Before the Storm
Written by Alan Coleman Waltrip, Greg Bishansky,
Jennifer Pagan, Todd Jensen, and David Goodner
Stories by Greg Bishansky and Alan Coleman Waltrip
Art by Lain
* * * * *
January 1, 2172. Manhattan.
He had read somewhere that in Spain, on New Year's Eve, people from all over the country gathered in a plaza called 'Puerta del Sol' - Sun's Door- in the heart of Madrid to welcome the New Year. He learned that back when he first woke in New York from the thousand-year-long nap. The fact was from a little book Elisa once gave the clan that had mentioned lots of traditions from different countries on how to greet the New Year.
The New Year had arrived fifteen minutes ago, but the party was still raging inside the castle. Most of the clan, specially the hatchlings, had come outside to watch the fireworks from the city when the clock struck midnight, but quickly lost interest when the fireworks slowly came to a halt. Then they all ran back inside and continued to party, no doubt it would go on until sunrise.
Brooklyn remained outside. He perched on his favorite spot, the one he picked when the castle rose above the clouds. The view was excellent from here, and he could see a few more random fireworks explode miles below him.
It was nothing like home, though. Well, technically he was home, but in the year 2172. Everything had changed so much in the city below him. Hard to pick out a place that looked remotely familiar to him.
At least the castle itself hadn't changed all that much.
The party was still going on inside, but nobody had missed him yet. So he took the liberty to take a walk around his old castle, taking in all the old sights and smiling quietly to himself.
Unconsciously, he found himself walking to the balcony where it all started. Where he once looked down and spotted a really shiny metal plate, picked it up and…
"Here we are. Several centuries into the future and with no chance of getting home." He muttered quietly. Funny. He hadn't thought of home for a long time now. Whatever made him think of it now?
He remembered the day he found the Phoenix Gate all too clearly. It had been, what? Twenty years ago? But instead of fading, the memory had gotten new life over the years. Every single day, it seemed that it had been only yesterday since he had gotten together with Lexington, Broadway and the guys. Twenty years of timedancing had done nothing to diminish the memory or his wish to see them again.
However, for some reason, his desire to go home had been dulled since he got here. So many things to do, so many feelings to sort out, so many things he wanted to say to Sata after finally seeing her again. His desire to go home had taken the backseat -- for awhile.
But now, now that he had had enough time to study the century in which he found himself, he saw how this city was nothing like the one he'd gotten used to. The castle was a pale shadow of its former self. Everyone he had loved was dead, or grown old to a point he barely recognized them. In short, everything had changed.
He wanted to go home -- as simple as that. There was no fancy way to put it. I. Want. To. Go. Home.
After all the years time traveling, all the people he had encountered, all the lives he had touched, that basic principle hadn't changed. He was still a guy moving forward to go home.
His desire hadn't changed, but his personality certainly had. It was safe to say he was no longer the impetuous, lonely, single gargoyle he had been when he first picked up the Phoenix Gate. He thought of the three great loves had he met in his life -- Pandora, Meryt and Sata. One he unwitting left in the distant past, another had been turned into an immortal gold statue, and a third almost died of miscarriage -- Certainly not the most cheerful of love lives.
Certainly not one of the easiest lives either. Plenty of bad things had happened, but among the worst figured the battle with Apep and the price his dear friends Meryt and Harthoth had to pay. Three years of happiness gone just like that. Then there was the business with Payne, a miserable year that had seemed to drag on more than those three years of happiness. Then there were all those other things in between that he thought it best to block out of his mind entirely.
Among the bad, there had been plenty of good, though. Meeting Sata, well, that was good. They'd had their stormy times too; leaving her in the future had been the absolute low point of his existence, and that was saying something. But, from the shadows there came light. Their painful separation had led to the happiest of reunions, the best moment of his life. He smiled a moment as he thought fondly of his family.
The incident reminded him that the good and the bad were spread evenly in the universe. Stuck in the middle, there was the perplexing -- like Demona, for starters. When he had left, she was a psychopath and when he had stumbled upon the future, she was a sinner looking for redemption. And she had it, too. She had achieved her redemption. From that point on, it had become very hard for Brooklyn to stay angry at her. Instead of turning his back, he felt a strong urge to extend a hand of friendship. Perplexing indeed.
Last but not least, he caught himself thinking of the ones that started it all: The Weird Sisters. They had just showed up in the time stream, ranted about him being their servant, and dropped him off on Ancient Greece. Heavens forbid they actually told him what they wanted him to do. Part of being their servant must include wild guesses about their desires, he assumed.
Prophecy or not, he had long since accepted his responsibility as Timedancer. His travels had woven a net in history and he couldn't possible escape now. But instead of whining about it, he chose to hold his head up high and do his task with stoic perseverance -- even though it was hard, so hard sometimes.
If it was in his fate to return to home, family, and clan -- so be it. If not, then he would have to make the best of whatever final destination he would find himself in.
For now, he would make the best of his time here in the future. The Gate had been stabilized, his family reunited and he had been taken in by the gargoyles of this time period, that while it was different, wasn't quite bad either.
This had been the closest place he had the privilege of calling home since Egypt. His children had been born here, and it wasn't a bad place to raise them. He hated to admit it, but the New York of his time would be too dangerous for a couple of young hatchlings. Demona was still insane and still plotted the destruction of mankind. The humans still wanted them dead and they were led by a psychopath waving a sledgehammer.
Compared to that, New York of this time period was practically paradise. He had friends who loved him, humans that accepted them and relative comfort. There was no place like home, but this time and this place were perfectly acceptable. No rush in getting out of here.
"Brooklyn!" that soft-silky voice belonging to Sata said, "I've been looking for you. You're missing the party, come back inside. What are you doing here all by yourself?"
Actually, he was doing what some humans did that night -- weight the good against the bad and silently wonder what the New Year would bring them. After most pondering, he realized that his life hadn't been that bad. There had been darkness, but almost always followed by the light.
He had been forced to leave Sata, but that too was over and now he was back. And in the best place he could think of, with family and friends. Come what may, he wasn't about to worry about it too much. Besides he thought, it's best to relish the moment, in case it might not come back again.
"Nothing," he replied, joining his wife's side. And in the spur of the moment, he added, "Did you know that in Spain, people gather in a plaza to welcome the New Year? It's a place called ‘Puerta del Sol’. Door of the Sun. I guess a New Year should start with a sunny day."
"All the same to me." Sata replied, "I don't get to see the sun."
Brooklyn shrugged. As they walked back to the party, the sounds of music and laughter turned louder and overwhelmed him completely. And he couldn't help but smile.
There had been plenty of bad, but also plenty of good in his life. After darkness, let there be light, or so was his wish when the clock struck twelve. He got the feeling that as he crossed the threshold; he was walking into the best days of his life.
* * * * *
February 14, 2172
Artus read the e-message on his terminal again, more curious than confused. It still said "Please dine with me in our quarters. -- P."
The leader of the Manhattan clan shrugged and logged off his work terminal. He had to remember not to reboot. A nebulous problem with the network servers had been disrupting his connection occasionally all week.
"Dinner," he mused. Normally, both he and his mate chose to eat in the communal dining hall with the rest of the clan and various and sundry other guests. Most of the clan was together at such times, making it an ideal opportunity for announcements or chances to give awards for special accomplishments. Artus preferred to mete out punishment in private, but compliments were best paid before an audience.
He walked from his office to the ledge, and leapt into the empty air. His responsibilities as clan leader kept him deskbound all too often. Other than patrols, he took far too few opportunities just to glide.
Lost in reverie, he almost didn’t hear the warning in time. "Look out below!"
Artus snapped his wings and banked to starboard, barely missing a red blur that passed by in a steep dive. He circled around to recover his bearings and see what was going on.
Brooklyn, unusually festive, was diving, talons extended, at someone below. His beak was curled into a wide grin.
Artus smiled too, when he saw the target. Sata had her wings tucked close to increase her speed, and suddenly extended them to break and change direction. She flapped once to gain a bit of altitude and disappeared behind a tower.
What had gotten into that pair? Artus wondered. He found his own balcony window open, though there was little light from inside. It was unlike Persephone to leave without securing all the exits. No one would think of entering the Clan Leader’s home uninvited, but still, security was not something to ignore.
Artus landed and went inside. The only lights were the flickering displays of the often ignored kitchen appliances and a soft glow from one of the spare rooms. The Clan Leader’s quarters were considerably larger than Artus had ever required. Besides the central room with a data terminal and furnishings for entertaining guests, there was a rather unnecessary bedroom with a large bath, and two other rooms that might have been intended as bedrooms. Artus and Persephone had converted one of these into a small conference room. The other had become a glorified closet, filled with all the things that people tend to acquire but not really use.
The conference room was lit, though dimly. Only a bar of soft, golden light escaped from the bottom of the closed door. Artus moved that way. The door slid open for him, and almost closed again before he remembered to step through it.
Someone had redecorated the conference room. The walls, which Artus had never bothered to change from the off-white they had originally been painted, were now draped in deep red fabric shot through with gold thread. The gold fibers sparkled in the candle light from several candles. Two lit the table, standing on tall, silver candlesticks and dancing with merry light. Others hung on sconces or stood in votive stands around the edges of the room, simultaneously illuminating the borders of the room and casting much of it in shadow.
Artus looked over at the table, which had been draped in white cloth. Besides the candlesticks, there were several covered dishes and place settings for two people. A bottle chilled in a silver urn, with two glasses beside it.
