Story by Alan Coleman Waltrip
Written by Sigma and Jennifer "Nabiki" Pagán
Previously on Timedancer.....
Harthoth stood outside watching, as he did more than those inside realized. He turned to leave, when Sata grabbed his shoulder. He spun back around, his eyes ablaze.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, standing alone.
"Merely observing, samurai. Just remember, the Gate is only temporarily stable, but from uncertain means."
* * *
Without the power that supplied his super-human abilities, Payne collapsed in a heap onto the icy stones with a moan. The Gate clattered to the ground, but ended up wedged in a crack between two stones, blinking in the courtyard lights.
* * *
"So, what are you going to name them?"
With a start, Brooklyn looked down at the twin in his arms, marveling for a moment at its bright red skin. "He's right, Sata. We've got to give these two names."
She nodded, running a gentle finger over the green brow ridges of the child she held. "We shall, my husband, in due time, after we've all rested from this ordeal"
Return to Paradise, pt. 2
* * * * *
"No!" Brooklyn was hot. It had only been two nights ago when that monster had nailed his chest with a powerful ice blast. He remembered the deadly chill tearing through his ribs. He remembered the feeling of frost coating his bones and the blood in his veins turning into ice.
Most of all Brooklyn remembered the monster, a twisted amalgamation of the human scientist Isaac Payne and a dark god, laying his hand on an unhatched egg. Brooklyn remembered the look on Payneís face, contorted with hatred and arrogance. The monster would have willingly murdered children and momentarily paralyzed as he was, Brooklyn had been unable to stop him.
The cold numbness was gone now. In its place, an inferno of anger boiled within Brooklyn. It had been going well enough after Payneís capture and arrest. In his capacity as clan leader, Artus had claimed judiciary powers and ordered the Great Hall converted into a courtroom.
Brooklyn, Sata and a few others had agreed to stand witness against him. One of the guards had just left when Payne confessed.
The former scientist had confessed everything. How he had tricked Brooklyn a hundred years ago. How he had surrendered his soul to Loki, how he had tried to kill Brooklyn and the vast assortment of crimes he had committed in between and before the two. Artus listened attentively as the mad scientist bared his soul and spilled the metaphoric beans.
Then, just as quickly as it had been built, Artus had ordered the courtroom deconstructed. Isaac Payne was to go free.
"No," Brooklyn said again. "You canít let that monster go free. Not after what he did, not after what he tried to do."
"I know this man has hurt you," Artus said, trying to sound compassionate. "Unfortunately, like you, this man is a time traveler. We cannot just put him in prison when heís been missing and presumed dead for well over a hundred years. How would we explain it to the police?"
"Tell them heís an attempted murderer. Thatís all theyíll need to hear." Brooklynís voice nearly transformed into a snarl.
"That will not be enough." It was Alex who spoke this time. "They will need to know who he is; and if we lie, they will find out when they check his DNA. Questions will be asked and those questions will eventually lead back to you, Timedancer."
"So you decide to give him a room in the pyramid only seventeen levels below the room where my children sleep?" Brooklyn retorted, with a deeply disgusted tone.
"I assure you, Brooklyn, Isaac Payne will be carefully watched at all times and his movements will be heavily restricted." Alex Xanatos gave Brooklyn one of his father's trademarked smiles. "The upper levels of the pyramid are well guarded. Payne will never even lay eyes on your children."
"Thatís not enough."
"Then what do you suggest we do with Payne... kill him?" Alex asked half-rhetorically. He gave Brooklyn a strangely curious look.
Brooklyn made no sound but his eyes were glowing white-hot. He turned towards the corner of the hall where Payne had been hiding himself.
Having acknowledged the monster, the red gargoyle found he had to fight all of his instincts not to dash forward and strangle Payne to death. But he succeeded, and having succeeded he took the opportunity to study his defeated nemesis.
Cowering in a chair flanked between two burly human guards, Isaac Payne seemed much diminished. His clothing, though well made, was ill fitted and he huddled in it for warmth. Brooklyn could not see the mad scientistís face, as he kept his head downcast --in shame, the others thought-- but Brooklyn was not convinced.
"I find the idea tempting," Brooklyn said and there was neither sarcasm nor mirth in his voice.
Brooklyn was glad it was Sata who broke the silence that had followed. "While I do agree it would be difficult to put this man in prison," her silky but solid voice interrupted, "I cannot abide the thought of keeping him in the Pyramid. He threatened to murder an unhatched child. That egg could have been ours as easily as it was someone elseís. Is there not some place other than the Pyramid you might hold him?"
"Although he has done some horrible things in his life so far, thereís no reason that he can't do some good during what remains of it," Alex pointed out, methodically -- very much like his dear old dad when Xanatos had been up to something.
Brooklyn was nothing but suspicious. "What are you getting at?"
"In his own time, Isaac Payne was a genius and that genius is no less diminished today. Some of the breakthroughs he made still astonish even modern scientists. The scientific facilities here in the Pyramid are some of the best in the world."
"So while Payne lives the life of luxury, Xanatos Enterprises gets rich off of his inventions. It's sickening how much you remind me of your father."
Alex raised an eyebrow and added, "Now, now... I admit I will in all likelihood make a small profit, but the ones who will really benefit from Payneís work will be Sata, your children and you."
"If you think I would ever use anything that creep built..."
"You would if it sent you home." Alex quipped and Brooklyn grunted a little. "Isaac Payne is the worldís foremost scientific authority on time travel. Now that the Gate has been stabilized, youíre going to be here for a while. He could be your best chance for a safe and speedy trip back to your own time."
