as he plowed into her. Hyena grunted as Oro's collision sent her laser blast astray, totally missing Zafiro.
"Who the heck are you?" she exclaimed in annoyance as they fought over control of her laser.
Zafiro managed to open his right eye, the left one swollen shut with a large red lump. "...Oro?" His mind a blur, his whole body in pain, he dismissed the sight of his rookery brother as a hallucination, but one thing was still able to catch his eye -- the glow of the pendant within Hyena's clenched hand.
Jackal watched the struggle with mild attention. He sighed, "Sorry, sis, but we don't have time for this. I'm cutting him loose."
As she and Oro continued to wrestle, Oro bent her arm back to the point where her hand was forced open, and before she could use one of her extra joints to relieve the pressure, Zafiro reached forward limply and snatched the pendant.
"Jackal, no!" Hyena screamed. The cord went loose from Jackal's arm and Zafiro dropped like a rock.
"Zafiroooooo!" Oro called in desperation, as Hyena held him back.
Broadway approached from the opposite direction and, upon hearing Oro, looked down to see Zafiro's rapidly descending form. He pulled his wings together as he maneuvered himself into a slanted dive and went for him. Even as he gained on the snake-like gargoyle, Broadway could see that there was simply too much space separating them -- he wasn't going to make it.
Jackal shrugged upon seeing Broadway. "Let him go chasing after him, we've still got the pendant."
"Actually," Hyena said as she squeezed Oro beneath her extended appendages, "the Guatemalan got it. Next time," she said sweetly, "why don't you try listening to me?!" Oro winced at both his proximity to the cyborg harridan's shriek and at the faint sound of bones crunching. He squirmed within Hyena's iron embrace, unable to dislodge himself as her grip tightened.
Jackal's expression fell, but before he could respond, a powerful laser blast struck him in the chest and he was thrown back. Another struck Hyena in her back, followed by a third which caused her to lose her grip on the breathless Oro.
Hyena tumbled over herself as Goliath glided up to catch Oro.
Demona brought her laser rifle to rest on her shoulder as she ordered, "Sic them." Her two Valkyries acquired locks on Hyena and Jackal and went for them. Demona smirked in satisfaction for a moment, when she caught sight of Broadway diving after Zafiro. Broadway was too far away to catch him in time, but she was close enough to try. She threw her gun over her shoulder by the strap and darted after him.
Back on the rooftop, Lobo threw Hudson aside. The old gargoyle tumbled over the concrete and knocked his head on the ledge. With a moan he fell unconscious. Lobo took a breath and fired up his jetpack as he spoke into his radio, "Hold them off, I'm on my way. Coyote, wherever you are--"
He stopped as the large automaton landed on the roof in front of him. "What happened to you?" he asked upon sight of the battered robot.
"Nightstone Unlimited's Robotics Division," he answered indifferently. In addition to the gashes on either side of his main torso and upper arms, Lobo noticed that laser scarring covered his chest and back. The monitor with its Xanatos face was splintered down the middle, resulting in each side of the image being offset with the other. Sparks were fluttering out of an exposed conduit.
"Do you suppose a good paint job will suffice?" the robot asked.
Lobo's annoyance that Maddox hadn't purged the data disks of Xanatos' customized social-interaction files before using them to program this Coyote, rose another notch.
Jackal lurched forward with the impact of another laser blast as his Valkyrie continued its pursuit. He cut all engines, and came to an almost immediate stop as the Valkyrie passed him up. Now behind it, he raised his arm and launched a grappling net. The metal mesh flew forward and wrapped around the Valkyrie. The Valkyrie came about. Jackal sank. "Now what?" he mumbled.
The Valkyrie projected its wings to their fullest extent, and pierced the net. The remnants slipped from its outer frame as its speed increased, and disintegrated in its rear thruster fire. Then it suddenly pulled off to the side and left.
Hyena cut her engines in similar style to her brother, and dug her sharp fingers into her pursuing Valkyrie's back as it passed beneath her. After successfully attaching herself, she tried pulling it off course, but it wouldn't budge. Before she could try something else, it electrified its outer hull, and spurting currents of white, hot electricity buzzed through her.
"Forget this," she spat as she attempted to pull her fingers out, but they wouldn't budge.
She looked up to see the other Valkyrie coming straight for her, with its left wing extended over the body of its comrade in an attempt to behead her. She ducked at the last minute and the wing skimmed over her.
The Valkyrie she was still attached to began to spin itself as it flew. After about the fifth spin, her fingers dislodged, and Hyena was whipped into the side of a building.
Demona caught Zafiro in her arms and leveled off with a breath of relief. Zafiro reached up and grabbed her by the arm. She was, at first, alarmed, but realized he meant her no harm. He opened his other hand to her and revealed the pendant. The jewel glittered in Demona's eyes as Zafiro held it up to her.
"Take it," he commanded wearily. "They must not get their hands on it."
Demona nodded blankly and accepted the pendant, as Broadway reached them.
With a heavy gulp, he breathed, "Thanks for catching him. I wouldn't have made it in time."
Demona stumbled over some words before managing to stammer out, "It was nothing... I've got to go. Can you take him?"
Zafiro groaned as he was handed over, and looked at Demona with his one good eye as they parted. Demona broke eye contact and flew away.
Lobo saw the hand-off from a distance, and spoke into his radio. "Ms. Destine is now in possession of the pendant. Jackal, Hyena, you can explain how exactly this happened later on. Right now, break off whatever engagements you're in and go after her."
Jackal mumbled to himself upon hearing the order, "Easier said than done," as he dodged another laser blast from the pursuing Valkyries, both of which were now on his tail.
Goliath and Oro leveled off beside Broadway, who carried Zafiro in his arms. "Jackal and Hyena are busy dealing with Demona's robots, and the others have yet to arrive. This may be our only chance to escape them," Goliath explained to Broadway. "You take Zafiro and find Hudson, then the four of you return to the Eyrie Building. Demona and I will finish tracking the Sun Amulet." Broadway didn't appear particularly thrilled with the orders, but nodded in compliance.
Oro glided closer to Broadway to examine Zafiro's injuries. He froze as Zafiro's one-eyed gaze fell upon him.
"Oro... my rookery brother, you saved me..."
Oro swallowed nervously as he stammered, "You should rest now, Zafiro." He reached forward and moved his hand over his eye to close it. Almost immediately, Zafiro lost consciousness again.
Goliath glanced to Zafiro and asked, "Where's the pendant?"
"Zafiro had it when he fell," Oro insisted.
"Maybe Demona has it," Broadway ventured.
Goliath's brow tightened. "Very well. You and Oro take Zafiro to safety. I'll find Demona."
