Written by Shauntell Holm, Todd Jensen, Robby Bevard and Greg Bishansky with contributions by Alan Coleman Waltrip
Outline by Todd Jensen and Greg Bishansky
Artwork by Shauntell Holm
* * * * *
A flash of lightning momentarily lit the sky above concrete and water. Thunder boomed in answer to the lightning's call, and a light rain began to drizzle. A lone figure grumbled in annoyance at the sudden downpour, pulling the cuff of his long trench coat closer to his face. His hat wiggled and bounced as the rain fell, and he pulled that over his eyes. He glanced up at the cloudy sky and mumbled some more. The weather services had not predicted that it would storm.
Just then, movement caught his eye. A long and luxurious limousine pulled into a lone alley behind a warehouse and quickly shut off its lights. Most of the area was abandoned now. Workers had long since gone home, and a night crew had not been scheduled to work tonight. Initially the appearance of this car made him a little nervous. He was supposed to meet someone here, and he did not want anyone listening in on the conversation. Much to his relief, a familiar face was helped out from the back seat by the driver, and stood at the front of the vehicle.
Smiling, Anton Sevarius casually walked up to him. "Ah, Mr. Fergus," he said as raised his hat to look the man eye to eye. "Come to collect the data, have you?"
"Let's just get this over, all right?" said Anthony Fergus nervously, throwing worried looks at every direction. He turned back to Sevarius. "I hope you brought the information with you? And you made sure that you were not followed?"
"Of course, Mr. Fergus," said Anton as he pulled out a small case from his coat pocket. "But I do hope that you brought the money in turn?"
Fergus sighed and signaled the driver. He reached into the car and pulled out a leather business case. With an umbrella over his head, he quickly walked up to his employer and handed him the case. He then proceeded to open the case with the driver holding the umbrella over them all. Not a drop of rain fell upon the small group as they gazed at the many bills within the case.
The scientist whistled. "Being Thailog's flunky does has its perks, doesn't it?" he smiled as the driver closed the case again and handed it to Fergus.
"If you say so," muttered the contact as they exchanged packages. He examined it curiously before looking back at Anton. "The information is accurate, right? We're not being duped? Thailog is already hard enough to handle, if this in any way is not. . . "
Sevarius quickly rose a hand. "No need to dwell on that. I've been there before. But yes, the information is accurate. Satisfaction guaranteed. The title name is..." he paused for dramatic emphasis, then rolled the title. " 'Project Nightshade'. I am quite certain the both of you will find it most interesting."
Fergus nodded curtly, then dipped his hat and turned away. "Thank you, Dr. Sevarius," he called behind him as he climbed into the limo, the door still held by the driver. "I hope the money works well for you."
Anton just smiled as he watched the car pull away. He tipped his own hat and slowly walked away. One last flash of lightning lit the sky following his presence. The accompanying boom was mild and distant, and the rain was beginning to stop. Their secret meeting location had been a success. No one had even had the slightest clue as to what was going on.
Or so he thought.
* * *
A lone female figure crept out cautiously from the shadows where she had been watching the meeting between Sevarius and Mr. Fergus. She frowned troubled, as she watched the geneticist's retreating form fade into the shadows. "Project Nightshade," she said to herself. "I don't know quite what that is. But I know someone who would know." Taking a quick look around her, she quickly sank back into the shadows and climbed into her own vehicle. After turning on the engine, she drove away.
* * *
The skies were clear as the last signs of the storm melted away. The moon and stars had been given back their luster and now seemed to shine brighter than ever. Small puddles of rainwater reflected the stars above. A calm had followed in the storm's wake, and with everything beginning to dry again, the gargoyles had returned to a night of celebration. There was an air of joy and happiness throughout all of Castle Wyvern. A long awaited night was on the way, and the entire clan was busy preparing for a moment they had thought would never arrive.
Goliath and Elisa were finally committing themselves before the clan and each other. Their love for each other was in the open now, and it was time. This was going to be their special night, and they wanted it perfect.
However, the ceremony itself was still a few nights away. It seemed that it was too far away now, taking too long to finally arrive, more so than it ever had before. And yet, it was good that it had not come yet. Not everything was ready, for there was still a dinner to plan and a small party afterwards. It was not going to be nearly as large a commitment ceremony as was Broadway and Angela's, but rather a simple and easy ceremony that followed the clans' traditions.
Everyone was excited.
Hudson smiled pleasantly as he approached Broadway and Lexington. They had been busy deciding on the party platters and foods that would be served. They had even planned a few activities to keep some of the guests entertained. Even though the commitment ceremony itself was going to be simple, there would be much celebration after. "Well, lads, how are the preparations?"
"We're almost ready," Lexington replied eagerly. He was beaming with excitement from head to toe. He'd been in a generally good mood ever since the Gargoyles World Council, and seemed more enthused than usual about Goliath and Elisa's romance. "All of the food's been decided. All we need to do is place the orders, or get the shopping done." He paused, grinning. "But, Xanatos is going to have to do that part. I don't think we could easily stroll into a store right now.""
"Yeah," agreed Broadway. "But it's gonna worth it. No one's going to forget this!" He said with pride. "I know, ‘cause I've been there!!"
Hudson chuckled. "Aye, laddie." he smiled, and couldn't help but feel proud of this young warrior. He had grown up so quickly, and found happiness with a mate. Lexington was not too far behind. Both were getting older, and Hudson found it almost depressing. Had it not been almost yesterday that they had hatched? Was it not the same way with Goliath? Goliath had been a joy to raise and to teach, always eager to learn, always eager to help those in need, and always so intelligent and responsible. He had grown in wisdom and strength, showing everyone that he was a friend to all. Goliath had been a good friend, a fine example to all of the clan.
"What's the matter Hudson?" asked Broadway.
The gargoyle looked at him. "Och, nothing lad," replied the old gargoyle with a smile. "Jus' remembering about things gone by. It only seems like yesterday that the clan and I watched as all ye laddies were hatched. I'm glad ta see that Goliath is finally with someone who truly makes him happy."
"Hey guys!" interrupted a voice, and everyone turned to see Elisa walk towards them from the elevator shaft in the inner courtyard. "How are things going?"
"Elisa!" exclaimed Lexington. "What are you doing up here? Don't you have work?"
"Not tonight," Elisa replied with a grin. "I've got the night off tonight. Good thing too. Where's Goliath?"
"I think he's still in the library," answered Broadway. "He and Brooklyn have been making sure that the guest list is in order. I'm not sure if they've spoken to anyone that the guys want to invite, but they're working on it."
The detective nodded. "I see. And where are the girls?"
"Angela and Sata are working on Goliath's wardrobe." Lex explained.
Elisa blinked in surprise. "Wardrobe?" she repeated, not quite believing what she had just heard.
"Yep," said Broadway with a chuckle. "Angela managed to bribe Goliath into wearing a nice tunic for your commitment ceremony. Nothing too fancy, just something nice for the occasion." He and his rookery brother laughed. "He didn't like the fuss over it, though. I guess the main reason he consented is because he's been too preoccupied with other matters."
He sent her a wink that seemed to tell what he meant. Elisa let out a curt laugh of amazement. "Okay. And he doesn't mind?"
"I guess not," Lexington shrugged. "Angela and Fox are trying to find a good design for him. Sata is helping with the fabric. They want to make sure it's something that's not gonna make Goliath feel too uncomfortable."
She giggled at that. "I guess," she said as she turned to Hudson. "I'm still surprised you guys managed to get him to do that though."
"To make you happy, lass, I do believe he would do anything," the elder acknowledged. "Besides, there has been something of a tradition to wear something special on such an occasion."
"Elisa," came a surprised call. It was deep and calm, yet full of love and joy. Everyone turned to see Goliath exit the castle and come out into the courtyard with Angela alongside him. He came to her eagerly and swept her up in his arms as the others watched. Most times, he would not display his passion for her so openly. But on this occasion, and with their commitment ceremony so near, he simply did not care.
He held her and twirled her around in utter joy as he laughed musically to the feeling of her presence. Elisa laughed along with him, surprised by his boyishness, yet not wanting it to end. The others watched with smiles and laughter. Their union, though strange, simply seemed right.
Goliath was still chuckling as he sat Elisa down and proceeded to stroke her hair. "I am very glad to see you, my love." he smiled warmly.
"I can see that," she noted. Then she locked eyes with him. Her heart skipped a beat as she gazed into his dark eyes. "I'm glad to see you too."
The lavender gargoyle looked quite happy about that, and just looked over her features for a few moments longer and ignored all else.
Hudson coughed courteously, bringing them back to the rest of the world "It's good ta see that ye two are so glad ta see each other," he told them, and they looked at each other sheepishly, "but what of the other preparations? Is everything in order?"
"Ah, yes... It is," replied Goliath as he struggled to regain his composure. "We have managed to compile a small guest list. I wanted to show it to Elisa before we made any further decisions."
The Manhattan clan leader took a paper from his pouch and handed it to his love. She looked it over. The list was short, but it would be enough. Some of the names stuck out, humans they knew and could trust.
"Looks good," she said and handed the note back. "We should start calling them right away. We've only got a few nights left after all." She found herself out of sorts and blushing when she noticed that Goliath had not taken his eyes off of her. "You agree?" she asked him.