"Brooklyn." Sata looked at Brooklyn anxiously, but he said nothing. "Isaac Payne might be the only chance we have. He could take us home."
Such an unpleasant reminder. The other option was the Phoenix Gate. Sure, the Gate might start up again, but there was no guarantee it would ever take him back to his Manhattan. Brooklyn stood there mutely for a moment, letting feelings of anger and humiliation run through his system.
Then he spoke up. "Uh...Excuse me...?"
"What do you want?" Brooklynís wings unfurled violently as he spun around, claws bared and eyes glowing, all his anger focused on the infamous Payne, sitting in that comfy chair, having practically gotten away with crime after crime.
The sight alone made Payne fall out of his chair, and for that, Brooklyn was glad. "I w...wanted to apologize to you, " Isaac Payne said, trembling as one of the guards yanked him onto his feet. "I didnít mean to hurt you, Timedancer. No, I didnít mean it." He closed his eyes, shook his head and went on, "I mean, not to say...I mean...I know I hurt you, Timeda... no, Brooklyn...yes, Brooklyn. I know... I know that I've hurt you, Brooklyn. I admit it. Even before I met that... thing..." --Loki, evil spirit, Madoc's helper, mean-spirited trickster and overall demon straight from Hell -- "...I tried to manipulate you for my own ends..."
"Donít think I hadnít forgotten that..." Brooklyn muttered. Another thing to chalk up to the list of injuries.
"The things I did afterwards...after I met Loki. I never wanted to do them. I did hurt them, but I never wanted to. I shouldnít have. I... I should be punished. I mean, I deserved to be punished. I know that you canít forgive me, but at least let me have this one chance at redemption. I mean, I... I mean that I'm sorry. Let me help you return to your own time... Please?"
The red gargoyle felt the burning in his eyes die down and they lost their glow. He stared down at this wretched state of humanity sniveling on the ground. The man wasnít a god any more. That was clear enough, at any rate. Even if he tried, in his current state, Isaac Payne wasnít even a threat to small insects.
"Youíll get your chance, but only because theyíre giving it to. Me, Iím going to watch you and if you ever try to even get near my children, Iíll pound your head into the floor."
"Thatís enough, Brooklyn." Artus spoke with the authority of a clan leader. "Youíve said all you needed to say and we have listened. I think it's past the time you cooled off."
Brooklyn took a deep breath and looked down at Payne. Brooklynís threats had made an even worse reaction of the scientistís nerves and he had collapsed into a ball and was huddling on the floor. Brooklyn took a step back. There were better things to do tonight than to shout at this piece of scum.
"Iím sorry, Sata," Brooklyn said, turning to his mate. "I have some things to do. Is it all right if I meet up with you later?"
"I will be in the garden if you need me, my love."
They embraced for a second that was far too short for Brooklynís taste and then left.
* * * * *
Frank Villacrest was a good man. As a young man, he had joined the police force. During his time on the force he had never really distinguished himself or done anything that warranted special notice. The world had changed a lot in Frankís lifetime, and not all of it for the better, but Frank had been a cop and heíd done his best to safeguard the good in this world --at least, thatís what he liked to think.
Frank would be 56 in three months. His wife was two years in the grave and his son had been married for nine years. Louis didnít call very often since he had moved to Europe, so Frank had been surprised when he had called.
"Hi, Dad!" Louisí voice boomed loudly across the vid-phone.
"Louis?" Frank had asked aloud, not really being sure. He had rubbed his eyes and stared at the vid-phone, uncertain. The face on the vid did look like his sonís face; almost rectangular and framed by short brown hair, much like Frank had looked in his youth. However, it was now four in the morning and one could never be truly certain of anything at such an early hour.
"Of course. Listen, I canít talk long, but Iíve got great news. Youíre never going to believe it. Of course, I can hardly believe it myself!"
The excitement in Louisí voice quickly removed any doubts Frank had about the identity of its owner. Even in his late thirties, Louis had the youthful exuberance of a teenager. "Slow down, boy. If you have a heart attack before you tell me, Iíll never find out what this great news of yours is."
Louis had started laughing. Frank started laughing too, although he wasnít quite sure what they were laughing about. He didnít care. It felt good to laugh. They kept laughing until what felt like five minutes later, though it was probably more like eight seconds.
"Eloise is pregnant. You're going to be a grandfather!"
Afterwards, they had kept talking for another hour, maybe two, but Frank couldnít remember the rest. It wasnít important anyway. He was going to be a grandfather.
Franked stared out the window. He had an apartment on the edge of one of the Xanatos Pyramidís midlevels. Central Forest covered the island like a big warm protective blanket. Of course, it wasnít a perfect blanket. Here and there, silver towers had been rebuilt from the ruins of the quake and they pierced through the trees to threaten the clouds.
"Not so serene after all," Frank thought to himself. "And not too different from what it's like in here either."
The Pyramid was not a good place to live. Frank knew that was true, and in some ways, he also knew it was his fault. He had been a cop and heíd tried to do good in this place, but in the end, all he had ever done was follow orders. Even when he knew they were wrong.
If good men do nothing in the face of evil, are they still good men?
Frank had been a good man once, believing that to protect and serve was enough. But he had spent too many years watching those creatures get the best of everything while many humans took second place in an arcology that they had helped build. Heíd been raised to be a cop, like his father before him. The old man had never liked them either. Frank had learned early to mask his feelings behind a distant politeness in order to keep his job.
