Crossroads, Part 2
Written by: Rahsaan Footman & Don Martinez
Story concept by: Rahsaan Footman
Illustrations by: Amber
Previously on Timedancer…
Gwenyvere closed her eyes and shook her head in amusement. "No, but I did have quite a crush on you." She suddenly looked a little wistful. "Of course, there have been times that I wished it had been more..." Her eyes snapped open and she grinned mischievously, "Needless to say, I wasn't altogether popular with your wife."~ Requiem ~
* * * * *
Sata: "Sometimes the one must be sacrificed for the good of the many," she said.~ Dishonor ~
* * * * *
"So the question becomes: who could capture halflings so easily, and why?" Calliope asked.
"Those are the questions that need answering," Artus nodded grimly.
* * *
"I'm not afraid to admit this is scaring me." Brooklyn knelt beside her. "Every night it gets worse, from cramps to nausea to this. I wish we were back home."
"Would that help?" Sata asked. "None in your clan are healers and this ailment is unlike any my clan has encountered."
"I don't think it is an ailment. It might have something to do with your pregnancy. All I know is, I'm scared I might lose you."
* * *
"Sata? What is it?" Brooklyn was at her side immediately.
"I can't feel...!" Sata said panic rising in her voice.
"Can't feel what?"
"Our child! I can't feel our child! It's like she's d..." Fear painted Sata's face
* * *
He opened a commlink to the castle, just as a gurney trundled by. Before Alex could get the first syllable out, he felt a pinprick and a soft hiss. Alex looked around, but immediately blacked out.
The hospital orderlies quickly and smoothly caught Alexander and put him on the gurney bed. They covered Alex with a blanket, and slipped him down the hallway to join the tide of patients coming in with the next wave of ambulances. In moments, Alexander Xanatos was gone.~ Crossroads Part 1 ~
* * * * *
Crossroads, Part 2
* * * * *Unknown Location, 2158
Alexander Xanatos found himself on his back, floating headfirst. He fought the urge to open his eyes, hoping to learn about his situation. Intermittent flashes of light suggested ceiling lights. His mind was still in a haze as his ears picked up a rhythmic sound that gave him an awful headache. The gurney slowed to a halt.
"Excellent work!" a woman's voice complimented.
"He wasn't so tough without his guardians," a man's smooth voice replied.
"Yes, his guardians," the woman said distractedly. "We'll have to see that they remain occupied."
"That will be up to me," a third man replied.
Alex heard another hiss and felt a pinprick on his arm before darkness swallowed him again.
* * * * *
When Alex next came to, he groaned before he could catch himself. The ringing in his head was louder and more painful.
"Seems our guest has come around sooner than anticipated," the same woman commented. "I'm increasing the dosage. That should put him under longer. I'm administering it slowly as to minimize the damage to him."
"Why bother? It's not like he's going to be around long enough for us to worry about failing organs." This was another woman, with a higher pitched voice.
"Mr. Xanatos poses an interesting case study. We have so few natural-borns. I'd like to see how he compares with the genetically altered halflings."
"Well, if you want natural-borns, he's got a family. Why not study them?"
"In due time," the first woman said dispassionately.
"NO!" Alex tried to yell, but the thought never made it to his tongue. Darkness swallowed him up again, and this time he was afraid, he'd never wake up.
* * * * *X/R General
The sun slowly slipped beneath the western horizon, prompting gargoyles across the city to emerge from their stone sleep. In Xanatos/Renard General's Intensive Care wing, Brooklyn broke through his stone skin with a roar. When he didn't hear the accompanying roar of his mate, he looked down at the bed in alarm. Sata's stone skin cracked and began flaking. It took a minute for all the stone to fall away. Sata was flesh, but still unconscious.
Brooklyn knelt next to the bedside and caressed her cheek. He hoped her eyes would flutter open and everything would be all right. Something bumped his ankle. He looked down and saw a tiny robot, sort of like a miniature street sweeper, cleaning up the skin fragments left by the gargoyles. It bumped into Brooklyn again, prompting him to step out of the way. The sweeper finished its tasks and moved out the open door, just as Dr. Abrahms came in.
"Still unconscious? That is consistent with extensive trauma," she said clinically.
"Will she be okay?" Brooklyn asked.
"The prospects are better tonight than they were at dawn. Time is still our ally."
"That's what you think," Brooklyn muttered.
Dr. Abrahms didn't hear his comment. "Brooklyn, is it? I'd like to check you out. Do you mind?"
"What about her?" Brooklyn asked.
"She's stable for now. Please, it's important that you're okay as well." Dr. Abrahms gestured for Brooklyn to sit on the other bed in the room.
Dr. Abrahms turned on the console above the bed and began recording his vitals. Brooklyn's eyes never left off Sata.
"Blood type: Br. Stone density: Thin and coarse. That's good." Dr. Abrahms mumbled to herself. The console beeped.
"What? Brooklyn, I'm reading the same energy signatures that your mate has. Can you explain?"
"Uh, I don't know," Brooklyn replied absently.
"Can you tell me anything? Have you been exposed to radiation?"
"I don't know," Brooklyn said more forcefully.
"Okay, Let's start from the beginning. How far along is she?"
"Eight, maybe nine months. I don't know."
"When did you first notice her illness?" the doctor asked.
"Uh, about three months ago," Brooklyn figured. Their frequent timedances left little time for rest and made it hard to reckon time. "But the cramps didn't get this painful until a couple of nights ago."
"What did your regular physician say?"
"We don't have a physician," Brooklyn said sheepishly. He sensed the doctor's disapproving glare on him and stifled a growl in his throat. Sata began thrashing around a bit.
Camilla opened a console next to the bed and tapped out a command on the keypad. The bed immediately adjusted and a view screen appeared on the wall, showing flashing numbers and sinus rhythm.
"10 c.c.s of diazaprolon," she spoke into the console. One of the saline bags hanging above the bed filled with purple tint. She took the IV and placed it in Sata's arm. After a few moments, Sata's convulsions ceased. Brooklyn heaved a sigh of relief.
Dr. Abrahms turned to Brooklyn. "That should settle her. Why were you two in the Preserve? This close to laying, she should have been rookery bound."
"Travelling is a necessary evil for us."
"Well, your 'necessity' may be killing her. Her body has undergone tremendous stress, bouncing all over creation doesn't help," Dr. Abrahms said briskly. "The good news is her body is recovering."
"That's good." Brooklyn sounded unsure. "Right?"
"She is close to laying. Let's just hope she'll recover enough before delivery."
Dr. Abrahms tapped the communication button on the console. The video window that had displayed Sata's vitals now showed a background of some office.
"Livia's office," a silky, feminine voice replied.
"Dr. Abrahms at Xanatos/Renard. I need Livia for a midwifery assignment."
"I'm sorry. Ms. Livia is currently engaged with the New Olympus rookery. Her return isn't expected for a couple of nights," the digital assistant answered in a patient tone.
"Tell her this case is urgent. She should contact me as soon as she returns. I have a patient who is currently unconscious and expecting. I'll boost the other vitals as we obtain them, but we may have to do this the 'Hard Way'."
"Understood." The assistant logged the message then switched off. The background returned to Sata's vitals.
"The 'Hard Way'?" Brooklyn asked. He felt his heart leap into his throat. "What's the 'Hard Way'?"
"A difficult procedure. I don't want to consider it until we have no other choice."
"But you're considering it now?"
"No, I'm just appraising Livia of the situation. We still have a lot options to exhaust before then." Dr. Abrahms tried to calm Brooklyn's fears. "Right now you should get something to eat, you looked completely jaxed."
Brooklyn was still worrying about this 'Hard Way' as the doctor ushered him out of the room. At the mention of food, Brooklyn's stomach became vocal again. After more than twenty hours awake and a day asleep, hunger had sway over his body, but not as much as his heart. He remained outside Sata's door.
Dr. Abrahms was on her way to see another patient when she looked back and saw Brooklyn just standing there looking completely lost. Camilla felt for him. He might be thick as a brick and twice as red, but he'd do no one a service if he didn't take care of himself.
"Rosie? Mac?" Dr. Abrahms called to two of the janitorial staff. Rosie was a middle-aged woman, with pale white skin that carried a bluish tint. Mac was slightly younger, in his mid-forties, wearing caramel colored overalls.
The two were walking in Camilla's direction. They slowed to a halt.
"Anything we can do for you, doctor?" Mac asked.
"You wires on break?" Camilla inquired. Rosie nodded. "Would you mind showing that red gargoyle where the cafeteria is and make sure he eats something?"
"Not a problem, doctor," Mac said with a smile.
Camilla watched as the two approached the gargoyle. After a brief conversation, Brooklyn reluctantly left with Rosie and Mac. Camilla managed a small smile and moved on to her next case.
* * * * *
Rosie and Mac were a sweet couple, but Brooklyn didn't feel like eating. After a couple of bites, he went back to worrying about Sata. Rosie tried her best to console him, but soon their break was over and they had to get back to work. They left Brooklyn in the cafeteria, where he stared at his coffee and grilled cheese sandwich.
When they were gone, Brooklyn left the half-crowded commissary. He didn't head back to Sata's room; he wandered the halls instead. It tore at him to see Sata lying unconscious, knowing there was nothing he could do to help.
"And maybe I'm the cause," Brooklyn mused as he pulled out the Phoenix Gate. He quickly dismissed the fact. He was fine. If it was the Gate, wouldn't it affect both of them?
"I wish I knew more about gargoyle health. Maybe if I did, Sata wouldn't be lying in a hospital bed now," Brooklyn thought to himself. He was still in self-pity mode as he turned into a familiar corridor. It was the Intensive Care wing. Sata's room was close. Further down the hall, he spotted the wings of two gargoyles.
Intrigued, Brooklyn got his first good look at them as the hospital staff cleared out of the hallway. His eyes bugged out of his head. He moved quickly towards them, just as Broadway and Angela turned around and smiled at him.
"Hey Brooklyn, long time, no see." Broadway smiled.
Brooklyn looked to Broadway, then to Angela, then back again, and his legs gave out, collapsing from the shock.
* * * * *
Four people, two men and two women, stood before their employer as they delivered their reports.
"The project is proceeding ahead of schedule," the first man reported. "A few cases have been stubborn, but we'll soon acquire them."
"Which cases?" the Employer asked.
"Natural-borns. Merlin, Nimue."
"Merlin's to be expected. Nimue, I expect to be resolved by the end of tomorrow."
"Of course." The man nodded and departed. The other man followed.
One of the remaining women spoke up. "Sir, you never mentioned what you wanted done with all these halflings."
"A necessity to protect the project," their employer explained. "You only know enough to do your job."
"I can keep them in stasis, but the danger of organ failure increases the longer we keep them under."
"Well, there's no reason to hold up the next phase of the project because of two errant cases. Have the heads of team C, D, E and F meet me in Operating Room 4." The Employer clicked on an intercom embedded in his desk. "Team B, begin acquiring materials for phase 3."
"Yes, sir," a voice at the other end replied.
* * * * *
"Give him some room," Dr. Abrahms said tersely. Broadway and Angela took a step back from Brooklyn. Brooklyn groaned and looked up at Broadway.
"Is it really you?"
"In the flesh."
"Though lately there's more of it," Angela teased, offering Brooklyn a claw up.
"You certainly don't complain when you're eating my cooking," Broadway returned.
Brooklyn seized him in a tight hug. He pulled Angela in and hugged them both.
"I thought I'd never see you guys again." Brooklyn held back a sob. Broadway looked to Angela. She looked down at their clan member.
"It's been a long journey for you," she said understandingly.
"You have no idea," Brooklyn said in a thick voice.
"We should sit down," Broadway said, reluctantly pulling away from Brooklyn's grasp.
The three gargoyles found a bench in the hallway just outside Sata's room and sat down. Dr. Abrahms returned to her patient, working diligently on her datapad.
"I can hardly believe it," Brooklyn commented. "You both look so…"
"Distinguished?" Broadway offered in place of 'old'. Broadway had put on more weight. His face was fuller with a couple of wrinkles, expressing his age more than the pale color of his skin or the two extra bumps on his head. He was dressed in an odd breastplate/shoulder blocker ensemble that didn't quite conceal his girth.
Angela also showed her many years. Gray spread out from her dark hair, giving it a more salt and pepper look. Her wings had lost their sharp two-tone contrast. The backs of her wings were a muted black while the inside was a purple gray color. She was dressed similarly to her mate in a gold breastplate and shoulder pads.
"Different was what I was going for. What's going on?"
"That's what we'd like to know."
"Angela?" Broadway's tone held a warning note. Angela looked quickly to Broadway, then nodded. Brooklyn looked at her curiously.
"What is the situation, Doctor?" Angela asked Dr. Abrahms who was stepping out of Sata's room.
"The patient is still comatose, recovering from intense trauma. In time, she'll fully recover, but that isn't the real problem."
"The eggs?" Broadway guessed.
Dr. Abrahms looked at them, puzzled. "How did you know? I just got the ultrasound back a few minutes ago."
"Uh…" Broadway looked to Angela for help.
"Eggs? You mean more than one?" Brooklyn looked up at the doctor. Everything else in his mind disappeared. Not only was he going to be a father, but to twins.
"Yes, twins." Dr. Abrahms smiled.
"Congratulations, buddy!" Broadway added.
Brooklyn was a grinning fool.
"I'd hold off the celebrations, if I were you. We're not out of the woods yet."
"What do you mean?" Broadway asked.
"Delivery puts stress on the body. Factor in twins and you can double or triple that stress."
"What are you saying, doc?" Brooklyn asked. "Is Sata going to die?"
"I don't know. Whatever she's been through played havoc with her body. We'll have to wait and see what that's done to her pregnancy. Best case, she recovers before she's due and delivers safely. Do you have any idea what caused this trauma?"
"I guess it was the strain of travelling," Brooklyn suggested.
"Travelling doesn't cause this stress unless… You mean like travelling to the suborbitals? Weren't you warned not to change gravity during pregnancy?" Dr. Abrahms was appalled.
"It's okay," Broadway offered. "Brooklyn is a first time father."
Dr. Abrahms gave a snort. She was about to say something on the subject when the elevator doors opened and ten men, women and gargoyles piled out. They were similarly garbed like Broadway and Angela, in metal breastplates, shoulder pads and decked with an assortment of tech gear. Angela exchanged a glance with Broadway.
"Can we see her now?" Angela asked, while Broadway got up and went over to the group to talk to them.