"Hmm?" he asked, lost in the beauty of her face. Then it dawned on him. "Yes, of course"
Angela giggled at her father, remembering how it had been for her on the night of her own commitment ceremony. It was clear that her father's mind was on Elisa. He did not seem likely to get the invitations out as needed. "Well, since you two are preoccupied," she interjected while slipping the paper out of her father's grasp, "I'll get to work on the phone calls."
Broadway immediately followed her. "I'll help her out," he said sheepishly, "Lex and I are done anyway."
Lexington glared playfully. "Yeah right," he said as he began to pick up the papers and books. "I think you've got something else on your mind."
The others quietly slipped away to let Elisa and Goliath be alone. They were enjoying watching their leader and Elisa together, but the two deserved a few moments of privacy.
Goliath sighed with emotion as he continued to gaze into Elisa's eyes. He had not noticed that the others had begun depart. "I almost can not believe that this is really happening," he told his love softly. "Such a dream, such a vision."
"And it is all for us," Elisa said. She smiled, finding that her eyes were beginning to mist over. She turned away to try and hide the fact.
"Elisa?" asked Goliath in concern. "Why are you crying? What is wrong?"
Elisa smiled and buried herself in his arms. "Nothing," she said as she held him tightly. "Just happy. A bit scared."
Goliath wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes and held her. "As am I. I just regret it took us so long to reach this point." He felt her return the embrace and opened his eyes to glance at the stars.
"I suppose it is largely my fault. Always afraid never to love again," Goliath whispered to himself. "Always afraid to be alone, and never experience life's simple pleasures with the one I love." He sighed and looked down at her. "Yes, I know that fear. I suffered this fear when I thought that Demona had died, and the night that I discovered her betrayal. But I am no longer afraid. For in you, I have found a true friend. True love."
The others, still standing at the castle's entrance, watched their leader and his chosen mate. They had not wanted to journey inside, for they were enjoying the sight of two people in love. They were caught unaware when Owen came up behind them.
"As much as I hate to spoil the tender moment," he said in a dry monotone, "I have just been notified that we shall have unexpected guests in short order."
"What?" Broadway asked, puzzled.
"A clan from your Gargoyle World Council is dropping in for a surprise visit. As you know, Xanatos Enterprises left transports with the clans that desired it as a symbol of cooperation. A side effect of this is that it allows them to show up unannounced and with very little warning. They arrived at the airfield half an hour ago, and a transport was sent to pick them up secretly. They will be here in very short order. I apologize for not informing you sooner, I only just became aware of the matter when they arrived at the door."
"Is it the Caledonian clan?" Lexington asked hopefully.
"No," came the calm voice of Mei Hsing.
Goliath turned his head to see the pink female from the Chinese clan. Behind her stood the beaked Chiang Yun. He pulled himself away from Elisa and forced himself to be polite. "Mei Hsing. You do us honor by your visit." He bowed respectfully to her as the others began to emerge. "May I ask, why have you come?"
Mei Hsing did not answer him, but instead looked at Elisa. "You must be the woman ‘Maza’ Goliath spoke so highly of at the Council." Turning her attention back to Goliath, the pink gargoyle's expression remained neutral enough to make Owen look enthused. "I have come here on business. There is a matter among the other clans that is… disturbing. I have come to end it."
Goliath looked at his clan, not liking what he heard. Mei Hsing had been the one most opposed to his views at the Council, and he already suspected the purpose of her visit. "And what might that be?" he asked politely, seeing that he would be granted no room to introduce the rest of his clan.
Mei Hsing took in the scene around her, walking by each gargoyle of the Manhattan clan and greeting each with a respectable yet cold nod of the head. The castle was impressive, but it didn't detach her from her duty.
"I am serving as the Council's representative,' Goliath," she replied as she turned back to him briskly. "While the majority of the clans agree with your stance on allying with the humans, the majority opinion of the council is that you should not take a human as your mate. It is unnatural."
"Says who?" growled Broadway defensively. "You can't just come here and tell us what to do!"
Mei Hsing paid him no attention. Chiang Yun stood silent behind her. "Normally, Goliath, other gargoyles would not interfere with a gargoyle leader's choice of mate. But this is a rather… special matter."
"Who are you to say?" Elisa challenged angrily as she approached the gargoyle. "Goliath and I are happy. Why don't you mind your business?"
"This is my business," replied the Chinese gargoyle calmly. "It was discussed at length at the Council, and no satisfactory conclusion was reached on the matter. We only put it aside because it was not worth wasting the entire council on Goliath's personal problems."
"As Elisa said, it is none of your business, lass," Hudson frowned as she turned to him. He knew Mei Hsing was able to defend her argument very well, and in this case, she had the nearly full support of the entire Gargoyle Council.
Mei Hsing's expression was unreadable. "This is unnatural and unacceptable. Goliath will take a gargoyle for his mate, not a human. The council will not allow otherwise."
Goliath growled. "And just who would you choose to be my mate?"
"Me." He turned and saw a female with gray skin and long flowing black hair. She wore an emerald tunic-like outfit with gold trimmings that was skimpy and elegant all at once. She looked like a fierce warrior, and she was beautiful.
"Tamora?" the Manhattan leader's eyes widened, then narrowed as his growl became more guttural. "I will not stand for this. Tamora, I have nothing against you, but I cannot be mated with you." He glared at Mei Hsing and raised his voice. "You dare to tell me I am to take a mate? I will not listen to this. I love Elisa, and I have chosen her. Take your pride and return to China. You cannot come here and tell me how to lead my life."
"I do not presume to do so," Mei Hsing calmly replied. "But our kind is dying. We need more gargoyle sires and mothers. We need more children. And quite frankly, what you and your clan have will not last. Your numbers are too small for you to survive on your own. Without help from the other clans, without more gargoyles, you will die out. You already know all this. We discussed helping out other clans and transferring clan members at length at the Council.
"More to the point, the others are uncomfortable with this union," she continued. "It crosses boundaries that are not acceptable and dangerous. What are you to do when it comes to intimacy? Are you a fool on the matter? Have you not realized what this implies? Do you not care?"
"Of course I care!" Goliath roared in anguish and bafflement. "That is why I consented for her to be my mate. She agreed… we agreed, and we agreed because we love each other! No boundaries of time, species, race or location would ever change that. I choose her because I trust her. I will take no one else."
Elisa listened silently to the argument, and did not like what she was hearing at all.
"You may be the head of your own clan, Goliath," Mei Hsing told the lavender gargoyle. "But you must bow to the collective wishes of the other clans. Just as you would bow to the wishes of your own clan."
"I do not bow to anyone." Goliath snapped, taking a step closer to the female. "My clan and I discuss matters and agree on them as one. We take into account everyone's personal feelings. We do not force them into actions they do not wish to take, unlike you, who use a hidden source of prejudice to end something you do not think is right simply out of contempt." Goliath realized he was yelling at Mei Hsing.
The Chinese leader simply looked at him. "Raising your voice when you should instead be reinforcing your argument. Who are you trying to frighten me into listening?"
"What?" Goliath's eyes flared white.
"Goliath's right," stated Broadway with a bit more tranquility than his leader. "Not one of us are too happy with your decision here. This is undesired meddling. You're crossing boundaries that you have no business crossing."
The others agreed just as defensively.
"And besides," spoke up Angela as she came to stand next to Elisa and Goliath. Both were upset, and one seemed to be having second thoughts. "Goliath and Elisa love each other. We support them with our love. If anything, their example of possible existence between humans and gargoyles might even help to end the bigotry surrounding us. It would take time, but if people could see the truth, no one would be afraid anymore. Humans would have no need to fear us."
Mei Hsing kept her attention on Goliath, who still looked primed to attack. "Foolish girl. I have come with an order from the Council. Now, you either have the choice to accept it, or Goliath, your clan will be herewith withdrawn from further proceedings in future council meetings."
"What?" Lexington cried in angered alarm. "That's not fair."
The pink gargoyle smiled. "No, it is not. You would never again get to meet the females you were so taken with on an official basis. You would need an excuse to go to their homes and flirt with them. But, of course, that is your choice."
Lex was taken aback, and found himself unable to respond. Goliath was reaching a boiling point. He glanced at his clan, then at Elisa. The look on his beloved's face made a chill go down his spine. She was frustrated, and neared tears.
Goliath growled, turned back to Mei Hsing, and forced himself to calm down. His eyes returned to normal. "Grant us a moment to consider this," he asked the female gargoyle. "Alone."
"Very well. I suspect I already know what your answer will be, but I will give you your moment." She turned and left back into the stairwell from whence she came. Owen followed.
Only Tamora remained. She stood in silence by the entrance, studying Goliath closely. A strong light of interest shone in her eyes as she gazed at him, unnoticed by the others.
* * * * *
Elsewhere in the castle, David Xanatos was hard at work. He knew he should have gone to meet the unexpected guests along with Owen, but there was a new concern and curiosity that required his attention. His wife stood watching him.
"And just what are you doing, David?"
The bearded man explained. "Just an old project we discovered in the basement of Maddox Technologies. It was something cooked up by our old friend Sevarius during the Unseelie War. It’s called Project Nightshade."
Fox frowned. "Are we ever going to get past the fallout of that war?"
"Doesn't seem likely. Regardless, the immediate concern is this Nightshade business. It seems this particular experiment was abandoned. I’d like to know why." He handed her a sheet that described what the project contained.
