It was a sound Brooklyn had never thought he would be so pleased to hear, the dull crunch of sledgehammer meeting stone. Before his accidental encounter with the Phoenix Gate, such sounds were inspiration for horror and rage; the Quarrymen had seen to that. But now, Brooklyn was smiling, and for good cause. The clanks of metal against concrete, the patter of stone fragments showering upon the ground, all were the sounds of the inhabitants of East and West Berlin struggling to make their city whole once more.
From his vantage point atop an abandoned watch tower on the east side of the rapidly diminishing Berlin Wall, Brooklyn witnessed the rebirth of Germany's capital city. As far as he could see, grinning youths and their exuberant elders gleefully assaulted the wall, with hammers and chisels in their hands, dust on their clothing, and tears on their faces. Not everyone present was demolishing the wall. Also present was a family, standing and watching the demolition with looks of contentment and fierce satisfaction on their faces. Two of the family members, an elderly couple, were dressed in the drab fashions common in East Berlin, while the rest wore the brighter designer fashions of West Berlin. It was a family reunited at last, eager to see the destruction of the barrier that had kept them apart for more than forty years. Also watching the event was a media circus larger than any Brooklyn had ever seen before, with reporters and camera operators from around the world. It was clear that this was an event of historical importance.
A noisy cheer arose as a large chunk of the wall broke free and fell to the ground. Brooklyn stifled a cheer of his own. His heart felt for these exultant souls, but he didn't want to draw attention to himself. It was an effort that was soon shown to be unnecessary, as the Phoenix Gate began to sputter and spark, marking the end of this dance and the start of the next. As the magical flames engulfed him, he thought once more of the Reunification he had just witnessed. For more than four decades, East and West had been separated by many barriers, both physical and ideological. Now, however, an old grudge had finally been put to rest, and the healing could finally begin.
The fiery residue subsided, and Brooklyn found himself in midair. Gravity possessing the qualities it does, he began to fall. Before he even had time to spread his wings, Brooklyn's descent was rudely interrupted by an unidentified hard surface. Brooklyn shakily sat up, rubbing his head and muttering mild curses as he tried to determine where the magical artifact had deposited him this time.
Wherever it was, it was unbelievably foggy. A dense shroud of mist obscured everything more than a few feet away. Within his limited field of vision, Brooklyn could see that he was standing on some kind of plastic-like surface. The surface looked and felt smooth enough to skate on, yet was not at all slippery. This was about all Brooklyn could learn from his eyes and skin, but the sounds of waves sloshing against a hull and the salty scent of the ocean told him that he was probably on a boat of some kind.
"Hello! Is someone there?" a feminine voice suddenly called.
"Uh, yeah!" Brooklyn answered hesitantly, uncertain as to how the owner of the vessel he found himself on would react to his presence, especially since he was a gargoyle. The voice seemed familiar somehow, but in his dazed state, Brooklyn couldn't quite place it.
The owner of the voice paused a moment. "I see. Stay there. I'll come give you a hand."
Brooklyn chuckled, "If I tried to go anywhere, I'd probably fall off the boat! I've never seen fog like this-" Brooklyn's voice trailed off as a very familiar silhouette emerged from the dense mist. "Demona!" he hissed, scrambling backwards, his eyes flaring white and wings spreading. Had Brooklyn not been blinded by the hatred he bore for the woman, he might have noticed that Demona looked quite different than the villain he was familiar with. Certainly many aspects remained the same. She was still a slender, beautiful gargoyle with azure skin and a head of fire-red hair. She still bore the crownlet of gold she always wore upon her brow, as well as the armband of the same metal that she kept upon her left arm. Her clothes had changed. Rather than the halter top she had so often worn in the past, Demona was clad in a breastplate of some yellowish metal, as well as shoulder- and ankleguards of the same material. She still wore a loincloth belted around her waist, but the belt had no apparent clasp. The wingclaws of Demona's caped wings were resting upon the shoulderguards, rather than lying clasped across her chest. However, the changes in Demona's attire could not compare with the changes in Demona's eyes. Her eyes, which had so often been filled with scorn, hatred, and fury, now seemed merely sad. Sad, and hopelessly old.
"Brooklyn, I won't hurt you," she said softly.
"Oh, well that makes me feel so much safer," Brooklyn snarled. "As I recall, the last time you said that was just before you tried to turn me into a zombie slave."
"Things are different this time. Much different. Times have changed, perhaps more than you realize."
That last comment struck a chord in Brooklyn. While he still bore little trust for the woman, it seemed apparent that Demona wasn't about to attack him, and it would be in his best interests to figure out exactly when he was. "Just what time is it, anyway?" he asked, eyes fading once more to their usual color.
Demona smiled slightly. "I assume you mean the date. It is May 20, and the year is 2255."
Brooklyn whistled. "You mean I'm in the future?" Demona nodded. Brooklyn sighed. "Well, that gets the 'when' out of the way. I'm the 'who', the Gate's the 'what', and I doubt I'll ever learn the 'why', but do you mind telling me the 'where'?"
Demona chuckled, a far cry from the malevolent laughter Brooklyn had heard many times before. "You are on a funeral barge, just a half a mile off the coast of Ireland."
"A funeral barge?" Brooklyn asked.
Demona extended a hand. "Come, Brooklyn. I can assure you that the cabin of this vessel is much more comfortable than its deck." Brooklyn eyed the proffered hand warily. Demona sighed, "Must you be so suspicious?"
Reluctantly, Brooklyn took Demona's hand, and the blue-skinned gargoyle helped him to his feet. "You don't exactly bring out the best in me, Demona," he growled.
Demona didn't answer, instead leading the way through the dense fog to the ship's cabin. As promised, the cabin was very cozy, with a number of sleek, padded chairs. A gentle white light illuminated the room from a number of subtle recessed lamps in the walls and ceiling. Demona sat down in a chair, and gestured for Brooklyn to do the same. He did so, and was amazed to feel the chair adjust itself to accommodate his tail. It would seem that by the middle of the twenty-third century, someone had solved the one major beef Brooklyn had with human chairs.
Demona spoke, "This barge is carrying the body of a truly wonderful gargoyle by the name of Benedick to Wyvern, Scotland, where he will be laid to rest with others from his adopted clan."
"Truly wonderful, huh? So why are YOU here?" Brooklyn asked acidly, studying a panel of buttons on his chair.
Demona ignored the implied insult and answered, "Benedick was my mate. More than that, he was my universe, my one great reason for being. He was loved and respected by all who knew him."
"Oh, yeah, he seems real popular," Brooklyn snorted, turning to face Demona once more. "That must by why you're the only one here-" Brooklyn froze, confronted by a sight utterly alien to him. Demona's head was hung, and tears were streaming down her face. Her taloned hands held the pliable arms of her chair in an anguished grip. "-Demona?" Brooklyn asked with concern, the spite fading from his voice.
Demona waved him off. "No, Brooklyn, I'm sorry. I had forgotten how much you once hated me." Brooklyn's mouth opened, but Demona continued, "And you had every right to hate me, I know. But please believe me, you have no idea how much pain Benedick's death has brought me." Demona lifted her head to meet Brooklyn's gaze, and forced a tight smile. "For your information, Brooklyn, I asked to be alone on this journey home." Her eyes took on a far away look, "Alone one last time with my true love."
Brooklyn was horrified. It was rapidly becoming clear that this was a very changed Demona. Not only that, but Brooklyn had intruded on a very emotional mission, and had added insult to injury by meeting Demona's offers of aid with suspicion and vicious sarcasm. "Demona, I-"
"Please, Brooklyn. Just enjoy the ride. I would like to spend some time with Benedick." Demona stood and walked out through a door, trembling slightly.
Brooklyn sighed and sagged miserably into his chair. "Brooklyn, you have got to work on your tact," he muttered.
As the rising sun crept over the horizon, its first beams of the day reflected off the smooth surface of a beautiful golden urn, and cast a long shadow of the man holding it. This man, clad in a long black overcoat, had seen many such sunrises, a wearying number of sunrises, in fact. But this sunrise was different. This sunrise, Macbeth stood upon the docks of Santa Monica Pier with a purpose: to say his last goodbyes to his true love.
"Farewell, dearest Anna," Macbeth whispered in a voice hoarse with emotion. He gently kissed the rim of the urn, and a single tear chose that moment to flow down his cheek onto the metal container. "Farewell, my beloved. From the sea you came, and to the sea you shall return." Macbeth clasped the urn with trembling hands, for a moment. Then, with reverence he knelt upon the docks and tilted the urn, allowing its contents to sprinkle into the waiting ocean. The ashes seemed to sparkle and glimmer in the dawn's new light like tiny diamonds, shimmering all the way to the water's surface, where the gentle morning waves soon carried them away.
When the last of the ashes had vanished, Macbeth slowly climbed to his feet. It was time to go. He had a very important appointment to meet in Scotland, and his private aircraft was waiting for him at his Los Angeles estate. Not for the first time, Macbeth wondered whether or not this was truly an appointment he wanted to keep. The sun glimmering off of the urn interrupted his thought, and he glanced down upon it to see that the rising sun had reflected off of the inscription. "ANNA WILLIAMSON: A BEACON OF LOVE IN A LONG, LONELY LIFE." Macbeth gripped the urn once more, and entered his car.
Brooklyn hesitated before the door to summon his resolve. A part of his mind was screaming at him, demanding to know why he was about to apologize to DEMONA of all people. Still, Brooklyn knew that whatever Demona had done to him in the past, he had wronged her in the present. Or future. Or whatever noun was appropriate to describe his peculiar situation. Brooklyn gritted his teeth and pushed the door open.
"Demona, I-" Brooklyn drew a deep breath, "I wanted to apologize. I've been acting like a total jerk." Brooklyn relaxed and let go of his breath, sighing slightly.
Demona grinned impishly. "Was that really as painful as it looked? After an effort like that, how could I not accept your apology?" Demona was crouched by a peculiar sort of casket. The casket was composed of some sort of seamless, dull black material and was floating a good four inches above the cabin floor, apparently unsupported and unrestrained.Only the flickering flames of several small candles lit the room.
Brooklyn's eyes narrowed a moment, and then he sighed and laughed slightly. "I guess I was a bit tense," he admitted.