Too many years wasted being complacent. How many children had grown up learning nothing but servitude to them while they ran the Pyramid? Children like his future grandchild. If only it wasnít too late.
No, it wasnít too late. Frank turned away from the window and walked over to an antique coffee table. As he opened a drawer, he felt a slight pain in his wrist. Yesterday he would have probably wondered whether this was the first sign of arthritis. Today he wondered whether the child would be a boy or a girl.
Frank was a good man and he was going to be a grandfather. With somber ceremony, he removed his service gun from the drawer.
This is for the children.
* * * * *
Sata rested on a bench in the Pyramidís garden. Moonlight fell through the sky windows and bathed her with its faint silvery light. It fell on the grass and the trees and the flowers. All that it touched was purified and clean. Those places shielded from the moon were left in darkness, consumed by shadows.
The garden was completely silent and the only noise Sata could hear was that of her own thoughts. Would the twins be all right? They had survived the hatching, the worst of their ordeal. The doctors said they would be all right now. They were so young, so small; anything could happen and she was afraid.
Would Brooklyn be all right? Their time apart had been much more difficult for him than for her. All that time not knowing if their children would survive the hatching, it had been devastating for her. It must have been all but destroying for Brooklyn.
Though he was nothing more than a piece of human wreckage, this Isaac Payne creature was still dangerous. He had tried to kill them, and all for that accursed piece of metal that had nearly killed her hatchlings. She wanted to kill him. It would be so easy, a swing of the sword and the children would be safe.
The children -- they didnít even have names yet. Traditional Japanese names from her homeland? Or would something more modern be better? Maybe Brooklyn would want to give them Scottish names. Of course, Goliathís clan hadnít even had names before they came to old Manhattan. Sata remembered Brooklyn telling her how he and his brothers had named themselves after places on the island. Sata laughed. Maybe they should name their children after places. They could name the girl Ishimura and the boy could be called... Kyoto.
Sata laughed again -- maybe not.
She suddenly shivered. She was being watched. The knowledge came to her like a cold dagger forged by years of experiences on the battlefield. She was on her feet, swirling to face a potential threat. Instinctively, she reached for her katana and then cursed herself for having chosen not to wear it earlier.
There was no one there, just a small flowerbed and a few trees. The eyes were still watching her. Like the rest of the garden, they were covered in the dim silver moonlight, all save below the trees where the leaves shielded the shadows from the light.
"If you wish to have words with me, show yourself to me and speak; otherwise leave. I have little desire for company this night and even less for games."
Beneath the trees in the park the shadows played, but Sata saw one shadow that was blacker than the others, an all-consuming darkness that clung to the side of a tall oak. Sata peered at it curiously. It blinked.
"I apologize for hiding myself from you, but I wanted to make sure we were alone before I revealed myself. I do not think either of us would wish our meeting to become public knowledge." Sata could now see that the shadow was not a shadow but in fact another gargoyle.
"Harthoth." Sata was surprised to hear the Egyptian gargoyleís voice. "Why are you here, sorcerer?"
Harthoth detached himself from the tree trunk, allowing Sata a better look at him. He had removed the golden clothes and jewelry he usually adorned himself with and replaced them with some sort of black jumpsuit. His wings were wrapped tightly around his body, like a cloak that mostly obscured him. Stealth had clearly been his intention.
Harthoth conveniently forgot Sataís earlier inquiry as he walked towards her. "It is very peaceful in this place. I can see why you took shelter here."
"Indeed..." Sata replied, carefully unsure of what would happen next.
The gargoyle unfurled his wings briefly, completely revealing himself. He was unarmed, good. It would have made little difference, Sata reminded herself. In unarmed combat he had the edge with his size and strength and she had left her blades behind when she had come down to meditate in the peaceful garden. Still, it was the intent that counted. Sata felt the tension ease out of her joints as she lowered her guard.
"Do you mind if I sit down? My journey here was difficult." He looked to Sata. When she nodded he lowered himself onto the bench. "You are surprised to see me?"
"Yes, but more disappointed than surprised. I had hoped that our last meeting would be indeed the very last," Sata admitted as she returned to her own seat on the bench.
"It may interest you to know that I, too, had hoped never to see you again, though, I suspect, for very different reasons." Sata said nothing and they sat there in silence. "It is very peaceful here," Harthoth said again, softly.
"Yes, it is," Sata replied. There was something in the ancient gargoyleís voice that troubled her but she could not identify it. "You have not answered my question. Why are you here, Harthoth?"
"Brooklyn has returned and your eggs have hatched."
"Yes." Harthothís words had not been a question, but something inside Sata had made her want to reply. "Our children survived the hatching. They will live. It is Brooklyn I fear for now."
"Brooklyn is angry at the human. Justifiably, Iíll admit. I, too, wish that something different had been done with that creature, but not as my mate does. For a moment, I believed that Brooklyn would kill him." She paused for a second. She realized that she herself was conflicted about what to do with Payne. Her samurai training called for swift justice and permanently ridding oneself of an enemy who might later harm her family and clan, but her inner logic, the tenets of her original clan, and the rules of this new society demanded otherwise. "In truth, I suspect it is himself that Brooklyn is angry at. In some way, he believes he abandoned us and now he vents his rage onto Payne."
"Time heals all wounds." There was definitely something wrong with his voice.
"I pray you are right."
"I can provide you with that time. My offer still stands. I can send you and your family away from here, to a time and place of my choosing. You and Brooklyn could raise the twins in safe obscurity."
"My answer is still no. The twins..."
