92 - "Sempiternity"
"…a thousand paths and an infinity of dreams.
Hopeful, we are halfway to where we want to go; hopeless, we are lost forever."
- Chinese ProverbJune 29th, 3577
Another plate of steel was overturned, and the figure knew by the compacted, gold-leaf crown of an unnamed Grecian King, he was in the long-alleged vault area. The floor plans he'd paid much for were nearly useless, with the building turned on its side and almost every room and hall crushed beyond recognition, with David Xanatos' many vaults a rumor lost to the ages, but he could feel along every nerve in his flesh a brimming power.
He'd spent months since the snow had receded rummaging through the remains of the tallest building ever to stand in Manhattan, digging, searching, as an archeologist would painstakingly sift through layers of earth.
He grunted at the strain of another girder and shoved it aside to uncover an object that made him pause.
It was a small box with a hinged lid, unembellished and astonishingly undamaged. He grabbed for it, snapped the lock and slowly opened the lid away from any sort of breeze to disturb the contents.
Ashes, simple ashes, which glittered when unveiled to the light; the figure smiled.
****************************************August 3rd, 3570
Elisa had just watched her twin sons obliterated before her eyes.
Young boys, almost men, shredded in a beam of light that left spots in her tear-stained vision. She fell to her knees as a massive figure jumped past her, enough momentum behind the creature to shudder the wind and streak the air around him with a dull heat.
Goliath's warcry echoed amongst the steel corridor, a gut-wrenching howl that overwhelmed her senses and seemed to shake the wall panels against their gamma-welds.
The hooded, cloaked figure, his hands still curling with steam from the energy blast that'd liquefied the Mazas' youngest children, slowly turned towards the woman sobbing and clawing at the black smears in the steel where her sons had been.
His arm rose.
Goliath leapt to place himself between them but, as time seemed to slow, as the hand crackled with energy along every crease in the rough, snakeskin-textured flesh, he was still too far.
She looked up. A three-fingered hand was the last thing she saw, and then, like being hit by lightning, Elisa violently spasmed and broke apart at the molecular level, exploding with a scream.
It all happened so damned fast.
All we heard was our mother's terrified scream, and our father sounding as if he was going to tear the entire complex apart with his bare hands. Something had happened, something horrible, and I remember the look of fear on Libby's face. It mirrored my own.
The sisters had noticed the cries rebounding down the passageway, the semi-circular steel like a tuning fork.
"Trinity, what's going on?!"
Something deep within the recesses of her mind knew the answer before she could make herself fully aware of what she'd sensed. "Mom..." she whispered, starting into a dash. "It's mom."
Goliath's eyes nearly burned through his skull at the scorch mark that was left of his wife. He seemed to double in size as adrenaline stampeded through arteries and pressed them against the skin, muscle and sinew distended and he let go of any conscious thought.
But as much as a massive, thundering, baying, lavender battering ram as he became, flesh was flesh and the wraith opened up a well-placed beam into his chest.
It hit, singed skin and sent Goliath tumbling to the ground.
The cloaked figure stood over the writhing gargoyle, the pain of the wound enough to shock him back into a frothing semi-coherency.
"Listen to me, Goliath." a sibilant, sandpaper tone drifted from the darkness of the hood. "If you ever wish to see your family again, you'll do exactly what I say."
"Can you hear what they're saying?"
Trinity had her fingers through the holes in the grating, straining to see into the distant section of passage where her father had just been toppled by a single strike. They'd hit a grate on a parallel corridor and were forced to watch as Goliath was coerced into a conversation that, by the look on his face, clenched and fangs bared, would end with spilled blood if the stranger didn't have a suitable back-up plan.
"Where're the twerps?" Liberty demanded from behind, her impatience measured by a rapid heartbeat. "Where's mom?"
Trinity pointed to the scorch marks on the floor, and bit her bottom lip. "I think...I think that was them..."
"No...no, no, no..."
"I can't feel her anymore."
"It's not true."
"S-Shut up, Libby."
"...a favor, Goliath...it is all I ask in return..."
"...you kill my wife and sons and ask a favor?!!..."
A few words were being leaked from between the two distant figures, one too far within the shadow from an overhang to recognize. The lighting above had been damaged, and now yielded a flicker at best.
"...kill?...You are mistaken..."
An object was thrown towards Goliath, and it hit the floor in front of him with a solid clang. It glowed, and seemed to disquiet the gargoyle.
"...take this, and go home to New York, the last day of the calendar year thirty five ninety two..."
"I can't hear."
"Shut up! Just shut up for a second!"
Goliath stood and stared at the spangle of something in his hand. "...Desle grate muri tempe et intervalia!..." Upon his call, he was swallowed in fire and quickly vanished. When the light died away, both he and the cloaked figure were gone.
Liberty blinked, leaning on her sister's shoulder. "Was that...?"
"The Phoenix gate, I think." Trinity answered. "But it never required a spell."
"The old one did–"
"Come on. This isn't over." As soon as she turned around a hand shot into view and grabbed her by the neck. Liberty shrieked and Trinity felt fingers press against the sides of her throat, garroting the next breath. "Jesus..." she gasped. "Isis!"
The sorceress was missing half her tawny-streaked skin, smoking, the streams of blood festering and popping as it boiled from an attack that surely should have killed her. "...child..." she wheezed from a flap of skin hanging loose from her throat.
"Isis, what happened?"
"We'll get you to the med-lab."
"...no time..." Isis shook her head. "...take...what is mine...and use it well..."
Trinity had no time to complete the thought as a blood-caked claws rooted deep into her forehead and temples. A spark and a reckless hope later, the floodgates opened with a surge of information delivered in one perfectly painful dose that nearly overloaded the synaptic membrane and blew her brains from the inside out.
She jerked (and would have screamed if her teeth hadn't all but chewed through her tongue) until Isis released, coughed and fell dead to the ground. Trinity staggered back into her sister's arms.
"Trinity?!" Liberty cried out, eyes darting between the dead spellbinder she'd known all her life and her older sister who was bleeding from the ears. "Are you all right?"
There were voices, notes and symbols throwing a tantrum in her head as her mind tried to organize and more importantly cope with the onslaught of information. She shook it off with a golden glimmer to her eyes and a breath that rolled through her fangs like battery acid. "Fine." she hissed, and grabbed Liberty by the arm and ran off.
The door slid away, disappearing into the wall and Trinity stormed in to her parents' room intent for something she'd always been told not to go near.
Her head pounding, she raked away one of the tapestries hanging against a wall meant for decoration and a suffusion of color to the colorless room and found the little compartment door whose seams nearly blended into the steel. Trinity gouged her hand into the metal and tore it from the lock, despite the phantom warning in her father's meaty tone that had worked itself loose from her earliest memories.
"That thing doesn't work!" a voice hollered out from behind. "It hasn't worked for twenty fucking years!"
Trinity grasped to the phoenix emblazoned in gold and red. Her eyes were strangely affixed. "It'll work now, damnit," she hissed, "it will work now!!"
Liberty stalked forwards, intent on grabbing her sister and shaking her to elicit a response if need be. "How do you know that?!" she continued. "Damnit, Trin, mom is dead! Skye, Storm and Isis! Don't you care?!"
She'd felt the warmth flow up her arm and shoot to the very tips of her wings; they extended with a snap as every muscle along the way was hit with a faint electrical charge. The gate had come to life, suddenly, in her palm. "More than you know."
The younger sister had to step lively from the flame that burst from out of nowhere to form a door.
****************************************December 31st, 3592
New York had been a bedtime story.
Trinity could barely remember anything beyond the castle walls and for Liberty, the city her parents spoke so fondly of seemed to live only in their memories and her imagination.
As soon as they stepped out from the gate's portal, the landscape, as ruined, charred and blackened as it may have been, mesmerized them. Stumps of great skyscrapers, giving the impression of misshapen claws with the exposed structural beams, still grabbed for the sky and against the violent, wine haze of a damaged sunset, dotted light from fires and reclaimed electricity strung haphazard through the city burned for miles.
Forgetting (for a moment) the fact her mother and brothers had just met a gruesome cremation, she wandered forward and muttered a "Wow," before the memory came screaming back. "Why are we here?!" she screamed. "Why didn't we go back and stop mom from being killed?!!"
"Because we have to find out what's so important that she, Skye and Storm had to die!" She could see her sister fuming and trying to keep her instincts from taking control, and frankly, she too had been hard of breath and struggling to keep the bloodlust from bubbling to the surface. "We need to understand what this time period or that man has to do with our father before we can change anything. If we don't have an idea of how to stop whoever it was, he could try again and again."
"Or we could reveal ourselves to someone who can obviously pass through time. Did you think about that?"
Trinity rubbed her forehead and winced; Isis' full-loaded transfer was still trying to find room in her head. "With Isis' little gift I had no choice but to consider every possibility in a split second and I'm sure as hell not going to argue the semantics of time travel with you."
"Libby, with this," she raised the phoenix gate for emphasis, "we have all the time in the world."
"If it still works."
"It will." Trinity affirmed.
She huffed, "I hope you're right," crossed her arms around her stomach and took another look around her. "But why would dad come here of all places?"
"Why didn't he kill that bastard?"
Trinity had seemed focused on something behind them, and Liberty turned around only to stare into the foundation of a building that took up an entire city block. A monolith of steel and architecturally essential trusswork worked seamlessly into the exterior design, the straight lines led her eyes upwards along the skeletal remains of a skyscraper for more than fifty stories until it abruptly ended in a diagonally jagged edge. It'd been sheared in half, the top having fallen to earth and taken most of the surrounding neighborhood with it. Craters disfigured the ground, girders were impaled in the road and mixed within the rubble, stone. "It can't be..."
Trinity wandered towards a particularly large slab of limestone, the familiar scent overwhelming. "It's the Eyrie building."
They'd arrived in what used to be Central Park South.
"Is this the castle?" Liberty scurried past and into more of the wreckage that had plunged almost two thousand feet and showered the neighborhood, devastating it. It was like a city in itself, toppled framework and serrated chunks of twisted steel and iron making corridors, caverns and drastically changing the landscape. She could see more pieces of the ancient, imported rock, some of the debris reaching into the darkness of what barely looked like Manhattan streets and the ashes of Central Park. A piece beside her from the western battlements still had its arrow loop, completely intact. "I always dreamed I'd walk on the courtyard again," she mused with a lopsided grin, "sit by the fountain, look off into the night sky on dad's tower..."
Her sister nodded, "We will."
"How many people lived here when it fell?" It was partly rhetorical, knowing there wasn't anyone who could answer. "Were they some of our clan's descendants?"
A hand explored the slim crevice and the mottled texture of the twenty-five hundred year old stone. "Doesn't seem right."
"It stood for thirteen centuries before the machines ruined this Earth, Libby," Trinity whispered, her voice carried over a gentle, brackish wind, "but it was an old war, and we have a new one to fight. We have to go."
Trinity raised her arm to a warm skyline glow of light let fly into the night air like a beacon, the only serious competition to the sunset. "Best place to start."
The boulevard beneath them didn't feel have the consistency of asphalt; it was more like glass. There were no markings on the smashed, black strip, but in this century holographic images were used more often than not and if the power hadn't been severed from the city's main grid during the war with the machines two hundred years ago, perhaps, it would've been easier to discern the road from the rubble.
Trinity and Liberty were running through the streets of the ruined metropolis, guided by the illumination that seemed brighter as they approached.
The city seemed empty, but the evidence of tenancy was too much to ignore as they slipped past partially reconstructed buildings and towards what seemed a small mountain of rising out of the debris, ground zero for the strange light overshadowing anything presently being used.
There was a noise on the other side of the scrap metal hill, like the dull murmur of a river.
"Let's go." Bolting off towards the heap, Trinity led the way climbing up the side and using pieces of machinery and the remnants of building material as hand and footholds to the top, with Liberty close behind.
They hit the peak and an open-air amphitheater rose from the rubble before them, its torriodal shroud nearly three stories high and holding jury-rigged scaffolding with a full array of lights. A few seated dignitaries (as far as they could tell) waited patiently seated behind an empty podium with a compliment of security forces in front.
"What's going on?" Liberty asked.
"A gathering of some sort."
They could see humans and gargoyles of every nationality and breed interspersed in the massive crowd surrounding the stage, English, Asian, and even Scottish stock. A few foreign languages skittered through the blend of voices and several extralocal flags waved over the throng, some unrecognizable.
"I think it's some kind of summit."
Liberty seemed unimpressed; if not for the circumstances that brought her here, she might have cared. "We have to find dad." she insisted nervously. "And find out just what the hell he's doing here."
"Yeah..." Trinity nodded. "Yeah, let's go."
"Wait," Liberty grabbed her sister's arm at the hem of her shirt, "look." Her pointed finger guided her sister's gaze towards a familiar figure lurking in the back row of the auditorium. The cloak was a dead giveaway.
Trinity's eyes burned white. "Sonuvabitch!" she snarled.
They watched helplessly as the shrouded figure stood plainly in sight. He or she seemed tense, the hood revolving back and forth until, as the crowd's attention seemed to wander off to the side, the figure slithered away and out of sight.
A panel crumpled under Trinity's hand. "Where's he going?"
"Looks like a car's coming."
A vehicle of some sort (obviously damaged by the parts it shed) was hurled into the air and towards the oncoming car, bouncing off the hood and jumping the magnetic suspension about a foot off the ground. Another followed, wiping away the rear escorts and setting off the crowd like a string of firecrackers. Some panicked, others ran and howls of dissent ripped through the gathered.
