| John Delacroix's day started out like any other.
He got up with the 6 am alarm, got ready, hastily grabbed his briefcase
and rushed out the door, downing yet another unhealthy, nondescript, festilvely-colored,
fast-food breakfast pocket. He rode the crowded Manhattan subway, cursing
internally all the way that he would be late, and got to his office just
on time. Even the Wall Street Journal was on his desk when he got there,
just where his secretary always left it. Things were looking up.
"So what in the holy hell went wrong?" he thought woefully as he was sailing 400 feet above the Manhattan skyline. He managed to look up at the creature that was carrying him; she was some kind of demonic creature, like the devils Sister Mary Beckett used to try to frighten him with in Catholic school: leather wings, lithe tail, horns and all. she was blue, with blazing red hair and a very cruel looking sneer on her face. "Man.." he thought, "so all that stuff about gargoyles coming to life was true after all..."
He had just been minding his own business...
As he'd stood there, stunned, she'd sort of half slammed into him, half grabbed him and immediately pressed her razor sharp claws against his jugular. He saw what looked like half the NYPD charging after her. They all stopped of course, and he figured a few of them even recognized him by the way they were staring. As well they should, after all, he'd ruined enough of their cases in his time...
In fact, he recognized one of them, Elisa Maza he remembered her name was. She was a real fireplug. By the way she was glaring at the demon-thing, he almost felt like he might have a chance. That hope died right about the time the creature leapt off a skyscraper with him in her grasp.
"Well...."he thought, letting out a long sigh, "at least I've still got my breifcase..." He would need the thirty ounces of Jack Daniels he had tucked away inside before the night was over.
In a few minutes, John felt the creature begin to descend toward a derelict warehouse on the wrong side of town. Frankly, he didn't care what might be hiding inside; anything was better than hanging face down a few hundred feet over the asphalt.
The creature descended with surprising grace and landed through a large hole in the warehouse roof. The landing she afforded John was distinctly without grace, as she flung him like a sack of potatoes into a sheet metal wall. Dusting himself off, he sat up against the wall and tried to summon up the courage to speak to the thing. He hoped it could at least understand him, "Wh..what...umm...what are you gonna do with me?" he asked, his voice trembling a little more than he would have liked.
The creature, which had been pacing angrily back and forth turned suddenly toward him, her eyes blazing red through the hazy darkness in the musty warehouse, "I'm going to use you to keep those pigs off my back, and then when I'm done with you," she spat, "I'll probably kill you and throw your body out this window!"
"Oh..." he said, "Good that we have that established." he replied, a hint of sarcasm managing to worm its way into his frightened voice.
The creature continued to pace, its tail swishing back and forth in annoyance over the dusty floor. Occaisionally she would peer out a grungy pane. John could already hear the sirens closing in.
"You're not going to get out of here, you know," John said, dusting off his slacks, "It looked like the NYPD were pretty hot to catch you...whatever you are."
The creature leaned against a wall, biting the claw on the end of her thumb, her agitation evident. He took the chance to look her over; she was tall, at least a head taller than he was. Her skin was somewhat shiny, and pale blue all over. She was dressed in a skimpy one strap piece of cloth on top and a loincloth down below, and her legs seemed to go forever after that...right down to a pair of big clawed feet. She stood on the balls of her feet, her heels not touching. She was a thing to behold alright, fearsome, yet...
John didn't allow himself to finish the thought. He was overcome by an intense curiosity, stronger even than the fear he felt, "Do you..have a name?" he asked, his voice soft but steadier than it had been.
The creature looked up at him, surprise evident on her face for just a moment before her characteristic sneer returned, "My name is Demona." she said bluntly.
John smiled a little bit, "Demona, huh? It suits you." John had always been a bit of a smart ass, but the deepening of the sneer on Demona's face made him think maybe he should be a little more cautious.
"Why don't you cower and whimper like most of you pathetic humans do?" Demona asked, "Not afraid of me?"
"Oh yes...very afraid." John admitted, "But...well, maybe I'm too curious to realize it fully yet."
"Hmph" Demona snorted at him, looking him up and down. The following silence was broken a moment later by the sound of a police bullhorn squaking up at them. It sounded like Maza.
"Demona!!" the voice on the bullhorn challenged, "surrender, we have this place surrounded!!"
Demona rushed forward, grabbing John and pressing him up against a hole in the wall so the cops outside could see. Leaning in, she growled in his ear, her breath hot against his neck, "Now tell them that if even one of them gets near this place, they'll be pressure washing you off the walls in here."
"Yes ma'am!" John squeaked. "Uhhh, guys? She say's I'm toast if you get close....do me a favor and keep clear, okay?" he shouted at the cops below, the fear returning to his voice.