"Will not stay in their incubator forever. For now they are safe, but for how long? They will grow up quickly and they'll want to leave the nest and explore the world. Will you let them? Can you stop them? By now, you must have realized that the Pyramid is a far cry from Paradise. If you stay here, there are those will try to hurt your children."
"Like you and your master." Sata was not asking a question, in fact, she was disturbingly serious.
"Yes, like my master...and me." Is that sadness in his voice? "But there will be others. You and Brooklyn dance with time, but your view of history is fragmented and cracked. I have seen the whole painting. In the end, this false Eden they have built will burn just as easily as the original. You and your family do not have to burn with it. Accept my help."
"No. Brooklyn will never agree to your plan."
"No, he wonít, not at first, but you can convince him. I know youíre tempted."
Sata breathed deeply. "What guarantee do I have that you can do as you say?"
"Sata, seeing is believing." Harthoth smiled. "The only guarantee I can give you is the same one I gave you the last time I offered you my help: my word and my word alone."
"The last time I visited your house, I found some books. They were chronicles listing the appearances Brooklyn and I made throughout history. I remembered a few of them, but some of the chapters recounted places and events we havenít been to yet. History has already recorded as the dances continuing. You cannot change that. History is unalterable."
"Are you so sure of that? Have you ever really tried to change history?" Harthoth asked.
"No, of course not."
"I admit I do not know if history can be altered. Iíve never tried until now. If history were changed we would be changed too and I doubt we would even realize everything was different. Theoretically, you and your mate could have changed history half a dozen times and never even noticed. Right now, as far as I can tell, the only thing keeping it intact is your choice to reject my help. You donít have to let history control your life. You can free yourself from its iron grip simply by accepting my aid."
Sata said nothing. The two gargoyles once again sat in silence. Around them the garden continued its measured pace of life.
"Thank you for your offer, Harthoth, but my answer is still no." Sata hesitated. "I want to take your help. After what happened with Payne, I want to pick up my hatchlings and fly away with them to somewhere safe. What you said about this future is true. This is not paradise on earth."
"Then why will you not accept my help?" Sata could hear the frustration creeping into Harthothís voice.
"Because it is not a pit of despair and misery either. You have said this age is a dangerous one, but I have not observed it to be worse than any other age I have visited. There is good and evil here like any other. I will not dishonor myself and my family by running at the first sign of danger."
"Is your honor worth more to you than the lives of your hatchlings? Could you ever forgive yourself if something horrible were to happen to them because you chose to stay here? Don't be a hero, Sata. Is it worth the lives of your children?"
"It is more than honor, it is duty. It is our very identity. I am not trying to be a 'hero'. I want to remain true to myself. My children were born here. It is their home and I think it has become mine as well. I have to protect it and they will too, once they come of age. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of everything I am. This is hardly being a hero. It is just trying to live." She smiled slightly and murmured, "Kemusi wa tyootyoo ni narimasu."
Harthoth nodded grimly. " ĎThe caterpillar becomes a butterfly.í Then you will accept no further argument?"
"No, I will not."
"That is a pity..." Harthothís voice trembled as he spoke. "...a very great pity. In a way, I had come to think of you as a friend, Sata. And your mate, Brooklyn, those years he and I spent together in old Kemet -- they are some of the fondest memories of my life. I had hoped to spare you that which is to come."
He stopped and Sata wondered if Harthoth wanted her to say something.
"I no longer wish to be here. I have to leave," Harthoth spoke for her as he rose from the bench. "Goodbye, Sata."
"Goodbye, Harthoth," Sata replied.
Common sense told Sata to watch Harthoth, to leave, to track him and find out how he got in and out of the Pyramid unnoticed, but she didnít. Five minutes later, with Harthoth long gone, she stood up and left the garden.
* * * * *
The large computer refused to give him access. LOG-ON, read the monitor, USERNAME? PASSWORD?
Brooklyn drummed his fingers on the computer desk at the Pyramid's library. He sighed heavily. He didn't have a username. Now what? Quickly, he typed Broadway's name into the name and, if nothing but for the heck of it, typed 'chocolate'. The computer refused it. Well, it was worth a shot anyway.
And as if things couldn't get any worse, Broadway himself stumbled upon him. Concerned, he spoke. "What're you doing, Brooklyn?"
"Nothing," was Brooklyn's sheepish reply. Actually, he was looking for Gwen, Broadway's daughter, long since missing. But he wasn't going to tell him that just yet.
"Accessing the clan's historical records?" Broadway assumed. "You know you're prohibited. In fact, not everybody has access to those records anyway."
The Timedancer sighed. "I know. But it's just the more recent files, not the other sort."
"Why? What are you looking for?"
Brooklyn pondered his response. "Never mind. It's not really important. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually."
Broadway didn't believe him, but Brooklyn hadn't expected him to do otherwise. But his old rookery brother was kind enough to let it slide. "Well," the blue gargoyle continued, lamely, for the sake of saying something, "if it's recent things you're looking for, there are always the public records. Latest in TV and all."
"Uh...yeah. I'll do that," Brooklyn replied, turning way from him and facing the monitor again.
Broadway felt tempted to say something else, but just as quickly he dismissed the thought and walked away. Whatever it was Brooklyn was looking for, he'd never give up. It didn't take a burst of genius to figure out that the second he turned his back on Brooklyn, the red gargoyle would slither away from the library and try to look for his information somewhere else.
Indeed, that was what Brooklyn did. This time, though, he decided to take his chances with the big man himself.
Artus turned out no better than the computer. "Please," Brooklyn pleaded, "If I'm going to stay here, I might as well know what happened to Gwen. You know I'll figure it out eventually. I'd rather hear it from you than from third person gossip."