"It's a gargoyle!" someone screamed, as if they could see the attacker.
"No human could do that, it's a gargoyle!"
"This was all a deception! No peace, no unity!!"
The remaining guards leapt to reach whoever was trapped within the vehicle even as objects hurtled towards them from a location beside and behind the auditorium.
But before the crowd could trample themselves in a riot, an explosion several hundred meters away shook the ground, lit up the night sky and seemed to strike the air with as much breakneck intensity as a spark on charcoal dust. Everything went alabaster, like the sun had dropped into the middle of New York.
The frantic screams were drowned out.
Shielding her eyes, hair snatched by the winds and nearly strangling her as the raven threads wrapped around her neck, Liberty reacted, "Fuck! What the hell...?!!"
Trinity though, as entrancing as a massive, swelling, semi-spherical orb of energy was, slowly lowered her eyes to the amulet in her hand. The phoenix gate was resonating against her skin, ready to hop from her palm, and with the recent information upload to her brain an explanation somehow trickled its way to her mouth. "Oh no."
"I can feel it..." she said faintly. "Something's wrong."
The energy orb suddenly pulsed, sending veins of lightning into the air and sending tremors through the ground.
Flashes of nothingness overtook the bedlam.
Faded text appeared in Trinity's mind, the phantom texture of a worn leather spine and old papyrus pages was so palpable across her fingertips she could've sworn she was holding the book in her hand right now. It was a memory of Isis', come back in a moment of perfect timing. "Shit." she muttered. "I know what it is!"
Liberty was backpedaling, instincts screaming to escape. "What is it?!! Damnit, Trin, tell me!!"
"We have to go, now!!"
But before Trinity could ready the phoenix gate, fire streaked her wings and knocked her into her sister. With the force behind the blow, they stumbled across the scrap-made mountain and fell to their knees, Trinity's backside steaming between her wing-arms, a hole scorched in the fabric.
Liberty discovered the same cloaked figure from over her limp sister's shoulder and drooping wing, and the same hand that had scarred her father and presumably killed her mother protruding from one of the sleeves. Each of the bony fingers held a tongue of smoke from the tip of the claw.
"You meddling, bastard half-bloods!" it screamed, proving itself male by the low tone and somewhere deep within the hood a pair of focused embers sparked in the shape of eyes. "You've ruined everything!! I'll have to start all over if time itself doesn't implode!"
"You killed our mother!"
It moved forwards and the lack of sound of any sort of footfall was disconcerting; it, or he at best guess, seemed to glide, dragging the threadbare hem of the cloak along the ground. The hand extended, the index finger gesturing to and fro into its palm. "Give me the gate."
"We've..." Trinity struggled to speak. "We've gotta go...now."
"Give me the gate, or we all could perish."
Trinity rolled off of her sister and was helped to her feet. "Fuck you."
The energy expenditure started snapping, biting, howling, igniting the winds into an ascending column and then, it burst, and a giant wave spread through New York. As it made contact with any sort of matter or organic material, the very fabric of reality seemed to warp for a moment and return to near normal.
One of the few streetlights still standing was displaced with a scarred and battered pole hunched towards the road, like it'd been that way for two hundred years.
"Shit," Liberty breathed, "did you see that?"
"It's changing things..."
The cloaked figure seemed distracted as he turned to look, giving the Mazas the time they needed.
"Move!" Trinity pushed her sister through the opened portal and, before the approaching wrinkle grew near enough to transform them to its whim, the gate sealed the end.
Like the first ripple in a pond, the wave expanded in every direction, a perfectly concentric ring tearing asunder all it touched.
It was nearly exquisite if not terrifying in the instant rearrangement of everything down to the molecular level, subtle or destructive, even fatal. Like a curtain of snow and then summer right on its tail, it was a hiccup in time that took a split second to do its work and move on, uprooting every decision made by every sentient and non-sentient being and supplanting a few with the alternative before laying them back into place.
Slowly, it made its way into the past following the Maza sisters.
I'm running on adrenaline, and I have a headache that's far worse than I care to admit.
My mother...my twin brothers...it's hard to even think about it, so I push all the pain to the back of my mind to concentrate on what must be done.
Like mom said, grieve later, deal now.
That thing...that explosion and the ensuing wave, I know what it is thanks to a goddamned encyclopedia of magical and paranormal particulars shoved into my head. It's a backlash of energy tearing apart the very framework that time and space have been built upon. The wave is growing in intensity, continuing in all directions including the past, and gaining strength as it goes.
It's only a matter of time before we're wiped away under its foot unless we can somehow stop it.
Libby and I, we're walking through a sentient ring of fire, heading back years into the past to save everything before it may or may not be completely obliterated.
Year and Location Unknown...
"Come on, Libby, we have to keep moving."
"Just give me a moment...to catch my breath..."
"No, damn it sis, get your ass in gear. If that bastard has the ability to move through time, he could be following us."
An arm reached into the younger woman's field of view, and there, like faint ribbons, like someone had drawn in a red marker across her forearm, neatly scored lines marred the slim appendage. "It all seems so pointless now..."
"Saving mom's life and trying to prevent the timeline from unzipping isn't pointless."
She looked up and saw her mother's reproachful stare dancing in seal brown irises, and the memory stung; she looked so much like Elisa it unnerved her. Tears pricked her eyes. "What's happening?"
"I think I know what that explosion was."
Nimble half-human claws traced the points where the sorceress had clenched, each marked by a thin trickle of blood long dried. "Because Isis knew, and let me tell you, she'd read up on her mystical phenomena."
Liberty could see the pain clearly drawn in every line on her sister's forehead. "Neat trick."
"We have to go," she reiterated, white-eyed, "now."
"All right," she muttered and grabbed the offered hand, "no rest for the wicked." Standing up, the quicksilver thought of how she'd always been a few inches shy of her older sister's impressive height raced through her mind before the contrary glint of something in the copper-hued woman's hand caught her eye. Her sister took off running, through the trees of a forest that stretched beyond the range of her finely tuned vision, impressively athletic and enviously untiring even with the wound on her upper back. "So where are we going, Trin?!" she called after her, forced into a sprint to catch up.
"To where it all began, Libby." Though cryptic, it was an answer borne from the lack of time for explanation or civility.
"How many timelines are we going to jump through?!"
"As many as I deem enough. I don't want to draw a straight line to them and if that bastard does decide to come after us, at least we can slow him down."
"And that wave? What does Isis' knowledge tell you about that?"
Trinity reaffirmed her fears with the shiver of the gate in her hand. "It's heading into the past." She never broke pace even over the rough terrain, wings low and streamlined and swiping branches from her path. "When it catches up to us we either remained unchanged, forget absolutely everything or become randomly floating atoms."
"Not much of a choice..."
The frontrunner handled the amulet she'd kept clenched in her hand and jabbed a few talons to the backside. "Next Stop, New Cairo."
The air a few meters in front of them split and dry-heaved a few flames that kindled into more and ate at the available oxygen to expand. Another portal wound into a circular pattern and opened a door. The two gargoyles jumped through one after another and it closed succinctly behind them with a rush of air to fill the vacuum.
****************************************May 5th, 3547
Elisa Maza was a motionless lump under the covers.
Morning sickness had an unfortunate stigma of occurring anytime it pleased in a pregnancy where potent gargoyle DNA played within the genetic stew of human. With the former's predilection for nocturnal activity and the latter usually hitting as soon as the sun hit the horizon, it was a twenty-four hour crapshoot.
But tonight at least, she'd made it through the night, enfolded in the sheets of her bed and a woven-fiber material she thought was a welcome blend between cotton and satin.
Her eyes fluttered, and something on the edge of her awareness was breathing on her.
Elisa opened her eyes, but strained to get them more than halfway with her quarters' interior lighting having, inexplicably, come on at full intensity. She drew back, groaned. A mirror image fell into view, a little sharp in ear and tooth; of course, it'd have to be the child with the worst timing ever to have trod the Earth. "...mmmmm...Trinity...?"
Standing at her mother's bedside, Trinity looked into the notch of blankets where the crescent sliver of a face peeked out. "Hi, mommy."
Elisa blinked, slowly pulled back her covers, and blinked again. "What is it, baby?"
A blunted talon ran the length of her bottom lip. "I haffa go potty." she whispered, and her tail urgently thumped the ground.
She coaxed a grin, and laughed to herself. "All right, all right..." Elisa swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, reaching for her daughter's hand as she was led towards the bathroom.
With a noticeable and often claustrophobic lack of windows in the steel-lined, tapestry-draped room (or jail-cell as she'd often described it), the only indication it wasn't yet night was Goliath's stone form hunched near the other side of the bed. As Elisa walked past she traced a few fingers across his marbleized features, rigid and pockmarked, and, if she had even turned her eyes to look, hardly concealing.
I know the pain my father lived with.
I know it from the expression that looked down on me, and proved with every crease he was burying that agony beneath a pretense he thought could fool a little girl who could feel everything he did. I saw it, I felt it, and as he lived and aged I watched it evolve into a companion that hung on him like a shadow.
But he stayed silent, he sucked in the pain and buried it to raise us as best he could as, at least what he thought himself, half a man and less than a gargoyle.
Goliath woke, and exploded.
With a roar that strummed a bottomless, resounding arpeggio off the steel walls, he shot into consciousness with a white-eyed snarl. Every muscle flexed in unison, throwing the shards off of his body as he expanded to the limits of his own skin.
The world before him dissolved into color and form, and he angled his shoulders and stood in an odd stance.
He was still unused to the lack of weight on his back, and he rubbed a hand across his right shoulder to knead his talons into knotted flesh and soothe the omnipresent ache even this century's vaunted medicines couldn't quite cure.
Jacosta had claimed it was a phantom sensation created by his mind and the inability to come to terms with his mutilation, but he knew different. It was the dull pain of muscles trying to manipulate missing appendages and that couldn't quite get used to their diminished function. He let slip a growl through the line of his mouth, smoothed his mane and combed his talons through the remove the stray pieces of stone shell.
Goliath turned in time to have something glom onto his leg.
A copper blur having shot from the bathroom, Trinity could only make it as high as his upper thigh even using her wings as lift. Clenched around the tree trunk of a limb, she looked up only to have her father peer down from over the mantle of pectoral. There, just barely, a smile cracked the moody veneer set in stone even after he'd shed his daytime casing.
"Hello, my daughter."
Great arms reached around her and hoisted her up, and it was the closest she'd come to flying.
She giggled. "I go'd potty by m'self, daddy."
"Well," he smiled, "I'm very proud of you."
His praise had sent a flutter through her wings, and she leaned in to caress her cheek against his and butt their brow ridges together. Her gargoyle instincts prevailing without a second thought to why, his scent and the feel of his skin provided a connection the small girl needed to know was there.
"You are growing so quickly." Goliath rumbled. "Soon you'll be flying."
Her eyes lit up, nearly phosphorescing in her excitement. "Yah?"
"Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves." a voice called out.
The ephemeral hint of a perfume worn into the sheets over the day had wafted against heightened senses before she'd even stepped from the bathroom. "Elisa." he breathed softly, staring into and admiring what his wife would deem an early-morning disaster victim.
Hair disheveled, nightgown slung low off one shoulder, undeniably and unintentionally sultry she seemed to glide towards him and then, yawned, and reclined against his arm. "Good evening, Big Guy."
"Sleep well?" he kidded.
"Actually yes." Something licked the chocolate of her eyes, like a spark. "Now, about this whole flying thing..."
"I wan' fly."
"Elisa," Goliath maintained, even above the squirming, unheeded protests of the child in his arms, "hatchlings must learn early."
"She's not even two years old yet." she argued back.
"I wan' fly."
A low-toned reverberation rose from his chest, "She is developing faster than a human child and needs to build strength in her wings."
"Goliath, look at them," Elisa grabbed hold of one of her daughter's wings, massaging the membrane between her fingers as an aficionado would handle fine silk, "they're growing faster than she is and she's growing like a weed."
"I wan' fly!"
A heavy gaze glowed at the edges. "It's not the same."
A hand waved. "Goliath–"
"I wan' fly!"
Trinity's outburst had put a halt to the argument that seemed playful, but between two respective, strong-willed parents it had a more serious connotation. Elisa reached into her daughter's hair. "Yeah, you do, don't you?" she resigned. "God, throwing my firstborn to the mercy of the winds wasn't something I was prepared for when that stick turned pink."
"Among other things."
"Right." Elisa soberly affirmed her husband's observation, no matter how glib. "Why don't you two go get some breakfast? I'll join you after a long, hot-water-hogging shower."
"I was thinking..."
"Mm-hm." she replied with a mouthful of fruit salad.
"Well, clearly..." Goliath continued, his backside rippling, the scars a shade darker than the surrounding lavender moving in tandem with the musculature. "As I am no longer able to glide, we'll need someone to teach Trinity."
Elisa inwardly sighed; she was glad he'd broached the subject first, as trying to work conversationally around his disfigurement was growing increasingly difficult. "Plenty of gargoyles around. Jacosta could help."
"What about Isis?"
She nearly dropped the piece of honey-buttered toast and looked at her husband from across the table. Even the background drone of the other diners surrounding them seemed to die away. "Are you serious?"
Eyes that dark and static didn't lie, nor did they waver in the least.
"God, you are serious." she remarked, returning to her breakfast. "Isis doesn't seem the–ah, what's the word–sociable type. Nor do I think she has the patience to teach a toddler to glide."
"I suppose," Goliath shrugged his massive shoulders, "I just..."
"Have the hots for her?"
"Dragon forbid I'd leave my pregnant wife for another, presumably younger mate."
