Timedancer Ė The Harsh Light of Day, pt. 2
Written by Alan Coleman Waltrip
Story by Alan Coleman Waltrip
Art by Revel and Lynati
* * * * *
Egypt. December 2173
Their transport pod had landed about a mile from the facility they were heading towards, and Samson suddenly knew why he would never live in the desert. Even on this night so late in the year, it was hot. Since Black Circle Industries was about five miles outside of Cairo, there was no barrier for the wind out here in the desert. Samson tried to dig the small grains of sand out of his eyes, knowing that heíd be finding sand in places for months to come.
Twenty minutes. That was how long it took for the rescue group to get ready to set out. Sata put her sword back in the sheath at her side and re-tied her jet-black hair to the back of her head. Artus turned to Samson, Sata, and Angela.
"I want to reiterate not to wait for us once you have Brooklyn. You are to return to Manhattan as quickly as possible," he told them.
Samson looked at his mother, then over to his rookery aunt. Both females seemed old to him. At that moment in his life, he could never see himself being that old. Neither of them was weak, though. They had spirit and drive, but Samson was unsure of how exactly this would turn out.
The four gargoyles and one human stepped out of the transport pod, Samson grabbing a small pulse pistol from its case in the door. The act went unnoticed by his mother, but he realized that she had not taken a weapon at all. They had been raised in very different times, trained in different ways of fighting. He had confidence that his mother could still hold her own against an opponent.
The transport podís doors closed with a gush of pressure, Samson taking a small comfort in the breeze that brushed across his back.
"Try to remember where we parked," Sata said with a slight grin.
A glimmering flash of light drew the groupís attention to their left. Samson immediately went for his pistol, pointing it directly at the attraction. The image seemed odd to him, as he was not versed in the world of magic as others in his clan, including his mother, were. The serpent woman and her followers seemed to step out of the air itself, coming from some place he did not even want to think about.
"I doubt that you will need to remember, samurai," Isfet said, paying no attention to the others around her. "If you leave now, my master has instructed me to let you go unharmed."
"You know why weíre here. I would rather go through with it without a fight," Sata told her.
The dragon eyed Samson, able to see down the barrel of his pulse pistol. "Who is the little one? He looks tasty."
Samson fired off the shot before the serpent woman could finish her comment, the blast hitting her square in the left shoulder, directly where he had aimed. She grabbed the wound with her free hand, snarling at the youngest in the rescue party.
"Trust me. I really donít think you want to know," Samson told her.
"I could take your head off with a thought, boy," Isfet said.
"Sata, do you know who this is?" Artus asked, holding a hand out to his brother to tell him not to fire any more shots.
"She is a servant of Harthoth. Easily defeated in a battle."
"Watch your tongue!" Isfet yelled at the female Timedancer. "Your mateís life is now in our hands. You were told to stay away, and now you will pay for your disobedience."
The bright shimmer appeared again, taking Isfet and her dark clad followers away from the scene. Angela looked at the others, clearly a bit shaken. "Are you sure we can do this?"
"I think we have to," Alex told her, putting his pulse rifle back in its holder. He eyed Samson doing the same.
"Who is Harthoth, exactly?" Samson asked Sata as the party began walking towards their destination.
"When we return home, my child, I will tell you everything I can," she said, meaning every word of it. The only question was how much she could bring herself to tell him.
* * * * *
"Gwen?" Brooklyn asked, the figure in the door almost unrecognizable from the light behind her. But Brooklyn knew who she was. Everything came together in his mind, like the final pieces of a puzzle.
She came towards him, her face as beautiful as he remembered it being. She was clearly older, but it was the age of someone who had lived her life the way she wanted it to. Brooklyn put his arms on her shoulders and pulled her into a hug, holding onto her as if she were going to run away again.
Meryt looked on from the back, only guessing at what was going on in front of her. "I hate to interrupt," she said, "but shouldnít we be hiding?"
Brooklyn took another look at Gwenyvere, not exactly sure what to say. "You look the same, just..." he finally got out.
"Older?" Gwenyvere finished for him.
"Something like that. What are you doing here?" Brooklyn asked, knowing the answer in the back of his mind.
"This is my home, Brooklyn. Harthoth and I are married," she told him.
Brooklyn looked at her oddly. "You married him?" he asked, a bit shocked.
Gwenyvere smiled, looking down at the ground for a moment. "Heís told me everything about you two. He makes me happy. Deep down underneath all of his years, he is a good person. I think Iím the only thing he is capable of loving anymore."
"Again, I suggest hiding," Meryt said, stepping between Brooklyn and Gwenyvere.
"This is Meryt," Brooklyn told Gwenyvere, holding his hand out to introduce the golden ancient.
"Iíve heard a lot about you. I assure you, youíre safe anywhere in the complex. But we can go to my room. We might not be as noticed there," Gwenyvere said.
She motioned towards the door, walking in front of the line. Brooklyn followed. "You knew we were here?" he asked, trying not to sound accusatory.
Gwen shook her head when the three were out in the hallway. "I knew you had escaped," she said. "Donít worry. He would never hurt somebody I loved."
Brooklyn, Meryt, and Gwenyvere continued to walk the halls of Harthothís compound, a million thoughts going through each of their minds.
* * * * *
The wind was harsh against Sataís skin, but she knew this had to be done. Samson and Angela were on each side of her, while she watched the backsides of Artus and Alex in front of her. They had been walking for no more than twenty minutes, but in this weather it had seemed like twenty hours. There had been no place for them to take to the air. Even if there had been, the wind was so unpredictable that it would not have been a very good idea.
Artus and Alex stopped, the gargoyle holding out his hand to tell the others to do the same. The compound was right in front of them, although the quintet of rescuers were off to the side. Why Harthoth had chosen this desolate place to build such a structure escaped Sataís mind.
"This is where we should split," Artus told them, raising his voice over the wind. "Give us an hour to get in. Lay low and stay out of sight until then."
Angela took her eldest and hugged him, whispering in his ear to be careful. They released each other, and Artus went to his brother. He took his brotherís hand, realizing that they were almost the same size now. Artus knew that great things lay in his younger sibling's future. The Leader looked at Sata and smiled. Stern and ready for a battle, the samurai simply nodded back in acknowledgement.
"Bring him home safe," he told her.
"Do the same for yourself," she said.
They watched the warriors go off in silence.