Dr. Abrahms refused. "She needs all the rest she can get."
"Please," Brooklyn pleaded. "She's my mate."
Dr. Abrahms relented. "All right. But only you and only for a minute." She allowed Brooklyn past. Angela looked at Broadway down the hall and a peculiar expression passed between them.
* * * * *
Sata lay under the sheets, quiet and still. Brooklyn looked at her for a long measuring moment. She looked so peaceful. He knelt on the floor so his beak was close to her ear.
"We're going to be parents… to twins," Brooklyn said quietly. "Isn't that amazing? Please, get well soon. We have two new lives that need loving folks to take care of them. I'd hate to do it alone."
There was a subtle knock on the door, telling him time was up. He gave Sata a departing kiss and rubbed her browridge, then left. Broadway and Angela were waiting for him.
Angela spoke up first. "Brooklyn, I know you want to be with her, but we need to get you out of here."
"What? Why?" Brooklyn asked suspiciously.
"To keep things quiet," Broadway answered. "We were sent here on an investigation. Those guys are searching too. Questions like who you are and how you got here might be a little hard to explain."
"Won't they have the same questions in mind towards Sata?" Brooklyn asked.
"I've talked to Dr. Abrahms," Angela explained. "She'll make sure no one bothers her, but we've got to get you out of here."
Brooklyn looked reluctant. Broadway placed a hand on his shoulder.
"We'll have you linked directly to the hospital; they'll let you know the second there's a change."
Brooklyn gave one last look into Sata's room, then nodded and joined his clan mates. They entered the elevator tube just as a patrol swept by.
* * * * *
The Transit slipped quietly out of the hospital station on magnetic buffers. Brooklyn scarcely recognized New York as they glided along the angled struts of the Eyrie Pyramid. Looking around the Transit car, Brooklyn was reminded of the subway, but this was the cleanest car he'd ever seen.
"I'm sorry to take you away from Sata," Angela explained, "but with Alexander missing, the Enforcers will hold anyone suspicious for questioning."
The lavender female nodded. "We last placed him at the hospital."
Brooklyn nodded back. "Yeah, I met him. He was there when Sata and I came into the hospital last night."
Angela turned to Broadway to tell him, but he was already on the commlink with the castle.
"…No. We can't do that. Yeah, they arrived at the hospital. I don't think they'll notice. ETA is about three minutes. See ya then."
"What's the situation?" Angela asked.
Broadway shook his head. "They still haven't found Alexander."
"Brooklyn says he saw him at the hospital last night."
"Artus will want to talk to him."
Angela nodded. "That shouldn't be a problem."
Brooklyn lost interest in their discussion and stared absently out the window. He scarcely noticed how green New York had become, a dramatic change from the concrete gray he always associated with home. The sweeping spires and the massive arcology didn't impress him either. All he could see was Sata, sleeping comatose in a hospital bed, her fate uncertain.
* * * * *
Broadway and Angela both looked uncertain as the Transit slowed to a halt at the Eyrie Building's Transcenter. The bustle was incredible. Enforcers and security hurriedly scrambled from one place to another, amid the hundreds of pedestrians moving through the transit hub of the entire arcology.
"This could be a problem," Angela said as she pointed to the many agents.
"No, it won't." Broadway winked. "Just follow my lead."
They were preparing to leave the car, when they noticed Brooklyn still staring out the window. Broadway looked to his mate, before reaching in and pulling the red gargoyle to his feet. "It will be all right, Brooklyn, trust me, but right now, we need you with us. We've got to sneak you by our own men." Brooklyn still remained lethargic, like he didn't really see his rookery brother at all. Broadway sighed. "You think Sata would want you to be like this?" Broadway asked, a bit harshly. "Moping around like a dog who's lost his bone?"
The mention of Sata brought Brooklyn to the present. He was with them long enough to exit the Transit car, before it was rapidly filled with Security departing for the hospital. Broadway took advantage of the chaos, navigating their way past the detectives and inspectors, on their way up to the castle.
* * * * *
Gwen watched the chaos from the obscurity of the rafters. She almost felt glad she was on punishment. Artus was mobilizing every gargoyle and security agent in the Pyramid. Corporate guardsmen ran here and there on differing tasks. Digital imaging boards floated like banner flags displaying information, schematics and logs. Everything else was dropped until Alexander was found.
Gwen didn't worry. Alexander had been the one who taught her how to circumvent the security system. He probably wanted a little time to himself and took off. It wasn't as if this was the first time. Still everyone was taking this as a Class One Emergency. She looked down on Artus, the eye of this particular storm, surrounded by his subordinates and Serena Xanatos.
"What about the barium tracer in his blood?" Artus asked the group around him.
A man wearing shoulder guards and a breastplate shook his head. "The signal isn't showing up on any of the scanners, sky-based or earth-based."
"The transponder grafted behind his ear?"
"The same situation, sir," the man responded.
"Where was the newly assigned bodyguard attachment when all this was happening?"
"They were being briefed for this assignment when he was abducted. They hadn't had a chance to do their job yet," Persephone answered.
Artus looked to blue-haired Serena. "Magic?"
"You don't think I've been trying? I can't sense my husband anywhere. Wherever he is, he's beyond my magic's reach."
Artus could see the fear in her eyes. For Alex to be out of his wife's reach meant whoever had done this knew their job well. He didn't show worry, though, instead offering Serena a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "We'll get him back."
"Artus?" Broadway entered the group.
"Did you discover anything at the hospital?" the tan gargoyle asked right away.
"Yes and no." Broadway leaned over to him. "We need to talk."
Artus looked to his subordinates. "You all have your orders. Contact me the instant you find anything." He held back Serena and leaned into her ear. "Better check up on Halcyon and the twins. I didn't want to alarm you in front of the others…"
"I understand. Thank you." Serena departed, already contacting her son.
Persephone and Artus looked at the elder Broadway.
"What did you find at the hospital?" Persephone asked.
"You better come to our room," Broadway replied. "You'll have to see it to believe it."
This intrigued Gwenyvere. Her father rarely acted so secretive. What was going on in her parents' room? She glided through the rafters and out the high windows. She certainly didn't want to miss whatever Pops was hiding.
* * * * *
"Brooklyn, before Broadway returns with the others I need to ask you a favor. No one knows about your time travelling. Except for a few members of the clan, you're a stranger here."
"So you want me to keep this under my hat?" Brooklyn guessed. He had thought about this himself, especially after his encounter with Dr. Abrahms.
"It'll save us a lot of headaches, at least until this current crisis is over."
"Sure, I can hold my tongue," Brooklyn replied. He was still melancholy, but at least he understood what was happening around him. The doors opened as Broadway and two other gargoyles, a strong built, brown male and a pink and gray female, entered.
"All right, spill it!" Artus demanded as they walked into the residence.
"See for yourself," Broadway said as he gestured to the living room. Angela was sitting on the couch with the despondent Brooklyn.
Artus stood stunned for a moment. "Brooklyn?"
The red gargoyle lifted his head in response to his name. He didn't recognize the tan-brown gargoyle immediately. His looks and strong bearing reminded him of Hudson, but the square cut beard threw him.
Broadway made the introductions. "Brooklyn, this is Artus, the clan's leader."
Brooklyn looked to his rookery brother, then back at the imposing figure of the new leader, extending his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Artus simply nodded. "Likewise, it's been a long time." He turned to his parent. "Did you find anything else at the hospital?" Persephone looked at him, sighing with resignation.
"I know we taught you better manners than that," Angela admonished Artus over his lack of grace.
"I'm sorry, mother, but with Alex missing I don't have time for pleasantries."
"Mother?" Brooklyn looked at Artus and Angela in mild surprise.
"Too bad, because if you did, you'd found out that Brooklyn saw Alex last. Didn't you?"
"You did? Where? What was his condition? Did you see anyone suspicious? What time did you last see him?" Artus launched into a flurry of questions, most of which flew over Brooklyn's head.
Broadway reined in his eldest child. "Easy son, we've already talked to Brooklyn. I can fill you in on what he knows."
While the father and son conferred, the pink and gray female approached Brooklyn. "I should apologize for my mate's rudeness, he's not usually like this. He's new to the position of leader and having the boss kidnapped isn't the best way to start things. Leadership is a lot to handle."
Brooklyn nodded. "I can understand."
"It is good to see you ag…" Persephone was about to say more, but caught Angela's warning look and changed her mind. "What brings you to our fair city?" she said instead.
"It's Sata," Angela explained hastily. "She's in a coma at X/R general."
Persephone nodded, though she did not completely understand.
"Persephone?" Artus called after he finished talking to Broadway. "Brooklyn's info places Alex at the Intensive Care Unit shortly before dawn. Have the teams focus their search there."
"At once." Persephone started to leave. She gave Brooklyn one last smile before departing.
"It seems like 'Master' Xanatos went to the hospital exclusively to see you," Artus surmised, looking at Brooklyn.
"Why?" Brooklyn and Angela asked, Brooklyn's tone more bewildered than the older female's.
"He probably wanted to surprise us. You know how Alex can be."
"Picks that up from his mother's side," Broadway commented.
"More like his father," Angela argued back.
"Either way, we should hear from the investigation team soon enough."
"In the meantime, Brooklyn could use our help," Broadway began.
Angela continued. "Brooklyn and his mate's 'timely' arrival might bring up some strange questions. I think the leader of the Manhattan clan could pull some strings to make their visit an 'unobtrusive' one."
"You mean abuse my power to subvert the system and go behind my own men, establishing fake IDs for them?" Artus spoke grimly, but then smiled. "I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you, son."
Angela and Broadway's son. It was a lot for Brooklyn to wrap his brain around. It seemed at the same time logical and weird. He could see Broadway as a friend and rookery brother; now he'd have to see him as a father.
He looked up with a start as Broadway slipped a slender black plastic device in his claws. It looked like a remote control, judging by its number pad and function buttons, but it also had a built-in speaker and microphone like a cellphone.
"Here, Brooklyn. This is linked directly to the hospital. Just tap this button to talk to Dr. Abrahms and here to see Sata's vital statistics. It's also programmed to alert you if there is any change. So you have no need to worry."
Artus cleared his throat. "If you'll excuse me, I'll need to talk to the Enforcers to get them involved in the investigation. I'll slip their profiles into the active records category and get some IDs for the two of them."
Angela patted her son's arm one more time before he disappeared out the door and down the hall. Shortly after, two faces poked around the open doorway. With cool self-confidence, Gwen sauntered into the suite of rooms, followed by a perky dark blue Estrella.
"Well, well, well, looks like we have a visitor. Why hello," Gwen said in a warm throaty voice.
Estrella gave Broadway a perturbed look. On her face, so used to smiling, it was comical. "You should have told me to expect guests, Angela. Who is our visitor?"
"Uh," Broadway looked to Angela. She looked back to him.
"I'm Brooklyn," the red gargoyle answered.
"Like the honored elder?" Estrella asked.
"Something like that," Brooklyn replied. Brooklyn took in the sight of the deep blue female. With her dark hair braided in cornrows, she looked slightly familiar.
"You seem sort of down," Gwenyvere said as she lowered to a crouch to be eye level with him. "Though given the company I can understand." She glanced at her mother's direction.
"Oh, it's nothing, we can't fix." Estrella smiled at the prospect of cheering someone up.
"You know she's right. We can put you in better spirits in no time. That is if the parentals don't mind sharing you," Gwen offered.
Angela was about to protest, when Broadway put his hand on her shoulder. "That might be a good idea." He leaned into Angela's ear. "Serena just buzzed for our help. Let Gwen do something."
"I don't know." Angela sounded hesitant. "Sounds like a ploy for her to get out of the castle."
Gwenyvere frowned at her mother. "Yes, I did think that a spin down at the Amusements would help lighten his spirits, but if you think I'm just out for myself, then let Estrella show him around by herself. No skin off my tail!"
"I didn't mean that," Angela started to argue, but Broadway interceded.
"All right. You two can see to our guest. Gwen, you'll get Amusement privileges only for tonight, but understand you're still on punishment. You aren't allowed to leave the Pyramid."
"Compliance," Gwen acknowledged.
Angela looked to her mate. He squeezed her shoulder warmly, as he continued to speak to Brooklyn's newly recruited guides. "Remember, girls, what he says goes, understand?"
"Compliance," both Estrella and Gwenyvere agreed.
The ground rules laid out, Broadway and Angela departed for Serena's suite.
"Are you sure about leaving Brooklyn with those two?" Angela asked on the elevator down to the Xanatos residence.
"To be honest, I'd rather have someone from the family take care of Brooklyn. And with everything that's going on right now, we can't be with him the whole night."
"Do you think Sata will be all right?" Angela asked.
Broadway smiled. "We both know the answer to that."
"I guess we do," Angela said uncertainly. "It's just I can't shake this feeling that this isn't going to end up happily for everyone."
* * * * *
"Well, Brooklyn," Estrella looked to their brick-red companion. "What would you like to do?"
"I don't know. Look, ladies, if it's all the same to you, I think I'll just hang around here. I'm waiting for a call."
"Suit yourself," Estrella began. "But you know waiting feels like an eternity when you're by yourself. If you have someone to pass the time with, it goes by quicker."
Brooklyn remained unchanged.
"I hear Terpsichore is in town. It's almost a crime to miss one of her ballets."
"Terpsichore?" Gwen feigned surprise at this fact.
"I don't know. I'm not really in the mood to take in a show."
"Oh Brooklyn, this just isn't a show, this is a performance! It'll pick you up faster than a Quasar Charge." The aquamarine female grabbed both of Brooklyn's hands and lifted him up.
"And when have you tasted a Quasar Charge?" Estrella asked.
"Last solstice. Some girlfriends and I went to the Mayan clan's celebration. That drink can take your head clean off. Though given our glum friend's demeanor, a Mnemosyne's Bane might be in order."
"Brooklyn," Gwen reasoned, "you can either wait here or wait down at Amusements. Here, all you'll have is four walls to keep you company. Down at Midlevel, there'll be stuff to do and who knows, maybe a solution to what's bothering you. What do you say?"
Brooklyn started to turn down the offer, but seeing the hopeful look on Gwen's face changed his mind. "Okay, what do we do first?"
"First, let's get you some clothes. I don't know where you came from, but the 'belt and loincloth' look went out in my dad's time. I'll get him properly dressed. Estrella, why don't you get us a spot at the Dance Hall?"
The dark blue gargoyle nodded and moved down to the hallway. Brooklyn and Gwenyvere went in the other direction towards the wardrobe.
