Tis The Season, Act III
By Harvester of Eyes special thanks to D. Taina for helping with the concept.
Legal Mumbo-Jumbo: All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of the author. This work is being distributed freely and without any financial gain whatsoever.
Warning: What with this being a Christmas tale, I did my very best to make this one enjoyable for all ages, but there might be a few small things that may not be for kids, including random acts of violence against reindeer. It's rated PG, but parents: you can judge for yourselves. Hell, that's what you should be doing anyway. They're your kids.
As with everything I write, comments are welcome, but I do ask that you not over-analyze this one. It's intended to be little more than satire (dark satire at best, but that's always been my favorite), so lighten up and just try to enjoy it. And I apologize in advance to that master of the English language, the late Mr. Dickens.
…Demona, looking upwards, did not even regard the gathering mist until it was too late. Her gaze snapped downward in alarm, and she did not even scream as the fog enveloped her completely…
It was like being wrapped in a cocoon of gauze. Demona could still move, but could not see more than an inch in front of her, did not even know which way was up any more. She sniffed the condensed air, but her nostrils could not discern much save for the warm, moist odor of the vapor that surrounded her.
She moved slowly in a tight circle, arms and tail poised in a fighting stance, but even if the fog did contain an attacker, Demona knew that she would not be able to sense it until it was right on top of her, and chances are by then it would be too late.
A potent mixture of rage, anxiety, and self-loathing coursed through her veins like honeyed wine. She knew that this was likely the result of the bearded fay's magic, and Demona cursed herself a fool in several tongues for allowing herself to fall victim to it. Especially given her recent dealings with the Third Race.
After what felt like a tense eternity, the mist slowly began to subside. As it pulled back from around the azure gargoyle, she saw the streets of the city come into view again, only now the color appeared drained from them. It was as if someone had taken a magical solvent and blotted the vibrant hues out from the heart of the city, leaving only a dull gray behind.
What was worse was that the humans still on the street took no notice at how monochromatic the world had become. Demona looked down at herself, saw that the color on her own skin and clothing had not faded like all the rest. But instead of feeling relief at that, the gargoyle only felt her stomach turning sour. True, the spirits she had been visited by were making her feel uncomfortable all night, but this time, she actually felt real dread. Like something ugly was about to happen.
She spun suddenly on the balls of her taloned feet to make for the gray brick wall behind her, consumed by a desire to get home. Maybe if she just lay in bed for a few hours, head buried under her pillow, all of this would go away…
She jumped in surprise as she turned, giving a small yelp. Standing behind her, not more than three feet away, was a figure dressed very simply in a red robe that covered its entire body. Like Demona, his own pallor seemed completely unaffected by whatever had faded the color from the rest of the city.
The being was tall, at least a foot taller than Demona, perhaps surpassing even Goliath in height. Demona peered up at its face, and found it buried beneath a cowl. No, actually, looking into the opening of the cowl was like looking into a bottomless maw that absorbed all light. If this thing even had a face, Demona could not make it out.
She took in a deep, calming breath. The being was intimidating, but no sense in letting it know that. She caped her wings and then cocked her head to one side, appearing in control. "I suppose you're another of the Puck's friends?" She asked it.
The being, arms folded across its chest and hands buried beneath its robe, only gave a slight nod in reply. It was unnerving, Demona admitted to herself, but at the same time, also refreshing. At least this meant that it might not give her any inane moral lectures like the other two. "And I guess you have some things to show me?"
Demona gave an exasperated sigh. Already, she had figured out that this being was probably using a spell to mask all the color in the city, in an effort to unnerve her. "All right, might as well get it over with, then. After all, the sooner I let you fulfill whatever obligations you have to Puck, the sooner we can both get on with our lives."
The being just stood there, not making any sound. It did not even nod its head. Demona regarded it for a moment, then spoke again. "I mean, that would probably be easiest for both of us. I don't have anything to use against you at the moment, and you probably won't let me just glide home, not without making me see something first." In truth, Demona was only speaking at this point to cut through the silence, which the thing seemed to be trying to use as a weapon.
There was none of the sarcasm that Demona had come to expect from the Children of Oberon. The being continued to just stand there without speaking. Finally, it uncrossed its arms and raised a hand. As the sleeve fell back down the being's wrist, Demona noticed how thin, almost skeletal, the hand appeared. The gargoyle could make out each individual bone in the palm. Once again, the unease crept back into her, but she did her best to mask it.
After a moment, the being traced a circle in the air with one slender finger, and a portal yawned open a few yards from where the two of them stood. The being looked down, as if it were scrutinizing Demona beneath its cowl, and pointed at the gaping mouth of the portal.
"And where exactly does that lead?" Demona asked, trying to sound indignant.
Still no reply. The being simply pointed at the portal more fervently.
Demona stood there another moment and chewed thoughtfully on her pinky talon, considering. She had no way of knowing where this thing led, and every part of her being told her that a trap waited on the other side. She regarded her mute companion again, and then remembered the Puck's words from earlier.
I mean, Future could give Preston Vogel lessons on being wooden! She thought about the other two visitors and what they'd shown her, and the bearded trickster's parting words from a few minutes ago. Finally, she spoke again to the hooded wraith.
"I suppose that you want to show me things that will someday happen, and that's where this leads to?" Demona cocked her head at the portal.
The gargoyle gave a frustrated sigh. "Might as well get this over with, then. It's been a long night and I'm very tired." So saying, she started towards the portal, the being falling into silent step just alongside.