"That very lame attempt at reverse psychology won't work." Artus smiled weakly, trying to take it all in good humor. "And I'm not worried about gossip either. Not that it's any of your business to begin with, but nobody knows why Gwen left or where she is."
"Nobody?" Brooklyn insisted, always the skeptic. "Not even her own brother?"
"Nobody except mom and dad and you know how cooperative they can be," Artus continued. "Samson doesn't know. I don't know. One day we're okay, the next, Gwen puts up a fight, packs up, and leaves." He chuckled quietly. "And I got that from the third person gossip."
"Why don't you ask Broadway?" the Timedancer argued. "Don't you care about Gwen?"
"That's the most cliched thing youíve said all night and I won't dignify it with an answer." Artus grunted. "You know my parents. They'll take their secret to the death."
Brooklyn clenched his fists and barked, "This is ridiculous! How can you act so casual about it!? She's a member of the clan and someone I care for and everybody's being so... useless!"
Artus said nothing. He looked like he wanted to, but in the end he said nothing. They never said anything. Brooklyn gave up arguing with him. This was pointless and it would only frustrate him more.
"Useless!" was the last thing he growled. "Simply useless!" Then he turned around and charged out of the office, like a summer storm about to transform into a hurricane.
Persephone, just her luck, walked in precisely when Brooklyn walked out; he didnít even acknowledge her in his fury.
She gave Artus a worried look. "Love? What's wrong with him?"
"Gwen. Or rather, the absence of Gwen." Artus retorted, quite gravely.
Persephone couldn't help but sigh. She understood only too well. She simply walked towards Artus and held him tight. "I'm sure things will work out. They always do."
Artus returned the embrace and mumbled, "I suppose. The alternative is too difficult to contemplate."
And just then, the vid-phone beeped with an incoming call.
* * * * *
The dead of his clan surrounded Benedick. Little bits of gravel rolled down the slope like the hard torrent of a river. The larger chunks of chest and wings had been piled into small mountains as to serve as monuments to an unnamed god.
'Benedick',first a whisper and then a chant, the voices of the dead called out to him, 'BenedickBenedickBenedickBenedick...'
"Help us... Weíre dying...! He killed everyone... He killed you!"
"Where are you?" he called out to the heaps of shattered stone. "I canít find you!"
"Over here, Benedick," the voices called from all around him. "We need your help... Theyíre killing us... Only you can save us... Only you can join us...!"
Benedick blundered about as the voices spun around him like a whirlwind. Silent screams that the murderer had never heard echoed through his mind. Some called for mercy as they pleaded for their lives, others howled with rage trapped in an impossible battle for survival.
"Die with us!" said a few. "You have no right to live!" said a group. "You must go on," said some more as the voices pounded repeatedly into his skull.
"What do you want?" Benedick screamed in horror and frustration.
"Our murderer's blood!" the voices of the dead screamed in unison. Broken arms and half-curled arms wrapped themselves around Benedickís feet and the world spun around him as he tumbled to ground.
The chorus of voices began to grow unbearable:
"What you waiting for, boy!?" -- "Hop to it!" -- "Pick up your blasted jaw, boy, you're a gargoyle!" -- "Duty of a gargoyle!" -- "Avenge your clan!" -- "Be a gargoyle!"
Benedick lifted his head from the ground. Before him was his own shattered reflection, a partially chiseled head resting on a pile of broken wings.
"Humans," the head roared. "They have destroyed us! We came here seeking a life apart from them, but they have tracked us and killed us! Avenge us! Bring our rage to bear on their hideous race! It's your duty!"
Benedick shrank backwards as his reflectionís words gave way to a hailstorm of voices. They canceled each other out and turned into wind so strong it carried the stone away and Benedick into darkness.
Now a human was on Benedick. It had long gray hair and hideously wrinkled skin. The human was trying to push something towards him, a small bowl of some kind holding some sort of steaming liquid. Almost instinctively he took it and poured its contents into his mouth.
"Look at that filthy human! Look at her, just look at her!" The voices of the dead echoed in Benedickís head as piles of rubble flashed through his eyes. "Where's our revenge, boy? We want revenge!" He saw the human reaching for him with its disfigured rounded fingertips and he saw the dead look in its eyes. It was reaching for him. He reached first.
The voices of the dead cried out for blood and he gave it to them.
Benedick wrapped his hands around the humanís flimsy shirt, raised her high and flung her several meters away from him, right into a bunch of rocks. The human then gave out a low, dying moan that brought Benedick back to his senses.
He could see it more clearly now. It was a woman, a rather young one too. How old? Twenty-five, maybe? What was she trying to do, anyway? The bandages in his arms, how...?
And it dawned on him that maybe, maybe, maybe he'd made a mistake.
* * *
The aircraft shuddered and Benedick snapped out of his dream. His sleep had been troubled. His sleep was always troubled. The old ghosts had taken the life from him. At least he escaped from them this night. There was no escape from them in the stone-sleep.
He felt tired. He was supposed to be sleeping right now, frozen in stone. Jet lag, they called it. Jet lag in a gargoyle. How very curious.
He felt the aircraft land as the intercom voice, the pilot's or maybe only the computer's, welcomed him to Manhattan and wished him a happy vacation.
Next to him, the child stirred and fussed. "Chun Lau..." he said as he unbuckled the youngster from the seat, "Look, we're in our new home." He gestured out the window. "Isn't it shiny?"