"Watch that silver tongue of yours, Big Guy," she smiled, all tan and spitfire and sucking in a wedge of strawberry with an audible pop, "I'm liable to rip it out in one of my pregnancy-induced hormonal outbursts."
"Of course." he offered in mock apology. Falling back into their effortless banter seemed almost therapeutic; it'd been a while since the rough patch in their relationship had run its course towards the inevitable realization they loved each other far too stubbornly to let it go down in proverbial flames.
He took a moment to watch as Elisa finished off her fruit salad, the demands of a half gargoyle pregnancy beginning to show in her eating habits. Freshly reproduced through a machine where a sophisticated computer program assembled every bit and piece from bulk organic matter, it was enough to fool the human palate.
New Cairo as a self-sustained city had its share of hydroponics bays and entire fields of staple grains, but the food dispensers remained the favorite to produce an entire menu limited only by the citizenry's ethnic backgrounds and the technicians' abilities to recreate their specific tastes. In the complex's massive dining hall with high, inward arched walls and a holographic image of a sunny, cloud-dabbed sky projected across the entire ceiling, Goliath and Elisa sat across from each other eating their breakfast, the detective unable to discern her artificial fruit from freshly picked produce.
Trinity had finished quickly and, with permission, ran off to the playroom.
"Well?" Elisa urged him on, and the explanation she knew would be a doozy.
He sighed and waved off the idea, "Perhaps you're right."
"There is something about her, isn't there?"
Goliath pushed his plate away and leaned forward on the table, resting on his elbows and lacing his fingers. His jaw ground in reflection. "Something I cannot put my finger on, something...familiar." he answered abstractedly, staring out into the crowd. "She's reserved, almost fanatically guarded about her past. All we know is that she's from the twenty-first century and I just...want to know more. Seeing her in a position other than scowling or brooding may offer something more."
"Says the man who invented both."
Double-horned ridges clenched together, and Elisa hid a smile of contrition.
"Well, with that damned gate having conveniently sputtered out, we might have a long time to get to know her better, let alone teaching Trinity to glide." she groused, piling her empty dishes atop each other.
Goliath's answer was a forceful grunt in the affirmative.
Upon arriving in the future (and coming to life for one brief moment in Isis' hands just after she had revealed a presence inside), the phoenix gate had dimmed and died and condemned itself to life as a paperweight. Even New Cairo's leading scientists couldn't get it to power up, and with the volatile fusion of technology and sorcery that only Demona understood, it was pointless for them to try.
"There's got to be a class for gliding around here with such a huge gargoyle population." she continued. "We should speak with Zion."
"Then you should mention his machines are not able to deceive my senses and appreciation for real food." A tray slammed to the table in the empty spot aside Goliath and dark curves slithered into the seat. The figure could be easily mistaken for a shadow if not for the wild bands of gold crossing her skin, and giving dimension to the feminine shape in a nearly symmetrical, jungle-cat pattern. "This generated meat tangs of machinery."
"Isis, so glad you could join us." Elisa welcomed her with ice on her breath.
The Egyptian flicked her eyes from her meal towards the human. "You should be flattered I chose you out of everyone here."
"We annoy you the least?"
"If you don't like it here," Elisa suggested as gently as she could manage, the tone dripping with cynicism, "then go home."
"As I've already told you, the spell I used to get here was last minute desperation. Even if I could remember the entire incantation, which mind you consisted of three entire pages of ancient hieroglyphics, I wouldn't have the slightest clue in how to navigate back to the present. I am stuck here," a smile unsettlingly emerged from the absolute dark of her skin, "along with you. Oh, and by the way," she directed the last comment to the leviathan beside her, "I am not teaching your child."
"Good ears." Elisa switched to her husband. "Well, that settles that argument."
Goliath slowly turned from the waist up and glowered down on the sorceress as she poked at her dish. "Any particular reason as to why?"
Isis examined a slice of meat speared on her forefinger talon, sniffed it, and tested it across her lips with a flash of canine and a disapproving sneer. "I am not a teacher," she swallowed and replied, "nor do I have the tolerance for an excitable, impulsive child."
The table trembled, glasses, dinnerware, anything not secured to the surface rattled under the tremor emanating from Goliath's chest.
"We'll talk to Zion." Elisa quickly calmed him.
The braided-haired sorceress raised her head to either further defend her decision or voice another complaint about her food when a peculiar sensation robbed her of any coherent thought, beyond what she could feel through the gossamer skin of her wings.
Across from her, Elisa suddenly flickered for lack of a better description. She and Goliath both faded into transparency before returning to their solid selves in less time it took to blink. No one around them seemed to notice.
Elisa rested a hand across her stomach. "Did I just flicker?"
Isis appeared noticeably concerned if not intrigued, all thoughts of a warm meal abandoned for the moment. "Yes," she rubbed her chin, "you did."
The two hybrids fell from the gate's threshold to the steel plating, each with a wary look around them. Fortunately the corridor they chose to arrive in was empty.
"We made it..." Trinity breathed.
Elisa's features on Goliath's distinctive pigment, a touch of rebellion tempered by a regal bloodline, Liberty snapped her head around in an effort to soak in her surroundings. "What year?"
"Thirty five forty seven. A month after we first arrived."
Liberty was clearly apprehensive, and not from the rebound through seven different centuries. As it was, they'd ran through feudal Japan, eighteenth century Spain, and, judging by the saber-toothed tiger, the Pleistocene Period; but still, it wasn't that.
"Don't worry." her older sister reassured her.
"At this point in time, he's none too pleased I'm on the way."
"He'll get over it. As soon as he holds you in his hands."
"I just..." The adrenaline was wearing off, and she was no longer completely numb to the pain and all the frustrating minutia of time travel. "Trin, I'm scared to see him like this."
Trinity turned around and brushed her long strands from eyes on the verge of glowing white-hot. "Just..." she snarled, and realizing the full-throated pitch her voice had taken, paused, swallowed and reiterated without the animal undertone. "Just put it out of your mind. We have more important things to do, and we're on a deadline."
"Please don't say dead."
Putting on a brave face is harder than I thought, no matter how I might preach to my little sister. Mom and dad had it down to a science that I can't quite duplicate. No matter how hard I try, I know my own emotions are showing through.
But I can't help it.
How can anyone function under this kind of stress? Grieve later, grieve later, it's hard to push everything down into the pit of your stomach when you feel as if your entire world has ripped from under you. The only reason I've been able to keep it all together is Liberty, and the promise that this little damned amulet can put everything back the way it should be.
God, my head hurts...
"You mean this has happened before?"
"Us blinking out of existence? Yeah, but we never quite figured out the actual cause."
Isis' features further caved in on themselves; she'd sensed unrefined sorcery and a disruption in the natural flow of time and the parallel to the surface of a lake and a hurled stone came quickly to mind. Someone had done something very stupid.
She was leading Goliath and Elisa down the corridor, intent on the infirmary and a better set of diagnostic tools. Though mixing technology and the mystic seldom proved successful, without her collection of books or any of her equipment (all, unfortunately, left back in the twenty-first century) it was all she had to better understand what her senses were trying to tell her.
"We never knew the extent of the damage," Goliath rumbled, with Trinity perched up near his shoulder, "we had...other concerns."
Elisa rubbed a hand to his arm as she kept stride beside him; if his injuries, removal from his position, losing his clever sister and being stranded in the thirty-sixth century weren't enough, the loss of Angela had nearly devastated him, resulting in the typical stages of death: denial, anger, acceptance, and for Goliath, a silent, determinedly private bereavement at best, something she thought he'd never recover from.
"Perhaps it still lingers." he finished at length.
"No," Isis contested, "I believe this is new."
"Very." She held a hand out, as if testing some unknown substance between her talons. "There is...something in the air. A tremor through the walls. It is a precursor to an arrival."
"Of what?" Elisa couldn't help but ask.
Eyes over her shoulder, Isis continued to the end of the hall and a junction linking several corridors together. "I don't know," she said, unaware of the oncoming traffic, "yet."
She turned back, and saw herself reflected in a pair of dark chocolate eyes. They were close enough to bump their ridges before each of them reared back to prevent a collision.
Trinity stopped short with a squeal from her footwear, quickly pulling back against a momentum enough to flip her hair forwards and graze it across the sorceress' face. "Isis...!"
"What...?" Isis stammered, her restive glare narrowed on what seemed a gargoyle version of Elisa. "...are you?"
"This is odd."
"You have no idea." the carbon copy replied, tucking a few loose strands behind her ear as her mother did so often.
"Oh good god," as soon as Elisa saw the twenty-something wearing her face as comfortably as the long-sleeved mid-riff and block heeled boots, she'd muttered, "not again."
Isis turned around. "Again?"
"Mom..." Trinity, the older Trinity, sighed.
Liberty, coming up from behind, traversed Goliath's massive frame from head to clawed foot and thought him striking even without the silver in his mane. There was a hard glimmer in his eyes, something like suspicion and a conflicting sanguinity. "You recognize us?"
"We recognize Trinity. This is the second time our daughter has used something inherently destructive for her own means." He returned the explorative gaze to the lavender-colored woman, noticeably a few years younger than the other. "But we don't know you..."
She dropped her eyes towards her mother's stomach; the eerie realization that she was, as of right now, an inch long and clinging for life to an endometrial layer registered only briefly before she answered. "You will in about seven and a half months."
A hand flew to her abdomen, Elisa reflexively rubbing circles in the fabric. "Oh...wow, are you...Liberty?"
"How'd you know?"
"Trinity told us."
The elder Maza sister expressed surprise through lowered brows. "I did?"
"Another Trinity." Elisa explained with a quick shake of her head. "Another future Trinity."
"One from a different timeline...you never told us."
"We didn't want you to get any ideas."
Goliath raised his chin, the sensation of tiny hands clenching into his skin as his daughter shifted. "Why are you here?"
The sisters exchanged an ambiguous look.
"It all starts in twenty-three years when Elisa and our brothers are...killed."
Trinity freed a breath through her nose; her throat was dry, her head pounding. "We don't know."
"Brothers?" Elisa couldn't help but react in interest.
"Twins." she answered. "Skye and Storm. They probably died trying to defend you."
Liberty grumbled under her breath, made a face and looked away to hide wet eyes, "Idiots were always too headstrong..."
"Damn..." Elisa moved a hand across her mouth, and refused the urge to cry for children that didn't yet exist. "You were there?"
"No," Trinity said quietly, explaining as best she could without breaking into tears or an exhausted rant, "we arrived just in time to see Goliath–our Goliath attacked with an energy blast and...three scorch marks. But from his reaction, it wasn't hard to guess what had happened." Another sharp pain hit just behind her ridges, and she rubbed her forehead. "We couldn't see who did it, he was wearing a cloak and tucked conveniently into the recesses of the corridor. But we heard him, speaking to you, daddy."
Goliath reacted now, far more noticeably as he uncrossed his massive arms and opened his gaze. "And what did he say?"
"We couldn't make most of it out, just fragments, and most importantly a year. Thirty five ninety two, and thus, we went."
"You traveled into the future?"
Trinity nodded; under her father's steely glare, even as an adult she shrunk away and nearly had to turn her head in abject remorse.
"That was incredibly dangerous," he rumbled, indicating the phoenix gate his daughter had clutched between her fingers, "especially with that thing."
"We needed to know what happened."
A sound echoed from Goliath's chest like he'd spit flame, and he harrumphed with the slightest hint of a resigned smile, "You are your mother's daughters."
"But something's happened," Trinity cut in, "something far worse. There was...an explosion close to us, something so powerful it was warping reality. We never saw the cause, but it's traveling into the past and, judging by the fact you said you blinked out for a second, could have destabilized the entire timeline."
"A paradox." Isis concluded. She'd hung near the back of the infirmary, listening intently until something worth her attention had lured her into the conversation.
Trinity flicked a russet eye from the corner of her brow, subtle in its undeniably human quality even with the two bony spikes. "Its speed is growing exponentially. It's slow now but it'll eventually reach this time and continue, faster and faster, until it inevitably hits the twenty-first century."
If Goliath still had wings, they would've unfurled with a snap. "The clan..."
"The clan could be either unaffected or completely wiped out, depending."
"A flip of the coin." she shrugged, apologetic in the fact she had nothing more to offer.
His frown deepened. "That's not very reassuring."
"The wave is fraying causality as it goes, we saw it happen, and they're just another possible casualty among a quadrillion. It could unravel everything or completely change it all. But it's not just the clan at risk, it's everything."
"Because the farther it travels towards the absolute beginning, the greater the damage it'll do." Isis added to her own impressive wisdom spoken in another's voice, and seemed to grin though the dark skin nearly hid the gesture. "How sublimely destructive."
"Imagine the most historically important decisions uprooted and replaced with any number of alternatives. Wars being lost, innovations in technology and medicine going undiscovered, hell, imagine the first pool of life billions of years ago, if the amino acid chains didn't take..."
Goliath grumbled something under his breath.
"How can you track this thing?" Elisa asked.
"Yeah," Liberty echoed, "how are you tracking this thing?"
Isis stepped forwards, eying the amulet the elder Maza was intent to keep to herself. "The gate."
Trinity looked to her hand and realized by the white knuckles on copper skin how hard she had clenched around the gate. She held it up and slowly turned her hand to allow the talisman exposure to the light. As it rotated into view, a thin gleam crossed its bird-styled surface with an almost audible whistle. "It's resonating." she said. "As the wave gets closer, the gate reacts and the patterns change with its proximity."