* * * * *
Gwenyvereís room was extremely well lit, and Brooklyn could see the main part of Cairo out of her window. He knew they were off to the side of the city, out of view of the general public. Yet, Brooklyn knew, the people of the city could always see the building if they chose to do so.
Gwen held out her hand, motioning for her two guests to sit down. She turned to Meryt, seeing the age in her eyes. "How long have you known Harthoth?" she asked.
Meryt smiled, looking at Brooklyn. She always tried not to get caught up in that time of her life. She had been happy and set in her ways, until that fateful day so long ago. "Longer than anyone still living, my dear. Of all the things he has done, even to me, Iíve never hated him. He has a good heart, it is simply misdirected."
Gwenyvere nodded, knowing that her words were true. She turned to Brooklyn. "Why are you here?"
"He asked me to come. So I came. I didnít know what he had going on here."
"No one knows exactly what he has going on here," Gwenyvere told him. "But I know that you want to know how I got here, how I became the person I am today."
"You could say that, Gwen," Brooklyn said, taking a seat in a large red leather chair. "All the big pieces came together in my mind, but fill in the blanks for me."
"Of course. If it started in any one place, it was when we came back from Avalon..."
* * * * *
It would be nine years before the Timedancer would return to Manhattan, and nineteen years before he returned a second time. It was foggy that night, and the view Gwenyvere saw was so unfamiliar it made her stomach churn. No one would let her have a place to call home, and she promised to herself upon seeing the Eyrie Pyramid that she would make her own home one day.
"Itís amazing," Angela said, staring in awe of the way the skyline of Manhattan looked. It had been so long since she had seen this place, and it felt less like her home now than ever.
Their boat hit land with a soft thud, bringing all five gargoyles out of their own daydreams. Gwenyvere looked at Persephone, who had decided to come back with them from Avalon. She was happy that her brother had found love in this female, even if Gwen did not know her very well.
The message had come a week earlier, being thrown through Titaniaís Mirror by an unknown person. It had explained everything, but mainly that the Manhattan clan was now in need of a leader. There had been no clear line of succession, so the clan elders had turned to bloodlines, and chosen Artus. He had been the most logical choice, it seemed. He was to return home for training as quickly as possible, to hopefully become the clanís new leader within two years. Mother had opted to go with Artus, and yet again drag Gwenyvere away from the place she had come to regard as home.
"What do we do now?" Samson asked, his young and innocent voice making Gwenyvere smile. She had no idea of the life that he was going to be forced to lead.
Angela looked down at her youngest child, then back up at the Manhattan skyline. "I suppose we should go to the castle first off and check in. Iím sure there is paperwork and other bureaucratic things that need to be done before anything is official. Iím anxious to find out everything that has changed."
Gwenyvere would always remember how happy her mother sounded, the absolute blissfulness of her voice. It made her want to scream. This had not been her choice. She had never decided anything on her own. She knew that someday that would all change. She would make her own home; make her own choices, away from the influence of her mother and her dismal search for happiness.
She knew the stories of how Angela had left her home of Avalon when Goliath and the others had come with the Guardian. Her mother had thrown off the balance of both the Avalon and Manhattan clans simply so she could have some type of peace of mind. She should have stayed on Avalon all those years ago. It would have been so much easier for everyone else.
But Gwenyvere knew that was not the way of things. Sighing, she saw her family making the trek towards the hunkering mass that was the Eyrie Pyramid. Some day, she told herself. All she had to do was wait for the right moment.
* * * * *
"A couple handfulls of years later, you and Sata came," Gwenyvere said, seeing the look in Brooklynís eyes. "I thought that maybe you were my chance, my hope for escape and a life free of my mother's meddling. Those thoughts faded fairly quickly, though."
"Gwen, I Ė"
"You donít have to say anything, Brooklyn," she stopped him. "It wasnít the way things were meant to be, and it sure wasnít your fault. I try not to remember much from that time of my life, but I remember being lonely. I also remember you were the first hope I had of ever having a friend. When you left, well..." she trailed off.
"I know," Brooklyn told her.
"It was bad when you left. I didnít know how I was going to get from one day to the next without having a complete breakdown. The only thing that seemed to keep me together was Sata."
* * * * *
Sata sat in her room, trying to cry. She did not want the others to see her like that. She had to be strong for her children. The jade gargoyle undid the ties in her hair and reached for her brush. As she was working out the tangles as she did almost every night before sunrise, the castleís computer alerted her that someone was at her door.
"Come in," Sata said, pushing away the small twinge of hope that swelled every time someone was at her door. It would happen for the next ten years, until her love finally returned back to her.
The figure, of course, was not Brooklyn. Angela walked into the dimly lit room, a smile upon her face. Sata always saw Angela in that way, as if it was her duty to be content and happy with everything that was going on around her.
"Sata?" Angela asked, a bit of worry in her voice. "Have you been crying?"
The samurai realized that there were drying tears running down her cheeks, and she quickly wiped them away. Her eyes were probably red, and she was glad that she was not out in public. "It is nothing," Sata said, motioning for Angela to take a seat.
"I know it must be hard for you," Angela said. "I... I have a favor to ask you."
"All you have to do is say it," Sata told her. "You have all been so kind to me. I would be happy to return your compassion."
"Itís Gwenyvere," the older gargoyle said quickly.
"As I thought. While I have not been here long, I can tell that she is having trouble in life," Sata commented.
"Itís been getting worse, and the situation with Brooklyn hasnít helped. She wonít listen to me anymore. She loves Broadway and Artus, but she isnít going to take their advice in this."
"And that leaves me?" she asked.
"You are family, Sata," Angela told her. "And at the same time, youíre not. Maybe you can bring some type of perspective into her life."
"You wish me to take her under my wing?" Sata asked bluntly.
"So to speak."
Sata smiled, picking her brush back up. "I shall do what I can. She has the blood of warriors in her veins." The jade gargoyle swung her black hair over her shoulder and continued to brush it. "Perhaps it will help me pass the time until Brooklyn returns."
Angela nodded. "Itís almost sunrise. Are you going to join us outside?"
"Perhaps on a night in the near future. As kind as you have all been to me..." she stopped, as if losing her thoughts.
"Itís still not your home yet," Angela finished for her. "I know how it feels."
Sata smiled again, looking Angela in the eyes. "Thank you," she said. "I shall see you tomorrow evening?"
"Of course," she said, turning and exiting the small quarters.