The sound of approaching engines filled the air, and everyone looked up as Coyote swooped down from overhead and fired his forward batteries.
"Broadway, get out of here!" Goliath snapped as he broke away. Broadway grunted as he swerved himself and Zafiro out of the path of a volley of laser shots. Oro tore himself away at the last minute as Broadway climbed, outstretching his wings to catch an updraft.
Hyena detached herself from the brick face she'd landed against and flew over to help her brother. Upon meeting back up with each other, Jackal proposed a new tactic.
"Use tow cables to run them into each other... or whatever's handy." Hyena nodded, angry and not caring how they dealt with the robots. They split up and led the Valkyries around in a circle until they were opposite of each other. They fired their tow cables. The cords sliced through the air and struck the side of one another's pursuer. The magnetic 'hook' at the end of each cable tightly stuck to the robots' metal.
Firing their jetpacks to try and keep themselves from being swept away, the duo attempted to swing the Valkyries into one another. The robots had other ideas. Instead of crashing, the automatons used their sharp wings to cut one another's cables. They soared to freedom.
Jackal and Hyena looked dumbfounded as the remnants of their cables fluttered down before them, but the Valkyries didn't come around for another pass. They simply left.
"So, did we win, or what?" Hyena asked.
* * * * *
Oro followed Broadway down to a building rooftop. They alighted behind a stairwell cupola and Broadway caped his wings about his shoulders.
"Weren't we supposed to return to your castle?" Oro asked.
"I'm not about to abandon Goliath here," Broadway replied as he carried Zafiro up to the cupola and gingerly laid him behind the aft overhang. "And I'm not giving up on finding Angela," he finished. His voice was low with grim determination.
"So, we are just going to leave him here? Like that?" Oro demanded.
"Behind here," Broadway said, pointing to the overhang. "Listen, he'll be safe here until we return. In the meantime, Goliath and the others need our help."
He walked briskly to the end of the roof and unfurled his wings, when Oro asked, "She means something to you, doesn't she?"
Broadway paused. "We recently committed to each other."
"And now you feel a personal enmity towards those responsible. You wish nothing more than to get her back, and to make them pay. You feel frustrated, worried, and fearful all at the same time."
Broadway nodded. "You sound like someone who's gone through this."
Oro shook his head. "No, not this. I was... speculating. The one aspect I can relate to is the enmity... the hate. All of whom I've ever cared about are long since dust. I knew for certainty what had happened to them, there was no frustration, no worry, no fear of not knowing... only emptiness, and loss."
"And you blame Zafiro for that," Broadway stated.
Oro grimaced, his distress apparent. "I do not know anymore. It had been so easy to, before. So easy to blame him, to hate him... but now, after seeing him again, I find myself yearning for his companionship. I do not know what to think."
"Companionship is something we all need," Broadway replied. "And right now, we're needed." He gestured toward the edge of the roof, and Oro joined him.
* * * * *
Demona stared straight forward as she bolted through the air with the pendant held firmly in one hand and her laser rifle in the other. Her view of the cityscape was interrupted by Coyote, who dropped down directly in her path and opened fire.
Demona's Valkyries swooped in from overhead and took up positions on either side of her. With a mechanical whir, both robots inverted their wings vertically and swung them forward to create a pair of dual metal blast shields against Coyote's energy barrage. The shots charred their wings, but left Demona and the robots unscathed.
The Valkyries drew back their wings and returned fire. The blasts showered Coyote's outer hull with a series of dings, leaving behind black scarring and smoke patches where they hit, but the giant automaton seemed to barely notice as he opened his forward missile bays and fired.
Two missiles emerged from the smoke cloud in front of Coyote, trailing behind them lines of white exhaust as they pierced the air.
"Demona!" Goliath called. She looked out the corner of one eye and saw him approaching from her rear.
"This is not the best time, Goliath," she replied.
"What do you think you are doing?" he pleaded.
Demona ignored him as she brought her laser rifle over her eye and carefully aimed at one of the missiles. She fired and struck the missile head on, causing it to explode prematurely. Through the fire cloud, the remaining missile continued on course. Demona pulled up as her Valkyries swerved to the sides, and it passed them by.
Behind them, Goliath grunted as he violently tossed himself to one side, barely dodging the missile as it rocketed past him. And behind him, Lobo, too, swerved to the side. The missile sped past him as well, and continued on its course until finally hurtling into a radio tower and engulfing it in an explosion.
Goliath's eyes widened at seeing Lobo, as Demona's narrowed at the sight of the overall tail she'd acquired.
Lobo brought his radio to his mouth. "Hyena and Jackal, get yourselves over here now, or consider yourselves unemployed!"
Hyena's and Jackal's jetpacks carried them towards Lobo's position at top speeds. "Now we're in for it," Hyena muttered. "I don't think he's kidding this time. He sounds ticked."
Jackal was about to respond, when Broadway and Oro appeared out of nowhere and drove their fists into them. They both flipped off course.
"Hyena, Jackal... do either of you read me?" Lobo barred his teeth as he was met with static, and clicked off his link.
Goliath looked back at Demona as she sent her Valkyries forward on a collision course with Coyote. The stationary robot's internal speaker gave him the familiar alert again.
"Warning, collision imminent."
Coyote fired up his rear thrusters and maneuvered himself out of their way. The Valkyries rocketed past him, rather than through him, followed by Demona. She flew onward, as her Valkyries swung around for another pass on Coyote.
The giant automaton swung around and targeted his weapons on Demona. His visuals wavered and he shook with the impacts of laser blasts from the Valkyries. Coyote could barely make out the fuzzy outline of Demona growing smaller through the static as another pair of laser blasts struck his hull.
Lobo turned back on his radio and routed through his alternate feed. "One of the gargoyles has broken through, sir," he reported. "She's on her way now, and has the pendant with her. Do we break off our engagements with the others to pursue?"
Thailog's voice replied, "No. Which gargoyle has broken through?"
Lobo responded, "The corporate exec."
There was a brief pause. "I should have expected as much from her," he said. "Very well. Keep the others at bay until they decide to turn back. I'll handle Ms. Destine."
Lobo acknowledged the order and switched off the comlink.
Lobo came on over Coyote's internal speakers. "Hold your position, Coyote, do not pursue."
Coyote dodged another round of laser blasts from the Valkyries as he responded, "Very well, I will allow her to go." He shuddered under some more laser fire and added, "There is still the matter of her determined doppelgangers."
Jackal's voice cut in, "No offense, but I've had just about enough of those robots. They're a lot brighter than Xanatos' standard fare, a lot quicker too. Besides, we have our hands full over here with blue boy and goldie."
