Written by Daniel Hightower, Greg Bishansky, and Aaron Ziegler. With additional material by Todd Jensen
Outline by Daniel Hightower, Greg Bishansky, and Robby Bevard
Artwork by Revel
* * * * *
The laboratory was dark, save for a pair of bright halogen lamps, which shined upon an array of delicate electronics. Hunched over those electronics was an old and weary man. That man, Doctor Isaac Payne, reached in with a tiny welding torch, his face a mask of concentration any neurosurgeon would envy. As his tool touched its destination, a bright spark briefly illuminated his stony face and flashed off of the protective goggles that shielded his eyes. Apparently satisfied with the result, the scientist moved the torch to another location and sealed yet another connection.
At the corner of the room, a shadow broke away from the darkness and silently approached the door leading out of the room. It paused when Dr. Payne spoke. "Leaving so soon, Timedancer?"
His clawed hand already on the doorknob, Brooklyn said nothing for a moment. Finally, he answered, "I suppose."
"I see," the doctor replied. There was another flash of light, as he closed another circuit within his creation.
Apparently feeling the need to say more, now that his uninvited observations had been discovered, Brooklyn noted, "You've shaved."
"When Loki left my body, he elected to take my hair color with him, not to mention the fact that he left my beard a tangled mess that refused to be tamed. Of course I shaved it. It was undignified, and I need to preserve every scrap of dignity I have left to me."
A few more moments passed in silence, as the scientist continued his work, and Brooklyn continued to watch him. Finally, Dr. Payne broke the silence, a distinctly irritated edge to his voice. "You may watch me as long as you wish. I can assure you that I'm not going to transform into an ice-shooting maniac once your back is turned."
"And I should trust you why?"
Finally, Dr. Payne looked up from his work. He tore the goggles off of his head so that he could glare at Brooklyn properly. And glare he did. "Listen, Timedancer. You don't have to like me. Goodness knows, you're not my favorite person either. But leave me alone! My days of thrilling adventure are, thankfully, over, and I have no intention of ever continuing them. These late-night visits of yours are doing nothing but wasting your time and mine. Do not ever enter my life again, Timedancer, and I assure you, I will be more than pleased to return the favor."
"Right," Brooklyn replied, a bit harshly. "See you 'round, Doc." The door opened, and the crimson gargoyle stalked out. Doctor Payne stared at the spot Brooklyn had occupied. No emotion showed on his face, but his knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on his welding torch. Finally, his grip loosened, and he turned back to his electronics.
* * *
"Where were you, Brooklyn?" Angela asked curiously. "We still have a lot of preparations to make for the Festival tomorrow night."
"Just had some things I wanted to check up on," Brooklyn replied, a tad sullenly.
Angela smiled. "Well I'm glad you could make it. We could really use your help in setting things up. Just about everyone's going to be attending, and I want everything to be perfect!"
"Everyone, hmm...?" Brooklyn mused absently. "Hey, Benedick's gonna be there, right?"
"Of course," Angela said, somewhat surprised.
"What about Demona?"
"Mother?" Angela looked downcast. "I'm really not sure... She usually doesn't attend. Why do you want to know?"
"Oh, no particular reason," Brooklyn evaded. "Still, why don't you ask her? I'm sure she'd love to spend some time with you."
Angela smiled warmly. "All right, I will."
A few moments later, Demona's face was visible on the videophone. "Angela!" she said with a smile of delight. "It's good to see you! Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Hello, Mother," Angela replied, smiling just as broadly. "I was just calling to see if you'd be coming to the Winter Solstice Festival tomorrow."
Demona frowned. "Angela... You know those events don't agree with me. It makes me... uncomfortable to be around so many other gargoyles."
"Please say you'll come," Angela urged. "It's been so long since the last time we've seen one another."
Her mother paused a moment before replying. "Well... I do have a board meeting scheduled tomorrow evening. I don't know how long it will last. If I get out in time, then maybe I'll come..."