Elisa sighed, and she was as hard-pressed to take in all the information as her daughter was just hours, from Trinity's perspective, from now. "How–" she stopped and rethought her statement, and then continued. "How do you know all of this?"
Trinity winced and held her face in her hand, gritting through the pain that ripped through her skull. "Just trust in the fact I do."
Instinctually playing into their roles of the doting parents, Goliath and Elisa had herded the future versions of their children into the infirmary under the care of a surprised, and pleasantly intrigued, Jacosta and her staff.
"Wow," she'd remarked, "I've never had so much excitement since your family arrived, Goliath."
Trinity had suffered second-degree burns on her back that'd gone unrevealed until Goliath, scenting the burned flesh, pressed his oldest daughter into revealing just how bad her injuries were. She'd refused and he bore down, winning out only because of the pain both physically and emotionally wearing her defenses.
Now he watched her from across the examination room, studying every movement no matter how slight or deceptively natural. Jacosta had salved the gashes on her forearm then applied a nanite-infused platelet gel to the blistered patch between her wings, and could literally watch as the skin knitted itself back together.
Trinity knew she was under the scrutiny of her father, and every so often returned the glare.
He couldn't understand why he didn't welcome so easily this version of his daughter as he did the other one who'd stood over his newborn's crib almost two years ago. He thought, he feared he'd become so disenchanted by his recent experiences most notably his mutilation, he was unable to fully trust anymore.
But, reciprocating the same stare Goliath had fallen over his oldest daughter, Liberty was behind him, watching him.
He happened to turn in her direction and as soon as they made eye contact, she swung away and tried to appear absorbed in the liquid metal patch on her arm, where, underneath, the few cuts and scrapes she'd received were slowly healing. He slowly made his way towards her and stood quietly, waiting for Liberty to lift her head.
"Are you all right?" he inquired softly.
A small voice found its way from the wild, black tangle of hair flecked with violet hair dye, "Fine...considering..."
"Your sister seems...well-informed." Goliath remarked. "To the point of implausibility."
"I was a little surprised myself at how she was able to explain everything so perfectly." Liberty replied. "But all that knowledge was forced on her by a dying Isis. She was imbued with an entire lifetime of information that's crammed her brain to the bursting point."
Isis stepped into view, a small, metallic pad in her hand. "I died?"
"Is Trinity correct?" Goliath directed towards Isis.
"Unfortunately, I believe she is." A few deliberate finger taps to the pad (a handheld computer, directly linked to the New Cairo's archives) and several holographic screens opened up from out of the air; a full breadth of text ran the length of each floating, disembodied display. Isis ran a talon's edge lightly across the content, highlighting a particular section of the document with just a touch. "It's similar to a kind of temporal instability, or time asymmetry. The Wheeler-Feynman theory states that with any kind of energy output, two kinds of waves radiate outward, advanced waves and retarded waves."
Goliath rubbed his jaw, his heavy glare chasing the lines of faintly translucent text. "Yes, I've read about it. Retarded waves are supposed to travel into the past."
"Causal chaos is usually avoided by appealing to cosmology, and the fact a lot of human scientists don't like to believe more exists outside of their limited range of perception than they could prove or disprove. But if this explosion was powerful enough, unique enough in its property–"
"Magic usually is." Goliath muttered.
"–it could very well be sending a wave into the past with enough power to radically change events."
Liberty rolled her eyes; as well read as her father was in every incarnation, Isis was as pedantic as ever. "Oh, well this makes it all much clearer..."
Isis pursed her bottom lip, forcing her mouth up and into a sneer. "I'm just trying to apply practical science to this problem, child, to see it–"
"From all angles." Liberty finished with a smirk that, though harmless, seemed to visibly irritate the riotous-browed sorceress.
Goliath too, enjoyed seeing her rattled.
"A big boom that's supposed to unravel everything doesn't quite help." Isis retaliated. She leaned forward to test the courage of this child that seemed far too comfortably acquainted with her, but there was the undaunted bearing of a Maza within the depths of her eyes. "If I could only understand what caused it..."
"We just saw the explosion, that's all."
"With that much destructive energy introduced into the timestream, it'd have to be something," her eyes wandered off, towards Trinity and the phoenix gate resting on the examination table beside her, face up and glinting under the light, "incredibly potent."
Goliath tilted towards his daughter and whispered, "You seem to know her well."
"Aunty Isis, yes, very well."
He quickly drew back, wondering which emotion, of surprise and enjoyment, should come before the other. "Aunty?"
If Isis had heard her, she'd refused the impulse to react in her own distinct form. "If you'll excuse me."
Goliath watched her tramp off. "Will she be like this twenty years from now?"
"She has her good days." Liberty replied cryptically, strength creeping back into her tone. "And her bad."
"Is our relationship this...awkward? You seem anxious around me."
Liberty shrugged, her wings moving with the gesture and for a moment, seeing the limbs identical in shape and hue to the ones he'd lost, Goliath was envious. "I just know at this point in your life, you don't really want me–"
"That is untrue." he interrupted, and placed a large hand to her shoulder. "I am...afraid, yes, to raise another child in a world of such danger, and death, and I vehemently opposed your mother in her desire. But...knowing I'll be able to hold another child in my arms once more, and seeing how she'll grow up, well..." he paused, "well perhaps I'm not as afraid as I used to be."
She moved her head slightly to get a look at the talons swallowing her entire left shoulder and part of her upper bicep. He seemed so immense when she was young and still, his size, the steel-rending power in every tiny tendon flexing beneath the flesh in that hand, awed her.
Seeing how the young woman was disinclined to respond, Goliath removed his hand.
But dangling just within her reach, Liberty quickly grabbed for it and held the massive paw between her own. She seemed to marvel at the warmth before curling in towards the appendage.
Goliath could feel the wet of tears on his skin and the shiver running her through. He just squeezed.
I am one of only two surviving human/gargoyle crossbreeds, one of only two of an entire hybridized species that was fated to flourish as nature intended, as such stringent rules folded in on themselves and gave two wildly different, turbulent, warring races the chance to procreate.
Gave two deserving lovers the chance at happiness.
My mother never expected to have children, she'd written us off as a fantasy, a dream, a small hope in the back of her heart. And I never expected a hard-boiled, sometimes cynical former detective to be the mother that she was, honest, fair, caring, and capable of so much love.
Seeing her here, now, alive and well and pregnant, it's hard to swallow the fact I just saw her die.
Eagle eyes on her doppelganger, Elisa observed Jacosta tending to her daughter's wounds with the meticulousness she'd bestowed to every crime scene she'd come across in her career. She'd noticed mostly how a young woman carried such an old air; she hadn't even reached thirty and it looked as if she'd already lived a lifetime.
Jacosta finished with Trinity's injuries, whispered something to the half-gargoyle that earned a partial smile and walked towards Elisa, who was leaning against a counter on the far side of the infirmary.
As the doctor replaced her tools to the tray, she whispered, "I've compared their DNA as you asked, Elisa, they are your daughters."
The olive-hued gargoyle turned her head. "Don't trust your own flesh and blood?"
"I've seen too much lately to trust in anything until it's proven." Elisa said firmly. "She keeps rubbing her head...is there anything seriously wrong with her?"
"She's suffering from a headache, but..." Jacosta moved a monitor attached to a double-jointed swing arm towards them and plugged a small medical device into a perfectly sized niche on the side. The monitor powered up and displayed what Elisa deemed the thirty-sixth century version of a CAT scan; a sliver of Trinity's brain. "See these regions here," Jacosta's talontip moved to a section lit up by a brightly colored mass of red, "the anterior portion of the cerebral cortex where memory functions are, well her frontal lobes have nearly quadrupled in activity and electrical impulses. Her neurons are on fire."
"Whatever was dumped into her head, it's nearly filled it to capacity. She's lucky she hasn't had a seizure or a stroke."
Elisa grimaced; she was impressed with how Trinity had gritted through the pain, but still, having the front portion of one's brain feel as if it was going to burst from the cranial plate and nonetheless continue in her obligation was more than remarkable.
"Are you going to talk with her?"
"I suppose I should."
She'd noticed the human's hesitation. Jacosta's lips curled up. "Scared?"
"The first future incarnation of Trinity we met told us of a wonderful, hopeful prospect. This one, however..."
"Is a reminder of how much you could lose."
Elisa was never more aware of the child she was carrying until now, as it seemed to weigh on her like a fifty-pound lead weight strapped around her gradually expanding waist. "Our future once looked so bright. Now I'm living by an hourglass that ends twenty-three years from now." She swallowed the ever-present anxiety and made her way slowly but deliberately towards her daughter reclining on the examination table.
Trinity's eyes opened and she moved her head from her folded arms.
Elisa cleared her throat, "How are you feeling?"
It was weird, seeing her twenty-three years before she was reduced to a wisp of flesh-tinged smoke. She pushed herself from the padded surface and sat up, looking at her mother. "My wings..." Trinity flapped the tawny sails and, with great effort, they lazily obeyed. "They're a little numb."
"Jacosta said it'd wear off as soon as the nanites do their job."
"So," settling into a more comfortable position, the young woman started off with what could be easily confused as resentment, "you don't completely trust me."
Elisa had heard her voice, her tone, and was not as surprised it'd come from someone else as the passion with which it'd been wielded. "Damn, you do have Goliath's hearing."
"I have his hearing, his eyesight, his stubbornness and," she wore a playful smirk, "your looks, your determination and your temper."
"Sounds about right. I can already see those qualities emerging in Trinity...er, my Trinity."
"Speaking of which–"
"Nursery." Elisa finished. "And suitably distracted. I thought it best not to confuse her."
Trinity nodded and fought back a smile. "Or let her get any ideas, yes, you've said so already." A hand rose and clutched between her fingers, the red and peripheral gold of the phoenix gate loomed into view. "You do realize, that I do get such an idea."
Elisa couldn't help but be drawn into the mythical motif of the gate that seemed to look back at her and touch something in her soul with a cold hand. "That doesn't happen to be the same worthless trinket that currently resides in our room's wall safe, is it?"
"One and the same."
"I hate that thing." she hissed. "First it drops us here and then it decides to take a nap, effectively stranding us in the thirty-sixth century. How did you make it work?"
Trinity palmed the gate and looked at it. "It was dormant for twenty years, useless, dead, until...I needed it. I really don't know what happened..."
"So you're saying we'll be trapped here for the rest of our lives?"
"Maybe, maybe not." she shrugged. "We're your 'what-ifs'. A peak into what could be, but not necessarily what will be."
"Great. Just fuc–" Elisa stopped herself from swearing in front of her daughter, still in the habit of thinking of her as a toddler. "Just great."
"We'll have full lives," Trinity tried to ease what she could feel seeping from her mother, "rich lives."
It worked; Elisa was mollified, at least, for the time being. "Well, at least it's nice to know that somewhere in the universe, I've raised my girls to be strong, independent women."
"Multiverse, mom." Trinity innocently corrected.
"The universe isn't confined to just one timeline. There's an infinite number all laid into place alongside each other. If you're able to get the gate working, it'll not only take you through different periods of time, but different universes as well."
Thin creases speared through the smooth plane of Elisa's forehead. "So even if we get the gate working, even of we make it back to the twenty-first century, we could end up in a timeline that's not our own?"
She sighed, "That's...that's an understatement."
There was a chuckle shared between them both, but it quickly diminished into the inevitable awkward pause.
In an unexpected, emotion-fueled gesture, Trinity suddenly reached out to her mother's face.
Elisa's first reaction, oddly, was to pull back, but she let the slim hand invade the few hairs slung around the sharp curve of her cheek. She knew her Trinity would often do this, play with the long strands and even help her brush the knots out after a shower. But this Trinity, she seemed rapt by the simple texture, of just being able to hold something of her mother in her hands.
The young woman seemed to choke on her breath, then the next. "I can't believe you're dead..." she managed, before her voice was stifled.
Elisa opened her arms as Trinity fell forwards and against her chest. She enshrouded the woman in her arms as Goliath would her so often in his wings, and allowed the gentle sobs to free themselves from the armor Trinity had worn throughout her ordeal. "It's all right, baby, it's okay." Elisa whispered, stroking her daughter's hair. "I'm not dead yet. Your daddy's going to make sure of that."
"Let me guess. You don't want me to go."
"I could argue."
"You could, but it would get us nowhere."
The shadows of the room hung on their oil-painting features, as did the ominous mood between them both.
Elisa, with a fluid sweeping gesture, moved the curtain of black mane from her eyes and looked up at Goliath. He was sitting across from her, lavender skin turned several shades of ebony, his great form even greater as no distinct lines could discern where he ended and the shadows began. His brows obscured his own eyes, all except a reflective glint. "I'm supposed to send my daughters into a potentially lethal situation, not to mention my husband, and be completely fine with it."
"Yes." he said simply.
She hid a growl in her next breath. "You're asking me to sit back and wait and hope you succeed."
"In no uncertain terms, yes."
The swell of her tongue appeared under her upper lip, skimming her teeth. This was, as many had been before, an old debate between duty and protection and an instinct for self-preservation flagrantly disregarded, but it served to mire them both in an argument that wouldn't finish with an actual winner.
Goliath stood up, seven feet seven inches high and nearly scraping the ceiling, and padded towards her. He kneeled and rested a hand against her stomach and Elisa could feel the faint outline of cold talons on her skin. She had missed his touch there. "You wanted this child," he reiterated, "and now you have the task of protecting it just as I do, even if it means staying behind."
"Ah, logic, a useful weapon." Elisa whispered. "I don't like being taken out of the fight, Goliath. Especially when I'm only a month and a half pregnant."