"All right," Lobo replied. "Coyote, you take 'em... again."
Coyote barely had time to acknowledge before his opponents fired another volley of blasts his way. A metal blast shield closed over his visual display, protecting what remained of his digital face as they impacted.
Goliath tried to sneak past Coyote and follow Demona's departure, when Lobo caught sight of him and fired a shot from his laser rifle in front of him.
"You're not going anywhere," Lobo announced as he leveled off in front of the clan leader. Goliath growled and lunged for him, knocking the laser rifle out of his hands.
The horizon began to brighten dramatically with the impending sunrise, as the fighting continued.
* * * * *
Angela felt a resurgence of hope as she overheard Thailog's conversation with Lobo. "They've gotten past the Ultra-Pack, haven't they?" she asked. "They know exactly where I am, and they're coming for me."
Thailog twisted himself around on his cane and slapped her across the face, a deep growl forming in his throat. He barred his teeth as he snapped, "No one will be coming to save you."
Angela refused to let herself be intimidated. Ignoring the strike, she continued, her voice groggy from the drugs he'd given her, "I'm sorry, have your carefully laid plans begun to crumble before you?"
Thailog leaned forward, his eyes illuminating with an eerie crimson glow. "You know, you are awfully... spiteful, for someone in your position." He leaned back, relaxing himself on his cane. "No, your father and his pathetic clan haven't broken through the Ultra-Pack... only your mother."
Angela felt herself smile. It was entirely involuntary, and at first she barely realized she was doing it. "My mother," she began, "won't turn back until she's found me."
"So sure of her... she's not as strong as you like to disillusion yourself. Besides," he smiled, "you probably have no idea, as the passage of time has been veiled to you, but the sun is on the verge of rising."
"You forget," Angela said smugly, "she doesn't turn to stone... although you do."
"She won't risk changing into a human," Thailog dismissed automatically. "She'll turn around."
Angela scoffed, "Are you really so deluded that you actually believe that? My mother's immortal, and she will stop at nothing."
"You have too much faith in her," Thailog replied bitterly. "If it's psychoanalytical games you wish to play, then why not discuss how the effect of hopelessness on a person will result in blind and totally unwarranted faith in whatever they can grab a hold of."
Angela smirked. "Yes, let's," she agreed, switching the tables on him.
Thailog narrowed his eyes into two thin slits. "Don't get cute."
* * * * *
Demona glided lower to the ground as the pendant's glow increased. The increase was so slight, if she hadn't been holding it, she wouldn't have been able to tell at all. It had more to do with the feeling it put off, than the glow itself, that told her it was growing stronger.
She landed on a street corner and looked around. It was a run-down corner New York City, one of many. "Where to start," she sighed. The Amulet could be in any of the buildings around her. Whether it was a hunch, her instinct, or something connected to the feeling the pendant gave her, she couldn't know -- but she was sure this was the place to begin looking.
She raised her laser cannon as she began to walk up the street. "If I was going to hide a Mayan Sun Amulet," she thought aloud, "or a kidnapped gargoyle, where would I put them?"
A broad, antique building caught her eye. At one time it had been a factory, but now it was abandoned. She saw the wooden sign still bolted over the front entrance, but the letters were worn away. She crawled in through an open window and walked into the center of the large, empty room.
"I know this place," she realized. She looked around and nodded to herself, "Yes, we used to use this building as a warehouse for storing shipments, back in Nightstone's earlier days. Thailog and I, we--"
She shook away the thought; she shook away him. In any event, once legitimate business started to prove so much more profitable, Demona had done what Thailog -- with all the Xanatos in him -- wouldn't have, and withdrew Nightstone from the black market.
Her curiosity now peaked, she proceeded to search the building. "I doubt this is simple coincidence," she concluded.
She noticed the faint square outline in the center of the floor, and remembered the secret door. She knelt down beside it and brushed away dust that wasn't there. The door had been in use recently. It was colored to blend into the concrete, although it was actually four-inch thick steel alloy. Demona bit her lip as she pulled up the hidden lever and opened the door. It slid to one side with a screech as the gears moved across the aging track.
She wished she had a flashlight, then thought of her gun. She aimed it into the hole and charged it. The weapon put off an electric hum as its power rose, and the barrel glowed. Her finger on the trigger, the gun ready to fire at a moment's notice, and the glow of the barrel enough to light the hole on her way down, she proceeded down the ramp that lead into the underground room.
Above, a small, carefully hidden camera turned on its axis and zoomed in on her.
* * * * *
Thailog looked closer at his monitor screen as the image of Demona descending into the opening became visible. He bared his teeth.
"Looks like it's time to be going," he said to himself as he switched off the monitor and walked up to a small locker at the other end of the room. Inserting a key, he flipped the steel door open and withdrew a heavy, black laser rifle. Re-closing the locker, he turned around and opened the heavy metal door leading back into Angela's cell.
As he entered, Angela remarked in a congested voice, "Back so soon?"
Thailog approached her and tapped a command into an electronic keypad on the wall. The chains holding her to the wall unlocked and Thailog disconnected them from those securing her wrists and ankles.
"Come on," he ordered, lifting her to her feet. The sudden movement caused Angela to wince in pain. She'd been chained in the same position for almost twelve hours, and those parts of her body that weren't asleep were throbbing. She felt her muscles tighten up on her as she stood.
"Walk," Thailog ordered, "or be, not carried, but dragged."
Angela clenched her teeth as she allowed herself to be pulled by Thailog, who hung onto her arm, as she desperately tried to avoid tripping over her own feet and the chain connecting the heavy shackles on her ankles. The matching manacles on her wrists held her arms bound in front of her, but although the slack in the chains now gave her some ability to move, she was in no condition to fight him. The drugs Thailog had injected her with not only made her mind a blur, but her body weak all over.
"Where are we going?" she asked as Thailog roughly forced her out of the cell and into the adjoining room. "My mother, she's come, hasn't she?" She glanced to the blank monitor sitting on the desk in the corner.
Thailog replied hastily, "Just remember you're not only a prisoner, my dear, but a hostage as well. We're getting out of here, and you're my insurance that that happens."
"It will take more than using me as a hostage to get Demona to back down," Angela declared bravely.
"True," Thailog said as he shoved his prisoner along. "That's why I also have a really big gun," he declared as he showed her the mammoth energy weapon.
"She'll be jealous," Angela remarked.
Thailog chuckled self-satisfyingly as he pushed her forward, knowing that the drugs he'd given her to make her more forthcoming and honest were still having an effect.
* * * * *
The room Demona was in, right below the main one, was where they used to store illegal shipments. She thought back to how brilliantly the operation used to be carried out. Everything had been untraceable to Nightstone. It had been perfect. The product of both her and Thailog's cunning.