The maw spun slowly before her, almost hypnotic, swirling with colors even darker than the shades of gray around her. Against her better judgment, Demona proceeded forward, as if the portal willed her towards it. When both she and the being had stepped through its threshold, the swirling gestalt of darkness seemed to cover them like a velvety blanket of obsidian. As the darkness bore down from all sides, Demona actually felt something she did not think it possible for a gargoyle to feel: cold. It was a terrifying sensation, in some ways more unpleasant than her daily transformations.
Finally, they made their way to what appeared to be the other side of the portal, and emerged into a scene almost identical to the one they had left. It was the same street, washed in the same colorless palette, but after a few moments of scrutiny, Demona found many things wrong with it.
For one thing, all of the Christmas decorations were gone. For another, all of the humans were gone, as well. Demona looked down at the sidewalk beneath her taloned feet, and found it to be cracked and weathered with age, the cracks overgrown with weeds.
Demona looked up again, and saw even more vegetation poking up through similar blemishes in the asphalt of the pavement. Vehicles of a make Demona was not familiar with lined the street, much sleeker than any automobile the gargoyle had ever seen. But even these high-tech cars appeared corroded from age and disuse. Demona saw the same signs of wear and corrosion on the buildings as well, which also appeared sleeker, constructed of the same shimmering material, like modern art sculptures. As with the cars parked on the streets, they too stood empty and decaying, like the relics of a long extinct civilization. It looked futuristic, but at the same time, very old as well.
All was still and silent. What had happened here? More importantly, what year was it? Demona gave an expectant look at the being, who still stood right behind, but as usual, he kept dumb.
"Where are we?" she asked it. "Is this Manhattan?"
An affirmative nod.
"More importantly, when are we?"
No response to that one, not even a slight movement.
Demona did not waste time waiting for it to give one. Instead, she continued to take in the crypt-like details of the seemingly abandoned city. As she took a few cautious steps down the sidewalk and approached the corner of the building, what she saw made her comparison of this future Manhattan to a crypt take on a whole new dimension.
The skeletons of several dozen humans, bleached and corroded by the elements, their clothing long ago rotted to dust, were strewn across the neglected pavement. Some lay in the fetal position, others on their backs with bony arms arranged in pathetic defensive stances. She took in the grisly details with no small amount of glee etched on her face. Seeing dead humans always brought a smile to her lips, even if it was only in visions.
Demona continued up the street, finding even more decayed corpses along the pavement and walkway. She paused to peer into one of the parked cars, and saw a skeleton slumped over a steering column that had no wheel, only a bank of lights that had long ago faded. In the back seat were the crumbling skeletons of two small children, still wrapped snugly into their seatbelts.
Demona turned away from the car, feeling even more elated, and then jumped suddenly when she found that the hooded spirit had once again crept silently up behind her, and was standing not a few feet away.
"Stop doing that!" Demona snapped at it. This time, the figure gave a slight shake of its head.
Damn these things! The gargoyle fumed to herself. Her guide was stiff as a board, but still, beneath its robes and emaciated frame beat the heart of a trickster.
"So, what am I looking at?" asked Demona, ignoring the being's attempt at humor. "Is it like this only in Manhattan, or all over the world?"
The figure pointed at something slightly to its left, and Demona turned to face the side of a crumbling brick building, its edges overrun with vines of ivy. On the wall's broad surface, images started to flash like slides from a projector. In the images, Demona saw the streets of several cities that she recognized: Athens, London, Paris, Moscow, Dublin, Beijing, Santiago; and several more, most of them places she'd been in her impossibly long life.
In all of the images, she saw what she was witnessing in Manhattan: streets and buildings crumbling under the weight of decay, strewn with the bones of those long-dead. And with each image she saw, the feeling of rapture grew within her.
"Then, humanity is no more?" she eagerly asked the being. "Someday, I will succeed in eliminating their useless race?"
The being responded with neither a nod or a shake. Rather, he pointed skyward. Demona followed his finger, and spotted a large winged shape passing by overhead. Demona watched as it flew to a very familiar looking structure that seemed to dwarf all other buildings on the skyline.
The Eyrie Building. Could Goliath, Angela, and the others still be alive? If so, then surely they must be enjoying the gift that Demona had bestowed upon them and all the gargoyles: a world devoid of humans.
"So, our race has survived?" Demona asked her guide, although it was not a question. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," she added. "After all, there are no more humans about to shatter them during the day."
The being made another circle in the air with its outstretched hand, and like a tear in a cloth, another portal seemed to grow out of the air before them. The being then pointed to the portal, its gaze set on Demona. Cautiously, though not as hesitant as she'd been last time, the azure gargoyle stepped through it.
After an unpleasant moment, she emerged into more familiar, though no less faded surroundings. Both she and the hooded fay were on the battlements of Castle Wyvern, looking down into the courtyards.
The stones of the castle seemed to be falling into the same state of neglect that afflicted the other structures in Manhattan, the walls overrun with carpets of ivy. Also, unless it was Demona's imagination, the gargoyle could swear that the ground she stood on leaned at a slight angle, as did the wall on the other side of the courtyard. Almost like the building itself was tilted.