"Damnit!!" Elisa Maza said aloud, adding a few choice Spanish curse words under her breath for good measure. Her partner, Matt Bluestone leaned in, "He's a scum lawyer, but he's a real good one, friends in high places...there's no way we can risk him getting hurt. Ball's in her court this time." he said. "Yeah, I know." Elisa said, sighing.
"Good boy" Demona said, grinning behind him. She let him go and turned around, gathering some broken crates and dingy wood from the corners of the room and piling them in the center. John immediately realized what she was doing, and seeing as the floors were steel and the threat of trapping them both in a blazing inferno was small, figured he might was well help out. He reached inside his pocket and thumbed his favorite zippo, waiting just long enough for Demona to start trying the old boyscout sticks routine. He stepped forward and held out his hand, "Need a light?" he asked somewhat coyly.
Demona snatched the lighter from his hand and lit the fire; before too long the flames were leaping toward the ceiling, and the two of them were sitting either side of it. John grabbed his cold steel flask, unscrewing the lid and taking a long swig of liquid courage from inside. He replaced the cap and leaned forward, pretending to watch the flames but really focusing on Demona's face. He watched the light of the flames play across her skin, the shadows dancing and weaving over that demonic face, like a vision from Hell. He examined every feature, every ridge, every line of that oh so alien face. Just as he looked for the mind behind the faces of the jurors or his fellow lawyers in court, he tried to see what was going on behind the mask. His eyes at last came to rest on hers. Deep green they were, and very cold. But there was something else there too...it aroused the investigative instinct that every good lawyer had. He waited for her to look up, as he knew she would, and looked into those eyes for a moment..
"You hate us, don't you?" he asked pointedly, not taking his eyes off hers. She looked at him for a moment, but looked back to the fire when she answered, "Yes, I despise you."
"Why?" he pressed, still watching her features for any clue she might let slip.
"Because humans took everything that I ever cared about from me." she answered bitterly, "Your vile kind betrayed my clan and slaughtered them while they slept as stone. We protected them for years, and for that we were smashed like worthless clay."
John recoiled a bit at the thought, but his curiousity was being aroused, "You once lived among humans? But..there's no way that could stay a secret these days.." John talked more to himself than to her, "my God...how long have you been alive?"
"A thousand years..." Demona said wearily, "A thousand bitter, bloodsoaked years."
She looked up at him, "I've had to endure you filthy humans and your wars and your slaughter for a millenium. And you wonder why I hate you."
Delacroix's jaw nearly dropped off his face, "A thousand years...."
He looked down, trying to remember History 101. "I know humanity hasn't exactly filled the past thousand years with shining moments....but a millenium is a long time to hold a grudge."
Demona said nothing, just stared at the flames. Her own memories coming flooding back to her. She hated that. Her memories haunted her like vengeful spirits, in her dreams or during the day, it was all the same. The memories of what she'd lost, the terrible bitterness, all of it would come welling up now and then. Usually the rage came after that: a venomous swell of loathing and spite that almost made her ill the way it burned. One thousand years of horrors, a dozen lifetimes worth of hate.
"You're a master of understatement, human." She spat venomously.
"I do have a name, Demona." The tone of John's voice was strange, almost chastising. Demona looked up at him with sheer surprise at his impudence. "Oh? And what is it?" she asked curtly.
"My name's John, John Delacroix." he said, holding out his hand. Demona looked at his hand and then away, ignoring his gesture. She waited for John to look away for a moment and then took the chance to observe him, as she knew he must have done to her.
He was tall, about six feet, with neatly groomed black hair and an impeccable armani suit. A lawyer, she knew; she'd seen him on the news a few times. He was fairly handsome; as handsome as a loathesome human could be. He had very square set features and a hawkish nose. In truth, he looked a little bit like Goliath. He had the same steely gaze at times, but his eyes, light blue, were more piercing. He was like a hawk, she decided, always watchful for his prey. She could appreciate that. But his manner was not like that of a hawk, or a big time lawyer. He spoke pointedly, with humor but authority, his voice often more gentle than she'd expected. It irked her that he wasn't afraid of her, not visibly at least.
"Look," John said at last, "We're gonna be here for a while. Why don't you just loosen up a bit? I'm here, so human or not, why not talk to me? You can always just kill me later." He smiled at her, hoping to disarm her, if even just a little. It worked. He thought he almost saw her smile for a second, and then she spoke, "Fine. We'll chat and then I'll kill you later. Fair?"
John couldn't help but laugh; he just got handed a death sentence, but somehow he didn't care. Maybe he figured it might be commuted. "okay." he said.
The big city lawer leaned forward, resting his chin on his clasped hands and his elbows on his knees, resuming his study of Demona. "So," he began, "you saw it all, huh? The Crusades, Spanish Inquistion, World War I, The Third Reich, Warsaw and Auschwitz?"
