"We know what we are, but know not what we may be." - William Shakespeare
An unknown time and place...
The maelstrom didn't let up for a moment. Flames lapped at her skin and the winds howled around her, roaring, angry and alive. She was the pinball in the eye of the hurricane and like so many times before, all she could do was ride it out until the end.
Something solid hit her like a semi truck and she thought at first it was her husband, his massive frame tossed around as easily as a rag-doll. But it was only after gravity kicked in and the world reoriented itself did she realize she'd struck the ground. The wind died and fire gave way to pain; blinding, agonizing pain radiating outwards from her stomach. Her screams came out in lurching, sputtered breaths. It was getting worse with every trip through the Phoenix gate's particular form of travel, her advancing pregnancy like a ticking time bomb. It'd come to the point where she thought the next trip through the gate would either kill her or the baby, despite any future visions.
Elisa lay there, prone in the fetal position, hands clutched to her distended stomach and mewling in pain. It wasn't until she noticed a familiar pattern on the floor that her mind stopped and she was suddenly able to focus. That pattern, as unassuming as it was, was intimate to her in ways no one could ever imagine. A trembling hand traced a crack in the floor that spider-webbed outward. The floor she was lying on was made of fitted, gray stones.
It was the castle, it was Wyvern. She was home, finally home.
"Goliath...?" she called weakly. "Goliath! We're home...oh god, we're home..." But no one answered. Constantly at her side for months (years, it felt like sometimes) her husband was nowhere to be found. There were times they'd been separated when arriving somewhere and somewhen but they'd always found each other. "Goliath?" she asked again, "Isis?" and then horrifically realized, "Trinity? Trinity?!"
Her daughter wasn't here.
Nothing. Elisa managed to get herself into a standing position and lurched down the corridor, the pain once centered in her midsection slowly diminishing as it always did. Fate wouldn't be cruel enough to separate her from her daughter at the end.
As she scurried through the warren of corridors, so familiar and yet, so naggingly different, Elisa was beginning to realize the castle was empty; no gargoyles, no humans, not even a voice or stray sound to assure her she wasn't completely alone. She even tried calling for Mother, hoping the sentient computer program was listening, but there was no response.
Passing the large door that led into the courtyard, she detoured outside but found the exterior grounds and gardens surrounding the castle proper as empty as the inside. The battlements were unguarded and she headed immediately for Goliath's tower, hoping Trinity would've come here looking for her father, climbing that slim, winding staircase as she'd done for years and dragging her fingers along the stones as she ascended.
But as she exited through the opening on the watchtower, bringing Manhattan into full, panoramic view, her heart sunk at the sight. The New York skyline had changed, almost beyond recognition.
There were odd, column-like structures floating in the air above the island, and glowing, shimmering, glass-like towers that reached towards the Eyrie's impressive height, threatening its title as tallest building in the western hemisphere. Small vehicles raced through the sky below her, zipping through skyscrapers both new and old and the south port had expanded into the sea, with dozens of strange ships docked in the bay.
It was something from a sci-fi movie and Elisa suddenly realized as close as she'd come to home, this wasn't quite it; right place, wrong time. Her heart dropped at the crushing thought. "Damn it..." she muttered and wrenched her eyes from the alien skyline.
She ran back inside and to the grand hall, heading for the elevators. She noticed the panel wasn't lit, but tried anyway. Elisa poked the button a few times and waited impatiently for the usually efficient elevator cabs to arrive but nothing seemed to work. "Come on..." In frustration she jabbed at the button some more before giving up and stalking down the hallway.
She tried several bedrooms, one after another and by pure muscle memory, sidestepped through a large pair of wooden doors into her own.
She'd run into her bedroom and despite the frantic search for her missing family, Elisa stopped mid-frenzy. It had been so long, through so many time periods, finding herself and her family in such alien worlds compared to her own, she had to stop and savor the memory of her own private space. No matter how many years had passed it looked the same. The massive, canopied bed was still the heart of the entire room, surrounded by several pieces of antique furniture. Strangely, the photos were absent, but who knows how far into the future she'd come. This room might belong to someone else now. Hell, the entire building could be owned by someone else; maybe a distant Xanatos descendant.