Demona looked back down into the courtyard, in the center of which a low, curved firepot had been erected. Four gargoyles whom Demona did not recognize sat around the fire and did not speak, almost as if they were studying the flames. One of them in particular caught Demona's eye. It was a gargoyle that bore a very faint resemblance to Angela, except its skin was bluish green in color, the hair several shades lighter, and the wings were broader and possessed only one finger on their tips instead of three. Also, it did not have its tresses in the conservative braid favored by Angela, instead letting its hair flow freely like Demona's.
The more Demona studied the other three, the more that they looked vaguely familiar, as well. One was yellow and hairless, but with a beak very much like Brooklyn's, another was small in stature, with white hair, deep blue skin, and dual-wings like a butterfly's. The fourth was tan-colored, and bore a strong resemblance to the monstrosity Delilah, except that the hornets on its brow were more prominent, and the coat it wore trailed down to its ankles and was specially cut in the back to accommodate the tail.
As different as they appeared, Demona saw one trait that they all shared: a look of emptiness in their eyes, like beings whose lives had been stripped of purpose. For a moment, confusion played upon the gargoyle's face. She could not imagine why they would look so downtrodden. The infection of humanity had been excised, and the dominance of herself and her kind was assured.
The gloom was finally broken by the sound of taloned footfalls making their way across the overgrown courtyard. In the stillness of the empty city, the sound traveled far, and Demona felt the same sense of unease from earlier creep back into her.
A fifth gargoyle, tall with magenta skin and webbed wings, walked over to the edge of the firepot and plunked itself down in an empty space, joining the party. "Well, I've checked and rechecked those support struts," it told the others. "Too much weather damage. It's not safe to stay here another day."
This stirred the otherwise placid group into protest. The tan Delilah look-alike was the first to voice it. "You can't mean…" she started
"I'm afraid I do," the tall, web-winged gargoyle cut her off. "We have to leave this castle. There's too much of a risk that it will go sliding off the main plate while we sleep. If we're caught in stone when that happens…" His voice trailed off, but both he and the others knew there was no need to finish the sentiment.
"Wonderful," muttered the blue-green gargoyle with reflections of Angela. When it spoke, its voice sounded like an odd merging of Angela and Demona's. "First, we lose all purpose in life. Now, we lose our final tie to what we once had." She sighed bitterly and began to poke the fire with a long metal skewer. "Honestly, what's the point of going on?"
"Maybe it's for the best," said the blue, dual-winged gargoyle. "We keep dwelling on the past too much. Our ancestors always said that the past can't be changed. Maybe we should just start looking forward."
"To what?" the cyan gargoyle argued. "What do we possibly have to look forward to? We used to have a city to protect, a city full of life. Now, we're the caretakers of a damned crypt!"
As she was talking, Demona had leapt from her perch down into the courtyard until she was standing almost over the shoulder of the familiar-looking female. From where Demona now stood, she could see the eyes of those gathered round the fire more clearly, and she suddenly found an old memory echoing in their mind, words Goliath had spoken during a skirmish on the George Washington Bridge.
Gargoyles protect. It is our nature, our purpose. To lose that is to be corrupt, empty, lifeless.
Mentally, Demona took a step back. She started to understand why these gargoyles might actually miss humans, but it still didn't make sense. How could it be the nature of her kind to protect? After all, she had survived just fine for a millennium protecting no one except herself. And it wasn't as if the humans they protected were ever grateful for their service. How could these nameless few still feel anything for them?
"I understand how you all feel," spoke the tall, magenta gargoyle again. "But the fact is, none of us are engineers. Unless we can find a way to fix the structural damage in the next three hours, we have no choice."
The beaked gargoyle, who had been silent during the entire exchange, suddenly cleared his throat and glanced up. "Look who's come back for attention," he grumbled. "The one who made our lives miserable."
The faces around the fire turned in Demona's direction, and for a moment, the immortal gargoyle took a step back, thinking that they could see her. Then she realized that they weren't looking at her, but rather over her shoulder, and up in the direction of the parapet.
Demona turned and followed their gaze, just in time to see a familiar-looking gargoyle with hair like wildfire land on the flagstones. Demona quickly realized that she was looking at a future version of herself, albeit with a slight alteration: the figure in the vision wore a gold-colored breastplate in place of the usual halter. The future-Demona looked down at the assembled gargoyles with expectancy, almost pleading, in her eyes.
As quickly as they looked up, the five gargoyles looked back at the fire, focusing intently on it. "Pretend you don't see her," said the female gargoyle with blue-green skin.
The confusion that slowly crept up on her a few moments ago was now striking Demona with the force of a tidal wave. She scanned the circle of gargoyles, who all pretended to be studying the rim of the firepot, and then she looked back up at her future self, crouched at the edge of the parapet.
The future image focused on the gargoyles below almost as hard as they stared at the fire. It looked as if it was searching for something in their eyes, as if even a look of hatred from one of them would be gratifying. But no. She was shut out completely.
Finally, after only a few minutes that seemed to draw out like a rusted blade, the future vision of Demona sadly took wing from the parapet and glided off into the cold moonlight, her shrill cry rending the air as she soared away. There was no anger or contempt in the scream at all, only unfathomable despair.
Gradually, Demona became aware that her hooded companion was standing alongside her once more. She looked at him, hoping for a few preachy words, anything that would break the silence, but he only pointed at the unhappy company of gargoyles around the fire.
Again, Demona's mind seemed fit to burst from confusion. Why was this happening? She had succeeded in destroying humanity. These gargoyles should have been regarding her as a savior. Why then, was she denied her rightful place among them? Goliath's words on the bridge repeated in her head again, stronger than before.