Demona beckoned to him. "Come, Brooklyn, there's someone I'd like you to meet." Brooklyn stepped closer, and Demona tapped a button on the casket's surface. The top of the seamless box split open down the middle, the cover receding into the bottom of the casket without a trace. A second, transparent cover was revealed, and within this cover lay the still form of an elderly gargoyle. "Brooklyn, this is Benedick." Benedick, in spite of his age, was a handsome gargoyle. He was pale white in color, and his body, though lean, was quite muscular. Behind the wrinkles that marred it, Benedick's face was rough and angular, and his square jaw sported a short goatee of white hair, though Brooklyn was unable to decide whether that hair was white because of age or because that was its natural coloring. At each temple, a single, arrow-straight horn protruded upwards, each a finger's width at the base and tapering to a needle-sharp point about six inches above the top of Benedick's skull. That skull was topped by a mat of close-cropped white hair, obviously cut. Benedick's ears were relatively small, almost like a human's, but pointed. The body was clad in pants of some satiny brown material, covering his legs down to the knee, and he was also wearing what appeared to be a plaid flannel shirt.A golden band encircling the middle finger of Benedick's left hand suddenly caught Brooklyn's eye. His eyes flickered to Demona's hand, upon which a similar ring rested. His eyeridges lifted in surprise.
Demona noticed his attention and blushed slightly, her right hand moving to cover the ring in an involuntary gesture of self-consciousness. "Benedick...insisted that we be wed in a human ceremony," she muttered, as though embarrassed.
"You had a human wedding?" Brooklyn asked incredulously. "You really have changed, haven't you?"
Demona sagged, and tapped a button to close the casket once more. "You have to understand, Brooklyn. For the thirteen hundred years I've been alive, I've only been truly happy a handful of times. The first was when I was in love with Goliath. I squandered that happiness when I-" Demona swallowed painfully, "-when I betrayed our clan to the Vikings. I didn't find happiness again for a thousand years, until I met Angela, a daughter I had had no idea existed. But I was still so bitter. I wasted so many of the precious moments I could have shared with her, persisting in a pointless and self-destructive vendetta against humanity. She had faith in me, though. I have no idea how she could have, but she did. Her love eventually taught me to be tolerant of humans, to recognize the fact that not all humans were our enemies. I still disliked humans, and avoided them when I could, but I no longer sought their destruction."
Demona sighed. "I was happy, but I was still an outcast. I visited my daughter whenever possible, but I never felt welcome by any but her. Time passed, and I was forced to watch as Angela grew older and older, while I remained unchanged. Even as a younger generation grew to adulthood, I still found myself alienated. Until the night of the Winter Solstice in the year 2168..."
Demona soared over the streets of New York, elegant and airy structures of plasteel and ferrocrete rising up on either side like enormous works of art. On the horizon ahead of her, a beautiful arrangement of angled buildings braced the Eyrie building, the tallest building in the world. Castle Wyvern, once the crown of that building, was now itself topped by an enormous luminescent pyramid. A chain of lights far beneath Demona indicated rows of hydrogen-powered hydrocars on the streets below. None were moving. Demona smirked slightly. Only New York could have a traffic jam in the dead of night in the middle of winter. Still, Demona was forced to admit that New York had grown quite beautiful over the years. Certainly the air was a lot fresher.
Demona glanced up at the moon with frustration. She was late for the Solstice festival. Of all the nights that she could have been held in a meeting, why did it have to be the Winter Solstice, any gargoyle's favorite night of the year? The day of the year in which a gargoyle was able to spend more time awake than on any other. Even worse, she was missing out on the festival the Wyvern clan celebrated at this time. She was missing out on a chance to visit her daughter.
"Cursed board meetings! Why couldn't the humans have eliminated bureaucrats when they cleaned up all their other garbage!?" For a moment, Demona entertained pleasant thoughts of grabbing her vice-presidents by their necks and shaking them until their teeth rattled. Then she calmed down. One thing that she had discovered over the years was that she enjoyed her work a great deal. When she had originally created Nightstone Unlimited, it had been for the sole purpose of building up the power and influence she needed to realize her dream of destroying humanity. When that dream proved futile, however, she came to the realization that she loved the power and influence, even without an ultimate goal. It had become even more enjoyable when human tolerance of gargoyles reached a point where she could begin coming to work in her true form.
Another thing that she realized was that she was very, very good at what she did. When she wanted to be, Demona was a charismatic and inspirational leader, respected by all of her employees. Of course, she did have a vicious temper and a ruthless streak that kept her from being loved by them as well, but these aspects did give her an edge when dealing with representatives from other businesses. Gazing at a business associate as though he or she were an entree did wonderful things to that person's composure.
At any rate, doing the work that she enjoyed meant putting up with the occasional inconvenience, like that night's late meeting. She had missed only a few hours of the night, and the looks on her vice-presidents' faces when she transformed nearly made up for that as well (each of them knew her true nature, but the transformation still unnerved every one of them).
A few minutes later, Old Central Park, the site of the festival, came into view. Central Park was much larger than it used to be, covering much of Manhattan island and a great deal of mainland New York as well. In fact, most of the interior of New York was parklike now, a result of the Great Quake--the efforts gargoyles had made to help the citizens of New York recover from the terrible disaster had done much for their relations with the humans. The yearly Solstice Festival was always held in Old Central Park--mostly because that was where it always had been held.
The revelers were in sight now. The entire Wyvern clan was attending, of course (though a few occasionally left on short patrols to ensure that the criminal element wouldn't take advantage of their celebration), but there were also a number of visiting gargoyles from other protectorates. And there were humans. Demona frowned slightly. Many humans had formed close ties with gargoyles over the years, and many of them chose to spend the Winter Solstice with their winged friends.
As Demona landed, it began to snow, adding to the drifts already on the ground. The grounds were brightly lit by a number of spotlights, illuminating a number of tents and temporary shelters that had been set up as well. Both of these were mostly for the benefit of the attendant humans, as gargoyles possessed both excellent night vision and a stubborn resistance to cold. Why her kind persisted in forming ties with such pathetic, fragile creatures Demona could not understand.
Demona caped her wings and began to walk. A few of the gargoyles that she passed acknowledged her with a nod of greeting, but never a smile. Others greeted her with open suspicion. Yes, everyone knew of the infamous Demona. Nevertheless, Demona held her head high and walked proudly, responding to those who greeted her and ignoring those who shunned her. One unfamiliar white gargoyle merely stared at her with eyes like saucers. Demona snorted. Come one, come all, gawk at the bane of humanity in the flesh. Demona ignored him and continued searching for the one reason she had come.
After a few minutes, she found her. Angela was arm-in-arm with her mate and was chatting with a pair of identical catlike English gargoyles, obviously twins. Angela was dressed in a long, flowing gown of some silky material. She was well past middle age now, and her hair had more white in it than not, but was still as lively and animated as she had always been. Demona sighed contentedly. Her daughter was the most beautiful thing in the world, as far as Demona was concerned, and she always would be.
"Mother!" Angela had noticed her. Demona tried to ignore Broadway's slight frown, and stepped forward to embrace her child. "I'm so glad you could come."
The two of them separated, and Demona held Angela at arm's length. "You look as lovely as ever, my daughter."
"Hello, Demona," Broadway said politely, though it was clear from his body language that he would have preferred Demona's absence.
Angela took her mother by the arm and gestured to the twin gargoyles. "Mother, I'd like you to meed Phobos and Deimos. They've come here from London to attend our festival. Phobos, Deimos, this is my mother, Demona."
The two catlike gargoyles glanced at one another briefly. The one on the left, Deimos, spoke first, "It is a...pleasure to meet you."
"We have heard many things about you," the other added hesitantly. None good, Demona was certain.
"I'm afraid we must be going," the two of them said simultaneously, before turning to depart.
Angela smiled apologetically at her mother. "I guess your reputation precedes you."
"It was you I came to see anyway," Demona answered hurriedly. "Do you think we could find someplace to talk?"
Broadway glanced at Angela meaningfully. Angela responded, "Not quite yet, I'm afraid. I promised Broadway that I'd attend the Midnight Dance with him, and it is starting in only a few minutes. I'll find you afterwards, and you can tell me what you've been up to lately."
Demona was disappointed, but could hardly argue. Broadway was her daughter's mate after all, and Demona had to admit that he made a fine mate at that--and a good father as well--in spite of his lingering distrust of her. Trying to keep a smile on her face, Demona waved the couple off, and prepared to spend the next hour enduring the latent distrust so many seemed to have for her. Demona followed her daughter to the clearing reserved for the great dance. If she had to wait, she might as well watch Angela dance.
Demona watched as Broadway and Angela climbed the two metal towers that had been erected at either end of the dancing area. Several couples were already there, swooping and gliding, and twirling around one another in mid air, eventually drifting down to the ground where they began to waltz. This particular style of dancing, a mixture of traditional gargoyle skydancing and other, more modern, human dances, had been created by a dreamily artistic gargoyle half a century before. Reputedly, Benjamin, as he was called, had been inspired by watching maple seeds pinwheel to the ground, where the city breezes blew them about. Whatever his inspiration, the combination dance became very popular among the gargoyles of New York, and it was danced at most every festival. Broadway and Angela stepped off of the tops of their towers and began to dance with an agile grace that belied Broadway's clumsy appearance. Demona's heart went out to her daughter, and she became lost in the scene before her.
"Um, excuse me..." Demona's reverie was shattered by a hesitant voice to her side. She scowled and turned to see who had interrupted her. It was the white gargoyle with the straight horns that she had seen gawking at her earlier. He was practically cringing at Demona's harsh gaze.
"What do you want?" Demona asked, her expression softening slightly.
The gargoyle still looked nervous. "Well, it's just that, um..." He seemed to summon his courage. "Well, it didn't look like you had anyone to dance with, so I was wondering if you would dance with me?"
Demona froze with surprise. "You want to dance with me?"
Demona barked a short laugh. "Do you know who I am?"
"My name is Demona." Demona prepared for the horrified look, the babbled apologies, and the hasty backing away that tended to follow such a revelation.
She wasn't prepared for an extended hand. "Mine's Benedick."
Demona shook Benedick's hand before she realized what she was doing. Quickly, she pulled her hand away. "You haven't heard of me?"
Benedick shook his head. "I've only been here a few months."
"Then maybe you should ask around a little," Demona bit off bitterly. "I'm sure you can find someone to tell you all about me, tell you about my betrayals, tell you about my crimes against humans and gargoyles alike. You'll hear stories that will make you want to crawl under a rock and hide, stories that will make you flinch in horror every time my name is mentioned. And they will all be true, every word."
Benedick looked at her with a mixture of pity and wonder. "Well, since I haven't heard these stories yet, would you like to dance?"
Demona was incredulous. "Haven't you been listening? I am a monster!"