* * * * *
"I don't care if you're the high mucky-muck of Tra-la-la. No one is disturbing my patients!" Dr. Abrahms stood up to an intimidating gargoyle. He was a good seven feet tall with gold and green coloring. His wings had scars in the vague shape of letters, a lingering reminder of a chiseler's attack.
"I'm sorry, doctor, but we must question everyone."
"Including my comatose patients? No, you won't."
"With no identification, or prior history? Yes, I will."
"Is this a hospital or a public debate?" Artus asked. Polaris and Cocopetal flanked him on either side.
"No debate." Dr. Abrahms pushed past the green and gold gargoyle. "Just some granite-for-brains banjalo who wants to turn my hospital upside down for some over-rich businessman!"
"It's okay. I'll handle this." Artus spoke to his nameless clan brother. The green and gold gargoyle grumbled as he moved down the hall. Artus moved to the doctor. "Brooklyn would be proud that you kept your word," Artus commented.
"My job is to take care of my patients," Dr. Abrahms said hotly. "And that job isn't made easier with you folks poking your nose everywhere and getting under foot. Just because Xanatos's name is on the side of the building doesn't mean everyone stops breathing if he pulls a 'no-show'."
Artus waited patiently. "Are you finished?"
"For now." Dr. Abrahms took a breath. Artus nodded to Polaris and Cocopetal. The two young males moved down the hall. The midnight blue Polaris began talking with the other shoulder-padded personnel, while brown Cocopetal disappeared down a flight of stairs.
"Polaris is seeing to the removal of our teams from your wing."
"About time. And the other one?"
"Cocopetal is checking your security system. We had a break-in like this last night. They might have used something to cover their escape." Artus turned to the room Dr. Abrahms had protected so fervently. "How is she? Sata, I mean," Artus asked.
"Stable, but still comatose. The toll she took was great, but a gargoyle's body is highly recuperative. Like I told her mate, it's just a matter of time."
"Can I see her?"
"Not right now," Dr. Abrahms refused. Her words were stern, but her expression softened them. Artus smiled mildly. He knew Camilla was more bark than bite, but not much more. She'd ensure that Sata remain safe. A tiny buzz alerted Artus to a comm message.
"Artus," he spoke into his commlink as Dr. Abrahms went about her rounds.
"Cocopetal here. Found another data-shunt. Looks like a few of them here leading out the service port. Working them in sequence, the villains got a moving blind spot out of the hospital."
"Can we pull up the real images from the data buffers?" Artus asked.
"Checking." There was a pause. "Negative. The hospital cameras only have a 2 ns data buffer. There's not enough to piece together."
"Pass it along to our new rookery sister, Cloud from Stone. She may be able to do something with it."
"Compliance," Cocopetal said crisply.
Artus was about to clip the link to his belt when it buzzed again. The readout was highlighted in blue, signifying the Enforcers.
"Artus," the tan gargoyle spoke again.
"Hector here." Captain Siddiq's voice came out of the commlink. "We found a body here. I think it is who you were looking for."
* * * * *
"Come on, wear a kilt at least," Gwen cajoled. For the past ten minutes, Gwenyvere had tried unsuccessfully to get Brooklyn out of his loincloth and into a decent pair of pants. He wouldn't budge.
"You don't want people thinking you're a barbarian or something," she argued.
She was rewarded with the most peculiar look from the red gargoyle.
"It's nothing. Just remembering something a long time ago," Brooklyn answered sadly.
"Well, I guess we can call it neo-retro and call it a night," Gwen said as she took in Brooklyn's new look.
It was a clash of old and new. Brooklyn still wore his loincloth, but he'd exchanged his thick leather belt for one with multi-compartments. A dull gray breastplate snugly fit over his upper torso. The ceramic polymer blend half shirt he wore under the armor pinched, but Gwen assured him it would stretch in the right places soon enough. On his wrists, he wore cyber gauntlets. They functioned as TDT (The Do-hickey Thing as Gwen called them) routing all digital functions through the armband. They also served as commlink as well as an accessory to the ensemble. The left blue shoulder blocker took a bit of doing. Finally, Gwen used Brooklyn's old leather belt and strapped it across his chest and around the back underneath his wings.
"I look kinda silly in this."
"It's functional," Gwen argued. "This way, none of the Enforcers will harass you because you look like them and everyone else won't bother you for the same reason."
"Sort of like resembling a police officer. People see the uniform more than the person."
"Exactly." Gwen opened a small box filled with sparkling gems. "Ear stud?"
"Hey, It's all part of the look." Gwen grinned as she put on six. Studs were a way to judge how available someone was. No studs meant you weren't looking at all. One meant you were married. Two meant you were engaged or deeply involved. Three studs signified serious dating. Four studs implied dating, but not very serious. Five meant you were available and looking. Six was extreme. If you could pull it off it meant highly desirable and eagerly looking. If you couldn't it meant desperate. Gwenyvere could pull off six studs.
Brooklyn looked at the studs. They adhered to the skin, without piercing. Not know what they meant he picked four studs of white crystals. Gwenyvere smiled, then caught herself.
"Why do I care if he's available?" she mumbled to herself. "After the performance, Estrella can show him the sights. I'm joining the gang in Puerto Rico."
"What do you think?" Brooklyn asked, not hearing her. He had to admit dressing up was a change of pace. He hadn't had worn clothes since revolutionary France and that was more function than fashion.
"I think you'll make a nice figure on the dance floor." Gwen smiled slyly.
"Dance floor?" Brooklyn asked.
Gwen and Brooklyn were heading to the Transit center underneath the castle when a small bundle of blue and purple barreled into Brooklyn. Two other boys; one human, one gargoyle, came running up, but seeing their comrade in trouble they hung back to watch.
"Watch where you're going, Samson!" Gwen rebuked.
"Sorry, sis. Just playing, you know!" The young hatchling stood up and fixed his mask on his face. "Who's your boy toy?"
"Stupid! This is our guest. His name is Brooklyn." Gwen helped the red gargoyle up.
"I can see why. He looks just like our uncle in the vids," Samson commented.
"Have your eyes checked!" Gwen said condescendingly. "That Brooklyn was taller and his beak was very 'pronounced'."
Brooklyn wanted to say 'Heh', but remembering Angela's words, he kept silent. The other two boys joined Samson, one was a red and light blue gargoyle and the other was a human boy around nine. All three wore rag masks over their heads.
"Why are you wearing masks?" Brooklyn asked.
"They're omay. As you oldies call it cool, radical, all the rage," the boy answered.
"And very comfortable," the other gargoyle boy replied.
"Hey, come on you guys. I got an idea: let's play Trio! I'm Brooklyn. 'Gag me with a spoon!'" Samson shouted.
"That's the 80's," the boy corrected.
"Like you'd know," Samson argued back.
"Actually, he's right," Brooklyn interjected. "And the real Brooklyn wouldn't say something like that."
"Oh, compliance. But I'm still Brooklyn!" Samson shouted.
"You should be Broadway and let me be Brooklyn. Harold, you're Lexington."
"I'm always Lexington," the young boy complained as he chased after the others down the bailey corridor.
"Sorry about that," Gwen apologized. "Those hatchlings are always being pests."
"It's okay. I was like that once," Brooklyn said remembering fondly his hatchling days. "So you don't think I'm the real Brooklyn?"
"Well, if there were a Brooklyn look-alike contest you'd win first prize. But you're not him."
Brooklyn crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, size. Brooklyn was a lot taller, a darker shade of red. Besides the nose is all wrong."
"Maybe," Brooklyn sounded doubtful.
Gwen shrugged. "Come on, we don't want to be late for the performance."
* * * * *
East River Morgue
"Looks like someone has a thing for the classics," the Medical Examiner stated going over her datapad. "Dumping a body in the river is cliché drama. I'm surprise there's no cement overshoes."
"Try and have some reverence for the dead," Captain Siddiq grumbled over the intercom connecting the cold room Linda was working in and the waiting room the Captain occupied.
"So it's okay if the Crats and Dregs check out going for each others throats, but a homicide receives respect and veneration?"
"You want to be back doing forensic sampling?"
The Medical Examiner let it drop and returned to her work. She had just finished her preliminary findings when the gargoyles arrived. Artus and Polaris joined Captain Siddiq in the waiting room.
"What do you have?" Artus asked, a trifle afraid to find out.
Dr. Linda Lewis, the medical examiner, spoke up. "Female, Caucasian. Looks to be in her 11d's, matches the genetic profile of Clarissa Fairborn."
Artus let out a held breath. He allowed himself one moment of relief that it wasn't Alexander, before returning to professional mode. "11d? You're saying she's in her hundreds?"
Linda nodded. "Cause of death appears to be old age."
"That can't be right," Polaris jumped in. "Our Clarissa Fairborn looked to be around her twenties."
Artus held up his hand, gesturing for Polaris to calm down.
"She was abducted. Do you see any signs of trauma?" Artus asked over the intercom.
Linda shook her head. "Not a bruise on her. I'll boost the data to you when I'm finished collecting it; but, as it stands, it looks like Ms. Fairborn's time was up."
Artus, Polaris and the Captain stepped out of the waiting room, while Linda continued examining the body.
"You saw the holo-ID we sent," Artus said as he conferred with Hector. "That woman was still in the twenties."
Captain Siddiq nodded. "Yes, but the gene profile matches up. This is the person you were looking for."
"This doesn't make sense," Polaris spoke up. "What could age someone this quickly in two days?"
"And what does this portend for Alexander?" Artus wondered.
Artus's and Polaris's commlinks buzzed. Captain Siddiq's commlink gave a rapid pulse beep. They each checked to hear the same message. "This is Castle Wyvern. We've received the ransom message."
"On my way," Artus responded. "All patrols, back to the castle."
* * * * *
Midlevel Amusements, Eyrie Pyramid
Brooklyn felt both uncomfortable and completely at ease. The line into the Dance Hall was long, but Gwen had used her sex appeal to get to the head of the line and past the bouncers. If he thought the line outside was crowded, inside was packed to capacity. The music was pounding, coming from several levels. People were dancing in the staircases leading up to the mezzanine and down into the stage area.
"When did music get so loud?" Brooklyn asked, but could barely hear himself. Off to the side, there was a holographic tally board with two men wildly taking scripts and handing out slips of paper. "Bets for a ballet?" Brooklyn wondered. He started to move over out of curiosity.
"Oh no, Big Red," Gwen said as she steered him away. "They'll leave you with nothing but your loincloth. Now, where is Estrella?"
Brooklyn spotted the cornflower-blue gargoyle and pointed her out near the orchestra pit, front row center. The two gargoyles made their way down the mountain slope of steps to her.
"I've got to say, you picked a good spot," Gwen complimented as they took a seat just eye level with the stage. Estrella took the comment with a smile and looked to Brooklyn.
"Is this your first time seeing Terpsichore perform?"
Brooklyn nodded. "I'm not sure what to expect."
Estrella was about to explain when the house lights slowly began to dim. The audience hurried into their seats and was silent by the time the lights were completely out.
Gwen grabbed Brooklyn's right arm and turned it over. She tapped out a few commands on his gauntlet and the display dimly lit up.
"Oh, this is going to be a good one. Terpsichore's up against Ami Tuney. They've been rivals since 'First Step'."
Brooklyn didn't know what she was talking about, but he did notice that she didn't lift her hand off his forearm. Suddenly there was a loud gong and two women came out from either side of the stage. One was a woman, medium height, with wavy brown hair that went just below her shoulders. She was dressed in a peculiar outfit; a poofy pink tutu topped with shiny black leather. Her blouse was floral print silk, striking in its greens and reds. She wore glasses with bright green lenses. She carried a staff that flowed into curved blades at either end. The other combatant was a gargoyle female with yellow and black wings and a white-gold body encased in a biker babe's outfit, leather jacket and tight leather pants. She carried a set of samurai swords, that instantly made Brooklyn think of Sata. Brooklyn hung his head low from guilt. He was here, while Sata was lying in a hospital bed. He checked his left gauntlet. The readout showed Sata's vitals. There was no change. Gwenyvere squeezed his hand bringing his attention back to the stage. The two women approached each other, gave a salute and fell into fighting stance.
"Is this a ballet or a battle?" Brooklyn muttered to himself.
Gwen smiled. "Both."
An intricate exchange of dance steps and glancing blows followed as the two moved in slow, deliberate moves. Each action was fluid as blocks flowed easily into ripostes and feints melted into jabs. Brooklyn observed the movements of the combatants kept in time with the orchestra.
Brooklyn noticed how rapt the audience was. Ballet back home was never like this. Terpsichore brought her wakazashi in for a short slice. Ami blocked it with her staff, spinning her leg in a wide, slow, roundhouse kick. Terpsichore did the splits, bending her head to her knee, avoiding the kick. The gargoyle then tucked and spun her legs out into a helicopter kick before going into a handstand. Ami tried to sweep Terpsichore with her staff, but the gargoyle woman pushed off with her hands and opened her wings. In gracefully slow move, she righted herself and landed on Ami's staff. With another fluid movement, the white-gold gargoyle brought her long sword to Ami's neck. Then, in dramatic fashion, just as the music reached its climax, Terpsichore tapped the blade on Ami's shoulder, counting coup. The crowd gave a thunderous round of applause for the victorious Terpsichore.
"Terpsichore wins again!" Estrella shouted over the cacophony of the crowd. "Calliope will be glad to hear that. They're rookery sisters, you know."
"Is that it?" Brooklyn shouted to be heard.
"No, that's just the beginning, but let's get out of here anyway. Terp won't be up again for a few hours."
The three gargoyles fought their way past the revelers. The orchestra struck up a quick tempo and the audience began dancing during the intermission. Many of the youngsters were reenacting the final move, quite unsuccessfully. As they passed the entrance, they saw scores of disappointed losers tossing their bet scripts in disgust. Terpsichore's name was moved to the bottom of the board, as the bet-takers began working the crowd for the next fight.
Brooklyn sighed with relief as they stepped out of the Dance Hall. "Maybe I am getting old," he mused. There was a time when he had loved music loud and up close. Now, it just gave him a headache.
"Well, the night is young and so are we," Estrella said eagerly. "What would you like to do now?"
Gwen was about to suggest something, when she got a buzz from her commlink. It was a message from her clubmates. It read, "The sharks are waiting to meet you, chum."