"No," she said out loud, half to the spirit. "It can't be like this all over the world. These gargoyles are too much like Goliath. They've been corrupted by his influence."
The fay responded by opening another portal in front of Demona, and gesturing to it. Demona warily stepped through the portal, still shaken by what she had seen. But she tried to take comfort in the fact that surely, gargoyles elsewhere would appreciate what she had done.
Both the gargoyle and her guide emerged from the portal into surroundings far more pastoral, but no less faded, than those they had just left. Demona studied the style of the buildings and estimated that it must be a village somewhere in Japan.
Like Manhattan, the walls of the buildings were cracked and infested with creeping vegetation, but the streets were devoid of human remains. Demona cast a quizzical glance at her guide, and he merely gave a customary point of his skeletal finger. The gargoyle followed its direction, and saw that it looked to be pointing towards the village square.
Cautiously, though making no effort to be silent, she walked towards the center of the village, heart hammering in her chest. As she emerged into the plaza that was once the bustling center of industry for the island, she gasped in horror at what she saw.
The bodies of gargoyles, freshly slain, had been lined up on their backs beneath a row of cherry trees. The normally cheerful pink blossoms of the trees were devoid of color as sure as the beings that rested beneath them were devoid of breath. Each gargoyle was dressed in a white robe, their arms folded across their chests. Small stones rested over their eyelids, weighting them shut.
Once the horror of what she was seeing subsided, Demona's eyes began to gleam like deep fires. The humans had done this!
That doesn't make sense, the tiny voice in back of her mind argued. The humans are all dead. How could they have done this? Demona stopped and pondered that for a moment, her rage temporarily abated. As she peered closer at the mausoleum that the town square had become, she realized that a few living gargoyles still moved among the fallen, but Demona did not want to see what they might be doing.
She had to get away from this. She turned to the mute fay who now stood alongside her, a silent plea etched on her face. But, he merely stood there and pointed at the Japanese gargoyles. Demona started towards him, wings unfurled and talons splayed like knives. The being simply waved an emaciated hand at the gargoyle's feet.
A second later, Demona felt a slight tingle, like thousands of needles jabbing her skin, that started in the tips of her foot talons and moved very slowly up the well-muscled flesh of her calves and thighs. The feeling enveloped the lower half of her body, and gradually, Demona became aware that her legs had turned her around and that she was walking towards the scene beneath the cherry blossoms.
Demona shut her eyes tight for a moment, tried to concentrate, but it seemed that every message her brain created, ordering her feet to stop, was silenced before it reached its destination. She looked back at the fay, and saw it standing with hand outstretched, wiggling its fingers like a hellish puppeteer. Cursed trickster!
Demona's legs finally stopped moving when she was standing just beneath the shade of the trees, but the prickling sensation in them did not subside. She attempted to turn away, and found herself rooted in place. With no choice but to watch, she stood there and focused on the gargoyles who were still alive, not wanting to look at the dead ones.
Demona noticed that the two gargoyles who were still living were dressed in the same white kimonos as those whose corpses they tended. Each also wore a belt with a long, thin dagger buckled onto it. Demona saw them move purposefully from body to body, straightening the legs, crossing the arms over the chests, and weighting the eyes shut. In their own eyes, Demona saw the same feeling of emptiness that the gargoyles in Manhattan had all displayed, but she also saw something else in them: a look of peace.
Finally, each corpse had been tended to, and in movements that looked almost rehearsed, both gargoyles made their way to the nearest tree and knelt side by side beneath its blossoms.
"This world has nothing more to offer our kind," said the one on the left.
The one on the right nodded. "Before she who will not be named spread her poison across the face of the planet, we had a purpose to our lives, and that purpose was here in this village."
"There is no more purpose for us here, or anywhere else," said the one on the left again. "Therefore, we will do like the rest of our departed rookery brothers and sisters, and take our leave of this life devoid of purpose, and of honor."
Each spoke not a word as they drew their daggers in almost perfect synchronization and held them outstretched, blades turned inward and pointing at their hearts.
"For Ishimura!" they both spoke as one. Then, they thrust the daggers towards their chests even as they pushed their bodies forward, each bearing their weight upon the blades to drive them home.
"No!" Demona shouted a second before they impaled themselves, but the two Japanese gargoyles took no notice. Their eyes and faces were stoic masks of calm even as the blades pierced their chests and the blood began to spurt. A bright red stained both the bleached white of their attire and the faded gray of the grass beneath them. Finally, the two gargoyles pitched forward, their bodies shuddering with a few last vestiges of life. Then they each gave one final spasm and lay still.
The tingling sensation left Demona's legs, but the immortal gargoyle was too heart-heavy to notice. She stood there, buried her face in her hands, and cried. Even though she knew it should be wasted effort, she couldn't stop it. She tried to rationalize, to tell herself that these were gargoyles who had also clearly lost their way, if they couldn't even live without humans to protect. The influence of Goliath had obviously reached this clan, meaning that the whole gargoyle race was better off without them.
So why was it that Demona could not stop crying for them? Angela follows Goliath's ideals, the nagging voice spoke again. She believes in the good in humanity, and finds purpose in protecting them. Would the world be better off without her?
"No," Demona whispered the answer to her own question, voice quavering. But, the other half of her reasoned, Angela was different. She could still be made to see… couldn't she?