"Somehow, my friend, I do not think that you do," Sata said to herself, putting the brush back down on her shelf.
* * * * *
Of all the ideas that had gotten into her motherís head as of late, this one seemed to be the worst of them. Gwenyvere glided in the cool night wind, not paying attention to anything going on around her. The samurai was a few feet to her right, and had not said a word since they left on patrol that evening.
She knew they were all playing some kind of mind games with her, but she was not sure why. Gwenyvere was almost positive that her mother was doing all of this for her own gain. Maybe she wanted her daughter gone for good, to make her run back to Avalon and the open arms of the clan who lived there. Or maybe not even that. There were so many possibilities, Gwen knew, and her mother was capable of every single one of them.
Sata looked at the child, and spoke for the first time that evening. "Let us land over there," she said, pointing towards a nearby rooftop.
The two females touched ground, Gwenyvere wondering exactly what Sata was up to. She looked out over the city skyline, breathing out a small sigh of relief. She found a sense of peace in looking at the chaos of Manhattan from this high above.
"I was thinking that maybe we could talk," Sata said, joining her in looking over the city.
"I seriously doubt that there is anything we could talk about," Gwenyvere told her.
"I believe we have more in common than you realize, child."
"I am not a child, Sata. Iím tired of everybody treating me as such," the younger gargoyle said.
Sata nodded. "I miss him. I knew that I could never go home again, so I made my home with him. And now heís gone." The samurai was not allowing herself to cry, but Gwenyvere could hear the edge of tears in her voice. "This place, as wonderful as it is, can never be my home. Not without him being here by my side."
Gwenyvere nodded. "This isnít my home, either. I was taken from my home ninety years ago and I can never go back. This is all my motherís fault, you know. If we had never left I wouldnít be this way."
"We can not change the past. Trust me, I know. All we can do is live the lives we are given. You have so much anger, child. I hope that perhaps I might be able to help you control that," Sata told her, still looking out over the city.
Gwenyvere shook her head. "Donít bother," she said. "Iím going home." Without another word, the younger female jumped off into the night air, gliding back in the direction of the Eyrie. Sata stood there for a moment, watching her silhouette become smaller and smaller. She shook her head.
"Well, it is as good of a start as any," she told herself, following Gwenyvere at a distance back to the Pyramid.
* * * * *
"Anything I ever did, Sata was there to help. If she could take the blame for all the things that got me in trouble, she would." Gwenyvere leaned back in her chair, her eyes watering over. "I wish I could see her again."
Brooklyn nodded and grinned. "Thatís my girl," he said.
Gwen smiled. "I had no respect for her at first. I didnít even have any respect for myself. Something happened one day that made all of that change. It made me realize that she was just like me."
* * * * *
How could they do this to her? They knew she was miserable, and that all it would take to make her feel better was a little information. Sata cried, something she did not like to do in public, especially around others who looked up to her. She had stormed out of Artusí office in a hurry. There was a reason that they were withholding this information from her, she knew. Sata just did not agree with those reasons. She was not the one the Gate had chosen for this journey. What purpose did a medieval samurai gargoyle from Japan have in this time period? She had done nothing for the clan, aside from going out on patrols every now and then. She felt that she had even failed with Gwenyvere, whom she had grown to love like her own sister.
The door beeped, indicating that someone was at the other end. The noise drew Sata out of her thoughts, making her realize that she did not want to see anybody this evening. "Please, go away," she said. The beeping sound continued. Sighing, Sata asked, "Whoís there?"
"Sata?" Gwenyvereís voice came through. "Itís Gwen. Um, Artus told me something happened between you and mom. I thought maybe you might want to talk."
Sata smiled at the childís voice. No, she told herself. Gwenyvere was no longer a child. "Come in, my dear."
The slid open with a quiet shush and the younger gargoyle walked into the room. It was dark, and she could hardly see her mentor on the couch in the corner. Gwen walked over to Sata slowly, not realizing that the elder gargoyle was crying until she sat down next to her. Not quite sure what to do, Gwen put her arm around the older warrior. Sata simply collapsed into her.
Gwenyvere sat there quietly while Sata cried, trying to think of something to say. She what not sure how long they sat there, but it was most of the night. Gwen ran her fingers through her hair, remembering her father doing the same thing when she was younger.
"All I have here is my family," Gwenyvere finally said. "And I donít feel like I have them at all. I know that you donít even have that, but I want you to know that... you have me."
Sata sat up, meeting Gwenyvereís eyes. She wiped the tears from her eyes, even though most of the wetness had already dried on her face. The elder gargoyle smiled. "Iím the one who is supposed to be helping you," she said.
"We all need a little help sometimes."
"I suppose that we do," Sata told her.
The two gargoyles hugged each other, Sata realizing that this was her purpose. Gwenyvere had so much confusion inside of her. If she could help this one person, then her life would have meaning. They didnít feel the sun coming up outside that morning, and the two slept in stone inside of Sataís quarters.
* * * * *
"This is almost too easy," Alex said as he and Artus approached Harthothís complex. "A guy with this much money has to be a little paranoid. He should have the security system to show for it."
"Not everyone thinks like you, Alexander," Artus said.
"Everyone thinks like me. Itís just that not everyone wants to admit it."
The two came up on what looked like a maintenance entrance. A large sign read EMPLOYEES ONLY in bold red letters. Alex knew that a building this far away from civilization most likely did not have to worry about intruders, but he guessed that there was at least one camera on them already.
Artus reached for the door, already knowing that it was going to be locked. The knob did not turn, and the gargoyle turned to Alex. The human already held out a laser rifle and fired at the door as Artus moved aside. Turning back to the entrance, Artus saw the smoking hole and smiled.
"Human ingenuity?" he asked jokingly.
"Something like that."
They climbed through the hole, finding themselves in a whitewashed back section of the complex. Pipes ran through the back end, and it seemed that no one had been back here in along time. Alex pulled out a pocket computer from a compartment on his exosuit, punching a few buttons to pull up a document.
"The Black Circle Complex is set up very much like the Eyrie," he informed Artus. "There are offices and quarters all in the same building. Considering the location of this place, that must be heaven for the workers."
"Why would he build this place out in the middle of nowhere?"