Angela seemed a little disappointed, but nevertheless replied, "All right, Mother. I hope that I'll see you there! Good bye!"
"Good bye." Demona's face flickered out.
"I... don't think she's coming, Brooklyn," Angela said regretfully.
Brooklyn, however, was smirking. "I don't know about that, Angela. I think you might be pleasantly surprised..."
Just then, Artus's voice sounded over the loudspeakers. "Attention all gargoyles - please report to conference room G1. Please report to conference room G1. Thank you."
* * *
"Now, as you all know," Artus's voice boomed across the enormous conference room, "the bonfire is at the heart of the Solstice festival. We're going to need wood and kindling, and plenty of it. I'll be dividing most of you into eight groups. Now, as for the others, there are certain special tasks I'll need to assign..."
Samson allowed Artus's voice to fade into an annoying background drone. He was so bored he could barely stand it. Why did he have to be there, anyway? Wasn't he going to be going through enough torment during the festival itself? He'd rather be doing just about anything but standing around and mingling with strangers and watching the couples Skydance. Not that he was jealous or anything - no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he hadn't found a female to call his own yet. With all that looming on the horizon, why should he have to put up with the preparations, as well?
Desperate for a distraction, he turned to the gargoyle closest to him, hoping to start up a conversation. When he saw who it was, he was delighted - Orion was a gargoyle he very much admired. "Psst! Hey, Orion?"
"Hmmm?" Orion replied, looking away from Artus and down at the younger gargoyle. "Samson. What do you want?"
That was a good question. Samson hadn't really gotten beyond the "strike up a conversation" portion of his plan. Then, an idea struck. "Orion, I was wondering if you'd let me go on patrol tomorrow night?"
Orion thought about it. "I don't see any reason why you couldn't. I'm certainly short enough on volunteers, with the festival going on." Then his gaze took on a suspicious edge. "But why do you want to go? You aren't trying to get out of another punishment, are you?"
"Hey, I'm not a hatchling anymore!" Samson flared. "I haven't tried anything like that in at least... at least..."
"...a week, by my reckoning," Orion mused neutrally. Samson's anger sputtered out, as he realized that Orion was right. The blue-black gargoyle grinned at Samson's guilty look and said, "Eh, it won't be me that's in trouble if you are, Samson. Sure, you're welcome to join me on patrol tomorrow."
"You mean, you'll be going, too?" Samson asked, delighted.
Orion nodded. "Like I said - it's hard to find volunteers, and I'd be a hypocrite if I was unwilling to do the same thing I was asking others to do."
"Don't worry - you'll be glad I'm there!"
"I just hope you're a little more observant on patrol tomorrow than you are right now. Artus has been calling your name for the past half minute or so."
"Huh-?" Samson whirled to face his brother.
"Glad to have your attention, Samson," Artus smirked. "Just wanted to let you know that you'll be gathering wood with group six, under command of Persephone."
"Oh, goody..." Samson sighed.
* * * * *
Demona gazed into the full-length mirror on the east wall of her office as she adjusted the gold breastplate. "How long did you say this meeting would last again, Patricia?"
"Until at least nine o'clock, Ms. Destine," replied Demona's executive assistant, a tall raven-haired woman in a navy blue suit.
"Which means that I'll change during it," Demona practically snarled. She checked her skirt out in the mirror and appeared satisfied. "This should accommodate my tail nicely."
Patricia handed Demona her red jacket, and the crimson-haired executive quickly donned it. "Yes," she said looking in the mirror. "This works quite well."
"The CEO of Fenris Industries should be arriving shortly," Patricia said.
"Yes, and it still surprises me that he asked for this meeting," Demona mused.
"I'd imagine so," Patricia said. "Especially since Mr. Nicholas Hawkins is quite openly anti-gargoyle."
"I'll give him his meeting," Demona said, though privately she wanted to rip his throat out. "And hopefully I'll never have to say more that three words to that man again. This meeting should be most informative and amusing."