Gwen gave a mental snort. She quick assessed her options. The Transcenter was only a little ways from here. She could jet it to Puerto Rico in fifteen minutes. Estrella could take care of their guest, but he seemed so down, especially during the ballet. Gwen made a decision. She tapped out "Give the sharks my regards," before joining Estrella and Brooklyn. She could catch up with her thrill-seeking buddies later. 'Maybe after I make you laugh,' Gwen thought.
"I have an idea," Gwen offered. "How about we take in some shopping at the Showcase?" She pointed to a multitude of facades on the upper mezzanine of Midlevel.
"Sounds good to me. Brooklyn?" Estrella asked.
Brooklyn seemed stuck in a trance, staring zombie-like at his left gauntlet. Before Gwen or Estrella could see what it was, Brooklyn snapped out of his reverie. "Hmm, yes. The Showcase would be fine."
Estrella led the way. Brooklyn followed, while Gwen shook her head. "Looks like it's going to take more effort than I thought." Gwen followed the red gargoyle, her eyes unconsciously following Brooklyn's every move.
* * * * *
Gargoyles crammed the Communicore, the communication heart of the Eyrie pyramid. Persephone curtly told them to wait outside, admitting only Artus and Orion, Serena and Broadway.
"Play the message back," the jet-black Mayan gargoyle, Obsidian, commanded when old and new leaders had arrived.
"You wish the return of Alexander Xanatos? Pay my fee. One million in hard currency, unmarked and non-sequential, delivered to these coordinates in Battery Swamp in three hours." The message ended abruptly.
"Short and to the point," Orion commented. "Did you trace the signal?"
Obsidian nodded. "It was relayed via satellite in polar orbit. Hold on. It just self-destructed."
"First, the body in the river, now a ransom," Broadway commented. "This sounds like one of my mystery novels."
"It wouldn't happen to come from a specific novel?" Persephone asked. Broadway shook his head.
"Well, if paying this will get Alex back, we'll pay it. I'll get the funds," Serena Xanatos announced.
Artus held her back. "I'm not sure that's wise. There's something about this that isn't right. It seems suspicious."
"Kidnapping my family isn't suspicious enough?"
Artus was about to argue, when Persephone put her hand on his upper arm. "She hasn't been able to contact Anna or Stacy."
Artus changed tactics. "It's unlikely they'll honor their word. Give us time."
"Do you have any leads on finding these criminals?" Serena's voice had a hard edge from worry.
"No," Artus admitted, truthfully.
"This may be our only chance of seeing Alex alive. I've got to take it."
She turned to leave, the other gargoyles parting to allow her to pass. Calliope handled the others, assigning them tasks while Orion linked to Captain Siddiq, setting up a dragnet over that portion of Manhattan and contacting the enforcement agencies worldwide for help. Persephone looked to her mate. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Artus pointed to the hallway indicating he wanted her to join him. They started walking down to the Great Hall. Artus always walked when he was in deep thought. Persephone joined him, willing to be his sounding board. "This just doesn't seem to fit," Artus started.
"What? Alexander was kidnapped and now the rogues have sent a ransom."
"That's just it. Why this ransom? One million is such a low price. The collection of Xanatos's businesses alone is worth significantly more. And why hard currency? A digital transfer would be traceless and instant."
"Maybe that's all the money they want. I'm not complaining if these criminals aren't as greedy as they could be. You shouldn't worry. With the dragnet being set up, they won't get more than two steps before we pounce on them."
Artus shook his head as they entered the Great Hall. His doubts persisted. How could someone who had been so professional in abducting Alex, go for the cliché villainy of a ransom? But suspicion isn't proof. As Hector Siddiq would say, 'You can have all the hunches and instinct you want, but without proof it's meaningless.' Artus let out a sigh. He'd just have to keep an eye out.
"You said that Serena couldn't contact the twins?" Artus changed the subject slightly.
Persephone nodded. "Yes. She got through to Halcyon. He's on his way right now, probably be here just before dawn, but the twins are missing. We hope they're just visiting Avalon, but we got the ransom message before we could contact Oberon or Titania. Angela's working on that."
Artus continued walking in brooding silence. Persephone walked briskly to keep in step with the tall gargoyle.
"Shall I call in everyone to help out?"
"No!" Artus said a bit quickly. "This could be potentially dangerous. I'll have the older clan members and some other the newcomers with me at the drop, but I want everyone else to stay here."
"What about Gwenyvere, Estrella and Brooklyn?"
"Estrella's too young. Brooklyn's a guest and Gwen…? Well, let her keep Brooklyn company. If we need them, I won't hesitate to call, but for now, tell Security to keep the castle on high alert. We'll prepare to make the drop."
* * * * *
Eyrie Pyramid, Midlevel Showcase
"How do I look?" Gwen twirled an umbrella made of rice paper. They were window-shopping when Brooklyn was drawn to the Japanese curio shop. He did look in higher spirits. He almost dared to smile, seeing Gwen with the umbrella. 'I'll have that laugh yet,' she thought.
"Very xao-xao," Estrella commented. "Wouldn't you say, Brooklyn?"
The cornflower brunette looked around for the missing gargoyle. She found him by a tea set, looking at the delicate porcelain cups with a distracted, remembering face. "If you want, go ahead and buy it," encouraged Estrella.
Brooklyn didn't seem to hear the perky gargoyle's comment, his expression quickly going from wistful to sad. Estrella looked to Gwen. The turquoise blue female closed up the umbrella and walked over to Brooklyn.
"Hey, Gloom Beak," Gwenyvere reached up and took his hand, "you want to share?"
Brooklyn pulled away. "I'm sorry. I'm just not in the mood for shopping. Why don't I just go back to the castle?"
"Brooklyn, no one is ever in the mood for shopping. Shopping is to get out of moods," Gwen replied. "But if shopping isn't your thing, how about the Velocidrome? I think it's Classics Night, strictly Harleys."
"Harleys?" Brooklyn face lit up. "Like in the motorcycle - Harley Davidson?"
Estrella beamed. "Seems like we have our next destination."
As they headed out the door, Gwen made a couple of purchases. Estrella waited for her to be done with the clerk. The lighter blue female gave Estrella a questioning look. "What?"
"I know that look. You're falling for this guy."
"Am not!" Gwen flat out denied. "It's just that he looks depressed and it's our job to cheer him up."
Estrella looked unconvinced. Gwen didn't care. She joined Brooklyn out on the promenade. Estrella led the way to the Velocidrome. Gwen tried to discount what Estrella said, but she now became conscious of how much staring time she was logging in on this ruddy gargoyle.
* * * * *
Battery Swamp, Lower Manhattan
Where once Battery Park stood, swamps now fed into the ocean. Misty tendrils snaked their way through the cypresses and magnolias. Fog floated across a silver and black attaché case in the middle of the swamp with dozens of eyes trained on it.
Artus perched on a thick cypress branch, watching the case as hawks view their prey. He felt a vibration from his commlink. He pressed three buttons to respond; Orion's way of keeping silent contact. The three-hour deadline had come and gone and the attaché case remained untouched. Artus felt his suspicions grow with each passing minute. He was about to call for a patrol of the area when a loud beep came from his commlink.
"Oh, for pity's sake," Orion grumbled from the next tree over. "Who's the banjalo?"
Orion gave the high sign, calling everyone down out of the trees to regroup. Artus joined them last after he got off the link.
"That was Siddiq. There's been a theft: Cleopatra's Needle."
"What?" Orion said disbelieving. "How?"
"No one knows. All the patrols were here waiting for the ransom pick up. No one spotted the theft."
Orion swore under his breath. "Someone out there is playing us for chumps."
"And winning," Artus said grimly. "They also found another dead halfling."
* * * * *
"What do we know?" Artus asked Persephone as they came into the Great Hall, transformed again into Command and Control.
"We have teams scouring the area, so far nothing. They took the Needle in a quick and efficient manner, but we did learn something else. New York wasn't the only victim."
Persephone clicked her link and a holographic image of the world glowed in the middle of the Great Hall. Blue dots appeared: two in Europe and one in Turkey.
"Reports of similar thefts are being reported in France, the U.K. and Turkey. They took obelisks: one at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, one in London, and another in Istanbul. Siddiq's coordinating with the Enforcers in those areas investigating the thefts."
"What does this have to do with the missing halflings?" Artus mused to himself.
"I wish I knew," Persephone replied, not heeding his rhetorical tone.
"What is the condition of the person found?"
"Expiring. The doctors are making him as comfortable as possible, but old age is causing his systems to fail. There's nothing they can do."
Obsidian turned from the communications console. "Leader? Captain Siddiq is on the link. He wants to talk to you in private."
Artus frowned. "No doubt waiting to chew my tail for this."
"He was your partner. He won't hold you responsible for this." Persephone touched his upper arm.
"Someone has to be," Artus growled. "Two people are dead. And if we don't stop them soon, more may be. This has to stop."
* * * * *
"You're sure, now?" Gwen asked.
Estrella smiled weakly, but nodded all the same. "I had a ball really, but it's about time for this girl to take a break."
Brooklyn smiled, as did Gwen, though their smiles had far different reasons.
"All right, if you insist..."
"Oh I do, I do. See you two later." Estrella turned on her heel and left the arboretum, leaving Brooklyn alone with the younger gargess. Quietly the doors slipped closed behind her.
Immediately Brooklyn stood up, walking the length of the enclosed garden in the sky. It felt so much like home to him, it was incredible. The weight of the magical trinket in his pouch finally brought him back to reality. There was no way this could be home. It wasn't even the right year, not to mention everything was different. Better...
In the midst of his reverie, he looked quickly to his side and saw Gwenyvere, sitting near the window. Her pose and her face gave her the appearance of someone in the midst of great troubles. Absently, she turned her face to the night sky and sighed. Before he could stop himself, Brooklyn was by her side.
"Penny for your thoughts, Gwen."
She snapped out of her own funk, looking at Brooklyn in seeming surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring you down..."
"Don't worry about it. You look depressed, what's wrong?"
She looked up, then right back down, letting out a soft sigh. "Well ... the last few days I haven't really felt like a part of the clan."
Brooklyn sat down close to her. "Why not?"
"Nobody seems to understand me. Artus, mom, dad, they all seem like they're against me." She rolled her eyes to accentuate her next words. "'Gwen, you're too immature.' 'You have to grow up.' Yackety, smackety. I want them to see me for who I am, and all they can see is my screwups!"
Brooklyn nodded. "You can't seem to do anything right, at least that's the way they see it, right?"
Gwen nodded. "I wanted to surprise Artie at his ceremony, but that got messed up by some poor timing on the jump. I wanted to do good on the patrol I was assigned to, and someone got kidnapped while I went to catch up with an old friend. I wanted them to see me being responsible on the security detail. Sure, I stopped those guys, but it took a foul-up for me to do even that!"
Now Gwen had her back to the wall and slid to the ground, curling up into a near-fetal ball. "And nobody seems to understand. They all think I'm being childish, but I'm not. I'm trying, really!" Her shoulders gave short jumps, matching the meter of her sobs. Brooklyn put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing lightly.
"Would it surprise you that others feel the same way? Even me?" Brooklyn asked warmly.
She looked up at him, sniffling. Her tear-streaked face took on an expression of confusion. "You?"
Brooklyn nodded. "I could tell you stories…It's an age old dilemma, not fitting in, but it will pass. It did for me."
"How did you handle it?"
'Got pulled into a ball of Phoenix fire that bounced me around time for years on end,' Brooklyn thought. Aloud, he evaded. "Different things work for different people." Brooklyn thought of Etolie getting through it by saving her clan's eggs, or that boy that had hung around Thoth's temple. "Yes, different things work for different people. For me, I spent a long time away from my clan."
Gwen had long since uncurled, relaxing a bit in Brooklyn's presence. She had now put her chin in her hand, listening raptly to Brooklyn.
"The point is, there'll be a night eventually when it will be just you, not what others think about you, not what you think others' think about you - just you. You'll realize you aren't a screwup. You'll see you are Gwenyvere and understand what that means. It is something a good friend of mine once told me." Brooklyn looked out at the starry night.
Gwen snorted. "Yeah, if that night ever comes. As far as Artus is concerned, I'm nothing but his insane little sister with bad impulse control."
Brooklyn finally chuckled. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, Gwen."
Her eyes widened, and she smiled fully now. "Hey, it worked. You're laughing."
Brooklyn let out another soft chuckle. "Yeah, I guess I am. Thanks, I needed that."
Gwen came closer to the Timedancer, trying to put meaning into her every move as she approached. Brooklyn's smile had finally given her the courage to confess the feelings she just realized she'd been holding, and had been building all night. She came closer.
And suddenly a beep separated the two. Brooklyn looked down at his commlink, smiled, then turned back to Gwen, giving her a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Thanks for everything, darling. Gotta go!"
He quickly zipped out of the arboretum, rushing through the door. Gwen was taken by surprise, the suddenness of his leaving shattered the mood. Snapping out of her shock, she jumped to her feet. "Wait! Brooklyn!" She broke into a dead run for the door. She might have caught up with Brooklyn, too… had the door opened for her.
She slammed into the closed door at nearly full bore, sending her sprawling into some plant life behind her, across from the door. When she recovered, a scowl overtook her face, as she looked at the armband. "Stupid Artus..." The low growl forming in her throat was soon replaced by a hopeful sigh, as she relaxed in the grass she was lying on. Turning to the window, she watched as Brooklyn glided into sight and off into the night. She couldn't help but smile.
* * * * *
He touched down on a balcony just outside of the room he knew Sata was in. Jiggling the lock, he was able to open the sliding door, entering the room to a mildly annoyed Dr. Abrahms.
Her expression caught Brooklyn by surprise. "What?"
"There's a front door. Use it!"
Closing the sliding door behind him, Brooklyn nervously chuckled. "Sorry, doc. Force of habit. Anyway, you called?"
Dr. Abrahms flashed him a sideways look, then turned back to her patient. "She's awakened."
He approached the bed, grateful to see the happy smile of his mate waiting for him. Eagerly, but gently, he collected her into his arms.
"Are you all right, my love?"
Sata smiled a bit wider. "I am now."
Dr. Abrahms nodded. "We ran a couple more tests, but she seems to have recovered. Another day of rest, and we can discharge her. Just to let you know- dawn will be here shortly." Seeing her advisement ignored by the happy couple, she signed a report and left the room.
After a short while, Brooklyn pulled away from his mate to look in her eyes. "Anything I can do for you right now?"
Sata shook her head. "Nothing, Brooklyn. Just stay with me."