"I have no clue. We put up the Pyramid because it was where the old Eyrie stood. It was a place of significance for me. Maybe this place is important to Harthesen for some reason. I canít imagine why, though," Alex told him. He showed him the image on the computer screen, pointing to a blinking red dot. "These are blueprints for the complex. The red dot is a tracking device in my exosuit that sends a signal directly to this computer."
"So where should we go?" Artus asked.
"Best guess? Iíd say either the living quarters or the basement. Brooklyn would be kept in some kind of cell, possibly even just a regular room." Alex pointed to the location on the computer.
"Why might he be in the basement?"
"Because in the Eyrie, thatís where I keep the holding cells," Alex said.
"You have holding cells?" Artus asked, somewhat surprised.
"You can never be too careful. Itís your call as to where we go. Iím just the advisor, not the leader," the human said, sarcasm in his voice.
"Thanks for the reminder," Artus said, smiling. "Remember, weíre just here to clear a path for the others."
A long thud signaled the light going off in the hallway, and Artus and Alex were left with only the residual light images of the hall. Soon that went away, and they were left in total darkness. Red beams of light were visible in the distance, and a rush of adrenaline in Artusí veins caused his eyes to light the hallway once again.
"Nice job," Alex said.
Suddenly the gargoyle felt a weight punch into his back. The pain did not come right away, and he had time to twist around and see that his assailant was merely a robot. It had a long steel rod for its right arm, and Artus could see trickles of his own blood on the end. The robot came towards him again with impressive speed, but he sidestepped out of the way. Artus heard a blast and saw the fighter-bot fly back into the hallway. He turned to Alex, who had a laser gun sticking out of the arm in his exosuit. He looked a lot like his father in old vids that Artus had seen.
"Thanks," he said.
"Itís what Iím here for," Alex replied back.
Artus turned back around, counting at least three similar robots blocking their path. Three blasts came from behind him, each hitting the bots dead on. He knew that the blast would not do much good from that distance, and he moved in for the attack. He pulled out the sword that he had brought along for the journey, knowing beforehand that he was going to have to use it. The gargoyle rushed the robots with a battle roar, his eyes blazing white fire despite the pain at the back of his skull. He slashed one down the middle, hearing the sword cut through the innards of the machine and the crackle of electrical sparks. In one motion, Artus continued to the second robot, hoping that he had enough momentum to get through his other attacker.
The cut was sideways this time, and Artus stopped to eye the third robot. It was already moving in for an attack, and had hit him in the knee before the gargoyle could even devise a plan in his mind. He growled in pain, already feeling the second blow to his chest. He yelled out Alexís name, hoping for some assistance, but saw in his peripheral vision that the human was occupied with another one of the robots. A third blow reached his head, and for the first time Artus started to feel the real effects of his first attack. With the robot behind him, he finally was able to go for another attack against the fighter-bot.
His vision blurry, Artus missed his target, stumbling ahead past the robot. He knew that he was better than this. Better trained, better skilled. He pictured Brooklyn in his mind, knowing that he was somewhere inside this building. The Timedancer was his friend, one of the best he had ever had. He also knew that along with Brooklyn came answers. Answers about his family, about what had happened all of those years ago. He saw his friends and family in his mind, knowing that they were depending on his.
Another blow to his back and Artus knew that it was the last one he was going to take. He turned around, growling the growl of having taken too much. He thrust his sword into the robot, pushing it deep into what he saw as its stomach. He turned the blade on its side, pulling it sideways through the machine. Again he attacked, this time cutting down from the head. It fell down in two pieces, the wires crackling with electricity.
Artus turned back towards Alex, seeing his friend on the ground underneath yet another one of the attackers. This robot had a gun pointed at the humanís chest, and fired off three rounds as Artus made his way to aid his friend. It obviously was not able to crack Alexís exosuit, but had him down enough that he could not get back up. Artus rushed towards them.
He cut off the robotís head.
Artus held out his hand, helping Alex back up on his feet.
"Come on. Letís do what we came here to do."
* * * * *
Somehow, they all knew that this was coming. Even Sata could feel it, she just did not know when. She did not even have the chance to say goodbye. A little while after she had woken up, Alex had informed her personally that she had a message waiting for her. Apparently those close to her has received messages as well.
As she walked to her quarters to view the message, her mind raced with ideas about whom it might be from. She knew, of course.
Sata did not even ask for the lights to come on as she entered her quarters. "Just play it," she told the computer before it could inform her that she had a message waiting.
Gwenyvereís face filled her screen. "Hey. Um, I just wanted to tell you not to worry about me. You did your job. I know you have other people to look after. The eggs, for instance. They should hatch soon enough, and you donít need to be looking after me. Iím fine. I appreciate everything you did for me, Sata. Maybe Iíll be able to stay in touch." She paused for a moment, as if thinking of something to say. "I love you. You were more of a mother to me than she ever was." The screen went blank.
Sata wiped her eyes, shaking her head. This was not what she had wanted. She had finally been able to make a home here, and she would not stand around and watch her family fall apart. She walked out of her room, knowing that it was her night to go out on patrol.
* * * * *
Samson stood behind Artusí desk as they both watched the message in front of them. Neither could believe that this was really happening. Samson was crying, and his brother had held out his hand to try and ease his pain.
"Iím sorry that I couldnít send a message to each of you," Gwenyvereís image was saying. "I just donít have the time. Hey, mom isnít even getting one at all, so consider yourself special. Just know that Iím going to be okay. Iíll have help. Please donít try to find me. Iíve done this on my own, and if I need either of you, Iíll let you know. Iíll see you around."
"How could she do this to us?" Samson asked through his tears.
"Gwenís never cared about anybody else but herself, brother," Artus told him bluntly. "One thingís for sure, though. She can take care of herself. We can get along without her."
Samson did not respond.
"Come on," he said, standing from his chair. "Letís go see mom and dad."
* * * * *
Angela sobbed, so loud that Broadway could hardly hear his daughterís voice.
"We both knew this was coming, daddy. We both know whose fault it is. Try not to blame her, though. I just had to leave. It was something that I had to do. Iíll try to call. Maybe on Fatherís Day. Make it something for you to look forward to. I love you."
Broadway was not crying, but he understood what was going on. He could not blame Angela for this. It was not her fault, no matter how much Gwen tried to believe that it was. His daughter had so much anger inside of her.
Sighing, Broadway took his mate into an embrace, letting her cry on his chest. He ran his talons through her hair, whispering to her that it would be okay. She continued to cry. Though he wanted to, Broadway never did cry. He had to be there for Angela.