There was no sign of his Persephone, however. Artus turned back to the door, wondering what other surprises might be in store. Just before he could reach it, the door hissed open.
"You’re early," Persephone said, framed in the doorway. She was holding a large domed tray, presumably the main course. "Someone always catches you at your office door with urgent business."
It took Artus a moment to answer. Persephone was not dressed in her usual clothes. Her hair was up in gold combs, and she was wearing a long, form-fitting sheath gown the color of pearls. "It was a nice night. I decided to fly." It took another moment for him to remember his manners. "Here, let me take that."
His mate surrendered the tray, which he put between the two candlesticks where she’d obviously left a place for it.
"When did you have time to do all this?" he asked. "It wasn’t this way when we woke."
Persephone smiled, "I mentioned what I had in mind to Selena. She was glad to help. I think she drafted some of the youngsters to help carry. Room Service did the dinner, but I had several chances to go supervise. I asked Broadway to help with the menu."
Chivalrously, Artus pulled out a chair. His mate coiled into it gracefully, and twined her tail about one of the legs. He watched the tip flicker back and forth for a second before he moved to the other side of the table.
"What’s the occasion?" he asked. "Not that I would ever mind an evening in your company."
Persephone was insufferably cute when she blushed. The rose tint of her skin darkened to almost violet. She looked down at her plate. "This is the day of the feast of Saint Valentine. The humans use it as a day to confess their love for one another."
"Usually with chocolate. I don’t see any here." Artus lifted the lids of a couple of the trays.
"In the refrigerator. I didn’t want it to get all sticky."
"You know I don’t need an elaborate meal to know of your love for me." Artus could not pin down his mate’s mood. She seemed... nervous, of all things. "I hope you also know that I love you. Perhaps sometimes I am too caught up in my work to remember to tell you."
"No, I mean yes. I know you love me, and I truly love you. What I meant was... something else." Persephone twisted the lifeblood out of her napkin. "The eggs in the rookery will hatch soon, in 21787," she said, more casually than the rest of her manner would have indicated.
Artus held back a smile, having suddenly deduced the purpose of the evening. "Yes. Of course we’ve already had one hatching out of season, as it were."
"I know. I’ve thought about that a lot. When we came here, I was out of synch with the other females of the clan. We held off conceiving before because our hatchlings would have been born alone. And now I think, with the new recruits, and even Brooklyn to help..."
"That we need to clean out the spare room?"
"Well, where else will we put the nursery? I mean, most of the time, our hatchling will stay in the rookery, but I know we’ll want to spend some time alone, as a family. We can’t really have the toys and things under foot all the time."
Persephone smiled. "So you’re not adverse to the idea?"
"I’ve been trying to figure out where we can store all that stuff, and wondering when would be a good time to ask you. Of course we have some time...ulf"
Artus’s last words were cut off as he was caught in a flying tackle. His mate had launched herself over the table with a single leap and a pump of her wings, not disturbing so much as a single dish. Of course the impact of her landing had knocked over his chair and sent him sprawling to the floor. He grinned up at her smiling face, savoring this playful side of her personality, so different than what she displayed to the outside world.
He reached up to run a talon along one of her horns. "You know dinner will get cold."
"That’s ok. We can heat it up again."
"You know the back door is open."
"That’s ok, too. It sticks sometimes, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way if we needed to be outside suddenly."
* * * * *
March 27, 2172
As it had been the last couple of years, Demona enthusiastically accepted every invitation from Angela to join her for a night at the castle. They usually had dinner between themselves, for Broadway was forever uncomfortable with her presence and the children had other things to do.
Usually, they entertained with petty chitchat, anecdotes from their respective lives, and other niceties. Tonight, however, Angela picked up a most unnerving subject and refused to drop it.
"I'm just saying that if a man is willing to put up with your negative attitude for years, it could only mean one thing…"
"That he's stupid?"
"Or that he's a saint." Angela corrected.
They were talking about Benedick, the white gargoyle that had come to live in the castle a few years ago. A strong warrior, with a noble heart who had distinguished himself by saving Artus the second night he arrived and continued to amaze them all. His only flaw, some argued, was a bad taste in women, for he seemed interested in Demona ever since he had seen her at that Solstice festival long ago. Some tagged his attraction as 'interesting', others as 'suicidal', since Demona still had a lousy reputation in the clan. Being a former mass murdered did that to you.
That Benedick continued to chase Demona after numerous rebuffs by the latter made him even more outstanding. Others just figured it was some sort of naiveté. Most of them otherwise shrugged and said love was blind and there was no point in talking sense to the boy. "Stupider things have happened in this castle," they muttered.
Angela thought that he was simply perfect by the mere fact that he was willing to date her mother, sanity or not. "If he's willing to pursue you even after all you've done, it means that he's a special guy," Angela pointed out.
"Special? So that's what they call his condition nowadays?" Demona sassed. "Right. Who else in his right mind would think of dating the enemy of mankind?"
"Hey, it's true. I don't deny it anymore, daughter, and neither should you." Demona snorted softly. "The thing that truly vexes me is that he keeps calling me. I'm almost sure he's heard my story by now, so why doesn't he go away? What, I need to spell it out for him? I mean, really, who in his right mind would like to hang around me?"
"I do, mother," Angela replied, a bit offended.
"Yes, but I'm your mother, you just said so. That's different. You loved me no matter what. It's a mother-daughter thing. But Benedick is not family. What's his excuse?"
"His excuse to love you?" Angela repeated, perplexed, but slightly amused. "Love needs excuses now?" But without missing a beat, she said, "Actually, he has plenty of reasons to be interested in you. You're a strong warrior, a fascinating person to know and conveniently single. Not to mention that for a two thousand year old gargoyle, you are extraordinarily well-preserved."
"Fine. Either way, I'm not interested."
"Not interested?" Angela smirked, "Then, pray tell, why did you dance with him back in Solstice? You looked like you were having a great time!"
"A momentary weakness. Perhaps somebody had spiked the punch and the alcohol interfered with my common sense." She saw Angela's disgusted expression and added quite irritatedly, "Since when does an innocent dance imply something else? That's really juvenile, my daughter. Maybe Benedick thinks like you do and took our dance as an indication I was about to marry him."
"Mother," Angela sighed, "do you know what your problem is?"
"I have an idea, but I think you're going to tell me anyway…"
"You can't keep pushing other gargoyles away like this," Angela continued, choosing to let that other comment slide. "You have to be more open-minded, try to socialize with the clan."
"What's the point? They all mumble behind my back, no matter how much I try to prove myself. If they won't change their minds, what's the point of even trying?"
"You don't know that, mother. And you won't know for sure until you try," Angela said emphatically. "Next time you see Benedick, try to be a little nicer." And she couldn't resist adding, "You know, give him a chance. Shake that tail, bat your eyes…"
"Angela…" Demona warned, decidedly annoyed.
And next, who should walk into the room but Benedick himself. "Miss Demona!" the young gargoyle's eyes brightened up when he saw her. "I've been looking for you."
Mother and daughter exchanged looks. Angela sneered and mockingly said, "It is fate…"
Demona then turned to Benedick and tried hard, really, really hard not to roll her eyes at him. "Yes, Mr. Benedick?" she sighed heavily.
"I was wondering if I could have a word with you. Alone." Benedick replied, as his eyes wandered towards Angela, "But I can see you're busy, so…"
"Oh, I was about to leave," Angela said as she leaped to her feet with an extraordinary energy for someone her age. She smiled toothily at her mother and said, "Mother, it's been a pleasure as always. Be sure to drop by soon!" And just before she walked out the door, she turned back for a moment and sneered again, "Remember, mother… it is fate!"
"Go. Away." Demona muttered. It figured that Angela would scram like that. The cliché! Gods, the cliché! she thought miserably.
The second Angela was gone, Benedick flopped in the couch next to Demona at an uncomfortably close range that violated her personal space, (which was, for clarity's sake, a big breathy room with everybody at least three meters away).
"You know," Benedick began, getting nauseatingly comfortable in the sofa, "I've been trying to get in touch with you for some time, but for some reason, you're never home…"
Demona couldn't tell whether he was jerking her chain or merely dense. "I'm a busy gargoyle," she said, deadpan.
He was ignorant, or merely ignoring, her attitude. "…but thankfully," he continued like she'd never spoken, "Artus was kind enough to tell me you were around in the castle. So tell me, Miss Demona, would you like to have a little walk with me?"
"Actually, you interrupted me in a very important meeting with my daughter." She said, sounding all-too-desperate to shake him off, "My time with Angela is sacred and I don't appreciate interruptions. Besides, I was about to leave anyway."
"Oh." Benedick replied, taken back a bit. "I apologize. I guess I should've knocked…" But just when Demona thought he was sufficiently put off to leave her alone, he added, "But since you said you were about to leave, allow me to make up my grievous interruption…" he stood up to face her and extended his hand to her with an elaborate flourish. "…by seeing you home!"
She stared at him for an uncomfortable number of minutes. She stared at Benedick, then at his stretched hand, then at Benedick again. And, damn her, she just had to smile.
He just doesn't give up! She thought, both bewildered and irrationally amused with this absurd situation. It was so unusual, so silly, so unexpected, she had to smile. He just didn't give up. That meant something, but she still didn't know what. Maybe it was his determination or his stupid little jokes, but something about him made her smile. That was unusual. That was very unusual. He just didn't give up.