She skimmed the page briefly, and arched a brow. "Interesting. Could we bring her here? There is plenty of secure storage space under the building."
The billionaire nodded. "I'd considered the possibility. That way she won't end up being a threat to the city or us. Getting her here would be the problem. Too much attention could cause trouble. I don't think that Goliath would be too thrilled about it either," he noted.
The tattooed female agreed. "An Unseelie project so powerful it had to be abandoned and then frozen. I don't like the idea myself, but we can't just leave her alone in one of Madoc's old storage houses." She paused to consider a moment. "It might be best to bring her here on the truck the night of Goliath and Elisa's ceremony. They'll be too busy here in the castle with the proceedings to notice we won't be there for the first few minutes."
David smiled. "It's a good plan. Exactly what I was thinking in fact. I love it when you remind me why I married you."
She smiled at that, and then saw him beckon her closer with a hand gesture. She leaned toward him and he whispered. "Have you noticed that someone is listening to us outside?"
"No, I hadn't..."
"Try to pretend we haven't noticed. We'll find out who it is on a security camera later." He raised his voice some, to become more audible again. "So my dear, with that matter taken care of for the moment, how shall we spend the rest of the night?"
"I don't know, David," she said naturally, giving no clue she knew what was going on. "But I'm sure we can think of something..."
* * * * *
Outside the room, Dr. Emily Gray listened to the conversation within. The Xanatoses had become too quiet for her to understand. She continued down the hall, pulling out a small tape recorder.
"Journal of Dr. Emily Gray. Saturday, November 27, 1999. Overheard details concerning the project. I think they've said all I need to know. My superiors will be pleased with my findings. I will report in shortly."
* * * * *
"If you ask me, they just didn't like Goliath from the start," Lexington noted with a gesture of his hand. "They were rude to me too even before they knew about Goliath's stance on humans. They're just doing this to spite him," the web-winged gargoyle growled.
Broadway agreed. "Yeah. Just because they don't think it's right, doesn't mean it isn't."
Elisa managed a small smile. "Thanks, Broadway," she said, but her spirits were low.
"I do not care what they shall do," Goliath growled with final defiance. "I will not take Tamora as a mate. I love who I love, and the Council can not change that however much they may wish to." He looked down at his mate-to-be. He noted the look on her face, and immediately became concerned.
"Yeah, but if we don't do what they want, we don't get access to the council meetings," Lexington grumbled. "It's not fair. And who knows what else they'll try. It just doesn't look good. How do you deal with someone who simply doesn't care about anyone else?"
Broadway frowned. "You all seem to be forgetting something. We're all on Goliath's side, of course. But all the other clans, except maybe the Ishimuran and Antarctic clans have had some serious hardships with humans. The Chinese clan in particular has had some problems. We have to take their point into some consideration, even if we don't like it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lex glared at his rookery brother.
"It means they have a point," the large gargoyle argued. "It's still no excuse for what they're doing, but they do have a point. So, what do we do?"
The room was silent for a moment. The small group turned their heads as Brooklyn, Sata, and the twins entered. Fighting a sudden lump in her throat, Elisa looked at the entire clan, gathered before her. They were accomplishing nothing. Everyone was trying to find some sort of option that the other clans would listen to. But each idea was turned down. The delegates were there for one reason, and one reason only; to get rid of her.
She looked up at Goliath. She had worried that something like this might happen ever since he had told her what had happened at the council. He was being just as stubborn as the delegates were. She watched him and frowned, and then went stiff. "There is nothing to discuss about this. There must be some way to appease them," the lavender gargoyle growled.
Elisa glared. "You don't understand, Goliath. There's nothing to discuss. I'm causing a great deal of trouble for the clan. I can't be with you or else the Manhattan clan gets kicked out of all gargoyle world affairs, probably Derek and the others, too. I can't let you give all that up for me."
"What are you saying, my love?" Goliath froze.
Her expression hardened. "You are going to lose everything because of me. I can't let you do that, I wouldn't be able to live with the fact that you sacrificed everything for me."
The Manhattan leader's eyes widened. "That is complete nonsense! You are everything, Elisa. How could you give in so easily? Elisa, this is not your fault."
Goliath tried to reach for her, but she pulled away. This made the others uneasy, but they remained silent. "Elisa…" said Goliath in a softer, more pained voice.
"I'm sorry, Goliath," said Elisa stepping back some more. She put a shaking hand through her hair; she kept her eyes to the ground. She didn't want Goliath to see just how torn up she was inside. "They're right. We would never be able to have children. You have the opportunity to help sire more of your kind, especially for your clan. You're so small in number. You might not last." She could not look up, could not let him see her eyes watering. "I'm going to keep your clan from growing. I'm going to humiliate you before your kind."
"No," Goliath told her, his own voice quickly beginning to waver from pain and anger. "Elisa, I would rather lose the Council to a bunch fool-hardy gargoyles than loose you!"
"Stop it!" Elisa shivered, and pulled away with an almost audible sob. "You can't! I’m sorry." She turned away and ran for the elevator shaft, softly crying all the way. The clan watched, unable to do anything.
Goliath shook his head in agony. "Elisa, wait!" he yelled, but to no avail. "Elisa, please! Elisa..."
* * *
Tamora watched the scene from the distance she was allowed. She had not heard the quieter words, but she had seen what had just happened. She looked at Mei Hsing, and easily overlooked Chiang Yun. "Are you sure this is the right thing to do? He obviously cares for the woman..."
The pink gargoyle’s expression was unreadable. "He is a fool. He will come to understand in time that this is for the best thing for all the gargoyle clans."
"But will he be able to care for me at all if I am the one who separated him from the woman he loves?" the Persian gargoyle wondered.
"You seemed quite eager for this not long ago," said Mei Hsing. "Why now do you question this?"
Tamora did not answer the Chinese gargoyle.
Chiang Yun watched the scene in absolute silence, as Goliath came out, fully composed. Then she saw his face, and it scared her.
The Manhattan leader approached Mei Hsing. "I hope you are pleased with yourself," he said through clenched teeth, and then walked off, clearly furious.
Brooklyn came out a moment later and looked at her, then to the other two. His gaze lingered for a moment on Chiang Yun, and then he also moved on.
* * *
Thailog was reading over several business documents as Anthony Fergus entered the office. He continued to read over the documents before acknowledging the human’s presence, if only to keep him on his toes. Timing was everything after all.
"So, what did the illustrious Dr. Sevarius have to offer us?" the clone asked.
"I took the liberty to read through his papers and notes on the way back," Fergus replied. "I think you’ll find this all quite interesting."
Thailog took the papers from Fergus and browsed through them for several long moments. "This is what the good doctor has spent his time on while working for the late Madoc Morfryn. Very interesting, and well worth adding to our resources."
Coldsteel entered the office and wondered over and looked at the papers over Thailog’s shoulder. "Humans just keep getting stranger and stranger," he said with a hint of distaste.
"I wouldn’t expect you to understand," Thailog replied. "After all, the wonders of science are new to you. But I’d treat it with more respect, it is partly due to science that you and I even exist."
"If I may interrupt," Fergus said. "Mr. Xanatos is moving Project Nightshade in a few days. Why not take it now?"
"No," Thailog said. "If I know Xanatos, it is under heavy guard right now. It will be easier to take it while they are transporting it to the Eyrie Building."
"Then I will lead the charge," Coldsteel said eagerly.
"Of course my friend," Thailog said. "That’s why you’re here." He began to laugh.
* * *
Lexington Avenue, the following night.
Dr. Gray looked about her cautiously as she got out of her car and walked to a small cafe. Two men were sitting quietly at a table, waiting for her.
"We're glad that you could join us," one of them said. He barely turned his head as she sat down across the table from them, still casting nervous looks around the street. "Were you followed?"
She shook her head. "No," she said. "But with Xanatos you never know."
She fished out of her jacket pocket a couple of torn pieces of notepad paper, wrapped around a computer disk. "Here's the information," she said. "And let's make this quick. I don't want to be away from the Eyrie Building for too long. They're already getting too suspicious for my liking."
The second man took the papers and computer disk from her, and looked over her notes as he sipped his cup of coffee. At last he spoke. "So he intends to move it to the Eyrie Building, then?"
Dr. Gray nodded. "Yes," she said. "The gargoyles are planning a celebration of some sort, and I imagine that he plans to do it while they're holding it. They'll be least likely to interfere with him in that case."
The first man nodded. "Sharp thinking," he said. "You have to give him credit for that." He then looked Dr. Gray straight in the eye. "It's good that you've brought this. Now that we know where and when he intends to transport it, we can set up our own arrangements."
"Quite so," agreed the other man. "You’d best get back to the Eyrie Building before you're missed, Dr. Gray. Let's not make Mr. Xanatos more suspicious about you than he already is, shall we?"
"No, of course not," said Dr. Gray. She hurriedly rose, and walked back to her car in silence. A couple of minutes after she had driven away, the two men rose themselves and left the cafe, departing in the opposite direction.
* * * * *
Two Nights Later, 23rd Precinct Office
Elisa sighed as she worked hard on the paperwork that had been set aside for her. She had never really been able to bury herself in work like she did tonight. She had never had a night where she couldn't concentrate. But tonight was a miserable one. The commitment ceremony between herself and Goliath had been scheduled for the next night.