* * *
Later, Demona sat at the head of the board table as members of Nightstone Unlimited's Board of Directors hustled in. Moments later, a man entered and took his place in the seat at the far end of the table. Demona recognized him as Mr. Nicholas Hawkins. He was a tall, handsome man who carried himself quite regally. He was dressed in a black suit, and had long jet-black hair with a touch of gray streaking through the left tied back in an elegant ponytail.
"Good evening, Ms Destine," Mr. Hawkins said, speaking with a cultured British accent. "I must say that it is a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure is all mine," Demona replied politely. She was sure it was indeed all hers, and she was taking no pleasure in this. The man sitting across from her was very open in his anti-gargoyle sentiments; she had read interviews with him where he had quite vehemently expressed those sentiments. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your business with Nightstone Unlimited?"
"I believe that our two corporations can be a significant help to one another," Hawkins replied.
"Do tell," Demona said, trying to keep a neutral expression.
"Competing with Xanatos Enterprises is not an easy game," Hawkins went on. "Fenris Technologies has probably the best space program of any corporation on the planet. We have spent years out there, mining and discovering new elements and resources that will change the world. Soon, hydrogen-powered cars will be a thing of the past; the future lies before us. A most profitable future, if I do say so myself."
"And where does Nightstone Unlimited come in?" Demona asked skeptically.
"Nightstone has much more influence on the home planet market right now," Hawkins replied. "You are also one of the biggest technology conglomerates on the face of the Earth. A joint Fenris-Nightstone venture will be what refines society. By pooling our resources together, we will find an abundant resource of these new elements and transport them back to Earth in a much more timely fashion." A projection of a possible profit margin appeared on the wall, and Nicholas got up and pulled a laser pointer out of his jacket as he continued to speak. "New technologies will come from this as well, and we can set up more mining colonies. We stand on a new frontier..."
Hawkins continued to speak, but Demona paid him little attention. Her thoughts drifted back to the Solstice celebration, and whether or not she should indeed attend. It would mean seeing Angela and that was certainly something to look forward to. She had been too busy lately to spend much time with her family.
Demona soon felt the familiar pain begin to pull at her muscles, and she looked out the window towards the western horizon. "Excuse me for one moment," she said through gritted teeth. She got to her feet and quickly shed her jacket, as the sun set. She held back a cry of pain but bowled over as a pair of lavender wings exploded from her back, her skin darkened to a pale blue and the rest of her body changed till a gargoyle stood where the human Demona had been standing mere moments ago.
"I believe we should hurry and finish this meeting," said one of the Board members. A few nodded and muttered in agreement.
She gathered her dignity and sat back down. "You may proceed, Mr. Hawkins."
Hawkins nodded, with a smirk noticeable on his face as well as an odd gleam in his eye.
* * * * *
Samson watched impatiently as Orion walked to the center of a huge stack of wood piled at the center of a ring of stones. He was carrying a large barrel full of ashes. The younger gargoyle was eager to get going, but Orion had neglected to inform him that the older gargoyle had a duty to perform for the festival before they left.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Artus began. Great. Another speech. "Before we begin tonight's ceremonies, I'd like to thank those of you who have volunteered to sacrifice some of your time tonight to continue our patrols. It is thanks to your tireless effort that we can guarantee that this city is safe, year-round. Everyone give a round of applause!"
Samson blushed uncomfortably as the others around him began to applaud. After all, he'd hardly had the safety of the city in mind when he'd volunteered - just his own selfishness. While not willing to change his mind about going on patrol, Samson resolved to pay closer attention to the opening ceremonies.
"Now, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to Angela and Broadway, who will be telling us about the meaning of tonight's celebration."
The elderly couple stepped forward. Angela was the first to speak. "For a long time, the gargoyles of Manhattan could not celebrate the Winter Solstice openly. While it may seem a small thing to you now, the day when it finally became possible to even ask the human leaders of Manhattan for permission to hold our festival was nothing short of a miracle to those of us living then."