"Central Park around midnight…!" Benedick sad with a charming smile, "In another time, it would've been considered suicide, but nowadays I hear it's just lovely this time at night."
Still unsure what to make of all of this, she decided to damn it all. Closing her eyes, sighing heavily and grabbing his hand, she caught herself thinking, Here by the grace of life go we…
And then he hauled her to her feet in a cry of joy and enthusiastically said, "Wonderful! Come on, Miss Demona! The night awaits!"
"Oh, joy." Demona muttered under her breath, and allowed herself to be dragged out the door.
* * *
The enthusiastic Benedick hauled her by the hand all across the castle without ever letting go, like some kind of hyper teenager who couldn't wait to impress a girl. Unfortunately for him, the girl was Demona. This was going to take awhile.
For some wild reason, he insisted on taking her to Central Park. Walking among humans in the streets felt somewhat awkward for Demona, considering how many times she had tried to kill them all. The humans that they ran across felt equally awkward, probably thinking of the past when some of their kind had tried to kill the gargoyles.
Huh. Gargoyles and human working together. She wondered how John Castaway would feel about this; the other person besides herself who, ironically enough, had agreed with her that both races didn't stand a chance living together. Rant and rave and blow up the city, maybe? No, wait. Blowing up the city was her department. But anyway, suppose he had also gotten over his hatred, like Demona (more or less) had. How would that go?
She indulged herself in this fantasy for a moment – as much to distract herself from becoming irritated at Benedick again as for anything else. If she and Castaway could have gotten into a conversation about it in this politically-correct age, it would probably go like this:
"Uh, I just wanted apologize for… you know… everything… you know, the sledgehammer, the rallies…"
"Oh, yes, about that… I'm sorry too. Sorry for the virus thing. It was a very stressful time in my life… you know, work and stuff… I mean, between Thailog and the detective, I guess I just… it was very stressful. You understand?"
"Yes, I totally understand. Stress is a killer. The late 90s were really confusing times."
"Yes, well, I'm just wanted to say sorry about that. And for turning the city to stone. I'm sorry about that too."
"Hmmm. Yes… uh… I guess I'll see you around. Goodbye, Demona."
Imaginary Johns aside, her attention focused on Benedick, who was one step short of doing cartwheels in the grass just to impress her. All right, he had gotten his stupid walk with her. Could she go home now?
The park was deserted at that time, which Demona thought to be a good thing. She had to admit it was rather interesting to walk freely in the park. She had always made it a rule to steer clear of 'human' places, because she had a tendency to rub them the wrong way. Come to think of it, she rubbed everyone the wrong way, but if she could avoid confrontations with humans, more power to her. So that meant no walking to the stores or anywhere else for that matter. Besides, what were wings for?
But there she was, trotting around the beaten path (a metaphor- the path looked brand new, like most of the streets in this century) with Benedick beside her, with a stupid grin all over his face…
"Isn't this nice?" he said.
Great. Now he wanted to stir some conversation. Fine. Not like she had anything better to do at the moment. "What's nice?"
"Walking around the park like this. Enjoying the greenery and the history of this place. It's kind of liberating, isn't it?"
"I guess," Demona shrugged.
"Do you like to walk too, Demona?"
"Sure, I suppose."
"Or do you prefer to glide?"
"Gliding is ok too."
"Am I boring you?"
"Yes. I mean, no! I'm sorry, what was the question?" Demona said, slightly mortified.
Benedick didn't seem too offended with the faux pas, instead, he smiled quietly with a certain little twinkle in his eyes. "Do you know how adorable you look when you're absolutely bewildered?"
The still mortified Demona was taken aback. "Well, no! I'm hardly 'bewildered'. If it's one thing I'm proud of," she continued, trying to regain composure, "It's my ability to avoid it." She had learned over the years that it didn’t pay to show emotions and loss of control in the business world.
"What's next?" Benedick said, not reproaching, but delighted, " 'I'm above such petty emotions'?"
"Well… yes!" Demona found herself replying. This whole situation was getting on her nerves. "I can't do this!"
"Do this! This!" she said, gesturing at the two of them, "Don't you know who I am?"
"Yes. You're Demona."
"No, I'm not! I mean… yes, I am Demona. Demona the psychopath, Demona the bane of humanity, Demona the mass murderer! I hate humanity, Benedick! I'm evil! Corrupt! You don't want to hang around me, trust me on that. I don't want to hang around me!" She stared at Benedick with a mixture of annoyance and incredulity. "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
Benedick looked at her, really looked at her. Utterly serious, he said, "When did that all happen?"
She sighed heavily and looked down to the ground in unconscious shame, "The last millennium, actually. Barely one century ago… I was a bane of society until at least the 21rst century…"
"So…" Benedick said, carefully weighting his words, "You used to be a 'psychopath'?"
"Yes." She said, annoyed.
"A psychopath who used to hate humanity."
"Yes!" Demona repeated, increasingly exasperated.
"But you haven't tried to kill them in one century. One whole century?"
Demona blinked and stared at him blankly. Was the creep actually poking fun at her? "Where are you going with this?"
"Well, look at yourself." Benedick said, matter-of-factly. "You recognized that what you did was wrong. You are, more or less, sorry for what you did. You don't try to destroy the world anymore for one century… one whole century…" he said, counting with his fingers. "Did it ever occur to you, my dear Demona… that maybe, just maybe… you're not a psychopath anymore?"
Demona opened her mouth. And closed it again. Taking a couple of seconds to gather her wits, she snapped, "That's not the point!"
"What's the point, then?"
Again, she was at a lost for words. She took a deep breath. "The point is…" she began, taking a couple of moments to organize her thought to accurately say what was in her mind, "…That I…" she tried to think of a good way to say it. Unfortunately, nothing interesting or inspiring came to mind. So she settled with saying, "…Am an evil person!"
In Benedick's face, a small smile began to form. Demona noticed and it agitated her to no end. "Don't you get it, you cretin!" she burst, "If a human trips, I point and laugh! If a plane crashes, they had it coming! If an insane dictator takes over a country, it makes me think that humanity is still rotten and that it always was!" She said, almost shrieked, "I'm not a good person! I'm not. And I don't deserve to be happy."
Benedick's eyes lit up. "I make you happy?"
…It figured he would ignore everything she said and focus on the most inane detail of it all. But, as to not leave him hanging, Demona sighed and the truth slipped out. "Well…" she said, "…you make me laugh…" then she caught herself and quickly added, "But that's not what I meant to say. Not at all."
Then Benedick took her hand and placed his other hand over it. Demona stared at him baffled as he said, "Well, Demona, might as well tell you right now that I don't care. I don't care if you were running up hills with a chainsaw in your hands. I don't care if you mowed down humans with your lawnmower. That's all in the past. It very tragic and very disturbing -- there, I said it -- but in the end, it's all in the past. I like to think I'm a person who focuses on the present. And do you know what I see in you tonight, this day and age? Right now, at --" he checked his wristwatch and said, "2 AM in the morning, Thursday March 27?"
I have an idea, but I think you're going to tell me anyway…Her response to Angela echoed in her mind, but didn't have the chance to utter it.
"…a devastatingly beautiful gargoyle, conveniently single, who I wouldn't mind dating in a heartbeat, even if she was a psychopath, or a dancing monkey, or a slug in a past life. I only care about this beautiful person standing before me, looking at me as if there was a foot growing out of my stomach at this very moment."
Demona picked up her jaw and pulled away. This was… this…
I can't do this! I just can't do this!
"I have to go." She said hurriedly, "It's getting early and I need my sleep…" She took several steps away from him, ready to make a run for it as if this was Macbeth back in the 18th century. But he was too fast. Benedick grabbed her by the arm and she snapped, "What are you doing?"
"Making you happy…"
"The hell you are!" she said…
…right before he hurried to give her a kiss.
Memories, feelings and emotions flooded her mind with that kiss, like oh-so-many sappy love songs. Suddenly, her mind was like a radio tuned to a station playing only oldies about endless devotion and perpetual happiness.
Centuries ago, Demona would've shot the radio.
This day and age, on Thursday March 27 of the year 2172, Demona the bane of humanity, fell for it like so many teenyboppers before her and those after her would, as long as the sun shines, birds sing, and boy bands exist.
He pulled away and smiled sweetly at her. What happened next was something of a blur. She found herself back in her home, torn between two terrible forces: the jaded, embittered gargoyle and the ignorant hatchling about to burst into giggles any second now.
Neither won. Maybe it was a tie, she didn't know. But something was clear -- something had changed. Something had happened. Whether good or bad, time would tell, but there was no question that her life had just stumbled upon a very different and unknown path.
And that was okay with her.
* * * * *
April 15, 2172
In the sky, over the streets of Manhattan, the two gargoyles soared through the night. Brooklyn gazed down at the streets, which, while very different from the 20th century, were still the same in many ways. No matter what time period it was, New York was still the city that never sleeps. He looked back at his companion -- the young gargoyle, Samson. He'd really grown up a lot in the years that Brooklyn has known him. Soon, he'd be thirty-six and be able to really patrol alongside his clan.
"Hey, Brooklyn," Samson called out. "You've been quiet for a while now. Anything wrong?"
"No," Brooklyn replied. "Just thinking about the past. The Manhattan I knew. How things have changed," he said as they glided into another neighborhood."
They looked down at the streets and buildings. This place was really run down, buildings abandoned, and showing very few signs of life. "Would you believe this used to be the financial district of New York City," Brooklyn asked.