She sniffed, knowing that if she did not stay busy, like she had every night since Tamora’s arrival, she would begin to cry again. But the anger and pain just would not go away.
She looked up in surprise at the sound of a voice. It was Matt, meeting with some other officers. He had been assigned several different cases lately. Neither of them had the time to even say a quick hello. Half of the time, neither would seem to notice that the other was there. Elisa wasn't even sure if Matt was still seeing Sara. She knew that he had been relieved of his duty as the Task Force leader shortly after returning from Washington D.C., and that it had been hard on him. And she had not been too into the conversation.
"Maza?" said a gentle voice, and Elisa looked up to see Captain Chavez approach her from another office. "You doing okay? You've looked like something the cat dragged in for the longest time. Anything happening that you'd like to talk to me about?"
Elisa studied her for a moment, then turned back to her work with a sigh. "No, it's nothing," she hesitated. "I've just been busy."
Chavez placed a hand on her hip. "I can see that," she said flatly. Her demeanor still said that she there was something wrong and wanted to know what.
The detective sighed. "It's… something," Elisa admitted. "But I'm not sure I really want to talk about it right now. It’s complicated."
Chavez studied her for a minute, and then sighed. "All right. But I’m here, Elisa."
"Thanks, really," the detective told her. Chavez turned and walked away.
Elisa watched her go, feeling bad that she couldn't share her pain with her boss. Chavez was a friend in a lot of ways, and she was only trying to help. But how in the world was she supposed to tell Chavez that an engagement with a gargoyle had suddenly gone up in flames? How would Chavez react to that?
Sighing, Elisa returned to her work. She would be glad when she could return home and just get some sleep.
* * * * *
Goliath sighed moodily as he gazed out over the city from his perch. A light wind was blowing, something that would usually help to relax him. But tonight, the wind was a nuisance. It seemed to be just as badgering and unrelenting as the fool delegates that had ruined his future with Elisa. His heart was aching, and he could catch a small glimpse of Elisa in everything he saw. Even now the stars seemed bright with her beautifully smiling face. Her hair was flowing behind her, and she was laughing in absolute joy.
"Elisa..." Goliath moaned softly. The pain was still in his heart, and he felt it rip at him unmercifully. The tears seemed to beckon again, and he clenched his fists in a desire to keep them from returning. But even his powerful will failed in this instance. Elisa was his true love, and his best friend. She understood him, and she seemed to know what was best for him. Much more so than Demona ever had.
Demona had always seemed oddly withdrawn, possibly afraid of hurting him… or being hurt. She had always been spiteful of humans, and their two separate views of how things should have been done always caused them to clash unnecessarily. But that was not to say that they fought like two overgrown children. They had simply…grown apart over the issue. And that 'togetherness' was something Goliath missed so much.
"Why do they not see that Elisa proves the possibility of coexistence with humans?" Goliath asked, talking to absolutely no one.
Just then, the sound of whooshing wings made him look up. Brooklyn and Broadway were returning from escorting Tamora around the city. They seemed to be getting along, but only distantly. The two rookery brothers seemed to realize that in a way, Tamora was in the same rut as Goliath. They respected her for that reason, but they still did not fully trust her.
The duo continued to head inside the castle. Tamora turned in the air and headed for Goliath. He watched her land. She glanced at him briefly, then at the sky.
"A beautiful night," she mused thoughtfully. "Your city is a rather impressive place, Goliath. Your clan has been most helpful in helping me get to know this new home. I've managed to learn several of the landmarks, and I think we'll do fine." She looked at him, but he still made no reply.
She cleared her throat, sneaking a little closer to his large frame, only to be taken aback at how tall he was close up. "Your friends and I worked well together, I would like to think," she added with a little more bravado. "We got along well enough at the Council, and by a group show of force we were able to scare off Darius, and I... I think we will be great as mates." She shrugged. "Maybe even love could blossom, someday."
Goliath frowned. "It was largely Icarus' bluff and lucky timing that scared Darius off. You and I had very little to do with that. As far as love between us, I very much doubt that," he stated flatly.
Tamora nodded at that, feeling a little defensive. Goliath just was not optimistic at all about this. "If it helps at all," she stated as she sneaked even closer, "I find you to be… very attractive. You remind me of my own former love." She turned glum for a moment. "He was killed by the Spawn of Arimanes when they attacked my clan," she added solemnly.
"You told me as much at the Council. I will admit I was a bit flattered then, but I will be honest with you, Tamora. Right now it seems as if you are trying to take advantage of my aching heart. You cannot. I love Elisa, and I always will. I am sorry about your loss, I know how it feels to lose someone you love. But I was not your once love, and I am not now, either. I doubt I shall ever care for you in the way you desire."
Tamora folded her arms and nodded. "You feel that way now. You won't forever. I'm sorry that you've been forced away from someone you care about; I would not have chosen this particular course either. I would have proffered to win your heart fairly, but circumstances did not allow it. And the Council..."
"Do you think that makes it right?" the large lavender gargoyle asked evenly.
"You were about to mate with a human!" the dark colored gargoyle growled.
Goliath looked her in the eyes. "That should tell you how much I care for her. You will one day make a fine mate for someone, but not for me."
Tamora frowned but then smiled seductively this time. "But why mate with a human Goliath," she said as she snaked her tail around his thigh, "when you can have so much more?"
"Tamora!" cried Goliath angrily, sensing what she was doing. Tamora stepped back at once, a look of feigned innocence upon her face.
"Elisa is the one that I love. I cannot take this any longer. You are welcome to stay with this clan if that is what you wish. But you and I will never be mates!" He turned to leave, opening his wings wide to catch a growing breeze. "You can tell the Council whatever you please. But I will not consent to this." He glanced back at her, his voice so soft and full of affection that it almost made her jealous. "It is no fault of your own, but I would rather die than lose Elisa. I love her, and I will not go another night without her."
His voice became more forceful again. "You and the other Council members may do with me as you like. But do not make my clan suffer because of the fact that I choose to love someone they have contempt for. You, and they, would all do well to remember what love really is."
And with that, he glided away. Tamora stood where she was watching him in anger. A growl escaped her throat, and she sneered with a touch of malice. "As you wish," she snarled, and turned to go inside the castle.
* * * * *
Goliath sighed in exasperation as he continued to glide through the cool night air. As much as he hated to admit it, the other clans were right. He and Elisa could never mate. They could never start a family. It was both painful and frustrating. And yet, Goliath was not too bothered by it. He loved Elisa too much to think of only that, and knew that one day, if it was something that they really wanted, they would raise a child together.
With another thoughtful sigh, Goliath landed on the roof of a building that stood just across the street from Elisa's apartment complex. He stood there gazing at the lighted windows, hoping to see her pass by them. She did not, and after some time, Goliath grew frustrated.
And why not? He chided himself as he continued to look for her. I do not care what it is the Council decides to do with me. I love you, Elisa. I will not let what others think or want ruin our happiness. We are… Goliath hesitated on his thoughts, finding it reminiscent of Demona and his past love for her. But right now, he didn't care about the past. Those words were as true now as they were then, if not more so. We are one. We cannot throw our dreams away. Not like this.
He unfurled his wings, jumped off the building, and began to glide towards her apartment. The pain and the games would end tonight.
* * * * *
Elisa sighed as she sat down to read a book on her couch. She had gotten off work early, and had come home for a few minutes of silent relaxation. As she turned the pages, her thoughts were not on the printed words before her eyes. They kept on straying back to Goliath, and to the dream that had been torn away. For the past ten minutes, the words on the page had barely registered in her mind.
It was then that a sudden rustle of wings came from outside on her balcony, followed by a gentle thump. It was a sound that she knew all too well, and which caused her to leap up from her couch at once, feeling joy once more for a fleeting moment.
"Goliath!" she cried, as he entered her apartment, and was about to rush towards him when she remembered her words and her decision earlier. Instead, she stood where she was in silence.
Goliath sighed sadly, as he saw her pause. He hesitated for a moment himself, but then stepped forward.
"Elisa," he said. "Are you all right?"
She sighed, and tried to smile. "I'm fine," she said weakly. "You know that you shouldn't be here, Goliath."
"I know," said Goliath, with a contemptuous snort. "But I don't care, Elisa." He placed his hands upon her shoulders. "I don't care. I love you. I love you and I will not let the Council tear us apart like this."
"But… your clan," Elisa protested, finding the tears returning to her eyes again. "Goliath, you can't, or you'll lose everything!"
"Then so be it," he replied, as he stared into her eyes. "Elisa, I do not care what they do to me. They can expel me from the Council if they wish, but I will not let them separate us. We love each other, and no matter what they say, we will join together, and become mates."
"No, Goliath," Elisa cried as she pulled away from him. "You can't. I don't want to see you hurt!"
"Elisa," said Goliath softly, as he again took her in his arms and made her look at him, "I would be more hurt by our being parted than by anything that the Council can do to me. I can stand losing my place among them. But I cannot stand losing you."
"Please, Elisa," Goliath pleaded. "Don't let them win this easily. I love you. Please say that you love me too."
Elisa sobbed at those words and threw herself into his arms at last. "Of course I do,!" she cried. "That's why I left. I don't want you to have to suffer because of me."