Elisa shook the question (one amongst a million) from her head and checked the small adjoining bedroom. "Trinity? she called out, but found nothing. The little room had been converted into an office of sorts, complete with the futuristic version of a computer and an old sewing machine. She figured this was more proof this room wasn't her own, considering she'd never be caught dead behind a sewing machine.
She bolted from the bedroom, intent on finding her daughter and husband. She searched through more and more rooms, the kitchen and dining area, until she came across the towering entrance to the castle's library. Perhaps, she thought desperately, she'd find Goliath there, in the dark and perched on the ladder as always in his thinker's pose, clutching a book in one of his great hands. He'd raise his head and smile at her and everything would be right with the world.
She pushed open one of the great doors but found nothing, just darkness.
As different as the castle appeared, as unfamiliar as that city outside was, the library seemed untouched. Moonlight streamed through the small circular windows in the domed ceiling, coating the high walls in a ghostly blue glow. The place was a tomb, eerily static, all except the flicker of something on the edge of her peripheral vision; the great fireplace was lit and Elisa was drawn towards the roaring fire and a lone chair with its back towards her. She could only see a pair of hands from around the overstuffed, high-backed chair. They were withered, pock-marked and pale, but handled a pair of knitting needles like a samurai warrior would a sword.
"It's all right," a voice called to her, "you don't have to keep your distance."
There was something so familiar about that voice; for a moment, Elisa almost thought... "Mom?" she whispered hopefully.
The needles came to a dead halt and the mystery woman chuckled. "Oh good lord...I don't sound like mom, do I?"
Elisa crept closer, and the owner of that voice slowly came into better view. Silver hair fell over her shoulders and swirled into a thick braid that meandered and eventually coiled loosely in the woman's lap. If freed, her hair must've been a good four feet long. She was wearing a thick overcoat over a fine-tailored dressing gown and though slightly pallid from age, her skin still glowed warm caramel. "Who are you?"
The woman neatly gathered her knitting and placed it into a basket alongside the chair. Then, she leisurely turned her head, as if she was enjoying the performance from her deliberately dramatic reveal. "You tell me."
Elisa was suddenly struck by the memory of her grandmother on her father's side.
"What's the matter, Maza," the woman asked, "you look like you're about to pass out."
That voice was familiar for a reason; it was hers. "Oh my god...you're me..."
The older Elisa Maza grinned that same satisfied grin and rested her head on her folded fingers, propped up on the chair's arm. "Very astute, detective."
For a moment she was dumbstruck, trying to force a word or two from her mouth but nothing came. She studied the older woman's face; thinner jaw, sunken cheekbones, thin lines had carved their way through the older woman's features, but they were undeniably her own.
"Yeah," the old woman nodded, knowing exactly how Elisa felt considering she'd lived through this moment once before, "I know. Even after everything we've experienced in our lifetime, it's still a little unbelievable."
Elisa finally took a breath and allowed herself the time to recover from the shock of seeing her future self. "This...can't be..."
"Real? 'Fraid so, Maza."
"But, there's no way–"
"–you're looking at yourself in the future?"
Once wide, her eyes slowly narrowed, using every skill and instinct she'd gained from years of experience as a Manhattan detective to dissect the old woman claiming to be her.
But, before her younger self could say anything else, the older Elisa cut in. "By the way, I know what you're thinking. This could be some kind of trap, some kind of magic fugue, maybe one of our numerous enemies have generated all this as an ambush of some kind–"
"Stop that!" Elisa barked, patience threadbare. "Stop telling me what I'm thinking."
"You're right, I'm sorry."
She rubbed her furrowed brow. "Even if all of this is real, it's still..."
"Insane?" older Elisa offered. "You seen worse."