He pulled her close again. At that moment, the first light of day breached the room's darkness, freezing them in their embrace.
* * * * *
"Surveillance has returned with this," the head of Team B said as he inserted a data spike into the office desk. A series of datascreens appeared, some displayed patrol movements of the gargoyles and enhancements in security.
"A little late for that for the tightened security," the Employer commented. A few further screens showed the results of their raids in Paris, London, Istanbul as well as New York. "Efficient use of the situation," the Employer commented. "Using our kidnapping as a ruse to gain the needed material."
Finally, he came to images of faces.
"Newcomers to the Eyrie Pyramid," the team captain explained.
He flipped through another image and saw a red gargoyle with two younger females.
"Now, this does surprise me!" the Employer's voice showed interest. "So you are here, too, Timedancer."
"Private musings, that's all. Transport the materials to the site."
The Employer clicked on the link. "Team A, status report."
"No sign of Merlin. We believe he took transport out of London. Possibly, towards New York."
"Can't say I'm surprised. Of course this just saves the time to transport him here ourselves. What about Nimue?"
"We've scanned every millimeter of that forest. No sign of Nimue or magic there," Team A reported.
"That means either she's hiding very well or she isn't there to begin with. Have the teams search for one more day. If you find her, bring her in."
"And if we don't?"
"Then give your team half their pay and send them on their way." The Employer clicked off. "Now we wait for Merlin to resurface."
* * * * *
Artus walked with a heavy gait into his office. Without turning on the lights, he dropped himself into his chair behind the desk, and firmly planted one elbow on the wood surface. Absently, he looked out the window.
The sound of the door opening behind him caused him to turn around. He recognized Persephone and turned back to the starry skyscape.
"What's wrong, Artus?" She flipped on the light so that she could see her mate better. In his face, she suddenly saw the strain the new leader had been going through.
He sighed. "I never thought it would be this difficult." He turned back to the window as his mate joined him. Looking through the glass, he watched the nightly patrols glide into view, winging their way into the center of the city.
"Leadership?" Persephone placed a hand on his shoulder, giving it an affectionate squeeze.
He nodded. "Frankly, I expected more paperwork than legwork. The most Orion and Calliope had to deal with were 'sneaks into heaven'. Paperwork and public relations is what I thought being leader would be. This is an administrative job or was until I got confirmed."
"You're kidding, right?"
Artus looked up at her. Persephone smirked at him.
"What makes you think leadership's always been like that? How do you think Goliath fared as leader, huh?"
She crouched down so that she blocked Artus' view out the window. "He didn't have the luxury of police liaisons, or an international exchange program. He had to keep the clan hidden, away from human intolerance that we've risen above in this day and age."
"I know, I know..."
Persephone positioned herself so that she could look straight into Artus's eyes. "Listen to me, Artus. You are doing a good job. Don't expect so much from yourself. You've only had the job for three nights." Artus had the start of a smile. Persephone pulled him out of his chair to a standing position. "We all believe in you."
Artus was now fully smiling. "You, too?"
Persephone picked up a gleam in her eye. "What do you think?"
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled him into a deep kiss, framed by the views of the night behind them. After what felt like an euphoric eternity, they released each other.
Orion cleared his throat. Both Artus and Persephone turned around to see a blue-black gargoyle in the doorway.
"We should get ready. We have another celebration to attend." Persephone nodded.
She started walking out of the room. Artus looked after her, slightly confused.
She flashed him a playful look. "Did I take away your memory with that kiss? We have guests to welcome."
* * * * *
Brooklyn led his mate toward the castle, gliding slowly for egg-heavy Sata to keep up. Dr. Abrahms had suggested a little exercise to help Sata's recovery. A glide back to the castle was just what the doctor ordered.
"We're almost there. How are you holding up?"
She appeared to be straining, but kept up a brave face. "I will survive, my love."
"Good. 'Cause here it is."
They brought their approach closer to the stone walls of the castle, until finally their talons hit stone. Instantly he was at Sata's side, offering his support to her. But her problems were far from her mind. Her eyes were lifted up to the higher reaches of the castle, fascinated by its tall battlements reaching into the night.
Her rapt expression was not lost on Brooklyn, as he came closer to her. Quietly, he put his mouth up near her ear, the better whisper to her. "Wonderful, isn't it? I lived in it for years, but I never thought that I would be so happy to see it again."
She took in a deep breath. "It is magnificent."
Brooklyn smiled. An older man approaching them his hand extended, suddenly interrupted their reverie.
"Brooklyn, Sata, good to meet you. I'm glad I caught you before the reception."
Brooklyn looked at the newcomer, grasping his hand. "I'm afraid I don't…"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Halcyon Xanatos."
Awareness suddenly hit Brooklyn. "You're Alexander's son, aren't you?"
Halcyon nodded, turning to Sata. With a bit of a theatrical flourish, he took the Japanese gargess's hand and placed a light, respectful kiss upon it. "A pleasure, milady."
She couldn't help but smile. Brooklyn, however, was a bit more serious. "How are you holding up? I heard about Alexander's disappearance."
Halcyon sighed. "We're holding up as best as can be expected. But I admit ... it's been pretty rough."
Brooklyn studied the man's face carefully. It was obvious by the strain showing through, it had been a rough ride for him. "Keep up your hopes, Halcyon. I'm sure we'll find Alexander."
Halcyon smiled. "I know we will. I won't hold you up any further." He motioned to the door. "Your party awaits."
Brooklyn smiled, leading Sata into the Great Hall.
* * * * *
The clan was ready for them. As soon as Brooklyn and Sata crossed the jamb of the door to the Great Hall, the merry-making commenced.
Among those at the front of the welcome party was Artus. He extended his arm to Brooklyn.
"I apologize for last night, friend. I was a little distracted."
"Yeah, so I gathered." Brooklyn smiled as he took Artus' forearm, clasping it. "You're forgiven."
Persephone quickly ushered Sata away from Brooklyn's side and into a tight circle of females. Immediately, they began talking excitedly about Sata's gravid condition.
Turned a bit away from the gossiping group, he lowered his voice and asked Artus, "That reminds me, where's Gwenyvere?"
"My errant sister?"
Brooklyn tried not to react. Only knowing Gwen's side of things, he figured he should see what Artus had to say about the matter before jumping to any conclusions.
Artus continued. "Probably out somewhere ice climbing or something. I swear, she is so flighty and takes such risks."
"True," Brooklyn interjected. "But sometimes thrillseekers turn out to be your best allies."
Artus raised an eyebrow ridge at the Timedancer. "Really?"
Brooklyn smiled. "Just look at me."
This brought a hearty laugh out of the leader. Persephone turned slightly away from the group of females, smiling as she heard Artus' laugh reverberate off the walls of the Great Hall. The clan's second in command scanned the room and not seeing Gwen made her wonder, "Hmm ... what could that girl be up to?"
* * * * *
Gwenyvere and a younger gargoyle, Kodiak, stood outside a door in one of the many passages of the building. The little one nodded emphatically.
"I saw them when they came by earlier. This is definitely Mister Brooklyn's room."
"Great." Gwen reached into one of her pouches and pulled out a candy bar, handing it to the child. "Don't eat it all in one sitting, okay, kid?"
The little boy smiled widely, running off down the passageway. Gwen had a smile of her own on her face. As quietly as she could without arousing suspicion or setting off her armband, she opened the locked door and slipped inside.
* * * * *
"If I could have your attention please..."
The assembled clan brought their conversations down to a dull roar, turning their attention to Artus, Brooklyn, and Sata- now standing at the head of the room.
"My friends, we are assembled here for a most momentous event. Our brother, Brooklyn, and his mate, Sata, have made their way to us. As the leader of Clan Manhattan, I feel it's only right that we welcome them with open arms, and in the traditional manner."
A rustle swept through the clan as Artus continued. "Each of us has produced a gift for the two of you. It seemed fitting that the males will present their gifts to Brooklyn, the females to Sata. And I'd like to be the first to present you with one."
Artus turned to his side briefly before turning back to the red gargoyle with a pile of clothes in his arms.
"Since you seem ... well, underdressed for this century, I took it upon myself to get you some suitable clothes. So here you go. My gift to you, my friend."
Brooklyn took the pile from Artus, looking it over. It seemed fittingly futuristic, but universally casual. These weren't the same breastplate and matching shoulder blocker that Gwen dressed him up in, but practical all the same. He couldn't help but smile.
"Well, this is something else. Thank you." Brooklyn chuckled a bit. "You don't mind if I run and change clothes, do you?"
"Not at all. Go around the corner."
Brooklyn nodded, jogging around Artus and into a hidden off-room from the Great Hall. At the same time, Angela approached Sata.
"Sata, my friend, we can't help but notice your delicate condition, and so all of the females have come together to give you things that will help you in the time before the Laying comes."
A quiet titter went through the females in the clan, as Angela produced a thick package containing what appeared to be a hand-sewn quilt.
"Since you're probably going to be spending some long nights here in the castle, I thought something to cut the chill would be useful. So here you are, my gift to you is the clan quilt, my friend."
Sata took the quilt from Angela and unfolded it. Much to her enjoyment, it was fully sized to gargoyle proportions, and she was able to wrap herself comfortably in it without any part sticking out, including her swollen egg-heavy belly. She smiled widely, turning to Angela.
"I am grateful, Angela-sama. Thank you."
At that moment, Brooklyn came back around the corner, now dressed in his new outfit. Artus prompted him back up to the front. Brooklyn was more than happy to oblige to.
"See, I told you it would look good, Orion!"
Another hearty laugh went through the room.
* * * * *
Gwenyvere admired herself in the full-length mirror. The dress hung off her well, clinging tightly to her curves. She hated this dress when she had first received it as a Solstice gift ... her main complaint being that she couldn't pull a decent skysurfing maneuver in it, but it was perfect for trying to woo a male.
Turning to view her other side, she admired the transformation from Gwen the thrillseeker to Gwenyvere the seductress. The dress was made of thermal silk. It changed colors with different body temperatures. Her club mates even warned her it became translucent when it was really hot. Cut in all the places to show off just enough flesh and leaving enough of the rest in silhouette, it would drive any male into a fit of lustful insanity.
"All right, Brooklyn," Gwen smiled at her reflection. "I'm not letting you get away from me tonight!"
* * * * *
"Wow," Brooklyn commented with the new weapon in his grasp. It made Brooklyn's eyes twinkle and his smile widen. Orion crossed his arms, nodding satisfactorily.
"I thought you'd like it. It's a bit vintage, but this boy and I have been through a lot." Orion tapped the rifle. "Maybe I'll tell you its stories sometime. But you look like someone who'd appreciate a decent firearm."
Sata only rolled her eyes, looking at her mate with an expression of mock admonition. The celebration had been turning into a rowdy party. With each gift bestowed upon the couple, Brooklyn and Sata had been feeling more and more at home. Artus had to leave early to meet with the Enforcers' captain over recent events, but everyone else enjoyed themselves.
Many of the males gave Brooklyn things to fill his new belt's pouches with. Polaris's gift turned out to be the heaviest, which gave Brooklyn a bit of a balance problem as he dropped it into a pouch.
Sata for the most part had been receiving little gifts to help her through her egg laying, and also items for the hatchlings: music for playing, jewelry and other such things. Chandra, an Oriental clan member from India, gave her a packet of herbs. "The better to keep down the pain of the Laying," she said as she gave it to Sata.
To this, Broadway replied, "Maybe you should've given her two bags."
And the laughter erupted further into the night.
* * * * *
The party finally slowed down after a few hours, the guests leaving to do other things, some for patrols, others for rest. Brooklyn and Sata finally found themselves carrying armloads of gifts, trying to negotiate the narrow passageways of the building to get to their room.
"Who thought they could come up with so much stuff to give us?" Brooklyn grunted.
Sata couldn't help but chuckle. Her mate was bearing the brunt of the weight, both with the items he had been given and most of her gifts. Her condition only allowed her to carry two items: her new quilt and one of Scrivener's books in hardback.
"They were very happy to see us, Brooklyn-san. These gifts show that."
Brooklyn chuckled. "And my back will be happy when we get to the room."
"Here, let us help." Angela's voice behind them suddenly brought an overwhelming sense of relief from Brooklyn. Eagerly handing over the bounty to Angela and Persephone, he smiled fully.
"Thank you, you beautiful gargoyle, you." He straightened out, wincing when he heard his vertebrae crack. "There, that's better."
Persephone giggled. "You think that load's bad, imagine what your poor mate's been through for the past few months."
"Yeah, Brooklyn," Angela teased. "Show a little sympathy here."
Sata only gave him a mirthful smile. "They do have a point, my love."
Brooklyn looked to the ceiling. "Ye gods, they're ganging up on me. I'd better run up ahead before you can inflict more damage."
More laughter reverberated through the passage. "Go ahead, Brooklyn, we'll keep an eye on her for you."
He smiled at the females as he jogged further ahead down the passage. They suddenly began spontaneously giggling again.
"He seems like a wreck."
Sata looked after her mate, her eyes far off. "He might be, Angela-sama. He's been worried about me lately, especially in the last few dances we've made."
Persephone smirked. "Funny, he doesn't seem that way."
"Sometimes he's very short with everyone. Sometimes he cannot take anything seriously," Sata sighed. "But through everything, I know that one of the things that drives him is his concern for me."
Angela took a moment to squeeze Sata on her shoulder. "That's the way it is with Broadway and me. And it's an easy feeling to enjoy, Sata. Savor it."
Sata smiled. "I do."
* * * * *
Brooklyn was ecstatic that Sata was well. Though he had been playing up 'being persecuted for being male', the red gargoyle smiled at the thought that Sata had some female friends to help her. He knew he would have been poor company for her if the Laying had come any earlier. Remembering stories he had heard about unlucky males present at layings, he thought it was probably better this way.
Better ... that word had come to his thoughts twice now in the past two days. Everything was better here. But why did it still feel so uncomfortable?
He approached the room slowly. Much to his surprise, however, the door opened easily. He looked into the room, his new rifle at the ready. "Who's here?" Seeing and hearing nothing, he shouldered the weapon once more, walking in.
He made it exactly five steps into the room before he was tackled from behind and tossed to the bed. The rifle clattered to the floor. He turned around quickly, eyes glowing, to face his assailant.
Gwen stood over him. Smiling. In an extremely revealing gown that left nearly nothing to the imagination.
"Gwen! Uh, we missed you at the party. Where were you?"