Benedick shook his head. "All I see right now is a stunningly beautiful gargoyle that I would very much like to dance with. Please, Demona."
Demona took a nervous step back, her eyes wide. "I-I can't dance." This was partially true. Demona had been one of the most skillful skydancers of her rookery, and she still retained much of that skill. The waltz, however, was utterly alien to her. It was a human dance, and she had scorned learning it for that reason.
"I'm not very good either. C'mon, let's learn together." Demona was too surprised to resist when Benedick took her hand and led her away. When she managed to collect the hopelessly shattered remnants of her composure, Demona decided to give it a try. After all, it couldn't hurt, and it might be fun. Plus, for the moment at least, she was not alone. She could spend time with a gargoyle that didn't scorn her. It wouldn't last, of course, but it just might be enjoyable while it did...
"It did last, though," Demona told Brooklyn. "He heard every story. He tried to avoid it," Demona said grimly. "He refused to ask anyone about my past, so I told him myself. I told him how I had betrayed my clan to the Vikings, and he didn't turn away. I told him of my attempt to recreate the massacre by turning the humans of New York to stone and then smashing them, but he refused to leave. I told him about the killer virus that I created to wipe out humanity, but he did not abandon me." Tears gathered at the corners of Demona's eyes. "I tried so hard to show him how evil I was, but he still saw the good still within me. In spite of all my hatred, in spite of all my crimes, he somehow managed to love me--he had no reason to, of course," Demona said suddenly. "Of all the gargoyles I had ever met he should have hated me more than anyone for what I had done."
"Why?" Brooklyn asked, fascinated by Demona's story.
"Benedick loved humans more than he loved life," Demona answered, absorbed in her own memories. "Even before I met him, he had lost count of the number of times he had taken a bullet or a knife meant for a human. I've personally seen him nearly kill himself time and again trying to protect both sides from killing one another in gang fights. To him, every human life, no matter how low or despicable, was precious. To me, every human life, no matter how high or admirable, was worthless. It was his love, patience, and tolerance of my attitude toward humans that eventually convinced me to change that attitude." Demona smiled wistfully. "Angela taught me to tolerate humans, but it was Benedick who taught me to accept them."
Demona dried her eyes and smiled. "Benedick was one of the bravest, proudest gargoyles I have ever known, but around me he was a hatchling. He constantly tried to please me; he showered me with love and affection. Whenever I lost my temper with him, he was mortified. Being angry with Benedick was like kicking a puppy, and I eventually learned to curb my temper out of sheer guilt for hurting him. But there was one thing that he would never bend on, and that was his love for humans. During the first several years that we were mated, I often became angry with him for risking his life to protect humans. He would look hurt, but he refused to change. I once asked him why. I'll never forget his answer. 'Because I'm just like you, Demona.'" The blue gargoyle paused a moment.
Brooklyn digested Demona's words a moment. "I don't get it," he said.
"Neither did I," Demona answered. "It wasn't until I learned about Benedick's past that I found out. Benedick was the sole survivor of the Outer Mongolia clan."
"Outer Mongolia?" Brooklyn interrupted. "I haven't heard of any clan in Mongolia!"
Demona smiled. "There were several clans that had survived into the second millennium, and if my memory has not failed me, your clan was only aware of a few of them before your timedances began. Nevertheless, this is not one of them. The Mongolia clan originally began early in the twenty-first century when a group of gargoyles decided to make their home there. These gargoyles were separatists who felt, as I once did, that humans and gargoyles could never coexist. They chose the mountains of Outer Mongolia with that purpose in mind. The mountains provided many places to roost during the day, and the only humans anywhere near them lived in a small village miles away. The location was ideal, and the clan soon grew as other separatists from clans around the world joined their ranks. Even so, their clan was small, numbering less than twenty, total. But they did thrive, and for a time, it almost seemed as though they would justify their claim."
"Benedick hatched from the third rookery laid by the Outer Mongolia clan. Like many of the second generation of Mongolian gargoyles, Benedick took his clan's avoidance of humans as a sign that gargoyles were superior to humans, and was disdainful of them. He and his rookery siblings delighted in swooping down and frightening any villagers who strayed too close to the mountain. Still, relations remained peaceful, or seemed to, until one day that Benedick and two of his friends returned from an extended hunt to find their clan reduced to rubble. In a rage, he and his companions attacked the villagers, whom they assumed were responsible for the attack. The villagers were taken by surprise, but still vastly outnumbered the gargoyles. The fact that the gargoyles were unarmed, while the villagers had laser rifles also made a difference. Benedick's companions were killed, and Benedick himself was gravely wounded and left for dead."
"When Benedick awoke the next night, he was quite surprised to find himself alive, but was still furious at the humans. He was so upset that he failed to notice that his wounds of the night before had been bandaged. He attacked the first human he saw, a young woman, and would have killed her if the woman's infant child had not started crying. It distracted him long enough to notice the bandages, and realize that the woman he had attacked had probably saved his life. His attack had left the woman with several gashes across her belly, and Benedick immediately wanted to take her to those who could heal her. But she refused. She explained that the wounds were not serious, and that Benedick would be hunted down if it became known that a gargoyle had attacked her. So, Benedick instead devoted himself to caring for the woman and her child until she recovered."
"Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Benedick learned the name of the woman, as well as the reason for the fate of his clan. The woman was a widow named Su Li, and she told Benedick of a stranger who had come to the village. This stranger had tried to rally the villagers to destroy their gargoyle neighbors. He had claimed that the gargoyles were evil, dangerous beasts, and that they had to be destroyed for the safety of the village. No one was willing to follow him, however, as the gargoyles had never done anything to harm them, beyond the occasional prank. Eventually, the man became disgusted with the villagers, and left. A few nights later, Benedick and his friends attacked. After they were defeated, Su Li had examined the bodies and discovered the Benedick still lived. She brought him back to her home, and tended to his wounds as best she could. Benedick's stone sleep did the rest."
"After hearing her story, Benedick realized that it must have been the stranger that had destroyed his clan, and not the village. His vengeful attack on the village had been pointless, and had cost him the lives of the last of his clan. To make matters worse, he had attacked and wounded the only villager who cared enough about him to protect him. So it was that much more of a blow when those wounds turned out to be mortal."
"Oh, jeez," Brooklyn sympathized.
"After Su Li's death, Benedick vowed two things. First, he vowed to care for Su Li's son Chun Lau, a child now orphaned, just as he. Secondly, he vowed to hunt down and kill the stranger that had destroyed his clan."
Brooklyn cocked an eyeridge. "So, there was one human he didn't protect with his life."
Demona smiled. "No, Benedick didn't decide that all human lives were worth protecting until the day he finally did track down the stranger--only to find that he had reformed. The man who had slaughtered his clan gave his life to save Benedick's." Abruptly a whistle sounded. Demona glanced at the door. "Hmm, but that's a story I'll have to save for later. It seems that we've arrived. Would you help me with this, Brooklyn?" Demona tapped another button, and the casket sprouted handles on either side. Brooklyn nodded, and the two carried Benedick's casket off of the boat.
The casket was not a heavy burden for two healthy gargoyles, and Demona and Brooklyn soon arrived at the Wyvern Cemetery. Unsurprisingly, it was not a very extensive cemetery. It was relatively young in terms of gargoyle life spans, with only a few dozen headstones. Brooklyn's eye spotted an open grave, and he deduced that that was their destination.
There were a large number of gargoyles and humans milling around and chatting with one another (in fact, they outnumbered the graves themselves), and several of them turned at Demona and Brooklyn's approach. One gargoyle, blue-green in color with a loud yellow and red checkered vest strode forward. "Ah, there you are, Demona!" He rapped Benedick's coffin with a knuckled fist. "I see the guest of honor has arrived!"
Demona grimaced, "Well, I see your sense of humor is as tasteless as ever."
"Like YOU'D know anything about a sense of humor!" the gargoyle scoffed. "Well, are you going to introduce me to your friend or not?"
Demona sighed. "Brooklyn, this is Socrates."
"No relation," Socrates grinned, grabbing Brooklyn's hand and pumping it for all it was worth.
"Um, I guessed," Brooklyn answered drily.
"Brooklyn?" a soft, feminine voice called.
"Brooklyn?!" another, rougher voice echoed.
Brooklyn only had time to see a huge, bulky blur before he was wrapped in a massive bear hug. "It is you! How're ya buddy?"
"Er, excuse me, but I can't breathe," Brooklyn gasped uncomfortably.
"Oh, sorry, little buddy," the voice answered, and the meaty arms withdrew. Brooklyn staggered back a moment, trying to get the feeling back into his arms.
Brooklyn studied his attacker and saw what was quite easily the largest gargoyle he had ever encountered, a towering orange gargoyle easily half again as bulky as Broadway. As near as Brooklyn could tell, that bulk was all muscle. His hornless, hairless head looked impossibly tiny compared to his bulk, with tiny, beady, smiling eyes, and a large mouth pulled back into an ear-to-ear grin. This gargoyle was shirtless, but was dressed from the waist down in an enormous pair of blue jeans.
Brooklyn glanced at Demona and was slightly annoyed to see her trying to hide an amused smile behind her hand. "Brooklyn, meet Kodiak and his mate, Portia," Demona said after a moment.
Brooklyn's eyes darted to Kodiak's side, where he had completely failed to notice the huge gargoyle's companion. It was, Brooklyn decided, a forgivable mistake. Portia was an extremely tiny, fragile-looking gargoyle, though perhaps a few inches taller than Brooklyn remembered Lexington, and was hard to notice next to her boisterous companion. She was a delicate pink in color, and possessed nearly transparent gossamer wings. The horns on her head curved inwards like pincers, and her tail was tipped with a serrated edge. She looked quite elderly, and a second glance at her companion confirmed that he was showing signs of age as well. Suddenly, Brooklyn did a double take. These two were mates? Kodiak looked like he massed eight times as much as Portia!
Portia gave Demona a look of tolerant amusement. "Come now, Demona, not 'mate', 'spouse'. You do tend to cling to the past, dear." She smiled at Brooklyn. "Demona is a wonderful person, but she's so old fashioned! She's been wearing that same outdated outfit for at least a century. By the way, it is wonderful to see you again."
"Again?" Brooklyn asked, somewhat puzzled.
Portia's eyes widened with understanding. "I see! You have not met us yet, have you?"
Kodiak looked confused. "Of course he has! My memory's not that bad, Portia! Say, Brook, where's your pretty wife? Ow!" Portia had just slapped Kodiak with her tail.
"Hush, dear. I'll explain it later."