"You...we look pretty good, I suppose..."
"Not bad for a hundred and four year old."
Elisa's features folded in disbelief. "A hundred and what...? How–"
"Did we live to be over a century?" the older Elisa answered for her, and was immediately apologetic when her doppelganger's mouth tightened. She had to be careful; she could recite this entire conversation from memory and didn't want to make her stubborn younger self any angrier or more on edge than she already was by stepping on her words. She continued cautiously, "Oh you know, a little bit of technology, a little bit of magic...overall good living, Maza. All that running, all those exercises, the damned yoga...it paid off."
Since the revelation, Elisa's eyes had held this woman in their breadth the entire time. It was only now they finally strayed off into the distance, her mind swirling. "This is unbelievable..."
"I know. Such is our life."
The shock wearing off, Elisa suddenly remembered her lost husband and daughter. Heavy brown eyes pressed back on the old woman. "Where's Goliath? And Trinity?"
She wondered when her younger self's brain would reorient itself. "They're all right."
But that wasn't good enough. "I'm only going to ask one more time. Where are they?"
The older woman leaned back, put a hand over her heart and feigned apprehension at her younger self's warning. "You wouldn't arrest an old woman, would you?"
"I'm not kidding. Where are they?"
She held up a finger. "You asked a second time."
Elisa leaned in and growled, "Where are they?!"
Immediately, her older self grabbed her arm and squeezed, her strength belying that of a frail centenarian. The grandmotherly facade eroded and revealed Elisa Maza, the New York cop. "Trust me when I say this, Maza," she said sternly, "they're all right. And you'll see them soon."
Something about that conclusive tone calmed her, and if she weren't staring herself in the face Elisa might've argued further. "Are you sure?"
"Remember, time travel. I've already experienced this all."
And Elisa let something loose from her throat. "I'm really starting to detest time travel."
"Get used to it, Maza, you're not quite done yet."
She couldn't help but instinctively rub her stomach.
And the older woman caught the subtle gesture. She reached a hand out and gently grazed it across the extended flesh, caressing the swell and the child inside. It was so familiar and yet so bizarre being on this side of a pregnancy that happened over seventy years ago. She was surprised her younger self allowed her the indulgence. "You look like you're about to pop."
"It's hard to tell. Goliath and I did some rough math and I think I should be getting close to a due date."
"Our second girl, huh? Chosen a name yet?"
"You should know."
Her eyes danced. "Humor me."
"Well, according to Goliath," Elisa said, "her name's Liberty."
"Do you think that has any significant meaning," she asked with a twinkle, "or are you just naming her that because you were told by a future version that was her name?"
Elisa saw the potential for an aggravating, circular argument about the intricate mechanics of time and space and felt the nascent headache. "I really hate time travel."
"Chicken and the egg. Remember London?" The older Elisa raised her eyes, the mirth bleeding out. "I can't believe out of everything you suffered the last year, you'd want to bring another child into the world."
"It's a miracle Goliath and I are able to conceive at all, let alone have a healthy child." she said quickly, defending her decision. "I just wanted something perfect and pure amongst all the death and destruction."
"It wasn't very good timing." older Elisa argued sternly.
"I didn't care." Younger Elisa was equally obstinate. "I'm not about to let that go to waste, especially if my life could be cut short. But it wasn't," she flicked an accusatory finger, "and you're the proof."
With a faint shrug, the older woman deliberately played loose with the truth.
"I don't suppose you'd tell me anything about my future if I asked, huh?"
"Against the rules."
"Time travel rules." she clarified. "Why do you think Brooklyn never indulged the clan about forty years of slogging through time?"
"But we can't change time. It's absolute."
"In that particular timeline. But other paths can branch off, creating quite the commotion so I'm told." She angled her head, giving her younger self an oddly-familiar grin. "How do you think you and Goliath met your future daughters?"
Elisa paused, let her mind digest, and then, "Can you at least tell me this? Does Goliath ever forgive me?"