"But pregnant nonetheless." he argued forcefully. "And vulnerable. Perhaps the only reason Liberty survives to grow up is because you stayed behind."
"Or I was there to help her. Don't argue the niceties, Big Guy, they can easily be turned around."
"Then I shall use common sense."
She sat up, ramrod straight. "There's nothing common about this. The decision we make now could affect the entire future our girls may have."
"You're right. Imagine if you are hurt or even killed." His scenario, though speculative, played on the gossamer film of his corneas as dancing light; it was sorrow taken form and the horror of what could come. "Liberty would vanish altogether, we would be robbed of an ally and her entire life, her struggle and last-ditch desperation to get back here would have been pointless."
"Goliath, all I know is that, in forty-five years, an explosion will occur and send a wave into the past with the power to alter everything it comes in contact with. And with every minute we waste arguing, it gets closer."
His chest expanded against a mouthful of air, "Elisa, I have already lost so much, please don't set yourself up to be another casualty I have to mourn."
She sighed, leaned forwards and cupped a warm hand to granite-leather skin beneath the jutting cheekbone and made several motions with her index finger. "You've grieved silently, Goliath," her words were warm breaths finding their way into the hair suspended across his shoulders, "you've lost so much and complained so little. But you don't have to put everything on your shoulders alone. I'm here, I'm always here, to help you."
"In this, you cannot help."
"Whoever killed...me, whoever killed our sons, he wanted you for something."
Goliath nodded, "I know. That fact has not escaped me."
Their gaze lingered until Elisa dropped her head. "You're sure about this?"
His stone-cut countenance was grim, staid; it said more than any explanation could.
A bass chortle could be heard between the expletives.
"Damnit–" she was loathe to admit this, "...you make sense. I hate when you make sense."
Fangs were revealed in a rare smile. "Frustrating for you, I know."
A small hand knotted into a fist and shook with the frustration of being unable to do anything. "Just...go kick some ass, Big Guy." Elisa whispered, sealing it with a long, enduring kiss. "And hopefully," she said as they parted, "I'll be here waiting for you."
I've always taken solace in their bond.
The sheer strength of their relationship, knowing it was always there to support the other, has been a constant source of comfort and hope in my life. To see them separately, as two incredibly strong, independent, willful individuals, you'd never guess they'd fit so perfectly together.
Growing up I'd hear them occasionally fighting, arguing and then, less than an hour later, their screams and grunts of passion would echo down the corridor.
A real intense argument, over virtually nothing, had led to the conception of my twin brothers.
They're fire, they're passion, power and love; even now and even after twenty years their marriage is still as potent as it was before we were ever thrown through time. I hope I can find something like that one day.
I suddenly miss 'Xander.
Goliath had appeared in the doorway. His farewells to Elisa and Trinity, the young Trinity, had been brief at best as he'd promised them, and pledged to himself, he would return. "Yes."
"As am I."
Everyone turned to see Isis stroll into the room and join them as casually as she could manage.
At this point in time, the Egyptian was less than disposed to offer her services for anything and Trinity was the first to voice her surprise, "Why are you coming?"
Hipshot, wings mantled, Isis cocked a brow and directed a stern gaze towards her. "You may possess all that I know, child, but that does not mean you'll know what to do with it."
Trinity smiled, and started punching in the date on the back of the phoenix gate.
Liberty shot a look over her shoulder. "Refresh me." she said, on seeing the year. "Why aren't we going to thirty-five seventy? To stop the murders?"
"Because first and foremost, we have to stop the temporal explosion." Both hands gripped to the side of the gate; its hum had grown into a cry. "The wave is gaining steam."
"Is it just me," Isis remarked, "or is this all getting needlessly complicated?"
"Time travel has the tendency to do that."
The gate trembled, winds blew from out of re-circulated air and before the small group a portal opened.
****************************************December 31st, 3592
Trinity touched down first, then Liberty, Isis and finally Goliath with a pronounced, ground-shaking thud.
He turned to watch the portal close and extinguish itself. "That was a little more rough than usual."
"We passed through the wave." Trinity clarified, darting her eyes around to get a handle on their surroundings. "The magic inherent in the Phoenix gate protected us from any changes, but luckily, it's not very powerful right now."
Isis' wings quivered like a spider-web having caught fresh prey. "Seemed pretty damned powerful to me, I could feel it along my skin."
"Rip a piece of cloth an inch, it does practically nothing. But rip it all the way to the seam, it's ruined. Cut in half."
"Best I could come up with."
"But why hasn't everything changed?" Liberty pointed out. "We've warned Goliath and Elisa..."
"Obviously we haven't changed anything yet. We've got to play this through to the end." Turning, Trinity noticed her father straining to see as far as possible in the direction of Central Park.
Goliath was immersed in the desolation of a once bustling, breathing, living entity, staring into the distant ruins of Manhattan Island where nothing had been spared the machines' attack two centuries ago. The light had practically been sucked from scorched earth except for a few wretched specks. "Zion had shown me pictures of the devastation but...this..." He noticed a familiar landmark missing from where it once dominated the skyline. "The Eyrie building...?"
"We saw it, daddy, and you wouldn't want to."
He turned, and his sooty eyes were haunted. "Destroyed?"
"It fell a more than a quarter of a mile to the ground. You can imagine the destruction."
Goliath whirled back on the butt end of the Eyrie building, broken and dead black against the darkening sky. His eyes smoldered in determination. "Where are we?"
"Near the auditorium. I've brought us back as early as possible, just after dusk and a little less than half an hour before the explosion occurs."
"Trinity, take Isis and find this creature that killed your mother. Liberty, you and I will try to stop whoever attacked the procession. Perhaps somewhere along the way, we'll run into my future self, wherever he is and whatever he's doing."
The mob was impressive, if not overwhelming in how easily human and gargoyle mingled without a single, expected scream of fear or bigotry. Isis and Trinity worked their way through the crowd along the segmented security fencing, searching gazes going back and forth between the stage and the slim passage they were allowed.
As Goliath and Liberty had one side of the auditorium covered, they took the opposite, hoping to at least catch the creature that'd started all of this on one side or the other.
"Can you see him?" Isis yelled over the crowd.
All she could see were dignitaries above and guards below waiting patiently, if not warily. Strapping gargoyles grinning as she squeezed past and mothers calming excitable children, it was getting hard to concentrate. "No."
"Are you sure he'll take the stage?"
They made their way through and to the end, and as the crowd trickled out they found two sentries standing at a lonely staircase leading up to the stage. Isis sauntered defiantly towards them and, before they could react, she jabbed a hand to each of their necks, dropping the guards like stones.
They dragged the unconscious men out of sight and waited at the edges of the light for anyone to show.
"The attack came from up there," Liberty pointed, "it overlooks the entrance to the auditorium."
Goliath could already hear the muffled roar of the crowd nearby as he and his daughter approached, and he hurried to where the ground was heaped on by a surrounding bastion of wreckage, swelling upwards and leaning against the theater's half-dome.
For someone with enough strength, it was an armament.
"There!" his daughter yelled.
There was something above them, moving against the charred remains of machinery. It was hulking and great and moving impressively quiet for something its size. "You will not succeed!!" Goliath roared, hoping to get the figure's attention.
It turned and the stage lights beyond caught dim, rigidly contoured crags on half a face. Silver-haired and lined with age, nevertheless his onyx eyes shone from under the heavy brows.
Liberty gasped, "Daddy?"
From one Goliath to another, young to old they stared at each other, one in shock, the other in resignation. He didn't seem at all surprised.
Their waiting had paid off.
Isis, from where she had capably blended into the shadows, quickly motioned to Trinity and towards movement near the entrance of the auditorium's barrier of debris.
A cloaked figure skated into view near the stage, looked around, and was about to take to the steps.
The figure spun around to the voice a little too quickly, and there was a flicker of recognition under the darkness of the hood.
Trinity advanced on him, looking as if she was going to jump from her skin in her haste to wrap her hands around his throat. "I'm not going to let you get away with this, you bastard."
A curl of breath made its way from the hood in irritation, especially with the other gargoyle approaching from his left side to cut off his escape. The sorceress; the bands etched into her skin were a dead giveaway.
Why wasn't she dead? And why couldn't he remember the events unfolding this way?
A hand rose up and glowed along the edges.
"Unghh..." Trinity knew enough to avoid the impending attack and quickly moved to dodge the blast and rolled away, hoping to provide Isis an opportunity.
The figure seemed to contort and do a 180° at the waist to meet the sorceress from behind, and let off a thin beam that would've punctured a hole through her stomach if not for a quickly conjured deflective buffer that ricocheted the energy harmlessly into the air.
Isis exploited the instant of confusion and aimed a right hook for what should have been the head. Her small fist cracked something hard.
It wobbled and lost its balance falling smack onto the ground. The hood came off and Trinity stared at a revealed face.
"YOU!!!" she snarled. "All along it's been you!"
A grin ran the length of his alligator snout and broke the scales of snakelike features, orange-backed eyes glistening under a shroud of armored cartilage flaring from head to shoulders. "Of course." he answered.
Isis stared at the yellow and pale emerald gargoyle that, from the waist down, was more serpent than man. "You know him?"
"His name is Kessik, a recent citizen of New Cairo..." Trinity hissed at the gangly, winged creature, his long tail peeking out from the cloak, twitching and swaying a tip fortified with two imposing spears of bone, the same that adorned his gauntleted forearms and snake-shaped body. "You became one of New Cairo's most trusted advisors!!"
Kessik rose up slowly, his movements fluidic. "Always gain the trust of those you are going to betray."
"You killed my brothers!! YOU KILLED MY MOTHER!!!"
"I killed no one." he denied, throwing off his robe and fanning his cobra-like hood. "I merely borrowed them, as collateral."
"Why are you doing this?!" Liberty screamed.
The silvered, future Goliath found his daughter from his place higher atop the rubble, her gaze pleading for an answer. "For your mother."
He shook his head. "No, Liberty, she lives. They all do. Kessik merely transformed them into living vessels of energy, to better keep them as his captives."
"And now," the past Goliath presumed, inching closer, "he's using you as his puppet."
Old eyes incandesced, the skin creasing at the edges; this Goliath was at his ragged edge. "For Elisa!" he snarled. "For our sons...!"
His attention was quickly, critically drawn towards a procession, led by the incongruous blend of torchlight and strange glowing rods and slowly advancing on the stage. Through a road cleared between the rubble, a vehicle was approaching in between several guards on foot.
Liberty recognized it as the car that was attacked on her first trip here.
"The car is coming. I must act or I'll never see them again!"
The present Goliath started his way up the mound of rubble. "I cannot let you."
"Do not try to stop me!" the other roared.
"Or what, you'll kill me? Funny thing about time travel, attacking your past self could have grave repercussions."
"I only have to delay you for so long."
"As do I." Goliath threw himself into the air, and without wings to support or even slow him, it was a one-way, suicidal lunge that didn't allow for grace or subtlety. Past collided with future and the wind seemed to crack; they tumbled, rolled and broke away from each other with a feral growl.
Kessik had been on the governing council since his arrival at New Cairo. He was accepted quickly into the ranks. He'd offered so much in the city's times of need, sage advice, and a voice that seemed to be the very essence of what the community was trying to accomplish.
He even had the nerve to befriend my father, play chess with him every week for three years. He worked himself so far into the system, so far into our personal lives, we were blind to any other purpose he may have.
It was all a charade, a goddamned charade!
And I'll make him pay...
"What do you want with my father?!"
Kessik snapped his tail like a whip and caught Trinity in the chin. She flew back at the concussive force and into Isis' arms. "The strength and endurance of a gargoyle but the contour of a man." he explained in his spirant tongue. "Goliath has an important task. Attack the car of a prominent peacemaker before she can deliver her speech, sew dissention and chaos and reinforce a long and loudly argued stance for a stronger council." Kessik slithered around them, unfurling his wings, flexing and unflexing his hands. "Politics in this world are teetering on the brink as are peace and unification between religion and species."
Wiping the blood from a gash just beneath her bottom lip, Trinity quickly uttered her disgust, "And you're just the man to take control."
"I've spent years gaining the trust of everyone who held what little scraps of power are left. And now, just as the world pieces itself back together under a unified government, it is ripe. Perfect for a shepherd to guide it from comfortably behind the scenes."
"How'd you get the phoenix gate? It was burned to a crisp centuries before you were even born."
"Phoenixes always rise from the ashes, child, especially if one has the patience and a skilled hand at piecing composite molecules together. It works by my will alone."
"I'll stop you..." Trinity vowed, shoving away from Isis and gritting her teeth against another small explosion of pain in her head.
Kessik lifted his hands and showered the entire area in a destructive bath of energy, sending Isis and Trinity into a panicked scatter. "I think not."
Their traded blows were pummeling flesh, nearly breaking bone and creating an echo of thunder with each one that made contact. But they were love-taps in comparison to the real power they kept restrained.
The future Goliath was slower but had the edge in experience, but even twenty years apart they seemed almost evenly, perfectly, dangerously matched. One Goliath swung, the other dodged; one tried to topple his opponent with his tail, the other jumped to avoid it.
Until Goliath saw an opening presented by his future self's age-reduced speed and sent his fist into an unguarded chest as he swerved around.
The future version stumbled back and caught his claws on a piece of protruding metal to steady himself. "You fool! He has Elisa!"
"And you must trust me to save her!"
"You can't trust me?! We are the same inside!"