She grinned playfully. "I was waiting for you here." Before he could react, she planted a series of passionate kisses upon him. Working her talons through the openings in his new clothes, she tried to caress him with all the vigor she had been kissing him with.
He fought against her affection, trying to pry her off. "Gwen, what are you trying to do?!"
Breathlessly between her affections, she replied, "Last night, I didn't get a chance to tell you what I was feeling."
She panted heavily. "Oh Brooklyn, I can't tell you enough how much I love you."
She pulled the shoulder blocker free from the rest of his new outfit. She kept the rain of kisses coming ... even as footsteps could be heard further up the corridor.
* * * * *
"… but above everything else, I know Brooklyn loves me. There is nothing that can come between us."
Angela sighed. "Oh, that's so sweet."
Persephone smiled, as well. But sounds coming from the room distracted her. She went a small distance ahead of the others, listening.
"… tell you what I was feeling."
She looked puzzled. "Gwen?"
"… I can't tell you enough how much I love you."
She saw Angela and Sata approaching, too late to stop them. "Oh no…"
* * * * *
Gwen was working on Brooklyn's breastplate when they appeared in the doorway. The look on Sata's face presented two conflicting emotions in Brooklyn ... sadness for his mate, and fear for Gwen's life.
His mate's low growl suddenly turned into a war screech. Gwen shot upright, eyes wide. "Who are you?!"
Sata snarled at the younger gargess. "Who I am is unimportant. If you value your life, you will get off of my mate."
Gwen's heart sank. "Your ... mate ...?"
Sata could hold back no longer. Eyes glowing brightly red, she lunged for Gwen, talons forward, moving as quickly as her pregnant state allowed her to, crossing the room and threatening the other gargoyle.
Gwen, for her part, assumed a defensive martial stance, ready for anything. It would have escalated had Brooklyn not stepped between them, holding Sata back.
"Brooklyn, let go of me!"
Brooklyn only held his enraged mate tighter. "No! I'd like everyone to stay in one piece, thank you!"
She growled again, trying to drive an elbow into his midsection, but only hitting his breastplate. She yelled her fury out at both Gwen and her mate, as Persephone and Angela entered the room.
Angela took in the situation and spoke to her daughter, "Leave. I will speak with you in a moment."
The younger gargess turned her eyes down to the floor, slowly shuffling out of the room. Persephone escorted her out. Angela turned to where Brooklyn was still securely holding down his mate.
"I think you two have some talking to do. We'll leave you alone for the night."
Brooklyn nodded. "Make sure you hide those swords, unless you want me to be sliced and diced by morning."
Angela tried to keep herself from smirking, but failed. "Don't worry. You'll survive." And with those words, she made her way out the door, letting it shut behind her.
Sata seemed a bit calmer now, but Brooklyn wouldn't release her without some assurance. "If I let you go now, you promise not to hurt me?"
Sata still growled a bit under her breath. "Maybe."
* * * * *
Angela and Persephone escorted Gwen a distance down the passage, away from the room. When they could hear that they were fully out of earshot, Angela stopped.
"Persephone, I'm sure you have duties we're keeping you from. I'd like to have a word with my daughter. Alone."
Persephone nodded. "Will you be up later?"
"Maybe. Go on now."
The clan second acknowledged once more, turning up the passage and continuing to make her way back to the rest of the clan. When she had disappeared, Angela turned to her daughter.
"I only have one thing to ask you, Gwenyvere: by the Dragon, what did you think you were doing?!"
Gwen still had not calmed down from the scare Sata gave her. "Honest, I didn't know he had a mate!"
"Did you ask? Or did you jump in like a foolish hatchling as always?"
Gwen went from fearful and surprised to angry. "Well, what did you expect me to do? All of you are ganging up on me lately. I can't do anything right as far as you're all concerned!"
"Well, maybe if you did something that fit your maturity level, we might quit thinking like that. Honestly, all of this joyriding and thrillseeking is starting to wear thin on us all."
Gwen was caught speechless.
"And now you're trying to take Brooklyn away from Sata. Gwenyvere, that is unforgivable." Angela sighed heavily. "Honestly, you seem to revel in trying all of our collective patience. What's gotten into you?"
Gwen's eyes welled up. "What's made all of you hate me so much? At least Brooklyn's been a friend to me."
Angela rubbed her temples. "So he's been friendly. Does that automatically mean you can dress up in a slinky outfit and throw yourself at him, hoping he'll ravish you?"
Samson approached the corner, but stopped short just as he heard Angela's latest jab in the argument.
"Ooh, that's gotta hurt," Samson whispered, trying to hold back his laughter at his sister's predicament. He hid behind the corner to catch all the juicy details.
"Well no, but … it seemed like he was single."
"Why do you think he had the commlink queued to the hospital? He's got some kind of voyeuristic thing about hospitals? He was trying to keep track of Sata's progress, she hasn't been doing very well."
Now Gwen allowed her tears to fall again. "Mom, I'm sorry … I really am…"
"It's a little late for that, daughter. I hope I've given you something to think about for the rest of the night." Angela turned to make her way up the passage. "I'm going to ask Artus to be lenient on you, but that's no guarantee."
"Artus? Oh no … " Gwen curled up in a ball again, a motionless, sad figure on the floor of the passageway.
* * * * *
"... so you see, Sata, she was someone in need of a friend. That's all I was offering her."
Sata's temper had toned down considerably, but she still was upset. "I can't believe that she would think you were available, unless there was something you did to imply that."
Brooklyn sighed heavily. "We've been over this six times, I didn't do anything to lead her on."
Sata uneasily rose to her feet, crossing the room to take her mate's hand. "Some of the other females at the party were telling me about her. She's very unstable right now. You may not have done anything, but she could have just assumed that you were interested. The things you said have happened to her recently probably did not help, either."
Brooklyn nodded. "Honestly, she needed a friend. That's all I was doing."
Sata brought her hand up to her mate's face, caressing his jaw. "I know. You're the first one to show her kindness and understanding in the last few nights. And I know the kind of gargoyle you are, my love. I know you would never betray my trust."
Brooklyn pulled his mate into an embrace at last. They stayed that way as the sun rose in the sky, illuminating the room in its light.
* * * * *
A luminous body was drawn out of the hapless halfling. The body of light resembled the unfortunate person on the stone altar. With a whispered phrase, the magic was drawn to a clay jar shaped like a heart.
The halfling, once an Unseelie vampyre, gave a sad groan before falling unconscious. The body began to age rapidly. Hair turned gray, the skin grew sallow and began to wrinkle. Muscle diminished, leaving less of itself on the bones.
"That's the last one for our shift," the head of their team announced. "Get some rest and something to eat. You have nine hours."
The rest of the team straightened up the room, before departing.
"Blazes, this is non-stop," one of the team members commented. "We haven't had a break in days. It's just eat, sleep and perform the rite."
"You want to complain to the boss, be my guest. Who among your next of kin should I notify?" another team member said as she put away the magic items used for the rite.
"Funny! Well, this is my time now. I'm not going to waste it jabbering. See you this evening."
The team left, leaving the expiring body of the halfling on the table.
* * * * *
Artus's Office, The following evening
Artus sat in his chair and gave a low groan. He stared at the criminal activity reports hoping to forget his family troubles. This whole scandal with Gwenyvere was the gossip of the castle. Scarcely before he heard it from Persephone, Samson came running up with all the lurid details. He gave her a stern talking to, but after Angela, Persephone, Calliope, Broadway and Orion, Gwenyvere just gave him a blank-looking stare and the occasional 'Compliance' to state that she was listening, but not really listening.
Artus left her punishment up to Angela and Broadway this time. This was more family business than clan business and all the things he'd tried hadn't been working. He rubbed his nose ridge again, before returning to staring at the reports.
The autopsy on the two halflings revealed nothing. Both died of old age, as if no one laid a hand on them. The only connection with the Cleopatra's Needle theft was proximity. For all they knew, the victim could have died hours before or after the theft and arrived there by sheer coincidence, but Artus didn't buy that. Instinct told him to think differently.
"If we could only get one step ahead of them," Artus murmured to himself.
"Leader Artus?" the voice of Tao came through the commlink.
"Yes," Artus gave an exhausted sigh.
"There's someone here who claims to be Merlin."
"That's Mr. Ambrosius to you," an annoyed voice griped in the background. "Listen, Artus it's me."
"Send him up." Artus smiled, a trifled amused. Next, he tapped a three-button command on his link, getting Orion, Calliope, Broadway and Angela all at once. "Meet me in my office. You're going to love this."
* * * * *
Brooklyn paced the hallways furiously, looking in every doorway for the girl, hoping he'd be able to find her and talk-hoping she was in the mood for talking.
He finally found Gwen in the gym, taking out her aggressions on the heavy bag. With every blow she administered, every kick thrown, every punch delivered, her face reflected the anger she was feeling. Anger, embarrassment, but most of all - shame. Loud 'kiais' echoed through the room with every shot.
"Gwenyvere! We need to talk."
Brooklyn's voice, when once it would have made her happy, only served to make her angrier. Her eyes glowed at the Timedancer.
"I don't want to talk!"
"Look, will you stop for a minute so I can explain?"
She growled at him, grabbing him by one of his wrists and tossing him over her shoulder in a judo throw. When he hit the mat, his own eyes started to glow from surprise.
"Fine. You want it this way, it's this way." He leaped to his feet, turning to face Gwen and meeting her fist in mid-turn. He rocked back with the blow, putting up his hands to try to defend himself, but unprepared for the barrage that was coming.
Gwen, for her part, kept things lively by tossing in words with her punches. She swung a foot around, snapping a kick, which was blocked by the male.
"Why should I want to talk to you?! You're the one who got me into this mess in the first place!"
A fist whizzed by Brooklyn's ear. He countered by trying to throw Gwen, only to get struck by her other fist before he could grab a hold of her arm.
"I've had nothing but people talking at me since last night! And that doesn't even begin to cover the rumors and the snickers!!"
She put a knee into his midsection. As he doubled over, she put another knee into his face.
"And you ... you led me along! How could you do that to me?!"
He rocked back on his heels, but she came rushing into him headlong, pounding blows into his chest and stomach, sending him against the wall of the gym. He kept trying to block her, but this only served to feed her anger more.
"If you'd ... ung ... just let me ... unf ... explain ..."
She finally backed off a bit from Brooklyn. He fell to his knees, desperately trying to catch his breath. "That I ... didn't come here to lecture you."
Gwen was taken aback. "What?"
"You thought I was here to give you a lecture, right? Far from it, I came to apologize."
She backed away from him, coming down from her adrenaline rush as she realized what he was saying. "Apologize ... for what?"
He picked himself up off of the floor, his eyes focused squarely on Gwen's. "For leading you along. Okay, I admit, maybe some of the things I did for you the other night might have made you think I was interested. I should have told you right off that Sata was my mate."
Gwen was barely listening. She was more concerned about having beaten Brooklyn within an inch of his life for no reason.
"If I did anything to make you think I was single, or did anything to lead you on, I am very sorry." Brooklyn sighed. "Okay, maybe I deserved having the snot beaten out of me. It still doesn't make me any more sorry."
Now Gwen was smiling. She approached him slowly. "You mean that? Really?"
Brooklyn nodded. Gwen responded by sweeping his legs out from under him. In the same motion, she jumped on his stomach, straddling him. "Apology accepted."
At that moment, the door opened. And there stood Sata, seeing her mate held under the legs of a younger gargess. Brooklyn looked toward his pregnant mate, seeing the expression on her face change from shock to anger to despair.
"How could you?!" She spat out an angry line of Japanese before rushing back down the passageway. Brooklyn wrestled himself out from under Gwen, rushing after his mate.
"Sata, wait! It wasn't what it looked like!"
The doors closed behind him. And Gwen was alone again. Though she shouldn't have felt sad, she couldn't help but shed tears. "I'm sorry, too, Brooklyn."
* * * * *
A man in his mid to late fifties with curly white hair and a face framed in a gray beard entered Artus' office facing five grim faced gargoyles. Orion and Calliope both had talons on their weapons.
"Hmm, seems like you've had some interesting times," the man guessed. "Let's see, you'll probably want something to prove I'm who I say I am. How about a 'horsy ride'? That mean anything to you?" the elderly man said as he looked at Broadway.
Broadway pushed Orion's rifle down. "It's him. Haven't seen you in a while."
"Well, with your forwarding address being Avalon, it makes keeping in touch a bit hard. Where's Angela?"
Broadway answered, "She's looking for our daughter. Discipline problems."
"Been there myself." Merlin turned to Artus. "I didn't come by on a social visit."
Artus nodded. "We know. Someone has been abducting halflings. I must admit when we couldn't reach you we feared the worst."
"They got Alexander?" Merlin guessed.
Artus nodded. "And his two daughters. We've kept the details out of the press, but we lost him two nights ago."
"Twp. I was hoping you'd fellows would be able to help. Whoever these brigands are they're at the top of their game. It's taken every trick I know to keep one step ahead of them."
"Any idea who they may be?" Calliope, the green female asked.
Merlin shook his head. "Wish I did. What about Oberon and Titania?"
"Angela and Serena spoke to them, but there isn't much they can do," Broadway explained. "Those kidnapped are someplace beyond their magic's reach."
"Double twp. I was hoping, we could turn the tables on these brigands."
Artus stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Maybe we can. Merlin, I want you to do me a favor: stay in this room. Don't leave under any circumstances."
Merlin looked doubtful, but nodded obedience. Artus got up and gestured for Orion to follow. "Tao, Obsidian, meet me in the forensics lab. Now!"
* * * * *
Outside the Gym
"Sata, will you wait a minute and let me explain?!"
Even pregnant, she moved fast. Brooklyn was having trouble keeping up with her, as she swiftly worked her way through the labyrinthine passages.
Suddenly, he saw his chance when she slowed up, leaning against a wall for support.
"Would it help if I said I'm sorry?" he said, as he finally caught up.
She turned around, glaring at him. "No."
Brooklyn rolled his eyes. "Look, she just got done pounding the life outta me because she thought I was going to lecture her again. Don't make me feel any worse because of it."
"And why should I stand between you and your little dalliances? All I am is your mate!"
He was getting frustrated. "She means nothing to me beyond being a friend. How many ways can I say it?"
"Keep try... ing..."
She suddenly lost control of her motor functions, trembling uncontrollably and sinking to the floor. Brooklyn crouched down to collect her into his arms.
"Let's get you to our room."