"Now, now, Kodiak," Socrates smirked, "Don't rupture something trying to figure it out on your own."
"Be nice, Socrates," Portia cautioned, smiling extremely unpleasantly.
Socrates suddenly looked very nervous. "Er, sorry Portia," he babbled hastily, backing away. "Nice meeting you, Brooklyn." The bothersome gargoyle beat a hasty retreat, leaving Portia looking quite satisfied at his response.
She turned to Brooklyn again. "It has been wonderful seeing you again, Brooklyn, but there are other guests here I haven't seen in ages! Until we meet again." She took Kodiak's arm and began to pull him away.
Kodiak still looked confused. "Uh, yeah, bye Brook." He waved a farewell, and then began whispering to his mate, who whispered back to him.
"Who WAS that?" Brooklyn asked Demona.
Demona laughed. "You mean Portia? She's quite a formidable character, isn't she? She has her mother's temper, though, so try not to get her mad."
"Ophelia did tend to let her temper get the better of her at times, though she calmed down a lot when she and Gabriel became mates--but I forget. You probably haven't met either."
In the wake of the retreating couple, three new gargoyles stepped forward. For a moment, Brooklyn could have sworn that they were Hudson, Goliath, and Angela, but quickly realized that the three (particularly the female, who was the same shade of aquamarine as Broadway), bore only a casual resemblance to his friends. Especially since all three looked to be very old.
"Welcome, Grandmother!" the female said, smiling widely. She enveloped Demona in a hug, and then, to Brooklyn's shock, treated him to a very warm embrace as well. "And welcome to you, too, Brook," she breathed into his ear. "I've missed you so much!"
Stepping back from the frozen, saucer-eyed red gargoyle, the female laughed and asked, "One of his early dances, I take it?"
"That's right," Demona answered, embracing each of the two male gargoyles in turn.
"Well, Timedancer," she smiled at Brooklyn, "you're in for a treat."
Finally, the Goliath-like male laughed and said, "Knock it off, Gwenyvere! You look old enough to be his grandmother!"
Gwenyvere smirked and replied, "Hey, when you've got it, you've got it!"
"Personally, I'd say she's still got it," Brooklyn gulped.
Demona chose that moment to interrupt. "Brooklyn, these are my grandchildren--Angela's children: Artus," the brown, Hudson-like gargoyle nodded, "Gwenyvere, and Samson."
"Angela's children?" Brooklyn repeated, feeling a step behind. He glanced at Gwenyvere, "And you...and I...we..."
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."
There. That was the second time someone had mentioned his mate. Brooklyn was about to ask just what she meant, when Demona ushered a beautiful young Asian woman forward. "Brooklyn, there's another person I'd like you to meet. Brooklyn, this is Chun Demona, the granddaughter of Chun Lau, Benedick's adopted son. She is CEO of Nightstone Unlimited's Central Asia branch. Demona, Brooklyn."
The woman smiled prettily and extended a hand, "So, you are the famous Brooklyn," she said, with just the slightest trace of a Chinese accent. "I have heard so much about you."
Looking slightly ill, Brooklyn shook her hand. "I'm beginning to think that people here know more about me than I do. Demona, Gwenyvere, Artus, Samson, Demona, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to look around a bit. It's been a pleasure."
Trying not to look like he was in a hurry, Brooklyn distanced himself from the assembled beings, meeting the cordial hellos and the occasional surprised recognition with hasty, but polite responses. Once he felt safely away from the pack, he sighed and collapsed wearily against a headstone. It was all too much. So many seemed to know him, while every face was unfamiliar to him. Demona was...PLEASANT, and some human parent had actually named a daughter after her! He'd met Angela's children...and both Kodiak and Gwenyvere had said something about a mate. A mate!
"C'mon, Brooklyn," he muttered, "pull yourself together. It should take more than a few life-altering revelations to phase you." Then, his eye happened upon the inscription carved into the stone upon which he rested.
Brooklyn scrambled back on all fours, eyes round, until he backed into another stone. "Lexington? Oh, jeez." Brooklyn lay still, breathing heavily for a moment. "Okay, it's 2255. Of course Lex is dead." Brooklyn laughed uneasily, "It'd be a whole lot more of a surprise if he was still alive."
Brooklyn picked himself up, a morbid curiosity getting the better of him. Along with Lexington's headstone was one with Hudson's name on it, and another with "Bronx" as its inscription. Brooklyn refused to let himself look at the dates carved below each name. There were some things he just didn't want to know.
Lost in his thoughts, he read the name on the next tombstone, "Brooklyn." Brooklyn blinked. "Now there's something I REALLY didn't want to know." Hesitantly, he reached out and touched the cold stone. His subsequent shiver had little to do with temperature.
"Hello," a soft voice suddenly called, causing Brooklyn to start.
Brooklyn twisted to find a pretty young gargoyle girl gazing at him with wide, innocent eyes. She looked for all the world like a young Angela, except for her coloring. Her skin was a creamy white color that almost appeared translucent, like polished marble, darkening to a purple-grey color on the outer surface of her wings. The fact that she was wearing a one-piece tunic exactly like Angela's did nothing to dispel the resemblance.
"You're s'possed to say 'hello' back to me when I say 'hello' to you," the child reproved mildly.
"Um, sorry," Brooklyn answered. "Hello, there."
The young gargoyle glanced at the tombstone Brooklyn was standing by. Then she turned back to Brooklyn, her forehead wrinkling. "Aren't you s'possed to be dead?" she asked, accusingly.
"Um, well, yeah, sort of," Brooklyn fumbled. "You see, well, THIS Brooklyn is dead, but I'm not him, yet." The girl stared at him intently, evidently waiting for him to go on. "That is, I'm a time-traveler. I'm from the past, from before I, er, died." Brooklyn fished around in his pouch and withdrew the Phoenix Gate. "You see this? This is the Phoenix Gate. It brought me here from the past."
The young gargoyle studied the Phoenix Gate a moment. Then she grinned at Brooklyn. "'Kay!" Brooklyn sighed in relief. Apparently she understood, or at least wasn't going to press the matter further. If the former was the case, she was a bright child indeed.
She extended her hand. "My name's Jerusha!" She glared seriously at Brooklyn a moment. "Just Jerusha. Not Jerry, or anything like that. I hate it when people call me Jerry."
"Right. Jerusha. Got it. I'm Brooklyn," he said, shaking her tiny hand.
"I know," Jerusha responded. "I 'member seeing you in my pi'cher viewer. You were one of the first gargoyles to live in New York."
Brooklyn opened his mouth to respond, but Jerusha rolled right over him, "Didja come here for Unca Benedick's funeral? Or are you just visiting Scotland? You useta live in Scotland, right? I've never been to Scotland before. I don't think I like it much. It's way too rainy and gloomy. I don't think Auntie Demona likes it either. I think she's really sad 'cause Unca Benedick's dead, and the rain just makes her sadder. 'Course, I'm sad, too. I really liked Unca Benedick."
Brooklyn finally managed to get a word in edgewise. "Wait-a-minute, Demona's your 'Auntie'?"
"Well, not really," Jerusha admitted, "Ac'shly, she's my great-great-gramma, but I call her Auntie 'cause it's shorter. She's my Gramma Gwenyvere's gramma. She looks really young 'cause of magic," the little gargoyle whispered conspiratorially. "She's lots older than Gramma Gwenyvere. I wanna learn magic so I can be just like Auntie Demona, but she says I'm too young. She did teach me to read, though. She taught me how to glide, too." Jerusha puffed up proudly. "I'm the fastest, bestest glider my age, and when I grow up, I'm gonna glide just as good as Auntie. She's the best grown-up glider I've ever seen!"
It was clear to Brooklyn that Jerusha worshiped the ground that Demona walked on. This was an entirely new concept to Brooklyn. He'd known those who were frightened of Demona (and for good reason), and those who absolutely hated her (like himself), but Demona was the absolute last character that he ever thought would be the subject of hero-worship. "You seem pretty fond of Demona," he suggested.
Jerusha positively seemed to glow. "Oh, she's the BEST!" Jerusha enthused. "She an' Unca Benedick've taken care of me since I hatched. My real mom and dad died while I was still an egg. Auntie Demona does lots of stuff with me. Last week, she even took me to work with her!" Jerusha frowned. "But it was boring. Just lotsa stuffy people talking about stocks 'n stuff. I told Auntie that she doesn't hafta take me to work with her anymore."
Suddenly, Jerusha seemed to think of something, as her eyes lit up. "You wanna see something great?" She unfolded her left wing, revealing the arm hidden behind it. That arm was decorated by a very familiar piece of gold jewelry: a spiraling armband that looked to be an exact replica of the one Demona always wore. "It's just like Auntie's!" Jerusha gushed happily. "She gave it to me on my last hatching-day. Isn't it wonderful!"
Brooklyn considered his response. "Demona must...love you very much," he admitted, feeling a little foolish at his reluctance. This was obviously a charming, well-raised young girl. Why shouldn't Demona love her? Because Demona had all of the love burned out of her centuries ago, Brooklyn answered himself cynically. Brooklyn ruthlessly shoved that response away. From what he had seen so far, he was willing to give Demona--at least, THIS Demona--the benefit of the doubt.
Ironically, his response seemed to have been the wrong thing to say. Jerusha suddenly looked a bit unhappy. "I think she does," she answered. "But sometimes I'm not sure. Sometimes she just seems so sad whenever I'm around. And she doesn't like to talk to me about herself, 'specially 'bout before she met Benedick." Jerusha began to study the ground glumly.
Brooklyn was somewhat troubled by this. His cynical side couldn't have been right, could it? How could anyone fail to love such an adorable child? She did have a bit of a motor-mouth, but if that was the greatest of Jerusha's faults then she was a child any parent would have been proud of.
Brooklyn's troubled musing was interrupted by Socrates's unwelcome voice. "Hey, Brook! Jerry! C'mon, they're about to give ol' Ben the heave ho!" Apparently the obnoxious gargoyle had gotten over his brush with Portia.
"Don't. Call. Me. JERRY!!!" Jerusha snarled, her eyes blazing red. She looked ready to break something for a moment, but then she calmed down. She narrowed her eyes, apparently trying to think of something vile to say in return. "So-crates!" she snapped.
"Ooh, I'm hurt," Socrates chuckled, eyes wide with mock indignation.
"Just ignore him, Jerusha," Brooklyn frowned.
Jerusha stuck her tongue out at Socrates one last time, and then took Brooklyn's hand. Brooklyn was surprised for a moment, but then relaxed and escorted the young gargoyle to where Benedick's service was just beginning.