"Then you know what burns inside of me." he hissed, eyes afire. "We think of ourselves of less than a man, less than a gargoyle. I know the pain we feel that's more than the throbbing in our shoulders that doesn't go away, of not being able to fly or teach our daughter the intricacies of the currents and how they flow. Of being looked upon by others with pity, of the fear of our wife thinking less of you. Angela is dead, our clever sister, our clan has turned to dust fifteen centuries ago, I have nothing left but those few precious shreds of my family AND I WILL NOT LOSE THEM!!!"
Goliath could give no less than a tolerant look; it was difficult to argue with one's self when they were right, if not severely misguided.
"Now you know why I cannot permit anyone stop me."
"You are blinded by rage." the past Goliath said, trying to appeal to the reason he knew was inside the mass of quivering, lavender muscles. "You are unable to see the greater tapestry being woven by our very actions. If you trust me, trust yourself to stop whoever is doing this, none of this will happen."
He clenched his jaw and started shaking his head in an increasing rhythm. "I can't risk that. You could fail."
Taking advantage of the lull in battle, Liberty was maneuvering herself behind him and Goliath saw her, but the other heard her and swiveled on his right foot, leading with his fist. He stopped when the image of his daughter stood in front of him, and froze like a deer in the headlights.
"Are you going to hit me, daddy?"
"I...Liberty, you must understand..."
"I do," she whispered, "and I'm sorry." Liberty's ears picked up the air being split behind her and she immediately ducked out of the way of a three ton I-beam swung like a baseball bat. It hit the future Goliath upside the chest and head and the sheer force behind the blow knocked him off his feet and unconscious.
Goliath dropped the beam, a relic from a vanished era, and regarded the prone form that had rolled several meters away with mixed emotions.
There was much he feared, including his fading own sense of worth that would cripple him and slowly, invisibly transform him into that. But, in all things considered, it seemed an easy transition.
His eyes went down, curiously, to a glimmer of turquoise among the monochrome wreckage, the phoenix gate, the first phoenix gate, the original, the irritant, miraculously whole. It must have fallen from his future self's loincloth pouch. "Hmph." He scooped it from the heap and its warmth spread through his bones. "I haven't seen this one for a long time. Last I saw of it, it had become a pile of ashes Owen swept up with a dustpan. But why wouldn't he have used it...?" Goliath pushed the thought aside and started down the scrap heap. "Come, Trinity and Isis need our help."
The young woman was still, and watching every delayed breath her father took while lying cataleptic on the ground.
"Liberty." Goliath said more forcefully, but she didn't move. He reached out, grabbed her shoulders and gave her a shake to snap her from the stupor. "Liberty."
"Haven't had the time to breathe, I know. But we still have work to do."
"But we stopped him. Stopped you." she stressed, as if expecting to vanish. "And nothing has changed."
Goliath quickly brushed his knuckles across her cheek and she was placated by the childhood gesture. "They will, I promise you."
"Move!" Isis screamed at the Maza clone who just avoided having half her flesh ripped off by another blast.
Kessik sent another spray into the air, hoping to catch either of the interlopers in the crossfire. They dodged just in time, the energy colliding with outlying homes as their fight had spilled outside of the auditorium area and into the streets.
The women scattered and used the strewn rubble to hide as peppered shots riddled every surface. Kessik was firing out of anger now, his aim sacrificed for raw power until he suddenly stopped and flicked his nose to the sky.
There was a whistle in the air.
He looked up as the sound grew progressively louder and closer and quickly jumped out of the way as a shadow loomed over him.
A girder pierced the ground where he once stood. "What...?!" As the dust cleared, Kessik found a familiar shape on the fringe of the stage lights. Goliath had entered the battle. "You...? Stopped your future self?" Scales pulled back to flaunt an array of teeth lining his elongated jaw. "How annoying. You do realize I'll have to start all over again."
"Over my dead body." Trinity roared into flight and leapt towards Kessik, but not before the serpent unleashed a blast of energy knocking her down and the wind from her lungs.
"I hate witty villain banter." Isis snarled, deflecting another shot as she tried to get in close. "You're just like my brother..."
"Shit," Trinity moaned, and started feeling around, "the gate!" It'd fallen from her pocket, and was laying several feet from her reach.
Kessik slithered his way from Goliath's fist that impacted and cracked the ground, skirted Isis' claws, and got himself to a safe spot. He noticed Trinity going for the gate and let off another blast in her direction.
A flash of lavender and Liberty swooped in, grabbed her sister and rolled from the discharge, the heat of the energy passing along her wings. "Got you!"
They tumbled to a stop, looked at each other and then the gate safely in Trinity's hands.
"Damned children!" Kessik roared and unleashed with everything he had left, intent on vaporizing the Mazas.
In sheer protective instinct, Trinity held up her hands and the phoenix gate as an unintended shield.
It took the brunt of the impact, shook and broke apart, releasing an immeasurable amount of energy. Everything went white as it had before.
Trinity's hands were nearly burned off from the sudden increase in temperature and she had to let go before they were reduced to ash up to her forearms. She and Liberty were blown back and hit the ground, blinking the spots from their eyes.
The gate's two halves had landed on the ground and now served as the epicenter for the orb of crackling energy that was quickly swelling in diameter.
Trinity was entranced; from her father's tales, she knew that breaking the gate in half shouldn't have resulted in a chasm in reality, but this particular gate was unstable, and forged in desperation. "Oh my god...we created it..."
Liberty gasped, "What?"
"Don't you see?!" she cried. "We created the explosion. We created the wave!"
Isis watched as the entire island lit up under a new sun, and somewhere far behind her the crowd's pitch changed, the omnipresent murmur gone. "Oh hell." she whispered. "That's why the gate was resonating in tune with the wave. It was destined to create it."
Trinity grabbed her head. "Damnit, I should have known that, I should have known that!"
"You meddling, bastard half-bloods!" Kessik screeched, protecting his eyes from the intense glare with an arm across his spiked brow. "You've ruined everything!!"
Goliath rushed up behind his older daughter and scooped her from the ground; she'd gone limp.
"I'm sorry, daddy..." Trinity sobbed, her hands shaking as much as her voice. "I'm so sorry."
He held her against his chest and stared into the growing maelstrom, thoughts racing for a solution.
Their attention drawn, Kessik noticed the bulge in Goliath's loincloth pouch and a familiar hum to the object inside. "I'll take that," an open hand practically sucked the phoenix gate through the material and into his palm, "thank you. This particular gate knows its master."
Without the trigger spell to activate the original gate, Kessik somehow opened a portal and slithered through. The threshold snapped shut and left the others staring in mild shock.
"Trinity," Goliath inquired urgently, "who is he?"
"July fourteenth, thirty-five-sixty-seven." Trinity snarled into the expanse of his chest. "His name is Kessik, and he'll arrive at New Cairo under the pretense of wanting to actually help the community."
"And he lied."
She pushed away from her father's arms. "It was all a damned scheme."
"I take it he's the one who recreated the original phoenix gate?"
"He somehow rebuilt it from a pile of ashes. So he says."
"You know," Liberty interjected, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there's going to be a reality-warping, history-altering wave about to explode from that thing," a directed thumb indicated the swelling orb of energy, luring a turbulent cloud cover directly over the island in the shape of a funnel, "any time now."
"Another one?" her father inferred. "Isn't there already a wave heading through the past as we speak?"
"Effect before cause." Isis and Trinity replied simultaneously, word for word.
"Part of the paradox." Trinity continued morosely. "The wave was already heading into the past regardless. This just ensures it creation and existence..."
Liberty raked her brow in frustration. "So what do we do?!"
Goliath turned to Isis. "Isis?"
Her hand was already out towards the sphere, splayed fingers trembling, fangs digging into her bottom lip as she struggled to find one energy pattern out of what seemed an infinite amount now shaking the earth and rousing the winds. All of a sudden, the phoenix gate's two severed halves shot out of the light and into Trinity's awaiting hands. The strain incredible, Isis slumped over and caught herself just before collapsing. "I don't know what we're going to do with a broken gate–"
Trinity quickly pushed the amulet's segments together along their jagged edges and forced enough pressure on it to fuse it back together. There was a snap and a flash of light and when finished, all that was left of the damage caused by Kessik's sorcery was a glowing, crooked line across the surface.
"That was very stupid." Isis hissed at the young woman's recklessness. "As if it wasn't unstable before..."
"It's all we have." Goliath acquiesced. "We need to find Kessik. There's no telling what damage he could do."
"And just how do we track him?" Liberty chimed in. "He could be anywhere."
Goliath, again, turned to Isis.
She rolled her eyes and snapped, "Why does everything constantly fall onto my shoulders?!"
"You're the sorceress!"
****************************************August 3rd, 3570
Kessik (the Kessik indigenous to this time) had returned to his quarters as quickly as he'd dealt with the Maza family, dumped the essences of Elisa, Skye and Storm into three enchanted glass ewers, locked them in his wall safe, sat, and waited.
For Goliath to return, for his destiny to be realized.
He had another two decades to go before he would need to complete the loop; seven years until he'd find the ashes of the phoenix gate in the remains of the Eyrie building, at least another two before he could successfully reconstruct it, and then, fifteen years before the world would make the attempt at a first united government.
He was patient though. He'd already lived for a hundred years in the wastes of a ruined Earth, and could easily wait out twenty-two more.
But what intrigued him, alarmed him, was the sudden displacement that'd rode through the complex and the entire nation of Egypt like a wave. He'd sensed the power as every atom in his body hiccupped. Perhaps it had something to do with his future self, and a successful campaign.
Speak of the devil, as several feet off the ground a flame took shape in his soft-lit chambers and expanded into a portal.
Another, slightly older version of himself fell to the steel floor, though he could barely tell the difference in age.
His tail coiling into a spring, Kessik rose and greeted the traveler, "Were we successful?"
"Not as yet."
Something was wrong; this Kessik was bruised and bleeding and breathing so heavily he thought flame would snort from his mouth. "What has happened?" he demanded. "I felt some kind of energy ripple pass through, has something gone wrong...?"
His future self set on him a pair of cross eyes burning brightly. "You idiot!" he snarled, gliding close. "You were supposed to get rid of all of the Mazas!!"
"According to the message you sent with the gate, I had to act, and besides, they've since disappeared without a word."
"Because they traveled into the future!"
"That's impossible." he disputed. "Their phoenix gate is a lifeless slab."
"You underestimated them!" the future Kessik replied in a heavy growl. "I'm glad you've become wiser in the future." He grabbed his twin around the arm, just below the gold band clenched to his bicep, and led him into the middle of the room.
"What are you doing?!"
"I need your help. Come with me." A portal opened before them. "And pray we don't unravel into piles of temporal residue."
****************************************May 5th, 2002
Manhattan was, thankfully, tranquil. At least for tonight.
And at least for tonight the new leader of the Wyvern clan could regard his adopted city as a marvel and not a deathtrap.
Leaning against the cornices, elbows on the finial slate of one of the merlons, Brooklyn was contemplating the hard choice of ordering his clan into that deathtrap as a preemptive strike to hunt down one of their greatest enemies.
Morgan from the twenty-third had already got a bead on several suspected gunrunners and their weapons caches around the greater Manhattan area, and the clan had spent the better part of a week waiting for verification. Tomorrow night, they would attack the first one, a warehouse near the southern tip of the island teeming with activity and nearly flaunting themselves in the fact the overworked police force was stretched to the limits.
And tomorrow night he would willingly send his family into the breach.
"Damn..." he muttered.
And as if it couldn't get any worse, Brooklyn suddenly flickered. He watched his hands fade for an instant before returning to normal. "Oh shit, not again..." he whispered. "What the hell is going on?"
Their tails hit rough stone, and for a moment each of the Kessiks were dumbfounded before the euphoria of time travel wore off.
The younger version of the sorcerer examined the unusual architecture, embattlements fading into a background that seemed to fall away into oblivion beyond the walls. "Why are we here?"
"There's a strong line between the twenty-first and thirty-sixth century." the other explained. "It's a path already traveled and with the damage being done to the timeline, we were lucky to arrive in one piece."
Kessik continued looking around and widened his gaze on seeing Goliath's tower and a sea of winking lights below. His conversations with the former leader over a good game of chess had allowed him to build an impressive mental image of his home. They were standing on Wyvern's ramparts. "You've just delivered us into Goliath's home!"
"I'm well aware!" his future self snarled back. "We just have to go a little further back and kill every single creature with the last name of Maza, if that wave doesn't end everything first."
"Will that even make a difference?"
He snarled deeply, "I don't know. The explosion those children caused is a paradox, it exists outside what little rules temporal mechanics has. Everything we've planned could end up a faded memory."
"Yes, it could." The younger Kessik raised a bony finger. "I believe we have company."
Flames curled into a ring and spit at them.
Isis was first, having followed what faint line existed between each century, breadcrumbs making a trail she used to guide the rest. "Found you."
Attracted by the sudden flash of color having flickered against and washed over the courtyard, Brooklyn came running only to find the portal of the phoenix gate spilling several forms onto his home, most notably of which a hulking creature whose eyes burned and body convulsed in preparation for battle. "What the fuck...?!" He stopped short, eyes on the last gargoyle to fall from the open window through time. "Goliath..."
Goliath wordlessly tore past him and towards the first snake he could see, charging before Kessik could react.
Tangerine eyes widened. "How did you follow me?!"
"It helps to have our own sorcerer!" Goliath loomed on him as an inescapable force, moving at a speed faster than it seemed his massive body could attain. He went for the gate before it could be used and knocked it from Kessik's hand to stop him from escaping, then spun and struck bone with his other fist against Kessik's skull.