"But I have not suffered because of you," he told her, as he held her tightly. "We have both suffered only because of those who do not understand the nature of love and understanding. They are bitter and afraid, and have acted against us because of that. But I will not yield to their fears." He looked into her eyes. "Will you?"
Elisa looked up at him. "No," she said at last, her voice stronger again. "No, I won't. But, Goliath… I can't see you lose everything that you've worked so hard for."
"But I would lose more than that if I were to lose you," said Goliath. "Will you please come back with me? Come back to me; be my mate?"
Elisa felt a surge of joy swell up inside her at his words. She laughed, and then wept tears of joy. "Yes!" she cried, throwing her arms around Goliath. "Yes, I will. I love you."
Goliath trembled as he held her, his voice soft with emotion and relief. "I love you too, Elisa. More than you will ever know."
And as if to close that statement, Goliath placed his lips to hers, and they kissed. A moment later, they stood back.
"So," said Elisa, wiping the ears from her eyes. "What do we do now?"
"We will do what we had planned to do from the beginning," he replied. "Tomorrow, we will commit ourselves to each other, just as we had first intended. And we will show the emissaries from the Council the true nature of love. We will show them that we will stand firm. We are a clan, and we will survive. But we will also show them that we cannot survive alone. We must make peace with the humans, put aside the fears and hatred that too many of my kind have felt for your kind for so long, or else we will be no better than the ones who have called us demons and monsters. We can make it happen."
Elisa smiled, stirred by his confident words, but then a more sober look stole over her face. "But it won't always be easy, Goliath," she said. "You know that."
"I know," said Goliath. "But the rewards for us will be even greater than the difficulties. It will be worth the obstacles that we must overcome."
Elisa smiled, and they embraced again. "Funny," she said with a contented sigh. "I feel the exact same way."
* * * * *
"So, are you not going to say anything your entire time here?" Brooklyn asked.
Chiang Yun remained silent and looked out over the city. "At the Council I spoke rashly, and jeopardized my clan's position and made my leader look foolish."
"I find that hard to believe," Brooklyn chuckled. "That lady has every angle covered. Nothing seems to shake her."
"Few things can," the beaked female admitted. "Your leader is one of them."
The red gargoyle chuckled. "Goliath can be like that I suppose. So you chose to remain silent this entire trip so you wouldn't disgrace Mei Hsing?"
"More or less."
Brooklyn nodded. "Honor and respect for your elders and all that. I understand."
The girl looked at him. "Why have you watched me the whole time I have been here? Why are you talking with me now?"
"Right now I'm talking to you because I'm supposed to relay a message. Suppose I've been watching you because you remind me of my daughter a bit."
The white gargoyle frowned at that. "I will not speak ill of your offspring, however, I do find the comparison unfavorable. We share the traits of a beak and horns, little else."
"Eh," Brooklyn leaned against the wall. "You wouldn't say that if you spent a bit more time here and got to know the clan better."
"That is not an option I am willing to consider. Give me your message and leave me be."
* * * * *
"So, Goliath, I see you've made your decision," Mei Hsing noted calmly.
The lavender gargoyle turned to her, his lips curved up in a brilliant smile as he lifted his head from an embrace with Elisa.
"I don't care if you take away my seat at the Council, Elisa is more important. " Goliath countered, his voice low and even. "Your actions are no more right than those of the humans who endangered your clan. You are justifying yourselves, claiming that two wrongs can make a right, and that is an absolute falsehood. How dare you come here and try to destroy our happiness."
He released himself from Elisa and approached the pink female. "You go back to the others, tell them all that you wish. But I will not become Tamora's mate. I've accepted my fate." He gestured to Elisa. "We all have. And we are happy as we are. If my clan or I must put up with continual bitterness and be put down for what we believe in, then we do not need a place at the council. For if gargoyles have become bitter like humans, we will never get anywhere."
The Chinese gargoyle chuckled. Chiang Yun stood behind her and glared. "I can not believe I had forgotten how strong your convictions were, Goliath. Very well then, if you have made your decision, I have no other choice but to report your decision to the rest of the Council. You will be notified when your banning is official. However, I suspect other members of your clan may still be allowed to attend."
The lavender gargoyle nodded in agreement. "I understand."
The pink gargoyle smiled and stared at Goliath straight in the eye. "Very well then. We shall leave tonight. You and I will perhaps never meet again, Goliath. Pity."
"So it is," Goliath agreed.
The large female glanced at her aid. "Come, Chiang Yun, we shall depart from this company now." The beaked female followed as her leader walked away from the group. A few steps behind, the Persian gargoyle followed.
Tamora did her best to not look back at any of the Manhattan clan.
* * * * *
Maddox Technologies, Basement
"Project Nightshade has been secured, sir," said a junior Xanatos Security Team member, reporting to the officer in charge. They stood outside the abandoned Maddox Technologies laboratory where the secret Unseelie project had been stored ever since Madoc Morfryn had decided against making any use of it in his war upon the gargoyles. "They're loading it on the van."
"Good, good," said the officer. "Now to get it back to the Eyrie Building, before anything happens."
He walked to the van just as its back doors were slammed shut, sealing the cargo on board safely inside, and climbed into his seat. As the driver started up the vehicle and drove it away from the laboratory, the security officer pulled out his two-way radio and spoke into it.
"Mr. Xanatos? Nightshade has been secured. Transportation now under way."
"Good, good," Xanatos' voice replied at the other end. "We'll be expecting it."
The officer nodded. He was unaware of the silent winged shapes flying against the night sky, following the van.
* * * * *
A couple of blocks away from the Eyrie Building, a large black limousine sat parked just outside the entrance to a movie theatre. Six men sat inside it, dressed in suits, waiting in silence.
"It won't be long now," one of them said. He was the second of the two men whom Dr. Gray had spoken to at the cafe on Lexington Avenue a few days earlier. "It should be coming down this street very soon."
The first of the two men at the cafe nodded, as he looked cautiously out of the window. Then he turned back towards the others. "It's coming now," he said. He indicated the headlights of the van driving down the street past them.
"On schedule, as we thought," said his companion. "You can scarcely expect anything less from David Xanatos." He signaled to the driver of the limo, who turned on his signal at once, waiting until the van had passed them before moving out of his parking place. The limo moved out into the lane behind the van and began to follow.
One of the other men, sitting close by the window, suddenly caught a glimpse of something flying against the night sky. He stared at it hard, and then turned to the others. "We have company, gentlemen," he said in a troubled voice. "Look."
"So we're not the only ones interested in Nightshade," said the second of the two men from the cafe grimly, looking out the window as well. "We had better get ready."
The various passengers in the car pulled out their weapons, small but advanced firearms that they had been supplied with before leaving on their mission, and began readying them. "Fire upon my signal," said the second of the two men from the cafe, who clearly served as their leader. He leaned out his window to take aim.
From the air above, Coldsteel noticed the human taking aim. "These stupid creatures have little to do besides interfere in our endeavors," he said disdainfully. "We’ll have to teach them a lesson in manners," he said to the Valkyrie robots.
* * * * *
Goliath smiled as he watched Elisa and Angela roll out the carpet to be used for Elisa when she walked down the aisle. Although their union tonight was going to follow gargoyle tradition, she still wanted to add a little human touch to the occasion. She would walk to him as any bride would, on a glimmering red carpet that stretched the entire length of the courtyard. It started at the pedestal where Hudson would stand to preside over the ceremony. The pedestal was built of stone and concrete, and was intricately designed with gargoyles and angels.
According to tradition, the clan would stand around the intended mates, with the elders forming a circle around them. But there were not many elders now and the friends and family members who would be attending would probably prefer to sit. So, chairs had been set up in a circle around the circle of stones and the pedestal where he himself, Elisa and Hudson would stand. Everything was ready. And everything was perfect.
"Looks good, lad," said Hudson as he approached Goliath. "Do ye feel ready for tonight?"
Goliath released a long nervous sigh as he unconsciously scratched his chest and stomach. "I am," he said as he watched the clan. "I cannot get my nerves to relax. The last time I felt like this was… well, one thousand years ago. Even so, the past pales in comparison to this. Elisa is so much more than I could have ever asked for."
Hudson smiled. He seemed to be about to say something, when the noises began from below, outside the castle. "What was that?" the old gargoyle asked in surprise, spreading his wings.
"It came from the city outside," said Goliath. He quickly rushed to the battlements and clambered up upon them, staring down.
"Goliath?" Elisa called, watching him in concern. Goliath was already peering down from his place on the parapets through the clouds. His eyes widened, and he turned around. "Valkyrie robots," he told them.
"This close to the castle?" Hudson asked. "Is Thailog attacking us?"
"No, not yet," answered Goliath. "But those robots are attacking someone, and Coldsteel is leading them. We must act at once. Gather the others."
Hudson ran to get the rest of the clan as Goliath swooped down upon the air currents towards the battle below. The Valkyrie robots were swooping about above a large van, in some sort of attack formation, firing particle beams at it. They were clearly not the only assailants.
A large, almost fortress-like limousine was following close behind the van. Goliath could tell from the way it followed that the elongated car was after the contents of the van, whatever they were.
Goliath did not know why this van should so intrigue either Thailog or the people on board the limousine, but this was scarcely the time to ponder the question. He swooped down at the Valkyrie robot, taking it completely by surprise. His impact sent it flying into the side of the closest building, to explode in a shower of mechanical parts. Goliath swept back from it, and lashed out at Coldsteel. He, however, had registered the fate of the robot, and quickly dodged his attack.