Broadway continued, somewhat haltingly - he was not the best of public speakers. "Even then, it wasn't easy. The first year, we were refused outright. It wasn't until several years later that we finally got the permission we wanted. With the help of the Enforcers, we erected barricades to keep the protesters out, and to keep the airspace clear for us to have our festivities."
Then it was Angela's turn again, much to Broadway's relief. "Fortunately, tonight we do not have to worry about protesters. You have no idea of the joy it brings me to see how far the relationship between humans and gargoyles have come. Gargoyles are no longer feared and hated, but instead respected, and even loved. There are even humans among us here tonight, joining in our celebration. So, without any further delay, let us begin."
Taking his cue, Orion began to pour the ashes he was carrying into the pile of wood as Angela narrated. "The ashes are a symbol of what has been. No matter how brightly our future burns, we must never forget the things we have left behind."
Persephone walked forward with a flaming torch in hand, and touched it to the kindling interspersed amongst the wood. Soon, the bonfire roared to life. "The fire represents our hope for the future. While we must never forget the past, neither should we lose ourselves in dwelling upon it. We should always remember to look ahead, and see a brighter tomorrow."
Artus then stepped forward carrying a shiny silver sphere. Reverently, he placed the sphere on a marble pedestal that had been erected in front of the bonfire. "The sphere represents our having come full circle. No matter what tragedies fate may hand to us, we gargoyles will always persevere, and we will never lose our devotion to our ideals. That is the Gargoyle Way."
Then, a team of gargoyles, carrying enormous spits laden with several whole sides of beef marched forward and mounted the spits on the tall braces built for them. "And now the part of the tradition that I'm sure you've all been waiting for," Angela smiled, "The meat. The cooking meat represents a good year's hunt, and signifies good fortune in the year to come. It is said that whoever can eat the most will have the luckiest year."
Wrapping an arm around his mate, Broadway drawled, "You're all welcome to try, but no one's beaten me yet! And I can say with good authority that I'm the luckiest gargoyle here!" He drew Angela into a deep kiss, causing laughter and applause to break out among many of the onlookers. Samson, for his part, rolled his eyes at his parents' antics. Nevertheless, he couldn't stop a smile from spreading across his face.
When Broadway released her, a giggling and somewhat disheveled Angela announced, "Let the festival begin!"
The delicious smell of cooking meat began to permeate the air as Samson wandered the grounds, trying to figure out where Orion had disappeared to. As he walked, he overheard a snippet of conversation between Sata and Brooklyn. "When I was a hatchling, we would never have been allowed to celebrate out in the open like this."
Sata nodded. "I know, beloved." She looked around. "Just seeing how thankful everyone is here makes me a little jealous. We, too, celebrated the Solstice in Ishimura. But I am shamed to admit that I, even if I was not the only one, took the celebration for granted. The clan here celebrates with such life and vigor that it puts our own modest ceremony to shame!"
"Don't feel that way, Sata," Brooklyn comforted. "You should be thankful that your clan was lucky enough to find humans who understood them."
As he drifted out of the range of the conversation, Samson looked around at the revellers and saw them in a new light. It didn't seem so much like the boring gathering he'd taken it for anymore. Sure, there wasn't much interesting to do. But the point wasn't so much the celebration as it was their ability to celebrate at all.
"Are you ready to go, Samson?" Orion's rough voice suddenly called.
"Yeah," the younger replied. In his heart, though, he couldn't repress a twinge of regret for having to leave the festival after finally understanding it.
* * * * *
Demona sat there just staring into space as Nicholas Hawkins finished re-summarizing his business proposal. She glanced over at the digital clock on her desk. The Solstice party was still going on; she might be able to make it after all.
"Well, Ms Destine?" Hawkins' voice asked.
"I'm sorry, what?" Demona asked.
"What did you think of my proposal?"
"We'll go over it, and contact Fenris Industries with our decision tomorrow," Demona replied, although privately she had already made her decision to never deal with this man again.