"Yeah," Samson replied. "Wall Street, I read the history books."
Brooklyn laughed lightly at that. History -- that's what he was. What his clan now was. What everything he knew was. "I guess we've done enough," Brooklyn said. "We should get back home."
Before Samson could reply, they heard a loud scream, which was cut off by the sounds of gun shots.
"It's coming from there," Samson cried out as he pointed in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Let's go," Brooklyn ordered as they changed direction in the air.
As they got close to old City Hall, they could see what was happening. On the streets below them, two groups of humans were engaged in a violent firefight, several were already wounded. But in the middle, a couple and two children were hiding amidst debris to shield themselves from the bullets flying through the air.
"Looks like the Rogues and the Chislers," Samson said. "I've heard that they had a small war going."
"Okay, I'll distract them while you get the family out of there," Brooklyn said.
"Understood," Samson replied. Before he could glide down, a winged silhouette appeared, soaring down from an opposite building.
"Looks like we have help," the red gargoyle said. "Samson, stick with the plan." Brooklyn glided down towards the Chislers and drew his pulse rifle.
Samson landed on the street and made his way to the family. "Don't worry," he said. "Everything is going to be fine."
The other gargoyle turned to Samson. "I've got them, you help your friend distract those thugs," she yelled.
Samson looked up at the gargoyle, she was beautiful. Her skin was a dark tan, and her long hair, the palest white he ever saw. But now was not the time to stare at a pretty face. Samson quickly threw himself at the Rogues.
The gargoyle watched him for a second, before turning back to the family. "Simon, Judy, are you alright?"
"Yes," the woman replied.
"Good," the gargoyle nodded. "Follow me, we'll get you back to the Labyrinth."
As Samson dispatched another human, he turned back and saw a lone Rogue taking aim at the gargoyle and the family. He quickly rushed towards the human, crying out a roar that would have made his grandfather proud. The Rogue quickly turned in fear and pulled the trigger.
Brooklyn rushed towards Samson's side, as the young gargoyle fell to his knees. The shooter fled with the rest of his gang, and all was silent.
The gargoyle ushered the family into a manhole and walked over.
"Are you alright," she asked.
"I'm fine," Samson said. He was holding his left arm tightly as blood seeped from beneath his talons.
"We'll have to get you back to the castle." Brooklyn said, "and my comlink isn’t working out here."
The gargoyle tore a piece of cloth from her tunic and wrapped it around Samson's arm. "That should hold you over."
Brooklyn finally took a look at the new gargoyle and it was all he could do to keep his jaw from dropping in amazement.
"Nothing," Brooklyn replied, "you just look like someone I know." Samson got back to his feet, and spread his wings a bit. "Can you glide?"
"Should be no problem," Samson said. "I should be able to make it home."
The gargoyle nodded approvingly. "Thanks for your help," she said. "I don't know if I'd have been able to save them without you."
"Think nothing of it," Brooklyn said.
"Okay, I have to be getting back now," she said, before heading towards the manhole.
"Wait," Samson called. "I never caught your name."
"Delilah," she said with a wink before climbing down through the manhole.
"Hope to see her again," Samson said to himself.
* * * * *
May 2, 2172
The limousine pulled up in front of the university building. Nicholas Hawkins opened the door, climbed out, and walked up the building steps.
* * *
"So it seems most likely," Angelica Hawkins was saying, "that the Dream of Rhonabwy was written, not as an Arthurian romance, but as a parody of that genre, although containing actual traditions revolving around Arthur and his associates within its text."
She checked the clock on the wall, and nodded. "And that concludes our class for today. I wish you all well on the finals next week, and hope that you prepare yourselves well for them."
The students rose from their desks, and headed for the door, amid much chatter. As they made their way out, a gray-haired, gray-bearded man entered the room from the corridor outside. He inadvertently bumped into a young woman as he did so.
"Terribly sorry, ma’am," he said at once to her. "My apologies, Miss -"
"Williamson," she replied. "My name’s Anna Williamson, Mr. Macduff."
He nodded. "I am glad to make your acquaintance," he said. She nodded back to him, with a smile, then went on her way.
"Mr. Macduff," said Angelica, turning towards her visitor in the now otherwise empty classroom. "I hadn’t expected to see you here."
"I just wished to stop by and congratulate you on your first full-year teaching here at Columbia," he said. "You’ve done very well, I understand."
"Thank you," she said, nodding.
She was about to say more, when a voice from the doorway spoke next. "Ah, Angelica. Hullo there."
Nicholas Hawkins was half-leaning against the side of the doorway, gazing in. He now strolled into the room, smiling. "I’d like to second Mr. Macduff’s congratulations, if that’s all right with you, Angelica," he said. "You’ve really done a sterling job here, Sis."
"Thank you, Nicholas," said Angelica, smiling. "This certainly is a surprise."
"Mr. Hawkins," said Macbeth, frowning. "So what brings you here?"
"Oh, just stopped by to pay my respects to my sister," said Nicholas, with a shrug. "You don’t mind that, do you?" He held out his hand, which Macbeth, still frowning, took in his own hand and shook.
"You have every right to," said the Scotsman, though still looking at the head of Fenris Industries in a suspicious manner. "It’s not my place to say otherwise."
"I also came to remind her of our reservations," said Nicholas. "Dinner tonight, remember?"
"Oh, yes," said Angelica. "Don’t worry, Nicholas. I hadn’t forgotten." She turned to Macbeth. "We eat out once a month, just the two of us," she said. "Ever since I moved here. It’s our way of keeping up with each other."
Macbeth nodded. "Very well, then," he said. "Enjoy yourselves, both of you." In a lower voice, he added to Angelica, "And be careful."
She nodded good-naturedly. "Good-bye, Mr. Macduff," she said. "I’ll see you next week."
"Ta," said Nicholas, nodding. "Nice meeting you, sir." And with that, he and Angelica left the room.
* * *
"And so that’s what we’ve been covering in the last two weeks," said Angelica, as they sat together at the restaurant table, halfway through their dinner.
"You certainly know your Arthurian literature well, Angelica," said Nicholas, nodding. "Your coverage of the romances in the Mabinogion was very impressive."
"Thank you," she said. "Of course, it’s probably not such a surprise, given that it runs in the family."
"That reminds me," Nicholas continued. "How’s Father doing?"
"He’s well," she answered.
"Still living in Scotland?"
"The last that I heard, yes," she said.
Nicholas now leaned forward, all look of levity and relaxation on his face gone. The look in his eyes was serious, as he spoke to her, in a low, earnest voice.
"Angelica, the time is drawing very near," he said. "And when it comes, I don’t want to have to face you as an enemy. I want you by my side, fighting with me, rather than against me. Please, Angelica. The hour can’t be delayed much longer. It is inevitable."
Angelica sighed sadly, the cheerfulness gone now from her own eyes and voice. "Not this again, Nicholas," she said. "Please, brother. Can’t you let it go? You don’t have to fight this crusade, you know. You can walk away from it. Please do so."
He shook his head firmly. "I’m not turning back now," he said. "I’ve come too far to give up. I must claim my birthright, and I will claim it, Angelica. You can be certain of it."
"There’s still time," she said. "I just know it. Father may have given up on you, but I haven’t."
"And Father’s showing some wisdom in recognizing it," said Nicholas. "Even he can’t turn me aside from my rightful heritage. Since he wouldn’t claim it, I will do so. I’ll finally achieve my grandfather’s dream, Angelica. Justice will prevail, and great glory will be mine. And it can be yours, as well, my sister, if you but stand beside me."
Angelica sighed sadly. "Let’s not speak any more of this tonight, shall we?" she said. "It’s too lovely a night to be spoiled by such arguing."
"Very well," said Nicholas, nodding. "If you say so."
They ate the rest of the meal in a subdued silence, saying nothing further. After Nicholas picked up the check, he hugged Angelica in a brotherly embrace.
"Good-bye, Sis," he said to her. "I’ll be in touch."
She nodded, as she walked out towards the door, a troubled expression upon her face. She was silent all the way back to her apartment, mulling over every word of their conversation several times.
"He really means it," she said to herself. "The storm is coming, and I don’t even know what I’ll do when it breaks."
She entered her apartment, closing and locking the door behind her, and sat down in her armchair, staring at the bookshelf opposite it, but not truly seeing it. She sat in that way for a few minutes, before finally rising.
"I need someone to talk to," she said, walking over to the phone. She picked it up, and punched in a number on the keyboard.
"Yes," she said, to the person who answered on the other end. "I’d like to speak to Angela of Clan Wyvern, please. Tell her that it’s her goddaughter."
* * * * *
June 20, 2172
For the most part, Broadway shied away from books that dealt with supernatural themes. With all the weirdness in his own life, he did not believe that he needed to actually read about these things on a daily basis. But the book he currently held in his hand intrigued him to no end. Various literary reviews had gone on about the author for months now, and the old gargoyle had finally given up. Now it seemed he could not put the blasted thing down. The story dealt with a hero who had been called on to save the world, just like the stories of millions of other novels written since he had learned how to read. But this one was different. Broadway could relate to it.
As he flipped through the pages of the novel, becoming more and more engrossed in the story, the computer system informed him that a private call was waiting for him. Broadway asked who it was, but the computerized voice of his old friend did not answer. He raised his eyeridge in surprise, folding the end of his novel to mark his place (a habit he had taken up only in recent years).