"Thailog, I couldn't be happier that you're dead, but you sure did know how to run a business," the azure gargoyle declared as she scanned the room with her makeshift laser flashlight. There was nothing to be found. This room was just as devoid as the one above it.
Then something caught her eye, a faint outline in the wall, just like the one in the floor above. "A secret passage?" She approached the outline and looked for a method to open it. She briefly considered blasting it, but dismissed that thought, as alluring as it might have been at that moment, as it would alert anyone inside of her presence.
The door, she noticed, couldn't have been something recently added. No, it was definitely a part of the original construction. There had been a hidden passage here all this time and she never knew about it... But had Thailog? She hadn't a doubt in her mind that this had been something he'd kept from her.
She felt around for something that might trigger the door, but couldn't find a thing. Then she noticed a small reflective glass circle located above the door's outline, about the size of a quarter. She realized the door must require a special electronic signal to open, like the car remote she remembered from the board meeting with the automobile R & D people.
Without a better option, she tried aiming her rifle at it, and turned on the laser sighting. As luck would have it, it worked, and the door slid into the wall. The lights within the revealed chamber blanketed the outer room as it opened.
Demona took one step in and froze. What she saw couldn't have been an apparition...
"Thailog..." she breathed, her face a reflection of her disbelief. Her heart seemed to stop beating.
Inside, Thailog's eyes widened at the sight of Demona, and before she even noticed her daughter, bound in chains, he threw her aside and raised his laser rifle to her.
A warm smile spread over his face as he greeted, "Hello, my sweet. Long time no see."
Demona finally managed to breathe, a short congested gasp, as she continued to look forward, unable to remove her eyes. "You... survived."
Thailog smiled warmly. "Well, of course. You did, didn't you?" He looked at Demona and pretended a moment of revelation. "Yes, yes, you're immortal, that's right." His voice became bitter. "That means you healed and I was left with the disfiguring scars and the damage to my wings... among other things. Yes, I survived the fire. How much of me survived... well, that's a different matter."
Suddenly, without warning, he began to laugh. Demona eyed him with pity.
"Oh, come now, Demona," Thailog said, a sweetly sarcastic edge to his voice. "Does the scene not look familiar to you? The three of us, your daughter tied up, and we trying to figure out who to shoot?"
Her eyes flicked to her daughter and back again. She made sure her laser cannon was aimed at him. To her relief, even in the state of shock she'd found herself in, she'd reflexively done so.
Demona felt her eyes illuminate. "I don't care how you survived the fire, Thailog," she threatened, "but you are not going to leave this room alive."
Angela, while Demona and Thailog weren't paying attention to her, spotted the Mayan Sun Amulet sitting on a desk a few feet away. She inched forward as carefully as she could, so as not to attract Thailog's attention, and reached for it with her tail.
"Are you so sure?" Thailog inquired thoughtfully.
Demona's face contorted into an evil grin, revealing her fangs, as her eyes continued to glow. All shock she had initially felt at seeing Thailog alive vanished, and she found herself overcome with an undiluted appetite for revenge.
"As you said," she replied wickedly, "I am immortal. I cannot die, or have you forgotten?"
"Not at all," he replied as he turned his rifle toward Angela.
The glow in Demona's eyes faded as she took a step closer, reaching her arm forward.
Thailog motioned with his other hand for her to stop. "Ah, ah, ah," he said as he waved his index finger. He eyed her gun.
Demona dropped it without hesitation, all thirsts for vengeance vanishing just as quickly as they'd risen.
"Now," Thailog announced in satisfaction, with his rifle still aimed at Angela, but his eyes facing Demona, "the pendant."
Demona hesitated for a moment. Thailog thumbed a button on his rifle, and a rising hum emanated from it as it charged.
"It's a shame," he said playfully. "It was nice having a little sister for awhile, though I suppose I was meant to be an only child."
Demona quickly held out her hand, and revealed the shining glow of the pendant. Thailog's eyes lit up at the sight of the object, and he reached out his hand. "Give it to me."
Angela growled. Summoning her strength, she broke the short length of chain joining her wrists and shoved the Mayan Sun Amulet in between her and Thailog's rifle. Thailog, unwilling to destroy the Amulet, let go of the trigger on his gun, and sighed. "Just like your mother," he muttered. "Always so difficult."
Demona didn't waste time taking advantage of the chance Angela had given her. She lunged at Thailog, his gun going off and scathing the far wall before Demona forced it out of his hand and sent it skidding across the floor.
* * * * *
The sun slowly crept up over the horizon, a forewarning glow of reds and yellows illuminating the night sky. Goliath, Hudson, Broadway, and Oro, with Zafiro unconscious at his side, perched on a rooftop opposite of Hyena, Jackal, Wolf, a very battered Coyote, and Lobo, with an unconscious Bull.
The two sides faced each other over the space separated the two rooftops upon which they stood... at a deadlock.
Wolf, having climbed up from the street below, flashed a disgusted look at Bull. Lobo sensed his eyes on his pet and turned toward him.
"What'd he do to deserve that?" Wolf asked.
Jackal put his hand over his face with a groan, as Hyena snapped, "Lobo didn't electrocute him, you idiot, he got blown up!"
Wolf wrinkled his nose at something only he could smell. "Oh."
Hyena turned her attention to Lobo. "As a slight change in subject, why are we still sitting here doing nothing?"
Jackal added fervently, "Yeah, really, with those robots destroyed, it's five to four. We could take them."
"Check the time, Jackal," Lobo replied. He motioned towards the horizon, "Or simply look at the sky. Dawn will be here any minute now. Goliath and the others are going to be leaving here any second. Why engage them?"
"I don't know about you," Wolf snarled, "but I'd like to take any opportunity to get rid of as many of those gargoyles as possible. If we attack them now, we can keep them from leaving. And once the sun rises... all we've gotta do is smash 'em to bits."
"I hate to say it, but Wolf's right. In any case, it beats just sitting here and waiting," Jackal added.
"If we did enter into another engagement, I'm afraid it would have to remain at a fair level of four on four," Coyote interjected.
Lobo gestured toward the damaged robot, "Exactly my point, Coyote's in no shape to fight. And I'm not risking him to satisfy your impatience."
"But on the bright side," Coyote added smoothly, "the laser fire has succeeded in getting rid of the flea problem I've been having."
Wolf snarled at Coyote in warning
"Coyote, why is it that every one of your systems seems to have been damaged except for your personality matrix?" Lobo asked.
Coyote's splintered Xanatos face smiled. "I guess you're just lucky."