"Of course," Hawkins said. "Good evening, Ms Destine." He turned and left the office.
Demona did not even bother to notice that the man didn't shake her hand. She quickly went over to the large window and took flight, hoping to at least see her daughter for a little while this evening.
* * *
Nicholas Hawkins strode out of the Nightstone building, briefcase in hand. He found his limousine awaiting him, with his chauffeur standing beside the rear door.
The chauffeur remained silent as he opened the door and allowed his employer to enter, before stepping into the driver's seat himself.
Nicholas seated himself and placed his briefcase down at his side. He checked his watch and looked towards the man sitting across from him in the shadows.
"Well, how did the meeting go?" the man asked.
Nicholas chuckled in response. "I looked the Devil straight in the eye, and I did not blink," he replied. "I predict a bright future for our endeavors."
The man merely nodded and sat back, gazing out the window as he did so.
* * *
Samson caught a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye, and looked up to see a blue gargoyle flying overhead. "Is that... Grandmother?" he asked, surprised.
Orion looked up from where he was handcuffing a terrified thief - one of a small band of criminals they'd found trying to take advantage of the reduced gargoyle presence that night - and grunted. "I think it is. Wonder where she's off to?"
"Looks like the festival!" Samson said with a touch of regret. It seemed that, on top of everything else, he was going to be missing out on a chance to see his grandmother again.
"So it does," Orion frowned. "Well, she ought to have the good sense not to cause any trouble. I hope that the others there have as much sense."
"My grandmother is not a monster!" Samson snapped.
"I never said that she was," Orion replied. "But there’re a lot who would argue the point with you, Samson. Far too many."
* * *
The catlike gargoyle stared at the figure before him. While he had been aware that she had been in the area, he had no idea that Demona of all people would actually be attending the festival, let alone that Angela would immediately introduce him to her. Trying to retain his composure, and hoping above all else that the ancient gargoyle would not recognize his name, Deimos hesitantly said, "It is a... pleasure to meet you."
"We have heard many things about you," his brother Phobos added.
Then, the two of them together, "I'm afraid we must be going."
Once out of earshot, Phobos hissed, "That was as close to the Slayer as I ever wish to come."
Deimos nodded. "I agree. Some day she will burn for our lord Madoc's death..." he looked around to make sure that no one was listening to them. "But I hope I will not have to be the one to make the attempt." He suddenly noticed that his brother was distracted by something. "What is it, my brother?"
"Do you... sense that?"
"Magic," Phobos replied distractedly. "Quite powerful, at that. Residual, though; it was used some time ago."
"And this surprises you why? Alexander Xanatos lives here. The grandson of Titania."
"Try using your head and sensing! The power is recent, from a battle! And it is familiar! More than that... It's Loki's energy."
That was more than enough to get Deimos's attention. Extending his own senses, Deimos attempted to detect the power that Phobos could feel. He didn't have to try hard - now that he knew what to look for, the feeling was overwhelming. "You're right! But how can this be? Loki died centuries ago!"
"That is something that we must discover," Phobos said decisively. "Information like this could be of vital importance to Garlon and our new master." Deimos nodded. It was indeed so.
"Excuse me." Deimos just about jumped out of his skin (something which, for him, was actually quite possible, considering that the skin he was currently wearing was nothing more than a disguise). He and his equally startled brother turned to see who was addressing them. It was a white-skinned gargoyle with long, pointed horns. "Hi, my name's Benedick. Pleased to meet you!"
"Phobos," Phobos replied with a nod.
"Deimos," Deimos added.
"Look, I saw you just talking to her, and I was wondering if you could tell me who that ravishing specimen of gargoylehood standing just over there is?"
The two of them looked in the direction that Benedick was pointing, and then at each other. Naturally, it would be Demona. Turning back to Benedick, they said, "Oh, you shouldn't bother with that one."
"She has an..." Deimos began.
"...unfortunate reputation," Phobos finished.