The child opened his little eyes, mumbled something and returned to sleep. Too young to care about the scenery, he'd drifted off again. The boy was only one or two years old, or so Benedick had theorized, since their history together had been 'complicated' and he was no expert in human anatomy. But he couldn't be any older than two. That's what the humans had told him.
So, with the sleepy Chun Lau safely in his arms, Benedick picked up the old bag he'd brought with him. It was the only bag he'd brought, the other one was the child's, and it was considerably bigger than his.
He walked out onto the platform and was immediately greeted by a red-haired human and two gargoyles. Artus and Persephone he recognized; someone had been kind enough to show him a picture of Manhattan clan's leaders. As for the human, he assumed that this was the Alexander Xanatos everybody talked about.
The one they called Artus stepped forward and gave him a strong warriorís handshake. "So you must be Benedick, from the Outer Mongolian clan! Welcome, brother! It's such an unexpected surprise."
"Yes," Benedick agreed, with Chun Lau still in his arms. "I imagine that it is."
"It's not that you are un-welcomed, but it's just so unexpected..." Persephone continued. "It has been many decades since we've had any contact with Outer Mongolia. Have you decided to open your borders, just like that?"
Alexander Xanatos was quick to interrupt. "Actually, Persephone, it's a bit more complicated than that--"
"Indeed," Benedick added. "I'm afraid the Outer Mongolia clan..." he trailed off for a moment, but bounced back in a second, "...is no more." Artus and Persephone stared at him in confusion; they had no idea what was going on. Benedick shook his head and said, "Come, my new friends, this is a very long story. I think you had better sit down for this one."
* * *
An hour and several cups of coffee later, Artus' hands shook slightly as he served his guest some more latte. He settled back into his chair and continued, "All destroyed?"
"All but three, as I've mentioned," Benedick replied. Chun Lau wasn't with him anymore; they had taken the child to the infirmary for a check-up. "We were lucky, you could say. We'd been out hunting all night when the sun caught us. When we returned, it was too late. All our brothers and sisters were gone." His jaw tightened at the memory, but that was the only visible sign of his emotions. "And we did what a gargoyle would do... go out there and avenge our clan. We headed straight to the village of humans nearby, since surely they were the ones to cause this tragedy and we would make them pay.
"We failed miserably.
"Three gargoyles blinded with rage, outnumbered by an entire human village. My companions didn't make it. I'm not sure how I got out of it. One moment I was surrounded by a mob ready to bash my head in...
"...then I found myself in a hut, tended by a young woman who herself had been grieviously wounded in our attack. I didn't know. I didn't understand. I thought I was doing what a 'real' gargoyle would. All the mentors, everybody told me we were superior to the humans...." --he paused to take a sip of coffee-- "I find it debatable now.
"At least she lived long enough to explain. A man had come around, inciting the villagers to destroy us. The humans refused him at first, but apparently he decided to do it himself during the day. We two survivors overreacted and now I was alone, my helper dying and her child orphaned. I did the real gargoyle thing... I swore I would take care of her child as if it were my own. And here we all are. It's my hope that this new life here will give me an opportunity to make amends and start a new life..." He shrugged softly, "This is a good a place as any."
"We don't know what to say, and I believe there's nothing we can do now..." Artus spoke. "But you are welcomed into the clan with open arms. It would be our honor."
Benedick gave him a soft nod and replied, "Many thanks. I would be glad to exchange my services, whichever those might be, for the care of Chun Lau."
"There's no need for that," Persephone added. "He will be a child of the clan too."
That said, Artus stood up and the other two followed. Shaking Benedick's arm again, he said, "Then it is agreed. You will stay with us, won't you? Alex has already prepared you a temporary room. Tomorrow night, after the welcoming ceremony --standard formalities, it won't take long-- permanent quarters should be already assigned to you."
Benedick gave them a small smile and said, "I should say I have no way of repaying you for this--"
"No payment is necessary." Artus interrupted, "After all, you're part of the clan now. Now, the sun is about to rise. Please allow me to escort you to your quarters."
The two gargoyles then exited Artus' office and headed to the quarters. Artus skillfully continued to draw out information about the now-vanished clan. There hadn't been much contact between them and the rest of the world in years; then to re-surface like this...
Benedick merely shrugged. "We lasted three generations totally apart and our clan thrived. If it isn't broken, why fix it? We didn't see any need to reach out. But life always throws you that left curve when you least expect it."
And so, when they least expected it, they bumped into Brooklyn and Sata, who were on their way to visit the children in the incubator. Sata, always gracious, quickly smiled and said, "Artus-san, who is your new friend?"
"Sata, Brooklyn, I'd like you to meet Benedick, our new clan member," their leader explained. "He's from Outer Mongolia. It's a long story, but suffice to say for now that he's got nowhere else to go."
"--because they're gone, right?"
They all stared at Brooklyn, who had simply mumbled the statement with a sense of wonderment as he stared at Benedick with concern.
Benedick shifted uncomfortably and replied, "Well...yes. I don't believe we've met..."
"Brooklyn," the red gargoyle quickly added as he enthusiastically shook the white gargoyleís hand. "No, we haven't met, but I sure hope we get to talk sometime. Listen, anything you need, you just give me a holler and I'll be glad to help."
"Uh...thank you." Benedick replied, sincerely surprised. "Are Manhattan gargoyles always so social, Artus?"
Artus shot Brooklyn a look, muttered, "When they're up to something..." and hauled Benedick with him down the hallway.
Sata turned to her mate and asked, "What was that all about?"
Brooklyn gave her lopsided grin and said, "Sata-chan, don't you get it?" He chuckled gleefully. "We've just met Demona's future husband!"