Lobo sighed and turned back to face the horizon. "Besides," he added, "did you ever stop to consider that if we ever wasted the gargoyles we'd probably be out of work?"
Hyena cocked an eyebrow at the comment, while Jackal stepped up to the edge of the rooftop and yelled, "Hey, Goliath, planning on laying out for a tan? The sun'll be up in about... what? Five... seven minutes?"
On the other rooftop, Goliath frowned as he saw the approaching sunrise. Hyena soon joined her brother in throwing taunts at them, but he heard them only in the back of his mind. "Only minutes away..." he murmured to himself.
"Goliath, if we left this instant we might have barely enough time tae make it back to the castle," Hudson advised. "But we cannae stay here."
Broadway joined him. "Goliath... Hudson's right." As much as he didn't want to leave without knowing Angela was safe, he realized it was suicide to stay.
Goliath nodded grimly. "I know," he admitted, "you're right. We must go."
Broadway felt his spirits drop. He realized that unconsciously he'd been hoping Goliath had an alternative in mind, some kind of plan to outwit the Ultra-Pack.
"Let us hope that Demona gets through. It is all we can do." With that, Goliath stepped off the ledge and soared away, followed by Hudson, Broadway, and Oro, who carried Zafiro in his arms.
The Ultra-Pack watched them leave, Hyena and Jackal itching to shoot them as they passed overhead, while Wolf growled silently to himself.
"That's it," Lobo declared
* * * * *
With the laser rifle now laying on the opposite side of the room, the object of Demona's and Thailog's struggle became the pendant. Both of their hands clutched the glowing jewel as they fought for possession of it. Demona snarled as she tried slashing at him with her claws, but he moved his head aside and her talons scraped the floor instead. They tumbled over one another so that Thailog was briefly on top. He wrapped one hand around her neck and began to choke her as he continued to try and pry the pendant out of her grasp. He could sense dawn only moments away.
Demona gasped for breath as Thailog tightened his grip. She finally brought her knee forward and jabbed him in the stomach. She pulled his hand away and went for his face again with her claws, this time causing them to roll over on the floor again.
"What's the matter, Thailog?" Demona asked threateningly. "Afraid to be without the pendant when the run rises? Afraid to turn to stone?"
Thailog was now with his back to the ground, and began pushing Demona's head up with his free hand.
"I would think," Thailog replied in haggard breaths, "that the approach of dawn would be just as threatening to you. Or do you think you can stand up to me in your frail human form?"
All of a sudden, through the combination of their efforts to get it, the pendant popped out of their grasps and fell to the floor beside them.
Demona clamped her hand over it first, but Thailog quickly grabbed hers with his and pulled back enough to grab the jewel himself. He got himself to his feet, but Angela came up from behind and rammed into him, knocking them both back to the ground. The pendant rolled out from beneath them.
"Get away!" she shouted as she pulled Angela off Thailog. As he looked up, she kicked him in the jaw.
He grunted as the kick threw him onto his back. "Mother, the sun!" Angela cried, but Demona barely heard her. She saw her laser cannon laying at the doorway where she'd dropped it and lunged for it. In that time, Thailog managed to get himself to his feet and made his way to the back of the room.
He breathed heavy, exasperated gasps as he limped, each hurried step sending pain up his thighs without his cane. As he reached the back wall, he slammed his fist against a red marker and from where there had been a flat, seamless wall, a secret door slid open.
Demona spun herself around and fired her laser, but the shot came too late, striking the door as Thailog slipped through it and it slid shut behind him.
Demona's eyes were filled with rage as she ran up to the door and began to pound on it. "You will not escape me, Thailog! I will come after you," she screamed, her voice a ghastly howl, "and I will make you pay!"
On the other side of the door, Thailog leaned on a wall and let himself slide down in exhaustion as Demona's pounding and howls echoed through.
"If you come near my daughter again, Thailog, I will see you burn! Do you hear me? Burn!"
"Mother!" Angela pleaded, as she managed to limp up to Demona and grab her arm. Demona's howls ceased as she felt her daughter grab hold of her. She snapped out of her frenzy in time to catch her as her legs gave out.
The azure gargoyle gently laid Angela down on the floor as she felt her transformation on the verge of beginning. She heard the roar of several jet engines approaching outside, and knew it could only be the Ultra-Pack.
Her eyes frantically searched the room for the pendant. "Where is it?" she demanded angrily. She felt the onset of her transformation. Any second now the sun would rise, and Angela would turn to stone.
At last, her eyes fell on the pendant and she grabbed it. There was no necklace. "Pendant-wearer," she remembered. "You have to wear the pendant for the magic to affect you." Demona frantically turned it around in her hands, trying to come up with something, when she caught sight of the ring where the necklace had run through, broken by Hyena when she'd snapped it off Zafiro.
Angela's eyes fell on the Sun Amulet now laying on the floor in front of her. She reached forward and limply grabbed the talisman as her mother ran up to her.
Demona stuck the ring through the fabric of Angela's dress, pinning it to her, and at that moment Demona felt her stomach turn and lurched forward as her color began to pale, her wings shrank into her back, and her tail disappeared.
She hung over her daughter as she choked in pain, her talons shrinking into human fingers, her ears rounding off, and a fifth digit growing on both hands and feet.
Faintly, she could hear the sound of flesh solidifying into stone on the other side of the hidden door, through which Thailog had fled, and realized he must still be there, soon to be an inanimate statue... helpless, vulnerable, yet protected behind an impenetrable door. A moan emanated from the door, a low, agonizing moan... it could only be coming from Thailog. Could his injuries be so severe that turning to stone causes him pain? she thought to herself. Such a curse she'd lived with for years, but the knowledge that every time she was suffering through her transformation, that he too would be experiencing pain, gave her a sense of contentment... She knew she would relish every transformation she had to endure from then on.
After her process completed itself, she looked down at Angela to see that she was still breathing. The pendant still clung to her tunic.
She lifted her daughter over her shoulder carefully, holding the pendant to her dress to ensure it didn't come undone, and threw her laser rifle over her other shoulder. The Sun Amulet scrapped against the floor as Angela let herself be hoisted up, her weak grip on the object barely enough to keep it from slipping.
Demona took one last look at the secret door, then walked out of the room and up the ramp leading to the surface as fast and as steadily as she could.
Angela squinted as they came into the sunlight filtering in through the surrounding windows, and Demona quickly made her way across the room, her bare feet walking over the wood splinters and discarded nails without so much as a flinch. She could hear the Ultra-Pack landing right outside the building. Jackal's and Hyena's voices could be heard not twenty feet away.