"Hmmm, is that so?" Benedick replied. He grinned. "Now I'm really intrigued. I guess I'll go find out who she is on my own. Nice talking to you!"
Phobos and Deimos stared after Benedick, and blinked. "What an odd individual," Phobos murmured.
"Very true," Deimos replied. "But let us not waste any more time here. I am eager to shed this foolish disguise and trace that energy to its source. We have learned here all which we came to learn."
"Yes." Quickly, but without obvious haste, the two Unseelie spies made their way out of Central Park.
* * *
Twirling breathlessly to the ground, Angela wrapped her arms around Broadway and laughed. "That was so much fun, my love! I don't think I have the energy in me to go another round, though. Let's take a break."
"Whatever you say," Broadway replied with a grin.
Then, something caught Angela's eye. "Broadway, do you see my mother... Skydancing?!?"
Broadway looked up. Sure enough Demona was gliding to the ground, hand clasped with that of a white-skinned gargoyle. "You're right! Look, she's actually laughing! I don't think I've ever seen her laugh! At least, not when she wasn't doing something rotten."
"Broadway!" Angela scolded, elbowing Broadway in his plentiful gut. "Still, I guess you're right. I haven't seen her looking this happy in a long time..."
"Hey, that's Benedick she's with, isn't it?" Broadway asked, rubbing the spot on his stomach where he'd been jabbed.
"It is!" Angela smiled. "I guess this is just one other thing we have to be thankful to him for."
* * *
"Hmph. Well, that's gratitude for you," Brooklyn snorted with mock severity. He and his mate were standing by one of several refreshments tables scattered throughout the park, observing Demona and Benedick Skydancing. "Here I go through all the trouble of having Angela invite Demona here, and she and Benedick hit it off without ever giving us the chance to set them up."
Sata smiled at him. "It is better this way, I think. Love that springs naturally seems so much more beautiful than love that has to be coerced."
"Yeah, yeah," Brooklyn waved her comments off.
Sata nudged Brooklyn playfully. "I think you are merely jealous that you were not given the chance to put your foreknowledge of the future to a good use for a change."
"You could be right." Brooklyn watched Demona laugh, and chuckled himself. "Still, it's nice to see that Demona's true golden years are finally beginning. She's been through so much in the past..."
Demona and Benedick landed one final time, and then began to walk away from the Skydancing area, chatting animatedly with one another. Their destination appeared to be the very same refreshments table that Sata and Brooklyn were by. When Demona happened to look away from Benedick long enough to notice this fact, her eyes widened in surprise. Tugging on Benedick's arm, she quickened her pace. "Brooklyn!" she said as soon as they were within range. "I was hoping I'd have the opportunity to see you again!"
It was Benedick's turn to look surprised. "You two know each other?"
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, Demona and I have quite a... history together."
Demona turned Benedick to face her, and said, "Benedick, do you mind if I speak with Brooklyn a moment in private? Will you wait for me?"
Benedick grinned easily. "Demona, I'll wait for you forever, if I have to."
At that, Demona assumed a somewhat hollow, guilty expression for a moment, but accepted Benedick's answer. "Sata?" she asked the green gargoyle. Sata nodded once.
"H-hey!" Brooklyn protested as Demona dragged him off.
When they were relatively alone, Demona took a deep breath, and said, "Brooklyn, I wanted to... thank you. No, that's not quite right. I wanted to apologize. Or both." Gritting her teeth, she added. "You have to understand that, for me, neither comes easily."
Brooklyn nodded. "I do understand, Demona. Go on."
"You told me once, long ago, that you would be my friend, no matter what became of me. No matter how I alienated your clan. No matter how I alienated the world. I did not believe you then. It took me a long time before I did believe you - far too long. I just wanted to let you know, that I believe you now."
Demona looked away from Brooklyn, and studied the ground. The red gargoyle sensed that she was not finished, and so did not say anything. At last, Demona spoke again, "When I thought that I had lost everything, you were still there. If it had not been for your support, I don't know what would have become of me... But now, thanks to you, I am slowly regaining what I lost. I'm successful again. More importantly, I have my daughter's trust once more. I know that you are not yet the gargoyle who has done these things for me, but I wanted to thank you while I still had the chance, and apologize for what a fool I was."