He had a difficult time keeping control of his desperate run through the castle. Sata was convulsing violently. Finally she subsided momentarily, long enough for Brooklyn to get a better grip and carry her more securely as he raced onward.
* * * * *
Gwen looked around the gymnasium, its only occupant now. Her breathing was getting heavier. She knew she was in for it now ... and knowing how good of an eavesdropper her brother was, it would only be a matter of time before the entire clan knew. She sadly shook her head. "Leaving is looking better by the moment."
A beeping sound distracted her briefly. She searched for the source, and found it under her own left foot: a lost commlink, Brooklyn's.
Thinking that the call might be important, she picked up the device and activated it. The frantic voice of Dr. Camilla Abrahms crackled through it. "...didn't you tell me you were exposed to magic?!"
Gwen's eyes widened. "I'm sorry?"
"The EMF tests came back and that's the only explanation for ... hey, who the heck is this?! Where's Brooklyn?"
Gwen panicked. "Umm ... he's not here right now. Can I take a message?"
"Don't get cute, girlie. Find Brooklyn and tell him Dr. Abrahms needs to speak with both him and Sata."
The speaker abruptly cut off. Shell-shocked for a moment, Gwen finally became aware of herself, jogging out of the gym at a quick clip.
* * * * *
Brooklyn laid Sata on the bed and grasped her hand. "Everything will be all right, sweetheart." He caressed her face. Her eyes were fluttering. "It has to be." Brooklyn looked for his commlink, but it was nowhere to be found. "How am I to contact Dr. Abrahms?"
"Connecting with Dr. Camilla Abrahms," a disembodied voice, sounding like Lexington, replied.
The wall opposite the bed turned into a viewscreen, suddenly a life-size image of Dr. Abrahms appeared.
"Yes? Brooklyn? I've been trying to reach you."
"It's Sata," Brooklyn said in a rush. "She's sick again."
"I was afraid of this." Dr. Abrahms tapped a few keys, "I've dispatched a medical emergency team to your room. I'm on my way. Stay frosty."
Brooklyn was barely off the link with Dr. Abrahms before the M.E.T. rushed into the room. They immediately went to work, taking her vitals and administering aid. Brooklyn stepped out of their way and watched with worry etched on his face.
* * * * *
The hours that passed were a grueling eternity. Clanmembers gathered in the hallway, waiting for Dr. Abrahms or any of the medtechs to come out with news. Artus and Persephone tried their best to clear the hallways, but those not on duty inevitably found their way down here. They were clan and if one of their members were hurt, they wouldn't leave until they knew she'd be okay.
Finally, ten minutes before dawn, Dr. Abrahms emerged from Brooklyn and Sata's room. Artus and Persephone were at the head of a lot of gargoyles wanting to know what happened.
"Recent stress has caused her to relapse," Dr. Abrahms explained in a grim and tired voice. "We've been able to stabilize her. Hopefully, dawn will restore her to better spirits. That's all I'm telling you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get some rest for tomorrow night."
"I'll escort you to the Transcenter," Artus announced. Dr. Abrahms was about to fire off a stinging reply, but the look on Artus's face said this wasn't a discussion.
Persephone saw everyone else to his or her perches. She didn't disturb Brooklyn and Sata. Angela and Broadway both looked worried as they left for the battlements.
Artus and the doctor said nothing until they were in the elevator down to the Transcenter level.
"You could have told me magic was involved!" Dr. Abrahms growled.
"I didn't know myself."
"Don't hand me that. You may not have openly lied to me, but you and the others kept this from me. In my profession, secrets can be deadly."
"And what would you have done if you knew. Last, I saw magic wasn't an accepted practice in medical circles."
"Maybe I couldn't do anything, but that's…my…call!"
Artus gave a sigh. "So what are you going to do now?"
"Sata's stable. With a day's sleep, she might recover. No promises. Tomorrow evening, we'll see."
The elevator door opened to the Transcenter station. Dr. Abrahms got out. Artus watched her wearily shamble to the Transit tubes.
"Castle, Great Hall," Artus ordered as the elevator doors closed.
* * * * *
Merlin moved with easy stride through the empty pedestrianways of Midlevel. New York was still a town that never slept, but the dawn hours were the quietest. He walked past the closed shops and kiosks. "If this isn't reckless, I don't know what is," Merlin said to himself. He walked over to a newsstand and was programming the paper dispenser with his selections when a man came up behind him.
Merlin turned to confront him, but the assailant quickly grabbed his arm and pressed a hypospray against it. He quickly mumbled the beginnings of a spell, but sedative took effect. Merlin slumped forward into the assailant's arms.
"Overconfident like all the rest," the attacker mumbled. In a louder voice he said, "Here now. I told you no more ale. If you could keep your nose out of the bars, we wouldn't have this problem. Come along, father." The assailant hefted Merlin's arms over his shoulders and helped him to one of Midlevel's many docking ports to an awaiting transport. The large tanker transport took off and blended easily with the morning air traffic to parts unknown.
In the castle above, the gargoyles stood in stone slumber, all except one. The black gargoyle detached from the battlements and followed the tanker transport.
* * * * *
Merlin concentrated on keeping his breathing regular and his body loose. He couldn't afford to tip his hand, that he was still conscious.
'I must thank Tao, when this is over. His counteragent worked like a charm,' Merlin thought to himself.
The abductors started searching him. They checked his pockets and person.
"Found it!" A woman's voice announced. "It's a homing device."
There was a crunch. "Not any more," a man's voice replied.
Merlin kept a cool head. Panicking now wouldn't help. He focused on his breathing, to keep up the façade. It was his only advantage to work with.
The transport stopped barely ten minutes after they left, meaning they were close. The kidnappers lifted Merlin's gurney and carried him out into a dark passage. He heard a loud bell ringing that got on his nerves as they carted him to a room.
"You got him?" a man's voice commented with a hint of surprise.
"Yes, After all the trouble he gave us in London, he got careless in New York. We caught him getting a paper on Midlevel," the assailant explained.
"I want him up next," a third voice, the Employer's, ordered. "Eliminating the 'world's greatest magician' will make our plans go much easier."
A woman's voice interrupted. "We already have the Xanatos women prepped and ready. Do you want to halt the procedure on them?"
"Three quarters vs. a halfling. Go with Anna Xanatos, then Stacy Xanatos, but prep Merlin Ambrosius immediately afterwards."
Merlin next heard some mumbling, then realized with a start it was a magic spell. The spell was completed before he could come up with a counterspell. Darkness swallowed him completely.
"Merlin has always been a clever one. This spell will insure we don't get any last minute heroics from him," the Employer explained. "Get back to work."
* * * * *
Alex awoke in a dark cell. He remained perfectly still. The last time he awoke and struggled free, a computer administered more sedative and put him under again. He subtly tried to move his limbs to feel where he was restrained. He felt the instep of his foot and his ankles strapped down. His legs at the thighs and his forearms and biceps. His hands were clad in metal gloves and his mouth was gagged, preventing him from casting a spell.
Suddenly he heard a girl scream. He recognized her voice instantly. It was his daughter, Anna. Alex immediately struggled against his restraints. The computer beeped and a slow whirl preceded more sedative being fed into his system. He fought with all his might against the encroaching darkness. His daughter was in trouble. He had to save her. The computer beeped again delivering a larger dosage. His body succumbed to the sedative, but his mind screamed in defiance until it sank back into the darkness. "What are they doing to my girls?!"
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Sunset
The gargoyles of the New York clan roared into wakefulness. As soon as Artus emerged from stone sleep, his commlink beeped. He read the small message and nodded.
"Obsidian?" Persephone asked just a second ahead of Orion.
"Yes, the raid went down an hour ago. They've met resistance and can use our help."
"I'll assemble the troops." Orion glided down from the central tower to the other gargoyles.
"See to the others, Persephone, especially Brooklyn and Sata."
"You could let Orion handle this. He is an experienced soldier," Persephone offered.
"I'm the leader. I have to be there. I'm needed."
Persephone nodded and smiled slightly. "That's why you'll make a great leader, my love. You do what needs to be done, not what serves you. Be safe, and come back to me."
She quickly kissed him and was gone before Artus realized what happened. Orion called up to him. About twenty gargoyles including Orion's own son Polaris were ranged on the battlements ready to take flight, each armed from the hidden caches throughout the castle.
'I'll have to remember to thank Persephone for the little pep talk later,' Artus thought to himself. He tapped on his commlink downloading the coordinates to the others. "We have a lead on where the rogues are holding Alexander, and the Enforcers need our help. Gargoyles, let's fly."
* * * * *
Ruins of the Hotel Cabal
The Hotel Cabal was in the heart of Downtown, a structural casualty of the Quake. The building was four stories of collapsed rubble and twisted metal, at least on the outside. Inside was another matter, and there was an army fighting to keep the interior a secret. The Enforcers were up against particle rifles and sonic blasters on multiple power settings.
When Artus and his gargoyles arrived the situation was still a stand off. The Enforcers only made enough headway to get into the entrance. Orion quickly deployed Polaris and two others to handle the roof and sniper fire. Artus and Orion dropped quickly to Capt. Siddiq behind the tactical command vehicle.
"Status?" Artus asked.
"In a word, bad," Hector replied. "We've got an unknown number of marks inside, sporting every type of EM weaponry made in the past five years. I've had to call for back up twice already."
"We're taking care of the roof fire," Artus reassured the Captain. He turned to Orion. "Any ideas?"
"How about we run the siege of the Amsterdam Arms?" the blue-black gargoyle suggested.
Artus nodded, before bringing the commlink to his lips. "Listen up gargoyles. Argent? Take three and assist the Enforcers in the lobby to hold their positions. Cloud from Stone, Cocopetal, circle your way to the tactical command. Cloud, see if you can do a hack and slash. We need schematics of the complex and shut down as many functions as you can. Cocopetal you're with me. The rest follow Enforcer orders."
Artus looked to Orion who nodded curtly. Hector Siddiq jerked his head in the direction of an open manhole. Once Cocopetal joined them, the three gargoyles disappeared down the gaping maw.
* * * * *
The roof rained fine dust as another sonic grenade exploded above. The team looked at each other nervously as they performed the rite. The team leader was speaking the spell, giving the others on the team a brief rest.
"I don't like this. A battle's going on up there. If they lose, we'll be trapped."
"No we won't. Stop gabbing."
The team leader finished the spell and a luminous body of magic lifted up from the woman and floated into a canopic jar. The woman gave a sigh and rolled over unconscious; the aging process began but much slower.
"That's our last one!" the team leader declared.
"What about Stacy Xanatos and Merlin?"
"I got orders from the boss. We're to vacate immediately. We'll take the jars to the submersibles, get to Hellsgate and rendezvous with the Leviathan and get out of here. You have five minutes to get cleaned up and to the submersibles. Don't dawdle."
The team left the operating room and the slowly aging Anna Xanatos.
* * * * *
"Any directions, Cloud?" Orion asked.
"I have no name," the white and brown gargoyle replied through their earpieces. "Make a right."
"We can't." Artus held up his laser rifle's scope at iron wall. "We've got a wall here."
"That's not in the satellite x-ray scan… Wait a nano! Getting readings from the next satellite pass."
There was a pause before Cloud spoke up again. "I'm reading iron. Lots of it throughout the complex. The wall in front you is only half an inch think."
A loud screech filled her ears, followed by another.
"Thanks for the tip, sister," Artus complimented. A ripped hole stood where once there was wall. "Keep the data flowing."
* * * * *
Alex remained perfectly still, even when the door slid open. A figure moved quickly to shut down the computer. Alex dared to lift his head. When more sedative wasn't coming, he struggled against his bonds.
A gargoyle appeared, pressing a black talon to his lips, gesturing for quiet. With a couple quick tugs, he ripped the restraints off Alexander Xanatos.
"Come with me," the black and gold gargoyle whispered. Alex nodded and obeyed.
The industrialist and the gargoyle moved down the hallways, stopping every once in a while, when they heard movement.
"You're from Artus' clan?" Alex asked quickly.
The gargoyle shook his head. "I'm from Egypt."
"Haven't heard of an Egyptian clan."
The black gargoyle held up his hand for silence. "It's clear," he announced. They went down to the corridor until they came to a T-junction. "The other gargoyles will be coming down that direction." The black and gold gargoyle pointed to the right.
"Thanks, I owe you one."
"Do you mean it?" the gargoyle asked urgently.
"Do you mean what you say? That you owe me?"
"Yyyes," Alexander replied uncertainly.
"Then swear it," the gargoyle offered his hand. Alex noticed the gold serpent-shaped armband on his arm. He didn't know what was going on, but he complied.
"I swear, I owe you for saving my life."
"Good." The gargoyle gave Alex his particle rifle. "In case you encounter any trouble."
"Thank you," Alex said as the gargoyle quickly vanished into the darkness of the left tunnel.
* * * * *
"Sonic resonators playing back an iron bell?" Cocopetal stared at the apparatus, puzzled. "But why?"
"Never mind the why right now. Can you shut if off?" Artus asked.
"Tricky. Seems to be remotely linked."
"Then we do things the old-fashion way." Orion took aim and fired. The collection of speakers and amplifiers glowed red, then white under the steady beam of Orion's rifle, before turning into a pile of smoldering slag.
"Artus?" Captain Siddiq shouted over the commlink. "We've just won. The opposition stopped shooting and surrendered."
Artus looked to Orion and Cocopetal. "They gave up?"
"Yes, though it looks like they're covering. There's only a small number here. We counted close to seventy at the beginning of the fight. Only twelve men could be found."
Orion spoke up over his link, "Probably a lot more than just the soldiers too. I'm finding operating rooms and well-stocked storerooms. It looks like most of the personnel evacuated."
"We'll sort it out. Right now, let's find Alex."
"Present," Alex said in a voice trying to sound mirthful. Artus and the others turned around to see Alexander Xanatos, a bit disheveled but alive. He had a groggy Merlin at his side.
"He's just a little spellbound. I cast a counterspell so he should be around in a few. Let's find the girls and get out of here."
* * * * *
Outside of Cairo, Egypt
"Welcome to the news!" Mr. Dial with his stentorian voice began the broadcast.
"This evening, New York's finest completed a successful raid against a cult of kidnappers. The group abducted several people, including one of our city fathers, Alexander Xanatos. Just hours ago, it was taken down by a combination of Enforcer and gargoyle efforts. Unfortunately, this cult has left a tragic legacy. Although details haven't been released, there are allegations that genetic experiments were performed on the abducted."