Even at four times the speed of sound, the journey from Los Angeles to Scotland would last more than an hour. Macbeth was aware of this when he set the autopilot on his private jet. He wanted time to think, to reflect on the past--something he would have had difficulty doing while piloting.
Macbeth retreated to the cabin of his jet. Macbeth's jet was fairly modest for a private jet, seating only four passengers, though quite comfortably. In the rear seat on the left side of the craft rested a simple leather satchel, battered and worn with age. Macbeth smiled sadly as he lifted the satchel from its resting place, and sat down with it. The satchel had been a gift from a woman named Joanna Walker, a woman most dear to his heart. The satchel ranked among his most prized possessions, and he felt that it was quite fitting that he use it to contain many of his other most treasured objects. The satchel and its contents would be most helpful on this journey.
Macbeth flicked open the small brass clasp that held the satchel shut, and reached inside. His hand emerged with a polished silver locket. Macbeth sighed as a name sprang into his mind. Annette Greuer, the daughter of a German silversmith and his French-born wife. It had taken Macbeth five centuries to get over the loss of his beloved Gruoch, but in Annette, he finally found companionship once more. For forty wonderful years he lived with Annette by his side, until he became aware of the fact that the villagers were becoming suspicious of his longevity. To them, he had appeared to be an elderly man even before he married Annette, yet he had remained alive and unchanged while Annette grew old and grey. Macbeth had, of course, shared the secret of his immortality with Annette even before they were wed, and the two of them agreed that Macbeth should leave before someone accused him of witchcraft. A fear of witches had gripped the area in recent times, and many people had been burned at the stake for less cause than Macbeth's apparent agelessness. It was a sorrowful parting, but a necessary one. While Macbeth would have survived a burning, he had little doubt that Annette would have joined him.
Macbeth flipped open the locket and gazed at the tiny knot of fine, golden hair that lay within. It was a lock of Annette's hair, clipped while she was still a young woman. She had given him that hair, along with the locket that contained it, on their wedding day. She had crafted the locket herself in her father's workshop, with some help from her father. Macbeth returned the locket to the satchel.
Macbeth's fingers brushed something round, and he pulled it out. It was a simple gold wedding band. Despite its lack of distinguishing characteristics, Macbeth immediately recognized it, and chuckled with amusement.It was the ring Dominique Destine had given him in what had undoubtedly been the shortest and most disastrous marriage in all of his twelve centuries of life. Macbeth still couldn't believe how blind he had been. It was all so obvious in retrospect that "Dominique Destine" had been Demona in a human disguise. There had been so many subtle clues, even before she had transformed before him on their wedding night. Love, it seems, truly is blind. But Goliath had been right. Demona had unintentionally done him a great favor by showing him that a millennium of living was not enough to kill his ability to love. That, and an additional century and a half had been enough to allow him to forgive Demona for tearing his heart to pieces on that fateful Paris night.
Macbeth replaced the ring, and his thoughts turned to his most recent love. Anna Williamson. Anna had left Macbeth no trinkets to remember her by. She had never been one for physical tokens of affection. In fact, she had made a point of keeping her own possessions to a minimum, believing that property, no matter how insignificant, tended to tie one down. Her hydrocraft, one of the few possessions she did claim, was an exception for that very reason. While she was undeniably tied to her hydrocraft, the hydrocraft was tied to nothing, leaving her essentially as free as the wind. And like the wind, she traveled the world, from New York to New Olympus, from Australia to the Antarctic colonies and beyond. One other possession she made claim to was Macbeth himself, a claim he had welcomed warmly. Macbeth and Anna had explored the seas of the world until the day that she died.
Anna's death was more than just the end of Macbeth's sea voyages. Anna's death showed Macbeth that Demona's unintentional gift did have an edge after all. Goliath had been right. Macbeth could still love. But he could also still feel the unbearable pain of love lost. Macbeth had lived for over a thousand years, and he could easily live for another thousand. But to what point? Certainly he could find love once more, but whoever he loved would eventually wither and die, leaving him alone again. How long would it be until his past loves began to blur in his memory, becoming little more than ephemeral flashes of joy followed by unbearable sorrow? How long would he remember Annette's favorite dessert, or Gruoch's birthday?
A beeping from the cockpit interrupted Macbeth's musings. Returning there, he found that he was almost at his destination. So soon? So it would seem. Macbeth peered through the cockpit, studying the ruins of what had once been the most important place in his life: Castle Moray.
Macbeth set his private jet down in what remained of the courtyard. He quickly retrieved his satchel and exited his jet. Once clear, he tapped a few commands into a remote control, commanding his jet to return to its berth in Los Angeles. He wouldn't be needing it where he was going.
Macbeth glanced up at the crumbling remains of his former home. "All I have to do now, is wait," he said to himself. Compared to a dozen centuries, he doubted that the wait would seem long. With that, Macbeth strode briskly toward the crumbling remnants of the main keep of Castle Moray.
Chun Demona was the last of the mourners to speak on Benedick's behalf, retelling the story of how the white gargoyle had raised her grandfather as his own son after accidentally slaying the boy's mother. She stepped back into the circle of mourners surrounding Benedick's form, and everyone paused in a final moment of silence. Once the moment had passed, the group began to disperse. The ceremony was over, and many wished to return home before dawn broke, while those that would be spending the day wished to find hotels and other shelters for that purpose. Demona noticed Gwenyvere gently, but firmly, leading Jerusha away, just as she had requested. The young gargoyle was protesting that she wanted to stay and talk to Demona, while the elderly female responded that Demona would want to spend a last few minutes with Benedick. Jerusha reluctantly agreed, and looked to be on the verge of sulking. Fortunately, she managed to catch Demona's eye, and she smiled and waved goodbye instead. Demona smiled in return and waved back. Jerusha was truly a wonderful little girl.
After a few moments, only Brooklyn and Demona remained at the cemetery (Brooklyn largely because he had nowhere else to go). Demona knelt by the casket and once again touched the button to reveal the body inside, noting as she did so that Brooklyn was standing a respectful distance away. Good. This moment was for her and Benedick alone. Demona touched another button as well, and the transparent inner case also slipped away, Demona gazed sadly upon the face of Benedick, aged and grey. Demona could see the age, but she also could see the beauty and dignity he had possessed, and always would possess whenever Demona thought of him. So beautiful, she thought as she kissed her taloned fingers and pressed them to Benedick's cold lips. "Soon, very soon, my beloved," she whispered inaudibly as she pulled her fingers away. Finally, a single tear winding its way down her cheek, Demona closed the casket once more and watched it sink into the grave and out of sight.
When Demona turned to face her sole remaining companion, she found Brooklyn standing with his head bowed and wings caped in mourning. Demona took a step away from the grave, her mind a whirl of indefinite feelings of sadness and loss. Demona was vaguely surprised at how difficult it seemed to be to walk properly, and even more surprised when she stumbled and began to fall. Strong red arms interrupted her descent. "Demona! Are you alright?" Brooklyn asked in concern.
Alright? Demona crumpled inwardly. How could she possibly be alright? Demona clutched at a somewhat awkward Brooklyn and began to sob. "He's gone," she wailed. "Just like Angela!"
Demona cried a few moments more, while Brooklyn continued to support her. It would seem that thirteen centuries had not reduced Demona's ability to cry. If anything, she had become even more emotional as time passed, taking her friends and family with it. For a moment, Demona yearned for those many years when she had waged her war against humanity. She had been friendless and alone, but she had been spared the pain of loved ones lost. Finally, Demona released Brooklyn, who by now had tears streaming down his own face.
"Thank you, Brooklyn," she smiled through her tears. "Thank you for being here for me. To tell you the truth, you rank among the last people I ever expected would comfort me in my hour of need."
"Yeah, me too," Brooklyn answered weakly.
Demona flipped open her wings and said, "I'd better be going. I have one final destination this night, and I'd like to reach it before daybreak. Farewell, Brooklyn!"
"I'll keep you company, if you'd like," Brooklyn suggested. "I don't have anywhere I need to be. At least, not until the Phoenix Gate decides to send me somewhere."
Demona smiled. Some company would be most welcome on this journey. With Benedick's death so fresh in her mind, she wanted someone to talk to, and Brooklyn was an ideal candidate. "I would like that very much," she answered sincerely.
Brooklyn turned his head to glance at Demona as the two of them glided above the treetops. She looked so tired. Her body was as youthful as ever, but the way she glided, a certain droop to the wings and looseness of the arms indicated that she was far older than she appeared. For a moment, Brooklyn wondered what it would be like to be immortal, to live for thousands of years while everyone you knew withered and died around you.
"Xanatos must have been insane," Brooklyn muttered.
"What was that, Brooklyn?" Demona asked.
"Um, nothing." Brooklyn changed the subject. "You know, it was kinda weird the way so many people seemed to know me. I mean, Portia and Kodiak, I must have been dead years before they were hatched!" If I ever found my way home, that is, Brooklyn added mentally.
Demona smiled at him. "Let's just say that the Phoenix Gate is far from through with you. You still have many destinations ahead of you, if the stories you told us a century ago are true. Many surprises as well."
"Like my mate?" Brooklyn prompted.
"Now, now, Brooklyn. You don't want me to give everything away, do you? But you did make a lovely couple. Please try to be a little understanding when you meet Gwenyvere with her. As she said, she had quite a crush on you. Your mate didn't take that at all well."
"I can imagine," Brooklyn answered dizzily.
"I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I did nothing to discourage Gwenyvere's...advances towards you. She's always been assertive, intelligent, and independent, and I've always tried to encourage those traits. I tended to stand aside whenever Gwenyvere set her heart on something. Unfortunately for her, your heart had already been taken."
"Assertive, intelligent, and independent, huh? Sounds like Jerusha really takes after her," Brooklyn noted.
Demona froze. "You've met Jerusha, then?" she stated.
"Yeah. She looks like a terrific kid. You should be proud, Demona." Brooklyn paused. "She told me that you and Benedick were her foster parents."
Demona nodded. "She was given to me by Angela before she died," she replied softly.
"By Angela? But Jerusha can't possibly be more than eighteen! That would mean that Angela was over-" Brooklyn paused a moment, running a quick calculation in his head, "-two-hundred and eighty years old!"
"Angela and Broadway returned to Avalon for a time to visit Princess Katherine, Tom, and Angela's rookery brothers and sisters," Demona answered. "When she returned she was still young, despite the fact that decades had passed in the mortal world. She returned there again after her mate Broadway died. But not even Angela could stay young forever..."