"Yes, all of it." Demona said. She never admitted it, but she couldn't help feeling something for those humans. To see life exterminated on that kind of scale...even she didn't have the stomach for that. She still remembered the smell of those places...the horrific stench of burning flesh. She remembered the faces of those people; she'd seen them from afar mostly, but once she actually stood face to face with one of them. A small human boy...little more than skin hung over a skeleton. He just stood there, looking up at her through the barbed wire that night. He had wandered out and somehow escaped the notice of the guards. She closed her eyes as the memory took hold of her, leaning forward and running her hands through her blood red hair as she relived that moment.
It was his eyes that she remembered most. They just stared, pierced her very soul it seemed. There was no hate there, no fear, no anger; no, it was more bewilderment. Bewilderment and longing, as if that small boy had known that she understood what it was to be hated and hunted like an animal. He was reaching out to her with those dark eyes. It had been too much for her, she remembered, she had turned and fled as fast as her legs could carry her. She ran, she told herself, because she didn't want the humans to see her and capture her. It was for her own sake.
But as hard as she fought it, she couldn't silence the voice inside her that she knew was speaking the truth; she ran from the agony of the helplessness she felt. She'd wanted to save that human, to take him away from that horror, but she knew she couldn't. She should have been laughing in his face, she told herself, he was getting what all humans deserve! But she knew it was an empty lie; the sickening crack of the K98k had driven her to her knees that night, just as surely as if the bullet had ripped through her own heart...
"Are you alright, Demona?" John's gentle voice interrupted her painful remembrance. She looked up at him, unable to hide the single tear that had escaped her eye. It didn't escape John's notice. Now he knew the truth; he'd suspected it, but now he knew. There was something good there after all...buried, denied, refused, but still there, still alive.
"You know...it's a shame you only learned half the lessons history offered you, Demona," John said at length, "if you had, I don't think either of us would be here right now." He was taking a gamble, he knew. This little tactic might just get him killed if she got angry enough. Still, he pressed on. "You saw war bring out the worst in human nature, but you ignored how it brings out the best."
Demona scowled at him, "What do you know about it, human?" She'd returned to using his species to address him; not good. "You weren't even born yet when it happened, and you've been nothing but a sleazy lawyer all your life!"
"Maybe I know some things you don't. Does the date June 6, 1944 mean anything to you?"
"Well that was the day the Allied forces invaded Normandy, on the French coast. They mounted the largest amphibious offensive in the history of warfare. 2 million men took part in that operation..."
"Is there a point to this?? You are trying my patience."
John continued, undeterred, "2 million farm boys, and shopkeepers, and factory workers. Two million average guys who went because it was the right thing to do. They went because they knew they couldn't let evil men trample everything that's good and right. They went knowing that a lot of them wouldn't even make it off the boats onto the beaches. Most of those men were good men, Demona...and some of them were heroes. You can hate humanity if you want, but don't ignore the truth about us."
"Just more humans eager to slaughter each other... morality is just an excuse for your kind."
John's face fell, he thought he'd gotten through to her there for a second. He looked at her for a moment, trying to think of what to say next. She looked very sad, though she tried to hide it. He could tell; he was good at reading faces, even gargoyle faces. "Does the hate make you happy?" he asked, at last devising a new tactic.
"What?" Demona asked, somewhat shocked.
"Does it make you happy? You've been hating us for a thousand years. How does it feel? It must be great. Filling up your soul with bitterness and rage and hate, letting it rise in you whenever you see one of us..." every word was making her more and more angry, her face twisting into a sneer, but he pressed on.
"Or does it eat you away, piece by piece? Every life you take destroying a piece of you. Rotting you from the inside out until there's nothing left to hold onto but hate, and nothing left in life to do but hate further..."
The last phrase was obviously too much for her, she screamed with otherworldly fury, leaping across the room and pinning him against the floor, her right claw raised, ready to tear the flesh from his ugly human face.
"Go ahead," he said, confident that he knew how to reach her now, "rip me apart like all your other victims. And when it's all done and I'm dead, then you'll be happy, right?"
Demona's hand didn't move, she just looked at him, not knowing what to say.
"Well?" John's voice was softer now, he looked into her eyes as he spoke, "What are you gonna do?"
"Why are you doing this...?" demona asked, her shell crumbling now, the pain and the loss swirling up from the abyss she'd been so careful to banish them to.
"Because I know what it's like to be consumed...to lose yourself. I used to do whatever it took to win my cases...I didn't care about ethics, or even justice...I just wanted to make money and be a winning lawyer. Only problem was it got to the point where I couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore...I found I had betrayed parts of myself I didn't know existed...or whose existence I denied. I did a lot of harm in those years, and if I can somehow atone for it...well, I have to try."