A holographic image of Alexander and two women, one a sprightly young lady, the other older with long thin gray hair. "It is believed that this older woman is Anna Xanatos, a victim of these experiments. Several suspects have been taken into custody with charges pending. But we may never know the full extent of what this cult has done."
A black talon clicked off the news channel. He tapped his commlink to open a channel to his subordinate.
"All essential personnel is safely away. The team captains are returning to headquarters."
"And our men taken prisoner?"
"As expected. They'll keep quiet. We've trained patience into all of them."
"Good. That is all for your end." The Employer clicked the commlink off. The black and gold gargoyle glided easily through the night sky over the desert. The Sahara was slowly reclaiming its former glory. The sand was receding slowly. In another six hundred years it might equal what it once had been.
The gargoyle spotted four obelisks emerging from a hidden wadi. He angled for a soft landing by a stack of canopic jars. Isfet was already waiting for him.
"I heard about the botched project, Harthoth."
"You consider it a failure?" Harthoth asked casually, like he really didn't care what she thought.
"How many halflings did you leave alive? Merlin, Alexander, Nimue-"
"Not enough to be of any consequence to us. Nimue will remain hidden from the human world. Alexander owes me a favor. One I will collect on. And as for Merlin…well there still a few surprises if anyone gets in my master's way. Now, we have work to do."
* * * * *
A howling wind rose up, whipping sand across their faces. The sky grew dark, engulfing even the stars. Hours of chanting had culminated in this final act. Harthoth raised his hands up and brought them down on a canopic jar. The magical body, the ba, flashed briefly before being absorbed by the Concorde Obelisk.
Isfet did likewise, smashing a jar and releasing the halfling magic. The obelisks quickly soaked up the energy like a sponge. Harthoth and Isfet destroyed every jar and the stone pillars absorbed every flash of magic. When there was nothing but clay fragments littering the area, Harthoth began chanting again.
The stone obelisks hummed in response to his chanting. The pointed tips of the four obelisks glowed with a vibrant blue light. Harthoth stopped chanting and for a moment all was silent. The wind suddenly died down and the stones fell silent. Heaviness filled the air as the silence continued. Then without warning, light lanced out of the obelisks aimed for the intersection point between them. When the light met, there was darkness and that darkness grew. The shadow grew and took form, becoming a sinuous body with feathered wings. Scales resolved on the body and the feathers became distinct. Finally, Apep gave a mighty roar that caused the wind to howl again.
"Welcome back to the world, my lord," Harthoth said. "It has been a long time."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, New York
The Xanatos family watched as doctors labored over their daughter. Serena had an arm around Stacy. Halcyon stood next to his father as they watched through the window partition between them and the examination room.
"Any change?" Artus asked as he approached the grieving family.
It took a moment for Alexander to register the question. Halcyon answered first.
"No. It looks like whatever aged her is irreversible."
"It's magic," Serena said wearily. "I just can't sense it in her anymore."
Stacy remained silent as she watched her now elderly sister.
"Whoever did this is going to pay!" Alex swore.
"They will," Artus said. "But for now, you need to heal. All of you."
Artus continued down the hall. Anna wasn't the only patient he had to check up on.
* * * * *
Artus came to Brooklyn and Sata's room and saw the assembled group of humans and gargoyles there. They moved out of the way, allowing him to pass. Dr. Abrahms stood over Sata's bed with a medtech assisting as she performed a medical scan. By the far wall of the room, Brooklyn sat in a hunched over in a worried pose.
"What's going on?"
Dr. Abrahms turned around to face the leader. "I'm sorry, Artus, you'll have to wait outside."
Artus' expression dropped. "But..."
"Clear out, Artus!"
The doctor's stern shout finally beat him back. He turned around, seeing the rest of the party behind him, their worried expressions saying all that needed to be said. Artus' shoulders drooped, just as the door closed behind him.
"Well?" the others asked.
He shook his head. "All we can do is wait."
* * * * *
"What's happening? Will she be all right?"
Dr. Abrahms looked up at the worried red male, glaring icy daggers at him. "Listen, mister, we're doing the best we can here. It would have been easier for us if you'd told us in the first place that there was magic exposure involved. I swear, if this is the kind of pre-natal care you give your mate..."
She suddenly looked into his eyes. They resonated with his concern and worry for Sata's welfare. He took one of Sata's hands in his own, holding it tightly. And suddenly Dr. Abrahms' words escaped her. She sighed. Any discussion about their reckless disregard for Sata's condition could wait. "I'm sorry, Brooklyn. We're going to do our best here."
Brooklyn looked up at her. "I know you are."
The testing equipment stopped humming. Dr. Abrahms looked over at the medtech. "Done scanning?"
He nodded. "Should have your results momentarily. Check the printout over there."
She nodded, turning to a small tape printer against the wall closest to her, near the door. As promised, the printer began producing a tape of test results. Dr. Abrahms held the tape up, trying to keep it from being re-fed into the printer.
Brooklyn looked up at her, expectantly. The doctor quickly scanned over the printout, but when it reached its end, she sadly shook her head. Sighing heavily, she turned to Brooklyn. "I'm … afraid I have some bad news."
Brooklyn's face was ashen. "What is it?"
"Sata's been exposed to extremely strong magic. In a normal pregnancy, mild exposure to magic is a problem, but we can minimize the effects. But with her exposure to magic and carrying twins…"
He stood up. "Don't mince words, doctor."
She looked over at him, into his eyes. Even her professionalism wasn't making this any easier on her. "Brooklyn … I cannot guarantee the hatchlings' survival. I can't even guarantee Sata's survival. The magic is so strong here, it may kill all three of them."
His face dropped. Slowly, he put his mate's hand back on her stomach, letting her sleep. Breathing shallowly, he crossed the room, going around the bed and out the door.
Exiting the room, Brooklyn was mobbed by the clan, but Artus held them back, seeing the bleak expression on Brooklyn's face. The timedancing gargoyle turned up the passageway and continued on his path.
He passed Gwenyvere just coming out of the arboretum. She almost tried talking with him, but his face had stopped her short. She stepped out into the passageway, looking on after him. Artus suddenly came up behind her.
Artus turned to her, scowling. "Brooklyn is no concern of yours, Gwen."
"Yes he is. He's my friend, Artus, don't…"
"I know what kind of friend you want to be with him, Gwen. I thought we made it clear he was off-limits to you."
She crossed her arms, glaring at her brother. "So now you won't even let me have any friends? By the Dragon, what a fine leader you're turning out to be, you've only proven that you can successfully make my life completely miserable!"
Gwen stormed back into the arboretum, away from her brother, away from the clan. As the door closed behind her, Artus felt a pang of regret about being so harsh on her … regret that was quickly replaced with concern for Brooklyn.
* * * * *
Brooklyn found himself at the wall of the castle courtyard. Climbing up the wall, he suddenly could not stop himself from breathing heavily. At the top of the wall, he stood there for a moment, feeling the wind blow all about him, threatening to push him off.
But he stood his ground. With trembling hands, he reached into his pouch, pulling the Phoenix Gate out of its home. He glared at the artifact, eyes glowing, his rage nearly uncontrollable. "You've really outdone yourself this time. You weren't content to leave me in peace, let me have a mate and a family. Oh no, you're so jealous of my happiness that you have to threaten it, to kill it?" He clutched the Gate in his right hand, tightly, nearly crushing it. "I won't be your dancing monkey any more, you hear me? I won't let you destroy my life any more! No more, you hear me?!"
With all of his strength, he flung the Gate into the night sky.
With an impassioned scream, he launched himself from the castle wall, letting his wings catch an updraft that sent him far away.
* * * * *
The Gate fell into the night, falling further and further into the deep darkness, falling past the illuminated lights of the building that formed the center of the Eyrie Pyramid. Then suddenly, it was clutched in a gargoyle hand. The owner of that hand brought himself upright, holding the Gate carefully as he controlled his descent. Finally, his talons touched down on solid ground, allowing him to look at the artifact in his grip.
"That was close." Artus checked his bearings. They had gone a good 600 feet down from the castle. Placing the Gate in one of his pockets, he started the long climb back up to the top.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, the following evening
Artus found Brooklyn in the library with Broadway. Brooklyn had returned to his old style of dress, belt and loincloth. They didn't speak, but Artus could tell that much was going on. He entered the room and presented Brooklyn with the Phoenix Gate. "You dropped this."
"Get that thing away from me!" Brooklyn growled.
"Easy, Brooklyn. Artus is just returning it."
"Well, I don't want it," Brooklyn mumbled. "It's brought me nothing but pain."
"Does that include Sata?" Broadway asked slyly.
"And it's killing her now," Brooklyn shot back. "How would you feel if magic were killing Angela?"
"The way you're feeling right now," Broadway said quietly, then fell silent.
"Brooklyn, once someone told me that leading isn't about what you want, its about doing what must be done. The same holds true with guarding the Gate."
"And when that price includes your mate and children? Tell me how much leadership and duty mean then? Would you do this if it cost you Persephone?" Brooklyn turned to Broadway. "Or Angela and your kids? Would you willingly sacrifice your loved ones for this thing?!"
"But we aren't in this position. You are," Artus said, squaring back his shoulders. "I know I sound stonehearted, but this is your duty, not ours. I can't tell you if this is worth it or that you are wrong for wanting to abandon it. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That doesn't mean we stop doing what is right."
Broadway joined his son. "Brooklyn, could you have known the Gate would do this?"
"And if you did know at the beginning, would you have given it up and any hope of ever meeting Sata or sharing a life with her?"
"Then it sounds to me that you would have come to this same point, where you need to be."
"And Sata? Is death where she needs to be?"
"That I can't tell you. I'll hope for the best. In the end, that's all we can do."
Artus got beeped. "I've got to go. Think about this, Brooklyn. The Phoenix Gate is your duty. Think of what could happen if you abandon it."
* * * * *
"It should be destroyed," Sata said weakly.
Brooklyn looked up at his mate, those words resonating with him. "I agree, but unfortunately that's not one of my options."
Sata looked at him sadly. He stood up, approaching the window of their room.
"Sata ... I've been thinking these last few days. And I've had to come to a difficult decision. When the Gate takes me away again..." He looked to his mate. "... I can't bring you with me."
Now her expression was even sadder. "No. I cannot be without you. It has been so long, and now I can't even picture my life without you, or dancing."
"Look around you, my mate. We're here, in Manhattan. Why can't you stay? This might be as close as you ever get to returning home."
Brooklyn nodded. "I know that as well. Don't you think this is killing me, too? Not only in the figurative sense?"
Sata looked up at him, eyes pleading. "But you might never come back." A single tear rolled down her face.
Brooklyn could keep his distance no longer. He came close to his mate, stroking her face gently. "And that's why you have to stay here. This is the safest place we've ever been in. Look around us ... futuristic technology, friends, and above all else gargoyles and humans living together in peace. How safe do you think you'll be ... our children will be ... some other place and time? Would you rather our children hatched in a revolution, or in the middle of a war, or a time where gargoyles are being smashed left and right?"
She nodded sadly. "But I am but one of their parents."
"I know," he replied, holding both of her hands in his. "But they will have a family. The clan has been, and always will be, a family. No matter how much conflict exists within the family, it always stays together."
"I know that ... but I want our children to know their father."
"They will. You will tell them about me. Tell them the kind of gargoyle I am, that I was. I'll be with you that way, if not physically, then at least in spirit. Look at it this way, Sata-chan ... losing one parent is better than losing both."
She gave him a desperate, pleading expression again, then looked down at the pouch where he always held the Gate.
"But why you?"
Brooklyn closed his eyes, trying to hold back his emotions.
"It's my duty, Sata. I am the guardian of the Gate as it dies. As much as I hate it, as much as it's completely fouled up my life, I can do no less than keep it."
He looked deeply into her eyes. "If there's one thing that I've learned the most about from you, it's the value of honor. And my honor dictates that I have to perform my duty. It also dictates that I cannot risk your life, or the lives of our children, in the performance of that duty."
She was silent, but still pleading. Brooklyn finally could not hold back all of his sadness, letting his eyes well up with tears.
"When we first met, you told me that sometimes the one must be sacrificed for the good of the many." His voice cracked. "I am the one ... and you are the many," he said, placing one hand on her pregnant belly.
He saw the sad realization in her face. For if it were her, she would have done the same thing. Both mates let their tears flow freely now as they came together in an embrace.
For Brooklyn, it was a hollow victory in this argument ... for his heart was never in any of his words.
* * * * *
They spent the rest of the evening walking around the castle, sharing Brooklyn's memories of the place. He found the significant places of his childhood, and told Sata all about them. She tried to keep her interest in his words, but sadness overwhelmed the moment for both of them.
Their journeys around the castle finally brought them to the rookery. Brooklyn led his mate into the center of it. "It looks exactly like the rookery where I hatched. That was where we were when the rest of the clan was destroyed. It was because of the rookery that we survived, all four of us."
Sata nodded. "And the night afterward, Goliath found you?"
Brooklyn shook his head. "More like we found Goliath. He was looking around the place, hoping to see if he could find anyone alive. Same as us. The rookery is always safety."
Sata sighed, looking around the place. "So this is where your eggs were hatched?" She looked down at the floor.
Brooklyn saw her mood change, sensed it almost before it did. He approached her, taking one of her hands in his. "Don't worry about me, Sata-chan. If I do go ... I'll be back before you even notice I'm gone." He pulled her into another embrace. "And I'll love you always."
She reveled in the warmth of his arms, allowing herself to show her grief. Brooklyn's heart swelled, feeling all the love that he would miss without Sata on his travels.
The tingling started again. Brooklyn's heart sank. "No ... not now! Not now..." He surrendered to his sadness as he pulled back from his mate. "I have to go now, Sata. Don't forget me."
Sata looked at him, watching the blossom of the Phoenix flames widen around him. Her tears fell steadily now, her throat tight, barely letting her speak the words she felt. With all of her sadness, she gave her final plea to her mate.
"Don't go ..."
Brooklyn looked into her eyes, all the sadness she felt compounded by his own. He took one last, good look at his mate. "I love you, Sata." He backed into the Phoenix flame, which fully engulfed him. A moment later, it subsided ... and he was gone.
Sata sank to her knees, feeling her sorrow overtake her. She let loose with a loud wail into the night, which escalated into loud gasping sobs as she lay prone on the rookery floor. And just as suddenly, the effects of the magic took their toll on her, sending her into more violent convulsions, stronger than her previous ones.
But this time, she was truly alone.
* * * * *