"Oh come on, Maza, you already know the answer to that." she fired back. "Put that fancy psyche degree of yours to work. You know the Big Guy inside and out, perhaps better than he knows himself. Being the leader's mate put you in a singular position and you had to make a decision you felt was best for the clan."
"Stop that." The older Elisa slapped her hand to the chair's armrest, flashing angry eyes. "Stop trying to grill me for information. And while I have the rare opportunity to bitch out my younger self, stop constantly second-guessing yourself. You knew that decision was the best one you could've made for the clan. If the worst fallout is that you and Goliath have a little tiff, then I think you came out quite unscathed."
Hormones swimming through the bloodstream didn't allow for patience and Elisa replied as politely as she could to someone over a hundred years old. "I wouldn't call betraying my husband a tiff."
"You didn't betray him."
"I voted against him, and cost him his place as leader."
"Only because of the math." the older Elisa argued. "The decision was already going to be made regardless. It was just unfortunate the deciding vote fell on your shoulders. You did what you thought was right."
"That doesn't justify what I did to him..."
"Maza, enough! You've got to let go or it'll tear you up inside! You'll destroy yourself and the relationships with the people you love–" She stopped mid tirade, breath stuttering.
Elisa noticed her older self place a hand to her chest. "Are you all right?"
She waited a few moments to allow her heart rate to return to normal. "I'm fine." she whispered. "I just never thought this damned argument would resurface after seven decades. Listen, we could argue semantics until you went into labor and I exploded in a cloud of dust. Frankly, I don't have the time or the patience." A bony finger was held to young Elisa's face. "Maza, you need to get over it and move on."
"Easy for you to say when you know the ending of the movie."
This woman was stubborn as a mule, but she'd been tempered by seventy years of hard living. The older Elisa decided to steer the conversation in a different direction. "Answer me this, Maza. Was there a moment when you doubted your decision up on that parapet?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know how I feel about you, right?"
And Elisa finished the exchange, one that was burned in her memory. "How we both feel, yes."
The older woman smiled at the memorization, coming so smoothly and without hesitation. "Imagine if we never gathered the courage to do that."
"I can't imagine ever doing anything else." Her voice was a whisper. "I can't imagine my life without Goliath."
"And neither can he. Marriage is based on trust, difficult choices and sacrifices, and Goliath knows that. He's always known that. He may bluster and growl and carry on stubbornly, but he knows you'll always be there for him despite any differences you have."
She didn't know when it happened, but Elisa found herself kneeling in front of the older woman and grasping her hands, like a child being told a story.
"Your decision to help remove him from his role as leader will haunt you for a long time, but you'll eventually get over it." she continued. "Everyone thinks marriage is simple and rosy and wonderful, but it's a bond forged through trial and fire. In some cases, literally. This entire divide is merely a speedbump on your path and you need to stop looking behind you and keep your eyes on the road ahead." Then, the older woman cupped her younger version's face with her hands. "Your life with Goliath...will be wondrous."
Something caught in Elisa's throat. Her eyes misted and she blinked to keep herself from tearing up; hearing that affirmation from none other than herself was especially poignant.
"There'll be hard times ahead, Maza, but good times too. So many good times. I know it doesn't seem like it now, but you will survive this, and only if you stay strong."
"It's so hard..." she whispered.
"I know." older Elisa nodded. "But you have so many people to draw strength from. And right now you'll need that strength more than you'll ever know. There's no room for second-guessing or petty feuds."
Her head fell and had to concede to someone who was using her own kind of reasoning, especially knowing she'd lived another seventy years with her husband. "What about...Goliath's wings?"
But the older Elisa suddenly lost interest in the conversation, leaned back and stretched. "Oh, I think I've talked enough." she said. Hands on the chair's armrests, she pushed up and struggled to her feet. "Why don't we take a walk?"
Elisa too had to fight the strong pull of gravity as she got back up and stood near her older self in case the woman toppled over. She didn't look too steady on her feet. "Are you all right to walk?"