The phoenix gate went scuttling across the stones.
"Get the gate!!"
An energy blast swathed through their ranks and the small, ragtag group spread out across the courtyard.
"Goliath?!" Brooklyn managed to make it his towards his former leader and take refuge near the gardens. "Who the hell are those two?!"
Goliath didn't even turn his eyes; the dark pools seemed potently trained on the two gargoyles shooting up their castle. "His name is Kessik, a sorcerer."
"One's a future version of the other."
"And while we're on the subject, what the hell is going on?"
"Long story short, there was a battle fifteen hundred years into the future and an ensuing explosion caused a wave that's traveling into the past with the power to alter every event in the history of time."
"Oh," Brooklyn responded facetiously, "one of those." Between their heavy breaths he stared at Goliath, and most enthrallingly, most disturbingly, the scars running down his back. "It's...it's good to see you." he was able to stutter out a near lucid remark, and almost winced at how contrived it sounded. "We've all been wondering where you are. Elisa, Trinity, are they all right?"
There wasn't any mistaking the chill on Goliath's voice. Bad blood still hung between them. "Goliath, I'm..."
"Move!!" Goliath suddenly roared, and pushed Brooklyn from the path of an energy blast that hit the stones and nearly upended a chunk of the ground beneath them. "And keep moving! We cannot let Kessik get his hands on the phoenix gate!"
Brooklyn watched as his old friend hurtled towards the snakelike gargoyles indiscriminately searching out targets. "Yeah...yeah right." He followed.
"Come on, Trinity," Liberty cried as she shoved her sister along, "we've gotta move."
Trinity, cradling the broken gate, didn't seem too inclined to flee. "What difference does it make? The hum is growing stronger, Libby, the wave is coming."
"So you're just going to give up?!"
"What else can I do to stop any of this?" she asked, pleaded as she turned to her sister. "How many times can we go back or forward in time before we fuck everything else up beyond recognition?"
"As many as it takes."
"I don't think I can do this anymore, I'm so tired." Trinity massaged a hand to her temple. "I don't...I...donnnn'tttt..." She was slurring, blending her words together.
"Trinity?" Her older sister's eyes were glazing over, and the gate incandesced a faint vermilion against her skin. "...Trinity...?"
Suddenly everything blurred and smeared and melted from reality, leaving Trinity suspended in a void of nonexistence. Nothing corporeal, nothing to touch, all except a whisper growing stronger and more intelligible.
She moved, and it felt like swimming through molasses. "Where am I?"
A soft voice spoke against her neck; it was wind in a windless abyss, raising her pores.
"Where are you?"
More words, a phantom caress. Claws on her collarbone, lips on her ear.
Trinity looked to the gate in her hands, glowing, pulsing, speaking. "It's you..."
Having worked his way towards it, Kessik went to grab for the discarded gate but received instead three straight lines drawn through his flesh on one side of his face by Isis' talons. Like lightning bouncing around on the stones, she swooped in, knocked the sorcerer away and kicked the amulet farther from his/their reach.
The serpent turned, shot and skimmed black hide with a well-placed shot only miss-placed because of the blood dribbling into his eyes.
"You're fast!" Brooklyn observed, weaving behind the lissome, striped female as they dodged another blast.
Against the ebony of her skin it was hard to tell of any change in her features. But as the compressed beam of energy tore between them, a smile was cleanly illuminated as she noticed how the gargoyle was easily disproving his physical age. "You're not so bad yourself...for a male."
A matching smirk made its way from tip to dimples in his beak. "Name's Brooklyn."
"Who're the babes?" he nodded towards the two young gargoyles just on the fringe of the fight.
"What?" Brooklyn stopped and got a better look; as his eyes roamed their features, more familiar traces of Goliath and Elisa appeared the longer he stared. He couldn't believe he'd missed the resemblance. "Trinity?"WHAM!!
Light erupted in Brooklyn's head as something hard and vaguely hand-shaped impacted against his head, dropping him.
"The infamous timedancer." Kessik sneered as he stood over him. "I am not impressed."
"You're the one speaking to me, aren't you?"
The gate hummed, a language undecipherable to anyone else but Trinity.
"This is all about revenge, isn't it?"
The whisper strengthened, and seemed to take offense.
"No, not revenge. The end to the end." she spoke every word deliberately. "But we didn't cause the explosion, Kessik, he–"
Thunder rolled from one end of the void to the other, stopping Trinity's argument in its tracks.
"No, no, you're right." she sighed. "I understand. It has to stop."
Fire burst all around her, and then, sculpted from living flame and arising, filling her senses to the point where she'd bleed from the purity of it all, the spectral image of a phoenix appeared before her.
As quickly as she'd been engulfed, Trinity was knocked back into the real world and opened her eyes.
The battle still raged between the Kessiks, future and far future, and her clan, but even as chunks of stone were shattered and sprayed into the air and the scent of blood was an inescapable copper tang on the breeze, she was calm.
The pain in her head was gone, and everything was suddenly clear. "I know what I have to do."
Liberty was about to yell until she found an abnormally placid expression on her sister's face. "Trinity?"
She smiled. "We have to stop this, Libby."
"We were wrong. All our theories were wrong. The wave is traveling into the past because it's following us, and we were dragging it behind like the wake of a boat, back and forth through the different centuries. If we give ourselves to the wave, everything will stop."
"Trinity, no!" Goliath had overheard even over the clamor of battle and breaking stone. As Brooklyn and Isis confronted the pair of sorcerers directly he was able to draw close. "You don't know that!"
"We caused this, and we must finish it." Trinity contended. "The wave is searching, for us, for the beginning to its end. If we allow it to have us, it will obliterate itself or at the very least, reduce the effects on the timeline."
"But we've already passed through the wave! Several times!"
"We were protected by the phoenix gate, it acted like a barrier."
"If this ripple in time is traveling back through the past, it has already hit almost every incarnation of your past selves in every year, every hour, every minute!"
Trinity started shaking her head. "No, daddy. It needs us, the last manifestation of our selves just before the explosion occurred. It needs completion, needs sating." Her eyes, in that moment, in all their chocolate potency, were Elisa's; they exposed a harsh truth. "You already know I'm right."
Goliath seized up, clasping his fists at his sides. "How?" he managed out.
"Because it's the only thing out of all of this that makes any sense. And because the gate told me so."
"Damnit, Goliath," Isis sidestepped another energy blast, tucked into a roll and screamed, "she's right!"
"I will not watch my daughters sacrifice themselves. I cannot!"
"You sound like your future self!" Liberty shouted, her eyes misting over. "Blinded by rage. 'You are unable to see the greater tapestry being woven by our very actions. If you trust me, trust yourself to stop whoever is doing this, none of this will happen'. Remember?"
Goliath's features fell into an appreciative if not annoyed cast at his own logic used against him. His gaze went up and towards the southern horizon, the ocean a perfect, star-flecked reflection of the sky above. It appeared over the level surface as an apparition, the wave, seeking to capture everything in its grasp as it had in every year and infinitesimal moment in time since it began. "Trinity..." he beseeched, before a stray shot hit him in the back and knocked him away from his daughters.
Claws grazed his forehead, as Brooklyn wasn't fast enough to evade Kessik's quick hands.
He and Isis had paired off with the sorcerers (each trying to keep the other from getting to the gate lying meters away), the Wyvern leader having gotten the younger version who seemed to move as fast as the animal both heredity and fate decided to model him upon. From a distance, Kessik favored his blasts but in close, six long talons and a barbed tail seemed to perform just as well and bring a little gruesome contentment to the serpent's bloodlust.
"Damnit!" Brooklyn staggered back and saw another hand coming straight for him. He ducked low and jabbed his fist into Kessik's gut, and as the cobra-styled gargoyle recoiled at the blow, hard knuckles caught him under the chin and he fell away. "You okay?!" Brooklyn shouted to his companion in battle, managing herself suitably well.
Isis waved away another of the future Kessik's blasts, and stood several meters away from him. They each watched the other, and any movement would doubtlessly set them both off. "Fine."
"You cannot stop me!" Kessik growled.
"Apparently we already have."
"What makes you so sure?"
Isis straightened and relaxed her stance. Brooklyn's ridges went up. "You're fading away."
Kessik looked down and discovered his tail had already vanished up to the waist. Before the air in his lungs and his lungs themselves could evaporate, he screamed.
Isis watched him disappear with an almost malicious sense of satisfaction and a toothy grin. "It was only a matter of time before the timeline could correct itself." The remaining Kessik shook off Brooklyn's attack and flitted his gaze to presumably search for his companion. "One down, one left to go."
He trained his eyes on the pair and snapped his jaw open, baring two full rows of teeth. His tail bunched up into a tightly compressed concertina and released, propelling him forwards. Isis stood justifiably still as Kessik leapt at her. He became all but an apparition that blustered past her with a fading scream, expunged, his residual atoms like a plume of sparks from a burning log until they too were snuffed on the wind.
"Threads are being mended." Isis remarked, a gleam in her eye. "The line is sorting itself back out."
Brooklyn heaved a breath, wiped his brow and noticed when he pulled his hand away it was stained with blood. "Well, that was easy..."
Isis turned towards the wave on the verge of the city's shore. "Kessik was never the hard part."
"Sata?" The scarlet gargoyle turned to the voice and the familiar form standing at the threshold of the castle's interior door. "Sata!"
"What is happening?!"
It grew close, hitting the southern tip and raking through Manhattan.
Trinity stepped up onto one of the merlons and her sister joined her on the next one in line, and together they stared into the impending wrinkle of energy and stood defiantly at its bluster.
Goliath stirred and fought through the pain of the smoking wound on his back. "Don't..."
"It's meant to be this way." Trinity said from over her shoulder.
"I will...ungh, I will not watch you die!!"
"We have to do this now!" she shouted desperately, and in that instant her hand (and the rest of her body) evanesced, dematerializing out of existence before returning to flesh and blood. "We've changed the future and we're being extracted from time."
"There must be another way!!"
"I'm sorry, daddy." She looked to Liberty. "Ready?"
Liberty seemed oddly sanguine even as she felt her body unravel. She'd always trusted her big sister. "Always."
They spread their wings and allowed the winds to guide them towards the encroaching ripple that seemed so much larger than it did before. They could hear the faint, desperate protests of their father just before the air seemed to dissolve around them and, before they too disappeared due to the changes in the timeline, the wave overtook and swallowed up their flying forms.
Goliath went to jump at his daughters, ignoring his recent handicap, as even the lack of wings wouldn't sway him from trying.
Talons quickly sunk into his back, anchoring him to an unexpected weight.
Isis knew he'd willingly throw himself to his death and she tried as best she could to weigh him down before he could reach the edge of the courtyard. Recognizing Goliath could easily shrug her off, she enshrouded them in a barrier of mystical energy that protected both them, a wide portion of the courtyard and even a security camera affixed to a nearby turret, and kept her arms around his astoundingly resistant form. "They must do this...!"
The wave hit the castle.
My father would have willingly jumped into the fire of time tearing itself apart for me, but I know, like I've always known, he'll never reach me.
Isis has thrown a protective barrier over them both to stop him.
He's incredible, fighting back against enough magical power to crush a small car and still he doesn't give up.
He's too stubborn. I can feel his anguish, his despair, his loss.
Everything's going white. I can feel my body coming apart at the molecular seams.
There was light, blinding, and then, darkness, all encompassing.
She opened one eye to test, then the other when she as assured it was safe.
Isis, having dropped her shield, found the sky glittering with the final exigencies of the wave. It eventually cleared into stars and everything, including the energy patterns, was returning to some kind of normal. She released from Goliath, dropped on her haunches, breathed the breath she was holding and moved her gaze lethargically around the courtyard.
The damage from the battle, craters, scorch marks, had vanished; proof that time had somehow healed itself.
The beaked male was comatose and lying on the stones, but the slow rhythm of his chest proved he was still alive.
Trinity and Liberty were gone, presumably rubbed out.
And Goliath was left in a huddled mass.
Kneeling on the cobbles he was sobbing, tears streaming down his face and hands clenched so hard they drew blood from the palm. Then, he raised his head and howled, and Isis nearly had to cover her ears the sound was so intense.
The castle shook on its moorings; vibrations shimmied down the entire length at the power of his scream.
I have no corporeal body any longer.
For the last moments, as the wave recedes and my existence (as it was) is negated and written out of history from a certain point, my consciousness is untethered, freed, and I can see the damage done; the wave had so much power and momentum behind it, and because we were in a state of temporal unrest, it wasn't completely stopped here. Residual tendrils, slim but nonetheless far-reaching, have bled even farther into the past and altered a few things here and there, but for the most part the timeline's still intact.
That at least, makes our sacrifice worth it.
My father's howling, screaming in pain and I can still feel him. He's lost so much, but I take comfort knowing he'll find his strength again, his pride and dignity...and his wings.
Is that you?
Yes, I know, I'm afraid too.
Don't worry, little sister, we live on.
Just let go...
"They made their choice." Isis's voice somehow seeped through the haze of pain. "And saved us all. They had to do it before they were lost to timeline's restoration just as Kessik was."
"H-How much...do I have to lose?" a deep tone struggled out.
She'd never seen him like this, since their first encounter he had held himself so high and so guarded in his emotions. "Your daughters are hopefully still waiting for you in the future, and waiting to relive their lives."
Goliath's tear-blurred eyes wandered towards the only remnants of their entire ordeal, two phoenix gates, the original lying several meters away and Demona's recent creation, perched precariously on the castle wall presumably where Trinity had left it before she jumped.