"Demona, I may not be the gargoyle you truly wanted to thank, but I will be. And when I am, I'll remember your thanks. As for the apology." Brooklyn grinned. "No apologies are needed. That's one thing that you and I have in common. We're both about as stubborn as they come. Just ask Sata. She'll talk your ear off about how bone-headed I am."
Demona smiled weakly.
"Go on, now," Brooklyn urged. "Benedick looks like he's getting lonely! You know," Brooklyn whispered conspiratorially, "I think he really likes you. Maybe there's some romance in your future, hmmm?"
"No!" Demona said, paling. "I mean, he can't... I'm not..." She shook her head, as though to clear it. "Brooklyn... I-I have to go, now."
Confused, Brooklyn watched her leave. He noticed that the direction she was headed was definitely not the same as the direction Benedick was in. Blinking, he asked, "What did I say?"
* * *
"Hmm... I might have to wait a little longer than I expected," Benedick mused aloud as he watched Demona all but flee from Brooklyn.
"Hey, Benedick!" a deep voice called.
Benedick turned to see Broadway and Angela approaching. "Hey, there," Benedick called cheerfully. "You guys wouldn't believe the gorgeous babe I stumbled across tonight!"
"We might," Angela replied mischievously. "After all, that 'gorgeous babe' is my mother."
"You don't say?" Benedick answered with a slow whistle. "Man, she sure doesn't look it. I'd have her pegged at fifty, tops. How does she do it?"
Angela and Broadway exchanged glances apparently thrown off by Benedick's easy acceptance of what should have been a preposterous claim. "I wasn't joking, you know," Anglea said, more seriously this time. "Demona really is my mother."
"And I wasn't joking either," Benedick smiled. "Some of the things we talked about gave me the idea that she's a bit older than she looks. And I've seen a lot of things stranger than a grandmother who looks younger than her eldest grandson. Still, if she could put that youth of hers in a bottle, she could start her own corporation!"
"Funny you should mention that-" Broadway said, lifting a finger.
"Let me guess - she does have a corporation," Benedick replied.
"Yup! Nightstone Unlimited."
"My - a BIG corporation, at that. Hey, you two seem to know a lot about her. What else can you tell me?"
Angela suddenly looked troubled. "Well, that's really a long story-"
Benedick waved her off. "The past doesn't matter. Just tell me about Demona as she is now."'
Angela seemed relieved at that. "All right... Where shall I begin?"
"How about her favorite color?"
The elder female laughed. "All right, then."
* * *
Once Benedick had left, and Broadway was off chatting with Brooklyn, Angela was surprised to see Demona approach her. "Mother! I was afraid that you'd left."
Demona shook her head. "I'm sorry, Angela. I was occupied elsewhere."
Angela smiled. "I'm afraid that you might have given our brave young Benedick the impression that you don't like him."
"It's for the best if he thinks that," Demona replied bitterly. "You know that as well as I do."
"That's not what I came here to talk to you about. Angela, thank you for inviting me here tonight. I had a much better time than I would ever have dared to hope."
Angela smiled warmly. "I hope this means you'll be less of a stranger in the future."
"We'll see," Demona answered, somewhat evasively. "Good night, my daughter." She turned and left.
"Godmother?" said a voice behind Angela just then.
Angela turned around. A young female human, probably in her early to mid-twenties by the look of her, was standing there. Her long silvery-blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was warmly dressed in a heavy overcoat and thick trousers and boots, her gloved hands thrust into her pockets. There was an eager look upon her pale face, complimenting its elegant, aristocratic features.
"Angelica?" Angela asked, in delighted astonishment. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I just arrived in Manhattan, and since it was obvious enough that you'd be at the Solstice Festival, I decided to seek you out here," the young woman replied. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"Of course not," said Angela warmly. They embraced for a moment, both smiling. "So how is your father?" she asked.