Angela felt at least twice as heavy to Demona than she usually did, given her human form, but she forced herself on, breathing in quick, short gasps.
She came to a side window, the one she'd used to get in, and climbed out just as the front doors to the room swung open and the Ultra-Pack walked in.
"Honey, we're home!" Jackal announced as they entered.
Hyena shook her head as she brought a hand to her brow. "Bro, this night has already given me a migraine the size of a tumor, the last thing I need to finish it off is some of your bad humor."
Demona held her breath and prayed that Angela's breathing didn't catch their ears as she carefully, but quickly, snuck around the building to the back street.
"Don't worry," Demona whispered as she walked into the center of the road and looked around to ensure there was nobody else there. "We'll be home soon. We're safe."
A stray dog barked somehow a distance away as Demona carried Angela up the side of the street, hoping she didn't come across any early-morning drivers or that the Ultra-Pack didn't decide to go looking for them...
* * * * *
The next night, Angela awoke in an explosion of stone shards. After her eyes came back into focus, she saw that she was looking up at a ceiling. She sat herself up, stone skin slipping off. She wiped away the rest as she looked around. She was laying in a bed, and the pendant -- still glowing as bright as ever -- sat by her on a small bed stool right next to the Sun Amulet.
She got up from the bed, feeling tired and sore, but considerably improved from the night before.. Her mother, she thought, must have taken off the pendant to let her enter stone sleep and regain her strength.
The room's door opened and Angela saw her mother enter. "Are you feeling all right?" the elder gargoyle asked solicitously.
Angela smiled. "Yes, it wasn't a full day's sleep. I still feel a little queasy, but nothing like last night. I think the sleep was enough to get the drugs Thailog..." She paused as she noticed her mother almost wince at the mention of the name. "...gave me out of my system."
Demona nodded grimly. "We didn't make it back until almost noon. I couldn't return with you to the Eyrie Building, I would have had to have gone through the main entrance..." She looked around the room. "The Ultra-Pack must have broken in after I left last night. The entire house is torn apart."
Angela glanced to the tipped-over bookcases and ripped curtains she hadn't noticed before, then returned her gaze to her mother. Without a word, she approached Demona and hugged her. Demona returned the embrace, her breaths still rather jaded.
"I can't know how much hatred you must hold for Thailog," Angela said quietly, "or how much his return has hurt you. I saw old wounds reopened last night that I would never ask to see again."
Demona nodded understandingly as they parted. "Come on," she said, "your clan is probably worried sick over you."
* * * * *
In Xanatos' office, the main view screen was again illuminated with the image of Brooklyn. Goliath stood before it as they talked.
"We still don't even know who the Ultra-Pack were working for, why they wanted the Sun Amulet, Zafiro's pendant, or Angela," Goliath said as he shifted position, the apprehension gripping his voice.
Brooklyn frowned. "And no word yet from Demona?"
Goliath shook his head. "No, Xanatos has been trying to get through to her, but her secretary reports she didn't come to work and her home phone continues to go unanswered."
"Demona's resilient, if nothing else," Brooklyn offered.
Goliath nodded grimly. "That is what I continue to tell myself, but... there are just so many unanswered questions."
Brooklyn looked past Goliath to Broadway, who paced the room restlessly in the back. Brooklyn decided to break the silence with a change in subject. "We're making good progress," he revealed with forced enthusiasm. "We've been to nine locations so far, only thirteen more to go."
Goliath drew in a deep breath as he asked, his eyes to the floor, "News of the places you've visited?"
The clan second's eyes looked briefly haunted. "Madoc and his thugs were playing some weird games, Goliath. At two of the locations, a village in Nigeria and another in Egypt, it seemed like the Unseelie were just out to torment the locals. There was a lot of talk about 'forsaking ancient ways' and a huge amount of property destroyed."
"What of the villagers?" the lavender gargoyle prompted. "Was there a man in the Nigerian village by the name of Fara Maku? Or a woman named Tea?"
Brooklyn nodded. "Yes to both. They're leading the rebuilding efforts. Tell Xanatos they really appreciated the food and medical supplies."
"I will," Goliath replied. "What of Egypt?"
"Same story," Brooklyn answered, "with a twist. Apparently they had some help. When Madoc's forces showed up outside of Cairo they were driven off by several humans with latent magical talent... and a golden female gargoyle." The crimson gargoyle's voice lowered a notch. "Madoc didn't know about a gargoyle clan, Goliath. At least not according to his list. I tried to find her, but..." The skin around Brooklyn's eyes crinkled with worry and something else Goliath couldn't identify. "I didn't have any luck."
"We know from Beth's experience that some of the fay were clandestinely tutoring humans in magic as a secondary defense. Could it have been one of Oberon's children?"
"I don't know," the crimson gargoyle replied. "And I'm not sure we'll ever know. She disappeared shortly before the battle ended. The humans didn't really want to talk about her either. We left supplies and moved on."
"Perhaps that is for the best," Goliath replied. "What other news have you?"
"It wasn't easy," Brooklyn said, "but we found New Olympus. I met with Boreas and Taurus and the leaders of the local clan, Priam and his second, Daphne. They had a rough time. The Unseelie that attacked there were unusually brutal. There were a lot of …casualties."
"I see," Goliath said calmly even as his eyes flashed with anger.
"They said they appreciated the offer of help," Brooklyn continued, "but at this point, they'd just like to be left alone to pick up the pieces. I left them one of those transmitters and they said they'd contact us if they needed anything."
"What of Europe?" the lavender gargoyle asked as a flash of static momentarily obliterated the image of his second.
"Mixed news there," Brooklyn reported. "Prague's in good shape. The Golem you told us about meeting woke. We confirmed that the citizens took matters into their own hands at that point. They rallied around the Golem and drove the Unseelie out in a hail of iron horseshoes and re-bar." The crimson gargoyle smiled briefly and then his expression turned grim. "There were signs of a fierce battle outside of Rome," Brooklyn's expression, already stony, became even more shaken. "But we didn't find anyone to talk to. Same thing in Crete. Our next stop is," He turned away to consult with Lexington. "Scotland and then London. From there, we'll work our way east. Sata's been anxious to get to Ishimura. They had a rough time there. We have confirmed gargoyle casualties."
The conversation was interrupted when Xanatos walked in. Goliath, as well as Brooklyn, and especially Broadway, turned their attentions toward him. With a frown, he shook his head, and informed, as if words had been necessary, that there was still nothing from Demona.
As the door closed behind him, Broadway approached Goliath. "We have to go there ourselves," he insisted. "We should go to Demona's, and if there's nobody there, we should return to where we battled the Ultra-Pack and try searching in the direction we saw Demona head off in."