"Are you sure?"
Tapping the end of her cane to the hard castle stones in frustration, the steel tip cracked a few times in succession. "Stop coddling me, Maza." she chided the younger woman, brushing the long silver braid over her shoulder. "I get enough of that from the clan. But do me a favor and let me lean on you for a while."
The older Elisa tucked an arm underneath her younger self's own to steady her gait, and slowly led her charge out of the library for a tour through Wyvern's corridors. "Everyone constantly tries to get me to use that damned Hoveround, say they don't want me to overexert myself."
Young Elisa didn't find that thought particularly appealing. "I never imagined myself needing one of those damned things. How does it handle on these floors?"
"Actually this Hoveround really hovers. Anti-gravity technology has come a long way."
"With Xanatos Enterprises owning all the patents I suppose."
"Well, most of them. Hell, some of those patents are helping to keep me alive." she revealed.
And Elisa's expression soured. The combination of several words like Xanatos and patent and alive wasn't reassuring in the slightest. "What kind of patents?"
"I've had to replace a few body parts here and there."
Elisa slowed to a stop. "You're a cyborg?" she said disdainfully.
"Would you call a woman with a titanium hip replacement a cyborg?" the older Elisa argued, gently rapping the cane to her right thigh. "I've had a few parts swapped out here and there, but only because I needed them. Medical technologies are becoming indistinguishable from cybernetic parts these days."
Her past self seemed somewhat placated and they resumed their measured pace.
"What about our bedroom. Is it still ours?"
"Of course. You didn't think I've give up that soaker tub, did you?"
"Then why the lack of pictures?"
The old detective smiled. "At the cleaners?" she tried.
"You knew I was coming," young Elisa deduced, "didn't you?"
"Oh yes. And there are a few things that you shouldn't see yet."
"Are you saying I could be influenced?"
"Perhaps, which is why I also made sure the castle was empty." She took a quick look around her; it was odd not to have anyone in the castle at any given time, considering how big the Wyvern clan had swollen. "Usually this place is busier than Grand Central."
Young Elisa was surprised to feel disappointed that she wouldn't be able to see what seventy years had wrought on her clan, but instead focused on the surrounding walls that had become synonymous with the feeling of home. "It's funny, the castle's barely changed."
"The clan wanted it kept as original as possible. Of course, there's been a lot of upgrades behind some of these stones but it's been kept as unobtrusive as possible, to preserve Wyvern and its history." Coming to one of the junctions, the older Elisa stopped, as if she needed to decide which way to go. "Speaking of history..." she muttered, staring down one of the corridors in front of them.
Elisa was confused; she knew the corridor her future self seemed so fearful of, it was just a simple connecting hall, albeit a little wider than normal. But who knows what might've changed in seventy years. "What? What is it?"
"I'm just wondering if I should show you this..."
"Will it influence me?" she said with a smirk.
The older Elisa's heavy dressing gown bobbed slightly as she shrugged her shoulders. "Not particularly, considering the inevitable passage of time is an evil bitch, but I'm more worried about how you'll take it."
"You're being enigmatic again."
But the older Elisa didn't flinch and simply guided her young self towards the mouth of that corridor. "These halls have been witness to life at its greatest." She ushered Elisa forward with an open hand. "Life...and death."
As Elisa neared, she discovered how this simple hallway had been transformed. From floor to ceiling, each side of the wide corridor was covered in pictures and plaques, some larger than others. And she swore–she swore–that some of the pictures were moving, as if someone had cut a window into the old Scottish stone. "What...?"
"Go ahead, Maza."
She wandered in further. There were life-size portraits amongst smaller pictures; the larger canvases were three-dimensional, holographic pictures, the subject inside recreated in every tiny, heart-breaking detail by the advanced technology. They were pictures of the clan and their allies. She first saw Hudson, standing proud and stoic in one of the larger portraits, sword slung off his belt. There was obviously some kind of intelligent camera that detected any visitors to the corridor and the representation of Hudson turned and smiled at her. "Hello, old soldier." As she continued, she saw them all, every single ally of the clan in one shape or another, smiling and waving to her as she passed like something out of Hogwart's grand staircase. All of them long gone.