Just like he always was.
* * * * *
The beeping of her communicator prompted Sata to bring the device out of her belt pouch. "This is Ground Leader," she answered, using her assigned code name.
"Ground Leader, this is Scout," Artusí voice came through. "Your path is cleared. Use your bio-scanner to locate the target. If we do not meet in the building, you are to leave without us, understood?"
Reluctantly, Sata responded that she understood.
"Good. Scout out."
The jade gargoyle turned to Samson, who seemed to be meditating by the side of Harthothís building. She knew that he was too young to be caught up in this fight, but he had wanted to come for Brooklynís sake. Sata walked over to him and gently tapped on his shoulder, awakening the youth from his thoughts.
"Are we ready?" he asked.
"As we shall ever be," Sata replied.
"Mom?" Samson asked, going towards Angela, who was resting on the ground a few feet away. The eldest gargoyle slowly opened her eyes, seeming somewhat troubled with whatever had been on her mind.
"Are you okay?" her son asked.
"Fine. Itís just that we are getting closer."
"Closer to what?" Samson asked.
"Iím not sure."
Interrupting them, Sata said, "We need to get going. I donít believe that we have much time."
And with that, the three gargoyles stepped into the lionís den.
* * * * *
Gwenyvere knew that she could make it the real world on her own. Her entire life she had taken orders from her family Ė no, just her mother. It was always her mother. That was going to change. The only person she had to answer to now was herself. For the first time in her life, Gwen was excited about the future.
Her contact on the outside had given her a meeting place in an encrypted e-mail, telling Gwenyvere when and where to meet her at. The contact had told her that she would provide her with a place to stay for as long as it took for the girl to branch out into the world on her own, and she could not have been more grateful. This was her chance to escape all the pain she had experienced, and she was not going to miss out on it.
Gwenyvere stood on the roof of an abandoned building near the outskirts of town, a place that had hardly been touched by the rebuilding efforts after the Great Quake. A minimal amount of people lived here, only those who had lost touch with the world, and simply wanted to be left alone until their final days.
The wind blew with a harshness that Gwenyvere found somewhat soothing, and she pushed a few stray strands of hair out her eyes, keeping her attention alert for when her contact would arrive. She had been promised that they would meet before sunrise, but that time was still hours away.
The sound of a jet braking drew Gwen out of her inner thoughts and into the time to come. She found herself almost giddy as the small aircraft landed on the same roof as her, the door opening with a pressurized swoosh, the light from the craft adding only slightly to the natural light of the moon.
Gwenyvereís contact came out of the aircraft, and the young gargoyle smiled at seeing her. Running, she embraced her contact with a hug. "Thank you for coming, for allowing me to do this."
"I would do anything for my granddaughter," Demona said, smiling at Gwenyvere.
"I know. Itís just..." she paused for a moment, trying to think of the right thing to say. "A lot of people say that, but not all of them do it."
"I have a plan, my dear. Since you have an inherent affinity towards the magical arts, I shall instruct you in some various aspects. We can start with something that will allow you to appear as human to those around you. There is also something that will allow you to go out in the daytime without altering your entire genetic structure, such as I am cursed with."
"Can I do that?" Gwenyvere asked.
"You can do anything you please. We are so much alike, my dear. I never cared for the clan setting either," Demona admitted.
"Itís not that. It was just one member of the clan."
"I know, dear. I know," she said before Gwenyvere could launch into her normal tirade. "I have a room set up for you, something for you to have until you leave Manhattan."
"I canít wait. I want to get as far away from this place as possible."
Demona sighed quietly. "I only wish I had that luxury. Come on," she said, ushering Gwenyvere into the aircraft. "Letís go home."
* * * * *
Brooklyn sat in the over-sized chair, nodding slightly to himself at Gwenyvereís story. He let the information absorb into his head, choosing his response carefully. This was not something he had been expecting.
"Demona helped you?" he asked, some amount of shock in his voice coming through.
Gwenyvere smiled, nodding in response. "She is such a good person deep down. Itís just that only a few of us can make that part of her come out. No one knew, of course, especially not my mother."
"I know these names," Meryt interjected, turning to Brooklyn. "Youíve mentioned them before. They were just starting to form a relationship. How long has it been since then?" she asked, knowing that it really was not important.
"About two hundred years," Brooklyn answered.
"That is nothing," Meryt said, smiling. She turned back towards Gwenyvere. "Please continue your story, my dear."
"I was happy. I didnít think things could get any better. But again, I was wrong..."
* * * * *
Gwenyvere unzipped the large suitcase her grandmother had bought for her, wondering if she would be able to fill the case up. Her flight left in less than two hours, and she knew that she would never come back to this place. A new life awaited her across the ocean, and the young gargoyle could hardly contain her excitement.
After some time, she turned around, becoming aware that someone was watching her from the door. Demona stood in her doorway, watching her granddaughter with pride in her eyes.
Gwenyvere smiled. "Are you sure that I can do this?" she asked, folding a shirt and setting it into her suitcase.
"You can do anything you want to, my dear."
"I donít know how to thank you. I mean..." she stalled for a moment. "I can do things that I never thought possible. Iíve seen the sun and walked through Timesí Square during lunch hour. And itís all because of you." Gwenyvere stopped, knowing that she was about to cry.
Demona pulled her granddaughter closer, rubbing her hands gently across the younger gargoyle's back in an attempt to sooth her. "If you need anything..."
"I know," Gwenyvere said.
Demona nodded. "You can stay here, if you want."
"I have to go."
She nodded again. "Come on," she said, picking up the girlís suitcase. "Your transport is going to leave without you."
The two gargoyles walked through the corridors of Nightstone Industries, making their way to the private aircraft hanger near the top of the building. "Everything should be set up for you when you arrive. You will have quarters in the same building that you will report for work, much like the Eyrie. Everything is taken care of."
"I can not believe you were able to set this up for me," Gwenyvere said, excitement in her voice.
"Harthesen is an old friend," Demona told her. "More of a business acquaintance, actually, but he owes me a few favors, nonetheless."
As they approached the hanger, Demona stopped at the doorway. "Assure me once more that you can do it on your own," she told Gwenyvere.
Gwen smiled. She raised her hand and recited a small spell to herself. Demona watched as a magical blanket washed over her granddaughter. Her wings disappeared into the air, and the talons of her hands smoothed into human fingers.