"I don’t have time to deal with you, Brother," Coldsteel said before smirking. "But if you insist, I’ll be more than glad to end your pitiful life here and now."
Goliath ignored the other’s comments, and swooped into him, engaging his former rookery brother in battle.
Lexington swooped down on another robot, while Broadway distracted it, and hurriedly attempted to establish an interface with it, using his cybernetic implants. The Valkyrie struggled violently, attempting to shake him off. Lexington gripped hold of it as best as he could, snarling frantically.
Suddenly, he cried out, and was hurled off of the robot, just moments before it blew apart. Broadway swooped down and caught the smaller gargoyle just in time, pulling him back up to the castle where he could recover.
Angela, Hudson, and Sata had gone after the limousine. Swooping down from the rear, they managed to take it by surprise, clawing its roof open and snatching the occupants up off their seats before they could turn and open fire upon the gargoyles, then depositing them on the sidewalk. The suited men hurriedly rushed off the moment that they regained their feet.
"What do they want?" yelled Brooklyn to no one in particular. He was in combat yet another one of the robots.
A blast of red light suddenly caught the Valkyrie robot that had been battling him and shattered it. Brooklyn turned in surprise to see Xanatos swooping down in his crimson exo-frame.
"Xanatos?" he asked startled. "What are you doing here?"
"I heard the commotion, and thought that you could use a hand," replied the billionaire simply. "If I’m not mistaken, the last time you fought a robot, it went rather badly." He looked down at the van below. "They're after that vehicle," he said. "We need to stop them from getting it."
"Right," Brooklyn agreed, and then glided down to where Goliath was holding his own close by against Coldsteel and the remaining Valkyries.
Goliath broke away from Coldsteel and snarled as he dodged blast after blast from the robots. They were too close to the van for comfort: just one blast from them would destroy it. The van itself had crashed to a stop by a street lamp, and was now stuck. Roaring with frustration, Goliath ripped a manhole cover up from the street nearby and hurled it at the nearest Valkyrie. The robot detected its approach in time to turn in the improvised missile's direction, open fire upon it, and destroy it.
"Hurry!" Goliath called to the people inside of the van. "You must get out!"
"I… I can't!" the driver called desperately. "The seat belt's stuck!"
Before Goliath could say anything, Coldsteel, noticing his moment of distraction, swooped down and grabbed him with his coils. Goliath fell to the ground, his head hitting the concrete street with a thud. He sat up, rubbing his head painfully. Brooklyn and Xanatos alighted beside him.
"Need a hand?" Xanatos inquired. Without waiting for an answer, he fired off a few shots from the blaster mounted on his arm at Coldsteel, giving Goliath and Brooklyn enough time to free the driver and passenger.
Brooklyn saw that the driver of the limousine had, in a dazed panic, leaped free from the vehicle to escape the image of Angela and Sata clawing out the roof. Left without a driver, the car hurtled towards the van. "Run!" Brooklyn called out to the others.
The assembled gargoyles and humans ran clear of the coming destruction. Taking cover, some had the time to see the crash as the limousine rammed into the van. Goliath looked on in amazement as the combined rubble burst into flames in the night sky, reaching to the stars with its flames.
Coldsteel rose to his feet and snarled. "Another time, Brother." With that, he activated his jets and flew into the air.
Goliath turned his attention to the others. "Is everyone all right?" he asked. "Was there anyone left on board?"
"Not as far as I can tell," said Brooklyn. "What do you suppose they were after?"
"I do not know," replied Goliath, with a sigh. He turned to the two men that had escaped from the van, still staring at the remains of their vehicle with alarmed faces. "Will you be all right?"
"Yeah," said the driver, rubbing his head. "But our boss won't be too happy about this."
The sound of police sirens drew closer as a bewildered crowd of humans began to gather around the scene of the accident. Goliath and the other gargoyles quickly climbed up the sides of the nearest buildings until they were high enough to catch the air currents and glide back to the Eyrie Building.
Elsewhere, on a nearby rooftop well out of the extension of the fighting, Tamora watched everything. A smile formed on the Persian gargoyle’s face as she continued to watch the action. She was quite taken aback, and realized that she needed to learn more about this incident. She was glad she had stayed behind. Her visit to Manhattan had just gotten interesting.
* * *
"Is something troubling you, Chiang Yun?" Mei Hsing asked in her native tongue. They were on the same plane that had brought them to Manhattan, on an automatically flown course back to their native land. The two had ridden most of the trip in silence, but Mei Hsing could tell something was bothering her second-in-command.
The beaked gargoyle glanced at the window. "Yes. How do you suppose Goliath will react at next year's Council when he discovers we never had orders to disband his mating to the human?"
"I imagine he will be upset. That is fine with me. Let his eyes glow some and growl in a fit of anger. He'll be prepared to leap across the table, and then I will insult him and anger him more. Then some third party, or his own clan will calm him down and I shall have to explain my actions then."
"And how will you explain your actions? Claiming to have full council authority..."
The pink female looked directly at her aid. "To be quite honest, I do not think it will be an issue. Goliath will likely not attend at all, but send his Second in his steed, so as to avoid all the problems and controversy of the last Council meeting. I observed Brooklyn quite a bit. He is experienced and well spoken, but he is not Goliath. The very fact the Manhattan clan would not send their leader for fear of controversy will speak ill of them. Also, it seems unlikely that any of those that do attend will bring the issue up, so as to not remind them."
"If Goliath goes, he is likely to humiliate himself, and you win. If Brooklyn goes, it questions the Manhattan clan’s credibility, you win."
Mei Hsing smiled. "You are catching on. Of course, if Brooklyn attends, there is another benefit in that he looks quite a bit like you."
"What?" Chiang Yun asked confused.
"It will instinctively make the others think our clans are closer and more agreeable than they actually are. It was not something I had anticipated, but it will be a pleasant bonus. Now, enough talk of politics, I need to rest."
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
* * * * *
Xanatos landed in the courtyard, and removed his helmet. He saw Owen walking towards him. "Are you all right, Mr. Xanatos?" he asked.
"Quite," he answered. "But I doubt that I can say the same for Project Nightshade. It might be just as well, given what we already know about it, it's safer destroyed than simply being kept locked away somewhere. After all, even the Unseelies were unable to ensure its obedience. But I still can't help wondering about this attack. Coldsteel and the Valkyrie robots were there, and we know whom they work for anymore. There was the limousine as well. I recognized a couple of its passengers during the battle."
"The Illuminati?" Owen asked. Xanatos simply nodded.
"No doubt sent either by Duval himself, or one of the Inner Circle officials. If it were just one party, I'd consider it a coincidence, but two parties suggests something else."
"You believe that someone had informed them?" Owen asked.
Xanatos nodded. "Someone who had to be here in the castle, someone who had the opportunity to eavesdrop on our conversations concerning our plans for bringing Project Nightshade here. There's only one person within these walls who would have been likely to be the informer."
Owen nodded. The name went unspoken between them. "It does seem to fit," the assistant said.
Xanatos nodded. "I believe that we will need to ask her a few questions, Owen. Find her and inform her that I wish to see her in my office as soon as possible."
"Of course, sir," said Owen, nodding as he left.
* * * * *
"There was interference," Coldsteel declared.
"I thought as much," Thailog said. "Goliath does have a rather bad habit of doing that."
"Not just Goliath," the robot added. "I don’t know who the others were. But these humans obviously desired the prize as much as we did."
Thailog nodded. "But Project Nightshade was destroyed?"
"It was indeed," Coldsteel replied. "Our enemies will not be able to use it against us."
"That does make it almost all worthwhile," the clone said smugly. "Project Nightshade would have made an excellent bonus, but we don’t have to have it. For now, we have other projects to be concerned about."
The door opened and Fergus entered. "Sir," he said rather nervously.
"What is it now?"
"There is something I think you should see, sir." Fergus stated. "Right away."
Thailog looked over curiously. "Oh?"
* * * * *
"You wished to see me, Mr. Xanatos?" Emily Gray asked, as she entered Xanatos' office a few minutes later, Owen quietly escorting her in.
"Indeed I do," said Xanatos, seated at his desk. "Please, sit down." The doctor did as she was told. "How long have you been with us, doctor?"
She thought for a moment. "Since the middle of July, sir. About five months, now. Why?"
"And in that time," Xanatos continued. "You’ve been… privileged to certain information, correct?"
"More or less," Dr. Gray answered. "What are you getting at, sir?" she asked.
"Tell me, Dr. Gray. Do you know anything at all about why the Illuminati would be interested in a certain shipment that was supposed to arrive here this evening, by van?" He and Owen both looked at her sharply.
Dr. Gray looked at them both, and it was clear from her eyes that she understood what had happened. She sighed. "I suppose that it won't do any good to feign innocence any longer, then," she said. "How long have you known?"
"We've suspected you for a while now," said Xanatos. "But when the Illuminati sent some of their agents to waylay Project Nightshade, we felt much more certain. You were the only person in the castle with the motive, opportunity and means to inform the Society about our transporting it. How long were you working with them anyway, doctor?"
"And do you really believe that I'd voluntarily tell you that, Mr. Xanatos?" she replied primly.