"One of the worst things about living so long is seeing those you love die." the older Elisa whispered solemnly. "Hudson, Maria, Derek, Maggie, Jason, Iliana, Pierce..."
"Hawkins?" Elisa turned, that particular name standing out for some inexplicable reason. She supposed it was sheer curiosity, wondering if his implausible streak of luck at being indestructible had held up all these decades.
"Still alive and senile as all hell. But it's hard to tell the difference anyways."
Elisa nodded, her future self's tone hard to decipher. She returned her attention to the wall and all the pictures of everyone she knew and loved now dead and dust. It was hard to stomach. She'd been far into the future and had lived with the unalterable fact she might never return, but this was different; she was standing in a mausoleum, albeit a reverential one. Continuing on, she saw her brother and his wife, the picture switching back and forth between their mutate and human forms, the clones, Jason Canmore, his sister Robyn and husband Dingo, Halcyon Renard, King Arthur and members of the English clan, but there was one picture amongst the rest that suddenly drained the color from Elisa's face.
The older woman saw her doppelganger's features twist and contort through several emotions all at once. It was like watching someone take a .45 slug in the chest. Elisa had come across the picture of her mother and father. "I know that look."
As much as Elisa was angry at her parents, knowing they were gone was particularly painful. "I guess I can't hide anything from you."
"They were frightened, Maza." she said. "The fear of knowing your family could be murdered in cold blood does not a bigot make."
"I never called them bigots." Young Elisa didn't realize her hand was trembling slightly as she pressed her fingertips to the picture, tracing her mother's features. "I called them cowards."
"Fair enough. The memory does get a little hazy at my age."
"Your memory's just fine. You probably remember that night as clearly as I do."
"Yes," she nodded pointedly, "yes I do."
"And what happened between you? Did...did you ever...?"
The older woman hobbled towards her, peering into the faces of her parents. "Let's just say...it's not worth holding that grudge."
"Advice?" Elisa asked, turning inquisitively. "Or instructions?"
"Take it as you wish."
Elisa turned back to the picture and the holographic portrait had adjusted, allowing the representation of Peter and Diane Maza to subtly change expressions and positions. To Elisa, it was unsettling, seeing her parents stir and shift. "You've had seventy years to make amends, but for me..."
"The wound is still fresh, I know, but maybe your reaction and your anger stem from your own selfi–"
Whatever she was going to say, it was obliterated by Elisa's growl. "She's my daughter!"
"Yes, and your choice to have her didn't just affect you. You throw a stone into a pond, Maza, you're going to get ripples."
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
"Well," she smiled, "I was never good at telling proverbs."
Young Elisa quietly fumed.
"Their lives were changed irrevocably because of a decision that you made, regardless of anyone else." older Elisa persisted. "I know for a fact I made the right choice and I've never doubted or regretted it for a moment. But that same choice didn't just completely change my life, it changed the lives of everyone around me, including mom and dad."
"It was my right." Elisa seethed, pounding a clenched fist to her chest. "I was owed. You know what I went through–what we went through! And having that miracle appear after all the fighting and destruction and death made it all worth it!"
The older woman held up a hand, ocean calm to Elisa's fury. "I know, Maza..."
"Apparently you don't! I think you've forgotten after seventy years just how much it hurt to have them turn their back on me and their granddaughter!"
"You're right." she conceded her younger self's anger. "But I didn't forget. I hate to use such a tired cliché, but time does heal all wounds."
"That's ridiculous! And why are you arguing with me?! You went through the same thing!"
"Yep. But there's one thing I have that you don't right now."
"And what's that?"
"Those same seventy years you've just mentioned."
She moved forward, verging on her older self's personal space. "Then enlighten me. What will happen between then and now that will so easily change my mind?"