Demona turned her gaze to the side, away from the fresh, twitching corpses, but still she found herself unable to abate the tears. She ran to the nearest wall, leaned against it, and covered her eyes with her arm, fighting for control of her emotions.
A few minutes later, the tears had stopped, but the storm of nagging questions continued to rampage in her mind. She took a heavy breath, once more cursing the silence. At least some noise would distract her from the questions, the heavy doubts that now gnawed upon her
The spirit stepped up to her side, but as usual provided no answers. Instead, it merely extended a hand out before it, and opened yet another portal. Demona took a moment to wipe the tears from her face, and once she had composed herself, she stepped through the portal's lip, eager to leave this dim abattoir far behind her.
The scene they stepped into was no more comforting. Both Demona and the hooded fay emerged onto a windswept field, even more barren of life than the city they had just left. The skyline of Manhattan could be seen on the horizon, but somehow, it looked even more dead from a distance than it did up close.
The trees in the field bloomed, but no birds sang in them. Not even the lazy hum of insects could be heard, only the lifeless sigh of the wind. But soon another sound could be heard, carried on the breeze. The sound of sobbing. Demona turned in the direction of the sound, which came from a nearby tree only a few hundred yards off, and saw someone crouched underneath it.
The fay pointed to the figure beneath the tree, but this time, Demona did not need any sort of magic to urge her forward. She stepped cautiously towards the tree, until she could make out the unmistakable shock of red that flowed down the figure's back.
It was Demona's future-self, weeping even louder than Demona had done only a few moments ago. In the shade of the tree, Demona could make out what appeared to be a tombstone only a few feet from where the future image of herself knelt. She paused where she stood, only a hair's breadth from the shadow cast by the tree, unwilling to step across the line that divided the dismal gloom of the shade from the slightly brighter gloom of the gray moonlight.
In her hesitation, the fay had come up to her side. He pointed fervently at the tombstone, and Demona swallowed, trying to think of something to say. Her mind failed her, already reeling as it was from the harsh truths it had absorbed thus far.
Finally, after steeling herself, she stepped into the tree's shade, until she stood just over her future image, and peered at the smooth but weathered granite. ANGELA was etched on its surface in simple lettering.
For a moment, Demona just stood there, not knowing what to think. Part of her reasoned that it was natural for Angela to be dead, since they were looking at the future. This was the reason that another part of her was filled with disappointment, as Demona had always secretly hoped that Angela might still someday be made to see the truth. And when that day came, even though her daughter was mortal, Demona was certain she had something in her vast collection of magical literature that could take care of that. Still another part of her possessed a longing to know if Angela had lived to see the humans perish. If she had, then surely her daughter had come to realize that Demona was right all along.
Demona tried to take comfort in this fact, doing her best to ignore her future self crying at her feet. She was almost succeeding, and then she saw the future image reach out for the gravestone with one arm, resting its talons lovingly on the smoothly-chiseled edge.
"Forgive me," future-Demona sobbed, and buried its face in its hand once more. Almost as quickly as she'd regained it, the present Demona's calm began to shatter once more.
Forgive her? Why did Demona need to be forgiven by her own daughter? She'd never tried to do anything but what was best for Angela. True, she had been rough at times, and it pained her to do it, but the ends still justified the means. Demona's head reeled again, threatening to buckle under the outside pressure. Everything she had come to expect, to anticipate of the future was being challenged. This couldn't be true, it just couldn't…
"The time for forgiveness is long past," spoke a familiar voice. Demona whirled, and saw a human with a snow-white beard, which stood out starkly against his black coat, striding towards the tree with grim, purposeful steps. Macbeth!
For a moment, Demona did a double-take when she saw he had a wicked-looking energy pistol drawn, and seemingly pointed right at her heart. Then she remembered her future-self, and saw that that Demona had gotten to her feet and stood by the gravestone in a battle-ready posture, as if shielding it.
"Macbeth!" Future-Demona snarled, its tears evaporated at the sight of her former ally.
"Aye, Demona," the immortal Scot said with a slight nod, stopping a few paces from the tree. Both he and future-Demona went on with their exchange as if the hooded fay and the real Demona were not present. "I might have known you'd be here. Terrible thing to lose a child, wouldn't you agree, my old friend?"
"What could you possibly know about it?" future-Demona retorted.
The look on Macbeth's face suddenly grew cold and deadly. "You dare to ask me that question? It was through your treachery that I lost my son!"
"My treachery?" A battle-light leapt into future-Demona's eyes, gleaming like twin rubies against the gray.
Macbeth shook his head. "I'm tired of arguing this. We finish it now!" So saying, he raised the pistol and fired. The shot struck future-Demona square in the chest. Her breastplate took the brunt of the shot, but still she flew back, slammed against the tree trunk, and collapsed, wisps of smoke rising from her body.
Macbeth's own body shuddered and spasmed from the blow, but he kept his footing. Dismayed, he approached the crumpled body of his adversary and aimed the gun at her head, preparing to fire again.
Without warning, future-Demona's tail lashed out, wrapped itself around his wrist, and gave a yank just as Macbeth squeezed the trigger. His shot missed the intended target and instead struck future-Demona on the right shin, scattering small bits of roasted flesh amidst the grass. The former monarch grimaced and clenched his teeth from an unseen pain, his right leg buckling. The gun clattered from his hands to the soft grass at their feet.
As he dropped to one knee, Demona's future image rose unsteadily to its feet, and rapped its talons once against her now dented breastplate. From where the present Demona stood watching, the smoldering wound on her future-self's leg looked excruciatingly painful, but her image seemed to be focusing somehow.