"Agreed," Goliath conceded. "Rally the others. We'll leave as soon as everyone's ready."
Broadway nodded eagerly and left the room. Goliath turned back to Brooklyn.
"I know," he said before Goliath could speak. "You have to go. Good luck. We'll be holding up this end of things in the meantime."
Goliath smiled and nodded as Brooklyn reached forward and ended the transmission.
Outside in the castle courtyard, Goliath met up with Broadway and Hudson, as well as -- to his surprise -- Graeme, Ariana, and Nudnik.
"We know you didn't find Aunt Angela last night," Graeme stated plainly.
His sister continued, "But we also know you're going to look for her again, and we want to come."
Goliath looked to Hudson, who shrugged his shoulders, and then back to the twins. Nudnik sat at their feet, happily panting.
"The Ultra-Pack might still be a threat; we don't know if they've gotten everything they wanted," Goliath declared.
"If they still have Angela chances are we'll be receiving a ransom sooner than another assault," Hudson replied.
"But if they have lost her, they could be desperate," Broadway countered.
"The Ultra-Pack?" Ariana repeated excitedly.
"Cool!" Graeme added.
From behind, Fox appeared. "I'll take them off your hands," she offered.
Graeme and Ariana frowned, but before anyone could say more, a voice interrupted, "That won't be necessary."
Demona alighted in the grass in front of them, and before anyone could ask about Angela, the younger female landed lightly beside her mother. Broadway rushed forward before the others had a chance to take it all in. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground. Angela laughed as she wrapped her own arms around him, and he set her down.
"I'm happy to see you again too," she said with a warm smile.
Broadway held onto her hands as if to keep fate from taking her away again. "While we were separated, I almost lost you for good. From now on, I swear I'll never leave your side again!" Angela hugged him.
Demona approached the others with the pendant and the Sun Amulet in her hands. She gestured with the artifacts. "I have some things to return to their proper owners."
Hudson answered, "They're in the infirmary."
He turned towards Fox, who added helpfully, "Second level down, third door to the right, off elevator four." With a smirk, she added, "Come on, I'll take you to it."
Broadway and Angela joined the others as they re-entered the castle. Graeme and Ariana ran up to Angela and hugged her, begging the answers to a million unrelenting questions at once, as Nudnik followed up the rear. Demona stayed a healthy distance ahead of the gargoyle beast as Goliath inquired, "What exactly did happen?"
Demona explained it all as they made their way down to the medical unit.
* * * * *
"Please, Oro!" Zafiro pleaded. He placed his hand on the glass of the infirmary wall as he stared into the room at Obsidiana.
Behind him, Oro answered, "I cannot."
Zafiro turned around to face him, removing his hand from the glass. "You must, Oro. Por favor. You must see Obsidiana. It will do her heart good to know you are alive, after the destruction of our home and all the suffering she's gone through over the last thirty-six hours... She is still gravely ill. To help her recovery we have removed her pendant, but she has yet to re-enter stone sleep. Her biological clock must still be upset by her ordeal. I have asked that she may be taken outdoors, to experience the rising and setting of the sun, but that cannot happen until she is much stronger. If you could just show yourself to her... that would be all, perhaps it would be enough to speed up her recovery. She is very depressed."
Oro nodded his head and gestured for Zafiro to stop. "Very well," he said, drawing in a breath, "I will see her."
He walked forward and pushed open the door leading into Obsidiana's room. She lay on a bed beside a wheeled shelf-case of medical monitoring equipment. Cords traveled from it to her in several places, as a methodical beep emanated from one of the components.
Oro approached her and knelt down. At the sound of someone nearby, her eyes opened, and turned toward Oro. They widened at the sight of him, and she turned her head to be able to see him more clearly.
"Oro?" she asked in disbelief.
Oro forced a shaky smile. "Hello, Obsidiana. You... look different than I remember you."
Obsidiana managed a chuckle. "Of course I do, I've lost all my hair and my skin has been drained of its color."
"That's not what I meant," he replied uneasily. "You look well. Your skin is regaining much of its color."
Obsidiana smiled, as Zafiro watched the two of them from the other side of the glass, a wide smile of his own forming.
"Where did you come from?" she asked.
"I... I've been wandering, on my own. I traveled northward from our homeland to America. I've... missed you and the others."
Obsidiana blinked away the beginnings of tears as she replied, "We too have missed you, Oro... my rookery brother. We had no idea any of the others had survived the poachers' raid."
The gold gargoyle spoke softly as if he were embarrassed. "I kept myself concealed from you intentionally. I was... a tumult of grief and anger. I told myself I would not face you, but after time, as I became more and more isolated, both from you and the world as a whole, I discovered I could not."
Obsidiana raised her hand limply to place it on Oro's. He watched, at first unmoving, hesitating, but finally grabbed her hand with his and held it. "You have nothing to fear from us, Oro. We are the ones with the burden of grief, a burden we will carry forever, one which will never, and should never, be lifted. But we would have you return to us. We would humbly... implore... that you return, return to your clan. It is only Zafiro and I now, with Jade and Turquesa gone, and your presence would be a cherished blessing."
Oro blinked to quench a tear, but it escaped too soon and ran down his cheek. "I... have to go, Obsidiana. I will... I am... I will consider your offer." He rose to his feet and, gingerly placing her hand back on the bed, walked back to the door. He paused before exiting, and turned to add, "It is good to see you again, my rookery sister."
Obsidiana smiled meekly as he turned and left, coming out from the room just as Goliath and the others came in from the other end. Zafiro turned to face them as they entered. Goliath, Demona, Hudson, Broadway, and Angela. Fox stayed outside in the hallway with the twins and Nudnik.
"My offer from before still stands, I'll take these three," she assured. Goliath nodded his thanks and Fox pulled the door closed.
"You have found her!" Zafiro exclaimed joyfully, "found her at last!"
Angela smiled shyly. "Hello, Zafiro. It has been awhile since I saw you and your clan."
Zafiro nodded, "Indeed it has. I am happy to see you are all right."
"Thank you," she replied politely. "Thanks to my mother, I am."
Angela turned to Oro. "And you are the one from the night before last, who visited my mother's."
Oro's jaw nearly dropped. "You... her daughter? She... her?"
Demona stepped forward. "Didn't you recognize my voice?"
Oro gasped. "I thought myself imagining a similarity. I dismissed it as coincidence. I suppose it was not, after all. But, when I came to your house, you appeared human."
"Magic," Angela answered.
That was all the answer Oro required. He shook his head, still in a state of disbelief. "All this time, the mighty Nightstone Unlimited has been headed by a gargoyle in disguise... unbelievable."