"Can you play it here?" he asked. Deep down, he already knew the answer.
"I’m afraid not," Lexington’s voice told him.
Sighing, Broadway stood up from his chair, the bones in his knees popping with age. He set the book down gently on a table next to his chair, hopping he would be able to get back to it in a reasonable time. The old gargoyle walked down the corridor towards his and Angela’s quarters, hoping silently that she would not be there.
His door opened with an almost silent sound. "Lights. Low," he told the computer. It was hard for him not to think of the operating system of the Eyrie as his former rookery brother, but he tried every night. Recent events in his life only made it harder. The lights illuminated the room in a dim, sickly yellow.
The screen turned on, revealing the face of his daughter. She looked as beautiful as ever, with her mother’s eyes and his skin tone. She still was dying her hair blonde, something which he had never understood. Gwenyvere smiled, making her father do the same.
"Hi daddy," she said, happiness in her voice.
"Hey baby," Broadway greeted her.
"I know I missed Father’s Day. I’ve been busy, you know?" Broadway could tell that her own system was pulled in close to her face, so that he could not see behind her. He also guessed that her call could not be traced. He would not have tried, even if he could.
"I know, sweetie. It’s nothing you need to worry about. You can call me any time you want to. How have you been, Gwenyvere?" he asked, wanting to know everything that she would tell him.
"I’m fine. Busy with stuff. What about there? Tell me everything," Gwen asked.
Broadway sighed, trying to think of something interesting to tell her. "It’s been quiet here, for the most part. Brooklyn and Persephone had this strange case last year involving..." he trailed off. "Well, Brooklyn called them zombies. We’re not sure what to make of it."
Broadway sat down on his couch, letting out his breath as he did so. "We’ve seen weirder things."
"I know, daddy. Are you feeling okay?" she asked.
"I’m fine. I’m just getting old and tired. Don’t worry about me. I can still beat up the bad guys if I need to," Broadway chuckled.
Gwenyvere smiled again. Her eyes slid to the side of the screen, as if she was looking at something Broadway could not see.
"You need to go, don’t you?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"Kind of," she admitted. "I need to get back to work."
"It’s alright. I understand," Broadway told her, simply glad to hear her voice.
"Give everyone a hug for me," Gwenyvere said. "I love you." The screen went back to its natural black soon afterwards.
Broadway heard the door open, though he did not turn to see who it was. Angela soon stood beside him, grabbing his hand which hung by his side. He gave it a soft squeeze, and she returned the gesture.
"Was that her?" Angela asked.
Broadway simply nodded. They stood for a minute in silence, neither of them sure what to say.
"Don’t be upset," Broadway finally said. "You know she always calls me on Father’s Day. She’s just been busy, I guess."
"I just wish I could speak with her," Angela told him, wiping tears from her eyes. "I had the chance that one time, when she was trying to call you."
"I remember," he said, having heard the story before. He brought his love into an embrace, wanting to do everything he could for her.
"I can’t cry for her anymore, Broadway," Angela said, trying to hold back the waterfall of tears that waited behind her eyes. "I have to move past tears."
"I know," Broadway said, stroking her hair gently. "I know."
* * * * *
July 8, 2172
The university's campus had been invaded by journalists and curious onlookers for a whole week now. Students took that chance to skip some classes and generally get away from school. Professors didn't care much about the many absences; who could probably teach when the existence of UFOs was being debated in the auditorium two buildings over?
Centuries ago, aliens had been the joke of the subculture. People would gather around the mythical Area 51 dressed up as gray creatures or celebrate the Roswell crash anniversary by throwing a parade, complete with fake flying saucers made of foam. It was the stuff of nerds and those who didn't have a life. Aliens only seemed to attract weirdoes.
But in the year 2172, the same talk of aliens attracted the rich and powerful of the world, who gathered in an auditorium that was filled to its capacity. Faces like Alexander Xanatos, Nicholas Hawkins, and Demona Destine got lost in a sea of those like them and those more important than them. And they weren't there with Darth Vader masks.
Before the audience, there sat ten of the world's experts in a long table, debating among themselves and the audience the new developments in the off-world colonies.
Sightings. Many sightings. Unidentified objects had become common out there, scaring workers and their families. Accounts varied, as rumors always tend to mutate, but one thing was sure. Something was out there and it couldn't be ignored much longer.
This time, society was demanding an investigation into the phenomena, and their cry had resounded in the big businesses and the government. Though this summit had been sponsored by a university, the presence of senators, government officials, and CEOs gave the gathering an air of officialness. This was the summit, the ultimate meeting where something was going to be decided for better or worse. A solution was expected to come from it, or at least a plan of action.
After the ten guests had said their piece, some in favor of investigation, others arguing it was all rubbish, the floor had been opened for opinions and questions.
Candida Navarro, from a company famous for its high tech weaponry, was among the first ones to speak. She was sitting far in the back, but her face was showed on the main view screen for the benefit of the audience.
"Suppose there's really something out there… something that has come a long way to drop us a visit… the fact that said creatures are advanced enough to make such a long voyage across the galaxy -- please remember that the nearest solar system to ours is at a distance too staggering to comprehend -- suggest they could be more technologically advanced than humanity. As absurd as this is going to sound…what would stop them from wiping out the planet?"
Her question had aroused some vivacious mumbling from the audience. Yes, it was something of a childish question, but it had to be asked sooner or later.
"Isn't that a little extremist from your part, ma'am?" Another audience member retorted, this one an old gentleman by the name of Thomas Jennings. He was sitting at the other side of the auditorium, and the camera focused on his face accordingly.
"Several centuries of pop culture indoctrination about aliens being the bad guys are giving you a biased view on our mysterious visitors. Why do aliens always want to kill us? What if they're just explorers? What if they're just here to swap cooking recipes? We don't know anything about them, not even if they're truly out there, and we're already talking about running for our lives. No wonder the public is so afraid. Talk like that will only panic our off-world colonies."
"We can only hope that I'm only being paranoid, sir. But even you must agree there's nothing wrong with being a little wary and discussing all the options." Navarro replied, "Throughout history, the strong and the advanced have always subdued or decimated the weak. From the Spanish conquering America to the latest problems with the gargoyle race, humanity does not have a good record dealing with new civilizations."
"Humanity does not have a good record, and these aliens, as the word implies, would be anything but human."
"Personally, I think love, hate, compassion and cruelty, like get-quick-rich-schemes and bullies, are universal constants. While I agree that demonizing these creatures is unhealthy, raising them to a state of divinity would be just as bad."
"Perhaps we're both wrong," the old man allowed, "Perhaps we're both just humanizing them. Perhaps we should stop talking about them in terms of good and evil."
"Or perhaps," a third voice interrupted, one of a Mr. Silva, "You're just thinking too hard over things that don't exist." The camera zoomed over to the first row, where he was sitting, "While I hate to interrupt what would no doubt be a fascination theological discussion, but in the end, we're just thinking about it too hard. There has been no concrete proof such things exist in the first place."
The camera jumped once more to the far back, "What of the eyewitness accounts?" said someone named Smith, "What about the historical records? There have been reports of unexpected phenomena since the dawn of humanity. When the UFO craze was at its peak in the twentieth century, there were millions of recorded cases about abductions and alien spacecraft."
The camera flashed back to Mr. Silva, who had a slightly patronizing smile, "Records dating three thousand years are hardly what I call trusty sources. And as for the twentieth century, you have to admit that while we had come a long way since we first discovered fire, we were still unsophisticated. We were calling psychic hotlines and we were parading down the streets with hammer and destroying public property in our holy crusade against the gargoyles. A drunk farmer claiming he bought ET a drink is not what I call a reliable source. Even one of the most serious investigation programs, the SETI project, found no evidence of extraterrestrial life."
"That's because the government of that time cut off their funding!" Smith complained, "And yes, it's true that there's been a share of crackpot stories, no denying that." He was forced to admit, "But like all myths, there must be a grain of truth buried in the slush."
"Which brings us to another point," Mr. Silva pressed on, "Who's to say these stories about sightings are just not transplanted myths? Like Europeans that brought their fairy tales to America, we're bringing our new fairy tales to space. And because we're now in real space, these stories seemed to have new credibility."
"That doesn't explain anything," Smith retorted, "Because the grain of truth is still there. And this is not just a case of campfire stories in zero gravity. There have been new stories with instrument documentation of odd readings. And you can't tell me its swamp gas anymore."
"Fine." Silva sneered. "It's not swamp gas. Maybe it’s solar flares. Maybe its curvatures in the space-time continuum, how should I know? Space is a weird place. Don't pin all the weirdness on aliens alone."
"Then may I suggest a compromise?" The cameras zoomed on Alexander Xanatos, CEO of Xanatos Enterprises. "All who have spoken have very good points. But the truth is we still don't know anything. We don't know if they're out there in the first place. As long as we're in the dark, further discussion is pointless. While I never believed in old stories about aliens, there are too many people that do believe and we can't ignore them. We should look into it and launch a serious investigation. We've come a long way from SETI, and with the new technologies out in the market, we can do things those scientists could only dream of. If we don't find anything, we lose nothing and keep our dignity. But if we do find something," he let a tantalizing smile come over his features, "It would be the greatest thing to happen to mankind since… forever. First contact would be set up and we would learn great things from them."
"Like if they're here to play nice or blow us up." Navarro interrupted for a second.
"Of course." Alexander conceded. "And take the corresponding action."