Though Macbeth's own leg was on fire, he swam through the fog of pain quicker than future-Demona anticipated. As future-Demona began to turn on her good leg, and start scaling the tree to get airborne, Macbeth pulled a dagger from his boot and lunged forward. Future-Demona tried to twist out of its way, and managed to avoid a fatal stab, but the blade still found purchase in the unguarded flesh of the gargoyle's belly.
Future-Demona screamed in pain as Macbeth buried the knife up to its hilt, a pain which he echoed a moment later. The old king doubled over on his knees as an invisible white-hot lance sliced into his bowels.
Summoning a will forged through centuries of survival, future-Demona fought through its own pain and yanked the knife free. Blood began to flow from the wound, running down the gargoyle's leg and staining the grass bright red. Using one taloned hand to cover the tear in its abdomen, the future image leapt onto the tree trunk and began climbing with its free hand, using both the good leg and the injured one. Though her life force was steadily draining from her, leaving deep crimson streaks on the bark of the tree, future-Demona paid it no heed, her mind possessed by mortal terror. Her body was on fire from the hips down, but she still forced herself up the side of the tree.
Once future-Demona was in the topmost branches, it leapt towards the heavens, blood still dripping from its wound, and caught the breezes on its wings. Macbeth, on the ground, somehow managed to focus amidst considerable agony to the point where he pulled one of his standard lightning guns from the pocket of his coat, and calmly aimed it at the departing gargoyle.
On the ground, Demona nearly cried out in protest as Macbeth fired at her future self. Demona's future image got only a few hundred feet from the tree when the beam of electricity struck home on the sensitive flesh between its wings. Both it and Macbeth gave a cry of anguish, and then future-Demona's wounded body fell from the heavens to land with a sickening crunch against the unyielding earth. Macbeth's own body jerked violently, and then he pitched forward onto the grass and lay still.
Demona stood there in silence, Macbeth crumpled on the ground before her. For a long moment, she just stared at his body, barely able to breathe. Then, through the blood pounding in her ears, she heard the sounds of faint moaning being carried on the wind. Somewhere in the tall grass, several meters from where they stood, she knew that her own body lay, teetering on the brink of a death Demona had learned to doubt would ever come.
At the gargoyle's feet, Macbeth slowly stirred. Using an iron discipline which rivaled that of his former ally, the once High King of Scotland clenched his teeth, willed himself to move against the pain. Taking up the bloodied knife in one hand and his gun in the other, the black-clad figure hobbled towards the source of the moaning with slow, determined steps, like an avenging reaper.
Demona turned away, not wanting to watch herself die. After everything she had worked for, everything she was going to achieve, it just couldn't end like this. The realization battered her brain even harder than her future image's words to Angela's grave. What did it all mean?
As Demona turned, she came face to concealed face with the hooded fay once more, who had stood there like a grim sentinel during the entire exchange. The being, as it had done since Demona first met it, pointed over Demona's shoulder, towards the dual execution that was about to take place. As Demona peered into the dark, ethereal depths of his cowl, the relentless torrent in her mind silenced itself, leaving the gargoyle with only a single, razor-fine moment of clarity.
Yes, of course! She thought. It's so obvious! What a fool I've been! Why didn't I see this before? Suddenly, Demona knew exactly what she had to do. It was clear to her.
Nervously, Demona licked her lips. "I understand why I was shown all of this," she calmly addressed the fay. "I'm no longer the gargoyle I once was. Everything I've seen tonight has helped me to realize something. It's so painfully simple now. I know what I must do."
Slowly, she dropped to her knees, took hold of the edges of the fay's robes, her eyes glistening. "Take me back home, please. You and the others have helped me to see what has to be done to prevent this from happening. There might still be time!"
A protracted silence, during which the fay seemed to be regarding her. Then it slowly nodded its head, and snapped the fingers on its left hand. The sound reverberated through the still meadow like a gunshot, and for a moment, Demona's vision was ensconced in a curtain of white.
When the brilliance faded, Demona looked around, still on her knees, and found herself and the hooded trickster in the living room of her residence. Both the fir tree and the splendid repast that had been left behind by the spirit of Christmas were gone, but there was still a fire in the fireplace, burning low. The color had also been once more restored to the world.
Demona knelt there for a minute, eyes shining with relief, happy to be home and in the present. Then she remembered that her silent guide was still in the room with her. Slowly, Demona rose to her feet, smiled warmly at the spirit. "Thank you, my friend," she spoke to it. "Thank you, to you and the others."
Demona stepped back away from the fay, who stood there, arms folded across its chest, with what appeared to be slight curiosity mixed in with its stiff posture. Demona sighed heavily and started towards the dying fire, intent on stoking it back to its former brilliance.
"With your help," she continued as she picked up the iron poker from where the last spirit had left it, "and the help of the others, I have come to realize something."
Demona took a step to the left, pretending to reach into the hearth with the poker to break up the smoldering logs. Then, without warning, she spun back in the direction of the hooded fay, springing up suddenly on her taloned feet to bring herself eye-level with the being. In a motion smoother than fluid, she brought the arm with the poker around and used the weapon to strike the trickster soundly on the side of its cowled head. Beneath the hood, the being experienced a moment of bright starbursts against its vision, and then the world went black.