Isis walked over and grabbed the gate before it could somehow lean itself over the edge and plunge into the city. "This one is still...conscious."
"Why is the other one still here? If the timeline has been altered, Kessik is no longer able to recreate it and send it back." He laughed, a great snort released at the sheer absurdity of it all. "Which begs the question, why are we even still here?"
"There are too many possibilities to offer only one as a true answer."
"We have no idea what damage has been done." They both moved their gazes to Brooklyn, and the glaring fact his wounds had disappeared. "Perhaps we are an anomaly. Perhaps the shield I cast to keep you from stubbornly jumping to your death negated any effects resulting from the restoration to the timeline and any possible changes..."
He growled irritably. His patience had grown infinitely short in his grief. "I am sick of time travel and the chaos that follows! What about the gate?"
She raised her shoulders into a quasi-shrug, struggling for a resolution that would appease him. "The gates...well, they are probably somewhat immune to such alterations. Or..." she added, and Goliath perked up.
"It's still here because we're not quite finished."
Realization dawned. "Of course..."
"The changes to the timeline only occurred because we will stop Kessik before any of this happens. And we must ensure those changes take place."
Goliath rose slowly, snatched the gate from Isis' hand and started keying in a new date. "Grab the other gate. We have one more place to go."
****************************************July 14th, 3567
Zion stood at the hangar doorway as the caravan entered in single file. A group of about fifty had made the journey from an outlying settlement that couldn't sustain itself any longer, and he'd extended an invitation through several of his modern Bedouins who'd safely led them back.
Families wandered into the staging area, pulling their hoods from wide eyes, in awe of the steel and titanium behemoth that served as simply the emblematic foyer to an entire underground city. The children chirped excitedly and the adults merely stared with open jaws.
One of the convoy, a figure that'd brought up the rear and almost entirely cloaked, nudged a long, scaled snout from his hood. A gargoyle.
Goliath was intent on the robed figure. He and Isis had slipped into a corner of the hangar bay just seconds before and his hawkish gaze was intent and unmoving. "Time to finish this." He handed her the gate and started into a full stampede towards the crowd.
His bellows rang from the ceiling and the group fled in all directions all except the cloaked gargoyle who turned to see what charged towards him. Goliath grabbed him around the neck and pushed him into the nearest wall; the impact nearly dented the steel. Tearing off the hood, the same, long-muzzled face fell into view and those eyes burned something deep in his soul. "Tell me why I should not break your neck!!"
"Because I have never met you." Kessik answered calmly, even as claws tightened on his jugular.
"Goliath?!" a voice expressed surprise from behind. Zion clacked his way towards the wingless leviathan and stood off his left shoulder. "Goliath, what are you doing here, my friend, you've been gone for almost twenty years."
With a black smirk and a quick perusal of the gates in her hand, Isis mused from afar, "Interesting."
"This...this creature should be locked up!" Goliath accused, every strand of muscle rippling underneath the forearm skin.
"On what grounds?"
"He plans treachery. He's going to disrupt an important moment in a history that hasn't been written yet for his own dark designs!"
"Then how can I be judged for something I've yet to do?" Kessik coughed a reply under the hand crushing his throat.
"Because I have seen it, and I will judge!"
"You...have no right!"
His grip tightened. "I have every right!"
A hand, deceptively feminine, touched his shoulder and tightened. "You are not his judge, nor are you his executioner."
Goliath bared his teeth, scraping the enamel together hard enough to make sparks. "I have seen the depths of his evil." he growled.
"I will not let you take this path, Goliath," Isis continued, "I will not spoil your daughters' faith in the man they considered their hero. If we can end this without any more blood spilled, then let us do so."
There was a moment of deliberation that hung in the hangar bay as a fretful silence, and Goliath was acutely aware of the surrounding rabble of newcomers who were waiting on the outcome, whether he would surrender or the memory of their first night here would be marred by bloodshed. He eventually released Kessik, loosening his grip and letting the serpent fall to the floor. "Remember this, Kessik," Goliath seethed, stepping on his neck, "whatever you do, whatever you may try, I will find you. And stop you."
Zion motioned to half a contingent of guards having waited on the edge of the crowd. "Take him to the penitentiary."
Goliath lifted the serpent gargoyle to his feet and threw him towards the two closest guards. Kessik thrashed and struggled before a weapon was forcefully tucked under his chin and a few more were pointed at his face; any attempt to blast his way free might result in the loss of his head. "This is unjust."
"We'll talk later, Kessik, about just what your intentions are in New Cairo."
Rage having colored his sight red, his heartbeat thunder in his ears, Goliath stood heaving as he watched the guards escort Kessik out of the hangar.
"You did the right thing, Goliath." Isis assured him. "As cliché as that may sound."
"I am not so sure." he husked.
The old leader pivoted on his cane and looked at a friend he hadn't seen in twenty years. He'd trusted him enough to have a stranger arrested on both his word and his wild, near-frightening behavior, but his sudden appearance after such a long absence needed more explanation than just a screaming fit. "Goliath," Zion said, "I think we need to talk."
****************************************May 5th, 2002
He was tingling, like he'd been on fire and someone doused him with a bucket of icy water. It was hot and cold at the same time, and somewhere between the absolute extreme of temperatures the outermost layer of his skin felt as if it was exploding.
Brooklyn coughed his way into consciousness, shuddered, blinked and got up.
The courtyard looked the same (as it should be), empty, drenched in silver by a cold moon, distant turrets set against the stars and Manhattan, but four decades of timedancing had instilled a certain amount of suspicion.
"Katana!" he shouted suddenly, inexplicably, filling the night air with an anguished cry. "Katana!!"
A sharp wind preceded the clack of talon to stone. "I am here, beloved."
Brooklyn whirled around to confront his mate and took her face in both hands; a wild-eyed gaze probed every little line and curve of the samurai's jade-complexioned features, searching for any discernible difference though he didn't quite know why. "Katana..."
"Is there a problem?"
"Nashville?" he realized, the twins. "Tachi?"
"Fine." Katana turned, guiding Brooklyn's gaze over her shoulder and towards their children standing at the entrance to the castle. "Even Fu-Dog. What is wrong?"
Brooklyn breathed in relief, "I thought...I thought you could have been..." Erased he wanted to say, but didn't finish; the images that had played havoc with his brain were slipping away.
Almond eyes across from him sparkled with concern.
He reared back; as untouched as the castle appeared, everything under the placid, cobblestone surface could be drastically...changed? "I want the entire clan assembled, now!"
The clan had gathered in the common room and amidst the agitated voices and fearful wonderings Brooklyn slowly turned his head, sweeping through their numbers: Othello and Desdemona, Broadway and Angela, Todd, Annika, Shadow, Delilah, Iliana Starr, Maria Chavez, Hudson and Bronx sitting obediently at the old warrior's feet.
Sitting on either side of Katana, the twins were each giving the other playful shots as brother and sister were inclined to do with Fu-Dog excitedly barking between them.
Rain was in the far corner under Lexington's worried eye, speaking with her mother on a cellphone and inquiring about the welfare of her clan on Brooklyn's order. All fifteen were safe and accounted for.
Savannah St. Nicks, reporter, annoyance and meddler extraordinaire, sat brooding in an overstuffed leather chair and fiddling at the proximity bracelet. An upward directed breath blew dark bangs from her forehead and she slouched even deeper into her chair.
He rubbed his brow, talons running around the base of his horns.
The images, once clear, were becoming a blur, of Goliath, three other gargoyles and a wall of white that ended everything in a severe throw to the stones with his head as the cushion. The entire experience, if he could even trust it'd happened, had him doubting his own family and though they seemed unaffected he couldn't ignore the same itch at the back of his skull that'd traveled with him all those years through human history.
"Okay," Brooklyn announced, as much to himself as his confused audience, "everyone's here and accounted for."
"Yeah." the new Second spoke up, and Broadway gave his brother a hard expression. "But you haven't exactly told us why we're here."
"I...had an experience." Brooklyn explained. "I thought it was just a dream or a hallucination from hitting my head on the courtyard, until I found some interesting footage from the exterior security cameras. One camera seemed to record something entirely different from the rest, though we're not too sure exactly how." He directed their attention to the television. "Mother?"
The screen opened up to a panoramic shot of the courtyard from the east and a lone figure, easily identified as Brooklyn by the glaring brick-red skin, slowly drudging across and then leaning on the southern wall.
"I can't remember anything past this point until I woke up."
It played for a while, showing nothing interesting in particular, then burped static.
Whispers started up over the hiss, some a little less than flattering and Brooklyn ordered the footage sped up. It fast-forwarded nearly fifteen minutes until the picture suddenly cleared and his wild claims were promptly vindicated.
Othello lifted from his seat; the individual on the screen had somehow cracked the stony, sharp-chinned fascia. Surprise reigned as the distinguishing feature. "Goliath."
Having covered her mouth with a hand, Angela winced at the morbidly uniform grooves of dead flesh where wings should have been. "His back..."
"Where's Elisa? Trinity?"
"Are they coming back?"
The footage continued with the wingless former leader and his ink-skinned companion watching the phoenix gate call and order the flames into a halo tipped on its side. The female went first and then, hesitant, mournful, Goliath took a quick scan of the courtyard and soon followed.
"Why can't you remember?" Broadway asked as he tore his eyes from the screen.
Brooklyn shook his head, and his white mane shimmered pearl under chandelier light. "I don't know. It's bizarre. But I think something huge may have happened, huge being an understatement. Something that could have...altered, well...us. Altered everything." A broken recording played through his mind, spectral dialogue reduced to unintelligible fragments no better than the leftover imagery. "It's just a feeling, but a strong one." he insisted. "Of course...we have no way to prove it even if anything did happen."
"Regardless," Desdemona pronounced, her voice resonant in such an exquisitely spacious, high-ceilinged room, "we have learned one very important thing. Goliath is out there somewhere, and hopefully Elisa and Trinity are with him."
Broadway tightened his arm around Angela's shoulder, and she leaned into him for support.
Her eyes, framed by low, tapered brows, were locked on the screen and the paused image of her father. "They're alive."
"How can you be sure?"
She jerked her chin towards the screen. "He wouldn't allow it. He wouldn't allow his family to perish."
There were nods all around, a kind of communal agreement and trust in Goliath's sheer resolve to keep his family alive.
Brooklyn stood silent at the end of the room, sedate. As much as he wanted Goliath home, it would serve to introduce an uncomfortable reality between them, the usurping of his position. It was all he could do to focus on their task at hand. "They'll come home." he said, silencing the rest. "I have some experience in this kind of thing. But right now, we have a more pressing matter to attend to. The Guild..."
****************************************May 5th, 3547
Goliath landed on the steel plating with the unique sound he'd gotten used to hearing under his talons.
As Isis jumped from the gate's fire-edged portal and it vanished, he hoped next time he would be witness to the quickly wearing phenomenon it would take his family back home. For good. "It's over..."
"Hopefully." Isis walked around him, the larger male having stopped dead in the middle of the corridor.
"I suppose Zion took our warning to heart?"
"He must have. The timeline corrected itself, proved by Kessik's extrication from time. You told him everything, and he will undoubtedly warn others."
"I assume we'll know for sure very soon–"
He paused as each gate shuddered in his hand, and suddenly, the sapphire gate jumped towards its bastard kin and seemed to melt into its very structure, repairing the unsightly crack and becoming whole.
Goliath jerked his head back at the sight.
"Just like Microsoft." Isis joked. "It patched its cousin's faulty software. Perhaps it was the only way it could survive outside of vanishing from the timeline."
Turning the refurbished gate over, it glistened innocuously. "Do you think it will work as it should now? Can we go home?"
"I do not know. The gates have minds of their own. But from his vantage point, Zion did say you left twenty years ago."
Elisa watched as the thin shaft of light roamed slowly over her exposed stomach, the robotic arm attached to the side of the examination table repeating the same, sinuous motion back and forth.
A holographic display to her side flickered to life and magnified her unborn baby several times to afford a perfect view of how it was developing.
Jacosta studied the display and the subsequent readings, gesturing with her hand over the holographic fetus to rotate it and pick out more of the detail, such as the buds of its wings and the stump of a tail.
Behind her, Zion leaned on his cane, and a smile somehow made its way through the white facial hair.
"Well, Elisa," the doctor announced, "the child seems healthy."
Elisa pulled her shirt down as the arm retracted. "As healthy as you can determine."
Jacosta stood upright, and ran talons through her auburn hair. "Right, this is quite new to me." she said. "Even fifteen hundred years in the future, humans and gargoyles are still a little hesitant to start interbreeding. And even if there were any more children such as Trinity and your soon-to-be here, the records were lost to war and time. You're providing me with valuable information for the residents here."
"Glad I could...help..." she tailed off on seeing her husband trudge into the infirmary with Isis behind him, threadbare, bleeding and looking like they just went through a war themselves. "Jesus Christ, Big Guy, what the hell happened to you?"
Goliath looked her over for any sort of change; there was none he could see. "Don't you know?"
Isis leaned in. "I suppose we have our answer considering we're the only ones who retain our memory. Zion kept Kessik from going through with his plans, and thus, his future self does not spur your daughters to act."
"Kessik?" Zion parroted, his thick brows high with interest.
"We'll explain later."
Goliath stood for a moment and then staggered towards Elisa, each step more difficult than the last, his eyes mournful.
She slid off the table and before she could reach out to him, he collapsed in front of her and placed his hands to her abdomen. "Goliath?"
Great claws traced the lines of her stomach. "Her name is Liberty." he pronounced. "And she will be beautiful."