"Oh, he's well," said Angelica. "He sends you his best wishes, as well."
"Is he still living in Scotland?" Angela asked.
Angelica nodded. "He's still in his retreat," she said. "And he still doesn't leave it very often. But he's doing nicely."
"I see," said Angela. "Well, if you happen to see him again, or speak with him, tell him that I send him my best as well."
"I'll do that," said Angelica. "But I may not see him for a while yet. I'm actually moving here, you see. I've got a teaching position at Columbia, starting with the spring term. I'll be teaching Dark Age Welsh literature - the Gododdin, Taliesin's poems, even the Mabinogion."
"That's wonderful!" said Angela. "It'll be nice having you live in the city with us, Angelica. And you will come to visit us, won't you?"
"Of course," said the young human happily. "It does seem right, too. After all, another reason why I moved here was because I wanted to be closer to some of my family - and I certainly consider you part of my family."
Angela nodded, smiling.
* * *
"The both of you can quit sneaking around anytime," Dr. Payne growled. "You're even worse at it than the Timedancer."
"We finally found you," Phobos said quietly.
"You are the one who wielded the power of Loki, aren't you?" Deimos asked.
The scientist laughed bitterly. "More like the power of Loki wielded me. And since you know that, I can only assume that the two of you are Unseelie agents. Am I correct?"
Phobos and Deimos glanced at one another. "You are correct," Phobos answered.
"No doubt you are here to ask for my help. You want my brilliant scientific genius, as well as all I learned while playing host to the Trickster Loki. You want the benefit of my experiences travelling through time and space. Best of all, I'm a potential recruit who has already had the benefit of Unseelie tampering."
"Correct again." The two seemed to be put at ease by Dr. Payne's easy diagnosis of his situation.
"What?" Deimos asked. "But-"
"I said forget it! While I was possessed by Loki, I was driven mad for a millennium. Power coursed through my veins that I could not imagine, and that I do not ever want again! I hurt people, and was trapped within volcanic ash with only one murderous thought on my mind. And, despite Loki's presence slowing my aging, I'm now physically an old man. All of my hair has gone grey in a matter of weeks. I'm a century removed from my comfortable home, and it is all I can do to prevent my once-brilliant mind from being considered obsolete in this day and age."
He glared at the twin fay. "More than any of that, though, I know very well what the Unseelie think about the human race, and frankly, I don't care for it. I want nothing to do with you, or whatever you're planning. I want nothing to do with the Timedancer and his friends, for that matter. I've said it to the Timedancer, and now I'll say it to you: Leave me alone! I will not cooperate with you. Neither will I impede you. So, either kill me now, or leave. I really don't care which." With that, the scientist proceeded to ignore the two of them and concentrated once more on his work.
Phobos and Deimos looked at each other again, and without a word, vanished in a bright flash of light.
* * *
Table upon table of succulent meats lay before the assembled gargoyles. At their head, of course, was Broadway. "All right, everybody!" he called. "Now it's time for my favorite part of the festival! Let's all dig in and make this year our luckiest year yet!" His declaration was answered by countless cheers, and soon everyone was eating away.
Angela nudged Broadway's arm as he was chewing on a steak. "Look, there's Benedick. Poor fellow - I don't think Mother even said good bye to him."
Broadway slurped down his current helping and belched, thumping his chest. Ignoring the quick glare his mate leveled upon him, he answered her question. "I dunno about that, Angela. He looks pretty happy. I don't think he's given up on her just yet." Indeed, Benedick was staring at the sky in the general direction of Nightstone Unlimited, a small smile upon his face.
Angela seemed comforted by that. "So, what kind of couple do you think Demona and Benedick would make, anyway?"
"Hopefully a happy one," Broadway answered with a smirk. "Otherwise the poor sucker might get killed." At Angela's murderous glare, he quickly added, "Just joking!"