"I told you I could do it," Gwenyvere joked.
Demona smiled, wiping a small tear from her eye. "You will call?" she asked.
"Of course Iíll call."
"Then go. Live your life however you want to," Demona said, giving Gwenyvere one last hug.
"I plan to." Gwenyvere let go of her grandmother and turned, seeing the small craft that would take her to her new life. She could not help but smile.
Gwenyvere boarded the transport out of Manhattan. She had no intention of turning back.
* * * * *
Gwenyvere adjusted her glasses, wearing them only because they made her human form look more sophisticated than she was. She sat in the small chair, her legs crossed. She could feel the magics running through her, knowing that they were what allowed her to appear the way she did. Today was her first day using the magics all day, and Gwen hoped that she did not simply turn to stone in the middle of class. She was not sure how she would explain something like that.
As her professor droned on about what the class would be studying over the next few weeks, Gwenyvere mindlessly took notes on what she thought might be important. Her mind drifted to how perfect everything was. She went to her business classes in the morning and to her job in the afternoon. Though she had not yet met James Harthesen, she had a meeting with him in a few hours. He had been kind enough to hire her as his new intern even though she no education or experience to speak of. All he had was the word of her grandmother.
After class, she walked through a corridor outside of her quarters, feeling the sun on her skin as it came through the windows. It still amazed her that she did not have to turn to stone during the day. As Gwen entered her room, she set down her books on her couch and stepped into the shower. A million different things ran through her mind, and she was too excited to sort them all out.
Gwenyvere blow-dried her died blonde hair, making a mental note to touch up on her roots the next free night she had. She looked around her room, knowing that it was impossible for anyone to be in her quarters with her. Quickly, the human-looking gargoyle waved her hand, drawing away the magic that ran in and out of her body. Alone in her room, she looked like her true self.
Looking at the time, Gwen quickly got dressed, again muttering the spell that made her appear as a human woman.
The power of it all still impressed her. She knew that she could do anything.
* * * * *
Nervously, Gwenyvere tightened the tie that held back her hair in a professional looking ponytail. She looked up towards Mr. Harthesenís assistant, who met her eyes and smiled pleasantly. "He should be with you shortly, Ms. Destine," she said, going back to the computer which was perched on her desk.
The entrance to the waiting room opened suddenly and a tall man in a suit stepped through. He smiled to the receptionist, as if he knew her. Gwenyvere picked up a magazine and flipped through, looking only at the pictures to see if anything caught her eye. The man sat down next to her. His dark black hair was parted on the side, and much of the mousse he obviously put through it in the morning had outlived its usefulness. Gwen thought it made him look cute, for a human.
"Excuse me, my dear," the man said to her. "Have we met before?"
"I doubt it," Gwen told him. "I just moved here. Gwenyvere Destine." She introduced herself, extending her hand. The man took it gently, kissing it lightly as if he were a nobleman of ancient times.
"Of course. I never do this, but you strike me as possibly one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen." Gwenyvere blushed lightly, and the man could sense the magical aura coming off of her in dark blue waves. To him, it only added to her beauty. "Would you care to have dinner with me this Thursday? Perhaps Friday?"
Gwenyvere smiled. "Sure. I mean, Iím not really...."
"You said you were new here, my dear. I would guess that you have hardly met anybody. Let me take you out and show you a good time," the man said, looking her directly in the eyes.
"Okay," Gwen said, nodding. "I would like that. I donít even know your name, though."
"James Harthesen. I believe we have an appointment."
* * * * *
Honestly, Gwenyvere could not believe what was going on. The last two weeks had been some of the greatest times she had ever experienced. She had everything now, even a boyfriend. A human boyfriend, true, but she had grown up with the mindset their two races were as one. The fact that he was the leader of one of the most powerful corporations in the world did not hurt things either.
James was fantastic, though. He was someone she could be herself with, despite the fact that her outward appearance was a complete fabrication. She had almost cried when he had to go out of town for a business matter. She knew that she was letting herself fall in love with him, and that was fine with her. No one had ever let her love before. She felt like a little girl with a crush.
She flipped through the channels on her vid-screen inside of her quarters, waiting for the call to tell her the James had arrived back home. Their romance was being kept secret, mainly because of how the general public would view their relationship. "Ms. Destine," a voice came through her screen.
"Yes?" she said, smiling.
"Mr. Harthesen would like to see you," the voice said, a click coming directly after the message.
Gwenyvere stood from her couch and went into the bathroom. She pulled out a bottle of perfume James had bought her last week and put some on, exiting her room soon after. It took her less than ten minutes to get to his office, and the door opened automatically for her.
She stood watching him for a moment, his mind currently moving between his computer screen and an ancient looking book sitting on his desk. Slowly she walked over to him, his back to her. She put her hands gently on his shoulder and moved her hands down to his chest. Gwen lowered her head to be level with his and kissed him on the neck. She could almost feel him relax. That was the only thing she had to work on with him. He worked too much for her enjoyment.
"How was your business trip?" she whispered in his ear.
James took her hand in his own and kissed it gently. "I wonít know for some time, but it looks promising."
Gwenyvere looked at the computer screen, unable to decipher the characters which filled it. They looked Japanese, perhaps even Chinese. "The satellites are up and away," she said, having heard the news on the facilityís private news channel.
James nodded. "Yes. Now the tech people have to test to see if everything will work."
"Well, Iíd say youíve earned some R&R."
The man she was falling in love with turned his chair around and looked at her. He smiled, reaching out and pulling her closer towards him. Gwenyvere gave out a playful yelp as she fell into his lap. She pushed her hair out of her face as she smiled at him.
"Iíd say so to, my love," he said. It was the first time he had called her as such. "So what would you like to do?"
Gwenyvere smiled again, a mischievous look in her eyes. "Oh, Iím sure we can think of some interesting things right here."
Harthoth, in his human guise, smiled again. He pulled her in, kissing her fully on the lips. It felt good to finally be happy.
* * * * *
"It was all perfect, you know?" Gwenyvere said. "Whenever I was with him, I didnít have to worry about anything. I was just so happy."
"Has that changed?" Brooklyn asked.
"Happiness never lasts for long, Brooklyn. We should treasure it in the small intervals it comes in."
Brooklyn nodded. "What happened then?"