"I hope we're not too late," Benedick said anxiously as he and Demona alighted upon the parapets of Castle Wyvern.
Demona laughed merrily, "Relax, Benedick, we'll get there with time to spare! Honestly, one might suspect that you yourself had an egg waiting to hatch!"
Benedick looked no less worried. "It's just that I haven't missed a hatching since coming to Manhattan, Demmie. I don't want this to be the first!"
Demona took her husband's hand and patted it reassuringly, "Don't worry, my Heart. The doctors have assured us that the eggs have a few hours yet before the first will hatch." Demona's heart was lifted by the boyish enthusiasm of her mate, but as she held his hand, she couldn't repress a troubled frown at how withered and wrinkled it felt. Benedick was getting old, and while his aging troubled her to no end, it also served to remind her of another, even older gargoyle who was awaiting her inside the castle.
"Hey, Ancient One!"
Demona's eyeridge lifted with amusement. There was only one person she knew of who referred to her in that way. "Serena," she answered simply, turning to face the owner of the voice.
Serena smiled broadly, "Aw, how sweet! You haven't forgotten me in your decrepitude."
Serena, in most ways looked exactly like an attractive young human female, if rather thinner than most. She was wearing the fashions that most young human women were wearing at that time--knee high boots of a somber, subdued color (Serenas were a dark shade of blue), skintight and extremely brief shorts of a contrasting pastel color (here, bright yellow) that left the legs exposed, and an extremely baggy long-sleaved sweatshirt composed of a soft, comfortable cloth--cloth made of recycled plastic from one of the many garbage mines that served to recover the valuable materials that past generations had squandered. She had tied her long hair back with a red ribbon, a color that provided a striking, if beautiful, contrast to one of the two characteristics that most hinted at her true nature: her hair's deep blue color. The other characteristic was her bone-white skin, a trait which, combined with her thin appearance, made her look almost skeletal. Though it was difficult to guess, Serena was a member of the Third Race.
"You aren't much younger," Demona reminded her, mildly, in response to her playful insult.
"Yeah, but you're a mortal--well, technically. There's a difference." Serena's smile faltered slightly. "And speaking of mortals, I'd wager that you're here to see more than the hatching."
"Of course," Demona answered, her own smile fading. "Please, how is she?"
Serena sighed. "Her condition hasn't improved, if that's what you mean." She shook her head unhappily. "I've lived long enough to know what's coming, and I don't like it one bit. Demona, I hope you realize that you're not alone in your pain...this is hurting me. A lot."
Demona smiled weakly. "I understand. I know how close the two of you became."
"Yeah..." Serena wiped away a tear that was beginning to form at the corner of her eye. "But we should try to at least look as if we're in high spirits. This whole ordeal has really been getting the clan down, and we really need this hatching to boost morale." Serena grimaced. "Which reminds me. I was just on my way to change. I HATE formal wear. Even after all these centuries, I've NEVER gotten used to it." She sighed exaggeratedly, "Oh, well, can't be helped. For the good of the clan, and all that. Anyway, see ya round!"
Demona waved her farewell to the retreating fay, and turned to Benedick. "You can go ahead to the hatching area," Demona told him. "I'd like to spend some time alone with my daughter."
"Are you sure that you don't need me?" Benedick asked, his eyes betraying his eagerness to do just as Demona asked.
"I'll always need you, my dearest Benedick," Demona chuckled. "But right now, I'd like a moment alone. Besides, I'm sure that they could use your help in getting ready for the ceremony--and you wouldn't want to miss it if the eggs began hatching early."
Benedick's eyes seemed to pop at the suggestion. "Okay, Demmie," he said hastily, already beginning to back down the hallway. "I'll see you at the ceremony!"
Smiling with amusement, Demona strode down the hallways that she knew so well to a door that had become entirely too familiar. A tap of a finger against a sensitive panel on the center of the door served both to identify Demona and grant her admittance to the room beyond. Within that room, apparently sleeping peacefully in a padded recliner, was a withered and impossibly frail-looking gargoyle with age-whitened hair and wrinkled, lavender skin. "Angela," Demona called softly as she entered, trying to keep the pain that she was feeling at the sight of her daughter from creeping onto her face.
Angela's eyes slowly cracked open, and her face pulled itself as best it could into the semblance of a smile. "Hello, Mother," she answered. "I was hoping that you'd come to the hatching."
Demona laughed weakly, taking a seat across from her daughter. "Of course I came. Benedick has been talking of nothing else for weeks now. And I'd never miss a chance to see you."
Angela sighed, and shifted position slightly. "Mother, why do you do this to yourself? It has to be painful for you to see me like this-"
"Seeing you is never painful, my daughter!" Demona protested.
"Of course it is," Angela answered. "I'm going to die soon. I know it, you know it, and everyone else knows it." Angela's eyes closed wistfully. "I am so looking forward to seeing Broadway again. I've missed him so much since he passed away. But I won't have to wait much longer."
"Nonsense!" Demona answered with false cheer, tears starting to well up at the corners of her eyes. "You could still have years left in you-"
"Weeks, at most," Angela insisted sharply. "And that only by virtue of some miracle. Mother, please. Don't make this worse than it is. I have lived a long, full life, and I would not have traded it for any other. Everyone must die sometime."
"Except me," Demona whispered miserably.
Angela's expression softened. "Mother, I know this is hard for you. No parent should have to watch their children die. My memory has been fading, but I can still remember the look on Gwenyvere's face after Dominique's accident...you have to be feeling the same way."
Tears were streaming down Demona's face as she nodded. "Oh, Angela. What am I going to do without you?"
"You still have Benedick," Angela suggested.
"I do love Benedick, more than life itself," Demona answered. "But it just isn't the same. I just don't know what I'm going to do when you're gone!"
"I see." Angela looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, she said, "Well, enough talk about death. This celebration is one of life. And I'd like you to take me to see it."
"Are you sure that you're up to it?" Demona asked, a bit fearfully.
"I think so," Angela answered. "But even were I not, I would still want to see it. It is very important to me." Angela suddenly smiled at Demona. "But the ceremony isn't for hours. There's still time for you to tell me how you've been. You know I never tire of hearing of what you've been up to."
Demona smiled as well, and began to chat with her daughter in earnest.
Whatever the century, a gargoyle rookery was truly an awe-inspiring sight. Row after row of purple-spotted, oblong eggs filled one end of a damp, darkened chamber that had been constructed in Castle Wyvern to better simulate the dank caves gargoyles preferred for their developing offspring. The air was thick with the promise of new life. At the other end of the darkened chamber, row after row of gargoyles, along with a scattered handful of humans, waited with almost unendurable anticipation for the hatching to begin.
In some ways, this hatching was very different from hatchings of the distant past. For one, the gargoyles had assembled before the hatching began, something that had only been rendered possible by the advances in medicine over the centuries. The time of the hatching could now be predicted almost to the very minute it would begin.
But a far more significant change was indicated by the pairs of names clearly printed in luminescent ink below each egg--the names of the parents of the child within. Long gone were the days when the members of a rookery were regarded as "children of the clan". It was, in many ways, a sorrowful loss. Her eyes drifted over to one egg, in many ways indistinguishable from the others, save for the names written beneath it: Dominique and Achillies--Gwenyvere's daughter and her mate. In those days long passed, the child within that egg would have been treated as any other. But now, he or she would face a fate once more or less reserved for humans: orphanhood.
Demona felt dry, rough skin brush against her hand, and looked to see Angela's hand upon her own. Angela was sitting in her wheelchair where Demona had placed her, gazing at the same egg, a look of worry in her eye. It seemed clear that, however differently their minds had worked in the past, the thoughts of both mother and daughter echoed one another now.
A crack, clear as a gunshot in the silence of the moment, suddenly resounded through the chamber. Several of those present stifled a gasp of excitement, as a dark split formed on the surface of an egg in the front row. The names written below the egg, Duane and Katarin, clearly belonged to the two hopeful (and in Demona's opinion, entirely too young--neither could have been more than forty!) gargoyles that had suddenly stood up to get a better look.
But the first to crack was not the first to hatch. Another egg, clear across the chamber, practically exploded as the child within burst free. This child, a pale-blue, beaked female, paused a moment to glare at the remnants of her shell before crying out, loudly and clearly. The newborn's parents, a middle-aged couple, hastened from the audience to claim their child, just as Duane and Katarin's new son finally worked his way free from his confinement.
The hours sped by, as egg after egg split open to each new gargoyle. Demona's heart thrilled to see the warm delight in her daughter's eyes, as Angela's own daughter stepped forward to claim her new son. "Gwenyvere has been waiting so long for a son," Angela whispered happily to Demona. "After three daughters, she has finally gotten her wish!"
Finally, the end of the hatching neared, only a few eggs remained whole, and one of them was the orphan. As the remaining eggs shattered, one by one, Demona began to wonder if Gwenyvere's grandchild was reluctant to hatch--as if it somehow knew that it was unwanted, that it would emerge into the cold, new world alone. Demona's heart ached for the child. She knew all too well what it meant to be alone.
Finally, the second-to-last of the gargoyle infants had emerged and been carried off by their proud parents. Still, Dominique's egg showed no signs of stirring. "Do you think there might be something wrong with the child?" Demona whispered.
Angela shook her head. "No, the doctors have assured us that all of the hatchlings were strong and healthy--look, it's started."
Indeed, at long last, the shell of the final egg began to crack, and soon an infant female sat among the ruined remains of her shell. The child, white as polished marble, appeared hopelessly forlorn, alone as she was in the midst of empty shell after empty shell. She began to cry, and Demona wondered who would take her. Surely, arrangements must have been made-
Her concerns were suddenly relieved, as Gwenyvere stood and hesitantly approached the wailing little girl. The lonely infant quieted somewhat, as she was scooped into Gwenyvere's unoccupied arm.
The event finally over, what few attendees had stayed to watch the last egg hatch began to filter out of the room. Soon, only Demona, Angela, Benedick, Gwenyvere, and Gwenyvere's two brand-new passengers remained. "The banquet is about to begin, my love," Benedick reminded Demona. He bowed majestically. "Would milady care to join me?"
Demona grinned. "Save a seat for me," she answered. "I'll be taking Angela back to her room, first."
"As you wish," he answered, turning to leave.
Demona turned back to her daughter, and saw that she was carefully holding Gwenyvere's son, wrapped warmly in swaddling clothes, while Gwenyvere looked on proudly. Demona joined them, placing an affectionate hand on Gwenyvere's shoulder. "He's adorable," Demona said. "You must be very proud."