"And who's going to pay for this investigation?" one of the various US senators spoke up.
At this, Nicholas Hawkins stood up, from somewhere around the middle of the auditorium. "Surely something could be worked out. This is for the benefit of mankind, a chance to settle the age-old question: are we alone in the universe? And if we're not, do they party like us? Now's not the time to close up the wallets, not when we have the opportunity to change the course of mankind."
"Perhaps we could build a consortium of private sector businesses with government help, or something along those lines." Alexander continued, "If we organize a conglomerate of companies big enough, the cost would be low and we all could benefit of the data we gather and the things we discover. Xanatos Enterprises offers its support with whoever wishes to join this venture."
Nicholas Hawkins was the first to approve such a venture, and he was followed by many others, either for love of science or to get a piece of the cake. Elsa Industries were in it for the science. Demona Destine was in it for the cake.
For better or worse, Alexander's argument struck a chord in everybody there, and while a few still had their doubts, his advice was well received by almost everyone.
Meanwhile, a nameless, dark man sitting in the crowd was taking notes.
* * * * *
Alexander was among the last to leave, hounded by news reporters who wanted to ask a thousand things about the unexpected declarations. It took plenty of security guards to clear the way for him to reach the limo, parked in the back and waiting for the getaway.
Just when he thought he was in the clear, yet another person approached him, whom he assumed to be a reporter. "Mr. Xanatos, may I have a word with you for a moment?"
"Sorry, sir, no comment for now. Wait for the press release like the others." Xanatos said as he opened the limo door.
The stranger quickly hurried to close the door, almost crunching Xanatos' fingers. "Like I was saying," he continued, "Just moment."
Xanatos looked at the door, then at the stranger. Then he crossed his arms and said, "Well. Talk."
"I just wanted to congratulate you for that magnificent performance in the summit. Is it true you're willing to go through with the plan? All the way?"
"Of course," he replied, "Xanatos Enterprises doesn't toss empty promises to the air. Besides, it's going to be the opportunity of a lifetime. No sane mind can say no to first contact."
The stranger smiled. "Spoken like a true business man. Just like your father, in fact. You both have the mantle we're looking for in the society."
It took him about two seconds to figure out who that man was. "Illuminati. You're from the Illuminati." He said.
Like a plague, the Illuminati had been a shadow stalking every decent (and not so decent) businessman in Earth for nearly twelve centuries now. His father had numerous dealing with them in the past. It was just a matter of time before they came knocking on his son's door.
Alexander had just hopped it wouldn't be so soon.
"What do you want?"
"What do you think we want?" the man sneered, "You. We want you to join us. We've had our eye of you for quite some time. Your performance in the summit was the oomph we needed to conform it. We're offering you membership to the society."
"Really?" he said, just a little wary.
"Really. So. Are you interested?"
"Am I interested…?" Alexander repeated idly. "Well… I must say that I am. But I have my doubts. You guys have a lousy reputation, you know that, don't you?"
"You get what you give with us. Like a marriage, it all depends in how much effort you're willing to put into it." The stranger snickered. "But don't worry. I think you'll do just fine with us. You're the type we love. Strong, independent, a natural born leader…"
"…that's filthy rich and its heading a coalition to hunt for UFOs."
"Among other things." The man replied, "Are you in?"
"You wouldn't be too offended if I told you I'd have to think about it?" Alex asked.
"Not at all." The stranger amiably said, "How does twenty four hours sound like?"
"Just fine. Thanks."
"You're welcome." He said, shaking Alex's hand. "See you tomorrow then."
* * * * *
" 'See you tomorrow then'?" Serena repeated incredulous.
"Yeah, how very polite for the terrifying Illuminati, isn't it?"
For a long dreaded confrontation, that initial meeting wasn't so bad. It was short and to the point, which lent some absurdity to the whole situation. Hey, wanna join the Illuminati? We have an awesome dental plan…
The Xanatos family and the Illuminati went way back. It was an open secret among the castle inhabitants that David Xanatos had been a member and that they weren't really all that beneficial to his career.
When he had asked Pop about it, his father had only said, "Like drugs and excessive alcohol, just say no."
But that was just his father’s experience. Maybe this time it would be… different.
Serena sighed in disapproval as she watched how Alex idly poked his salad. He was lost in his thoughts and she knew that look all too well. "Either you're trying to murder the salad," she said, "Or you're planning to join those people."
"Serena, let's just have dinner in peace…"
"Are you, Alex?" she insisted, "Your father was a member and you know how that worked out. They were just trouble to him, demanding things he couldn't deliver. He did their dirty work and never got anything out of it."
"He got information out of them." Alex pointed out, "And they can give information to me. These people control the world, Serena, and with their help I can figure out what's really happening, get the real scoop. I'll have a better idea of what's going on."
"Yes, but the price for their information is heavy indeed." Serena pointed out. "Lord knows what outrageous demands they will place on you. Is it worth it?"
"It is if they help me prepare for whatever problems come our way." Alex continued, "They help out their most important members."
"And you think you'll be that important to them? Your ego knows no bound, does it?" Serena replied. "If a man like your father was just a lower echelon, and he was among the richest in the world, maybe the Illuminati don't pay so much attention to money. So what other thing can you offer them? Clearly, it’s not monetary assistance. So think about it carefully. What do they want?"
It was a good question. It was damn good question.
"But what if I say no?"
"They'll be out of your hair."
He shot her a look. "Right. They're going to leave me alone for the rest of time? The more I think about, the more I think I should say yes. Rather than give them an excuse to make my life miserable, maybe I should just be nice to them. After all, 'keep your friends close and your enemies even closer'."
"I've got another one. 'Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.'" Serena said sternly, then her features softened for a moment. "Whatever you choose to do, please remember who you're dealing with. And don't get your hopes up about getting freebies. The Illuminati doesn't give away Christmas bonus, not if they can help it. I hope you know what you're doing."
"Yeah," Alex said, "So do I."
* * * * *
"Yes. The answer's yes."
The man, whose name was still unknown to Alex, shook his hand and handled him a tiny pin in the shape of a pyramid on top of it. "Congratulations. You're officially a member."
Well, for selling his soul to devils, this had gone pathetically simple.
"That's it. Did you expect anything else?"
"I don't know. I guess a bit more of fanfare."
The man just chuckled. "I like you, Alexander Xanatos. I really do. Just keep your nose clean and don't do anything really stupid." With that, he tipped his hat and began to walk away.
"Wait a minute!" Alex exclaimed. The man turned to him for a moment. "I don't suppose you'll tell me who killed Kennedy?" The stranger shot him a look and Alex shrugged. "Had to try."
The man gave him a little smile and simply walked away.
* * * * *
August 13, 2172
Garlon glanced at his watch as the elevator doors slowly opened to reveal a large waiting room. At least a dozen people in the room waiting, talking among themselves, drinking coffee, or reading some of the months old magazines littered on the table.
The incredibly large doors opened and from the office within, a man in a suit made his exit, as quickly as he could, and obviously doing a very poor job to hide his intimidation. Garlon chuckled lightly to himself and walked over to the secretary's desk.
"Tell Mr. Hawkins that I'm here to see him," Garlon said.
"At once Mr. Cohn," the secretary, a tall, gorgeous brunette replied with a sweet smile.
"Excuse me," another man exclaimed jumping to his feet. Garlon turned and rolled his eye -- a man from the Pentagon from the looks of him. "I have been waiting here for over an hour. I was next in line here!"
The secretary quickly stood up. "I am sorry, General Sperling, but you will just have to wait," she said. "Mr. Cohn always has top priority in seeing Mr. Hawkins." The General sat down, and Garlon gave an approving look to the secretary -- beautiful, smart, and a strong personality. Just like Nicholas Hawkins liked his women.
Garlon entered the office, and had he not been here hundreds of times already, he would have been in awe. The office was like an outdoor museum, it was surrounded by glass with a huge skylight above his head. The antiquities adorning the walls and statues spread out were priceless, and these were not even the impressive pieces in the collection of Nicholas Hawkins. Those were kept at his Long Island estate.
Nicholas turned around in his chair and motioned for Garlon to sit, before reaching over his desk and clasping his hand in a firm handshake.
"Ah, Garlon," he said. "I trust you bring news."
"Indeed I do," Garlon replied. "First of all, I suggest you give that secretary of yours a raise. Help that good is hard to come by."
"Yes," Nicholas replied. "She has always been very useful to me. Her loyalty is without question."
"A lot of late nights I take it," Garlon said.
"Yes, yes," Nicholas chuckled. "But anyway, moving on..."
Garlon nodded and continued. "So far we've been rather successful in recruiting people over in Europe. A lot of Goths and people into magic for all the wrong reasons. The Middle East has also been rather helpful, tell people that they can aid in some divine retribution and they'll be eating out of your hands."
"It is divine retribution," Nicholas replied with a smirk. "Just not what those people expected when you told them that."
"The new Halflings are being well prepared," Garlon said. "Much better prepared than the ones we created in Manhattan recently."
"We had no choice in that regard," Nicholas said. "We needed to make sure the formula still worked. The recent ones were a disappointment. I understand now why it must be done of their own free will. Besides, moving the operation overseas is less likely to attract the attention of our enemies."
"It's a good thing I made copies of Sevarius's notes back in the 1990s," Garlon said. "The man was a genius, well ahead of his time. Well ahead of our time even."