"The thing about real love is that you arenít ever supposed to lie to one another. Harthoth and I... we were both living a huge lie. We were lying to each other and to ourselves. However it happened, Iím glad that it did."
* * * * *
Gwenyvere let herself relax in Jamesí arms. They lay together on an oversized couch, both watching a large television screen. She had suggested something simple for this weekend, something that would take his mind off of work and let him unwind. Gwenyvere knew that her love worked too hard, but that he would not have it any other way. Her mind drifted towards the end of the movie that they were watching. She had seen it a ton of times before, and knew the ending almost word for word.
As the credits started to roll, Gwen looked at James. "Whatíd you think?"
James shook his head. "I donít get it," he said, drawing her closer into his frame.
"Whatís not to get?"
"So they were the same person?"
She smiled. "Yeah. Itís all about how you might not be who you think you are. Itís a good movie."
"Itís not possible," he told her, only halfway joking.
"Itís a movie. Itís fiction."
James smiled, bringing the love of his very long lifeís lips to meet his own.
There was a flash of light. Years later when he looked back on the incident, Harthoth would realize that he never actually saw the flash because his eyes had been closed. But even through his eyelids, he felt the light. What happened after that, he would never actually know. When the flash came, it had been day. When he woke, it was night outside, well after midnight. The creature that lay before him then was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes on. Sprawled on the floor, as if it were the most natural position in the world, his love lay. Only now her skin was the color of the ocean and the sky combined, and natural wings had grown out of her back.
Harthothís first thought was that someone had done this to him. Isfet, perhaps, or any of the other enemies he had made in his long lifetime. Gwenyvere was his first chance at happiness and in a very long time, and someone had set out to take that away from him. His mind raced. It was the sensation that drew him back to his senses.
But he felt no magic. None at all.
Harthoth stood, attempting to get his bearings. It had been a very long time since he had felt like this. Even before his enslavement to Apep, he had used magic in his everyday life. But now everything was gone, except for that deep feeling of false life embedded into his soul. Despite him not being able to feel it, Harthoth was still alive.
"Gwen?" he asked, kneeling on the ground next to her form. He had sensed magic in her when they had first met, but had never given it a second thought. He picked her up, feeling her soft breath and hearing her heartbeat. She was still with him. He could see the natural blackness of his skin surrounding her form.
Her eyes flickered, and she groaned slightly as if in pain. "What happened?" she asked, starring at the ceiling. "James?" Gwenyvere moved away from Harthoth, who now looked like something from her past life.
"Whatís going on?"
Harthoth sighed. "Gwen. This is... this is who I am," he told her.
She titled her head slightly. Gwenyvere looked around, immediately seeing the color of her own skin. A shot of pain ran through her body. She never thought something like this would happen. She looked at Harthoth, her mind confused with everything she was seeing. "I donít... How?"
"Have you always been like this?"
Gwenyvere looked at her arms, slowly bringing her hand up in front of her face. It was its natural color, down to the talons at the end. She simply nodded.
"Gwen. Spend the rest of your life with me, in whatever form you want to live in."
She looked at James, still confused. She moved closer to him, pulling him into an embrace. "Okay, James. I want nothing else in the world but to be with you."
"My name is not James. Itís Harthoth." He cried, then. For the first time in eons, Harthoth cried.
* * * * *
Months later, they were still happy. It was summer, and despite the heat, it would always be Gwenyvereís favorite time of year. The wedding was planned for the day in the complex chapel. While Harthoth had always hated unnecessary attention, he had given into his fiancéís wishes for the ceremony. She thought that if they were going to live their lives as humans, their wedding should be as well.
Gwenyvere stood on a platform as a small woman adjusted her dress. The feel of it on her skin made her smile. Its white color reflected the light in a shimmer. A knock at the door drew her attention back into the events of the day.
"Come in," she said, as the woman turned her attention elsewhere.
Demona stepped into the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Gwenyvere smiled at the sight of her. Even in her human guise, her grandmother was beautiful.
"When I sent you out here, I did not think youíd get married. And to a human no less." Demona smiled, meaning the last part to be a joke. She was not sure if it came off as that.
"I love him, as much as Iíve ever loved anything."
"Youíre not worried about the attention this might bring? Half of the worldís media are covering this event."
Gwenyvere turned her attention to the other woman in the room. "Could you excuse us for a moment, please?" she asked her.
"Of course, Ms. Destine." She slid past Demona quietly.
The bride stepped off the platform carefully. "I donít think I have to worry about anything. Even if anyone from Manhattan were to pay any attention to this, there really isnít anything they could do."
Demona nodded. "You could have at least made this a bit more traditional."
"Thereís something I need to tell you. James is... one of us. Heís just like you and me. I think that itís fate that we met like we did. We fell in love in one form; weíll live our lives in both."
Demona smiled. She held out her arms and brought Gwenyvere into a hug. They stayed that way for a long time. "If you are happy, my dear, then I am happy."
* * * * *
People surrounded him after the ceremony. For the most part, he hated it. People asking questions, wanting to insert themselves into his private life; it was irritating. All he wanted to do now was rejoin his wife and start their honeymoon. Through the crowd, he spotted Dominique Destine and quickly rushed over to her.
"Dominique. Itís good to see you again. Might we speak in private?" he asked.
"Where did Gwenyvere run off to?"
"Sheís changing before we catch our plane. There is a conference room upstairs."
The two walked there in silence. Harthoth opened the door for Demona, and stepped into the room after her.
"You look much too young to be Gwenyvereís grandmother."
"My predicament is public knowledge, Mr. Harthesen," Demona said.
"Of course. I just wanted a moment to talk. You are such an important person in Gwenís life. I donít know that much about you."
"Please. Iím sure that somebody of your talents knows everything about those he chooses to associate with."
"So you know, then?" Harthoth asked.
"Gwenyvere told me before the ceremony. Iím glad that she was found someone."
"I admit that I know your history, Demona. Your association with the Third Race, your everlasting quest for redemption. Do you know mine?" Harthoth dropped his guise, appearing before her as he truly was. "I am over eight-thousand years old. I have watched empires rise and fall. I have outlived every member of my clan save for one."
"We have much in common, then," Demona told him.
"Indeed. We must have dinner once I return."
"I look forward to it," she said.
"If you will excuse me, I have a wife to find and a honeymoon to attend."
As he left, Demona spoke once more. "If you hurt her, your pain will be everlasting."