"Oh, I am!" Gwenyvere answered, positively glowing. "My love and I have been waiting so long for a son! I just know he'll be thrilled!"
A dark expression crossed Angela's face for a moment, but quickly passed. Not quickly enough for Gwenyvere to fail to notice, however. "I know you aren't fond of him," Gwenyvere said, a bit uncomfortably. "But you must admit that he's changed for the better."
Angela sighed. "I know, my daughter. But it's so difficult to forgive him for the things that he's done..." Angela's smile twisted into a wry smirk. "But listen to me. I seem to recall another outcast, long ago, who somehow managed to reform." Demona smiled slightly at this. "So, I suppose that your husband is capable of the same."
"I wish he could have been here tonight," Gwenyvere said, wistfully. "This is probably the last child he and I will share."
"Whatever his past, your husband made a wise choice in not coming," Demona responded. "Believe me, some within your clan will be more quick to forgive than others. Time truly does heal all wounds. Though some wounds take longer to heal than others..." Demona gazed sadly at the ground for a moment, and then changed the subject. "Have you decided on a name for the boy?"
"Nope!" Gwenyvere answered cheerfully. "Darling and I were a bit at odds as far as names. I've always wanted to name our first son after Brooklyn, but he never liked the idea. He wants to name him after his old tutor. We'll probably end up flipping a coin, or wrestling for it, or something."
Angela chuckled hoarsely, and handed the infant boy back to his mother. She beckoned for the other child, and Gwenyvere handed her down, a sad look in her eye. The tiny girl was sleeping peacefully now, and each of the three adults gazed down at her for a moment with pity. As though aware of the attention, the little one cracked open her eyes and gazed back, seemingly perplexed, and clawed at the empty air with tiny, chubby hands.
Demona knelt by Angela's wheelchair and offered the tip of one wing to the girl, who cheerfully grasped it, gurgling in a pleased manner. Demona reached out with a finger and traced the infant's plump cheek. She was already showing signs of the traits most of the females in Demona's family line possessed, the heart-shaped face and pointed jaw, the sharp nose...
Demona sighed. "If only Dominique and Achilles could have lived to see you," she spoke to the child. "But who will take care of you now?"
"Actually," Gwenyvere answered, "You will."
"Hmmm," Demona responded, distracted. Then, she suddenly registered what her granddaughter had said. "What?" she asked, staring up at Gwenyvere.
"Actually, it was my idea," Angela said.
"You can't be serious," Demona protested.
"Mother, this child has no mother or father to guide her. There's no one else in the clan who can raise her--I've asked. Anyone I'd trust with such a task already has children of their own to worry about, and I wasn't about to force any of them to take on another burden. You're her only chance. I don't want her to grow up...alone."
Demona was stung by her daughter's words, but she just couldn't accept what Angela was suggesting. "But a baby...I-I don't have the time to raise a child! I have my business to take care of!" Demona fumbled for another excuse. "Besides, I don't know if Benedick would approve. And-" the blue gargoyle trailed off at the disapproving look in her daughter's eyes.
"Please mother. Promise me you'll care for her."
"You had this planned from the beginning, didn't you?" Demona asked weakly, her resolve crumbling beneath Angela's pleas.
"Yes," Angela said simply. "Promise me you'll care for her. It would make me so happy to know that Jerusha is in good hands, before I pass on." And then, barely audable, "That both of you are in good hands."
"Jerusha," Demona swallowed, hesitantly taking the infant from her great-grandmother's withered arms. "Her name is Jerusha?" Angela nodded. Then, barely a whisper, Demona said, "I promise..."
Demona sighed, "I am almost certain that Angela gave me her great-granddaughter to replace her when she died. I can't fault her judgement. Jerusha had lost her parents, and I was about to lose my daughter. By giving me Jerusha, she provided a solution to both problems. Nevertheless, there have been many times when I have wished that she had not taken such a step."
Brooklyn couldn't believe his ears. "How could you say that? That little girl thinks you're the best thing since opposable thumbs, and you're saying that you don't want her?"
"No!" Demona replied miserably. "That isn't it. Not really-"
"Not really?" Brooklyn repeated. "Demona, Jerusha showed me the armband you gave her as a gift. It's something she'd rather die than part with."
"It seemed like such an appropriate gift at the time," Demona whispered, lost in her own thoughts. "I'd seen how much she loved the one I wore. She was so happy when I gave it to her." Demona closed her eyes for a moment. "Brooklyn, do you know how painful it is to be around her?"
"Painful?" Brooklyn asked in confusion. "Jerusha told me that you seemed uncomfortable around her. I think it hurt her a lot." Demona flinched at that. "Demona, don't you love her?"
Demona's eyes shot open and she gazed at Brooklyn earnestly. "I love Jerusha more than life itself! Never doubt that!"
"Then why-" Suddenly it dawned on Brooklyn. "Angela. She reminds you of Angela, doesn't she?"
"Every moment I'm with her," Demona shuddered in agreement. "She's bright, kind, and strong-willed, just like Angela used to be. She even hates it when people try to give her nicknames! Brooklyn, sometimes I've been genuinely frightened by how closely she resembles Angela!"
The two of them flew in silence for a few moments. Then Demona continued, "All I can think of when I see her is how she is going to grow old and die, just like Angela did, and just like Gwenyvere is doing now. And I'll just keep on living, perhaps to watch her own children grow old and die as well. I can't face that!" she wailed. Then, quietly, "And so, I'm cold to her. I can't seem to open up around her, and that's what she really needs from me. She deserves better than that, and I can't give it to her."
"I'm sorry," Brooklyn apologized. "I shouldn't have suggested that you didn't love her."
Way to go, Brooklyn, he chided himself. Let's just stick our foot a little further into our mouth, shall we?
"I am NOT having a banner night," Brooklyn muttered. He decided to change the subject before Demona fell completely apart on him. "Say, you were going to tell me about how Benedick finally tracked down the guy who smashed his clan."
Demona seemed to brighten slightly, and began to explain as the two of them continued their journey.
Some time later, Brooklyn and Demona touched down on the crumbling balcony of the ruins of an old castle. It wasn't a place that Brooklyn recognized. "Why're we stopping here, Demona?" he asked, curious.
Demona smiled wanly at him. "You'll find out soon enough." Demona sighed nostalgically as she scanned the moldering stones with sad eyes. "It just seemed so right. To finish this where it all began."
"Finish what-" Brooklyn began. His voice died off as another figure stepped onto the balcony.
"Very theatrical, Demona," Macbeth chuckled sadly. "This is the very balcony where I first met you so long ago." His eyes shifted to Brooklyn, and then widened a moment. "Brooklyn. I can't say I expected to see you here."
"I can't say I expected to see me here, either," Brooklyn admitted. Brooklyn studied Macbeth, wondering if the past two centuries had changed him as dramatically as they had Demona. Probably more, he decided. Macbeth had already shown signs of change even before Brooklyn had stumbled across the Phoenix Gate. Whatever changes had occurred, the man looked sad and tired much like Demona. Brooklyn suddenly felt very cold. There was something not right here. Something obvious that he was missing.
Before he could sort out his suspicions, Macbeth interrupted his train of thought. "Please, come inside, you two. Let's get this over with."
Hesitantly, Brooklyn followed the two of them into the castle proper. He found himself in a large room, perhaps a royal dining hall. It must have been magnificent at one time, but now it was just a lifeless cavern of a room, grey and dead. Whatever furnishings had once existed there had long been removed. Near the dilapidated remnants of a large fireplace had been placed a simple wooden table and two chairs, obviously quite recently. On the table lay a battered leather satchel, but nothing more.
With little better to do, Brooklyn walked across the dining hall to one of the arched doorways. Whatever wooden door had once filled it had long since rotted away. Running a taloned finger across one of the dusty grey stones composing the doorway, Brooklyn noted, "This place is in serious need of some spring cleaning."
He turned to his companions to see that they had already seated themselves at the table. Macbeth was in the process of withdrawing a pair of items from his satchel: a crystal goblet and a small bottle of some kind of liquid. "Are you sure that you want too go through with this, Demona?" Macbeth asked in a weary voice. Demona hesitated a moment, and then nodded firmly.
Macbeth sighed and unstoppered the small bottle, pouring a portion of the liquid into the goblet. Demona picked up the goblet and gazed at it with a faraway look in her eyes. Idly, she swirled the liquid with a taloned finger, and then removed the finger to study the glistening droplets that still clung to it. "What-" she began, "what kind is it?"
"Hemlock," Macbeth answered solemnly. Brooklyn's jaw dropped, and the cold feeling he had experienced earlier returned in force. "Quick, lethal, and painless. After all of the years of pain in both of our lives, I felt we deserved a painless death, at least."
"Wait, wait, wait," Brooklyn cut in. "What are you two DOING?"
Macbeth paused, and glanced at Brooklyn. Then, he turned back to Demona. "You haven't told him?" Demona shook her head. Macbeth turned to face Brooklyn once more. "Well, I certainly think you have a right to know. The events of this night have been centuries in coming, but the catalyst was just a week ago..."
Macbeth sat, hunched miserably in his easy chair, and listlessly turned the urn in his hands. ANNA WILLIAMSON, the inscription read. What little remained of Anna Williamson rested inside of that urn, and it was a fact that Macbeth simply couldn't come to terms with. Only a month before, Anna had been a happy, healthy lass of a mere century and a quarter of age. With humans living to be as old as two hundred (though, in extreme cases), Macbeth had been totally unprepared for the fatal stroke that had taken her from him.
Anna, at least, had made preparations for her end. Of course, no amount of preparation could possibly have prepared Macbeth, and both of them knew it. But Anna's last will and testament had been quite clear as to what was to be done with her remains. She was to be cremated, and the ashes were to be thrown into the ocean from Santa Monica Pier, in the only city she had ever called home. Macbeth had been determined to carry out her instructions himself. But he just couldn't do it. Her ashes were all that he had left of her. He had been here a month, trying to bring himself to do what must be done, but he just couldn't let go.
The holophone rang, and Macbeth sighed raggedly. He was in no mood to talk, but set the urn aside anyway to tap the answer button. "Yes?" he stated tiredly. Then his eyes focused on the image projected above the holographic receiver.
Macbeth inhaled sharply. "Demona," he said softly. There had been times in the past that he had spoken that name with revulsion and hatred. But time brings many changes. Demona was an enemy no more. She was not quite a friend, either, but she was the only person Macbeth could talk to who could possibly understand what it was like to live for so long.