Demona leaned back, releasing him from the death grip she had around his neck. She stood and turned from him, looking out the gaping holes in the cieling at the full moon, "What if..." she started falteringly, "What if you were right.....what if there really is nothing good left?"
"A heart of stone sheds no tears..." John said softly.
Demona half turned and looked at him, then looked down at the floor, wrapping her wings around herself and crossing her arms, hands cupped over her shoulders. John sighed quietly, watching the way the satin moonlight caressed her features; half of her body illuminated in a glorious white glow, the other blackened by deep shadow.
"There's still a chance, Demona...let go of the hate and find the part of you that's been lost." John took a step closer, watching her downcast face. "Give up the vengeance, let the past stay the past. Just live..."
Demona looked up at him, sorrow filling her eyes, "I..I don't know if I can, John...it's all I know...it's all I've known for a thousand years."
He didn't quite know why, but at that moment he was overwelmed with the desire to hold her, to wrap his arms around her and take away all her pain and sorrow. Here he was, kidnapped by a living gargoyle, held hostage in a warehouse surrounded by NYPD, and all he could think of was how he could help his captor. Maybe something good survived in him, too...
Suddenly, the silence was blasted to bits by the sound of the nearby door being kicked down. The NYPD had managed to maneuver in while Demona was distracted. In a breathless instant, the room was filled from above, and seemingly all sides by NYPD SWAT, their MP5SD's sweeping the shadowy room.
Time for John Delacroix seemed to slow to a crawl; he heard a voice behind him shout, "Take her out, the hostage is clear!!" He bolted toward Demona without a second thought, hearing the quiet little puff-puffs of four or five supressed sub machineguns firing and the metallic chattering of their actions operating. He figured the cops must have been thrown off by the shadows and the layout of the room because he heard the first three shots smack into some old oil drums stacked nearby. His eyes met Demona's just as the next five bullets ripped through his back and lodged in his chest cavity; he choked painfully and her deep green eyes conveyed a look of pure horror and dismay at his wounds. He threw his arms tight around her, stepping sideways to put himself between her and what he figured was coming next; the steel drums exploded with massive force, blasting both of them off their feet and right through a decrepid old wall. They sailed through the air and crashed into a pile of old boxes on the warehouse storage floor. Upstairs, the horrified NYPD retreated from the firestorm that was fast engulfing the entire upper storey.
The frantic, bewildered SWAT officers shouted over the radio, "HOSTAGE DOWN, HOSTAGE DOWN!! Sh...shit, he jumped right into our fire!!"
"Yes, I say again, the hostage stepped into our fire!!! He was...protecting her!!"
The police sharpshooter who was stationed near to Elisa nearly dropped his rifle when he heard the radio trafic, "Sweet Jesus..." he whispered, "he took a bullet for that bitch..."
Matt and Elisa spun on their heels, staring wide eyed at the sniper who nodded to them, "Jumped right in there and took it in the back...."
A sick, tightening feeling clenched in the gut of every cop on the scene. None of them could believe what had just happened.
On the dusty, wood strewn floor of the warehouse, Demona stirred, opening her eyes and seeing the hellish flames jumping from the upper office. Suddenly, her heart was gripped by fingers of ice; she rose to her knees, looking around for John. She spotted him a few feet away, laying face down on the floor, a deep crimson pool spreading from his body.
"Oh God...Oh God no...." she whispered, scrambling over to him, "John!! JOHN!!" she shouted at him, turning him over.
She cradled his head in her lap and his eyes slowly opened, "You....alright?" he coughed, a trail of blood dribbing from the corner of his mouth. She could hear the air sucking through the holes in his lungs; he was a dead man, and there was nothing she could do. Hot, bitter tears started welling up in her eyes. She was weeping for a human life...a life she had planned to end herself only a half hour ago. She brushed a lock of black hair from his forehead, looking into his eyes, "Why...?" she asked shakily.
"Because..." he choked, the blood beginning to fill his lungs, "I didn't want you to miss your chance..."
He reached up to her, gently holding onto her arm, "I forgive you, Demona...just accept...my gift to you...and live....." his voiced trailed off and his grip on her arm slacked off until it fell limp to the cold concrete floor. She felt his breathing gradually fade away, and his heart beat it's last few desperate thuds. He was dead.
Tears streaming down her dirty face, she stood shakily and stumbled toward the back alley door; the cops would have fallen back, she knew, so it was clear for her escape. Just what she'd wanted all along, and there was one less human in the world now...so why was her heart drowning in agony?
She leaned against the door frame, turning to take one last look at John Delacroix, big city lawyer. "You were a good man, John..." she whispered, "I won't forget you...I swear..."
With that, she slipped into the darkness, leaving behind nothing but a few teardrops in the dust of the warehouse floor.