"I've done my research on the man," Nicholas said as he gazed out the window over the city. "I would not trust him now with an operation like this. My current scientists are much more humble. What other news, Garlon?"
"Alexander Xanatos has joined the Illuminati."
"I see," Nicholas replied. "I am not surprised by that decision. 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer', just what I'd expect from him."
"Is there anything you want me to do," Garlon asked.
"Yes," Nicholas replied. "I must stay at least two steps ahead of him. Tell your superiors in the Society that I would make a worthy addition. I know you have enough clout to do that. Besides, I want to have closer ties to our 'all seeing' associates. They would make a valuable resource."
"With all due respect Nicholas, my liege lord," Garlon said, delivering a quick half-bow, "be careful with the Illuminati. I have been in their ranks since close to their founding. You are not yet powerful enough to defend yourself if you were to draw their ire. They know who you are, and they know your true heritage."
"I am aware of that Garlon," Nicholas replied. "I am no one's fool. I know how the Society thinks. If they regard me as a threat, they are likely to admit me anyway. Again, 'keep your enemies closer'. It wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened."
"It shall be done my liege. I will also keep you up to date on what goes on in the Society that new members such as yourself would not be privy to."
"Excellent," Nicholas said gazing out the window again. "My grandfather was a great man. He had true vision, but I will not repeat his mistakes. Our time is coming, Garlon. My time is coming."
* * * * *
September 9, 2172
Everyone had learned that Isaac Payne was an easily irritated man. For the most part, he enjoyed it that way. People left him alone to his own devices, which meant that he was free to pursue any type of experiments he wanted to. Although he had been under house arrest in this abysmal place for almost four years, he had come to regard it as home as much as he could. He knew that there was no way for him to ever return to his true time. The Timedancer had seen to that.
Many of the people he had become acquainted with over the years were as receptive to him as they could be. Alexander Xanatos, the owner of this establishment, had given him living quarters that Payne considered to be quite sizable. He spent his days as an ‘employee’ of the Scientific Research and Development Division of Xanatos Enterprises, though his name appeared on no official documentation. After all, Isaac Payne’s body was disintegrated in a horrible scientific experiment in 2043. Apparently the good doctor had been playing around with the laws of physics, and a tragic explosion had led to his untimely demise. "A great loss to the scientific community, indeed. Isaac was a dear friend and a brilliant mind. He will be truly missed," one of his colleagues had said at the time. Payne had laughed when he read the sentiment in the journal archives. None of the people he had ever worked with would have considered him a friend.
In four years Payne had acquired all the knowledge that one hundred and thirty years of research and development had turned out. That fact alone made his name one to be whispered in the hallways of the offices. The other fact was that his research into time travel had led to him actually being able to visit the places everyone else had only read about in drab history books. To them, he was the mysterious co-worker who had visited 1920’s London, and had experienced firsthand the destruction of Pompeii and Nagasaki. More than a few people had asked to hear his tale, knowing only what they had heard through rumors and office gossip. He had never truly clean to any of them.
For the most part, Isaac Payne simply kept to himself.
At this current moment, late enough in the evening that he knew it was dark on the outside of the pseudo-prison, he was attempting to run a simulation of one of the office computers. A team he had been assigned to (though Payne knew that, unofficially, he was the head of the team) was working on advancing the current level of technology in the field of nanotech. While most of the team used machines that were hooked into the Eyrie’s main computer system to run their simulations, Payne preferred one disconnected from the main AI unit. The stories he had heard about the program, or "Lexington" as most of the staff called it, disturbed him on some deep level on his conscience. As far as he could tell the unit was a type of ghost in the shell, something that had at one point been a living creature now doomed to spend eternity taking care of other people’s problems. Payne could hardly imagine such a thing. There was no telling what would have happened to his research had his system been effected by the computer virus that had disabled the entire building a few years ago.
While Payne worked at the computer, inputting strands of numbers and other information, he became aware of another presence in the room. The doctor turned to see a woman standing over his shoulder; as if she were a mother watching her child play with a toy she did not trust one hundred percent. He could see the computer screen reflected on her glasses.
"Can I help you?" he asked, clearly annoyed at the interruption.
She stood up, pushing the glasses up on her nose before pulling them off completely. She started to mindlessly clean them with her shirt. "I’m sorry, Dr. Payne," she said quietly. "I came in to get some paperwork. I just wanted to see what you were doing."
"Simply my job," Payne told her. He looked more closely at her face, quietly taken aback by her beauty. She pushed her light brown hair out of her face, the fluorescent lights in the room bringing out the natural highlights. She smiled, not sure if his comment was meant as a joke or a simple statement that told her to get out.
"It’s just that nanotechnology has always been of interest to me. I was told that when I had been on the staff a little longer, they might think of transferring me to your team." Her eyes shined a dark green.
"You’re new here, then?" Payne asked, turning his chair around to face her.
"I was transferred here from Germany a few weeks ago. Helga Simmons," she introduced herself, holding out her hand.
"Isaac Payne." He took her hand and gave it a slight squeeze.
"I know," she said, smiling. "You’re something of a celebrity."
"Am I?" he asked.
"Well, just inside the complex. I’ve read your work. It’s fascinating."
"You read my work?" Payne asked. "I was not aware it was required for any of the positions here."
"It’s not," Helga said. "I just thought it was interesting."
"And you understood it?"
She laughed, putting her hand lightly on his shoulder. "Of course."
The sound of her laughing made Payne smile, something he had not done in a very long time. "Listen..." Payne hesitated. "Would you like to have dinner some evening?" He had no idea what he was doing.
The smile disappeared from Helga’s face. "I don’t really... I mean..."
Then Payne remembered. He reached up to his face, feeling the wrinkles that magic had placed there. His body was almost seventy years old, while his mind was only thirty. The stress of his experiments made his appearance only worse. He realized that to Helga, he must have looked like his father.
"I’m sorry," Payne said, turning his chair back around. "I forget sometimes."
"It’s just..." she did not finish her thought.
"I’m not as old as I look, my dear," he told her. "My journeys... they made my body age significantly."
Helga nodded. "I’m sorry. I’m already in a relationship, I’m afraid."
"There is nothing to be afraid of, my dear. I humbly apologize." Payne turned his chair back around to look her in the face.
"I would like to learn from you, though," she said.
"I do not know what you could learn. I have missed the last one hundred years of history."
"Look at the experiment you’re doing. Your mind is more advanced than half of the research staff."
Payne nodded. "I shall speak to Mr. Xanatos personally about getting you transferred to my team. At the very least I could convince him to sign you on as an assistant."
Helga smiled again. "That would be so perfect." Her watch beeped, and she looked at the time. "I need to be going, I’m afraid. I shall see you at a later time?" she asked.
"At a later time, my dear." Payne bid her farewell.
He returned to his computer, hearing Helga’s shoes hit the floor as she exited the laboratory. It was ignorant of him to think that he could integrate himself into this society. His only real pleasure lay in science, anyway. One day, he knew, all of his work would be worthwhile.
Isaac Payne returned to his work.
* * * * *
October 31, 2172
Macbeth, known these days as Lennox MacDuff IV, stood in the hall outside Renard Hall room 507. The few students passing by paid him little mind. Along with his previous name, he’d taken up a previous occupation, that of History Professor. There was little call for a Gargoyle Hunter anymore, or a King of Scotland, for that matter.
Room 507 was one of the smaller rooms. Angelica Hawkins’ Advanced Welsh Literature only attracted the real diehards. Most of the Tolkien fans gave up after the Survey of Ancient British Literature class at the sophomore level.
Through the window, he could see Angelica at work. She moved animatedly around the podium, surrounded by holographic displays of the Welsh countryside and images of ancient artifacts. Angelica, whom Macbeth would never remember to call "Professor Hawkins" since he’d known her since before she was on solid food, liked to teach with all the trappings of modern technology.
Macbeth was perfectly happy with a blackboard and chalk, even if these days he had to settle for a flatscreen and electronic stylus. At least he’d found the settings within the confounded thing that stopped it from automatically turning his handwriting into block text.
Angelica used her remote to kill most of the display. There were a few last minute questions, but class was obviously over. Macbeth quietly let himself in before the mad rush for the door. He leaned casually against the wall out of the way of the door.
Angelica saw him and smiled, but she was in the midst of an impromptu conference with a student.
Macbeth scanned the room, looking for a particular student.
He almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of her voice behind him. One would think that ten centuries would give one more poise. "Oh... Hello, Anna..." he paused, trying to think of something else to say. Ten centuries hadn’t made him any better at that, either. At least he wasn’t stammering.
"Are you here to see Professor Hawkins?" she asked, readjusting her book bag. She was a vision, so like his Gruoch in manner and mien, except that she gave in to fashion enough to dye the forelocks of her hair a ridiculous shade of amber, and the rest was much shorter than his wife had worn. She had the same eyes, though, sparkling with life and inner amusement.
"Er, no, not precisely." Oh well, there went that bit of self respect. "I was, um, just passing by."
Anna smiled brightly, revealing a cute pair of dimples. "I’m glad you did. I was going to ask you something."
"Anything," Macbeth replied. Mayhap it sounded less moronic to her than it did in his own ears.
"Well," she twisted one of her forelocks around two fingers, a habit Macbeth had observed her to use when she was unsure of herself. "I’m interested in taking your Battles of Britain class next semester. Some of my friends say you’re one of the best professors, and I’ve heard you and Professor Hawkins debate, and I believe them...but it’s an advanced class and it’s not on my degree plan, so I’d need special permission to take it."