"Well, at least your betrayal wasn't quite successful, Dr. Gray," Xanatos continued. "If you haven't heard already, the Illuminati ambush went a little awry. Project Nightshade was destroyed, instead of captured. Your superiors won't be receiving it now."
"And what makes you believe that I wanted them to receive it?" asked Dr. Gray.
Xanatos leaned forward, looking intrigued by this remark of hers. "Indeed?" he asked. "So you're not quite loyal to them either?"
"I know enough about Project Nightshade to know that it was too dangerous for anyone to own," she said. "I'm not sorry about the results, either. In fact, I was hoping that something like that would happen. The world will be much better off without that particular creation.
"And now, what do you intend to do with me, Mr. Xanatos?" she continued. "Lock me away forever in one of your life-support chambers, just like you did to those unfortunates that you captured, to ensure my silence?"
"Those 'unfortunates' that you mention are very dangerous people," said Xanatos. "They’re not even really people anymore, doctor. We are holding the victims of Mr. Maddox prisoner for the safety of this city. There's no telling what damage they could do if they were allowed to roam freely about Manhattan."
"That makes no difference," said Dr. Gray. "You are still imprisoning them. I don't believe in confining people, certainly not in such small, restricted spaces. If you only knew what…" She checked herself before continuing. "In any case, from what I understand about them, they only caused the trouble that they did because of their Unseelie masters. With the Court gone, they are no longer a threat."
"Judging from their past records before they began working for the late Mr. Maddox, I very much doubt that to be the case," said Xanatos with a sarcastic tone in his voice. "A number of them used to be Quarrymen, after all. But that is beside the point, Dr. Gray. The point is that you have been clearly acting as a mole here, spying on us for the Illuminati. In the interests of my safety and that of my family, not to mention my… extended family, I am dismissing you, effective immediately. Owen, please see her out." David leaned back in his chair.
"Of course, Mr. Xanatos," said Owen. He began to step forward to usher her out, but Emily Gray held up her hand.
"I can see myself out, thank you," she said. And with that, she turned and left the room.
A few minutes later, she quietly emerged from the entrance of the Eyrie Building. Once she was some distance away from it, she pulled a cell phone from out of her jacket pocket, and punched in a number.
"This is Gray," she said, speaking on the phone in a low voice. "Please get me through to Dr. Milano's office."
There was a moment's silence. Then she spoke again, glancing carefully around her. "Sir?" she said, in a deferential tone of voice. "I'm sorry to report that we've just had a slight setback."
* * * * *
The guests had finally arrived. A strong sense of urgency remained in the air. And in light of the recent struggle, it seemed that having the commitment ceremony tonight might not be possible. But, if they postponed it, the guests might not be able to return another night.
Goliath pondered this as he approached his mate-to-be. "Elisa," he greeted her gently, and she looked at him. Her hair tussled in the wind, revealing her beautiful eyes. "If you wish, because of the battle, we can postpone the mating ceremony for another night."
She looked at the goings on thoughtfully, considering his words. Then, she looked back at him. "No," she replied, taking his hand. "We've come too far to quit now. There have been enough delays all ready. It's time to do this."
Goliath smiled and nodded, then stroked her hair.
"Well, if that's what you're going to be wearing, then you two had better get ready," said Diane Maza as she and Angela approached them. "We won't be able to start if you're still in your street clothes."
Elisa and Goliath looked at each other with a smile, then followed their seamstresses into the castle. Goliath still saw no true point in dressing up. But in light of all that had happened, he felt that for tonight at least he could live with it.
* * * * *
A short while later, Hudson sighed as he watched his young pupil mingle with the gathering guests. He was a boy all over again, nervous and excited. His cheeks were flushed from comments and his own eagerness to get things going and over with. Also, he happened to feel a little uncomfortable in this new tunic. Hudson felt a chuckle rising up deep in his throat. Goliath had always had a weak spot when it came to compliments from beautiful young females. And he was sure that Goliath would be all but speechless when he beheld Elisa at last. After all, the mate-to-be always looked the loveliest when they walked down the isle.
Still smiling, Hudson walked towards Goliath who now stood speaking with Brooklyn. He caught the scent of shampoo and soap on Goliath, who had gone to great lengths to clean up. Perhaps Goliath would not be the only one doing the marveling tonight.
"Good evenin,' lad," Hudson greeted cheerily as he approached him. "Feelin' all right? Are ye ready for this?"
Goliath sighed nervously as he rubbed the nape of his neck, reaching under his dark hair. "Yes," he replied. He beamed with joy. "I am just so… nervous. It is not something I am used to."
Hudson smiled as he placed a hand on Goliath's shoulder. "When yuir becomin' a mate to the right girl ye'll always be nervous," he chuckled. Goliath simply, then the two old friends simply regarded each other. "Lad, I want ye ta know that I am very proud and happy for ye both. To tell the truth, the lot o' us have been wonderin' when ye'd ever get to asking her."
Goliath sighed. "Indeed," he said with a small smile. "But now it has begun. Thank you for being here, old friend."
"The pleasure is mine, lad," Hudson replied, and the two clasped hands as they always had.
Just then, Tamora returned alone with a whoosh of her wings. Her temper and her mood seemed a little more in check. She bowed slightly to them and looked straight at Goliath.
The lavender gargoyle blinked. "I assumed you had already left."
"While my arrival coincided with Mei Hsing's own, for we planned it that way, my departure did not," the gray gargoyle admitted. Before I left I had to come back and… apologize for my behavior earlier," she told him sincerely. "It was most rash and uncalled for. You have a right to whom you choose to love. Even I cannot change that. Perhaps the others need to realize the same."
She took a straighter position, looking every bit a warrior. "With your permission, however, I would like to remain with your clan to serve as an ambassador to Manhattan. You have a very interesting clan, Goliath, and I have begun to admire it here. I do believe that we can all establish wonderful working relationships."
Goliath sighed with a relieved smile. "Agreed," he told her and lifted a hand to her. "You are more than welcome here. I appreciate your apology. Thank you."
Tamora nodded with a smile of her own.
"How does Mei Hsing feel about the matter?"
Tamora frowned briefly. "I am under the impression she thinks I have been corrupted." Her expression brightened. "Regardless... Perhaps this shall be the first step in unifying all the gargoyle clans?"
"Perhaps," Goliath agreed.
"I look forward to your ceremony." The two shook hands, and then Tamora turned to join the others.
Goliath and Hudson exchanged glances, and then headed towards the pedestal where he and Elisa would be mated before the entire clan. Xanatos and his family were there now, as well, along with an assortment of other guests: Elisa’s family, including Beth and Talon. Maggie and the rest of her clan were also in attendance, along with Hudson’s friend Robbins, Matt, Sara, even Morgan, who had attended Broadway and Angela’s own ceremony.
"Ah, Xanatos," Goliath grinned as he greeted the billionaire with a formal handshake. "I am glad to see that you have at last arrived."
"Yes," Xanatos mused a little distantly. "I would have been here sooner, but I had some pressing matters to attend." He examined Goliath a little more closely. "A well chosen tunic. I commend your daughter on knowing her father well enough to know what it is he will be willing to wear."
"And to find something that looks so dashing," Fox said as she lifted the growing Alex into her arms. "You look very handsome, Goliath. I'm sure that Elisa will agree."
Goliath chuckled nervously. "I… I hope so," he said with a shrug. "It was a little more trouble than we had wanted."
Xanatos smirked. "Why, Goliath, are you nervous? After facing the Dark Ages, the Unseelie Court, Quarrymen, Macbeth, the Pack, Dracon, Demona, myself, and every other catastrophe to come your way, I think this is the first time I've ever seen you nervous."
"Well, I..." the Manhattan leader stumbled.
The billionaire closed his eyes and looked at Fox knowingly. "It means you're doing the right thing entering the married life, Goliath. My condolences."
"I thank you," Goliath replied.
Hudson placed a hand on his shoulder. "Well, come along, lad," he said. "Elisa will be ready in a few moments. We need ta have ye ready for her."
Nodding nervously, Goliath followed his mentor to the makeshift altar. The moment had finally come. Yet now, it seemed even farther away than ever before. Goliath was so nervous he was almost impatient. It would start soon, and then he and Elisa would truly be together.
* * * * *
Sevarius gave a long sigh as he opened the door to his laboratory and walked inside. He heated up some coffee, humming a Gilbert and Sullivan tune, somewhat off-key, as he did so. When it was warm enough, he poured himself a cup of the black liquid, then settled down to drink it, while looking over the notes for his latest experiment.
Halfway through the cup, he glanced at the workbench, and suddenly frowned. There was something not quite right there. He got up and walked over to take a closer look, and then realized what had changed.
For the past several months, he had kept an iron torque there amid the clutter from his various experiments, an oddment left over from Project Nightshade. A control device, his employers at the time had told him, to help them restrain their subject when necessary. As it had turned out, Project Nightshade had never been actually used, but Sevarius had kept the torque anyway, in the hopes that he might find a use for it at some later date. And so it had sat upon the workbench alongside various other oddments, slowly gathering dust and fading into a status of half-forgotten.
But now, the torque was gone altogether. Only a blank place on the workbench marked where it had once been.