"I would die before I would allow harm to come to her." Harthoth exited to room, leaving Demona alone.
* * * * *
An assistant waited for him outside the room. "You requested me, Mr. Harthesen?" she asked.
"I failed to see Meryt at the ceremony. Did she send any word?"
"Iím afraid not, sir. The questions her presence would arise in the first place..."
"Indeed," Harthoth stopped him. "Perhaps Iíll see her in the future."
Harthoth left to be with his wife.
* * * * *
Alex walked a few paces behind the gargoyle leader, who had his attention focused on schematics of the complex. They had not been spotted since the initial attack when they had first entered. Artus stopped, motioning for Alex to come closer.
"Look at this," he said, making his monitor focus on a small room on one of the levels below them. "This room has an excess amount of environmental controls diverted to it. Itís cool and damp, and underground."
Alex looked at his friend. "A rookery?"
"That was my first impulse as well. But that raises the question as to why the CEO of a major world company has a rookery in his facility."
"The Eyrie has a rookery," Alex noted.
"Itís also home to a large clan. There are no gargoyles in Egypt."
"That we know of."
Artus nodded. "I want to check it out."
"By all means," the human said. The two warriors located a lift, and were soon on their way.
* * * * *
Harthoth sat at his desk, watching the digital image of the gargoyle and human who had invaded his home. All of his plans were coming together, but at the same time they seemed to be falling apart. "You should have heeded my warning," he told the monitor.
The familiar chill of Isfetís presence filled the room, although Harthoth did not look up to see her in front of his desk. He turned off the monitor, and finally turned his attention to his guest.
"We have a problem," she told him. "The Timedancer and the Shabti have escaped, and appear to be in your quarters. Your concubine is with them."
"I have told you to never speak of her in that manner," Harthoth told her simply.
"What will happen when you grow tired of her? One day our master will Ė"
"Silence!" He cut her off. "Apep knows he can not use her against me. I would kill a thousand souls before I hurt her."
"Of course you would. There is something else," she said. "We have two intruders: a gargoyle and human. They appear to be heading towards your rookery."
Harthothís expression did not change. "I am aware of all the developments, Isfet. Were you aware that there are three more intruders, including Sata? They are traveling along the same path as the other two."
"Do you plan to do anything about this?" she asked.
"Everything is under control."
Isfet moved closer to him, her eyes blazing with her own natural magic. "I know you are aware of what will happen to you and those you care about should anything happen to the plan, especially this late in the program."
Harthoth looked her in the eyes. "Everything is under control," he repeated. "Once everything is completed, I might even have a few extra prisoners that you are welcome to turn into your playmates."
Isfet smiled, backing away from the desk. Without saying a word, she waved her hand, disappearing from the room in a shimmer of light.
Harthoth turned the monitor back on, returning his attention to Artus and Alex.
* * * * *
Samson knelt down to the ground, picking up a destroyed piece of metal. It had been cut through with a sword, which he guessed had been his brotherís. "Subtle trail, huh?" he said to no one in particular.
"Look for claw marks. Things like that," Angela said. Sata put her hand on her shoulder.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Iím fine. This place just feels... odd."
"I know what you mean," Sata said.
The sound of wind caught Samsonís attention, and he looked up to see the reptile woman who had greeted them upon their arrival in Egypt. Behind her was a cadre of warriors clad in black. Samson drew his pulse pistol and pointed it at her head.
"You were warned to stay away," she said, focusing her attention on Sata.
One of her followers threw a spiked star, which sliced through Angelaís arm before Samson could stop it. He shot the follower in the leg, watching him fall to the ground. Angela gave out a stifled cry of pain, and her son could see the blood on her blue-purple skin.
"I doubt your orders are to harm us," Sata told her.
"Youíd be surprised, samurai. Leave now or your fate will be that of the others," Isfet said. When Samson turned back to her, she was gone.
"Mom, are you okay?" he asked, going to her side. She held the cut with her good arm, but dark blood seeped through her fingers.
"Iím fine," she said. "Itís superficial."
"Here," Samson said, tearing off a sleeve of his shirt and handing it to Sata. "Tie this around it. Tight."
"I do not believe they are allowed to harm us," Sata said as she worked on Angelaís arm. "She is acting of her own accord."
"Come on," Samson said, looking back towards the hall. "Letís go."
* * * * *
"This is it," Artus said, standing in front of a door.
Alex reached forward and turned an old fashioned doorknob. The door swung open, hardly any light escaping into the hallway. "Itís not locked," Alex noted.
The two walked down a short staircase, the aroma of water and peat moss hitting both of them with force. It reminded Artus of the rookery back on Avalon, with its low light and dense foliage. The rookery in the Eyrie was more technical thanks to Alex and some of his workers.
A lone egg sat on a perch. Artus walked up to it, clearly confused. He put his hand up to it, careful not to touch the shell.
"Itís about halfway along," Artus said. He turned to his friend. "Why would Harthesen have a gargoyle egg?"
"I have numerous gargoyle eggs."
Artus ignored him.
"Do not move," a voice said. Both warriors turned to see a figure standing in the doorway, his face blocked by the darkness of the room. There was a small army behind him. Without warning, a shot was fired from a gun the figure held.
Instinctively, Artus pulled his sword up to block the shot, but it was not aimed for him. The gargoyle soon realized that a burst of energy had not been fired out of the gun, but something projectile. All he saw was a large net which crackled with electricity. The net flew by him and engulfed Alex, knocking the human to the ground. He screamed in pain.
Another shot was fired, but Artus did not have time to block it. All he felt was a sting of pain in his chest and sudden feeling of lethargy. He looked down to see a small dart sticking out of his chest, and pulled it out before he fell to his knees.
The soldiers moved out of the light, making way for their leader. His vision blurry, Artus could not make him out. Only that his skin was a dark black, engulfing the light itself, and that he was a gargoyle. The gargoyle moved closer towards him.
"You were warned. Iím afraid you may not see home for a very long time, my friend," he said, although his words did not register to Artus until much later.
Unwillingly, he gave in to the drugs that coursed through his bloodstream, falling to the ground. His last sight was that of Alex, unconscious in his exosuit, fully engulfed in some type of electrical net.
"Take them to a holding cell," Harthoth told his men. "Do not harm them any further." He turned, not looking at any of the humans who worked for him. Harthoth walked slowly out of the rookery. He did not stop to look back.
TO BE CONCLUDED...