"Oh." Macbeth covered the tiny stab of disappointment. Honestly, the child was young enough to be his daughter -- a hundred times removed. "Well, certainly. I’ll send a note to the Registrar."
"Thank you." Anna waited just a moment longer, then said, "I’ve got to go now."
Macbeth watched her go, then sat down heavily in one of the empty desks. He supposed he’d ask Angelica to have a cup of coffee in the lounge, and she’d listen to an old man complain about several lifetimes worth of loneliness and disappointment, and he’d listen to her complain about how annoying her students could be. It wasn’t all that bad a life, certainly better than some centuries.
Twice in one day, in five minutes! Macbeth almost broke his leg getting up out of the desk. "Anna?"
"Professor, what I asked you before isn’t what I really wanted to ask you."
"I’m just wasn’t sure how you’d react, and I didn’t want to make you mad or anything. But then I figured we don’t live long enough to let stuff like this slide."
Now Macbeth was totally lost. Then again, the only woman he’d ever really understood was Demona, and then only when he was trying to kill her.
Anna’s fingers found the amber lock of hair again, and were now so tightly wound in it that she might be pulling out the roots. "See, there’s a party tonight, and I wondered if you wanted to go with me. I mean, I know teachers aren’t supposed to date students, but it wouldn’t really be a date, exactly, and I’m not really your student. You teach History and I’m an English major..."
"...And I don’t think we’d really get in trouble, just once, and if anything happened, I could transfer. My trust fund will pay for school wherever..."
"I’d be glad to."
Macbeth reached out and gently disentangled her fingers from her hair, clasping her hand between both of his. "I said ‘yes.’ I’d be glad to go with you, yea, even thrilled. Is this a costume party? If so, I’ll need to hurry to acquire proper attire."
"Yes? I mean, no. It’s not a costume party, just some people getting together. We pooled our cash and rented the ballroom of the Wentworth. Some guys from the Music department have a band."
"Excellent. Then what time should I pick you up?"
"Around 5:30? The drummer is a Gargoyle, so we have to wait until she wakes up for the music to start."
"5:30 it is."
Anna abruptly closed the distance between them and wrapped her slender arms around his ribs. "Thank you. This will be so cool. I’ll see you tonight." She released him and left faster than he could react.
For the third time in one day, Macbeth suddenly turned around to behold a woman who’d totally surprised him. "Hello, Angelica. You seemed in rare form today."
"I could say the same about you. It must be that burr. You know there are people who still swear by that Connery guy as the best James Bond of all time."
"I rather liked that Dalton fellow. It was a shame they gave him such poor material."
Angelica was not to be dissuaded so easily. She looked after the departing Anna Williamson with one eye cocked in question. "You know you’re old enough to be her father."
"I’m old enough to be her distant ancestor. If I only see women of my own age, then I have a very small pool to choose from. All the ones I know are already in happy relationships. Even Demona, it seems."
Angelica laughed a bit. "I suppose that’s true. Do you want to grab a cup of coffee?"
"No, I’m afraid I can’t. I have things I must do this evening, and I need to go prepare."
Now Angelica grinned openly. "Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do."
"I shall be the perfect gentleman, the very soul of chivalry." Macbeth swept into a bow, taking Angelica’s hand and pressing it to his lips. "And now, if you will excuse me..."
He left to the sound of her subdued laughter, and had to stop himself from humming as he returned to his own office.
* * * * *
November 11, 2172
Sometimes it was cold at night. If she focused, she could feel the cold in her bones, how the wind crawled across her skin and directly into her mind. Most of the time, her thick skin would protect her from the weather. Other times, she simply wanted to feel the cold. Sata picked up her son, twirling him as he smiled with innocent joy. It was one of those times when feeling the wind made no difference to her. She looked down to her daughter, who was extremely involved with a small toy the Artus had given to her some months ago.
An almost silent beeping sound signaled to the gargoyle that someone waited for her at her door. She told the computer to let them in, knowing full well who was on the other side. Not looking at her visitor, she greeted him as she always did.
"Hello, my friend," Sata said, putting her son down on the ground to play with his sister.
"Samurai," Harthoth greeted, taking a seat on the large couch that sat in the quarters.
Sata picked up Ariana, setting the girl gently in Harthoth’s lap. She looked up wide-eyed at the over-towering black and gold gargoyle and laughed with glee. Sata smiled, taking her seat next to the ancient figure. "You know," he said, "I have always loved children."
"I believe you have mentioned that before," she said, still smiling.
"Why are you smiling?"
"It is nothing. Sometimes it is refreshing to see your true soul come out. I prefer that Harthoth much more," Sata told him, her smile slowly dropping from her face.
Harthoth nodded. "That only happens with two, perhaps three people."
"Who are the others?"
"Brooklyn, of course. And..." the sorcerer trailed off, attempting to change the subject. "Where is Brooklyn?"
"On patrol. He goes out most nights. He says that it helps him keep his sanity," Sata said, her eyes fixated on Graeme.
"I see," Harthoth said, stroking Ariana’s hair as she sat in his lap. "And is he still oblivious to these... meetings of ours?"
"You come once a month, my friend. You arrive and depart undetected, even though this building has one of the most advanced security systems in the world. This has happened since he came back to me. If he knew, I would know. Of course, I am sure that you know this. You always come when he is out, so I assume that you are out there keeping an eye on him."
"Always," Harthoth replied.
"How is Egypt this time of year?" Sata asked, trying to avoid any awkward silence that they might be haunted with.
"The same. Hot and dry, despite the terra-forming and climate control procedures that occur almost daily. Humanity simply needs to learn that some things can not be changed. I still love my home, though. I would never leave."
"I know how you feel," Sata told him.
"You know my offer still stands, Sata," Harthoth said abruptly.
"I know. You mention this every time we visit. I am happy here, my friend. It might seem that we are not... required here, but it is a good world to raise my children in."
"Of course," Harthoth said, nodding slowly. He was silent for a moment, starring at Ariana, who had taken up residence in the comfort of his lap. The ancient gargoyle rose, bringing up the child with him. He kissed her lightly on the cheek before gently sitting her down on the ground. She promptly leaned against his leg, clasping her talons around it, and tried to fall asleep. Harthoth shook his head, gently disengaged her, and set her next to her brother.
"I trust you will have a good flight home, my friend," Sata said, keeping her seat on the couch.
"I always do," he said, more to himself than to Sata.
Harthoth left quietly, reciting a small spell to allow himself to maneuver through the Eyrie undetected. It was nothing that drained him, only a necessity in order to visit his friend. As he made his way back to his transport, which was hidden conveniently on the top of old Castle Wyvern, he could not help but to replay Sata’s words in his head.
It is a good world to raise my children in.
As Harthoth headed home, he knew that soon the world would be something that no one would want to raise their children in.
* * * * *
December 31, 2172
The hole where he resided at this time in his existence was something she could hardly bear herself to see. He was better than this, yet he lived in this hole. Her father -- the only thing she could really call him -- had been brought back almost fifteen years ago. But he remained here, constantly repeating that his time would come soon enough. She knew that he was right, but sometimes her patience wore thin.
Though her eyesight betrayed her in the dark, she knew this hole better than the creature that lived here. She knew that mud dripped from the walls, and that the small fires that burned were the only illumination that reached this forsaken place. She knew that once, long ago, a great civilization thrived on the ground above her, and that those who did not die from hopelessness were driven underground.
"Isfet," her master -- her father -- spoke, his eyes glowing in the darkness of his hole. He appeared to be meditating, but she could not be for certain.
"Apep. Master," Isfet greeted, bowing low in respect for the creature. "I apologize for not reporting more often."
"I understand," Apep said in a voice so low it made the walls -- the walls made of mud and bugs and other unholy things -- tremble in his presence. "The time we have waited so long for is almost nigh. Other things require your attention. How is the project coming?"
"Harthoth’s estimated date is one year from tonight. Everything is coming together."
"Good. Good," Apep said, smiling an evil smile. "Once that day comes, you will not have to worry about your life. You and Harthoth have served me well these past millennia. How long has it been?" he asked.
"Eight millennia, master," Isfet answered.
"When I am in control, you will reap the rewards."
"If there is nothing else..." Isfet said, preparing to leave.
"Child," Apep said, an odd softness taking over his voice. "You will always be my daughter. I know that I have called on the gargoyle’s talents over the years, but you have always meant the most to me. Harthoth’s skills as a sorcerer are the only reason he lives. As dragons, we can not allow ourselves to rely on the magics of humans and Fay. Once my spell is intact, we will no longer have to worry about the sorcerer."
Isfet nodded. "He is a loyal servant. He is bit misdirected at times, especially at matters of the heart."
"Yes. I would never cause Harthoth’s chosen any harm, or ask him to do so. I do not believe he would do so. He could not do so."
"I agree," Isfet said, knowing she had to leave. "The sun will be upon the ground soon, and I have important work to do. Within the year, you will be truly free."
"My daughter. Until we see each other again," Apep said, his eyes still glowing in the darkness.
"Master," Isfet said, turning to leave.
Apep settled deeper into his lair, relishing at how natural this place was. It was untouched. Pure. Soon, he told himself. He thought of all the things he would do to the other races once he was free. The humans would die. The Fay would cease to exist. And the gargoyles would become his slaves. Except for the Timedancer. He had special plans for the Timedancer.
The dragon smiled.
* * * * *