At that moment, Demona looked incredibly haggard and miserable. "Macbeth," Demona began, somewhat awkwardly, "I...I need to talk to you."
"Of course, Demona," Macbeth answered, with some concern. "What of?"
Demona paused once more, "Macbeth, Benedick is...dead."
Macbeth's weary expression returned. Benedick had been a good man. He, Macbeth, and Demona had shared an adventure or two nearly a century ago, and it was largely because of his influence that Macbeth and Demona were on such good terms today. "My condolences. He was an exceptional fellow."
When Demona spoke again, it was obvious that she was in tears. "Macbeth, I just can't take it anymore! Angela is dead. Benedick is dead. Even Goliath. Everyone I love dies, while I just keep living."
"Aye," Macbeth answered. "I do understand, Demona. Believe me." Macbeth gazed sadly at Anna's urn once more.
Demona's eyes followed Macbeth's glance, and she asked, "Is that...Anna?" As Macbeth's subtle nod, she hung her head and added, "I'm so sorry. She was a wonderful woman."
Macbeth sighed haggardly. "Sometimes," he whispered, "Sometimes, it is so difficult to go on."
Demona paused, and then spoke again with a much tinier voice. "Then perhaps it is time that we put an end to it," she suggested hesitantly.
Macbeth's eyes widened. "Are you suggesting-"
"I've worked out all of the details, Macbeth!" Demona interrupted, sounding almost on the verge of hysteria. "We can meet after Benedick's funeral, eight nights from now. We can finally have an end to our pain!"
"You're mad," Macbeth answered, but without conviction. Her offer was so tempting just then, with Anna's lifeless remains so close at hand.
"Please reconsider, Macbeth!" Demona pleaded. "We've both lived so long, seen so much pain. There's been joy, too, but we've had more than our share of life. It's time to end it."
"Why didn't you just find me and kill me in my sleep, if you're so eager to die," Macbeth evaded.
"I, well," Demona paused, "I didn't want to kill you without asking you first," she finished lamely. Demona laughed sadly, "That sounded so stupid, didn't it? But it was exactly what I meant. We've both been alive together for so long, and I respect you too much to kill you like a thief in the night."
"You really are serious about this, aren't you?" Macbeth asked. Gazing once more at the ashes of Anna Williamson.
"Very serious, Macbeth," Demona answered. "Please say that you'll help me!"
No sooner had Macbeth quieted, then Brooklyn burst out, "Nononono! I'm sorry, this just isn't right! You can't just-"
"We can't just die?" Demona broke in calmly, turning in her chair to face him. "But that is the problem, Brooklyn. I can't just die. I should have died long ago, but my magical link with Macbeth prevented that. Now, the only way I'll ever be able to die is if Macbeth and I arrange it. I never asked to live forever, and I do not want to live forever."
"But your clan, your granddaughter-"
"My clan will get along just fine without me," Demona answered impatiently. "As for Gwenyvere," Demona paused a moment, her face twisting into an expression of pain. Softly, she continued, "As for Gwenyvere, she is, in part, the reason I chose this time to die. Brooklyn, I had to watch my daughter and Benedick die, and in a few years my grandchildren will join them. I am so tired of watching everyone I love die while I remain young and healthy. Every time I look at one of my friends or relatives, I wonder when I'm going to have to go to their funeral. I have reached the point where I cannot look at anyone I care for without seeing their death. That is not a life I wish to live."
Brooklyn was horrified. Demona was going to commit suicide. She was really going to do it. "What about Jerusha!" he burst out. "Do you have any idea what this will do to her?"
Demona tensed. After a moment she relaxed slightly, and turned her head to avoid Brooklyn's desperate gaze. "Jerusha...is strong. Just like Angela and Gwenyvere. Stronger than I ever was. She will survive. It is for the best that she finds another role model, anyway."
Brooklyn swiveled his head, "Macbeth-"
Macbeth shook his head. "Don't look to me, laddie. Everyone dies. I've lived longer than a man has any right to hope for--longer than any dozen men. I am more than ready for death."
"I don't believe this," Brooklyn muttered with revulsion. "You're both nuts!" He turned to the doorway behind him and dashed into the hallway behind it. Brooklyn slid to the floor, back against the wall to the left of the doorway, and tried not to think about the terrible scenario being enacted behind it. "Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man," Brooklyn mumbled.
"Hello, Brooklyn," piped up a charmingly familiar voice.
Brooklyn's head jerked up. "Jerusha?" he burst out. He jerked his head around, hoping that Demona hadn't heard him. She seemed to be deep in a conversation with Macbeth. Brooklyn looked back the young gargoyle and repeated, "Jerusha! What are you doing here?"
"Well-" Jerusha began.
"Shh, quietly," Brooklyn urged. "Your Auntie Demona is...busy."
Jerusha nodded. More softly, she continued, "It's kinda weird. I wanted to talk to Auntie at the funeral, but I had to leave before I could. Gramma Gwenyvere took me to the hotel where we were gonna spend the day, and I decided to look around. The hotel had a big garden with lotsa trees and stuff, and it was really misty. I was gonna climb up on the big, white fountain in the middle, when I heard these ladies talking. There were three of them. They looked like humans, but I think they were magic, 'cause Auntie Demona useta tell me stories about three magic women that looked just like each other, 'cept one had black hair, one had blonde hair, and one had white hair." Brooklyn's eyes widened slightly. "I was gonna leave, 'cause it isn't nice to listen in on people, but then I found out that they were talking 'bout Auntie Demona and Unca Macbeth--Macbeth's not really my Unca either," she explained, "but he's really old, just like Auntie, and she talks to him a lot. Anyways, these weird ladies were saying something 'bout not needing those two anymore. I don't know what they were talking about, but since they were magic, I thought maybe they might be able to take me to Auntie. So I asked 'em." Jerusha grimaced. "I don't think the black-haired one liked me much, 'cause she kept frowning at me, and wanted me to leave them alone, but the blonde one was nice. The white-haired one told the black-haired one that it was only fair that I get to see Auntie, so the three of them zapped me here. I've been trying to find Auntie ever since. She's in there, right?"
"Um, yeah," Brooklyn answered, maneuvering himself to block Jerusha's view of the room. "Look, Jerusha, I really don't think you should go in there right now-"
Had Brooklyn been Broadway, he might have had some hope of blocking Jerusha's path. Unfortunately, the width of the doorway provided ample room for Jerusha to lithely squirm past Brooklyn into the room behind him. "Hi, Auntie Demona! Hi, Unca Macbeth! Watcha doin'?"
Almost afraid to look, Brooklyn turned around. Demona was standing, frozen in place with the goblet to her lips, eyes wide with horror. Brooklyn couldn't tell by the contents of the glass whether or not she had taken the poison yet, but he feared the worst. Macbeth was just standing up, a look of shock and concern on his face. Demona slowly lowered the goblet and stared at it with utter dismay. "J-jerusha...I-I..." A single tear began to roll down her cheek.
She did it, Brooklyn decided with a sick lurch of his stomach, she must have taken the poison. At that moment, Brooklyn's pouch began to quiver. "No, not now!" he muttered, clawing desperately at the pouch. When he pulled out the Phoenix Gate, his fears were confirmed. Arcs of magical energy crawled across the surface of the Gate while it sputtered and sparked, signaling that the next timedance was about to begin. "I can't leave now!" Brooklyn hissed desperately. Jerusha was soon going to be alone with the dead body of the most important person in the world to her. She was going to need a friend, blast it!
But the Phoenix Gate was not a merciful master. The last thing Brooklyn heard before being engulfed in the flames of eternity was Jerusha's sweet voice, now flecked with concern, asking, "Auntie, what's wrong?"
When the fiery curtain slid aside, Brooklyn found that he had been deposited on a lush field of corn beneath a sky dark and foreboding. "Oh, Jerusha," Brooklyn sighed sadly. For her sake, Brooklyn hoped that Jerusha was as strong as Demona had claimed she was. Poor girl.
A fierce rain began to pelt Brooklyn as his thoughts turned toward Demona. It was still hard to believe that she was the same gargoyle as the monster Brooklyn had known. She had seemed plagued by an inner sadness that Brooklyn had never noticed before. Certainly it was caused, in part, by the loss of her daughter and mate, but Brooklyn was certain that there was something deeper as well. Demona had finally taken responsibility for her sins of the past, acknowledged that at least some of the blame she had heaped on humanity's doorstep was her own. That acceptance had freed her from her empty campaign of vengeance, but it had also burdened her with guilt.
He had been so angry at Demona in the past, but now he found it difficult to hate her anymore. He had gained an understanding of the woman that he never would have believed possible. Brooklyn clenched his fist. Demona had claimed that she had felt unwelcome among her own clan, even after she had forsaken her vendetta against humanity. Well, not if Brooklyn had anything to say about it. "If Demona ever decides to return to her clan, she'll find at least one friend among them," Brooklyn vowed. Perhaps it would be enough to turn Demona away from the self-destructive course he had just witnessed. Perhaps it would be enough to save Jerusha from the fate he had seen for her.
Brooklyn shook his head in bemusement. Who'd have imagined that he would be the first in his clan to accept Demona? Well, the first besides Angela. First or second, there was little doubt that Brooklyn's grudge against Demona was a thing of the past.
"And speaking of things of the past, I really should try to figure out where and when I am," Brooklyn muttered. "Something more specific than 'Someplace very, very, wet,'" he added, as the heavy rains continued to drench him.
Scanning the area, Brooklyn noticed a single, small dwelling, evidently for whatever people tended the corn. He worked his way close enough to peek in.A single lantern lit the dwelling, and Brooklyn could make out a man and woman inside. Judging by their simple but brightly decorated clothes, Brooklyn guessed that he was somewhere in South America, probably in the past.
Alerted by the noise of clinking metal and sloshing footsteps, Brooklyn stepped away from the house. Not far from the dwelling, Brooklyn could make out a large number of soldiers sloshing through the mud. Judging by their iron breastplates and ridged helmets, as well as their puffy trousers and tights, Brooklyn guessed that they were Conquistadors...which would place him in the middle of the sixteenth century. If Brooklyn wasn't mistaken, he was in Peru. Brooklyn glanced again at the line of troops. They must be going somewhere important, if they're willing to march through rain like this, and at night besides, Brooklyn thought. Weather like this CAN'T be good for their armor. Well, no sense in bringing an army down on my head. Brooklyn crept around the house until he had placed it between himself and the conquistadors. For now, he would just rest and let them pass. Then he would be good and ready to learn what his most recent dance had in store for him...