"Living with the fact that one day, you'll lose them. One day, you'll be unable to take back what you said and mend any rift." Older Elisa breathed and then looked like she was about to say something more before changing her mind. She turned to the picture of Peter and Diane Maza and lovingly rubbed a couple of fingers down the edge of the frame. "Because one day, all you'll have left is a picture on a wall."
Elisa felt some of the steam release at the admission; the emotion was palpable and she felt for the old woman. Flashes of her childhood came swiftly and without warning, her mother reading to her and telling her those old African legends, her father looking so proud as she graduated from the academy; it was enough to drown her.
The older woman could see the conflict play out on her face. "It's not worth it, Maza. Trust me."
Elisa rubbed her forehead, eventually moving to comb through her hair, fingers dragging through the long black strands.
"I know you miss them, and I know Trinity misses her grandparents terribly."
"Yeah she does." young Elisa whispered.
"Maybe there was a reason you came here." older Elisa offered. "Maybe it wasn't just coincidence. Just like the first phoenix gate took you where you needed to go, maybe this one is doing the same thing."
A moment passed between them and if anyone else were in the same position, they might have thought it bizarre. But for both of the women, one old and the other time-displaced, they were used to it. And it was the best kind of therapy. "God..." Her shoulders dropped and she brushed the errant hairs from her face. "You must think I'm so selfish..."
"Aren't all parents selfish? Hoping to bring a child into the world whether they or the world itself is ready for it or not?"
"I know I wasn't." young Elisa revealed with a half-smirk.
"Who would've thought the one time we told Goliath not to use a condom..."
"We were in the throes of passion on our honeymoon." she laughed through the last of her ebbing anger. "Besides, who would've thought..." Elisa stuck out her stomach for emphasis with her flattened hands against the small of her back.
"Let me get a hand on this big belly one last time." Elisa angled her big front end towards the hand and allowed her older self the singular pleasure of feeling her unborn daughter shift and dance against the warm flesh of her palm. Older Elisa's face lit up at the somersaults. "Oh Liberty Maza, you're going to be such a handful. And yeah, you're closer than you think."
"Care to give me a hint?"
"No." she replied firmly. "But I will give you some advice. Don't waste what you have, Elisa Maza. I know you're hurting, but mom and dad were hurt–are hurting just as much. And they're left in Manhattan to deal with the fallout."
A pang of dread shot through her. "Of what?"
"You'll see." The older Elisa outstretched a hand towards her younger self. "Come on, pregnant lady, take this old woman back to the hall."
The trip back to the great hall didn't take as long, the older Elisa mysteriously stepping up her speed. But almost everything her older self did or say was with a little bit of frustrating ambiguity that she didn't question the pace. Arriving at the elevator doors, Elisa noticed the older woman seemed a little winded; she'd put a little more weight against her younger self, allowing her to pick up the slack.
Having come to a stop, older Elisa disentangled herself from the young woman and rested with both hands on her cane.
"Where are we going now?" Elisa asked.
"You're leaving, Maza." she said breathlessly. "The gate will be taking you soon."
Elisa reacted by holding her stomach; it was becoming an involuntary gesture that usually happened whenever she received bad news. She hoped she would've had some more time to recuperate in between trips, or perhaps even wait until the baby was born. "But Goliath and Trinity–"
"Are close by."
Her gaze searched the great hall. "Where?"
"Close, now pay attention." The older Elisa reached into the pocket of her dressing gown and pulled out a small manila envelope, studied it for a moment and then handed it to her younger self.
"What is this?"
"Instructions." she explained cryptically. "For something you've yet to do."
The envelope started wrinkling under the ever increasing pressure of Elisa's grip. Of all the subtle deflections, little white lies and outright refusals to answer anything about her future, she was now being handed the whole lot on a silver platter because her older self suddenly decided to change the rules. "You just gave me a scolding about asking for details about my future and now you've written me a letter describing something about my future."