Zafiro noticed the pair of artifacts in Demona's hands. Demona followed his gaze, and realized what he was staring at. She handed both of them to Zafiro, who accepted them with a polite nod.
"Thank you for recovering the Amulet," he said, "and for keeping my pendant warm."
Demona smiled, "Thank you for the loan of it."
Zafiro turned his attention back to Angela. "I do not know when or how, but if in the future the opportunity arises for you to communicate with Avalon, or at the least relay a message, I would greatly appreciate you remembering Jade and Turquesa. They should be informed of all that has happened these past few days."
"Of course," Angela assured.
The door opened and Elisa entered. "Am I interrupting anything?"
She stopped when she saw Angela. "Thank goodness!" she said with a deep breath of relief. "You had us worried sick! Are you all right?"
Angela smiled, "Nothing a night of stone sleep wasn't able to cure."
Elisa examined the young gargoyle closely, noting the dark smudges under her eyes. "I'm glad to hear it," she said as she took the last few steps to Goliath's side. He too earned an appraising glance of concern before Elisa continued. "So, what exactly did happen? Did you find out who was employing the Ultra-Pack?"
The question resulted in a fall of silence. Goliath finally answered, "Yes, we found out."
Elisa looked puzzled as she insisted, "Who?"
"Thailog," Demona revealed.
The name hit Elisa like a steel bat. "Thailog? You mean he's still alive? Not after that fire at the park..."
"Apparently, he managed to save himself. Although according to Angela and Demona, he isn't entirely what he once was," Goliath clarified.
Curious, Zafiro asked, "Who is this Thailog?"
"A ghost from our past," Elisa replied. "One we were quick to put behind us." She turned to Angela and Demona, "But why haven't we heard from him until now?"
"He's been laying low," Angela answered, "setting things into motion from behind the scenes, preparing for his big 'comeback'. He's chosen now to... re-emerge."
Elisa sighed. "Do things ever get better around here, or is one problem always replaced with another?"
Goliath stared straight forward, his brow narrowing as he spoke, "Thailog may still be alive, but he has not his health nor the power and wealth of Nightstone Unlimited now."
"You forget," Broadway pointed out, "the Ultra-Pack are working for him, and they don't offer their services cheaply. Thailog must still have some money."
"I wouldn't be surprised if he'd secretly hidden away large amounts from me while we were still together," Demona added bitterly. "For all I know, he may have established dummy projects or imaginary employees through which he's drawing subtle amounts of funds straight from Nightstone even now. I'm going to have to go through everything personally to make certain he doesn't have any such concealed arteries still open to him." She put a hand to her forehead as several unsolved mysteries seemed suddenly clear. "The embezzlement at the Paris office," Demona moaned. "I knew it felt like his style, but it seemed impossible."
"So," Hudson ventured, attempting to change the tide of the conversation, "what will the two of you be doing next?"
Zafiro and Oro looked at each other, both unsure of what to say. Zafiro waited a moment, in the hopes that Oro would speak first, but he didn't. Zafiro answered, "I will remain until Obsidiana is fully recovered. Then, we will journey back to our home in Guatemala. The pyramid can be rebuilt, and we have a rookery of eggs soon to hatch."
"By such time Brooklyn and the others should be well finished with their mission," Goliath concluded. "They can transport you."
Zafiro nodded respectfully, and turned to Oro. "And you, my brother? Where will you go? What will you do? You know you are welcome to return with us."
Oro hesitated. "What you did those years ago, you, Obsidiana, Jade, and Turquesa, is something I cannot ever hope to forgive you for. I hope you can understand that."
Zafiro lowered his head and nodded softly.
"It is not my place to forgive you for any of the wrongs you've committed against our brothers and sisters," Oro began. "However, I realize now that my personal feelings of bitterness for you and the others have been... exaggerated." He faced his rookery brother. "In my time alone, misery became my sole companion -- the sum of all my loneliness, regret, and sorrow. But hatred and anger are far more consoling companions than grief and misery, and so I substituted one pair of emotions for the other, and you and the others became the focus of it all. All my hatred, all my anger, all my feelings of remorse and despair could be satisfied by placing the blame for them all on you." Oro looked away from his audience, ashamed. "But even though I can see this now, I am unable to forgive you. It is not a decision of mind, but a weight of the heart. Maybe some day, I will be able to. In the meantime, I will return with you and Obsidiana, if you will have me."
Zafiro looked up. His eyes seemed to quiver, clouded with unshed tears. "Of course we will," he replied.
Oro nodded. Behind them, Demona sunk into herself, but she felt Angela's reassuring grip on her hand.
"I've got to be going," Elisa said, turning for the door. "I've got a case of museum break-ins to get back to. I'll see you later?" she said softly to Goliath.
The gargoyle leader smiled affectionately and nodded. Before he could speak, Oro looked up. "Actually, ... the museum break-ins, if you are referring to the three of last week, were my doing."
Elisa stared at the golden gargoyle. "You're kidding."
Oro shook his head. "No, I was looking for the Sun Amulet, and... well, I apologize for the inconvenience I've caused."
Elisa frowned. "So, Matt was right about the culprit after all. I can't give him the satisfaction of knowing." She sighed and met Oro's eyes. "Thanks for telling me. I guess we've finally solved the case, although it's going to take some pretty creative thinking to come up with an explanation we can hand the captain."
She nodded her farewell, whispered something in Goliath's ear as she hugged him briefly, and left the room.
Afterwards, Demona approached Oro. "I just wanted to say that I've decided to accept your proposition, if it's still standing."
Oro shook his head. "Thank you for the offer," he answered, "but I can see now that my plans for the future were... a little too ambitious. For now, our concerns are with each other."
Zafiro stepped in, "Perhaps someday, we will re-approach you about it."
Demona nodded. "The offer will still be standing. Whatever you decide for your clan."
"Well," Hudson cut in, "I think I'll be returning to the television room. One of my favorite programs should be starting."
Broadway added, "Same here." He glanced to Angela, who smiled and joined him on the way out.
Demona and Goliath faced one another uneasily for a moment, before Demona broke the ice. "Well, I'd... better get back. There's plenty of work to be done, now that I know Angela's safe," she said, adding quickly, "and that you've recovered your Sun Amulet," to Zafiro.
"All thanks to you," Goliath interjected.
The traces of a smile almost formed on her face, when she nodded, turned, and left the room.
"I think I shall stay with Obsidiana a little while longer," Zafiro said, as Oro walked up to Goliath.
"She is troubled," Oro observed, "by a past. A solitary, much regretted past."
Goliath let out a bottled up sigh. "Feel fortunate," he replied solemnly, "that yours didn't last as long."
* * * * *