A few minutes later, the servant of Oberon painfully regained consciousness, and as the world fell into focus, it found itself in a dingy room with no windows. The walls and floor appeared to be made of solid granite, and the corners of the room were heaped with a variety of crates and artifacts. Covering the wall to its left were shelves overflowing with books, tomes, and vellums, not to mention more than a few jars whose contents were clouded by the dull yellow of preservatives. The wall to the right contained racks which housed a myriad assortment of melee, projectile, and energy weapons.
The fay tried to move, but found itself held fast. Its gaze darted to the left and right, and it realized that it was spread-eagled against the wall, thick iron chains holding it in place at the wrists, ankles, and torso.
"Awake already?" a familiar voice asked, sounding almost sultry. It was not a question. The fay brought its gaze forward again, and in the center of the room, it saw a large worktable, bathed in the harsh glow of fluorescent lights that ran overhead. Demona sat on the edge of the table with her arms and legs crossed, looking almost relaxed, her tail swinging lazily back and forth like a pendulum. The smile on her face looked nothing like the one she had worn upstairs in her living room, having taken on a more lethal quality.
Propped against the worktable, catching the cold glare of the lights, rested a large, corrugated piece of iron sheet metal. The lighting also caught on the iron head of the mace that Demona had buckled to her belt.
"Good," the gargoyle purred as she leapt off the table. She took a moment to flex her wings before drawing them about her shoulders, and then her expression turned more serious.
"As I was saying upstairs," she told the fay, "I've come to a realization. I should have figured this out from the beginning. This entire evening has been one long trick, a pack of lies concocted to make me forswear my revenge against the humans!"
She paced slowly back and forth in front of the fay, never taking her cold emerald eyes off of its shackled form. "Very clever, my friend. First, your shapeshifting cousin assumes my face and wears my defenses down by making me relive the past, trying to blame me for the sins that humanity has committed against my kind. Then it throws Angela into the mix, trying to convince me that we would both be better off if I gave up my quest for vengeance. Then your jolly friend steps in and tries to compare humans to gargoyles, as if I have anything in common with that fascist pig, John Castaway."
She stopped pacing and glared at the spirit with icy flames dancing in her eyes. "Finally, after they've done their job, you step in with your lies about how a world without humans really wouldn't be a paradise at all. Clever, but ultimately futile."
More and more, the hooded trickster was starting to wish that it possessed verbal communication. It attempted to gesture in protest, to try and plead with its malicious host that she'd gotten it all wrong, but the chains were too tight.
The corners of Demona's mouth curled into a grin at the sight of her captive's panic. "Now, then," she went on. "I have no doubt that you came at Puck's behalf, but I have a feeling that there's someone else involved in this little plot. Tell me who it is. Is it Xanatos? Macbeth? Thailog? What about Goliath? If it is Goliath's clan, do they know how to find me? Do they know anything else about my home's defenses? Talk!"
There was silence. The fay squirmed more frantically against its bonds, head bobbing in every direction. Demona shook her head and unbuckled the mace from her belt. For a moment, the fay braced itself, thinking she intended to use it on him. But Demona turned, walked back towards table, and the large piece of sheet metal.
Once back at the table, she turned once more to face the hooded trickster. A wicked smirk decorated her features as she started to run the head of the mace slowly up and down the grooves on the metal's surface, producing a series of faint clunking noises. The fay responded with several minute twitches, much the same way most humans would respond to fingernails across a blackboard.
"Feel like talking yet?" Demona asked her captive guest.
Silence. Only a slight shuffling noise, more frantic than before, as the trickster tried to find some leeway against the chains.
Demona grated her mace against the sheet metal again, this time more fervently. The twitching from Oberon's vassal became more pronounced. Demona continued it for a minute more and then suddenly banged hard against the metal's surface, the clang reverberating in the still, recycled air of the basement. This time, the fay reacted as if a battering ram had smashed into its guts. The pain was made even worse by the fact that he could not double over from it.
"Still a little tongue-tied, are we?" Demona asked in a giddy, yet sadistic tone. "Well, perhaps your two friends will prove more loquacious when I interrogate them."
The fay looked right at her in what Demona could only guess was an expression of disbelief. She decided it best to go with it, whatever it was. "That's right," she continued. "I plan on calling them here, shortly. I may have lost your queen's mirror, but I have other methods at my disposal for summoning a member of your race. It's amazing what one can collect in a thousand years. That reminds me, I want to show you something."
For a few tense minutes, Demona retreated into the gloom of one of the basement's far corners. The fay could not see her, only hear the sounds of boxes being moved around. Then it heard a very low-pitched squeaking. A sound not created from iron, but unsettling nonetheless.
Finally, Demona emerged from the shadows, pushing a small surgeon's cart in front of her, its wheels squeaking against the smooth granite floor. As she came closer, the fay noticed a bundle wrapped in rich burgundy cloth resting on the cart's tray. Demona wheeled the cart up to her captive and started to slowly unroll the bundle, revealing its contents: an iron hacksaw, an iron-tipped mallet, some iron hooks, and several serrated knives of various lengths.
Demona picked up one of the knives, allowing the light overhead to catch on the blade. She turned it slowly, so the fay could make out just how finely sharpened the small iron teeth were. "You and your friends aren't the only tricksters around here, you know," she told her guest. "Let me show you a little trick of my own. I learned this from a Spanish cardinal in the sixteenth century, just before the human met with an unfortunate and rather messy accident."