The crack of that cane on the stone floor rang out like a shotgun went off between them; the hundred and four year old great-great-grandmother almost made her younger self jump from her skin. "My rules, Maza." she barked. "And you don't get to argue with that, especially when it involves the life of our daughter."
Elisa breathed through her nose before responding, "Trinity?"
"No, the other one."
Her eyes dropped, to that swell of flesh currently blocking the view of her feet. "What's going to happen?"
Her expression was neutral, maddeningly so. "Something frightening, something incredible. Things have to proceed perfectly, and I'm just part of a larger loop that started before I was even thrown through time."
"But isn't this dangerous? Giving me foresight into my own future?"
"You can't change anything, Maza, you can only just...fulfill your destiny. I'm just making sure you fulfill it properly."
Her brow dropped with a suspicious slant. "That seems like cheating."
Older Elisa shrugged in response. "Oh, by the way," she added quickly, before she forgot, "don't open that until your fiftieth birthday."
"But, mom, I want to open it now."
"Cute." Her expression flattened. "Were we always this sarcastic?"
"You should know." she shot back. "Now, where are they?"
She knocked on one of the elevator doors with a few knuckles, causing a faint echo to ring through the hall. "They're in here. We've held them inside while you and I could have our little chat and I don't think the big guy is in a very good mood."
Elisa cocked a brow. "How would you know?"
"I know my husband. Besides, I spoke to him through the cab's speakers pretending to be you, telling him to be calm and that I'd get him out soon."
"Pretending to be me?" Elisa echoed, wondering just how much her older self had to alter her voice to sound seventy years younger and if Goliath even believed her.
"Yeah. Trinity was so precocious at that age..."
"Yes, she is."
"The phoenix gate is going to take you very soon." older Elisa suddenly announced, keeping to a schedule that seemed only she knew. "It's almost found what it's been looking for since the beginning."
"And what's that?"
Older Elisa smiled enigmatically and deftly changed the subject. "Now remember, don't open that envelope until your fiftieth birthday." As her younger self obviously bit her lip to keep from saying something she might regret, she padded towards the elevator door panel, put her hand to the smooth surface and watched as it scanned her palm-print. As power was restored, the doors parted and slid open. And quick like a gray fox, the older Elisa ducked away out of sight before the occupants inside could see her.
Goliath was sitting in the middle of the elevator cab with Trinity in his lap, while Isis perched sullenly in the corner, arms slung over her knee spurs.
"Hey, big guy." young Elisa said, standing hipshot, at least as best she could with such a big weight hanging off the front of her.
Goliath smiled in relief as soon as he caught sight of her. "Elisa..."
"Mommy!" Trinity squealed, reaching out for her mother.
She quickly walked into the elevator cab and snatched her daughter into her arms, feeling the two little hands clench at the back of her neck.
"Elisa, what is happening?" Goliath asked, standing to his full, impressive height.
"I'll explain later. The gate's about to fire up again."
"How do you–"
Elisa hushed him with a finger on his mouth. "Trust me."
"Where are we?" Isis asked impatiently. She obviously didn't enjoy the wait inside a cramped elevator cab.
"Later, Isis, I promise." Clutching her daughter closer, Elisa burrowed herself against Goliath's chest. "Please hold me, Goliath...this is going to be painful."
He did so earnestly, holding tight to his mate and daughter. The Phoenix gate attached to his belt was already humming, its gilded edges glowing as the magically-infused metal started to overheat; the creature inside was trying to free itself from its bonds.
All of a sudden the entire elevator was filled with fire.
The tangerine swirl filled the depths of her dark eyes as the older Elisa watched her younger self, her mate, her baby girl and the Egyptian gargoyle become enveloped in a dancing spiral of flame. They vanished seconds later, leaving nothing more than a light scorch mark on the floor. She released the breath she'd been holding and blinked a few times. Within a few seconds her younger self would materialize in a place halfway around the planet and half a century earlier in time, be separated from her family and experience the worst pain in her young life.
"Good luck, Maza."