Sata's eyes widened. "That's Benedick? The Benedick you told me about?"
"Yeah," Brooklyn laughed, "I can hardly believe it. The last time I saw him was...well... in his funeral. Never got around to talking to him." He tilted his head just so and added, "Demona's in for the time of her life. And I, for one, wouldn't miss it for the world."
* * * * *
Frank had called in a great many favors to get a job as a guard in the Pyramid. But his neat police record and old friends in the force had done the deed. When questioned why a retired cop his age wanted to return, he simply shrugged and said, "I just wanted to do some good again." They smiled and shook their heads and passed him -- once a cop, always a cop.
That much was true. So many years wasted. But this was a kind of redemption -- one shot to make it all right again. One shot to make it all worth it.
However, he wasn't quite sure how he would pull it off. He spent a few weeks trying to make up a plan and looking for an opportunity. But they didn't allow guards too close to those creatures. No, of course not. Those creatures demanded protection. The sheer travesty of it made Frank's head swim.
He found the opportunity when he received the news that he was assigned to a ceremony of some sort. It made the wheels of his mind turn; apparently, all the important creatures were going to be there. That meant that the leader of the whole bunch, the big one they called Artus --ridiculous name, Frank thought-- was going to be there.
He knew how those monsters worked. That big one was the leader, and if somebody took him out, the monsters would be hit hard. The humans liked that big one. Called him a 'good' leader, whatever that meant. Well, leader or not, the only good monster was a dead monster.
With the perfect opportunity in his grasp, all Frank had to do was wait for sunset. He felt so exhilarated. So nervous. Because he knew he was doing the right thing. He had wasted his years in the force being complacent, but tonight he was going to be a hero. His grandchild couldnít live with those creatures hanging about. Somebody had to do something about it, and that someone was going to be him.
More convinced than ever, he went home to get ready. He sat down on the bed and took out his fatherís old gun from the nightstand. It was a good, dependable gun, not those flimsy lasers. Heíd brought it out of storage awhile back, because one could never be to sure when any of those things went berserk and attacked him. Or innocent bystanders or a neighbor or a friend.
Meticulously, he disassembled the weapon, grabbed his kit and started cleaning it. Everything had to be perfect. He was going to be a hero. He would do it for the children, not only his grandchild, but all the children that couldnít sleep at night because of those monsters. Yes. He would do it for the children.
* * * * *
Benedick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He wasn't quite sure what to do next. Artus had called it a small ceremony, but Benedick thought there were quite a lot of people for a supposedly simple activity.
Artus and Persephone he knew, along with Alex. The friendly gargoyles from the other night were also there. Apparently, this Brooklyn and Sata were special in some way. Benedick wasn't quite sure what that meant, but he felt it was rude to ask about it. He'd figure it out later.
But there were plenty of other gargoyles round; most of them were in high positions in the clan. Everybody wanted to greet him, but he couldn't catch everybody's name. He supposed there would be enough time for that when he settled into this new clan.
There weren't a lot of younger clan members --it was supposed to be private, after all-- but Artus' little brother Samson was there and he looked bored out of his mind. Benedick sympathized, because his late clan had a dozen traditions that had also irked him when he was younger. Never mind that he thought those traditions played a part in their demise... but now wasn't the time to think about that...
Another two who looked rather bored were the two humans guarding the doors. Benedick found it incredibly ironic. Humans protecting gargoyles. So the world wasn't as twisted as his mentors had proclaimed...
At the accorded time, the chattering among them died down and the hall doors were closed. All of them settled in their seats and waited for Artus to start.
Benedick was surrounded by most of Artus' family. The leader and his mate sat to his left and he'd been told that the two elder gargoyles sitting to his right were Artus' parents. Broadway and Angela were their names, and from what he gathered, the Broadway fellow was one of the original members of the Manhattan clan... when they were really the Wyvern clan several dozen centuries ago. Benedick thought that was simply fascinating, but again he felt it was rude to hound an elder with a dozen questions.
Artus stood up and took the podium. "Friends and fellow clan members..." began his speech, which was basically a pretty way of saying Benedick was to become a member of the clan. Of course, he expanded and kept adding things to stretch it, and took a few opportunities to commend Benedick on his bravery.
Benedick did not consider himself a 'brave' gargoyle. He felt the whole ceremony was somewhat unnecessary. They commended him for his bravery... what bravery? He didn't feel proud of what he'd done back in Mongolia. That hadn't been bravery. Leading a clan of gargoyles in a city full of humans, now that was bravery.
A few other gargoyles had expressed their surprise when they learned he was taking care of little Chun Lau... again, why such surprise? He was only doing what a noble gargoyle would do. Gargoyles protect, don't they? It was the only thing that filled their lives, didn't it? Then why were they surprised with a gargoyle that took on such a charge with gusto?
Either way, the ceremony went on. After Artus spoke his piece, his father said a few words. Apparently, all the special guests were going to say something.
While they spoke, Benedick began to take notice of that human guard by the doorway.
One of the guards, a relatively mature man, was fiddling through his jacket looking for something. He tried to be discreet, which was perhaps why he looked so obvious. He looked nervous about something.
Benedick didnít pay much attention to him, focusing on the ceremony instead. All the honored guests spoke their lines, something about giving him permission to the clan or what have you, then Artus took the podium again.
"The Elders have spoken then," Artus said in a formal, if a little melodramatic tone. "It brings me great pleasure, then, to accept you, Benedick, into our clan. Stand up, brother and---"
His speech was cut off when the podium was shot.