Flashing her fangs maliciously at the fay, she picked up another knife and started grinding its blade against that of the first knife, producing another sound that made her captive squirm. "Granted, I haven't used this technique in a few decades," she continued as she sharpened the knives. "So I may have grown a little rusty. But that should make it more interesting." She chuckled for a moment at this.
As quickly as the laughter started, it stopped, and she resumed her deadpan expression. "Now then," she said to the fay. "I will ask you nicely one more time: who are you working for?"
No reply. But secretly, this was what Demona had been hoping would happen. "Very well," she said curtly, and then unfurled her wings, blocking the light from the fluorescents. Moments before she set upon him with her tools, the mute fay gave a small shudder of resignation. Dawn was still a few hours away, but the being had a feeling that sunrise would offer no respite from the agony.
The Following Evening
Demona gave a lazy yawn as she relaxed in her living room, and flipped through the television. It had been a tiring day, but rewarding. From where she lounged on her couch, Demona cast an eye to the mantle of her fireplace, upon which rested a crystal in an ornately curved wooden stand. If she listened closely, she could almost make out the screams from the three spirits imprisoned within.
Their bodies finally shattered from hours of relentless interrogation, it had only taken the appropriate spell to trap the souls of the three meddling tricksters within one of the gargoyle's soul spheres, where they were now eternally held fast in the maelstrom of chaos that existed halfway between life and death. While alive, they'd been unable to tell her anything, but Demona could now say with some certainty that they spoke the truth when they said they acted alone.
It had actually pained Demona somewhat to use the sphere. She had been saving it for Puck, but, well, they both had time. Someday, she'd surely find some other method to make Oberon's wayward child suffer.
For a moment, as she sat there, Demona pondered making a tape recording of the spirits' screams, and mailing it to Owen Burnett's attention at the Eyrie Building. Wouldn't that make a lovely belated Christmas gift for the Puck, to know that he'd signed the death warrant for three of his friends?
The more she thought about the idea, the more Demona became warm to it. She smiled coldly, the television now forgotten. Yes, why not give the trickster a little taste of the same torment he'd bestowed upon others?
Demona stood and made her way over to the fireplace. A fire had been rekindled in the hearth, over which a joint of venison roasted on a spit. For some strange reason, when Demona had summoned Puck's other two friends about an hour before dawn, the bearded spirit of Christmas had had a small reindeer with him.
The animal had looked even more shocked than its master, but Demona killed it anyway, after she'd made sure the two tricksters were securely bound by iron. In her youth, she'd enjoyed hunting with her rookery siblings in the forests around Wyvern, and was still partial to freshly roasted venison when she could get her hands on it.
Demona had been cooking it for several hours how. The last time she checked it was right after she had dispatched her guests, and was on her way upstairs to take a shower. The torture had grown a little messy in the final stretch. Demona thanked the dragon she had spare evening attire…
Licking her lips hungrily, Demona cut a large portion from the bone, amazed at how easily it gave way beneath the knife. The magic of the Third Race wasn't all bad, she mused to herself. Whatever this deer had been fed on Avalon, it made the meat extra succulent.
She returned to her seat, set the plate down on the coffee table, and poured herself another glass of wine. She paused before she started eating and raised her glass to the crystal mounted on her mantle. "To life," she mockingly toasted her captive audience, and then laughed.
As she ate, Demona's mind was working feverishly. There were a few things in the present that she needed to take care of. Her assistant, for one thing. She'd have to find some excuse to let Erin go. For a moment, the gargoyle wondered if she should simply have Erin killed, but decided that she couldn't devote the time or resources to it. No, Demona just needed the human out of her hair. She'd die, with the rest of humanity, someday…
Henrickson, Bruford, and Harper were another story altogether. Demona sipped her wine and pondered the best way to permanently dispose of them. For a while, she tried to come up with a suicide mission-type scenario that she could send them on, then she thought of something else. Why not invite the three of them to a meeting at her house at sundown? Yes, watching their employer transform right before she tore them open would be a nice little surprise, at least for the few remaining seconds of their lives.
She yawned luxuriously and sat back on the couch, the food still warm in her belly, and put her feet up on the table. She'd make up her mind later. It had been a long day, after all.
Why not take a little time off? The voice in the back of her head chimed in. Demona curled and uncurled her foot talons and considered. Yes, perhaps a little working vacation would be nice. Tomorrow morning, she'd call the office and inform them she'd be working out of her home for the next few days. Among other things, she could finally get around to safely analyzing that book from the Khan Dynasty. Perhaps something in there would provide a key to bringing her closer to her ultimate goal.
Relaxing on her couch with her wineglass balanced on her impossibly slim midriff, Demona cast one more look at the crystal on her mantle and snorted in its direction. Lying fools, all three of them. If anything, when the human race was finally reduced to dust and bones, the gargoyles of the world would vindicate her. She just knew it.
Ah, well. Enough of that for now. The three tricksters weren't going anywhere, and she had an eternity to gloat at them. For the moment, it was time to relax. Demona clutched her wineglass and sat up, turning off the television with her other hand. "I think I'll see what's in the funnies," she mused to herself as she set the remote down and picked up the newspaper.
She took a moment to top off her drink before settling back down into the couch with the paper and flipping to the obituaries. Not a bad day overall, she thought to herself. If only more of my Christmases could be like this. But then, I might run the risk of actually liking this cursed human holiday. She shook her head and went back to reading the obits, feeling, for the moment, at peace with herself, if not the world…