* * * * *
Elisa sighed nervously as she gazed at herself in a mirror. The gown she wore was a simple long skirted dress with very medieval looking touches. The fabric was a velvety white, with gold and silver trimmings. It was beautiful, with long sleeves that were fluffed and padded at the shoulders. Her hair had been pulled back like it had the first time she and Goliath had ever danced, and memory she loved to escape to. A long lacy veil trailed behind her with a beautiful arc.
She almost never wore makeup. But for tonight, she had chosen the lightest and most beautiful colors. Her lipstick was just red enough to bring out her lips natural beauty, and she realized that she was going to be a vision to behold.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. "Come in," she called, standing to greet her guest. She was a little surprise, yet delighted, to see her father enter the room. He took one look at his daughter, and was silent. And even though he had misgivings about this union, he couldn't help be feel happy for his daughter.
Peter smiled. "Hello, baby," he replied softly, and came forward to embrace her. "You look beautiful. He is going to be so amazed."
Elisa smiled with a blush. "You think so?" she asked, and he nodded. "Thanks, Dad."
Peter sighed as father and daughter gazed at each other. After all of his years of council and advice, Peter found himself without anything to say. He was so happy for his daughter, yet so uncomfortable with her having chosen Goliath. He knew that she knew it.
"Elisa," he said, and she looked at him expectantly. "Your mother and I are both very proud of you. We are glad to see that you and Goliath are so happy together. But in some ways, I just wish it could have been different. I feel badly that you'll never be able to have a child."
Elisa looked down. "I know, Dad," she said. "And I wish it didn't have to be that way either." She looked back at him. "But I love Goliath, and I've wished for something like this all my life. I'm simply going to make the best of things, because… because I love him, Dad. I love him enough to make the sacrifice. He's my best friend. I couldn't imagine my life without him."
Peter sighed with a gentle smile. "I've been getting that idea," he told his daughter fondly. "Don't get me wrong, Elisa. I do admire Goliath. It's just that in some ways I can relate to how those other gargoyles feel. It somehow doesn't feel normal. But…" he paused, "I'm not about to get in the way of your happiness. And not only that, but what one of us really ever does lead a normal life?"
She smiled at that, managing a short chuckle.
"Elisa," he continued, taking her hands, "I respect Goliath and thank him for being the person that he is, and for being the one to open your heart and mind to new trials and adventures. I bless the day he came into your life, because in all my years I've never seen you happier."
Elisa smiled again, feeling her eyes mist over gratitude. "Thanks, Dad," she said and she hugged him. "Thank you so much for coming. I love you."
"I love you too, sweetheart," he replied, and sniffled several times before finally pulling away and handing her a handkerchief. "Well," he said, putting on a more cheery display. "Let's get you out there. We shouldn't keep that nervous boy waiting any longer. He'd probably tear the place up in anxiety."
Elisa laughed, and they left the room together.
* * * * *
The crowd in the courtyard was beginning to grow restless, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Goliath was the most nervous of all. He paced back and forth trying to calm down, occasionally earning a word or two from Hudson, who would be performing the ceremony tonight.
Just then, a soft strain of music began to fill the air. The gathered crowd immediately hushed, and all eyes turned to the entrance of the great hall. Plastic pillars decorated in flowers and little lights lit the red carpet down which Elisa would walk to meet Goliath. And then, Elisa appeared, walking towards the altar where Goliath and Hudson were waiting.
"My Elisa," Goliath breathed as tears began to slowly fill his eyes. "My love…"
The music was still playing as Elisa finally closed the gap between herself and her love. As she got closer, the guests and the clan closed the gap around them, completing the circle. And when that had happened, they took their seats. Everyone, even the music, fell silent. Now, Goliath and Elisa stood close together, almost face to face.
Goliath found himself almost surprised to see that Elisa's tears of joy had not yet left her eyes. Already at least one had fallen down his own cheek. The joy was so great that it almost caused his heart to burst.
Smiling, Hudson took his place upon the pedestal, gazing at the two lovers before him. He gazed down at them, with a happy smile upon his own elderly face. As if sensing that he was ready to begin, they took each other's hands and held them.
"Friends," he said, "tonight we come together as a clan to witness the joining of two hearts. Of all decisions a female warrior must make, the choice of a life mate is perhaps the gravest of all. He will stand at her side, guard and protect her, and be a source of comfort for her as long as he lives."
Goliath nodded at that, and Hudson paused. He looked at Goliath, his eyes beaming with pride. "And the male must be just as wise when he chooses a female to take," he continued. "Because should she choose him, she will be his chief adviser an' most cherished ally for as long as she lives."
Again Goliath nodded, and Elisa nodded with him.
"And so," said Hudson with warmth. "Now our sister and friend comes before her clan tae declare her choice as mate. Elisa, do ye affirm yuir choice?"
Remembering what Goliath and the others had told her to say, Elisa swallowed down a lump of nervousness. "Before this, my clan," she said, her emotions betrayed with a slight tremor in her voice, "I swear my love and affirm my choice." Her eyes gazed intently into Goliath's, relishing the smile on his face.
Smiling, Hudson turned to Goliath. Clearing his throat, he continued. "Goliath, you have been chosen by this female," he told the warrior, "Do you accept the challenges that the future might hold for the two of ye?"
Goliath released a shaky breath, sniffling as another tear traced its way down his cheek. "Before this, my clan," he said, his voice soft and distinct, yet full of emotion, "I swear my love."
Elisa felt a bubbling laughter of joy erupt from her. She continued to stare at Goliath, grasping his hands a little more tightly as she realized that it was almost over.
"Then let it be known," said Hudson solemnly to the assembled gargoyles and guests, "that these two are one in the eyes of the clan." The clan immediately erupted into roars and cheers. Everyone was laughing and crying. But none more so than Goliath and Elisa, who embraced each other through tears of joy, rubbing their brow ridges together.
"I love you," said Elisa softly.
"I love you too, Elisa," said Goliath, and he found her lips with his. They kissed a kiss to end all kisses, holding each other close for a long moment until approached by the others to congratulate them.
"In all my years," said Peter happily, "I don't think I've ever seen a more happy couple."
Goliath and Elisa smiled. "Thank you, Peter," said Goliath, his voice soft and humble. "Thank you so much for coming," he told both of Elisa’s parents.
"Oh, you're welcome, dear," said Diane, and she came forward to embrace them both. "I'm so happy for you. Both of you."
Brooklyn stepped forward, offering his hand to Goliath. "A very nice ceremony," he said, and Goliath clasped his hand. "I think it rivals mine."
Goliath chuckled. "Aye," he said. "I am content. At last we are mates. I don't think I've ever been happier."
"I am so proud of both of you," said Angela, grabbing her father and Elisa in an embrace at about the same time as the twins. "You both looked so beautiful standing there together."
"My congratulations," added Officer Morgan as he shook hands with the newly mates. "Hey, if you guys ever need anything, just let me know, okay?"
Elisa smiled. "We will, Morgan," she said, reaching over to kiss his cheek. "Thank you."
"So, what's next?" asked Matt as he and Sara also stepped up to them. "You two gonna do the mating flight as well?"
"Well," said Goliath with a bit of hesitance. "Possibly not in the same manner, but we will take a short flight. I think we would like to have a few moments to be alone."
"Then by all means, get going," said Talon with a smile, placing furry hands on the couple's shoulders. "We'll all be here when you get back."
Goliath and Elisa looked at each other. "Do you feel up to it?" he asked her.
Elisa merely nodded, and laughed as Goliath swept her up into his arms. He bore her up to the highest tower of the castle; the clan and their guests following them, waving as the couple finally reached the top. Pausing only briefly to wave down at friends and family, Goliath turned into the wind and glided away.
Sara sighed softly as she wiped away a tear. "That was a beautiful ceremony," she said, holding Matt's hand in hers. "I think they're going to be just fine."
* * * * * * * *
Empire State Building
Goliath sighed with contentment as he stood looking out at the sea with Elisa standing before him. He had his arms around in front of her, holding her tightly against him. Smiling and with eyes twinkling, he bent down to kiss her cheek. Elisa sighed at the touch, hugging his arms as she leaned against him. The glow of the moon was bright and beautiful, giving everything a soft glow that made the night seem that much more heavenly.
Goliath chuckled at himself, breaking the peaceful silence. "This night has been so perfect," he said to his love, breathing in the scent of Elisa's hair, pressing his lips against its soft texture. "But, I am still so full of emotion that I am almost unable to stop my tears. I had thought for so long that this night would never come."
Elisa smiled and looked up at him. "I know what you mean," she said softly. "But we're here. Together." She reached up to touch his face, gently caressing his cheek and chin as she gazed into his eyes. "We'll have to be careful with some things, though. A lot of people may not take this very well."
Goliath nodded grimly. "Indeed," he said, looking back at the moon with a thoughtful gaze. "But even so, they cannot stop our love. We will get through our trials, Elisa. I promise you. No matter what, we will always be together."
"Always," Elisa agreed. "I love you, Goliath."
Goliath placed his brow ridge to her brow, releasing a soft growl that sounded almost like a purr. It was a sigh of contentment, a sigh of pleasure and peace. "And I love you, my sweet Elisa," he said, his voice soft and husky as he gazed into her eyes. Then he made her the promise that he had once made Demona. But this time, he knew somehow that it really would last forever, even in death. "You and I are one, my love, now and forever."
Elisa sighed as the tears came again. "Forever," she managed, and reached up to kiss him.