Someone screamed and all heads turned to the guard pointing at Artus with his gun. He spat a curse and said, "Nobody move! Donít you dare move, you filthy monsters!"
The old man knew several dozen gargoyles seriously outnumbered him and he was understandably scared. His hands were shaking and he was wildly waving the gun at everybody around him.
Brooklyn was the first one to speak. He rose from his seat, raised his hands and said as calmly as he could, "Come on, mister, put the gun down, youíre making a mistake..."
"Get away!" the man shrieked. "Get away or Iíll shoot you, I swear I will! You monster!"
The rest of the gargoyles didnít like the sound of that and they began to exchange looks, silently planning which way they could jump him.
The man, however, was frightened out of his wits. Yet still he insisted on making his case. "They shouldnít have allowed monsters like you in the force! They shouldnít have! Demons that protect?! Are we supposed to swallow that?! You just want to take over the city, donít you!? You practically do!"
"Sir," Artus spoke up, with a perfectly relaxed demeanor. "You donít want to do this. You donít. If you have any complaints about us, then maybe we should sit down and talk about it like reasonable people..."
"Shut up, you demon from Hell, you animal, you stupid ogre! My grandkids will never consort with the likes of you! This is for the children! This is for the children!"
He somehow managed to steady his hands, point at Artus, and pull the trigger.
Everything happened too fast, but apparently not fast enough for Benedick.
For he had seen the mad glimmer in the humanís eyes and knew beforehand that sooner or later he was definitely going to shoot. All Benedick had to do was wait for it, so when the man fired, he had already shielded his new leader and caught the shot for him in his left arm.
Once the man had fired, Brooklyn took advantage of the confusion and he and three more gargoyle guests jumped the attacker and wrestled the gun away from him. The man was kicking and screaming, but he never had a chance.
"Get off me, you devil!" he was shrieking to Brooklyn. "Youíre an aberration of nature!"
"Yeah, like we havenít heard that one before..." Brooklyn sighed as he took the handcuffs from another guard and cuffed him.
After the man had been apprehended, everybody else turned their attention to Artus, who was yelling, "Somebody get a doctor!"
Sata cut through the crowd and went to Artusí side. "Are you hurt!?"
"No--- but Benedick is!" Artus replied.
Benedick was lying on the floor behind the podium, having literally jumped it to save Artus and unceremoniously crashed to the stone floor. He was bleeding profusely from the wound in his left arm, but didn't seem to think it was such a big deal. "Donít worry, my friends...it only hurts when you touch it..." he particularly stared at Artus, who was gingerly probing the wound to make sure that the bullet hadnít lodged inside. "Please stop touching it."
Their attacker was still in the room, being held close by Brooklyn and other gargoyles while the rest of the guards got there. He was approached by Angela, who asked, "Why did you do it? What did we ever do to you?"
The man, Frank, or so read his nametag, looked away from her and said nothing.
"Answer her!" Brooklyn insisted, shaking him a bit.
Frank looked up and gave her a cold gaze of complete and utter hatred. But instead of enraging her, it made Angela shake her head and say, "Take him away. He just doesnít know what heís doing."
* * *
Everybody fussed around Benedick for a couple of hours until Dr. Abrams finally kicked everybody out of the infirmary.
The woman insisted on applying all sorts of creams to the arm, as if the whole thing would break away if she didn't do something. The wound had stopped bleeding some time ago. "It's really unnecessary... the sun will heal me."
"Sunrise is a few hours away," the doctor insisted. "Better safe than sorry, that's what I always say..."
Benedick gave up trying to reason with her and allowed her to slap some smelly thing on the wound before she finished bandaging him.
Brooklyn and Artus appeared in the doorway of the infirmary looking for him. Brooklyn gave him a playful nudge in his good arm and said, "So, how are you holding up, old man? No serious damage?"
"No, not at all." Benedick sighed. "Yet the doctor acts like I'm dying or something..." Dr. Abrams snorted from across the room, while she wrote something down in Benedick's new medical file.
"We just wanted to drop by to thank you," Artus spoke up. "You saved my life and I'll never have enough words to show how grateful I am."
"I understand, my brother, and I accept your thanks. But really, I was just doing my duty," Benedick replied. "My leader was in danger and I had to do something about it."
"And we are forever grateful," Artus answered. He quickly added, "And tomorrow we'll properly finish the ceremony. I think there's been too much excitement for the night."
"What will happen to the shooter?" Benedick interrupted.
Brooklyn gave him a dismissive wave and said, "Human authorities are dealing with him for attempted murder. Probably gonna serve a couple of years for that little stunt. Don't worry about him."
Benedick sighed quietly. "I just hope they don't go too hard on him." Brooklyn gave him a questioning look and he explained, "It's just that he was only afraid. He didn't know what he was doing."
"I think he knew exactly what he was doing," Brooklyn quipped with a little acid tone.
"Anyway, I hope he doesn't get too hurt," Benedick said. "I'm more than willing to forgive him."
Artus and Brooklyn exchanged looks but said nothing. "Come, brother," Artus spoke. "Everybody wants to talk to you. Let's get out of here."
Dr Abrams reluctantly okayed his release, after insisting that he wear a portable bio-monitor until the following night, and the trio started talking of other, more everyday things. And, while they walked away, Benedick couldn't help but wonder how really peaceful was this over-hyped Manhattan, with murder attempts the second night he'd arrived. "This sort of thing happens often?"
Artus chuckled and Brooklyn gave him an award-winning smirk. "You'd be surprised..."